Pol Theory

Article: Democracy and the Body Politic from Aristotle to Hobbes

Sophie Smith: ‘Democracy and the Body Politic from Aristotle to Hobbes’, Political Theory, Published online: September 8, 2016 (doi: 10.1177/0090591716649984)

Abstract: The conventional view of Hobbes’s commonwealth is that it was inspired by contemporary theories of tyranny. This article explores the idea that a paradigm for Hobbes’s state could in fact be found in early modern readings of Aristotle on democracy, as found in Book Three of the Politics. It argues that by the late sixteenth century, these meditations on the democratic body politic had developed claims about unity, mythology, and personation that would become central to Hobbes’s own theory of the commonwealth. Tracing the history of commentary on the relevant passages in Aristotle reveals new perspectives not only on the political theories of both Aristotle and Hobbes but also introduces modern readers to the richness of early modern commentaries on classical political texts. The article ends with some thoughts on why attention to traditions of commentary might be valuable for political theorists today.