Online Colloquium (5): Reply by Boucher

This online colloquium has been established to discuss David Boucher’s recent book, Appropriating Hobbes: Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Boucher, followed by responses from Howard Williams, Eleanor Curran, and David DyzenhausWe finish this week with a reply by David Boucher. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

Response to my critics

I am honoured and extremely grateful that three such distinguished scholars have taken the time to consider my arguments and selectively respond to different aspects of Appropriating Hobbes. I began my career examining and criticising the ‘Cambridge School’ of intellectual history, concluding that methodological pluralism enabled us to draw-out different aspects of a thinker’s arguments, enabling us to evaluate them against the various criteria that have emerged to shape our different academic disciplines.[1] I had hoped to escape the necessity of returning to methodological justifications, but selectively examining how Hobbes has been received and manipulated in different contexts necessitated a justificatory framework to hold the whole project together, which two of my critics use to hoist me by my own petard. The principal claim that there is no Hobbes independent of our interpretations of him, is I admit contentious, but at least to me it seems obvious. David Dyzenhaus is the most disappointed that I do not by-pass Hobbes’s interpreters and spend more time attending to Hobbes’s actual arguments. He then seems unwittingly to confirm my contention by using Oakeshott and Kelson as interpreters of Hobbes who are said to help us a good deal to understand the complexity of Hobbes’s theory of law, which funnily enough looks very like their own theories of law. There is a certain irony in directing me to Oakeshott in that he too was accused of ignoring what Hobbes actually said.[2] Howard Williams appears sympathetic to my claim that each generation, each discipline, reinterprets Hobbes anew, each having to do their own thinking for themselves. He begins, however, by telling us what Hobbes’s authentic argument is, presumably independent of interpretation. Eleanor Curran, too, expresses sympathy with my project, but is disappointed, if that is not too strong a word, with my apparent inability to remain faithful to my methodological precepts. Just like Schmitt detected a fatal flaw in Hobbes through which the light of liberty shone, Curran detects in me the flaw of intruding some of my own opinions into the debates, particularly in responding to Schmitt. Let me respond, as best I can to some of their criticisms.

Dyzenhaus makes some telling and substantive points. First, why didn’t I use Oakeshott as an interpreter of Hobbes’s theory of law. I did consider reintroducing him again into the chapter on legal positivism, but on balance decided that the book was in danger of becoming more about Oakeshott than Hobbes, having invoked him as a protagonist in the ideology versus philosophy debate, and in the individualist versus collectivist debate. I also resisted the temptation to include him in the Hobbes among the idealists’ debate, about which Williams writes in this symposium. Secondly, I should have given much more emphasis to the content of the laws of nature. The difficulty in writing a book that comes at Hobbes from so many different angles is that the same material can easily be repeated over and over to the annoyance of the reader. Hobbes’s use of the laws of nature is drawn upon extensively throughout the book, one of the most important uses he makes of the idea, which is recognised by the classic international jurists, is its complete identification with the law of nations, an aspect of Hobbes that the legal positivists tend to ignore. Thirdly, my claim that law is made by the sovereign and not by judges and lawyers, is taken to be an overstatement that ignores the fact that, as Kelson tells us (alluding to Hobbes), sovereignty is institutionally complex, and subordinate judges themselves participate in sovereignty by interpreting enacted law through their understanding of the laws of nature. I do not wish to deny the complexity of sovereignty in Hobbes as his interpreters see it, but I would want to insist that whatever the process by which laws, and especially the common law, acquires legitimacy, the authority that confirms their legitimacy, if even by the silence of the Leviathan, derives by whatever circuitous route, from ‘the’ Sovereign. I have left Dyzenhaus’s most telling point until last. He appears to think that I believe Hobbes is a blank screen upon which we project ourselves, and if this claim were true engaging with Hobbes, or with the many debates that invoke him, would be a surreptitious form of intellectual narcissism, ‘because we would be no less projecting our prejudices onto these appropriators of Hobbes than we would onto Hobbes himself’. When I said there was no ‘it’ independent of interpretation (echoing Oakeshott and other Idealists), I simply meant that it is meaningless to try to separate them, they are mutually dependent, and this is what I take Gadamer and Ricoeur to be saying, and why I use them in justification. Interpretation is not a direct engagement with the text. There is a tradition of interpretation which frames our initial responses (prejudices), but which by means of the hermeneutic circle (Gadamer), or arc (Ricoeur), are modified within the constraints of our own horizons, and those projected by the text. The text doesn’t have an independent existence, despite what Kant says about the much ridiculed idea of ‘things in themselves’, and even he conceded that although they have an independent existence we cannot know them independently of the a priori categories that structure our thought.

Curran is puzzled by the status of a particular intervention I make regarding Schmitt’s regret that Hobbes allowed the subjects of Leviathan freedom of conscience, which ultimately opened the way to the corrosive influence of liberalism on modern European politics. I suggested that Schmitt could have made a much stronger case by focusing on Hobbes’s argument for the retention of the natural right to self-preservation which allowed for the individual to flee justice if it threatened his or her life. I mentioned that Jean Hampton also emphasised this point. Curran suggests that I appear to be pronouncing on what Hobbes actually meant which undermines the status of my methodological claims to see Hobbes through the eyes of his appropriators. Leo Strauss was a contemporary of Schmitt and indeed, as I pointed out in the text, accused Schmitt of missing this more glaring element of liberalism in Hobbes’s text.[3] My remark has to be seen in the context of the hermeneutic tradition of interpretation, and the criticism of Schmitt emanating from Strauss in the context in which Schmitt read Hobbes. This, however, does not wholly absolve me of the charge, and if the book had been primarily about methodology I would have argued, following Charles Taylor, that the interpreter cannot wholly suspend judgment, or belief, when an author says something that appears ludicrous by our own standards. Indeed, identifying it as ludicrous is to apply those standards. There are other ways in which the interpreter cannot wholly stay above the fray. Again, following Taylor, but more so Hayden White, and tangentially J. H. Hexter, my choice of words, tempo of the narrative, and particularly the literary ‘trope’, influences how the reader understands, or perceives the incidents portrayed. Therefore, the way in which I have subconsciously portrayed Schmitt as something of a tragicomic figure, a modern king Cnut the Great, ordering the tide of liberalism to abate, is bound to influence a reader’s impression of him, especially if he or she is unfamiliar with his work.

Williams seems to ‘get’ what I was trying to do and appreciates its importance and partial novelty. Or, perhaps I was able to get my point across better in the chapter on Idealism, with which he is primarily concerned. What he particularly likes is the demonstration of the way the works of major philosophers develop over time, as they are read and re-read in different contexts. The novelty of a philosophy may be experienced anew, and differently by each audience. This is something that Croce understood all too well, that is, the importance of the interpreter in passionately breathing new life into dead and petrified texts. The text must resonate for the person who, and the age which, reads it. Otherwise the account given is mere chronicle. Those familiar with my work on R. G. Collingwood will see the impression he has made on the way that I conceived this book, but it also demonstrates that there is no Collingwood independent of interpretation, and that my Collingwood in today’s context is very different from Quentin Skinner’s version of Collingwood. Skinner also claims to have been heavily influenced by him.

Since I am among friends, and on the subject of Idealist interpretations, I hope I may be allowed to indulge myself by repeating what I consider to be one of the most eloquent and profound sentences on Hobbes. In The Philosophical Theory of the State Bernard Bosanquet argues:

For Hobbes, then, we might venture to say, political unity lies in a will which is actual, but not general; while for Locke it lies in a will which is general, but not actual. If the two are pressed to extremes, the former theory annihilates “self,” and the latter annihilates “government.” [4]

 Professor David Boucher (Cardiff University and the University of Johannesburg)

 

[1]  David Boucher, Texts in Context: Revisionist Methods for Studying the History of Ideas (Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff, 1985).

[2]  J. M. Brown accuses Oakeshott of ‘a singular lack of interest in what Hobbes actually said.’ ‘A Note on Professor Oakeshott’s Introduction to the Leviathan’, Political Studies, 1 (1953), 55.

[3]  Furthermore, the individual’s retention of the natural right to self-preservation ‘sets the path to the whole system of human rights in the sense of liberalism. . .’ Leo Strauss, ‘Notes on the Concept of the Political’ in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: the hidden dialogue (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), 101.

[4]  Bernard Bosanquet, The Philosophical Theory of the State (London, Macmillan, 1899), 93.

