In France under Louis XI, the power of dukes was finally broken in 1472 and the road to the modern state was paved. In Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella did the same. They drove out the Muslims and Jews and instituted the inquisition to root out all dissenters. In England, King Henry the VIII continued the centralization of power begin by his father. He dominated the other nobles and the parliament. He also increased his power by putting the Anglican church fully under his influence and separating from Rome in 1534.
As Machiavelli gathered from his study, the centralization of power was the key. On fact, he wrote the prince as manual for Lorenzo de Medici to do the same in Italy.
By the time Thomas Hobbes came into the scene in the early 1600s, the modern state had become well instituted in many places over a 100 years. Hobbes sought to provide a new explanation and justification for it that went deeper than raw power.
Hobbes takes Machiavelli’s materialism even further. His project has the benefit of one hundred years of Machiavellian statehood in Europe. Thus, Hobbes did not need to impose the new understanding of power over the Medieval structure. Instead of acquisition and building of the modern state, Hobbes uses a new science of politics to understand the modern state as a natural entity. For Hobbes, the concern is no longer simply the wise use of power, but its full expression in the sovereignty of the state. Hobbes views the state having come into its own. Next, he looks to lay its foundations even deeper as the very outgrowth of human nature and society. Machiavelli’s Prince must seize power and execute its use wisely to create a modern state. Hobbes’ Leviathan, on the other hand, possesses the only legitimate claim to power. Leviathan exists because he fully expresses human society rather than a conventional structure. Because Leviathan shows the modern state come into its own, in Leviathan, the true religious and moral foundations of the modern state take a sharper focus.
Hobbes differs from Machiavelli in his view of power in terms of the modern state. As Hobbes tries to delve deeper, into a science of the modern state, he creates a new basis for power rather than simply the end of the state. Hobbes sees the modern state as the product of man moving from man in nature to man in society. Both power and the state become means towards man’s only natural end, survival. (129) Power becomes more than simply the “lust for dominance” per Machiavelli’s Prince. Power becomes the sovereignty of Hobbes’ Leviathan, a fuller and more structured power but not rooted in domination. Men naturally desire dominion, but they cannot pursue both dominion and survival. Leviathan subsumes to itself all man’s desire for liberty and dominance so that men can better pursue his ultimate end of survival. Thus, power is central to Leviathan as well, but as a tool of the state itself rather than the establishing factor of the state. True sovereignty is the clearest definition of the modern state in Hobbes’ view. Sovereignty rather than dominance. Sovereignty provides the peace and safety for men to rise above the state of nature to full life. (132) Thus, Hobbes, spends most of Part II of Leviathan clarifying sovereignty.
The sovereign represents not only all the power in the modern state but all the rights as well. The only right left to men individually is life, that is, the right to survival. (164) Leviathan represents the natural derivation of the rights of those who participate in him. Thus, power is not something that must be acquired; it rightfully belongs to the sovereign alone. No “right” of an individual can stay Leviathan’s power because all the rights belong to the sovereign. All power is within his use. Legislative, executive, and judicial functions reside in Leviathan, not because of his will to power, but by right.
As with Machiavelli, Hobbes recognizes that no true sovereign can allow rivals to the exercise of power noting that division of power destroys sovereignty. (140, 238) Once again, Hobbes does not see this as a simple assertion of the modern state but as the very nature of sovereignty. Even if Leviathan acquires new territory, his claim to sovereignty remains the same. By nature, the sovereign has power in exchange for the preservation of safety and order. Thus, whether by institution or acquisition the true basis for total sovereignty is nature.
Hobbes recognizes power as the driving force of sovereignty, but he views it as more of an formal cause than a essential or final cause of sovereignty within the modern state. Power is the nature of sovereignty rather than its pursuit. Money provides the lifeblood of the commonwealth for Hobbes. (188) Towards this end, Hobbes agrees with Machiavelli that the people must be allowed the freedom necessary to stay happy and productive. A productive economy supports Leviathan materially in the same way the constitution of the commonwealth does formally. As the sovereign possess all power within the commonwealth, he also posses all right to command. (191) Command places obligation on those within the commonwealth. Laws represent the will of Leviathan. (198) They are a direct outworking of sovereignty. Just as Machiavelli stressed the need for force to derive directly from the state’s power, so Hobbes believes the laws must as well. Of course, Leviathan still has all useful resorts force necessary to maintain sovereignty, but ideally arms are not necessary as much as for the Prince. Law, as the command of the sovereign, demands obedience from the people by their preexisting consent. They have no other choice within the commonwealth.
