New Article: Hobbes’s great divorce. Civil religion in comparative and historical perspective

Jeremy Kleidosty (2019): Hobbes’s great divorce. Civil religion in comparative and historical perspective, in: Intellectual History Review, Vol. 29, No. 1


Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is well known for presenting a political philosophy based on a mechanistic account of human beings that offers the pain–pleasure response (or the peace–fear response) as a basis on which to make political choices. Although it has been subjected to countless treatments over the centuries, its account of civil religion in Part 3, “Of a Christian Commonwealth”, based on a highly original reading of the Bible, is deserving of further examination. Following an overview of a long line of pagan and later monotheistic Christian and Muslim thinkers who advance the position that religion is a way of civilizing or uniting the masses, including Thucydides, Cicero, Augustine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Pomponazzi, amongst others, I argue that Hobbes turns this notion on its head by arguing that religion can cause the de-civilizing of the masses, and indeed can foment civil war, leading him to the solution of separating belief from practice, with the former a solely private matter and the latter the exclusive purview of the state. In its Hobbesian schema, this great divorce of belief and practice – rather than a call for tolerance or pluralism – is sacrifice that is necessary in order to create the religious homogeneity required to sustain the body politic in the form of the great Leviathan.