Book: Before Anarchy: Hobbes and his Critics in Modern International Thought

Theodore ChristovBefore Anarchy Hobbes and his Critics in Modern International Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

About this Book: How did the ‘Hobbesian state of nature’ and the ‘discourse of anarchy’ – separated by three centuries – come to be seen as virtually synonymous? Before Anarchy offers a novel account of Hobbes’s interpersonal and international state of nature and rejects two dominant views. In one, international relations is a warlike Hobbesian anarchy, and in the other, state sovereignty eradicates the state of nature. In combining the contextualist method in the history of political thought and the historiographical method in international relations theory, Before Anarchy traces Hobbes’s analogy between natural men and sovereign states and its reception by Pufendorf, Rousseau and Vattel in showing their intellectual convergence with Hobbes. Far from defending a ‘realist’ international theory, the leading political thinkers of early modernity were precursors of the most enlightened liberal theory of international society today. By demolishing twentieth-century anachronisms, Before Anarchy bridges the divide between political theory, international relations and intellectual history.

Radio Hobbes

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


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

Chapter: From Chaos to Order: The Role of the Self in Hobbes’ Moralism

Francis Offer: ‘From Chaos to Order: The Role of the Self in Hobbes’ Moralism’ in Elvis Imafidon and Brenda Hofmery (eds.), The Ethics of Subjectivity: Perspectives since the Dawn of Modernity, London, Palsgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp.11-23.

Abstract: In this essay, an attempt is made to extrapolate from Hobbes’ political theory, his views on morality, as espoused in his seminal work, Leviathan.1 Hobbes’ goal in Leviathan was not primarily to evolve a moral theory, but because the socio-political situation that precipitated his theorizing was beginning to defile all known rules of morality, it becomes imperative to examine the place of morality in his philosophical construct. Besides, the book Leviathan also detailed Hobbes’ physicalist outlook, which greatly influenced his interpretation of human actions on the basis of materialism. Hobbes’ concern and enthusiasm for science underscore his belief that everything that happens can be accounted for by the law of motion. For him, “knowing” and “willing” are merely the appearances of subtle motions and they underlie our desires and aversions, which ultimately define our concept of good and evil. Morality is thus not hinged on some reality beyond the reach and control of men, as was often held by his predecessors — particularly before Descartes. Rather it is a product of human social dwelling, a creation of social actors.

Chapter: Martinich’s critique of Leo Strauss on Hobbes

A.P. Martinich: ‘Leo Strauss’s Olympian Intrepretation: Right, Self-Preservation, and Law in the Political Philosophy of Hobbes’, in Winfried Schroeder, ed., Reading Between the Lines – Leo Strauss and the History of Early Modern Philosophy, Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, 2015, pp. 77-97.

Summary: Martinich challenges Leo Strauss’s reading of Hobbes in his 1936 book The Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Martinich rejects Strauss’s reading of Hobbesian rights in the state of nature, of Hobbes’s account of human nature, of the nature of reason, of the causes of war, and the basis of law. Martinich concludes that “Strauss’s view is fundamentally mistaken about the foundational concepts of Hobbes’s political philosophy”. Martinich suggests that this may reflect Strauss’s desire to confirm his nascent theory about differences between ancient and modern political philosophy. Implicitly invoking Hobbes’s mountain metaphor from Behemoth, Martinich writes that “[s]eeing philosophical texts from a great height, [Strauss] thought he saw a large pattern; but the pattern required adjusting some details in order to fit and taking little or no account of others.”

Chapter: Reading Hobbes’s De motu against the background of Strauss’ interpretation

Gianni Paganini: ‘Art of Writing or Art of Rewriting? Reading Hobbes’s De motu against the background of Strauss’ interpretation’, in Winfried Schroeder (ed.), Reading Between the Lines – Leo Strauss and the History of Early Modern Philosophy, Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, 2015, p. 99-128

Abstract: As an opening work for Hobbes’s “first philosophy”, De motu, loco et tempore (Anti-White) occupies a very special position in Hobbes’s corpus. Being obliged to follow his interlocutor, Thomas White on his ground, Hobbes could not escape the big theoretical issues raised by White’s scholastic theology. He could not simplify or shorten the philosophical agenda, as he did later in De Corpore, excluding the field of theology from the competence of philosophy. However, the presence of this work in current Hobbes scholarship is very scant. Since it was written originally in Latin and barely addressed political issues, Anglo-Saxon scholars usually have avoided much engaging with it. Yet De motu was a decisive turning point in Hobbes’s intellectual history, both for the foundation of a new scientific ontology and for the bold attack it launched on the pretensions of philosophical theology.

Article: Jacques Rancière, Thomas Hobbes, and a Politics of the Part that Has No Part

Patrick Craig: ‘Jacques Rancière, Thomas Hobbes, and a Politics of the Part that Has No Part’, Theory & Event, 18, 1 (2015)

Abstract: Jacques Rancière’s political theory is well-known for its emphasis on equality, a non-representative form of democracy, and dissensus. I argue that Rancière’s conception of the demos is prefigured in, of all places, the political theory of Thomas Hobbes. I contend that, contrary to Rancière’s treatment of him as a proponent of parapolitics, Hobbes can be seen to provide a radical theory of democracy, one that places his politics much closer to that of Rancière’s, than the orthodox reading of Hobbes would suggest.