Evaluate why and to what extent one must

Evaluate the
gender implications of ideas about public and private in the work of ONE
political thinker of the Enlightenment:

 

The Gender
Implications of Thomas Hobbes’ Ideas About Public and Private in Leviathan and other works.  

 

The 17th Century English philosopher
Thomas Hobbes, widely regarded as a highly influential political philosopher, and
in some circles, considered to be one of a handful of ‘truly great political
philosophers.’ Hobbes’ book Leviathan, is
considered to be his masterwork, and revolves in similar circles to various
Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Kant.1 Hobbes
is acclaimed for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be
known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political
principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among
suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons.2 Hobbes
cites the social contract method is crucial in determining the conclusion that
society ought to submit to the authority of absolute, undivided and unlimited sovereign
power. Hobbes advocates for an absolute sovereign power as a reform of a
society he pronounces as the ‘state of nature’. This notion does not
necessarily differ in definition to Rousseau’s concept, however, the
contractarians opinions of this society and reasons for why and to what extent
one must sign a ‘social contract’ contrast significantly.

 

The state of nature is a society that exists without
government and law. Both Locke and Rousseau believed that the state of nature
was to be preferred to the arbitrary power of absolutism and sovereignty;
regarding it as a state in which people might fare best, where one decides for
oneself, how to act, and is judge, jury and executioner in their own case
whenever disputes arise, Locke argues this state is the appropriate baseline
against which to judge the justifiability of political arrangements. Whilst the
other contractarians are appropriate for comparison this paper will focus
primarily on Hobbes. Hobbes unlike Locke or Rousseau, believes that the ‘state
of nature’ is a “dissolute
condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power
to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge”.3
Hobbes believes this would make impossible all of the basic security upon which
comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends.4 In
order to reputably analyse Hobbes’ ideas of public and private and implications
this has on gender, it is crucial to obtain an understanding of social contract
theory.

 

 According
to Hobbes, the justification for the political obligation, and absolute
sovereign ruling over all men (and women) is that given that men are naturally
self-interested, yet they are rational, they will choose to submit to the
authority of a Sovereign in order to be able to live in a civil society, which
is conducive to their own interests and to their safety.5 The consent of a sovereign state by signing the
social contract can be seen to further the Hobbesian reasoning that the ‘state
of nature’ is the worst possible state of humanity and that humans need
protecting from each other by law, in order to maintain a safe ordered society.6 Therefore,
Hobbes argues that the Social Contract is the most fundamental source of all that is good
and that which we depend upon to live well. He implores that our choice is
either to abide by the terms of the contract, or return to the State of Nature,
which Hobbes argues no reasonable person could possibly prefer.

The Social
Contract in its various forms has been challenged frequently in
historiography. Regarding gender, there have been a number of academic
responses, particularly in relation to Hobbes. This paper will predominantly
focus on the argument of Carole Pateman and Joanne Wright, as the two academics
challenge Hobbesian ideology in relation to gender and social contract via
contrastingly distinctive approaches.

 

Pateman’s views on the Social Contract are well documented, her work, the Sexual Contract can be seen to critique
the work of all of the contractarians; Hobbes, Locke, Filmer and Rousseau.7
More specifically to Hobbes, Pateman criticises his failure to address the flaw and hole in his
theory in accordance to the freedom of woman in the state of nature and then
the outcome of a male dominated society post-contract. This gap in his argument
that is not accounted for at all in Leviathan
has attracted a multiplicity of critique of both in relevance the social contract, and a wider debate
towards Hobbesian views on gender.8 Pateman’s argument is formed in
response to the wider historiographical debate regarding the gap between
Hobbes’ state of nature, and the signing of the social contract and therefore
the enacting of male dominion. Pateman’s argument can be seen to reputably
address the problem of Hobbes’ failure to discuss the role of women in the
forming phase of political society. She claims due to his failure to discuss
the family, in relation to social contract it is therefore a feature of the
Hobbesian state of nature, rather than a female characteristic, that leads to
male dominion.9 She
disputes that as a result of their maternal dominion, women are conquered by
men. For women, having power over their children comes with the burden of defending
them against attack.10
She insinuates that while women are initially equal to men in the state of
nature, in both strength and prudence, this added encumbrance, is enough to
ensure that men end up as masters and the heads of families while women are
condemned to servitude.11

