Limiting Leviathan : an advice book for rulers? Larry May on Thomas Hobbes

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Limiting Leviathan: an Advice Book for Rulers? Larry May on Thomas Hobbes*

Gabriella Slomp University of St Andrews

*This is a pre-print of an article published in Social Theory and Practice. The definitive publisher-authenticated version [volume 41, no 1, January 2015, pp. 149-63] is available online at: [DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract20154117]

Every year thousands upon thousands of tourists visit Hobbesbury, the global village founded in honour of the seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Like any self-respecting destination, Hobbesbury operates an open-top tour bus whose itinerary includes all the unmissable sights: Strauss Strasse, Oakeshott Way, Watkins Institute of Science, Martinich Observatory, Skinner Tower, Springborg Cathedral, Pateman Women’s Institute, Gauthier & Hampton Contract Companies, MacPherson Old Market, Dietz’ Citizens Advice Bureau, Tuck Foreign Office, Lloyd Moral Institute, Sorell Urgent Care Centre, Gert Ministry of Peace, Hoekstra’s Athenaeum, and the Bibliotheca Malcolmiana. The aim of this essay is to recommend an additional stop on the tour, at a new building in the heart of the village, opposite Bobbio’s Notary Practice: Larry May’s Chancery Court. It is a sober and minimalist construction, I will argue, with a wealth of inconspicuous windows that offer novel views on the town’s most secret gardens.

I. Hobbes’s Legal Theory: a Gap to fill, or a Key to unlock his Political Theory?

Writing in 2005, Claire Finkelstein introduced her important collection Hobbes on Law thus: ‘Thomas Hobbes has been studied almost exclusively for his political theory (…) [T]he success of Hobbes’s political philosophy has had an unfortunate corollary, namely that his legal theory has attracted comparatively little attention’1. The ultimate motivation of


The Clarendon edition of the Dialogue between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common

Laws of England, edited by Quentin Skinner and Alan Cromartie, also appeared in 2005.

Cromartie’s Introduction offered novel insights into Hobbes’s views on law and urged further reflections on Hobbes’s legal theory2. In spite of these significant attempts to draw attention

to the legal theory of Thomas Hobbes, nothing much happened on this front until 2012 when a noteworthy collection of articles on Hobbes and The Law,edited by David Dyzenhaus and Thomas Poole, was published by Cambridge University Press3. Finally, in 2013, a whole

monograph - to my knowledge the first in the English language - dedicated to the study of law in Hobbes’s system was published by Oxford University Press: Limiting Leviathan:

Hobbes on Law and International Affairs by Larry May.

In the Introduction, May tells us that Limiting Leviathan seeks ‘to fill a gap in the literature’ (p. 1); later, however, he reveals the more ambitious aim of the work, namely that of showing how Hobbes’s legal theory ‘influenced’ his moral and political philosophy (p. 20). Indeed, this book does more than satisfy the reader’s curiosity or fill a lacuna in the secondary literature: the volume questions and inverts the traditional approach to Hobbes’s works; rather than making use of Hobbes’s moral and political philosophy to shed light on his understanding of law, May avails himself of Hobbes’s legal concepts to illuminate his political and moral argument. May’s change of perspective raises important questions both for Hobbes specialists and for a wider readership: can we fully understand Hobbes’s political and moral philosophy without examining the central concepts of his legal theory? Indeed, can we afford to discuss present-day international legal issues without taking advantage of the insights of one of the most powerful political minds in the western tradition?


of nature, according to May, indicate how salus populi can be attained and maintained. One law of nature in particular, namely the law of equity, imposes limitations on law-making and legal justice. In Hobbes’s argument May finds concepts and views that anticipate those of Locke and Lon Fuller. For May, Hobbes sets the stage for a contemporary defence of international law and the International Criminal Court, and presents one of most persuasive cases for minimal and universal rules governing conduct during war.

In the next five sections of this essay I examine May’s main arguments within the context of the secondary literature, and in so doing hope to demonstrate the novelty and distinctiveness of his position. In the final section I address the question of why a consistent writer such as Hobbes made a number of prima facie inconsistent claims that give rise to readings of his political theory as different as the standard interpretation and May’s interpretation. I advance the hypothesis that Hobbes’s political philosophy contains both ‘a theory of obligation for citizens’ and ‘an advice book for rulers’, and suggest that the standard reading encapsulates the former, whereas May’s interpretation captures the latter. I conclude that, whether we endorse May’s interpretation in its entirety or only partially, his book on Limiting Leviathan will change the way we approach Hobbes’s political theory.

