LBST 302: Lecture on Hobbes
Copyright Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, 1996
[Note that this is the text of a lecture delivered, in part,
in LBST 302 on Wednesday, March 13, 1996]

A. Introduction

As we make our way through the Liberal Studies main reading
list, we often make some big jumps, moving, for example, over
most of Roman culture and Middle Ages, and paying relatively
little attention to the early Renaissance.  Yet, in some
respects, the biggest and most dislocating jump we experience
is moving from Shakespeare's Tempest in one week to Hobbes's
Leviathan in the next.

That's odd in some ways, because Hobbes and Shakespeare were
contemporaries.  Hobbes, who was born in 1588, was a young
man aged 22 at the time of the writing of the Tempest, but if
he knew the play, he was obviously unwilling to attend at all
to its vision of the world when he came to write the
Leviathan.  For him that view of human nature and the
community is already clearly out of date and unworkable.

Consider for a moment some of the differences.  At the end of
the Tempest we are still clearly in the old world, in a
society held together by traditional notions of virtue.  The
family has been reunited and is moving back together to take
up traditional roles in an aristocratic society in Europe.
This has come about only because the characters, or most of
them, have clearly acknowledged that, as human beings, they
are socially bonded to other human beings, and that the
essential part of the good life is to reassert those bonds in
the manner indicated by orthodox Christian faith.  It doesn't
take much interpretative skill to defend a reading of the end
of the Tempest which sees in it a firm endorsement of the
most famous Christian rules of all: those about faith, hope,
and charity and about loving one's neighbour as oneself.

To move from here to the Leviathan is suddenly to have to
confront something totally different.  In Hobbes's state,
traditional virtues and social obligations have disappeared,
the familiar hierarchy of society no longer exists, and
something that doesn't feature at all in the Tempest is the
central concern, namely, money, the blood of the
commonwealth.  Hobbes's state rests on and legitimizes an
aspect of human life which the Tempest expressly condemns:
the rational self-interest and the irrational greed of human

Hobbes's view is so close us, so familiar, that we may not
recognize as clearly as we should the enormous change that
has occurred between his vision and that of Shakespeare in
the Tempest.  So today I want to pause for a while to
consider that change and to offer some contextual reflections
on how it might have come about.  In other words, I want to
ponder for few minutes this question:  How did conditions so
change that we moved with such apparent speed from the world
view which has obvious roots in Aristotle and the New
Testament to one which has room for neither of those and
reduces the vision of the legitimate human community to the
empowerment and defense of human greed, competitiveness, and

In order to offer some initial insight into this question, I
want to suggest that the movement from Act V of the Tempest
to the Leviathan, which marks, in effect, the movement from a
medieval world view to the modern age, rests on three
important and very closely related historical developments:
first, the society has to change its attitude towards money,
second, the market place has to be wrestled away from the
control of the king and the Pope and opened up to the middle
class, and, thirdly, the understanding of political life and
the legitimizing of the official power in the state have to
change to accommodate the new economic realities.

Hobbes's text is clearly the most important document
addressing the third of these developments, because it offers
a thorough defense of a new kind of community, one which
legitimizes in an unprecedented way the unceasing activities
of everyone equally in search of personal economic
betterment.  What I'd like to do before looking at Hobbes's
text is to explore the first point I mentioned: the
transformation of social attitudes towards money which
created the social context for Hobbes's book and towards
which Hobbes clearly addressed his vision.

I'm doing this not only to illuminate Hobbes but also with an
eye to the reading coming up, especially to Robinson Crusoe,
which we will be reading after Descartes, because that novel
is one of the greatest and most popular celebrations of a
view of life which made Hobbes's vision possible.  And any
proper understanding of why Canada has become the country it
has requires considerable attention to why a book like
Robinson Crusoe has become such a lasting feature of our

B. Money as the Root of All Evil

When you think about it, it should strike you as odd that
European Christianity could become the centre for the most
powerful wealth generating society ever known.  After all, as
we have seen in reading Matthew and Romans, Jesus's ministry
has a very strong message about money.  We are not to lay up
for ourselves treasure on earth; instead we are commanded to
give away what we have or to share our resources.  Spiritual
treasure is the essence of the message, and there is a
pronounced and continuous hostility expressed to any
suggestion that the good life for the Christian involves a
commitment to acquiring a personal material fortune.

