LSE Visit Day Government Department Taster Lecture Must the Sovereign be Absolute? Professor Paul Kelly

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1 LSE Visit Day Government Department Taster Lecture Must the Sovereign be Absolute? Professor Paul Kelly 1

2 Aims and Objectives Lecture based on Lecture 12 of GV 100 one of two compulsory introductory courses. Introduce you to the ideas of Thomas Hobbes 1. The Problem of Politics 2. State of Nature and Contract Method 3. Account of Sovereign To draw some conclusions from Hobbes theory. 2

3 Thomas Hobbes ( ) Born Malmesbury Wiltshire Educated at Oxford Hobbes worked as a free-lance scholar in residence to the Aristocratic Cavendish family the Duke of Devonshire published Leviathan 3

4 The State of Nature 1. Egoism desire for self-preservation as fear of violent death. 2. Scarcity 3. Diffidence suspicion (not timidity) 4. Glory-seeking Being better than one s neighbour 5. Natural Equality All this equals War of all against all. Society is NOT natural, war IS natural. Because of this we create the state. Civility depends on Political Society. Hobbes project: how can men live together, given that their temperaments and circumstances do not predispose them to peace? His central argument is this: people should contract with one another to entrust the task of judging what is right and wrong to a sovereign on whom very extensive powers are conferred. Hobbes defends absolutism but NOT divine right of Kings. What we find is that political communities are not natural but are resolvable into individuals. Thus political society must be an artificial construction to provide goods that individuals cannot provide alone. Chief among these is security/stability on which all else rests. This is a rejection of the main plank of pre-modern political theory since Aristotle and one shared by Aquinas society is natural and a reflection of our natures. Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where everyman is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short. Chap 13. 4

5 Natural Law 19 laws of nature in all, 3 are Really Important Preserve yourself Seek Peace When others are willing to do so Keep agreements These are coupled with the Right of Nature to do all one needs in order to preserve oneself. This is a natural motivation but also one that is not bounded by a duty. Dictates of reason but without a sanction or punishment for non compliance. 5

6 The Original Contract The wording of the agreement. I Authorize and give up my Right of Governing my selfe, to this Man, or to this Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy Right to him, and Authorize all his Actions in like manner. (Chap, XVI ) The agreement is NOT with the sovereign, it is between each one of us to authorise the sovereign. In authorising the Sovereign we make his actions ours. If we found ourselves in a state of nature we would leave it 6

7 The Powers of the Sovereign 1. No individual can judge the Sovereign without acting unjustly. 2. Whatever the Sovereign does CANNOT injure his subjects. 3. Whatever the Sovereign does cannot be punished by subjects. 4. Sovereign is the sole judge of what is necessary for peace of his subjects. 7. He is the sole and final judge on all controversies. 8. He decides all rewards and punishments. 7

8 Conclusion Must Sovereignty be absolute? Hobbes answer is yes. This claim is both prudential and logical without an absolute power of the state we would be in a mess. Look at failed states. But he also draws our attention to the logical point of authority. Authority is derived from a people not imposed from above so there is no legitimate political authority outside a state or political community. Yet current experience (Libya) suggests that we are uncomfortable with such absolutism but find it difficult to dismiss the idea of state s rights and legitimate jurisdiction. Political Scientists examine three things: Ideas, interests and institutions. Studying political ideas is part of the broader study of politics. Are they merely historically contingent? Quentin Skinner argues that we must examine political ideas in their linguistic context in order to appreciate their true meaning. So political ideas are really part of history and only relevant for that reason. Marx also suggests that political ideas are epiphenomena of real political forces which are material. To be focused on ideas is to miss the real point of political conflict. This view leads to crass cultural relativism rights, liberties, value concepts etc are all culturally relative and merely matters of opinion. I think Marx is mistaken ideas have a more complex role in shaping how we understand politics. They are not simply structures within which we are forced to act but also open up opportunities for agency. We can see this in the way in which they shape the architecture of politics this is revealed in the debates about the size of the state. Big Society is concerned with competences the things the state does, but not with the limits of authority. Left and Right are beginning to think the state should be smaller but are they happy with it being subordinate to external authorities. We can see this in debates about Libya and the UN, the authority of corrupt regimes and the extent to which regimes must respond to their people. Hobbes presents us with a way of understanding the modern state but he also defends its unlimited power as necessary. Hobbes is one side of a debate in which we are currently still locked. 8

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