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"Men of Feminine Courage": Thomas Hobbes and Life as a Right

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In this article we examine the true scope of the right Hobbes recognizes, even for the subjects of a State, to life. We hold that the right to live includes the subject's right not to accept to be deprived not only of life but also of limb; a right not to have to kill; a right not to accept to be imprisoned. The sovereign of course has a right to kill, mutilate and arrest but the conflict of his right and the subject's is an original feature of Hobbes's political thought, not to be found for instance in Locke's. Also, since life is motion and desire is a continual progress from one object to another, the mere survival of the subject is not enough to make him content once peace has been achieved. The expression of the subject's discontent is illegal, but it may happen since we can understand the right to live as a right to an ever more ambitious desire. The ruler who wants to avoid discontent and its uncivil effects should in a certain measure pave the way for economic development, in order to permit the subjects to at least partially attain their desire. Obviously this is not a moral duty of the sovereign, but a prudential one, if he does not want to risk losing his office.


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