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108 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hobbes is a lot smarter than I am
I finished reading Leviathan a couple months ago, but cringed every time I thought about writing a review. The book is large at over 700 pages and covers so much ground, a review would have to be a book in itself to do it justice. Due to Leviathan's philosophical content and somewhat antiquated language, it's very slow going. Each page needs time to digest.
So I'm...
Published on July 5, 2004 by Ritesh Laud

versus
43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars PROMETHEUS edition is only first half.
Like most books, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan is divided into chapters. But it is also divided into four "Parts." The Prometheus edition (not to be confused with the Penguin edition) includes only the first two parts, though they sell it as if it were the entire book instead of only the first half. Any other edition would be better than this.
If you want a good edition,...
Published on December 15, 1999


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108 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hobbes is a lot smarter than I am, July 5, 2004
By 
Ritesh Laud (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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I finished reading Leviathan a couple months ago, but cringed every time I thought about writing a review. The book is large at over 700 pages and covers so much ground, a review would have to be a book in itself to do it justice. Due to Leviathan's philosophical content and somewhat antiquated language, it's very slow going. Each page needs time to digest.
So I'm not going to bother writing a real review. I will just say that Leviathan is a 5-star classic and worth your time, if you can deal with reading political philosophy. Hobbes divides the work into four major sections:
Of Man, in which he discusses human nature and why civilized people prefer peace to war. Here Hobbes establishes the primary reason that people form a government to rule over them: to safeguard them from enemies, both external and internal.
Of Common-wealth, in which Hobbes first talks about the several forms of government and the pros and cons of each. He then explains the rights that a government has over its people; according to Hobbes, the government can do pretty much anything it wants to. Finally he goes into the things that tend to weaken or dissolve a government.
Of a Christian Common-wealth, the longest section, in which Hobbes accepts the Bible as the word of God and quotes from it numerous time to bolster his position in support of a powerful government.
Of the Kingdome of Darknesse, the shortest and strangest section, in which Hobbes veers away from the topic of government and instead focuses on religious practices and beliefs of the day that he deems improper and inconsistent with the Bible.
It took me months to read this, but I came away with great respect for Hobbes and a better understanding of politics. I can't say that I agree with everything I read, but I think the majority of his arguments are sound and convincing.
Five stars, no doubt in my mind. But it's a dive into the deep end, so you'll probably only finish it if you really appreciate and enjoy philosophical discussion!
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Work Neglected and Misunderstood, January 19, 2001
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Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
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Hobbes' sole claim to fame these days is the out-of-context quotation from him that life is "nasty, brutish, and short." The full quotation from chapter 13, section 9 which inveighs against the state of war, in concluding the statement on man's condition in such a state, is "and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."-Beats me why "solitary" and "poor" are left out of the popular quotation-The point is, this is the condition Hobbes wanted to AVOID, not to justify! He had just lived through the bloodfest known as the English Civil War in which many of his friends were horribly slaughtered because of their religious beliefs. His whole point in writing this book was to advance arguments that one should not go to war over differences in religion. His controversial alternative is absolute obedience to the state and secular authorities. This alternative combined with the quote, noted above, so maddeningly and frequently taken out of context, have given Hobbes and his work the undeserved reputation as, well, curmudgeonly. One might ask what sort of book you might write if you had just witnessed the horrific slaughter and loss of esteemed friends that Hobbes had. You would probably write a book urging peace at any price even if it meant undue subjugation to the state at times. This is exactly what Hobbes did.-Hobbes belongs to that majestic, good-natured and unflappable tradition of brilliant English heretical political and religious writers including, among others, David Hume (well, Scottish too) and Bertrand Russell who seemed merely humored by the ecclesiastics calling down hell-fire upon them and similar dire threats from men in power. Scholars are STILL trying to debunk the work of these prominent men, among others more obscure, with little success it must be said.- Yes, the prose can be rough-going at times. But if you want an argument against war, specifically war over religion. This is the masterpiece to set your nose to. Once you've finished, it's hard not to smile when you think of Hobbes and his essential decency amidst the turbulent times in which he lived.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The case for absolute government, March 15, 2011
This review is from: Leviathan (Kindle Edition)
Being a free Kindle edition there is no introduction and no notes - but you do get most of the text and all the passages that matter. The main difference from the original is that there are fewer capitals and italics. Hobbes used them for emphasis very much more than a modern writer would, and their pruning in this edition makes the text easier to read.

