The Enduring Importance of Hobbes in the Study of IR

This article confronts the question, is Thomas Hobbes still relevant to the study of international relations today?[1] Some might argue he never was, as his depiction of anarchy involves relations among individuals in a state of nature.[2] Other critics point to the changing nature of international relations (i.e., a diminution of possibilities for large-scale conflict because of the costs of war and the growing web of interdependence).[3] For these scholars Hobbes’ depiction of a anarchy is less relevant as a means of understanding international relations in the modern age. Most scholars, however,  firmly believe that Hobbes discussion of the state of nature continues to ring true as a metaphor for relations among sovereign states without an overarching power that can guarantee their safety (i.e., there is no 911 in international politics). In this latter respect, Thomas Hobbes is regarded as a major intellectual precursor of realist theory, and realism is still the dominant paradigm in the study of international relations today.[4] But even realists would not deny the fact that international politics today is pervaded not only by possibilities for conflict, but by many possibilities for cooperation.[5] And in this respect, they might ascent to the possibility that Hobbes is not the perfect metaphor for international relations. Both these arguments are misguided. They fundamentally assume that Hobbes’ depiction of anarchy is not a contested subject, i.e., that we all agree on the Hobbes’ interpretation of anarchy as a place void of any possibilities for cooperation. If this were true, then indeed there would be strong disagreement as to whether Hobbes is relevant to the study of international relations in the modern era. Realists would embrace the salience of a world without a 911and underscore the relevance of the famous political thinker, while neoliberals and constructivists would challenge his relevance because of their emphasis on the pervasiveness of norms and institutions that create extensive possibilities for cooperation in modern world politics. Both are correct and incorrect, and both their beliefs leave room for a common agreement on one proposition: that Hobbes the cosmopolitan thinker (not Hobbes the realist) is infinitely relevant for the study of international politics today. This is because anarchy itself, in Hobbes’ own interpretation, offers possibilities for both conflict and cooperation in ways that embrace the main tenets of the three main paradigms of international relations theory: realism, neoliberailsm and constructivism.    Indeed, a careful textual analysis of the tale of the fool in Chapter 15 of the Leviathan demonstrates that Hobbes’ vision of anarchy embraces ample opportunities for cooperation (covenants) in a Hobbesian state of nature (i.e., without a Leviathan to impose order). The precise Hobbesian logic evident in this tale, in fact, reflects both strong neoliberal and constructivist elements in what many would consider a least-likely place: in Hobbes’ vision of anarchy. So while Hobbes has been hailed as the first early modern realist, he could also be cited as the first early modern neoliberal and constructivist. In this respect, Hobbes’ own synthesis of elements of realism, constructivism and neoliberalism holds much promise for inspiring a new and more sophisticated vision of international relations: cosmopolitik.[6] It is this cosmopolitan Hobbes that is infinitely relevant to the study of international relations in what is generally agreed to be a cosmopolitan world (i.e., a world of both conflict and cooperation).

This article is organized as follows. Section I considers Hobbes’ relevance for realist theories of international relations. Section II marshals a textual analysis of the tale of the fool and discusses its implications for Hobbesian logic pertaining to anarchy. Section III considers the implications of this revised interpretation of Hobbes for the study of international relations today. Section IV presents brief concluding thoughts about moving toward a new understanding of international relations based on the lessons from this analysis of Hobbes.

I. Hobbes the Realist: Still Quite Relevant 

Hobbes’ work on anarchy has been hailed as the very foundation of modern realist theory in international relations.[7] The elegance of his passages on anarchy in Chapter 13 of Leviathan is no doubt moving, especially in the literal precision that Hobbes purports to convey its behavioral manifestations. From a simple premise (“men live without a common power to keep them all in awe”–no 911),  human interactions will devolve into a sort of chaos in which no one is spared the risk of death or violence (L, XIII, 8 and 9).[8] Morality and ideas of right have no place here: instead “force and fraud” become “the two cardinal virtues” (L, XIII,  13).[9] The parallels to international relations are striking, as striking as the cold elegance of Hobbes’ logic in Chapter 13.  Having no Leviathan, or 911, to call renders the world a menacing place, which  has particular implications for state behavior. It is all the more striking because it is one of the first structural accounts of human relations: i.e., as independent of inherent traits and internal motivations. Prior dispositions or socialized behavior leading to variations in the particularistic characteristics of actors matter little. Under anarchy, even a group of inherently ethical people would soon devolve into a gang of brutes.

The time-honoured game-theoretic mode of modelling strategic interactions in anarchy has been the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Curley 1994: xxiv). In this case, there is an overwhelming incentive to exploit others in the community as ‘force and fraud’ become cardinal virtues. Mutual defection is assured because of the dominant strategy leading to a Nash non-cooperative equilibrium. Gestures of cooperation are likely to be met with ‘fraud,’ while defection is likely to be met in kind. Hence the classic preference ordering of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, which is symmetrical across players, presents itself: in a two-person game it would be DC>CC>DD>CD.[10] Hence, given that player 1’s payoffs are on the left, and player 2’s payoffs are on the right, the game unfolds thusly for player 1. In the event that player 2 cooperates (first two preferences), player 1 prefers exploitation to cooperation. In the event player 2 defects (last two preferences), player 1 prefers to act in kind. Since the payoffs are symmetrical, then the same holds true for player 2 and hence the dominant strategy ending in a Nash non-cooperative equilibrium at DD.

Who could say this is not relevant in today’s relations among nations. There is in fact no definitive rule of law in international relations because there are no overarching governing institutions among nations that can guarantee a nation’s security. Nations are all indeed sovereign, which means each holds a monopoly on the use of force domestically, but no institution or actor can claim a monopoly on the use of force over nations themselves, i.e., there is no international 911. There are actors and institutions that can function like an international 911: international organizations, superpowers, and alliances. Many of these de facto 911s have indeed interceded to impose and/or maintain order and law over recalcitrant nations (NATO in the Balkans, UN peacekeepers in numerous places, the US in Kuwait, etc). The list is quite long, but there is no actor or institution that you can call which can guarantee your safety. It is one thing to say that there is a high likelihood that the community of nations will intervene to prevent egregious acts of violence against nations or groups of people, but quite another to say that such intervention is guaranteed. Even a high probability is still not 100%. And it is precisely this element of uncertainty that drives nations to behave in a manner that we glean from the logic of Hobbes in his famous passages on anarchy from the Leviathan.

