Article: ‘Hobbes and political realism’

Robin Douglass: ‘Hobbes and political realism’, European Journal of Political Theory, published online: November 20, 2016 (doi: 10.1177/1474885116677481)

Abstract: Thomas Hobbes has recently been cast as one of the forefathers of political realism. This article evaluates his place in the realist tradition by focusing on three key themes: the priority of legitimacy over justice, the relation between ethics and politics, and the place of imagination in politics. The thread uniting these themes is the importance Hobbes placed on achieving a moral consensus around peaceful coexistence, a point which distances him from realists who view the two as competing goals of politics. The article maintains that only a qualified version of the autonomy of the political position can be attributed to Hobbes, while arguing more generally that attending to the relation between ethics and politics is central to assessing his liberal credentials from a realist perspective. Against the prevalent reading of Hobbes as a hypothetical contract theorist, the article proceeds to show that the place of consent in his theory is better understood as part of his wider goal of transforming the imagination of his audience: a goal which is animated by concerns that realists share.