Selections on the State of Nature, State of War and formation of the State

[Terms in brackets below have been added for clarification and some of the seventeenth century spellings have been modernized.]


In the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceases only in death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes f or a more intensive delight than he has already attained, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power; but because he cannot assure the power and the means to live well which he has at present, without the acquisition of more.


NATURE has made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is taken together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can claim to himself any benefit which another may not claim as well. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by alliance with others that are in the same danger with himself.

And as to the faculties of the mind … I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. …That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one's own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than any vulgar [common, uneducated] person… But this proves that men are in that point equal, rather than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.

From this equality of ability arises equality of hope in the attaining of our ends [goals, purposes.]  And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their goal (which is principally their own self-preservation, and sometimes their enjoyment only), they endeavor to destroy or subdue one another….

And from this diffidence [fear, mistrust] of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself so reasonable as anticipation [i.e. taking preventative action]; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can so long until he sees no other power great enough to endanger him.  And this is no more than his own preservation requires, and is generally allowed.… As a consequence, such augmentation [increase] of dominion over men being necessary to a man's preservation, it ought to be allowed him.

Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all. For every man expects that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself, and upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing he naturally endeavors, as far as he dares (which among them that have no common power to keep them in quiet is far enough to make them destroy each other), to damage those who show him contempt.

So in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel.  First, competition; secondly, diffidence [mistrust]; thirdly, glory.

The first makes men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence to make themselves masters of other men's persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is a war of every man against every man. For war consists not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, where the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known… so the nature of war consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition to war during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.  All other time is peace.

Whatever is the result of a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same results occur in the time when men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them with. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious [large or spacious]building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

It may seem strange to some … that Nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another…. Let him therefore consider with himself: when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be laws and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words?

It may be thought there was never such a time or condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof depends on natural lust, have no government at all, and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. However, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there is no common power to fear, by the manner of life which men that have formerly lived under a peaceful government use to degenerate into a civil war.

But even if there had never been any time wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another, yet in all times kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independence, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war. But because they uphold thereby the industry of their subjects, there does not follow from it that misery which accompanies the liberty of particular men.

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequence; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are not faculties either of the body or mind. If they were, they might be present in a man alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. But rather hey are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is also a result of this same condition that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man's that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And this is the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.

The passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to comfortable living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggests convenient articles of peace upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles are those which some otherwise call the laws of nature.

Chapter XV: Natural Right versus Natural Law  
The Right of Nature, which writers commonly call Ius Naturale [Natural Right] is the Liberty each man has, to use his own power as he will himself, for the preservation of his own Nature, that is to say, of his own life, and consequently of doing anything which in his own judgment and Reason he shall conceive to be the best means to this end of  preserving his own life.

A Law of Nature [Lex Naturalis] is a precept or general rule found out by Reason by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destruction of his life or takes away the means of preserving his life.  Because the condition of Man is a condition of war of every one against every one, there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help to him in preserving his life against his enemies. It follows that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing and therefore as long as this natural right of every man endures, there can be no security to any man.

And consequently it is a precept or general rule of Reason, that every man ought to endeavor for peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of War. The first branch of which rule contains the first and fundamental Law of Nature, which is to seek peace and follow it. The second the sum of the Right of Nature, which is by all means we can to defend ourselves. [Note: So the two are in conflict.]

And in this Law of Nature consists the fountain and source of justice. For where no covenant has preceded, there no Right has been transferred, and every man has right to everything. … Therefore, before the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants [agreements], and to make good those things [property] which by mutual contract men acquire, in recompense of the universal Right they abandon. [Note: This means there are no property rights before the institution of a government. Compare Locke next week.]


THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as has been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.

For the laws of nature, such as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore, notwithstanding the laws of nature (which everyone has then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely), if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art for caution against all other men. And in all places, where men have lived by small families, to rob and spoil one another has been a trade … and as small families did then; so now do cities and kingdoms, which are but greater families (for their own security).  Kingdoms enlarge their dominions upon all pretenses of danger, and fear of invasion … trying as much as they can to subdue or weaken their neighbors by open force, and secret arts [plots, schemes].

It is true that certain living creatures, as bees and ants, live sociably one with another (which are therefore by Aristotle numbered amongst political creatures), and yet have no other direction than their particular judgements and appetites; nor speech, whereby one of them can signify to another what he thinks expedient for the common benefit: and therefore some man may perhaps desire to know why mankind cannot do the same. I answer,

First, that men are continually in competition for honor and dignity, which these creatures are not; Secondly, that amongst these creatures the common good differs not from the private; and being by nature inclined to their private, they procure thereby the common benefit. But man, whose joy consists in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is outstanding or better than that of others…

Fourthly, that these creatures, though they have some use of voice in making known to one another their desires and other affections, yet they lack that art of words by which some men can represent to others that which is good in the likeness of evil; and evil, in the likeness of good; and augment or diminish the apparent greatness of good and evil, discontenting men and troubling their peace at their pleasure…

Lastly, the agreement of these creatures is natural; that of men is by covenant only, which is artificial: and therefore it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required, besides covenant, to make their agreement constant and lasting; which is a common power to keep them in awe and to direct their actions to the common benefit.  [Note: Covenant means contract or agreement.]

The only way to erect such a common power, able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will…. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that you give up, your right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner. The multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. [Note: civitas is Latin for “city.”  In modern terms, he is referring to the State.]]