Online Colloquium (4): Dyzenhaus on Appropriating Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss David Boucher’s recent book, Appropriating Hobbes: Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Boucher, followed by responses from Howard Williams and Eleanor Curran. We now have a response from David Dyzenhaus (Toronto) and will finish with a reply by David Boucher. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

Response from David Dyzenhaus

In Appropriating Hobbes, David Boucher provides a fascinating account of the ways in which Hobbes has figured in the thought of later political and legal theorists. But for those like me who turn to his book to further illuminate our understanding of this great philosopher’s political and legal thought, the book will prove disappointing. Its most striking feature is Hobbes’s absence from most of the text. Hobbes is of course mentioned frequently. But his arguments as he himself made them figure hardly at all, though perhaps most of all in the chapter on which I shall focus in this comment—‘Hobbes among the Legal Positivists: Sovereign or Society’.

Boucher might well retort to the disappointed that where we go wrong is in supposing that there are arguments as Hobbes himself made them. He suggests that Hobbes is a kind of blank screen onto which we project our preconceptions or ‘prejudices’ in Gadamer’s sense, that is, our prior judgements about the point of political theory. If he were right about this claim, it might seem at first plausible to focus on what people have made of Hobbes, without much regard for Hobbes himself. But only at first. For if this methodological claim were true, there would be little point in engaging in the debate between those who have made use of Hobbes, because that engagement would also be with a chimera. We would be no less projecting our prejudices onto these appropriators of Hobbes than we would onto Hobbes himself.

Boucher, of course, does not fully accept his own suggestion. He agrees with Gadamer that we cannot wholly remake texts in our own image. Indeed, Gadamer’s point about prejudice as pre-judgement is that such judgements are always provisional. It is through their engagement with the text in a way that is always open to finding out that the text brings us up short, resists our interpretation, that the hope of an authentic interpretation lies.  But the way he approaches the reception of Hobbes’s thought largely neglects Gadamer’s point.

Another response might be that among the classic political philosophers. Hobbes’s political thought is peculiarly open to appropriation.  I think something like this thought underpins Boucher’s project. But that response is ambiguous between two views: the first that Hobbes’s political thought is so riven with contradiction that later interpreters can make of it what they will; the second that Hobbes gives a particularly rich and insightful account of modern politics, one that contains arguments that while made in his own political and social context remain highly pertinent to our own.

I think the second view sometimes tempts Boucher as he does spend some time both on correcting misappropriations and remedying neglect of what Hobbes in fact said. Indeed, it even tempts Quentin Skinner, who, as Boucher notes, argues that there is a real Hobbes out there, but one whose thought can be reduced to context-bound, political advocacy. For Skinner often departs from this stricture about context and engages fully with the merits of Hobbes’s arguments as arguments in political philosophy, and not as mere political advocacy, and he even occasionally hints at their relevance for our present concerns. My claim here is not that Hobbes’s arguments have some transcendent quality. Rather, as Thomas Nagel recently pointed out, it is important not to exaggerate the distance of figures such as Hobbes from us on the basis that it is not clear that they are speaking the same language as us. It ‘isn’t’, he says, that they speak our language, but that we speak their language, because our world has been significantly formed by them’.[1]

However, Boucher manages for the most part to avoid succumbing to this temptation, with the main exception his chapter, ‘Hobbes among the Legal Positivists’. But even here so little is provided by way of Hobbes’s account of the laws of nature and their role in the construction of a civil society in which legal subjects interact within the public order of the sovereign’s enacted law that the reader will come away with little sense of Hobbes’s highly nuanced critique of the common lawyers’ conception of law. In neglecting this aspect of Hobbes’s thought, Boucher perpetuates the strange inattention of Skinner to the details of Hobbes’s picture of the appropriate functioning of the modern legal state.

A singular omission here is Gerald Postema’s fine work, Bentham and the Common Law Tradition (OUP, 1989). Even more striking, given the place of Michael Oakeshott in his book, is Boucher’s neglect of Oakeshott’s wonderful, Hobbes-inspired essay ‘The rule of law’ in which Oakeshott shows how Hobbes’s political and legal thought provides a conception of legality that, he claims, ‘hovers over the reflections of many so-called “positivist” modern jurists’.[2] And it is clear that the jurist he has in mind is Hans Kelsen. Oakeshott’s insight in this line is profound. While Hobbes and Kelsen are not often linked, and while Kelsen never acknowledged any debt to Hobbes, both saw clearly what follows once one makes the decision to try to explain law as a matter of authority rather than as a matter of unmediated coercion. They understood that to explain law as a matter of authority is to explain it as a matter of de jure authority and so they focused on the way in which legality plays a crucial role in transforming might into right.

Kelsen (as ‘Kelson’) barely receives a mention in Boucher’s book. But had he pursued this insight, he might have seen how problematic his claim is that for Hobbes ‘law is made … by the sovereign and not by the judges and lawyers’ (158). For in Kelsen, as in Hobbes, the sovereign is an institutionally complex entity in which subordinate judges play a role in the exercise of sovereignty through interpreting enacted law in light of their understanding of the laws of nature. The ‘Science’ of the laws, Hobbes said, is ‘the true and onely Moral Philosophy’ and Oakeshott observed that they amount to ‘no more than an analytic break-down of the intrinsic character of law, … the jus inherent in genuine law …’. That science, as Hobbes understood things, underpinned his discussion of the themes not only of Boucher’s ‘Hobbes among the Legal Positivists’, but also of the themes in the surrounding chapters on law—3, 5 and 6. More attention to Hobbes’s actual arguments would, in my view, have made this study of the appropriations of Hobbes an even more worthwhile undertaking.

Professor David Dyzenhaus (University of Toronto)

 

[1]  Thomas Nagel, ‘How they Wrestled with the New’, (2016) 63: 14 New York Review of Books 7, his emphasis.

[2]  Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Rule of Law’ in Oakeshott, On History and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999), 129, 175.

Online Colloquium (3): Curran on Appropriating Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss David Boucher’s recent book, Appropriating Hobbes: Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Boucher and a response from Howard Williams. We now have a response from Eleanor Curran (Kent), which focuses on chapter 3 of the book (on Schmitt and Oakeshott). This will be followed by a response by David Dyzenhaus (Toronto) and a reply by David Boucher. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

Response from Eleanor Curran

I enjoyed reading this chapter which has interesting commentary on the interpretations of Hobbes’s political theory by Carl Schmitt and Michael Oakeshott. I am also sympathetic to Boucher’s point that Hobbes has been subject to many conflicting interpretations and that those interpretations have often seemed to reflect the times and views of the commentators.

In the introduction to Appropriating Hobbes David Boucher says ‘the contention of this book is that interpreters of Hobbes should not be understood as penetrating into the depths of his mind, but instead gazing into a mirror in which they see their own reflections as the shadowy presence of Hobbes looks back.’ (11). And this, Boucher tells us, is to apply the method, broadly characterised as hermeneutics, to the study of Hobbes (12) to show that ‘there is no one perfect context that enables us to get at what Hobbes really meant, because he becomes almost indistinguishable from the context in which he is read’ (2).

In Chapter Three Boucher says that he wants to ‘explore the ideological appropriation of Hobbes, by Oakeshott and Schmitt, in order to demonstrate the capacity that they both display for portraying Hobbes as very much like themselves’ (89).

He discusses first, in some detail, Schmitt and Oakeshott’s own responses to political events and theory including what they both saw as the ‘degeneration in the theory and practice of the modern European state’ (91) and what they regarded as the importance of myth in providing a society with a sense of identity binding individuals together. ‘For each, myths played an essential role in bolstering the state apparatus and sustaining order’ (103). During this substantial part of the chapter (91-109), Hobbes is mentioned only intermittently and usually in the form of biographical asides or isolated remarks such as, ‘for Schmitt, Thomas Hobbes’s genius was to recognise the necessity of myth.’ (103) In the next two sections subtitled ‘Schmitt’s Hobbes’ and ‘Oakeshott’s Hobbes’ Boucher does discuss Schmitt and Oakeshott’s interpretations of Hobbes’ political theory. For reasons of space I will restrict my comments to the section on Schmitt.

