Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Hobbes Announcement

Detail of the original cover of “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes

In December 2014, we announced our goal of reading through Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy between January and June of 2015. Once we’ve finished this book, we plan to move on to what is arguably the greatest work of political philosophy in the English language, Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. As with Machiavelli, twice per week between July and December a short summary and commentary will be posted. Because the Leviathan is so much longer and denser than the Discourses, the posts will of necessity be much less thorough and still focused on “summary” rather than on “commentary.”


There are a number of versions of the Leviathan available for purchase or for free online. We will be using the Hackett edition. This edition includes selections from the later Latin version of the text that differ significantly from the English original. (Not in Latin, fortunately for those of us who are too lazy/busy to do our own translating.) If you pick up this edition, do be sure to read the editor’s introduction as it is excellent. For example:

Hobbes has suffered a fate shared by many classic authors. His greatest work is more often quoted than carefully and thoroughly read. There are reasons for this. Hobbes took pains to be quotable, sometimes at the cost of obscuring his message. And Leviathan is a very long book, not all of whose parts are obviously relevant to its central purpose. (viii)

As Rod Dreher would say, read the whole thing.

Background Reading Suggestions

As with Machiavelli, there are far more secondary sources on Hobbes than could ever be read by any one person. Which means the following lists no doubt have glaring omissions. Feel free to drop a comment if something essential has been overlooked:

By Hobbes on Politics

De Cive
The Elements of Law
The Verse Autobiography

Hobbes’s World

The English Civil Wars by Blair Worden
God’s Fury, England’s Fire by Michael Braddick
Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
A History of English-Speaking Peoples, Vols. 5 and 6, by Winston Churchill

For Beginners

The introduction to any good edition of the Leviathan will provide useful material and reading recommendations (and usually comes with Hobbes’s two autobiographies in some form). If you want more than that, these books are good starting points:

Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Tuck
Hobbes: A Biography by A. P. Martinich
Hobbes by A. P. Martinich (this is not the same book as Martinich’s biography of Hobbes; it is instead a short and readable survey of Hobbes’s overall corpus).

Advanced Reading:

These works go into more detail and philosophical depth, but are well worth the time and effort:

Subverting the Leviathan: Reading Thomas Hobbes as a Radical Democrat by James Martel
The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes by Carl Schmitt
Hobbes and Republican Liberty by Quentin Skinner
Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes by Quentin Skinner
The Political Philosophy of Hobbes by Leo Strauss
The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke by C.B. MacPherson

Reading Schedule

The goal is to cover roughly 20 pages per week, with posts going up on Nomocracy Tuesdays and Fridays. We’ve tried to cleanly divide the text into sections, but given the length of some of Hobbes’s sections at times it has been necessary to divide readings by paragraph.

Leviathan Reading Schedule

You can download the schedule here.

And once again, many thanks to Peter Haworth and the editors of Nomocracy in Politics for this opportunity. May it continue to be a fruitful one for all of us!

6 Responses to “Hobbes Announcement”

  1. Clifford Angell Bates

    Did you put into one pdf file the whole reading of the Discourses? I ask because many might perfer to read it off line as one file rather than multiple files. You could include relevant comments.

    As for the Hobbes, you ought to be working with the critical edition of Leviathan published by Oxford Clarendon Press. The Hacket edition was good in the 90s but after the release of the 3 volume critical edition edited by Noel Malcolm any serious examination of this text ought to work with that edition.

    • Coyle Neal

      Thanks for the comment!
      As for your first question, I’ll have to kick that over to our techno-overlords. Such things are too wonderful for me…

      And your second point is a fair enough one. From what little exposure I’ve got to it pretty much everything Oxford Clarendon Press has put out has been excellent. But there are three reasons I’ve decided to go with the Hackett edition:
      1) Whatever its benefits, the 3 volume edition is expensive and long . Taking a book that is already daunting for most people, making it 900 pages longer and $300 more expensive isn’t going to encourage anyone to read along.

      2) No doubt the comments in the newer edition are useful, but at the end of the day the Leviathan was originally written in English, and to that end the edition used really is much less relevant so long as the original text is present. We’ll be looking at bits and pieces of the OL edition too, so it does matter more there. But for the main thrust of this series the text really shouldn’t be tied to whatever version people happen to pick up since translation isn’t an issue.

      3) The first two reasons are from my perspective really tangential (well, not the $300 cost, that’s pretty critical). The real reason is that this is the edition I’m familiar with. It’s the one I was assigned in grad school, the one with all my notes and highlighting in it, and the one I assign in class. And familiar=comfortable=what I prefer. Which is hopefully a good enough reason for a traditionalist blog 😉

      Seriously though, I do appreciate the comment. You’re of course right that the best scholarly approach is to take into account the most recent work on the subject. The fact that I won’t necessarily be doing that is worth noting and may affect the final product.

    • Coyle Neal

      Good question, the date on the schedule is the date to finish. My comments will go up that day on the blog.

  2. Coyle Neal

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