New article on Hobbesian Laughter in Theory and Practice

Black, Zachariah (2020): Laughing with Leviathan: Hobbesian Laughter in Theory and Practice, in: Political Theory,

Thomas Hobbes’s infamously severe accounts of the phenomenon of laughter earned the condemnation of such varied readers as Francis Hutcheson and Friedrich Nietzsche, and he has maintained his reputation as an enemy of humor among contemporary scholars. A difficulty is raised by the fact that Hobbes makes ample use of humor in his writings, displaying his willingness to evoke in his readers what he appears to condemn. This article brings together Hobbes’s statements on laughter and comedic writing with examples of his own humorous rhetoric to show that Hobbes understands laughter as a species of insult, but that there are conditions under which humor can be made to serve the cause of peace. Drawing on evidence from across Hobbes’s works, and in particular from an understudied discussion of “Vespasian’s law” in the Six Lessons, this essay theorizes the conditions under which Hobbes found witty contumely to be conducive to peace. On this reading, Hobbes models the discrete use of humorous rhetoric in defense of peace, a defense that will be ongoing even after the commonwealth has been founded. Hobbes offers insight into how we can remain attuned to laughter’s inegalitarian tendencies without foregoing the equalizing potential to be found in laughing at ourselves and at those who think too highly of themselves.

Article: The Laughing Body Politic: The Counter-Sovereign Politics of Hobbes’s Theory of Laughter

Patrick T. Giamario: ‘The Laughing Body Politic: The Counter-Sovereign Politics of Hobbes’s Theory of Laughter’, Political Research QuarterlyOnline First (2016).

Abstract: This article turns to Hobbes’s theory of laughter to determine the role collective laughter plays in democratic politics. After examining the political themes in Hobbes’s various accounts of laughter as well as the appearances laughter makes in his political philosophy, I argue that the Hobbesian body politic is a laughing body politic at the moment of its foundation. The individuals who contract with one another to establish a commonwealth perform the same sudden, “vainglorious,” and counter-sovereign political enactment as the laughing individual in Hobbes. This notion of a “laughing body politic” illuminates how Hobbes—the philosophical champion of sovereign power—provides resources for theorizing the counter-sovereign, democratic possibilities of collective laughter today.