Hobbesian Political Paradoxes

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

In some work I’m doing currently on Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, I’m thinking about the following possible paradoxes

Hobbes defines civil government as what leaves the natural condition of humanity behind, but defines two ways in which a human community may establish a political sovereign:

the ‘natural’ road of accepting a conqueror as a sovereign.

the ‘political’ road of appointing a sovereign

Hobbes defines the traitor or rebel as someone who is punished according to the laws of nature, war, rather than civil law. However, the traitor can only be a traitor to a civil government which very likely has laws to deal with treason and rebellion, so why the resort to natural right?

Hobbes as just noted brings war into the relation between civil government and its subjects, but in doing so undermines the exclusion of war from the dominion of civil government to the field of relations between civil governments.

Hobbes argues that natural law should lead us to follow the covenant in which we agree to obey the sovereign, but that natural law only has existence in civil laws. There are no effective natural laws in nature, only the right to defend ourselves, which still applies in civil government if the sovereign threatens our life.

Hobbes argues that morality means using the names ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for things we like and things we do not like. However, he also argues that the sovereign defines what is good and evil through laws. Civil laws are presented as the means by which we solve conflicts about what is good and what is evil in the first definition, but does that avoid paradox in the definitions of morality?

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