Ideological Morphology. Thought of the Day 105.1


When applied to generic fascism, the combined concepts of ideal type and ideological morphology have profound implications for both the traditional liberal and Marxist definitions of fascism. For one thing it means that fascism is no longer defined in terms of style, for e.g. spectacular politics, uniformed paramilitary forces, the pervasive use of symbols like fasces and Swastika, or organizational structure, but in terms of ideology. Moreover, the ideology is not seen as essentially nihilistic or negative (anti-liberalism, anti-Marxism, resistance to transcendence etc.), or as the mystification and aestheticization of capitalist power. Instead, it is constructed in the positive, but not apologetic or revisionist terms of the fascists’ own diagnosis of society’s structural crisis and the remedies they propose to solve it, paying particular attention to the need to separate out the ineliminable, definitional conceptions from time- or place- specific adjacent or peripheral ones. However, for decades the state of fascist studies would have made Michael Freeden’s analysis well-nigh impossible to apply to generic fascism, because precisely what was lacking was any conventional wisdom embedded in common-sense usage of the term about what constituted the ineliminable cluster of concepts at its non-essentialist core. Despite a handful of attempts to establish its definitional constituents that combined deep comparative historiographical knowledge of the subject with a high degree of conceptual sophistication, there was a conspicuous lack of scholarly consensus over what constituted the fascist minimum. Whether there was such an entity as generic fascism even was a question to think through. Or whether Nazism’s eugenic racism and the euthanasia campaign it led to, combined with a policy of physically eliminating racial enemies that led to the systematic persecution and mass murder, was simply unique, and too exceptional to be located within the generic category was another question to think through. Both these positions suggest a naivety about the epistemological and ontological status of generic concepts most regrettable among professional intellectuals, since every generic entity is a utopian heuristic construct, not a real thing and every historically singularity is by definition unique no matter how many generic terms can be applied to it. Other common positions that implied considerable naivety were the ones that dismissed fascism’s ideology as too irrational or nihilistic to be part of the fascist minimum, or generalized about its generic traits by blending fascism and nazism.

Meillassoux’s Principle of Unreason Towards an Intuition of the Absolute In-itself. Note Quote.


The principle of reason such as it appears in philosophy is a principle of contingent reason: not only how philosophical reason concerns difference instead of identity, we but also why the Principle of Sufficient Reason can no longer be understood in terms of absolute necessity. In other words, Deleuze disconnects the Principle of Sufficient Reason from the ontotheological tradition no less than from its Heideggerian deconstruction. What remains then of Meillassoux’s criticism in After finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contigency that Deleuze no less than Hegel hypostatizes or absolutizes the correlation between thinking and being and thus brings back a vitalist version of speculative idealism through the back door?

At stake in Meillassoux’s criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a double problem: the conditions of possibility of thinking and knowing an absolute and subsequently the conditions of possibility of rational ideology critique. The first problem is primarily epistemological: how can philosophy justify scientific knowledge claims about a reality that is anterior to our relation to it and that is hence not given in the transcendental object of possible experience (the arche-fossil )? This is a problem for all post-Kantian epistemologies that hold that we can only ever know the correlate of being and thought. Instead of confronting this weak correlationist position head on, however, Meillassoux seeks a solution in the even stronger correlationist position that denies not only the knowability of the in itself, but also its very thinkability or imaginability. Simplified: if strong correlationists such as Heidegger or Wittgenstein insist on the historicity or facticity (non-necessity) of the correlation of reason and ground in order to demonstrate the impossibility of thought’s self-absolutization, then the very force of their argument, if it is not to contradict itself, implies more than they are willing to accept: the necessity of the contingency of the transcendental structure of the for itself. As a consequence, correlationism is incapable of demonstrating itself to be necessary. This is what Meillassoux calls the principle of factiality or the principle of unreason. It says that it is possible to think of two things that exist independently of thought’s relation to it: contingency as such and the principle of non-contradiction. The principle of unreason thus enables the intellectual intuition of something that is absolutely in itself, namely the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. And this in turn implies the real possibility of the completely random and unpredictable transformation of all things from one moment to the next. Logically speaking, the absolute is thus a hyperchaos or something akin to Time in which nothing is impossible, except it be necessary beings or necessary temporal experiences such as the laws of physics.

