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Obligations and Liberties of the Individual to the Sovereign

The fundamental duty on the sovereign is the protection of the liberties of the individuals. There is unquestionable power, created by the forming of commonwealth bounds, of the individual to be bound to obey the sovereign. In the Leviathan, Hobbes postulates that the power of the Leviathan is dependent upon the commitment of its subjects towards its agenda. This means that this artificial being created by mutual agreement experiences the same laws and desires as a human being. This requires the Leviathan to ensure that it is protected from harm. In order to do this, the sovereign might have to engage in dishonorable acts. These acts of war require some of the subjects to go against the natural law of self-preservation. This, therefore, brings about the question of whether liberties accorded to an individual by submitting to a sovereign are real or not. Secondly, it raises the question of the instances where disobedience against the sovereign is justified. This paper seeks to critically analyze Hobbes’s position on this issue. The background of the philosophy, its position and evaluation will be brought forward to support or disprove the case. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn based on this critical review.

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The Argument

Hobbes’s philosophy in the Leviathan states, “No man is bound… Either to kill himself or any other man and… The obligation a man may sometimes have, upon the command of the sovereign to execute any dangerous, or dishonorable office, dependent not on the words of our submission; but on the intention, which is to be understood by the end thereof. When, therefore, our refusal to obey, frustrates the end for which the sovereignty was ordained; then, there is no liberty to refuse; otherwise there is.”

This statement presents the case on the sovereign’s right to infringe against the natural rights of its subject. The statement introduces the fundamental rights and moral duty ordained to every individual.

It is apparent, however, that the sovereign may command its citizens to perform such acts. The interpretation and commitment of truly liberal individuals are dependent on their willingness to obey the sovereign. While the duty of the sovereign is to protect the liberties of all its subjects, it is dependent on the action of its citizens to ensure its existence and ability to perform its duty.

The right of the individual to disobey the sovereign threatens its existence. However, Hobbes purports that this disobedience goes against the natural law of self-preservation. The case presented argues that a refusal to protect or to obey the state is the same as denying liberty to the self.

The case presented by Thomas Hobbes is centered on the egotistical viewpoint of a loyal subject. The commitment of the subject is the one that seems to be a personal interpretation of the command. An individual’s commitment to the protection of the sovereign is brought up. Obedience to the natural law of self-preservation is complementary to those of the sovereign. By clear understanding of the background of this social contract, a critical analysis of Hobbes’s case is made is possible. This insight requires an understanding of the philosophical ideas that form the argument.


The philosophy that governs Hobbes’s ideas on natural rights, the formation of the sovereign and the obligations of the state are presented in the writings of the Leviathan. The ideas presented postulate that liberties and natural law form the basis of any form of government. Thomas Hobbes states that all human beings are equal. This means that the needs of each individual bear equal urgency to them. Conflict occurs when two or more individuals seek to ownership or usage of limited resources. The disagreements, therefore, create a constant state of war for access to these resources.

Natural law states that each human being is bound to seek individualistic satisfaction. This law governs that all beings on earth are the basis of self-preservation. In an ungoverned state act of war in harming or encroachment on the liberties of a fellow human being are thus justifiable. In such a state, the protection of each individual is not guaranteed as they are susceptible to come to harm. This, therefore, facilitates the need for social contracts as an act of self-preservation. These agreements do not contradict the natural laws of nature; even though, the agreements might limit individualistic liberties. Rational human beings, therefore, commit to these social structures in order to ensure the protection of self and property.

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It is from the basis of these social contracts that a sovereign is ordained. This abstract authority may and is dependent on the social contract that ordains it. The Leviathan may be an individual in the case of a monarchy or in the case when one is elected by the masses in a democracy. In an aristocracy, the role of the sovereign is left to a group of individuals who are responsible for the existence of this authority. A sovereign or the ‘Leviathan’ was created in order to enforce the liberties of its subjects as well as to protect human beings from each other. In order to achieve this, the sovereign acts as an arbitrary overseer of social contracts. While it stipulates laws that govern its subjects, the sovereign is not answerable or bound by its own laws. In its role as an abstract authority, the sovereign is dependent on its subjects’ loyalty and obedience.

The social contract binds the subject to submit to the sovereign. While these contracts should not contravene the philosophy of natural law, obedience to the sovereign is only guaranteed when the Leviathan protects the liberties and rights of each human subject. In cases where the sovereign fails in the protection of the subjects or seeks to harm them, nature dictates that disobedience to the sovereign is justified. This, therefore, limits the power of the Leviathan to the individualistic efforts of all its members.

