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This chapter identifies and explains three important changes in Hobbes’s religious arguments from The Elements of Law to On the Citizen. First, Hobbes comes to focus more on religious and scriptural matters, devoting a greater amount of space to them in On the Citizen than in Elements of Law. Second, Hobbes’s argumentative strategy evolves. He multiplies independent lines of argument for the same central claims. Third, the content of Hobbes’s arguments changes. In On the Citizen, he takes a Hebraic turn, offering a new and detailed discussion of the Israelite kingdom of God and relying far more heavily on scriptural evidence from the Old Testament. In each case, these changes can be explained by the changing political context in England and Hobbes’s increasing sensitivity to the challenges of religious pluralism.
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.
There are three distinct moments in the trajectory of natural right in On the Citizen. The first occurs when Hobbes makes the argument for the right of nature and then claims that it amounts to the “right to all things” in the state of nature. The second moment happens when Hobbes offers an account of how this expansive right is given up and an argument for why a person cannot be obligated by an agreement not to resist death. The third moment comes in where Hobbes takes up the question of the scope and limits of political obligation. In this last instance he extends the account of when people can disobey the sovereign to include disobedience to dishonorable commands, in particular a command to kill a parent, which a person need not obey. Over the course of On the Citizen, then, natural right expands, contracts, and expands again. This chapter demonstrates that this fluctuation in Hobbes’s articulation of natural right sets the stage for a particularly curious thought experiment that he offers in the guise of a parricide example. I argue that this thought experiment underscores a tension that remains unresolved in On the Citizen.
Thomas Hobbes claims that he set political philosophy on its proper footing for the first time in On the Citizen. We examine the opening argument (1.1-1.2), in which Hobbes seeks to remove and replace the longstanding Aristotelian foundation, that human beings are political animals. Hobbes associates this idea with the view that human society is made possible by “mutual love” and a desire for association for its own sake. We argue that Hobbes is particularly targeting the Nicomachean Ethics on philia (friendship or love) and its role in the polis. One might nonetheless doubt that Hobbes’s arguments were at all successful. Although Hobbes certainly takes pleasure in portraying Aristotle’s views in a maximally absurd light, we show that Hobbes’s argument is more sophisticated than it first appears, and that it brings out genuine difficulties for Aristotle’s view. Finally, we consider Hobbes’s revisitation of the idea of “political animals” in a later section of On the Citizen. What emerges from this discussion is that Hobbes’s disagreement with Aristotle does not only – perhaps, not primarily – concern the nature of human motivation, but rather the essence of politics. The idea of a naturally political animal turns out to be an oxymoron.
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.
Hobbes clearly and consistently maintains that we have a duty to love and fear God. However, he also problematizes love of God and, by implication, other passions putatively directed “to Godward.” We lack any conception of God, and therefore cannot love God in any literal sense. Moreover, even if love of God were psychologically possible, it is not clear that it would be appropriate, since love is apt only when someone is good to us. Love also requires wishing for the wellbeing of the beloved, which is absurd in the case of God. Similar arguments apply to fear of God. I examine the way in which Hobbes deals with this tension in On the Citizen. Without being explicit about what he is doing, Hobbes effectively redefines "love" and "fear" in the case of God, so that they are exhaustively constituted by obedience to the laws of nature, and not by any sort of feeling or affective attitude.
This chapter introduces the main themes of the volume and sets out its overarching goals: to bring On the Citizen out of the shadow of Leviathan and to show that it is a valuable and distinctive philosophical work in its own right. We proceed by outlining the publication history of On the Citizen and charting its reception history in early-modern European thought, before turning to consider some of the distinctive methodological features and challenges that the text raises for understanding Hobbes’s philosophy. The chapter finishes by summarizing the main contributions of all subsequent chapters.
