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A Modern Philosopher,
This review is from: Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan (Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes) (Hardcover)
There are numerous books on Thomas Hobbes but this one by Noel Malcolm is masterly and comprehensive. It is based on an analysis of Hobbes surviving letters and papers.
The author also includes the shorter Latin version of his great work:'Leviathan' which Hobbes published in 1668 some 17 years after the English version was published.
Hobbes was born in 1588. His father was a cleric and an alcoholic. He wrote in his autobiography that:'fear and I were born twins together'. Fear is ever present in Leviathan. Hobbes
grapples in the book with the problem of life without political authority and life with it. Malcolm reminds us that when Hobbes wrote Leviathan Europe was riddled with political and religious strife. There were no tolerant, liberal, democracies with freedom of political expression and religious worship. Absolute monarchs were in charge all over Europe.
Hobbes description of life in the state of nature as 'solitary, poor, nasty,brutish and short' is well known.We would do well to remember that this is still true for some 30% of the world's population today.
As Malcolm points out Hobbes was hated by many in England. He was blamed for the Great Fire of 1666 and the plague of 1667. He was regarded by many as an atheist because he insisted, as a scientific materialist, that God was a physical God.
In Leviathan his central thesis is that life in the state of nature is unspeakably bad and in order to avoid the collapse of civil society into the state of nature we must submit ourselves to an all powerful absolute ruler or a sovereign assembly. Understandably this was greeted with anger and shock at the time. Less understandably was Lord Dacre's more recent analysis of Leviathan as leading to 'despotism'. But then Lord Dacre made other errors about writings that were far worse.
Today war, violence, revolution, and political instability are commonplace throughout the world. Hobbes was in fear of all of these. That is why he stresses the role of force in human affairs, recognising that it can be used for good and ill.
Leviathan is a brilliant philosophical tract that has never dated. Hobbes was a formidable thinker. When he died in 1679 aged 91 he had very few friends in his country of birth. Thanks to Noel Malcolm's magnificent work-all 2,355 pages of it-we should now be able to recognise more clearly that Hobbes suggested cure for the many ills of mankind bears close study.