There is, moreover, nothing mysterious about this chaos. Contingency, and Meillassoux consistently refers to this as Hume’s discovery, is a purely logical and rational necessity, since without the principle of non-contradiction not even the principle of factiality would be absolute. It is thus a rational necessity that puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason out of action, since it would be irrational to claim that it is a real necessity as everything that is is devoid of any reason to be as it is. This leads Meillassoux to the surprising conclusion that [t]he Principle of Sufficient Reason is thus another name for the irrational… The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not the refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos harboured by its fundamental principle (non-contradiction). (Meillassoux 2007: 61) The principle of factiality thus legitimates or founds the rationalist requirement that reality be perfectly amenable to conceptual comprehension at the same time that it opens up [a] world emancipated from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (Meillassoux) but founded only on that of non-contradiction.

This emancipation brings us to the practical problem Meillassoux tries to solve, namely the possibility of ideology critique. Correlationism is essentially a discourse on the limits of thought for which the deabsolutization of the Principle of Sufficient Reason marks reason’s discovery of its own essential inability to uncover an absolute. Thus if the Galilean-Copernican revolution of modern science meant the paradoxical unveiling of thought’s capacity to think what there is regardless of whether thought exists or not, then Kant’s correlationist version of the Copernican revolution was in fact a Ptolemaic counterrevolution. Since Kant and even more since Heidegger, philosophy has been adverse precisely to the speculative import of modern science as a formal, mathematical knowledge of nature. Its unintended consequence is therefore that questions of ultimate reasons have been dislocated from the domain of metaphysics into that of non-rational, fideist discourse. Philosophy has thus made the contemporary end of metaphysics complicit with the religious belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason beyond its very thinkability. Whence Meillassoux’s counter-intuitive conclusion that the refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily. In this way a speculative critique pushes skeptical rationalism’s relinquishment of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to the point where it affirms that there is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given nothing, but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence. Such an absolutizing even though no longer absolutist approach would be the minimal condition for every critique of ideology: to reject dogmatic metaphysics means to reject all real necessity, and a fortiori to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason, as well as the ontological argument.

On the one hand, Deleuze’s criticism of Heidegger bears many similarities to that of Meillassoux when he redefines the Principle of Sufficient Reason in terms of contingent reason or with Nietzsche and Mallarmé: nothing rather than something such that whatever exists is a fiat in itself. His Principle of Sufficient Reason is the plastic, anarchic and nomadic principle of a superior or transcendental empiricism that teaches us a strange reason, that of the multiple, chaos and difference. On the other hand, however, the fact that Deleuze still speaks of reason should make us wary. For whereas Deleuze seeks to reunite chaotic being with systematic thought, Meillassoux revives the classical opposition between empiricism and rationalism precisely in order to attack the pre-Kantian, absolute validity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. His argument implies a return to a non-correlationist version of Kantianism insofar as it relies on the gap between being and thought and thus upon a logic of representation that renders Deleuze’s Principle of Sufficient Reason unrecognizable, either through a concept of time, or through materialism.

Genesis and Evaluation of Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Part 2.


Hobbes recognizes the nature of the ideal of an exact philosophical morality,which is paradoxical and makes it the backbone of his political philosophy. In his moral philosophy also, the antithesis between the virtue and pseudo-virtue forms a constituent part. He also teaches that true virtue and pseudo-virtue differ only in their reason. Like Plato, he also recognizes only political virtues. Hobbes also distrusts rhetoric, in a way, which recalls Plato.

A pleader commonly thinks he ought to say all he can for the benefit of his client, and therefore has need of a faculty to wrest the sense of words from their true meaning, and the faculty of rhetoric to seduce the jury, and sometimes the judge also, and many other arts which I neither have, nor intend to study.

Basing his reason on Platonic approach, he thought that the difference between the analysis of ordinary values and of passions given in Aristotle’s rhetoric on the one hand, and the theory of ethics on the other, not nearly great enough. While in Aristotle’s view the common passionate valuations have a peculiar consistency and universality, Hobbes, by reason of his radical criticism of opinion as such, cannot but deny them this dignity. 

