Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 March 2003
This article follows Hobbes's distinction between man as the artificer of a commonwealth and man as the material of the commonwealth, by exploring the meaning of natural right and consent from the perspective of an artificer or potential sovereign. From this perspective, natural rights are transformed from alleged attributes of humans into decisions by a victor in war to treat the defeated as if they had natural rights. Similarly, consent is transformed from actions of subjects or citizens into a decision by a victor to recognize the defeated as if they had a right to consent and to treat them as if they had consented. Moreover, Hobbes's concept of a commonwealth by institution is understood as a definitional standard for the creation of commonwealths by force or acquisition, rather than as a possible historical event. Hobbes sought to explain and substantiate this view of natural right and consent by comparing the emergence of political authority from victory in war to the emergence of authority of a mother over her infant in a state of nature. According to Hobbes, just as maternal authority rests on a mother's recognition of the right of her infant to consent, political authority rests on the victor's recognition of the right of the defeated to consent. The practical policy thrust of Hobbes's thought emerges from his comparison of the authority of mothers and conquerors.