Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Leviathan Contra Leviathan

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Leviathan Contra Leviathan

Article excerpt

What is a book? In The Metaphysics of Morals, Kant raises the question, and describes the book as having a double nature. It is both a material object produced by a mechanical art, and reproducible by anyone with a right to the text; and a discourse addressed to a particular readership by its author and the publisher authorized to act on the author's behalf and to discourse publicly in the author's name.1 Noel Malcolm's editorial scholarship is so extensive that in the new Clarendon Edition Leviathan re-emerges as a book having this double dimension: of a text, fashioned by its author in particular contexts, but whose meaning cannot be confined to them; and of an object receiving its form from all those-publishers, printers, engravers, compositors, correctors, amanuenses, booksellers, and even librarians-involved in its production and circulation. It is therefore not by accident that at the end of the process of examining Leviathan as text and object Malcolm leaves those interested in Hobbes's masterpiece with a book that exceeds all former standards for the book as object. I refer to a parallel edition of the English and Latin versions of Leviathan, which makes it possible to trace any variations among the texts. There would be no better pretext for engaging in a comparison between the 1651 and 1668 versions of the book. This is what I propose to do in what follows, focusing my analysis on the most meaningful changes, and on what these changes and the continuities discernible in them can tell us about the nature and purpose of Hobbes's project.

REVIEW, AND CONCLUSION

If we were to play a spot-the-difference game between the English and Latin versions of Leviathan, one major difference would immediately stand out: the omission, in its entirety, of the "Review, and Conclusion" from the Latin text, and its replacement with a long Appendix, comprising three dialogues discussing the Nicene Creed, the nature of heresy, and a number of objections to the book's original theological arguments.

The "Review, and Conclusion" is the chapter Hobbes added at the end of the English Leviathan. There he identified the main purpose of the book as that of clarifying "the mutuall Relation between Protection and Obedience," and explained that a subject who no longer enjoys his ruler's protection is released from his obligation, and is entitled to submit to a new ruler the moment he or it becomes the new protecting power.2 This assertion was read by many of Hobbes's contemporaries, and has been read by many Hobbes commentators since, as an opportunistic volte face, representing a radical departure from Hobbes's earlier royalist views, and an endorsement of de facto sovereignty, namely in its contemporaneous form, of the commonwealth.5 For if obedience is conditional upon protection, and upon the military defeats that determined the king's loss of the capacity to protect his subjects, he could no longer expect to be obeyed.4 By contrast, the victorious rebels, who were now, effectively, the protective power, were justly entitled to the obedience of those enjoying the benefit of their protection.

With Charles II back on the throne because of a traditionalist justification, the excision of the "Review, and Conclusion" from the Latin Leviathan hardly needs explaining: Hobbes sought to deprive of unnecessary ammunition those royalist critics who read the last chapter of Leviathan as an act of betrayal against Charles I.5 But the answer as to whether this excision changed the substance of Hobbes's political argument depends on our assessment of the relation of the "Review, and Conclusion" to Hobbes's political theory as laid out in his previous political works and in the English Leviathan itself. On this question, I take the side of those who maintain that, in essence, the "Review, and Conclusion" was consequent upon and an application of Hobbes's political argument, rather than a radical departure from it.6 For Hobbes had always argued that, selfpreservation being a necessity of nature, the chief purpose of setting up a government is protection; hence we must preserve our protection, whatever this is, for as long as it is able to protect us, but no longer. …

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