Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. x + 297. ISBN 978-1-107-11453-1 (Hardback) 978-1-107-53500-8 (Paperback). £20.99 (Paperback).
This is a scholarly, interesting and worthwhile analysis of the international dimension of Hobbes’s political thought. It explores its afterlife through such luminaries as Pufendorf, Rousseau and Vattel, and the subsequent valorisation of Hobbes as the doyen of political realism and international anarchy. The discussion of Vattel’s departure from Hobbes, and response to Rousseau is particularly interesting. In this respect Wolff’s exploration of the grounds of obligation in international relations, particularly the ‘useful fiction’ of a ‘supreme sovereign’ of the Civitas Maxima would have reinforced the theme that permeates the book, namely the pervasive contagion of sovereignty (224). Wolff seemed unable to think of obligation other than in terms of sovereignty, therefore even an agreement between sovereigns required a fictional supreme sovereign to give it force.
The author makes a number of bold claims that are sometimes expressed in an adversarial manner. First, he purports to subscribe to the principles that underpin what recently goes under the name of modern international thought, or international theory. His methodological claim is that it integrates the contextualist method associated with the Cambridge School and the historiographical method in international history. The merit of the methodological manner of enquiring into past thought, it is claimed, allows us to retrieve the ‘authentic’, or ‘true’ meaning of texts (5, 21, 27, 149), and expose misappropriations (20, 33). This manifests itself in the pursuit of what Hobbes ‘really’ (27) had to say about the relationships between the state of nature and civil society; the domestic and foreign dimensions of his thought; and, how he was perceived before he became misappropriated as an exponent of international anarchy. This set of claims implicitly assumes a ‘realist’ conception of history, and denial of both ontological and critical hermeneutics. It is an affirmation of epistemological hermeneutics, that is, the belief that there is a ‘text’ independent of its interpretations, the meaning of which is revealed by privileged access to the psychology of the author.
The author leans towards Skinner for authoritative comfort, invoking his reliance on Collingwood and J.L. Austin (9, 10, 11). J.G.A. Pocock is mentioned (9, 177, 229), in the context of the Cambridge School, but not the fact that Pocock is very different from Skinner, taking his inspiration from Oakeshott rather than Collingwood. Pocock is less enamoured than Skinner by authorial intentions, preferring instead to emphasise the different levels of abstraction at which a text may take on multiple meanings, giving priority to paradigms, which assume lives of their own. Pocock is prepared to concede, following Oakeshott, that it is perfectly legitimate to understand philosophical texts philosophically. Skinner, on the other hand is concerned with the context of conventions, or the ideological context of a text, in order to discern the meaning that the author intended it to have. Skinner’s fundamental presupposition is that each text of political philosophy must be understood as an ideological intervention into a current controversy.1 Cristov’s interpretations, however, rely very little on the construction of contexts of conventions, nor on discussions of the ideological context of England and France at the time Hobbes wrote. In practice the method is much closer to that of Leo Strauss who contended that philosophers have exoteric and esoteric meanings to their texts.2 Hence we are told what Hobbes, Pufendorf, Vattel and Rousseau really thought, as opposed to what the lesser interpreters think that they thought.
Second, Cristov claims that the rapprochement between political theory and international relations is a phenomenon that has taken place over the last decade, leading to a partial breaking down of the barrier between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ division of sovereignty (277). The linguistic turn associated with contextualism in the history of political thought is said to have gone largely unnoticed among international relations scholars (9), a claim that may have been sustainable twenty years ago or so, but is far less so now. The author tells us he is going to rectify this alleged serious omission. International relations theorists have ‘misappropriated’ Hobbes and perpetrated ‘several grave misconceptions’ (267) in their deluded and ‘unfortunate’ (278) attempts to construct an ‘imaginary’ tradition that is wholly a twentieth-century invention. Among the ‘historically uninformed and theoretically inaccurate’ subversions of the ‘authentic Hobbesian project’ (276) is the delusion that he was the theorist of anarchy, and posited a radical division between the state of nature and civil society. Instead, and few commentators would dispute it, Hobbes wanted to warn of the overlap, and the perpetual danger of lapsing back into a pre-civil condition.
The principal claim is that the modern association of Hobbes with international anarchy rests on a mythical foundation, and postdates Hobbes by some three centuries or more (105). It is not in itself an original conclusion; it is a common lament among revisionists in international theory. Modern theorists are charged with anachronism, reading the present into the past. If we are to take Skinner’s mythology of doctrines seriously, before making such a criticism of those who use Hobbes for heuristic purposes, we should determine whether they intended to interpret him historically. It is one of the fundamental tenets of contextualism that we desist from criticising authors for failing to do something that they had no intention of doing. There is indeed a Hobbesian tradition in modern international thought, but we should not assume that it aspires to be faithful to Hobbes. There is a conceptual distinction to be made between invoking the context in which Hobbes wrote, and inserting ourselves into it to retrieve Hobbes’s intentions, and invoking our own contexts or worlds of ideas and inserting Hobbes into them in order to help us with our own intellectual endeavours.
