The Hobbesian Compromise

Hello fellow philoso-cosmonauts! As promised, I’m here with yet another installation of my journey through Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Grab your popcorn and get ready for some Hobbes-quality snark.

He’s so lovably grumpy; it’s like watching Gran Torino!

Now, at this point, we have the first two books in our rearview, and before we head into Bat Country (the Christian Commonwealth), we should all be comfortable at least guessing Hobbes’ position on which authority would win in a backyard brawl between the Commonwealth and the Church. It’s obviously going to be…wait, I’m sorry; did you say “the Church?”

Ooooooor not.

However, being the exceedingly reasonable man (and stuffed tiger) that we all know him to be, Hobbesaurus Rex knows full and well that there’s no way he can truly cut the cords binding the Commonwealth and the Church (or truly uproot the fantastical notions of hellfire and cumulus-clouded heavens) as seen in this excerpt:

“…It is impossible a Common-wealth should stand, where any other than the Sovereign, hath a power of giving greater rewards than Life; and of inflicting greater punishments than Death. Now seeing Eternal Life is a greater reward, than the Life Present; and Eternal Torment a greater punishment than the Death of Nature; It is a thing worthy to be well considered, of all men that desire (by obeying Authority) to avoid the calamities of Confusion, and Civil war, what is meant in Holy Scripture, by Life Eternal, and Torment Eternal; and for what offenses, against whom committed, men are to be Eternally Tormented; and for what actions, they are to obtain Eternal Life”

In other words:

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid Hell (if it exists) and also wanting to avoid dying a violent death, but “Life Eternal” isn’t what you think it is.

So, now what?


BRING IN THE COMPROMISE CANNONS!!! Wait…just the compromise; leave the cannons behind for now. So Hobbes has cracked the code and is here to tell us what “life eternal” really means and how we can achieve it.

“…the immortal life beginneth not in man…not his specifical nature, and generation; but the promise. For St. Peter says, ‘We look for new heavens and a new earth, (not from nature) but from promise,’”
It’s okay, Will. I say WTF every time I look through Hobbes’ windows, too.
“…seeing it hath been already proved…that the Kingdom of God is a Civil Common-wealth, where God himself is Sovereign, by virtue first of the Old, and since of the New Covenant, wherein he reigned by his Vicar, or Lieutenant; the same places do therefore also prove, that after the coming again of our Savior in his Majesty, and glory, to reign actually, and Eternally; the Kingdom of God is to be on Earth.

In other words:

Where the old covenant ends and the new covenant begins, we learn that a Civil Commonwealth, or the collective will of many people, is the ONLY Heaven, and it can exist on Earth alone.


“But because this doctrine …will appear to most men a novelty; I doe but propound it; maintaining nothing in this, or any other paradox of Religion; but attending the end of that dispute of the sword, concerning the Authority…by which all sorts of doctrine are to be approved, or rejected; and whose commands, both in speech, and writing…must by all men, that mean to be protected by their Laws, be obeyed. For the points of doctrine concerning the Kingdom (of) God, have so great influence on the Kingdom of Man, as not to be determined, but by them, that under God have the Sovereign Power.”

In other words:

The state will decide what scriptures and other doctrines hold up under its authoritative scrutiny, and the state has the final say.

You don’t like it? Too bad.

Hobbes also considers additional issues that may arise from the clash of covenants and those hard-pressed to see things the new (right) way.

“it is natural for men…both to proceed in reading, and to lose their attention, in the search of objections to that they had read before: Of which, in a time wherein the interests of men are changed (seeing much of that Doctrine, which serveth to the establishing of a new Government, must needs be contrary to that which conduced to the dissolution of the old,) there cannot choose but be very many.”

In other words:

Hobbes knows that change is hard, and that some people are going to spend more time looking to discredit the philosophies upon which he is building their new world.

Willie will always be here for you, dissenters.

And finally, with an air of hope (yes, the Hobbesian definition of Hope applies here), Hobbes essentially asks the state to “shake on it” because the times they are a-changin’ and for the sake of peace, truth, and loyalty, everyone needs to wash this compromise down with a very distinct blend of wines:

…but in this time, that men call not only for Peace, but also for Truth, to offer such Doctrines as I think True, and that manifestly tend to Peace and Loyalty, to the consideration of those that are yet in deliberation, is no more, but to offer New Wine, to be put into New Cask, that both may be preserved together.

In other words:

For us to achieve peace, receive truth, and rely on loyalty, we must respect the importance of the Old Covenant while living under the New Covenant, for one could not truly exist without the other.

To illustrate this concept, I’ve created the following illumination:

Have a stellar week, philoso-cosmonauts. Check back for ponderings on Leviathan’s “Kingdom of Darkness” section next week.