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Thomas Hobbes was the most original political philosopher of the seventeenth century. Although he never broke with the Church of England, he embraced basic Calvinist beliefs, particularly their low view of human nature and the ideal of a commonwealth based on a divine-human covenant. Hobbes viewed people and society in a thoroughly materialistic and mechanical way. All psychological processes begin with and are derived from bare sensation, and all motivations are egotistical, intended to increase pleasure and minimize pain. Despite this mechanistic view of human nature, Hobbes believed people could accomplish much by the reasoned use of science. Such progress, however, was contingent on their prior correct use of that greatest of human creations, the commonwealth, in which people were freely united by mutual agreement in one all-powerful sovereign government. Hobbes saw the original human state as a corruption from which society could deliver people. People escape this terrible state of nature, according to Hobbes, only by entering a contract, that is, by agreeing to live in a commonwealth tightly ruled by a recognized sovereign. They are driven to this solution by their desire for “commodious living” and fear of death. The social contract obliges every person, for the sake of peace and self-defense, to agree to set aside personal right to all things and to be content with as much liberty against others as he or she would allow others against himself of herself. All agree to live according to a secularized version of the golden rule:
Do not that to another which you would not have done to yourself.” Because words and promises are insufficient to guarantee this state, the social contract also establishes the coercive use of force to compel compliance. Believing the dangers of anarchy to be always greater than those of tyranny, Hobbes though that rulers should be absolute and unlimited in...
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