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3: Dr. Leo Strauss on Hobbes - Michael Oakeshott, Hobbes on Civil Association 
Hobbes on Civil Association, foreword by Paul Franco (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Dr. Leo Strauss on Hobbes
The renewed attention which, in recent years, the writings of Thomas Hobbes have received is noteworthy, in the first place, because it is not to be attributed to the present state of political arrangements of Western Europe, but to a fresh and scholarly interest in the writings of a man whose political philosophy is independent of and infinitely more important than his political opinions: this reexamination of Hobbes is the work, not of politicians in search of a creed or publicists in search of an excuse, but of historians and philosophers. And secondly, it is noteworthy because it has already laid the foundation for a reinterpretation of those writings which shows incomparably profounder insight and greater knowledge than went to the construction of the hitherto accepted interpretation. To a generation which did not find foolish the opinion of Vaughan that “so far as the vital development of political thought is concerned, the Leviathan remained, and deserved to remain, without influence and without fruit; a fantastic hybrid, incapable of propagating its kind,” the announcement of “the epoch-making significance of Hobbes’s political philosophy,” the judgement that upon Hobbes’s break with tradition “all later moral and political thought is expressly or tacitly based,” the view (in short) that Hobbes was not grossly in error when he said that “civil philosophy is no older than my own book, De Cive,” may at first be shocking. But this certainly is the direction in which the recent studies of Hobbes’s work is leading us. And even if some modification of this revolutionary conclusion should, in the end, be necessary, those who are responsible for suggesting it have at least broken down a thoroughly misleading tradition and have already given us the materials and the opportunity for a far more intelligent valuation of Hobbes’s writings than was hitherto possible. There remains much to be done; but the achievement already is great.
This reinterpretation of Hobbes’s philosophy is not, of course, the preserve of a single writer; many have had a hand in it. But it is safe to say that the work of Dr. Leo Strauss is of the first importance. In 1932, a paper entitled “Quelques Remarques sur la Science Politique de Hobbes,” which appeared in Recherches Philosophiques, where among much else that is informative and suggestive he makes clear Hobbes’s true place in the history of liberalism, was his first contribution. But his recently published book on the basis and genesis of Hobbes’s political philosphy1 shows him to be a leader in this work whom we may follow with profit and with confidence, if also (as we must follow all leaders in those matters) with some caution. I propose in this essay to examine his book, not with all the thoroughness it merits, but with some care, because I regard it as the most original book on Hobbes which has appeared for many years. And before going further, in case what I shall have to say might be taken to indicate a different view, I must express at once my admiration for the book as a whole, for the careful scholarship which has gone to make it, for the great subtlety of its argument, and for the brilliance of its exposition. It has the rare quality of presenting an original thesis and supporting it with an apparently conclusive argument, and at the same time of provoking thought and criticism; and even in those parts where it appears more ingenious than sound, its ingenuity is stimulating and never misleading. For one who has so much that is new to propound, Dr. Strauss retains an admirable sense of proportion, only occasionally appearing to press more than is reasonable out of his material in order to prove his thesis or to give undue weight to his favourite conjectures. If the book has a fault, it lies in the very conclusiveness of the case it presents. The author occasionally protests a trifle too much, but this springs simply from the enthusiasm and conviction with which he writes. But, in general, nothing could exceed the care and conscientiousness with which the argument is pursued; and it could hardly have been made shorter than it is. It should be remarked, also, that Dr. Strauss has been exceptionally fortunate in his translator.
In dealing with this book it is not necessary to consider the question (which many commentators on philosophical texts would do well to consider), what may usefully and relevantly be said about a philosophical text? because Dr. Strauss’s taste in the matter is faultless. His argument is admirably compact, complex though it is; and never for one moment is he guilty of wandering from the matter in hand to instruct us on some point irrelevant to his thesis. And we are spared that tedious and boring review of all that has previously been thought and said with which so many writers seem to think it necessary to preface their contributions. This book is written for those who already know something about Hobbes, for those who are acquainted with his writings; it is as remote as can be from those handbooks which are offered as a substitute for a first-hand study of their subject.
