Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen (1642) – Classics of Strategy and Diplomacy (2023)

Classic Works

Zachary Bennett

July 3, 2015

I. Hobbes, Machiavelli, and the Foundation of Modern Realism

Niccolò Machiavelli makes the decisive first move in the foundation of modern realism, but it is the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) who gives that outlook its theoretical foundation, the state of nature; its basic framework for understanding international relations, the doctrine of state sovereignty; and its animating concern, the promotion of peaceful order among states. In certain respects, Hobbes merely elaborates on Machiavelli’s insights. The state of nature, for example, is arguably a systematic unpacking of Machiavelli’s contention that man is naturally acquisitive. But, in other respects, Hobbes challenges Machiavelli. Most notably, he attacks the love of glory and makes peace the highest goal of political life. In this essay, we aim to elucidate how Hobbes’s modification of Machiavelli shapes modern realism.

It is worth noting at the outset that Hobbes’s contribution to international relations theory is, for all its significance, rather indirect. Hobbes sets out to give an account of the origin and preservation of internal political order. His practical intention is to foster peace, primarily within and only secondarily among nations. Yet Hobbes invites us to draw lessons about international relations from his political theory when he identifies the state that countries find themselves in as the state of nature. The way to Hobbes’s theory of international relations is therefore largely inferential in character. For this reason, this essay necessarily involves some examination of Hobbes’s account of domestic political life. Part of determining the lessons about international relations contained in that account will also involve recognizing the limits of the comparison of domestic politics and international relations, limits that Hobbes himself recognizes.

II. On the Citizen

In studying Hobbes’s political thought, it is typical to turn to his most famous work, Leviathan (1651). Here we turn instead to an earlier work, On the Citizen (1642), published originally in Latin as De Cive. On the Citizen constitutes the political part of Hobbes’s three-part series on “the first Elements [of philosophy],” which also includes On Body, concerning metaphysics and physics, and On Man, concerning the human “faculties and passions” (Preface to the Readers, 18).[1] On the Citizen, Hobbes explains, “sets out men’s duties, first as men, then as citizens and lastly as Christians” (Preface to Readers, 1). The work is organized into three parts: “Liberty,” concerning man’s emergence out of the state of nature via adherence to the laws of nature; “Government,” concerning the origin, forms, and degeneration of

commonwealths as well as the doctrine of sovereignty; and “Religion,”concerning the Kingdom of God. In both On the Citizen and Leviathan, Hobbes presents man’s natural condition as a state of war in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (XIII.9);[2] elaborates a new doctrine of natural law rooted in the imperative of self-preservation; defends absolute monarchy as the best regime; and, on the basis of a heterodox exegesis, argues—in our view, disingenuously—that his political theory is consistent with the Bible.

While there are meaningful differences between Leviathan and On the Citizen, especially, but not only, in terms of presentation, those differences are not important for the purposes of this introductory essay. Hobbes’s teaching on international relations and grand strategy does not differ appreciably from one to the other. Given this, we turn to On the Citizen because it opens with some of Hobbes’s most important statements on war and peace.

III. Hobbes’s Critique of Roman Imperialism

The difference between the spirit of Machiavellian realism and Hobbesian realism is immediately apparent in On the Citizen, the epistle dedicatory of which begins with a critique of the Roman republic. Hobbes accuses the Roman people of hypocrisy for condemning kings as “predatory animals” when they were no less predatory in their conduct of foreign policy (Epistle Dedicatory, 1). Now, Hobbes is more concerned here to defend kingship than he is to critique imperialism. Indeed, he observes that “violence and fraud” are necessary devices in foreign policy. He even calls them “the virtues of war” (Epistle Dedicatory, 2). In this respect, there is no disagreement between Hobbes and Machiavelli. Their difference lies in the qualification Hobbes attaches to his defense of violence and fraud in international relations. He writes, “between commonwealths, the wickedness of bad men compels the good too to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud, i.e., to the predatory nature of beasts.” “[N]atural right,” he continues, “does not accept that anything that arises from the need for self-preservation is a vice” (Epistle Dedicatory, 2). This, of course, implies that the use of violence and fraud for non-defensive purposes is a vice. To the extent that Rome’s foreign policy was essentially aggressive, Hobbes is here excusing the violence and fraud to which not Rome, but its neighbors, resorted. Hobbes notably does not excuse, let alone encourage, the use of violence and fraud for the sake of glory. Here, then, we begin to see that Hobbes’s outlook on international relations is not quite as devoid of moral distinctions as Machiavelli’s is. What is more, the greatest evil in the new Hobbesian moral framework is, as we shall see, precisely the love of glory that Machiavelli fosters.

