Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory

By Gabriella Slomp | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Political Geometry of Glory

Quentin Skinner's book on Hobbes1 has been acclaimed by some as the masterpiece of the Cambridge Historical School. I do not know whether future generations will endorse this judgement, or indeed whether they will consider it a compliment. I suspect, though, that if Hobbes could talk from his grave he would show surprise at the method employed by Skinner to examine his work, astonishment at the results of the enquiry, and amusement at the implications of Skinner's interpretation.

First, Hobbes would be surprised. Contextualists such as Skinner like to remind us that in a passage of Elements of Law2 Hobbes makes a general point about the difficulty of interpreting a book written in the past. What Skinner fails to mention is that Hobbes, referring to his own opus, unambiguously states that he expected posterity to appreciate his philosophy more than his contemporaries. 3 If Hobbes had thought that a necessary condition for understanding his works was the complete knowledge of his curriculum studiorum and an intimate acquaintance with all the libraries he ever visited, surely he would have given more chances to scholars living in his own times than to any academic, however talented, living three hundred years later. Pace Skinner, I believe that Hobbes wanted his theory to be analysed philosophically and logically, rather than historically.

Secondly, Hobbes would be astonished by Skinner's claim that he 'changed his mind' about rationality and rhetoric in the transition from De Cive to Leviathan. Indeed if Skinner's contention that between the two works there is 'a shift in outlook so profound and comprehensive' 4 were right, I am sure that Hobbes would have warned his friends about such a momentous change. Instead, he engaged in extensive discussion of his argument in De Cive with Leibniz and his French correspondents ( du Verdus, Sorbière, Peleau) even after the English version of Leviathan had appeared.

In his dedicatory letter of De Corpore, dated 23 April 1655 and hence written when, according to Rogow, both De Cive and Leviathan were in circulation in London, Hobbes makes the following famous claim:

-1-

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