I argue here that the polity that Hobbes describes is not the authoritarian nightmare that it is sometimes taken to be. I frame my discussion by examining Hannah Arendt’s critique of Hobbes in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She claims that Hobbes’ thought in many ways paves the way for the worst crimes of the 19th and 20th centuries because the Leviathan eliminates people’s capacity to exercise judgement or think what they are doing.
I suggest instead that to the contrary, Hobbes’ Leviathan ultimately requires a people who are capable of judgment and who exercise their individual consciences. Based on a close reading of Hobbes’ account of human nature, I show that the Leviathan must be as much an educator as a policeman. A population without the capacity to think or judge would be incapable of managing the considerable freedom that Hobbes carves out in the silence of the law.