Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Plato’s Republic are two of the most significant works discussing the nature of rule and justice. They both introduce a necessary notion of an absolute monarch that presides over a commonwealth. Plato’s philosopher king is appointed to reign over his imaginary Kallipolis, while a Leviathan comes to the rescue of the forlorn people in a State of Nature.
And while their rights to rule are similar, and they both are vital parts of own commonwealths, the two monarchs live in different worlds: one lives in Socrates’ imagination, in his perfect city; the other – in Hobbes’ dispirited and realistic analysis of his reality. Both thinkers attribute peace and development to a centralized power. Plato thinks that law “contrives to bring [welfare] about in the city as a whole, harmonizing the citizens by persuasion and compulsion, making them share with one another the benefit that each is able to bring to the commonwealth.
And it produces such men in the city not in order to let them turn whichever way each wants, but in order that it may use them in binding the city together. ” (Plato, Republic, 519e-520a) Thomas Hobbes takes the idea of common benefit and development even further. Not only “there is no place for industry… no culture on earth, no navigation…no account of time, no arts, no letter, no society,” but the life in general is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, xiii 9)
And the solution to everyone’s welfare is “a common power to keep them all in awe. ” (Hobbes, xiii 8) Both Plato and Thomas Hobbes have populated their commonwealth with originally very alike populations, but prescribed them different fates. Plato considers the people to have “unleashed [their] unnecessary and useless pleasures” and desires. (Plato, 561a) And this imbalance, lack of moderation in their souls removes them from justice and knowledge. Meanwhile, Hobbes embraces this fact that people desire wealth and power.
He thinks that this is the only way of “assuring of a contented life,” and that moderation, while not harmful, is unnatural. (Hobbes, xi 1) One “cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more. ” (Hobbes, xi 2) So Hobbes would try to instate an atmosphere of progress, “industry…navigation…commodious buildings…instruments of moving and removing…knowledge of the face of the earth. ” (Hobbes, xiii 9) In the Leviathan, reason is not divorced from desires.
While desires signify progress and industry, “reason [is] attained by industry…in apt imposing of names…assertions made by connexion of one of them to another… till we come to a knowledge…that men call science. ” (Hobbes, v 17) Plato, on the other hand, thinks that reason must rule over the desires. So he introduces his values that bring people closer to knowledge, one of them being moderation: “being obedient to the rulers, and being themselves rules of the pleasures. ” (Plato, 389e) For Plato, the saviors are the truth-loving seekers of the knowledge, the philosophers.
Before the philosophic class becomes master of a city, there will be no rest from ills either for city or citizens nor will the regime about which we tell tales in speech get its completion in deed. ” (Plato, 501b) It seems logical that for the city to thrive, the philosophers must govern. “Those who are without education and experience of truth would never be adequate stewards of a city”, so there must be a ruler that knows what is best for it, and, following Socrates’ theory, counterbalances the majority’s “desire” with his “reason. ” (Plato, 519b-c) But it is not up to the people to choose him or authorize his power.
They praise and call ‘skilled sailor,’ ‘pilot,’ and ‘knower of the ship’s business’ the man who is clever at figuring out how they will get the rule, either by persuading or by forcing the shipowner, while the man who is not of this sort they blame as useless. ” (Plato, 488c) Plato’s shipowner analogy proves that people are not capable of wisely choosing a leader. Hobbes, on the other hand, does not think there is time or need to find or educate a philosopher to rule the commonwealth. During the State of Nature, when there is “war of every man against every man,” someone has to become a uniting power. Hobbes, xiii 13)
And for the mere “preservation of his own nature,” every man shall law down his rights to everything, and transfer to the third party, the sovereign. (Hobbes, xiv 1) Who this sovereign, or the Leviathan, is, does not seems to matter. Since, first of all, it cannot be worse than without one. Secondly, the notion of “better” or “worse” is not only subjective and relative, they have “no place” without a common power. (Hobbes, xiii 13) And thirdly, according to Hobbes, there is no one to deserve the right to rule more than another, since “men by nature are equal. (Hobbes, xiii 1) So in this condition of urgency and despair, it is every citizen’s duty to create this commonwealth by artificially producing a uniting power.
