What is Leviathan or the Absolute State?June 28, 2021
Although traces of the characteristics of the modern state can be traced back to earlier dates, these traces became evident in the 17th and 18th centuries. In his famous work, The Structural Transformation of the Public, Jürgen Habermas argues that during these centuries, the bourgeoisie, who were getting richer by trade, laid the foundations of the modern state by supporting centralized kingdoms in order to facilitate the circulation of capital and expand the market, in order to get rid of the aristocracy that narrowed their interests (see Habermas 2000).
The demands of the bourgeoisie for political and administrative change are intertwined with attempts to abolish the aristocracy, which presents a fragmented power structure, mostly in relation to expanding the sphere of trade and ensuring the security of commercial capital. To this end, in the transformation into a modern state, local, regional and class powers that had a major blow to trade, especially through taxation, were overthrown; unity of administration and law has been ensured; central authority in the use of violence has been turned into a monopoly; While customs walls were established against the outside, the market area confined to narrow areas by feudalism was expanded on a state scale. Moreover, the church, which became a political power during the Middle Ages, gradually loses its political effectiveness in the transformation into the modern state. With the complete removal of the religious from the secular power, the modern state power is secularized. As a result of this struggle for the complete destruction of regional powers, Leviathan is born, which will gather all these powers and conquer new markets (Sancar 2000, p. 17).
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Born in the city of Şoransa, Italy, Machiavelli lived both the republic and tyranny periods of the city. Machiavelli, who was a civil servant by taking the post of clerk in the Republican period, was exiled after the Medici, a tyrant family, took over the administration. Machiavelli, who wrote his famous works The Prince and Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy during this period, contributed to the secularization of political power with his influential views. Machiavelli, who has a special importance in the history of political philosophy, describes the absolute state in his work called The Prince, and the ideal republican administration in his Discourses. Machiavelli, who legitimizes the political power of the prince on the basis of his own physical power, gains the title of the founder of political science by basing the legitimacy of political power on a source other than religion.
However, with the birth of Leviathan, the tragedy of man’s relationship with the state begins. Man will first create an absolute power endowed with unlimited power, and then he will try to limit this power. The foundations of absolute power were laid by Niccolò Machiavelli in the 16th century. In his famous work The Prince, Machiavelli not only unifies power, but also identifies power with the person of the monarch.
Machiavelli, who drew a picture of pure absolute rule in his work The Prince, was therefore referred to as the “philosopher of evil” for the next centuries (Strauss 1958, p. 9). Machiavelli, whose main purpose was to serve the re-establishment of the unity that was fragmented in Italy, which was divided into small city-states of his time, had the belief that this union could be established under the leadership of a powerful monarch. While Machiavelli reached a secular interpretation of power by basing the source of political power on the power of the monarch instead of tradition or God; Inevitably, it gives the political power superiority over the traditional aristocratic or church administration. Thus, while Machiavelli makes the concept of “sovereignty” as “the supreme power/power among the powers” (superanus) the center of political science in the ongoing power struggle between the church, aristocracy and the kingdom, he also lays the theoretical foundations of the modern state.
According to Machiavelli, the basic principle of sovereignty is political unity and integrity. Ensuring political unity and integrity is the common good of the state and citizens. The fact that he legitimizes all kinds of activities in the name of the common good, whether moral or immoral, causes Machiavelli to be called the pioneer of pragmatism for centuries. However, this ascription is completely unfair. In his work The Prince, Machiavelli especially emphasizes that evil can only be legitimated in the name of the common good and that the path of evil should only be opened when deemed necessary by the sovereign (Machiavelli 2002, p. 143). If attention is paid, Machiavelli paves the way for absolute monarchy by exempting the sovereign, whom he assumes the duty of protecting the common good, from any legal or similar intellectual, physical or moral restrictions. In this case, since the will of the sovereign reflects the common good, the sovereign person is identified with the state.
Following the footsteps of Machiavelli, Jean Bodin, who introduced the concept of sovereignty to political science, offers only two options for political order: either absolute sovereignty or anarchy.
Jean Bodin (1530-1596). French lawyer, historian, political philosopher and politician. Bodin’s most important contribution to political science is “sovereignty”.