IV. Peace through Enlightenment

One of the major practical objectives of Hobbes’s political philosophy is the promotion of peace, mainly within but also among nations. He describes himself in the preface to On the Citizen as “one who has a passion for peace” (Preface to the Readers, 24). Hobbes indicates that he initially intended to write this work only after completing On Body and On Man, but was moved, in the years preceding the English civil war (1642-1646) when his “country…was already seething with questions of the right of Government and of the due obedience of citizens,” to turn at once to political theory (Preface to the Readers, 19). The English civil war was one of several religious conflicts that were plaguing Europe in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Hobbes hoped that a sound political theory could bring an end to these wars.

In the epistle dedicatory, Hobbes makes the bold prediction that, if moral philosophers were to replicate the success of geometers, specifically,

if the patterns of human action were known with the same certainty as the relations of magnitude in figures, ambition and greed, whose power rests on the false opinions of the common people about right and wrong, would be disarmed, and the human race would enjoy such secure peace that (apart from conflicts over space as the population grew) it seems unlikely that it would ever have to fight again. (6)

Hobbes here expresses some of the fundamental premises of the Enlightenment, namely, that one of the primary causes of war is the exploitation of popular ignorance and that the way to peace therefore lies in enlightening the public. By contrast with Machiavelli, who seeks to improve political life by appealing to and fostering the ambition and greed of princes and would-be princes, Hobbes does so by teaching the people to be dubious of such men. As we see here, Hobbes’s ambition, extending even to the near abolition of war, is arguably even greater than Machiavelli’s.

The limit of all prior moral philosophy stems, according to Hobbes, from its failure to begin teaching from “a suitable starting point” (Epistle Dedicatory, 8). Hobbes claims to have found this starting point in “two absolutely certain postulates of human nature, one, the postulate of human greed by which each man insists upon his own private use of common property; the other, the postulate of natural reason, by which each man strives to avoid violent death as the supreme evil in nature” (Epistle Dedicatory, 10). On the basis of these postulates, Hobbes promises to demonstrate “the necessity of agreements and of keeping faith, and thence the Elements of moral virtue and civil duties” (Epistle Dedicatory, 10). In order to follow Hobbes’s argument, we must now turn to his account of the state of nature.

V. State of Nature

(Video) Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Social Contract and political Obligation

Hobbes begins Chapter I of On the Citizen with an emphatic denial of Aristotle’s thesis that man is by nature a political animal. He insists that human beings are essentially self-interested individuals moved by two fundamental passions, the love of “advantage” or physical pleasure and the love of “glory” (I.2). In the absence of government, that is, in the apolitical condition in which men naturally find themselves, these passions necessarily lead men into “a war of every man against every man” (I.12). To begin, the condition of scarcity is such that the pursuit of advantage ends in violent competition. Making matters worse, some men are not content merely to have their physical needs met but, vainly believing themselves to be superior to others, demand dominion over and honor from others. The threat posed by these “aggressive” men compels even the “modest man” to will harm unto others lest he lose his “property and liberty” (I.4). Here Hobbes seems to echo the Athenian thesis from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, a work which he translated (1629) and admired greatly, namely, that war is caused by the compelling power of honor, fear, and advantage. Yet, by contrast with the Athenians, Hobbes suggests that honor, unlike fear and advantage, is not compelling. While he blames the vainglorious for their aggression, he excuses the harm done by the modest in self-defense. Asserting that man is compelled to pursue what appears good to him and to avoid what appears bad to him and that death is the worst thing for man, Hobbes claims that man cannot help but do and, therefore, has a natural right to do whatever he thinks is necessary to preserve himself. In effect, then, “[n]ature has given each man a right to all things” (I.10). Yet because all men cannot have all things, no one actually enjoys this right in the state of nature. To insist on this right is effectively to declare war upon all men and in doing so to endanger one’s life, liberty, and property.

The way out of this vicious circle begins with the recognition that war is utterly inimical to one’s good. The great obstacle to recognizing this is the opinion that one is so superior to others in strength and wit that one can achieve dominion over others. Hobbes does not go so far as to deny that such dominion can be achieved for a time. He actually argues that the victor, merely by dint of his greater power, can justifiably command the vanquished, that the latter are obliged to obey the former precisely because they cannot do otherwise (I.14). Nevertheless, he warns that pursuing dominion by violent conquest is dangerous and imprudent on the grounds that no one is so superior as to be invulnerable. All men are equally capable of killing and being killed (I.3). Hobbes stakes out this egalitarian position in part because he regards it as true, but also because he thinks that, as a practical matter, the achievement of peace requires deflating the pride of the aggressive, vainglorious men who are the first to take up and the last to lay down arms. Broadly speaking, the state of nature teaching is intended not only as an account of human life in the absence of government but also as a reminder of our vulnerability and therewith an inducement to seek our preservation through peaceful association.