This message is repeated endlessly in the Middle Ages, where
among the most popular texts for sermons is the Latin slogan
radix malorum est cupiditas (greed is the root of all evil),
and everyone had dinned into them the notion that it was
easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than
for a rich man to get into heaven.  The Roman Catholic Church
for centuries sought strictly to control economic activity,
to subordinate it to the spiritual and social requirements of
the community, by setting standards for the just price and
the fair wage, by prohibiting Christians from lending money
for interest, and by stressing communal charity, alms, and a
shared sense of the importance of the spiritual life as far
more important than a dedication to amassing wealth.

Of course, the spiritual life of the Christian was, in the
last analysis, an individual matter, but it realized itself
in public actions: in public Church worship and religious
festivals, in communal acts of charity, in public
pilgrimages, in acts involving one's neighbour, above all, in
charity.  In the Catholic lists of saints, many of the most
celebrated actions are those done for people or on behalf of
the Christian community.  That applied as much to the uses of
money as to anything else.

We have seen in Dante and Hildegard the clear sense that
money corrupts the spiritual life.  The usurers in Hell are
several circles below the murderers.  This emphasis reflects
the same profound suspicion of money.  Using money for
excessive private gain at the expense of one's neighbour was
profoundly antithetical to the message of Jesus.

Of course, the official doctrine was not always in line with
the practice.  Through much of the Middle Ages, society was
predominantly agricultural and poor.  But at the start of the
Renaissance, Europe began to get wealthy, very wealthy, and
there was a surplus of money.  Such a surplus, in the
traditional view, should be spent in two ways: glorifying God
and his representatives on earth (King and Pope) and fighting
heathens.  Hence, the function of surplus wealth was still
communal and social.  Europe is littered with remaining
tributes to that ethic, everything from hundreds of
expensively decorated cathedrals and royal residences, to the
fabulous Palace of Versailles or the Vatican Museum and, in
Canada, the fortress of Louisberg--symbols of the massive
spending of surplus money to celebrate the glory of God or of
his representative on earth, the secular monarch.  Surplus
money thus serves the interest of the Christian community.

Even in times of the great economic bonanza of the
importation of huge amounts of gold from the New World, the
first impulse of the most zealously Christian monarch, the
King of Spain, was to spend that money to extend and firm up
the old order--through war against heretics, especially in
the Netherlands, and symbols of glory for the Catholic
monarch and the Roman Catholic Church.

In such societies, there was always poverty.  And the
solution to poverty remained the same for centuries: charity.
The Christian individual and the community had a duty to give
alms, to help those in need, who were everyone's spiritual
equals, no matter how economically or socially inferior they
might be.  Avarice, the hoarding of one's money, was a
grievous sin, which one could avoid only by public
manifestations of charity.  This ethic was not simply a lofty
moral sentiment constantly contradicted by practice (although
it often was that); it also was a basis for Church law and
for a great deal of Church practice, especially, for example,
in the establishment of the monastic orders with the express
purpose of extending Christian charity to the urban and rural

Such a view is profoundly static.  It does not encourage
individuals to seek energetically economic advancement.  Not
only is this spiritually suspect, it is also politically
unwise, since it is, in effect, a contravention of the
established natural order.  Of course, one can point to many
individual exceptions, especially in the commercial towns,
but those exceptions generally prove the rule.  The function
of the Christian life was to accept one's station and to work
to fulfill the public moral responsibilities of the
traditional Christian life.  Let the unchristian business of
money lending be handled by the Jews.