The mistake that Cristov makes is in believing that those who invoke this ‘emblematic’ Hobbes, the theorist of anarchy, did not know what they were doing (270). He attributes an intention to them that they did not have, resulting in the conclusion that Hobbes was no “Hobbesian” (280). Martin Wight and Hedly Bull, for example, were well aware that they were presenting something of a caricature. Wight, the great exponent of traditions in international thought, was not oblivious to their shortcomings. He was clear that when a proper name, such as Hobbes, becomes an adjective, such as Hobbesian, attached to a manner of thinking ‘it falsifies the man possessing the name’. In other words, he was well aware that Hobbes was not a Hobbesian and that ‘Grotius was not a Grotian’.3
The most controversial argument that Christov makes among his various, and sometimes exaggerated, claims to originality is that Pufendorf is very much like Hobbes, but went to extraordinary lengths to disguise it (28). In other words, Pufendorf is disingenuous in his criticisms of Hobbes. Cristov argues: ‘Behind the shield of socialitas, he seemingly distances himself from the asocial Hobbesian man, but his anti-Hobbesian camouflage merely masks his deep-seated Hobbesianism’ (143). It is argued that Pufendorf deliberately pursued a strategy of distancing himself from the Epicureanism of Hobbes by endorsing contemporary Stoicism. He portrayed himself as a faithful Grotian in order better to ingratiate himself with many of his contemporaries by adopting the guise of a neo-Stoic commitment to natural sociability. Once again it appears that Christov is more of a Straussian than a Skinnerian, in contending that Pufendorf had a ‘palatable’ exoteric doctrine for the benefit of the faint at heart, and a deep rooted Hobbesian exoteric doctrine for the more robust. There are indeed many respects in which Pufendorf agrees with Hobbes, as he readily acknowledged. Pufendorf thought Hobbes’s clear statement that the law of nature and the law of nations were the same, was conceptually very important. The only difference resided in the subjects they regulated, individuals and states respectively. Hobbes’s genius, according to Pufendorf, was to conceptualise the state as an artificial man thus subjecting it to the regulation of law. Pufendorf could not, however, accept Hobbes’s characterisation of human nature, nor of the state of nature unregulated by a sense of justice and injustice. Individuals, are not, he claimed, the arbiters of what is right and wrong in the absence of a sovereign to determine them.4 Pufendorf understood Hobbes’s state of nature as a pre-social condition in which no sense of natural obligation prevailed. He rejected Hobbes’s derivation of moral obligation from a contract that had no moral foundation. Injustices may be committed independently of agreements, and agreements themselves may be unjust if they do not conform to natural law.5 States, Pufendorf maintained, could never have been formed by compact had not some notion of justice and injustice existed prior to the institution of the state. What binding force could a pact have without the knowledge that it is just to keep it and unjust to break it? Indeed, if it is only the civil law that defines justice and injustice what is to stop individuals renouncing their obligations and abolishing the distinction? Justice and injustice, Pufendorf forcefully proclaimed, are not dependent upon sovereigns, but determined by natural law. Individuals are bound in conscience to conform to them. Sanctions may be attached by the civil law to those things forbidden by the natural law, but it is just as impossible for the civil sovereign to create justice and injustice by precept, as it is to legislate that poison cease to have harmful effects on the body.6
If Pufendorf deliberately misrepresented Hobbes and exaggerated his differences with him, why mention Hobbes at all? If he understood Hobbes so well, when almost everyone else misunderstood him, Pufendorf may better have employed himself in correcting the errors and demonstrating that he was a more adept interpreter than his contemporaries in uncovering the authentic Hobbes. Instead, we find Pufendorf quite explicitly attempting to synthesise Grotius and Hobbes, demonstrating in which respects he agrees and in which he disagrees with aspects of their teachings. He emphasises our natural propensity to be social with Grotius, but at the same time retained Hobbes’s emphasis upon self-interest. This is something he made no attempt to disguise. Indeed, Pufendorf was unequalled in his reputation, impressing both Locke and Vico. Locke placed Pufendorf above Grotius as an international jurist and Vico thought him one of the ‘three princes’ of the natural law of nations, along with Grotius and Seldon.7 It was common up until the time of Kant to view Grotius as a departure from medieval scholasticism, and Seldon, Hobbes and Pufendorf as his successors. This was the line of descent in which Pufendorf stood, believing himself to have corrected the errors of his predecessors by providing a more solid foundation for what he believed common to them all. The laws of nature, he argued, are in fact the laws of self-preservation, and what is conducive to such an end may be deduced systemically from them. Peace is a natural condition, resting upon our obligations to natural laws, which are not indebted for their existence to any convention of mankind.8
This book advances many interesting and forceful interpretations, based on a firm foundation of scholarship, and despite my disagreements, readers of Hobbes, and international theory in general will profit from it.
Quentin Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), xv: ‘My governing assumption is that even the most abstract works of political theory are never above the battle; they are always part of the battle’.
Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1988).
Martin Wight, Four Seminal Thinkers in International Theory, ed. Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 3.
Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf, Of the Law of Nature and Nations, in Eight Books, trans. Basil Kennet, third edition (London: R. Sare et al., 1717), III, v, 2 and 3.
Pufendorf, Law of Nature, I, vii, 12.
Pufendorf, Law of Nature and Nations, VIII, i, 5.
John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), 161; Giambattista Vico, The New Science, trans. of the third edition by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (New York: Cornell University Press, 1968), §394, §493.
Pufendorf, The Law of Nature and Nations, II, ii, 11.