VI. Laws of Nature

As we have seen, Hobbes’s account of human nature challenges the Aristotelian and Thomistic, or Scholastic, account of human nature which holds that man has a strong positive inclination toward communal life. On the basis of his new account, Hobbes alters the traditional doctrine of natural law, retaining the language of the “laws of nature” but revising their meaning. According to Thomas Aquinas and his Scholastic followers, the natural law is a set of rules of moral conduct written on our hearts by God, which we come to know through our consciences and which lead us to flourish. According to Hobbes, by contrast, natural law is “the Dictate of right reason about what should be done or not done for the longest possible preservation of life and limb” (II.1). In this definition, Hobbes excises God as the promulgator, the conscience as the source, and human flourishing as the end from the natural law. He tips his hand when he concludes his discussion of the laws of nature in Leviathan with the observation that they are not really laws (XV.41). While Hobbes elsewhere attempts to assimilate to his doctrine some of the elements of traditional natural law, he alters their traditional meaning. To follow Hobbesian natural law is nothing more than prudently to pursue one’s preservation. Natural law is but a guide for exercising the natural right to self-preservation. Self-preservation is by no means absent from the ends of Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of natural law, but it is subordinate to higher ends and must sometimes be sacrificed for them. Hobbes’s removal of those higher ends from the doctrine of natural law constitutes his most important break with the Thomistic tradition.

On the basis of his analysis of the state of nature, Hobbes concludes that the fundamental law of nature is “to seek peace when it can be had; when it cannot, to look for aid in war” (II.2). The other twenty-one natural laws derive from this one and “are instructions on the means of securing peace or self-defence” (II.2). The first and most important natural law derived from the fundamental law of nature is that “the right of all men to all things must not be held on to; certain rights must be transferred or abandoned” (II.3). Since, as we have noted, claiming the right to all things necessarily ends in war, the fundamental law of nature to seek peace when it can be had dictates that individuals relinquish that right. Once this step has been taken, making and keeping contracts becomes the heart of morality. Indeed, the second natural law is to “Stand by your agreements” (III.1). In discussing this law, Hobbes goes so far as to claim that one can do wrong only to those with whom one has contracted, i.e., that justice obtains only where there are positive contractual agreements among men. Quite contrary to the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions, Hobbes holds that justice arises artificially out of human conventions.

To be clear, this constitutes no argument against keeping the contracts that one has made. Hobbes is emphatic that one is morally obligated to keep one’s promises. But, as one sees more clearly in the parallel discussion in Leviathan (XV.4-9), the ground of this duty is prudential. One is obligated to keep one’s agreements because one cannot break them without endangering oneself either in the short or long term, that is, where there is a coercive power established to enforce agreements. Where there is not, such as in the state of nature, one’s obligation ceases as soon as one has any suspicion that the other party will not uphold his end of the bargain (V.1). For Hobbes, again by contrast with Thomas Aquinas, the natural law is not categorical but conditional.

Hobbes does not count on the rationality of keeping contracts to withstand the force of those passions that deter men from doing so. Those passions must be counteracted by a more intense passion, namely, the fear of violent death (V.3). For this reason, the pacific moral outlook embodied in Hobbes’s new doctrine of natural law is insufficient for establishing peace. A commonwealth with a properly constituted sovereign power is also necessary.

VII. From State of Nature to Commonwealth

The possibility of putting Hobbes’s contractual morality into practice depends upon an original contract forming a “commonwealth” or a “civil person,” in the form of a man or an assembly of men, to which each contracting party agrees to submit. Insofar as all of the citizens voluntarily submit to the civil person, their wills are united in his will—the civil person is their representative. This civil person is distinguished by “sovereign authority,” by which he can command all of the “force and power” of all of the citizens (V.6-11).

Sovereignty entails absolute power, meaning that all powers of government—executive, war-making, judicial, legislative, appointive, and religious—reside in the designated civil person (VI.-11). The sovereign is exempt from the laws, which, after all, are of his making and unmaking, and immune from prosecution, which, after all, is his bailiwick (VI.12, 14). Per their agreement, the citizens owe absolute obedience to the sovereign, retaining no rights against him other than the inalienable right to preserve oneself (Hobbes concedes that even justly condemned criminals may justly resist execution) (VI.13, 15).

Sovereignty is not only absolute but perpetual, meaning that a commonwealth may not be dissolved under any condition (VI.20). Hobbes’s denial of the legitimacy of revolution rests on the obligation of citizens to keep their agreement with one another to submit unconditionally and perpetually to the sovereign, which, in turn, rests on the conviction that suffering under any ruler pales in comparison to suffering in the war that would inevitably follow from the overthrow of any ruler. This conviction leads Hobbes to reject the traditional Aristotelian distinction between regimes that promote the common good and those that do not (VII.1-4). If the common good amounts merely to the preservation of peace, then all regimes promote the common good and are therefore to be regarded as legitimate. While Hobbes favors monarchy over aristocracy and democracy, the basic dichotomy of his political theory, commonwealth versus anarchy, means that the differences among these regimes are of secondary importance (X).

