New article on the nature and person of the state

Johan Olsthoorn (2020): Leviathan Inc.: Hobbes on the nature and person of the state, in: History of European Ideas, June 16, pp. 1-16; https://doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2020.1779466

Abstract
This article aspires to make two original contributions to the vast literature on Hobbes’s account of the nature and person of the commonwealth: (1) I provide the first systematic analysis of his changing conception of ‘person’; and (2) use it to show that those who claim that the Hobbesian commonwealth is created by personation by fiction misconstrue his theory of the state. Whereas Elements/De Cive advance a metaphysics-based distinction between individuals (‘natural persons’) and corporations (‘civil persons’), from Leviathan onwards Hobbes contrasts individuals acting in their own name (‘natural persons’) with representatives (‘artificial persons’). These changes notwithstanding, Hobbes retains the same corporate conception of the state throughout. On the prevailing ‘fictionalist’ interpretation, the sovereign brings the commonwealth into existence by representing it. I argue, rather, that as an incorporation of natural persons, the commonwealth becomes one person through the authorized (i.e. non-fictitious) representation of each constituent member singly by one common representative (‘the sovereign’).

New Article: Hobbes on rebellious groups

Jerónimo Rilla (2020): Hobbes on rebellious groups, in: History of European Ideas, June 16, pp. 1-16; https://doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2020.1777517

Abstract
In this paper we deal with Hobbes’s elucidation of the political conflict caused by rebellious groups. First of all, we attempt to prove that groups are important characters in Hobbesian antagonisms. Secondly, it will be argued that the isomorphic structure that underlies all associations is vital to account for these disputes. To wit, the fact that minor corporate bodies are ‘similar’ vis à vis the State leaves a lengthy flank open to rebellion, since this homology may encourage their leaders to compare themselves with the sovereign and to challenge his or her power. Whereas the inclusion of this trait may seem at face value paradoxical to Hobbes’s absolute order project, we shall contend that it is actually a way of ascribing responsibility to the leaders of rebellious groups. Furthermore, as a subsidiary hypothesis, it will be claimed that the centrality of the theory of represented corporations is a result of Hobbes’s aim to erase, not rebellion as such, but only its tumultuous setup.

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)

Bibliography

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.

New article: Glory and the Evolution of Hobbes’s Disagreement Theory of War

Arash Abizadeh (2020): Glory and the Evolution of Hobbes’s Disagreement Theory of War: From Elements to Leviathan, in: History of Political Thought, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 265-298

Abstract
The centrality of glory, contempt and revengefulness to Leviathan’s account of war is highlighted by three contextual features: Hobbes’s displacement of the traditional conception of glory as intrinsically intersubjective and comparative; his incorporation of the Aristotelian view that revengefulness is provoked by expressions of mere contempt; and the evolution of his account between 1640 and 1651. An archeology of Leviathan’s famous Chapter Thirteen confirms that Hobbes’s thesis throughout his career was that disagreement is the universal cause of war because prickly, glory-seeking humans view its expression as a sign of contempt: although Leviathan abandons Hobbes’s previous argument that war is primarily rooted in vainglorious individuals pursuing domination, Leviathan’s ‘glory’ argument for war is a descendent of the older ‘comparison’, not ‘vanity’, argument.

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))

References

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): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resglo.2020.100012.

[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

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.  

Methodology

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.

Models

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)

References

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 Hobbes Studies Special Issue: “Feminist Perspectives on Hobbes”

The latest Issue of Hobbes Studies (33-1/2020) is a Special Issue on “Feminist Perspectives on Hobbes”, guest-edited by Eva Odzuck and Alexandra Chadwick.

Content:

Alexandra Chadwick and Eva Odzuck: Feminist Perspectives on Hobbes

S. A. Lloyd: By Force or Wiles: Women in the Hobbesian Hunt for Allies and Authority

Gianni Paganini: How Far Can a “Radical” Philosopher Go? Thomas Hobbes’s Paradox of Gender Relations, and One Possible Solution

Susanne Sreedhar: Hobbes on Sexual Morality

Review of Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, translated and edited by Schröder, Peter, by Peter Nitschke

Review of Margaret Cavendish: Essential Writings, edited by Cunning, David, by Laura Georgescu

Review of Interpreting Hobbes’s Political Philosophy, edited by Lloyd, S. A., by Marcus P. Adams

Review of Quentin Skinner: From Humanism to Hobbes: Studies in Rhetoric and Politics, by Monica Brito Vieira

New book: La croisée des savoirs. Hobbes, Mersenne, Descartes, by Gregorio Baldin

Baldin, Gregorio (2020): La croisée des savoirs. Hobbes, Mersenne, Descartes. Mimesis, 367 p.

Hobbes’ scholars have underlined the importance of his third Grand Tour through Europe (1634-1636) and his stay in Paris for the development of his philosophical system. This book analyzes the philosophical and scientific debates which took place in Paris during Hobbes’ stay, and which proved to be decisive for the birth of Hobbes’ philosophy. This work compares for the first time and in detail the thoughts of Mersenne and Hobbes, whose analogies and differences are highlighted analysing methodological, epistemological and scientific topics. This study also deals with the figure of Descartes, underlining his essential contribution to the development of Hobbes’ thought.