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Liberty and Insecurity in the Criminal Law: Lessons from Thomas Hobbes

Carvalho, H. (2015). Liberty and Insecurity in the Criminal Law: Lessons from Thomas Hobbes. Criminal Law and Philosophy, 11(2), pp. 249-271. doi: 10.1007/s11572-015-9369-y


In this paper, I provide an extensive examination of the political theory of Thomas Hobbes in order to discuss its relevance to an understanding of contemporary issues and challenges faced by criminal law and criminal justice theory. I start by proposing that a critical analysis of Hobbes’s account of punishment reveals a paradox that not only is fundamental to understanding his model of political society, but also can offer important insights into the preventive turn experienced by advanced liberal legal systems. I then suggest that the main importance of an analysis of Hobbes’s theoretical framework lies in how it reveals an inextricable and problematic link between individual autonomy and political authority in the normative conception of the modern liberal state, grounded on the notion of insecurity. By exploring how legal scholars have recently engaged with aspects of this problematic in criminal law and punishment posed by Hobbes’s work, I argue that the paradox found in punishment is such that it both legitimates the criminal law and undermines its normative aspirations, particularly the possibility of securing individual liberty against the power of the liberal state.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: The final publication is available at Springer via
Publisher Keywords: punishment; Hobbes; liberty; insecurity; criminal law; political theory
Subjects: K Law
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
SWORD Depositor:
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