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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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As John Rawls has pointed out, the modern moral and political philosophy begins with Hobbes, and with the reaction to Hobbes. Usually there is a tendency to oppose Thomas Hobbes to the liberal thinkers and to consider him as the theoretician of the unlimited political power. Nevertheless the main problem is similar in Hobbes’s theory as well as in liberal theory, their common question being: how is the rational freedom possible and how to guarantee the exercise of civic duties of citizens? This is the reason why we should consider the opposition between Hobbes and liberals as not to being found in their aspirations, since both theories aim for a society in which individuals enjoy their freedom without expose to danger the safety of their fellows. The opposition is merely to be found at the level of means of action which are considered for attaining this objective: unlimited political power versus limited political power. Hobbes and the entire liberal view consider that a liberal political society must be founded on moral facts and properties. These moral resources, which are not necessarily of religious inspiration, are coming from the foro interno of individuals and prevent them from doing certain actions. But the individual moral sense is not efficient and sufficient in all the circumstances to insure the stability of any given society. For this reason, it is necessary to impose some external limits which are able to compel the individuals to respect some moral rules, and this action is...

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