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.

Book: Before Anarchy: Hobbes and his Critics in Modern International Thought

Theodore ChristovBefore Anarchy Hobbes and his Critics in Modern International Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

About this Book: How did the ‘Hobbesian state of nature’ and the ‘discourse of anarchy’ – separated by three centuries – come to be seen as virtually synonymous? Before Anarchy offers a novel account of Hobbes’s interpersonal and international state of nature and rejects two dominant views. In one, international relations is a warlike Hobbesian anarchy, and in the other, state sovereignty eradicates the state of nature. In combining the contextualist method in the history of political thought and the historiographical method in international relations theory, Before Anarchy traces Hobbes’s analogy between natural men and sovereign states and its reception by Pufendorf, Rousseau and Vattel in showing their intellectual convergence with Hobbes. Far from defending a ‘realist’ international theory, the leading political thinkers of early modernity were precursors of the most enlightened liberal theory of international society today. By demolishing twentieth-century anachronisms, Before Anarchy bridges the divide between political theory, international relations and intellectual history.

Book: Rousseau and Hobbes: Nature, Free Will and the Passions

Robin Douglass, Rousseau and Hobbes: Nature, Free Will and the Passions (Oxford University Press, 2015)

About this Book: Robin Douglass presents the first comprehensive study of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s engagement with Thomas Hobbes. He reconstructs the intellectual context of this engagement to reveal the deeply polemical character of Rousseau’s critique of Hobbes and to show how Rousseau sought to expose that much modern natural law and doux commerce theory was, despite its protestations to the contrary, indebted to a Hobbesian account of human nature and the origins of society. Throughout the book Douglass explores the reasons why Rousseau both followed and departed from Hobbes in different places, while resisting the temptation to present him as either a straightforwardly Hobbesian or anti-Hobbesian thinker. On the one hand, Douglass reveals the extent to which Rousseau was occupied with problems of a fundamentally Hobbesian nature and the importance, to both thinkers, of appealing to the citizens’ passions in order to secure political unity. On the other hand, Douglass argues that certain ideas at the heart of Rousseau’s philosophy—free will and the natural goodness of man—were set out to distance him from positions associated with Hobbes. Douglass advances an original interpretation of Rousseau’s political philosophy, emerging from this encounter with Hobbesian ideas, which focuses on the interrelated themes of nature, free will, and the passions. Douglass distances his interpretation from those who have read Rousseau as a proto-Kantian and instead argues that his vision of a well-ordered republic was based on cultivating man’s naturally good passions to render the life of the virtuous citizen in accordance with nature.

Book: Secular Powers: Humility in Modern Political Thought

Julie Cooper,  Secular Powers: Humility in Modern Political Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

About this Book: Secularism is usually thought to contain the project of self-deification, in which humans attack God’s authority in order to take his place, freed from all constraints. Julie E. Cooper overturns this conception through an incisive analysis of the early modern justifications for secular politics. While she agrees that secularism is a means of empowerment, she argues that we have misunderstood the sources of secular empowerment and the kinds of strength to which it aspires.

Contemporary understandings of secularism, Cooper contends, have been shaped by a limited understanding of it as a shift from vulnerability to power. But the works of the foundational thinkers of secularism tell a different story. Analyzing the writings of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Rousseau at the moment of secularity’s inception, she shows that all three understood that acknowledging one’s limitations was a condition of successful self-rule. And while all three invited humans to collectively build and sustain a political world, their invitations did not amount to self-deification. Cooper establishes that secular politics as originally conceived does not require a choice between power and vulnerability. Rather, it challenges us—today as then—to reconcile them both as essential components of our humanity.

Hobbes, Hont and commercial society

In 2009 Istvan Hont delivered the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. These were (posthumously) published earlier this summer as Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, ed. Béla Kapossy and Michael Sonenscher (Harvard University Press, 2015). They make for an intriguing and sometimes a quite frustrating read, not least because they contain many bold and provocative claims, often with only minimal evidence adduced in their support. While the book is principally about Rousseau and Smith, Hobbes plays a crucial part in Hont’s genealogy of the concept of commercial society in the opening chapter, which might be of interest to visitors of this site. I also suspect that most discussions of the book will (rightly) focus on Hont’s interpretations of Rousseau and Smith, but his analysis of Hobbes also merits consideration.

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