Hobbes’s Relational Theory: Beneath Power and Consent
HOBBES AND THE LAW, D. Dyzenhaus & T. Poole, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012
36 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2011 Last revised: 21 Sep 2017
Date Written: December 21, 2011
Hobbes is widely regarded as the leading architect of the social contract tradition. The social contract rests on the consent of the contractors, so it is not surprising that Hobbes is viewed as a consent theorist. But at various junctures Hobbes suggests, with the de facto theorists of his day, that effective governmental power is a sufficient basis for public authority and the subject’s duty to obey. I argue that Hobbes was not a de factoist, but neither was he a consent theorist simpliciter. At a more fundamental level he was a relational theorist, where authority and obligation rely on the existence of a morally significant relationship between sovereign and subject. The basic moral relationship that connects sovereign and subject in Hobbes is a trust-like or fiduciary relationship. This relationship explains how the sovereign’s possession of public power can yield authority and obligation independently of consent.
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