Hobbes Social Contract


Hobbes Social Contract is most essential and influential work in the history of Political Thought, which put the very first idea of How and Why state came into being? 

His Political Philosophies has been the field of discussion in the academic discourse.

In the social contract of Hobbes, the state or civil society is created through a contract or mutual agreement among the men.

This contract is known as ‘Social contract’ and it empowers a man or a group of men who will represent the supreme authority over society.

There is only one contract that results in men leaving the state of nature and the creation of society and state (Sovereign). Although there is hardly any limit on the powers of Sovereign, ultimately it comes into creation with the consent of people.


There is a single contract that created the sovereign, therefore the sovereign is not a part of the contract. The sovereign is born due to the contract, therefore he is not a party to it.

Every person is part of the contract, no one is out of it. If anyone is left out, then that person will continue to enjoy his/her sovereignty. This cannot happen since, in one state, there cannot be two sovereign powers. So the contract includes everyone who once was a part of the state of nature.

Under this contract, every man gives up his natural rights and powers to a common sovereign who would ‘keep them in awe’ and give them the security of life.

Men entered into the social contract to set up a ruler as if every man should say to every man,

I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men on this condition that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner.

The natural rights are surrendered to the sovereign under the contract once for all. The contract cannot be revoked or withdrawn. The reason for this is that if men are allowed to reverse the contract and revive natural rights, then they can go back to the state of nature.

The state of nature is filled with violence, death, and insecurity. Thomas Hobbes conceived the situation of the people’s in the state of nature in the sense that they are solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short. Even if few decide to go back to the state of nature, it will put the lives of everyone in danger. Therefore it is not allowed.

In Hobbes Social Contract Theory, there is no scope for revolt and rebellion. Also, a single contract has created both the society and state, a reversal or withdrawal of the contract will mean the end of not only the state but of the society as well. Therefore to protect the society from chaos, Hobbes makes the sovereign as absolute, indivisible and inalienable. There is no limit on the political obligation enjoyed by the sovereign.

The sovereign or Hobbes Leviathan has absolute powers over the individual. For Hobbes sovereignty is an undeniable fact of political life; whenever there is civil or political society, sovereignty must exist.

In its absence, everyone will have the liberty to do as he pleases, and the entire purpose for which the commonwealth is set up will be lost.

‘Covenants without the sword, are but words, and of strength to secure a man at all’.                     ~~~~~ Thomas Hobbes~~~~~



Sovereignty according to Hobbesian definition essentially lies in the power of determining on the behalf of the entire community what should be done to maintain peace and order to promote their welfare. All men apart from the sovereign become its subjects.


The second fundamental attribute of sovereignty is its absoluteness. The power of the sovereign is to make laws is not limited by any human authority, superior or inferior.

There is no rival or coordinate authority in the commonwealth beside the sovereign. It has ultimate power and unfettered discretion and is the source of the laws and also their sole interpreter; he cannot, therefore, be subject to them.

The laws of nature, according to Hobbes, are not laws in the strict sense of the term; they are mere counsels of reason and have no compulsive force. The law of God also does not constitute any check upon him for he is the sole interpreter.

Individual conscience also cannot be pleaded against him, because the law is the public conscience by which man has agreed to be guided.


All of the above leads us to the third important feature of Sovereignty. In the state of nature there can be no distinction between right and wrong, just and unjust, moral and immoral and no property rights.

These distinctions first come into existence with the establishment of civil society and the setting up of the sovereign authority. Whatever conforms with the laws made by the sovereign is just and right; whatever is contrary to them is unjust and wrong.

Also, the sovereign creates those conditions under which alone moral distinctions acquire significance and importance. Morality can exist only in a civil society. But since the sovereign is making the distinction between moral and immoral, the sovereign himself is above any sort of morality.

The sovereign is also the creator of the property. What people have in the state of nature are mere possessions that confer no ownership. Legal property rights with their protection by society come into existence only with the establishment of sovereign authority.

Since the property is the creation of the sovereign, he can take it away whenever he likes in the interest of the same. Taxation does not require the consent of the people.


In the fourth place, it may be said that the sovereign is the source of justice and has the power to make and declare war. He has supreme command of the militia and determines what doctrines and opinions are to be permitted and what disallowed.

By making the sovereign the source of justice and describing the judges as lions under the throne, Hobbes concentrates full executive, legislative and judicial power in the sovereign.


In the fifth place attention maybe is drawn to the indivisibility, inseparability, and incommunicability of sovereignty. The sovereign authority cannot dissociate itself of any attribute of sovereignty without destroying it, nor can it share its exercise with the others.

The aim of a civil war cannot, therefore, be to place any restrictions upon its exercise or to share in it; it aims to determine who shall possess and exercise it.

Although we can also find the social contract theory of John Locke, and Jean Jacques rousseau which is opposite to the Hobbes social contract theory. But both had a focus to create a sovereign political authority that will secure their basic fundamental rights.

Hobbes social contract would appear flawless only if a perfect and infallible person or assembly could be found and established as a sovereign. But how can imperfect mortals justify the exercise of such universal and absolute authority in the real world? Hobbes evades this fundamental question.

See Also:

Hobbes State of Nature
Hobbes view on Human Nature
Thomas Hobbes Security Dilemma
What Is Leviathan?

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