Online Colloquium (2): Gabriella Slomp’s Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalisation of an Ancient Political Concept, Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.

We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship. We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp. Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)

I am grateful to Professor Slomp and Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity to provide a response to her book. References to the concept of friendship and how it operates within his larger corpus, the book shows, are not as frequent in the vast scholarship on Hobbes, as one might expect. After all, as Slomp reminds us, while Hobbes excelled in his humanist education, as his familiarity with the works of the ancients reveals, he did not make the concept of friendship a central (or even peripheral) pillar in his political philosophy. Instead his lack of general interest in friendship was motivated by political considerations given that his goal was the establishment of civil peace. Rather than seeing friendship as establishing the political, Slomp argues, “it is the political that creates the conditions for friendship.” Such a departure from the ancient view of friendship is nothing short of radical and Slomp’s book seeks to understand the significance of this transformation, not only in terms of Hobbes’s philosophy but also in helping us grasp the consequences for the modern self.    

While the book presents a wide array of topics from antiquity to the present, three broad themes stand out in the consideration of Hobbes’s relationship to friendship.  

Natural persons

Outside the security of political authority, Hobbesian agents, above all, seek security which will allow them to overcome fear of violent death. They stand in no relationship to one another except that of a master and a servant. The central question, as Hobbes states, is to determine under what conditions “one man may acquire right, that is to say, property or dominion, over the person of another.” The emergence of political relations and their firm establishment cannot proceed from any mutual affinities or personal friendships: the foundation of the civil state must first and foremost ground the conditions for solving security, without which there can be no security in friendly relations. Even though Hobbes recognizes the cultivation and pursuit of friendship as a mark of a decent life, he is largely uninterested in its practice outside the guarantees of the state. 

Slomp concludes that, because goodwill, trust, reciprocity—largely taken to characterize friendship—do exist in the natural condition of mankind, “there is no doubt that Hobbesian alliances, leagues, and confederacies are forms of Hobbesian friendship.” I do wonder, however, whether such multitudes, driven solely by the need for the basic need for survival, in fact qualify for any type of friendship—whether positive or negative—if their mode of belonging is based on protection. While practices we commonly associate with friendship clearly abound in the state of nature, the fundamental human-to-human relationship is that of the dominion of a master and a servant. The natural state is populated by such multitudes in submission to their masters. To the extent that such relationships of a servant’s obedience in exchange for a master’s protection may exhibit elements of common mutuality, one could plausibly identify features that we associate with friendship. But the ultimate goal of any leviathan, as Hobbes continually reminds us, is to de-personify the nature and practice of authority, and in that sense, friendship is not only inconsistent with, but in fact antithetical to politics.  

International relations

The interpersonal state of nature, exemplified by individuals seeking the protection of leagues and alliances, is just one example Hobbes uses to illustrate the main features we associate with the condition outside sovereignty. But he also makes use of the international domain to illustrate how agents interact in the absence of a single leviathan. Slomp briefly introduces the international sphere as an instantiation of, what she calls, a “negative” conception of friendship and highlights its “protective nature.” Alliances may indeed function as a form of protection against the enemy, especially in the case of small states in relation to great powers. But their inherent instability and shifting orientation make them last for a brief period only. 

The essential analogy between the state of nature and the international domain is key to understanding the role friendship plays in Hobbes’s larger political project. His natural persons are indeed states since they exhibit the central features we associate with instituted sovereigns. At the same time, there are limitations to such an analogy given that international peace (unattainable in the long run, Hobbes seems to think) does not necessitate the establishment of a global leviathan. Friendship at the level of natural persons may enhance one’s security to the extent that such a friendship is reciprocally beneficial to the other, but at the level of artificial persons, such as states, friendship potentially promotes the stability of international order itself. Prosperity, the goal of any leviathan, can be partially derived from external peace and it is in the interest of states to develop friendly relations with other states. The cultivation of a circle of friendly states can help a state transform itself from a self-enclosed political unit to a valuable partner and strategic ally. Central to how Hobbes understands friendship is the creation of leagues of peace among states in their quest for security and the creation of a wide network of cooperative efforts between states.    

