Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Silviya Lechner

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We began with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner, followed by responses from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, Chiayu Chou and Oliver Eberl. We conclude this week with a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.


I wish to thank the three scholars for contributing their thoughtful comments to this colloquium.[1] Certain disagreements about how we read Hobbes’s ideas of a state of nature, law, authority, and power are palpable, but this discloses the problem of interpretation—we inevitably import our own premises in interpreting a text, which is why even well-informed interpreters tend to espouse divergent points of view. But the fact of disagreement is also important because Hobbes saw it as the most perspicuous trait of human beings. Unlike ants and bees, each of us is a distinctive individual with a position of his or her own.

Chou’s reading closely follows mine, perhaps in light of our shared interest in law, and in Hobbes and Kant as philosophers of the state, defined as a public coercive authority. She raises two questions, one about the relation between natural law and positive law in my rendition of Hobbes’s moral and legal theory, and the other about the so-called ‘sovereignty dilemma’ (a term coined by Katrin Flikschuh, 2010) which problematises the moral status of the state in the international realm. Korab-Karpowicz does not engage my argument for the state of nature in Hobbesian Internationalism but provides an alternative, realist interpretation of the problem. Central to it are the premises of individuals as power-seeking egoists, and the idea of the state of nature as a state of war. Oliver Eberl detects silences in Hobbesian Internationalism pertaining to the modern state as a vehicle of European colonialism. He suggests that a historical reading of Hobbes’s state of nature is more profitable for understanding the concept than my philosophical analysis of it.

Egoism, Power, and the Realist Idiom of a State of Nature

Let me commence with Korab-Karpowicz’s derivation of Hobbes’s state of war from the premises of power and egoism, as presented in Leviathan. The thrust of my response is that taken together these two premises do not generate determinate propositions about human conduct, and that in his masterpiece Hobbes does not use them in the suggested sequence to derive the state of nature, or the state of war. Here we must differentiate Hobbes’s conception of egoism from our present-day understanding of it. Nowadays it is common to distinguish between psychological egoism and ethical egoism. The former is a descriptive thesis holding that action is motivated by a belief that the action is in one’s self-interest (or that it promotes one’s desires or inner states such as pleasure); the latter is a prescriptive thesis stating that one ought to act in one’s self-interest. Scholars like Bernard Gert and Francis McNeilly tend to agree that Hobbes did not subscribe to psychological egoism in Leviathan although such a doctrine is detectable in The Elements and De Cive.[2] And yet, they disagree about the nature and character of Hobbes’s egoistic premises. Gert (1965, 346) claims that Hobbes provided a mechanical account of pleasure, as an internal bodily motion effected by external causes, which promotes the body’s vital motion. Because this view of pleasure excludes the component of belief, it cannot be a proper motivational category as required by psychological egoism. Gert thinks that Hobbes adheres more or less to the same doctrine of mind throughout his corpus. Against this, McNeilly (1966, 199–200) has pointed out that the account in Leviathan is different since desire is now prior to pleasure (pleasure is the ‘appearance’ attendant to an already present desire). Desire, moreover, is no longer an effect of a perception (thought) of an external object, as it was in Hobbes’s early works, but is based on ‘endeavour’, an infinitesimally small motion inside the agent’s body directed towards a thought of a possible action. For McNeilly, Hobbes’s theory of desire involves mental projection and is not mechanistic. In his turn, Gert (1967, esp. 507) usefully points out the limits of egoism, by asking whether the notion of ‘one’s own desire’ is to be contrasted with the notion of ‘the desires of someone else’ or, rather, with ‘one’s moral sense’. He also ascribes ‘tautological egoism’ to Hobbes which merely points to the fact of a self having desires while remaining explanatory inert.

Gregory Kavka (1986, 25–26, 358–368) considers the ethically relevant form of egoism and attributes to Hobbes a position termed rule egoism. It stipulates that certain acts are justified by reference to rules, and that the rules are justified as being in the agent’s interest. The rules in question are Hobbes’s laws of nature and since their justification is prudential, Kavka fleshes out the consequentialist aspects of Hobbes’s moral system. It is notable that the notion of self-interest is not a purview of realist theory (in IR) but belongs to consequentialism as a basic moral theory.

Let us now see how Hobbes’s concept of power relates to self-interest. My interlocutor suggests that when egoists are engaged in a struggle for power the outcome is a Hobbesian ‘war of every man against every man’. The difficulty with this is that power can be pursued for egoistic (self-regarding) motives as well as for altruistic ones (McNeilly 1966, 204), so the two concepts are not logically interlinked. What is more, Hobbes changes his definition of power. In The Elements it is a relative notion (‘power simply is no more, but the excess of the power of one above that of another’, E I.8.4), whereas in Leviathan it is an instrumental notion (one’s ‘present means, to obtain some future apparent Good’, L X, 150 [41]). But if power is defined instrumentally, it yields no determinate propositions about how the agents will act. To be able to say something determinate, it is not enough to know what means individuals have; we also have to know their goals or ends. Hobbes denies that human conduct is directed towards some universal end or summum bonum (L XI, 160 [47]). Rather, different people pursue completely different goals, and even the same person at different times re-evaluates his or her goals. The term subjectivism rather than egoism better describes the human condition in Hobbes’s world. On my reading, Hobbesian individuals pursue divergent ends, and they only need power as a means to these ends. It follows that the quest for power is an amplifier of a problem whose source lies elsewhere—in the fact of irreducible diversity of human ends and the plurality of human wills. The state of nature, as presented in Hobbesian Internationalism, is a state of fundamental uncertainty precisely because no common measure of things exists—it is not necessarily an arena where individuals are trapped in a deadly struggle for power.

True, in De Cive Hobbes thought that power can suppress plurality and disagreement, which resulted in his command theory of law. To this end, the ruler’s power must be ‘irresistible’. But in Leviathan the naturalistic principle of power is replaced with the normative principle of authority. Rule by law replaces rule by force. While power has no theoretical limit—it can always be subdued by an even larger power—authority (the right to rule), once granted to a ruler by the subjects, possesses finality: it counts as supreme within a given realm (the realm of the state). In Hobbesian Internationalism the key category of analysis thus is sovereign authority, not sovereign power.

Korab-Karpowicz is interested in the tradition of political realism where the premises of egoism (self-interest) and power have a purchase. But realism is not the default position for state-of-nature arguments. The state of nature, as I try to show in the book, is a much broader and philosophically complex discourse. It refers to any condition of interaction among a large number of agents (humans or states) not modulated by common authoritative standards—in this sense, the internet is a state of nature. And this is a crucial point because the state of nature need not be a state of war—there need not even be an implicit invocation of a threat of physical violence, in the form of anticipation of physical harm. But what, then, is the predicament of the state of nature? In The Elements, it is a competition fuelled by vain glory (think of the academic market of scholars seeking tenure). In Leviathan, it is above all a situation in which people are mutually frustrated. What is emblematic of this predicament is not the plight of the solitary individual (the proverbial egoist), but the obstruction of one’s felicity by the mere presence of others. This is the problem of ‘men in multitudes’ (L XV, 214 [79]). And this is also why Hobbes takes law, as an authoritative institution designed to govern human multitudes, to be the solution to the predicament.

Morality, Law, and the Relations of States

The second set of questions in this colloquium concerns the connection between the law of nature and positive law. Quoting Norberto Bobbio, Chou asks whether my analysis is not burdened by a tension between law and morality permeating Hobbes’s own argument, which begins with the law of nature, as a moral law, but ends with positive law (civil law). In the book, I did not present the problem in these terms for a number of reasons. One is that Hobbes relies on a very restrictive notion of morality to describe agent relations in the state of nature. By ‘justice’ he means only that segment of morality dealing with the keeping of promises. Another reason is that he departs from the canonical notion of natural law, construed as a set of objective moral principles that govern rational agents. Hobbes thinks that discord in the state of nature is generated by the diversity of subjective judgments. Hobbes’s laws of nature, as a result, are (under a certain description) subjective ‘precepts’ advising the individual agent to make a certain manner of action (say, an equitable manner) a future policy in similar situations. Hobbes’s ‘precepts’ resemble Kant’s ‘maxims’. But their point is to govern intersubjective relations—the precepts are not supposed to tell Alan what to do, but how to behave towards James and Sally. Hobbes’s laws of nature also take account of the element of uncertainty that characterises the state of nature, leading Hobbes to make the famous claim that until security is attained, the laws of nature bind each agent in intention only (in foro interno) but not at the level of action (in foro externo) (L XV, 215 [79]. Law for Hobbes (and Kant) does not concern the moral quality of our intentions, but the external properties of our actions. As such it does not regulate actions but interactions. Law is the mirror image of the state of nature for both Hobbes and Kant because inside both domains—the juridical and the natural—the puzzle is to explain how each individual interacts (or should interact) with other individuals, and not how the individual as a self-standing entity complies with given moral principles (e.g., the Decalogue).

Hobbes is a modern philosopher who analyses his categories ‘under a description’. So the concept of a law of nature does not have a single meaning. It has multiple meanings depending on context. For the agent (from a first-person perspective), the laws of nature are prudential devices, enabling one to survive in a hostile environment. For an observer (form an explanatory or third-person perspective), they are rules found out by reason. In terms of their moral properties, they are ‘if-then’ (hypothetical) prudential propositions. Hobbes’s theory of morality is extremely complex because it combines deontological with consequentialist aspects. Concretely, it combines a prudential theory of the laws of nature with a deontological theory of covenant.[3] So this contrast is more central to Hobbesian Internationalism than the contrast between the law of nature and positive law.

But let me register my position on the question of legal positivism. By calling the laws of nature ‘rules’ Hobbes at once points to their generality as prescriptions (holding for everyone in the state of nature) as well as to their linguistic character. The laws of nature are propositions expressed in language and since their meaning demands interpretation, it can also lead to misinterpretation. How do we know that what Ellen calls ‘just’ is the same as what Alan calls ‘just’? In the state of nature we do not. This is the problem of disagreement and the only way to resolve it is by instituting ‘right reason’, as a principle of public reason. The device of public reason appeals to the sovereign and works on the premise that sovereignty is a legal office of final authority. Law, as a source of authoritative pronouncements, reduces the uncertainty of moral systems. In this sense, there is an affinity between HLA Hart’s (1961) legal positivism in The Concept of Law and Hobbes’s scheme.

With respect to international relations, we may ask whether the international state of nature can be seen as a sphere governed by moral rules, contrary to what realists usually suppose. Chap. 6 of Hobbesian Internationalism analyses a group of scholars, termed normativists, who have made a case for a Hobbesian morality among states. Some like Murray Forsyth (1979) and David Boucher (1990) equate the laws of nature to the law of nations, drawing on Hobbes’s claim from Chap. XXX of Leviathan. Others like Richard Tuck (1989) use a moralised version of Hobbes’s right of nature (appealing to Hobbes’s concept of ‘blameless liberty’ from The Elements) to articulate a ‘thin’ international morality that gives states a right of non-aggression but no right of mutual assistance. In Chap. 7 of the book the discussion moves from international anarchy to international authority. It raises the question, can a theory of international authority be developed along Hobbesian lines? It is argued that Kant’s theory of international right corresponds closely to what would have been Hobbesian theses for an international authority. Kant employs both Hobbes’s view of the state of nature, as a realm of fundamental uncertainty (and a realm of mutual frustration) as well as Hobbes’s definition of the state, as a coercive public authority. (He adds the further idea of a properly constituted state called ‘republic’). Unlike Hobbes, Kant posits moral rights in the state of nature, and a moral obligation that urges human beings to leave the state of nature in order to establish a rightful condition or a civil state.

