Thomas Hobbes: a philosopher of peace?

The Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) recently hosted a workshop on “Thomas Hobbes and Peace”. The event brought together political theorists, intellectual historians, and specialists in international relations theory, and received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Dr Maximilian Jaede, a postdoctoral fellow at IASH, summarises the papers and key themes discussed at the workshop.

The event was aimed at reconsidering Hobbes’s conception of peace, its place in the history of political thought, and its reception today. Speakers approached this theme from a variety of perspectives. While all participants highlighted Hobbes’s commitment to peace, there was debate on what precisely Hobbes means by being at peace, and on the interpretation of his ideas in relation to other conceptions of peace.

Prof. Glen Newey (Leiden) highlighted the puzzle of why elements of war seemingly persist within the Hobbesian civil state. In particular, the paper examined Hobbes’s distinction between citizens, who are at peace, and slaves, who remain in a state of war towards their master. This suggests a juridical distinction between the states of war and peace. However, the distinction between war and peace may be less clear-cut. Newey emphasised the resistance rights of citizens and the possibility that a Hobbesian state might enslave its own people. In the discussion of this paper, participants expressed different views on the question of whether, and in what way, Hobbes envisions the sovereign and citizens to be at peace with one another.

Prof. Deborah Baumgold (Oregon) offered an interpretation of Hobbes as a political philosopher of peace inspired by Hugo Grotius’ The Rights of War and Peace. She presented new historical evidence for Hobbes’s likely personal acquaintance with Grotius, and highlighted the similarities of both thinkers’ political projects. Like Grotius, Hobbes’s aim was to create peace, which Baumgold described as the supreme good (summum bonum) of society. The discussion of this paper raised the questions of whether there is a difference between pursuing peace and merely avoiding war, and what it ultimately means to be a philosopher of peace.

Prof. Patricia Springborg (Humboldt, Berlin) challenged the view that Hobbes was a predecessor of realist theories of international relations. Her paper contrasted realist approaches to war with Hobbes’s political theory of peace. Specifically, Springborg discussed Hobbes’s opposition to colonial adventurism and emphasised his insistence on the need to maintain a well-balanced political economy. Commentators questioned whether Hobbes’s political theory contains a norm of non-interference in other states’ affairs. Another theme of the discussion was the possible anachronism of viewing Hobbes as advocate or critic of empire in the modern sense.

Dr Gabriella Slomp’s (St. Andrews) talk focused on the connections between peace and friendship in Hobbes’s political thought. Hobbes is sometimes blamed for the decline of friendship as an ethical or political ideal in the modern period. Yet, Slomp rejected the view that Hobbesian friendship is necessarily confined to the private sphere. Hobbes was highly conscious of possible political implications of friendship, which he considered to be a source of corruption and a threat to civil peace. The presentation concluded that Hobbes advocated an attitude of universal friendliness, as opposed to bonds of friendship between citizens, as a condition of peaceful coexistence.

Luca Tenneriello (Sapienza Rome) addressed the question to what extent Hobbes considers religious conscience a challenge to civil peace. The paper outlined different meanings of ‘conscience’ in Hobbes’s works, and examined his reasons for considering appeals to religious conscience politically dangerous. In Tenneriello’s view, Hobbes insisted on public education as a means to counter this threat. The subsequent discussion focused on differences between Hobbes’s views and liberal accounts of liberty of conscience. It was also noted that Hobbes does not seem to acknowledge any positive role of private conscience in regards to making peace or refusing war.

Dr Max Jaede (Edinburgh) presented parts of a book that examines Hobbes’s conception of peace in light of debates about liberal world order, international intervention, and peacebuilding in war-torn societies. He rejected the view that Hobbes advocates a negative peace that is based on mere coercion. Rather, Hobbes aims for a positive peace that is realised in accordance with certain principles of justice. Jaede also argued that the internal pacification of Hobbesian states leads to more peaceful international relations. Commentators raised questions such as in what way Hobbes may be said to anticipate liberal conceptions of peace, and how Jaede’s interpretation can account for authoritarian elements in Hobbes’s political thought.

 

More about the author:

Dr Maximilian Jaede is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of St Andrews and has taught political theory at the University of Stirling. He has published articles on Hobbes’s political thought in History of European Ideas, Hobbes Studies and the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

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