Re-imagining Leviathan: Schmitt and Oakeshott on Hobbes and the problem of political order

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Both Michael Oakeshott and Carl Schmitt were deeply preoccupied with what Oakeshott called 'the experience of living in a modern European state'; both felt that the state's proper origins and trajectory had not been grasped, that proper statehood had profoundly been put into doubt in the twentieth century, and that state authority and legitimacy needed to be shored up in an age of 'mass politics'. Not surprisingly, then, both developed their conception of political association with and sometimes against Hobbes. Both profoundly disagreed with conventional readings of Hobbes as propounding a materialist or 'scientistic' philosophy. Most importantly, both consistently de-emphasized, or entirely discounted, Hobbes's contractualism - they cut off any possible route from Hobbes's thought to liberal theories of explicit or tacit consent. Instead, both stressed a concern with the cultural preconditions of political order. Oakeshott's civil association turned out to be an idealized picture of modern European individualism as a unique civilizational achievement that sustained a very limited state whose authority could only be acknowledged, rather than contested. Schmitt, on the other hand, advocated a deeply authoritarian fusion of political and religious elements, a sort of neo-Erastian dictatorship as the solution to the problem of political order. Idiosyncratic as these visions might appear, they in fact sum up two ways of thinking about political order still prevalent today: the notion that liberal democracy is only for the West; and the idea that, ultimately, political cohesion depends on a shared religious mentality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-336
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Carl Schmitt
  • Michael Oakeshott
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • myth
  • order
  • religion


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