New book: Appropriating Hobbes

Boucher, David (2018): Appropriating Hobbes. Legacies in Political, Legal, and International Thought. Oxford: OUP.

Description by the publisher:

This book explores how Hobbes’s political philosophy has occupied a pertinent place in different contexts, and how his interpreters see their own images reflected in him, or how they define themselves in contrast to him. Appropriating Hobbes argues 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.

Table of contents:

Introduction: Hobbes in Contexts
1: Hobbes Among the Philosophical Idealists: A Will that is Actual, but Not General
2: Understanding Hobbes: Philosophy versus Ideology
3: Constraining Leviathan: Power versus authority in Hobbes, Schmitt, and Oakeshott.
4: Hobbes Among the Classic Jurists: Natural Law versus the Law of Nations
5: Hobbes Among Legal Positivists: Sovereign or Society?
6: Hobbes Among International Relations thinkers: International Political Theory

Quentin Skinner: From Humanism to Hobbes

Skinner, Quentin (2018): From Humanism to Hobbes. Studies in Rhetoric and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The aim of this collection is to illustrate the pervasive influence of humanist rhetoric on early-modern literature and philosophy. The first half of the book focuses on the classical rules of judicial rhetoric. One chapter considers the place of these rules in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, while two others concentrate on the technique of rhetorical redescription, pointing to its use in Machiavelli’s The Prince as well as in several of Shakespeare’s plays, notably Coriolanus. The second half of the book examines the humanist background to the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. A major new essay discusses his typically humanist preoccupation with the visual presentation of his political ideas, while other chapters explore the rhetorical sources of his theory of persons and personation, thereby offering new insights into his views about citizenship, political representation, rights and obligations and the concept of the state.

Advance praise:‘In these beautifully crafted essays Skinner shows how Machiavelli, Shakespeare and Hobbes use the plenitude of rhetorical techniques of the humanist curriculum to craft persuasively the features of their different yet equally famous texts. Moreover, each confronts differently the chaos that ensues when these radically redescriptive techniques enter into the world they strive to characterise. A masterpiece.’

James Tully – University of Victoria, British Columbia

Advance praise:‘In these brilliant essays, centered on Thomas Hobbes, Quentin Skinner presents political discourse as rhetoric, forensic and theatric. He shows how tactical maneuver established fictions which became analytical realities. A challenge and a step forward for political theorists and historians of early modern England and Europe.’

J. G. A. Pocock – The Johns Hopkins University

Advance praise:‘Quentin Skinner is one of our greatest living humanists. He understands from within the classical tradition that nourished thinkers from Machiavelli to Hobbes and wields language with the force of a Renaissance rhetorician. In this timely work, he deepens his long-standing engagement with humanism and with Hobbes, expands his range to Shakespeare and Milton and sheds new light on the conceptual genealogies of virtue and liberty, representation and the state. From Humanism to Hobbes will be indispensable for intellectual historians, political theorists and early modernists alike.’

David Armitage – Harvard University

Chapter on ‘Hobbes “At the Edge of Promises and Prophecies”’

Alison McQueen’s book, Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times (Cambridge University Press, 2017) contains a chapter on Hobbes, alongside chapters on Machiavelli and Morgenthau. It is available now as an ebook, and will be published in hardback in February.

About this book: From climate change to nuclear war to the rise of demagogic populists, our world is shaped by doomsday expectations. In this path-breaking book, Alison McQueen shows why three of history’s greatest political realists feared apocalyptic politics. Niccolò Machiavelli in the midst of Italy’s vicious power struggles, Thomas Hobbes during England’s bloody civil war, and Hans Morgenthau at the dawn of the thermonuclear age all saw the temptation to prophesy the end of days. Each engaged in subtle and surprising strategies to oppose apocalypticism, from using its own rhetoric to neutralize its worst effects to insisting on a clear-eyed, tragic acceptance of the human condition