Modern political philosophy begins with Hobbes. Before Hobbes, writers for centuries had accepted the divine right of kings or did not think much about the origins of government. Hobbes provides reasons as to how and why men come together to form government. He starts with the assumption that the organized state is a choice. The alternative is the "state of nature", where there is both a "right" of nature and "laws" of nature. Hobbes uses these terms in a very individual way. The "right" of nature is "the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power...for the preservation of his own Life". The "laws" of nature dictate that each person should seek to live with others in peace, and should only retain the right to as much liberty as he is willing to permit others. These "laws" are found by reason, and are utilitarian rather than moral. Hobbes is simply saying that if men think about their situation, reason tells them that giving up their natural rights in exchange for others doing likewise is the best means of self-preservation, even though actually doing it is contrary to human nature.

On human nature Hobbes is cynical. Reason suggests advantages stem from co-operation, but unless men are constrained by an external authority this is outweighed by instinct. Men are fundamentally competitive and selfish. They are also roughly equal in ability so no one person can impose his will on others, and the most one can hope for is to protect oneself from others. Life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Men are therefore driven to create government via a pact with others to give up their natural rights to a sovereign authority, which may be either an individual or an oligarchy (Hobbes prefers the former). Hobbes uses the concept of a "social contract". It is not an historical event but a logical device to describe the ongoing basis of consent to government. Hobbes' view of human nature is such that he allocates absolute power to the sovereign. Limited government, he believed, is unworkable for men are too prone to division and selfishness, and "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." Influenced by the divisive years preceding the English Civil War, Hobbes grants the sovereign the power of censorship, including the ability to prevent discussion of religion because such discussion leads to conflict. Anybody seeking to preach a new religion should be treated as a criminal.

Had Hobbes been writing a century later then religion would almost certainly have played no part in his writings. He himself was not a religious man. His concern with religion stemmed from its role in the conflict leading to the English Civil War, a period during which he lived.

Is there an ultimate right of rebellion against the absolute ruler? The answer is to be found in the nature of the social contract. Men give up their natural right to self-preservation to a sovereign in order to to better achieve it. If a situation arises where the sovereign cannot ensure that safety then society is dissolved. Can any action by the sovereign be challenged? Yes, if a man is conscripted into military service (an obvious threat to life) in circumstances where the survival of the state is not threatened. If the survival of the state is threatened then so are the lives of its citizens, and in these circumstances the sovereign can impose conscription. Hobbes adds that even in this case a citizen should have the right to replace himself with a volunteer if one is available.

"Leviathan" is not an easy book, not helped by the fact that the English is that of a man born just 24 years after Shakespeare. However, it is an important work that makes a good study companion to Locke's "Second Treatise", which argues for limited government.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abridged, yet worthwhile., September 24, 2005
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What you first need to know is that the word "Authoritative" used in this edition refers to the fact that it utilizes several different manuscript versions to capture what Hobbes meant to convey. However, what is not mentioned is that this is an abridged version of the text. Much of parts III & IV are omitted. Which is a bit disappointing.

I gave this 5 stars because Hobbes himself deserves 5 stars for his provocative ideas. If you're familiar & comfortable with Shakespeare's language, you won't be put off by the cavalier spelling & grammar rules of Hobbes' era. This is not to say that Hobbes writes in blank verse (haha), but that the language is a bit arcane & takes some acclimatization.

