The political revolutions of the Enlightenment, especially the Frenchand the American, were informed and guided to a significant extent byprior political philosophy in the period. Though Thomas Hobbes, in hisLeviathan (1651), defends the absolute power of the politicalsovereign, and is to that extent opposed to the revolutionaries andreformers in England, this work is a founding work of Enlightenmentpolitical theory. Hobbes’ work originates the modern socialcontract theory, which incorporates Enlightenment conceptions of therelation of the individual to the state. According to the generalsocial contract model, political authority is grounded in an agreement(often understood as ideal, rather than real) among individuals, eachof whom aims in this agreement to advance his rational self-interestby establishing a common political authority over all. Thus, accordingto the general contract model (though this is more clear in latercontract theorists such as Locke and Rousseau than in Hobbes himself),political authority is grounded not in conquest, natural or divinelyinstituted hierarchy, or in obscure myths and traditions, but ratherin the rational consent of the governed. In initiating this model,Hobbes takes a naturalistic, scientific approach to the question ofhow political society ought to be organized (against the background ofa clear-eyed, unsentimental conception of human nature), and thusdecisively influences the Enlightenment process of secularization andrationalization in political and social philosophy.


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