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Full Access Elusive Unity: The General Will in Hobbes and Kant *

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Elusive Unity: The General Will in Hobbes and Kant *

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According to one interpretation of Leviathan, Hobbes sinks the democratic argument in favour of government by representation into his own argument in favour of absolute rule. This paper argues that Kant in turn sinks Hobbes’ argument for coercive political authority into Rousseau’s construction of the volonté générale. Why does Kant reject Rousseau’s argument in favour of popular sovereignty; why does he revert to Hobbes’ endorsement of a coercively unifying political authority? The paper examines the different responses given by Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant to the problem of political unity and unified political decision-taking. While for Hobbes and Rousseau political unity must be empirically real – there must be an actual unifying authority – in Kant the idea of the general united will is a rational criterion of just lawmaking. For Kant, it is not the form of government that matters, but the manner of governing.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Political Theory Department of Government, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK, E-mail: K.A.Flikschuh@lse.ac.uk

10.1163/187502512X639597
/content/journals/10.1163/187502512x639597
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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According to one interpretation of Leviathan, Hobbes sinks the democratic argument in favour of government by representation into his own argument in favour of absolute rule. This paper argues that Kant in turn sinks Hobbes’ argument for coercive political authority into Rousseau’s construction of the volonté générale. Why does Kant reject Rousseau’s argument in favour of popular sovereignty; why does he revert to Hobbes’ endorsement of a coercively unifying political authority? The paper examines the different responses given by Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant to the problem of political unity and unified political decision-taking. While for Hobbes and Rousseau political unity must be empirically real – there must be an actual unifying authority – in Kant the idea of the general united will is a rational criterion of just lawmaking. For Kant, it is not the form of government that matters, but the manner of governing.

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/content/journals/10.1163/187502512x639597
2012-01-01
2016-12-08

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