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Latest issue of Hobbes Studies

Hobbes Studies, Volume 34, Issue 1 (Apr 2021)

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Progress Reports

Book Reviews

New article on Hobbes and the Modern Business Corporation

Claassen, R.J.G. (2020): Hobbes Meets the Modern Business Corporation, in: Polity, https://doi.org/10.1086/712231

Abstract

Political theory today has expanded its scope to debate business corporations, conceiving of them as political actors, not (just) private actors in the market place. This article shows the continuing relevance of Thomas Hobbes’s work for this debate. Hobbes is commonly treated as a defender of the so-called concession theory, which traces the legitimacy of corporations to their being chartered by sovereign state authorities for public purposes. This theory is widely judged to be anachronistic for contemporary business corporations, because these can now be freely formed, on the basis of private initiative. However, a close reading of the crucial passages in Hobbes’s work reveals a more subtle view, which rejects this private/public dualism. Hobbes’s reflections on the companies of merchants of his day provide room for business corporations’ pursuit of private purposes, while keeping them embedded in a public framework of authority. Moreover, by criticizing the monopoly status of these companies, he opens up a way to integrate market failure arguments from modern economics into concession theory. The “neo-Hobbesian concession theory” emerging from this analysis shows how concession theory can accommodate private initiative and economic analysis, and thus be a relevant position in the debate about the modern business corporation.

New book: Leviathan on a Leash

Fleming, Sean (2020): Leviathan on a Leash: A Theory of State Responsibility, Princeton University Press.

Description

States are commonly blamed for wars, called on to apologize, held liable for debts and reparations, bound by treaties, and punished with sanctions. But what does it mean to hold a state responsible as opposed to a government, a nation, or an individual leader? Under what circumstances should we assign responsibility to states rather than individuals? Leviathan on a Leash demystifies the phenomenon of state responsibility and explains why it is a challenging yet indispensable part of modern politics.

Taking Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the state as his starting point, Sean Fleming presents a theory of state responsibility that sheds new light on sovereign debt, historical reparations, treaty obligations, and economic sanctions. Along the way, he overturns longstanding interpretations of Hobbes’ political thought, explores how new technologies will alter the practice of state responsibility as we know it, and develops new accounts of political authority, representation, and legitimacy. He argues that Hobbes’ idea of the state offers a far richer and more realistic conception of state responsibility than the theories prevalent today, and demonstrates that Hobbes’ Leviathan is much more than an anthropomorphic “artificial man.”

Leviathan on a Leash is essential reading for political theorists, scholars of international relations, international lawyers, and philosophers. This groundbreaking book recovers a forgotten understanding of state personality in Hobbes’ thought and shows how to apply it to the world of imperfect states in which we live.

Article: Hobbes’ Frontispiece: Authorship, Subordination and Contract

Janice Richardson: ‘Hobbes’ Frontispiece: Authorship, Subordination and Contract’, Law and Critique, 27, 1 (2016).

Abstract: In this article I argue that the famous image on Hobbes’ frontispiece of Leviathan provides a more honest picture of authority and of contract than is provided by today’s liberal images of free and equal persons, who are pictured as sitting round a negotiating table making a decision as to the principles on which to base laws. Importantly, in the seventeenth century, at the start of modern political thought, Hobbes saw no contradiction between contractual agreement and subordination. I will draw out these arguments by comparing three images of politics that employ the human body: Hobbes’ frontispiece is compared firstly with an earlier picture of the state, the illustration of the Fable of the Belly, and then with a later Rawlsian image of the social contract described above. At stake is Hobbes’ view of two associated concepts: authorship and authority. I argue that Hobbes’ image is a vivid portrayal of a ‘persona covert’, akin to the feme covert, a wife characterised in common law as so dominated by her husband that she is imagined as being ‘covered’ by his body.