Many scholars talk about a more civilized world in which the use of force is waning (deterrence, interdependence, etc—see below), but just because the large-scale use of force is not as useful does not mean it cannot be used. It is interesting to see that dominant nations that hold a near monopoly on the possession of nuclear weapons are frightened over the possibility of smaller nations owning even one nuclear device. Needless to say that it is inconceivable that such new nuclear powers could ever envisage using such a device against a better armed opponent (which would be suicidal), yet nations that are fairly invulnerable to the treat feel the need to eliminate even that one out of 10,000 chance that such a device could be used. Nations still have to be prepared to help themselves, or what the realist catechism refers to as “self-help.” This puts a great deal of emphasis on the possession of material resources (i.e., hard power) that can be used to protect a nation against acts of violence. And in fact, we see that virtually every nation that can field an army indeed does so. Those nations that do not are either under the security umbrella of larger nations, or are of a size that fielding an army would not serve as a viable protective strategy, i.e., could not adequately protect themselves (e.g., Palau, Samoa, Liechtenstein, Grenada, Tuvalu, Nauru).

Those that like to speak of the proximity of the international system to a system of law will highlight modern-day restraints against barbaric uses of violence. Indeed it is a fact that there are some acts so egregious as to be considered unlikely. But realists would call attention to the mass genocides which have occurred recently and are occurring today in this modern-day system that embraces human rights and the sanctity of law. Indeed, what is more inconceivable than a system of powerful nations allowing one million Rwandans to be slaughtered when it could have been prevented at a modest cost economically. The reference here is to the famous Dallaire faxes to the UN, which definitively warned of a planned genocide against the Tutsi population of Rwanda. Dallaire pleaded for months to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations to deploy a force to prevent the bloodshed. But no action from the UN was forthcoming and hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered soon afterward.

In the Hobbesian state of nature, even with individuals that enjoy fairly ironclad protection from others, there is still some probability that such protection will not always be forthcoming. Even if it is a small probability indeed, individuals still cannot be absolutely assured of protection. Those that want to assure themselves a response to aggression must in some manner (whether small or large) make some arrangements to generate such a response unilaterally. The logic is akin to insurance protection in civil society where individuals  often choose to purchase insurance against specific disasters to guarantee recovery. It is possible to be fully protected without such insurance by relying on sources of influence consistent with soft power, (i.e., relying on the goodwill of friends or relatives to protect against losses). But these are not guaranteed options like insurance compensation.

For the Realists, armies and control over other tangible resources that have military applications serve an insurance function in that a response against some potentially disastrous outcome  is guaranteed (i.e., one actor  is not dependent on others, such that an actor is controlling his/her own fate).[11] Hence, for the Realists, every nation that can indeed field an army should do so, even though reliance on soft power may reduce the probability of a military attack vis-a-vis a pure military strategy. At least nations will have something to fight with in case good will fails to attract supporters.

II. Hobbes the Cosmopolitan Thinker: Very Relevant

So why is life not nasty brutish and short in anarchy? While the behavioural manifestations of the Hobbesain state of nature are quite visible (no guarantees of protection from other nations, self-help) among nations, the predicted systemic outcomes among groups of individuals in Hobbesian state of nature are far from visible on a widespread scale in the community of nations. Indeed the world system is not pervaded by a war of all against all, nor is it mired in a generally brutish and nasty environment with respect to the use of violence. And for nations life is not short. While many critics would say the reason for this disjuncture between anarchy in the world polity and Hobbes’ state of nature among individuals is the fallacy of composition: behavioural properties among groups of people cannot be imputed communities of individuals comprised in the nation-state.[12] But the answer is more complex, because indeed nations have governments that conceptualize national interests with respect to the nation as a unit. And because governments often act as if the nation itself such is a sacred unit, the thought process of surviving in a world without a guarantor should be functionally similar whether the actor is a state or individual (i.e., governments frame their policies as representing the nation-unit). So if indeed anarchy promotes fear among individuals in a state of nature, it should also promote some fear among nations even if nations themselves are less physically vulnerable relative to individuals.

Aside from the rationales of realists defending the analogy of Hobbesian states of nature to the international system (war cannot go on constantly, alliances of convenience account for much cooperation, etc), still there is still a large error term in the realists’ predictive model. There is far more restraint and far more substantive cooperation in the international system that can be accounted for by visions that predicate behaviour on rational actors in seeking to assure prosperity and security in an anarchic environment.

A number of changes in the world have tempered the pernicious nature of anarchy among states. Nuclear weapons, economic interdependence, globalization and the proliferation of international organizations have injected a great deal of restraint in international relations today. The changes have been so significant that Jervis (2002) identifies a new era among great powers, one in which the idea of large-scale war is unthinkable. Indeed, within the global state of nature, we now have a pronounced “security community.” Even within the ranks of realist scholarship, there is a disproportionate allegiance to a more restrained vision of realism, i.e., defensive realism. In this strand of the theory states are seen as seeking to maintain their positions in the system rather than being engaged in an endless quest for territory (Snyder 1991).

But it is one thing to say that realists have moderated their position about the applicability of Hobbes’ state of nature to present day international politics, and quite another to say that Hobbes’ work on the state of nature demonstrates elements consistent with a watered down type of anarchy. If indeed we could find elements of such restraint in Hobbes’ treatment of the state of nature, then indeed Hobbes’ work on anarchy could hold some relevance for non-realist visions of international relations such as neoliberals and constructivists. And hence even Hobbes in his most extreme vision of the deleterious effects of anarchy would be relevant in a world of security communities and limited capacity for violence.

Indeed, the passages from the Leviathan that discuss the state of nature do demonstrate such restraint. In fact, a careful reading of his logic of a state of nature demonstrates possibilities for cooperation that vindicate the visions of neoliberals and constructivists. So we can see all three paradigms manifesting themselves in what was considered only the preserve of realists. This synthetic or cosmopolitan vision of the state of nature suggests that Hobbes has lessons for the practitioners of all three paradigms.[13]

It would be too easy to undermine the realism of Hobbes by simply looking beyond his actual discussion of anarchy in Chapters 13-15 of the Leviathan. Indeed it would be all too simple to cite the fact that a majority of the analysis in his magnum opi Leviathan and De Cive really applies to a world of civil governance, morality and religion. In this respect, these works are indeed a reaction to Hobbes’ own time. In a period of civil war in England, Hobbes’ life was very much shaped by a history of violence. His classic works coincided with tumultuous events of civil unrest and political instability, and are clearly addressed to the quest for order based on law and stable government in civil society. Indeed, the chaos of civil war in England cast a strong shadow over his collected writings.[14] Hobbes’ Leviathan itself is not principally about anarchy, but more about the commonwealth. Anarchy is an unpleasant state of transition that must be superseded to arrive at a civilized state of existence. The Leviathan takes issue with the foundations of the commonwealth, a manifestation of the advent of civil society, in which the imperatives and principles of anarchy no longer hold. Hence, after leaving his discussion of anarchy in Chapters 13-15, he goes on to speak of the commonwealth in the context of constructivist and neoliberal categories: cooperation, law, rights, morality and even religion. Culling passages about moral and legal obligations of citizens of the commonwealth, as well as religious restraints against monarchical tyranny, would hardly be a valid condemnation of scholars who have embraced the compelling logic of Hobbes’ realism as demonstrated in his analysis of the state of nature in Chapters 13-15 of the Leviathan.