Modern self

Slomp concludes that for Hobbes, “it is not friendship that creates the conditions of the political; rather, it is the political that creates the conditions… for lasting friendships.” She emphasizes his radical departure from the ancients, especially from Aristotle’s noble view of the role friendship can play in the polis. There is much admiration for ancient attachments to the idea and practice of friendship, especially in its purest form of “another self,” as Aristotle famously proclaimed. And to some extent, as Slomp herself acknowledges, thinking through the concept of friendship necessarily evokes a range of emotions that are basic to human life. What Hobbes does, however, is to erase altogether its potential for the creation of the political. He does not deny that many, if not the majority of us have a natural propensity to seek out the company of another and avoid solitude at all costs. 

The transformation of the idea of friendship from antiquity to the time of Hobbes also serves as a reminder of the kind of modern self we have inherited. Our modern self has left the noble aspirations of Aristotle’s centrality of friendship to the life of politics. The individual agent has emerged as the architectonic pillar of, what Hobbes called the new civic science. But that modern self has also facilitated possibilities for friendship among equals that would have been unfathomable to the ancients. While most male citizens would have affirmed Aristotle’s gesture toward a narrow slice of the social fabric, almost all females and children would have been excluded. It is precisely the task of this modern self with a distinct Hobbesian pedigree that calls for a transformation of politics that is inclusive and far-reaching.   

Hobbes Against Friendship is a short but engaging book that traverses through centuries of political philosophy and recovers a neglected aspect of Hobbes’s thinking about human relations based in friendship. It can also enrich our understanding of the meaning Hobbes attaches to a deeply human emotion rooted in the pursuit of sociability and association, and ultimately peace.  

Online Colloquium (1): Hobbes Against Friendship by Gabriella Slomp.

This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.
We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp.
Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.

Introduction of: Gabriella Slomp FRSA – University of St Andrews

I wish to thank very much Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity of introducing my book on Hobbes Against Friendship to the European Hobbes Society. What can I say to a potential reader?

I will start by addressing the two questions I ask myself every time I open a new book on Hobbes: (i) How does the author deal with the challenges presented by J.L. Austin ’s Law of Diminishing Fleas, according to which the secondary literature produces comments upon comments ad infinitum, without ever engaging with the original texts? (ii) How does the writer cope with the problem posed by the Anonymous’ Law of Hungry Midgets, according to which early interpreters of influential philosophers’ feast on choice pieces of their theories, while later commentators, if they want to eat at all, must be content with feeding on particles that are so small and insignificant that have escaped the attention of the fattest midgets?

I suspect that a critical reader might level criticisms against my handling of both laws. On the one hand, the reader might claim that my eagerness to avoid Austin’s Law of Diminishing Fleas has led me to engage too little with Hobbesian scholarship; on the other hand, the reader might point out that my choice of topic is a corroboration of the implacable Law of Hungry Midgets because Hobbes’s writings make frequent references to enmity, and not to friendship, and this demonstrates that my topic is largely irrelevant.

Regarding the second criticism, namely that my topic is unimportant, my line of defence is suggested by the subtitle of the work, which promises an exploration of the origins and reasons of the modern marginalisation of an ancient political concept. The book aims to show that an investigation of Hobbes’s stance on political friendship can advance our understanding of his theory in relation to ancient and medieval political thought and offer a fresh perspective on his contribution to modernity and liberalism.

An analysis of Hobbes’s views on friendship is a timely focus because recent times have seen a revival of interest in the concept of friendship among political theorists, sociologists, philosophers, historians and theorists of international relations. On the one hand, there seems to be consensus among writers that Hobbes was instrumental to the modern marginalisation of friendship – a concept that loomed large in ancient and medieval moral and political theory; on the other hand, to my knowledge the literature has shown little interest in addressing questions such as: Why did Hobbes, unlike Bodin, fail to talk about civic friendship in his theory of state sovereignty? Why was Hobbes’s neglect of friendship 3

influential? What can Hobbes’s theory contribute to contemporary debates about the feasibility and desirability of re-introducing friendship to the foreground of political studies?

