The Hobbesian Predicament: The Right of Self-Preservation and Military Conscription

22 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2011 Last revised: 15 Apr 2011

See all articles by Daniel Petri

Daniel Petri

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 13, 2011


This paper examines the tensions between Hobbes' arguments for self-preservation and the powers he ascribes to the Sovereign, especially the authority to call for military conscription. Does conscription contradict Hobbes’ claim about the absolute right of individual self-preservation? This paper explores the complexities of Hobbes’ position on military conscription. The first part of this paper will explore Hobbes’ arguments for the natural right of self preservation and his arguments for military conscription. Then I will examine the arguments by Leo Strauss and Gabriella Slomp that military conscription is in direct violation of the natural right of self-preservation; additionally, self-preservation is an expression of Hobbesian rationality, virtue and justice. Finally, returning to the text of the Leviathan, I will dissect the dedicatory epistle and conclusion which both contain praise of Sidney Godolphin, and I will discuss how Hobbes’ praise of Godolphin flushes out Hobbes’ thoughts on the question of civic duty (military conscription) versus self-preservation. Ultimately, I argue that military conscription is not inconsistent with self-preservation because the commonwealth is the vehicle through which peace and self-preservation are attained.

Suggested Citation

Petri, Daniel, The Hobbesian Predicament: The Right of Self-Preservation and Military Conscription (April 13, 2011). Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Daniel Petri (Contact Author)

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