The task that Dr. Strauss has set himself is to defend three major theses and one minor. So far as I understand him he wishes to establish:
It will be seen at once that part of what Dr. Strauss wishes to establish breaks really new ground, while part is to some extent familiar, although perhaps it has never before been argued for with such confidence. And it will be seen also that these theses are connected with one another closely enough for it to be impossible for either Dr. Strauss or his critics to deal with them separately. They do not exactly stand or fall together, but they hang together in Dr. Strauss’s mind as a single whole and they can profitably be considered only in that way. Nevertheless some opportunity is offered for analysis, and for the approval or acceptance of some parts of his work more readily than others. Let us first of all be clear about what Dr. Strauss wishes to prove, because it is a complicated set of theses which cannot with justice be stated shortly. And when we have before us clearly what is to be maintained about the writings of Hobbes, we can go on to consider the evidence and the arguments adduced.
“As G. C. Robertson observed in his Hobbes, fifty years ago, ‘the whole of (Hobbes’s) political doctrine . . . doubtless had its main lines fixed when he was still a mere observer of men and manners, and not yet a mechanical philosopher’ (p. 57). It is, therefore, only natural to attempt a coherent exposition of Hobbes’s ‘pre-scientific’ thought on ‘men and manners’, of his original view, not yet distorted by scientific ‘explanations’, of human life” (p. xiii). Dr. Strauss, then, wishes to maintain that there is to be found in the early writings of Hobbes evidence that his political philosophy, later to be elaborated under the influence of Euclid and Galileo, has its genesis in a “prescientific” and informal observation of the behaviour of men, an observation which, as he explains it, resulted in a “moral attitude.” “The experience, underlying Hobbes’s view of human life, must be traced back to a specific moral attitude which compels its holder to experience and see man in Hobbes’s particular way” (p. xiv). This “moral attitude” is “Hobbes’s original view” and it is “independent both of tradition and modern science”: it was present in his mind before he became acquainted with “modern science,” and it is in conflict with the moral attitude or set of norms provided by traditional moral and political philosophy. When Dr. Strauss comes to explain this moral attitude in detail he describes it as a “new moral attitude,” and, if I understand him correctly, it is new in two senses—it is new because it is “untraditional,” because it is a break with the Aristotelian tradition, and it is new because it appears in Hobbes’s writings as a successor to an original acceptance of the old or traditional moral attitude; that is, it is new in the history of moral philosophy and (at a certain point) it is new in the history of Hobbes’s own intellectual development. As Dr. Strauss sees the situation, then, Hobbes’s first and original attack upon the problems of political philosophy was made “on the basis of a study of the passions.” “From the outset he sought to answer the question of the best form of State with regard not to man’s essential being and the place occupied by him in the universe, but to experience of human life, to application, and therefore with particular reference to the passions” (p. 110). And the way of thinking pursued by Hobbes in this original attempt is described as “the method of the Rhetoric,” because the dominating methodological influence upon him at the time was the method Aristotle followed in the Rhetoric. In the earliest period of all Hobbes came very much under the influence of the particular theory of the passions expounded by Aristotle in his Rhetoric, and that influence is to some extent still evident in his later writings; but long after it had lost its full force, the influence of the “method of the Rhetoric” remained. And I say Hobbes’s “way of thinking” because there remains little or nothing which Hobbes actually wrote on this plan, nor can we suppose that he wrote anything on this plan which has subsequently been lost. The “method of the Rhetoric,” then, is contrasted by Dr. Strauss with the method of thought and writing which Hobbes subsequently adopted under the influence of his “preoccupation with exact science”; it is contrasted with “Euclid,” with “modern science,” and with the “resolutivecompositive method” which, it is said, Hobbes acquired from Galileo.
