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Leviathan (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 25, 1982
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From the Back Cover
Its appeal to the twentieth century lies not just in its elevation of politics to a science, but in its overriding concern for peace. Its argument that the state of nature, in which life is 'nasty, brutish and short (and patriarchal), is important, but so too is its systematic analysis of power, and its convincing apologia for the then emergent market society in which we still live.
About the Author
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was born in Malmesbury. Entering Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1603, he took his degree in 1608 and became tutor to the eldest son of Lord Cavendish of Hardwick, afterwards the Earl of Devonshire; his connection with this family was life-long. His first interest was in the classics, and his first published work a translation of Thucydides, in 1628. An interest in science and philosophy soon developed, heightened by extended travels in Europe in 1629-31 and 1634-37. This led to his great project of a political science. His first verson of this, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, was privately circulated in 1640, when Parliament was hotly disputing the king's powers, and Hobbes fled to Paris, where he stayed for eleven years.
A second version, De Cive, was published in 1642, and the third, Leviathan—the crowning achievement of his political science—in 1651. It was so influential that it came under widespread attack and was in danger of condemnation by the House of Commons. Hobbes perforce lived quietly and published little more on political matters. At the age of eighty-four he composed an autobiography in Latin verse, and within the next three years translated the whole of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.
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There is a saying that if men were were angels we would not need government, or if that angels administered man's government then we would not need to worry as to constraining them. But neither of these delusions can be ever be achieved by fallible man, no matter how much certain individuals may otherwise hope. You cannot legislate morality and you cannot make men charitable by forcing them to give. And much to the annoyance of Plato, no amount of education or cultural refinement can immunize man to the ever present threats of avarice, arrogance, and blind ambition. There must be checks on this power if men are to retain their hard-fought liberty and if the ultimate power of the government is to maintain its rightful abode with the People.
As we in America have learned, there is a concept of government much more attuned to the particulars of human nature than the false bravado of Leviathan. It is limited government, where every individual choose for himself what he thinks is best, to the degree that he does not infringe on the natural rights of his fellows. Freedom of oppression from the government is our nation's calling card, and it has empowered and enriched man to a degree never before imagined. It seems that man's natural state, when guaranteed certain inalienable rights, was far flung indeed from an interminable warfare on his neighbors.
So, Hobbes had a lot to learn but perhaps not the opportunity to do so. However, I did enjoy and learn much from him in his thorough and unbiased defense of his monarchical position using the Scriptures. He has an immense mastery of them, and cuts through some of the more confusing points of contention between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. He even goes so far as to address the varying degrees of heaven, the existence (or not) of an everlasting Hell, and Baptism for the Dead. It provided me with an excellent base from which to further understand the faith of the early American colonists and the churches they established in the lead-up to the American Revolution.
Still, this is one of the more difficult books on this subject I've yet to slog through and so be warned that you may want to start with some lighter tomes on this subject.