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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Chapter 7 - Sovereignty and Dominium: The Foundations of Hobbesian Statehood


Chapters 8 and 9 of On the Citizen present a theory of sovereignty that Hobbes modeled on the master-slave relationship of dominium. To be a sovereign over a state, according to that theory, is really to be a kind of dominus over slaves. The usual view (based on Leviathan, chapter 20) is that this “despotic” form of sovereignty was limited only to those states described by Hobbes as “natural” or “acquired.” This chapter, however, argues that the despotic model of dominium in alterius personam functioned as a general theory of sovereignty to be found in all sovereign states, even in those states instituted, as Hobbes put it, “by mutual pact.” Indeed, the Hobbesian distinction between “instituted” and “acquired” states was not really a difference in the substance of sovereignty. Rather, it was only a difference in how sovereignty was to be constituted and dissolved. The chapter shows that it was originally intended to map onto the Aristotelian distinction between “correct” and “deviant” constitutions. However a state is constituted, Hobbes’s larger point was that statehood always requires dominium, since it is what ultimately activates the bond of obligation making a state more than just a mere association of duty-free individuals.