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What, Leviathan?: Understanding Man Through Tocqueville and Hobbes’s Theories of State Sovereignty

Hobbes writes that if mortal life is to go well, there must be a Leviathan in each commonwealth. Tocqueville, on the other hand, writes that the greatest threat to liberty in the democratic age is the Leviathan state he worries might form. Explain the argument that each of them makes. Which author understands man more deeply, and why?

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What, Leviathan?: Understanding Man Through Tocqueville and Hobbes’s Theories of State Sovereignty

Hobbes writes that if mortal life is to go well, there must be a Leviathan in each commonwealth. Tocqueville, on the other hand, writes that the greatest threat to liberty in the democratic age is the Leviathan state he worries might form. Explain the argument that each of them makes. Which author understands man more deeply, and why?

“Outside of civil states, there is always a war of all against all.”
Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679

“He [the sovereign] does not destroy things but prevents them from coming into being.”
Alexis De Tocqueville, 1805-1859

Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan (1651) famously argues for a society where people willingly give up their right to do what they please in order to receive in return protection from the state. Alexis De Tocqueville is wary of such a Leviathan and warns in Democracy in America (1835; 1840) that a nanny state that promises protection has the increased risk of falling into a state of complacency. In this paper I will argue that Hobbes understands man more deeply than Tocqueville. Towards this aim, I will first explain both thinkers’ respective views on sovereignty and second, I will show how Hobbes’s view is a superior one....

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