On Religious Tolerance in Hobbes’ Leviathan

A major apparent conflict in Hobbes’s Leviathan is his treatment of religion and authorship. On the one hand, the sovereign’s actions are authored in their entirety by the people, including decisions such as the enforcement of a state religion, which Hobbes states that the sovereign has the right to do. On the other hand, Hobbes also reaffirms that the individuals in the commonwealth have the right to hold any religious beliefs that they so wish, including ones that come blatantly in contradiction with the religion enforced by the sovereign, so long as the citizenry outwardly follows the sovereign’s laws, even if they inwardly believe otherwise. On the surface, this presents a fundamental conflict with authorship – how can citizens, who do not believe the state religion, possibly be authoring the sovereign’s actions when he enforces said religion. Hobbes however brilliantly subverts this expectation, with the way that it institutes this civil religion, subjegating it entirely to the whims of the sovereign who utilizes it for the betterment of the populence. It is not truly a religion, nor is it expected that the people believe in it truly – Hobbes makes a strong distinction between personal belief and expression or action – rather is it another tool at the sovereign’s disposal that is intended to be used for the protection of the people of the commonwealth and the preservation of civil peace. Thus, there is actually inherently no conflict, because this faux religion is being used solely to promote peace amongst the people and is irrelevant to personal beliefs.

The imposition of uniform religious practices is a pragmatic, temporal, political one that should not be confused with a religiously motivated, spiritual imposition of such practices. There are religions that are dangerous to the peace and order of society because they either encourage rebellion against the sovereign or because they cause conflict within the society. It is the sovereign’s duty to harshly repress the expression of these religions, because they are fundamentally problematic in a stable Hobbesian society. However, people’s internal beliefs will never pose a threat to society, as long as they stay internal beliefs and are not expressed via actions. Furthermore, uniform religious practices prevent religious-based conflict within society; one cannot, for example, persecute the Jews, if everyone outwardly appears to be of the same religion, removing a great source of conflict within the commonwealth. This is fundamentally different than a uniformity of religious practice put into place for faith-driven purposes – there is no imposition of standards of beliefs, morals, or ideals upon others, no looking out for the souls of the citizens, and no extra temporality – the Hobbesian sovereign is only interested in temporal ends and is justified in imposing religious practice uniformity upon the commonwealth as a means to achieving those ends. Thus Hobbes needs a religion that he can subvert to his own ends, one that he can make dominated by the will of the sovereign – after all, it is effectively a civil superstition that the sovereign uses to control the actions of the masses – and yet Hobbes also needs something that will be generally acceptable to his readership. And so, he turns to the subversion of Christianity, distorting it into something that that great Leviathan can utilize for the good of the people.

Hobbes argues that the sovereign has the duty to make only good laws, where the goodness of a law is measured by its necessity for the good of the people. Repression of thought and expression beyond what is necessary for political purposes is not only an abrogation of the sovereign’s duty, it is counter-productive, provoking bitterness and resentment, and undermining the loyalty of his subjects. Thus Hobbes cannot consistently argue that the sovereign’s religion be forced upon the people in faith, only in action, and it can only be forced upon them in action if it is for the betterment of the civil good of the people, not the spiritual good of the people, for the authority and responsibility of the sovereign is restricted to the temporal sphere only, and not the domain of the soul or that of God.

