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. 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. 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 ). 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 ). 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 ). 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 . 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. 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 ). 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 ) 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 ). 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. 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)
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 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.
 McNeilly’s (1966) paper is a critical appraisal of Gert’s (1965) argument.
 A similar argument is advanced in Oakeshott (1975a, 1975b) and Raphael (2004).
 Kant (1996 ), Chap. III, § 62 of ‘Public Right’, VI:352–353; Kant (1991 ), ‘Third Definitive Article of Perpetual Peace’, VIII: 358–359.