Hobbes, in his political writing, is generally understood to be arguing for absolutism. I argue that despite apparently supporting absolutism, Hobbes, in Leviathan, also undermines that absolutism in at least two and possibly three ways. First, he makes sovereignty conditional upon the sovereign’s ability to ensure the safety of the people. Second and crucially, he argues that subjects have inalienable rights, rights that are held even against the sovereign. When the subjects’ preservation is threatened they are no longer obliged to (...) obey the sovereign. Third, there is also a possible limitation on the absolute power of the sovereign in the form of restrictions Hobbes puts in place on what laws he may legitimately make. Finally, Hobbesian absolutism is compared to the absolutism of Carl Schmitt. This exercise demonstrates the limitations that Hobbes places on the power and authority of the sovereign. (shrink)
'There are no substantive rights for subjects in Hobbes's political theory, only bare freedoms without correlated duties to protect them'. This orthodoxy of Hobbes scholarship and its Hohfeldian assumptions are challenged by Curran who develops an argument that Hobbes provides claim rights for subjects against each other and (indirect) protection of the right to self-preservation by sovereign duties. The underlying theory, she argues, is not a theory of natural rights but rather, a modern, secular theory of rights, with something to (...) offer current discussions in rights theory. (shrink)
The received view in Thomas Hobbes scholarship is that theindividual rights described by Hobbes in his political writings andspecifically in Leviathan are simple freedoms or libertyrights, that is, rights that are not correlated with duties orobligations on the part of others. In other words, it is usually arguedthat there are no claim rights for individuals in Hobbes''s politicaltheory. This paper argues, against that view, that Hobbes does describeclaim rights, that they come into being when individuals conform to thesecond law of (...) nature and that they are genuine moral claim rights, thatis, rights that are the ground of the obligations of others to forebearfrom interfering with their exercise. This argument is defended againstboth Jean Hampton''s and Howard Warrender''s interpretations of rights inHobbes''s theory. The paper concludes that the theory of rightsunderlying Hobbes''s writing is not taken from Natural Law but isprobably closer to a modern interest theory of rights. (shrink)
Hobbes says a great deal about the rights of subjects, particularly in Leviathan, and yet, despite his apparent insistence on the importance of the rights of the subject, the prevailing view amongst modern Hobbes scholars has been that rights of Hobbesian subjects are weak. The dominant view of Hobbesian rights as weak and insignificant is the view of modern Hobbes scholarship, which analyses Hobbes's political theory at great distance from his intellectual milieu and from the dramatic political events of the (...) time. Hobbesian absolutism is understood to rule out rights of any strength or significance on the part of Hobbesian subjects and particularly, any rights held against the sovereign. The significance of defining subjects' rights as Hohfeldian liberty rights is that liberty rights lack any correlative duties on the part of others. The sovereign's authority and right to rule are made dependent on his ability and willingness to protect the subjects' aggregate right to self‐preservation. (shrink)
This book takes a new look at the history of individual rights, focusing on how philosophers have written that history. Eleanor Curran argues that the turn to jurisprudence, after the philosophical rejection of natural rights, has resulted in an impoverished notion of rights as no more than claims and entitlements.
Recent work in Hobbes scholarship has raised again the subject of Hobbes's notion of liberty. In this paper, I examine Hobbes's use of the notion of liberty, particularly in his theory of rights. I argue that in describing the rights that individuals hold, Hobbes is employing "liberty" to cover more than the famously restrictive definition of the "absence of external impediments" and that this broader understanding of liberty should not be put down to simple inconsistency on Hobbes's part. In the (...) second part of the paper, I look at the Hohfeldian analysis of rights and at the tendency to see the notion of a claim as foundational for rights, which for some, is a legacy of that analysis. I argue that there are disadvantages to this and suggest that the notion of liberty may be a more useful one than that of a claim to ground our understanding of rights. (shrink)
It is often argued that Hobbes’s arguments for natural and political equality are used instrumentally. This paper does not argue against the instrumental arguments but seeks to broaden the discussion; to analyse aspects of Hobbes’s arguments and comments on equality that are often ignored. In the context of the anti-egalitarian arguments of leading contemporary royalist commentators, Hobbes’s arguments and remarks are strikingly egalitarian. The paper argues, first, that there is an ideological disagreement between Hobbes and leading royalists on equality. Second, (...) that Hobbes believes in natural equality as well as using the arguments for equality instrumentally. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that we should look to Hobbes rather than to Locke as providing a philosophical forerunner of modern and current rights theories and further, that Hobbes’s theory has relevance to and ‘speaks to’ current philosophical and jurisprudential analysis of the foundations of rights, in a way that Locke’s theory cannot. First, I summarise the argument that Hobbes does have a substantive theory of individual rights. Second, I argue that the project undertaken by A. J. Simmons, to (...) ‘reconstruct’ Locke’s theory of rights without the theological premises, cannot succeed. Locke’s theory of natural rights is thoroughly dependent on its theological premises. Third, I argue that Hobbes’s theory of rights is not dependent on theological premises. Finally, I try to illustrate the ways in which Hobbes’s theory is still relevant and useful for current debates within rights theory. (shrink)