“Law-Abiding Citizens?: Manners and Toleration in Hobbesian Political Theory”

Freedom Center Colloquium Series

On March 19th, Juhana Lemetti will be giving a talk entitled, “Law-Abiding Citizens?: Manners and Toleration in Hobbesian Political Theory,” as part of the Freedom Center Colloquium Series. Juhana is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki in the Philosophical Psychology, Morality, and Politics Research Unit. Here is an abstract for the talk:

“Obedience is considered the primary and sole virtue of Hobbesian citizens. As long as the sovereign protects citizens they are supposed obey its orders. This tying up of legitimacy of the supreme power and protection give the well-known absolutist flavour to Hobbes and Hobbesian political theory that has been, despite all the criticisms from the very beginning, so successful in and formative to the modern western political order. When to this is added that the sovereign simply does not hold the supreme and unlimited power in a commonwealth but more importantly the power to interpret its own commands (laws), the result is a bleakish vision of tyranny. No critique or resistance is justified in Hobbesian commonwealth and its citizen could be considered as puppets. The received view, perhaps best articulated by Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner, rightly points out the soft underbelly of Hobbesian tradition: no genuine political liberty is possible in this political architectonics.

“It seems absurd that a person with such political imagination and wit as Hobbes would not have understood this consequence of his political theory. In this paper, I seek to re-think Hobbesian political theory by focusing our attention on the intermediate layer of this theory, that is, on Hobbes’s social psychology as outlined in Chapter 11 of Leviathan (and the corresponding chapter in De Homine). In the former Hobbes characterises manners as follows “those qualities of man-kind, that concern their living together in Peace, and Unity.” First, I shall explicate what is the role of individual temperance of passions and what is the role of interaction in the formation of manners. After this I will analyze manners as the causes of social cohesion and conflict.

“Manners, it is suggested, play a further function in Hobbesian political theory. As is well known, Hobbes remains quite silent about the specific contents of natural laws and, more importantly, what ends we should seek in our lives. Though peace, security and commodious living are something that all human kind should aim at, what these general ends concretely mean differs in time and place. Hobbes then seems to suggest that there is no single end, but many ends that societies, groups and individuals seek in this life. All this is rather axiomatic for us, but, I shall conclude, it is this pluralism and toleration of the different values and ways of life, that is Hobbes’s lasting legacy for liberalism but in order to understand exactly how, we need a more careful analyze of his conception of manners.”

Please join us in the Kendrick Room at the Freedom Center for Juhana’s talk!