Who is Sovereign?

Hobbes’s sovereign is created by a contract among individuals with one another. The underlying idea was that the state of nature exhibited a state of war with maximum uncertainty, particularly with respect to life. Desire for self preservation (the greatest of all) suggests men to follow the dictates of reason to constitute an impartial sovereign. It is to be noted that; sovereign is the representative of each individual, distinct from the natural person. According to Hobbes, the “essence of sovereignty lies in the power to determine on behalf of the entire community what should be done to maintain peace and order” it implies that sovereignty lies in the power to make laws binding on all the subjects.

Characteristics of Sovereign:


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Sovereign enjoys the absolute power to make laws. He is not only the chief source of all laws but also their sole interpreter. 2. Sovereign is the sole source of distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral.

For, there did not exist any such agency in state of nature where every man was at war with every another. 3. Sovereign is the source of all powers; executive, judicial, legislate and can declare war and peace. There is no notion of separation of power in Hobbes’s scheme.

4. Sovereign is endowed with indivisible, inseparable, absolute powers. Moreover, he is neither accountable, nor can be replaced by another.

However, it lasts as long as life of the subjects is not threatened. 5. Sovereign is entrusted with duty to be successful so as to prove its worth. It should make laws that are equitable and commen­surate with prospects for peace. Hobbes’s Leviathan is a policeman, not an instructor because it is concerned only with preservation of natural right to life.

6. Sovereign is the creator of both; the state and the society. 7. Hobbes has preference for a monarch as sovereign.


Despite an exhaustive analysis of the concept of sovereignty, Hobbes conception has been subjected to the following criticism. Firstly, Hobbes proceeds with the assumption that ‘might is right’, but force alone cannot secure success to government.

Legitimacy has a vital role in political life and it cannot be overridden by force. Secondly, Hobbes’s allowance of right to resist the sovereign only in case when it endangers the life goes against democratic norms. For, there can be issues of vital concern wherein citizen can question or even overthrow the government. Thirdly, It is ironical as to how; rational human beings will choose to live under absolute sovereign of Hobbesian kind. Fourthly, Prof. Vaughan dubs his theory as pernicious and impossible.

It is pernicious as it heads to despotism and gives no right to individuals to defend them. Similarly, it is impossible because the sole bond of union between members of the Leviathan is common terror. Fifthly, Rousseau criticized Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty as self contradictory. He argues that the gifts of nature like life and liberty can never be renounced for any supposed benefit. To sum up Hobbes’s view on sovereignty it would be worth to agree with Sabine that it was the most revolutionary theory at the time of its inception.

In fact, Hobbes has continued to influence theorists seeking to explore the dynamics of state sovereignty. For all states have remained empowered with the attribute of sovereignty so as to protect itself in fact it is this aspect that has been able to protect the identity of state.