Article: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor

Rebecca Ploof (2018): The Automaton, the Actor and the Sea Serpent: Leviathan and the Politics of Metaphor, in: History of Political Thought, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 634-661


Challenging interpretations of Leviathan that read its metaphors for sovereignty either as non-theoretical persuasive devices, like Skinner, or sites for the text’s theoretical deconstruction, like Derrida, I argue that metaphor is conceptually integral to and productive of Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty. Seeking to produce a political scientific account of this concept, Hobbes relies on a metaphorical understanding of language in which words are compared to mathematical signs and their logical manipulation is compared to quantitative analysis. Within such a theory of language, metaphor itself is defined as paradox, or the simultaneity of equivalence and nonequivalence. Hobbes’s formulation of sovereignty is metaphorical, I demonstrate, not only insofar as it is dependent on a metaphorical conceptualization of language, but also insofar as it is paradoxical: constructing Hobbesian sovereignty demands a healthy dose of pride in humanity’s creative ingenuity, yet sustaining it demands modest acknowledgement of human limitation. Hobbes theorizes sovereignty through a series of metaphors that in their imagistic content, and most importantly figurative form, articulate such contradiction. Where the metaphors of automaton and actor affirm the powers of human agency, the metaphorical sea serpent leviathan underscores human frailty by way of divine animality.

Article: The Beast and the Sovereign according to Hobbes

Arnaud Milanese: ‘The Beast and the Sovereign according to Hobbes’, Philosophy Today, 60, 1 (2016).

Abstract: Hobbes obviously thought politics with metaphors relating politics to bestiality and monstrosity: in De Cive, a man is a wolf to a man, and two of his major political books are entitled with the name of a biblical monster, Leviathan and Behemoth. Did Hobbes mean that political problems emerge from a natural violence of men and that the political solution to these problems must be found in sovereign violence? This contribution tries to demonstrate that these references do not outline any natural human ugliness but a double bind of culture and society (which is organized and developed for natural reason but thanks to artificial means). For human reasons, the historical development of human life separates this life from humanity in two ways—politics and history turn humanity into monstrosity and divinity (a man is also a god to a man and Leviathan is also a mortal god), and Behemoth means that historical violence is a cultural product.