Thomas Hobbes – from power to state sovereignty

Paul Klee, Castle and Sun, undated.


Presentation by the organizer of the recently released book

In this collection about Thomas Hobbes, different authors address a topic commonly related to their philosophy, namely: what are the conditions, criteria and limits of life in society, and how a pact or social contract is established between men. This theme will be analyzed by the authors in their various interrelations with other areas of knowledge, such as sociology, history, psychoanalysis, etc.

Through these studies, which sometimes complement each other and sometimes oppose each other, the aim is to present to the reader a mosaic of perspectives capable of broadening their vision on the subject, without however determining a single interpretation, excluding the others. The objective is to present the different views and instigate the reader's interest in the subject, so that he can establish a dialogue between the different perspectives in his own way.

In the first study, entitled “Genesis of the politician and civil life: the social contract tensioned between Hobbes and Espinosa”, Daniel Santos da Silva places the political thought of Thomas Hobbes in the context of modern philosophy, and analyzes the differences and singularities regarding the origin of life in society in Hobbes and Spinoza.

In the second study, entitled “Hobbes and the philosophy of power: the anti-political 'principles' of Leviathan in reading Hannah Arendt, Rodrigo Ponce Santos addresses the controversial relationship established by Hannah Arendt between imperialism and the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, in order to verify how the theme is configured in Origins of totalitarianism and how it contributes to illuminating the present time. If imperialism arises in the conflict between the stability of national institutions and their desire for expansion, this means that it also appears as a conflict between political tradition and the new economic order.

Comparing Arendt and CB Macpherson's readings on Thomas Hobbes, the author explores the analogy that Arendt establishes between imperialism and Hobbesian thought, by stating that one would not find in Hobbesian contractualism an argument for the constitution of political communities, but rather a model of human relations that would threaten the very existence of such communities.

In the third study, entitled “Thomas Hobbes and State violence: possibilities of resistance and the double meaning of fear and power”, Delmo Mattos da Silva addresses the problem of State violence in Hobbes's political thought. It examines the theoretical meaning of absolutism proposed by the philosopher, and highlights the limits of government action based on the opposition between the State and the individual. He concludes by showing that the possibility of resistance in relation to excesses of power is guaranteed by Thomas Hobbes' political proposal, which offers legal support for the bilateral containment of fear, ensuring possible peace between institutions and citizens.

In the fourth study, entitled “Disease, suffering and symptom: reinterpretation of Lacanian diagnosis from animistic perspective”, Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker presents the notion of “form of life” from Amerindian perspective, developed by Viveiros de Castro, in homology with the psychoanalytic diagnosis resulting from the works of Jacques Lacan, within the framework of the metadiagnosis of modernity developed by social theories, especially those of critical extraction.

With the dual purpose of responding to criticisms directed at Lacanian structuralism in psychopathology, and of justifying the distinction between symptom, suffering and discomfort. Although this study is located in another area of ​​knowledge related to philosophy (psychoanalysis), it presents a direct connection with the general theme of this book: the life of man in society.

In the fifth study, Anderson Alves Esteves exposes the judgments of Thomas Hobbes and Norbert Elias regarding the division of labor and its relations with the social order – despite the differences in method and metrics of the authors in question. From Thomas Hobbes, he collects the demonstration and hypothetical-deductive reasoning that, from the individual, it is linked to society; that, from the contract that builds the State, it embarks on the division of labor, as one of the ways of establishing the comfort necessary for the maintenance of civil society.

From Norbert Elias, it collects the procedural relationship between sociogenesis and psychogenesis, which, without opposing individual and society, deals with the formation of the division of labor and individuality as inseparable phenomena peculiar to the civilizing process.

In “Representation, sovereignty and government in Thomas Hobbes”, Francisco Luciano Teixeira Filho examines the passage from the Greek concept of “democracy” to the current “representative democracy”, based on the Hobbesian concept of “representation”.

In the seventh study, Jecson Girão Lopes seeks to explain how, based on the political theory of Thomas Hobbes, the need for the establishment of the State, that is, of Leviathan, is created in reality. According to him, this perspective permeates the entire course of the work Leviathan, in which the philosopher demonstrates the foundations and reasons why the State must absolutely exercise force, authority, influence, judgment and power over its subjects, since, without this exercise of coercive power, humanity would enter in a constant state of war. This expresses the legitimate and urgent need for the State to become effective.

In the eighth study, entitled “Hobbes and the hypothetical pandemic in Leviathan: between freedom and security”, the author Jairo Rivaldo Silva points out how the appearance of the coronavirus raises an old debate within the scope of political philosophy: the debate between freedom and security. During the pandemic, most States had to adopt measures that restricted citizens' freedom, to contain the spread of the disease.

The position of the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, exposed in Leviathan, to face this type of problem, it would be that security must prevail over unrestricted freedom, to avoid the state of nature. There is a proposal in Thomas Hobbes that unrestricted freedom be replaced by limited freedom in the political state, which points to a possible solution capable of combining freedom and security based on the concept of public reason.

Contributing to the debate about human life in society, whether in philosophy, sociology or psychoanalysis, is the main objective of this publication. May it then be useful both to broaden the debate among experts and to improve the common reader's knowledge on such an important topic, which concerns everyone.

Good reading!

Lygia Caselato Master in Philosophy from USP.


Lygia Caselato (org.). Thomas Hobbes: from power to state sovereignty. Cotia, Editora Cajuína, 2023, 252 pages. []

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