II. Bound or Unbound Leviathan? The social contract revisited.

Norberto Bobbio conveyed the standard interpretation of Hobbesian sovereignty when he described it as absolute, unlimited, unconditional, irrevocable, and indivisible4. Although still


his account of the social contract. May, too, examines the social contract in order to build his case for a limited Leviathan. To grasp the distinctiveness of his position it is perhaps helpful to compare it with that of three famous writers who also contested the absoluteness of Hobbesian sovereignty by examining the generation of the Leviathan: Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Carl Schmitt, and Jean Hampton.

Fichte argued that a right that does not presuppose a law, but rather precedes all positive laws, is ein absolutes Recht; the acknowledgement of such a right undermines any attempt to construct a theory of absolute sovereignty by means of the social contract. From a Fichtian perspective, insofar as the natural right to self-preservation of the Hobbesian man precedes the creation of the Leviathan, it imposes conditions on the sovereign power, which is therefore limited.

Carl Schmitt arrived at Fichte’s conclusion by a different route5. Schmitt was a jurist


In the Anglo-American literature, Jean Hampton is a (perhaps the) leading example of an interpreter who argued that Hobbes failed to deliver a theory of absolute state sovereignty. Hampton provided an argument to show that the conditions of the social contract allow substantive limits on the sovereign7.

Although May does not engage with Hampton, Fichte or Schmitt explicitly, his argument contains an indirect response to all three. Whereas Fichte felt that the ‘individual right’ to self-preservation imposes limits on Hobbesian sovereignty, May stresses that the ‘end’ or goal of sovereignty, namely salus populi, imposes various limitations on the exercise of sovereignty. Whereas Schmitt claims that Hobbes attempted to formulate a theory of the absolute state yet unwittingly provided the foundations for a theory of the liberal state, May maintains that Hobbes’s very aim was to advance a state theory that would protect the survival, well-being, and liberty of the people. Whereas Hampton regards Hobbes’s account of the generation and institution of the Leviathan as the Achilles’ heel of his theory of sovereignty, May contends that the social contract serves Hobbes’s aims well: Hobbes wanted to safeguard the people, and the success of Hobbes’s notion of sovereignty has to be evaluated by that measure.

Like Otto Gierke, Maurice Goldsmith and Noel Malcolm before him, May claims that ‘Hobbes viewed the sovereign as having a third-party beneficiary status in respect to the contract made between each man and each man’ (p. 52); unlike these writers, however, May unravels the implications of this claim. May makes the case that Hobbes’s contract resembles that of Locke in having two parts (p. 56).

III. Bound or Unbound Leviathan? The laws of nature revisited.


contract, then ‘Exhibits B’ are his laws of nature. While the standard interpretation takes these rules to be merely prudential, and discovered by instrumental rationality for the sake of self-preservation, alternative readings have stressed that utilitarian considerations alone cannot explain the specific content of these laws. The classical challenge to the standard interpretation of the laws of nature is the so-called the Warrender-Taylor thesis (a moniker that glosses the very different understandings of the laws of nature put forward by A. E. Taylor and Howard Warrender )8. Over the last century, alternative interpretations of the laws

of nature have been wide-ranging, and include deontologies, Christian readings, and virtue ethics. All these alternative understandings of the laws of nature share one fundamental claim: genuine moral considerations are central to Hobbes’s political theory.

Larry May’s position is distinctive. On the one hand, May endorses the standard reading of the laws of nature as prudential rules that rational agents discover by reason; even the law that recommends to refrain from cruelty is grounded, according to May, on prudential considerations (p. 207). On the other hand, unlike supporters of the standard reading, May suggests that morality plays an important role in Hobbes’s construction. He argues that in Hobbes’s argument, rather than giving source to conflicting claims, morality and utility reinforce one another. For example, for the law-maker, the pursuit of the well-being of the people, the commitment to fairness, and restraint from cruelty are moral duties and prudential strategies. As we will see below, according to May, this ‘blending’ of morality and utility is the hallmark of Hobbes’s theory (p. 209), and it makes for a faithful lens through which to view current concerns about the rules of war and relations among states.


limitations’ on the legal system introduced by the Leviathan, and that in this respect Hobbes anticipates Lon Fuller (p. 121).

