How David Hume and Adam Smith forged a new way of thinking about the modern state
What is the modern state? Conspicuously undertheorized in recent political theory, this question persistently animated the best minds of the Enlightenment. Recovering David Hume and Adam Smith’s long-underappreciated contributions to the history of political thought, The Opinion of Mankind considers how, following Thomas Hobbes’s epochal intervention in the mid-seventeenth century, subsequent thinkers grappled with explaining how the state came into being, what it fundamentally might be, and how it could claim rightful authority over those subject to its power.
Hobbes has cast a long shadow over Western political thought, particularly regarding the theory of the state. This book shows how Hume and Smith, the two leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment, forged an alternative way of thinking about the organization of modern politics. They did this in part by going back to the foundations: rejecting Hobbes’s vision of human nature and his arguments about our capacity to form stable societies over time. In turn, this was harnessed to a deep reconceptualization of how to think philosophically about politics in a secular world. The result was an emphasis on the “opinion of mankind,” the necessary psychological basis of all political organization.
Table of contents
- Chapter 1: Sociability
- Chapter 2: History and the Family
- Chapter 3: The State without Sovereignty
- Chapter 4: Rousseau’s Return to Hobbes
- Chapter 5: Adam Smith’s Political Theory of Opinion
- Chapter 6: Alternatives and Applications
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.
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.
Hobbes left a complicated legacy for the English Whigs. They thought that his Leviathan was all too powerful, but they found other elements in his thought more appealing – mostly his anticlericalism. Still, the precise relationship between Hobbes and the Whigs has remained underexplored, while some still argue that Hobbes was simply too much of an absolutist for the Whigs to rely on his political ideas. This article attempts to show that Hobbes was, in fact, recruited by proto- and early Whigs for their causes. It shows how Hobbesian ideas were used in the toleration debates of the 1660s and 1670s, and even in debates on human reason and liberty of conscience. Then it demonstrates how similar Hobbesian principles, and even phrases, were used subsequently in the formative years of Whiggism from the 1680s to the 1720s, by thinkers who were worried, as Hobbes was, about the political aspirations of the Church. By collecting a series of prominent thinkers who are associated with Whiggism and who engaged with Hobbes in various ways – including Buckingham, Marvell, Cavendish, Warren, Blount, Tindal, Trenchard and Gordon – this article shows that Hobbes was employed systematically in the service of Whig causes, such as limited toleration, civil religion and an opposition to religious persecution.
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.
On Monday 25 February 2019 the European Hobbes Society will organize a half-day workshop at the University of Amsterdam with Prof. Arash Abizadeh (McGill). Prof. Abizadeh is one of the world’s most prominent Hobbes scholars today. Earlier this year, Cambridge University Press published his monograph Hobbes and the Two Faces of Ethics — a rich and original study of Hobbes’s moral philosophy.
The half-day workshop will start with lunch and end around 18:00. We plan to have four speakers in total, including Prof. Abizadeh. If you would like to present work-in-progress at this event, then please submit a title and short abstract to j.c.a.olsthoorn[a]uva.nl before 26 December, 23:59. Decisions will be communicated shortly afterwards. We invite abstracts on any aspect of Hobbes’s thought, although priority will be given to papers on his ethics. As per usual, full papers will be circulated about a week in advance.
All are welcome; registration is free. We are unfortunately not in the position to offer financial assistance to speakers or attendees. If you have any questions regarding this workshop, please do not hesitate to contact the organiser.