Hobbes denied Aristotle’s idea of “Politics” that the human was a political being. In this case, in “Leviathan,” the philosopher tried to prove that the equality of all people was not good for the majority because these circumstances led to the conflict. In line with this assumption, the idea of Hobbes is rather provocative; nevertheless, he developed it logically and convincingly. However, the thinker did not completely reject Aristotle and offered the theory of a social contract in the context of the “war of all against all”. Hence, in this paper, I argue that we must understand Hobbes’s idea as an apparent defense of the Aristotelian theory in the light of both the social contract theory and the necessity of a Sovereign. First, I consider that while Aristotle suggested interpreting the human nature as an integral part of social life, Hobbes understood a human as a being that was constantly in conflict with the others. Second, I argue that Hobbes offered a convincing theory of society, despite the idealism of Aristotle. Third, I discuss that Hobbes’s idea of the social contract seems to be more convincing than Aristotle’s concept of the public good.
Aristotle asserted that the state was a natural formation, and people belonged to the state. For Aristotle, it was important not only to fit a person into the format of a polis but also to explain the human nature in the context of his teleology. He believed that the best way to understand things was to comprehend the purpose, for which they had been made. Accordingly, the explanation of a human fits into this logic, so the next clarification of the relationship between a person and the state is developed in the light of the idea of the natural and artificial, “The development of the polis requires the cooperative contribution of both nature and human beings” (Nederman, 1994, p. 286). For Aristotle, people outside of the state are doomed to death. The ancient philosopher believed that people needed to communicate not only for maintaining and improving their physical life but also for acquiring a good education and achieving social order, which were possible only in the human society, “It is necessary for people to receive a moral education in order for them to live in accordance with their own natural principle” (Nederman, 1994, p. 287).
Hobbes did not accept Aristotle’s idea that the inequality among people was natural. For him, all human beings are equal in their wishes, because “nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind” (Hobbes, 1996, p. 52). A person is a part of nature, so it cannot obey his laws. Hobbes considered this truth to be fundamental and quite clear, and it became an axiom of the philosophy of his age. Therefore, it is necessary to start with the approval of the property rights, which belong to the human body as a body of nature (Hobbes, 1928, p. 17). Hobbes then smoothly made a transition from the consideration of the human body to the essence of the human nature, in other words, its essential properties. Hobbes stated that physical differences did not prejudice in the human life (for example, a weak man can kill a strong man). Therefore, they could not serve as an argument in favor of the thesis about the inequality of all people from birth. On the other side, his idea of equal rights has already put a man in the situation of the inequality of humans. Hence, while Aristotle discovered the root of the phenomenon in the social context, Hobbes still considered it a result of various individual desires. For the time, Hobbes was convinced that the individual could not survive by alone, so people needed the state. Berkowitz (2008) notes, “The fundamental political challenge is to discover a solution to the destabilizing and indeed deadly competition to which men's universal passions dispose them” (p. 10).
In contrast to Aristotle, Hobbes preferred a person as a separate self-contained being. People differ among themselves by their natural features, but they are essentially equal in their abilities to harm each other in different ways. For Hobbes, it was crucial to explain a human as a being that had its own distinct purpose in life (Hobbes, 1928, p. 18). Accordingly, the whole history was a struggle between different desires, especially in the early stages of civilization. It is particularly true in the interpretations of such terms as the good and bad, which Hobbes often considered prejudices. For the philosopher, human nature was a purely mechanistic structure based on various opposites, which mainly expressed in the desire to gain power (Hobbes, 1996, p. 155). At the first glance, people do not dependent on the state fundamentally; therefore, they can build the own society. In reality, the state is the main arbiter that determines who is right, and who should be blamed for the conflict. Hobbes did not rely on the ability to establish the consent of interest automatically while being in the opposition to the true liberals of his time (Lemetti, 2011, p. 14). The state can be the only sovereign in the society, but not a person. The rights of an individual are limited by the general will of the state; in such a manner. One is free in own actions only because his/her actions does not cause any harm to other citizens of the same state.
Aristotle determined the state as a communion, which was created for the common good and offered a positive and optimistic version of the society. This notion is opposed to the family – a union that arisen naturally in order to meet the daily necessities, “The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants, and the members of it” (Aristotle, 1984, p. 1987). Aristotle understood family as a patriarchal structure, in which there are domestic servants and the head of the family, who is alike to the monarch, “Every family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the family the kingly form of government prevailed because they were of the same blood” (Aristotle, 1984, p. 1987). Hence, the ancient philosopher, as well as Hobbes, argued that the state as a natural formation preceded people because they could not survive outside of it. It is a well-known assertion that a human is a political animal. Accordingly, Aristotle clearly gave priority to the society while resolving the main question of philosophy about the relationship between the society and a person. The state is the natural beginning, and an individual is a part of the whole social context. Nevertheless, the desire for justice and communication was laid in a human by nature. Aristotle outlined the distribution of people into those who ruled and those who obeyed the natural laws. Therefore, the aim of the state is not the conquests or wars, but the virtue of citizens and the availability of resources needed for its implementation. However, for Hobbes, the main goal of the state was not the same.