As well as addressing the fundamental law of nature that recommends the search for peace, May singles out and examines two other natural laws: the law of equity and the law against cruelty. The former is key to May’s interpretation of the limits on the sovereign power as well as to his discussion of international law; the latter plays a crucial role in his treatment of the International Criminal Court and of jus in bello.

IV. Equity and Justice

Although relatively few interpreters have seen in Hobbes a strict legal positivist9, many

supporters of the standard view emphasise Hobbes’s contention that citizens must obey the law not because it is fair, or reasonable, or beneficial, but because it is a command issued by the authorised law-givers. The standard view emphasises that the Leviathan is accountable only to God for his interpretation of the laws of nature (including the law of equity) and reminds us that, for Hobbes, ‘the only Bridle of the Kings of England, ought to be the fear of God’10.

The relationship between legal justice and the natural law of equity has been the focus of increasing attention11, because Hobbes makes a number of puzzling statements (about


the dictates of the natural law of equity ‘due to the structure of his sovereignty and authority’ (p. 119); in his view, equity imposes significant limitations not only on the application and administration of the law (as the standard interpretation holds), but also on law-making. Therefore, it is because of the role that Hobbes gives to equity that he does ‘not provid[e] the kind of positivist account of law that Austin and Bentham advocated’ (p. 108). Hobbes ‘allowed the moral wedge of equity to be driven into his legal positivism’ (p. 83). Throughout the book, May maintains that ‘equity, not justice, is the dominant moral category in Hobbes’s political and legal philosophy’ (p. 67; see also p 20). This contention is the building block of his challenge to the standard reading of Hobbes’s legal theory.

May sketches the history of the concept of equity from Aristotle and Roman times to Tudor England; he shows how ‘equity came to be linked to procedural fairness’ (p. 69). He emphasises that the natural law of equity ‘is singled out and given higher status than the others when Hobbes discusses the duties of the sovereign’ (p. 73). The reason for this, he explains, is that equity is unlike all other laws of nature insofar as it applies only to those men who are ‘trusted to judge between man and man’ (p. 73). May suggests that Hobbes’s argument for equity contains an appeal to the morality of man (‘there are moral limits on legitimate law-making’ (p. 81)) as well as to prudential considerations: ‘when the sovereign does not treat the people fairly, sovereignty is weakened’ (p. 78). From May’s perspective, only an equity-bound Leviathan can deliver the end for which it was created: salus populi.

May argues that proper attention to the concept of equity enables us to trace the development and refinement of Hobbes’s legal thought from the Elements of law to


restricted from acts that threaten the safety of the people and thus violate the law-maker’s duty to provide security for the subjects who have sworn obedience to him’ (p. 83).

V. Fear of Punishment and Fidelity to law

By the lights of the standard interpretation, Hobbes adhered to a deterrence theory of punishment:

Therefore before the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power to compell men equally to the performance of their Covenants, by the terror of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their Covenant;12

May acknowledges Hobbes’s suggestion that the obligation to obey is based on fear; however, he argues that it takes more than fear of punishment to secure stable peace. Hobbes was aware of this: peace requires the habitual obedience of the citizenry and involves a positive moral attitude to and respect for the law. Habitual obedience, in turn, requires fidelity to law. May not only offers a compelling argument to show how a ‘strong concept of fidelity to law’ (p. 125) is part of Hobbes’s philosophy but also makes the case that, even on this issue, Hobbes anticipates Lon Fuller (p. 122). May explains that fidelity to law entails that citizens be faithful to the legal system in general without necessitating adherence to all laws in particular (p. 129). Hence Hobbes’s concept of fidelity to law is compatible with his provision for some forms of disobedience (e.g. ‘self-defensive acts against the sovereign when such acts do not threaten the commonwealth itself’ (p. 134)). May argues that Hobbes condemned the type of disobedience that would threaten the legal order (p. 133) and saw the development of the habit of obedience as the basis of civic virtue.

