Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Leviathan: IV.XLVII (Latin)

“Canterbury Cathedral 002” by Nilfanion – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

IV.XLVII (Latin)

The Latin version of chapter XLVII begins in the same way as the English version, referencing Cicero and encouraging us to find out who profits from the spread of the kingdom of darkness and then to analyze their methods and motives (XLVII.1). And again, Hobbes notes that the primary offenders are those who argue that the Kingdom of God exists in the here-and-now rather than as an eschatological reality to come (XLVII.2). He likewise repeats his comparison between the Roman Catholic Church and the Fairy Kingdom, though the history of the development of the kingdom of darkness—and its subsequent undoing in England—has disappeared. Instead we get a more psychological explanation of the growth of papal claims over the centuries followed by a summary of and apology for the Leviathan.

In short, the claims to authority by the pope grew out of naked ambition and the desire to have the sort of power over the whole world that the priesthood had over ancient Israel:

For after it was commonly believed that the power of the Pope over Christian people was the same as that which Aaron and the rest of the high priests had over the people of Israel, the ambition to obtain ecclesiastical office, and especially the papacy, and the arrogance of those who obtained it, gradually grew and became conspicuous, to the point where they lost almost all true reverence, such as was owed to the pastoral office. (XLVII.12)

As the popes became more and more like Caesars, they became less and less like pastors of God’s people. Hence the English people’s willingness to see Roman Catholicism kicked out of England by Henry VIII and Elizabeth.

On review, Hobbes generously concludes that there is nothing either illegal or heretical in the English version of the Leviathan—though he admits that “in many places I have departed from the opinions of individual theologians” (XLVII.28). Also, it might have been longer than perhaps strictly necessary—but the length is really our fault as readers given how stupid and corrupt we are:

If I had written in uncorrupted hearts, as on a blank tablet, I could have been briefer. For these few things which follow would have sufficed: that without a law, men slaughter one another, because of the right all have over all things; that without punishments laws, and without a supreme power punishments, are useless; that power without arms and resources gathered in the hand of one person is only a word, of no importance, either for peace or for the defense of the citizens; and therefore, that all citizens, for their own good, and not for that of their rulers, are obliged to protect and strengthen the commonwealth with their wealth, as far as they can, and that by the decision of the one to whom they have given the supreme power. These are the main points of the first and second part. (XLVII.29)

In the third and fourth parts Hobbes has outlined the clear “articles of faith… necessary for salvation” and the “ambitious and cunning plans of the adversaries of the Anglican church” (XLVII.29). That last is an addition we had not heretofore seen. Perhaps Hobbes specifically claimed to be defending the Anglican church as a response to the charges of atheism that dogged him throughout his life.

Unfortunately, “for some time now men’s minds had been corrupted by contrary doctrines,” and so “I thought all these things ought to be explained more fully.” Even more unfortunately, at the time of publication the English Civil War was in full swing and “this teaching of mine… was of little benefit then.” With the restoration of the “legitimate” monarch, the immediate danger has passed, but Hobbes thinks his book still has important work to do, for

Who will believe that those seditious principles are not now completely destroyed, or that there is anyone (except the democrats) who wishes the suppression of a doctrine whose tendency toward peace is as great as that of my teaching? (XLVII.29)

Whatever is left of these destructive doctrines must be met in kind. To that end, Hobbes thinks he has done his part to try to win the citizen body back from the allure of bad philosophy, pagan politics, and the appeals of demagogues (“democrats”). Whether we can agree is up for debate: certainly Hobbes has opened a door that has let in the leviathan. But he has also let in ideas that are central to our modern prosperity and freedom (in both the positive and negative aspects of those words). Whether Hobbes is the hero he thinks he is or the villain he gets painted as, clearly he merits more reflection. Fortunately, he gives us some reflection of his own in the review and conclusion (spoiler alert: he think he’s the hero).


Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.

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