Supporters of such a traditional Christian view, were,
naturally enough, horrified by Hobbes's proposals, especially
his sense that the public religion of the artificial state
must serve the need for security to protect the selfish
economic interests of the individuals composing it.  Such
traditionalists, still a very significant power in Europe in
the mid-seventeenth century, gave Hobbes's book a very
hostile reception and saw to it that his name was closely
associated with the Devil for at least a century.  And
certainly if such traditionalists were the only audience,
then Hobbes's text would be nothing more than a footnote to
the history of political thought.

Hobbes's real audience, however, is very different.  It is
made up of those who recognize the emergence of a
revolutionary new person, someone who is more responsible for
creating our society than anyone else, the person who sees
the unremitting struggle to make money as the very essence of
being a good Christian, the person for whom money is not the
root of all evil but the most evident proof that one is
serving God properly.  Who is this person, and where did he
come from?  These are the questions I would now like to

C. Religion and Capitalism

The answer to that question is to be found in the
Reformation, the establishment of the various Protestant
sects in the break up of the Catholic unity of Europe.  It is
a complex question, for the developments did not occur
overnight.  So what I am offering here is something of a
simplified and condensed summary.

When we use the term Protestant, we have to be very careful
to remember that the term covers a very wide spectrum of
religious and political views.  At one end, a good deal of
the new Protestant religion did not differ all that much in
its social and political and much of its theological views
from mainstream Catholicism.  The Anglican Church, for
example, which was created during the reign of Elizabeth, was
essentially a conservative, traditional establishment church
designed to serve two functions: to emancipate the English
Church from the Papacy and to preserve the social,
hierarchical, and politically conservative nature of
traditional Catholicism.  In the centre were the Lutherans,
theologically revolutionary but politically traditionalists.
At the other end of the spectrum were Protestants whose faith
was radically individualistic, often fiercely democratic, and
potentially explosive politically (the Levellers, Baptists,
Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Calvinists, Diggers, Fifth
Monarchy Men).  These are only a few of the major positions
staked out as a result of Luther's movement.

My concern today is with that radical end, specifically with
a group which in England came to be called the Puritans or
sometimes the Dissenters.  These were not a unified religious
group; the term refers to those Protestants in England for
whom the Anglican Church had not gone far enough in its
reforms of Catholic doctrine.  For the Puritans, the Anglican
Church looked still too much like a centrally authoritarian
religious authority, with a liturgy and sacraments not very
different from the despised ceremonies of the Catholic
Church.  And no matter what their particular religion, the
Puritans were unremitting in their hostility to Queen
Elizabeth's creation.  For many Puritans the liturgy of the
Anglican Church was too moderate, too tepid, too obviously a
social creation to gratify the ruling aristocracy, without
the passionate conviction of a true commitment to the faith.

The heart of the Puritan's understanding of Christianity was
the Epistle to the Romans, especially Paul's doctrine of
grace.  This doctrine they took literally and pushed to its
logical limits.  Christianity to them was overwhelmingly a
matter of the personal relationship between the individual
Christian and God, with no need for an intervening Church or
a hierarchy of bishops and ministers or even, in many cases,
a church.  What determined that relationship with God was
grace, the free gift of God to certain members of the
Christian community, the elect who would gather in heaven
while all others perished in hell.  Nothing a Christian could
do would earn the grace of God, for, as Paul points out in
his arguments against Mosaic Law, one can never put God in
one's debt; whether one became one of the elect or not was a
predetermined matter resting solely with God.

