Hobbes and the Democratic Imaginary

By Christopher Holman

Subjects: Political Theory, Intellectual History, Political Philosophy, European History, Democracy
Hardcover : 9781438490434, 328 pages, October 2022
Paperback : 9781438490427, 328 pages, April 2023

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Table of contents


Democratic Non-Sense
Hobbes as Democratic Anatomist
Summary of Contents

Part I: Democratic Critique

1. Hobbes on the Madness of Democracy
The Multitude and the People in The Elements of Law and De Cive
Democracy and Its Administration
Democracy and the Hubris of the Many
Eloquence and the Democratic Inflammation of the Passions
Madness and Multitude in the Democratic Assembly

2. Civil Science against Democratic Normativity
Freedom and Democratic Participation in The Elements of Law
The Disarticulation of Freedom and Participation in De Cive
Authorization and Representation in Leviathan
The Disappearance of Democracy

Part II: Democratic Conditions

3. Human Institution and Alterity
Ontological Materialism and the Limits of Natural Knowledge
Hobbesian Contingency
The Philosophical Anthropology of Sensation
Difference and the Passions
Creativity and Social-Historical Alterity

4. Hobbesian Equality-in-Difference
Equality as Natural Law
Natural Reason and the Equality of Intelligences
The Plurality of Reasons
Curiosity, Happiness, and the Limits of Practical Wisdom
The Practice of Equality

Part III: Democratic Ethics

5. Democracy and Natural Law
Hobbes’s Critique and Reconstruction of the Idea of Natural Law
Politics and Antipolitics
Liberty and Natural Power
Natural Law and the True Liberty of the Subject
The Reappearance of Participatory Desire in Leviathan
Toward a Hobbesian Democracy


A critical interrogation of elements of Hobbes's political and natural philosophy and its capacity to enrich our understanding of the nature of democratic life.


At a time when nearly all political actors and observers—despite the nature of their normative commitments—morally appeal to the language of democracy, the particular signification of the term has become obscured. Hobbes and the Democratic Imaginary argues that critical engagement with various elements of the work of Hobbes, a notorious critic of democracy, can deepen our understanding of the problems, stakes, and ethics of democratic life. Firstly, Hobbes's descriptive anatomy of democratic sovereignty reveals what is essential to the institution of this form of government, in the face of the conceptual confusion that characterizes the contemporary deployment of democratic terminology. Secondly, Hobbes's critique of the mechanics of democracy points toward certain fundamental political risks that are internal to its mode of operation. And thirdly, contrary to Hobbes's own intentions, Christopher Holman shows how the selective redeployment of certain Hobbesian categories could help construct a normative ground in which democracy is the ethical choice in relation to other sovereign forms.

Christopher Holman is Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.


"Everybody knows that Hobbes opposed democracy. In this new study, Christopher Holman demonstrates the extraordinary depth of that opposition, showing that many of the revisions Hobbes makes to his theory over time are explicable as responses to the worry that he might inadvertently legitimate democratic governance. Ultimately, Holman argues that there is democratic potential in the very diversity and universality of the human desire to participate in governance, a desire that Hobbesian theory cannot fully repress." — Gordon Hull, author of Hobbes and the Making of Modern Political Thought