What are Hobbes' views on coercivity and the commonwealth in Leviathan?

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In Part II of Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes first explicates his definition of the commonwealth. He views the commonwealth as a union that evolves from an initially disparate group of people when they consent to be bound by a social contract. Hobbes defines the social contract as a system of agreements that negates the human instinct of total self-interest. The social contract accomplishes this by instituting political arrangements that stem from assumptions about how free and rational agents would prefer to live, if they had no choice but to live with each other, yet still wanted to optimize where they were situated in life.

Controversially, Hobbes then argues that this social contract bestows the (elected) sovereign leader of a given commonwealth with the inherent right to coercion, which he views as the essence of lawmaking. In his opinion, the legal right to coercion proceeds logically from individuals' original position of consent to the social contract. Without the principle of coercivity, there would be no way to implement the social contract's ideal order.

Hobbes' emphasis on this feature of government corresponds to a more generalized appeal to a natural law, or preordained order to human relations, that pervades much of his work outside Leviathan. Hobbes is therefore often accused of confusing might with right by political thinkers who view unchecked power as antithetical to any healthy social contract designed to uphold human rights.

Hobbes' dissidents tend to conceive of coercion more as an instrument of active oppression than an element of consent, obedience, or democracy. These thinkers view coercivity as completely unrelated to the idea of the social contract, and question his belief that a rational actor would ever consent to coercion. Most contemporary political theorists view Hobbes' argument about coercivity as a slippery slope to the intellectual and political ills of authoritarianism and absolutism.

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