Such a faith places all its emphasis on the inner life of the
individual.  What matters there is not one's interaction with
others, nor any sense of Aristotelian self-realization
through a celebration of one's material well being, but
rather one's inner spiritual value.  Life is a constant test
of one's spiritual strength, since one can never be sure that
one has attained grace.  Life is full of temptations and
tests.  The true Christian is a lonely individual who must,
through the sheer exercise of his will, continue, day by day,
to surmount such obstacles by imposing his will on the world,
aided by nothing other than faith, for which the only
supports are solitary prayer, scriptural readings, and a
Herculean effort to resist any diversions.  And this is a
high stakes game, because without grace, no one could enter

Now, it might seem to the logical mind that if grace is a
matter of predestination about which I can do nothing, then I
am free in my conduct to do what I like.  If the matter of my
salvation is out of my hands, why should I then concern
myself about it?  In practice, however, that is not how the
Puritans interpreted the matter.  Grace might come at any
moment.  One had to prepare oneself to receive it.  Even if
one was as certain as one might be that one had God's
blessing, one could never be sure.  One had to keep oneself
in a constant state of readiness to be worthy of receiving or
maintaining God's favour.  And that preparation meant
cleansing from one's life anything that might compromise
one's spiritual purity.  The best way to do that was to live
a life as empty as possible of material distractions and to
dedicate oneself to work without the relaxations which led
human beings into sin (like festivals, holidays, theatrical
entertainment, or luxuries).

A key notion here was the idea of a "calling."  God "called"
us to carry out certain work in the world and it was our
duty, as a preparation for the grace which we might or might
not receive, to work at that "calling" with all the energies
we could command.  Anything which distracted us from that
"calling" was luring us away from the strenuous task of
preparing ourselves for the possibilities of divine grace and
an eternal life in the Celestial City.  Thus, life becomes a
testing ground of the individual will in constant pursuit of
a divinely sanctioned work.

In this crucible of radical Protestantism, a new vision of
the good life was formed.  It had always been around, but
under the influence of the new doctrine it successfully
merged extreme individualism, at the expense of community
responsibility, and the spiritual life.  It transformed the
traditional vision of life into a radically individualistic
struggle, in which the isolated individual must channel his
energies into an appropriate calling, remove all distractions
from that task, and pray constantly for the grace of God.
Any success one enjoyed in the struggle was no evidence for
one's superiority, but rather an indication that one was on
the right track.  Hence, success in business becomes an
important sign of spiritual progress and a further inducement
to try even harder.  For any relaxation in the fight, any let
up in the concentrated struggle might create an opportunity
for sin.

The consequences of this religious revolution were
extraordinary.  To give you a sense of that let me read from
an economist who has explored the link between religion and
capitalism most thoroughly.  This quotation is from Religion
and the Rise of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney:

