Escaping Hobbes: Liberty and Security for Our Democratic (Not Anti-Terrorist) Age

23 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2010

See all articles by Conor A. Gearty

Conor A. Gearty

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: January 27, 2010


The terms ‘liberty’ and ‘security’ are analysed against a background of contemporary concerns about terrorism and the decline of freedom. The influence of Hobbes’s approach to liberty has been pervasive, and the effect of this has been to promote an approach to freedom which has been too willing to sacrifice individual liberty to the needs of the state. Republican attitudes to freedom have been likewise disinclined to allow the individual to get in the way of what the exigencies of the moment demand. The result of these two large-scale and important sets of historical ideas has been a democratic polity (in Britain and the US, but across the world, as well), which has been too consumed with (national) security and not sufficiently alive to the demands either of a broader kind of human security rooted in human flourishing or to the political liberty necessary to its achievement. The essay argues for a new reconciliation between liberty and security based on the language of human rights and manifested in, firstly, a wider approach to security (encompassing social and economic rights) and, secondly, a renewed commitment to the criminal law as the best means available for squaring security from harm with an unequivocal respect for the person, which must always be at the core of any human rights framework.

Suggested Citation

Gearty, Conor A., Escaping Hobbes: Liberty and Security for Our Democratic (Not Anti-Terrorist) Age (January 27, 2010). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 3/2010, Available at SSRN: or

Conor A. Gearty (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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