VIII. Sovereign Duties and the Ends of Politics

Hobbes’s insistence on the absolute character of sovereign authority does not keep him from ascribing duties to the sovereign. The sovereign, Hobbes argues, is bound by natural law to promote the safety of the people even though he is not answerable to the people (XIII.2). And, as far as public safety permits, he is bound to promote the “acquisition of wealth” and to protect the “enjoyment of innocent liberty” (XIII.6). Hobbes pointedly excludes from the sovereign’s concerns the health of the soul in this life or its fate in the next (XIII.5-6).

It is worth noting, in this connection, Hobbes’s contention in Chapter I that “[i]ntellectual dissension…inevitably causes the worst conflicts,” and that “the bitterest wars are those between different sects of the same religion and different factions in the same country, when they clash over doctrines of public policy” (I.5). Hobbes tellingly defends this claim with the observation that to disagree with a man is necessarily to accuse him of error and, in doing so, to offend him. This argument implies that the true cause of the intensity of intellectual conflict is the love of glory and, thereby, diminishes the significance of piety or the love of justice as motives in such conflicts. Taken together with his basic account of human motivation, Hobbes’s discussion here suggests that these may be nothing more than pretexts for the pursuit of glory. One can wonder whether Hobbes and his realist successors do not underestimate the earnestness of combatants in intellectual conflicts, whether they do not take seriously enough the arguments that such combatants make and are not too quick to reduce those arguments to rationalizations of selfish actors seeking glory or some material good. If there is some merit to this criticism, then Hobbes and his followers might also be accused of overlooking some powerful obstacles to peace.

Hobbes’s attempt to weaken the bellicose love of glory entails the exclusion from political life of those matters over which human beings disagree most vehemently. This means reorienting politics away from the promotion of human happiness in this life and the next through the cultivation of virtue. There will never be peace as long as political life is concerned with the best way of life, for, as Hobbes asserts in Leviathan, the good is subjective and therefore relative (VI.7). In addition to being fraught with dissension and conflict, political life that aims toward the best way of life is futile. For human beings not only differ in their pleasures; there is no greatest good of which the attainment would result in contentment “as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers” (Leviathan XI.1).

Rather than founding politics on the pursuit of some illusory summum bonum, as the classical and medieval political philosophers do, Hobbes founds politics on the avoidance of the summum malum, violent death. While there may be no greatest good or perfection common to men, violent death is the worst of all evils for all men. Hence all men can agree upon the need for safety, construed broadly, not as mere preservation, but as comfortable preservation (XIII.4). The limited character of the aims of Hobbesian politics means that, in spite of the Hobbesian principle of absolutism, individuals will, in practice, enjoy a great deal of freedom. In this way, Hobbes begins to lay the foundation for liberalism. One sees the liberal Hobbes in this statement about the limits of politics: “Sovereigns can do no more for the citizens’ happiness than to enable them to enjoy the possessions their industry has won them, safe from foreign and civil war” (XIII.6)

IX. A Hobbesian Foreign Policy

The fundamental duty to provide for the safety of the commonwealth means that, in Hobbes’s political theory, as in Machiavelli’s, foreign policy takes on greater importance than it had in classical political theory. Also like Machiavelli, Hobbes draws insights into domestic politics from international relations. Individuals in the state of nature relate to one another as commonwealths do to other commonwealths. In both cases, there is no common power that can enforce agreements and guarantee peace. At best, in international relations, there are long pauses to war among commonwealths. But, insofar as there remains a will to harm one another even when they are not actively fighting, there can never be a total escape from the state of nature.

Given this, it is necessary that the sovereign constantly anticipate threats, maintain defenses, and prepare for war. As Hobbes puts it, the sovereign must be “Forewarned” and “Forearmed” (XIII.7). In order to be forewarned, the sovereign must make use of intelligence agents or spies (XIII.7). And in order to be forearmed, he must maintain an army, a navy, armaments, fortifications, and sufficient funds for war (XIII.8).