Men, as stated before, have a natural desire to domination. This desire, however, is given over to Leviathan for the institution of full human society taking man above and beyond the state of nature. Men do however remain free within Hobbes' structure of the modern state. (159) Leviathan possesses full power as sovereign, but only when that power is used does it place restriction on the movement of men within the commonwealth. Man retains his right of self-preservation because this is the fundamental nature of man. (164) Men must also recognize that assertion of any right against the sovereign is devolution into the state of nature where power alone rules and life is cheap. The silence of the law provides the liberty of subjects within the modern state. (159)
Following Machiavelli, Hobbes’ modern state creates its own religion, one even more materialistic. All religion and education must be subject to the sovereignty of the state and towards the ends of the state. (181) As the state is the natural end of human society, all other parts must fall in line in terms of it. Hobbes develops his materialism by doing away with all things supernatural. Everything derives itself from nature. Man rises from the state of nature to life within the modern state. Fear drives man from the state of nature into society, but this fear must only be of things material and present. (222) Nature explains all. Power in the commonwealth is nothing but the outworking of nature. For this reason, Hobbes parodies the Decalogue, the ultimate statement of command, placing Leviathan in the place of God. (250-252) Only one sovereign can be recognized; the people should set aside days to learn the ways of the sovereign; and more. Leviathan arises from nature and wields true temporal power. Thus, Leviathan alone has a true claim to a God-like existence. Thus, that which religion tries to place outside the material world finds true expression within the sovereign state because the material is the truly real. Even God, as understood by Christianity, only rules by his will to power, argues Hobbes. (262-263) Thus, God is nothing more than a fantastical version of Leviathan, a fantastical claim to power without material consequence. Leviathan should be the true concern of men because he has true material and temporal power. Everything of consequence reduces to power, and power reduces to nature.
Hobbes sees similar tension that arises internationally with the growth of the modern state. This he also places within a natural setting, on a natural foundation. For Hobbes, the Law of Nations is simply the state of nature on a larger scale. (260) Whereas men have risen out of the state of nature individually in creating the commonwealth, no such contract exists among nations states. Thus, in relation of states to each other only the law of nature applies and self preservation is the only factor. Hobbes describes the state of nature as basically a state of war. Thus Leviathan, like the Prince, must become a prophet of war in terms of foreign relations. Whether as a result of a desire for acquisition or because of the natural state of things both Hobbes and Machiavelli recognize the need for centralization of force in the modern state in order to ensure its maintenance.
As recognized by Nietzsche, Augustine, and countless other philosophers, the desire for power and domination constitutes a basic part of the human constitution and experience. Machiavelli and Hobbes wisely recognize this fact in creating the philosophy and science of the modern state. Both recognized that power plays a central role in statehood as well. Hobbes begins with the nature of man. In man’s nature, he see the will to power, to dominate other men. When met with a stronger foe, the will to domination conflicts with the will to survive. Here, Machiavelli branches off. The Prince must dominate to usher in and protect the state. In doing so, he makes wise, and if necessary, full use of power. Hobbes, on the other hand, sees not one Prince (state) rising by greater use of power. Instead, men contract with one another to pursue the more basic instinct of survival. Leviathan results. Rather than the dominating use of power (e.g. the Prince), Leviathan is the natural collective of the many wills within the commonwealth. Leviathan then is more secure within his commonwealth because no other will can make any sort of legitimate claim to power. The Prince must constantly watch for and suppress any rising will to power. Power resides naturally in Leviathan while the Prince must rely on the force which his own will can muster.
*All parenthetical references are to page numbers in Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.