The State of Nature: Histories of an Idea


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The phrase, “state of nature”, has been used over centuries to describe the uncultivated state of lands and animals, nudity, innocence, heaven and hell, interstate relations, and the locus of pre- and supra-political rights, such as the right to resistance, to property, to create and leave polities, and the freedom of religion, speech, and opinion, which may be reactivated or reprioritised when the polity and its laws fail. Combining intellectual history with current concerns, this volume brings together fourteen essays on the past, present and possible future applications of the legal fiction known as the state of nature.

Contributors are: Daniel S. Allemann, Pamela Edwards, Ioannis D. Evrigenis, Mary C. Fuller, David Singh Grewal, Francesca Iurlaro, Edward J. Kolla, László Kontler, Grant S. McCall, Emile Simpson,Tom Sparks, Benjamin Straumann, Karl Widerquist, Sarah Winter, and Simone Zurbuchen.

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Mark Somos, Ph.D. (2007 Harvard, 2014 Leiden), holds the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft’s Heisenberg position. He wrote Secularisation and the Leiden Circle (Brill, 2011) and American States of Nature: The Origins of Independence, 1761–1775 (Oxford, 2019).

Anne Peters, Ph.D. (1994 Freiburg), is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, a Professor at Heidelberg, Freie Universität Berlin, and Basel, and L. Bates Lea Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan.
Series Editors
Erica Benner, Yale University
Laszlo Kontler, Central European University
Mark Somos, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

Associate Editors
Anna Becker
Alberto Clerici
Adriana Luna-Fabritius
Gaby Mahlberg
Jani Marjanen
Eva Piirimae

Advisory Board
Duncan Bell
Hans Blom
Annabel Brett
Lea Campos Boralevi
Janet Coleman
John Dunn
Pamela Edwards
Ioannis Evrigenis
Xavier Gil
David Grewal
Oleg Kharkhordin
Paschalis Kitromilides
Anne Peters
Christopher Smith
Balázs Trencsényi
Martin van Gelderen
Richard Whatmore
"Somos and Peters have managed to offer a collection of essays which both deepens and challenges our knowledge of these authors by setting them in new contexts and juxtaposing their work to that of their contemporaries, antecedents, and followers. […] The chapters in this collection show that state of nature as a multi-faceted and versatile concept, whose origins can be traced back much further than the early modern period. […] informative, highly readable and generally concise, the chapters in this book can be studied individually or as a whole as useful introductions to new research". Gaby Mahlberg in European Review of History, 30 (2), 2023.
List of Illustrations

Notes on Contributors

  Mark Somos and Anne Peters

1 Thucydides, Hobbes, and the Melian Dialogue
  Benjamin Straumann

2 Missing Terms in English Geographical Thinking, 1550–1600
  Mary C. Fuller

3 Do Shepherds Live in a State of Nature? From Peculium to Civilization
  Francesca Iurlaro

4 After Vitoria Natural Law and the Spanish Ideology of Empire
  Daniel S. Allemann

5 Fleeing “Polyphemus’s Den” Locke’s State of Nature as Sanctuary
  Ioannis Evrigenis

6 Invisible People The State of Nature in Hugo Grotius’ Account of Global Legal Order
  Emile Simpson

7 From the State of Nature to the State of Economy Pufendorf on Commerce and Natural Law
  David Singh Grewal

8 The State of Nature, the Family and the State
  Simone Zurbuchen

9 Written in the Hearts of People? Natural and International Law during the Age of Enlightenment
  Edward J. Kolla

10 From Natural Equality to Frankpledge The State of Nature, Ancient Constitutionalism, and the Rupture of the Social Contract in Eighteenth-Century Antislavery Writings
  Sarah Winter

11 From the State of Nature to the Natural State Transforming the Foundations of Science and Civil Progress in Eighteenth-Century British Political Thought
  Pamela Edwards

12 Their Own State(s) of Nature The Enlightenment Social Imaginary and the Invention of Hungarian Ethnic Origins
  László Kontler

13 The Place of the Environment in State of Nature Discourses Reassessing Nature, Property and Sovereignty in the Anthropocene
  Tom Sparks

14 The State of Nature, Prehistory, and Mythmaking
  Karl Widerquist and Grant S. McCall


This book will interest intellectual historians and legal scholars at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as specialists in specific thinkers, including Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Pufendorf and John Locke.
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