The Authority Dilemma

Eternal Salvation and Authorization in Hobbes’s Leviathan

In: Hobbes Studies

Thomas Hobbes’s attempt to resolve the problem of commanded blasphemy in Leviathan results in a dilemma for his theory. According to what I call the Authority Dilemma, Hobbes is simultaneously committed to subjects being the authors of all that the sovereign does and commands as well as to the sovereign being the sole author of commanded blasphemy, meaning the subjects are not the authors of that command. I review a variety of ways Hobbes and various commentators have attempted to resolve this tension, but ultimately suggest that the tension persists. I spell out the implications of both horns of the authority dilemma: if subjects authorize all actions and commands, then the possibility of commanded blasphemy risks the stability of the commonwealth; if subjects do not authorize all actions and commands, then the commonwealth is not properly unified and thus cannot be stable. Thus, either way, Hobbes fails to establish how individuals can form a stable commonwealth. I conclude with a Hobbesian inspired solution that accepts that subjects authorize all actions and commands, including blasphemy. However, I leverage two recent lines of scholarship – one regarding the inalienable right of self-preservation and the other regarding the fear of eternal damnation – to provide a means for disobedience without the risk of instability.

  • 1

    Thomas HobbesHobbes’s Leviathan Reprinted from the Edition of 1651 with an Essay by the Late W. G. Pogson Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press1909) ii.xvii 87. All page numbers are from the 1651 edition.

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  • 6

    Andrew I. Cohen“Retained Liberties and Absolute Hobbesian Authorization,” Hobbes Studies 11 no. 1 (1998): 36; Hanna Pitkin The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press 1972) 14; Quentin Skinner Visions of Politics Volume iii: Hobbes and Civil Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002) 178.

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  • 8

    David GauthierLogic of Leviathan (Oxford : New York: Oxford University Press1979) 120–21.

  • 9

    Anthony Kronman“The Concept of an Author and the Unity of the Commonwealth in Hobbes’s Leviathan,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 18 no. 2 (1980): 160.

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  • 18

    Kronman“Concept of an Author” 171; Green “Political Authority” 39–40.

  • 20

    David Gauthier“Public Reason,” Social Philosophy and Policy 12 no. 1 (1995): 25–27; Gerald Gaus “Hobbes’s Idea of Public Judgment: A Social Coordination Analysis” 4 14 accessed April 5 2016 http://www.gaus.biz/Gaus-HobbesJudgment.pdf; Chambers “Who Shall Judge?” 353.

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  • 22

    Kronman“Concept of an Author” 166 171; Green “Political Authority” 32. A “commonwealth by acquisition” is formed by a similar act: “men… for fear of death or bonds do authorize all the actions of that man or assembly that hath their lives and liberty in his power” (Leviathanii.xx 101–2).

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  • 36

    Green“Political Authority” 41–43.

  • 42

    Green“Political Authority” 32.

  • 43

    Jean HamptonHobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge; New York: ­Cambridge University Press1988) 117-22-40; A. P. Martinich Hobbes (New York; London: Routledge 2005) 115–25; Green “Political Authority” 28–29.

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  • 45

    Green“Political Authority” 32.

  • 47

    Katrin Flikschuh“Elusive Unity: The General Will in Hobbes and Kant,” Hobbes Studies 25 no. 1 (2012): 25; Sheridan “Scaffold” 143.

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  • 55

    Gaus“Public Judgment”; Gauthier “Public Reason” 27 31.

  • 57

    Cohen“Retained Liberties” 41.

  • 58

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 143.

  • 59

    Gaus“Public Judgment” 16.

  • 60

    Green“Political Authority” 34–35.

  • 65

    Gerald Gaus“Public Reason Liberalism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Liberalismed. Steve Wall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2015) 7.

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  • 67

    Johan Olsthoorn“Worse than Death: The Non-Preservationist Foundations of Hobbes’s Moral Philosophy,” Hobbes Studies 27 (2014): 148–70.

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  • 69

    Cohen“Retained Liberties” 40.

  • 70

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 156.

  • 72

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 156.

  • 73

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 156.

  • 74

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 150–51.

  • 75

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 153.

  • 76

    Sheridan“Scaffold” 153; Hobbes Leviathanii.xxi 111–2.

  • 78

    Thomas HobbesElements of Law Natural and Political (London: Routledge1969) ii.6.5.

  • 80

    Olsthoorn“Worse than Death” 157; Cf. Christopher Scott McClure “Hell and Anxiety in Hobbes’s Leviathan” The Review of Politics 73 no. 1 (2011): 1–27.

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