“Trust” in Hobbes’s Political Thought

Political Theory 41 (6):0090591713499764 (2013)
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“Trust” is not usually considered a Hobbesian concept, which is odd since it is central to the definition of a covenant. The key to understanding Hobbes’s concept of trust is to be found in his account of conquest— “sovereignty by acquisition”—which is a heavily revised adaptation of the Roman justification of slavery. Hobbes introduces a distinction between servants, who are trusted with liberty, and imprisoned slaves. The servant/master relationship involves mutual trust, an ongoing exchange of benefits (protection for service and obedience), and performance monitoring. In contrast to Quentin Skinner’s and Philip Pettit’s shared concentration on the contrast between slavery and freedom, I argue that the salient analogy is between servants and subjects.The trust relationship between subjects and the sovereign involves defined roles, limited absolutism, and accountability in the early-modern form of licensing subjects to switch political allegiance should a regime fail



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