Thomas Hobbes and the Invented Tradition of Positivism: Reflections on Language, Power, and Essentialism

44 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2017

See all articles by James Boyle

James Boyle

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: December 8, 2017

Abstract

This is an essay about the legal theory of Thomas Hobbes and about the things that are revealed when one compares Hobbes's ideas with the main line of legal positivism. Hobbes occupies a paradoxical position in traditional jurisprudence-revered but frequently overlooked, hailed as a precursor but not as a founder, and used alternately as a bogeyman and an illustration of the difference between political and legal theory. If one actually looks at Hobbes's works, rather than footnoting them, cite unseen, one finds a rich stewpot of ideas; great dollops of wisdom about language, interpretation, power, legitimacy, epistemology, definition, scholasticism, human nature, and law. Of course, Hobbes has never been ignored. He still plays Mutt to Locke's Jeff in college courses in political theory. But at a time when legal theorists are rediscovering the fact that there is no bright line separating legal from political theory, that questions of legitimacy may resolve themselves into questions of epistemology, and that language and power are inextricably connected, Hobbes's work deserves rereading, if only to see how legal positivism defines its own margins.

Suggested Citation

Boyle, James, Thomas Hobbes and the Invented Tradition of Positivism: Reflections on Language, Power, and Essentialism (December 8, 2017). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 135, No. 3, 1987, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3084950 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3084950

James Boyle (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

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