Hobbes spends a lot of Leviathan focused on the differences between religions. He begins by contrasting religion with superstition, then observes that they are indistinguishable in contrast with knowledge of God. Initially he presents Judaism and Christianity as above the pagan religions, being divinely guided and concerned with spiritual things, but later, when he deemphasizes its divine institution and spiritual concerns and instead raises the authority of men and the concerns of civil society, he blurs the distinction between these two kinds of religions. Hobbes asserts God’s sovereignty by nature and by compact, but then abrogates the force of this claim by questioning its efficacy. He affirms the authority of scripture as divine revelation and natural law as the standard of moral behavior, but then equates divine law with the interpretation of divine revelation as revealed to the people by the civil sovereign. Thus, by the end of the Leviathan, he has subtly transformed Christianity from a true religious institution into a civic religion; a means of keeping people under control. He has made it indistinguishable from superstition, removed it from the divine realm, and placed it’s authority entirely within the civil sovereign. In actuality, Hobbes is not arguing for a religion at all. Instead, he is carefully crafting a set of secular pseudo-religious cult practices that can be uniformly enforced upon the population, not as a legitimate religious belief, but rather as a means of enforcing civil order and preventing possibly problematic (from the point of view of civil peace) religions from being expressed, by enforcing a uniform expression of religious practices on the people.
Hobbes discusses at length the transfer of power that ended the kingdom of God as a particular nation (Israel), and the promise that Christ will one day return and restore the kingdom of God on earth. Hobbes’s greatest concern about Christ’s kingdom is that it not be understood to mean any institution currently existing on earth. He repeatedly emphasizes that it is a promised kingdom, a kingdom in which Christ will rule as civil sovereign over those who have been granted eternal life (38.5). Hobbes states that “our Savior came into this world that he might be a king, and a judge in the world to come,” but he says further that during his life he “had no kingdom in this world” (40.3–4). If the second kingdom of God is a kingdom only in promise, Christ must be a sovereign only in promise. And while his primary mission was to prepare men for the kingdom to come, he also “taught all men to obey, in the meantime, them that sat in Moses’ seat” (41.5). Although in isolation these passages seem unremarkable, the full implication of Hobbes’s argument appears in the following chapter, where he states that obedience is owed “in all things” to civil sovereigns, and to no one else, and specifically not to the ministers who oppose the sovereign (42.10).

Taken together, these statements mean that, Christ is not a civil sovereign, but also that only to a civil sovereign that obedience is owed, since “they that have no kingdom can make no laws,” casting doubt on if Christ should be obeyed (42.45). When Hobbes states that “Christ came to call to his obedience such as should believe in him” by discussion and miracles, this obligation must be a future one, “whensoever [Christ] should be pleased to take the kingdom upon him,” and that then obedience is owed, not because he is the Christ, but because on that future day, he claims civil sovereignty over humanity (41.3-4). Obedience is not owed to someone who has no lawful right to command it. Switching back to discussing modern times, Hobbes states that he has already shown “that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world; therefore neither can his ministers (unless they be kings) require obedience in his name,” which implies that Christ himself cannot require obedience. Indeed, the only authority that Hobbes thinks Christ gave his apostles was the power to “proclaim the kingdom of Christ,” making them our “schoolmasters, and not our commanders” ” (42.5-6). This seems to be the only understanding consistent with what Hobbes states elsewhere, quoting scripture, that “no man can obey two masters” (20.4). To Christ and to his ministers, one is forced to conclude, no obedience is owed, unless they be civil sovereigns, in which case obedience is owed to the civil figure and no more.

Hobbes further strips down the clergy’s power taking away the power to decide doctrine and placing it in the hands of the sovereign. Hobbes writes that “as none but Abraham in his family, so none but the sovereign in a Christian commonwealth, can take notice what is or what is not the word of God… [and] they that have the place of Abraham in a commonwealth are the only interpreters of what God hath spoken” (40, 4). Thus Hobbes is putting full Christian authority in the hands of the sovereign. Intriguingly, Hobbes makes no reference to the fact that God is the one who gives Abraham power, instead saying that “The covenant God made with Abraham (in a supernatural manner) was thus… Abraham’s seed has not this revelation, nor were yet in being; yet they are a party to the covenant, and bound to obey what Abraham should declare to them for god’s law…” (26.41, emphasis original). Hobbes makes it clear that Abraham, acting as the civil authority, is the one with whom God makes the covenant, and that Abraham’s account and interpretation of this revelation from God as divine law (26.41, also see footnote 17 “why then were the Israelites obliged to consider as divine law what Abraham declared to them to be divine law, except because Abraham had supreme power over his children and his servants?”) This idea is repeated in Hobbes’s subsequent account of Moses and Mount Sinai, and he concludes that “therefore in all things not contrary to the moral law (that is to say, the law of nature) all subjects are bound to obey that for divine law which is declared to be so by the laws of the commonwealth” (26.41, emphasis added).