 

This paper focuses on Hobbes, and in particular, Pateman
on Hobbes due to the extent of variation from Hobbes’ views to Filmer and
Locke. Hobbes is significant to the studying of social contract and the gender
implications of the theory. Pateman argues that he` is remarkably different from the other classic contract theorists.12
This argument is based on his assumption that there is no natural mastery in
the state of nature, not even of men over women; natural individual attributes
and capacities are distributed irrespective of sex.13

The two key arguments
of this paper are based around the foundations of this Hobbesian belief that
“there is no mastery in the state of nature”.14
The first key argument that emerges from this is; if there is no mastery in
that state of nature, including men over women, how did they end up in a male-dominated,
patriarchal society post-contract? Hobbes offers very little to answer to this
question, and it can be seen to fall in to the questionable area of Hobbes’
ideas in Leviathan between the ‘state
of nature’ and society post-contract signing.15 As
briefly mentioned previously, Pateman can be seen to tackle this problematic
gap and the implications this has on gender. In the chapter The individual and slavery, Pateman
clearly determines maternal right and responsibility as the cause to the
outcome that Hobbes fails to explain; male dominated society.16
Hobbes claims “that all examples of political right are conventional and that,
in the state of nature, political right is maternal not paternal.”17 He
expands on this:

“preservation
of life being the end, for which one man becomes subject to another, every man
or infant is supposed to promise obedience, to him or her, in whose power
it is to save, or destroy him.”18

This is an example of Hobbes’ theory of enforced submission
with voluntary agreement. Wide debate amongst social contract thought is the
idea of consent, the signing of a social contract on behalf of someone who
cannot sign it themselves.19 Hobbes and to an extent
Locke, argue that when a child is born, the submit to a mother’s power rather
than be exposed.20
This is significant as it affects a mother’s power, and the role of women in
society. The mother’s political right over her child thus originates in
contract, and gives her the power of an absolute lord or monarch. Whilst Hobbes
maintains that mother right is political right, child-rearing is not exclusive
to women as a mother can contract away right over a child to the father, this is not reflective in a post-state of nature
society.21
Pateman argues that having power over their children
comes with the burden of defending them against attack. She insinuates that while
women are initially equal to men in the state of nature, in both strength and
prudence, the ‘mother’s political right’ leads to a disparity between men and
women, and is reflective of a ‘glass ceiling’ or ‘domestic shift’ that can be
seen in the work of Arlie Hoschild.22
The implications of both Hobbes’ monarchical male dominated society on women and
Pateman’s analysis of the restriction of maternal power, and its
‘political right’, are highly significant to understanding Hobbes’ ideas of
public and private and the gender implications of his political thought. Both
‘post-contract’ society more generally and Pateman’s scrutiny in The Sexual Contract can be seen to
reflect boundaries of public and private. Motherhood can be seen to restrict
women to notions of an isolated private sphere rather than as free contractors
beside men.

Joanne
Wright can be seen to offer an alternative view to Pateman’s Sexual Contract, on a number of levels. Wright
challenges Pateman’s arguments in accordance to Hobbes’ ideas of public and
private, particularly in relation to the role of the woman in the social
contract debate. Wright claims in Going
Against the Grain, that Pateman comes to the conclusion that Hobbes,
like various other social contract theorists, insinuates that society relegated
women to the private sphere once the social contract was made.23 While the social contract
gives rise to the free realm of politics, Pateman’s idea of the simultaneous
birth of the feminine, private realm is less evident in Hobbes’s writings.24 A frequent correlation in
Hobbes’s writings, is a failure to address what happens to the free and equal
women of the state of nature, leads to analysis based on either two arguments;
because of his failure to address this role despite his gender reflective views
of women in state of nature, his views can only be considered patriarchal. On
the other hand, Wright argues that whilst it is most likely true that Hobbes
assumed women’s customary location to be the domestic sphere, it is important
to be clear about what the private sphere meant to Hobbes.25 Nowhere did he connect
the female and the private; it is not the feminine sphere that Pateman suggests.
Both arguments base their argument around Hobbesian ideals of state of nature
and expand hypothetically using their own views. Wright maintains that the
family was an example of a private association for Hobbes, but its femininity
or masculinity was not an issue for him as it was for later thinkers Enlightenment
thinkers such as Rousseau.26 One might legitimately question
why Hobbes falls back on such arguments about women when he has explicitly
claimed that they are no less capable of ruling than men.27 Wright, however, believes
it is essential to acknowledge, as Pateman does not, that for Hobbes, there
would be no obvious inconsistency here because he used gender only as a means
to another end. His instrumental use of gender, however, does not alter the
fact that his ideas on women, consent, and the family were then, and remain
now, provocative and unsettling.28

