Free download: new monograph critically evaluating the ‘Hobbesian hypothesis’

Hobbes’s theory of political obligation is premised on the assumption that it is rational for everyone to lay down their rights of self-government and leave that horrid state of nature, characterized by a ceaseless war of all against all. Whether we ought to accept Hobbes’s argument depends, in part, on whether life outside of the state is in fact as nasty, brutish, and short as Hobbes proclaimed. Are we all better off within the state? Many past and present political philosophers have uncritically followed Hobbes in assuming that life outside the state is indeed unbearable.

In Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017), the political philosopher Karl Widerquist and the anthropologist Grant S. McCall team up to assess the veracity of ‘the Hobbesian hypothesis’. Drawing extensively on recent studies of the general levels of violence and welfare in stateless societies, the two conclude that the Hobbesian hypothesis is ‘probably false’. Small stateless societies effectively control violence in several ways, including, as Rousseau intimated, by splitting up and moving away. According to Widerquist and McCall, the quality of life of the severely deprived – homeless people, slum-dwellers – is worse today than that of hunter-gatherers living in ‘a state of nature’. Standard social contract theories cannot, therefore, explain why the severely deprived have duties of political obligation.
Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy has been made available for free download through an open access project. Follow this link to legally obtain the e-book.

Leviathan, Edited by Christopher Brooke

Brooke, Christopher (2017): Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan. Edited with a new introduction by Christopher Brooke. London: Penguin Classics.

‘The life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’

Written during the chaos of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan asks how, in a world of violence and horror, can we stop ourselves from descending into anarchy? Hobbes’ case for a ‘common-wealth’ under a powerful sovereign – or ‘Leviathan’ – to enforce security and the rule of law, shocked his contemporaries, and his book was publicly burnt for sedition the moment it was published. But his penetrating work of political philosophy – now fully revised and with a new introduction for this edition – opened up questions about the nature of statecraft and society that influenced governments across the world.

Article: Hobbes’s Argument for the Naturalness and Necessity of Colonization

James, D. (2017): Hobbes’s Argument for the Naturalness and Necessity of Colonization, in: History of Political Thought, Volume 38, Number 3, 2017, pp. 439-461(23)

The author about his article: Towards the end of the second part of Leviathan, there is a short passage in which Hobbes describes a process of colonization and the reasons behind it. I explain this passage in terms of Hobbes’s definition of freedom as the absence of external impediments tomotion and the role that he assigns to the passions in explaining human behaviour. On this basis, I argue that Hobbes implies that colonization is both natural and necessary. The willingness of some individuals to risk their lives in an attempt to free themselves from colonial power and Hobbes’s account of the sovereign’s role in the process of colonization will be shown, however, to indicate the possibility of an alternative conception of freedom and an alternative explanation of human behaviour, thereby introducing an element of contingency. Colonization turns out in this way not to be as natural and necessary as Hobbes makes it seem.

Chapter: Hobbes and Locke on Toleration

Sreedhar, Susanne (2017): “Rethinking Hobbes and Locke on Religious Toleration.” In Philosophy, Religion and Political Theology. Edited by Allen Speight and Michael Zank. Dordrecht: Springer Press, 2017, 39-56.

Is Hobbes a defender of religious toleration? In this paper, Sreedhar defends a reading according to which Hobbes can be best understood as providing a powerful critique of organized religion, at least in most of its forms. She argues that the duties of the Hobbesian sovereign with regard to religion are twofold: (1) the duty to not only allow but also to encourage religious diversity and pluralism, and (2) the duty to educate his subjects so it is nearly impossible that they be swayed by religious extremists and fanatics, who will invariably arise in any society. She concludes: “I think it is fair to say that Hobbes is not concerned with toleration of religion as much as he is concerned with the regulation of religion. [...] In fact, he may not even be the sort of ally that an advocate of toleration should choose” (39f.).


Three-Text Edition of Thomas Hobbes’s Political Theory

Deborah Baumgold (2017) (ed.): Three-Text Edition of Thomas Hobbes’s Political Theory. The Elements of Law, De Cive and Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An exciting English-language edition which for the first time presents Thomas Hobbes’s masterpiece Leviathan alongside two earlier works, The Elements of Law and De Cive.


‘This edition constitutes a remarkable undertaking. It has been executed with precision and astute judgement throughout and will prove invaluable for anyone doing serious research on the development of Hobbes’s political theory.’ Robin Douglass – King’s College London

‘Baumgold’s arrangement of Hobbes’s three major political treatises in parallel columns greatly facilitates our study of the changes in his views over a decade and also the evaluation of claims that those changes were significant. For Hobbes scholars, Baumgold’s book is the equivalent of ‘Gospel Parallels’.’ Al Martinich – Vaughan Centennial Professor in Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin

‘Deborah Baumgold’s brilliantly executed parallel-text edition demonstrates her thesis that Hobbes wrote his political theory three times over as the English civil war unfolded, in Elements, De Cive and Leviathan, each for different audiences.’ Patricia Springborg – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

‘How did Hobbes compose, think, and rethink his political philosophy? Deborah Baumgold’s edition offers new insights and will spur fruitful contributions to our debates for year to come.’ Ted H. Miller – University of Alabama

‘That Hobbes wrote three versions of his political theory is widely recognized; that no one has yet published his three key theoretical texts together is remarkable. Baumgold’s text thus fills a very important gap in Hobbes scholarship, bringing together The Elements, De Cive, and Leviathan in an accessible, elegant, and precise form. The Three-Text Edition of Thomas Hobbes’s Political Theory will be an essential resource for scholars and readers.’ Daniel Kapust – University of Wisconsin, Madison


Article: Hobbes’s agnostic theology before Leviathan

Arash Abizadeh: ‘Hobbes’s agnostic theology before Leviathan’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 47 (2017), pp. 714-737.