Boucher recounts that Schmitt reads Hobbes, at least initially, as the theorist of absolutism par excellence. He sees his own theory of decisionism (according to which the sovereign may decide on the state of exception which allows him to suspend all laws and rights in defence of the state, in a time of emergency) in Hobbes’s theory. And so, Schmitt ‘recognised Hobbes as a potential ally.’ (109) In this early interpretation, Schmitt sees Hobbes as both an ‘anti-individualist’ and someone who thought that the state was ‘by constitution, essentially a dictatorship’ (ibid.). This co-opting of Hobbes’s theory by Schmitt, to support his own theory of sovereignty and the state is fairly well known and certainly seems to support Boucher’s claim of the appropriation of Hobbes by, in this instance, Schmitt. What happens next in the chapter is a little confusing. Boucher outlines Leo Strauss’s criticism of Schmitt’s interpretation as missing the significance of the individual for Hobbes and particularly of the individual’s retention of the right to self-preservation. These elements of Hobbes’s theory support the view that he is a proto-liberal, Strauss argues, rather than the anti-liberal of Schmitt’s reading. Boucher also tells us that Schmitt himself came to regard Hobbes as introducing a fatal flaw into his theory when he allowed freedom of conscience in religious matters. This individualist proviso, according to Schmitt, opened a crack that would later be exploited by Spinoza and which ‘contained the seed of death that destroyed the mighty Leviathan’ (112-113, quoting Schmitt).

What strikes me as puzzling is that the discussion has moved from describing the appropriation of Hobbes to support Schmitt’s own view to something more like an analysis of Hobbes’s arguments and statements and what theoretical viewpoints they either support or don’t support. In other words, this part of the chapter reads more like the usual sort of discussion and debate about what Hobbes actually said and what theoretical implications this has. The judgements about Hobbes’s theory here seem to have a different status from the contextualised interpretations Boucher sets out as his subject matter. For example, Boucher criticises Schmitt’s interpretation of Hobbes as undermining his (Hobbes’s) theory of absolute sovereignty, as above, saying ‘Schmitt may be overreacting . . . Hobbes undermined his theory of sovereignty however, in a different way.’ The politically fatal flaw, according to Boucher, is the retaining by individuals of the right to self-preservation. He then says, ‘this was something that Jean Hampton noticed, and which undermined any claim Hobbes may have to be the philosopher of absolutism.’ (113)

What is the status of this part of the discussion? If Boucher is arguing that, taking something from the text, one can state definitively that Hobbes undermines any claims that he is an absolutist then it sounds very much as though Boucher is providing his own considered view of what Hobbes actually wrote and the implications of what he wrote. And he makes no mention here of the context within which his comments may be evaluated. In other words, the implication is that there is a text, which says one thing rather than another and therefore has some independence from interpretation.

I am puzzled that Boucher does not expand on this. He does, in Chapter Six, finally include himself as an interpreter on the subject matter of international relations but maintains his claim to a position within a context and denies being a ‘free floating’ intellectual ‘above the fray’ beyond accepting ‘current standards of scholarship’ which mean that ‘the argument presented is what the evidence obliges me to believe.’ (187) This latter remark does little to clarify the status of the claims he makes that I refer to above.

If Boucher is right that there is no text independent of its interpreters then it is hard to see, without further argument or explanation, how he can at the same time argue, as he seems to, that particular statements or arguments by Hobbes, preclude a theory of absolutism on his part. It may be that I have taken too literally some of Boucher’s statements about the lack of a text independent of interpretation but some more explanation of how we can still legitimately make judgments about the text itself would have been welcome.

Dr Eleanor Curran (University of Kent)

Online Colloquium (2): Williams on Appropriating Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss David Boucher’s recent book, Appropriating Hobbes: Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. We began with an introduction to the text by Professor Boucher. We now have a response from Howard Williams (Cardiff), which will be followed by responses from Eleanor Curran (Kent) and David Dyzenhaus (Toronto), and finally a reply by David Boucher. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

Response from Howard Williams

This is a bold an intriguing book. One of its central claims is that there is no one political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Rather there are very many political philosophies by him that emerge in the varying debates that have occurred around his work over the centuries. I find this an appealing thesis since it demonstrates how the work of major philosophers develop over time, as they are read and re-read. One other way of seeing the thesis is to hold that the novelty of the philosophy can be experienced anew by each generation. There is a kind of flexibility built into great texts that makes them apposite in all ages. I’ll now briefly test this thesis, first by looking at how Hobbes saw his own project and then looking at a small number of Boucher’s illuminating claims.

Hobbes was an essentialist philosopher. He believed that the truth about the world was singular and it could be discovered by one single individual. He believed that his works would stand for all time as eternally true. So convinced was he of the truth of Leviathan that he believed that it should be taught in schools and universities to all young people. And he was not immodest about this. He held that his book should be taught rather than all other texts! Hobbes’s essentialism arose from his materialist metaphysics. The world, including the human individuals that inhabited it, was but matter in motion. God for him was nothing other than the final cause that could be followed back from the things around us through a chain of cause and effect relationships. God was in this metaphysics itself no more than matter. Hobbes was a great admirer of the advances in natural science in his day. Two of his heroes were the physician Harvey and the Italian astronomer Galileo (9). Hobbes sought to emulate in the science of man what they had achieved in their chosen fields: he wanted to lay bare the laws that conditioned the activities of human individuals, and like Harvey in medicine he wanted to prescribe sure paths through which society might preserve its health.

His materialist approach inevitably led to a determinist view of the human individual. Free will was largely a delusion. It was but a name that we adopted for the final step in the series of causes that brought about our actions. We may like to think this final aim as chosen, but it is in fact entirely presaged in the preceding series of causes. Dismissing free will allowed Hobbes to advance a theory of politics which contained natural laws (165) that predetermined how we should act and could be deployed by the skillful political leader to bring about the best results. The Leviathan was born from a dream of a perfectly determined political universe that had its best form to which wise subjects should shape their lives. In Leviathan he adopted an approach which was powerfully psychological. He believed he had examined the main characteristics of human behavior, set them in an order of priority and had established the laws that conditioned our responses to what we encountered in our experience. The main precept he believed that we could conclude from this psychological study is that men would always do what was in their power to avoid a violent death. Fear therefore presented a key emotion that could be invoked in bringing about a more settled polity. As Boucher points out by the time he came to write Leviathan (78-9), Hobbes had drawn the conclusion that, as well as the mechanical laws that determined our behavior, rhetoric might also provide the philosopher with an important weapon in the erecting of a stable and lasting commonwealth. Nevertheless, Hobbes never took his gaze away from the key psychological laws he saw as being in play in human behavior.

In keeping with the theme of the book, Boucher makes the valuable and unusual attempt to set Hobbes’s political philosophy first within the context of Idealist philosophy. By Idealist philosophy Boucher has primarily in mind the British Idealist philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth century on which he specializes. This is a good antidote to the usual interpretational context in which Hobbes is set of British empiricist philosophy, of which of course Hobbes is an important part. One of the further focusses of the book is the relationship between Hobbes and Carl Schmitt which is, in contrast, a more fashionable area and here again Boucher offers something new in approaching Schmitt from an idealist angle – a background which Schmitt would no doubt himself been aware of from those neo-Kantian philosophers who in the early part of his career were a dominating feature of academic German philosophy.

In the succinct chapter on Hobbes and the philosophical idealists Boucher provides intriguing assessments of the varying reputation Hobbes enjoyed within the school. Kant’s assessment is seen as rather cool and lacking in detail (though Kant struggled throughout his career with the philosophical paradigm Hobbes adopted which he took to be dogmatic.) For Boucher Hegel goes further than Kant in appreciating Hobbes’s worth as a political philosopher. Boucher interprets, with some justice, the master and slave dialectic which figures in Hegel’s earlier Jena writings as a way of moving on from the traditional state of nature model whilst incorporating some Hobbesian insights. Green straightforwardly gets it wrong, seeing too much that is dark in Hobbes’s materialism and political realism. Ritchie and Bosanquet make good some of these deficiencies and some of the less well-known idealist writers (39, Sorley for example) writers begin to give Hobbes a prominent place in the history of political philosophy. Most noteworthy of all in this improving trend is Collingwood’s rehabilitation of Hobbes in the New Leviathan, written at the time of the Second World War. Collingwood realizes the power of Hobbes’s view of language as shaping reality and the precariousness of civilization which always rests on a struggle against barbarism. Instead of opposing barbarism in the manner Hobbes had envisaged the twentieth-century state was advancing its cause under the weight of technological advance and mass democracy. Oakeshott appears throughout as a judicious and fair interpreter of Hobbes who appreciates the true standing of his work. Oakeshott sought to bring out what was of lasting philosophical value in Hobbes’s work in contrast with Skinner’s historical approach which relegated Hobbes to a time-limited political controversy. If anything Boucher comes out more on the side of Oakeshott in this debate, whilst always respecting the intellectual context in which the doctrines arose and were later discussed.

