Hobbes's Rationalist Myth: A Lecture by Judd Owen

Wed, February 19, 2020 5:00 PM at 104 S. Kedzie Hall

Hobbes presents two accounts of the origins of sovereign authority. The more famous account, “sovereignty by institution,” describes political society as originating when a multitude of individuals in the state of nature established a sovereign power through the mutual surrender of rights. This account, however, is a fiction, a sort of rationalist myth of the origins of political society. The true historical origins of political society are indicated more obliquely in his account of “sovereignty by acquisition” and in his account of the origins of “formed religion.” Hobbes’s rationalist myth is intended to reconcile subjects to their existing sovereign and to educate existing sovereigns in prudent governance.

Judd Owen is Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University, where he is Director of the Program in Democracy and Citizenship. He is the author of Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism (Chicago) and, most recently, of Making Religion Safe for Democracy: Transformation from Hobbes to Tocqueville (Cambridge). His work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, and Polity.