In summary: the standard interpretation of Hobbes focuses on the role of the passions – especially the fear of punishment – in leading men to obey the law; May, alternatively, maintains that obedience is a corollary of a disposition of respect towards the legal system, of


VI. Anarchy, War , and International Order

From Hanna Arendt to Hans Morgenthau, from Hedley Bull to Michael Doyle, many interpreters of Hobbes have seen in him one of the founding fathers of realism. They have claimed that Hobbes’s credentials in this regard include his depiction of humans as seeking ‘power after power’, his concept of anarchy, his notion of absolute state sovereignty, his claim that a law without sanctions is no law, his metaphor of states as gladiators, and his famous claim that ‘[f]orce and fraud are in warre the two Cardinall vertues’13.

In the last twenty years, however, readers have increasingly questioned the association of Hobbes with realism. May contributes a valuable voice to this camp. Sometimes May fills out (rather than re-traces) the well-known arguments that distance Hobbes from realism; sometimes he develops novel arguments of his own. Not unlike Howard Williams, May questions the stark opposition between Kantianism and Hobbesianism14 and rejects the view that for Hobbes the international realm is anarchic. Not

unlike Noel Malcolm and Tom Sorell, May maintains that Hobbes believed in international co-operation and felt economic considerations could provide the impetus to seek peace (p. 205). May reminds us of passages where Hobbes suggests that ‘a league of state is more likely to develop than a commonwealth of people’ (p. 183) and indicates that states ‘bind together in leagues for mutual advantage and protection’ (p. 189).


Moreover, May demonstrates that this pacifism impacts upon the pursuit of peace among states. Against contemporary lawyers such as Cherif Bassiouni who see no room in the Hobbesian model for international law and especially international criminal law (p. 177), May maintains that Hobbes ‘sets the stage for a contemporary defense of international law and even for the International Criminal Court’ (p. 173). Hobbes ‘can supply us with support for the idea that sovereignty can be legitimately abrogated when security is jeopardised by the sovereign, thereby also providing partial support for international criminal court’ (p. 173). In addition, May finds in Hobbes’s theory inspiration for contemporary rules of war. He contends that Hobbes ‘is not someone who believes that during war moral considerations are irrelevant’ (p. 173); rather, ‘Hobbes presents one of the best cases for minimal and universal rules governing conduct during war, and hence his work is worthy of study for those interested in the laws of war today’ (p. 199). In particular what Hobbes says about cruelty15

can, according to May, help us develop a plausible theory of universally applicable jus in bello. As mentioned in a previous section, Hobbes’ condemnation of cruelty is, for May, partly moral and partly prudential. This is in keeping with his ‘explicit blending of these two normative categories in his laws of nature’ (p. 209).

May sees the Hobbesian rules of war as dictates that sit in the overlap between prudence and morality. Hobbesian moral minimalism, as expressed in the laws of nature, is particularly appealing to May because it ‘recognizes the plurality of values and value orientations’ that we experience in the contemporary world, and provides a ‘view that can be adopted by many disparate perspectives’ (p. 212).

VII. Texts and Contexts.


concepts inherited from ancient and medieval political theory were, according to Voegelin, inadequate to capture the experiences and to address the concerns of people living through the terrible religious wars that afflicted Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. This

motivated Bodin, and later Hobbes, to break away from traditional thinking and to advance the concept of absolute and indivisible sovereignty as a way of securing civic authorities against the constant challenges from within and without states.

May does not question the practical and theoretical challenges that Bodin and Hobbes faced. May does argue, however, that changes in legal theory in the late sixteenth century had a greater impact on Hobbes’s thought than it is generally assumed, and that Hobbes’s break with classical tradition in ethics was consistent with contemporary developments in legal theory. May reviews the concepts of sovereignty and ‘assumpsit’ that were developed in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. He agrees that Hobbes drew heavily on Bodin’s notion of sovereignty (p. 22) but also highlights important differences. He points out that Bodin regarded the people as a type of ‘corporation’ and ‘gave little indication how this corporation, as a body, related to its individual members. This was typical of writers prior to Hobbes: the people were not seen as a collection of individuals each giving assent to the ruler’ (p 22). May draws our attention to the work of Richard Hooker, who conceived of covenants in individualistic terms: the individual is not properly obliged unless they themselves consent to a covenant; it is not sufficient for a group containing that individual to consent (p. 22-23). Hooker of course is famous for his attack on the absolute power of kings. May claims not only that Hobbes adopted Hooker’s individualistic perspective in his account of the social contract, but also that he agreed with Hooker ‘that sovereignty could and should be limited’ (p. 23).


