New Article: Hobbes’s Religious Rhetoric and False Forms of Obligation

Nicolas Higgins (2018): Undermining Obligation to God: Hobbes’s Religious Rhetoric and False Forms of Obligation, in: Political Theology


This paper examines Hobbes’s use of religious rhetoric, specifically his definitions of the terms grace, faith, and future words in his explanation of the nature and origins of obligation. Through categorization and analysis of Hobbes’s different forms of obligation, paying special attention to the religious rhetoric of the false forms, it becomes evident that Hobbes’s view of obligation is designed not only to establish a political order, but to undermine man’s obligation to God, and as such, remove the possibility of competing obligation in the life of the citizen, and thereby reduce the cause of civil wars.

New Article: Hobbes’s changing ecclesiology

Andrew Kenneth Day (2018): Hobbes’s changing ecclesiology, in: The Historical Journal, pp. 1-21


Readers of Hobbes have sought to account for differences between the arguments of his most influential texts. In De cive Hobbes (tepidly) endorsed apostolic structures of spiritual authority, while in Leviathan he at last unleashed his vehement anticlericalism. I argue that these disparities do not reflect an identifiable change in Hobbes’s ideas or principles over time. Rather, the political context in which Hobbes composed his treatises drastically altered over the course of his writing career, and the Hobbesian theoretical significance of those contextual developments best accounts for some ecclesiological inconsistencies across his oeuvre. There was, throughout the brief and tumultuous period after the regicide during which Hobbes composed Leviathan, no sovereign power in England to whom he should defer, and consequently he acquired certain liberties that subjects in a civitas forgo. Those included the renewal of his right to wage a ‘war of pens’ against High Anglican episcopal power.

New Article: the Whig legacy of Thomas Hobbes

Elad Carmel (2018): “I will speake of that subject no more”: the Whig legacy of Thomas Hobbes, in: Intellectual History Review


Hobbes left a complicated legacy for the English Whigs. They thought that his Leviathan was all too powerful, but they found other elements in his thought more appealing – mostly his anticlericalism. Still, the precise relationship between Hobbes and the Whigs has remained underexplored, while some still argue that Hobbes was simply too much of an absolutist for the Whigs to rely on his political ideas. This article attempts to show that Hobbes was, in fact, recruited by proto- and early Whigs for their causes. It shows how Hobbesian ideas were used in the toleration debates of the 1660s and 1670s, and even in debates on human reason and liberty of conscience. Then it demonstrates how similar Hobbesian principles, and even phrases, were used subsequently in the formative years of Whiggism from the 1680s to the 1720s, by thinkers who were worried, as Hobbes was, about the political aspirations of the Church. By collecting a series of prominent thinkers who are associated with Whiggism and who engaged with Hobbes in various ways – including Buckingham, Marvell, Cavendish, Warren, Blount, Tindal, Trenchard and Gordon – this article shows that Hobbes was employed systematically in the service of Whig causes, such as limited toleration, civil religion and an opposition to religious persecution.

New Article: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes

Alan Ryan (2018): Escaping the War of All against All: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, in: Social Research: An International Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Fall 2018), pp. 639-649


Is Leviathan persuasive? One might think that the existence of the United States is sufficient refutation of Hobbes’s insistence that there can be only one source of law in a coherent political system; if federalism is one problem, the separation of powers is another. Hobbes was deeply hostile to judges who thought that their expertise in the Common Law gave them an authority equal or superior to the sovereign’s. On the other hand, one might think that the lumbering and lobbyist-ridden American system suggests that Hobbes was on to something even if we could not demonstrate it with the certainty of geometry. Above all, perhaps, his skepticism about rights and his prioritizing freedom from fear above all other freedoms still pose some awkward questions for us some 370 years later.

New Article: Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté

Robin Douglass (2018): Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté, in: Les Défis de la représentation Langages, pratiques et figuration du gouvernement, édité par Manuela Albertone e Dario Castiglione, pp. 91-114


Cette étude retrace les changements dans la manière dont Thomas Hobbes a théorisé la relation entre l’État et le souverain des Elements of Law au Leviathan, afin de montrer ce que le concept de représentation a apporté aux versions précédentes de sa théorie. Nous réévaluons également le statut de Hobbes comme père de la compréhension de la représentation politique par le biais d’une remise en question des arguments principaux qui ont été avancés pour justifier l’idée qu’il demeure encore pertinent aujourd’hui.