Now, the conclusion towards which Dr. Strauss is leading us is that because we have hitherto paid attention only to those of Hobbes’s writings which come after his “discovery of Euclid’s Elements” and are conceived in the terms of a mechanical-scientific view of nature, we have been misled into thinking that Hobbes’s political philosophy is (like Spinoza’s) a naturalistic philosophy; whereas the truth is that this political philosophy was conceived before ever Hobbes became a “mechanical philosopher” and is conceived in terms, not of nature, but of a “moral attitude,” itself the result of an informal observation of “men and manners.” The chapters (I and VII) in which he describes and analyses this “moral attitude” are both masterly and ingenious, and it would be absurd to try here to recapitulate his argument. The result of it is, briefly, first that for Hobbes not every emotion and passion of man is just and good (as would be the case in a naturalistic philosophy) but only the “fear of violent death.” Actions which spring from this particular fear are right and it is in this particular fear that, in the end, Hobbes sees the true foundation and moral being of civil society. And secondly that “vanity” or “pride” is the most evil and perverting of all the passions (because it recognizes but fails to provide any satisfactory answer to the fear of violent death), and is therefore that passion against which the State is particularly directed. Both these propositions represent a certain change in Hobbes from a different view held at a still earlier period, a change which Dr. Strauss calls a movement from “aristocratic virtue” to a “bourgeois morality,” and the pages in which he analyses this change are among the most acute and brilliant in his book. This “original” foundation for Hobbes’s political philosophy is, then, “moral” and not “natural,” and it is “new” and not “traditional”; and it is to be contrasted also with the views to be found in Hobbes’s later “scientific” writings: “Thus not the naturalistic antithesis of morally indifferent animal appetite (or of morally indifferent human striving after power) on the one hand, and morally indifferent striving after self-preservation on the other, but the moral and humanist antithesis of fundamentally unjust vanity and fundamentally just fear of violent death is the basis of Hobbes’s political philosophy” (p. 27). And the change in this view which Hobbes made under the influence of “modern science” is described thus—“with the progressive elaboration of his natural science, vanity, which must of necessity be treated from the moral standpoint, is more and more replaced by the striving for power, which is neutral and therefore more amenable to scientific interpretation” (p. 169).
Dr. Strauss’s first point, then, is the assertion that the “original basis,” or “genesis” of Hobbes’s political philosophy is a moral doctrine which belongs to his “prescientific” period of intellectual activity. And his second point is that this moral doctrine is “untraditional,” that it marks a break with the Aristotelian tradition and theory of the passions. But he has a third, and even more important, point to make—that this moral basis is not merely the “original,” but that it is the “real” basis of Hobbes’s political philosophy, a foundation which Hobbes’s later writings tend to obscure, and even appear to replace by another, but without which even his later writings are meaningless and inconsistent. This moral doctrine is not merely the genesis, but is also the basis of Hobbes’s mature political philosophy, a basis covered up by a “form of proof borrowed from mathematics and a psychology borrowed from natural science” which dominates and (we are now urged to believe) perverts his later writings. Hobbes’s mature political philosophy not only “owes its existence” to this moral attitude, but also its “unity.” In this lies the originality of Hobbes, and his importance—an originality due partly to his native genius and partly to good fortune, for “Hobbes philosophized in the fertile moment when the classical and theological tradition was already shaken, and a tradition of modern science not yet formed and established” (p. 5).