and opinions of Edward Coke, John Whitehall, Matthew Hale and other seventeenth century jurists, emphasising the novelty and unpopularity of some of Hobbes’s views and stressing some similarities between Hobbes’s position and that of Francis Bacon. May’s interpretation of the Dialogue differs from Tuck’s and Cromartie’s. For instance, Cromartie held that contemporary debates on the laws concerning heresy helped shape the Dialogue, while discussions on equity were far less influential. May takes the opposite view. For May, Hobbes’s Dialogue (one of the later works in his opus) is key in understanding Hobbes’s mature political thought: it is not just ‘an elaboration’ of what Hobbes had said in Chapter 26 of Leviathan17, but ‘a full-blown treatise, which Hobbes himself called “De Legibus”’ (p. 89).

May speculates that Hobbes might have given the Dialogue ‘as much weight as the three parts of his Philosophical system: De Corpore, De Homine and De Cive’ (p. 89).

In his discussion of the nature of law, May focuses on the following definition (found in the Dialogue):

a Law is the Command of him, or them, that have the Sovereign Power,

given to those that be his or their Subjects, declaring Publickly, and plainly

what every of them may do, and what they must forbear to do.18


May proceeds to claim that Hobbes ‘softened his view’ on sovereignty and artificial reason over time, and eventually ‘perhaps indicated support for a minimal rule of law’ (p. 139). Although Hobbes did not attach value to the need for the law to be above the rule of men (p. 153), May sees in Hobbes’s theory a notion of rule of law in nuce (p. 155). On this, as on other issues, Hobbes was ‘influenced by the writing of judicial theorists of his time, especially Edward Coke and Matthew Hale’ (p. 139).

In Limiting Leviathan, then, May shows that Hobbes influenced and was influenced by contemporary legal debates; he shows that Hobbes’s position was not static but developed over time; and he shows that Hobbes’s concepts of law, sovereignty and authority are much more subtle than the standard interpretation would suggest (p. 172).

VIII. Standard Interpretation vs May’s interpretation: must we choose?

In the preceding sections I have highlighted some of the most striking differences between May’s reading of Hobbes and the standard reading. I also hope to have demonstrated that both the standard reading and May’s interpretation can ballast their claims with textual evidence from Hobbes’s writings. For instance, the standard interpretation of Hobbes – Hobbes qua champion of absolute sovereignty – seems to be evidenced by text such as this:

For the Sovereign is absolute over both (commonwealth by institution and by conquest) alike; or else there is no Sovereignty at all, and so every man may Lawfully protect himselfe, if he can, with his own sword, which is the condition of war.19

[T]hat king whose power is limited is not superiour to him, or them, that have the power to limit it; and he that is not superiour is not supreme; that is to say, not Sovereign.20

May’s interpretation of Hobbes – Hobbes qua theorist of an Equity-Limited Leviathan – finds support in passages such as the following:


power would want to refrain from wrongdoing, remember their duties and stay within the limits of the natural and divine laws21.

[The] King is not Bound to any other Law but that of Equity.22

But then, if both the standard interpretation and May’s alternative interpretation can claim to be based on textual evidence, and corroborated by contextual debates, which one should we choose? Does the balance of evidence support an ‘Unbound Leviathan’ or an ‘Equity-Limited Leviathan’? What best captures the spirit of Hobbes’s philosophy: justice or equity? Fear of punishment or fidelity to law? Absolute or limited sovereignty?

Interesting as such questions may be for readers and reviewers alike, such an exercise distracts us from a more obvious question: why are Hobbes’s works able to support interpretations as different as these?

Surely an explanation is in order, for it is difficult to believe that one of the finest political minds in the western tradition could not see that which ordinary readers can easily perceive: there exists a tension (across different writings and even within the same work) between Hobbes’s arguments on citizens’ obedience and his views on a sovereign’s duties, between his arguments on justice and his remarks on equity, and between his discourse on natural law and his statements on civil law.

In an attempt to explore the cause for these perceived tensions, we may start by examining a relatively minor ‘contradiction’ in Hobbes’s writings (one that is often overlooked in the secondary literature): Hobbes’s remarks on the King’s award of favours to undeserving friends.