 

 

This
reflects and resonates with the second key question; regarding Hobbes’ failure to address the cause of
implications Leviathan has on gender,
despite his forward looking proto-feminist views.29
Can he be considered as an influential enlightenment thinker in relation to
gender if, as Pateman claims reaffirms modern patriarchal society. Ultimately,
Wright challenges Pateman’s use of the sexual contract to ‘fill in the gaps’ of Hobbes’
provocative narrative, she argues that there is more to Hobbes than his
apparent exclusion of women from the social contract.30 Underlying
the social contract, in Pateman’s view, was a sexual contract that ensured
women’s subordination at the inception of civil society.31 Wright argues in fact;
Hobbes was not explicit about what happens to women: he did not explicitly
exclude them from the social contract but nor was it likely that he envisioned
them as contractors alongside men.32 Pateman’s conclusion was
that Hobbes reaffirmed modern (conjugal) patriarchy, even as he attempted to
undermine political patriarchalism.”

An argument can be made that whilst his ideology is
influential, he shouldn’t necessarily need to be considered as a gender
political thinker, whilst he can still be critiqued, Wright suggests
that if Hobbes did not fully resolve the issue of gender relations in his
theory, it is because he used gender instrumentally.33 Hobbes did not undertake
the study of the family for its own sake, but was interested in the family.
This leads to analysis of gender relations, but in the Hobbesian mindset; only
insofar as they reveal something important about the nature of political relationships.
Wright claims that the extent of what Hobbes tells us about women in civil
society is far more descriptive than explanatory: “for the most part Commonwealths
have been erected by the Fathers, not by the Mothers of families.”34

Wright goes on to say that Pateman supplemented
Hobbes’s textual silences about women with conjecture and, in so doing, she
developed her own origin story of the sexual contract.35 She read into The
Leviathan a conjectural history of women’s defeat, premised on an original rape
in the state of nature.36 However, Pateman’s narrative
about the sexual contract, while offering a provocative and essential
perspective from which to analyze contemporary liberal societies, deviates significantly
from Hobbes’s theoretical intent, and exhibits a lack of historical and textual
specificity, Wright believe this is due to both Pateman’s analysis, but also
Hobbes lack of specificity on reasoning for the decline of the active role of
women in the public sphere, post-social contract. Whilst this doesn’t
necessarily alter the implications the social contract has on gender, Wright’s
exploration of Hobbes from an alternate angle explains his motivations behind Leviathan.37
Whilst it is crucial to form an understanding regarding the historiography
and literature surrounding the impact of Hobbesian ideas on gender, and it’s
inherent to study women’s liberties in the ‘state of nature’ it is crucial to
analyse the specific implications of the social contract, and the state of
women in a non-hypothetical society.

