A Paraphrase of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: Introduction

Recently Billmon alluded to someone putting Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan into colloquial English. Having updated Hume's On Miracles, I thought I would give it a shot. However, Hobbes' prose resists everyday English – imagine that. I'll try to make it as easy as possible while still getting the points (as I see them) across.

As I get a chapter done, I'll post it here. Feel free to correct me in comments if I've misunderstood what's happening in the book. Once I get the entire work finished, I'll make it a PDF and post a link in the sidebar for downloading, just as I've done with the Hume paraphrase.


Nature is God’s Art. With it, He made and governs the world. We humans use our own art to imitate it, making machines like artificial animals to do our work. Even the most rational and incredible work of Nature, the human, is mimicked by the body politic – the Commonwealth, the State, a Leviathan made by humanity. In all its parts it can be seen like an artificial human, built for the protection and defense of its weak makers. Its sovereignty, that which gives life and motion to the body, is like the human’s soul; the various offices of government make up joints; societal reward and punishment (attached to the soul, by which every joint and member are moved to do their duty) are the nerves; the strength of the body politic is found in the common wealth of the various members; the safety of the people is its occupation; councilors become its memory, giving it educated advice on the proper course to take; justice and law its reason and will; peace is its health, sedition its sickness, and civil war its death. Even the mutual decisions and will that brought the State into being can be compared to the Almighty’s “Let there be humanity.”

I want to discuss the nature of the Leviathan in four ways:

  • First we should examine its contents, and also who made it – both things being one thing, humans.
  • Then we will look at the Leviathan as a whole: how and by what agreements it is made, the natural power and just limitations of its sovereign, how it is preserved, and how it is dissolved.
  • We shall then explore the meaning of a Christian Commonwealth.
  • And finally, we shall determine what exactly the Kingdom of Darkness is.

Now many have recently said that wisdom is attained not by reading books but by reading people. It’s sad to see that some people do nothing but think they have read people correctly and go behind their backs to run them down based on their assumed knowledge. They’d do well to consider another less-known phrase: Read yourself. This phrase, too, has been abused. Some use it as condemnation for an unjust official, and others as grounds for thinking themselves better than others.

No, the many individual members of humanity are very similar in their passions and thinking. Suppose one person looks within and learns what and why she or he is thinking, opining, reasoning, hoping, fearing, etc. in the majority of situations. That person then has a window into the thoughts and passions of other people in those same situations. I say “passions” to be precise – desires, fears, hopes. No one has a window into the object of passions – what is being desired or feared in a particular situation. This varies by the different circumstances of each individual person. The particular objects of a person’s desire are so easily kept from our knowledge, through deceit, lying, counterfeit, and bad teachings, that only the Searcher of Hearts can find them. Sometimes we learn a person’s designs from a person’s actions, but if we do this without comparing those designs with our own, and thinking about the circumstances that could alter those designs, we are trying to decipher a code without the key, and risk being deceived further.

Should an ordinary person learn to read others, it only helps with that person’s acquaintances. But the rulers of humanity must look within themselves to understand all of humanity, a far more difficult task. But read my book here, as I attempt to set down my own understanding of this task, and when I am done, see if you find it within your own heart just as I have said. There’s no other way to make my point.


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