New book: Hobbes and the Democratic Imaginary

Holman, Christopher (2022): Hobbes and the Democratic Imaginary.

At a time when nearly all political actors and observers—despite the nature of their normative commitments—morally appeal to the language of democracy, the particular signification of the term has become obscured. Hobbes and the Democratic Imaginary argues that critical engagement with various elements of the work of Hobbes, a notorious critic of democracy, can deepen our understanding of the problems, stakes, and ethics of democratic life. Firstly, Hobbes’s descriptive anatomy of democratic sovereignty reveals what is essential to the institution of this form of government, in the face of the conceptual confusion that characterizes the contemporary deployment of democratic terminology. Secondly, Hobbes’s critique of the mechanics of democracy points toward certain fundamental political risks that are internal to its mode of operation. And thirdly, contrary to Hobbes’s own intentions, Christopher Holman shows how the selective redeployment of certain Hobbesian categories could help construct a normative ground in which democracy is the ethical choice in relation to other sovereign forms.

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.