Now that Hobbes has fully reduced the religion of Christianity to the will of the sovereign, we must reconsider the original question and Hobbes’s motivation for doing so. Hobbes readily agrees that diversity in expression of religion can be dangerous and destabilize society. Hobbes has plenty of firsthand experience with this, living in a time period marked by a myriad of religious conflicts, most notably the Eighty Years’ Wars, decades of civil unrest in France, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the United Kingdom. This unrest is brought about, not by differing religious views per se, but rather the agitation of the churches, making constituents believe acting against other churches to be a sign of the true faith. Hobbes comes up with two ways to prevent civil unrest in Leviathan, firstly by convincing Christians of a civil superstition whose public expression is forced upon the masses and under the control of the sovereign, and secondly by separating public observance from actual faith. Hobbes asserts that “profession with the tongue is but an external thing, and no more than any other gesture whereby we signify our obedience” (42.11). He proclaims that “a Christian, holding firmly in his heart the faith of Christ, hath the same liberty which the prophet Elisha allowed to Naaman the Syrian” who, though truly converted to the Jewish faith, openly pretended to that of the house of Rimmon allowed for a total separation of this secular pseudo-Christian superstition and that the true faith that is implied to be held by the people of the commonwealth (ibid). Thus, Hobbes concludes, a civil superstition and the obligation to follow it’s rituals is completely irrelevant to actual religious belief amoungst the people who actually follow the true faith (implicitly Christianity) and through belief alone their souls will be saved.

On the surface, it seems very likely that the sovereign’s institution of a state religion comes in direct conflict with the idea that the people author all of the sovereign’s actions – after all, why would they author the creation and enforcement of a religion that they might not believe? The key to resolving this conflict is in noticing there isn’t actually any conflict because there isn’t actually a religion, merely a pseudoreligious cult whose practices are required to keep the peace. Hobbes is strongly influenced by the recent history of religious wars destroying Europe, and this enforced uniformity of appearance of faith is his way of addressing that – after all, if everyone seems to have the same religion, that’s one less reason to kill each other.


Oddtown and Eventown

The citizens of Clubtown like forming clubs. n people live in Club town, and the city government requires that citizens must register their club in the town hall. But this causes an immediate problem: there are 2^n possible clubs that can form, and that’s just far too many. Even with only 500 people in Clubtown, you couldn’t fit that many pages of paper in the universe.

Hoping to fix the problem, Clubtown passes two new laws governing club formation.
(1) (\forall i)(|C_i| is even)
(2) (\forall i\neq j)(|C_i\cap C_j| is even)

As a result of the first law, Clubtown decides to rename itself Eventown. Unfortunately, things do not improve enough. Under these constraints, at least 2^{\lfloor\frac{n}{2}\rfloor} clubs can be formed. For the proof, simply consider the people of Eventown in pairs. Leaving off the odd member out, if there is one, there are \lfloor\frac{n}{2}\rfloor pairs to be made. Taking the power set of these pairs yields clubs that fit these criteria, once the members are unpaired. Eventown decides to take a second stab at it and changes the rules slightly. Rule 1 is amended to: (1′) (\forall i)(|C_i| is odd)

This apparently small change makes a monumental difference; the maximum number of clubs that can be formed drops to n.

The Oddtown Theorem: If Oddtown has n citizens, then exactly n clubs  can be formed.

Proof: First we will show one can always make n clubs. Let n be even. Consider the clubs created when each citizen has their own club. This satisfies the rules and creates n clubs.  Let n be odd. Consider the two club system where n-1 citizens are in one club and the remaining citizen has a club to themselves. Again,  this satisfies the rules and creates n clubs. Thus we see that n clubs are always possible. Next to show that no more than n clubs are possible under these rules.

