In her paper “Sovereignty and the International Protection of Human rights”, Cristina Lafont argues that “The obligation of respecting human rights in the sense of not contributing to their violation seems to be a universal obligation and thus one that binds states just as much as non-state actors.” In this paper, I argue that one can find support for this claim in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.
This requires a different reading of Leviathan
than the one that is typically performed by realist thinkers, such as, for instance, Morgenthau and Mearsheimer, who read Hobbes as someone who has no regard for human rights. Contrary to the realists, I suggest a reading of Leviathan
that shows that there is in fact a normative underpinning of Hobbes’ view of sovereignty, to the extent that Hobbes can be taken to be one of the forerunners of international law. I do this by showing how Hobbes’ reasons for establishing sovereign power, and not his conclusions on how to organize sovereign power, may give support to Lafont’s claim that an obligation to respect human rights is not confined to the sovereign state, but also to extra-state institutions.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.