James Harris (University of St. Andrews)

Title: “How to make a people? Hobbes vs Rousseau”.



The people is an under-theorised concept. Having previously been thought of as one component of the political community among others, with the advent of modern democracy the people became everyone, the nation itself. But how is it possible to attribute to everyone a single will, such that government could be seen as responsive (or not) to the people's will? In this paper I consider two answers to this question, Rousseau's and Hobbes's. Rousseau gives his answer in terms of "the general will". The key issue, I suggest, with respect to Rousseau's conception of the people is the relation between the individual "as a man" and "as a citizen". A Rousseauian people comprises citizens, not men. Unity of will is possible insofar as men are turned into citizens -- in the first instance by the "lawgiver" introduced in Book II of Of the Social Contract. For Rousseau, then, a people is a work of artifice. Hobbes agrees. For both Rousseau and Hobbes, the raw material of politics is a disunited multitude. But Hobbes believes that there is no way of turning men into citizens. The unity of will possessed by a people exists only in the will of the sovereign. In fact, the people only exists in the will of the sovereign. Hence the claim in De Cive that "In every commonwealth [civitas] the people reigns". It is perhaps natural to believe that Rousseau's conception of the people, not Hobbes's, is what is needed to make sense of modern democracy. I think this would be a mistake. On the contrary, Hobbesianism provides the theory of the people that democracy needs if it is to protect itself from populism. I conclusion I suggest that there is support for this claim in the reply given to Carl Schmitt by Hans Kelsen in "On the Essence and Value of Democracy".