Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory

By Gabriella Slomp | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
The Ideology of Political Geometry

Introduction

For he alone [the head of state] is not a member of the commonwealth, but its creator or preserver, and he alone is authorised to coerce others without being subject to any coercive law himself ... For if he too could be coerced, he would not be the head of state, and the hierarchy of subordination would ascend infinitely. But if there were two persons exempt from coercion, neither would be subject to coercive laws, and neither could do to the other anything contrary to right, which is impossible.

An innocent undergraduate asked to guess the paternity of this quotation could be forgiven for ascribing it to Hobbes (often described in textbooks as the 'apologist of Absolutism'), whereas, of course, it is a remark by Kant to be found in a section of Theory and Practice interestingly entitled 'Against Hobbes'. 1

Although Absolutism is the political ideology to which Hobbes is most commonly associated, different interpreters have seen in Hobbes the origin of the most diverse ideological positions. He has been portrayed as a spokesman of the rising bourgeoisie of the 17th century ( Macpherson), as a moralist ( Warrender), as a Christian moralist ( Martinich), as a socialist who believed that inequality and private property are social constructs ( Tönnies), as an ideologist of law and order ( Preston King), as a proto-liberal and one of the founders of the idea of the welfare state ( Kavka), as a conservative ( Bobbio), as a theorist of the sexual contract and of the political subjugation of women ( Pateman), to name but a few.

Indeed, throughout Hobbes's works one can find statements that might seem to support all of the above definitions, as well as other remarks that would seem to refute them all conclusively.

The aim of this final chapter is twofold: on the one hand, I wish to show that the attempt to pigeon-hole Hobbes's thought in a single ideological box is an almost impossible exercise; on the other hand, I suggest that if we want to single out the prevailing ideological

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