This obligation generates a ‘sovereignty dilemma’ for states (discussed in Chap. 7). Kant’s logic requires each individual state to leave the international state of nature and to join a super-state (state of states). But, and this is the horn of the dilemma, a sovereign state cannot undertake such an obligation because by submitting to a higher authority (a super state) it would compromise its status of sovereign entity. This status is not just legal, but moral. Anarchy, it follows, is necessary for preserving the moral autonomy—or moral sovereignty—of states. A proper international authority therefore ought to be a Kantian peaceful league of republican states located within the international anarchy: it cannot be a super state. This is the core thesis of Hobbesian internationalism. Given that a centralised, state-like system of international law does not yet exist (and ought not to exist if the state’s moral sovereignty matters), the international moral obligations of states would have to be based on covenant as opposed to law.

Barbarism, Colonialism, and the Historical Interpretation of the State of Nature

Finally, the last section of this colloquium concerns the questions of barbarism, colonialism, and Kant’s principle of cosmopolitan right in relation to Hobbes. With respect to Hobbes’s state of nature, Eberl suggests that it should be read historically, and on this basis he interprets it as a condition of barbarism, as evident from Hobbes’s reference to the Americas in his description of the state of nature in Leviathan. With respect to the state, Eberl concludes that Kant saw it as a dangerous agent of colonialism and that this should give us pause for reflection. My response has three parts to it. The first is that in the Preface to Leviathan Hobbes observes that ‘He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but Mankind’: this is a generalising (philosophical) purpose rather than an ideographic (historical) one. In Chap. XIII of the same work he mentions the ‘savage people in many places in America’ but in the same paragraph he emphasises that the state of nature is a hypothetical condition (‘there was never such a time, nor condition …over all the world’, L XIII, 187 [63]). In De Cive he uses a hypothetical description of individuals in the state of nature as ‘sprung out of the earth, and suddenly (like mushrooms) come to full maturity’ having no prior history and social relations (DC 8.1). Hobbes’s main works on morality, law and politics, The Elements, Leviathan and De Cive, along with the rest two volumes of his trilogy, De Corpore and De Homine, are works of philosophy. Philosophy for Hobbes is a mode of reasoning that begins with clear definitions, and moves from premises to conclusions, by using terminology that is purged from ambiguity as far as possible. In analysing Hobbes’s theses about anarchy and authority developed in these works I have adhered to Hobbes’s own philosophical method.

As Korab-Karpowicz rightfully notes, anarchy is a distinct category from the notion of a primitive condition of life. Barbarism, we may add, when it refers to primitivism implies primordiality and a temporal horizon, and when it refers to backwardness it implies narratives of regress and progress. In contrast to these notions, Hobbes’s state of nature designates a condition of human interaction in the absence of a common authority, or common authoritative standards, be it linguistic, normative, or juridical. On Hobbes premises, the state of nature is a densely populated domain where individuals interact on a regular basis; it is not a domain of solitude where hardly anyone meets anyone else, as in Rousseau’s (1987 [1755]) image of primitive society. Rousseau’s theory of the state of nature contains a mixture of historical facts about the technological evolution of society and a philosophical analysis of how this society should develop in order to prevent domination and exploitation. Eberl’s interest in barbarism seems closer to Rousseau’s than to Hobbes’s views.

Colonialism was not of a central philosophical concern to Hobbes. Nonetheless, he noted that when it becomes unavoidable, due to population growth and scarcity, colonial settlement abroad should not be used as a pretext for killing or enslaving the local population (L XXX, 387 [181]). In The Metaphysic of Morals and Perpetual Peace Kant was careful to block the agenda of would-be colonial powers bent to colonise weaker peoples by pleading a right of settlement.[4] Accordingly, Kant restricts the purview of his cosmopolitan right to a set of rights allowing individuals to visit a foreign country (including a right of refuge) without granting them rights of permanent settlement. Cosmopolitan right regulates the relations between citizens of a foreign state and a corresponding recipient state. On my reading of Kant, the state as an institution is not the primary agent of colonialism, though certain states have been implicated in colonial quests as a matter of historical fact. Indeed, the problem of historical interpretation of philosophical notions that Eberl insightfully alludes to is that our philosophical theories are based on abstractions that conceal and indeed eliminate the historical complexity lurking beneath. Thus the real state as opposed to its abstract portrait is always a mixed identity, and it inevitably has a dark side (Oakeshott 1975c, Part III). This diagnosis is correct. But it is not a problem confined exclusively to the category of the state, it affects the philosophical analysis of any other category.

Finally, it can be pointed out that imperial expansion and colonialism have been propelled in an equal measure by the global expansion of the market which continues to unfold today. The concluding chapter of Hobbesian Internationalism ventured to show that if the state as a public authority were removed from the global realm, we would be left with the global market as a primary mechanism for distributing value. Because the market has the character of private authority, even when it generates efficiency and economic growth, it is likely to have detrimental repercussions for our freedoms and rights. My philosophical defence of the Hobbesian state is qualified both by the recognition of the enduring relevance of anarchy in the international sphere, and by the realisation that in its capacity of public authority that is supposed to safeguard citizens’ freedoms and rights this form of state represents a standard that will not be met by all actually existing states.

Dr Silviya Lechner (King’s College, London)


Boucher, David (1990) ‘Inter-Community and International Relations in the Political Philosophy of Hobbes’. Polity 23 (2): 207–232.

Flikschuh, Katrin (2010) ‘Kant’s Sovereignty Dilemma: A Contemporary Analysis’. The Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (4): 469–93.

Forsyth, Murray (1979) ‘Thomas Hobbes and the External Relations of States’. British Journal of International Studies 5 (3): 196–209.

Gert, Bernard (1965) ‘Hobbes, Mechanism, Egoism’. The Philosophical Quarterly 15 (61): 341–349.

Gert, Bernard (1967) ‘Hobbes and Psychological Egoism’. The Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (4): 503–520.

Hart, HLA (1961), The Concept of Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hobbes, Thomas (1949 [1651]) De Cive or the Citizen, ed. Sterling P. Lamprecht. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

Hobbes, Thomas (1968 [1651]) Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson. London: Penguin.

Hobbes, Thomas (1969 [1650]) The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, 2nd ed., ed. Ferdinand Tönnies. London: Frank Cass.

Kant, Immanuel (1991 [1795]) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Kant’s Political Writings, 2nd ed.,trans. H. B. Nisbet, ed.Hans Reiss, 93–130. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1996 [1797]) The Metaphysics of Morals, ed. Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kavka, Gregory (1986) Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

McNeilly, F. S. (1966) ‘Egoism in Hobbes’. The Philosophical Quarterly 16 (64): 193–206.

Oakeshott, Michael (1975a) Introduction to Leviathan. In Hobbes on Civil Association, 1–79. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Oakeshott, Michael (1975b) The Moral Life in the Writings of Thomas Hobbes. In Hobbes on Civil Association, 80–140. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Oakeshott, Michael (1975c) On Human Conduct. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raphael, D.D. (2004) Hobbes: Morals and Politics, 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1987 [1755]) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings, trans. Donald A. Cress, 25–81. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Tuck, Richard (1989) Hobbes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[1]  Leviathan is cited by chapter and page number of the 1968 MacPherson edition, the original pagination of the 1651 ‘Head’ edition is shown in square brackets. De Cive is cited by chapter and section number, and The Elements, by part, chapter, and section number.

[2]  McNeilly’s (1966) paper is a critical appraisal of Gert’s (1965) argument.

[3]  A similar argument is advanced in Oakeshott (1975a, 1975b) and Raphael (2004).

[4]  Kant (1996 [1797]), Chap. III, § 62 of ‘Public Right’, VI:352–353; Kant (1991 [1795]), ‘Third Definitive Article of Perpetual Peace’, VIII: 358–359.

Online Colloquium (4): Oliver Eberl on Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We began with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner, followed by responses from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz and Chiayu Chou. We now have a response from Oliver Eberl, before finishing with a reply by Silviya Lechner next week. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.


Silviya Lechner’s careful analysis of the different versions of the state of nature in Thomas Hobbes oeuvre of is a piece of impressive scholarship. She contributes a necessary correction to the dominant understanding of the Leviathan which assumes that there is one single idea of a state of nature. It is therefore highly meritorious that she differentiates three versions of the state of nature in The Elements, De Cive, and Leviathan.

Instead of discussing the proposal for a ‘Hobbesian internationalism’ outlined in the book, which represents a kind of Kantian Hobbesianism, my commentary will focus on the broader idea of the state of nature and how it is used in political philosophy. To begin with, I refer to the description of the state of nature Kant gives which is based on Hobbes’s premises. With a Kantian reading of the state of nature in mind, I would like to raise a methodological and a substantial critique of the legitimation of the state that Hobbes and other state of nature-theorists present. Hobbesian Internationalism advocates ‘analytical hermeneutics’ as a method, by understanding context as ‘philosophical framework or system’, unlike the method of ’intellectual context’ advanced by Quentin Skinner (13). While this proposed approach may be methodologically well justified and furthermore legitimated by the European philosophical tradition, I think that it misses an important point about the genealogy and history of the state and our thinking about it. To think about the state only as a philosophical framework without accounting for its history puzzles me as an approach, because it treats the emergence of the state always as a solution—and never as a problem. I would therefore call my reaction a ‘contextual historical discontent’ in the reception of traditional European theories of the state.

Kant learned from Rousseau that historically states have emerged through a struggle of violence and bondage. This is why Kant continuously argued for the democratisation of states and the transformation of absolutist monarchies into republics. For this argument, he used the state of nature as a starting point. But in his description of the international state of nature, which is a relation between states, he clearly argued that it is the current constitution of the states that is problematic. This is what he said about the European states in Perpetual Peace:

Just as we now regard with profound contempt, as barbarous, crude, and brutishly degrading to humanity, the attachment of savages to their lawless freedom, by which they would rather struggle unceasingly that subject themselves, thus preferring a mad freedom to a rational freedom, so, one would think, civilized peoples (each united into a state) must hasten to leave such a depraved condition, the sooner the better; but instead each state puts its majesty […] just in its not being subject to any external lawful coercion at all […]; and the difference between the European and the American savages consists mainly in this: that whereas many tribes of the latter have been eaten up by their enemies, the former know how to make better use of those they have defeated.[1]

In this passage Kant clearly compares American savages with European states. The ironic use of ‘savages’ for European states cannot obfuscate the fact that Kant speaks of the American peoples and that he does this in a distinctly pejorative way: They are ‘barbarous, crude, and brutishly’, they have a ‘lawless freedom’ or a ‘mad freedom’, they are in a ‘depraved condition’, and have ‘eaten up their enemies’. Native Americans, or rather the cliché of the American “savages”, serve as an example to illustrate the state of nature between European states.

It is notable that in the above argument Kant used as a logical template Hobbes’s and not Rousseau’s description of the state of nature. Politically, however, he was closer to Rousseau’s republic and his idea of a social contract. Thus, the state of nature for Kant is a state of war marked by constant insecurity rather than permanent violence. At the same time, Kant recognises the actual tendency of states towards violence and their tendency to war, colonialism and unfreedom. The question that I wish to raise in this relation is, why should we drop this critique of the state and its authority from a historical standpoint? And why should we neglect the references of Kant and Hobbes to America when describing the state of nature?

