Features March 2013
Swimming with “Leviathan”
Reconsidering Hobbes’s magnum opus with the release of a new edition.
Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, published in 1651, has long been recognized as (in Michael Oakeshott’s words) “the greatest, perhaps the sole, masterpiece of political philosophy written in the English language.”1 It certainly provoked violent opinions, both then and now. In Hobbes’s own time, his minimalist account of Christian belief advanced in the second half of the book (often omitted by careless modern readers) led to accusations of atheism, and Leviathan was solemnly burned in Oxford soon after his death. Luckily, he had been on good terms with Charles II, whom he had tutored in mathematics when the Prince had been in exile in Paris. In our time, Hobbes has been written down as a cynic about human nature and an absolutist in politics. Leviathan...
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