In 2009 Istvan Hont delivered the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. These were (posthumously) published earlier this summer as Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, ed. Béla Kapossy and Michael Sonenscher (Harvard University Press, 2015). They make for an intriguing and sometimes a quite frustrating read, not least because they contain many bold and provocative claims, often with only minimal evidence adduced in their support. While the book is principally about Rousseau and Smith, Hobbes plays a crucial part in Hont’s genealogy of the concept of commercial society in the opening chapter, which might be of interest to visitors of this site. I also suspect that most discussions of the book will (rightly) focus on Hont’s interpretations of Rousseau and Smith, but his analysis of Hobbes also merits consideration.
Monicka Patterson-Tutschka: ‘Hobbes Smashes Cromwell and the Rump: An Interpretation of Leviathan’, Political Theory, vol. 43, no. 5 (2015)
Abstract: Recent scholarship interprets Leviathan as subtly revealing Thomas Hobbes’s allegiance to Cromwell, the Rump Parliament and (or) the Commonwealth. I, however, argue that Hobbes’s Leviathan intends to smash the religious principles underwriting Cromwell, the Rump and the new regime. I begin by situating Leviathan alongside the popular religious rhetoric favoring Cromwell, the Rump and their allies. I then proceed to reveal how Hobbes’s Leviathan subverts the popular religious opinions justifying their claims to authority. Hobbes’s politically subversive arguments are important because de facto power ultimately rests on the legitimizing public opinions that lead men to consent to obey and to support a particular man or an assembly of men. That is, right makes might, according to Hobbes. By subverting the powerful religious opinions legitimizing Cromwell’s and the Rump’s rise, Hobbes intends Leviathan to disempower Cromwell and the Rump Parliament.
Johan Olsthoorn: ‘Hobbes on justice, property rights and self-ownership’, History of Political Thought, vol. 36, no 3 (2015).
Abstract: This article explores the conceptual relations Hobbes perceived between justice, law and property rights. I argue that Hobbes developed three distinct arguments for the State-dependency of property over time: the Security Argument, Precision Argument and Creation Argument. On the last and most radical argument, the sovereign creates all property rights ex nihilo through distributive civil laws. Hobbes did not achieve this radically conventionalist position easily: it was not defended consistently until the redefinition of distributive justice as a virtue of arbitrators in Leviathan. The argument is partly advanced as a critique of C.B. Macpherson’s possessive individualist reading of Hobbes.
Hobbes is funnier than Shaftesbury … or so thought Adam Smith, at least. In his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Smith provides a scathing attack on the style of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. His judgement on Shaftesbury strikes me as spot on:
In his Treatise where he ridicules Mr Hobbs there is not one passage which would make us laugh. Mr Hobbs book would make us laugh but his ridicule would never affect us. (Glasgow Edition of Smith, vol. 4, p. 60)
Rita Koganzon, ‘The Hostile Family and the Purpose of the “Natural Kingdom” in Hobbes’s Political Thought’, The Review of Politics, vol. 77 no. 3 (2015)
Abstract: In his political writings, Hobbes consistently distinguishes between “natural” and “artificial” commonwealths—those that arise from the family, and those created by mutual covenants. Although he insists that “both have the same right of government,” closer examination of Hobbes’s accounts of the family reveals that it is a radically deficient model for the state, and that Hobbes was engaged in a polemic against both republicans and absolutists who claimed that parental power was natural, prior to, and even a model for the power of civil sovereigns. For Hobbes, a state based on parental rule is dangerously unstable, exacerbating the mutual fears of parents and children. The “office of the sovereign representative” defuses this conflict, and within the commonwealth, the family is denaturalized and reconstituted as an educative institution whose purpose is to reinforce the artificial sovereign by schooling both parents and children in the miseries of personal rule.
Luciano Venezia, Hobbes on Legal Authority and Political Obligation (Palgrave Macmillan, September 2015)
About this book: According to the standard interpretation, Hobbes argues that subjects have binding political obligations because the sanctions for non-compliance provided by the law give them sufficient reason to obey. This view comprises an account of law and a theory of political obligation. The standard interpretation considers that for Hobbes the characteristic feature of law lies in its causal capacity to compel subjects to obey by the use of physical force or the threat to use physical force. In turn, this reading states that subjects are bound to obey the law because so acting best promotes their rational self-interest.
Hobbes on Legal Authority and Political Obligation challenges this reading, and develops an alternative interpretation of Hobbes’s theory of political obligation. According to the account developed in the book, the directives issued by the sovereign introduce authoritative requirements, so that the subjects are morally obligated to obey them.