Order and Justice on an International Scale? Rethinking the Domestic Analogy in the Political Theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls

Niklas Rolf

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In recent years, scholars of political theory and International Relations (IR) have paid increased attention to the problem of instituting order and justice on an international scale. Operating on the premise that the conditions of order and justice are the same among states as they are within them, this study inquires into the prospects of extending Thomas Hobbes’s idea of a common authority and John Rawls’s notion of a redistribution scheme to the international level. Although Hobbes and Rawls make some important concessions to the domestic analogy, both philosophers reject the (full) application of the social contract to international relations on the ground that cooperation is not as essential for states as it is for individuals.

However, since Hobbes’s publication of Leviathan, the international system has undergone some tremendous changes. With the advent of total war, nuclear weapons and international terrorism, states no longer have the means to protect their citizens in the way standing armies secured life within the state in the seventeenth century. While Rawls’s conception of the state as a self-sufficient entity was already questionable at the time he published A Theory of Justice, it is even more so in the twenty-first century in which entire countries have begun to specialize in certain manufacturing, trading or financing activities. Given these developments, it is rather doubtful that states can thrive in the long run without a degree of cooperation. But if cooperation is becoming as imperative for states as it is for individuals, this would have crucial implications for the possibility of (fully) applying Hobbes’s and Rawls’s social contract to the international level.

While many realists, communitarians and even some cosmopolitans continue to argue that the institutions that provide for order and justice domestically cannot be reproduced internationally, this work suggests that what Hobbes and Rawls sketch in their theories for the domestic level, and what is yet to materialize at the global level, has been well underway at the regional level. Framing an account of the High Authority and the Cohesion Fund in Hobbesian and Rawlsian terms, respectively, I argue that the two philosophers provide us with insufficiently exploited clues to the understanding and justification of the political and economic integration of Europe. I then examine whether Hobbes’s and Rawls’s philosophies also hold lessons for the political and economic integration of the world at large. I suggest that the regional and global realms are too dissimilar for Hobbesian and Rawlsian logics to apply globally.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Widder, Nathan, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • Thomas Hobbes
  • John Rawls
  • domestic analogy
  • analogical reasoning
  • global order
  • global justice
  • distributive justice
  • international political theory
  • political integration
  • economic integration
  • social contract theory
  • regional integration
  • Martin Wight
  • High Authority
  • Cohesion Fund
  • Leviathan
  • difference principle
  • European Union
  • securitization
  • Hidemi Suganami
  • Chiara Bottici
  • state of nature analogy
  • justice as reciprocity
  • nuclear terrorism
  • self-interest
  • self-sufficiency
  • security-development-nexus
  • A Theory of Justice
  • European Coal and Steel Community
  • cosmopolitanism

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