Hobbes and the Ideal Citizen

Sunday, September 11, 2022
First Aired: 
Monday, November 4, 2019

What Is It

Seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that without government to control our worst impulses, life would be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.' Consequently, he thought that absolute monarchy is the best form of government. So is Hobbes’ ideal citizen simply someone who is willing to submit to absolute authority, or are there other features the ideal citizen must have? What flaws would make a subject bad, or worse, a threat to peace in the realm? And are there any lessons modern democracies can learn from Hobbes’ political philosophy? Josh and Ken submit to Stanford political scientist Alison McQueen, author of Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times.



Ken Taylor  
Shouldn't citizens have a say in how they are governed?

Josh Landy  
Or is that just a recipe for endless extremism and dangerous division?

Comments (6)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, October 28, 2019 -- 12:40 PM

It seems Hobbes was quite

It seems Hobbes was quite right for his time. A similar assessment might be appropriate for Hume; Voltaire; Rousseau; John Stuart Mill and others of that ilk. But that is the nature of philosophy: reflecting much of the world, as it is, during the tenure of the philosopher. It is not rocket science, more along the lines of sociology ( or Wilson's sociobiology). It is not too hard to report things as they at first appear. I am pretty sure, without reading it, that Ms. McQueen gets to some of this in her book. All of which is supportive of what John Dewey said about beliefs. There are valuable lessons to be learned from all these great thinkers. We need only heed Dewey's advice, and remember that beliefs are not necessarily synonymous with truths. Truths do not rely on what people BELIEVE in order to be truths. Beliefs are reliant upon interests to make them so---which is exactly why Dewey said what he said about them.

Quinton Lauer's picture

Quinton Lauer

Thursday, November 7, 2019 -- 11:37 PM

Another good show. Having

Another good show. Having just got back from my first trip to Ireland, I'd like to read the Sixth-Second Philosopher and his take on Cromwell, Ireland, the Troubles, and Brexit. As two journalists, we had good discussions with folks in the North and the Republic, and would like to catch Ian's take on that part of Hibernia's history. How can we connect on that?

RepoMan05's picture


Sunday, November 10, 2019 -- 9:08 PM

Even our "worst" innate

Even our "worst" innate impuses have to have a place or it causes psychosis. People are animals with instincts. Instincts are natural. You could call them a part of your senses. When one of your senses are lost, hearing, etc etc. The centers of your brain used for those senses revolt. The best example is pain. Without it, you will surely die. No one that was born without the capacity to feel pain has lived past the onset of puberty. Most die before kindergarten. A government should not seek to deny human nature lest it's nation go insane. Even its "worst" aspects have a use and a reason.

Putting a dam on natural impulses is always counter productive when you don't leave any outlets. The dam breaks.

Government is created and tasked with ensuring a framework conducive with supporting life, not with cherry picking human nature for inhuman catholic eunuchs and beardless lesbians. Both just one step up from death worshipers being that testicles are actually a part of life. News flash everyone. What's more morbid, testicles, eunuchs, or beardless lesbians... Rainbows maybe? Seems like it, just suddenly.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, November 14, 2019 -- 9:11 PM

I have ignored Hobbes as old

I have ignored Hobbes as old hat and not germane to modern life. I am a fool as this show has clearly laid out. I will get this book and read it in penance.

Thanks for this.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, December 14, 2019 -- 12:52 AM

I have read McQueen's book

I have read McQueen's book and I'm wondering at the immensity of my ignorance of this subject. I won't be able to quite capture my thought here as I am tracing back the references prior to setting aside time to tackle Hobbes himself. Right now I am treading all over Quentin Skinner and it's just making it all the worse.

I might not ever get rid of the title of fool. But I read on.

Daniel's picture


Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 3:38 PM

Hobbes opposes Aristotle's

Hobbes opposes Aristotle's notion that humans are political animals, and that it is a function of human nature to live in cities and create states by which they are governed. And that's related to a strict materialism which holds that all analyzable truths which can be shared with precision are the truths of bodies, their cohesion and diffusion, and the causes of their motion. And bodies are of two types: natural and artificial. As the state falls under this latter heading, generated by a desire for peaceful coexistence at the expense of contractual obligations which set boundaries to one's liberty, war and conflict in general fall under the former, implying that humans are by nature disorganized warriors, where no artificial organization resulting in state institutions is successfully undertaken.

As elaboration of Hobbes's point, take an example where two groups of people are left in a particular area for a few days with various items which have no special use or purpose, --sticks, string, strips of cloth, and so on, and one group ends up beating each other with them, so that a few dominate the rest, and the other ends in the form of a game played with the objects as symbols for moves in the game, so that exclusion of any single player would violate its rules and therefore does not occur. Assuming equal conditions and an absence of external intervention, from a traditionally Hobbesian perspective, the first group occurred naturally and the second had to be artificial in some way, on the basis of some contractual agreement or imposed limit on one's range of inclinations.

Because the distinction between liberty and constraint here informs that between natural and artificial, a question arises as to whether one can consider the second group's result to be an artificial product which nevertheless looks like it could be a product of nature, as with, for example, a well executed representational painting. Some have suggested that the Olympic Games in Greece started out that way, as an imitation of war under peaceful conditions. And talk about something as an imitation is talk to some degree about its form as independent of its material existence. Could Hobbes be sneaking in some scholastic-Aristotelian concept of form here, so that his nominalist materialism of inclination-constraint could turn out to be a realist formalism of collective liberation?

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