Wright says that in order to understand the significance
of Hobbes’s arguments regarding gender, it is quintessential to situate his
ideas both intellectually and periodically.38 During the first half of
the seventeenth century, the residual effects of a female monarch, contradictory
though they were, in combination with a significant rise in female activism,
produced as Wright deems it a “public sense of gender confusion and concern
about a perceived threat to the gender order.”39 The 1640s in particular
witnessed an unusually high rate of women’s public religious activity that also
led to such political acts as the petitioning of Parliament.40 As a result, male
theorists during this period defensively attempted to reconsolidate “natural”
gender and familial relations along Biblical and Aristotelian lines. Both
Biblical and Aristotelian lines of reasoning pursue the notion of women’s
inferiority in strength and reason; Wright deems this to be an

“ideological
(although certainly not actual) division between public and private spheres;
and a belief in the sanctity of marriage as the lynchpin of established order.”41

Wright sees this division between public and private as
‘ideological’ rather than ‘actual’,
due to the fact that many women had many public roles and duties, and were not
entirely confined to a “womanly” private sphere, their public acts, however,
were not culturally accepted; they were deemed a threat to patriarchal order.42

The significance of specifying this context provides key
insight that is crucial to evaluating the gender implications and significance
of Hobbes’ ideas about public and private, which arguably can be seen in
contrast to both society, and the majority of academic work in the seventeenth
century. This can be seen to be supported by Going Against the Grain, in which Wright compares Hobbes’ ideology
to that of James VI and Sir Robert Filmer. Both James and Filmer support the
notion of patriarchalism, and the political right of the father. Whilst he does
not necessarily argue for a dramatic shift of boundaries between public and
private for women, Hobbes’ views of gender, particularly within the construct
of the family; such as the political right of the mother within the state of
nature, was intended to undermine patriarchalism as a political theory.43 There are further
distinctions between Hobbes and James on gender; Hobbes invested no amount of
energy comparable to James in delineating either the roles and duties of wives
in society (post- state of nature) or in articulating the proper prosecution of
witches, a patriarchal construct at the time. Wright insinuates that whilst he
clearly discussed the family, most significantly in the state of nature, and
also briefly in the context of discussing what is public and private in civil
society, he did not elaborate upon a wife’s relationship to her husband.44 Nor did he suggest that
the private sphere is the female sphere, two frequent ideas located within Patriarcha.45
 

Wright concludes, whilst Hobbes’ theories were by no
means liberating for women, especially once the social contract was enacted,
she suggests that Hobbes exhibited far fewer symptoms of ‘anxious masculinity’
than many of his contemporaries with whom he would have been in basic political
agreement, in political ideas outside of gender such as sovereign power.46

To conclude, this paper has explored two avenues of
analysis towards Hobbesian ideas of public and private in both the ‘state of
nature’ and non-hypothetical existing
society. Whilst Pateman and Wright clearly contrast in a variety of ways,
particularly over the extent to which Hobbes’ social contract theory can be
seen to have a positive impact on gender. The basic principles of both arguments,
however, share many of the same frameworks. Both Pateman and Wright believe
Hobbes’ state of nature to be remarkably progressive and could be seen to undermine
political patriarchalism, Pateman’s conclusion, however, was that Hobbes
reaffirmed modern (conjugal) patriarchy in the process,
focusing on the fact that despite it offered balance and equality in the state
of nature for women, at its core social
contract was a sexual contract that ensured women’s
subordination at the inception of civil society.47 In comparison, Wright
clearly believes, as Pateman does not, that for Hobbes, there would be no
obvious inconsistency here because he used gender only as a means to another
end, and the expectation of the social contract to radically alter the public
and private sphere and male dominated patriarchal society was never expected
nor realistically possible.48 Hobbes basic argument, is
that in order to be protected from the danger and greed of humans, everyone
must give up liberties and freedoms in order to be protected; however, it is
clear that the majority of those freedoms and liberties that were given up were
women’s. It can therefore be argued that the implications for
gender, can only be seen as negative, in that Hobbes’s political theory can
only be considered as a continuation of the same, by the time the social
contract is instituted, women were absent from the discussions of civil society
and from descriptions of the family, and Hobbes fell back on customary
arguments about men being more suited to rule than women. This is clearly
indicative of Hobbes using gender only as a means to another end.

 

 

Bibliography

Bailey, Andrew and Samantha Brennan. The Broadview Anthology of Social and
Political Thought: Volume 2: The Twentieth Century and Beyond. Peterborough,
Canada: Broadview Press, 2008.  

 

Filmer, Robert. Patriarcha,
or the Natural Power of Kings. 1680.

Friend, Celeste. ‘Modern Social Contract Theory:
Thomas Hobbes’, in Internet Encyclopaedia
of Philosophy. 

