Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Leviathan and Its Intellectual Context

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Leviathan and Its Intellectual Context

Article excerpt

Scholars generations hence will still talk about Noel Malcolm's edition of Leviathan as one of this century's outstanding editorial accomplishments.1 A great work is here available in a great edition.

Malcolm's previous work has prepared him to accomplish this project at such a high level, and I wish to refer briefly to some of this work by way of introduction. Whereas his Leviathan shows that he is able to do justice to one of the most ambitious and influential works in the history of thought, consider the very different challenge that Malcolm met with his 2007 Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years' War.2 The basis for this work is Malcolm's discovery of an unfinished translation of a Habsburg propaganda pamphlet. We are fortunate that Malcolm was the one to find it, for the result is a rich and rewarding treatment of the early career of Thomas Hobbes and the intricacies of the war of pens that accompanied the Thirty Years' War. In the course of this study, Malcolm draws on sources in at least fifteen languages. He cites books on watermarks, on paper, on the geometry of curves, and on the monetary history of the Ottoman empire. What gets thrown in may be an odd assortment of pots and pans, but what emerges is significant and compelling. If in his Leviathan Malcolm has produced some of the best barrels of wine in all of Burgundy from fine old vines, with his Reason of State book he somehow made a very good bottle from a raisin and an eclectic chemistry set.

A number of Malcolm's most important essays are collected in his 2002 Aspects of Hobbes.3 The range and resourcefulness of the scholarship are astonishing, and the Hobbes at the end of the book is a substantially different and more complex Hobbes than any of us knew at the beginning. Malcolm discovers Hobbes's role in the Virginia Company, clarifies his relation to the Royal Society, situates his theory of the authorship of the first five books of the Bible, offers the best essay written on Hobbes's theory of international relations, identifies the translator of the 1651 English translation of De cive, and much more. In most of the essays, Malcolm dives deeply into the area he is discussing such that it ends up being about the history of biblical hermeneutics, or about an important period in the Virginia Company, rather than just offering enough context about these things to shed light on Hobbes. Or consider Malcolm's book on Marc'Antonio de Dominis or his immense co-authored work on the mathematician John Pell: these show the importance of getting interested in matters for their own sake.4 Malcolm doesn't just explore some context around Hobbes, he goes so far as to become a world expert on the related subject-which of course is the best way to illuminate Hobbes, too.

Malcolm will make further contributions to the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Hobbes, not least via his indispensable service as general editor of the series. His main contribution to that series before now, however, was the immensely informative edition of Hobbes's correspondence.5 Quentin Skinner aptly wrote of this edition: "The concept of definitive scholarship has been made to seem almost paradoxical in these postmodern days. But research of the quality displayed in these volumes reminds us that the ideal is by no means wholly out of reach."4 We might think that the lesson that Skinner gently refrains from drawing here is that definitive scholarship turns out to be possible if you are Noel Malcolm. But I think that Skinner's way of putting this was exactly right: for surely one of Malcolm's most valuable contributions to all of us who have come to know his work is to encourage us to want something more from our own and others' scholarship than that it should raise some interesting points and provoke a bit of discussion. Malcolm's work serves as an admonition to all of us to do things properly. This inevitably means doing things the hard way (though this is not to say that every hard way is proper). …

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