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Chapter 6 - Property and Despotic Sovereignty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2019

Robin Douglass
Affiliation:
King's College London
Johan Olsthoorn
Affiliation:
Universiteit van Amsterdam
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Summary

In this chapter I seek to show that in On the Citizen Hobbes completes a conceptually coherent defense of despotic sovereignty, in a manner not previously appreciated. I will do so by presenting a novel reading of Hobbes’s treatment of the nature of property. I will suggest that ownership consists in having preeminent power with a natural right to exercise that power. On that basis, I shall argue, Hobbes is entitled to conclude that sovereigns, by virtue of their sovereignty, necessarily and fully own their subjects and all they possess. Sovereigns own their subjects and everything they possess because they rule over them with preeminent power and (at a minimum) a natural right to exercise that power. On the Citizen thus contains a philosophically coherent account of why all sovereignty is necessarily despotic. Perhaps even more importantly, it provides him access to a very powerful, but profoundly illiberal, argument against the existence of property titles of citizens against their sovereign: it is a conceptual truth, on Hobbes’s conception of property, that the sovereign owns everything in the commonwealth that can be owned.

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Hobbes's On the Citizen
A Critical Guide
, pp. 108 - 125
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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