Hobbes suggests that humans could not live peacefully without a state. Discuss his description of such a state and contrast it with your imagination of what such a situation would be like. Do you agree with his statement that in such a situation there would be no right or wrong?

Thomas Hobbes believed that an authoritarian state was necessary for maintaining civilization. Without a strong political state, people would revert into a state of nature in which selfishness and violence would rule.

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Thomas Hobbes had a very pessimistic, if not outright cynical, view of human nature. Hobbes lived through the English Civil War, a period in which great violence was committed by his fellow countrymen. This helped to shape Hobbes's worldview. Without a strong government in place, Hobbes saw how self-serving and barbaric a so-called civilized people could be. Hobbes came to think that it was necessary that a strong authoritarian leader maintain control in order to protect the people from their more base instincts. Hobbes contrasted this with what he called a state of nature. In a state of nature, people are at liberty to act however they want. There is no notion of right or wrong. As Hobbes put it, this condition would make life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

In Hobbes's notion of a state, people surrender their right to act completely without limits to the authority. As part of this social contract, this authority protects people by maintaining order. By keeping people from devolving back into their natural state, Hobbes believed that this authoritarian control allows for the development of commerce, culture, education, art, religion, and all the other hallmarks of civilized people.

When considering whether or not you agree with Hobbes's assessment, you should ask yourself questions about what you believe concerning human nature. Do you think that people only behave generously and kindly to each other because they fear repercussions from the authorities if they do not? Do you feel that people are naturally selfish and lacking in compassion? If so, is an external authority necessary to maintain order and allow civilization to flourish? If you think so, then you and Hobbes are in agreement. Conversely, you may feel that human nature is capable of kindness and cooperation due to certain intrinsic qualities. If you feel that people are capable of acts of kindness and cooperation because of their very nature, then your views diverge from those of Hobbes.

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