In the book, Lechner also stresses the double meaning of the state of nature: ‘It may mean either a condition where the civil state has not yet emerged (prospective meaning) or one where an existing state has collapsed, as in the case of a civil war (retrospective meaning)’ (10). In Leviathan Hobbes famously described the state of nature as a condition for humans in nature, as their living environment. This is a condition without common power. ‘In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.’[2]

This passage sounds much more like a description of the life of indigenous peoples in the Americas, than as a description of a European country in civil war: Why should buildings, navigation, knowledge of the face of the earth, the idea of time and arts, or letters be lost in a civil war? Why would life be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? And why would there be no society? Instead of explaining why a civil war is a threat to life and safety, it seems that Hobbes equates state and society with European civilization. Civil war is a threat to the civilized way of life and this threat is symbolized by the situation of native Americans. In the frontispiece to De Cive, Libertas is visualized as the “savage” liberty of indigenous people, hunting humans and living in a state that resembles the description of a state of nature in Leviathan.

When Hobbes asks where and when such a condition could be seen, he answers that ‘savage people in many places of America […] live at this day in that brutish manner’. He furthermore argues that ‘men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government use to degenerate’ in civil war.[3] I conclude from this that Hobbes and his contemporaries refer to native Americans when they describe the human past before the advent of the state. This implies that Europe and America started out at the same level: The early inhabitants of England looked very similar to the contemporary Americans, as the drawings of the early Pictes from Theodor de Bry in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia show.[4]

A fallback into the state of nature means loss of civilization—or erasing the difference between European and “savage” societies. In my view, the power of Hobbes’ state-of-nature argument is that it reveals the Eurocentric fear of a regression into a stateless society, which in turn would mean becoming “savage” again.[5] The colonial picture of the native Americans serves as a blueprint for such a fallback. This identification of the state with society and civilization leads to the problematic strain of European history and reality: to discourses of colonialism, war, and racism.

Several scholars raised these concerns before, whereby they are more or less critical of the state—ranging from more anarchist to liberal viewpoints. [6] In conclusion, I would like to argue that political philosophy needs to stay critical of the idea of the state. Kant gives one example: he describes how the ‘common power’ not only solves problems but also creates severe violence and unfreedom. The historical process of state creation and violence go hand in hand. We would neglect this fact if we think of the state only as a solution to the problem of a state of nature, a problem whose formulation reflects our colonial prejudices.    

Dr Oliver Eberl, Leibniz University Hannover

[1]  Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 326, AA 8:354. 

[2]  Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B: Macpherson (London: Penguin, 1985), 185–86.

[3]  Leviathan, 187.

[4]  Thomas Harriot, Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, The Complete 1590 Theodor de Bry Edition, with a new Introduction by Paul Hulton (New York: Dover Publication, 1972). See also Ioannis D. Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy. The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[5]  I develop the idea of a transformation of the colonial prejudices against ‘barbarians’ and ‘savages’ into the ‘state of nature’ in more detail in my habilitation manuscript Naturzustand und Barbarei. Begründung und Kritik des Staates im Zeichen des Kolonialismus (2016, TU Darmstadt).

[6]  Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997); J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Vol. IV: Barbarians, Savages and Empires (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005); Philip Manow, Politische Ursprungsphantasien. Der Lev-iathan und sein Erbe (Konstanz University Press 2010); Pat Moloney, ‘Hobbes, Savagery, and International Anarchy’, American Political Science Review 105, no. 1 (2011): 189–204; Karl Widerquist and Grant S. McCall, Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2017); James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (New Haven: Yale University Press 2017); Alberto Toscano, ‘“By Contraries Execute All Things”. Figures of the Savage in European Philosophy’, Radical Philosophy 2, no. 4 (2019): 9–21.

Online Colloquium (3): Chiayu Chou on Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We began with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner, followed by a response from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz. We now have a response from Chiayu Chou, which will be followed by a response from Oliver Eberl, and then a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.


In her erudite and detailed book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy, Silviya Lechner provides a deep and comprehensive reading of Hobbes’s political philosophy by analyzing differences between Hobbes’s earlier works and his conclusive views in Leviathan. Lechner convincingly reveals the “the middle course” (28) that Hobbes adopts between theorists who believe that state authority is based purely on moral principles and those who equate authority to de facto power. This is because, contrary to the predominant view that the Hobbesian state of nature is a lawless condition, Hobbes actually emphasizes the role of natural obligation, which compels subjects to obey the laws of nature.

Beginning with an analysis of Hobbes’s concept of authority, Lechner progresses from discussing the “anarchy” in the state of nature to the “anarchy” in international relations. In particular, this book traces how later realists have interpreted and used Hobbes’s notion of the state of nature in the realm of international relations. Based on the “middle course” normative approach, Lechner challenges both the orthodox interpretations of Hobbes’s political philosophy of the state and the realist reading of Hobbesian international political theory in two stages. First, Lechner emphasizes two moral relations that are often underappreciated or ignored in realist readings of Hobbes, namely the laws of nature and the covenant. Second, by analysing the development of Hobbes’s ideas from his earlier works, which emphasized the laws of nature, to Leviathan, which emphasized covenant relations, Lechner goes further to constitute a Hobbesian international political theory that is based on Hobbes’s notion of covenant as a relation of trust and Kant’s account of international right (chap. 7). Assuming that these observations are accurate, Lechner is defending the normativist reading of Hobbes’s accounts of international relations (125–28) by agreeing that “morality has a place in international relations thus ruling out moral scepticism” (125). This results in a reconstructed model of international relations, namely Hobbesian internationalism, which implies “a Kantian theory of international relations superimposed on the fundament of Hobbes’s political philosophy” (140). Specifically, this unusual combination[1] “begins with Hobbes’s conception of the juridical state, transforms it into an argument for an international authority animated by Kant’s principle of international right, and complements it with Hobbes’s conception of covenants of mutual trust” (141).

One general point made in this argument pertains to the nature of “moral relations,” which are claimed to govern both the domestic and international state of nature. Specifically, a difficulty of reading Hobbes lies in the “fundamental antinomy of Hobbes’s thought in the following terms: Hobbes’s inquiry begins with natural law. Therefore, natural law theorists rightly consider him as one of their own. But Hobbes ends with the solid construction of a positivistic conception of the state. Therefore legal theorists rightly appropriate him” (Bobbio 1993, 118). Expressed differently, this controversy centres on the question of “what kind of bindingness there is here” , because, as May (2013, 5) indicates, Hobbes clearly claims that “all the laws of nature bind only in foro interno in conscience, not in foro externo.” This claim has already caused much interpretive difficulty. Although such difficulties need not be elaborated here, this interpretive difficulty may facilitate clarification of my following argument. In short, on the one hand, Hobbes’s claim appears highly “positivistic,” in the sense that the laws of nature seem unable to regulate civil laws (Watkins 1965; Skinner 1964). On the other hand, Hobbes appears to genuinely endorse the normative force of the laws of nature. He even extrapolates them to the international level by equating the laws of nature with the law of nations.

To some extent, Lechner’s book can be understood as an effort to resolve the aforementioned difficulty. The elegance with which she tackles this interpretive controversy is undoubtable. However, by indicating that “the state, as an inherently coercive public authority, has no alternative” (16), Lechner cannot avoid the positivistic answer that “both covenants and the laws of nature, as normative relations in the state of nature, remains uncertain” (106).[2] If this is the case, then the extent to which this normativist understanding of international relations can replace the traditional realist reading of Hobbes warrants scrutiny. In other words, the role and status of the moral relations that are said to govern both domestic and international relations remain unclear because of a dilemma: on the one hand, if moral relations can be effective in the absence of public authority, then the state of war can be avoided, and sovereignty need not be instituted; on the other hand, if no moral relations can function without a common power, then a Hobbesian supra-Leviathan is the logical conclusion. Furthermore, if the normative status of these moral relations and its relation to authority are unclear, then the nature of Hobbesian Kantianism, which is primarily based on the Hobbesian juridical state and a trust-based covenant, may also be unclear.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, this difficulty is not so much an omission of Lechner’s book as a reflection of the so-called “sovereignty dilemma” (159, quoting Flikschuh 2010). By “sovereignty dilemma,” Flikschuh implies that “given their moral status, states ought to submit under a supra-state public authority. Given the grounds of their moral status they cannot do so, but must treat themselves and one another as juridical sovereign agents”. Thus, “states must fall back on juridical self-enforcement within the loose framework of a non-coercive league” (Flikschuh 2010, 13). The point underlying this sovereignty dilemma is the distinct moral status of the sovereign state. From a Hobbesian perspective, independent juridical states ought to establish a super-Leviathan for an impartial and public authority to adjudicate disputes; however, this could only be true if the distinct role and status of the juridical state is neglected. Kant elaborates on this insight clearly in his mature political work, The Metaphysics of Morals. Kant, similar to Hobbes, conceptualizes states as being constituted by specific “structures” that an “individual agent ought to observe in pursuing their private ends” (103). Such structures cannot simply be replaced by an international framework of global organization nor can they be reduced to parallels with any individual in the state of nature.

As Lechner insightfully indicates, Hobbes and Kant remind us of the distinct moral importance of the state, which tends to be underemphasized given the trends of globalization and private security in modern society. In some respects, we may say that Kant’s international political theory provides an answer to the question that Hobbes’s theory of the state begins to ask.

Dr Chiayu Chou (National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan (R.O.C))


Bobbio, Norberto (1993) Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law tradition, trans. D. Gobetti. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. 

Chiayu Chou (2013) Rethinking Hobbes and Kant. London & New York: Routledge.

Flikschuh, Katrin (2010) “Kant’s Sovereignty Dilemma: A Contemporary Analysis,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 18, no. 4: 469–93.

Hobbes, Thomas (1994) Leviathan, ed. E. Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett.

May, Larry (2013) Limiting Leviathan: Hobbes on Law and International Affairs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pogge, Thomas (1988) “Kant’s Theory of Justice,” Kant-Studien 79, no. 4: 20733.

Taylor, A.E. (1938) “The Ethical doctrine of Thomas Hobbes,” Philosophy 13, no. 52: 406–24.

[1]  To clarify, this combination has been noted by numerous scholars (Taylor, 1938; Pogge, 1988; Chou, 2013).

[2]  Because both normative relations are uncertain in the state of nature, covenants “can be stabilized through coercion by the civil state. The laws of nature as general rules of conduct are burdened by epistemological uncertainty which […] can be overcome by public reason that supplies a public language” (106).

Online Colloquium (2): Korab-Karpowicz on Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We began with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner. We now have a response from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, which will be followed by responses from Chiayu Chou and Oliver Eberl, and finally a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.


It is often observed that in the environment of globalization, nation-states are increasingly affected by decisions over which they have little control. This is a result of the growing involvement in global politics of so many non-state actors, especially multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations.[1] If we understand freedom not merely in the Hobbesian sense as the ‘absence of restraint’, but rather in the Lockean terms as our ‘power to act or forbear acting’, [2] according to one’s choice, then it is right to say that once states are exposed to global forces, the crucial form of their freedom is being threatened, because those forces ‘affect the choices, life styles, and opportunities of those living inside their borders’ (169).[3] Can we then agree with Silviya Lechner, that Hobbes should be interpreted as ‘a theorist of freedom and rights’ (181), and particularly as a defender of the sovereign state against the supranational forces of globalization?