Article: The two faces of personhood

Fleming, Sean. “The two faces of personhood: Hobbes, corporate agency and the personality of the state” In European Journal of Political Theory, 2017/10/30, doi: 10.1177/1474885117731941
Abstract: There is an important but underappreciated ambiguity in Hobbes’ concept of personhood. In one sense, persons are representatives or actors. In the other sense, persons are representees or characters. An estate agent is a person in the first sense; her client is a person in the second. This ambiguity is crucial for understanding Hobbes’ claim that the state is a person. Most scholars follow the first sense of ‘person’, which suggests that the state is a kind of actor – in modern terms, a ‘corporate agent’. I argue that Hobbes’ state is a person only in the second sense: a character rather than an actor. If there are any primitive corporate agents in Hobbes’ political thought, they are representative assemblies, not states or corporations. Contemporary political theorists and philosophers tend to miss what is unique and valuable about Hobbes’ idea of state personality because they project the idea of corporate agency onto it.

New issue of Hobbes Studies

A new issue of Hobbes Studies is now available, containing the following articles:

Eva Helene Odzuck, ‘I Professed to Write Not All to All’

Alissa MacMillan, ‘Conditioned to Believe: Hobbes on Religion, Education, and Social Context’

Douglas C. Wadle, ‘The Problem of the Unity of the Representative Assembly in Hobbes’s Leviathan’

S.A. Lloyd, ‘Duty Without Obligation’

Jacob Tootalian, ‘That Giant Monster Call’d a Multitude’

Peter Auger, ‘The Books of Tho. Hobbes’.

Two chapters on “Trust” in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy

Kontler, László and Somos, Mark, eds. Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

The notions of happiness and trust as cements of the social fabric and political legitimacy have a long history in Western political thought. However, despite the great contemporary relevance of both subjects, and burgeoning literatures in the social sciences around them, historians and historians of thought have, with some exceptions, unduly neglected them. In Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought, editors László Kontler and Mark Somos bring together twenty scholars from different generations and academic traditions to redress this lacuna by contextualising historically the discussion of these two notions from ancient Greece to Soviet Russia. Confronting this legacy and deep reservoir of thought will serve as a tool of optimising the terms of current debates.

Contains a chapter by Peter Schröder on Fidem Observandam Esse – Trust and Fear in Hobbes and Locke and a chapter by Eva Odzuck on The Concept of Trust in Hobbes’s Political Philosophy

New article: Hobbes and Slavery

Daniel Luban,  ‘Hobbes and Slavery’, Political Theory, first published online: October 6 2017 (DOI: 10.1177/0090591717731070).

Abstract: Although Thomas Hobbes’s critics have often accused him of espousing a form of extreme subjection that differs only in name from outright slavery, Hobbes’s own striking views about slavery have attracted little notice. For Hobbes repeatedly insists that slaves, uniquely among the populace, maintain an unlimited right of resistance by force. But how seriously should we take this doctrine, particularly in the context of the rapidly expanding Atlantic slave trade of Hobbes’s time? While there are several reasons to doubt whether Hobbes’s arguments here should be taken at face value, the most serious stems from the highly restricted definition that he gives to the term “slave,” one that would seem to make his acceptance of slave resistance entirely hollow in practice. Yet a closer examination of Hobbes’s theory indicates that his understanding of slavery is less narrow than it might initially appear—and thus that his argument carries a genuine political bite.

Chapter on ‘Public Reason in Hobbes’ by Sharon A. Lloyd

Turner, Piers Noris / Gaus, Gerald (ed.) (2018): Public Reason in Political Philosophy. Classic Sources and Contemporary Commentaries. London: RoutledgeWhen people of good faith and sound mind disagree deeply about moral, religious, and other philosophical matters, how can we justify political institutions to all of them? The idea of public reason—of a shared public standard, despite disagreement—arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the work of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. At a time when John Rawls’ influential theory of public reason has come under fire but its core idea remains attractive to many, it is important not to lose sight of earlier philosophers’ answers to the problem of private conflict through public reason.

The distinctive selections from the great social contract theorists in this volume emphasize the pervasive theme of intractable disagreement and the need for public justification. New essays by leading scholars then put the historical work in context and provide a focus of debate and discussion. They also explore how the search for public reason has informed a wider body of modern political theory—in the work of Hume, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill—sometimes in surprising ways. The idea of public reason is revealed as an overarching theme in modern political philosophy—one very much needed today.

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.