And the correctness of this power’s future decisions lies completely in its hands. One of the most important of them is the decision of what is right and what is wrong, just and unjust. For Socrates, there exists a Form of Good. The Good that needs to be discovered through meditation and enlightenment. Justice is but “the practice of minding one’s own business,” playing your role in a determined order, an order which Socrates had deduced and the philosopher king would maintain. Plato, 433b)
This is where the key difference arises: “true and false are attributes of speech, not of things,” and therefore in a “war of every man against every man…nothing can be unjust,” and nothing is good or evil. (Hobbes, iv 11; xiii 13) It is purely a monarch’s decision, and the people’s duty to obey, since they are the ones who authorized the monarch’s rule. The distinction between such a monarch’s duty and that of a philosopher king is that for the masses, a Leviathan might as well be a coin-flipping machine.
It is not his decision about justice or fairness or happiness that makes the commonwealth just, fair, and happy. But rather that everyone obeys his ‘coin flip,’ whatever it may be, that everyone is equal before him, and therefore there is peace. While Plato thinks that “for the true pilot it is necessary to pay careful attention to year, seasons, heaven, stars, winds, and everything that’s proper to the art, if he is really going to be skilled at ruling a ship,” Hobbes’ primary concern is, in a state of war and turmoil, to build a ship in the first place. (Plato, 488d)
But, perhaps, these ‘cavemen’ and the Hobbesian people that are in a war against each other is the same group of individuals. And this Leviathan, the absolute monarch, may very well be a philosopher that knows the ‘Form of Good. ’ It is possible that he also has a “life better than ruling,” and was simply contracted by the people to rule. (Plato, 521a) Plato considers “city in which those who are going to rule are least eager to rule [to be] necessarily governed in the way that is best and freest from faction,” and Hobbes might have attained his goal by doing exactly that. Plato, 520d)
And it is possible that the justice in this city, as decided by the sovereign, is more than a coin flip, but rather goes in line with Socrates’ definition. After all, this justice is simply a set of rules derived from his opinion, and even Socrates allows for that: “That rule we set down at the beginning as to what must be done in everything when we were founding the city—this, or a certain form of it, is, in my opinion, justice. ” (Plato, 433a) Perhaps the thinkers’ disappointment in their then-regimes is what underlines the similarities between their works.
To further analyze the authors’ motivation of writing their works, one must examine their social and historical background. Thomas Hobbes’ materialistic approach may be explained due to the historical and political situation that he had experienced at the time of writing his Leviathan. The Civil War that England experienced in XVII century has ripped the society into different factions: Catholics and Anglicans, Royalists and Parliamentarians: “people [are] divided and [fell] into this civil war, first between those that disagreed in politics, and after between the dissenters about the liberty of religion. (Hobbes, xviii 16)
Out of this may come Hobbes’ motivations for trying to bring all of the citizens together, since all of them are fundamentally equal to each other, and unite under one common agreement, the “return of peace. ” (Hobbes, xviii 16) Plato also grew up during a war, and had experienced the downfall of Athenian democracy during the Peloponnesian War. So his Republic follows his frustration with democracy, that may have prompted him to philosophize about the ideas of blind, gray masses, stuck in the dark of his “cave.
But when designing his philosopher kings, Socrates does not challenge himself to ‘salvage’ his homeland. He would call himself a “painter” that attempts to “draw what the fairest human being would look like,” and thinks that “what [he says] is not any less good on account of [his] not being able to prove that it is possible to found a city the same as the one in speech. ” (Plato, 472d) So his words, his fairly utopian and unrealizable conditions of this city-state are as subjective and made-up as an artist’s drawing.
And while all of these conditions are vital for the foundation of Socrates’ Kallipolis, the “beautiful city,” the perfect city that he himself doubts may ever exist outside of his imagination, they are absolutely unnecessary for the purposes of Thomas Hobbes’ analytical and materialistic work. Leviathan also is a figment of his imagination, but his definition of the word is derived quite literally from the Latin word: “image of thing seen. ” (Hobbes, ii 2) Meanwhile, Plato and Socrates – “Greeks [–] call it fancy. ”