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Hobbes's contribution to international thought, and the contribution of international thought to Hobbes

Boucher, David 2015. Hobbes's contribution to international thought, and the contribution of international thought to Hobbes. History of European Ideas 41 (1) , pp. 29-48.

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Abstract

The aim of this article is to explore in what respects Thomas Hobbes may be regarded as foundational in international thought. It is evident that in contemporary international relations theory he has become emblematic of a realist tradition, but as David Armitage suggests this was not always the case. I want to suggest that it is only in a very limited sense that he may be regarded as a foundational thinker in international relations, and for reasons very different from those for which he has become infamous. In the early histories of international thought Hobbes is a cameo figure completely eclipsed by Grotius. In early histories of political literature, the classic jurists were often acknowledged for their remarkable contributions to international relations, but Hobbes is referred to exclusively as a philosopher of a positvist ethics and absolute sovereignty. It is among the jurists themselves that Hobbes is believed to have made important conceptual moves which set the problems for international thought for the next three centuries. He conflates natural law and the law of nations, arguing that they differ only in their subjects—the former individuals, the latter nations or states. This entailed transforming the sovereign into an artificial man, not in the Roman Law sense of an entity capable of suing and being sued; rather, as a subject not party to a contract, but created by a contract among individuals who confer upon it authority. This subject is not constrained by the contractors, but is, as individuals were in the state of nature, constrained by the equivalent of natural law, the law of nations in the international context. Throughout, the methodological implications are drawn for modern historians of political thought and political philosophers who venture to theorise about international relations.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 08:57
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/88398

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