In an attempt to answer the above questions, the book revisits the so-called ‘friendship tradition’ that Hobbes inherited and explores three notions and narratives within it: ‘negative friendship’ or friendship for security and defence; ‘positive friendship’ or friendship for the satisfaction of material and emotional needs; and ‘normative friendship’ or friendship for moral growth and flourishing.

Regarding negative and positive friendship, Hobbes does not deny its occurrence in the world of experience. Indeed Hobbes’s ‘leagues’, ‘alliances’ and ‘confederacies’ can be said to be forms of negative friendship – they are empowering relationships entailing mutual trust and good will and are based on self-interest; similarly, Hobbes’s ‘systems’, ‘corporations’ and partial societies are forms of positive friendship, namely utility-based relationships created and maintained for the advancement of ‘commodious living’. However, while Hobbes did not contest or oppose practices of positive or negative friendship, he rejected the idea that such practices can provide an explanation for the attainment and maintenance of peace; for Hobbes it is not friendship that delivers man from the state of nature and sheds light on the attainment of peace; it is not friendship that keeps and strengthens concord among citizens. Rather, it is the establishment of authority that brings and keeps peace among people. In other words, Hobbes reverses the order of creation he found in the tradition before him: it is not friendship that creates the conditions for the political; rather it is the political that creates the conditions for all forms of friendship.

Regarding normative friendship, Hobbes’s stance is particularly interesting. 4

Hobbes does not regard any friendship as necessarily virtuous; he does not deny that selflessness or altruism may occur among friends, but he rejects the view that self-sacrifice and selflessness are per se good, regardless of consequences. Revolutionaries may be more generous with friends than bankers and merchants but they are nevertheless bad citizens.

On the one hand, Hobbes rejected the ancient (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) and medieval (Augustine, Aelrad, Aquinas) model of friendship that was triadic and entailed an external entity – the Good or God – that philosophers did not invent but discovered and that set boundaries to what friends could ask of each other; on the other hand, his theory opposes, indirectly but firmly, the modern model of friendship (Montaigne) that was dyadic and let the friends decide the terms and values of their relationship. Indeed, from a Hobbesian perspective, both models of friendship can undermine fidelity to law and endanger peace. In contrast, in Hobbes’s theory, we find a triadic model of friendship where the third entity is created by man: the state.

In my view, Hobbes’s stance on positive, negative and normative friendship was influential because it captured the spirit of modernity – its individualism, nominalism, materialism and its practical scepticism. I argue that Hobbes’s legacy has both a critical and a constructive component and lives on. Indeed, according to my account, contemporary liberal theories of civic friendship (such as Schwarzenbach 2010, Digeser 2016) do not escape the Hobbesian challenge but tacitly adopt Hobbes’s triadic model of friendship where the state is the third party that sets limits to what friends can ask of each other. In sum, Hobbes has much to tell us not just on issues of enmity and war but also on civic, international and global friendship.

Digeser, P. E. 2016. Friendship Reconsidered. What it Means and How it Matters to Politics.

New York: Columbia University Press. 5

Gooding, Nick and Hoekstra, Kinch. 2020. ‘Hobbes and Aristotle on the Foundations of Political Science’. In Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide, eds. Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 31–50. Schwarzenbach, Sibyl. 2009. On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State. New York:

Columbia University Press.

Slomp, Gabriella. 2019. ‘As Thick as Thieves: Exploring Thomas Hobbes’ Critique of Ancient Friendship and its Contemporary Relevance’. Political Studies 67(I): 191206.

Smith, Travis. 2008. ‘Hobbes on Getting by with Little Help from Friends’. In Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, eds. John von Heyking and Richard Avramenko. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 221–47.

Stanlick, Nancy. 2002. ‘Hobbesian Friendship: Valuing Others for Oneself’. Journal of Social Philosophy 33(3): 345–59.


