Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil—commonly referred to as Leviathan—is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651 (revised Latin edition 1668).
Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. Leviathan ranks as a classic Western work on statecraft comparable to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), Leviathan argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature (“the war of all against all”) could only be avoided by strong, undivided government.
Summary of the Leviathan
The title of Hobbes’s treatise alludes to the Leviathan mentioned in the Book of Job. Unlike the more informative titles usually given to works of early modern political philosophy, such as John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government or Hobbes’s own earlier work The Elements of Law, Hobbes selected a more poetic name for this more provocative treatise. Lexicographers in the early modern period believed that the term “Leviathan” was associated with the Hebrew words lavah, meaning “to the couple, connect, or join”, and tannin, meaning “a serpent or dragon”.In the Westminster Assembly’s annotations on the Bible, the interpreters believed that the creature was named using these root words “because by his biggest he seems not one single creature, but a coupling of divers together; or because his scales are closed, or straitly compacted together.” Samuel Mintz suggests that these connotations lend themselves to Hobbes’s understanding of political force since both “Leviathan and Hobbes’s sovereign are unities compacted out of separate individuals; they are omnipotent; they cannot be destroyed or divided; they inspire fear in men; they do not make pacts with men; theirs is the dominion of power.
After lengthy discussion with Thomas Hobbes, the Parisian Abraham Bosse created the etching for the book’s famous frontispiece in the géometrique style which Bosse himself had refined. It is similar in organization to the frontispiece of Hobbes’ De Cive (1642), created by Jean Matheus. The frontispiece has two main elements, of which the upper part is by far the more striking.
In it, a giant crowned figure is seen emerging from the landscape, clutching a sword and a crosier, beneath a quote from the Book of Job—”Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparator ei. Iob. 41. 24” (“There is no power on earth to be compared to him. Job 41 . 24”)—linking the figure to the monster of that book. (Due to disagreements over the precise location of the chapters and verses when they were divided in the Late Middle Ages, the verse Hobbes quotes is usually given as Job 41:33 in modern Christian translations into English, Job 41:25 in the Masoretic text, Septuagint, and the Luther Bible; it is Job 41:24 in the Vulgate.) The torso and arms of the figure are composed of over three hundred persons, in the style of Giuseppe Arcimboldo; all are facing inwards with just the giant’s head having visible features. (A manuscript of Leviathan created for Charles II in 1651 has notable differences – a different main head but significantly the body is also composed of many faces, all looking outwards from the body and with a range of expressions.)
The lower portion is a triptych, framed in a wooden border. The center form contains the title on an ornate curtain. The two sides reflect the sword and crosier of the main figure – earthly power on the left and the powers of the church on the right. Each side element reflects the equivalent power – castle to church, crown to miter, cannon to excommunication, weapons to logic, and the battlefield to the religious courts. The giant holds the symbols of both sides, reflecting the union of secular, and spiritual in the sovereign, but the construction of the torso also makes the figure the state.
Details of the Leviathan
Author: Thomas Hobbes
Language: English, Latin(Hobbes produced a new version of Leviathan in Latin in 1668 Leviathan, save De material, form, & potestate civitatis ecclesiastical et civilians. Many passages in the Latin version differ from the English version).
Genre: Political philosophy
Publication date: April 1651
File Formate: pdf
File Size: 967KB
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