New article on Hobbes and the Modern Business Corporation

Claassen, R.J.G. (2020): Hobbes Meets the Modern Business Corporation, in: Polity,


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 article on the nature and person of the state

Johan Olsthoorn (2020): Leviathan Inc.: Hobbes on the nature and person of the state, in: History of European Ideas, June 16, pp. 1-16;

This article aspires to make two original contributions to the vast literature on Hobbes’s account of the nature and person of the commonwealth: (1) I provide the first systematic analysis of his changing conception of ‘person’; and (2) use it to show that those who claim that the Hobbesian commonwealth is created by personation by fiction misconstrue his theory of the state. Whereas Elements/De Cive advance a metaphysics-based distinction between individuals (‘natural persons’) and corporations (‘civil persons’), from Leviathan onwards Hobbes contrasts individuals acting in their own name (‘natural persons’) with representatives (‘artificial persons’). These changes notwithstanding, Hobbes retains the same corporate conception of the state throughout. On the prevailing ‘fictionalist’ interpretation, the sovereign brings the commonwealth into existence by representing it. I argue, rather, that as an incorporation of natural persons, the commonwealth becomes one person through the authorized (i.e. non-fictitious) representation of each constituent member singly by one common representative (‘the sovereign’).

New article on the person and office of the sovereign in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Laurens van Apeldoorn (2019): On the person and office of the sovereign in Hobbes’ Leviathan, in: British Journal for the History of Philosophy,


I contextualize and interpret the distinction in Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) between the capacities of the sovereign and show its importance for contemporary debates on the nature of Hobbesian sovereignty. Hobbes distinguishes between actions the sovereign does on personal title (as a natural person), and actions he undertakes in a political capacity (as artificial person and in the office of representative of the state). I argue that, like royalists defending King Charles I before and during the English civil war, he maintains that the highest magistrate is sovereign in both his natural and political capacities because the capacities are inseparable, though district. This position goes back to the treatment of Calvin’s Case by Francis Bacon and Edward Coke and has further precedents in medieval English constitutional thought. An important reason for Hobbes to include this doctrine in Leviathan, I suggest, is to provide a response to parliamentarians who employed the sovereign’s multiple capacities to justify armed resistance against the king. I show the relevance of this contextualization by intervening in two recent debates, regarding the possibility of constitutionalist limitations on the actions of the Hobbesian sovereign and regarding whether sovereignty is held by the commonwealth or by the person of the sovereign.