Among the exceptions, see Stanlick 2002, Smith 2008, Gooding and Hoekstra 2020. For my own contribution to this literature, see Slomp 2019.

Hobbes Face

Colloquium: 380 years of De Cive

The colloquium, hosted by Instituto de investigaciones Gino Germani (Buenos Aires, Argentina), is scheduled for three days, from October 4 to October 6. Attendees may participate in person or online. The full event flyer and schedule are available below.

History of European Ideas

New article: Taylor and Hobbes on toleration

Okada, Takuya (2022): Taylor and Hobbes on toleration, in: History of European Ideas,

The English Revolution saw fierce controversy over religious toleration. While this controversy was usually associated with parliamentarians and Puritans, major contributions to the debate were also made by a few thinkers from the royalist side: Jeremy Taylor and Thomas Hobbes. Despite their prominence in the toleration debate, however, the intellectual context of the English Revolution in which their distinctive views of toleration were formed remains unclear apart from Hobbes’s association with the Independents. Here, I suggest the potential importance of Taylor and Hobbes for understanding each other. While studies of Hobbes and Taylor have developed in relative isolation from each other, I show that their views of toleration have various features in common, and that these features are rarely found in their celebrated predecessor William Chillingworth or in major Puritan tolerationists. In several key respects, moreover, Hobbes and Taylor were more similar than Hobbes and the Independents. This research also helps to clarify the contribution to the toleration controversy at that time by the two leading thinkers. Furthermore, the similarities between Taylor and Hobbes, as shown in this paper, may contribute to better understanding the reception of Hobbes in the Restoration toleration debate.

The Southern Journal of Philosophy_cover

New article on Equity and Inequity in Thomas Hobbes’s Dialogue

Corbin, Thomas (2022): On Equity and Inequity in Thomas Hobbes’s Dialogue, in: The Southern Journal of Philosophy,

The concept of equity is clearly important in Thomas Hobbes’s philosophy. In his writings he repeatedly employs it in significant load bearing ways, particularly in the areas of civil law and governance. Equity is, however, not directly addressed in a sustained way in his core works and—perhaps even more frustratingly—it is often applied in ways which ask more questions about the concept than they answer. This presents an impediment to accurately understanding what equity really means to Hobbes. His late Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England (1681) seems to offer a solution to this challenge. This work contains extensive discussion on equity, including on the application of equity in relationship to absolute rule. However, equity in the Dialogue is not always the same as what we see in Hobbes’s core works. The question is, did Hobbes change his mind on equity? This article argues no. Hobbes did not change his mind on equity; rather, within the Dialogue he is engaging with a common understanding of the term as it existed in English law. Consequently, Hobbes’s discussions here should not inform us about how equity fits into his philosophy.

Cover_Book_Apocalypse without God

Chapter on “Hobbes and Pretenders to God’s Kingdom” in the new book: Apocalypse without God

Jones, Ben (2022): Apocalypse without God: Apocalyptic Thought, Ideal Politics, and the Limits of Utopian Thought, published by Cambridge University Press,

This chapter examines how Hobbes tempers apocalyptic thought to advance his political philosophy. What troubles Hobbes about such thought is its potential to spur continuous upheaval. Apocalyptic thought anticipates perfection – a divine kingdom that will wipe away corruption. The failure to realize utopian hopes breeds endless dissatisfaction, disruption, and instability in politics. But rather than abandon apocalyptic ideals, Hobbes co-opts them. Specifically, he reinterprets the doctrine of the kingdom of God to make it safe for politics. He arrives at an interpretation that denies, at present, all claims to represent God’s kingdom by prophets and sects challenging the sovereign’s authority. For now, the kingdom of God can only take one form – what Hobbes calls the natural kingdom of God. Importantly, the Leviathan-state is a manifestation of the natural kingdom of God. By identifying God’s kingdom with the Leviathan-state, Hobbes transforms a Christian doctrine used to justify rebellion into one bolstering the sovereign’s authority.