Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hope, Fear, and the Mollification of the Vanquished in Hobbes's Behemoth or the Long Parliament

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hope, Fear, and the Mollification of the Vanquished in Hobbes's Behemoth or the Long Parliament

Article excerpt

Contrary to a standard view that Hobbes recommends elimination of private opinion by enlarging fear of violent death, in Behemoth, his dialogue on the causes of the English Civil War, he shows how to shift the balance of hope and fear that can motivate obedience but also engender rebellion. By linking recent events to historical struggles for power, Hobbes's teacher transfers the student's fear of destruction at the hands of domestic "enemies" to all individuals as insatiable seekers of power. Meanwhile, the student's hope of security is shifted from real or imagined heroes to the depersonalized institutions of Restoration England.

Keywords: Behemoth; dialogue; fear; hope

In the final decade of his career, Hobbes wrote a dialogue, called Behemoth or the Long Parliament, on the causes and conduct of the English Civil War.1 In view of his previous rejection of history as a source of political understanding or a reliable means of civic education (Hobbes 1968, 98 [Lev., chap. 3]; 369 [chap. 29]), however, Behemoth is an oddity, and its relation to the better-known political treatises of the 1640s and 1650s must be explained (Vaughan 2002, 108). Existing explanations fall into two categories. For some, the dialogue is an effort to force events into the framework of a theory denying the epistemological value of historical experience (Goldsmith 1966, 241; MacGillivray 1970, 179; Borot 1996, 325). Otiiers would bracket methodological considerations to focus attention on Hobbes's practical purpose, often said to be the elimination of private opinion as the primary cause of civil conflict (Kraynak 1982, 838; Holmes 1990, xi; Lund 1992, 52-53). While there is something to be said for both approaches, neither addresses Behemoth's dialogic form.2 Hobbes's use of dialogue, I argue, clarities the connection between Behemoth and the political treatises and sheds new light on the treatises themselves.

The specific advantage of dialogue is its capacity to show change in the attitudes of interlocutors. A treatise necessarily addresses universal problems in universal terms. A history offers a more or less limited perspective on past events. A dialogue, even if it takes up general issues or chronicles past events, depicts a dynamic relationship between particular characters in a particular setting. Behemoth, therefore, clarifies Hobbes's political thought by showing a teacher influencing opinion directly, without rehashing the complex logical and scriptural analyses of the treatises and without reproducing their misleading imagery. Distrust of those claiming authority independent of the sovereign is only part of the lesson. By revealing a pattern of political instability cycling through history, Behemoth's teacher diminishes the student's parochialism while strengthening his hope that peace can be maintained through lawful measures.

That the fictional conversation depicted in Behemoth has more to do with the proper cultivation of hope than of fear is partly a function of circumstance and character. The student in Behemoth is a conservative monarchist, and the horrors of war and defeat are fresh in his mind. Hence, while his fear of disorder and death can be assumed, his hope of lasting stability must be carefully nurtured. In addition to such considerations, however, Hobbes's unusual effort to show a teacher safely encouraging a student highlights a theme often obscured in the more familiar treatises: all civil order depends on a motivational balance of fear and hope, but lasting political stability requires a new kind of fear paired with a new kind of hope. Fears that once attached to sub- or supranational enemy groups would have to be transferred to an abstract conception of individual human beings as equally dangerous and endangered, while hopes that once centered on charismatic leaders or friend groups would need to be connected to depersonalized governmental institutions such as the cooperative legislative power of the post-Restoration King-inParliament (Hobbes 1990, 203-4 [Beh. …

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