An apologist for English colonialism? The use of America in Hobbes’s writings

Jiangmei Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper challenges the colonial reading of Thomas Hobbes’s use of America. Firstly, by analysing all the references and allusions to America in Hobbes’s writings, I claim that Hobbes simply uses America to support his central theory of the state of nature, showing the fundamental significance of a large and lasting society to our being and well-being. Secondly, I argue that Hobbes’s use of America does not serve a second purpose that is similar to Locke’s justification of English land appropriation. Even extending such a Lockean colonial theme from Hobbes’s theory would fail due to Hobbes’s unique property theory. Lastly, with a more nuanced contextual analysis of Hobbes’s involvement in the Virginia Company and relevant textual analysis, I propose that Hobbes is not only not a supporter of English colonialism, but rather an opponent of the Virginia Company, imperial expansion, and colonial conquest. I am not denying the fact that later thinkers like Locke develop Hobbes’s notion of the American state of nature to justify European colonization in America. However, the received history should not be confused with Hobbes’s own writing purpose. Nor should we ignore Hobbes’s opposition to imperial expansion.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalHistory of European Ideas
VolumeLatest Articles
Early online date21 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jul 2023


  • Hobbes
  • America
  • Colonialism
  • The state of nature
  • The Virginia Company


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