Let me examine some aspects of Hobbes’ political philosophy by following Lechner’s insights. As she claims, its fundamental categories are anarchy (state of nature) and authority (the state). The state of nature does not merely mean for Hobbes a primitive condition of life. Rather, it is the situation of anarchy, understood etymologically as absence of government. This may refer to either pre-political times, in which the state has not yet been established, or to a situation when, due to civil war or other domestic turmoil, a government loses its effective control over its citizens.[4] Further, the state of nature, in which human beings live when a public authority is absent, is seen by him as a state of war—and ‘such a war as is of every man against every man’.[5] He derives his notion of the state of war from his views of both human nature (egoistic) and the condition in which individuals exist (anarchy). The core of his argument is that the egoistic passions by which human beings are driven and an environment of anarchy in which they are placed both diminish the possibility of their cooperation and hence lead to their endless conflict.

This Hobbesian view of human beings has both domestic and international implications. In the view of classical political philosophy, which has its origin in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, human beings are naturally social. They can be egoistic, but they can also develop virtues and thus control their egoism by reason and hence can work for the benefit of others, even at the expense of their own benefit. The ability to rationally deliberate about what is beneficial and what is harmful, about what is just and what is unjust, is what distinguishes humans from other animals. Therefore, for classical political thinkers, human beings are both rational and moral agents, naturally capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and of making moral choices. With great skill and considerable force Hobbes attacks this classical view.[6] He denies that human beings have a natural desire for society. He claims that when they associate, it is solely for the sake of some mutual advantage. He also denies that there is any morality in the state of nature. The notions of justice or injustice have no application here.[7] His human beings, extremely individualistic rather than moral or social, are subject to ‘a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death’.[8] They struggle for power.

There are several implications that can be derived from these assumptions. First, since human beings are egoistic and antisocial, and cannot be improved by cultivating virtues and thus live peacefully with each other, they can be brought to peace only by coercion. For both Plato and Aristotle, politics is not about power or domination; it is rather about human flourishing or self-realization, which is expressed in the Aristotelian notion of a good life. But for Hobbes and his modern followers, politics is reduced to keeping, demonstrating or increasing power, and to applying different socio-techniques to be able to rule human egoists efficiently. The state that emerges as a result of his social contract, is, as Lechner rightly observes, ‘a system of coercive rules, laws’ (29), by which moral rules are also dictated. It is not the classical ideal of a political community aiming at a good life, an arena where the good of every person is discerned, developed and instantiated by the art of prudent ruling. The Hobbesian state, pictured as the awesome figure of the monstrous Leviathan, is all powerful. Absolute and unified sovereignty is for him the only practical alternative to dangerous anarchy.

As a result of such a conception of the state, citizens’ traditional class distinctions, and their ancient dignities, liberties, and privileges are removed. They all become equalized and their liberty lies only in those things that the sovereign has not forbidden. What Hobbes considered indispensable to sovereign power can be summed up as complete control over militia, money, and mind. It is, in particular, the control over mind—i.e., education—that is crucial for him. ‘Common people’s minds … are like clean paper, fit to receive whatsoever by public authority shall be imprinted in them’.[9] They can therefore easily be subjected to the Hobbesian program of indoctrination. Since the teaching of sound political doctrine is essential for the preservation of peace, the sovereign decides what should be taught at schools and universities. The classics and all forms of traditional theology must be abandoned as potential sources of intellectual ferment and sedition.[10] The key is to ensure that people are instructed in ‘their duty to the sovereign power’.[11] Moreover, the sovereign has the right of censorship and it is his task to examine all books before publication. He also presides over the church and resolves all controversies in religion, controlling thus not only the words and deeds of his subjects, but also their consciences.[12]

While Hobbes is primarily concerned with the relations between individuals and the state, he has nonetheless made a substantial impact on the study of international relations. International politics, like all politics, is for him rooted in his concept of egoistic and power-seeking human nature. Once states are established, individual drive for power becomes the basis for the states’ behaviour, which manifests itself in their efforts to dominate other states and peoples. States, ‘for their own security’, writes Hobbes, ‘enlarge their dominions upon all pretences of danger and fear of invasion or assistance that may be given to invaders, [and] endeavour as much as they can, to subdue and weaken their neighbours’.[13] Accordingly, as it would be later for the realist Hans Morgenthau, who was deeply influenced by Hobbes and adopted a similar view of human nature, the quest and struggle for power lie at the core of the Hobbesian vision of relations among states. Further, as it would be later for the neo-realist Kenneth Waltz, international anarchy (the very fact that sovereign states are not subject to any common sovereign) is for Hobbes the defining element of international relations. In such an anarchic environment, in which other states might use force at any time, each state is responsible for its own survival and must be prepared to defend itself. 

By subjecting themselves to a sovereign, individuals escape the war of all against all which Hobbes associates with the state of nature; however, this war continues to dominate relations among states. This does not mean that states are always fighting, but rather that they have a disposition to fight.[14] The achievement of domestic security through creating a state is then paralleled by a condition of inter-state insecurity. One can argue that if Hobbes were fully consistent, he would agree with the notion that, to escape this condition, states should also enter into a contract and submit themselves to a world sovereign. Although the idea of a world state would find support among some realists, this was not a position taken by Hobbes himself. He does not propose that a social contract between nations be implemented to bring international anarchy to an end. This is because, as Hedley Bull later observed, the condition of insecurity in which states are placed does not necessarily lead to insecurity for individuals. As long as an armed conflict or other type of hostility between states does not actually break out, those living inside their borders, can feel relatively secure. In other words, although states may regard each other with suspicion and be ready for war, the lives of the people who live in them are not necessarily ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.[15]

The denial of the existence of universal moral principles in the relations among states brings Hobbes close to the Machiavellians and the followers of the doctrine of raison d’état. Since for him law is the command of the government,[16] states—all of which are sovereign and have no super-sovereign above them—are not subject to supranational legal or moral rules, except those to which they give consent and regard as their own. Further, they all have a basic natural right to do whatever they believe is necessary to preserve themselves. The right to self-preservation is possessed by sovereign states in just the same way as by individuals in the state of nature. Indeed, ‘every sovereign hath the same right, in procuring the safety of his people, that any particular man can have, in procuring the safety of his own body’.[17] In Hobbes one can thus find a powerful argument in the defence of the sovereign state against the supranational forces of globalization. However, what separates Hobbes from Machiavellian realpolitik and associates him more with classical realism is his insistence on the defensive character of foreign policy. We do not find in the Leviathan any glorification of war. As he repeatedly reminds us, his overriding concern is that both domestic and international peace be secured. Moreover, his political theory does not put forward the invitation to do whatever may be advantageous for the state. His normative approach to international relations is prudential and pacific and this, as Silviya Lechner rightly notes, may link him to the international ideas of Immanuel Kant. Sovereign states, like individuals, should be disposed towards peace, which is commended by reason.

Professor W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz (Opole University)

[1]  W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, ‘The United Citizens Organization: Public-Private Partnerships in Global Governance’, Research in Globalization 2 (2020):

[2]  John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in focus, ed. Gary Fuller, Robert Stecker and John P. Wright (London: Routledge, 2000), 2.23.

[3]  In-text references to Silviya Lechner, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019).

[4]  Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), XIII.11.

[5]  Leviathan, XII.8.

[6]  See W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, ‘Hobbes: The Beginning of Modernity’, in his On the History of Political Philosophy: Great Political Thinkers from Thucydides to Locke (New York: Routledge, 2016), 158–83.

[7]  Leviathan, XIII.13.

[8]  Leviathan, XI.2.

[9]  Leviathan, XXX.6.

[10]  Leviathan, XXIX.14.

[11]  Leviathan, XXIII.6.

[12]  Leviathan, XLII.80.

[13]  Leviathan, XIX.4.

[14]  Leviathan, XIII.8.

[15]  Leviathan, XIII.9.

[16]  Leviathan, XV.41

[17]  Leviathan, XXX.30.

Online Colloquium (1): Introduction to Hobbesian Internationalism

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Silviya Lechner’s recent book, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy. We begin with an introduction to the text by Dr Lechner herself, which will be followed by weekly responses from W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, Chiayu Chou, and Oliver Eberl, and finally a reply by Silviya Lechner. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for supporting this colloquium.


The Core Thesis

Hobbesian Internationalism is an invitation to rethink three aspects of Hobbes’s philosophy. The first concerns the grounds of his political philosophy. My main thesis is that ‘anarchy’ (state of nature) and authority constitute its basic categories. Because the grounds of politics involve questions of morality and law, the analysis deals primarily with Hobbes’s moral and legal philosophy, entailing further considerations of reason, language and mind. With respect to law, Hobbes holds that certain authoritative determinations of value require a legal form, that they demand the creation of a civil state as a juridical construct, and therefore an ‘exit’ from the state of nature as a condition devoid of such authoritative determinations.

It is notable that there are moral relations within Hobbes’s state of nature—contracts and laws of nature (precepts of reason). Both of these have a propositional (statement-like) form and require linguistic reason. A further peculiarity of Hobbes’s moral and political theory is that it does not begin with obligations; it begins with rights naturalistically construed (‘rights of nature’). Hobbes views human beings as agents capable of transforming the world of nature and bending it to their own purposes. The book suggests that the main reason why Hobbes’s state of nature is an unpalatable condition is that the presence of other agents necessarily places constraints on the pursuit of self-chosen purposes by each individual agent—this is a relational standpoint of the moral universe.

Let us assume with Hobbes that human beings have weighty reasons to abandon the condition of ‘mere nature’ and create a civil state. Does the same logic apply to states in the international sphere? My second major task is thus to reassess Hobbes’s views of international relations. Hobbes is often enlisted as an emblematic figure in the tradition of political realism. As used by political realists, the term ‘anarchy’—or state of nature—has grim connotations: it refers to a domain of ruthless state competition for power and security not governed by normative limits. Against this, the book outlines a normative theory of international relations termed ‘Hobbesian internationalism’. Its main argument is that, internationally, the best analogue of Hobbes’s domestic theory of the state is Kant’s theory of international right, which puts forward a peaceful confederation of free states. In light of its commitment to freedom, this confederation cannot be organised as a super state but exists under conditions of a normatively modulated state of nature. Hobbesian internationalism is a theory of an international authority within international anarchy. 

The State of Nature

The third major aspect of Hobbes’s philosophy tackled in the book is the concept of a state of nature. Like Robert Nozick, I believe that this concept is more interesting philosophically than the state, and that we must problematise it rather than take it for granted. The term ‘anarchy’, once again, is not linked to political realism. Rather, it stands for any domain of interaction bereft of common, authoritatively established standards. From this perspective, a primitive market or the internet represent states of nature or anarchical environments (the two concepts are used interchangeably). Part II of Hobbesian Internationalism is devoted to Hobbes’s arguments for anarchy presented in his major works on morality, law, and politics: The Elements (1640/1650), De Cive (1642/1647), and Leviathan (1651).[1]

In general, an anarchical condition constitutes a social world whose building blocks are agent relations. The problem that each decision maker faces inside this world is not ‘What should I do, given the limitations of the environment (e.g. scarcity)?’, but ‘What should I do in relation to you?’. This relational view is manifest in two-party relations such as promises and contracts which not accidentally have prominence in Hobbes’s analysis.

Commentators like Michael Oakeshott and Murray Forsyth have noted that the elementary relation in Hobbes’s state of nature is physical proximity (Forsyth 1988, 136; Oakeshott 1975, 3638, 64). Hobbesian individuals co-exist within a common finite space, and the premise that they have desires about external objects, or goals, as well as means to pursue these goals, entails that interaction with others is unavoidable. But if others cannot be avoided, can interaction be regulated so that, at a minimum, human life is preserved? Notice that self-preservation is not the point of Hobbes’s moral system but only its negative limit. Now, we may wonder to what extent is the plight of Hobbes’s state of nature associated with fears about one’s survival? In De Cive the state of nature is such a sphere of existential uncertainty, a ‘state of war’, linked to anticipatory violence and fear of violent death. In Leviathan uncertainty is explicated differently: it is of a more fundamental, epistemological sort and comprises uncertainty about future events. In The Elements, the state of nature is portrayed still differently: as a domain of ceaseless competition among prideful individuals. The point is that Hobbes does not adhere to a single, unchanging conception of a state of nature across his works.