But to say that Hobbes was, above all, concerned with the foundations of civil society as embodied in law, morality and religion is not to incriminate the realists with respect to having misunderstood Hobbes. Few realists would in fact disagree on this point. But the realists are not interested in what happens in a state of civil society, since for them, this civil state does not represent an analogy for the international system. What does represent a viable analogy is Hobbes’ analysis of the state of anarchy, and hence any such judgment of the work of Hobbes as anticipating realism would have to unfold within this context.

If we are going to claim any vindication about Hobbesian respect for non-realist categories which are embodied in neoliberalism and constructivism, it must be within those very core discussions about anarchy that have been hailed by realists as inspirations for their theoretical leanings. In essence, the method employed here would be one of crucial-case textual analysis, where cases are selected because of their especially salient characteristics. Such a method would generate more compelling inferences notwithstanding low-n settings (i.e., few cases) because of the especially indicative nature of the cases selected. So in this particular instance, if indeed Hobbes himself embraces elements of neoliberalism or constructivism, we should least expect to find any such support for these ideas in the principal passages from Leviathan on anarchy. But finding such support in these passages would reveal an especially compelling vindication for revisionist claims (i.e., this would comprise a ‘least-likely’ case in the terminology of crucial-case methodology).[15]

A slew of critiques have underscored the problems of using Hobbesian anarchy as a platform upon which to construct a theory of relations among sovereign states.[16] But none of the revisionist works, from an international relations perspective, looks closely enough at passages recounting the tale of the fool in Chapter 15. However, it is precisely here that a clear idea of the mechanics of how possibilities for cooperation (i.e., covenants) can emerge within a state of nature best manifests itself.[17] Indeed, a careful evaluation of these passages demonstrates a greater continuity within the work of Hobbes (between his logic of civil society and his logic of the state of nature—indeed a testament to the cosmopolitan vision which Hobbes demonstrates in his work on anarchy), a continuity that has been obfuscated by the distinction that realists have made between Hobbes’ treatment of the state of nature and his work on the commonwealth.

In demonstrating the cosmopolitan or more diverse nature of the vision of Hobbesian anarchy, we must begin with reason. For Hobbes, humans are born with, and develop, reason (L, V). Reason, for Hobbes, is an element through which individuals discover the means of self-preservation.[18] These ‘means of self-preservation’ are called ‘laws of nature’: essentially modes of action ‘by which man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life or taketh away the means of preserving the same’ (L, XIV, 3). Two laws of nature reveal themselves. The first drives humans to ‘seek peace and follow it’ (L, XIV, 4). This first law leads to the second law of nature: ‘that a man be willing…to lay down his right to all things’ (L, XIV, 5). Here in the latter lies the operational rule that brings about the famous Hobbesian contract, which brings forth a Leviathan, as the right to all things is commensurate with human freedom under anarchy. Once given up, humans arrive at a state of civil society and happily exit the chaos of anarchy.

But since men are endowed with reason even in anarchy, the laws of nature dictating self-preservation are applicable in anarchy as well; even in anarchy, the laws, which dictate that men ‘find peace if they can’, are compelling. But common interpretations of Hobbes suggest that such peace is unobtainable in anarchy, hence the compelling nature of the corollary to the first law of nature:  when humans cannot obtain peace, they should ‘seek and use all helps and advantages of war’ (L, XIV, 4). Is peace obtainable in anarchy? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then the entire logical structure of  what conventional wisdom has portrayed as Hobbesian anarchy collapses.[19]

The immediate passages beyond Chapter 13 in Leviathan starkly attest to the fact that peace is indeed attainable in anarchy. The logic derives from Hobbes’ tale of the fool in Chapter 15. The chapter begins with a note on the implication of covenants or contracts for human co-existence: they are the foundation upon which the very existence of civil society thrives. From the idea of covenant derives all the legal, moral and ethical constraints that essentially preserve civil society: ‘the definition of injustice is none other than the not performance of covenant’ (L, XV, 3). Hobbes again avers the dependence of the possibility of covenants upon the existence of a Leviathan: a common power to keep all humans from behaving like brutes─ the antithesis of civil society. Without such a common power above all humankind, ‘there is no propriety, all men having right to all things, therefore there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust. So that the nature of justice consisteth in the keeping of covenant…’ (L, XV, 3).

But here, Hobbes introduces a monumental shift in his logic of anarchy when he immediately follows section 3 with the story of the fool. The fool is a reference to the Psalms which allude to a heretic who questions whether s/he should be constrained by the laws of a God who does not exist: a clear reference to a state of anarchy.[20] Hobbes presents the fool’s logic:

there is no such thing as justice [and hence] every man’s conservation and contentment being committed to his own care, there could be no reason that every man might not do what he thought conduceth thereunto, and therefore to make or not make, keep or not keep, covenants was not against reason, when it conduceth to one’s benefit ……The kingdom of God is gotten by violence; but what if it could be gotten by unjust violence? Were it against reason to get it, when it is impossible to receive hurt by it (L, XV, 4).[21]

After a passage in which Hobbes assails the argument on the grounds that such reasoning has heretofore validated a history of mass violence (e.g., religious wars), he goes on to say that This specious logic is  nonetheless false (L, XV, 4. Italics added).

Of course, if the critique of the fool should stop here, it would be easy enough to discard it because of the allusion to religion, which exists independent of the state of anarchy. While God exists under conditions of both anarchy and civil society, religion is never introduced as a constraint against the brutish behaviour characterizing anarchy. This is most likely a function of the brevity of anarchy for Hobbes: a very short transitional state to a civil society in which peoples’ religious and moral proclivities could flourish.[22] So such a diatribe against the fool could be dismissed as a mere critique based on some religious issue which is superimposed over, but not integrated into, his fundamental logic of anarchy. But Hobbes continues. Indeed, his critique of the fool goes on to squarely confront this religious barbarism in the context of his logic of anarchy. This is so because he lays emphasis on the impact of such thinking on the possibilities of a covenant, the very thumbscrew upon which the logic of anarchy and civil society turns. The logic unfolds in section 5 of Chapter 15.

