The prevailing interpretation of constituent power is taken to be the extra-institutional capacity of a group, typically “the people,” to establish or revise the basic constitutional conditions of a state. Among many contemporary democratic theorists, this is understood as a collective capacity for innovation. This paper excavates an alternative perspective from constituent power’s genealogy. I argue that constituent power is not a creative material power, but is a type of political claim that shapes the collective rights, responsibilities, and identity of “the people.” I do so by recovering Thomas Hobbes’s intervention into debates over constituent power among Scottish Presbyterians during the English Civil War. Though a materialist, Hobbes appreciated the centrality of the imagination to politics, and he argued that constituent power was one such phantasm of the mind. In Leviathan, he showed constituent power not to be a material power, but a world-making fiction that furnished political realities with ornamentation of the imagination, which might provide the beliefs and justifications to serve any number of political ends. More generally, the retrieval of a Hobbesian constituent power provides an important challenge to contemporary theories by demonstrating how partisan constructions of constituent power shape the political options available to groups.
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (1588-1679) is one of the most influential British philosophers of the seventeenth century. The paper reconstructs Hobbes’s legal theory, focusing on his definition of law (civil law, as he calls it) found in Leviathan, XXVI, 3. The definition is only apparently simple, since it has been interpreted in different ways, especially with regard to the connections with natural law—and the Hobbesian assertion that civil law and natural law “contain each other”. Moreover, the definition of civil law changes in the corresponding paragraph of the Latin version of 1668. What is the meaning of this change? What about the divisions of the law/divisio legis, which—as Hobbes emphasizes—appears in different forms in different writers? Finally, if a good law is “that which is needful, for the good of the people”, what is it that dictates the paths to be followed by the sovereign representative, who is also the supreme legislator, when writing a new law? These are the main problems in Hobbes’s legal thought that the paper will address.
A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available, containing the following articles:
Ismael del Olmo: Against Scarecrows and Half-Baked Christians
For those interested in the European Hobbes Society, we recommend the following piece:
This workshop will be held at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg on 22 and 23 November. It includes papers from Joanne Boucher (Winnipeg), S. A. Lloyd (Los Angeles), Alissa MacMillan (Antwerp), Eun Kyung Min (Seoul), Meghan Robison (Montclair), Susanne Sreedhar (Boston), Erika Tucker (Milwaukee), and Joel van Fossen (Boston).
To view the programme, click here (pdf).
To register to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Papers will be pre-circulated to all registered attendees. To maximise time for discussion, all attendees will be expected to have had a look at these texts in advance.
The poster can be downloaded here (pdf).
Jesseph, Douglas (2018): Geometry, Religion and Politics: Context and Consequences of the Hobbes–Wallis Dispute, in: Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, Published 10 October 2018.DOI: 10.1098/rsnr.2018.0026
Abstract: The dispute that raged between Thomas Hobbes and John Wallis from 1655 until Hobbes’s death in 1679 was one of the most intense of the ‘battles of the books’ in seventeenth-century intellectual life. The dispute was principally centered on geometric questions (most notably Hobbes’s many failed attempts to square the circle), but it also involved questions of religion and politics. This paper investigates the origins of the dispute and argues that Wallis’s primary motivation was not so much to refute Hobbes’s geometry as to demolish his reputation as an authority in political, philosophical, and religious matters. It also highlights the very different conceptions of geometrical methodology employed by the two disputants. In the end, I argue that, although Wallis was successful in showing the inadequacies of Hobbes’s geometric endeavours, he failed in his quest to discredit the Hobbesian philosophy in toto.
Reading Hobbes in light of both the history of ethics and the conceptual apparatus developed in recent work on normativity, this book challenges received interpretations of Hobbes and his historical significance. Arash Abizadeh uncovers the fundamental distinction underwriting Hobbes’s ethics: between prudential reasons of the good, articulated via natural laws prescribing the means of self-preservation, and reasons of the right or justice, comprising contractual obligations for which we are accountable to others. He shows how Hobbes’s distinction marks a watershed in the transition from the ancient Greek to the modern conception of ethics, and demonstrates the relevance of Hobbes’s thought to current debates about normativity, reasons, and responsibility. His book will interest Hobbes scholars, historians of ethics, moral philosophers, and political theorists.
- Reads Hobbes in light of recent work on normativity, reasons, and responsibility
- Shows Hobbes to be a watershed in the transition to the modern, juridical conception of ethics
- Is the only book extensively to treat Hobbes’s metaethics