De Cive

by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter VII.

Of the three kindes of Government, Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchie

I. We have already spoken of a City by institution in its Genus; we will now say somewhat of its species. As for the difference of Cities, it is taken from the difference of the Persons, to whom the Supreme Power is committed; this Power is committed either to one Man, or Councell, or some one Court consisting of many men. Furthermore, a Councell of many men, consists either of all the Citizens, (insomuch as every man of them hath a Right to Vote, and an interest in the ordering of the greatest affaires, if he will himselfe) or of a part onely; from whence there arise three sorts of Government: The one, when the Power is in a Councell, where every Citizen hath a right to Vote, and it is call'd a DEMOCRATY. The other, when it is in a Councell, where not all, but some part onely have their suffrages, and we call it an ARISTOCRATY. The third is that, when the Supreme Authority rests onely in one, and it is stiled a MONARCHY. In the first, he that governes is called demos, The PEOPLE. In the second, the NOBLES. In the third, the MONARCH.

II. Now, although Ancient Writers of Politiques have introduc'd three other kindes of Government opposite to these, to wit, Anarchy or confusion to Democraty, Oligarchy, that is, the command of some few, to Aristocraty, and Tyranny to Monarchy, yet are not these three distinct formes of Government, but three diverse Titles given by those who were either displeas'd with that present Government, or those that bare Rule. For men, by giving names, doe usually, not onely signifie the things themselves, but also their own affections, as love, hatred, anger, and the like, whence it happens that what one man calls a Democraty, another calls an Anarchy; what one counts an Aristocraty, another esteemes an Oligarchie; and whom one titles a King, another stiles him a Tyrant; so as we see these names betoken not a diverse kinde of Government, but the diverse opinions of the Subjects concerning him who hath the Supreme Power. For first, who sees not that Anarchy is equally opposite to all the forenam'd Formes? For that word signifies that there is no Government at all, that is, not any City. But how is it possible that no City should be the species of a City? Farthermore, what difference is there between an Oligarchie, which signifies the Command of a few, or Grandees, or an Aristocraty, which is that of the Prime, or Chief Heads, more than that men differ so among themselves, that the same things seeme not good to all men? Whence it happens, that those persons, who by some are look'd on as the best, are by others esteem'd to be the worst of all men.

III. But men, by reason of their passions, will very hardly be perswaded that a Kingdome, and Tyranny, are not diverse kindes of Cities, who though they would rather have the City subject to one, than many, yet doe they not beleeve it to be well govern'd unlesse it accord with their judgements: But we must discover by Reason, and not by Passion, what the difference is between a King, and a Tyrant: but first, they differ not in this, That a Tyrant hath the greater Power, for greater than the Supreme cannot be granted; nor in this, That one hath a limited power, the other not; for he, whose authority is limited, is no King, but his Subject that limits him. Lastly, neither differ they in their manner of acquisition; for if in a Democraticall, or Aristocraticall Government some one Citizen should, by force, possesse himself of the Supreme Power, if he gain the consent of all the Citizens, he becomes a legitimate Monarch; if not, he is an Enemy, not a Tyrant. They differ therefore in the sole exercise of their command, insomuch as he is said to be a King, who governs wel, and he a Tyrant that doth otherwise. The case therefore is brought to this passe, That a King legitimately constituted in his Government, if he seeme to his Subjects to Rule well, and to their liking, they afford him the appellation of a King, if not, they count him a Tyrant. Wherefore we see a Kingdome, and Tyranny, are not diverse Formes of Government, but one and the self-same Monarch hath the name of a King given him in point of Honour, and Reverence to him, and of a Tyrant in way of contumely, and reproach. But what we frequently finde in bookes said against Tyrants, took its originall from Greek, and Roman Writers, whose Government was partly Democraticall, and partly Aristocraticall, and therefore not Tyrants onely, but even Kings were odious to them.

