Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy

Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy

Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy

Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy

Synopsis

In this major study of the foundations of modern political theory, the eminent political philosopher Ross Harrison explains, analyzes, and criticizes the work of Hobbes, Locke and their contemporaries. He provides a complete account of the turbulent historical background that shaped the political, intellectual and religious content of this philosophy. The book explores the limits of political authority and the relationship of the legitimacy of government to the will of its people in non-technical, accessible prose.

Excerpt

In this work, I explore some of the greatest and most important political philosophy ever written. I discuss masterpieces, but, as I shall show, these masterpieces appeared against a background of confusion. They were written in the seventeenth century, a conflicted, contested, multiply confused period. So, no doubt, were other centuries. However, in this case, the confusion brought forth masterpieces, and it is these masterpieces, in particular the great works of Hobbes and Locke, that I chiefly consider.

I take my title, Confusion's Masterpiece, from Shakespeare's Macbeth, a work that was written near the start of the century being examined. In Shakespeare's play, just after discovery of the murdered King Duncan, comes the following speech:

Confusion now have made his masterpiece! Most sacrilegious murder have broke ope The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence The life o' the building!

The speaker is Macduff, the good man in the play, and foil to its eponymous, villainous hero. Eventually he restores the moral order by killing the villain, the king's murderer. For Macduff, as he shows here by his speech, the murder of a king destroys the established and understood order embodied in the king. Hence for Macduff (and hence also for well-thinking, proper opinion), murder of a king is the ultimate damaging act against order. It is, as he puts it, the masterpiece of confusion.

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