For the question is not promises mutual where there is no security of performance on either side (as when there is no civil power erected over the parties promising), for such promises are no covenants, but either where one of the parties has performed already, or where there is a power to make him perform, there is the question whether it be against reason, that is, against the benefit of the other to perform or not.. And I say it is not against reason. For the manifestation whereof we are to consider: first, when a man doth a thing which, notwithstanding anything can be unforeseen and reckoned on, tendeth to his own destruction…., yet such events do not make it reasonably or wisely done.  Secondly, that in  a condition of war wherein every man to every man (for want of a common power to keep them all in awe) is an enemy, there is no man can hope by his own strength or wit to defend himself without the help of confederates (where everyone expects the same defence by the confederation that everyone else does); and therefore, he which declares he thinks it reason to deceive those that help him can in reason expect no other means of safety than what can be had from his own single power. He, therefore, that breaketh his covenant, and consequently declareth that he thinks he may with reason do so, cannot be received into any society that unite themselves for peace and defence but by the error of them that receive him; nor when he is received, be retained in it without seeing the danger of their error; which errors a man cannot reasonable reckon upon as the means of his security; and therefore, if he be left or cast out of society, he perisheth; and if he live in society, it is by the errors of other men, which he could not foresee nor reckon upon; and consequently [he has acted] against the reason of his preservation, and so men that contribute not to his destruction forebear him only out of ignorance of what is good for themselves. (Italics added)

Indeed, Hobbes conceives of a situation in anarchy itself where people may enter into a covenant, which comprises exchanging promises, thus creating bilateral obligations to perform. It is clear that such a covenant is possible in anarchy because the first sentence in the passage uses the word ‘or’ to distinguish between a state in which civil society exists (‘where there is a power to make him perform’) and a state where it does not, as in anarchy.[23] But it is also clear that for Hobbes, reason, the element that discovers the laws of nature which in turn drive individuals to seek peace, is given a role which can indeed bring about some condition of peace (i.e., some co-existence, free from violence or exorbitant threat of violence) in anarchy.[24] In his literal account of escaping from anarchy in Chapter 14, this peace is sought through the ultimate covenant creating civil society through the empowerment of a Leviathan. This is evident from Hobbes’ forceful declaration that reciprocity within the context of mutual promises in anarchy is consistent with reason. If this is the case, then the very logic applicable to relations in civil society is also relevant in a state of anarchy.[25] The reason for this is clear when analyzing why the fool should reciprocate an act of goodwill.

The fool’s story is precisely about a choice between reciprocating a cooperative gesture and not doing so in a state where defection has no obvious detrimental consequences, like anarchy (i.e., the belief that no divine power exists to punish defection).  No stronger admonition of the fool’s choice (which is to defect) can be given by Hobbes than Hobbes’ use of the word ‘fool’ to characterize his choice. The compelling nature of reciprocity begins with Hobbes’ own conception of the covenant. Non-reciprocity is cast as breaking a covenant (‘breaketh his covenant’). Reason reveals compelling laws of nature which consummate some system of peaceful co-existence manifest in a covenant (Malcolm 2002). Since such expectations  reveal the compelling attraction of a covenant (because of reason and subsequently the laws of nature), the initial gesture of cooperation on the part of the first party to the covenant (‘performing’ in Hobbes terminology) carries with it all of the moral categories applicable to civil society.[26] Under these conditions, Hobbesian nomenclature in his treatment of covenants is demonstrative: ‘bound,’ ‘obliged,’ ‘ought,’ ‘duty,’ ‘justice’ (L, XIV, 7).  But this is one of the many areas where Hobbes’ political philosophy and religious beliefs converge. His penchant for reciprocity is highlighted in a biblical passage within the context of consummating a covenant. ‘This is that law of the Gospel: “Whatsoever you require that others do to you, that do ye to them”’ (L, XIV, 5).[27]

Beyond these moral elements driving reciprocity within covenants in anarchy, the passage clearly reveals a strategic element of cooperation among self-interested actors. If Hobbesian anarchy possesses elements of a variable-sum game with possibilities of Nash non-cooperative outcomes that are debilitating to the players (such as a Prisoner’s Dilemma), then Hobbes certainly appears to be aware of it. Indeed, Hobbes conceives of a type of game that is different from the Prisoner’s Dilemma. So whatever general moral orientations are tied up with the use of reason, they are overlaid with instrumentally rational considerations of cooperation in a condition of anarchy. And this is quite apparent as his response to the fool continues. Toward the middle of section 4 in Chapter 15, Hobbes lays out the logic of the fool in this context.

…but he questioneth whether injustice, taking away the fear of God…may not sometimes stand with that reason which dictateth to every man his own good; and particularly then, when it conduceth to such a benefit as shall put a man in a condition to neglect, not only the dispraise and revilings, but also the power of other men. (Italics added)

Possibilities of obligation, and therefore moral elements, in anarchy are reinforced by the use of the terms ‘dispraise and revilings’, which are functions of expectations of reciprocity in anarchy. Hence there is an admission that cooperation could be forged on the basis of some interactive rule, but the fool sees any such cooperation as non-compelling because of the lack of divine sanction. Here Hobbes is introducing a human element of sanction, but does not yet spell out the precise nature of such punishment for defection as he does afterward in section 5. In the passage from section 4 the term ‘the power of other men’ is tied into some idea of punishment for defection as it closely follows the statement which conveys that defection leads to negative consequences among those who  think like the fool. In addition, it could also be an allusion to religious war, which is discussed by Hobbes in the very next section where he fundamentally avers that such thinking on the part of the fool ties into the fact that Jesus did not make war completely unlawful and hence the fool’s logic could very well lead to such an outcome (which, as mentioned above, Hobbes abhorred as a result of his own experiences with civil war in England).[28] In both ways, Hobbesian logic converges towards a recognition that environments with possibilities of cooperation leading to some peaceful co-existence can be thrown asunder by defection. And it is this very defection represented by the logic of the fool that Hobbes castigates.

The misguided nature of the fool’s thinking is fully evident in the long passage in Section 5 (quoted above). In the passage that begins with ‘Secondly’, it is clear that survival in anarchy emanates from reciprocity resulting in what Hobbes calls a ‘confederation.’ This is a very different conceptualization of the idea of cooperative groups in anarchy than we see in Chapter 13, where the reference to ‘confederacy’ appears to be far closer to some idea of alliance of convenience for the purpose of aggression. To quote Hobbes, ‘For as to the strength of the body, the weakest has the strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others who are in the same danger with himself’ (L, XIII, 1). This alliance of convenience will break down according to Hobbes’ description of anarchy in Chapter 13 because the condition devolves into ‘a war as is of every man against every man’ (L, XIII, 7). Clearly the mutual ‘danger’ which Hobbes refers to in Chapter 13 never abates, even when alliances of convenience form, because such alliances are created and extemporized in accordance with the perpetration of violence rather than peaceful co-existence. In Chapter 15, the thrust of the logic portrays confederacy instead as a vehicle for protection: ‘no man can hope…to defend himself from destruction without the help of confederates.’  Reciprocity as a foundation for such a protective or defensive alliance is manifest in the terminology ‘where everyone expects the same defence by the confederation that anyone else does.’

