Hobbes’s Leviathan: Then and now

Until recently, students of politics and ideas generally regarded Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) as the outstanding work of political philosophy in the English language. Over the past several decades, however, professors of political science and philosophy have largely relegated Hobbes’s masterpiece to the back shelves. At best, they tend to view Leviathan  as an historical artifact, an early and influential stepping stone on the way to the development of those Kantian-inspired theories — Rawlsian and Habermasian at the forefront — that aim to vindicate the rights-based, progressive welfare state and dominate academic teaching and research.

However, to read Hobbes on his own terms is to discover a provocative rival to contemporary perspectives on morals and politics, one that challenges widely shared assumptions about the roots of our rights and calls into question common conclusions about the scope of political authority in a society based on the consent of the governed. At the same time, it is to encounter a complement to contemporary perspectives on the liberal state, one that offers a distinctive and powerful basis for a political order that conforms to reason and secures the conditions under which human beings with differing conceptions of the best life can pursue happiness as they each understand it. Read full article at the Hoover Institution.

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