IV. There are, who indeed doe think it necessary, That a Supreme Command should be somewhere extant in a City; but if it should be in any one, either Man, or Councell, it would follow (they say) that all the Citizens must be slaves. Avoiding this condition, they imagine that there may be a certaine Form of Government compounded of those three kinds we have spoken of, yet different from each particular, which they call a mixt Monarchie, or mixt Aristocraty, or mixt Democraty, according as any one of these three sorts shall be more eminent than the rest: For example, if the naming of Magistrates, and the arbitration of War, and Peace, should belong to the King, Judicature to the Lords, and contribution of Monies to the People, and the power of making Lawes too altogether, this kind of State would they call a mixt Monarchie forsooth. But if it were possible that there could be such a State, it would no whit advantage the liberty of the subject; for as long as they all agree, each single Citizen is as much subject as possibly he can be; but if they disagree, the State returns to a Civill War, and the Right of the private Sword, which certainly is much worse than any subjection whatsoever: But that there can be no such kind of Government 1 hath been sufficiently demonstrated in the foregoing Chapter, Artic: 6-12.

V. Let us see a little now in the constituting of each Form of Government, what the constitutours doe. Those who met together with intention to erect a City, were almost in the very act of meeting a Democraty; for in that they willingly met, they are suppos'd oblig'd to the observation of what shall be determin'd by the major part: which, while that convent lasts, or is adjourn'd to some certain dayes, and places, is a clear Democraty; for that convent, whose will is the will of all the Citizens, hath the Supreme Authority; and because in this Convent every man is suppos'd to have a Right to give his voice, it followes, that it is a Democraty by the definition given in the first Article of this Chap. But if they depart, and break up the Convent, and appoint no time, or place, where, and when they shall meet again, the publick weal returns to Anarchy, and the same state it stood in before their meeting, that is, to the state of all men warring against all. The People therefore retains the supreme power no longer than there is a certain day and place publiquely appointed, and known, to which whosoever will, may resort. For except that be known and determined, they may either meet at divers times, and places, that is in factions, or not at all; and then it is no longer demos, the People, but a dissolute multitude, to whom we can neither attribute any Action, or Right: Two things therefore frame a Democratie, whereof one (to wit the perpetuall prescription of Convents) makes demos, the People, the other (which is a plurality of voyces) to kratos or the power.

VI. Furthermore, it will not be sufficient for the People, so as to maintain its supremacy, to have some certain known times, and places of meeting, unlesse that either the intervals of the times be of lesse distance, than that any thing may in the mean time happen whereby (by reason of the defect of power) the City may be brought into some danger, or at least that the exercise of the supreme authority be, during the intervall, granted to some one man, or Councell. For unlesse this be done, there is not that wary care, and heed taken for the defence and Peace of single men which ought to be, and therefore will not deserve the name of a City, because that in it for want of security, every mans Right of defending himselfe at his own pleasure, returns to him again.

VII. Democraty is not framed by contract of particular persons with the People, but by mutuall compacts of single men each with other. But hence it appears in the first place, that the Persons contracting, must be in being before the contract it selfe. But the People is not in being before the constitution of government, as not being any Person, but a multitude of single Persons; wherefore there could then no contract passe between the People and the Subject. Now, if after that government is framed, the subject make any contract with the People, it is in vain, because the People contains within its will, the will of that subject to whom it is supposed to be obliged; and therefore may at its own will and pleasure disengage it selfe, and by consequence is now actually free. But in the second place, that single Persons doe contract each with other may be inferred from hence, that in vain sure would the City have been constituted, if the Citizens had been engaged by no contracts to doe, or omit what the City should command to be done or omitted. Because therefore such kind of compacts must be understood to passe as necessary to the making up of a City, but none can be made (as is already shewed) between the Subject and the People; it followes, that they must be made between single Citizens, namely that each man contract to submit his will to the will of the major part, on condition that the rest also doe the like, as if every one should say thus, I give up my Right unto the People for your sake, on condition, that you also deliver up yours, for mine.

VIII. An Aristocraty, or Councell of Nobles endued with supreme authoritie, receives its originall from a Democraty, which gives up its Right unto it; where we must understand that certain men distinguisht from others, either by eminence of title, blood, or some other Character, are propounded to the People, and by plurality of voyces are elected; and being elected, the whole Right of the People, or City, is conveighed on them, insomuch as whatsoever the People might doe before, the same by Right may this Court of elected Nobles now doe. Which being done, it is clear that the People, considered as one Person, (its supreme authority being already transferred on these) is no longer now in being.

IX. As in Democraty the People, so in an Aristocraty the Court of Nobles is free from all manner of obligation; for seeing subjects not contracting with the People, but by mutuall compacts among themselves, were tyed to all that the People did, hence also they were tyed to that act of the People in resigning up its Right of government into the hands of Nobles. Neither could this Court, although elected by the People, be by it obliged to any thing; for being erected, the People is at once dissolved, as was declared above, and the authority it had as being a Person utterly vanisheth. Wherefore the obligation which was due to the Person must also vanish, and perish together with it.

X. Aristocraty hath these considerations, together with Democraty; First, that without an appointment of some certain times, and places, at which the Court of Nobles may meet, it is no longer a Court, or one Person, but a dissolute multitude without any supreme power; Secondly, that the times of their assembling cannot be disjoyned by long intervalls, without prejudice to the supreme power, unlesse its administration be transferred to some one man: Now the reasons why this happens, are the same which we set down in the fifth Article.

XI. As an Aristocratie, so also a monarchy is derived from the Power of the People, transferring its Right, (that is) its Authoritie on one man: Here also we must understand, that some one man, either by name, or some other token, is propounded to be taken notice of above all the rest, and that by a plurality of voyces the whole Right of the People is conveighed on him, insomuch as whatsoever the People could doe before he were elected, the same in every Respect may he by Right now doe, being elected; which being done, the People is no longer one Person, but a rude multitude, as being only one before by vertue of the supreme command, whereof they now have made a conveyance from themselves on this one Man.

XII. And therefore neither doth the Monarch oblige himselfe to any for the command he receives, for he receives it from the People; but as hath been shewed above, the People, as soon as that act is done, ceaseth to be a Person; but the Person vanishing, all obligation to the Person vanisheth. The subjects therefore are tyed to perform obedience to the Monarch, by those compacts only by which they mutually obliged themselves to the observation of all that the People should command them, (that is) to obey that Monarch, if he were made by the People.

XIII. But a Monarchy differs as well from an Aristocraty, as a Democratie, in this chiefly, that in those there must be certain set times and places for deliberation, and consultation of affaires, that is, for the actuall exercise of it in all times, and places; For the People, or the Nobles not being one naturall Person must necessarily have their meetings. The Monarch who is one by nature, is alwayes in a present capacity to execute his authority.

XIV. Because we have declared above in the 7. 9. and 12. Articles, that they who have gotten the supreme command are by no compacts obliged to any man, it necessarily followes, that they can doe no injury to the subjects; for injury according to the definition made in the third Article of the third Chapter, is nothing else but a breach of contract: and therefore where no contracts have part, there can be no injury. Yet the People, the Nobles, and the Monarch may diverse wayes transgresse against the other Lawes of nature, as by cruelty, iniquity, contumely, and other like vices, which come not under this strict, and exact notion of injury. But if the subject yeeld not obedience to the supreme, he will in propriety of speech be said to be injurious as well to his fellow subjects, because each man hath compacted with the other to obey, as to his chief Ruler, in resuming that Right, which he hath given him, without his consent. And in a Democraty, or Aristocraty, if any thing be decreed against any Law of nature, the City it selfe (i.e.) the civill Person sinnes not, but those subjects only by whose votes it was decreed; for sinne is a consequence of the naturall expresse will, not of the politicall, which is artificiall; for if it were otherwise, they would be guilty, by whom the decree was absolutely disliked: But in a Monarchie, if the Monarch make any decree against the Lawes of nature, he sins himselfe, because in him the civill will and the naturall are all one.

