The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic

The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic

The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic

The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic


Thomas Hobbes' timeless account of the human condition, first developed in The Elements of Law (1640), which comprises Human Nature and De Corpore Politico, is a direct product of the intellectual and political strife of the seventeenth century. His analysis of the war between the individual and the group lays out the essential strands of his moral and political philosophy later made famous in Leviathan. This first ever complete paperback edition of Human Nature and De Corpore Politico is also supplemented by chapters from Hobbes' later work De Corpore and "The Three Lives," never before published together in English.


It has been for long more difficult to read Hobbes than to read about him. This deplorable state of affairs is because- with the signal exception of Leviathan--most of his works are difficult to find outside great libraries. The present volume is some attempt to put that right. The Elements of Law is Hobbes's first major work, one of his most succinct and challenging, and an anticipation of much for which he is famous in Leviathan.

The introduction briefly sets The Elements of Law in its historical context and makes a somewhat more extensive attempt to explain, and occasionally to comment upon, Hobbes's grand system of philosophy--a system not immediately apparent from The Elements of Law read in isolation. The chapters from De Corpore are appended because of their striking relevance to some of the early chapters in The Elements of Law, their intrinsic interest, and the chronic unavailability of the original work.

I am grateful to the Bodleian Library for facilitating the republication of their very rare copy of the 1680 translation of Hobbes 'Verse Life', and to Mary Lyons for her scholarly and stylish attention to the new translation of Hobbes 'Prose Life'. These autobiographies, never before published together in translation, along with the abstract of John Aubrey 'Brief Life', form a unique collection of material on Hobbes.

My enthusiasm for Hobbes will show at times. Despite the almost medieval attitudes evident in, for example, his chapters on servants and on children in De Corpore Politico, his perception of what man is, and of the political and moral problems to which our nature leads us, is profound and enduring. He sees clearly when he sees man as a creature of restless desires that cease only in death. He sees clearly when he describes the life that would result from the unrelenting pursuit of our individual self-interests. He sees better than many when he argues that political order, almost . . .

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