From here on, the logic in section 5 of Chapter 15 manifests common neoliberal, game theoretic ideas regarding the possibilities of cooperation in variable-sum games. Keeping the fool as the main protagonist, it is evident that his logic does not bode well for his survival in anarchy because even in a world without a divine presence, there are consequences for defection which punish the transgressor. In this case, he can be excluded from the group and therefore be killed (‘if he be left or cast out…, he perisheth’). The idea of non-iteration, and mutual/symmetrical vulnerability in strategic environments which realists glean from Hobbes in the form of the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma appear to be absent in the logic of this passage. Defection on the part of the fool will not destroy the entire group, or even compromise its effectiveness because even after defecting he can ‘be left or cast out.’ Hence the symmetry of the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma game is compromised here. But Hobbes also introduces temporal and informational dimensions which also undermine the debilitating consequences of the idea of anarchy that realists have traditionally embraced (i.e., one shot, limited information). It is clear from the ability of the group to cast out defectors that the game does not end there for either, although the consequences of such a divorce are asymmetrical. Indeed the fool will go on to seek another group, which must by definition exist in anarchy because a commonwealth has not yet been formed: if the group, Hobbes refers to, were singular then it would in fact be that very covenant that forms the commonwealth. But this is not the case as Hobbes articulates the fool’s dilemma within the context of anarchy: the fool’s decision is about optimal behaviour in environments void of punishment from an authoritative power.

The iteration manifests itself in a somewhat modified way. If we think of iteration in strategic situations according to the classic articulation of Axelrod (1984), socialization of defectors comes through iterated play between the same individuals over some period of time which is indeterminate. Hence, socialization takes place through the shadow of the future that infinite iteration generates: it will not pay for an individual to continue defecting when the time horizon is infinite. In Hobbes’ case there does appear to be some shadow of the future at work, but iterated play does not manifest itself in games among the same actors. Indeed, the fool would have been cast out of his protective confederation and then must look elsewhere. So assuming some repeated play on the part of the fool, which constitutes moving from one group to another, there is nonetheless a draconian shadow of the future imposed upon a defector as continual defection will continue bringing him inferior payoffs because he will be unwelcome into other confederations (assuming he survives the various iterations, which Hobbes believes will not be the case-‘he perisheth’). This would serve the same socialization function as iteration in an Axelrodian context. The results would be similar in both contexts: both those that stay in the group and potential defectors would continue to face incentives to cooperate (Kafka 1986: 140).[29]

Hobbes does admit to the possibility that such a defector might be retained in a confederation out of pure ignorance on the part of the members of the group (‘all men that contribute not to his destruction forbear him only out of ignorance of what is good for themselves’) But even here, defectors are on thin ice according to Hobbes because it is an expectation that they should neither ‘foresee nor reckon upon.’ The term ‘reckon’ is crucial here as ‘reckoning’ connotes reasoning. Reason for Hobbes is oriented, as noted above, towards self-preservation. This evokes not only a clear understanding of yourself, but also how others will behave in response to your actions. It would be clear to the defector by way of reason that others would not be so ignorant of his threat to them as they too have reason. In the Latin version of section 5, Hobbes’ language is even more demonstrative. ‘So, either he will be cast out and perish, or he will owe his not being cast out to the ignorance of the others, which is contrary to right reason.’ [30]

But the shadow of the future may not end with the boundaries of anarchy. Indeed, Hobbes’ use of the word ‘society’ in the passage stating that the fool cannot ‘be received into any society’ is also crucial. Hobbes now introduces the possibilities of the emergence of a commonwealth and the fool’s own prior actions in a state of anarchy, which will have consequences for his inclusion in the commonwealth itself.[31] Extending the shadow of the future may make cooperation even more appealing in anarchy, if expectations of transition to a commonwealth raise the value of avoiding transgressions among confederations in the prior state of anarchy. In this case, such a possibility might modify the payoffs in the iterated game but would not fundamentally change the form of the strategic interaction. Interestingly, the possibility of some end-point in the iteration resulting in the commonwealth could even introduce an element of a chain-store paradox into the process.[32] Recognizing finality in a process leading to mutual cooperation within a society may raise the incentives for cooperation at initial stages in anarchy, as there is some heightened expectation that cooperation in anarchy may deliver security (i.e., why take chances when complete safety is just around the corner in the form of the commonwealth?).

The logic propounded by Hobbes in his response to the fool proposes a drastically different process of strategic interaction than the one adopted by realists from his literal treatment of anarchy in Chapter 13. This new game no longer demonstrates the structure of the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma game with extreme vulnerability and no time horizons. Looking once more at the symmetrical ordinal preference ordering of such a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma game (DC>CC>DD>CD), we see that a dominant strategy exists and it results in a Nash non-cooperative equilibrium at DD. This is because of the individual optimality of defection (no matter what the others do, you are better off defecting). In Hobbes’ response to the fool, all of this is thrown asunder. In fact, you are left with an entirely different scenario of human interaction. It is questionable whether it is even strategic at all, if the term strategic conveys the existence of viable choices which can be selected in response to the actions of others in a manner that can improve one’s fate. In Hobbes’ logic, is there an alternative to cooperation in anarchy? Given the argument proposed by Hobbes it is difficult to answer ‘Yes’, even under a variety of scenarios. Obviously, the expectations and compelling nature of reciprocity will encourage any player to cooperate rather than defect, because such defection would get them cast out into the wilds of anarchy and they would then have to depend solely on their individual faculties for survival: a state about which Hobbes is not very sanguine (again, casting out is commensurate with ‘perisheth’). The possibility of fooling members of the confederation and exploiting them without bearing the consequences is vitiated by reason, as noted above. Of course, one could try to exploit some confederation in order to acquire some material gain which he or she can carry with them to another confederation. And here Hobbes is silent on whether different confederations actually share information about defectors, so that there may be a possibility of moving from confederation to confederation while accumulating the spoils from the suckers. But this would be a bold move indeed, as spoils themselves could not be greater than one could carry upon their person, and the risk of doing so exposes the defector to death, which for Hobbes, is certain. But the possibilities of exploiting limited information will surely expire with Hobbes’ commonwealth (society) endpoint, where groups will no longer be separated and, hence, can communicate about erstwhile defectors, and subsequently punish them. So clearly, cooperation will dominate defection if the other player cooperates (CC>DC).

But what of a situation where some of the members of the confederation exploit those cooperative individuals who subscribe to Hobbesian reason? Should reciprocity also be the rule here?[33] Even here, the idea of opportunity costs makes defection a severe choice under expectations of reciprocity. In a case where members of the confederation are exploiting each other, reason will surely compel the third-party members (not involved in the exploitation) to cast the defectors out to perish. Even as a reciprocal act, defection will still confer a reputation of being unreliable. But suppose the defectors are numerous enough to create their own protective confederation so that they can reduce individual vulnerability? In the process they are not so fearful of being cast out of the confederation. This would be illogical as cooperation must undergird a confederation for it to carry out its protective function effectively, and it would not be expedient to build such cooperation among a group of people that have a history of trying to exploit each other. So this splinter confederation would either be killed or kill itself off.[34] This makes defection a losing strategy no matter what anyone else does.[35] Even facing the risk of exploitation within a confederation might be preferable to responding in kind and being cast out. One may indeed face death from such exploitation from defectors in the confederation, yet this is not assured. But being cast out raises one’s vulnerability even more because the defector loses the support of the group and must rely solely on themselves. For Hobbes this means certain death. But even if death is not certain, response in kind may still be inferior because it brands you as a defector, which is sure to get you expelled. Anything short of death introduces probabilistic thinking that would lean toward cooperation. Would I rather be wounded in a confederation or in the wilds of anarchy? Here the choice would be clear. An individual is always better off staying loyal to the confederation no matter what anyone else does.