While Aristotle believed that the state existed by nature and that by nature, a human was a social being, Hobbes asserted that the natural state of society was the war of all against all. He assured, “Nature has made men so equal in their physical and mental abilities” (Hobbes, 1996, p. 98). However, such an equality of human beings from nature itself is not good, because this ability causes equal chances for achieving the goals. Hence, if two people wish the same things, but they cannot have it together, they become enemies (Hobbes, 1996, p. 102). On the way to achieve their goals, these individuals are trying to destroy or subdue each other. In such a manner, the mutual distrust stems from the equal expectations, which are a direct cause of the war of all against all, “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live” (Hobbes, 1996, p. 62).
Thus, Hobbes distinguished three main causes of any conflict: the rivalry, mistrust, and desire for fame. The natural state of society has a tendency to the self-destruction. People try to prevent this phenomenon; therefore, they face the need to conclude an agreement with each other. Berkowitz (2008) states that this fundamental equality is a result of the passions that move humans: competition, diffidence or distrust, and glory, which are combined with the unlimited freedom that they enjoy in the state of nature, which reflects the lack of a common standard or authority (p. 10). According to Hobbes, the state is a total power that can protect people from both injustices caused by them to each other and the invasion of foreigners (Hobbes, 1928, p. 56). This power is concentrated in the hands of one ruler, a Sovereign, or a group of people, which are recognized as the representatives of the community. Therefore, the state does not exist by nature but by the virtue of the social contract, the meaning of which is to ensure the interests of the self-preservation, as well as the possibility of overcoming the conflict, “In all contracts where there is trust, the promise of him that is trusted, is called a covenant” (Hobbes, 1928, p. 60).
According to Aristotle, the main cause of a political conflict is the prevalence of the unfair side in the society while officials only take care of the own welfare. It is a reason of the tyranny and other abnormal forms of the state. The basis of the right form is the observance of the measures in the distribution of the wealth and honor, and especially job positions in the state (Nederman, 1994, p. 288). The order of succession is the essence of a good government of the society; however, in fact, Aristotle considered society in the format of the majority and not the minority. The fact that people are able to cooperate does not mean that they are unable to engage at enmity. The historical experience suggests the same. The most important source of any conflict or strife, as established in the “Policy,” is the property inequality. On the one hand, it contributes to the increase in the self-interest and ambition that ultimately leads to the degeneration of the political system. On the other hand, the excessive desire for wealth and honors of the notable men leads to the fact that there is strong dissatisfaction in ordinary people, citizens of the state, which becomes the cause of coups.
In Hobbes’s theory of the war of all against all, conflicts are caused not by the uneven distribution of wealth, but by the true nature of the human, and mainly the natural equality of people. If they are equal in their abilities, they are equal in their claims (Hobbes, 1996, p. 115). Since the objects of their claims could not belong to all people at the same time, a conflict between them arises. It does not mean that people are not able to cooperate, but they implement this cooperation, not because of its natural instincts, but because of coercion, and fear to be punished for the violation of the social contract. Hobbes, as well as Aristotle, carefully examined the question of the causes of the state of instability. One of the reasons is that a person who has achieved the highest office begins to abuse own power. The second reason is the poison of the rebel teachings (Hobbes, 1996, p. 81). Nevertheless, the most dangerous reason lies in the fact that every single person has an own judge on the question of what actions are good, and what are bad. As a result, people begin to argue with each other; thus, they question the authority of the state.
Hobbes believed that the equality was a starting point for the construction of the social order. However, equality is neither good nor perfect since it is a source of the contention. The agreement between humans is a true benefit, value, and condition for the preservation of the community; moreover, it sets the power of the state (Lemetti, 2011, p. 72). Participants have agreed to submit their right but stay free. However, they limit themselves by the law, which they obliged to respect because of the promotion and fear of punishment. These methods are the most important tools of the state that ensure its sovereignty. The personal freedom is realized in the orderliness, which also guarantees the legitimacy of the state. According to this viewpoint, the freedom of a citizen is combined with the unlimited power of a Sovereign, who is obliged to observe the laws of nature.
Both philosophers agreed that society needed a compromise for the further development, but the presence of the law/common good (Aristotle) or social contract (Hobbes) did not guarantee this social order. In both instances, philosophers offered an ideal model, which always excluded a number of people that were unequal and disproportionate in their activities. Aristotle excluded those who did not have physical opportunities for the active public life, so he automatically put these individuals in an unequal situation. In other words, for the ancient philosopher, the universal abstract good was more important than the value of each individual life, but still it was not enough for the proper functioning of the society. Hobbes did not clearly explain whether the Sovereign as the only undeniable source of liberty and power could defend people from their claims. On the one hand, there should be a Sovereign as a pledge of the law and justice. On the other hand, however, the Sovereign cannot solve the problem of the social inequality, so he is merely a tweaked version of the social contract. Hobbs came up with almost the same problem as Aristotle did when being unable to find solutions to the issue of the minority. The social contract does not solve the problem of opposite views but only offers as a partial compromise unless and until the next social riots and wars broke out.
Despite this point, both philosophers included such imperfection in their concepts, so this criticism had some denials. First, Aristotle admitted that some people will disagree with the law, but still the concept of the state as the common good was a decision for the most people but not for all. At the same time, Hobbes offered a concept of a Sovereign, who decided any disagreements between people. Otherwise, the situation of the war of all against all is endless. Second, Aristotle suggests distributing functions according to individual needs, because everyone can fulfill a particular role in the society. In contrast, the social contract limits query to a person’s freedom or life in general. Third, Aristotle and Hobbes realized that the common good and social contract could not solve all human problems, but they were a necessary step in the formation of a civilized society. The democratic and authoritarian models are necessary in the future organization of the social order but are not the final solution to all human problems.