Evaluate thegender implications of ideas about public and private in the work of ONEpolitical thinker of the Enlightenment: The GenderImplications of Thomas Hobbes’ Ideas About Public and Private in Leviathan and other works. The 17th Century English philosopherThomas Hobbes, widely regarded as a highly influential political philosopher, andin some circles, considered to be one of a handful of ‘truly great politicalphilosophers.’ Hobbes’ book Leviathan, isconsidered to be his masterwork, and revolves in similar circles to variousEnlightenment thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Kant.1 Hobbesis acclaimed for his early and elaborate development of what has come to beknown as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying politicalprinciples or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made amongsuitably situated rational, free, and equal persons.
2 Hobbescites the social contract method is crucial in determining the conclusion thatsociety ought to submit to the authority of absolute, undivided and unlimited sovereignpower. Hobbes advocates for an absolute sovereign power as a reform of asociety he pronounces as the ‘state of nature’. This notion does notnecessarily differ in definition to Rousseau’s concept, however, thecontractarians opinions of this society and reasons for why and to what extentone must sign a ‘social contract’ contrast significantly. The state of nature is a society that exists withoutgovernment and law. Both Locke and Rousseau believed that the state of naturewas 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 foroneself, how to act, and is judge, jury and executioner in their own casewhenever disputes arise, Locke argues this state is the appropriate baselineagainst which to judge the justifiability of political arrangements.
Whilst theother contractarians are appropriate for comparison this paper will focusprimarily on Hobbes. Hobbes unlike Locke or Rousseau, believes that the ‘stateof nature’ is a “dissolutecondition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Powerto tye their hands from rapine, and revenge”.3Hobbes believes this would make impossible all of the basic security upon whichcomfortable, sociable, civilized life depends.4 Inorder to reputably analyse Hobbes’ ideas of public and private and implicationsthis has on gender, it is crucial to obtain an understanding of social contracttheory. Accordingto Hobbes, the justification for the political obligation, and absolutesovereign ruling over all men (and women) is that given that men are naturallyself-interested, yet they are rational, they will choose to submit to theauthority of a Sovereign in order to be able to live in a civil society, whichis conducive to their own interests and to their safety.5 The consent of a sovereign state by signing thesocial contract can be seen to further the Hobbesian reasoning that the ‘stateof nature’ is the worst possible state of humanity and that humans needprotecting 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 goodand that which we depend upon to live well. He implores that our choice iseither 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 SocialContract in its various forms has been challenged frequently inhistoriography. Regarding gender, there have been a number of academicresponses, particularly in relation to Hobbes. This paper will predominantlyfocus on the argument of Carole Pateman and Joanne Wright, as the two academicschallenge Hobbesian ideology in relation to gender and social contract viacontrastingly distinctive approaches.
Pateman’s views on the Social Contract are well documented, her work, the Sexual Contract can be seen to critiquethe work of all of the contractarians; Hobbes, Locke, Filmer and Rousseau.7More specifically to Hobbes, Pateman criticises his failure to address the flaw and hole in histheory in accordance to the freedom of woman in the state of nature and thenthe outcome of a male dominated society post-contract. This gap in his argumentthat is not accounted for at all in Leviathanhas attracted a multiplicity of critique of both in relevance the social contract, and a wider debatetowards Hobbesian views on gender.8 Pateman’s argument is formed inresponse to the wider historiographical debate regarding the gap betweenHobbes’ state of nature, and the signing of the social contract and thereforethe enacting of male dominion. Pateman’s argument can be seen to reputablyaddress the problem of Hobbes’ failure to discuss the role of women in theforming phase of political society. She claims due to his failure to discussthe family, in relation to social contract it is therefore a feature of theHobbesian state of nature, rather than a female characteristic, that leads tomale dominion.9 Shedisputes that as a result of their maternal dominion, women are conquered bymen.
For women, having power over their children comes with the burden of defendingthem against attack.10She insinuates that while women are initially equal to men in the state ofnature, in both strength and prudence, this added encumbrance, is enough toensure that men end up as masters and the heads of families while women arecondemned to servitude.11 This paper focuses on Hobbes, and in particular, Patemanon Hobbes due to the extent of variation from Hobbes’ views to Filmer andLocke. Hobbes is significant to the studying of social contract and the genderimplications of the theory. Pateman argues that he` is remarkably different from the other classic contract theorists.12This argument is based on his assumption that there is no natural mastery inthe state of nature, not even of men over women; natural individual attributesand capacities are distributed irrespective of sex.13The two key argumentsof this paper are based around the foundations of this Hobbesian belief that”there is no mastery in the state of nature”.14The first key argument that emerges from this is; if there is no mastery inthat 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 thisquestion, and it can be seen to fall in to the questionable area of Hobbes’ideas in Leviathan between the ‘stateof nature’ and society post-contract signing.
15 Asbriefly mentioned previously, Pateman can be seen to tackle this problematicgap and the implications this has on gender. In the chapter The individual and slavery, Patemanclearly determines maternal right and responsibility as the cause to theoutcome that Hobbes fails to explain; male dominated society.16Hobbes claims “that all examples of political right are conventional and that,in the state of nature, political right is maternal not paternal.
“17 Heexpands on this:”preservationof life being the end, for which one man becomes subject to another, every manor infant is supposed to promise obedience, to him or her, in whose powerit is to save, or destroy him.”18This is an example of Hobbes’ theory of enforced submissionwith voluntary agreement. Wide debate amongst social contract thought is theidea of consent, the signing of a social contract on behalf of someone whocannot sign it themselves.19 Hobbes and to an extentLocke, argue that when a child is born, the submit to a mother’s power ratherthan be exposed.20This is significant as it affects a mother’s power, and the role of women insociety. The mother’s political right over her child thus originates incontract, and gives her the power of an absolute lord or monarch. Whilst Hobbesmaintains that mother right is political right, child-rearing is not exclusiveto women as a mother can contract away right over a child to the father, this is not reflective in a post-state of naturesociety.21Pateman argues that having power over their childrencomes with the burden of defending them against attack.
She insinuates that whilewomen are initially equal to men in the state of nature, in both strength andprudence, the ‘mother’s political right’ leads to a disparity between men andwomen, and is reflective of a ‘glass ceiling’ or ‘domestic shift’ that can beseen in the work of Arlie Hoschild.22The implications of both Hobbes’ monarchical male dominated society on women andPateman’s analysis of the restriction of maternal power, and its’political right’, are highly significant to understanding Hobbes’ ideas ofpublic 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 toreflect boundaries of public and private. Motherhood can be seen to restrictwomen to notions of an isolated private sphere rather than as free contractorsbeside men.JoanneWright can be seen to offer an alternative view to Pateman’s Sexual Contract, on a number of levels. Wrightchallenges Pateman’s arguments in accordance to Hobbes’ ideas of public andprivate, particularly in relation to the role of the woman in the socialcontract debate. Wright claims in GoingAgainst the Grain, that Pateman comes to the conclusion that Hobbes,like various other social contract theorists, insinuates that society relegatedwomen to the private sphere once the social contract was made.23 While the social contractgives rise to the free realm of politics, Pateman’s idea of the simultaneousbirth of the feminine, private realm is less evident in Hobbes’s writings.
24 A frequent correlation inHobbes’s writings, is a failure to address what happens to the free and equalwomen 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 viewsof women in state of nature, his views can only be considered patriarchal. Onthe other hand, Wright argues that whilst it is most likely true that Hobbesassumed women’s customary location to be the domestic sphere, it is importantto be clear about what the private sphere meant to Hobbes.25 Nowhere did he connectthe female and the private; it is not the feminine sphere that Pateman suggests.Both arguments base their argument around Hobbesian ideals of state of natureand expand hypothetically using their own views. Wright maintains that thefamily was an example of a private association for Hobbes, but its femininityor masculinity was not an issue for him as it was for later thinkers Enlightenmentthinkers such as Rousseau.26 One might legitimately questionwhy Hobbes falls back on such arguments about women when he has explicitlyclaimed that they are no less capable of ruling than men.27 Wright, however, believesit is essential to acknowledge, as Pateman does not, that for Hobbes, therewould be no obvious inconsistency here because he used gender only as a meansto another end. His instrumental use of gender, however, does not alter thefact that his ideas on women, consent, and the family were then, and remainnow, provocative and unsettling.
28 Thisreflects and resonates with the second key question; regarding Hobbes’ failure to address the cause ofimplications Leviathan has on gender,despite his forward looking proto-feminist views.29Can he be considered as an influential enlightenment thinker in relation togender 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 hisapparent exclusion of women from the social contract.30 Underlyingthe social contract, in Pateman’s view, was a sexual contract that ensuredwomen’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 explicitlyexclude them from the social contract but nor was it likely that he envisionedthem as contractors alongside men.32 Pateman’s conclusion wasthat Hobbes reaffirmed modern (conjugal) patriarchy, even as he attempted toundermine political patriarchalism.” An argument can be made that whilst his ideology isinfluential, he shouldn’t necessarily need to be considered as a genderpolitical thinker, whilst he can still be critiqued, Wright suggeststhat if Hobbes did not fully resolve the issue of gender relations in histheory, it is because he used gender instrumentally.33 Hobbes did not undertakethe 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; onlyinsofar as they reveal something important about the nature of political relationships.Wright claims that the extent of what Hobbes tells us about women in civilsociety is far more descriptive than explanatory: “for the most part Commonwealthshave been erected by the Fathers, not by the Mothers of families.”34Wright goes on to say that Pateman supplementedHobbes’s textual silences about women with conjecture and, in so doing, shedeveloped her own origin story of the sexual contract.35 She read into TheLeviathan a conjectural history of women’s defeat, premised on an original rapein the state of nature.36 However, Pateman’s narrativeabout the sexual contract, while offering a provocative and essentialperspective from which to analyze contemporary liberal societies, deviates significantlyfrom Hobbes’s theoretical intent, and exhibits a lack of historical and textualspecificity, Wright believe this is due to both Pateman’s analysis, but alsoHobbes lack of specificity on reasoning for the decline of the active role ofwomen in the public sphere, post-social contract. Whilst this doesn’tnecessarily alter the implications the social contract has on gender, Wright’sexploration of Hobbes from an alternate angle explains his motivations behind Leviathan.37Whilst it is crucial to form an understanding regarding the historiographyand literature surrounding the impact of Hobbesian ideas on gender, and it’sinherent to study women’s liberties in the ‘state of nature’ it is crucial toanalyse the specific implications of the social contract, and the state ofwomen in a non-hypothetical society. Wright says that in order to understand the significanceof Hobbes’s arguments regarding gender, it is quintessential to situate hisideas both intellectually and periodically.
38 During the first half ofthe seventeenth century, the residual effects of a female monarch, contradictorythough they were, in combination with a significant rise in female activism,produced as Wright deems it a “public sense of gender confusion and concernabout a perceived threat to the gender order.”39 The 1640s in particularwitnessed an unusually high rate of women’s public religious activity that alsoled to such political acts as the petitioning of Parliament.40 As a result, maletheorists during this period defensively attempted to reconsolidate “natural”gender and familial relations along Biblical and Aristotelian lines. BothBiblical and Aristotelian lines of reasoning pursue the notion of women’sinferiority 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.”41Wright 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 notentirely confined to a “womanly” private sphere, their public acts, however,were not culturally accepted; they were deemed a threat to patriarchal order.42The significance of specifying this context provides keyinsight that is crucial to evaluating the gender implications and significanceof Hobbes’ ideas about public and private, which arguably can be seen incontrast to both society, and the majority of academic work in the seventeenthcentury. This can be seen to be supported by Going Against the Grain, in which Wright compares Hobbes’ ideologyto that of James VI and Sir Robert Filmer.
Both James and Filmer support thenotion of patriarchalism, and the political right of the father. Whilst he doesnot necessarily argue for a dramatic shift of boundaries between public andprivate for women, Hobbes’ views of gender, particularly within the constructof the family; such as the political right of the mother within the state ofnature, was intended to undermine patriarchalism as a political theory.43 There are furtherdistinctions between Hobbes and James on gender; Hobbes invested no amount ofenergy comparable to James in delineating either the roles and duties of wivesin society (post- state of nature) or in articulating the proper prosecution ofwitches, a patriarchal construct at the time. Wright insinuates that whilst heclearly discussed the family, most significantly in the state of nature, andalso briefly in the context of discussing what is public and private in civilsociety, he did not elaborate upon a wife’s relationship to her husband.
44 Nor did he suggest thatthe private sphere is the female sphere, two frequent ideas located within Patriarcha.45 Wright concludes, whilst Hobbes’ theories were by nomeans 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 politicalagreement, in political ideas outside of gender such as sovereign power.46 To conclude, this paper has explored two avenues ofanalysis towards Hobbesian ideas of public and private in both the ‘state ofnature’ and non-hypothetical existingsociety. Whilst Pateman and Wright clearly contrast in a variety of ways,particularly over the extent to which Hobbes’ social contract theory can beseen to have a positive impact on gender. The basic principles of both arguments,however, share many of the same frameworks. Both Pateman and Wright believeHobbes’ state of nature to be remarkably progressive and could be seen to underminepolitical patriarchalism, Pateman’s conclusion, however, was that Hobbesreaffirmed modern (conjugal) patriarchy in the process,focusing on the fact that despite it offered balance and equality in the stateof nature for women, at its core socialcontract was a sexual contract that ensured women’ssubordination at the inception of civil society.
47 In comparison, Wrightclearly believes, as Pateman does not, that for Hobbes, there would be noobvious inconsistency here because he used gender only as a means to anotherend, and the expectation of the social contract to radically alter the publicand private sphere and male dominated patriarchal society was never expectednor realistically possible.48 Hobbes basic argument, isthat in order to be protected from the danger and greed of humans, everyonemust give up liberties and freedoms in order to be protected; however, it isclear that the majority of those freedoms and liberties that were given up werewomen’s. It can therefore be argued that the implications forgender, can only be seen as negative, in that Hobbes’s political theory canonly be considered as a continuation of the same, by the time the socialcontract is instituted, women were absent from the discussions of civil societyand from descriptions of the family, and Hobbes fell back on customaryarguments about men being more suited to rule than women.
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