Title: "Hobbes and Philosophical Anarchism"
Ben Jones and Manshu Tian
Hobbes defends absolute political authority while philosophical anarchism questions the legitimacy of political authority altogether. On its face, the vast gulf between these two positions suggests that, from the anarchist’s perspective, Hobbes’s political philosophy has little of value to offer. This paper cautions against that conclusion and draws attention to how Hobbes speaks more directly to philosophical anarchism’s concerns than is often recognized. In contemporary debates over political authority, defenders of such authority often speak past philosophical anarchists by failing to address their most powerful objections. The political philosophy of John Rawls serves as an illustrative example. Rawls defends political authority by appealing to ideal theory and assuming a just or at least reasonably just state. Though one can justify political authority in theory without necessarily justifying it in practice, Rawls notably indicates that he believes liberal democratic states like the United States are reasonably just and have legitimate authority, even if they are flawed.
The philosophical anarchist questions this claim and arguably for good reason. After all, it is difficult to find states not complicit in horrific evils—slavery, genocide, war crimes, systemic racism, unjust coercion, and the list goes on—which raise valid concerns over their legitimacy. It thus is questionable that justifying political authority at the level of ideal theory justifies the political authority of any actual state. Hobbes proves especially relevant to philosophical anarchism because his interest lies in justifying actual states, warts and all. A frequently overlooked aspect of Hobbes’s political philosophy is his frank account of the Leviathan’s shortcomings—from killing the innocent to commanding idolatry. By justifying a state riddled with imperfections, Hobbes acknowledges rather than ignores many of the worries raised by philosophical anarchism. One way to read Hobbes is that he presents a lesser-evil justification for political authority: the state is the source of very real evils, but they ultimately pale in comparison to those outside it, which justifies obedience to the state across a wider range of circumstances than philosophical anarchism can justify. As a growing body of research from ethnography and archeology offers potential evidence in support of the lesser-evil justification, Hobbes’s thought presents perhaps the greatest challenge to philosophical anarchism and one that deserves its attention.