The phenomenon of states committing violence against their own citizens, the most dramatic expression of which is genocide, challenges us to consider what obedience citizens owe the sovereign, if any, under such circumstances. What becomes of the sovereign’s commands? What becomes of law?

Thomas Hobbes was no stranger to intrastate violence—indeed, certain forms famously shaped his political philosophy. Yet he overlooked this form of state violence, and perhaps as a result his views have been received as favoring absolute control by the sovereign. Using the work of this seminal thinker as a lens through which to view the challenge of obedience in the face of extreme state violence offers an opportunity not only to rethink what Hobbes’s theory entails but also to question the nature of sovereignty and the grounds on which we believe individuals have obligations to obey state law. This Article contends Hobbes reserves a wider right of resistance for victims of state violence than many presume him to have allowed citizens. It reasons from his logic of the natural commonwealth of slavery to argue a citizen is thrust into a state of war with the sovereign not only in the moment of being dragged to the gallows but as early as the sovereign’s preparations for physical violence. Troublingly, however, Hobbes limits the right of resistance to those whose lives are threatened directly, bringing the Article to an exploration of how Hobbes’s construction of the civil state withstands the pressure applied by genocidal practices. While the commonwealth and its associated obligations fracture for members of persecuted groups, they remain unbroken for members of contingently protected groups, the threat to whom is too remote or indeterminate to fall under the scope of a right to resistance. That continuity of the commonwealth and associated obligation forces onlookers and perpetrators alike into paradox: They cannot disobey a genocidal sovereign’s laws without violating the agreement by which the civil state was formed and according to which they agreed to submit their wills. But they cannot obey that sovereign or those laws without violating the very purpose for which the agreement was made—protection for all.

Slide deck from presentation at the 2021 UCLA Graduate Political Theory Conference here.