The structures of authority and political use of religious practices in Thomas Hobbes and Carl Schmitt

Collison, Luke (2020) The structures of authority and political use of religious practices in Thomas Hobbes and Carl Schmitt. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis examines the structures of authority in the political theories of Thomas Hobbes and Carl Schmitt. In milieux marked by crises of political legitimacy, civil unrest and war, both Hobbes and Schmitt strove to develop new theoretical foundations in support of their conservative visions of the authority of the state. The exhaustion of traditional means of legitimation, such as divine right or romantic ideals of community, demanded innovative alternatives. Though Hobbes and Schmitt drew on a wide range of sources, I argue that religious practices were centrally important. Focussing on questions of the source and genesis of authority, my study argues that in different ways both identify participation as key to the origination of authority. In part one, through a chronological investigation of Hobbes’ works, I demonstrate that he assembles a multi-faceted theoretical support for authority. While the covenant is essential for establishing the artifice of sovereign potestas, I argue that Hobbes progressively supplements this fragile artifice with a series of additional apparatuses: civil worship based on religious practices, authorisation based on theatrical analogies and educational and pedagogical practices drawn from a general, almost polytheistic, conception of religion. However, I show that ultimately Hobbes’ mechanistic psychology undermines his attempt at an integrated and scientific account of worship and pedagogy. In part two, I divide Schmitt’s oeuvre into monarchical and democratic writings. Investigating the monarchical works, I trace his elaboration of a distinctive ‘commissary authority’ from the Roman dictator to the katechon. I show that this ‘personalist office’ can be understood as an attempt to renovate the traditional doctrine of divine right. Returning to the democratic writings of 1923-32, I contextualise Schmitt’s revisionist conception of democracy and focus on the legitimating role of acts of acclamation, understood as an act of assent, rather than legal or contractual consent. I argue that a key influence on this participatory model of authority is Georges Sorel’s energetic and enthusiastic vision of political activity.

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