In his interlocutors Hobbes ran into an infinite variety of interpreters from authoritarians to liberals and from the moral to the amoral. None of the interpreters is without his appeal though some approximate more to the vision Hobbes himself had of his enterprise. Boucher briefly takes the essentialist line in presenting Hobbes’s ideas on international relations in advancing his own account. In this one area Boucher seeks to appropriate Hobbes, whilst in all other matters he leaves it in the hands of his interpreters. An unavoidable conclusion of the book is that we must all do political theory for ourselves.

Professor Howard Williams (University of Cardiff)

Online Colloquium (1): Introduction to Appropriating Hobbes

This online colloquium has been established to discuss David Boucher’s recent book, Appropriating Hobbes: Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. We begin with an introduction to the text by Professor Boucher himself, which will be followed by weekly responses from Howard Williams (Cardiff), Eleanor Curran (Kent) and David Dyzenhaus (Toronto), and finally a reply by David Boucher. Many thanks to Oxford University Press for supporting this colloquium.

Contextualizations of Hobbes

The aim of Appropriating Hobbes is not to trace the changing fortunes of the interpretation of one of the most sophisticated and famous political philosophers who ever lived, but instead to take soundings here and there to determine his place in different contexts, the manner of his appropriation, and how his interpreters saw their own images reflected in him, or how they defined themselves in contrast to him. The main claim is that there is no Hobbes independent of the interpretations that arise from his appropriation in these various contexts and which serve to present him to the world. There is no one perfect context that enables us to get at what Hobbes ‘really meant’, despite the numerous claims to the contrary. He is almost indistinguishable from the context in which he is read. This contention is justified with reference to hermeneutics, and particularly the theories of Gadamer, Koselleck, and Ricoeur, contending that through a process of ‘distanciation’ Hobbes’s writings have been appropriated and commandeered to do service in divergent contexts such as philosophical idealism; debates over the philosophical versus historical understanding of texts; as well as in ideological disputations. In addition, Hobbes has been particularly prone to emblematic characterisations by various disciplines such as law, politics, and international relations. This book illustrates the capacity of a text to take on the colouration of its surroundings by exploring and explicating the importance of contexts in reading and understanding how and why particular interpretations of Hobbes have emerged, such as those of Carl Schmitt and Michael Oakeshott, or the international jurists of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The methodological thrust of the argument is that text and context are inseparable and that Hobbes takes on the character and persona of those who appropriate him for purposes of exploitation, or denigration. Appropriating Hobbes begins with a brief introduction to Hobbes’s immediate historical context and the controversies to which he responded and to which he contributed. For the justification of the approach I have taken I refer to the body of literature broadly termed hermeneutics. The contention, in brief, is that epistemological hermeneutics does not adequately account for the situatedness of the interpreter and, like Hobbes himself, whose theory of interpretation from the Elements of Law is rarely noticed, holds out the hope of overcoming the difficulties of attaching the meaning a of text to the psychology of the author. Referring to Dewey, Heidegger, Gadamer, his disciple Koselleck, and Ricoeur, it is contended that the inevitable distancing of the text from its author, from its context and from its time, both facilitates appropriation, but also acts as an impediment to retrieving authorial intentions. It is contended that this does not require us to concede a fatal relativism to interpretation. In other words, interpretations are not arbitrary. They have to conform to recognizable conventions that regulate, but not determine, what a community of scholars regard as a contribution to a genre of interpretation.

The book begins with an exploration of philosophical idealism, which rejected the fundamental principles of that tradition of thought that claimed Hobbes as one of its most significant progenitors, utilitarianism. Philosophical idealism came to dominate British philosophy in the latter part of the nineteenth century and still held considerable sway in the early part of the twentieth. Idealists provided an important corrective to interpretations, especially in the 1930s, that Hobbes was both an absolutist and a proto totalitarian.

Hegel identified clear deficiencies in Hobbes’s ‘scientific empiricism’, but he admired his logic and emphasis on the subjective power of the will. In Hegel’s own characterisation of individual self-consciousness the importance of the master/slave relationship owes a great deal to Hobbes. He was, for Hegel, an original perceptive thinker who tried, but ultimately failed to raise ‘scientific empiricism’ to the level of philosophy. We cannot hold Hegel responsible for the relative lack of interest and hostility to Hobbes among the early British Idealists. It was in fact Green’s almost wholly negative assessment that led such thinkers as Bradley and Seth more or less to ignore Hobbes. We find in Bosanquet, however, an altogether more qualitative nuanced assessment. His famous characterization was that in Hobbes we find a will that is actual, but not general. The reassessment by idealism of Hobbes culminates in R. G. Collingwood’s appreciation. He claims that Hobbes’s greatest discovery was that language was not the device by which we communicate pre-existing knowledge, but was prior to it and without which knowledge could never come into existence. Collingwood reformulated Hobbes’s argument, but he is also responsible for establishing the autonomy of historical knowledge, along with Oakeshott, in the English-speaking world, against the proprietorial claims of positivism. Collingwood not only inspired Gadamer, but also Quentin Skinner, one of the foremost interpreters of Hobbes over the last fifty years. Skinner distances himself from philosophical idealism, but not from the philosophy of history of Collingwood. Skinner’s contextual history is Collingwoodian in origin.

Oakeshott and Skinner are both concerned to emphasise the importance of context in the interpretation of Hobbes. What is at issue is the appropriate context for work such as that of Hobbes. Skinner wishes to deny any special character to political philosophy that differentiates it from written interventions of other genres. They are, in his view, all ideological, and require for their elucidation the reconstruction of political debates, such as those surrounding the Engagement Controversy; the importance of rhetoric in persuasive argument; and, the extent to which citizens are free under an absolute monarch. The immediate historical context, Skinner claims, is the most important context if we are to achieve an adequate understanding of what Hobbes was doing in writing his tracts of political philosophy. Their character as works of political philosophy is irrelevant to such an endeavour. Oakeshott does not deny that placing Hobbes in his historical context may illuminate aspects of his thought that may otherwise remain obscure or unintelligible. Political interventions, or attempts to influence political outcomes, are nevertheless, in his view, incidental to philosophy, which is an enterprise released from considerations of conduct, and which has no practical bearing when it is consistent with its character as philosophy. Philosophy operates at a different and higher level of discourse from ideology, and requires a more inclusive context for its elucidation, and this is nothing less than the history of political philosophy as a whole, philosophically conceived.

The twentieth century was defined by an endless stream of books claiming that European Civilisation was in crisis, and the First and Second World Wars were seen to be symptomatic of these crises. Hobbes in relation to the twentieth-century crisis of civilisation is explored through the writings of Schmitt and Oakeshott. The nature of the crisis as they see it is explored, and it becomes evident that the pernicious elements that one perceives as the contributory factors in the decline, are what the other claims are the strengths which are being undermined by the crisis. Both Oakeshott and Schmitt are critics of liberalism, but whereas Schmitt sees parliamentary democracy as a weakness emanating from liberalism, Oakeshott believes that parliamentary democracy predates modern liberalism, and is one of the strengths of contemporary politics with the potential to resist the decline of civilisation. Individuality, pluralism, the secret ballot, and the rule of law are for Schmitt unnecessary constraints contributory to the depoliticization of the political, undermining the capacity of the sovereign to determine, or decide who are friends and enemies. Schmitt is the prophet of homogeneity, collectivism and power, whereas Oakeshott recoils at the very idea that the mentality of the masses may subdue that of individuality. The rule of law, authority and individuality provides the bulwark against the type of collectivist state Schmitt advocates. Both Oakeshott and Schmitt make much of the power of myth, and each presents anti-Pelagian remedies for their diagnoses. Each has a radically different conception of politics, and each a resolution to the problems of civilisation at odds with each other.

The classic foundational status that Hobbes has been afforded by contemporary international relations theorists is largely the work of Hans Morgenthau, Martin Wight and Hedley Bull. They were not unaware that they were to some extent creating a convenient fiction, an emblematic realist, a shorthand for all of the features encapsulated in the term. The detachment of international law from the law of nature by nineteenth century positivists opened Hobbes up, even among international jurists, to be portrayed as almost exclusively a mechanistic theorist of absolute state sovereignty. If we are to endow him with a foundational place at all it is not because he was an uncompromising realist equating might with right, on the analogy of the state of nature, but instead to his complete identification of natural law with the law of nations. It was simply subject-matter that distinguished them, the individual for natural law and the state for the law of nations. Anachronistic assumptions constantly permeate our understanding of ‘classic’ thinkers. Because international jurists do not figure prominently in contemporary histories of political thought, that does not mean that they were never of any significance, nor had anything of importance to contribute to the understanding of politics.