Gaus, Gerald F. and Fred D’Agostino. The Routledge Companion to Social and Poltical
Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2013.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan,
eds. C.B Macpherson. London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Hoschild, Arlie. The
Second Shift. London: Penguin Publishing, 1989.

Lloyd, Sharon A. and Susanna Sreedhar. “Hobbes Moral
and Political Philosophy”, in The
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Spring, 2014.  

Mitchell, Megan. The
Problem of Women in Hobbes’ “Leviathan”. North Carolina: University of North
Carolina Press, 2010.  

Pateman, Carole. ‘Contracting in’ in The Sexual Contract. California:
Stanford University Press, 1988.

Pateman, Carole. ‘Contract, the Individual and
Slavery’ in The Sexual Contract. California:
Stanford University Press, 1988.

Pateman, Carole. ‘Genesis, Fathers and the Political
Liberty of Sons’ in The Sexual Contract. California:
Stanford University Press, 1988.

Pateman, Carole. ‘God Hath Ordained to Man a Helper’: Hobbes, Patriarchy and Conjugal
Right in British Journal of Political
Science. (1989): 19:4, pp. 445- 463.  

 

Pateman, Carole. The
Sexual Contract. California: Stanford University Press, 1988. 

Wright, Joanne. ‘Going Against the Grain: Hobbes’s
Case for Original Maternal Dominion’, in Journal
of Women’s History. (Spring 2002): Vol. 14, No.1. 

1
Sharon A. Lloyd and Susanna Sreedhar, “Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”,
in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of
Philosophy, (Spring, 2014).  

2
Lloyd.

3
Gerald F. Gaus and Fred D’Agostino, The
Routledge Companion to Social and Poltical Philosophy, (London: Routledge,
2013), pp. 62.

4
Lloyd.

5
Celeste Friend, ‘Modern Social Contract Theory: Thomas Hobbes’, in Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. 

6
Friend.

7
Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, (California:
Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.3. 

8
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, eds. C.B
Macpherson, (London: Penguin Books, 1985).

9
Carole Pateman, ‘Contracting in’ in The
Sexual Contract, (California: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 7.

10
Carole Pateman, ‘God Hath Ordained to Man a Helper’: Hobbes, Patriarchy an
Conjugal Right in British Journal of
Political Science, 19:4, pp. 445-463, (1989).

11
Megan Mitchell, The Problem of Women in
Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press,
2010), pp. 3.  

12
Carole Pateman, ‘Contract, the Individual and Slavery’ in The Sexual Contract, (California: Stanford University Press, 1988),
pp. 45.

13
Pateman, Individual, 46.

14
Hobbes, Leviathan.

15
Hobbes.

16
Mitchell, 12.

17
Hobbes.

18
Hobbes.

19
Carole Pateman, ‘Genesis, Fathers and the Political Liberty of Sons’ in The Sexual Contract, (California:
Stanford University Press, 1988).

20
Pateman, Genesis.

21
Pateman, Genesis.

22
Pateman, Individual; Arlie Hoschild, The Second Shift, (London: Penguin
Publishing, 1989).

23
Joanne Wright, ‘Going Against the Grain: Hobbes’s Case for Original Maternal
Dominion’, in Journal of Women’s History,
Vol. 14, No.1, (Spring 2002): pp. 123-155.

24
Wright, 3.

25
Wright, 4.

26
Wright, 4.

27
Wright, 140.

28
Wright, 141.

29
Hobbes; Mitchell.

30
Mitchell.

31
Pateman, Sexual Contract.

32
Wright, 3.

33
Wright, 124.

34
Andrew Bailey and Samantha Brennan, The
Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume 2: The Twentieth
Century and Beyond, (Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Press, 2008), 425.  

35
Wright, 3.

36
Wright, 3.

37
Hobbes.

38
Wright, 125.

39
Wright 126-127.

40
Wright, 127.

41
Wright, 126.

42
Wright, 126.

43
Wright, 128.

44
Wright, 128.

45
Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or the Natural
Power of Kings, (1680).

46
Wright, 129.

47
Pateman, Sexual Contract.

48
Wright, 141.