In sum, the new preference ordering is neither Prisoner’s Dilemma nor even a Stag Hunt, but a game of pure cooperation with the following preference ordering: CC>CD>DD=DC. Indeed, if one were to decompose strategic thinking in actors according to different modes as spelt out by Kafka (1986: 142), maxi-minimization, maximization and disaster-avoidance should deliver the same preference ordering, as all three would be directed towards cooperation as a dominant strategy. The parallels between confederations in anarchy and the commonwealth are most apparent here. In civil society, there can only be one strategy for Hobbes: the dominant strategy of cooperation. Any sort of defection, even as a response in kind to exploitation (assume one kills a person who stole from them) is punished through law. Hence the idea of strategic interaction does not characterize life in the commonwealth as civil society restricts individual’s choices. So too, in anarchy, does the idea of confederation restrict the choices. But in this case, it is more because of possibilities of exclusion than of actual internal institutional sanctions, which are likely to exist as well in such confederations, according to Hobbes’ logic. In the final analysis, life in anarchy does not necessarily have to be ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ especially for individuals that value cooperation.

III. Hobbes, Constructivism, Neoliberalism and International Relations

A number of neoliberal and constructivist scholars have critically scrutinized the application of the realist assumption of anarchy. Among the common critiques is that realist conceptions of anarchy understate cooperative elements in international politics, do not explain change in relations among states, and/or fail to demonstrate sufficient differentiation.[36] To quote Milner (1991: 68), ‘Even within a positivist framework, this assumption may be degenerative, posing anomalies and inhibiting new insights.’ From this tension between the state of world politics and realist theory, neoliberal and constructivist scholars have explored the utility of cooperation in anarchy.[37] They have fixed on a number of conditions that make cooperation a viable policy even within decentralized environments. These conditions are: the evolution of norms, possibilities for reciprocity (shadows of the future), reputations for honouring commitments and rules (credibility), consistency in behaviour, shying away from unilateral postures, conceiving of state interests in the context of joint utility (mutuality of interests), the number of actors involved, availability of information, linkages, variable perceptions, and domestic politics.[38]

Indeed, Hobbes’ vision of a state of nature carries great relevance even for neoliberals and constructivists. The very conditions (cited above) they most embrace are fully manifest in the process of cooperation reflected in Hobbesian confederations in anarchy. First, international confederations can be vehicles for promoting national interests and protection. Repeated interactions convey information about possibilities for cooperation and promote processes of socialization (i.e., inter-subjective identity formation). Second, functional interdependence makes cooperation important for realizing mutual gains in that nations co-exist within some form of a division of labour. The need for cooperation is capable of generating norms that then form a life of their own, and thus enhance possibilities for cooperation. The realist assumption of functional equality does not reflect the real world, hence behaving like a classical Hobbesian brute and relying only on self-help denies nations many advantages consistent with their national interests (Milner 1991). Finally, strategic interdependence renders the fate of nations intertwined in a more fundamental sense than visions of independence in anarchy (Milner 1991 and Schelling 1981). Indeed, Brahms (1994: 67-84) reinforces the possibilities of strategic gains through magnanimity (self-restraint and cooperation) even in games that present significant risks of exploitation. In this case, magnanimity represents a strategy that abates post-interaction consequences that might adversely affect a player that imposes sucker’s payoffs onto another player (e.g., relent from attaining excessive gains so as to guard against the sucker’s ire, which might lead to more devastating reciprocity in kind). As with Hobbesian confederations, all three aspects of the utility of cooperation suggest that there is no fundamental disjuncture between individual and communal goals. Brahms’ logic picks up on previous work on the evolution of norms as solutions to strategic dilemmas undertaken by Taylor (1987) and Ullman-Margalit (1977). Such an approach to norms suggests one of the best foundations for a synthesis between neoliberals and constructivists. Norms develop as coordinating devices to enhance cooperation, and as time passes they gain a life of their own which is distinct from instrumental rationality.

Given the utility of cooperation in anarchy, soft power (which embraces both constructivist and neoliberal categories) becomes a valuable asset in the portfolios that nations construct to enhance their influence in world politics (Gallarotti 2010 and Nye, 2004). Reputation for cooperative behaviour consolidates a nation’s own confederations, and makes it a valuable ally for others looking for dependable allies. Such reputation makes one less menacing, thus mitigating security-dilemma reactions that might lead to the emergence of adversaries. Respect for rules and norms, both in its domestic and international manifestations, enhances cooperative reputation in maximizing potential allies and supporters, as well as minimizing enemies.[39] Such behaviour may indeed make one vulnerable to a sucker’s payoff, but the perpetrator would render himself/herself diminished in the eyes of other actors. Moreover, it is not clear that policies designed to minimize such outcomes through the mitigation of soft power (taking a harder line as realism might prescribe) would, in the long run, yield better net benefits than strategies that might accept such risks. Since a more hard-line position would generate menacing consequences also, it is not at all certain that these will not be worse than the consequences of exploitation. Either way, one will be faced with some risk, irrespective of the power orientation one pursues, in maximizing influence. In any event, short of outright destruction or conquest, an iterated process would follow any exploitative act, thus creating shadow-of-the-future effects that would discourage such acts (Axelrod, 1984). In view of the utility of soft power, any strategy that would discount such resources in favour of a strict pursuance of hard power in a classically realist mode very much risks victimization through power illusion (Gallarotti, 2004 and 2010a).[40]

IV. Conclusions: Toward a Theory of Cosmopolitik

The cosmopolitan Hobbes that is manifest in his treatment of the state of nature attests to the fact that Hobbes is far more relevant to IR than many non-realists have averred. Indeed, he is relevant precisely in the categories that they hold most dearly: the possibility or cooperation and normative order. But he still remains highly relevant to even the most defensive realists. In the same way that Hobbes’ own life suggests some resolution of the tensions between the differing manifestations of anarchy, so too differing paradigms of international relations theory may find that the intersection set among their logics need not be null. Indeed, the idea of complex rationality (i.e., conceptualizing individual utility as dependent on group utility) manifests a cosmopolitan vision of international relations, and holds much promise for being able to synthesize visions of realism, neoliberalism and constructivism. For Hobbes, confederations and reciprocity in anarchy ultimately prove consistent with instrumental rationality. And this is a simple derivation from an idea that eventually led to the great contributions of John Nash and other game theorists that illuminated processes in which individual rationality was pursued in strategic environments (i.e., where individual optima could only be achieved within a group structure).