In all his political works, Hobbes reminds us that the sovereign, in his capacity as ‘the source of civil honour’, may award favours at his discretion. Hobbes suggests that cronyism is not the fault of governments but of human nature23 and, as mentioned before, the King


treatment of the favoured cannot legitimise disobedience from the non-favoured. Indeed, Hobbes emphasises that the effect of ‘the enriching now and then of a favourite [is] to the wealth of the Kingdom…inconsiderable’ 24. He points out that much of the wealth that

favourites receive from the King is spent so ‘that it falls down again upon the common people’.25 Hence, by pecuniary diffusion, all may in fact benefit from the patronage of the


Conversely, however, Hobbes in all his political works puts across the view that favouritism foments widespread envy and public discontent; he refers to the English Civil War as an example of the dangerous chain of causation that leads from preferential treatment of favourites to the formation of factions and divisions, and thence to rebellion and civil strife. Although disapproving of people’s envy, in the Dialogue the Philosopher reminds us that ‘[t]he greatest Complaint by them made against the unthriftiness of their Kings was for the enriching now and then a favourite’26 and observes that the self-interested monarch cannot

ignore discontent27.

We must ask ourselves what Hobbes really thought: was he torn as to whether favouring friends is harmless and part of the King’s prerogative or dangerous and potentially part of his downfall? Was he unable to make up his mind?

My proposed explanation for the differing messages on favouritism is that Hobbes was addressing two different audiences: the citizens and the King. His message to the citizens is that they must cope with the phenomenon of favouritism because rulers are as passionate as citizens and these passions may lead them to award favours to undeserving friends; indeed ‘the monarch may be swayed by affections and passions to use his power amiss’28 and ‘one

cannot deny that a prince sometimes may have a mind to act wickedly’29. Hobbes tells


disobedience or rebellion. Hobbes’s message for the King, however, is different. He seems to ask the question: what can a King possibly gain from having unworthy favourites? The King cannot expect any favour in return because he has no equals and, besides, he cannot obtain any more power or any more honour than he already has. Vain glory, or the pleasure of displaying power, can be the only motivation for the special treatment of underserving friends. But vain glory is dangerous, and can cost him the crown.

This example illustrates that some of Hobbes’s apparent contradictions (his claim that favouritism may be a source of rebellion and must be stamped out, and his claim that favouritism is but a small inconvenience that does not undermine the state’s power to protect) dissolve if we assume that Hobbes’s theory contains both an ‘advice book’ for rulers and a ‘theory of obligation’ for the ruled.

I would suggest that, on sovereignty, Hobbes again addresses two audiences: the rulers and the ruled. The standard interpretation encapsulates what Hobbes’s message is to latter30: the establishment of an unbound Leviathan is in their interest; to impose legal or

moral limitations on the sovereign is to curb its power to protect and is therefore against reason; the citizen cannot disobey or resist the Leviathan unless his survival is at risk; a personal distaste for the law, or disapproval of the King’s behaviour, does not constitute grounds for disobedience or rebellion as bad government is preferable to civil war.


The two strands of argument (one aimed at the ruler and one at the ruled) are intertwined in Hobbes’s theory and yet separable. They are intertwined insofar as they serve the same purpose: the attainment of peace. However, Hobbes’s prescription is not the same for the sovereign and the people: citizens’ rights and rulers’ duties are not correlative in Hobbes’s theory as the sovereign is not part of the social contract.

Admittedly, neither the standard interpretation nor May’s interpretation present themselves as capturing only one side of Hobbes’s story; neither recognises in Hobbes’s argument both an ‘advice book’ for rulers and a ‘theory of obligation’ for citizens. In the secondary literature, indeed, the consensus appears to be that Hobbes’s theory constituted a marked departure from the advice-book-for-rulers genre of the previous century, which included works as different as Machiavelli’s Prince (1512) and Erasmus’ Education of a Christian Prince (1516). Hobbes himself seems to suggest such a break with the tradition when he announces that his aim is to explain to citizens their duties. However, in his writings Hobbes sometimes addresses rulers 31; at the end of Part 2 of Leviathan he writes:

And now, considering (…) how much depth of Moral Philosophy is required, in them that have the Administration of the Soveraign Power; I am at the point of believing this my labour, as useless, as the Commonwealth of Plato (…) But when I consider again, that the Science of Naturall Justice, is the only Science necessary for Soveraigns (…) I recover some hope, that one time or other, this writing of mine, may fall into the hands of a Sovereign, who will consider it himselfe, (for it is short, and I think clear), without the help of any interessed, or envious Interpreter; and by the exercise of entire Sovereignty, in protecting the Publique teaching of it, converts this Truth of Speculation, into Utility of Practice.32

The ruling class was Hobbes’s main readership, and so it is unsurprising that (in addition to a theory of obligation for citizens) his political theory contains an advice book for rulers.


