Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Hobbes's Leviathan: A Tale of Two Bodies

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Hobbes's Leviathan: A Tale of Two Bodies

Article excerpt

Much has been written in the last two decades on the question of Hobbes's rhetoric, and such studies as those of Quentin Skinner, Tom Sorell, Charles Cantalupo, David Johnston, and Raia Prokhovnik (to name only a few) have proved enormously helpful in rounding out our understanding of the man, his work, his humanist education, and his relation to the world of seventeenth-century literary thought and criticism.1 The tension in Hobbes between theory and practice - those elaborately rhetorical warnings against rhetoric, those deeply metaphorical rejections of metaphor - more than justifies this attention to his peculiar linguistic habits. In the case of Leviathan especially, structured as it is around the extended analogy of natural and political bodies, the rhetorical approach has much to offer. For the most part such studies have had great praise for the intricacy and attention to detail of Hobbes's structural metaphor. Prokhovnik describes how the 'continuity of the imagery enables Hobbes to explain the connections between the parts, the character of the parts and to arrive at a conception of the commonwealth as a coherent whole'.2 Others have pointed to some inconsistencies in Hobbes's alignment of the natural and political animal. Against Prokhovnik's appreciation for 'how deliberately Hobbes uses this body imagery' we can place Charles Cantalupo's objection that 'Hobbes's representational body parts can be transformed into different organs according to his rhetorical needs of the moment,' and that in the end he 'is not concerned with metaphorical consistency'.3

Against both of these positions I propose a reading of Leviathan that sees its central analogy as an exercise in controlled inconsistency. Hobbes, I argue, is aware from the beginning that the natural body of the first part and the body politic of the second are fundamentally dissimilar, and that the one cannot simply lend its figurative outlines to the other. The structural analogy of his masterpiece is part of a deep rhetorical strategy to disguise the dissimilarity and make his authoritarian political theory more acceptable by dressing it in the familiar imagery of medieval and early modern formulations of the body politic. In doing so, Hobbes's metaphorical formulation falls back on the kind of dualism (of body and soul, will and deed) that his physiology so insistently rejects. This pragmatic or strategic use of dualism, I will argue in the final section, has important and perhaps dangerous consequences for his description of the citizen in the second half of Leviathan - an understanding of which may illustrate how the more recent rhetorical turn can offer new perspectives on the much older question of the unity of Hobbes's philosophical system.4

I: Hobbes's devious metaphor

In Leviathan Hobbes claims to organize his commonwealth, his artificial man, on the model of the natural body. The magistrates and officers are its joints; rewards and punishments act as nerves; counsellors act as political memory, and money plays the role of the circulating blood. In choosing an anatomical model for his absolute sovereign Hobbes would have found several potential candidates in popular literature on the subject, particularly from fellow Englishmen.5 John of Salisbury and others had made the Prince the head of the commonwealth, as governing by his judgment and reason.6 Shakespeare, in a famous speech from Coriolanus, stressed the imperial role of the belly, while Thomas Starkey and John Halle had given sovereignty to the heart, probably following Aristotle.7 John Fortescue described the Prince as the head but, as an early advocate of limited monarchy, added that the will of the people was the lifeblood that nourished even the princely head.8 Ignoring these examples, Hobbes made his sovereign 'an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body'.9 In itself this was not a remarkably innovative decision. The writings of the ancients offer several variations on the motif of the soul of the body politic - most notably Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.