Taming the Leviathan: The Reception of the Political and Religious Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England 1640–1700 (review) [Book Review]

Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (1):142-143 (2009)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Taming the Leviathan: The Reception of the Political and Religious Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England 1640–1700A. P. MartinichJon Parkin. Taming the Leviathan: The Reception of the Political and Religious Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England 1640–1700. Ideas in Context, 82. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xi + 449. Cloth, $115.Parkin’s book covers the same period and much of the same material as John Bowle’s Hobbes and his Critics (1951) and Samuel Mintz’s The Hunting of Leviathan (1962), but his scholarship is more extensive and significantly better than that of the earlier books. The scholarship is similar to that of Jeffrey Collins in Hobbes’s Allegiance and belongs to the same school of Cambridge contextualism. Parkin’s book contains good summaries of the books and pamphlets that were published about Hobbes’ political and religious philosophy from 1640 until 1700. While much of this material is known to Hobbes scholars, Parkin has discovered or brought into play a large number of other works. It is good to have all of this material discussed in one place.The book contains, in addition to an Introduction and Conclusion, seven chapters: 1. Reading Hobbes before Leviathan (1640–1651); 2. Leviathan (1651–1654); 3. The Storm (1654–1658); 4. Restoration (1658–1666); 5. Hobbes and Hobbism (1666–1675); [End Page 142] 6. Hobbes and the Restoration Crisis (1675–1685); and 7. Hobbes in the Glorious Revolution (1685–1700).Parkin’s explications of the arguments of Hobbes’ contemporaries, his judgments about their criticisms of Hobbes, and the nature of Hobbes’ own work are too often unsuccessful. He usually does not discuss the structures of the arguments at all, as if narrative is incompatible with analysis, and he often uses tendentious language where argumentation is needed. Parkin uncritically uses “success” words where a hedged phrase is needed. It is quite doubtful that “[Samuel] Ward showed that reason and philosophy” did not subvert “traditional natural ethics” (167; my italics) rather than only trying or purporting to show that. Also, Parkin rarely notices that Hobbes’ critics often misunderstood him. For example, they all think that Hobbes claims that the whole world was in the state of nature at one time. Parkin gives little or no indication that he understands that the state of nature is primarily a concept in a thought experiment (167). The primary lesson of the reception of Hobbes’ philosophy between 1640 and 1700 was that his critics thoroughly misunderstood it, but Parkin ultimately does not appreciate it (e.g., 411; cf. 2, 5, 9). Some critics thought that Hobbes was a republican. There is good evidence that some of his critics never read Hobbes. William Sherlock, for example, writing after the Glorious Revolution, rejects Hobbes’ imagined de facto-ism to embrace a supposedly non-Hobbesian consent theory. In the 1690s, Hobbes the atheist was a convenient bogy. Ironies abound. The nonjurors who railed against Hob-bes, now over a decade dead, and deplored the Toleration Act, were in fact supporting his preference for a strong national church. A good book could be written with the title From Hobbes to Hobbism (cf. 3–4). Parkin does not emphasize that Hobbes’ critics “often absorbed his ideas at the same time as they attacked him” (412).As for his interpretation of Hobbes’ philosophy, Parkin seems uncritically to accept the interpretations of Quentin Skinner, even where they are fairly obviously mistaken. For example, following some of Skinner’s early essays on Hobbes, Parkin says that Leviathan defended de facto theory (193), although later in the book, he seems not to accept this position (e.g., 362, 373). What Skinner ignored is a central feature of Hobbes’ philosophy, namely that no obligation is incurred except through some act of one’s own. This feature is incompatible with a central feature of de facto theory, namely, that a government is legitimate when it has the power to coerce. Parkin thinks that consent theory is a form of de facto theory (387, 412). Even Skinner in his collected essays, Visions of Politics, has backed off somewhat from his earlier view.Parkin writes, “One of the aims of this study has been...

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Al Martinich
University of Texas at Austin

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