Now, in order to establish his view that the original and real foundation of Hobbes’s political philosophy is a moral attitude, and not a scientific doctrine, and consequently that the philosophy is not a naturalistic philosophy, Dr. Strauss’s programme is clear. He has first to show that the political theory of Hobbes’s early years, that is before 1630 and the “discovery of Euclid’s Elements,” is based upon a moral attitude, and secondly he has to show that the “scientific” form of the later treatments of political theory in Hobbes’s writings is merely a method of exposition and “not the decisive feature of his politics.” And the evidence to which he can appeal is clear also. He may, and does appeal, first, to biographical evidence—to the well-known fact that Hobbes actually composed his main treatments of politics before he sat down to elaborate the doctrines which appeared later in De Corpore and De Homine, and to the account of his intellectual activities which Hobbes gives in his Autobiography and in some of his Prefaces. This evidence is not, of course, conclusive; the inference that because De Cive was composed before De Corpore or De Homine its doctrines are necessarily independent of the doctrines of the later works has frequently been made by interpreters of Hobbes, but there is not much to be said in its favour, and if no other evidence were available it could not be counted conclusive. The argument from “biographical priority” is the weakest of all arguments, and cannot even take an independent place in a catena of evidence. Setting aside this ambiguous biographical evidence, we are asked to consider the writings of Hobbes which were actually composed before the crucial period in his life, 1629–34, when he became acquainted with Euclid’s Elements and Galileo and occupied himself with “scientific” studies. What is suggested is that in those early writings is to be found, undistorted by “science,” the original foundation of Hobbes’s politics. But a difficulty at once arises, a difficulty of which, of course, Dr. Strauss is aware, but which he nowhere candidly admits. The fact is that there exists no ordered account of Hobbes’s political theory before 1640. In other words, all the evidence that might be conclusive is contaminated by “science.” For what are these “prescientific” works? They are (i) the Introduction to the translation of Thucydides (about 1628), (ii) A Short Tract on First Principles (about 1630), and Dr. Strauss adds a third, though he dates it 1635 and so makes it fall outside the relevant period, (iii) the two English digests of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In short, the materials are, as Dr. Strauss admits, “very sparse”; the only certainly uncontaminated work which deals in any way with political philosophy is the Introduction to Thucydides, and Dr. Strauss is obliged to build upon this to a considerable extent. He believes that the translation represents a fundamentally important step in the construction of Hobbes’s political philosophy; and with enthusiasm he extracts all, and perhaps more than all, that can be got from the Introduction. But there is a third line of approach, a third place where we may look for evidence. If we can find in Hobbes’s later writings on political philosophy, in the Elements of Law (1640), De Cive (1642), and Leviathan (1651) evidence of a view of things which is independent of the “scientific” form of these writings, or if we could find evidence in these contaminated writings of a gradual move towards a more and more “mechanical” theory, we might conclude that the prescientific view was an earlier or an original view, or argue that the increasingly “scientific” character of these writings suggests an earlier period in which Hobbes’s mind was even less influenced by his scientific theories than it appears to have been even in the earliest of these writings, the Elements of Law. And further, if these writings contain inconsistencies which could easily be resolved, or at least explained, by supposing that the “science” in them was merely superimposed upon a theory the real basis of which was independent of “science,” we might take this as genuine evidence for the existence of a nonscientific, original view, never completely abandoned.
This third line of approach seems to me the most promising, and indeed it is I think taken to be the most promising by Dr. Strauss, who is frequently to be found quoting the later “scientific” writings to support the thesis that an earlier “nonscientific” theory existed and is fundamental to Hobbes’s political philosophy. In fact, sometimes it seems as if he scarcely distinguishes between the second and the third line of argument, he passes from one to the other so freely. But promising as this line of argument is, it is, nevertheless, dangerous, and calls for the greatest care in handling. That Dr. Strauss makes the most of it, goes without saying; but that this most is entirely satisfactory seems to me doubtful; and it is at least disconcerting to find these later writings so freely appealed to in the attempt to elucidate a view of things which, ex hypothesi, is prior to them and in conflict with their character. It is, really, one thing to prove (as Dr. Strauss proves) that there is marked change and development towards a more and more “scientific” theory in the Elements of Law, De Cive, and Leviathan, but it is quite another to infer from this development the existence of an “original” theory altogether “nonscientific,” and it is another still to infer that this “original” theory was never really abandoned. It is indeed certain that, in his latest writings, Hobbes did abandon it—Dr. Strauss himself admits as much; and it is a lapse from the scrupulous attention that Dr. Strauss usually pays to the smallest movement in Hobbes’s intellectual history to suppose that this abandonment was unintentional and not the real Hobbes. As Dr. Strauss shows, Hobbes did, on more than one occasion, entirely reject views which at one time he held as pertinaciously as he ever held any views. For example, the whole period of his life in which he “turned to history” for the material for his political philosophy Hobbes later considered to have been misguided; and the view expressed in all his later writings of the essential wrongness of all opinion as such must lead us to conclude that, as far as Hobbes himself was concerned, a political philosophy based upon a moral opinion or “attitude” was insecurely based. Somehow this merely moral basis had to be transformed, and Hobbes accomplished the transformation.