Footnotes were, for the most part good - in the body of the text, foreign phrases were translated for those woefully ignorant (like me) of Latin & ancient Greek. However, in the post-ceding criticisms, this very positive practice was discontinued. As in, whole footnotes in Latin & German were not translated. So, get your browsers set to Babelfish, baby.

The accompanying criticisms are a mixed bag - some worth reading, some, not so much. They help elucidate some points - which is great for a casual reader like myself. Others just serve to annoy.

Eitherway, if you're looking for a definitive edition of the Leviathan, don't look here because you will miss about 1/3 of the actual text which Hobbes wrote down. If you want to skip the parts about theology & much of that which was tied into the Christian Commonwealth, then this is your edition.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars PROMETHEUS edition is only first half., December 15, 1999
By A Customer
Like most books, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan is divided into chapters. But it is also divided into four "Parts." The Prometheus edition (not to be confused with the Penguin edition) includes only the first two parts, though they sell it as if it were the entire book instead of only the first half. Any other edition would be better than this.
If you want a good edition, you could go with the Hackett edition, edited by Edwin Curley, modernized and with the important variants (translated into English, of course) from the Latin edition of the Leviathan published during Hobbes' lifetime. A good edition that is not modernized is the Cambridge edition edited by Richard Tuck. (Having an editor does NOT necessarily mean that the text has been reduced; they often serve to rid the text of previous publishing typographical errors.) Which of these you should get will depend upon two things: Whether you are interested in the variants from the Latin edition, and whether you are comfortable reading something written in the 1600's. For most people, probably the modernized Hackett edition would be best, as many people have difficulty with 17th century English. But if you want Hobbes' exact words, I recommend the Cambridge edition. Whenever buying classic texts, which edition you buy can be extremely important, as the dreadful Prometheus edition demonstrates.
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82 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Machiavel in reverse, June 23, 2003
Leviathan is one of the first books written after philosophy begun to detach itself from the Catholic inspired medieval thinking, also marking the beginning of the influence philosophy received from the scientific thinking, a point not suficiently y explored by Thomas Hobbes but which one we can get with the benefit of hindsight.
Leviathan is an old Fenician word for a mythical crocodile, quoted in some verses of the biblical Book of Job, an taken by Thomas Hobbes as meaning the representation of a powerfull governor totally devoted to do his most to the benefit of the Commonwealth. In Hobbes mind the most efficient form of government was monarchy, but he takes a lot of time to analyse also Democracy and Aristocracy. One has to keep in mind that the time the book was written was one of internal revolt, a civil intestine strife in England, and the objective of Hobbes was to lay the foundations for human actions conducive to an equilibrium within the state, ending war.
His book can be also be taken as one where many important aspects of Right and Laws are aprehended, from the perspective of a deeply religious anglican man, that tried his best to separate, in his words, the Kingdoms of men (where civil laws are imperative) from the Kingdom of God (Naturall Right). He does extensive analysis of God's Laws and its importance to the balance in the relationship between men.
The edition is a very good one, with a good introduction and is a copy of the text as written in the 17th century, exhibiting an archaic English sometimes difficult to understand. Also, some quotations in Greek and in Latin are not translated, despite all the effort the author makes to turn them inteligible to the reader.
The book could be understood as antipodal to Machiavellian's The Prince, because power is not taken here as something good in itself, but only as a means of carrying the security and hapinnes the kingdom subjects deserve.
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43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leviathan: The Umbrella Against Fear, June 13, 2002
By 
Martin Asiner (jersey city, nj United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
To understand Hobbes' LEVIATHAN, the reader must first focus on 'fear.' His contemporaries were terrified of chaos and anarchy and would move heaven and earth to preserve the continuity of the state. Nowhere does he mention the word 'fear' but his real, if underlying purpose becomes clear enough as the reader plows through his dense tract that has as its purported goal to explain the origin of political institutions and to define their powers and proper limits. Hobbes sets up this thesis by first insisting that all of men's ideas originate from sense impressions, which take their cue from the external universe infringing on these sense organs. This emphasis on sense impression led Hobbes next to consider how the external universe manages this neat trick. Motion, according to Hobbes, is the key. Motion naturally leads man, for good or ill, to impact on other men. This impacting may be beneficial, as in man agreeing to help one another respect their respective rights, or it may be harmful, as in man being in a state or war. It was this fear that humanity might start to question the wisdom of the ruling nobility that caused Hobbes to write the longest defense of the royal right of kings ever written. Hobbes cleverly compared man to a wind-up clock: 'That great Leviathan is but an artificial man with an artificial soul.' As the reader follows this geometric logic, he is pressured to accept Hobbes' true premise: that it is better for the common man to put up with the occasional despot than to risk what he terms the horror of 'that condition which is called Warre, and such a warre as is of every man, against every man.'
Even if that regime becomes so thuggish that its citizens wish to break it, Hobbes says 'No way.' If these citizens do break this covenant, then Hobbes warns that their lives will be 'solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.' Clearly Hobbes was a man of his times, one who was a paid shill of the crowned heads of Europe. Such a man today we would label as a fearful toady who desperately needs to maintain his own precarious hold on power. So why is LEVIATHAN still read today? Perhaps Hobbes points out the road that humanity might have once chosen to travel. We, like Robert Frost, have thankfully chosen the other less travelled by.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A good work, but a poor copy., September 7, 2005
While I enjoyed the text itself very much, I cannot recommend this particular copy of it. I read parts of it for a class, and wanted to read more on my own, but I simply could not make it through 736 small pages of miniscule print without getting frustrated (as well as getting a headache). Further, the margins are practically nonexistent, making it a poor copy to buy for anyone who likes to take notes in the book. Additionally, the binding is quite weak.

