Hobbes on starvation

Hobbes argues that a government is responsible to keep its destitute citizens from starving to death. From Richard Tuck, Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction (1989).

... if the distribution of property works in such a way that people are physically endangered by it, and members of the commonwealth do not have access to the material necessities of life, then the sovereign is required to intervene and redistribute it; he must always ensure that everyone has at least the minimum necessary for survival. In Chapter 30 of Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the commonwealth must be responsible for the provision of maintenance to the destitute: "They ought not to be left to the charity of private persons; but to be provided for (as far forth as the necessities of Nature require), by the laws of the Commonwealth" (p. 387). A corollary of this, however, was that the sovereign must have the right to tax people to the level he thinks fit in order to protect the commonwealth: no "right of private property" can be pleaded against his actions, as had been argued during the Ship Money controversy.

... The vital point is that Hobbes's theory embodies the paradoxes of early or classical liberalism (and in this respect is not very different from, for example, John Locke's ideas). The primary responsibility of both citizens and sovereigns is to ensure the physical survival of themselves and their fellow citizens. Once this minimal requirement is met, policies should not be enforced upon the community - though that requirement in fact implies a considerable degree of state power. The 19th- or 20th-century exponents of laissez-faire in a sense took for granted the achievement of physical survival; for 17th-century liberals, both public order and a minimum level of subsistence were hard-won prizes. Nor should it be forgotten that it was only in Hobbes' lifetime that Western Europeans became more or less the first people in the history of our planet who could reasonably expect not to face devastating famine at some point in their lives.