Hobbes, of course, has been identified as an important legal theorist and was a prominent interlocutor in debates on the source of obligation in the common law, and while customary international law was not capable of attracting sovereign authority, it did not mean that that there could be no moral constraints in relations among states. While justice and injustice are the creation of the sovereign, Hobbes narrowly confined those terms to the honouring of contracts. The content of the law does not determine our obligation to obey it, nor our judgment about justice and injustice, but instead it is whether we have broken faith with a covenant that determines injustices. Natural law has intrinsic to it moral concepts which differ from those of justice and injustice, namely equity and reason, which impose obligations upon the sovereign. Furthermore, the sovereign is not at liberty to enact superfluous laws. Whereas the definition of law is that it is the will of the sovereign is authoritative to those who are formerly obliged, the justification of particular laws has to be with reference to the common good. Here is a clear understanding in Hobbes between the problems of obligation and compliance. The positivists in international law, in partial conformity with naturalists, made obligation in international law dependent up the consent of the community, or society, of sovereign states, rejecting Hobbes’s reliance on the conflation of the law of nature with the law of nations.

Among philosophers and historians of political thought Hobbes has little or nothing to say about relations among states. For modern Realists and representatives of the English School in contemporary international relations theory, however, caricatures of Hobbes abound. There is a tendency to take him too literally, referring to what I have called the unmodified philosophical state of nature, ignoring what he has to say about both the modified state of nature and the historical pre-civil condition. They extrapolate from the predicament of the individual conclusions claimed to be pertinent to international relations, and on the whole find his conclusions unconvincing. There is, however, a much more restrained and cautious Hobbes, consistent with his timid nature, in which he gives carefully weighed views on a variety of international issues, recommending moderation consistent with the duties of sovereignty.  Hobbes’s detractors among Idealists (in the international relations sense), and admirers among Realists (not in the philosophical sense), in international relations, take what Hobbes has to say about the ideas of justice and injustice too narrowly. Justice and injustice relate only to the making and breaking of contracts, and as earlier indicated, the principles of equity and reason constitute moral constraints in addition to honouring compacts, including desisting from gratuitous violence.

In conclusion, the contention is that Hobbes is constituted by the interpretation imposed on him, making text and interpretation inseparable. That is not to say, again agreeing with Gadamer and Ricoeur, that we are compelled to accept that one interpretation is as good as another. We belong to a tradition of interpretation, and have no option but to begin with certain prejudices which we may modify, but not so completely that no one recognises the activity in which we are engaged. There are limits to what, as an intellectual community compelled to adhere to some standards, we are willing to accept as an interpretation, rather than a fabrication. There are contestations of interpretation and the possibility through them of the equivalent of Karl Popper’s refutations.

Professor David Boucher (Cardiff University and the University of Johannesburg)

“Hobbes after Leviathan. Beyond Leviathan?”, Workshop at the University of Padova

On 15 and 16 February 2018, more than 20 scholars, based in several different countries, came together in the convivial atmosphere of the University of Padova to discuss new papers on Hobbes’s post-Leviathan works. The focus on the last part of the Hobbesian oeuvre allowed participants to place the well-known earlier texts in a fresh historical perspective. Close scrutiny of texts like the Historia Ecclesiastica, the Dialogue, and Behemoth allowed contributors to explore developments over time and theoretical consequences of positions stated earlier. This hermeneutical perspective deepened and problematized the context in which the thought of Thomas Hobbes took shape. Indeed, the workshop revealed that the late works show how much Hobbes is committed to dealing with structural contingencies.

Patricia Springborg (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Luc Foisneau (EHESS-CNRS, Paris) delivered two wonderful and wide-ranging keynote speeches. Prof. Springborg spoke about Hobbes’s State Theory and Roman Law, while Prof. Foisneau offered reflections on Punishment after Leviathan. The conference was organised by Dr Mauro Farnesi Camellone, Prof. Mario Piccinini, and colleagues.

The organisers are very grateful to the Departments SPGI, FISPPA, and DiSGeA of University of Padova for their hospitality, and to the Italian National Program for Research (PRIN) for having made this conference financially possible. Thanks also go out to all participants and attendees.

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Discussion (2): Raffaella Santi and Ioannis Evrigenis debate Hobbes’s state of nature.

 

PART II

 

Response to Raffaella Santi’s Comments

 

 

Ioannis D. Evrigenis (Tufts University)

 

 

I am grateful to Raffaella Santi for her insightful comments on my chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes. Santi has identified a key issue in regard to Hobbes’s state of nature, not least because of Hobbes’s insistence on proper method and his aspiration to be the first to put politics on a proper foundation. That issue is science and its place in Hobbes’s account.

Santi and I disagree on only one thing: the view that she ascribes to me regarding the scientific status of Hobbes’s state of nature. She writes, ‘[f]or Evrigenis, the state of nature is not scientific at all’, and adds ‘[i]t is an image used rhetorically’. Although I never claimed the former, I will admit complicity in possibly leading some readers to that conclusion. I will argue, however, that the fault is Hobbes’s, for that conclusion is evidence of his success in producing what in the Briefe of the Art of Rhetorique he calls ‘a kind of science’.

Santi’s former conclusion, namely that I think the state of nature not scientific, is based on the assumption that science and rhetoric are mutually exclusive, an assumption that I reject. Santi made a very generous reference to my book, Images of Anarchy, wherein I devote more space to this issue. The first piece of evidence, then, is the book’s subtitle: The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature. I cannot reproduce the argument in all its details, but I will list certain pertinent points.

Contrary to accounts such as Strauss’s and Skinner’s, which see Hobbes’s development as manifested in stages marked by turns, I argue that Hobbes made consistent use of both rhetoric and science, throughout his political treatises. Others, notably Tuck, have argued that the earlier political works are every bit as rhetorical as Leviathan, and I agree. For me, however, the use of rhetoric does not signal the absence of science. This argument applies on two levels.

First, it is possible to envision what in my book I call ‘a science of rhetoric’, namely an account of what language should be expected to do to audiences. The evidence from the Elements and De Cive shows that Hobbes was tweaking this part of his theory from the beginning, placing a lot of weight on the terms ‘reason’ and ‘rhetoric’. I will return to these two terms in a moment.

This science of rhetoric is precisely what I think Hobbes develops on the way to his science of politics. The latter involves ‘maker’s knowledge’, but not in the way that most interpreters see it. That is, it does not give a recipe for the construction of a commonwealth but rather, as Santi notes, one for the avoidance of its collapse. The maker, then, is Hobbes first and foremost, who conjures the image of the state of nature, and only secondarily the sovereign who uses his recipe of the summum malum to avoid that collapse. For the reader, it is ‘destroyer’s knowledge’ that is vital.

The very existence of a summum malum, by the way, signals quite clearly that there is a science at work, and the state of nature is an essential component of it. Hobbes’s science of rhetoric rests heavily on an observation about how human beings think about terms of approbation and disapprobation, and a second about how we think when it comes to classification and opposition.

This is where reason and rhetoric come in. Whatever else they may be, ‘reason’ is a term of approbation and ‘rhetoric’ a term of disapprobation. As such, we tend to think of them not just as opposites but as mutually exclusive. Hobbes knows and manipulates this from the start. Consider the Epistle and first 13 chapters of the Elements, where Hobbes builds an image of the world divided as follows:

  • reason vs. passions
  • knowledge vs. opinion
  • teaching vs. persuasion
  • mathematicians vs. dogmatists

Crucially, this list of antitheses culminates in the opposition between the commonwealth and the state of nature. Footnote 11 in my chapter points to my book, in which I argue that this fact is only lost because of the publication history of the Elements and of readers’ zealous attentiveness to titles, which prevents them from seeing the connection between Elements chapters 13 and 14, a connection that Hobbes clearly intended. A careful examination of these oppositions reveals artificially neat domains, even in cases where the description is absurd, as when Hobbes attributes everything good in the world to the mathematicians and everything bad to the dogmatists.

The most telling sign that this opposition mirrors that between the state of nature and the commonwealth lies in the list of the benefits that the mathematicians have allegedly bequeathed to mankind. It is the opposite of the negative account of the state of nature in Leviathan 13. But all this is further confirmation of Hobbes’s science of rhetoric. That science predicts that we are eager to buy neat classifications such as the ones between reason and rhetoric, and order and disorder.

The starker the spectre of the other side, the more readily we will accept the side we happen to be on. A darker and more credible state of nature will always make the commonwealth look better than it may actually be. Hobbes also knows the force of a rhetoric of science, as we are eager to embrace anything labeled ‘reason’ and reject anything dubbed ‘rhetoric’.

