Book Review: The Political Philosophy Of Hobbes

The Political Philosophy Of Hobbes:  Its Basis And Its Genesis, by Leo Strauss, translated by Elsa M. Sinclair

For many years I have been fond of the political philosophy of Harry Jaffa, who was a student of Leo Strauss [1].  Yet until reading this book I had not read the thought of Leo Strauss himself.  There are some writers that you can read and instantly appreciate and enjoy and others who one can reject without question, but Leo Strauss is not one of those writers.  It is hard to trust this particular author.  In reading this book, I had a pretty clear opinion of the political philosophy of Hobbes and its implications, which I will share, but I didn’t know if the author was celebrating Hobbes for his thought or pointing out his contradictions in order to discredit him or merely trying to describe his thought and its implications for “modern” political philosophy.  Can we trust the author?  I don’t know.  I feel it necessary to suspend disbelief.  This is certainly a learned book, even if it is not a perfect one.  Fittingly, the author himself recognizes its flaws:  “The reason for this failure was that I was not sufficiently attentive to the question of whether wisdom can be divorced from moderation or to the sacrifices which we must make so that our minds may be free (xvi).”  Of what does the author want to be free, though?

The author, in under 200 pages, manages to discuss various aspects of the foundation of Hobbes’ political thought, most famously in books like the Leviathan, but certainly not only there.  After a short introduction the author deals with the defective moral basis of Hobbes’ thought, his uncertain and paradoxical relationship with Aristotlelianism, his changing view towards Aristocratic virtue over time, his thoughts on the state and religion, his view of history, his adoption of a new morality, and his desire to put forth a new political history.  Throughout this book, the author erroneously considers Hobbes (rather than Machiavelli) to be the first modern political scientist, because he underestimated the importance of prudence in the expression of thought.  Likewise, the author seems to want to talk out of both sides of his mouth, in that he freely points out the contradictions that are inherent in all aspects of Hobbes’ thought but also wants to praise him for his modernity and for his rejection of traditional morality.  It is fairly easy to see why so many people consider Strauss to be untrustworthy as a political philosopher.

After all, the contradictions of Hobbes’ own political thought are characteristic of modernity as a whole, and to critique him is to critique ourselves, but that we must do if we are to find truth and reconciliation with God and with each other.  Hobbes sought to defend his views with the authority of scripture only to undermine that scripture.  He fallaciously used Plato as a club against Aristotle when his thought was more in line with at least the Rhetoric of Aristotle.  Hobbes’ philosophy was saved from being amoral only by appealing to a morality that Hobbes himself did not believe.  Hobbes’ hostility to history as a source of authority led him to create an irrational and ahistorical state of nature for his own political philosophy, and in order to gain cachet for making political science a science rather than a branch of philosophy and history, he had to attack the very rational and moral basis he depended on.  And so it is with any modern “scientific” perspective within any social science, as the only way to find morality and rationality is to be logically inconsistent with fallacious materialistic tendencies.  Hobbes’ wasn’t the first thinker to be fatally compromised by the paradoxes and inconsistencies and irrationality of the modernist project, but he is certainly a representative of that dishonesty and incoherence.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: The Political Philosophy Of Hobbes

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Ideological Origins Of The American Revolution | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Middle East | Edge Induced Cohesion

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