During this essay I shall look at certain elements of what Thomas Hobbes believed was the ‘Theory of political Representation’. Before doing this however I will discuss briefly how political representation is seen in today’s society primarily in the United Kingdom (democratic). When looking at Thomas Hobbes theory we will discuss certain points outlined in his book ‘Leviathan’. How he believed humans are flawed and would revert to the ‘state of nature’ without ‘absolute rule’. Concluding with why Hobbes believed this theory did give people ‘political representation’.

What is political representation in today’s society? It would not present the thoughts set out by Hobbes for many countries within the world now. Today we see it as a term for a delegation of power to those designated to act as spokespeople for individual political parties, or even political pressure groups. It allows us (the people) to have our say via our vote at election time by the parties particular nominated representative. Politicians today still have to be seen as ‘one of us’, not cutting themselves off from those they represent, not to be seen as above those in society. Particularly during election times representatives even those at the top of the ladder can be seen mixing with society, shaking hands in front of cameras to give a certain image. People who live in different areas of the country, such as those who live in rural districts would expect their representative to be a legitimate delegate for that area, perhaps having farming background within his family. He would need to be sympathetic to the ideas of the group living within in the areas he represents. Therefore their appearance, behaviour and the image they portray comes into consideration, they need to appear ‘up to the mark’ of

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the job in hand. Unlike in Hobbes theory our political representatives (even the leaders) in Democratic societies do not have absolute rule. We always have the chance to change that representation at the next election time by choosing to vote for another representative.

Thomas Hobbes believed firstly that men left to their own views and devices would end up only trying to gain what was best for them, as humans are naturally flawed. They are forever competing with their passion of wanting control and power this never ceases to exist for humans. All human’s motivation springs either from the desire for personal pleasure or the fear or pain.

Humans live in what Hobbes calls a ‘State of Nature’ were they live in constant fear and war, when men met they would either have to fight or flee. In a ‘State of Nature’ everyone would want to have the ability to dominate others around them, this then generates a feeling of constant fear for survival, making people threatening on a continual basis for their own survival and self-preservation. Hobbes said this ‘State of Nature’ would eventually lead to a state of war. Unfortunately Hobbes believed that when men gain power they will continually need more and more. Humans are always on a continual hunt for their own desires. Oakeshott quotes in his book ‘Hobbes – On Civil Association – “success lies not only in procuring what is desired but also in the assurance that what will in the future be desired will also be procured. This success is called felicity”. (page 31 – 1975). This desire for power and pride will always lead to disorder and war.

This Hobbes believes would lead to a world that is void of any form of government or society, a world of anarchy a ‘State of Nature’. Hobbes believes that in order to avoid this kind of world there must be an absolute Sovereign. This Sovereign must have absolute rule not bound by any rules or restrictions, he must possess unlimited power over matters pertaining to the state. As in chapter thirty of ‘Leviathan’ Hobbes states “making Officers and Ministers both of Warre and Peace; or of appointing Teachers”. (page 377 – 1968).

For absolute rule to work within society it would mean the people giving up their rights to a particular man or assembly of men, the state can then be united under this banner. Hobbes believes his theory of political representation develops because society gives up their natural rights and obey him (or them), producing a Sovereign Representative. By doing so the people could be delivered from the evils of the ‘State of Nature’. Society must forfeit all liberties with the exception of the right to self-preservation (to be free to defend themselves from being injured or killed).

The Sovereign Representative’s obligation to the people is to protect them from the evils of war and unrest whether it is civil war or international. An absolute Sovereign is perfectly legitimate in governing his people on the bias that the people chose him and did so freely, “he was trusted with Sovereign Power” (Hobbes page 376 – 1968). In a sense he would be representing the will of the people, therefore all of the Sovereign’s actions from then on would be indirectly the actions of the people. If the sovereign executes a subject, the people execute the subject, if the Sovereign declares war, the people are declaring war. Hobbes believes this absolute power would give the people a sense of security from the threat of a violent death by other men. Again in Oakeshott book he says “Sovereign Ruler authorized and empowered by convenanters who thereby become ‘united in one person’ transforms themselves from the condition of war of all against all”. (Oakeshott page 41 – 1975).

