Readings and Reading Questions for Thursday, January 14


For Thursday, we will be reading and discussing excerpts of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, as well as the famous document from the French Revolution, the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”   You can find a link to Hobbes here.  We’re reading chapters 17-18, and 21.  They concern the nature and origin of society (chapter 17), the powers that the sovereign must have in order to keep society functioning (chapter 18), and the liberties that subjects retain (chapter 19.  You can find the “Rights of Man” link here.

Here are some basic thoughts and questions that might be helpful to you as you do these readings:

Always keep in mind the big questions.  This is a class on the concept of power, so we are interested in how the authors we are reading understand what power is, where it is located in society (including who if anyone possesses it), where it comes from,  the sorts of effects it produces, and how it produces them.  The complexity here is that the authors we are reading for Thursday tend not to address these sorts of issues explicitly.  So in order to get at the big questions,  consider these smaller ones:

(1) In chapter 17, Hobbes famously argues that society has its origins in a social contract: who participates in this contract?  What do they agree to do?  What sort of power operates in an agreement?

(2) Why does Hobbes say that we need a sovereign?

(3)  What are some of the main powers the sovereign has?  What sort of power underlies these specific powers?  In other words, what is it that allows the sovereign to keep the peace and unite society?

(4)  How does Hobbes define liberty? 

(5) What sorts of liberties do the subjects retain?

(6) What is the relation between the subject’s liberties and the sovereign’s power?

(7) Try to think about an image or picture that could capture the essence of how Hobbes thinks about society and social order.  You might want to draw it if you can.

(8) In terms of governmental authority and the rights of the citizen, what differences are there between Hobbes’ position and the one we see in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”?   Does the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” adopt a different understanding of power than Hobbes does?


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