These, however, are points of detail; and while they bear upon the thesis that Hobbes’s “original” view is also (in spite of appearances) his mature and considered view, they do not touch the thesis that an original “nonscientific” view existed, prior to and independent of Hobbes’s later writings. Here the chief handicap is, I think, the unsatisfactory character of the evidence. But Dr. Strauss’s argument fails to carry conviction, not from any failure to deal as faithfully as may be with the available evidence, but from what I should consider his unduly narrow and too precise separation of “science” from “nonscience” in Hobbes’s writings. “Hobbes was over forty when he ‘discovered’ Euclid’s Elements, and not until after that did he begin to take a serious interest in natural science” (p. 29 ). For Dr. Strauss, then, “science” came into Hobbes’s life with the “discovery” of Euclid’s Elements and the influence of Galileo; and it gave him a “method,” a “form of proof” and nothing more. But as I see the matter, Hobbes was never a scientist in any true sense, that is, his “science” is really conceived throughout as an epistemology. He is never concerned with the scientific observation of the natural world, but always with what the character of the world must be if we are to have any knowledge of it; he is not concerned with the natural world for its own sake, but with the causes of sensation. Not merely do his politics start from “human nature,” the passions, but his whole view of the natural world also. So far from this interest in the natural world appearing suddenly in his life about 1630, it was an interest which he was never without and which he indulged when it became necessary for his theory. And even when the influence of Galileo was at its height, Hobbes never moderates his contempt for “experimental science” and his considered view that from observation no universal truths can be inferred. And Part I of the Elements of Law, for example, does not indicate an entirely new (for Hobbes) approach to political philosophy, but merely a more determined attempt to work out a satisfactory theory of human nature and the passions than he had previously achieved; it is the “method of the Rhetoric” not abandoned, but extended. It is impossible, however, to discuss here all that “science” means for Hobbes; it must be enough to say that I do not think that Dr. Strauss in identifying “science” in Hobbes with “the method of Galileo” really does justice to his subject. I think, then, that he has proved his case that at some early period Hobbes did conceive his political philosophy in terms of a moral fear of violent death and an immoral vanity or pride—although there is no work in existence in which such a theory is expounded fully without the contamination of “science.” But I think that he is wrong in supposing either that his early theory was conceived entirely in moral terms,2 or that the replacement of “vanity” by “the striving for power” (that is, by a “neutral” term) was not a real advance in Hobbes’s theory and conceived as such by him. Hobbes’s theory may not be of the simple “naturalistic” character that it has often been supposed to be, but neither is it of the simple “moral” character Dr. Strauss suggests. It is “naturalistic” not in contrast to “moral,” but in an attempt to find a firmer basis than merely a moral opinion. And if this is so, Dr. Strauss’s view that “the most mature presentation of [Hobbes’s] philosophy, that is the Leviathan, is by no means an adequate source for an understanding of Hobbes’s moral and political ideas” (p. 170 ), can be accepted in only a qualified form. But the really valuable contributions which Dr. Strauss has to make are the demonstration that Hobbes had and retained a view by which just and unjust actions could be distinguished independently of human legislation, and that Hobbes’s political philosophy is not of the simple naturalistic type that it has so frequently been taken to be.
