Frontispiece of The Leviathan. 1651.

           This original illustration for Hobbes’ controversial Leviathansymbolically conveys the book’s message: a mythical absolute rule (with a body composed of all his subjects) towers over a peaceful and well-ordered town with his sword and scepter.

        In the scientific spirit of his time, Hobbes believed that everything in the universe -- including human beings and human society -- could be understood according to natural, mechanistic lawsThe Leviathanproposes a view of government based on the pessimistic view that individuals are driven by fear of death and desire for power.  Without restrictions on these two inclinations, human life, according to Hobbes, is ‘‘nasty, brutish, and short.’’  On this view, the legitimacy of government is based on a social contract among individuals and a ruler to whom absolute power is given for securing peace and protection.