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HOBBES AND THE TRAGEDY OF DEMOCRACY

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This article reconsiders Thomas Hobbes's critique of the democratic sovereign form from the standpoint of what it identifies as the latter's most important ontological conditions: the lack of a transcendent source of fundamental law, and a natural human equality that renders all individuals competent to participate in legislative modes. For Hobbes these two conditions combine to render democracy a tragic regime. Democracy is tragic to the extent that it must be a regime of self-limitation, there existing no ethical standard external to society that may intervene so as to guide our political self-activity, and yet the structure of deliberation in democratic assemblies tends to render such self-limitation impossible. Hence what Hobbes sees as the inherent tendency of democratic activity to descend into excess and madness. This risk is an intrinsic potentiality embedded within democracy's very conditions, a fact covered up by much post-Hobbesian liberal democratic theory that attempts to normatively ground the democratic form in various universal principles of natural law or right.
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Keywords: Hobbes; contingency; democracy; equality; tragedy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, 48 Nanyang Avenue, 639818, Singapore, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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