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States of Nature and Social Contracts

The Metaphors of the Liberal Order

Kevin Dooley

This book examines the most significant metaphors of modern political philosophy: the state of nature and the social contract. Each of the main chapters is dedicated to the political theory of the different social contract thinkers and the ways they articulated the uniquely liberal view of equality and freedom. The last chapter, unique to most books that explore the social contract, highlights the recent challenges to these views. It is this balance between accepted contractarian ideas and their critiques that makes this book a unique contribution to the field of political philosophy.

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Chapter One: Thomas Hobbes: The State of Nature as a State of War: The Actor and the Authors


By the middle of the sixteenth century, trade, technological advancements, urbanization, and a population boom had begun to shake the traditional trappings of power and to lay the groundwork for a restructuring of international relations. International trade and a primitive form of capitalism had changed the way states conducted business. States needed to grow their economies to deal with the pressures of emerging markets and competitive prices. As a result, large cities sprang up which fomented a population boom throughout most of Western Europe and further perpetuated the need for greater wealth. These large cities reflected the administrative power of the emerging modern state and its commitment to trade and economic growth. Thus, it is not an accident that some of Europe’s largest cities were also its most lucrative commercial ports. Cities like Venice, Livorno, Seville, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London, Bremen, and Hamburg redefined the way trade was conducted and came to exemplify this commitment to competition and economic growth.1 The medieval city—with its smaller population, specialized guilds and craftsmen, and unique cultural and economic attributes had become unsustainable.2 The new, larger cities were dedicated to the realization of the primary goal of the modern Western European state: the accumulation of national wealth. Through exploration, trade, and technological advancements the ←13 | 14→modern city, housed within the emergent modern state was creating an abundance of wealth, but also an environment that propelled Europe into imperialism and warfare.

In 1585, Europe witnessed the first of many wars among...

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