This is the generation [or origin] of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that MORTAL GOD to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defense. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealth, he has the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consists the essence of the Commonwealth; which, to define it, is: one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defense. And he that carries this person is called the SOVEREIGN [ruler], and said to have sovereign power; and everyone else, his SUBJECT.

Attaining this sovereign power can be done in two ways. One, by natural force: as when a man makes his children to submit themselves, and their children, to his government, and is able to destroy them if they refuse; or by war subdues his enemies to his will, giving them their lives on that condition. The other, is when men agree amongst themselves to submit to some man, or assembly of men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others. This latter may be called a political Commonwealth, or Commonwealth by Institution; and the former, a Commonwealth by acquisition. And first, I shall speak of a Commonwealth by institution.


A COMMONWEALTH is said to be instituted when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every one with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; every one, as well he that voted for it as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the actions and judgements of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner as if they were his own, to the end to live peaceably among themselves, and be protected against other men.

From this institution of a Commonwealth are derived all the rights and faculties of him, or them, on whom the sovereign power is conferred by the consent of the people assembled.

They that have already instituted a Commonwealth, being bound by covenant to own the actions and judgements of one, cannot lawfully make a new covenant amongst themselves to be obedient to any other, in anything whatsoever, without his permission. And therefore, they that are subjects to a monarch cannot without his leave cast off monarchy and return to the confusion of a disunited multitude; nor transfer their person from him that bears it to another man, other assembly of men: for they are bound, every man to every man, to own and be reputed author of all that already is their sovereign shall do and judge fit to be done; so that any one man dissenting, all the rest should break their covenant made to that man, which is injustice: and they have also every man given the sovereignty to him that bears their person; and therefore if they depose him, they take from him that which is his own, and so again it is injustice. …

Secondly, because the right of bearing the person of them all is given to him they make sovereign, by covenant only of one to another, and not of him to any of them, there can happen no breach of covenant on the part of the sovereign; and consequently none of his subjects, by any claim of forfeiture [seizure of property], can be freed from his subjection.

Thirdly, because the major part has by consenting voices declared a sovereign, he that dissented must now consent with the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly be destroyed by the rest.

Fourthly, because every subject is by this institution author of all the actions and judgements of the sovereign instituted, it follows that whatever he does can be no injury to any of his subjects; nor ought he to be by any of them accused of injustice….

Fifthly, and consequently to that which was said last, no man that has sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished. For seeing every subject is author of the actions of his sovereign, he punishes another for the actions committed by himself….

Seventhly, annexed to the sovereignty is the whole power of prescribing the rules whereby every man may know what goods he may enjoy, and what actions he may do, without being molested by any of his fellow subjects: and this is it men call propriety [property]. For before constitution of sovereign power, as has already been shown, all men had right to all things, which necessarily causes war: and therefore this propriety [property], being necessary to peace, and depending on sovereign power, is the act of that power, in order to the public peace. These rules of propriety (or mine and thine) and of good, evil, lawful, and unlawful in the actions of subjects are the civil laws….

Eighthly, is annexed to the sovereignty the right of the judiciary; that is to say, of hearing and deciding all controversies which may arise concerning law, either civil or natural, or concerning fact. For without the decision of controversies, there is no protection of one subject against the injuries of another…

 Ninthly, annexed to the sovereignty is the right of making war and peace with other nations and Commonwealths; that is to say, of judging when it is for the public good, and how great forces are to be assembled, armed, and paid for that end, and to levy money upon the subjects to defray the expenses thereof.

Tenthly, annexed to the sovereignty is the choosing of all counsellors, ministers, magistrates, and officers, both in peace and war. For seeing the sovereign is charged with the goal, which is the common peace and defense, he is understood to have power to use such means as he shall think most fit for his discharge.

These are the rights which make the essence of sovereignty, and which are the marks whereby a man may discern in what man, or assembly of men, the sovereign power is placed and resides. For these are incommunicable and inseparable. The power to coin money, to dispose of the estate and persons of infant heirs, and all other prerogatives may be transferred by the sovereign, and yet the power to protect his subjects be retained. ...

Therefore, it is said, a kingdom divided in itself cannot stand: for unless this division occurs, division into opposite armies can never happen. If there had not first been an opinion received of the greatest part of England that these powers were divided between the King and the Lords and the House of Commons, the people would have never been divided and fallen into this Civil War; first between those that disagreed in politics, and after between the dissenters about the liberty of religion…  there be few now in England that do not see that these rights are inseparable, and will be so generally acknowledged at the next return of peace.   


There can only be three kinds of Commonwealth. For the representative must needs be one man, or more; and if more, then it is the assembly of all, or of a part. When the representative is one man, then is the Commonwealth a monarchy; when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an aristocracy. Other kinds of Commonwealth there can be none: for either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign power (which I have shown to be indivisible) entire.

There are other names of government in the histories and books of policy; as tyranny and oligarchy [rule of the few]; but they are not the names of other forms of government, but of the same forms when they are disliked. For they that are discontented under monarchy call it tyranny; and they that are displeased with aristocracy call it oligarchy: so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy call it anarchy, which signifies want of government; and yet I think no man believes that lack of government is any new kind of government: nor by the same reason ought they to believe that the government is of one kind when they like it, and another when they dislike it or are oppressed by the governors.


See separate Handout for Discussion Questions on Hobbes.