Freedom and the State

Contractatianism supposes a sequence of three elements: a state of nature, social contract, and a civil state. Hobbes’s civil state is not an institution that imposes standards of fairness on individuals engaged in a cooperative enterprise, pace philosophers like John Rawls. A central thesis of Hobbesian Internationalism is that Hobbes regards the state as a public realm whose raison d’être is to enable the conditions of human freedom. The paradox is that in order to fulfil this task, the Hobbesian state must itself be a coercive or freedom-limiting mechanism. The difference between a thug who exercises coercive threats against a non-complying other and the Hobbesian state is that the state applies a rule of coercion that is general and omnilateral; its role is to enable the freedom of all by constraining the unbridled freedom of each. Hobbes is often misread as an absolutist who compares the state to an all-powerful God: but there is little of this, at least in Leviathan. In The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Kant adopts Hobbes’s premises of the state, both its coerciveness as a condition for subjective freedom, and its publicness and omnilateralism with respect to its subjects. But Kant is equally concerned with the constitutional structure of the state and thus with safeguards against the possibility that it might lapse into partiality or favouritism in the course of its institutional reproduction. Accordingly, Kant elevates the general will (an idea borrowed from Rousseau) into a regulative limit on the decisions of the sovereign ruler of a ‘republic’ (a properly constituted, rule-of-law state). On Kant’s premises, the rules of the game must be impartial between subjects and sovereign. Hobbes imposes no such constraint on his sovereign because he is occupied with the problem of how the state is to be set in motion and not with how it ought to be reproduced.

Can we find evidence in Hobbes’s writings for the hypothesis that the state is a freedom enabling device? My strategy has been to point out that both the input of Hobbes’s contractarianism (his premises about the state of nature) and its output (his doctrine of the civil state) are freedom based. Hobbes begins his account by positing a single original freedom, the right of nature. This is a freedom to act as one pleases, and freedom in Leviathan is defined as the ‘absence of Opposition… or externall Impediments of motion’ (L XXI, 261 [107]). Given proximity, the exercise of the right of nature by any single individual necessarily constrains its exercise by any another. The remedy, Hobbes suggests, is to devise common rules that would enable a multitude of agents to pursue their divergent goals without being severely harmed or obstructed. The candidate rules are the laws of nature. Formally, each law of nature is a hypothetical (if… then…) prescriptive statement advising each individual what to do if this individual wishes to survive amongst others. Substantively, Hobbes lists prescriptions against reneging on one’s word, arrogance, revengefulness and so on. But while the object of the laws of nature is the intersubjective world, their normative force is subjective because it is up to the subject alone to decide whether to make a certain (say, non-arrogant) manner of acting a matter of future policy, as required by a law of nature. The defect of subjective judgement can be overcome by creating a different kind of rules: civil laws. The latter possess generality (govern classes of subjects), apply to all subjects within the relevant class (not merely to some), and are binding on all. Most importantly, they possess certainty in lieu of the fact that their status as laws is authoritatively determined by a single and commonly known authority, the sovereign.

The idea that the civil laws of the state are binding can mean that they are backed up by coercion. Initially Hobbes thought that coercion suffices to ground obligation and law, appealing to God’s overwhelming power that compels human beings to obey His commands. This command theory of law is outlined in De Cive. But it exhibits two errors, as HLA Hart pointed out in The Concept of Law (1961), even though his target was John Austin’s version of the theory and not Hobbes’s. The first error is that it conflates obligation (the idea of putting oneself under an obligation) with force (the idea of being compelled to comply by another by physical means).The second is that a rule must already exist before it is enforced, so whence does the rule come? Hobbes’s answer is contained in the twin concepts of authority and authorisation that are unique to Leviathan. As Hobbes writes at the end of Chapter XV, the sovereign rules by authority (‘by right’) and not because of superior power.


Authority is conventionally defined as a political concept or a right to rule. Hobbes however wants to know what grounds political authority. Political authority is grounded in (simple) authority, which Hobbes defines as ‘the right of doing any action’ (L XVI, 218 [81]). ‘Authority’, then, designates a capacity for agency which can be delegated to another agent, and which forms the basis of Hobbes’s theory of authorising the sovereign introduced in Chap. XVI of Leviathan. The new concept of authorisation—the act of granting authority to another—entails corresponding changes in Hobbes’s conception of civil law, the relationship between ruler and ruled, and elucidates the naturalistic roots of Hobbes’s moral philosophy. In De Cive law is defined as ‘the command of that person (whether man or court) whose precept contains in it the reason of obedience’ (DC 14.1). Laws are the ‘precepts’ of God in relation to human agents, of magistrates in respect of their subjects, and ‘universally of all the powerful in respect of them who cannot resist’ (DC 14.1). In contrast, in Leviathan law is a command ‘only of him, whose Command is addressed to one formerly obliged to obey him’ (L XXVI, 312 [137]). The result is a transformed, bottom-up account of political authority and political obligation. But in a deeper sense, Hobbes’s concept of authority, as power of agency, reflects a naturalist worldview inside which human beings represent bundles of natural physical and mental capacities, and where the right of nature is a capacity to act intentionally by overcoming obstacles in a physical sense.  


In terms of interpretive methodology, Hobbesian Internationalism adopts a procedure of analytical hermeneutics. ‘Analytical’ since its aim is to test the coherence of arguments and not to engage in exegesis. But also ‘analytical’ in the sense that Hobbes’s philosophy is viewed as a stock of ideas that are recognisable as a system, bracketing considerations of historical or political context. This constitutes a departure from Quentin Skinner’s methodological quest for disclosing the ‘ideologies’ that may have motivated Hobbes to write what he did (Skinner 1996). At the same time, the adopted methodology is ‘hermeneutical’ in that it attempts to understand Hobbes’s philosophy as a whole before any attempt is made to understand its ‘parts’, betraying my indebtedness to the idealist tradition and to Oakeshott’s reading of Hobbes. As Oakeshott wrote, ‘reality has no parts … and everything asserted of reality is asserted of it as a whole’ (1975, 130). To settle interpretive uncertainties, analytical hermeneutics locates particular arguments that Hobbes advanced within the context of his philosophical system, seen as a totality. To be sure, an interpreter, in seeking to understand a whole, is only able to generate a partial representation of that whole. But not all interpretations are equally good or equally bad (see also Boucher 2018). An interpretation must pass an internal test of coherence operating on the principle of self-correction (e.g., it should be possible to show that certain premises lead to a given conclusion), which is public: the reader can ascertain whether the provided interpretation bears scrutiny.

My interpretive strategy rejects the approach of indiscriminately borrowing textual evidence from Hobbes’s corpus. In Part II of Hobbesian Internationalism it is argued that Hobbes presents different accounts of the state of nature in The Elements, De Cive, and Leviathan. The philosophically significant break occurs in Leviathan, opening up an avenue for a Hobbesian theory of international relations, but this does not relegate the pre-1651 works to mere drafts of Hobbes’s masterpiece. Each constitutes a system of ideas that can stand on its own, and each produces a different (though not logically disconnected) moral, legal and political theory.


The book identifies various analytical maps or models that Hobbes uses to spell out his arguments. With respect to the state of nature, the basic model in The Elements is competition (‘race’) fuelled by a desire for glory. De Cive lacks a clear model, but an appropriate reconstruction identifies a special uncertainty model where two groups of agents, moderates and glory seekers, are engaged in anticipatory violence (state of war). Leviathan contains three distinct models of the state of nature: (1) a generalised uncertainty model (epistemological and linguistic uncertainty); (2) a special uncertainty model (state of war); and (3) a mutual frustration (‘infelicity’) model where agents are obstructing each other, similar to drivers on a congested road.

Chapter 5 of Hobbesian Internationalism presents a structuralist reading of the infelicity model. It asks, what happens when free and equal individuals are confined to an unregulated, finite space of interaction? The proposed reading counts as structuralist because it factors out the differentiating properties of the Hobbesian agents (their motives) and employs only isomorphic properties (freedom and equality) plus environmental constraints. In Leviathan the equality of agents is understood as equal vulnerability to death, and freedom is absence of external impediments to one’s intended action. In terms of environmental constraints, the interaction space is assumed to be finite and bounded and the agents are similarly taken to be finite, physically bounded units. This model has freedom of action as its main concern as opposed to security: the problem is not how to avoid grave bodily harm or violent death but how to prevent collision among agents pursuing freely chosen and potentially conflictual goals. In this case, the role of the sovereign is not to provide security by virtue of wielding overwhelming power over the subjects but to generate a system of rules binding on them all. And even though these rules must be coercively enforceable—or must be civil laws—they are nonetheless freedom enabling devices. In Chapter XXX of Leviathan Hobbes compares them to ‘hedges’ that allow a multitude of travellers to reach their destination without obstructing one another. In Part III of Hobbesian Internationalism, this structuralist insight is used to illuminate the normative structure of the current international realm.

International Authority within International Anarchy: Kant meets Hobbes

Chapter 7 of the bookadvances the thesis that free and equal agents, states, would form an international authority that persists in an international state of nature. Two qualifications apply. The first is that the state of nature is normatively modulated. The second is that the envisaged international authority must be organised as a loose confederation of states, which each state is free to join or leave at will. Both premises are endorsed by Kant in his late writings: Perpetual Peace (1795) and The Metaphysics of Morals (1797). The proposed model of an international authority within international anarchy is a half-house between the ‘bare’ international anarchy model endorsed by political realism, and the utopian model of a super state.

Kant’s doctrine of an international authority composed of free states is based on a principle of international right, where right (Recht) is translated into English as ‘law’ or ‘justice’. My contention is that this principle has its pedigree in Hobbes’s domestic theory of the state, a point that remains poorly understood even among specialists given the tendency to focus on questions of morality. Kant and Hobbes might adhere to different conceptions of morality (depending on how they are read), but they share a theory of law and state. According to this theory, law and order require the creation of a state (public realm), whereas outside of the state, in the domain of the state of nature, lawlessness and disorder reign—in this respect political realists are correct in appropriating Hobbes. However, realism ignores the differentia of states as artificial persons who are (arguably) better placed than natural persons to ratify common rules of the game and to grant each other equal freedom. That is, the international state of nature is less harsh for states than the domestic state of nature is for human beings. This is because, as Hedley Bull has noted, it is relatively easy to kill a human being but very difficult to kill a state. Kant has another argument—that a ‘republic’ protects the rights of its subjects, and Hobbes will add, their security and well-being. This means that well-ordered states will not be pressed to build a super state—a state made of states—with the view of securing rights or well-being, for these things already exist inside their borders. But this is at most an instrumental justification of international authority. To provide a non-instrumental justification for it requires that we see the state as a legal person who has a moral personality (rights and duties of its own): a sort of moral sovereignty. This, on my interpretation, which links Hobbes to Kant and Kant back to Hobbes, motivates states to preserve a free, unencumbered interaction space among themselves based on shared rules of the game: a ‘thin’ international morality. If this space is to remain free, it should be anarchical: an insistence on a super state or comparable institutional structures, as in current projects of cosmopolitanism, is not only impractical: it militates against the idea of freedom which Hobbes understood so well.