Hobbes follows Machiavelli in refraining from delineating any moral restrictions on the conduct of defensive foreign policy. Recall his praise of “violence and fraud” as “the virtues of war” (Epistle Dedicatory, 2). Commonwealths, like individual human beings, possess a natural right to take whatever measures they deem necessary to their preservation (Leviathan XXX.30). There is no prohibition on preemptive war. On the contrary, the spirit of Hobbes’s strategic guidance strongly favors preemption. The sovereign ought as much as possible to anticipate and deter threats. To this end, he is allowed not only to make war for a time but also to conquer other commonwealths. It is worth considering in this connection Hobbes’s account of the “natural commonwealth” or “commonwealth by acquisition,” which serves in part as a justification of conquest. This sort of commonwealth, by contrast with the “commonwealth by design,” which, as we have noted, originates in a social contract aiming at peace and mutual security, arises when men who are captured or defeated in war agree to serve and obey the victor in order to preserve themselves (VIII.1). That they make this agreement under duress in no way diminishes their obligation. For the same fear of violent death that gives rise to commonwealths by acquisition gives rise to commonwealths by design. Here we see how the right to do all in the state of nature implies a right to imperialism. Insofar as commonwealths are in a state of nature with one another, they enjoy the right to, among other things, conquer and rule over other commonwealths whenever they regard this as necessary for their preservation. Hobbes tellingly refrains from acknowledging any patriotic or freedom-loving concern that would lead individuals to resist imperial domination. For in his view, these concerns are impediments to calculating rationally about how best to preserve ourselves. They are manifestations of the love of glory that stands in the way of peace and security. The only rational ground for obeying another is that he provides protection. Insofar as a foreign king can sometimes do this just as well or even better than one’s own king or countrymen, there is no good reason not to submit to him.

Hobbes’s justification of preemptive warfare, conquest, and all manner of defensive measures sets him at odds with the medieval Christian theorists of international relations who generally hold that some injustice must be committed in order for war to be legitimate. Just war for the medieval Christians tends to have a punitive character. Hobbes objects that the right to do all things in the state of nature all but obliterates justice and injustice in international relations. Even if one could distinguish justice from injustice in international relations, the concern to carry out retributive punishment is at best a distraction from and at worst a hindrance to the sovereign’s proper concern to assure the safety of his commonwealth. Indeed, in his explanation of the sixth law of nature, according to which one ought, in carrying out punishments, “to consider future good, not past evil,” Hobbes criticizes retribution as “simply triumphing and glorying to no purpose” (III.11). And insofar as this triumphing and glorying at the expense of the vanquished offends the vanquished, retribution, far from bringing an end to conflict, prolongs it. In this light, the Christian just war doctrine appears inimical to peace. Hobbes is guided by the counterintuitive thought that a world in which commonwealths, in their relations with one another, concern themselves only with their own security will be safer, more peaceful, and more humane than a world in which they concern themselves with rectifying injustices. Thus, as with Machiavelli, realism and humanity go together for Hobbes.

While Hobbes’s intransigent concern with safety leads him to countenance all manner of defensive measures in foreign policy, it also leads him, as we saw in his critique of Roman imperialism, to criticize aggressive foreign policy. His criticism of aggressive men, by contrast with modest men, in the state of nature applies to commonwealths bent on domination for the sake of glory rather than defense. So whereas Hobbes does not oppose defensive imperialism, he does oppose aggressive imperialism. Certainly, the foolhardy pursuit of glory does not justify imperialism. Hobbes also criticizes efforts to acquire wealth through conquest. Such efforts succeed only rarely. In most cases, they result in losses rather than gains. The surer road to wealth, in Hobbes’s view, lies in extracting the natural resources of one’s own country, in promoting the arts and sciences relevant to production and commerce, and in fostering industriousness in one’s people (XIII.14). The Machiavellian prince who pursues empire for the sake of glory and wealth would, according to Hobbes, be recklessly risking the safety of his commonwealth. Thus, Hobbes modifies modern realism in such a way as to reintroduce the distinction between defense and aggression, between acquisition for the sake of security and acquisition for the sake of glory and wealth. While Hobbes sometimes casts these limits in moral language, they are ultimately rooted in an amoral judgment about the best way to secure and enrich one’s commonwealth, in enlightened self-interest.

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X. A Hobbesian World Order

The analogy that Hobbes draws between the state of nature and international relations might seem to point in the direction of world peace through a world commonwealth. Yet Hobbes does not anticipate, let alone encourage, such a new world order. One major reason for this is that, in terms of the experience of individual human beings, the state of nature that obtains in international relations is far less dangerous and miserable than the one that obtains prior to the establishment of government. In Leviathan, Hobbes indicates that the existence of a state of war among commonwealths is not an unmitigated evil for individuals since they prosper in meeting their commonwealths’ defense needs (XIII.12). The sovereign authorities in commonwealths arguably have even greater reason to resist the establishment of a world commonwealth than their subjects do, for the absolute, indivisible character of sovereignty would dictate their destruction were a world sovereign to be established. Of course, if one sovereign were to conquer the rest, then such considerations would be moot. How Hobbes would judge such a conquering world sovereign is not entirely clear. He would look askance at such conquest if it were motivated by the love of glory. But if it were essential to national self-preservation, then he could not disapprove. And, regardless of the conqueror’s motives, Hobbes would encourage obedience on the part of individuals to the new sovereign. Nevertheless, that Hobbes does not seem to contemplate such a scenario suggests that it would be at least highly unlikely in his view. We can safely affirm, then, what is taken to be his most important contribution to modern realism, namely, the treatment of the realm of international relations as necessarily and perpetually anarchic.