My complicity in misleading Santi lies in my having claimed that Hobbes violates his own standards of precision and that his account of the state of nature is elusive and ostensibly self-contradictory. All of these characterizations, however, are based on evidence from the texts and none of them is meant to imply that there is no science at work. Where Hobbes’s standards of precision are concerned, consider only his preposterous statement in the Elements about mathematics: ‘to this day was it never heard of, that there was any controversy concerning any conclusion in this subject’ (13.iii, emphasis added). Or, take his claim that teaching occurs only when there is no disagreement. If that were true, then no teaching has ever taken place.

What, therefore, are we to make of these and other statements Hobbes makes about the divides I listed above? I argue that they are part of his science of rhetoric, whose aim is to lead us gradually to the realization of the summum malum. Many commentators since the 17th century have pointed to a fact that was surely well-known to Hobbes, namely that not everyone will recognize violent death as the summum malum. That is precisely where Hobbes had to concentrate.

His diagnosis, e.g. in Leviathan chapter 18, was that we are notoriously bad at calculating risk and reward, especially in the long term. His neat oppositions were part of the science of solving that problem, not least by putting dependable rhetoric to work.

Is his state of nature ostensibly self-contradictory? Not in its basic form. But to a reader, say, who associates it with the Fall and then discovers that Hobbes links it to Cain and Abel or the Indians of America, it certainly could be. Indeed, a quick survey of the reaction to it reveals that many found it self-contradictory. I argue that this was a consequence of his difficult balancing-act: having to convince many individuals who disagree fundamentally about lots of things, by appealing to their beliefs while avoiding too close an association with any of them, because such an association would alienate those who disagree with its foundation.

This explains his multifarious explanations and examples – from ancient ethnography, through Scripture, to America and civil war – of what in the end is a basic opposition between the undesirability of anarchy and the consequent desirability of order. As Santi points out rightly, all of these essentially point to what Hobbes calls the ‘Inference, made from the Passions’. If it were easy for everyone to arrive at such an inference, there would be no disorder. Alas, human nature intrudes.

This brings me to the second level on which rhetoric and science can coexist happily, and that is the point at which scientists have to communicate their findings to various audiences and convince people of very different abilities to act according to their discoveries. Assuming there were such a thing as communication without rhetoric, would anyone contend that a dry description of fact suffices to explain how rain or babies come to be, to every single person, regardless of intelligence, maturity, or level of education? Hobbes knew well that any truth he might arrive at would trickle down to his fellow countrymen through a number of different rivulets, many of which originated in pulpits. That was a fact he could not ignore.

Moreover, having arrived at the truth about human nature is one thing. Taking that truth into account in attempting to change human behavior is quite another. Hobbes’s science of rhetoric is but a subset of his broader science of politics. As I indicated above and explain in Images of Anarchy, however, that science is best thought of not as the construction of commonwealths as though they were LEGO sets straight out of the box, but rather a science akin to what we have come to call psychology, intended to rescue them from vainglorious wishful thinking. Let’s call it ‘political psychology’, to split the difference.

As I have argued, that science is already underway in the Elements, in Hobbes’s illuminating treatment of how men work on one another’s minds. Continuing through the two versions of De Cive, it culminates in the two versions of Leviathan, whose notorious title and frontispiece make it clear that the most difficult political problem is pride. If, however, it is true (as Hobbes argues in Leviathan chapter 13) that no one thinks himself inferior to anyone else when it comes to wisdom, how can one devise a solution without taking that fact seriously? Hobbes took it very seriously and needed to appease that pride in order to stand any chance of persuading us that we should fear the state of nature and wish to avoid it at all costs. That, I contend, is why Leviathan may well have been written with Charles II in mind, as Malcolm argues, but it was published so as to counsel everyone who thinks himself a king, namely every child of pride.

From Hobbes’s day to ours, many have despised the state of nature and the account of human nature on which it is based, yet even the most vociferous of Hobbes’s opponents sought not to dismiss it but to rescue it. That and the fact that we continue to think of rhetoric and science as strictly antithetical are evidence both of Hobbes’s science and of his success in articulating it. The state of nature is an integral part of that science, and I am very grateful to Santi for having given me the opportunity to clarify.

 

 

 

Discussion (1): Raffaella Santi and Ioannis Evrigenis debate Hobbes’s state of nature.

 

PART I

 

Comments on Ioannis Evrigenis, “The State of Nature”, in The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes (ed. A.P. Martinich & Kinch Hoekstra, Oxford University Press 2016).

 

By Raffaella Santi (University of Urbino Carlo Bo)

 

In Hobbes’s state of nature, human beings are naturally in a ‘war of all against all’ that ends only with the construction of a civil state. But a state of nature can re-emerge if the state dissolves in civil war.

Ioannis Evrigenis’s chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes reconstructs the evolution of Hobbes’s state of nature, from The Elements of Law through the two editions of De Cive to the Leviathan. Evrigenis shows some important variations on the theme, and rightly emphasises that:

The first three accounts of the state of nature tried to persuade the reader that it is an undesirable condition which every sensible individual would wish to stay away from, but they gave him no real reason to think that it was a condition that he was likely to find himself in (pp. 226-7).

This is exactly what Leviathan chapter 13 supplies, linking the condition in the state of nature with that in the civil war.

Moreover, Evrigenis is right when he asserts that

Hobbes was not interested in providing a history of the emergence of civil society. Rather, he sought to convey the dangers inherent in attempting to dismantle it (p. 234).

Evrigenis is correct in his interpretation of the state of nature as a powerful rhetorical tool, meant to make readers reflect on human nature, in order to lead them to accept the terms of the Hobbesian politics.

But what about the scientific aspect?

For Evrigenis, the state of nature is not scientific at all. It is an image used rhetorically, and it is even ‘elusive’, for at least two reasons: (a) it is not clear enough, as shown by the many interpretations that have emerged since the 17th century; (b) it is meant to recall Genesis but without any mention of it. Evrigenis writes:

Even within the confines of Leviathan, the state of nature stands in stark contrast to the standards Hobbes set for himself and to the material that preceded it. […] Chapter 13 is elusive and even ostensibly self-contradictory. For instance, while he had described the state of nature as a war of all against all, Hobbes also claimed that “there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another”. He then presented the state of nature as an “Inference, made from the Passions”, but also suggested that it could be confirmed by the reader’s experience, and likened it to the conditions one would encounter amid civil war, or in the America of his day. Despite these difficulties, it was this most elusive of Hobbes’s images that became the best known and most widely influential element of his political theory (pp. 221-2).

I wish to challenge the view that Hobbes’s theory of the state of nature is ‘elusive’, ‘self-contradictory’ and ‘stands in stark contrast to the standards Hobbes set for himself’.

Hobbes writes and communicates in different ways, depending on the argument at hand. The implicit reference to Genesis, that many readers spotted, is probably intended, and the very idea of the state of nature was perhaps inspired not only by ancient Greek sources but also by the many post-Reformation theological discussions of the status naturae, status purae naturae, status naturae integrae and status naturae lapsae. Hobbes knew them well: an entire section of the Hardwick Library was filled with religious and theological volumes.

Moreover, Hobbes gives examples from history and, in modern terms, from anthropology, speaking of the populations of Europe before the creation of the civilized states, and of the wild inhabitants of America in his own days. He also mentions men who lock their doors and take precautions against others even when the State exists with civil laws to protect them.

In sum, we are dealing with three theoretical levels: theology, history and everyday experience, which Hobbes did not conceive as philosophical and scientific. As we read in De Corpore I.8 (and as confirmed in Leviathan chapter 9, although in different terms), philosophy is ‘knowledge from reasoning’ (ratiocinatio) and ‘excludes’ (excludit) theology and all knowledge arising from divine inspiration and revelation, as well as history, because it is knowledge deriving from experience or authority.

However, none of this shows that the state of nature is a-scientific or anti-scientific. In fact, the state of nature is a true ‘inference made from the passions’ and is perfectly ‘scientific’ (in a Hobbesian sense). This is why Hobbes does not quote Genesis and why Leviathan changes the all-too theological expression status naturae to the more scientific ‘natural condition of mankind’. (The Cain and Abel example in the Latin Leviathan of 1668 is no more than a rhetorical expedient to visualize the ‘first’ civil war, or to emphasize that any civil war sees brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour.)

We may or may not agree with Hobbes about what constitutes ‘scientific’, but the state of nature is scientific in Hobbesian terms, and does not stand ‘in stark contrast to the standards Hobbes set for himself’ as Evrigenis thinks.

Evrigenis also makes this argument on p. 96 of his beautiful 2014 book, Images of Anarchy:The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature, which identifies De Corpore as setting the standards for science.