     While the revelation of God to the individual soul is
     the centre of all religion, the essence of Puritan
     theology was that it made it, not only the center, but
     the whole circumference and substance, dismissing as
     dross and vanity all else but this secret and solitary
     communion.  Grace alone can save, and this earthy grace
     is the direct gift of God, unmediated by any earthly
     institution.  The elect cannot by any act of their own
     evoke it; but they can prepare their hearts to receive
     it, and cherish it when received.  They will prepare
     them best, if they empty them of all that may disturb
     the intentness of their lonely vigil.  Like an engineer,
     who, to canalize the rush of the oncoming tide, dams all
     channels to save that through which it is to pour, like
     a painter who makes light visible by plunging all that
     is not light in gloom, the Puritan attunes his heart to
     the voice from Heaven by an immense effort of
     concentration and abnegation.  To win all, he renounces
     all.  When earthly props have been cast down, the soul
     stands erect in the presence of God.  Infinity is
     attained by a process of subtraction.
     To a vision thus absorbed in a single intense
     experience, not only religious and ecclesiastical
     systems, but the entire world of human relations, the
     whole fabric of social institutions, witnessing in all
     the wealth of their idealism and their greed to the
     infinite creativeness of man, reveal themselves in a new
     and wintry light.  The fire of the spirit burns brightly
     on the hearth; but through the windows of his soul the
     Puritan, unless a poet or a saint, looks on a landscape
     touched by no breath of spring.  What he sees is a
     forbidding and frost-bound wilderness, rolling its snow-
     clad leagues towards the grave--a wilderness to be
     subdued with aching limbs beneath solitary stars.
     Through it he must take his way, alone.  No aid can
     avail him: no preacher, for only the elect can apprehend
     with the spirit the word of God; no Church, for to the
     visible Church even reprobates belong; no sacrament, for
     sacraments are ordained to increase the glory of God,
     not to minister spiritual nourishment to man; hardly God
     himself, for Christ died for the elect, and it may well
     be that the majesty of the Creator is revealed by the
     eternal damnation of all but a remnant of the created.
     His life is that of a soldier in hostile territory.  He
     suffers in spirit the perils which the first settlers in
     America endured in body, the sea behind, the untamed
     desert in front, a cloud of inhuman enemies on either
     hand.  Where Catholic and Anglican had caught a glimpse
     of the invisible, hovering like a consecration over the
     gross world of sense, and touching its muddy vesture
     with the unearthly gleam of a divine, yet familiar
     beauty, the Puritan mourned for a lost Paradise and a
     creation sunk in sin.  Where they had seen society as a
     mystical body, compact of members varying in order and
     degree, but dignified by participation in the common
     life of Christendom, he saw a bleak antithesis between
     the spirit which quickened and an alien, indifferent or
     hostile world.  Where they had reverenced the decent
     order whereby past was knit into present, and man to
     man, and man to God, through fellowship in works of
     charity, in festival and fast, in the prayers and
     ceremonies of the Church, he turned with horror from the
     filthy rages of human righteousness.  Where they, in
     short, had found comfort in a sacrament, he started back
     from a snare set to entrap his soul. . . .
     Those who seek God in isolation from their fellowmen,
     unless trebly armed for the perils of the quest, are apt
     to find, not God, but a devil, whose countenance bears
     an embarrassing resemblance to their own.  The moral
     self-sufficiency of the Puritan nerved his will, but it
     corroded his sense of social solidarity.  For, if each
     individual destiny hangs on a private transaction
     between himself and his Maker, what room is left for
     human intervention?  A servant of Jehovah more than of
     Christ, he revered God as a Judge rather than loved him
     as a father, and was moved less by compassion for his
     erring brethren than by impatient indignation at the
     blindness of vessels of wrath who "sinned their
     mercies."  A spiritual aristocrat, who sacrificed
     fraternity to liberty, he drew from his idealization of
     personal responsibility a theory of individual rights,
     which, secularized and generalized, was to be among the
     most potent explosives that the world has known.  He
     drew from it also a scale of ethical values in which the
     traditional scheme of Christian virtues was almost
     exactly reversed, and which, since he was above all
     things practical, he carried as a dynamic into the
     routine of business and political life.
     For, since conduct and action, though availing nothing
     to attain the free gift of salvation, are a proof that
     the gift has been accorded, what is rejected as a means
     is resumed as a consequence, and the Puritan flings
     himself into practical activities with the daemonic
     energy of one who, all doubts allayed, in conscious that
     he is a sealed and chosen vessel.  Once engaged in
     affairs, he brings to them both the qualities and
     limitations of his creed in all their remorseless logic.
     Called to God to labor in his vineyard, he has within
     himself a principle at once of energy and of order,
     which makes him irresistible both in war and in the
     struggles of commerce.  Convinced that character is all
     and circumstances nothing, he sees in the poverty of
     those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied
     and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and
     in riches, not an object of suspicion--though like gifts
     they may be abused--but the blessing which rewards the
     triumph of energy and will.  Tempered by self-
     examination, self-discipline, self-control, he is the
     practical ascetic, whose victories are won, not in the
     cloister, but on the battlefield, in the counting house,
     and in the market.  (Tawney, 189-192)