The absence of any world commonwealth with coercive power means that international agreements cannot be counted on to secure peace. For, as with individuals in the state of nature, as soon as a commonwealth fears that its treaty partners will not honor the agreement, it can justifiably abrogate the agreement. Yet, even as Hobbes does not expect commonwealths to escape the state of nature, he does, as we have seen, predict that enlightenment will make that state of nature extremely peaceful, so peaceful as to become almost unrecognizable. The hope for peace that Hobbes expresses at the beginning of On the Citizen suggests that he anticipates that his teaching will largely cure peoples and their rulers of the vainglory that leads them to war, often under religious, moral, or patriotic pretexts. A world full of commonwealths guided by a sober concern for security and prosperity will, Hobbes expects, be a far more peaceful one.

[1]Thomas Hobbes,On the Citizen, ed. and trans. Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Return to text

[2]Thomas Hobbes,Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994). Return to text

For Further Reading

Recommended Editions of Hobbes’s Major Political Works:

Hobbes, Thomas. Behemoth, or On the Long Parliament. Edited by Ferdinand Tönnies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

———. The Elements of Law Natural and Politic. Edited by J.C.A. Gaskin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

———. Leviathan. Edited by Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.

———. On the Citizen. Edited and translated by Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War: The Complete Hobbes Translation. Translated by Thomas Hobbes.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Selected Secondary Works on Hobbes:

Ahrensdorf, Peter J. “The Fear of Death and the Longing for Immortality: Hobbes and Thucydides on Human Nature and the Problem of Anarchy.” American Political Science Review 94, no. 3 (September 2000): 579-93.

Berns, Laurence. “Thomas Hobbes.” In History of Political Philosophy, 396-419. Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Bolotin, David. “Is There a Right to Live as We Please? (So Long as We Respect the Right of Others to Do the Same).” In Enlightening Revolutions: Essays in Honor of Ralph Lerner, 319-34. Edited by Svetozar Minkov and Stéphane Douard. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007.

Boucher, David. “Inter-Community and International Relations in the Political Philosophy of Hobbes.” Chap. 7 in Political Theories of International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Bull, Hedley. “Hobbes and the International Anarchy.” In “Politics: The Work of Hans Morgenthau.” Special Issue, Social Research 48, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 7117-38.

Collins, Jeffrey R. The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Covell, Charles. Hobbes, Realism and the Tradition of International Law. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2004.

———. “Hobbes and Pufendorf.” Chap. 2 in The Law of Nations in Political Thought: A Critical Survey from Vitoria to Hegel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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Craig, Leon. The Platonian Leviathan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Forsyth, Murray. “Thomas Hobbes and the External Relations of States.” British Journal of International Studies 5, no. 3 (October 1979): 196-209.

Gauthier, David P. The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1969.

Gillespie, Michael Allen. “Hobbes’ Fearful Wisdom.” Chap. 7 in The Theological Origins of Modernity.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Hanson, Donald W. “Thomas Hobbes’s ‘Highway to Peace’.” International Organization 38, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 329-54.

Heller, Mark A. “The Use & Abuse of Hobbes: The State of Nature in International Relations.” Polity 13, no. 1 (Autumn 1980): 21-32.

Herbert, Gary B. “Fear of Death.” Hobbes Studies 7, no. 1 (1994): 56-68.

———. “The Non-normative Nature of Hobbesian Natural Law.” Hobbes Studies 22, no. 1 (2009): 3-28. 10.1163/187502509X415229.

———. Thomas Hobbes: The Unity of Scientific and Moral Wisdom. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1989.

———. “Thomas Hobbes’ Dialectic of Desire.”The New Scholasticism 50, no. 2 (1976): 137-63.

Johnston, David. The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1989.

Kavka, Gregory S. Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Kraynak, Robert P. History and Modernity in the Thought of Thomas Hobbes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Lilla, Mark. The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

Macpherson, C. B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Manent, Pierre. “Hobbes and the New Political Art.” Chap. 3 inAn Intellectual History of Liberalism. Translated by Rebecca Balinski. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Mansfield, Harvey C. “Hobbes and the Political Science of Power.” Chap. 7 in Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

———. “Hobbes and the Science of Indirect Government.” American Political Science Review 65, no. 1 (March 1971): 97-110.

