A clash of swords: civil peace and the counteracting role of defence in Thomas Hobbes's theory of sovereignty.
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This thesis will inquire into the practicable strategies that Thomas Hobbes described in his major works of political philosophy, on the one hand, to allow his sovereign to ensure civil peace, and on the other, to enable his sovereign to defend the commonwealth. In terms of civil peace, the exercise of Hobbes’s sovereign’s ‘absolute’ authority is tempered by, and contingent on, its practical efficacy for securing and maintaining a peaceful commonwealth. To that end, I will argue that Hobbes’s sovereign is obliged to rule according to the natural laws, and entailed in this obligation are coinciding liberties which Hobbes believed that subjects must perceive themselves to possess, and which sovereigns must respect, in order for peace to be realised. However, rather than situating the purpose of Hobbes’s project in terms of civil peace alone—as the vast majority of his interpreters have—I consider alongside the purpose of civil peace, and contrast it with, the purpose of defence. Evident from this comparison is that the means by which Hobbes’s sovereign must ensure the capability of the commonwealth to defend itself from foreign nations simultaneously undermines and counteracts his otherwise proto-liberal system. Distinct from other prominent interpretations, I will argue that this ambivalence is not a result of an imbalance between subjects’ rights contra sovereign’s rights, nor yet of an unsupervised agonistic counter-balance between the two. Instead, the affirmation of subjects’ inalienable rights are depicted by Hobbes as a practically ineffective means by which to ensure defence. There exists a necessary ambivalence within Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty itself and is to be managed solely according to the sovereign’s ideally prudent and practicable judgment. Ultimately, I will characterize Hobbes as arguing that the unfortunate necessity of preparedness for foreign defensive wars is best mitigated by the sovereign’s prudent and minimal exercise of the commonwealth’s power in carrying out this intended purpose.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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