In Leviathan, Hobbes uses his new theory of authorization to explain the nature of corporate persons. While On the Citizen lacks the theory of authorization, it includes several accounts of corporate persons. In On the Citizen, Hobbes suggests that a group forms a corporate person when its members accept obligations to support a sovereign, when the members are all compelled to act in concert, or when the members of the group adopt voting rules for making decisions. Hobbes also uses his analysis of the commonwealth as a corporate person to argue for the sovereign’s immunity in On the Citizen much as he does in Leviathan. Generally speaking, the Leviathan account of corporate persons is superior to the ones in On the Citizen. However, Hobbes needs the voting rules account from On the Citizen in order to explain how democratic and aristocratic assemblies can serve as sovereigns. Since he tries to replace the voting rules account with the authorization account in Leviathan, this raises a problem for him that he does not appreciate.
In On the Citizen, Hobbes describes two kinds of covenants. The first are covenants among human beings, most importantly sovereign-making covenants, which create human sovereigns. The second kind are the major biblical covenants, which have God as a party. Hobbes follows the traditional interpretation of biblical covenants, according to which God is a party to them with Abraham, the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, and all humanity. Ironically, his theory had the resources to give a single account of both kinds of covenants. He could have said that God accepted the transfer of rights from humans. So Hobbes treats the biblical covenants involving God and human beings differently from ordinary sovereign-making covenants. He does not say why or discuss any relationship that may exist between the two kinds. Another odd feature of Hobbes’s handling of biblical concepts is that while the covenant with Abraham is a new covenant, the ones with Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus in some way renew Abraham’s. A significant common element between ordinary sovereign-making covenants and the central biblical ones is faith.
In On the Citizen, Hobbes depends on the claim that right reason is a part of human nature. Right reason figures in definitions there of natural right and natural law, and Hobbes depends upon the fact that we each possess right reason in arguing that each of us can know the laws of nature. The theories of motivation, reason, and the good in On the Citizen share a great deal with their counterparts in the Elements of Law and Leviathan. In this respect, though, On the Citizen stands out. Hobbes does not depend upon right reason in a similar way in either of these other texts: in the Elements of Law he claims that right reason is “not existent,” and in Leviathan he contends that we lack a “right reason constituted by nature.” This essay describes Hobbes's accounts of motivation, reason, and the good in On the Citizen; documents this distinguishing feature of the text; and offers reasons for the conclusion that Hobbes's account of right reason there is not sincere.
Hobbes’s On the Citizen discussed religion and church-state relations less fully than his later Leviathan. In Leviathan, he trenchantly attacked theories which granted the clergy power that was independent from that of the state and its sovereign. In On the Citizen, he expressed his views with greater moderation and circumspection. Modern scholars debate whether Hobbes changed his ideas or just his tone between the two books. This chapter discusses the evidence for and against the claim that On the Citizen put forward relatively conventional views on the relationship between the powers of the state and the church, and that it was only in Leviathan that he abandoned a theory that was close to orthodox Anglicanism, and characteristic of royalists at the time of the English Civil War. The chapter examines what Hobbes said in On the Citizen, and also discusses the ideas of some of his contemporaries. It notes that the book soon encountered criticism for its contentions concerning religion and church-state relations, and especially for granting the sovereign too great power over the church and the clergy. It argues that the theory presented in On the Citizen is not so very distant from that which Hobbes espoused in Leviathan.
This is the first book-length study in English of Thomas Hobbes's On the Citizen. It aims to show that On the Citizen is a valuable and distinctive philosophical work in its own right, and not merely a stepping-stone toward the more famous Leviathan. The volume comprises twelve original essays, written by leading Hobbes scholars, which explore the most important themes of the text: Hobbes's accounts of human nature, moral motivation, and political obligation; his theories of property, sovereignty, and the state; and, finally, his ideas on the relation between secular and ecclesiastical authority, and the politics behind his religious ideas. Taken together, the essays bring to light many distinctive aspects of Hobbes's thought that are often concealed by the prevailing focus on Leviathan, making for a richer and more nuanced picture of his moral, legal, and political philosophy.
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