XV. The people who are about to make a Monarch, may give him the supremacy either simply without limitation of time, or for a certaine season; and time determined; if simply, we must understand that he who receives it, hath the selfe-same power which they had, who gave it, on the same grounds: therefore that the People by Right could make him a Monarch, may he make another Monarch: insomuch as the Monarch to whom the command is simply given, receives a Right not of possession onely, but of succession also, so as he may declare whom hee pleaseth for his successor.

XVI. But if the power be given for a time limited, we must have regard to somewhat more than the bare gift onely: First, whether the People conveighing its authority, left it selfe any Right to meet at certain times, and places, or not. Next, if it have reserved this power, whether it were done, so as they might meet before that time were expired, which they prescribed to the Monarch. Thirdly, whether they were contented to meet onely at the will of that temporary Monarch and not otherwise. Suppose now the People had delivered up its Power to some one man for term of life onely; which being done, let us suppose in the first place, that every man departed from the Counsell without making any order at all concerning the place where (after his death) they should meet again to make a new election. In this case it is manifest by the fifth Article of this Chapter, that the People ceaseth to be a Person, and is become a dissolute multitude, every one whereof hath an equall, to wit, a naturall Right to meet with whom he lists at divers times, and in what places shall best please him; nay, and if he can, engrosse the supreme power to himselfe, and settle it on his own head. What Monarch soever therefore hath a command in such a condition, he is bound by the Law of nature (set down in the [8.] Article of the third Chapter of not returning evill for good) prudently to provide, that by his death the City suffer not a dissolution, either by appointing a certain day & place, in which those subjects of his who have a mind to it may assemble themselves, or else by nominating a successor: whether of these shall to him seem most conducible to their common benefit. He therefore who on this foresaid manner hath received his command during life, hath an absolute Power, and may at his discretion dispose of the succession. In the next place, if we grant that the people departed not from the election of the temporary Monarch, before they decreed a certain time and place of meeting after his death, then the Monarch being dead, the authority is confirmed in the people, not by any new acts of the subjects, but by vertue of the former Right; for all the supreme command (as Dominion) was in the People, but the use, and exercise of it was only in the temporary Monarch, as in one that takes the benefit, but hath not the Right. But if the People after the election of a temporary Monarch, depart not from the Court before they have appointed certain times, and places to convene, during the time prescribed him (as the Dictators in ancient times were made by the People of Rome) such an one is not to be accounted a Monarch, but the Prime Officer of the People; and if it shall seem good, the People may deprive him of his office even before that time, as the People of Rome did, when they conferred an equall power on Minutius, Master of the horse, with Quintus Fabius Maximus, whom before they had made Dictator. The reason whereof is, that it is not to be imagined, that, whether Man or Counsell who hath the readiest, and most immediate power to act, should hold his command on such termes as not to be able actually to execute it; for command is nothing else but a Right of commanding, as oft as nature allowes it possible. Lastly, if the People having declared a temporary Monarch, depart from the Court on such termes, as it shall not be lawfull for them to meet without the command of the Monarch, we must understand the People to be immediately dissolved, and that his authority who is thus declared, is absolute; forasmuch as it is not in the power of all the subjects to frame the City anew, unlesse he give consent who hath now alone the authority. Nor matters it, that he hath perhaps made any promise to assemble his Subjects on some certain times, since there remains no Person now in being, but at his discretion, to whom the promise was made. What we have spoken of these four cases of a People electing a Temporary Monarch will be more clearly explain'd by comparing them with an absolute Monarch, who hath no heir apparent; for the People is Lord of the subject in such a manner as there can be no Heir but whom it self doth appoint. Besides, the spaces between the times of the subjects meeting may be fitly compar'd to those times wherein the Monarch sleepes, for in either the Acts of commanding ceases, the Power remaines: Farthermore, to dissolve the convent, so as it cannot meet againe, is the death of the People; just as sleeping, so as he can never wake more, is the death of a man: As therefore a King, who hath no Heir, going to his rest, so as never to rise again, (i.e.) dying, if he commit the exercise of his Regall Authority to any one till he awake, does by consequence give him the Succession; the People also electing a Temporary Monarch, and not reserving a power to convene, delivers up to him the whole Dominion of the Country: Furthermore, as a King going to sleep for some season, entrusts the administration of his Kingdome to some other, and waking takes it again; so the people having elected a Temporary Monarch, and withall retaining a right to meet at a certain day, and place, at that day receives its supremacy again. And as a King who hath committed the execution of his Authority to another, himself in the mean while waking, can recall this commission againe when he pleaseth; so the People, who during the time prescribed to the Temporary Monarch, doth by Right convene, may if they please, deprive the Monarch of his Authority. Lastly, the King, who commits his Authority to another while himself sleeps, not being able to wake againe till he whom he entrusted, give consent, loses at once both his power, and his life; so the people, who hath given the Supreme Power to a temporary Monarch in such sort as they cannot assemble without his command is absolutely dissolv'd, and the power remaines with him whom they have chosen.

