‘A State of Lesser Hope’

The Servant in Hobbes’s Natural Common-Wealth

in Hobbes Studies
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Though Hobbes consistently differentiates between the ‘subject’ and ‘servant’ across Elements of Law, On the Citizen, and Leviathan, we currently lack an exhaustive account of the Hobbesian servant. In this paper, I argue that the distinction would have profound consequences for one’s disposition toward both the commonwealth and the community at large. Because the servant joins under the immediate threat of violence and covenants directly with the sovereign, we would expect her initial experience to contribute to a fundamentally more pessimistic attitude toward the commonwealth and atomistic understanding of her place in the body politic. On one level, this distinction could be used to distinguish privileged populations from otherwise marginalized groups. On another level, however, in revealing both the brute reality of sovereign power and the ways in which she is alienated from it, the servant gives us a more accurate understanding of the commonwealth than the subject’s own.

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