Article: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor

Rebecca Ploof (2018): The Automaton, the Actor and the Sea Serpent: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor, in: History of Political Thought, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 634-661


Challenging interpretations of Leviathan that read its metaphors for sovereignty either as non-theoretical persuasive devices, like Skinner, or sites for the text’s theoretical deconstruction, like Derrida, I argue that metaphor is conceptually integral to and productive of Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty. Seeking to produce a political scientific account of this concept, Hobbes relies on a metaphorical understanding of language in which words are compared to mathematical signs and their logical manipulation is compared to quantitative analysis. Within such a theory of language, metaphor itself is defined as paradox, or the simultaneity of equivalence and nonequivalence. Hobbes’s formulation of sovereignty is metaphorical, I demonstrate, not only insofar as it is dependent on a metaphorical conceptualization of language, but also insofar as it is paradoxical: constructing Hobbesian sovereignty demands a healthy dose of pride in humanity’s creative ingenuity, yet sustaining it demands modest acknowledgement of human limitation. Hobbes theorizes sovereignty through a series of metaphors that in their imagistic content, and most importantly figurative form, articulate such contradiction. Where the metaphors of automaton and actor affirm the powers of human agency, the metaphorical sea serpent leviathan underscores human frailty by way of divine animality.

New article: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power

Adam Lindsay (2018): “Pretenders of a Vile and Unmanly Disposition”: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power, in: Political Theory

doi: 10.1177/0090591718805979


The prevailing interpretation of constituent power is taken to be the extra-institutional capacity of a group, typically “the people,” to establish or revise the basic constitutional conditions of a state. Among many contemporary democratic theorists, this is understood as a collective capacity for innovation. This paper excavates an alternative perspective from constituent power’s genealogy. I argue that constituent power is not a creative material power, but is a type of political claim that shapes the collective rights, responsibilities, and identity of “the people.” I do so by recovering Thomas Hobbes’s intervention into debates over constituent power among Scottish Presbyterians during the English Civil War. Though a materialist, Hobbes appreciated the centrality of the imagination to politics, and he argued that constituent power was one such phantasm of the mind. In Leviathan, he showed constituent power not to be a material power, but a world-making fiction that furnished political realities with ornamentation of the imagination, which might provide the beliefs and justifications to serve any number of political ends. More generally, the retrieval of a Hobbesian constituent power provides an important challenge to contemporary theories by demonstrating how partisan constructions of constituent power shape the political options available to groups.


New article: Legal Thought in Early Modern England. The Theory of Thomas Hobbes

Raffaella Santi (2018):  Legal Thought in Early Modern England: The Theory of Thomas Hobbes, in: Economics World, Vol. 6, No. 5, 384-389

doi: 10.17265/2328-7144/2018.05.005


Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (1588-1679) is one of the most influential British philosophers of the seventeenth century. The paper reconstructs Hobbes’s legal theory, focusing on his definition of law (civil law, as he calls it) found in Leviathan, XXVI, 3. The definition is only apparently simple, since it has been interpreted in different ways, especially with regard to the connections with natural law—and the Hobbesian assertion that civil law and natural law “contain each other”. Moreover, the definition of civil law changes in the corresponding paragraph of the Latin version of 1668. What is the meaning of this change? What about the divisions of the law/divisio legis, which—as Hobbes emphasizes—appears in different forms in different writers? Finally, if a good law is “that which is needful, for the good of the people”, what is it that dictates the paths to be followed by the sovereign representative, who is also the supreme legislator, when writing a new law? These are the main problems in Hobbes’s legal thought that the paper will address.


Impressions of the Second Biennial Conference

This part of Philosophy is in the same situation as the public roads,
on which all men travel, and go to and fro,
and some are enjoying a pleasant stroll and others are quarrelling,
but they make no progress
Hobbes, De Cive, epistle dedicatory

From 14-16 May 2018, over 35 researchers from across the world came together in the pedestrian city centre of Amsterdam for the Second Biennial Conference of the European Hobbes Society. It was a joy to see quite a few new faces amidst many familiar ones.

The conference was thematically structured around Hobbes’s De cive. No less than thirteen papers carefully mapped the highlights of that text, drawing our attention to inspiring vistas and at times feuding with extant interpretations blocking the road to greater insight. The conference doubled as a manuscript workshop for the Cambridge Critical Guide to De Cive, edited by Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn. The sharp yet constructive discussions will no doubt bolster the quality of the chapters to that volume. Four new members were sworn in to the executive committee of the society during the general meeting — welcome to the team!

The full program can be found here.

We are exceedingly grateful to the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, King’s College London, and the University of Amsterdam Challenges to Democratic Representation Research Group for their generous financial and infrastructural support. Thanks also goes out to all participants, both for the pleasant intellectual stroll and the interpretive progress made.

The EHS is right now more vibrant than ever. A host of smaller workshops have been organized under the auspices of the society during the last year and more are in the pipeline. We continue to welcome initiatives, including proposals to set up the third biennial conference sometime in 2020. The journey we have jointly embarked on has been incredible so far; long may it carry on!

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