Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Book IV

Summary Book IV

In the conclusion to Leviathan, Hobbes summarizes his previous argument and reiterates the innate legitimacy of a philosophy that, if enacted, would ensure peace. He closes his masterpiece by writing that, while he does not know whether his book will have any effect on the current political climate, he is certain that no one can denounce his arguments: "For such Truth, as opposeth no mans profit, nor pleasure, is to all men welcome."

Commentary

When Hobbes suggests that the Kingdom of Darkness is preventing preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God, he echoes the contemporary discourses of millenarianism. In England during the seventeenth century, there were many groups of people, including such groups as the Levelers and the Diggers, who believed that, with the millennium rapidly approaching, the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that the world had to be physically prepared to welcome this arrival, which might occur by the turn of the century. Hobbes plays into this rhetoric when he suggests that the Kingdom of Darkness must be destroyed to smooth the way for the Second Coming. Hobbes also implies that instituting his Leviathan is the best way to prepare for the millennium. Hobbes was not a millenarian, so his usage of this rhetoric and the genre of millenarian writing is probably intended as a means of convincing his readers, many of whom were millenarians, of the urgency with which his program should be adopted.

However, by maintaining that the Kingdom of God has not yet arrived, Hobbes elaborates on his earlier statements arguing that in the material world and daily affairs, God is absent. God can only be perceived by natural reason and can be recognized as the fundamental cause of natural and miraculous events, but cannot be experienced as a presence. It follows, Hobbes suggests, that all worship or belief in God's immediate presence is idolatry. Thus it is idolatrous to have faith in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, to worship saints, to believe that God is manifested in miracles (when really He is only the cause of them), and to believe in the existence of angels, spirits, or devils. Hobbes's rhetoric and examples are clearly anti-Catholic. Certainly, in Protestant England, such anti-Catholic sentiment would have been accepted. But perhaps Hobbes emphasizes anti-Catholicism in order to sneak in the more controversial aspects of his argument (which he recognizes in the text as being controversial), including the implication that God has never been present in the world, even in Christ, His son. Hobbes's claims challenged contemporary Protestant dogma as much as Catholic.

Thus, fully aware of the controversial nature of his propositions, Hobbes undoubtedly meant the last line of his book, in which he asserts that no one could find his philosophy problematic, to be ironic. Indeed, Hobbes was deliberately courting controversy: He believed that the only way to change society, to end the political and philosophical abuses he observed to be destroying his country, was to engage in a controversy.

Hobbes names his commonwealth Leviathan and argues at length about how the Leviathan is compatible with Christianity and Christian good. However, for years, cultural tradition associated Leviathan with the horrible sea monster of the Book of Job, as well as with Satan (John Milton, in Paradise Lost, would later describe Satan as Leviathan--a sly criticism of Hobbes's already notorious text). Presenting what were already unconventional ideas in themselves, Hobbes guaranteed that his work would be condemned when he employed the powerful symbolism of the Leviathan to express these ideas. However, considering the turbulence of the times in the period between the Civil Wars and the Restoration, perhaps confrontation was necessary if Hobbes's text was to be successful in its agenda to restructure the entirety of the English commonwealth. Such ambition could never avoid offending, and it is just this grandiosity of scope, as well as Leviathan's unique method, literary prose, and carefully argued philosophy that have secured its reputation for greatness.