The result of this was the production of an individual
unparalleled in the history of the world as an economic agent
dedicated to the production of wealth.  Here we have an
individual who sees all of life as a personal struggle which
can only be met by an unremitting dedication to work, the
more unpleasant and demanding the work, the greater the
challenge.  All obstacles, including even successes, are a
test of his spiritual worth, and he must dedicate his entire
life to a personal triumph over them, unhindered by any
notion of communal limits.  Any failure is a sign of his
spiritual deficiency.  No matter what the cost, his eternal
life depends upon the directing of all his energies to the
task of the "calling."  Material success in the endeavour is
a sign that he is on the right track but no excuse for

To this is added the inestimable economic power that he
cannot spend any of the money so generated upon himself, for
any celebration of worldly goods is a diversion from the task
at hand.  Hence, the surplus cash which his efforts produce
must be reinvested, to make the economic success even
greater, for the struggle never ends.  The purpose of such
money is not to be compromised by such traditional concerns
as charity or lavish churches or personal displays of
magnificence.  The business of the true Christian is

Charity might enter into your activities if that was your
"calling."  In practice, this often applied more to women
than to men, and many dissenting sects were famous for the
amazing energies they released from women bent on a
charitable "calling."  A good deal of the popularity of the
Puritan sects among the working classes emerged from these
often extraordinary efforts of women who channeled into
social improvements the same fierce and narrow energy that
their husbands put into business.  It is no accident that one
of the first great social political protest movement of the
middle class, the agitation against the slave trade, was
spear headed by the dissenters and that many of those most
active in that movement learned lessons that their immediate
descendants would apply to temperance agitation (i.e.,
prohibition of alcohol) and the incipient movement for
women's rights.

Finally, to add to this formidable economic power, the
Puritan welcomes the new science and technology.  In the
struggle against all obstacles one cannot turn away from the
tools which God gives us to conquer nature or those who might
stand in our way.  Nor should we let any misplaced
traditional respect for nature or human communities, whether
like our own or very alien, stand in the way of imposing our
wills upon the world.  Given the cash to purchase the
technology, the urge to acquire it, the spiritual duty to use
it in the life-long struggle without regard for traditional
communal concerns, and expressly forbidden from channeling
the wealth into personal consumption or relaxation, the
Puritan becomes the greatest worker for capitalism the world
has ever seen, and thus the agent more responsible than any
other for making us what we have become.

D. And Now Back to Hobbes

So what all this to do with Hobbes?  Well, he is clearly no
Puritan himself; in fact, he is extremely concerned to
contain many aspects of the Puritan world view which he sees
all around him (for the dissenting Protestants are a major
part of the population, especially in the commercial and
manufacturing centres).  And the Puritans are no fans of
Hobbes, given what he has to say about faith in invisible
spirits.  But Hobbes, in my view, had the genius to realize
long before many others that the economic power of the new
Protestant capitalists and the political dangers that and
their growing numbers represented simply could not be wished
away or expelled or accommodated within the Anglican Church
or any form of traditional authority.  He had lived through
the English Civil War and had witnessed the process by which
the business classes had wrestled control of the government
away from the traditional monarchy.  And he had seen
Cromwell's Protestant alliance fall apart because the Puritan
sects were not willing to compromise their beliefs.  With the
Restoration, there was no going back.  The new economic
classes had to be acknowledged, harnessed, and controlled.
Left to themselves, there would be no end of warfare.

The modern state, Hobbes saw, was going to be driven by the
spirit of economic individualism at the heart of the Puritan
enterprise.  The challenge was to legitimize this fact in a
state which could cope with the potential political
fragmentation and fighting which such a commitment to
individualism brings with it.  Or alternatively put, Hobbes
addressed himself to this question: How can we harness the
wealth and power generated by the Puritan spirit (which
whether we like it or not is a modern fact of life), without
leading to the political anarchy inherent in all
Protestantism (of the sort he had seen in the English Civil
War and throughout Europe)?

