Monday, May 12, 2014

Review Of Hobbes' "Leviathan"

During a brief vacation, so to speak, I had the opportunity to read a work by Thomas Hobbes through, his "Leviathan".  Olde english permeates the language of the work, and makes for an aesthetically pleasing piece of traditional philosophy.  Such language as "publique" and "sinne".  Very often, the use of what today would be considered incorrect grammar induces in the reader a fluidity and ease of viewing and compliments his actual philosophy, the content, as well as gives one an historical sense that one would be incapable of finding in a textbook.
It would seem odd, considering I've previously "railed against" Hobbes, that I would give a favorable view of "Leviathan".  However, I would be lying if I said this work is anything but an altogether great work of philosophy that stands commendable and admirable, to say the least.  Not having ever read the famous "Nasty, brutish and short" description of human life and consequence in it's context, I was taken aback by how this phrase is, in all facticity, not written with any disdain for human life in-itself nor malicious whatsoever.  In full context, Hobbes explains that life is only so when there is no Law-as-such.  So, I think it is a shame that this "Nasty, brutish and short" idea is obscured by way of implying that Hobbes finds this to be good, necessary, or ironic.  He explains that humans meet a grim end when their rulers fail to protect them, or when a conquering military force decides not to have mercy upon the peoples in a country they've vanquished.
I suppose it's a testament to how one cannot truly in any way at all claim to understand a philosophy from mere snippets and commentary, and it goes to support my ongoing claim that philosophy as presented in academia is glaringly insufficient, because the majority of it is merely a textbook telling the reader what the ideas of monumental works mean through commentary and rather insufficient analysis rather than the reader coming to their own conclusion through immersion in the entire work itself.  Reading Hobbes cover to cover, I can only admit that I was wrongheaded in simply repeating Robert Solomon's analysis of Hobbes as anti-democratical.
"Leviathan" is mostly political and theological in content.  However, there is a great passage early on where he, as many philosophers are want to do, describes what it means to create great art.  I must admit, and I shouldn't flatter myself too much as one of the things that is apparent in Politalk is that I've nothing approaching an acceptable grasp of the english language, that I identified with his description of how the genesis of art comes about.  Composition, he seems to imply, is something that takes both passion and circumspection, with circumspection - as in intuiting where to make variations - winning out as the dominant mode of authorship.  Perhaps that's what he meant.
Perhaps not.
As was said by someone in the continent, famously, when asked what Hegel meant by one of his passages: "Only Hegel and God know".
I think the same would apply to "Leviathan".
One thing I appreciated in Hobbes is his lack of Dialectic, in an Hegelian or Socratic sense.
It's very much an individualist work, and remains - in my mind - an example of restraint in use of wit and humor.  There were many times that I laughed upon reading "Leviathan"
For example, when Hobbes described "Laughing" as making a kind of "Grimace".
Another thing I thought was interesting about this work was his affinity, apparently in vogue at the time, for insulting the Greek philosophes - esp Aristotle.  He's not exactly cruel about it, but upon describing what pagan Greeks actually believed I found myself again making one of those "grimaces".

The climax of Part 1 of Leviathan had me absolutely riveted, where Hobbes culminates his graceful circumspection in an attack on the Church of Rome.  Being partial to this kind of narrative, I have to admit I jumped up in my seat in shock and awe when he finishes the first part of his work with a sharp and decisive blow to the Church of Rome.  Though one thing I should note is that it was patently obvious that he was writing as such to please the new Anglican monarchy, a criticism I suppose could aptly apply to myself on occasion.  Another thing that I thought was a little lacking was his opening:  "For what is the Heart, but a Spring;  and the Nerves, but so many Strings;  and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer."  I'm not attempting to say this is not appropriate use of prose, but in this reviewers humble opine it's not as strong of an opener as perhaps it might have been.  Still, it will remain.

In short, 
By Thomas Hobbes

"Fun olde english, fun to read through, and as entertaining as it is important to the disciplines of Law, Politics and Theology."

- Brendan O'Connell, DDU 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment