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Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil by Thomas Hobbes (1651)

“Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil” is a political philosophy book written by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). The first edition was published in London in 1651.

This book is a classic work of modern political philosophy in that it denied the theory of the divine right of kings and established the theory of states based on social contract theory.

In this book, as presented in his famous phrase “the war of all against all”, Hobbes regarded war not as exception state but as basic state. His thought can be read as the precursor of some kind of historical view focused on violence, such as Pierre Clastres’s political anthropology and Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine theory (“A Thousand Plateaus”, 1980). However, the idea of “the state of nature” – in which free and equal individuals kill each other (Hobbes) or coexist peacefully (Rousseau) – should not be regarded as something like human nature because it is nothing more than a hypothetical idea to establish social contract theory.

Hobbes wrote this book in the context to advocate the absolute monarchy during the period of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the mid-17th century, so it is extremely state-centric in that it regards the state sovereignty is absolute and unlimited. Hobbes thought that strong state powers prevent war and civil strife. However, this book is more than just an advocacy of the absolute monarchy. It includes a fundamental consideration of the question of how to prevent “the war of all against all”.

In modern society, the human rights of citizens are protected by the laws of the states. That is made possible by the states as organizations which monopolize violence and have the legal forces. Peace and security can be maintained only by organized violence. Even if the modern states perished from the earth, we would need organized violence to defend ourselves.

In this book, Hobbes made his own interpretation of the Old Testament, and advocated independence of national sovereignty from authority of the Church. Hobbes’s thought was later inherited by Spinoza.

In “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theologico-Political Treatise)” (1670), Spinoza critically interpreted the Old Testament, and advocated separation of church and state, separation of theology and philosophy, the legitimacy of liberalism states, and freedom of speech under the influence of Hobbes. Hobbes treated the Bible as “the Word of God” in this book whereas Spinoza treated it as ancient documents from the standpoint of deism. It’s interesting to note that “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus” shows how Spinoza advanced Hobbes’s materialist philosophy and criticism against religion.