Dr. Strauss’s view of the relation of Hobbes’s political philosophy to “tradition” is in the main satisfactorily maintained. But here again, there is a certain amount of ambiguity owing to the comparatively narrow conception of tradition with which he works. “Tradition” means, in this book, “the classical and theological tradition,” it means Aristotle and Scholasticism, and it means in particular the “moral attitude,” the set of norms with which this classical and theological tradition worked. That Hobbes shows a complete, though gradual, break with these norms, and (in this sense) this tradition, is proved too conclusively to be denied. The view that “fear of violent death” is the one passion or sentiment in man which is moral and the root of all moral behaviour is certainly something new and revolutionary; though in a different and less systematic way a similar rejection of both the form and the content of the classical and theological tradition is to be found, for example, in the Discorsi of Machiavelli. But the view that “pride” or “vanity” is the passion against which all the force of civil society is expressly directed has its place in the medieval tradition: and I do not think due weight is given in this account of the genesis of Hobbes’s view to what he may have learnt from his early instruction in this Stoic-Christian tradition, as distinct from what he learnt from Aristotle’s theory of the passions which appears in the Rhetoric. And Dr. Strauss’s rejection (pp. 3–5 ) of Dilthey’s attempt to relate Hobbes’s theory of the passions to that of the Stoa, on the ground of a difference in certain details, is neither convincing nor quite consistent with his later (p. 150 ) remarks about the influence which Plato and the Stoic theory had upon the subsequent development of Hobbes’s analysis of fear and vanity. But a more important omission is, I think, the failure to link Hobbes’s political philosophy on to a different tradition in political philosophy, the Epicurean tradition. Hobbes’s writings, in many respects, belong to that recrudescence of Epicurean philosophy which was so important in the intellectual life of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The biographical evidence for connecting Hobbes with the neo-Epicurean movement is conclusive; and whatever the striking differences between Hobbes’s ethical doctrines and those of Epicurus, his completely different conception of the summum bonum upon which Dr. Strauss remarks (p. 134 ) and which had been remarked upon before by Guyau, La Morale d’Epicure (p. 195 ), we ought not to allow them to obscure the great similarity. Considering the kind of works in which the views of Epicurus are handed down, we could not expect connected discussions, and one at least of Hobbes’s achievements was to construct a comprehensive system where before there were only scattered aphorisms. But to this I will return when I discuss what I have called Dr. Strauss’s fourth thesis.
Perhaps the most ingenious and acute part of Dr. Strauss’s book is taken up with an attempt to trace the stages of the development of Hobbes’s philosophical interests. There is little I can say about it; I find it in the main convincing. But it is important to see just what is original in what Dr. Strauss has to say. Robertson in his book on Hobbes divided the life of his subject into three main periods—Youth—Oxford; the Scholar; the Philosopher. And Dr. Strauss, for the most part, concurs with this division. But he has two important additions to make. In the first place, the period which Robertson called that of “the Scholar,” Dr. Strauss calls the “humanistic period”; and since it is the period, in his view, during which Hobbes conceived the main plan of his philosophy insofar as it did not depend upon the later “mechanical” conception of nature, he devotes long chapters to a close examination of the writings of Hobbes which came from it and to a minute study of the interests which they disclose. He admits that, in some respects, this period was a cul de sac, that it led to what, when he got there, Hobbes saw was unsatisfactory; but nevertheless, it was the great formative period of Hobbes’s life, the period in which his mind was uncontaminated either with “modern science” or “tradition.” True, during this period Hobbes still, apparently, believed in the “traditional norms,” but his study of history and of Thucydides was itself a break with traditional procedure. Dr. Strauss’s first addition is, then, a much more thorough examination than has ever before been undertaken of Hobbes during the years 1608 to 1630, an examination comparable only in the study of Hobbes to that which Brandt executed for the years 1630–55 . But, in the second place, these three periods into which the life of Hobbes is divided have for Dr. Strauss not the mere biographical significance that they had for Robertson, but a philosophical significance. Hobbes, for Dr. Strauss, is not a mere wanderer from one interest to another; he is from the first a philosopher whose changes of interest are purposeful and full of significance for his philosophy itself. From philosophy Hobbes turns to history and literature, and from history and literature he “returns to philosophy.” And since for a philosopher to desert philosophy is strange and disconcerting, Dr. Strauss has set himself to find out the reason for this aberrance—has set himself to show that it is not really an aberrance at all but part of a planned campaign. And the Introduction to and the translation of Thucydides gives him his material. “Philosophy,” we are told, gave Hobbes “the rational precepts for the right behaviour of man,” and up to this point Hobbes did not radically question what he had got. What however was presented to him was the problem of how to make rational precept effective, the application of the precepts. His turn from philosophy to history was his attempt to meet this problem. And Dr. Strauss shows how in this Hobbes was following and creating a tradition in thought which belonged to his time. But the end of the adventure was unexpected—Hobbes found in history what he was looking for, but he found also in himself a new scepticism about the rational precepts themselves, and this scepticism was the starting point of the third period of his intellectual activity, a period alas marred by the intrusion also of “modern science.” The view is worked out most effectively in Dr. Strauss’s enthusiastic pages; and my admiration for the whole argument is only qualified by the feeling that it gives to Hobbes’s activity an over-systematic character, that it makes Hobbes not a figure in that period of restless, sometimes distracted, curiosity and activity to which he belongs, but rather in a later period when a Kant or a Hegel could and did pursue their objects with a greater discipline and a more coherent plan. And indeed, this philosopher whose whole activity is directed by such exaggerated consistency hardly squares with, for example, the view (p. 56 ) that Hobbes was capable of momentarily adopting a strange doctrine under the immediate influence of Descartes, or the manifold inconsistencies of even his most thoroughly executed writings.
