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Hobbes, Hont and commercial society

In 2009 Istvan Hont delivered the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. These were (posthumously) published earlier this summer as Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, ed. Béla Kapossy and Michael Sonenscher (Harvard University Press, 2015). They make for an intriguing and sometimes a quite frustrating read, not least because they contain many bold and provocative claims, often with only minimal evidence adduced in their support. While the book is principally about Rousseau and Smith, Hobbes plays a crucial part in Hont’s genealogy of the concept of commercial society in the opening chapter, which might be of interest to visitors of this site. I also suspect that most discussions of the book will (rightly) focus on Hont’s interpretations of Rousseau and Smith, but his analysis of Hobbes also merits consideration.

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Hobbes is funnier than Shaftesbury …

Hobbes is funnier than Shaftesbury … or so thought Adam Smith, at least. In his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Smith provides a scathing attack on the style of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. His judgement on Shaftesbury strikes me as spot on:

In his Treatise where he ridicules Mr Hobbs there is not one passage which would make us laugh. Mr Hobbs book would make us laugh but his ridicule would never affect us. (Glasgow Edition of Smith, vol. 4, p. 60)