"Into Another Mould": Aspects of the Interregnum

By Ivan Roots | Go to book overview

Introduction to the Original Edition
published in 1981

Ivan Roots

‘If in time, as in place, there were degrees of high and low, I verily believe that the highest of time would be that which passed between the years 1640 and 1660.’1 These are the opening words of Behemoth, Thomas Hobbes’s ‘history’ of the Long Parliament, written but not published in 1668, when he was eighty though, apart from Parkinson’s disease, still very much hale in mind and body. His remark is sometimes taken to signify a sort of approval of what happened in those two headlong decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. He goes on—and there is no doubt that in the dialogue of which it forms a part Thomas is talking to Hobbes—

For he that thence, as from the Devil’s Mountain, should have looked
upon the world and observed the actions of men, especially in
England, might have had a prospect of all kinds of injustice, and of
all kinds of folly, that the world could afford …2

Other men who had felt their world wobble on its axis might well look back less in anger than with nostalgia, but for this political philosopher the only virtue of the upheaval was that the happenings had vindicated his doctrine of sovereignty. (He does not reflect that perhaps without the civil wars and their aftermath he might not have clinched his masterpiece, Leviathan3) For him it was a pity that the wickedness and foolishness

-xxi-

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