In this sense, all of the venerated tenets of realism need not conflict with the fundamental categories of neoliberals and constructivists. And this view is vindicated by finding categories of all of three paradigms in the very place scholars once thought the exclusive preserve of only realism: the Hobbesian state of anarchy. The maximization of individual utility, the maximization of influence, the minimization of vulnerability, the absence of definitive authority in the international system, and self-help are all consistent with the group orientations posited by the constructivists and neoliberals. Indeed, in interdependent communities like the international system, truly optimizing these goals for individual nations can be principally accomplished only by conceptualizing individual actions within a group framework. Not doing so can lead to consequences which debilitate rather than benefit. The process is well revealed in Hobbes’ tale of the fool. But even self-help can co-exist in a world of complex rationality. Indeed, independent behaviour can be fully consistent with an individual nation’s fate in an interdependent environment to the extent that it does not significantly diminish the fate of other nations. But this is a common outcome of market behaviour: there are times when, indeed, individual greed is good for the whole community, but there are also instances where such is not the case. Moreover, the maximization of power or influence can also be consistent with all three paradigms of international relations (realism, neoliberalism, and constructivism). Thinking of power in net-terms (i.e., the power that remains after all the consequences of individual power maximization have been played out), in strategic environments, the only way to maximize influence is to pursue power-augmentation strategies that minimize adverse feedback effects (i.e., consequences that diminish influence). This can only be done by contemplating power augmentation strategies within a group framework (Gallarotti 2010).

Indeed, complex rationality, as demonstrated in Hobbes’ tale of the fool, opens up possibilities for synthesizing the three paradigms. And, more noteworthy, the basis of synthesis comes in the very phenomena that were thought of as being the most responsible for polarizing the three paradigms: the phenomena of anarchy and power. Indeed, this also may carry crucial-case implications for theory synthesis. If indeed common paradigmatic strands can be forged in what were heretofore considered points of greatest contention, the possibilities for synthesizing theories in less contentious issues may hold all the more promise. Such synthesis would be built on a mutual acknowledgement of the need for more sophisticated and complex understanding of the way international relations unfold in the modern world. This more cosmopolitan vision might itself inspire a new paradigm: cosmopolitik. It is interesting that in finding a prolific muse in Hobbes, we would have in effect had to travel back over three centuries to illuminate our understanding of international politics today and in the future. But, then, this is consistent with another cliché: you have to look back to look forward.

Giulio M. Gallarotti is Professor of Government, John Andrus Centre for Public Affairs, College of Social Studies, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA.  


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[1] This article draws heavily from previous revisionist analyses of Hobbes in Gallarotti (2008 and 2010).

[2] Beitz (1979), Bull (1977, 1981), Vincent (1981), Williams (1996 and 2005) and Milner (1991) critiques of Hobbesian anarchy as an analogy for international relations underscore the limitations of interfacing  arguments about individuals in a state of nature with the greater relations among sovereign states in an international system.

[3] In a literature far too great to even attempt to begin to cite, vigorous critiques of realism have been marshaled since the 1960s work on interdependence, the growing constructivist wave that gained momentum in the 1970s and 80s, and the more recent wave founded on the pluralateral nature of international relations and the advent of globalization.

[4] Hobbes’ treatment of anarchy is at the very core of the realist paradigm. Smith (1986: 13) puts it succinctly:  Hobbes’ ‘analysis of the state of nature remains the defining feature of realist thought. His notion of the international state of nature as a state of war is shared by virtually everyone calling himself a realist.’ On the influence of Hobbes’ conceptualization of the state of nature on realist thought, see also Bull (1977: 24-25), Wendt (1999: 252), Milner (1991: 69), Williams (2005: 19), Johnson (1993: 205-208), and Hanson (1984).

[5] This analysis will not make cumbersome distinctions among the ever expanding menu of realist theories, which has become more of a battleground over the past two decades than a unified vision of international relations. Since the focus of this analysis is on the state of anarchy and prospects for cooperation, it would pertain to fundamental tenets that bridge disparate so-called variants of realism. I use the generic term realism to convey these pervasive tenets across visions of realism. The literature on the theory of realism is quite large, but some useful analyses of the realist debate can be found in Doyle (1990), Keohane (1986), Johnson (1993), Buzan (1993), Beer and Hariman (1996), Williams (2005), and Brooks (1997).

[6] On cosmopolitik as a new paradigm in international relations theory, see Gallarotti (2010).

[7] Bull  (1977,  pp. 24,25), Wendt (1999, p. 252) and Milner (1991, p. 69) locate Hobbes’ treatment of anarchy at the very core of the Realist paradigm. On Hobbes, as  intellectual precursor of Realist theory in international relations, see also Johnson (1993).

[8] Leviathan will be designated as “L.”

[9] This introduces the famous Realist reversion of morality in anarchy: where vices can become virtues and vice versa.

[10] ‘D’ means to defect, while ‘C’ means to cooperate.

[11] Of course, a guaranteed response does not guarantee staving off disaster (e.g., your army might lose). But neither does the ownership of  insurance always assure full compensation in the case of disaster.

[12] See especially Beitz (1979), Bull (1977, 1981), Vincent (1981), Williams (1996 and 2005) and Milner (1991)

[13] Gallarotti (2010) proposes a synthetic theory, cosmopolitik, that integrates all three paradigms, and hence possesses greater explanatory power about international relations than any one single paradigm.

[14] Considering Hobbes’ own life experiences in the tumultuous political environment of his homeland, there is little surprise in his general orientation of political conservatism (Kafka 1986: 4). In light of his own vision of the importance of writing history (to understand the past so as to better deal with problems in the present), his Behemoth (a history of the civil war) is demonstrative of the proximity of his own political experiences and his political thought (Lloyd 1992: 191). Accusations that his conservatism and treatises were nothing more than apologist endeavours for the Stuarts probably overstate his own ties and allegiance to the royal family, which occurred years after he had already become quite active as a writer (‘Chronology of Hobbes’ Life’, in Hobbes [1668] 1994: L). On the work of Hobbes in historical context, see Lloyd (1992).

[15] On the crucial-case method see, Eckstein (1975); Gerring (2004); and King, Keohane and Verba (1994: 209-212). On crucial-case textual analysis, see Gallarotti (2010).

[16] Much has been said about the limitations of Hobbes’ state of nature as an analogy or metaphor for  international relations. Hobbes in fact said little about international relations directly in his writings. For discussions on this point, see especially Bull (1981), Milner (1991) and Hanson (1984). Other critiques about Hobbes’ state of nature as a metaphor for international relations can be found in Hoffmann (1981), Beitz (1979), Williams (1996 and 2005), Waltzer (1977), Bull (1977 and 1981), Vincent (1981), and Malcolm (2002).

[17] Interestingly, the revisionist literature from an international relations perspective has paid scant attention to the tale of the fool. Malcolm (2002: 438) cites a very short passage from the tale of the fool, but does not concentrate on the tale as a manifestation of a Hobbesian rationale for cooperation under anarchy. Such a careful textual analysis would have in fact further vindicated many of the arguments marshalled in this vein. This is not the case in the work of political theorists, however, who have done careful textual analysis of the tale and discussed its implications for conventional visions of Hobbesian anarchy. On the latter, see especially Kafka (1986), Barry (1972), and Warrender (1957).

