The liberal slip of Thomas Hobbes's authoritarian pen

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In The Leviathan in the state theory of Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt puts forward the claim that there is a ‘barely visible crack’ in Hobbes's theory of the state that opened the door to liberal constitutionalism. This essay claims that Schmitt's ‘thesis of the crack’ is composed of two elements: first, Schmitt argues that Hobbes makes a concession to individual conscience in his discussion of miracles; second, Schmitt points out that Hobbes's individualism undermines his notion of the absolute state. As Schmitt relies on an unconvincing critique of Hobbes's discourse on miracles in order to justify his more general claim against Hobbes's authoritarianism, this essay suggests that Schmitt's ‘thesis of the crack’ is untenable in the form that Schmitt presented it in 1938. An attempt, however, is made to salvage ‘the thesis of the crack’ by turning to concepts found in Schmitt's Concept of the political and in Political theology. Although Schmitt openly approved of the so‐called protection/obedience principle, this essay claims that there are a number of crucial differences between Schmitt's formulation of that principle and Hobbes's own version; an examination of these differences enables us (i) to appreciate the consequences of Hobbes's individualism on his theory of the state and (ii) to shed new light on Howard Warrender's famous claim that Hobbes's sovereign is inherently weak. The essay concludes that in spite of Schmitt's fallacious formulation of the ‘thesis of the crack’ of 1938, his political theory affords us a rare vantage point from which we can clearly see a case against the association of Hobbes with authoritarianism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-369
Number of pages13
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


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