Hobbes's answer was brilliant, logically ruthless, for a long
time extremely unpopular (especially among those dreaming of
a restoration of the old order or those who found his vision
of human beings morally unacceptable), but ultimately
extraordinarily influential in creating the modern liberal

Hobbes's whole theory rests on a gamble, namely, that human
beings love money and the things it purchases (commodious
living) more than they love anything else.  Thus, if one can
legitimize an arrangement where they can make money, the
potential sources of divisiveness will not be strong enough
to overthrow the state.  Hobbes, in other words, wants
security more than anything else.  He puts his faith in human
greed, not because he himself is necessarily a greedy man,
but because greed, along with fear, is the essence of human
nature.  If we can legitimize the greed and manipulate the
fear, then all sources of divisiveness will, if not
disappear, at least not become strong enough for another
civil war.

Hobbes recognizes clearly what these sources of divisiveness
are.  The major ones are religious.  For if people fear
something more than they fear violent death and love
something more than they love commodious living, then
everything falls apart.  That's why so much of Hobbes's text
is taken up with instructions about how we should interpret
religious texts and how we should control the language used
in the public forum and how we need to attack belief in
invisible powers.  He clearly wants to restrict the hellfire
and damnation and Celestial City rhetoric, which is the major
obstacle preventing people from understanding his
materialistic view of human beings as self-interested,
greedy, fearful creatures.  In the eternal fight between God
and Mammon, if the modern state can give Mammon a chance,
questions about God would sort themselves out.  In fact,
disputes about God would disappear from the public realm.

     Hobbes saw his way to solve this contradiction [of the
     fear of hell overcoming the fear of death]: the fear of
     invisible powers is stronger than the fear of violent
     death as long as people believe in invisible powers,
     i.e., as long as they are under the spell of delusions
     about the true character of reality; the fear of violent
     death comes fully into its own as soon as people have
     become enlightened.  This implies that the whole scheme
     suggested by Hobbes requires for its operation the
     weakening or, rather, the elimination of the fear of
     invisible powers.  It requires such a radical change of
     orientation as can be brought about only by the
     disenchantment of the world, by the diffusion of
     scientific knowledge, or by popular enlightenment.
     Hobbes's is the first doctrine that necessarily and
     unmistakably points to a thoroughly "enlightened", i.e.,
     a-religious or atheistic society as the solution of the
     social or political problem. (Strauss)

Hobbes's answer to this problem of accommodating the
differences of religious opinion was original, ruthless, and
deceptively simple (at least to us who have been so
profoundly influenced by his ideas).  Simply put, he casts
aside all traditional religious and political authority over
the public sphere and, in the concept of a social contract,
assigns that realm to the Sovereign, who has all the power to
enforce obedience to the laws which the Sovereign shall deem
appropriate.  By insisting that the forms of public speech
answer to clear definitions and rational thinking, Hobbes is
emptying the public space of religious rhetoric and filling
with the language of lawyers, scientists, and economists.

Tradition here has no place.  The ancient principle of Roman
Law--non mos, non ius (if it's not a tradition, it's not the
law)--is simply abandoned.  Similarly all traditional
unwritten laws and social codes are cast aside.  In what for
me is one of the most important ideas in the Leviathan,
Hobbes asserts a key principle of the modern liberal state:
What is not forbidden is allowed.  In one stroke he removes
as an operative principle from the pubic realm all forms of
control not expressly enshrined in the law.

He does this for a clear reason.  He wants to protect from
all interference a private space in which human beings can do
what they most desire, pursue their economic self-interest to
secure commodious living.  He wants to drive a stake through
the heart of the Aristotelian and Christian notions that we
are somehow responsible to the community, that the full
realization of the good life depends upon our human
relationships with our friends or our community, that the
community legitimately controls our private economic
activities.  What now unites us is a common obligation to
obey the laws which apply equally to us all and a common
spirit of competitiveness, each in our protected private
space striving to better ourselves in the ways we see most
appropriate.  That is the rational thing to do.  And since
our irrational understanding is false and divisive, that is
what all thinking people thus ought to do.

