1

Hobbes famously declared that sovereignty must be absolute; his rationale being that if not, then exceptions not governed under its law will need arbitration by some higher power.

But this power may also not be absolute...this, then demonstrates grounds for an infinite regress; and given that such regresses are not possible, we lose the sense of sovereignty - for there may be some act which is not governed by any law of this sovereign power; and this is against the proper sense of sovereignty.

First: is this a reasonable summary of this aspect of sovereignty in the sense of Hobbes?

This suggests that the 'divine right of kings' follows this notion; given that the deity is absolute in power; and this is distinct from its sacral dimension.

Q. Is this correct?

  • 1
    Many modern critics observe that it may be difficult to tease out Hobbes' meanings in a precarious, religious-political world when using terms like "divine." We can be fairly sure that his sense of this "right" was not strictly genealogical or theological. What then is the source and acting medium of this "power"? I don't know, but given his entrancement with geometry perhaps he simply brackets the axioms and works backward from the pragmatic consequences. – Nelson Alexander Sep 8 '15 at 2:03
2

It is true that Hobbes held that sovereignity without absolute power is not a sovereignity in the true sense of the word. However, this is marginal. Hobbes was not much concerned with formal problems, like the sense of sovereignity or infinite regresses. He was more concerned with the concrete prospects of war and violence. His substantial argument was that without an arbitrator with decisive power, violence and treachery are imminent everywhere, and life becomes insufferable.

The only way to erect such a Common Power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of Forraigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort, as that by their owne industrie, and by the fruites of the Earth, they may nourish themselves and live contentedly; is, to conferre all their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, by plurality of voices, unto one Will. (Leviathan, "The Generation Of A Common-wealth")

The divine right of kings when it is accepted by the people is indeed a powerful factor of stability, in Hobbes' sense. However, although Hobbes defended absolute sovereignity, he  decidedly did not recognize the divine right of kings. He argued that such a status existed only in the special circumstances of the biblical Jewish nation. There was no basis, Hobbes argued, for a similar status among Christians. Religious ministers ought to have no say in political matters. This is supposedly reflected also in Christ's own instruction to his followers to submit themselves to whoever is the prevailing ruler, even an infidel.

Another Argument, that the Ministers of Christ in this present world have no right of Commanding, may be drawn from the lawfull Authority which Christ hath left to all Princes, as well Christians, as Infidels. (Leviathan, "From The Authority Christ Hath Left To Civill Princes")

  • Given the times that Hobbes was living in, this somehow doesn't surprise me; Does Hobbes actually quote the New Testament there? The phrase 'render to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods' occurs to me in that context. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 8 '15 at 9:52
  • 1
    @MoziburUllah Hobbes does qoute there from the New Testament, e.g. "Submit your selves to every Ordinance of Man, for the Lords sake, whether it bee to the King, as Supreme, or unto Governours, as to them that be sent by him for the punishment of evill doers, and for the praise of them that doe well; for so is the will of God." – Ram Tobolski Sep 8 '15 at 20:23
  • 1
    @MoziburUllah Hobbes mentions the Caesar quote in a slightly different context, of taxes and such. – Ram Tobolski Sep 8 '15 at 20:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.