Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes
Winter 2000

POSC 350

Prof. Barbara Allen


Willis 408, ext. 4084

Library 344

Office Hours


The Course

When the 400th anniversary of Thomas Hobbes occurred in 1988, there was little fanfare. Yet Hobbes, perhaps the greatest and most original of British philosophers, has influenced modern political theory and practice as have few other writers. In fact, your edition of the Leviathan boasts, "The classic treatise that founded modern analytical philosophy." Hobbes's work is all the more remarkable because it is relevant to twentieth century political life, as well as philosophy. His analysis of individual motivations, the justification for political organization, and his understanding of the nature of a "social contract" were radical departures from the seventeenth century's dominant philosophy, "Patriarchalism." His radical view of the individual and government artifacts has, nevertheless, often been used in the service of reactionary politics. One of our goals will be to uncover the coherent political theory in Hobbes's most important work, Leviathan. We will look at the descriptive analytical theory of political relationships that Hobbes uses to present a picture of ruler-ruled relationships, and his normative or moral philosophy. A second goal will be to apply Hobbesean institutional analysis to a contemporary problem - the situation and social welfare implications of the increasing number of refugees who have made small Minnesota cities their home during the past five years. To accomplish this second goal we will look at the institutional analysis and development concepts that political scientist Elinor Ostrom lays out in her empirical and theoretical work. Many of Ostrom's ideas complement the Hobbesean view of collective action problems. But Ostrom's conclusions about the craft of developing self-governing institutions also run counter to the Hobbesean theory of sovereignty. The course is designed as a research seminar, with the latter portion of our classes being devoted to a workshop format in which we tackle some of the specific issues raised by the migration of refugees to Minnesota.


The following books have been ordered for the course:

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan Edwin Curley, ed. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing 0872201775 (Lev)

A.P. Martinich, A Hobbes Dictionary London: Blackwell 063119262 (Dic)

Johann P. Sommerville, Thomas Hobbes: Poltical Ideas in Historical Context Boston: St. Martins Press 0312079672 (Con)

Paul Cooke.Hobbes and Christianity (H&C) New York: Rowman & Littlefield. 08476871

Elinor Ostrom. Governing the Commons (Gov) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 155815168

Elinor Ostrom. Crafting Institutions for Self-Governing Irrigation Systems (Crf) San Francisco: ICS Press 0521405999

Requirements and Grading:

In addition to appearing in class prepared to discuss the day's readings you will lead a discussion and write a response to the readings for the day on which you are discussion leader, and write a seminar paper that will be presented orally to the class. Grades will be computed as follows:

Reading, participation


Written version of research paper


Oral presentation of research paper


Reading Assignments

Thurs Jan 6 Hobbes and the liberal tradition

Read: 3D, Hobbes and Beginning of Modern Pol Thought

Pp. 123-156; H&C Ch 5.

Tues Jan 11 Hobbes in Historical Context

Read: Con, Hobbes and his Context Pp. 1-27

Dic, Ch 1-3

Thurs Jan 13 Hobbes's Empirical method

Read: Lev, Curley intro

Lev, Author's Intro, Ch 1-6

Assignment: translate the ideas into contemporary life

Tues Jan 18 Hobbes's descriptive theory, human nature, self-interest

Read: Lev, Ch 7-16

Thurs Jan 20 The state of nature, conflict

Read: Lev, Ch 17-25

Review 6, 11, 13

Tues Jan 25 The state of nature, cooperation

Read: Lev, Ch 26-31; review 14-16

Thurs Jan 27 Covenant in the state of nature

Read: Con, Ch 2, Pp. 28-56

Tues Feb 1 The Hobbesean social contract

Read: Lev, 32-39; review 17-19

Thurs Feb 3 Power and Order in Government

Read Lev: Ch 40-42; review 20-23, 26

Tues Feb 8 Government and Political Obligation

Read: Con, Ch 3, Pp. 57-79

**************Research Proposal and Bibliography Due***********

Thurs Feb 10 Normative theory, moral obligation, right to self-preservation, egoism, and justice

Read: Lev, Editor's intro, Ch 43-47; review 1-17

H&C Ch 1-2

Tues Feb 15 Liberty and Sovereignty

Read: Con, Ch 4, Pp. 80-104

H&C Ch 3-4

Thurs Feb 17 The Christian Commonwealth

Read: Con, Ch 5, Pp. 105-134; review, Lev, Ch 32-43

H&C 7-9

***************Draft of Paper Due*********

Tues Feb 22 The Kingdom of Darkness and Political Practice

Read: Lev, review Ch 44-47;

Con Ch 6, 7 135-160; 161-167; H&C Ch 10 Read: Gov Ch 1-2; rec 3

Thurs Feb 24 Workshop - Institutional Analysis: Collective Action

Tues Feb 29 Workshop - Institutional Analysis: Self-Government

Read: Gov Ch 6; rec 4,5

Thurs Mar 2 Workshop - Institutional Analysis: Principles of Self-Governance

Read: Crf Ch 2-4; rec 5

Tues Mar 7 Workshop - Class Presentations

Thurs Mar 9 Workshop - Evaluating Institutions; Sustaining Self-Government

*********Final Papers Due in Class*******