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)

Call for papers: ‘Hobbes and Gender’ workshop and special issue

Papers are invited for a workshop on Hobbes and Gender, to be held at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany on 22 and 23 November 2018. Contributions to the workshop will be considered for a special issue of Hobbes Studies, on the same theme, to be published in spring 2020. The guest editors for the special issue are Eva Odzuck (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg) and Alexandra Chadwick (University of Groningen). The workshop will include two keynote speeches from experts in the field: Sharon Lloyd (University of Southern California) and Susanne Sreedhar (Boston University).

Papers may approach the topic from a variety of angles including, for example:

  • Critiques of Hobbes’s arguments from feminist perspectives.
  • Insights from Hobbes’s philosophy for current debates about gender
  • The place of women in Hobbes’s political argument.
  • Body, materialism and human nature in Hobbes.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 500 words to the editors at a.a.f.chadwick@rug.nl and eva.odzuck@fau.de by 5 September 2018.

Financial assistance for travel and accommodation expenses can be provided due to a grant from the Free State of Bavaria (Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Women in Research and Teaching, FFL).

After the workshop, the guest editors will select papers for possible publication in Hobbes Studies.  Selected papers should be no longer than 8,000 words (incl. notes and bibliography) and should be with the editors by 31 May 2019. These will then be sent out to external reviewers, and the final decisions for publication in Hobbes Studies will be made on the basis of their reports.

If you have any questions, please contact the guest editors at a.a.f.chadwick@rug.nl or eva.odzuck@fau.de.

The workshop is held under the aegis of the European Hobbes Society. For a PDF version of the call for papers, click here.

Impressions of the Second Biennial Conference

This part of Philosophy is in the same situation as the public roads,
on which all men travel, and go to and fro,
and some are enjoying a pleasant stroll and others are quarrelling,
but they make no progress
Hobbes, De Cive, epistle dedicatory

From 14-16 May 2018, over 35 researchers from across the world came together in the pedestrian city centre of Amsterdam for the Second Biennial Conference of the European Hobbes Society. It was a joy to see quite a few new faces amidst many familiar ones.

The conference was thematically structured around Hobbes’s De cive. No less than thirteen papers carefully mapped the highlights of that text, drawing our attention to inspiring vistas and at times feuding with extant interpretations blocking the road to greater insight. The conference doubled as a manuscript workshop for the Cambridge Critical Guide to De Cive, edited by Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn. The sharp yet constructive discussions will no doubt bolster the quality of the chapters to that volume. Four new members were sworn in to the executive committee of the society during the general meeting — welcome to the team!

The full program can be found here.

We are exceedingly grateful to the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, King’s College London, and the University of Amsterdam Challenges to Democratic Representation Research Group for their generous financial and infrastructural support. Thanks also goes out to all participants, both for the pleasant intellectual stroll and the interpretive progress made.

The EHS is right now more vibrant than ever. A host of smaller workshops have been organized under the auspices of the society during the last year and more are in the pipeline. We continue to welcome initiatives, including proposals to set up the third biennial conference sometime in 2020. The journey we have jointly embarked on has been incredible so far; long may it carry on!

1 2 3

Robert P Benedict Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy

The Robert P Benedict Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy at Boston University will be delivered by Kinch Hoekstra. These lectures will take three different approaches to Hobbes as a philosopher of Politics. The first will focus on Hobbes’s engagement with the tradition of ‘politic history’ and his attempt to influence politics via history, especially in his edition of Thucydides. The second lecture will argue that for Hobbes philosophy was not simply a way to understand politics, but was itself political. And the final lecture will ask how Hobbes’s philosophical positions were challenged by the unfolding of history in his own time, with a focus on Behemoth, his history of the English civil war.

Kinch Hoekstra is the Chancellor’s Professor of Political Science and Law and Affiliated Professor of Philosophy and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was previously in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, where he was Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy and Classics at Balliol College. Most of his work has been on the history of classical, renaissance, and early modern philosophy.

See this page for more information.

Benedict Poster 2018 final_11x17

Programme of the International Hobbes Association sessions at the APA

The programme of the International Hobbes Association sessions at the American Philosophical Association is now available. The American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division meetings will take place in Savannah Georgia, on January 3-6, 2018. The Hobbes sessions include presentations by Eleanor Curran, Jan Narveson, Christopher Buckman, Paul Garofalo, Stewart Duncan, Elad Carmel, Shane D. Courtland, and Daniel Collette. The full programme can be found here.

