chapter  2
14 Pages

Unity and diversity in a Hobbesian commonwealth


The Hobbesian commonwealth therefore seems to stand in stark contrast with contemporary liberal democracies that embrace multiculturalism. While the contemporary Western states generally encourage and protect the diversity and autonomy of their citizens, the Hobbesian state is designed to impede non-conformity. There are, however, limits to multicultural policies. Cultural practices that are harmful to the individual (genital mutilation, for example) are disallowed, and they cannot be justified by being a part of a certain group’s tradition. Multiculturalism, therefore, stands on delicate foundations stretched between liberty and security, and contemporary political philosophers are engaged in discovering the sweet spot – the right balance between the two ends. The same is true for Hobbes. In the dedication of Leviathan, Hobbes (1651: 3-4) situates his writing between the opinions of “those that contend, on one side for too great Liberty, and on the other side for too much Authority”. On one side there is a plethora of different and conflicting wills, and on the other we find absolute authority under the singular will of the sovereign. Of course, neither in Hobbes’s time, nor in ours, the reality of political and social life has never perfectly corresponded

to either of the two extremes – unlimited authority and unrestrained licence. Actual societies are and have been much less fragmented to fit the first ideal type and much more diverse to fit the second one.