Democratical Gentlemen and the Lust for Mastery: Status, Ambition, and the Language of Liberty in Hobbes’s Political Thought

POLITICAL THEORY 41.4 (2013): 648-675

Abstract: Neo-republican treatments of Hobbes argue that his conception of liberty was deliberately developed to counter a revived and Roman-rooted republican theory of liberty. In doing so, Hobbes rejects republican liberty, and, with it, Roman republicanism. This article disputes this narrative and argues that rather than rejecting Roman liberty, per se, Hobbes identifies and attacks a language of liberty, Roman in character, often abused by ambitious persons. This is possible because Roman liberty—and, by extension, Hobbes’s relationship to it—is more complex than neo-republican authors have allowed. Drawing on Roman sources, along with Hobbes’s major works, this article argues that Hobbes’s theory of liberty owes much to his engagement with Roman sources, and that this theory speaks to the egalitarian elements in his political thought.