Second EHS Biennial Conference (Amsterdam, May 14-16, 2018)

Provisional programme:

Monday 14th May, 2018

09:30-10:00 Welcome and registration, with coffee and pastries
10:00-10:15 Opening talk by the organisers

Session 1:
10:15-11:15 Deborah Baumgold (Oregon) – ‘Dating On the Citizen’
11:25-12:25 Kinch Hoekstra & Nicholas Gooding (UC Berkeley) – ‘Hobbes’s philosophical anthropology: natural sociability’
12:25-13:45 Lunch, served in the Main Library

Session 2:
13:45-14:45 Susanne Sreedhar (Boston University) – ‘The right of nature and the right to all things’
14:55-15:55 Michael LeBuffe (Otago) – ‘Motivation and the good’

Session 3: 
16:15-17:15 Laurens van Apeldoorn (Leiden) – ‘Rex est Populus’: the sovereign and the state’
17:15-17:45 General meeting of the European Hobbes Society (optional)
19:00 Conference dinner, venue TBA

Tuesday 15th May

Session 4:
10:00-11:00 Sophie Smith (Oxford) – ‘Hobbes’s theory of the state: civitas, respublica, and On the Citizen’
11:10-12:10 Michael J. Green (Pomona) – ‘Personation, authorization, and group agency in On the Citizen’
12:10-13:30 Lunch, served in the Main Library

Session 5:
13:30-14:30 Johann P. Sommerville (Wisconsin-Madison) – ‘On the Citizen’s views on religion and church-state relations in historical context’
14:40-15:40 A.P. Martinich (Texas) – ‘Sovereign-making and biblical covenants’

Session 6:
16:00-17:00 Thomas Holden (USCB) – ‘Religious passions’
17:10-18:10 Alison McQueen (Stanford) – ‘Hobbes’s scriptural arguments in On the Citizen’
19:00 Informal dinner, venue TBA

Wednesday 16th May

Session 7:
9:30-10:30 Rosemarie Wagner (UC Berkeley) – ‘Legal obligation and punishment in On the Citizen’
10:40-11:40 Ioannis Evrigenis (Tufts) – ‘The political economy of On the Citizen’
11:50-12:50 S.A. Lloyd (USC) – ‘Sociability and motivation in On the Citizen’
13:00 Concluding lunch; venue TBA

The conference is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Amsterdam Centre for Political Thought (ACPT) and the Challenges to Democratic Representation Research Group at the University of Amsterdam.

For further information or queries please contact the conference convenors:

Johan Olsthoorn (Amsterdam/Leuven): j.c.a.olsthoorn@uva.nl

Eva Odzuck (Erlangen-Nürnberg): eva.odzuck@fau.de

Robin Douglass (King’s College London) robin.douglass@kcl.ac.uk

CFP: Hobbes after Leviathan: Beyond Leviathan? (Padova, Feb 15-16, 2018)

Papers are invited on Thomas Hobbes’s later writings (after 1651, with particular attention to Dialogue, Behemoth, and the Latin version of Leviathan), especially (but not exclusively) on the following topics:

– Political Theory
– Legal Theory and Legal History
– Images of History
– Theology

The papers will be discussed at a workshop to be held 15-16 February 2018 at the University of Padova, by the Department of Political Science, Law and International Relationships (SPGI), the Department of Historical and Geographic Sciences and the Ancient World (DiSSGeA), and the Departement of Philosophy, Sociology, Pedagogy and Applied Psychology (FISPPA), under the auspices of the European Hobbes Society.

Keynote lectures:

PATRICIA SPRINGBORG (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)
LUC FOISNEAU (EHESS-CNRS, Paris)

Format of the workshop:
Papers will be pre-circulated. There is an hour for the discussion of each, divided as follows:
• Five minutes for the author to introduce their paper. It is assumed that those attend-ing have read the paper in advance.
• A short (five-ten minutes) response from an allocated respondent.
• Brief opportunity for the author to reply.
• Questions.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PRESENT A PAPER, PLEASE SEND A TITLE AND A SHORT ABSTRACT (NO MORE THAN 250 WORDS) BY FRIDAY 8TH DECEMBER 2017 TO MAURO.FARNESICAMELLONE@UNIPD.IT

We ask that papers are ready for circulation by Wednesday 31th January 2018 to enable at-tendees to read them in advance.
The attendance at the conference is completely free for everybody (no conference fee).
The Conference Committee:
Mauro Farnesi Camellone, Giovanni Fiaschi, Maurizio Merlo, Mario Piccinini