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PHL lecture, jan. 19.doc

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Peter King

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Hobbes on Sovereignty • Recall Hobbes’s account of sovereign power as the possession of the transferred right of each individual to use force, as authorized by the multitude o This fits well with the contemporary account of a state as an institutional body claiming a monopoly on the use of force • Analytical Requirements on Sovereignty o According to Hobbes, this notion of sovereignty has several essential features  It is undivided that is possessed by a single actor, or there will be no authority  It is absolute extending to any and all things, just as each of the transferred rights do  It is perpetual, to guarantee stability o It’s important to note that these are features of any government that claims to be sovereign  A perfectly good example of a Hobbesian state could well be a government consisting in a unicameral legislature with strict majority rule, with subordinate executive and judicial functions, whose members are selected by lottery (or are elected once every three years, or are appointed for life, or…) • Hobbes himself argues that on grounds of efficiency it is preferable to have a monarch o Hence the result of government by consent is an absolute monarch • It’s important for Hobbes that when a right is transferred, the prior owner of the right loses it entirely, much the same way when I give my piano to the orphanage it becomes (fully) theirs and no longer mine at all o He means it: we literally lose the powers that constitute the rights once it is transferred • Consequences of Sovereignty o Hobbes deduces further results from his account of sovereignty:  The form of government, once established, cannot be changed  The sovereign power is not forfeited by any action  The actions of the sovereign power cannot be challenged, or even questioned  The sovereign power is unpunishable and above the law o Hobbes’s reasoning for the first claim is that the nature of the government is established by the initial social contract, in which each (soon-to-be) citizen ‘covenants’ with each, and in the process of so doing they each give up (transfer) their rights that would allow them to change or emend the government  This does not preclude the government from changing its own form, of course; it merely means that there is no ‘popular’ right to change it • Hence no right to rebel  Second, Hobbes argues that nothing can count as side-constraint on the actions of the sovereign power, since the sovereign power, since the sovereign as such does not enter into the social contract, and hence is not bound as the citizens are • A claim that makes sense in terms of the social contract, which is not mutual but one directional  Third, Hobbes argues that any action of the sovereign power is by definition the action of each of its subjects; any complaint against the ac
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