Pol Theory

New article: Hobbes and Slavery

Daniel Luban,  ‘Hobbes and Slavery’, Political Theory, first published online: October 6 2017 (DOI: 10.1177/0090591717731070).

Abstract: Although Thomas Hobbes’s critics have often accused him of espousing a form of extreme subjection that differs only in name from outright slavery, Hobbes’s own striking views about slavery have attracted little notice. For Hobbes repeatedly insists that slaves, uniquely among the populace, maintain an unlimited right of resistance by force. But how seriously should we take this doctrine, particularly in the context of the rapidly expanding Atlantic slave trade of Hobbes’s time? While there are several reasons to doubt whether Hobbes’s arguments here should be taken at face value, the most serious stems from the highly restricted definition that he gives to the term “slave,” one that would seem to make his acceptance of slave resistance entirely hollow in practice. Yet a closer examination of Hobbes’s theory indicates that his understanding of slavery is less narrow than it might initially appear—and thus that his argument carries a genuine political bite.