I would encourage any interested parties to continue pursuing the 'Leviathan,' as it is a very rich text indeed, but I would recommend finding a different copy.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Political Geometry from Bacon's favorite secretary, March 11, 2002
Tommy Hobbes was Francis Bacon's favorite secretary, and it shows in the math-like precision with which he attempts to build a model of human political interaction -- one that justifies the need for a strong state to hold human "appetites" in check. Hobbes' argument reads like a geometrical proof, which goes something like:
We take it as a given that people, like Galilean celestial bodies, are in perpetual motion, moved by appetites for power. The power of a person is his or her present means to obtain some future good. Every person's power resists and hinders the effects of other people's power. Thus, if all people are created equal in a hypothetical state of nature, then:
1. From equality proceeds mutual fear.
2. From mutual fear proceeds warfare.
3. In such warfare, nothing is unjust.
4. But reason suggests a better way to self-preservation (to peace): the right and laws of nature.
5. The right of nature is the liberty we have to use our power for self-preservation.
6. The 1st law of nature is that we ought to strive for peace, but when we cannot obtain it then it's war.
7. The 2nd law of nature is that in the interests of peace we will lay down our natural right to give us as much liberty as we would allow others to have against us (the golden rule).
8. This mutual laying down of our natural right is a social contract.
9. There must be a coercive power (the commonwealth) to enforce this contract.
10. The commonwealth is ruled by a sovereign who embodies the will of the people and is granted certain inalienable rights to enforce the social contract.
In short, those who fear authority (anarchists, libertarians, etc.) will revile Hobbes, because of power's potential for abuse, but Hobbes would argue that a true Leviathan could never abuse its subjects because it is actually made up of those same subjects (in other words, a roundabout defense of liberal democracy).
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most in depth political examination since The Republic, July 19, 1998
By A Customer
Leviathan brings up several questions to the minds of those who read it. Hobbes arguements about human thought, euthanasia, true freedom, God, the Devil, government, etc. are strong and thought provoking. The reader will discover that Hobbes book influenced the writers of the constitution. Anyone seriously interested in politics and theology should read this book.
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Leviathan (Oxford World's Classics)
Leviathan (Oxford World's Classics) by Thomas Hobbes (Paperback - February 15, 2009)
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