THOMAS HOBBES: Radical in the Service of Reaction by Arnold A. Rogow

THOMAS HOBBES: Radical in the Service of Reaction

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This biographical study of ""perhaps the greatest, certainly the most original, of the British political philosophers"" appears during the 400th anniversary of Hobbes' birth. It's a fitting tribute: a rich blend of biographical information (including material from new sources unearthed by Rogow) and astute critical analysis. Of all philosophers, Hobbes is one of the least attractive. He was, according to Rogow, a ""timid, fearful, competitive, and inordinately ambitious"" man who, jealously guarding his ideological territory, shunned those thinkers that most resembled him (Bacon and Descartes) while heaping praise on lesser lights. Apparently Hobbes harbored tremendous self-doubt; he referred to himself once as ""the little worm that is myself."" A lifelong bachelor, he evolved a misanthropic philosophy with little room for love. Hobbes believed that, in their natural state, human beings lead a life that is, in his famous phrase, ""solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."" The solution lies in an absolute monarchy which can curb, through force of law, our savage appetites. This grim picture is mirrored in Hobbes' pessimism about religion: a materialist and atheist, he once called the Pope ""King of the Fairies."" Hampered by a lack of solid biographical information, Rogow devotes a great deal of space to painting the tumultuous background of life in 17th-century England, with its plagues, poverty, and civil war. For perhaps the same reason, he overwhelms the reader with boring trivia about battles between Hobbes and certain of his ideological enemies. Nonetheless, this is for the most part an attractive introduction to a rather ugly man.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1986
Publisher: Norton