In my opinion, the state of nature is scientific in a Hobbesian sense, as set out in De Corpore VI.6-7. (The following quotations are from Martinich’s 1981 translation.) Let’s follow Hobbes’s argument:

  1. Moral philosophy as the science of ‘motus animorum’:

‘After physics [that is based on geometry] we come to morals, in which the motions of minds are considered, namely desire, aversion, love, benevolence, hope, fear, anger, jealousy, envy, and so on; what the causes of the motions are, and of what things they are causes’.

  1. Civil philosophy in relation to moral philosophy:

‘Civil philosophy is connected to moral [philosophy] in such a way that it can nevertheless be detached from it. For the causes of the motions of the minds are not only known by reasoning but also by the experience of each and every person observing those motions proper to him only’.

  1. The two methods: synthetic and analytic (with the definition of civil philosophy):

‘And for that reason once the synthetic method has achieved a scientific knowledge of desires and disturbances of the minds, not only those who, by proceeding along the same path, hit upon the causes and the necessity for the foundings of cities and acquire the science of natural right, the duties of citizens and what right ought to be in every kind of city, […] but also those who have not learned the earlier part of philosophy, namely, geometry and physics, can nevertheless come to the principles of civil philosophy by the analytic method’.

  1. Explanation of the analytic method in relation to civil philosophy:

‘For, whenever a question is proposed, such as “whether such and such an action is just or unjust”, by resolving “unjust” into “fact” and “against the laws” and that notion of “law” into the mandate of him who has the power to control and “power” into “the will of men who establish such power for the sake of peace”, one finally arrives at the fact that the appetites of men and the motions of their minds are such that they will wage war against each other unless controlled by some power. This fact can be known by the experience of each and every person who examines his own mind. Therefore, one can proceed from this point to the determination of the justice or injustice of any proposed action by composition” ’ (emphasis mine).

  1. Conclusion: the state of nature is for Hobbes truly ‘scientific’, since it is found out by reason using a properly scientific method.

The state of nature is at the basis of Hobbes’s civil science. If the state of nature is not scientific, neither is the whole construction of civil science, and Hobbes has completely failed in his task. One can agree or disagree with Hobbes’s view of civil science, but it is clear that the state of nature – openly referred to in this passage of De Corpore on scientific method – is perfectly scientific in the Hobbesian sense of the word.

Online Colloquium (5) – Reply by Byron – Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth

This online colloquium has been established to discuss the recent work of Michael Byron (Kent State) Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth. We began first with an introduction to the text by Professor Byron and responses by Michael Krom – here - (St Vincent State), Deborah Baumgold – here - (University of Oregon), and Johan Olsthoorn - here -(KU Leuven). We end with a reply by Professor Byron. Many thanks to Palgrave for supporting this colloquium.

Reply to Critics

I am grateful for the comments and criticism from Deborah Baumgold, Michael Krom, and Johan Olsthoorn. And I am especially grateful for this opportunity to discuss my work afforded by Joanne Paul and the European Hobbes Society.

Allow me to offer the briefest of responses to the thoughtful remarks from my colleagues. Baumgold and Krom both suggest, rightly, that I need to say more about Hobbes’s theory of religion, especially in light of what I have said about submission to God. The question Baumgold raises, “whether religious education might be a subject in its own right, separate from and even at odds with theology” opens a promising avenue of research. Krom, for his part, makes explicit the connection between Hobbes’s marginal note, “And to do all this sincerely from the heart,” and the passage in Leviathan it marks, which enjoins Christian agape. And although we need not think that sincerity is essentially or exclusively Christian, it is probably fair to say that Hobbes believes not only in the correctness of the Christian religion but in its being the measure of effectiveness of a commonwealth.

Olsthoorn’s rather longer comment engages the book more directly on a range of points. He first challenges the book’s exclusive focus on Leviathan, on the grounds that “other works in which Hobbes discusses justice and related themes are largely, or even completely, ignored.” Second, he charges that the book employs “a surprisingly limited range of Hobbesian concepts,” omitting to delve into, among other things, the natural right to all things. These defects, if that is what they are, might indeed be grave were the purpose of the book to explicate Hobbes’s theory of justice. But as the book aims instead to examine the roles that submission and subjection play in Leviathan, it is less clear that these features of the book constitute bugs.

Third, Olsthoorn complains that the book engages a “limited set of secondary sources,” which made me “overlook relevant alternative interpretive moves.” The charge of not including everything relevant is difficult to refute; I suppose I plead guilty, and beg to be excused on the grounds that my aim was not so much an exhaustive discussion of 350 years of literature, but to introduce a fresh bit of interpretation without utterly abandoning scholarly depth. Opinions regarding the balance I struck are bound to differ.

I will, however, dispute the specific example of a relevant omission: Gauthier’s reading of the laws of nature as obliging “in conscience without disallowing any particular action in practice” has less explanatory power than my interpretation. I can explain the notion that the “laws of nature are ceaselessly operative in conditions of war without being violable” in terms of the distinction between the rational theorems and the proper laws. The rational theorems apply to anyone with the power of reason; thus, the precepts of the laws of nature are in a way “ceaselessly operative.” Yet they are obligatory, and possibly violated, only where there is a “common power” to enforce them. The varieties of normativity in play explain what Hobbes says without appeal to the wooly notion of “obliging in conscience.”

Olsthoorn contends that my view treats “law and obligation as purely subjective: to be obligated by natural law is to see yourself as being obligated to God to obey it” (original emphasis). He states quite correctly that on my view the laws of nature are (or can be) obligatory prior to a (civil) sovereign’s “scriptural legislation,” and he infers that therefore anyone obligated by them in a secondary state of nature must be effectively a prophet, who has received the word of God directly. This is a non sequitur.

Anyone with reason may deduce the content of the laws of nature as rational theorems. Theists recognize those precepts as also divine commands addressed to subjects of God’s natural kingdom, and thus proper laws that obligate them. In a common- wealth, the authoritative interpretation of the precepts is the exclusive province of the sovereign. But in a state of nature, people have no authority but themselves. Flip Olsthoorn’s question: he seems to suggest that in a state of nature scripture is uninterpretable. That surely cannot be Hobbes’s view.

When Olsthoorn says that law and obligation are on my view “subjective,” he smears the view. True, to be obligated by natural law entails that one see oneself as obligated. No one is an accidental theist. But merely seeing oneself as obligated does not constitute obligation. Legal obligation is constituted by submission to a (divine or civil) sovereign.

Olsthoorn raises an intriguing issue when he reminds us that for Hobbes even the intent to sin is a violation. “Pace Byron, it does not follow that we ought to conform our value schema to that of the sovereign.” A larger problem lurks. Hobbes does not define intention in his psychological theory, and it is not clear given his hydraulic account of motivation where intention might fit in the genesis of action. Medieval philosophers like Aquinas regard intention as a function of will, but Hobbes has flattened will into the last desire before action. Intention might be will, but that would make the concept redundant. This question deserves detailed examination, which space does not allow. In the meantime, my view is grounded in Hobbes’s motivational theory in a way that tries to explain how “sincerely from the heart” might become an apt modifier of subjects’ actions.

Online Colloquium (4) – Olsthoorn on Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth

This online colloquium has been established to discuss the recent work of Michael Byron (Kent State) Submission and Subjection in Leviathan: Good Subjects in the Hobbesian Commonwealth. We began first with an introduction to the text by Professor Byron and responses by Michael Krom – here - (St Vincent State) and Deborah Baumgold – here - (University of Oregon). Today we have our final response, from Johan Olsthoorn (KU Leuven). Next week we will post a reply by Professor Byron. Many thanks to Palgrave for supporting this colloquium.

Response by Johan Olsthoorn

Michael Byron’s tightly argued and well-written short monograph on Hobbes has many virtues. Inter alia, it presents a new and logically coherent interpretation of an enduring problem within Hobbes scholarship: which persons are morally obliged to obey the laws of nature as laws and why? The laws of nature offer sound practical advice to everyone keen to survive amidst others (Lev. 15.34). Abiding by these laws is obligatory, Byron argues, only for God’s subjects (i.e., persons who acknowledge God’s sovereignty and providence). According to Hobbes, precepts have the status of laws only if issued to individuals who had earlier bound themselves to obey the lawgiver (Lev. 26.2). On Byron’s reading, this holds true for the laws of nature as well.

