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Political orders are kept secure not only by means of distance from what would destroy them, but sometimes by means of proximity thereto: for when the citizens are afraid, they hold firmly to the political order. Therefore those who think on behalf of the political order must contrive causes of fear, that the citizens may be on guard and like sentries at night not relax their watch; and they must make what is distant appear to be at hand.
Aristotle, Politics 1308a24–30
It is natural to reflect on human nature and the nature of political society by speculating about how humans were or would be outside of such society. In writing the first part of his Leviathan, 'Of Man', and looking forward to the second, 'Of Commonwealth', Hobbes includes a chapter 'Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, As Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery'. He famously determines that in such a condition there is much misery, and precious little felicity. The first part of Leviathan is devoted to the question of human nature, and although there are scattered references to people's reactions to one another, it is not until chapter xiii that Hobbes systematically reflects on how the human beings he has been describing would interact. Although it is generally regarded as the starting point of his political theory, Hobbes places his account of the natural condition (along with his analyses of the law of nature and personation, both of which have some place in the natural condition) squarely in his theory of man. This is brought out by Hobbes’s reference in Leviathan to ‘the natural condition of mankind’ rather than ‘the state of nature’.
In Foundations, Quentin Skinner presented a powerful interpretation of the origins of the modern Western understanding of popular sovereignty. With his customary clarity and erudition, Skinner began with the rise of government by the popolo in northern Italy early in the last millennium, and went on to show how the conception of popular sovereignty evolved via scores of thinkers: Bartolus, Marsilius and Gerson in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, for example; Goodman, Salamonius and Hotman in the sixteenth. Skinner's study of the development of the theory of popular sovereignty culminated with its articulation by Buchanan and Mariana in the later sixteenth century, which was ‘available to be used by all parties in the coming constitutional struggles of the seventeenth century’. In subsequent work, Skinner has shown in detail how elements of this theory of popular sovereignty were used in those struggles: not only by republicans, Levellers and moderate constitutionalists, but also by Thomas Hobbes, who opposed all of these groups.
In contrasting Hobbes with some of his contemporaries, Skinner has made much of Hobbes's sardonic characterisation of them as ‘democratical gentlemen’. A number of scholars have none the less claimed that Hobbes's own writings form the foundation of the modern theory of political democracy. The label of ‘democratical gentlemen’ is deliberately paradoxical, suggesting the untenability of a position that can be summed up by a contradiction in terms. Such incompatibility also inheres, I shall argue, in the position of the democratical Hobbesians.
That position incorporates and extends two commonplace claims.
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