Thomas Hobbes and the Person of the State
(Queen Mary University London)
20 May 2015, 17:00-19:00
Nowadays when we speak about the state we generally use the term simply to refer to an apparatus of power. As a result — at least in Anglophone political theory — ‘state’ and ‘government’ have become virtually synonymous terms. My lecture begins by tracing the emergence in modern western political theory of the strongly contrasting view that the state is the name of a distinct Person. Thomas Hobbes is taken to be the leading contributor to this development, and in the central section of my lecture I analyse his understanding of the state as a ‘person by fiction’. My lecture ends by attempting an assessment of the idea of state personality. Has anything of significance been lost as a result of the abandonment of the belief, central to so much early-modern and Enlightenment discourse, that the state is the name of a moral Person distinct from both government and the governed?
About the speaker:
Quentin Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University College London. He is the author of numerous books and articles on early modern political thought and is a founder of the so-called ‘Cambridge School’ of the history of political thought.