New book on Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics

Field, Sandra Leonie (2020): Potentia. Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics, OUP.

We live in an age of growing dissatisfaction with the standard operations of representative democracy. The solution, according to a long radical democratic tradition, is the unmediated power of the people. Mass plebiscites and mass protest movements are celebrated as the quintessential expression of popular power, and this power promises to transcend ordinary institutional politics. But the outcomes of mass political phenomena can be just as disappointing as the ordinary politics they sought to overcome, breeding skepticism about democratic politics in all its forms.

Potentia argues that the very meaning of popular power needs to be rethought. It offers a detailed study of the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza, focusing on their concept of power as potentia, concrete power, rather than power as potestas, authorized power. Specifically, the book’s argument turns on a new interpretation of potentia as a capacity that is dynamically constituted in a web of actual human relations. This means that a group’s potentia reflects any hostility or hierarchy present in the relations between its members. There is nothing spontaneously egalitarian or good about human collective existence; a group’s power deserves to be called popular only if it avoids oligarchy and instead durably establishes its members’ equality. Where radical democrats interpret Hobbes’ “sleeping sovereign” or Spinoza’s “multitude” as the classic formulations of unmediated popular power, Sandra Leonie Field argues that for both Hobbes and Spinoza, conscious institutional design is required in order for true popular power to be achieved. Between Hobbes’ commitment to repressing private power and Spinoza’s exploration of civic strengthening, Field draws on early modern understandings of popular power to provide a new lens for thinking about the risks and promise of democracy.

New book: Leviathan on a Leash

Fleming, Sean (2020): Leviathan on a Leash: A Theory of State Responsibility, Princeton University Press.

Description

States are commonly blamed for wars, called on to apologize, held liable for debts and reparations, bound by treaties, and punished with sanctions. But what does it mean to hold a state responsible as opposed to a government, a nation, or an individual leader? Under what circumstances should we assign responsibility to states rather than individuals? Leviathan on a Leash demystifies the phenomenon of state responsibility and explains why it is a challenging yet indispensable part of modern politics.

Taking Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the state as his starting point, Sean Fleming presents a theory of state responsibility that sheds new light on sovereign debt, historical reparations, treaty obligations, and economic sanctions. Along the way, he overturns longstanding interpretations of Hobbes’ political thought, explores how new technologies will alter the practice of state responsibility as we know it, and develops new accounts of political authority, representation, and legitimacy. He argues that Hobbes’ idea of the state offers a far richer and more realistic conception of state responsibility than the theories prevalent today, and demonstrates that Hobbes’ Leviathan is much more than an anthropomorphic “artificial man.”

Leviathan on a Leash is essential reading for political theorists, scholars of international relations, international lawyers, and philosophers. This groundbreaking book recovers a forgotten understanding of state personality in Hobbes’ thought and shows how to apply it to the world of imperfect states in which we live.

Political Theory Cover

New article on Hobbesian Laughter in Theory and Practice

Black, Zachariah (2020): Laughing with Leviathan: Hobbesian Laughter in Theory and Practice, in: Political Theory, https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591720952056

Abstract
Thomas Hobbes’s infamously severe accounts of the phenomenon of laughter earned the condemnation of such varied readers as Francis Hutcheson and Friedrich Nietzsche, and he has maintained his reputation as an enemy of humor among contemporary scholars. A difficulty is raised by the fact that Hobbes makes ample use of humor in his writings, displaying his willingness to evoke in his readers what he appears to condemn. This article brings together Hobbes’s statements on laughter and comedic writing with examples of his own humorous rhetoric to show that Hobbes understands laughter as a species of insult, but that there are conditions under which humor can be made to serve the cause of peace. Drawing on evidence from across Hobbes’s works, and in particular from an understudied discussion of “Vespasian’s law” in the Six Lessons, this essay theorizes the conditions under which Hobbes found witty contumely to be conducive to peace. On this reading, Hobbes models the discrete use of humorous rhetoric in defense of peace, a defense that will be ongoing even after the commonwealth has been founded. Hobbes offers insight into how we can remain attuned to laughter’s inegalitarian tendencies without foregoing the equalizing potential to be found in laughing at ourselves and at those who think too highly of themselves.

New article on Hobbes’s Politics of Monstrosity

Robbins, Nicholas W. (2020): Hobbes’s Social Contract as Monster Narrative: The Wolf-Man, Leviathan, and the Politics of Monstrosity, in: Polity, 52 (4),
doi.org/10.1086/710686

Description
This article reads Hobbes’s social contract through a monster genre lens, revealing the presence of an ancient narrative structure that deploys powerful symbolic forces. It argues that Hobbes creatively utilizes the monster genre’s mythic spatiality, linear trajectory, and subject positions—monster, victim, and hero—to compellingly present a fundamental problem plaguing humanity (wolfishness), as well as his political-theoretical solution (Leviathan). In this political monster tale, Leviathan, a heroic sovereign, conquers the wolf-man of the nightmarish state of nature, thereby making civil society possible. However, Hobbes potentially undercuts the success of his own political theory by framing his fellow citizens as monstrous wolf-men, and by associating his sovereign with a figure that, read mythically and symbolically, appears to be a complex hybrid that devours its subjects.

History_of_Political_Thought

New piece on Hobbes: “Leviathan against the city”

Hoye, Jonathon Matthew (2020): Leviathan against the city, in: History of Political Thought, 41 (3), 419-449.

Description

Thomas Hobbes tends to be read through the lens of the nation-state. Recently, historians of urban politics have shown that borough politics were essential elements of the British politics, culminating in the civil wars. The purpose of this article is to contextualize the developments in Hobbes’s political theory within that urban history. Against the widespread interpretation that Hobbes’s theory of the state in Leviathan responds only to the ideology of national popular sovereignty, I argue that it also amounts to an assault on the practices of urban republican politics. To make my case, I triangulate the theory of the state in Leviathan using European ideological, local historical and textual coordinates. This perspective affords new insights into Hobbes’s understanding of democracy, republicanism, popular sovereignty and the state.

Intellectual History Review

New Article on Hobbesian causation and personal identity in the history of criminology

Hunt, Luke William (2020): Hobbesian causation and personal identity in the history of criminology , in: Intellectual History Review, DOI: 10.1080/17496977.2020.1738761

Description
Hobbes is known for bridging natural and political philosophy, but less attention has been given to how this distinguishes the Hobbesian conception of the self from individualist strands of liberalism. First, Hobbes’s determinism suggests a conception of the self in which externalities determine the will and what the self is at every moment. Second, there is no stable conception of the self because externalities keep it in a constant state of flux. The metaphysical underpinnings of his project downplay the notion of a purely individualistic conception of the self, pointing to a positivist theory of criminology relying upon external forces. This theory is especially prescient with respect to twentieth-century variants of positivism that focus upon how social organization affects personality. In a sense, then, modern criminological theory is indebted to Hobbes’s focus upon the connections between externalities and the self; a focus that illuminates new ways of viewing responsibility and accountability.