XVII. If the Monarch promise ought to any one, or many subjects together, by consequence whereof the exercise of his power may suffer prejudice, that Promise or Compact whether made by Oath, or without it, is null: for all Compact is a conveyance of Right, which by what hath been said in the fourth Article of the second Chapter, requires meet, and proper signes of the Will in the conveyer. But he who sufficiently signifies his will of retaining the end, doth also sufficiently declare that he quits not his Right to the means necessary to that end. Now he who hath promis'd to part with somewhat necessary to the Supreme Power, and yet retaines the Power it selfe, gives sufficient tokens, That he no otherwise promis'd it then so farre forth as the power might be retain'd without it. Whensoever therefore it shall appear that what is promis'd cannot be perform'd without prejudice to the Power, the promise must be valued as not made, (i.e.) of no effect.

XVIII. We have seen how Subjects, nature dictating, have oblig'd themselves by mutuall Compacts to obey the Supreme Power. We will see now by what meanes it comes to passe that they are releas'd from these bonds of obedience. And first of all this happens by rejection, namely, if a man cast off, or forsake, but conveigh not the Right of his Command on some other; for what is thus rejected, is openly expos'd to all alike, catch who catch can; whence again, by the Right of nature, every subject may heed the preservation of himselfe according to his own judgement. In the second place, If the Kingdome fall into the power of the enemy, so as there can no more opposition be made against them, we must understand that he, who before had the Supreme Authority, hath now lost it: For when the Subjects have done their full indeavour to prevent their falling into the enemies hands, they have fulfill'd those Contracts of obedience which they made each with other, and what, being conquer'd, they promise afterwards, to avoid death, they must, with no lesse endeavour, labour to performe. Thirdly, in a Monarchy, (for a Democraty, and Aristocraty cannot fail) if there be no successour, all the subjects are discharg'd from their obligations; for no man is suppos'd to be tyed he knows not to whom, for in such a case it were impossible to perform ought. And by these three wayes all subjects are restor'd from their civill subjection to that liberty, which all men have to all things, to wit, naturall, and salvage, (for the naturall state hath the same proportion to the Civill, I mean liberty to subjection, which Passion hath to Reason, or a Beast to a Man:) Furthermore, each subject may lawfully be freed from his subjection by the will of him who hath the Supreme Power, namely, if he change his soile, which may be done two wayes, either by permission, as he, who gets license to dwell in another Country; or Command, as he, who is Banisht: In both cases he is free from the Lawes of his former Country, because he is tyed to observe those of the latter.


1. But that there can be no such kinde of Government. Most men grant, That a Government ought not to be divided, but they would have it moderated, and bounded by some limits. Truly it is very reasonable it should be so; but if these men, when they speak of moderating, and limiting, do understand dividing it, they make a very fond distinction. Truly, for my part, I wish that not onely Kings, but all other Persons endued with Supreme Authority would so temper themselves as to commit no wrong, and onely minding their charges contain themselves within the limits of the naturall, and divine Lawes: But they who distinguish thus, they would have the chief Power bounded, and restrain'd by others; which, because it cannot be done, but that they who doe set the limits, must needs have some part of the Power, whereby they may be enabled to doe it, the Government is properly divided, not moderated.


Contents | Next | Previous | Text Version