Prior to 1651, Hobbes was agnostic about the existence of God. Hobbes argued that God’s existence could neither be demonstrated nor proved, so that those who reason about God’s existence will systematically vacillate, sometimes thinking God exists, sometimes not, which for Hobbes is to say they will doubt God’s existence. Because this vacillation or doubt is inherent to the subject, reasoners like himself will judge that settling on one belief rather than another is epistemically unjustified. Hobbes’s agnosticism becomes apparent once we attend to his distinctions between the propositional attitudes one might adopt towards theological claims, including supposing, thinking, having faith and knowing.
Keywords: Thomas Hobbes, agnosticism, God, theology, atheism, propositional attitudes.

Article: Obligation and Sovereign Virtue in Hobbes’s Leviathan

J. Matthew Hoye: ‘Obligation and Sovereign Virtue in Hobbes’s LeviathianThe Review of Politics, 79 (2017), pp. 23-47.

Abstract: Debates regarding obligation in Hobbes have turned on either natural right or natural law interpretations. Both interpretations tend to take up the question of obligation from the perspective of teaching those who contend “for too great Liberty” “how to obey.” But Hobbes also has a second audience, and a second goal in mind: those who contend “for too much Authority” must be taught “how to govern.” From that perspective, a different discussion of obligation emerges. What is revealed is a contiguous set of reflections in Leviathan that pivot on the character of the sovereign and the citizens’ judgment thereof, all of which inform effective obligation and have little in common with received interpretations of obligation. It further reveals a relationship between the failure to manifest sovereign virtue and the natural punishment of pusillanimous and barbaric sovereigns. That is, it speaks to a sovereign virtue ethic in Leviathan.

New Chapter on Trust in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy

Schröder, Peter (2017): Trust in Early Modern International Political Thought (1598-1713). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 3.2 on Hobbes)

Can there ever be trust between states? This study explores the concept of trust across different and sometimes antagonistic genres of international political thought during the seventeenth century. The natural law and reason of state traditions worked on different assumptions, but they mutually influenced each other. How have these traditions influenced the different concepts and discussions of trust- building? Bringing together international political thought and international law, Schröder analyses to what extent trust can be seen as one of the foundational concepts in the theorising of interstate relations in this decisive period. Despite the ongoing search for conditions of trust between states, we are still faced with the same structural problems. This study is therefore of interest not only to specialists and students of the early modern period, but also to everyone thinking about ways of overcoming conflicts which are aggravated by a lack of mutual trust.

This is the structure of the book:

Preface; Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. Alberico Gentili (1552–1608): new ways of posing the problem of war and interstate relations; 1.1. Confessional strife and the question of trustworthiness among European states; 1.2 A new concept of the enemy and war: trust among equals; 1.3. Pirates and other enemies hors la loi: the untrustworthy foes; 2. Plans for universal peace in Europe: the limits of a balance of power; 2.1. Sully (1559–1641) and the Grand Dessein; 2.2. Crucé (1590–1648) and the Nouveau Cynée; 3. Jus naturae et gentium: the limits of a juridical order; 3.1. Hugo Grotius (1583–1645); 3.2. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1673); 3.3. Samuel Pufendorf (1632–94); 4. The struggle for hegemony and the erosion of trust; 4.1. Leibniz (1646–1716) and his guerre des plumes against Louis XIV’s claims to hegemony; 4.2. ‘Triomphe de la Foi: religion and interstate relations after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; 4.3. The Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s (1658–1743) project for peace and his challenge to early modern statecraft; 5. The doux commerce and interstate relations: trust and mistrust in the emerging economic discourse; Conclusion. The thing which was not; Bibliography.

New Article: “The Light of Reason”: Reading the Leviathan with “The Werckmeister Harmonies”

 Michael J. Shapiro: “The Light of Reason”: Reading the Leviathan with “The Werckmeister Harmonies”, Political Theory, 45 (2017), pp. 385-415.
Abstract: In this essay I stage an encounter between Hobbes’s Leviathan and two versions of the “The Werckmeister Harmonies” (a chapter in Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s novel The Melancholy of Resistance [1998] and a film version of the story by the director Bela Tarr [2000]). The story contains a number of Hobbes icons, for example, an enormous stuffed whale and a “Prince,” both of which arrive with a circus that comes to a Hungarian town and precipitates fear and chaos. I argue that the story thinks (differently within the two genres) both with and against Hobbes, enabled by Hobbes’s aesthetic style (which I elaborate) while at the same time challenging the historical prescience of his political philosophy. Sorting the diverse ontologies of the story’s main characters helps us better appreciate Hobbes as a writer and distance ourselves from Hobbes’s solution to political disorder.