New Article: Hobbes’s Religious Rhetoric and False Forms of Obligation

Nicolas Higgins (2018): Undermining Obligation to God: Hobbes’s Religious Rhetoric and False Forms of Obligation, in: Political Theology

doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2018.1540176

Description

This paper examines Hobbes’s use of religious rhetoric, specifically his definitions of the terms grace, faith, and future words in his explanation of the nature and origins of obligation. Through categorization and analysis of Hobbes’s different forms of obligation, paying special attention to the religious rhetoric of the false forms, it becomes evident that Hobbes’s view of obligation is designed not only to establish a political order, but to undermine man’s obligation to God, and as such, remove the possibility of competing obligation in the life of the citizen, and thereby reduce the cause of civil wars.

New Article: Hobbes’s changing ecclesiology

Andrew Kenneth Day (2018): Hobbes’s changing ecclesiology, in: The Historical Journal, pp. 1-21

doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X18000304

Description

Readers of Hobbes have sought to account for differences between the arguments of his most influential texts. In De cive Hobbes (tepidly) endorsed apostolic structures of spiritual authority, while in Leviathan he at last unleashed his vehement anticlericalism. I argue that these disparities do not reflect an identifiable change in Hobbes’s ideas or principles over time. Rather, the political context in which Hobbes composed his treatises drastically altered over the course of his writing career, and the Hobbesian theoretical significance of those contextual developments best accounts for some ecclesiological inconsistencies across his oeuvre. There was, throughout the brief and tumultuous period after the regicide during which Hobbes composed Leviathan, no sovereign power in England to whom he should defer, and consequently he acquired certain liberties that subjects in a civitas forgo. Those included the renewal of his right to wage a ‘war of pens’ against High Anglican episcopal power.

New Article: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes

Alan Ryan (2018): Escaping the War of All against All: Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, in: Social Research: An International Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Fall 2018), pp. 639-649

Description

Is Leviathan persuasive? One might think that the existence of the United States is sufficient refutation of Hobbes’s insistence that there can be only one source of law in a coherent political system; if federalism is one problem, the separation of powers is another. Hobbes was deeply hostile to judges who thought that their expertise in the Common Law gave them an authority equal or superior to the sovereign’s. On the other hand, one might think that the lumbering and lobbyist-ridden American system suggests that Hobbes was on to something even if we could not demonstrate it with the certainty of geometry. Above all, perhaps, his skepticism about rights and his prioritizing freedom from fear above all other freedoms still pose some awkward questions for us some 370 years later.

New Article: Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté

Robin Douglass (2018): Hobbes sur la représentation et la souveraineté, in: Les Défis de la représentation Langages, pratiques et figuration du gouvernement, édité par Manuela Albertone e Dario Castiglione, pp. 91-114

Description

Cette étude retrace les changements dans la manière dont Thomas Hobbes a théorisé la relation entre l’État et le souverain des Elements of Law au Leviathan, afin de montrer ce que le concept de représentation a apporté aux versions précédentes de sa théorie. Nous réévaluons également le statut de Hobbes comme père de la compréhension de la représentation politique par le biais d’une remise en question des arguments principaux qui ont été avancés pour justifier l’idée qu’il demeure encore pertinent aujourd’hui.

Article: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor

Rebecca Ploof (2018): The Automaton, the Actor and the Sea Serpent: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor, in: History of Political Thought, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 634-661

Description

Challenging interpretations of Leviathan that read its metaphors for sovereignty either as non-theoretical persuasive devices, like Skinner, or sites for the text’s theoretical deconstruction, like Derrida, I argue that metaphor is conceptually integral to and productive of Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty. Seeking to produce a political scientific account of this concept, Hobbes relies on a metaphorical understanding of language in which words are compared to mathematical signs and their logical manipulation is compared to quantitative analysis. Within such a theory of language, metaphor itself is defined as paradox, or the simultaneity of equivalence and nonequivalence. Hobbes’s formulation of sovereignty is metaphorical, I demonstrate, not only insofar as it is dependent on a metaphorical conceptualization of language, but also insofar as it is paradoxical: constructing Hobbesian sovereignty demands a healthy dose of pride in humanity’s creative ingenuity, yet sustaining it demands modest acknowledgement of human limitation. Hobbes theorizes sovereignty through a series of metaphors that in their imagistic content, and most importantly figurative form, articulate such contradiction. Where the metaphors of automaton and actor affirm the powers of human agency, the metaphorical sea serpent leviathan underscores human frailty by way of divine animality.

New article: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power

Adam Lindsay (2018): “Pretenders of a Vile and Unmanly Disposition”: Thomas Hobbes on the Fiction of Constituent Power, in: Political Theory

doi: 10.1177/0090591718805979

Description

The prevailing interpretation of constituent power is taken to be the extra-institutional capacity of a group, typically “the people,” to establish or revise the basic constitutional conditions of a state. Among many contemporary democratic theorists, this is understood as a collective capacity for innovation. This paper excavates an alternative perspective from constituent power’s genealogy. I argue that constituent power is not a creative material power, but is a type of political claim that shapes the collective rights, responsibilities, and identity of “the people.” I do so by recovering Thomas Hobbes’s intervention into debates over constituent power among Scottish Presbyterians during the English Civil War. Though a materialist, Hobbes appreciated the centrality of the imagination to politics, and he argued that constituent power was one such phantasm of the mind. In Leviathan, he showed constituent power not to be a material power, but a world-making fiction that furnished political realities with ornamentation of the imagination, which might provide the beliefs and justifications to serve any number of political ends. More generally, the retrieval of a Hobbesian constituent power provides an important challenge to contemporary theories by demonstrating how partisan constructions of constituent power shape the political options available to groups.

 

New article: Legal Thought in Early Modern England. The Theory of Thomas Hobbes

Raffaella Santi (2018):  Legal Thought in Early Modern England: The Theory of Thomas Hobbes, in: Economics World, Vol. 6, No. 5, 384-389

doi: 10.17265/2328-7144/2018.05.005

Description

Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (1588-1679) is one of the most influential British philosophers of the seventeenth century. The paper reconstructs Hobbes’s legal theory, focusing on his definition of law (civil law, as he calls it) found in Leviathan, XXVI, 3. The definition is only apparently simple, since it has been interpreted in different ways, especially with regard to the connections with natural law—and the Hobbesian assertion that civil law and natural law “contain each other”. Moreover, the definition of civil law changes in the corresponding paragraph of the Latin version of 1668. What is the meaning of this change? What about the divisions of the law/divisio legis, which—as Hobbes emphasizes—appears in different forms in different writers? Finally, if a good law is “that which is needful, for the good of the people”, what is it that dictates the paths to be followed by the sovereign representative, who is also the supreme legislator, when writing a new law? These are the main problems in Hobbes’s legal thought that the paper will address.

 

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.