What I particularly like about Hobbes is the ruthlessness of
his logic.  He never shrinks from any of the consequences
which his readers might find objectionable.  For instance,
Hobbes gives to the sovereign the power to adjudicate in
matters of public worship.  If that means the Sovereign
creates an official religion offensive to me, then that is
too bad for me.  I must go along with the arrangement in
public; in my private sphere I can conduct my religious
business as I see fit.

Similarly, he denies that we owe any allegiance to anyone in
society for any reason other than the Sovereign's legal
authority.  In other words, he establishes the important
Liberal principle that we give our obedience not to the
person, but to the office, not because of any virtue or power
in the office, but because the office is a legal
manifestation of the Sovereign's authority and power.  At one
stroke, Hobbes seeks to eliminate centuries of authority
enshrined in family and in particular people.  This insight
is the basis of a revolution in our attitudes to authority
and in the legitimization of the structure of public

And we give this allegiance because we have consented to it
in order to gratify our own self-interest.  With this
insight, Hobbes puts on the table the limits to the
sovereign's authority.  For, strong as the sovereign's power
is, it has no legal authority to force me into situations
where the original reasons for my entering into the contract
are contradicted.  Hence, as an individual I have certain
rights against the sovereign, rights that have nothing to do
with tradition or religion, but which are grounded in reason.

I think it is evident to us that Hobbes's views were
extraordinarily prescient, so much so that once the economic
potential of this model began to realize itself many of the
things which Hobbes feared, in effect, disappeared at least
for while from public concern.  So the private space could be
enlarged to include freedom of speech and freedom of public
worship.  Various forms of association could be legally
permitted.  It has turned out that what human beings are
prepared to fight about will indeed diminish if they perceive
that tolerance, shared obedience to the sole authority of the
sovereign, and competitiveness is good for their own economic
self-interest.  The Puritan impulse could indeed be
secularized, and we owe much of our wealth to that fact
(especially in this country), although we are beginning to
wonder just how much that secularization has eaten into the
work ethic central to it.

In fact, for most of us, I suspect, our idea of freedom is
derived more from Hobbes than from anyone else.  When we use
the term, we tend to mean private freedom, the ability to do
as I like in my own private space, the freedom to choose
without answering to anything but the law necessary to
provide security in the public sphere.  For most of us, the
sort of freedom described by Aristotle or by Moses is, if we
understand it at all, far less important that the freedom
Hobbes describes and legitimizes.

It is evident, however, that Hobbes's model comes at a price.
Most of us have been eager to pay that price, but there have
always been severe critics of the model for its erosion of
communal attachments, its endorsement of atomistic
competitiveness as the basis for social life, and the
emptying from the public realm of the moral and religious
values associated with traditional views of justice.  We are
going to be reading one of the great protests against
Hobbes's views when we come to the last text of this
semester, Gulliver's Travels, the reaction of a conservative
Anglican moralist to the social and individual effects of
such atomistic and competitive materialism.  That protest had
little effect.  However, even today, as Canada struggles with
the question of maintaining the traditional liberal state in
the face of communitarian challenges from Quebec and many
native communities, the issues Hobbes puts on the table are
at the centre of the national debates.

Nevertheless, for all questions we might like to raise about
that price, the modern Liberal state is still the one most of
us believe in, largely for the very reasons Hobbes puts
forward.  We may find his vision of human nature overly
reductive and we may desiderate the erosion of moral values
from the public realm, but most of us freely confess that, to
the extent that we still obey the law voluntarily, we do so
because it is in our self-interest to do so or that we are
afraid of the state's punishments, and that, in some
fundamental way, that is an arrangement we have agreed to in
order to enable us to flourish in a protected private space
without having to deal with the destructive impulses of our
fellow human beings.