Radio Hobbes

Whenever I’m teaching Hobbes—or any great thinker, for that matter—I like to point students towards some good radio discussions of his thought. I’ve long directed them to this excellent episode of In Our Time, with Melyvn Bragg in conversation with Quentin Skinner, David Wooton and Annabel Brett. I recently also discovered this very interesting episode of Great Lives, with Steven Pinker and Noel Malcolm. And for a somewhat less scholarly discussion of what Hobbes might have to tell us about issues from online computer games and Bitcoin to naked rambling, there’s this on ‘Hobbes and Civil Disobedience’ (I assume, for Hobbes, civil and disobedience are words, which when they are joined together, destroy one another). You’ll notice I’ve not ventured beyond the BBC and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something more sophisticated than the last offering here.

 

ADDENDUM: This episode of Philosophy Bites, with Noel Malcolm in conversation with Nigel Warburton, is also recommended (thanks to Juhana Lemetti for the pointer). And for Francophone audiences, here’s Luc Foisneau talking about ‘Hobbes: la vie inquiète’ for France Culture.

Commentary: Why a New German Edition of Behemoth was Necessary

A new German translation of Behemoth

This year Meiner Verlag fur Philosophie published Peter Schröder‘s new translation and edition of Behemoth. Dr. Schröder explains why this new edition was necessary, and outlines some of the main arguments of his new introduction to the text:

There are obvious practical reasons why a new German translation of Behemoth was desirable. The fact that the existing translation has been out of print for quite some time is the most evident one. My new translation makes this important text available in German again. Even if German students are rightly asked to engage with the original text, a reading in translation of their native language facilitates access to the often undervalued sophistication of the arguments in this text. This new translation also offered the possibility to address some shortcomings and even factual errors of the previous translation, done in 1927 by Julius Lips and reproduced more or less unaltered in Herfried Münkler’s 1990 edition. The explanatory notes of this new edition are considerably expanded and key concepts in English are directly inserted in the text, which should lead to a better understanding of what Hobbes was trying to do. Given that Paul Seaward’s edition of Behemoth in the Clarendon edition was published recently, this was also the opportunity to provide references to this edition on each page of the German translation. This allows German readers to navigate easily between the German translation and the English original now available in Seaward’s edition.

Apart from these specific needs of German students of philosophy, politics, law and the history of political thought, this edition also provided a welcome opportunity to highlight the importance of Behemoth within the oeuvre of Hobbes’s political thought. In my introductory essay “Behemoth or the Long Parliament im Kontext von Hobbes’ politischer Philosophie” (p. VII-LIII), Behemoth is interpreted as a specific contribution to Hobbes’s political philosophy. Despite the obvious link, already suggested by their titles, there is a closer argumentative connection between Leviathan and Behemoth than has been previously recognised. My introduction traces developments from the Elements via De Cive and Leviathan to Behemoth. I argue that Hobbes was increasingly aware that state authority or sovereignty depended not only on de facto power, but also – and perhaps even more crucially – on the ability to direct public opinion. As has been argued before, Behemoth can be seen as an attempt to influence public opinion and to describe the necessary conditions for how this can be achieved. Two main aspects can be discerned in this respect: the importance of confessional strife and the role universities play in public education. Behemoth was also one of Hobbes’s attempts to ward off the increasingly hostile attacks against him by the Anglicans, who had regained considerable political influence after the restoration. Hobbes tried hard to coin, and influence the use of, concepts through which contemporary discussions of political power and its execution were framed. This was a promising strategy in a serious ideological and political battle. Despite Hobbes’s attempts to portray himself as an objective arbiter of the ideological conflicts of the Civil War, such a position was impossible. One way to understand his goals in Behemoth, therefore, is that it was yet another, albeit failed, attempt to present his theory as above the fray of ordinary politics.

Hobbes, Hont and commercial society

In 2009 Istvan Hont delivered the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. These were (posthumously) published earlier this summer as Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, ed. Béla Kapossy and Michael Sonenscher (Harvard University Press, 2015). They make for an intriguing and sometimes a quite frustrating read, not least because they contain many bold and provocative claims, often with only minimal evidence adduced in their support. While the book is principally about Rousseau and Smith, Hobbes plays a crucial part in Hont’s genealogy of the concept of commercial society in the opening chapter, which might be of interest to visitors of this site. I also suspect that most discussions of the book will (rightly) focus on Hont’s interpretations of Rousseau and Smith, but his analysis of Hobbes also merits consideration.

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Hobbes is funnier than Shaftesbury …

Hobbes is funnier than Shaftesbury … or so thought Adam Smith, at least. In his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Smith provides a scathing attack on the style of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. His judgement on Shaftesbury strikes me as spot on:

In his Treatise where he ridicules Mr Hobbs there is not one passage which would make us laugh. Mr Hobbs book would make us laugh but his ridicule would never affect us. (Glasgow Edition of Smith, vol. 4, p. 60)

Noel Malcolm’s edition of Leviathan: a review of the reviews

Reviews reviewed:

Deborah Baumgold, English Historical Review vol. 128 issue 535, 2013

Adrian Blau, Journal of Early Modern Studies vol. 2 no. 2, 2013

Jeffrey Collins, Modern Intellectual History vol. 12 no. 1, 2015

Rachel Foxley, The Review of English Studies vol. 65 issue 271, 2014

John Gray, The New Statesman, September 2012

Kinch Hoekstra, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 76 no. 2, 2015

Sarah Mortimer and David Scott, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 76 no. 2, 2015

William Poole, The Library, vol. 14. no. 4, 2013

David Runciman, Times Literary Supplement, February 2013

Patricia Springborg, British Journal for the History of Philosophy vol. 22 no. 2, 2014

Blair Worden, Literary Review, December 2012

with responses to some of the reviews by Noel Malcolm, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 76 no. 2, 2015

 

Noel Malcolm’s magnificent edition of Leviathan features a one-volume introduction and two volumes of Leviathan, with the 1651 English and 1668 Latin versions printed side-by-side. All reviewers agree that this edition is a superb achievement. David Runciman praises ‘Malcolm’s extraordinary scholarly range and precision’ – scholarship ‘of the highest level’, writes Rachel Foxley, leading Deborah Baumgold to coin a new adjective: ‘Malcolmian’.  This edition is an ‘immense improvement on the nineteenth-century Molesworth collections’, she adds. Blair Worden describes Malcolm’s edition as ‘a glory … that sets quite new standards of editorial scholarship’. John Gray calls it ‘an astonishing achievement of the highest scholarship’. Patricia Springborg ‘cannot imagine that this edition will ever be technically surpassed’, although she does suggest that the 2003 Schuhmann and Rogers edition of Leviathan has more merits than Malcolm implies.

What sets Malcolm’s edition apart is the ‘meticulous detective work’ described by Jeffrey Collins. Malcolm is Read more