The thesis of Dr. Strauss we have still to consider is that in which he maintains that Hobbes’s political philosophy not only involves a break with past tradition, but contains the seed of all later moral and political thought. The striking new departure which he finds in Hobbes is the substitution of a natural claim or right in place of a natural law, the substitution of will for law, as the starting point of a political philosophy. He has not much to say about this, but what he says is excellent and full of insight. Contrasted with the “classical and theological tradition,” this starting point is certainly new; the pure individualistic standpoint of Hobbes’s theory is certainly one respect in which he might be considered “the founder of modern political philosophy.” And the modern concept of sovereignty which sprang from this new starting point involves perhaps the greatest revolution there has been in Western European political thought. But some qualification is, I think, needed before Hobbes is seen in his true place. First, the natural law theory did not die at once, even otherwise “modern” thinkers such as Locke have it embedded in their theories, and it did not die without resurrection. Indeed, it would be truer to say that it has never died at all, but has suffered transformation and a renewal of life. And secondly, although Hobbes set an example followed in one way or another by almost every later political thinker of starting with will instead of law, he never had a satisfactory or coherent theory of volition, and the whole Epicurean tradition to which he belonged did not bear fruit until this lack was remedied, and the remedy was, in fact, the union of a reconstituted natural law theory with Hobbes’s Epicurean theory—a union indicated in such phrases as Rousseau’s “General Will,” Hegel’s “Rational Will,” and Bosanquet’s “Real Will.” The most profound movement in modern political philosophy is, as I see it, a revivification of the Stoic natural law theory achieved by the grafting upon it an Epicurean theory; it springs from the union of the two great traditions of political philosophy inherited by Western Europe from the ancient world. Its greatness is that it is a genuine theory and not a merely eclectic composition; and that it has not yet succeeded in finding an entirely satisfactory expression is certainly not a sign of its moribund condition. It is indeed something in its favour that it has maintained itself in the world for a considerable time without the advantage of that extreme type of orthodox precision which belonged to the Stoic natural law theory in its prime. Hobbes’s importance is that he was the first in modern times to experiment with the cultivation of the “slip” which modern political thought has grafted on to the old natural law theory to create something more comprehensive and coherent than either: never before or since has the Epicurean tradition had so acute an exponent or received so masterly a statement. In short, I think it is an exaggeration to speak of Hobbes as “the founder of modern political philosophy.” A writer so completely devoid of a satisfactory philosophy of volition lacks something vital to modern political thought. But he is certainly the founder of one of the essential elements in the political thought of the period which has followed him.
It will be seen, then, that there are various points at which I cannot follow Dr. Strauss. But that does not detract from my view that he has given us a book of the greatest interest, that he has to some extent transformed our notions about Hobbes and has said more that is true and relevant about Hobbes’s political philosophy than has been said for a great number of years. And it is impossible to doubt that anyone who reads this book will look forward to its half-promised sequel, a study of the detailed character of Hobbes’s mature theory, with eager anticipation.
[1. ]The Political Philosophy of Hobbes; Its Basis and Genesis, by Leo Strauss. Translated from the German manuscript by Elsa M. Sinclair, M.A., Ph.D., Oxford, 1936.
[2. ]That “vanity” “must of necessity be treated from the moral standpoint” (p. 169) is, I should have thought, doubtful. Hobbes’s own treatment of it in terms of “illusion” surely takes it out of the purely moral sphere. Cf. Strauss, pp. 19, 27. And the so-called “selfishness” of man was not, for Hobbes, a moral doctrine, but an epistemological doctrine.