Hobbes and his Living Machine of Artifice

1865 engraving by Gustave Doré, “Destruction of Leviathan”

“Nature… is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal” (Hobbes, 9).

Hobbes is a philosopher that is keen on establishing and dissecting dichotomies that he has observed in his own realities. Whether one is speaking about the large, big-picture establishment of the “commonwealth,” or if one can be so in-tune with oneself that he or she is capable of sensing the pressures of the constant motions of “objects” that are attributed to the internal reactions of our senses on the external world.

Hobbes begins his 1651 book by discussing this “State of Nature” that inhabits and exists around all living creatures in God’s green Earth. Being a man of optimism, Hobbes expands on this natural state to say that despite all efforts, the world will always (under the ownership of human beings) find itself into a “State of War” or conflict. Some would say that Hobbes is a realist, and they would be correct. He describes a world where power, and the coercion of said power becomes the most integral component to the reality of the governed and the government.

Thomas Hobbes

Being the attractive man he was, Hobbes knew what was at the heart of what every man and woman wanted: freedom. This incessant, absolute need for “…Liberty, [and]… the Power to move” (Hobbes, 115), in reference to the constant motion of our world, stems from our sovereign individuality. We have a drive to have infinite needs, or wants, in a world we known is finite and scarce of resources. The single most important resource being time.

The conflict between individuals’ freedoms was recognized by Hobbes as the single most effective catalyst in the creation of a world that simply consists of life that is “solitary, poore, nasty, brudish, and short” (Hobbes, 70). This most famous quote from his uplifting work showcases the truth of our reality as human beings. There is pain, suffering, and hardship in our world, and the artificial structure that we, as a society, create in our “commonwealth.” This structure established on the basis of either social contracts, or agreements, or through the use of power and force upon a people.

Hobbes avows that by giving up individual freedoms, a “leviathan,” or government structure, a civil society can be structured and laws can be established where this artificial, man-made machine prevents human beings from slipping into the “State of War,” in which Hobbes was a witness during the Civil War in England at the time of this book’s publication.

While this extensive observation on the human condition and structure of individual liberties within a society (in which he favored a monarchy because it is just simpler that way), this book shows the beginning of what has become social contract theory and the relationships established between fellow human beings.


Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. eds. Richard E. Flathman and David Johnston. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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