• Thomas Hobbes, ‘Of Commonwealth’ (excerpts from Leviathan)

Note: page numbers refer to the original pages of the reading, not to the course reader (c-) pages. Don’t be put off by the ‘Olde Wordes’ – in the vast majority of cases you’ll find you actually understand them!

Key Concepts & Guidance Questions

  • How and why, according to Hobbes, are governments formed? What rights do individuals surrender to the state, and why would they want to give up those rights? (p. 223-8)
  • If a majority of subjects consent to give up their rights to a governing power, can the dissenting minority choose to reject this ‘sovereign’? (p. 231)
  • List the powers that Hobbes thinks a sovereign (i.e. the governing power) should have (228-36)
  • When, if ever, is an act of the state performed on its citizens (e.g. imprisonment, punishment) illegal? (232)
  • When, if ever, does a citizen have the right to ‘sack’ the old government and form a new one? (229)
  • Do you agree with Hobbes on the powers government should have? Why or why not?

Application Questions

  • What examples can you think of where a government has stepped ‘over the line’ against its own citizens (e.g. US surveillance after 9/11?) Why do you say so?
  • What examples can you think of where a government has been so weak that it cannot protect its citizens?
  • How does Singapore’s parliamentary democracy (a system inherited from the British) attempt to address both some of the problems that Hobbes is trying to solve and some of the problems which arise from giving a sovereign absolute power (as Hobbes advocates?)?
  • Do you think there is a ‘great affective divide’ between people and government in Singapore? On what evidence do you give your answer? Do you think that current measures to build up the relationship are effective, or do you have other suggestions?

White Paper

  • Please use the reading skills learnt in class in Week 2 to take a look at the 2013 Population White Paper which we will discuss in class (please bring a copy to class).