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.
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‘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.
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.
The International Hobbes Association will be sponsoring two sessions at the American Philosophical Association 2018 EASTERN Division meetings, January 3-6 in Savannah, Georgia. You are invited to submit an abstract for a paper presentation. Papers selected for presentation will also be considered for publication in Hobbes Studies.
By August 1, 2017, please electronically submit your abstract (400 word maximum) to, IHA Sovereign (Presiding Officer), Rosamond Rhodes, (email@example.com).
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.).
Richard Tuck: ‘Rousseau and Hobbes: The Hobbesianism of Rousseau’, in Thinking with Rousseau: From Machiavelli to Schmitt, ed. Helena Rosenblatt and Paul Schweigert, Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp. 37-62.
This chapter compares key ideas in the thought of Hobbes and Rousseau, including their views on human nature and democracy.