Stauffer, “Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light”

“The finall Cause, End, or Designe of men, (who naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, (in which we see them live in Common-wealths,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of Warre…” (Leviathan II.17) Next year marks the 340th anniversary of the death of Thomas Hobbes, for my money one of the most brilliant theorists of the liberal state and most insightful writers on any number of subjects (political authority, human nature, ethics, you name it) that ever lived. All this, for me, is true, even as I part ways with Hobbes on many matters. Still, if at some future point I ever do get around to putting together a seminar on foundations of legal rights, Hobbes will hold a central place in the reading list. Here is a new book published by Chicago focusing on Hobbes’s criticisms of the classical tradition: Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy, by Devin Stauffer.

Was Hobbes the first great architect of modern political philosophy? Highly critical of the classical tradition in philosophy, particularly Aristotle, Hobbes thought that he had established a new science of morality and politics. Devin Stauffer here delves into Hobbes’s critique of the classical tradition, making this oft-neglected aspect of the philosopher’s thought the basis of a new, comprehensive interpretation of his political philosophy.

In Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light, Stauffer argues that Hobbes was engaged in a struggle on multiple fronts against forces, both philosophic and religious, that he thought had long distorted philosophy and destroyed the prospects of a lasting peace in politics. By exploring the twists and turns of Hobbes’s arguments, not only in his famous Leviathan but throughout his corpus, Stauffer uncovers the details of Hobbes’s critique of an older outlook, rooted in classical philosophy and Christian theology, and reveals the complexity of Hobbes’s war against the “Kingdom of Darkness.” He also describes the key features of the new outlook—the “Kingdom of Light” —that Hobbes sought to put in its place. Hobbes’s venture helped to prepare the way for the later emergence of modern liberalism and modern secularism. Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light is a wide-ranging and ambitious exploration of Hobbes’s thought.

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