[18] For an illuminating treatment of Hobbes’ logic about reason and how it leads to possibilities for cooperation among individuals in anarchy, see especially Malcolm (2002).

[19] Indeed, covenants can emerge from anarchy, as the famous Hobbesian contract that delivers humans from anarchy (creating the commonwealth) demonstrates. The real question framed here is, do we need to be delivered from anarchy completely for cooperation among individuals to emerge and be sustained? In other words, can we have cooperation without a Leviathan?

[20] In the editor’s note on the passage, he cites the Hebrew definition of fool as connoting moral rather than intellectual deficiency. Hence, there is a clear parallel to humans in Hobbesian anarchy: people who have full use of their reason which is oriented around self preservation, without being bound by moral constraints. See Hobbes ([1668] 1994, p. 90, ft. 2).

[21] The reference to violence for God’s kingdom is an acknowledgement that war was not unlawful for Christians. See editor’s note in Hobbes ([1668] 1994, p. 90, ft. 3).

[22] The reason for this may be driven by Hobbes’ own life experiences. In framing his quest for a stable state in a period of civil war, anarchy was never considered to be a long transitional period. It was this haste with which Hobbes treated anarchy that may have partially contributed to his logical inconsistencies about the subject, as well as his faulty assumptions and conclusions about real human interaction in such environments (which will be discussed below). See especially Lloyd (1992) on the life and ideas of Hobbes.  See also Sommerville (1992) on Hobbes’political ideas in historical context.

[23] The analysis here draws especially on the work of Kafka (1986), Barry (1972), and Warrender (1957).

[24] According to Hobbes’ language, where he speaks of cooperative confederations in this passage, conditions of peace in anarchy are not likely to be conceptualized at the same grand scale that they would be in civil society under a Leviathan.

[25] Of course, the idea of forming a covenant is problematic in anarchy because some initial cooperative gesture may remain unreciprocated, and this possibility itself represents the looming threat that drives the treatment of anarchy in Chapter 13. But it is also evident in Chapter 14 that individuals will, in some way, overcome this problem in creating a commonwealth and choosing a Leviathan. Hence, while Hobbes does not specify the precise inter-temporal process by which covenants are consummated, there is an acknowledgement that a covenant can indeed be forged in anarchy. Both Barry (1972) and Warrender (1957) envision little difference in Hobbesian logic between a covenant that creates a commonwealth and other types of covenants which may arise in anarchy.

This validates Williams’ (1996) arguments that, in fact, Hobbesian anarchy, contrary to the lessons espoused by realists, represents a set of ethical and epistemological problems. For Williams, cooperation is limited by differing visions of norms regarding orderly co-existence among individuals. The Leviathan actually produces order not by being a coercive presence but by supplying rules around which expectations can converge. In essence, Williams envisions anarchy more as a coordination game. But if indeed certain norms could become compelling in anarchy, then the epistemological problem could be overcome and covenants could form around those norms, as the tale of the fool suggests.

[26] Indeed, this injection of morality and incentives encouraging reciprocity into anarchy is hardly a revolutionary assertion among political theorists who have studied Hobbes. On the existence of morality and cooperation in anarchy, see especially Barry (1972), Warrender (1957), and  Kafka (1986).

[27] Malcolm (2002) argues that indeed natural laws appear in anarchy as a result of individuals searching for strategies of co-existence which generate the best possibilities for long-term survival. Reciprocity represents one of those natural laws for Hobbes.

[28] See Curley’s comment in Hobbes ([1668] 1994), p. 90, nt. 3).

[29] Indeed, the strategic imperatives facing actors in anarchy may result in the emergence of norms as vehicles which solve problems of cooperation in game-theoretic situations. Hobbes’ own language in the fool’s passage, which connotes the existence of normative elements, suggests that the strategic and normative elements of cooperation in anarchy are indeed synthesized. On the emergence of norms as solutions to game-theoretic problems of cooperation, see Taylor (1987) and Ullman-Margalit (1977).

[30] See Hobbes ([1668] 1994: 92, nt. 7).

[31] This assertion depends on consistency in Hobbes’ use of the term society. In Chapter 13 section 13 he asserts that ideas of just and unjust have no meaning in a state of anarchy. ‘They are qualities that relate to men in society.’ This distinguishes society very strongly from a state of ‘war’ and naturally places it as commensurate with the ascension to a commonwealth. Indeed, Kafka (1986: 141) interprets Hobbes’ references to society in Chapter 15 section 5 as manifestations of the idea of commonwealth. Presumably, the socialization of defectors will then shift from confederation-exclusion to some enforcement function through law in the commonwealth.

[32] Chain-store paradox refers to the outcomes of an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game when players are cognizant of the final play. Since we would expect defection in the final play, and we know when that will be, then indeed the penultimate play becomes the final play as there is no benefit in cooperating in the penultimate when you can only expect defection in the final play. The whole process unravels backward, driven by this logic, to the point where players will begin an iterated game by defecting on the very first play. As applied to this Hobbesian logic, the process unravels to encourage cooperation at initial moves in the game.

[33] As a result of the logic of Hobbes’ response to the fool, Curley (1994: xxviii) proposes altering the payoffs in Hobbesian anarchy from a Prisoner’s Dilemma game to a Stag Hunt where you have a contingent rather than a dominant strategy. A Stag Hunt is a purely reciprocal strategic interaction: preference orderings compel either mutual cooperation or mutual defection (CC>DC>DD>CD). But even this moderation of predation does not go far enough in characterizing the cooperative nature of the game that Hobbesian logic is revealing in Chapter 15.

[34] It would be difficult to get allies or get other confederations to form a union. If the splinter group tried to aggrandize itself through conquest, then surely they could expect some countervailing coalition to form against them.

[35] This assumes that defection is not perceived as just retribution for transgressions within the group. But surely, the Hobbesian logic would regard functions and enforcement of law within confederations, as instruments that are applicable under covenants.

[36] See Milner (1991), Ashley (1984), Ruggie (1986), and Wendt (1999).

[37] On the possibility and utility of cooperation in anarchy see especially Oye (1985), Axelrod (1984), Axelrod and Keohane (1985), Wendt (1992), Jervis (1978), and Taylor (1976 and 1987).

[38] See Oye (1985) and Axelrod and Keohane (1985).

[39] In this respect norms will evolve for the purpose of solving strategic problems limiting cooperation. This is consistent with the literature on the emergence of norms as facilitators of stable-cooperative equilibriums in game-theoretic situations (Ullman-Margalit 1977 and Taylor 1987).

[40] With respect to the hard-soft power nexus, power illusion is the process whereby states that indulge in excessive strategies of hard power augmentation (i.e., neglecting soft power) can end up weakening themselves significantly. See Gallarotti (2004).

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