For club C_i, let v_i be the vector of indicator functions for membership of C_i, that is, the jth entry of v_i is 1 if the jth citizen is a member of C_i and 0 otherwise. If we show that, for any set of clubs, \{C_1,C_2,\ldots,C_m\} the set \{v_1,v_2,\ldots,v_m\} is linearly independent in \mathbb{Z}_2^n as a vector space over \mathbb{Z}_2. Since one can’t have a linearly independent set in \mathbb{Z}_2^n of cardinality greater than n, the theorem would follow. Consider the matrix M=[a]_{ij}=v_i^Tv_j. This is known as the Gramian Matrix. It is a well known result that the Gramian Matrix formed by a set of vectors is nonsingular if and only if those vectors are linearly independent. But the Gram Matrix for this set of vectors has odd determinant by parity, so the vectors are linearly independent. Thus there are no more than n vectors and so no more than n clubs and we are done.

A Critique of Immanuel Kant’s Towards Perpetual Peace

In Kant’s mind, perpetual peace can be achieved only after the satisfaction of three crucial criterion: (1) a republican government as the civil constitution of every country, (2) the rights of people being based in and protected by a federation of states, and (3) the right to cosmopolitanism being limited to global hospitality. Although on the surface this seems like a very powerful claim, Kant tempers this by saying that he does not believe that these criterion will automatically grant perpetual peace. Quite the contrary, Kant recognizes that true freedom of the will implies the possibility of choosing to do evil as well as to do good, to make war as well as peace and that no laws of nature or dialectic of history alone can ever guarantee the realization of morality. Only when the free choice of human beings is to do good rather than evil can they ever make the ideals of morality real. This argument is ultimately highly persuasive and greatly limits the possibility for critique, but at the cost of greatly weakening his claim; rather than set forth necessary and sufficient conditions for the realization of perpetual peace, Kant is reduced to providing a framework in which perpetual peace is possible, a sort of stable equilibrium in which humanity can peacefully coexist, a claim that he justifies quite well.

The first condition for the realization of perpetual peace is republican governments.  Kant explains in the First Definitive Article of Section Two that a republican government is a representative democracy that respects the rights of private property and contract, that divides legislative, executive, and judicial power, and that prohibits proprietary and hereditary rulers to be passed on to heirs of their own rather than the people’s choice and augmented or diminished as they see fit. In Kant’ view, every individual will involve themselves as a citizen in the decision making process of the republic, and, in doing so the republican system, be it at war or at peace, ultimately is in the hands of the citizenry who accept responsibility for the consequences of their decision making processes. Kant argues that every republican government is built on three fundamental principles: freedom for all members of society as human beings, each individual’s belonging to a single public code of law as a subject, and equality under the law as a citizen. Thus individuals in republican societies possess three separate identities, that of a free human being, that of a subject under a codified legal system, and that of an equal citizen before the law.

Thus it seems quite plausible that stable peace can come when all the nations of the earth are such republics, governed by citizens who see the security of their property obtaining only under the universal rule of law rather than by proprietary rulers who can always see a neighboring state as a potential addition to their own personal property. Additionally, Kant claims it is far harder to convince a republic to go to war unprovoked. Unlike many governmental systems in history, in Kant’s republics, the very people choosing to go to war are the same people who would be fighting. Since people don’t want to go off and get themselves killed, people are much less likely to vote for war.

The second condition that Kant sets forth as allowing for perpetual peace is the existence of a “Federation of Free States”, established similarly to how people, living in the state of nature, first came together to make social contracts. Kant says that states themselves have a state of nature in which they are not bound by social contracts with one another. Although the state of nature for governments is similar to that for humans, it is more complex. Kant partitions interactions between governments into three classes: (1) interactions between two governments; (2) interactions between the peoples of two states; and (3) interactions between the people of one state and the government of another. Kant believes that, like with the interactions between people, it is necessary to have a framework of laws to safeguard the rights of states, and that the same self-interest that drove humans to create governments will drive governments to create federations.

