The Power of Words. Political and Theological Science in Thomas Hobbes

In: Hobbes Studies

Far from being only an insincere homage to the spirit of his time, Hobbes’s concern for theology is a consequence of his political individualism. Irrespective of God’s real existence, in order to answer the ‘Foole’ and to assure legitimation and obedience to Leviathan, calculating reason is not enough, as individual faith in God and in the binding force of His law of nature is required. In Leviathan II, chapter XXXI, the correspondence between the earthly king, i.e. the mortal god, and the immortal God proves to be the starting point for a new political theology, conceived as a practical science for the needed order of peace in this unique, material world. The divine image of sovereignty, embodied by Almighty God, is the beginning and the end of an immanent, sacred history of salvation that resembles a utopian tale, not in an attempt to oppose or overturn the present political order, but to solve the problems of modern political rationality by means of theological imagination.

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     See K. Hoekstra, “Hobbes and the Foole”, in Political Theory, 1997, 620-654; S.A. Lloyd, Ideals As Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan: The Power of Mind Over Matter, Cambridge U. P., 1992, 95-98; S.A. Lloyd, Hobbes’s Reply to the Foole: “A Deflationary Definitional Interpretation”, in Hobbes Studies, 2005, 50-73. More recently, criticizing Hoekstra’s thesis, many interesting remarks on the Fool’s question have been made by P. Springborg, “Hobbes’s Fool the Insipiens, and the Tyrant-King”, in Political Theory, 2010, 1-27.

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  • 48

     See L. A. Weissberger, “Machiavelli and Tudor England”, in Political Science Quarterly, 1927, 589-607; F. Raab, The English Face of Machiavelli: A Changing Interpretation, 1500-1700, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1965; J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, Princeton U. P., 1975. Concerning Hobbes’s attitude towards Machiavelli and Machiavellian tradition see more recently V. B. Sullivan, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the Formation of a Liberal Republicanism in England, Cambridge U.P., 2004; A. Arienzo – G. Borrelli (eds.), Anglo-American Faces of Machiavelli, Polimetrica, Monza, 2009.

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  • 53

    H. Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes. His Theory of Obligation, Clarendon, Oxford, 1957, 322.

  • 56

    Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, 326-329.

  • 68

    Pacchi, “Hobbes e la potenza di Dio,” in Scritti hobbesiani, 75.

  • 74

    So B. Milner, Hobbes: On Religion, 406.

  • 75

    Hobbes, An Answer to a book published by Dr. Bramhall, 306.

  • 89

    Weber, Hobbes e l’histoire du salut, 158.

  • 94

     See G. Wright, “Hobbes and the Economic Trinity”, in British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 1999, 397-428.

  • 98

    A. Amendola, Il sovrano e la maschera. Saggio sul concetto di persona in Thomas Hobbes, Esi, Napoli, 1998, 217.

  • 99

    Hobbes, An Answer to a book published by Dr. Bramhall, 349. A convincing answer to this question cannot be that “God is a part of the corporeal universe of which we can have no conception” (C. Leijenhorst, Hobbes’s Corporeal Deity, in “Rivista di Storia della Filosofia”, 2004, 87), for it tries to solve a logical problem through an appeal to mystery.

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