Hobbesian holdouts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this essay I will discuss the role in Hobbesian civil society of persistent holdouts, that is, individuals residing within the borders of the commonwealth who deliberately refuse to accept the authority of the sovereign. Hobbes distinguishes between creating a commonwealth naturally, by a process of force and conquest, and by design, the result of a set of covenants. Commonwealth by design is predicated upon all parties to the covenants submitting to the rule of the chosen sovereign. In commonwealth by design Hobbes deals with persistent holdouts simply by leaving them behind in the State of Nature, and states explicitly that anyone is within her rights to destroy a persistent holdout (De Cive 6:2, Leviathan 18:5). Hobbes does not clearly acknowledge persistent holdouts in a commonwealth created naturally. But since Hobbes claims that the necessary authority of the sovereign in a commonwealth created naturally is identical with that of a sovereign in a commonwealth created by design, on the surface it appears that persistent holdouts residing in any actual commonwealth have no rights or duties whatsoever with respect to its subjects and sovereign. Such a conclusion has obviously great potential practical importance, since a variety of peoples such as the Roma of Europe and the Amish of North America are effectively persistent holdouts in their countries of residence. Here I will argue that in fact Hobbes has the resources for establishing a more complex relationship between a commonwealth and its persistent holdouts. To do this I will draw upon Hobbes’ analysis of the duties of the sovereign and the rights of subjects to resist their sovereign. While Hobbes maintains the sovereign can commit no injustice against its subjects, he also gives explicit normative recommendations to the sovereign regarding its subjects. He also maintains that subjects in limited circumstances have the right to refuse to the sovereign’s calls for service. I will argue that by analogy, the sovereign and its subjects should treat the persistent holdouts among them with some restraint in return for some reciprocal restraint on the part of the holdouts. I will also address the possibility that persistent holdouts might create free-rider problem and hos the sovereign might deal with such a problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHobbesian Applied Ethics and Public Policy
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315534404
ISBN (Print)9781138691636
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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