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Thomas Hobbes

1588-1679. British political philosopher. Trained at Oxford as a classicist, he was a tutor to the Cavendish family, but when the civil war came to England he went into exile in France (1640-51). In Paris he was tutor to the Prince of Wales (later Charles II). By 1651 he returned to England, submitted to the Commonwealth, and published his great work Leviathan. This work propounds an absolutist government based, not on divine right, but on an analysis of human psychology. All men, according to Hobbes, possess instinctive feelings of fear and self-preservation. These instincts provide the motivation for social organization. If there were no government and if all men were equal, life would be unendurable (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” as he put it). Driven by self-preservation, men contracted with each other to transfer all their power to an absolute sovereign, who would use his unlimited power to enforce obedience and unity. The contract between ruler and people was unbreakable. Hobbes's ideas offended both the divine-right theorists and those who held to the historic rights of Englishmen. After the Restoration, however, he was granted a pension and free access to the king.

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