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Article: Hobbes on the Causes of War

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

USS Arizona burning Pearl HarborAttack.jpg

Abstract: Hobbesian war primarily arises not because material resources are scarce, nor because humans ruthlessly seek survival before all else, nor because we are naturally selfish, competitive, or aggressive brutes, but because we are fragile, fearful, impressionable, and psychologically prickly creatures susceptible to ideological manipulation, whose anger can become irrationally inflamed by even trivial slights to our glory. The primary source of war, according to Hobbes, is disagreement, because we read into it the most inflammatory signs of contempt. Both cause and remedy are therefore primarily ideological: the Leviathan’s primary function is to settle the meaning of the most controversial words implicated in social life, minimize public disagreement, neutralize glory, magnify the fear of death, and root out subversive doctrines. Managing interstate conflict, in turn, requires not only coercive power, but the soft power required to shape characters and defuse the effects of status competition.

(c) American Political Science Association

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