The fear of punishment or loss of life if breaking the laws would be strong enough to secure obedience. Hobbes also outlines this in ‘Leviathan’ by retelling a story concerning a man onboard a ship travelling with all his worldly goods. Hobbes tells us that he would willingly throw these goods overboard to lighten the ships weight to stop the ship from sinking, if it would increase the chances for preserving his life. Hobbes states coercion through the fear of a man losing his life makes him act willingly. However can the same still be said when acquiring sovereignty through force, where the people have not had the right to the free selection, does the Sovereign then not just become a tyrant? Again Hobbes would say that these people did have the choice to die rather than except this Sovereign Representative. Also he said tyranny is only a word given to a government that the people are unhappy with.

As outlined previously the Sovereign makes all the laws and may employ educated people to implement these laws. As the Sovereign cannot run the Government completely by himself, he may work with a parliamentary assembly or just use a few close favourites he trusts. The Sovereign may take or leave the advice given. This is expressed by Hobbes in ‘Leviathan’ “Assemblies of men that sit together not onely to deliberate what is to be done hereafter” (Hobbes page 391 – 1968). Most importantly they will always work in the name of the Sovereign. The Sovereign’s absolute power would make him the supreme judge of what was necessary for the good of society, such as what needs to be done for procuring peace. Also the right to make war, levy taxes if needed for any reason (to increase his armies). To discuss peace negotiations with other Sovereign Powers.

Other rights of the Sovereign would be the right to govern all expressions of opinion or doctrines among society. “what doctrines are conformable” ( Hobbes page 377 – 1968). Hobbes defines the meaning of religion as the fear of invisible power, he would be allowed to decide which religion the people should follow, how to think all in the name of keeping peace. Always the Sovereign would be looking at avoiding provoking civil war within society by any means.

After outlining all of these duties of the Sovereign Representative and the laws he would make for society it is necessary to point out that he would not be obliged to obey any of these rules and laws. As stated in McCelland’s book “a Sovereign a beneficiary of the contract, not a contracting party” (McCelland page 197 – 2003). Very little if anything limits the Sovereigns power, because as he makes the laws he is therefore above the laws. Domestically Hobbes believes that nothing can get in the way of the Sovereign (State). Either he has all the power, or the men will revert back to the ‘State of Nature’.

The Sovereign is entirely unbound, he is not party to the social contract established for the people, he is absolutely unaccountable to anyone in the state. Individuals rights do not mean anything, Hobbes believes the people will be happy as long as they are safe. Also because the Sovereign already has absolute power he would have no motive to want what anyone else may have, so he never falls into the ‘State of Nature’. The Sovereign is the only one who can make contracts with God. He is not at liberty to tell anyone what these contracts are. Also as already outlined one of the Sovereign’s main points of power would be to censor the people’s religious opinions, deciding on the best form of worship. This was very important at the time because men felt were they ended up for eternity was extremely significant; they were prepared to kill to help their path to heaven. By the Sovereign maintaining that all men worshipped the same religion even on the surface, this would limit the chance of civil war. Therefore the Sovereign is answerable only to God, as outlined in ‘Leviathan’ “and to render an account thereof to God, the Author of that law” ( Hobbes page 376 – 1968).

Thomas Hobbes also thought the job of the Sovereign was to protect those people who by no fault of their own became unable to as Hobbes puts it ‘to maintain themselves’. He felt they should not be left to be charity cases for their neighbours, living with the hope that they would receive food handouts. He felt that they should be looked after by the state (welfare) as outlined in chapter thirty of ‘Leviathan’ “not to be left to the charity of private persons; but to be provided for” (Hobbes page 387 – 1968). The other side of this coin is that Hobbes also stated that those who were able to work should always be forced to work. Because if everyone who could work did not, would become a drain on the state and this would eventually weaken the state. In turn if the state (the people) were weak then the Sovereign would be weak, and a weak Sovereign can be overthrown by war at anytime.

In conclusion Hobbes goal is to provide a theory that moves men from the ‘State of Nature’ which is a lawless state with no morality. Hobbes believed that humans need one supreme authority for a peaceful coexistence – the Sovereign Representative. In order to lift man from this state there is no alternative but to use fear and coercion to keep them to their social contract. By using this social contract so that people give up their natural rights they are willing picking a Sovereign Representative. McCelland states “the outcome of Hobbes argument is clear: either you stick with a single sovereign who no contracts with his subjects, or you begin to fall back down the slippery slope into the ‘State of Nature’, which no rational man wants” (McCelland – page 199 – 2003).

Hobbes believed that people only have a will through a representative and that representation by its definition would be the Sovereign giving society political representation.


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