Title: "Why Mothers? An Exploration of the Role of Natural Maternal Dominion in Hobbes' Leviathan"
In Leviathan, Chapter XX: Of Dominion Paternal and Despotical, Hobbes provides two explanations for why mothers have first dominion over children in the state of nature: (1) only mothers can identify fathers, and (2) children depend upon the mother’s will for survival. The first reason Hobbes gives for natural maternal dominion is practical: motherhood is easily provable even in the state of nature; whereas, fatherhood is suspect. Readers should wonder, though: Why would Hobbes make this second claim about children’s dependency when the first explains maternal natural dominion? Is Hobbes following his usage of the family in the rest of Chapter XX and pointing to an analogy between natural maternal dominion over children in the state of nature and the sovereign-subject relationship in civil society? What insight, if any, would such an analogy provide to readers regarding the overarching project of Leviathan to convince readers to obey sovereigns and thus circumvent the problems of civil war and the state of nature?
In this paper, I suggest that there is, in fact, an analogy between natural maternal dominion and the sovereign-subject relationship and that this analogy not only explains why Hobbes gives a second explanation for natural maternal dominion but also provides Hobbes with a useful tool for teaching readers why subjects owe obedience to the sovereign. This second reason Hobbes gives regarding children's dependency makes natural maternal dominion into the analogy that teaches readers why the sovereign’s protection entails subjects’ obedience. Children should obey mothers out of gratitude for the protection only mothers can provide just as subjects should obey the sovereign for saving them from the state of nature. Current scholarship, which focuses on the mechanisms by which mothers in civil society habituate children to be obedient subjects, cannot explain why such habituation is important. Natural maternal dominion, as it turns out, functions differently in Leviathan than mothering in civil society. Thus, I conclude that Hobbes has two, distinct conceptions of motherhood in Leviathan.