The Sovereign as Agent in Hobbes' Political Theory

Dissertation, University of South Florida (1995)

Authors
Nancy Stanlick
University of Central Florida
Abstract
In contrast to most interpretations of Hobbes, I suggest that his discussion of conditions in the state of nature would lead to the institution of limited sovereignty. I argue that individuals in the state of nature as Hobbes describes them are capable of distinguishing and rationally choosing between types of contracts and would choose an open-ended but limited contract for governmental services managed by what R.H. Coase calls an "agent." ;Hobbes holds that the sovereign must be absolute due to the quarrelsome and isolated nature of human beings. His formal argument is that there is no significant association or political experience among individuals in the natural state, and due to the propensity of human beings to seek power, cooperation is impossible without the force of an absolute sovereign to guarantee compliance with agreements. I argue, however, that there is another account of the nature of human association in the work of Hobbes. It is the "material account," showing that there is association creating "political education" in the natural state. People in that condition can and do make binding, meaningful agreements. ;If substantive agreements can be made in the state of nature, government contracts are to be understood as incomplete, not completely or explicitly specifying rules, procedures, laws or duties of either sovereigns or subjects. An incomplete government contract implies creation of a non-absolute sovereign agent who would be a manager of resources rather than an absolute determinant of law, morality, and justice. ;Economically rational human beings will attempt to satisfy efficiently changing desires, so absolute sovereignty cannot be the solution to the problems of the natural state. The price of absolute sovereignty is too high since people do not require an absolute sovereign to achieve their goals, but rather the management capacity of a political expert to guide them. I conclude that the most rational and logically consistent form of sovereignty, using Hobbes' principles of social organization and the nature of man, is a limited sovereign agent managing resources through an incomplete social contract
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