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From the Natural Man to the Political Machine

Sovereignty and Power in the Works of Thomas Hobbes

Gabriela Ratulea

It is unusual to connect Thomas Hobbes’s political philosophy with liberal thought. This study argues that liberal philosophy is indeed indebted to Hobbes: as a modern thinker he was the first to deduce political rights and obligations from self-interest. While we may say today that Hobbes sustains the capacity of government at the expense of democratic institutions, it is equally clear that he invented the idea of political legitimacy in the modern sense. Analyzing the tradition of natural law, the doctrine of social contract, and the sources of moral and political obligation, the study shows how Hobbes’ assumptions help us to understand that there is no liberty without political authority.
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Chapter 1: Hobbes in context


In order to understand Hobbes’s political philosophy, we need to relate it, on the one hand, to the tradition of political and moral philosophy, and on the other hand, to Hobbes’s attempt at the philosophy of nature. As far as the first matter is concerned, Leo Strauss has pointed out that Hobbes founds his criticism of traditional political philosophy on a prior agreement with it. This is about the fact that Hobbes shares the belief of ancient thinkers that political philosophy can be founded on natural law. According to philosophical tradition, “the law is fundamentally distinguished from the pleasant and is by nature preferable to it; or, there is a natural law that is wholly independent of any human compact or convention; or, there is a best political order which is best because it is according to nature.”3 For Hobbes however, human nature is neither political nor social, the “conformity” of the political order with human law is reduced to the necessity of the first, being deduced from the latter by virtue of an anterior principle, namely the necessity of self-preservation for every living being. According to Leo Strauss, Hobbes’s conception of human nature is close to that of Epicure, in the sense that it defines the individual good as an accomplishment of that which is agreeable. If man is antisocial, human nature would be defined as the seeking of good in the sensual pleasure, since there is no moral law which stipulates the limitation of actions...

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