The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis

The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis

The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis

The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis

Excerpt

The intention of the present study is to prepare an analysis of the principles of Hobbes's political philosophy and of that of his successors. A new analysis of those principles has become necessary as a consequence of the deepened knowledge, which has been gained during the last decades, of the tradition of political thought. The time is now past when one could safely without any further qualifications characterize the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the hey-day of natural law theories. This characterization was tacitly based on a comparison of the political theories of the age of rationalism with those of the nineteenth century, and within the limits of such a comparison it still holds true; but it can no longer be maintained when the, medieval and classical tradition is duly taken into account. The effect of this change of orientation on the interpretation of Hobbes's political philosophy is obvious. J. Laird in his recent book on Hobbes could try to establish the view that in ethical and political theory Hobbes's 'voice and hands are both mediaeval'. Though this statement is hardly justified, it clearly proves that the older opinion, according to which Hobbes's originality was beyond question, is some- what shaken and now needs some qualifications which were not required at an earlier stage of research. Generally speaking, if theories of natural law, far from being a feature peculiar to the age of rationalism, are almost a matter of course in the medieval and classical tradition, we cannot avoid asking why the seven- teenth and eighteenth centuries gained the reputation of being the period par excellence of natural law theories. And, to exclude from the outset the inadequate answer that for well-known political reasons the practical hearing of natural law theories was greater during that period than in any other age, we must raise the more precise question, whether there is not a difference of principle between the modern and the traditional view of natural law. Such a difference does in fact exist. Traditional natural law is primarily and mainly an objective 'rule and measure', a binding order prior to, and independent of, the human will, while modern natural law is, or tends to be . . .

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