Byron contends that his voluntarist conception of moral obligation permits a superior interpretation of why and in what sense justice can be said to ‘apply’ in a state of nature (p. 13). Leviathan boldly proclaims that “the Notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have… no place… where there is no common Power” (Lev. 13.13). This claim is befuddling. Isn’t natural law operative outside the commonwealth? And isn’t abiding by the laws of nature ‘just’ and their violation ‘unjust’? To solve this puzzle, Byron turns to the idea of a dual state of nature, developed by Kavka (1986) and Martinich (1992) (pp. 13-19). God exists but does not rule in the primary state of nature. Natural law governs conduct in this state in the form of good counsel, not as law. Since just and unjust have meaning only in relation to law, it follows that there is no justice or injustice in the primary state of nature (p. 3). The secondary state of nature does contain proper laws, rendering it possible for actions to be just or unjust. These laws are the laws of nature seen ‘as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things’ (Lev. 15.41). Absent human government, anyone who has bound themselves to obey the word of God inhabits the secondary state of nature.

Submission and Subjection in Leviathan deserves praise for developing an original and ingenuous interpretation of Hobbesian moral obligation. Having myself recently published an alternative explanation for the state-dependency of justice and injustice (Olsthoorn 2015),[i] I hope the reader will forgive me for focusing on this theme first. Three general methodological choices, I submit, impair Byron’s interpretation. First, Byron focuses exclusively on Leviathan: other works in which Hobbes discusses justice and related themes are largely, or even completely, ignored. Second, he draws on a surprisingly limited set of Hobbesian concepts. On the textbook interpretation of Hobbes, for example, the natural right to everything precludes the possibility of injustice outside the state. Submission and Subjection all but fails to mention this right.

Third, Byron engages a fairly limited set of secondary sources. His nigh exclusive conversation with Hampton, Lloyd, and Martinich has arguably made him overlook relevant alternative interpretive moves. For instance, he does not consider the well-known suggestion by Gauthier (1969: 48-52) that the laws of nature are ceaselessly operative in conditions of war without being violable. Put differently, in the state of nature (which is a state of war), natural law obliges in conscience without disallowing any particular action in practice. After all, when peace cannot be obtained, right reason allows us ‘by all means we can, to defend our selves’ (Lev. 14.4). Leviathan therefore states that prior to the formation of the state, the laws of nature are ‘not properly Lawes, but qualities that dispose men to peace, and to obedience’. ‘For it is the Soveraign Power that obliges men to obey them’ (Lev. 26.8). Byron may rightly object that justice remains, on this reading, applicable in the state of nature. For it seems that any action performed with right is done justly (EL 16.2, 5; DCv 3.5).

Another solution not considered by Byron is that Hobbes does not call natural law violations ‘unjust’ – at least not in the later works. In the 1647 De Cive, Hobbes explains what his infamous doctrine of a right to everything amounts to:

This must be understood as meaning that nothing that one does in a purely natural state is a wrong against anyone, at least against any man. Not that it is impossible in such a state to sin against God or to violate the Natural Laws. For injustice against men presupposes Human Laws, and there are none in the natural state. (DCv: 1.10n; also DPS: 36)

This passage suggests that, whatever view we may take on the possibility of natural law violations beyond the state, such conduct constitutes no injustice towards humans. The Latin Leviathan makes a stronger claim yet, insisting that transgressing natural law should be called ‘iniquitous’, rather than ‘unjust’: “For Iniquitous is called what is done contrary to the Law of Nature, Unjust what is done contrary to the Civil Law. Yet, nothing was Just or Unjust before the Common-wealth was constituted” (LL 18.6; also DPS 31). These passages – ignored by Byron – allow for a straightforward explanation for the state-dependency of justice and injustice. An explanation, moreover, that neither hinges on the sense in which the laws of nature “oblige all Mankind” (Lev. 30.30), nor on postulating two conceptually distinct states of nature (for which there is no textual evidence).

Here, I will refrain from outlining my rival interpretation for why justice and injustice are inapplicable outside the Hobbesian commonwealth, published elsewhere. Instead, I will raise two further worries about Byron’s short and impressive book, informed by the above-mentioned methodological infelicities. The laws of nature, Byron maintains, are properly laws only qua divine commands, to those who have subjected themselves to God. This interpretation hinges heavily on Lev. 15.41:

These dictates of Reason, men use to call by the name of Lawes, but improperly… yet if we consider the same Theoremes, as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things; then are they properly called Lawes.

Byron overlooks the parallel passage in De Cive, which spells out what the relevant word of God is:

properly speaking, the natural laws are not laws, in so far as they proceed from nature. But in so far as the same laws have been legislated by God in the holy scriptures… they are very properly called by the name of laws (DCv 3.33)

If natural law is law by dint of having been prescribed in Scripture, then Byron has a serious problem. For in Leviathan, Hobbes insists that biblical canons are rendered obligatory by the sovereign’s authority (except for those to whom God has spoken personally) (Lev. 33.24). Paradoxically, the divine injunctions found in Scripture are civil laws in Leviathan. This suggests that, until the sovereign ‘obliges men to obey them’, the laws of nature are but theorems of reason (Lev. 26.8).

In response, Byron must argue that the Bible’s moral doctrine is law without the civil sovereign’s validation. In support, he could appeal to Leviathan’s discussion of the triple ‘word of God’ (Lev. 31.3). “God declareth his Lawes” by revelation, by faith, and ‘by the Dictates of Naturall Reason’ (Lev. 31.3). Here, ‘the question is not of obedience to God, but of when, and what God hath said’ (Lev. 33.1). Supernatural revelation is rare, while faith is nothing else than belief in men. It thus seems that in the natural condition, God’s laws are primarily promulgated by reason. And we indeed read that biblical doctrines which ‘differ not from the Laws of Nature… are the Law of God, and carry their Authority with them, legible to all men that have the use of natural reason’ (Lev. 33.22). However, Hobbes may well have been talking here about the laws of nature qua theorems of reason: the content of natural law can be rationally determined. Byron must show that natural law has obligatory force prior to the sovereign’s Scriptural legislation. How to know that the natural dictates of reason are simultaneously divine legislations? And how to know that these and only these conclusions of reason are divine laws – and not, for instance, whatever right reason reveals is the best course of action in war? (‘Force, and Fraud’ – Lev. 13.13). The worry here is that to inhabit the secondary state of nature, governed by obligatory natural laws, one has to be a true prophet, in personal communication with God. If, as Byron argues, mere belief in God gives natural law the force of law (pp. 89-92), then this appears to render law and obligation purely subjective: to be obligated by natural law is to see yourself as being obligated to God to obey it. After all, God has directly spoken and legislated to very few of us, if any.

In conclusion, a word on Byron’s thesis that being a good subject requires ‘desiring what the law prescribes and eschewing what the law prohibits’ (p. 7). ‘Insofar as my personal value schema fails to conform to that prescribed by the sovereign, my judgments of good and evil are wrong’ (p. 79). This interpretive claim strikes me as unwarrantedly strong. Byron righty points out that within the commonwealth, the civil law is the sole authoritative measure of actions (Lev. 46.11). Having promised to simply obey the sovereign, it is unjust for citizens to disobey the law for conscience’s sake (Lev. 29.7). Furthermore, Byron duly stresses that the very design or intention to break the law is sinful (p. 77). Pace Byron, it does not follow that we ought to conform our value schema to that of the sovereign. What follows is that it is impermissible to act or plan to act contrary to the civil law. We can accept this without holding that the civil law offers normative guidance for private conscience.

Indeed, we have good reason to reject the notion of ‘value conforming desire’. The sovereign’s interpretation of the laws of nature is certainly authoritative and binding for citizens. Yet authority does not imply truth: “For the interpretation, though it be made by just authority, must not therefore always be true” (EW 4, 340). Hobbes is quite aware that civil laws are often immoral (e.g. EL 21.3; DCv 7.14; Lev. 21.7, 22.15, 24.7; DPS 31). Why think that citizens should internalize the values immoral civil laws express? Doing so would bring conflict closer. Consider, furthermore, the biblical figure Naaman the Syrian (Lev. 42.11). Naaman was ordered by his lawful sovereign to publicly deny his Christian faith. Hobbes argues that he could have safely obeyed this order, since ‘that action is not his, but his Soveraigns’. The third law of nature did indeed require Naaman to obey. Yet Hobbes nowhere claims that to be a good subject, Naaman should adopt his sovereign’s heretical value schema. All he needs to do is obey. In Hobbes’s view, I contend, citizens may think and value whatever they want, provided they take the civil law as their rule of actions. Hobbes is more liberal, in this respect, than Byron suggests (pp. 9, 114-15).

 

REFERENCES

Gauthier, David. 1969. The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Olsthoorn, Johan. 2015. ‘Why justice and injustice have no place outside the Hobbesian State’, European Journal of Political Theory 14, no. 1: 19–36.