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
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.
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
commence with Korab-Karpowicz’s derivation of Hobbes’s state of war from the
premises of power and egoism, as presented in Leviathan. The thrust of my response is that taken together these
two premises do not generate determinate propositions about human conduct, and
that in his masterpiece Hobbes does not use them in the suggested sequence to
derive the state of nature, or the state of war. Here we must differentiate Hobbes’s
conception of egoism from our present-day understanding of it. Nowadays it is
common to distinguish between psychological egoism and ethical egoism. The
former is a descriptive thesis holding that action is motivated by a belief that
the action is in one’s self-interest (or that it promotes one’s desires or
inner states such as pleasure); the latter is a prescriptive thesis stating
that one ought to act in one’s
self-interest. Scholars like Bernard Gert and Francis McNeilly tend to agree that
Hobbes did not subscribe to psychological egoism in Leviathan although such a doctrine is detectable in The Elements and De Cive.
And yet, they disagree about the nature and character of Hobbes’s egoistic
premises. Gert (1965, 346) claims that Hobbes provided a mechanical account of
pleasure, as an internal bodily motion effected by external causes, which
promotes the body’s vital motion. Because this view of pleasure excludes the
component of belief, it cannot be a proper motivational category as required by
psychological egoism. Gert thinks that Hobbes adheres more or less to the same doctrine
of mind throughout his corpus. Against this, McNeilly (1966, 199–200) has
pointed out that the account in Leviathan
is different since desire is now prior to pleasure (pleasure is the
‘appearance’ attendant to an already present desire). Desire, moreover, is no
longer an effect of a perception (thought) of an external object, as it was in
Hobbes’s early works, but is based on ‘endeavour’, an infinitesimally small motion
inside the agent’s body directed towards a thought of a possible action. For
McNeilly, Hobbes’s theory of desire involves mental projection and is not
mechanistic. In his turn, Gert (1967, esp. 507) usefully points out the limits
of egoism, by asking whether the notion of ‘one’s own desire’ is to be contrasted
with the notion of ‘the desires of someone else’ or, rather, with ‘one’s moral
sense’. He also ascribes ‘tautological egoism’ to Hobbes which merely points to
the fact of a self having desires while remaining explanatory inert.
Kavka (1986, 25–26, 358–368) considers the ethically relevant form of egoism
and attributes to Hobbes a position termed rule egoism. It stipulates that
certain acts are justified by reference to rules, and that the rules are
justified as being in the agent’s interest. The rules in question are Hobbes’s
laws of nature and since their justification is prudential, Kavka fleshes out the
consequentialist aspects of Hobbes’s moral system. It is notable that the
notion of self-interest is not a purview of realist theory (in IR) but belongs
to consequentialism as a basic moral theory.
Let us now see how Hobbes’s concept of power relates to self-interest. My interlocutor suggests that when egoists are engaged in a struggle for power the outcome is a Hobbesian ‘war of every man against every man’. The difficulty with this is that power can be pursued for egoistic (self-regarding) motives as well as for altruistic ones (McNeilly 1966, 204), so the two concepts are not logically interlinked. What is more, Hobbes changes his definition of power. In The Elements it is a relative notion (‘power simply is no more, but the excess of the power of one above that of another’, E I.8.4), whereas in Leviathan it is an instrumental notion (one’s ‘present means, to obtain some future apparent Good’, L X, 150 ). But if power is defined instrumentally, it yields no determinate propositions about how the agents will act. To be able to say something determinate, it is not enough to know what means individuals have; we also have to know their goals or ends. Hobbes denies that human conduct is directed towards some universal end or summum bonum (L XI, 160 ). Rather, different people pursue completely different goals, and even the same person at different times re-evaluates his or her goals. The term subjectivism rather than egoism better describes the human condition in Hobbes’s world. On my reading, Hobbesian individuals pursue divergent ends, and they only need power as a means to these ends. It follows that the quest for power is an amplifier of a problem whose source lies elsewhere—in the fact of irreducible diversity of human ends and the plurality of human wills. The state of nature, as presented in Hobbesian Internationalism, is a state of fundamental uncertainty precisely because no common measure of things exists—it is not necessarily an arena where individuals are trapped in a deadly struggle for power.