Dr Silviya Lechner (King’s College, London)


Boucher, David (2018) Appropriating Hobbes. Legacies in Political, Legal and International Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forsyth, Murray (1988). Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan. In M. Forsyth and M. Keens-Soper, eds., A Guide to the Political Classics: Plato to Rousseau, 120–146. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hart, HLA (1961) The Concept of Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hobbes, Thomas.  (1949 [1651]) De Cive or the Citizen, ed. Sterling P. Lamprecht. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1968 [1651]) Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson. London: Penguin.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1969. [1650]) The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, 2nd ed., ed. Ferdinand Tönnies. London: Frank Cass.

Kant, Immanuel (1991 [1795]) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, in Kant’s Political Writings ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1996 [1797]) The Metaphysics of Morals, ed. Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oakeshott, Michael (1933) Experience and Its Modes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oakeshott, Michael (1975) Introduction to Leviathan. In Hobbes on Civil Association, 179. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Skinner, Quentin (1996) Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] Leviathan is cited by chapter and page number of the 1968 MacPherson edition, the original pagination of the 1651 ‘Head’ edition is shown in square brackets. De Cive is cited by chapter and section number.

New book: Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide, edited by Douglass & Olsthoorn

Robin Douglass & Johan Olsthoorn (eds.), Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

This is the first book-length study in English of Thomas Hobbes’s On the Citizen. It aims to show that On the Citizen is a valuable and distinctive philosophical work in its own right, and not merely a stepping-stone toward the more famous Leviathan. The volume comprises twelve original essays, written by leading Hobbes scholars, which explore the most important themes of the text: Hobbes’s accounts of human nature, moral motivation, and political obligation; his theories of property, sovereignty, and the state; and, finally, his ideas on the relation between secular and ecclesiastical authority, and the politics behind his religious ideas. Taken together, the essays bring to light many distinctive aspects of Hobbes’s thought that are often concealed by the prevailing focus on Leviathan, making for a richer and more nuanced picture of his moral, legal, and political philosophy.


‘Introduction’, Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn
1. ‘Excavating On the Citizen’, Deborah Baumgold and Ryan Harding
2. ‘Hobbes and Aristotle on the foundation of political science’, Nicholas Gooding and Kinch Hoekstra
3. ‘All the mind’s pleasure: glory, self-admiration, and moral motivation in On the Citizen and Leviathan’, S. A. Lloyd
4. ‘The right of nature and political disobedience: Hobbes’s puzzling thought experiment’, Susanne Sreedhar
5. ‘Motivation, reason, and the good in On the Citizen’, Michael LeBuffe
6. ‘Property and despotic sovereignty’, Laurens van Apeldoorn
7. ‘Sovereignty and dominium: the foundations of Hobbesian statehood’, Daniel Lee
8. ‘Corporate persons without authorization’, Michael J. Green
9. ‘Hobbes on love and fear of God’, Thomas Holden
10. ‘’A rhapsody of heresies’: the scriptural politics of On the Citizen’, Alison McQueen
11. ‘On the Citizen and church-state relations’, Johann Sommerville
12. ‘Sovereign-making and biblical covenants in On the Citizen’, A. P. Martinich

EHS Mini-Workshop, Amsterdam, 20 Nov 2019

A mini-workshop on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes will be held at the University of Amsterdam (Roeterseilandcampus B1.02) on Wednesday 20 November 2019:


13:00-14:15   Johan Olsthoorn (Amsterdam) – ‘Hobbes on the Rights of War’

14:20-15:35   Alexandra Chadwick (Groningen) – ‘Hobbes on the Nature of Man and the Nature of Politics’

15:40-16:55 Alan Nelson (UNC, Chapel Hill) – ‘Leviathan as Science and Why That Matters’

Organized by: Challenges to Democratic Representation (UvA); Amsterdam Centre for Political Thought; European Hobbes Society.

For more information, please contact Eric Schliesser (

Online Colloquium (5): Reply to Critics by Raylor

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by responses from Ted H. Miller, Patricia Springborg, and Alan Cromartie. We conclude this week with a reply by Timothy Raylor. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.


An author can hope for no greater honour than a careful, critical engagement with his work. I am most grateful to the three distinguished scholars who have generously offered their thoughtful and candid responses to Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. It is a matter of great satisfaction that all three respondents agree with the central claims of the book: that Hobbes’s understanding of rhetoric is Aristotelian rather than Ciceronian, and that this allows us to account for his various theoretical pronouncements about rhetoric and its relationship to philosophy without having to posit a series of phases, in which rhetoric is first embraced, then rejected, and finally embraced again. Each of them has questions about my approach to the subject, or objections to particular aspects of my argument, and it is on these, rather than on points of agreement, that I shall focus my response.

Professor Miller finds me too narrowly focused on ‘school logic’, suggesting that while ‘Hobbes attacked pedagogues for the political and social consequences he attached to their teaching, Raylor’s tendency is to turn these pedagogical conflicts into ends in themselves’—as if, as he puts it, while Hobbes is criticizing the direction in which his contemporaries were travelling, I have chosen to treat him as cavilling about the inadequacies of their driving manual. Hobbes was certainly concerned with incorrect teaching and illicit logical processes; but his focus was their political and social consequences. Such consequences were not simply ‘attached to’ school and university teaching; they were, rather, the direct result of the pollution of logic by rhetoric (chapter 5). I do not think it fair to suggest that I shrink this problem to quibbling over a driving manual. I devote the better part of a chapter to Hobbes’s analysis of the consequences of this compromised logic in the world. Chapter 6 examines Hobbes’s exposure of the weak logical foundations of political and indeed most other areas of western philosophy, built as they are on mere opinion and prejudice; it goes on to trace Hobbes’s increasingly sophisticated and wide-ranging analysis of the church’s use of rhetorical argumentation in order to establish and extend its temporal power.

A focus on logic and rhetoric is the prerequisite for an historically informed grasp of what Hobbes is doing. We need to understand, for example, that when he talks approvingly about ‘logic’ we cannot assume that he is referring to the discipline as it was then understood. Such a focus is needed also because Hobbes saw university education as one of the most important means by which the forces of darkness have consolidated and transmitted their power. In analysing the corruption of logic, Hobbes was not just criticizing a driving manual’s skewed and tendentious interpretations of road signage, he was also exposing the identities and motivations of its authors, and those of the instructors who followed it: those who have, without proper authority, taken upon themselves responsibility for road regulation and have, to serve their own interests, led drivers into confusion and peril.

My emphasis on the development of Hobbes’s thinking about the relationship between logic and rhetoric is, for Miller, symptomatic of a ‘monopolism’ of perspective, which allegedly impedes my ability to see other possible contexts. I do not believe that my approach is contextually monopolistic. One of my chapters explores the historiographical background to Hobbes’s translation of Thucydides; another examines the natural historical context of Hobbes’ poem on the Derbyshire Peak. The problem is that the contexts with which Miller wants me to engage do not strike me as useful for the tasks at hand. Thus, for example, Miller thinks I ought to have discussed Hobbes’s rhetorical practice in a work like Behemoth. But Behemoth—important though it is—is a work of history, not a work of philosophy; an analysis of Hobbes’s rhetorical practice therein would be largely irrelevant to an investigation of his understanding of the appropriate relationship between rhetoric and philosophy.

But it is not the absence of Behemoth that most bothers Miller. Readers familiar with his work will not be surprised to find that the most important context Miller thinks I ignore is that of mathematics: specifically ‘the mathematical culture in which [Hobbes] was immersed from the time of his earliest works’—a culture both humanist and courtly, in which the mathematician’s skills were not only admired and patronized but were also practised at the highest levels of society.[1] Miller accuses me of setting up an unnecessary barrier to the search for ‘connections between’ Hobbes and this culture by insisting that ‘we should not credit the notion of a mathematical humanism or its relevance to Hobbes if we cannot first establish that mathematics was at the core of university humanist pedagogy’. This does not reflect my position.

Miller is right that I do not regard mathematics as the core of grammar school or university education; but then neither does Miller—or, at least, he did not when he wrote Mortal Gods (‘Mathematics was not a key part of the education at any given school’).[2] Where he now claims broadly that Quintilian and Vives ‘recommended’ mathematics, in his book he noted more precisely that they recommended it mostly for mental training.[3] Vives saw in it some practical utility (everyone needs to know how to count, it’s helpful to know how to measure things, and so on), but he was concerned, as were others, that a young gentleman who spends too much time on maths would be unfit for public life.[4] In sum, Miller and I agree that within the grammar school and university, mathematics, though a fundamental aspect of a liberal education, was not viewed as a discipline worth pursuing for its own sake.

And yet it does not follow from this that I regard curricular centrality as the necessary prerequisite for taking seriously the notion of ‘mathematical humanism’. The problem, as I explained in the book, is that I am not persuaded by the evidence Miller has mustered to support his account of a high culture of mathematics in which courtiers and monarchs were enthusiastically and knowledgeably engaged. In expressing such doubts, I did not intend (as Miller claims) to ‘stop us from looking towards the court, and to the households of noblemen for such connections’; a large part of my book is concerned with Hobbes’s place in just such a household. Nor do I ‘brush aside evidence of Hobbes’s connection with Britain’s mathematical culture’; on the contrary, my discussion of Hobbes’s surveying work with William Senior furnishes evidence unnoticed by Miller for Hobbes’s connection with the world of practical mathematics. Hobbes clearly had links to this world, as he did to that of scholarly mathematics—in his friendship with Gilles Personne de Roberval, for instance. But I am not persuaded by Miller’s claim that such connections amounted to immersion in any kind of ‘culture of mathematics’. Would anyone thus immersed have committed so many glaring faux pas in his mathematical works as Hobbes? Those who were immersed in that culture (e.g. Barrow, Wallis, Huygens, de Sluse) did not see him as one of their number, but, rather, as a dilettante working beyond the pale. And while personal animus and political opposition can account to some degree for such responses, these cannot be uniformly attributed to enmity: witness the efforts of Hobbes’s friend Sorbière to encourage him to acknowledge and correct the paralogisms that ‘nearly all the mathematicians’ found in his duplication of the cube.[5]

Even allowing for these disagreements, it is unclear to me that a discussion of Hobbes’s mathematics forms a necessary aspect of an argument about Hobbes’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric. Miller feels it necessary because he thinks that many scholars regard Hobbes’s ‘embrace of mathematics’ as signalling his ‘break with humanism’ and that those who wish to argue that there was no such break must confront this ‘head-on’. But I show that Hobbes was always a humanist by looking at the disciplines and genres in which he worked. And while I agree with Miller that there was a turn in Hobbes’s thinking at the end of the 1630s, the view that this amounted to an ‘embrace of mathematics’ is founded on a cursory reading of Hobbes’s approving comments, in texts like the epistle dedicatory to The Elements of Law, about the firmness and certainty of the knowledge attained by mathematical learning, in contrast to the endless controversies generated by dogmatical learning—a topos I discuss in chapter 6 (see especially 272–4). Hobbes does not here embrace mathematics; rather, he embraces the idea of disciplinary protocols that can generate certainty. Mathematics provided a model of accomplishment, but different fields required different approaches. The method by which certainty could be generated in the field of philosophy was, Hobbes argued, his austere apodiectic logic, purged of the approximations and probabilities of rhetoric. Hobbes’s radical redefinition of logic, and his separation from it of the traces of rhetoric, was thus not just pedagogical quibbling; it was central to what he thought he was doing as a philosopher.

