The Subject of Liberty in the Book “Leviathan”

Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan, during the course of his argument about the social contract we make to surrender our rights of nature a sovereign in exchange for order and peace touches the subject of liberty. Hobbes defines liberty as “the absence of opposition( by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion).” (Ch 21, p.136). In his argument, Hobbes claims that this state of liberty is man’s natural state in which man fully exercises his rights of nature. Hobbes claims that this state of nature leads to warfare and a short life of strife due to everyone exercising or violating these rights. The answer then to Hobbes is for every one to forfeit these rights of nature and create the social contract and surrender to a sovereign in exchange for order. Though how much liberty is left to the subject once entering the social contract? Hobbes states “The liberty of a subject lieth, therefore, only in those things which, in regulating their actions, the sovereign hath praetermitted (such as is the liberty to buy, and sell, and and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as the themselves think fit; and the like).” (Ch21, p. 138).

In other words the only liberty of subjects is that which is not regulated by any law created by the sovereign to whom all natural rights and liberty are surrendered to by agreeing to the social contract. According to the quote subjects are only free to conduct personal business as see fit, such as eating, sleeping, day to day business dealing, how one chooses to upbringing their children. It implies that upon entering the social contract the subject’s liberty or unrestricted movement is now forfeited except in any area that the sovereign has not decided to regulate by passing laws regulate or is impossible to.

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Hobbes overall argument asserts that in order to escape the war filled state of nature we must surrender our natural rights(liberty/absence of restriction) and liberty and pledge our obedience to the sovereign in exchange for the creation of a peaceful orderly society. Thus we agree to the social contract where the sovereign(who is outside the contract) is supreme. While we give up our liberty in exchange for order, the Sovereign retains all his rights to nature and is accountable only to God. Why does the sovereign retain his liberty, while we only retain that which the sovereign has decided not to regulate? because the sovereign uses his liberty to act on our behalf. We in theory are the author of every action decided by the sovereign who in theory acts only in our interest because it would benefit the sovereign to do so.


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The Subject of Liberty in the Book “Leviathan”. (2018, Aug 15). Retrieved from