Martinich, A. P. The Two Gods of the Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Navari, Cornelia. “Hobbes, the State of Nature and the Laws of Nature.” Chap. 2 in Classical Theories of International Relations. London: Macmillan, 1996.

Oakeshott, Michael. Hobbes on Civil Association. Liberty Fund, 2000.

Owen, J. Judd. “The Tolerant Leviathan: Hobbes and the Paradox of Liberalism.” Polity 37, no. 1 (January 2005): 130-48.

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Pangle, Thomas L. “A Critique of Hobbes’s Critique of Biblical and Natural Religion inLeviathan,” Jewish Political Studies Review 4, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 25-57.

Pangle, Thomas L., and Peter J. Ahrensdorf. “In Machiavelli’s Wake: Hobbes and the Bourgeois Ethic of Peace.” In Justice among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peace, 144-53. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1999.

Pocock, J.G.A. “Time, History and Eschatology in the Thought of Thomas Hobbes.” In Chap. 5 ofPolitics, Language and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History.Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989.

Rogers, G.A.J., and Alan Ryan, eds. Perspectives on Thomas Hobbes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Schlatter, Richard. “Thomas Hobbes and Thucydides.” Journal of the History of Ideas 6, no. 3 (June 1945): 350-62.

Schmitt, Carl, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a State Symbol. Translated by George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Skinner, Quentin. Hobbes and Republican Liberty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

———. Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

———. Hobbes and Civil Science. Vol. 3 of Visions of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Sorrell, Tom, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Sorell, Tom, and Luc Foisneau, eds. The Leviathan after 350 Years. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Stauffer, Devin. “‘Of Religion’ in Hobbes’s Leviathan.” Journal of Politics 72, no. 3 (July 2010): 868-79.

Strauss, Leo. “Hobbes.” In Natural Right and History, 166-202. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

———. Hobbes’s Critique of Religion and Related Writings. Translated and edited by Gabriel Bartlett and Svetozar Minkov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

———. “On the Basis of Hobbes’s Political Philosophy.” Chap. 7 in What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

———. The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis. Translated by Elsa M. Sinclair.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Tuck, Richard. Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

———. Introduction to On the Citizen by Thomas Hobbes, viii-xxxiii. Edited and translated by Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

———. “Thomas Hobbes.” Chap. 6 in Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

———. “Thomas Hobbes.” Chap. 7 in Philosophy and Government 1572-1651. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

———. “Thomas Hobbes.” Chap. 4 in The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Warrender, Howard. The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: His Theory of Obligation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

(Video) Why Socrates Hated Democracy

Weinberger, J. “Hobbes’s Doctrine of Method.” American Political Science Review 69, no. 4 (Dec. 1975): 1336-53.

Recommended Online Resource:Great Thinkers: Thomas Hobbes (


What was Thomas Hobbes view on society citizens? ›

His main concern is the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. He poses stark alternatives: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable sovereign (a person or group empowered to decide every social and political issue).

What were Thomas Hobbes 3 main ideas? ›

Hobbes theorized that, in the state of nature, everyone is equal in their ability to kill each other and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. It is a war “of every man against every man”. There are three reasons conflicts appear in Thomas Hobbes' state of nature: competitiveness, diffidence, and glory.

What was Thomas Hobbes main theory? ›

Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons.

What does Hobbes say about international relations? ›

In general, Hobbes's theory of international relations focuses not upon the determinations of anarchy in any conventional sense but upon issues of knowledge, ideology, and legitimacy in the construction of political orders both domestically and internationally.

What was Thomas Hobbes famous quote? ›

“If any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavour to destroy or subdue one another.”

How does Thomas Hobbes influence today's society? ›

His social contract theory established that a government should serve and protect all the people in the society. acting only with the "consent of the governed", this influenced the U.S constitution.

What ideas did Thomas Hobbes support? ›

Hobbes believed that a government headed by a king was the best form that the sovereign could take. Placing all power in the hands of a king would mean more resolute and consistent exercise of political authority, Hobbes argued.

What was Thomas Hobbes greatly influenced by? ›

For Hobbes, the English Civil War significantly shaped his worldview. In response, he developed a political philosophy that emphasized three key concepts: The natural state of mankind (the “state of nature”) is a state of war of one man against another, as man is selfish and brutish.

What is Hobbes realism? ›

Hobbesian description of the state of nature has been termed as the bedrock of the realist theory. Sovereign individuals in their natural surroundings are in a perpetual 'state of war' against each other with the primal goal of self-preservation.

What is the main idea of realism? ›

Realism (including neorealism) focuses on abiding patterns of interaction in an international system lacking a centralized political authority. That condition of anarchy means that the logic of international politics often differs from that of domestic politics, which is regulated by a sovereign power.

