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CPP Lecture New Foundations in Hobbes's Leviathan

Thursday 16 September 2021
Matthew Hoye

New Foundations in Hobbes's Leviathan

There is almost no dispute regarding the outlines of Hobbes’s theory of new foundations in Leviathan (1651). The descriptive arc runs from the state of war (Chapter xiii), through the discussion of the natural laws (xiv and xv), representation (xvi), and the causes and generation of new commonwealths (xvii), finally concluding with the discussions of different kinds of regimes (xviii-xx). Conspicuously, the standard model does not register that Hobbes’s discussion of new foundations starts in xii, not xiii. This is no small oversight, at least so I will argue. For one, xii contains Hobbes’s first and most detailed reflections on the politics of new foundations. More importantly, that account posits that new foundations depend on exceptionally wise, sincere, loving, and revelatory leaders who can unite the multitude into a commonwealth without threatening violence, instead instantiating justice before the creation of a commonwealth. Hobbes’s founder is strikingly non-Hobbesian. The first goal of this presentation is to explicate this theory of new foundations in xii. Is xii an aberration? Or does that theory of new foundations carry forward to his political science in general? Three counterarguments grounded in three axioms of Hobbes’s interpretation attest to xii being aberrational and not carrying forward, they are: (1) natural human equality, (2) that justice cannot exist before the commonwealth, and (3) that Hobbes’s distinction between commonwealths by institution and conquest is insignificant, both reduced to the common denominator of fear of violent death. Either xii is aberrational, or it is integral but the axioms do not hold. If the latter, then fundamental aspects of Leviathan—including the very nature of sovereignty, justice, morality, and regimes—need to be rethought. I aim for the impossible: to show that the text of Leviathan supports the latter.


I am a political theorist working on topics in the history of ideas and contemporary political theory. I have three major lines of research. The first is on Thomas Hobbes, focusing on various topics all gravitating towards the question of virtue. The second is on republicanism, often focusing on migration. The third is on remittances and global justice. I teach at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University.


About the Center for Political Philosophy (CPP) Colloquia Series

The CPP is a collaboration between the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute for Political Science at Leiden University. Attendance of the Colloquia is free and there is no need to register. See CPP for more information. For further questions please contact dr. Wouter Kalf at w.f.kalf@hum.leidenuniv.nl

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