There are countless examples in history of states going to war nominally on the behalf of the people of another state, be it to protect them from an outside aggressor – Great Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939 – or to protect them from their own governments – the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were partially justified along these lines. Kant foresees this a possible future justification for war, possibly even in a world where every state is a republic, and so the Federation of Free States exists to combat this. Kant defines two main responsibilities of the Federation, first to enforce his fifth point in section one, that “[n]o state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state.”, and second to enforce the sixth point from the same section, “[n]o state at war with another shall permit such acts of hostility as would make mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace.Such acts would include the employment of assassins (percussores) or poisoners (venefici), breach of agreements, the instigation of treason (perduellio) within the enemy state, etc.” Thus Kant’s Federation combats both of the aforementioned casus belli, by explicitly banning wars of aggression and the meddling with the internal affairs of another state. Kant notes that obviously worldwide federation of republics cannot guarantee world peace; such a Federation provides sufficient conditions for peace, but peace can only be realized and maintained by the free choice of all those politicians governing the republics—the “moral politicians”—to respect international law.

It can be argued that a flaw in Kant’s argument here is his fails to address what happens when these principles are breached by one nation, be it the interference clause or the aggressive war clause. It is not at all clear what the response of the other nations should be. Should they merely repel the invaders, or should they enter into open war against the transgressing state? And if they should enter open war, what limitations are placed upon their actions? Locke has a very strict list of requirements for just war, something that Kant is obviously aware of, but makes no mention of, nor tries to address himself. Although these objections are valid to the concept of a Federation of Free states, they are not truly flaws in the argument laid out by Kant because he is not trying to enforce perpetual peace on unwilling states. Rather, he is setting up a framework in which perpetual peace is possible, and the moral politicians are being implicitly replied on to not commit such offenses.

Kant’s third criterion is the limitation of the rights of states to make demands of each other. This, Kant explains via analogy to a wanderer. Kant explains that “In this context, hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else’s territory. He can indeed be turned away, if this can be done without causing his death, but he must not be treated with hostility, so long as he behaves in a peaceable manner in the place he happens to be in.” Kant believes that it is a right of man to be able to travel and explore the globe, stating “for all men are entitled to present themselves in the society of others by virtue of their right to communal possession of the earth’s surface. Since the earth is a globe, they cannot disperse over an infinite area, but must necessarily tolerate one another’s company. And no-one originally has any greater right than anyone else to occupy any particular portion of the earth.” Kant then condemns nations who engage in actions such as“plundering ships on the adjoining seas or enslaving stranded seafarers” or those states “who regard their proximity to nomadic tribes as a justification for plundering them”, which he sees as “contrary to natural right” of man.

At the same time, Kant puts great restrictions on the application of this right, making sure to note that “this natural right of hospitality… does not extend beyond those conditions which make it possible for them to attempt to enter into relations with the native inhabitants. In this way, continents distant from each other can enter into peaceful mutual relations which may eventually be regulated by public laws, thus bringing the human race nearer and nearer to a cosmopolitan constitution.” He is very much aware of the fact that this right of hospitality, too broadly construed, might cause problems. At the same time, he sees it as necessary and ultimately fundamental to the international community. Kant writes that “[t]he peoples of the earth have thus entered in varying degrees into a universal community, and it has developed to the point where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere. The idea of a cosmopolitan right is therefore not fantastic and overstrained; it is a necessary complement to the unwritten code of political and international right, transforming it into a universal right of humanity. Only under this condition can we flatter ourselves that we are continually advancing towards a perpetual peace.” Although this third point seems far less necessary immediately, historical context provides countless examples of its necessity and wars that were waged over its violation, from the Medieval Crusades, to the to the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, to the Suez Crisis.

Kant ultimately makes a thorough and convincing argument for the possibility of perpetual peace in the world. Although his claim initially appears to be that certain conditions will ensure perpetual peace, it is eventually clear that Kant is merely proposing a global setup under which perpetual peace is possible. This weaker claim is strongly justified, both by Kant within his work, and by historical examples of wars waged over the violations of the principles that Kant asserts makes peace possible, both in ancient and in modern times. Although at times he does not trace the effects and details of the situations that he postulates to completion, Kant’s arguments are sufficiently well borne-out for the purposes of his claim and stand well against critique.