What is neo realism in international relations? ›

Neorealism or structural realism is a theory of international relations that emphasizes the role of power politics in international relations, sees competition and conflict as enduring features and sees limited potential for cooperation.

What does Hobbes argue? ›

political philosophy

In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes argued that the absolute power of the sovereign was ultimately justified by the consent of the governed, who agreed, in a hypothetical social contract, to obey the sovereign in all matters in exchange for a guarantee of peace and security.

Why was Hobbes controversial? ›

Hobbes and the Royal Society

Another simple explanation is that Hobbes was too "controversial" in the modern sense: he was excluded for reasons of image management. It is possible that Hobbes's objections to academia extended to the Society. John Aubrey reports that Hobbes thought he had a small group of enemies there.

What is the purpose of government according to Thomas Hobbes? ›

Back in the mid-1600s, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that the purpose of government is to maintain order. Without government, Hobbes argued, humans would exist in what he called a “state of nature” where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

What was Thomas Hobbes quote from the Declaration? ›

"I put for a general inclination of mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, that ceaseth only in death," declared Thomas Hobbes.

What is Hobbes original state of nature? ›

What is the state of nature according to Hobbes? According to Hobbes, the state of nature was like an existence where each man lives for himself. It is characterized by extreme competition and no one looks out for another. He believed that when people have unlimited freedom, it leads to chaos and a war-like scenario.

How did Thomas Hobbes contribute to democracy? ›

Philosopher who influenced the Founding Fathers and the First Principles. The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in establishing America's First Principles, most notably the recognition of unalienable rights, the Social Compact, and limited government.

What did Thomas Hobbes think about natural rights? ›

Thomas Hobbes' conception of natural rights extended from his conception of man in a “state of nature.” He argued that the essential natural (human) right was “to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life.” Hobbes sharply distinguished this natural “ ...

What was John Locke's impact on society? ›

Often credited as a founder of modern “liberal” thought, Locke pioneered the ideas of natural law, social contract, religious toleration, and the right to revolution that proved essential to both the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution that followed.

What is the difference between Hobbes and Locke? ›

Hobbes was a proponent of Absolutism, a system which placed control of the state in the hands of a single individual, a monarch free from all forms of limitations or accountability. Locke, on the other hand, favored a more open approach to state-building.

What are rights according to Hobbes? ›

Hobbes asserted that the people agreed among themselves to “lay down” their natural rights of equality and freedom and give absolute power to a sovereign. The sovereign, created by the people, might be a person or a group.

How did Hobbes view the state of nature? ›

According to Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), the state of nature was one in which there were no enforceable criteria of right and wrong. People took for themselves all that they could, and human life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The state of nature was therefore a state…

What was the viewpoint of Hobbes regarding the state of nature? ›

The state of nature in Hobbes

That unsustainable condition comes to an end when individuals agree in a social contract to relinquish their natural rights to everything and to transfer their self-sovereignty to a higher civil authority, or Leviathan.

What did Thomas Hobbes do for the government? ›

His enduring contribution was as a political philosopher who justified wide-ranging government powers on the basis of the self-interested consent of citizens. In Hobbes's social contract, the many trade liberty for safety.

What are John Locke's 3 natural rights? ›

That is, rights that are God-given and can never be taken or even given away. Among these fundamental natural rights, Locke said, are "life, liberty, and property." Locke believed that the most basic human law of nature is the preservation of mankind.

Why was Thomas Hobbes important to the Enlightenment? ›

Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher and scientist, was one of the key figures in the political debates of the Enlightenment period. He introduced a social contract theory based on the relation between the absolute sovereign and the civil society.

What did John Locke and Thomas Hobbes disagree on? ›

A difference between the ideas of Hobbes and Locke was that they disagreed on whether people are naturally selfish or not. Hobbes believed that people are self-centered and egoistical by nature, while according to Locke, they are reasonable and peaceful.

How are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke theories similar? ›

Locke and Hobbes both share a vision of the social contract as instrumental in a state's political stability. However, their respective philosophies were informed by a starkly contrasting vision of human nature.

How did Thomas Hobbes contribute to democracy? ›

Philosopher who influenced the Founding Fathers and the First Principles. The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in establishing America's First Principles, most notably the recognition of unalienable rights, the Social Compact, and limited government.

What did Thomas Hobbes discover? ›

Thomas Hobbes (/hɒbz/ HOBZ; 5/15 April 1588 – 4/14 December 1679) was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory.

How did Thomas Hobbes see the social contract? ›

Hobbes also claimed that the social contract was an agreement only among the people and not between them and their king. Once the people had given absolute power to the king, they had no right to revolt against him. Hobbes warned against the church meddling with the king's government.


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