Essay: The Domestic Analogy Revisited: Hobbes on International Order

David Singh Grewal, ‘The Domestic Analogy Revisited: Hobbes on International Order’, Yale Law Journal, 125, 3 (2016).

Abstract: This Essay reexamines Thomas Hobbes’s understanding of international order. Hobbes defended the establishment of an all-powerful sovereign as the solution to interpersonal conflict, and he advanced an analogy between persons and states. Extending this “domestic analogy,” theorists following Hobbes have supposed that a global sovereign would prove the solution to interstate conflict. Yet Hobbes himself never proposed a global sovereign, which has led some scholars to diagnose an apparent inconsistency in his philosophy.

This Essay seeks to resolve that inconsistency, drawing on Hobbes’s theory of the passions and his hope for radical political transformation. Hobbes believed that the solution to international disorder was not analogous but rather identical to the solution to domestic strife: both would be overcome through the establishment of a “well-ordered commonwealth.” Hobbes argued that a state capable of securing peace within its borders was unlikely to make aggressive war outside them. The radical transformation he envisaged in domestic politics would thus in itself mitigate and perhaps even overcome international conflict.

This “realist-utopian” position aligns Hobbes more closely with later social-contract theorists, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and John Rawls. It also invites a reconsideration of the foundational principles of international law, with implications for contemporary problems from humanitarian intervention to economic integration. Hobbes’s realist-utopianism provides a needed corrective not only to the narrowly defined realism that has long claimed his imprimatur, but also to realism’s rivals, which unwittingly share its premises.