True, in De Cive Hobbes thought that power can
suppress plurality and disagreement, which resulted in his command theory of
law. To this end, the ruler’s power must be ‘irresistible’. But in Leviathan the naturalistic principle of power
is replaced with the normative principle of authority. Rule by law replaces
rule by force. While power has no theoretical limit—it can always be subdued by
an even larger power—authority (the right to rule), once granted to a ruler by
the subjects, possesses finality: it counts as supreme within a given realm (the
realm of the state). In Hobbesian
Internationalism the key category of analysis thus is sovereign authority, not sovereign power.
is interested in the tradition of political realism where the premises of
egoism (self-interest) and power have a purchase. But realism is not the
default position for state-of-nature arguments. The state of nature, as I try
to show in the book, is a much broader and philosophically complex discourse.
It refers to any condition of interaction among a large number of agents
(humans or states) not modulated by common authoritative standards—in this
sense, the internet is a state of nature. And this is a crucial point because
the state of nature need not be a state of war—there need not even be an
implicit invocation of a threat of physical violence, in the form of
anticipation of physical harm. But what, then, is the predicament of the state
of nature? In The Elements, it is a
competition fuelled by vain glory (think of the academic market of scholars
seeking tenure). In Leviathan, it is
above all a situation in which people are mutually frustrated. What is
emblematic of this predicament is not the plight of the solitary individual (the
proverbial egoist), but the obstruction of one’s felicity by the mere presence
of others. This is the problem of ‘men in multitudes’ (L XV, 214 ). And this is also why Hobbes takes law, as an
authoritative institution designed to govern human multitudes, to be the
solution to the predicament.
Morality, Law, and the Relations of States
second set of questions in this colloquium concerns the connection between the
law of nature and positive law. Quoting Norberto Bobbio, Chou asks whether my analysis
is not burdened by a tension between law and morality permeating Hobbes’s own argument,
which begins with the law of nature, as a moral law, but ends with positive law
(civil law). In the book, I did not present the problem in these terms for a
number of reasons. One is that Hobbes relies on a very restrictive notion of morality
to describe agent relations in the state of nature. By ‘justice’ he means only
that segment of morality dealing with the keeping of promises. Another reason
is that he departs from the canonical notion of natural law, construed as a set
of objective moral principles that govern rational agents. Hobbes thinks that
discord in the state of nature is generated by the diversity of subjective
judgments. Hobbes’s laws of nature, as a result, are (under a certain
description) subjective ‘precepts’ advising the individual agent to make a
certain manner of action (say, an equitable manner) a future policy in similar
situations. Hobbes’s ‘precepts’ resemble Kant’s ‘maxims’. But their point is to
govern intersubjective relations—the precepts are not supposed to tell Alan
what to do, but how to behave towards James and Sally. Hobbes’s laws of nature
also take account of the element of uncertainty that characterises the state of
nature, leading Hobbes to make the famous claim that until security is attained,
the laws of nature bind each agent in intention only (in foro interno) but not at the level of action (in foro externo) (L XV, 215 . Law for Hobbes (and Kant) does not concern the moral
quality of our intentions, but the external properties of our actions. As such it
does not regulate actions but interactions.
Law is the mirror image of the state of nature for both Hobbes and Kant because
inside both domains—the juridical and the natural—the puzzle is to explain how
each individual interacts (or should interact) with other individuals, and not
how the individual as a self-standing entity complies with given moral
principles (e.g., the Decalogue).
a modern philosopher who analyses his categories ‘under a description’. So the
concept of a law of nature does not have a single meaning. It has multiple
meanings depending on context. For the agent (from a first-person perspective),
the laws of nature are prudential devices, enabling one to survive in a hostile
environment. For an observer (form an explanatory or third-person perspective),
they are rules found out by reason. In terms of their moral properties, they
are ‘if-then’ (hypothetical) prudential propositions. Hobbes’s theory of morality
is extremely complex because it combines deontological with consequentialist aspects.