Professor Springborg suggests that my book ‘does not really discuss’ Hobbes’s ‘science’, his optics, or ‘the atomism of the Cavendish circle’, in addition to ignoring his mathematics. She finds this surprising because I edited a collection of essays on the Cavendish circle and am working on an edition of De corpore. But one may surely work on different aspects of a writer without talking about them all at the same time. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes is concerned with Hobbes’s understanding of philosophy in general—its character and status, its relation to other forms of knowledge and practice. Thus, I discuss Hobbes’s conception of scientia, and his theorizing of a distinction between those species of philosophy in which scientia is achievable and those (e.g. natural philosophy) in which it is not. But Hobbes’s endeavours within particular sub-branches of philosophy—e.g. natural philosophy (Springborg’s ‘science’), optics, mathematics—are not among the concerns of this book.

Although Springborg thinks my argument is probably right, she feels that in order to prove it ‘we need to know more about the distribution of knowledge in early modern England, which cannot simply be read off from the heavily Ciceronian educational curriculum’. But my account of the context of Hobbes’s thinking is not ‘simply read off from’ the standard grammar-school curriculum. In regard to rhetoric, for instance, I show that he was working in a tradition of neo-Aristotelianism that had nothing to do with grammar school Ciceronianism, and which I trace back via Goulston and Vossius to the editions of mid-sixteenth century Venice. In exploring Hobbes’s thought I have focused on texts to which he had access and on contexts that are demonstrably relevant to our understanding of him. Professor Springborg thinks I would need to range far more widely to secure my case.

Her review essay for Global Intellectual History furnishes a full account of what she has in mind: a survey of the transmission of Greek scientific writings via the translators of Abassid Baghdad and the Clunaic monks of Toledo to the Latin west, together with an account of the renewed search for Arabic, Syriac, Coptic, and Hebrew manuscripts in the seventeenth century.[6] It is a learned, stimulating, and provocative investigation, striking for its geographic and historical reach. But I do not see how it might help me persuade anyone of the merits of my argument about Hobbes. It does not, I think, yield a single new source that might pertain to my argument, and its conclusion that Hobbes saw himself as the inheritor of a discrete tradition of ‘science, philosophy and rhetoric’ derived from Aristotle via the Arabs, and opposed to Latin scholasticism, seems to me doubtful. It is, at least, at odds with Hobbes’s typical self-presentation as either sui generis, or, as in the epistle dedicatory to De corpore, the latest in a short line of modern philosophers (Copernicus, Galileo, Harvey) who have thrown off the dead weight of tradition and established new sciences.

Rather than focusing on topics my book does not attempt to address, Professor Cromartie faces squarely up to the central questions that it does raise, flagging up the difficulties involved in working out ‘the precise relationship of rhetoric with logic’ in Hobbes’s thinking and, in doing so, directing our attention to the importance of attending to the Latin Digest and English Briefe of Aristotle’s Rhetoric—a desideratum also recently registered by Quentin Skinner.[7] Cromartie asks two questions. First, he wonders how much, in his mature political writings, Hobbes’s view of rhetoric has changed from the ‘capacious view’ he registered in his Digest of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, according to which it encompassed not just ēthos and pathos, but also logos. Cromartie observes that human interaction depends upon things that do not meet the strictest requirements of formal logic: we cannot function without beliefs and opinions, for instance, or act without the prompting of the passions. In my view, Cromartie is right on these points, and I think that Hobbes would have agreed with him. But Hobbes’s political philosophy was not designed to regulate such quotidian interactions; it was to lay the foundations for an incontrovertible understanding (scientia) of the principles of authority, on which grounds a solid political structure might be raised. Nor was his earlier view of rhetoric quite as capacious as Cromartie implies. Rhetoric did not, either in Aristotle’s view or in Hobbes’s rendition of it, depend (as Cromartie suggests) upon formal logic. Within rhetoric, logos denotes something offered as a reason, an argument, a proof, rather than ‘logic’ in the strict sense. Thus, while I agree with Cromartie that there is little change in Hobbes’s understanding of the character of rhetoric—the works of his maturity still register an Aristotelian conception of the three kinds of proof (even if, as in the passage from De cive, XII.12, that both Cromartie and I discuss, he sometimes downplays the importance of logos)—the official position of his maturity is, as he puts in Anti-White, I.3, that since philosophy is the product exclusively of formal logical procedures it can have nothing to do with rhetoric.[8]

The second question raised by Professor Cromartie concerns logic’s limitations. Here he suggests that in practice Hobbes often exceeds the boundaries of strictly logical argumentation and that in order to pursue the kinds of quarry he seeks he is obliged to do so. Since matters of faith fall outside the scope of scientia, this may explain Hobbes’s use of rhetorical techniques to attack the church in part four of Leviathan, and since Leviathan as a whole has ‘some elements of advocacy’ its use of rhetorical argumentation is not really surprising. I agree. Techniques of ridicule designed to undermine ēthos are famously deployed in the ‘Comparison of the Papacy with the Kingdome of Fayries’.[9] And Leviathan is clearly engaged in advocating primarily the utility of Hobbes’s political philosophy, as in the suggestion at the end of part two that this should be publicly taught: a claim that follows from, and exceeds, the logical demonstration of its validity of the two preceding sections.[10]

Thus far, I think, Cromartie and I are in agreement. Where we begin to depart is over the question of whether Hobbes’s practice in Leviathan is the consequence of a changed theory of philosophy that now allows room for rhetorical persuasion. In his final paragraph, Cromartie turns to Hobbes’s much-discussed dismissal, in the ‘Review, and Conclusion’ of the argument, drawn from ‘the contrareity of some of the Naturall Faculties of the Mind’, that

‘in all Deliberations, and in all Pleadings, the faculty of solid Reasoning, is necessary: for without it, the Resolutions of men are rash, and their Sentences unjust: and yet if there be not powerfull Eloquence, which procureth attention and Consent, the effect of Reason will be little.’[11]

Cromartie suggests that Hobbes here rejects just the conclusion that strength of reasoning and force of eloquence cannot co-exist in the same person, rather than the premise that ‘eloquence is necessary “in all Deliberations”’. He certainly rejects that conclusion, suggesting that while the two faculties cannot be deployed at the same time, they may indeed co-exist in the same person: ‘Judgement, and Fancy may have place in the same man; but by turnes; as the end which he aimeth at requireth’.[12] But this does not imply endorsement of the premise that eloquence is necessary to deliberation. While eloquence may contribute to the ‘adorning and preferring of Truth’ once discovered, it must be excluded from reasoning, and as such it is, as Hobbes’s discussion of counselling in chapter 25 of Leviathan argued, a threat to proper deliberation.[13]

Despite these disagreements, I think Cromartie is right that Hobbes’s literary practice frequently violates his austere theory of valid logical process, and right that it must inevitably do so. This is certainly the case in Leviathan, which taken as a whole, I have argued, does not constitute a work of philosophy or ‘science’ according to Hobbes’s criteria. But it is not, I think, uniquely true of Leviathan. Hobbes’s logical procedures are so narrow and so rigid that it seems unlikely that they could ever generate in practice all the conclusions to which his philosophy tends; recourse to the improvisations and approximations of informal, rhetorical reasoning seems inevitable. A well-known example of this kind of slippage is Hobbes’s ambiguous use of the concept of conatus at one moment to denote just the beginning of a motion, at another to suggest its cause.

Although his early critics made, as I have noted, much of the contradiction of austere logical theory by high-handed rhetorical practice, only very occasionally does Hobbes acknowledge that his philosophical conclusions exceed his logical protocols.[14] We see this, for instance, in his treatment of natural philosophy (which I discuss in chapter 5), where he acknowledges that hypothetical knowledge only is attainable. We see it also in his backing away, in the preface to the 1647 edition of De cive, from the implication that everything said therein was philosophically demonstrated, and allowing that his argument for the superiority of monarchy was offered only ‘probably’.[15] But any reader keen to find a more substantive acknowledgement or wide-ranging reflection on the problem would, I think, be disappointed. The stakes were too high and the intellectual environment too hostile for Hobbes to open up for scrutiny the foundations of his philosophical practice.

But such practice may well repay further investigation. A full study of the logical and rhetorical moves involved in each of the three parts of the Elements of Philosophy—Body, Man, Citizen—would establish precisely the points at which Hobbes slides from strict philosophical demonstration into rhetorical proof and thus help us grasp more precisely than hitherto the relationship between Hobbes’s theory of philosophical reasoning, with its clear separation of logic from rhetoric, and his practice of it. Such a study might shed light also on the reasons underlying Hobbes’s painfully slow progress on a work that was, allegedly, fully conceived by 1642, but which was not finally available in print until 1658. Research of this kind will be facilitated by the provision of critical editions of the texts that make up the trilogy—editions that register not just the latest printed versions but also the evolution of the texts in question. New editions of all three texts are in preparation for The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes. It is on an edition of the first part of the trilogy, De corpore (Of Body), that I, together with Stephen Clucas, am currently engaged.

Professor Timothy Raylor (Carleton College)

[1]  Ted H. Miller, Mortal Gods: Science, Politics, and the Humanist Ambitions of Thomas Hobbes (University Park, PA., 2011).

[2]  Mortal Gods, 93.

[3]  Mortal Gods, 17–23.

[4]  Juan Luis Vives, On Education, ed. and tr. Foster Watson (Cambridge, 1913), 200–3.

[5]  The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1994), ii, 565.

[6]  ‘Raylor’s revisionist humanist Hobbes. Patricia Springborg review essay of Timothy Raylor, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes’, Global Intellectual History, online first:

[7] I am at currently work on a comparative study of the two texts.

[8]  Hobbes, Critique du ‘De mundo de Thomas White, ed. Jean Jacquot and Harold Whitmore Jones (Paris, 1973), 107; Hobbes, Thomas White’s ‘De mundo’ Examined, ed. and tr. Harold Whitmore Jones (Bradford, 1976), 26; cit. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 215.

[9]  Leviathan, 385; see Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 268–70.

[10]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 270.

[11]  Leviathan, 389.

[12]  Leviathan, 389.

[13]  Leviathan, 390; Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 249, 252.

[14]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 1–2.

[15]  Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, 177.

Online Colloquium (4): Cromartie on Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Timothy Raylor’s recent book, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Raylor, followed by responses from Ted H. Miller and Patricia Springborg. We now have a response from Alan Cromartie, before finishing with a reply by Timothy Raylor next week. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.


It is a pleasure to welcome Timothy Raylor’s Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes. Both specialists in rhetoric and generalist Hobbes scholars will surely find much to admire in its careful presentation. As someone doing work that crosses much of the same ground, I was grateful for the thoroughness of the picture it presents and the deftness and acuteness with which it summarises existing scholarship. Irreversible local advances range from the discovery of natural-philosophical concerns in De mirabilibus pecci to the removal of doubts about the Hobbesian authorship of A briefe of the art of rhetorique. The most striking claims, however, are that Hobbes’s ‘attitude to rhetoric underwent no radical changes during the course of his long life’ (11) and that it remained essentially Aristotelian in basis. To my mind, these claims are convincing; the difficulties lie in working out the implications for the precise relationship of rhetoric with logic. Given the opportunity, I’d like to ask two questions, both raised by presupposing that Hobbes’s rhetoric is broadly Aristotelian in nature. The first is concerned with what lies within the scope of ‘rhetoric’; the second with what lies outside the scope of Hobbesian ‘logic’. The starting point of both is some remarks about A briefe.