I cannot predict if readers will endorse May’s interpretation in its entirety, or, as I have suggested in the final section, integrate his insights on equity, fidelity of law, and cruelty into the standard interpretation. What is certain is that after the publication of Limiting Leviathan


and Quentin Skinner, Oxford: Clarendon Press; henceforth Dialogue.

3 David Dyzenhaus and Thomas Poole (eds) (2012) Hobbes and the Law (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press)

4 Bobbio, Norberto (1993) Thomas Hobbes and the natural law tradition (Chicago: University of

Chicago Press)originally published in Italian Thomas Hobbes (1989) (Torino: Einaudi Editore) see especially pp 53-6

5 I discuss Schmitt’s reading of Hobbes in (2009) Carl Schmitt and the Politics of Hostility, Violence and Terror ( Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan)

6 Carl Schmitt (2008) The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Meaning and failure of a Political Symbol (Chicago: Chicago University Press)

7 Jean Hampton (1986), Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press), especially chapter 7

8 A.E. Taylor (1938) ‘The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes’ Philosophy 13 pp 406-24 ; Howard

Warrender (1957) The political philosophy of Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

9 Even Maurice Goldsmith who according to Finkelstein ‘presents the time-honoured picture of

Hobbes as a positivist, and treats his account of law as the progenitor of Austin’s command theory’ (Finkelstein, Hobbes on Law, p xvii ) writes: ‘Although Hobbes’s discussion provided some of the inspiration of John Austin’s later version of legal positivism, Hobbes’s theory varies in significant ways from that of Austin as well as from those of other legal positivists’ (Maurice Goldsmith (1996) ‘Hobbes on Law’ in Tom Sorell (ed) The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp 274-305, p275.

10Thomas Hobbes ‘A Dialogue between a Philosopher and a student of the Common Laws of

England’, in Cromartie and Skinner (eds), Writings on Common Law, p36

11 See for example Johan Olsthoorn (2013) ‘ Hobbes’s account of distributive justice as equity’ British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 21(I) pp 13-33; Dennis Klimchuk, ‘Hobbes on Equity’ in David Dyzenhaus and Thomas Poole (eds) (2012) Hobbes and the Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp 165-85.

12Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1991) edited by Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press) pp 100-1

13Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p 90; ‘Between commonwealths the wickedness of bad men compels

the good too to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud’ Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, p4

14 Howard Williams (2003) Kant’s Critique of Hobbes: Sovereignty and Cosmopolitanism (Cardiff:

University of Wales Press)

15 According to May (p. 201) Hobbes conceived of cruelty as having two important components: 1)

harm that is unnecessary for self-preservation; and 2) disregard of the needs of others.

16Eric Voegelin (1952) The New Science of Politics (Chicago: Chicago University Press) 17Crospey quoted by May on p 89

18Thomas Hobbes, Dialogue, p 31 19Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p142 20Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p134

21Thomas Hobbes(1998) On The Citizen, edited by Richard Tuck ( Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press) p 94; Hobbes adds: ‘But those who make this distinction [between limited and divided sovereignty] want sovereign to be limited and constrained by others. And as this cannot occur without the limiters having to have some share in power by which to limit them, it is a division of power, not a restraint. (p. 94).

22Thomas Hobbes, Dialogue, p 31

23Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, pp 83-4 24 Thomas Hobbes, Dialogue, p 15


and London: Unwin Brothers) p 142

27 Thomas Hobbes, Dialogue, p 38.

28Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law, p 141 29 Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, p 83

30 For my argument in support of this claim see (2000) Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory (Houndmills: Macmillan) and ‘Hobbes on Glory and Civil Strife’ in (2007) Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan, edited by Patricia Springborg, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp 181-98

31For example he writes: ‘He that is to govern a whole nation, must read in himself, not this, or that

particular man; but Man-kind’ Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p11