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Reviewed by:
  • Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide ed. by Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn
  • Daniel Collette
Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn, editors. Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide. Cambridge Critical Guides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. xi + 251. Hardback, $99.99.

Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn’s edited critical guide grew from a European Hobbes Society meeting themed on Hobbes’s On the Citizen (De Cive). Hobbes intended On the Citizen to be the final treatise of his tripartite Elements of Philosophy. Sociopolitical forces demanded that he publish On the Citizen first, and he only later completed the trilogy with two preceding volumes: On the Body (De Corpore) and On Man (De Homine). Despite On the Citizen’s significance, it is often overlooked in scholarly work and in classroom instruction favoring Hobbes’s better-known Leviathan. Douglass and Olsthoorn augment the intellectual landscape by providing an engaging collection of articles that make an important and needed contribution to fill this void.

The guide contains twelve chapters authored by well-known scholars such as S. A. Lloyd and A. P. Martinich. Mirroring the order of presentation in On the Citizen, these chapters are organized into three themes: liberty, government, and religion. The contents of these themes are weighed differently in this volume, however. Where over half of On the Citizen is devoted to discussions on government, these editors provide a more in-depth exploration of liberty and religion without neglecting political themes more often associated with Hobbes studies, such as sovereignty and authorization.

The volume commences with five chapters on liberty. Deborah Baumgold and Ryan Harding begin this section strongly, comparing On the Citizen to Elements of Law (Hobbes’s first political treatise) in chapter 1. They leverage differences between those two treatises to establish that Hobbes’s geometrical method is analytic, not formalist or synthetic. This is important because Hobbes’s method is one of discovery; it was an empirical approach that led him to narrower questions and, ultimately, to political philosophy. The remaining chapters on liberty cover chiefly moral philosophy. The second chapter provides a defense of Hobbes’s strong rejection of Aristotle’s definition of humans as natural political animals, the third considers the role that self-admiration plays in conflict (and hence, its suitability for regulation), the fourth admirably appraises Hobbes’s thought experiment of parricide to stress the limits of political obligation, and the fifth contains an exploration of the sincerity of Hobbesian right reason.

Hobbes rarely strays from the topic of government in On the Citizen; the next three chapters explicitly address this by returning to central political concerns. Authors of these chapters consider despotic sovereignty, liberal principles, and property rights (chapter 6); sociopolitical forces, lordship, and slavery (chapter 7); and Hobbes’s notion of corporate persons, which is presented here as a precursor to authorization (chapter 8).

The guide’s last four chapters focus on religion. Hobbes viewed religion as a destabilizing force and political threat since citizens who are torn between the dualism of religious duties and civic duties, or those who are arbiters of their own religious convictions, are never fully committed to the state; such split allegiances can cause disruptive conflicts and instability. [End Page 505] For these reasons, religion is significant for Hobbes’s political program, and it receives a refreshing amount of attention in the volume. The authors here engage with Hobbes’s conflation of the love of God with the laws of nature, which ultimately collapses into obedience to the sovereign (chapter 9); his softened rhetoric against Rome for publishing in France, which changed superficial aspects of church-state relations, but not its fundamental structure (chapter 11); and his selective use of biblical models for grounding contracts, covenants, and sovereign making, as well as why he is selective (chapter 12).

Alison McQueen (chapter 10) provides an especially persuasive analysis of Hobbes’s religious concerns, responding to previous scholarship by Jeffrey Collins. Collins argues that there was a shift in Hobbes’s religious focus in the period between Elements of Law and On the Citizen: where in Elements Hobbes was concerned with private inspiration and religious enthusiasm, in On the Citizen he addressed...