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Political Ideas – Thomas Hobbes

4. The Powers of Sovereignty

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In this module, we ask what kind of sovereign Hobbes’s political theory creates, focusing in particular on: (i) Hobbes’s significant influence in defining our modern notions of sovereignty; (ii) the nuances in his formulation of the sovereign; (iii) the idea of the sovereign as an “artificial person”, representing the will of all, famously depicted on the initial image or Frontispiece to Leviathan, which Hobbes himself had a hand in designing; (iv) the complicated notion of popular sovereignty underpinning Hobbes’s creation of the sovereign; (v) Hobbes’s recognition that most sovereigns were historically acquired by war or conquest and the implicit consent of the people governed, rather than literally created by a social contract of natural individuals gathering together; (vi) the absolutism of Hobbes's sovereign.


In this course, Professor Jeffrey Collins (Queen’s University) explores the political theory of Thomas Hobbes, primarily through his best-known work Leviathan. In the first module, we are introduced to Hobbes’s life and times, and briefly place his thinking into two contexts: those of Humanism and the “New Science”. In the second module we zoom in on the historical context of the English Civil War as we attempt to make sense of Hobbes’s views on human nature and the individual. In the third module, we move on to consider Hobbes’s account of the social contract as the means by which sovereignty is brought into existence, thus creating the political state. Here we look directly at Hobbes’s own words in Leviathan, reading the text closely and picking apart its meanings. In the fourth module, we explore the precise nature of sovereignty, exploring the sorts of powers Hobbes argued the sovereign should have. In the fifth module, we explore the themes of liberty and disorder in Hobbes’s “science of politics", before, in the sixth and final module, considering Hobbes’s influence over later liberal and conservative thinkers.


Jeffrey Collins is Professor of History at Queen’s University, Canada. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1999. He has published numerous articles on early modern religion, politics, and political thought, and is regular book reviewer for publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Times Literary Supplement. His first book, ‘The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes’, was published by Oxford University Press in 2005; his second, ‘In the Shadow of Leviathan: John Locke and the Politics of Conscience’, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2020. He is currently working on an intellectual history of Charles I’s purported “king’s book,” the Eikon Basilike, published immediately after his execution in 1649.

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Collins, J. (2021, November 11). Political Ideas – Thomas Hobbes - The Powers of Sovereignty [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Collins, J. "Political Ideas – Thomas Hobbes – The Powers of Sovereignty." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Nov 2021,

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