Strength of the Argument

In view of the philosophy that facilitates the sovereign the powers of this abstract are limited. However, it is logical to recognize the sovereign’s natural instinct to protect itself from harm and ensure the satisfaction of its needs. This creates circumstances of conflict between the sovereign and other individuals in its environment. As an actor in a state of war, the sovereign may require its individual members to act in ways that may cause harm to themselves or other beings.

In order to justify these acts, an egotistical individual will have to seek rationalization of their actions as they would appear in order to contradict the natural instinct of self-preservation. This would enable the individual to create a basis for justification for disobedience of the sovereign or contravention of self-preservation. Hobbes states that this justification is “dependent not on the submission, but intention” and the individual may engage in acts that may seem to be unnatural. These acts, therefore, become a self-preservation mechanism, which draws from obedience. In order to enable its preservation or advancement, the intent of the sovereign must, therefore, be mutually inclusive to those of its subjects.

Acts of war carried out in the name of the sovereign differ depending on the personal interpretation of an egotistically rational being. The personal commitment and identification with the sovereign vary amongst its members. Egotistically irrational beings tend to act in contradiction of natural law and social contract. Such individuals may obey or disobey acts of war as their personal wants usually supersede mutual needs. However, egotistically rational beings recognize the need for social agreements in order to ensure their successful existence. It would, therefore, mean that while these individuals may question the intention of the sovereign, they are more likely to seek the preservation of the mutual sovereign above their personal interests.


In his statement, Thomas Hobbes brings forward a case for natural law and social contracts. His argument observes that the powers and preservation of the sovereign are dependent on its individual subjects. While these subjects form the basis of its existence and are answerable to it, the sovereign does not have the right to infringe on their personal liberties. Conflicting ideas are presented when an act of self-preservation of the sovereign requires its subjects to put themselves in harm’s way or perform dishonorable acts. Hobbes argues that the choice to perform such acts is dependent on the rational subject’s interpretation of the command. This implies that there may be occurrences where the needs of the state are similar or even trump the personal ambitions of the state. In such cases, obedience to the command would be a natural act. This statement further stipulates that egotistically rational individuals may commit themselves to the preservation of the state than irrational ones would.

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According to Hobbes, the logical premise is presented in the agreement. This case is based on the complementary nature of natural law and the social contract. Natural law in itself governs the instincts that drive the satisfaction of personal laws. It is this law that recognizes the individual need to selfishly satisfy personal needs and seek self-preservation. These natural instincts form the basis of chaos and conflict that exist in the world. They further give a justification of an act of war towards external forces.

The social contract, however, is a rationalization of natural laws. Human beings create an agreement to which they are bound. These agreements are meant to achieve mutual satisfaction and protection from harm. It is from these mutual that a sovereign entity is ordained. A sovereign entity acts as the arbitrary overseer of agreements amongst its subjects. Its main purpose is the protection of personal liberties from internal and external forces. The sovereign entity will enforce laws that may limit the freedoms of its subjects but are not bound by the same laws. It is from this basis that the individual subject draws the liberty of obedience or disobedience to the sovereign.

In situations where the sovereign is engaged in acts of war, the subjects bear responsibility for enforcing the sovereign’s agenda. While these acts may be against the personal needs and rationale of the subject, the logical premise of the argument shows that they may be justified. This factor is largely dependent on the natural justification of the acts. While the state may force its subjects to perform acts of war threat of harm, this act would be contrary to its mandate of protecting the liberties of its subjects.


The statement by Hobbes is successful in supporting his position. The performance of acts of war as per the command of the sovereign is in agreement with natural laws. The sovereign is instinctively bound to ensure its survival and prosperity. As with all beings, acts of war may be justified to the state as it is not bound by the laws it enforces on its citizens. The citizens, on the other hand, have an obligation of loyalty to the state. This is because the existence of the sovereign is crucial in maintaining personal safety and mutual prosperity. The duty to obey the state cannot be forced upon the subjects. This requires the state to engage in acts whose intentions are in agreement with the personal instinct of its subjects.

Throughout history, such offices that seem to contravene personal needs and safety include those of the state police and the military. The bearers of these offices are mandated to ensure safety to the state, its interests as well as those of the subjects of the sovereign. In the line of duty, these officers are forced to put themselves in a harmful way as well as harm other human beings. These roles are often filled by egotistically rational subjects of the sovereign. One of these examples is the use of mercenaries to achieve military goals. Personal rationalization is observed as a greater driving force toward the state. This rationalization would enable the justification of obedience to commands of the sovereign.