There is a case for saying that Hobbes’s concern with ‘belief’ involves a subtle distortion of Aristotle’s views, re-orienting study of the possible means of persuasion towards an unqualified focus on the endpoint of the process. But A briefe is unquestionably loyal to its Aristotelian source in treating the ‘belief’ produced by the art of rhetoric as coming ‘partly from the behaviour of the speaker; partly from the passions of the hearer: but especially from the proofes of what we alledge’ (Briefe, 5) – in other words, from êthos, pathos, but especially logos. The Digest and A briefe are both surprisingly insistent on the dominant role of logic in the art of rhetoric. Moreover, the logic that interests Hobbes is formally valid logic; he shows surprisingly little concern with fallacies (less, certainly, than Sturmius and Goulston). He mentions the use of examples—characterised as ‘short inductions’—but he is much more interested in ‘short syllogisms’ (that is, in enthymemes), which are for the most part presented as conventional syllogisms whose fault is that they are based upon endoxa. The Latin Digest’s summary of Book One, Chapter Six goes so far as to provide cross-references explaining the logical links that obtain between the colours of good. Significantly, Hobbes departs from Aristotle’s text in interpreting refutative enthymemes as arguments ‘wherein from that which the Adversary maintaineth, wee conclude that which is manifestly impossible’ (Briefe, 131). The Greek does not specifically refer to this kind of manoeuvre. In other words, Hobbes was using his rhetoric classes to teach the earl of Devonshire a kind of argument that was to be essential to his ‘scientific’ thinking.

My first question, then, is concerned with the survival of this capacious view of the art of rhetoric in the political writings of his maturity. Aristotle’s appeals to êthos, pathos, and logos all have a fairly obvious potential to go wrong: the hearer’s faith may be misplaced, his passions may distract him, and the commonly held opinions on which his ‘proofs’ are based may be in various respects misleading. But they can also go right; indeed, they must go right if any political order is to be sustainable. Belief is not only the basis of Christianity, but the default condition of human interaction. The Elements tells us that ‘there be many things which we receive from the reports of others, of which it is impossible to imagine any cause of doubt’; such things compose ‘a great part of our histories’ (EL, I.vii.9). Moreover, when specific people do specific things, they do so at the prompting of the passions. Reason is even powerless to make hearers pay attention (217). The point is not just that fear is at the heart of political life, nor even (if Oakeshott and others are right) that good behaviour can be driven by a generous pride, but that the causal chain that sets a human being in motion invariably passes through a passion. From his translation of Thucydides onwards, Hobbes is hostile to deliberate inflammation of the passions (of the type that will inevitably occur in large assemblies), but any presentation of future goods and evils will of its nature stimulate a passion-driven response. Lastly, there is some suggestion that ‘logic’ is still a component of what Hobbes calls ‘eloquence’, at least in the passage at Civ, xii.12 where the ‘art’ of one type of ‘eloquence’ is said to be logic, while the ‘art’ of the other—involving the use of metaphors and endoxa—is ‘rhetoric’ (a weaker claim, I think, than saying that these manoeuvres simply are rhetoric). I agree that this kind of contrast between ‘rhetoric’ and ‘logic’ is in a pejorative sense of the term a rhetorical manoeuvre (182), improperly implying that the art of rhetoric should be identified with some of its aspects. But has anything else really changed?

My second question is concerned with logic’s limitations. Here I differ from the view that natural philosophy is something less than science (14). This raises some deep problems that it would be impossible to settle by quotation. I take it, though, that Hobbes’s official position is that ‘science’ is conditional knowledge; the ‘truth’ that is involved in scientific propositions takes the form ‘if x, then y’. Civil science and geometry do have the special advantage that human beings can bring x about, but science by its very nature rests on suppositions and cannot lead to any non-hypothetical conclusions. Leviathan, Chapter Seven could hardly be clearer that ‘no Discourse whatsoever, can End in absolute Knowledge of Fact, past or to come’ (Lev 1651, 30); not only is there no path from fact to ‘science’, there is equally no path from science to fact. There may of course be passages in which Hobbes lapses from this very radical position, implying that a factual correspondence can be ‘true’ (at 179, the principia vera of Civ, x.11 are a possible example), but if we take it seriously, then science relates tp words, not things. This was the view, at all events, that Hobbes himself expressed in his ‘Objections’ to Descartes (190). Science can police our language—discouraging, for instance, loose talk of ‘liberty’—but cannot map the words we use onto specific actions. If so, it is not much to the discredit of rhetoric that it pursues an object that is not strictly ‘truth’. One such object worth pursuing is destroying pernicious religion. Prophetic religion is based on a historic revelation: the faith of a believer is faith in testimony (in general of testimony that miracles occurred). In other words, its basis falls outside the scope of science. But because it is faith in a person, it is open to attack by anything that attacks that person’s êthos. This surely explains the highly rhetorical texture of Leviathan, Part IV: ‘Of the Kingdome of Darknesse’ that is acknowledged on all sides to constitute a problem.

More tentatively, it can be suggested that the tone of the rest of the volume is appropriate to a project that has some elements of advocacy (deliberative rhetoric encouraging specific people to do specific things: encouraging, for instance, royalists to acquiesce in a republic that they found repulsive). All Hobbes’s major works display much literary art, but Leviathan does seem to aim at different, more varied effects. Pace Schuhmann, these effects do seem consistent with the view that

‘in all Deliberations, and in all Pleadings, the Faculty of solid Reasoning is necessary: for without it, the Resolutions of men are rash, and their Sentences unjust: and yet if there be not powerfull Eloquence, which procureth attention and Consent, the effects of Reason will be little’ (Lev, 389).

It is true that this passage forms part of an argument Hobbes rejects, but the claim that he objects to is not the premise that eloquence is necessary ‘in all deliberations’, but the conclusion that the faculty of eloquence cannot co-exist in one person with solid reasoning. If Leviathan just is deliberative rhetoric, should we be surprised that it uses rhetorical techniques?

Professor Alan Cromartie (University of Reading)

New Directions for Hobbes Research

We asked some leading scholars to identify areas of Hobbes studies that they think have been relatively under-studied to date and deserve greater attention. Here’s what they suggested. (We welcome further suggestions from Hobbes scholars and will happily add them to this post.)


Gianni Paganini

The “continental” Hobbes – Hobbes’s metaphysical, scientific and theological thought in his relations with correspondents in France and on the continent (in particular P. Gassendi and the circle of erudite libertines, including P. Sorbière and La Mothe Le Vayer).

We usually consider Hobbes to be a great English thinker, and to place him in that context, but we do not often take sufficient store of the fact that he wrote some of his most important works (e.g. Leviathan, De cive and most of De corpore) during the decade of his exile in France (1641–1651), notably in Paris, that is on the continent. In this perspective, it would be helpful to study the printed and manuscript sources related to his “continental” stay.

This aspect has been studied significantly with regard to the debate with Descartes regarding his Meditations, to which Hobbes wrote a series of Objections; however, much less study has been focused on the relationships and ties between Hobbes and the thinkers that were closer to him from a metaphysical, epistemological and also political standpoint, such as the so-called French “libertines” and Pierre Gassendi. Gassendi, in turn, represented the Epicurean renewal, which interested Hobbes both due to its materialist bent as for the importance accorded to instituting a conventional contract as a source of law and politics. This genuine network of Epicurean friendships, in which an interest in science and a passion for philosophy went hand in hand, has yet to be explored in depth. In particular, the manuscripts connected to Sorbière (close friend of both Hobbes and Gassendi) and his correspondence (manuscripts held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris) could provide us with new clues into Hobbes’s associations in Paris and the intellectual ties that he was able to establish with the French neo-Epicurean and libertine tradition. We also need to study systematically the manuscripts (conserved in Tours) that demonstrate the various steps of Gassendi’s writing of Syntagma philosophicum. These manuscripts are very interesting, as they enable us to compare the parallel evolution of both systems during Hobbes’s decade in Paris.


Quentin Skinner

I think there are still many important questions to be asked about the young Hobbes. How significant was his sojourn in Italy and France in 1614/15? What more might be learned about his relationship with Francis Bacon? What are we to think of his work as a translator? When and why did he translate Thucydides’s History, and how political was his translation? How important was his Latin version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric for his understanding of the theory of eloquence? How far may that in turn have been important in relation to his project for a science of politics? Some of the finest historical work on Hobbes of recent times has of course addressed these and related issues – most obviously the work of Kinch Hoekstra, Noel Malcolm, Timothy Raylor and the late Karl Schuhmann. But it seems to me there’s still considerable scope for more research on Hobbes’s intellectual formation and development.


Patricia Springborg

My immediate thoughts concern possibilities for empirical research. Quentin Skinner in his recent book, From Humanism to Hobbes—tracing the immediate context for Hobbes’s breakthrough in Leviathan of treating the person of the state as artificial, the seat of power—has made brilliant use of the Thomason Collection of documents held in the British Library, comprising some 22,000 items including civil war pamphlets, and especially those which parroted some of the most exaggerated arguments for popular sovereignty of the radical French Huguenot’s whom Hobbes was desperately concerned to refute. This material must somehow have made its way to Paris, where Hobbes was writing, and there must still be traces of it in the Bibliothèque Nationale or the innumerable private libraries which have survived. Far too little work has been done on Hobbes’s period in Paris, and especially empirical work.

Elsewhere I have suggested that Hobbes is also a perfect candidate for prosopography, which allows us to create from the careers of individuals nested in important networks a profile for the group, to try to throw light on ideas and actions for which in individual cases, like that of Hobbes, we lack material evidence. The parallels between the factions that ran the parliament of 1621, for which we have excellent records, and those which ran the Virginia Company, of which we also have excellent minutes, are striking. Hobbes’s patron, Cavendish, in making Hobbes a member of the Virginia and Somers Island Companies, of which he turned out to be one of the most diligent members, was surely stacking the court. But to what end? Such a study would teach us more about the Virginia Company as a school for politicians, and its possible impact on the formation of Hobbes’s ideas on government and public administration in the critical chapters 22, 24, and 29 of Leviathan!


Susanne Sreedhar

In his major works of political philosophy, Hobbes makes striking pronouncements about sexual behaviour. For example, in De Cive he asserts that no sexual behaviour is forbidden in nature, that there can be no such thing as marriage in the absence of a civil state, that what counts as adultery is determined entirely by the positive law, and that marriages can be dissolved or not, depending on those laws. In Leviathan he adds that men can take as many wives as the law of their country permits.

Some of these claims are accorded a few sentences of explanation or defence, but most are simply asserted. Even when Hobbes does try to provide some justification for these pronouncements, it tends to be unsatisfactory. His various remarks about sex appear prominently in harsh criticisms by Hobbes’s contemporaries. Bishop Bramhall castigates Hobbes for his remarks on adultery and divorce while the Earl of Clarendon expresses horror at his allowance of polygamy. Present-day readers may not share the horror of Hobbes’s contemporaries. They nevertheless are entitled to an explanation for why Hobbes holds these views, which arguments he enlists to defend them, and how those views fit into his overall moral and political theory.

What are we, today, to make of Hobbes’s provocative claims about sex? How should we understand his view on sex, given that he offers scant or unsatisfying explanations for what he says about it?

Mainstream Hobbes scholarship sheds little light on these questions. With a few notable exceptions, Hobbes scholars of the past, say, fifty years have not had much, if anything, to say about sex. Although there is a growing industry of feminist political theorists, literary critics, and even some philosophers who take up Hobbes on the question of gender, few consider questions about sex and sexuality apart from gender.

Hobbes does not give a systematic view of human sexuality or sexual morality. The pieces of texts where he mentions the subjects are scattered throughout his different works and they are brief. Can we reconstruct Hobbes’s position from these scattered remarks and the logic behind them? If so, how does this effect understanding Hobbes’s overall philosophical political project and what implications does it have for the debates over how to understand Hobbes’s views on gender?