Hobbes on International Ethics

In Marcus P. Adams (ed.), A Companion to Hobbes. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 252–267 (2021)
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Abstract

This chapter explores the character and normative foundations of Hobbes's international ethics. In Hobbes's case, international ethics is composed of three distinct sets of norms: natural rights, the laws of nature, and justice. In Leviathan, Hobbes's international ethics are informed by sovereign duties of care to national subjects – not unlike the tacit ethical assumptions of some modern realist theories of international relations. Commonwealths and pre‐statist individuals face different empirical conditions, making the international state of war a less wretched condition for subjects than the prestatist war of all against all. Scholars have hitherto overlooked Hobbes's concomitant naturalistic conception of rights of war – justifying both preventive attacks and outright conquest. Both the English and Latin Leviathan reiterate the earlier equation of jus gentium with natural law. Hobbes thereby effectively made having a right intention the sole criterion for permissible resort to armed force.

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Johan Olsthoorn
University of Amsterdam

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