Thomas Hobbes (b. 1588–d. 1679) is one of the most influential political theorists in the Western canon. Arguably, many of our contemporary political structures are based on his thinking and reasoning. Hobbes lived in a time when traditional sources of political authority were being deeply challenged. In works such as The Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan, Hobbes retells the story of the foundation of political order so as to create a new rationale and model for state and society. Key among his insights are his description of the chaotic state of nature, his view of natural law, and the nature of political sovereignty. In particular, he is noted for his understanding of the relationship between the sovereign and the people that it represents. By anchoring that relationship in social contract theory, Hobbes produces a tale of consent and authorization. Calling the people the true “authors” of the covenant that they make with the sovereign, Hobbes indicates, at least indirectly, a role for the larger community in their own political structures (although the degree of that involvement is an ongoing controversy among Hobbes scholars to this day). In the latter parts of Leviathan, and also in De Cive, among other texts, Hobbes also considers an alternative genesis to contemporary political authority, stemming from God’s authority over ancient Israel.
Hobbes’s work is of such breadth and complexity that many works treat him at an unfairly broad and general level. These books tend to be dominated by some basic questions about Hobbes: the question of his relationship to humanism and classical Antiquity, the degree to which he can be read as a “proto-liberal” (or not), and the question of his politics and how they relate to his notions of morality and philosophy. Overviews that deal specifically with Hobbes’s politics include Baumgold 1988 and Malcolm 2003. Those that focus on his metaphysics and philosophy include Finn 2007 and Reik 1977. Books that focus on Hobbes’s ethics and morality include Gert 2010. More general overviews with a lot of biographical details include Martinich 1999, Rogow 1986, Sorell 2008, and Tuck 1989.
Baumgold, Deborah. Hobbes’s Political Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
For Baumgold, Hobbes’s concerns are chiefly about elite ambition, civil unrest, and the dangers of factional strife. In this way she changes the conversation about Hobbes from one primarily concerned with morality and philosophy to one concerned with politics.
Finn, Stephen. Thomas Hobbes: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum, 2007.
Explores Hobbes’s philosophical methodology, detailing Hobbes’s theories of metaphysics, epistemology, and political and theological principles. Finn encourages the reader to consider their own moral positions in terms of Hobbes’s consideration of these questions.
Gert, Bernard. Hobbes: Prince of Peace. New York: Polity, 2010.
Gert seeks to show that Hobbes is not a psychological egoist and that he offers a much richer and more nuanced approach to political and moral questions than such a view would allow. For Gert, Hobbes demonstrates a moral system based on the possibility of human virtue. In this way, Gert makes an argument similar to thinkers such as the author of Deigh 1996 (cited under Ethics, Egoism, and Moral Science).
Malcolm, Noel. Aspects of Hobbes. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Malcolm covers a gamut of issues related to Hobbes including his relationship to the Virginia Company, his understanding of science, the nature of international relations in Hobbes’ system, the meaning and history of the frontispiece of Leviathan, and his relation to several contemporaries.
Martinich, A. P. Hobbes: A Biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Martinich situates Hobbes in the political, cultural, social, religious, and philosophical contexts of his time, considering questions of the rise of modern science and the events of the English Civil War, among other issues, as major influences on Hobbes’s work.
Reik, Miriam. The Golden Lands of Thomas Hobbes. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1977.
Reik deals with questions of Hobbes’s philosophy of science as well as his relationship to classical and Renaissance humanism. She also deals with the many controversies that swirled around Hobbes in his own lifetime and the way that Hobbes dealt with (and generally outlived) his critics.
Rogow, Arnold. Thomas Hobbes: Radical in the Service of Reaction. London: Norton, 1986.
Rogow attempts to write an intellectual biography of Hobbes, while acknowledging the many gaps that exist in our knowledge of his life.
Sorell, Tom. Hobbes. London: Routledge, 2008.
Sorell emphasizes Hobbes’s metaphysics and philosophy of science as well as his psychology. He denies that Hobbes is a psychological egoist even as he grapples with the fact that he considers Hobbes not to be a fully moral thinker.
Tuck, Richard. Hobbes. London: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Provides an overview of Hobbes’s life and writings. Among Tuck’s claims about Hobbes is that he probably was an atheist even though he was not as pessimistic about human nature as many often assume. Tuck also defends Hobbes from the claim that he was a totalitarian.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Authoritarianism in the Public
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Feminist Political Thought
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume's Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Feedback
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics