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What Hobbes really thought about war

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Thomas Hobbes famously described the state of nature – the imagined condition of humankind before the existence of central governments – as “war of every man against every man”. This has led many political theorists to think that war is simply the human condition. This thinking has in turn influenced theorists of international relations, who see contemporary states resembling the individuals of Hobbes’ state of nature – coexisting in an environment with no overriding authority, and no way to resolve conflicts other than through violence. But such accounts both misunderstand Hobbes’ state of nature, and exaggerate the similarities between individuals and states, argues Silviya Lechner.  In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes described the state of nature as a condition of ‘warre . . . of every man against every man’, a vivid description that has inspired generations of political theorists and students of international relations, especially those sympathetic to the theory of political realism. But …

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