Author(s): Alan Ryan
In Leviathan, one of the greatest works of political philosophy of all time, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes created the idea of a “social contract” and set out to explicate a doctrine for the foundation of states and legitimate forms of government. In On Hobbes, Alan Ryan explains how Hobbes created the secular conception of the state and politics in one of the first truly modern works of political philosophy. Inverting Aristotle’s view of politics, Hobbes argued that humans organize themselves into political communities not out of any sociable impulse to pursue the good life in common, but rather out of an unsociable fear of one another and for the sake of avoiding the greatest evil of all: death. Ryan explicates how modern notions of individual rights, sovereignty, representative government, and almost all liberal political theory find their foundation in the work of Hobbes.
Excerpted here are: Leviathan, The Elements of Law.
Alan Ryan was warden of New College, Oxford University, and professor of political theory. The author of On Politics, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism and Bertrand Russell: A Political Life, he currently teaches politics at Princeton University.