Concretely, it combines a prudential theory of the laws of nature with a deontological
theory of covenant.
So this contrast is more central to Hobbesian
Internationalism than the contrast between the law of nature and positive
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
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
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
the last section of this colloquium concerns the questions of barbarism,
colonialism, and Kant’s principle of cosmopolitan right in relation to Hobbes. With
respect to Hobbes’s state of nature, Eberl suggests that it should be read
historically, and on this basis he interprets it as a condition of barbarism, as
evident from Hobbes’s reference to the Americas in his description of the state
of nature in Leviathan. With respect
to the state, Eberl concludes that Kant saw it as a dangerous agent of
colonialism and that this should give us pause for reflection. My response has three
parts to it. The first is that in the Preface to Leviathan Hobbes observes that ‘He that is to govern a whole
Nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but Mankind’:
this is a generalising (philosophical) purpose rather than an ideographic (historical)
one. In Chap. XIII of the same work he mentions the ‘savage people in many
places in America’ but in the same paragraph he emphasises that the state of
nature is a hypothetical condition (‘there was never such a time, nor condition
…over all the world’, L XIII, 187
). In De Cive he uses a
hypothetical description of individuals in the state of nature as ‘sprung out
of the earth, and suddenly (like mushrooms) come to full maturity’ having no
prior history and social relations (DC
8.1). Hobbes’s main works on morality, law and politics, The Elements, Leviathan and
De Cive, along with the rest two
volumes of his trilogy, De Corpore
and De Homine, are works of
philosophy. Philosophy for Hobbes is a mode of reasoning that begins with clear
definitions, and moves from premises to conclusions, by using terminology that
is purged from ambiguity as far as possible. In analysing Hobbes’s theses about
anarchy and authority developed in these works I have adhered to Hobbes’s own
rightfully notes, anarchy is a distinct category from the notion of a primitive
condition of life. Barbarism, we may add, when it refers to primitivism implies
primordiality and a temporal horizon, and when it refers to backwardness it
implies narratives of regress and progress. In contrast to these notions,
Hobbes’s state of nature designates a condition of human interaction in the
absence of a common authority, or common authoritative standards, be it
linguistic, normative, or juridical. On Hobbes premises, the state of nature is
a densely populated domain where individuals interact on a regular basis; it is
not a domain of solitude where hardly anyone meets anyone else, as in
Rousseau’s (1987 ) image of primitive society. Rousseau’s theory of the
state of nature contains a mixture of historical facts about the technological
evolution of society and a philosophical analysis of how this society should
develop in order to prevent domination and exploitation. Eberl’s interest in barbarism
seems closer to Rousseau’s than to Hobbes’s views.
was not of a central philosophical concern to Hobbes. Nonetheless, he noted that
when it becomes unavoidable, due to population growth and scarcity, colonial settlement
abroad should not be used as a pretext for killing or enslaving the local
population (L XXX, 387 ). In The Metaphysic of Morals and Perpetual Peace Kant was careful to
block the agenda of would-be colonial powers bent to colonise weaker peoples by
pleading a right of settlement.
Accordingly, Kant restricts the purview of his cosmopolitan right to a set of rights
allowing individuals to visit a foreign country (including a right of refuge) without
granting them rights of permanent settlement. Cosmopolitan right regulates the
relations between citizens of a foreign state and a corresponding recipient
state. On my reading of Kant, the state as an institution is not the primary
agent of colonialism, though certain
states have been implicated in colonial quests as a matter of historical fact.
Indeed, the problem of historical interpretation of philosophical notions that
Eberl insightfully alludes to is that our philosophical theories are based on abstractions
that conceal and indeed eliminate the historical complexity lurking beneath. Thus
the real state as opposed to its abstract portrait is always a mixed identity, and
it inevitably has a dark side (Oakeshott 1975c, Part III). This diagnosis is
correct. But it is not a problem confined exclusively to the category of the
state, it affects the philosophical analysis of any other category.
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.
Silviya Lechner (King’s College, London)
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(1966) paper is a critical appraisal of Gert’s (1965) argument.
 A similar
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