An analytic summary of “Hobbesian Political Order” by Russell Hardin
In his work, Hardin aims to analyse Hobbesian political thought in light of contemporary interpretations in the field of social and political theory; namely, in this case, the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Hardin disagrees with what he defines as a “newly established consensus”[footnoteRef:1] that Hobbes’s vision of the state of nature should be seen as “plagued with Prisoner’s Dilemma”[footnoteRef:2]. Specifically, he argues against the interpretation that sees Hobbes’s theory of social contract as itself a large Prisoner’s Dilemma. Instead, Hardin makes the case that Hobbesian theory relies heavily on coercion rather than contract, reminding the reader of just where and how Hobbes’s Leviathan got its name. According to Hardin, Hobbes often denies that men consent “in any meaningful sense”[footnoteRef:3] to be ruled by their sovereign; rather, all men need to do is submit. To Hardin, the modern over-emphasis on the value of consent in Hobbesian thought is a misinterpretation of the original text, a frequent mistake when it comes to contemporary interpretations of classical thinkers as often contemporary scholars “tend not merely to translate, but to transmute”[footnoteRef:4]. [1:
Hardin, R. (1991). Hobbesian Political Order. Political Theory, 19(2), 157. doi:10.1177/0090591791019002002 ] [2: Ibid., p. 157.] [3: Ibid., p. 159.] [4: Ibid.]
Hardin sets forth to argue his claims by firstly detailing Hobbes’s understanding of the structure of exchange and contracting that is at the basis of the Dilemma; then further exploring Hobbes’s “potentially misleading”[footnoteRef:5] dualistic focus on both the laws of nature and the importance of sovereign authority. Hardin believes that laying out these first two arguments is particularly important, as they are the main contributors to the popular understanding that sees Hobbes as a contractarian first and foremost, and his conception of social order as a large-scale real-life version of the Dilemma – both claims that Hardin refutes. Next Hardin describes the role of the Dilemma in Hobbesian natural law, aiming to demonstrate that Hobbes fully understood such a concept even if by other terms, and that he implicitly denied the interpretation of his state of nature based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma in his works. [5: Ibid.]
In the introduction of the essay, Hardin illustrates Hobbes’s role as a precursor to both utilitarianism and contractarianism. He calls attention to the fact that the modern-day animosity between contractarians and utilitarians doesn’t prevent the two theories from coexisting under certain circumstances – in fact, he makes the case that men may agree to what produces the greatest welfare, thus satisfying both the conditions for utilitarianism and contractarianism. Still, Hardin reiterates, the two theories “are not equivalent and may be contrary”[footnoteRef:6]. This ambivalence inherent in Hobbes’s thought also extends to the...