Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Cecil L. Eubanks


In the wake of the political upheavals of the twentieth century, political theorists have rediscovered the unsentimental teachings of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was a philosopher of order during a period of disorder--the English Civil War. He taught that sovereignty ought to be absolute and unchallengeable, so that order might be preserved. In particular, the sovereign ought to have the power to approve or disapprove political and religious teachings--in effect, to establish an unchallengeable "civil theology." Hobbesian sovereignty might preserve order, but it would also cut off political discussion and debate in summary fashion. In the twentieth century, political theorists have suspected that ideologies such as those of free-market capitalism, secularism, or the liberal-democratic welfare state might be among the components of a contemporary "civil theology." This dissertation will examine the thought of Hobbes, but will focus special attention on those political theorists for whom he has held the most fascination in the twentieth century. The interpretations offered by Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, and C. B. Macpherson, all of whom have written extensively on Hobbes, will be examined in detail. The brief but perceptive contributions offered by Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin will be considered, as will the interpretation of Thomas Spragens, a political theorist of the postwar generation who has attempted to synthesize some of the main currents in the twentieth-century philosophical and political thought. To an extent, the thought of all six of the thinkers considered here bears upon the question of which doctrine--that of laissez-faire capitalism or of the liberal-democratic welfare state--most closely resembles a sinister "neo-Hobbesian" dogma which threatens to circumscribe political debate. This issue will be the subject of some concluding remarks, which will draw upon the contributions of the six twentieth-century thinkers while invoking the contrast between Hobbes and Aristotle as a central theme.