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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 2: The theory of sovereignty


According to Hobbes (Elements of Philosophy), philosophy deals either with natural bodies (De corpore, 1656), in which case it is natural philosophy, either with artificial bodies, in which case it is civil philosophy (De Homine, 1658, De Cive, 1642). In the study of natural bodies, Hobbes was influenced by the physics of Descartes, which dominated the European thought at that time. Concerning the study of artificial bodies, like states and communities, the Cartesian method requires the consideration of the “elements” of these bodies, which are human individuals with their instincts, passions and reasons. If the science is science of constitutive causes, as Aristotle have pointed out in the age of the Greeks, in the time of mechanistic science this universal condition requires to explain how the various parts and elements are put together and work mechanically as a whole. With respect to civil bodies, this methodological standpoint requires to consider the elements as if they were free and independent or, in other words, as if there would not be composite bodies which are called “commonwealths”. Thus the hypothesis of the state of nature and its moral correlate – the doctrine about the natural laws – follow from a methodological assumption. It is for this reason that Hobbes put together the new Cartesian methodology and the old reflection on natural law initiated by the Stoics and the Roman jurists; however, this old reflection has been already reformulated by the school of natural law, so that Hobbes retake the modern version of...

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