What Hobbes’ political philosophy owes to Platonism is the antithesis between truth and appearance, the fitting and the great, between reason and passion. From the very outset, Hobbes’ conviction was the antithesis between vanity and fear and for him, it was of fundamental importance for morals. But in the beginning, Hobbes understood this antithesis as an antithesis within the domain of the passions. But when he turned to Plato, he began to conceive this antithesis between vanity and fear as the antithesis between passion and reason. However, resolutely Hobbes demands a completely passionless, purely rational political philosophy, he desires, as it were, in the same breath, that the norm to be set by reason should be in accord with the passions. Respect for applicability determines the seeking after the norm from the outset. With this, Hobbes does not merely tacitly adopt Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s political philosophy but he goes much beyond Aristotle.

Primary reason for Hobbes’ opposition to Plato, is the motive for turning to Euclid as to the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method. In this method, the given object of investigation is first analysed, traced back to its reasons, and then by completely lucid deduction the object is again reconstituted. The axioms, which Hobbes gains by going back from the existing State to its reasons, and from there he deduces the form of the right State; are according to him, the man’s natural selfishness and the fear of death. Hobbes’ political philosophy differs from Plato in that, in the latter, exactness means the undistorted reliability of the standards, while in the former, exactness means unconditional applicability, under all circumstances. Hobbes took the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method over from Galileo. He believes that by this method he can achieve for political philosophy what Galileo achieved for physics. But the adequacy for physics does not guarantee its adequacy for political philosophy. For while the subject for physics is the natural body, the subject of political philosophy is an artificial body, i.e. a whole that has to be made by men from natural wholes. Thus the concern of political philosophy is not so much knowledge of the artificial body as the production of that body. Political philosophy analyses the existing State into its elements only in order that by a better synthesis of those elements the right State may be produced. Political philosophy thus becomes a technique for the regulation of the State. Its task is to alter the unstable balance of the existing State to the stable balance of the right State. The introduction of Galileo’s method into political philosophy from the outset renounces all discussions of the fundamental political problems, i.e. the elimination of the fundamental question as to the aim of the State.

Hobbes doesn’t question the necessity of political philosophy, i.e. he doesn’t ask first, ‘What is virtue?’ and ‘Can it be taught?’ and ‘What is the aim of the State?’, because for him, these questions are answered by tradition, or by common opinion. The aim of the State is for him as a matter of course peace, i.e. peace at any price. The underlying presupposition is that violent death is the first and greatest and supreme evil. After finding this presupposition as a principle when he analysed the existing State, he proceeds to deduce from it the right State; opposed to Plato, whose consideration of the genesis of the State seems superficially akin, but has the character of reflection, of deliberate questioning of what is good and fitting. Convinced of the absolutely typical character of the mathematical method, according to which one proceeds from axioms to self-evident truths/conclusions, Hobbes fails to realize that in the ‘beginning’, in the ‘evident’ presuppositions whether of mathematics or of politics, the task of ‘dialectic’ is hidden. Hobbes considers it superfluous, even dangerous, to take as one’s point of departure what men say about justice and so forth: ‘the names of virtues and vices…can never be true grounds of any ratiocination’. The application of the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method to political philosophy is of doubtful value as it prevented Hobbes from asking the questions as to the standard. He begins his political philosophy with the question as to the nature of the man in the sense of that which falls to all men before education. If the procedure of deducing the right State is to be significant, the principles themselves contain the answer to the question as to the right State, as to the standard. Hobbes characterizes the two principles viz., limitless self-love on the one hand and that of violent death on the other as he principles of the wrong and the principles of the right. But this characterization does not arise from the analysis, for the analysis can only show the principles of the existing State, and cannot, therefore, teach anything about the rightness and wrongness of those principles, and, on the other hand, this characterization is the presupposition of the synthesis, which as a synthesis of the right State cannot arise until it has been established what is the right. This qualification, which follows the analysis and precedes the synthesis, is certainly into the frame of the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method; but it is not to be understood from this method, either in general or even in particular. The justification of the standard, which is the fundamental part of the political philosophy, is hidden by the ‘resolutive-compositive’ method and even made unrecognizable.

What is justified in this way is indeed not a standard, an obligation; but a right, a claim. According to Hobbes, the basis of politics is not the ‘law of nature’, but the ‘right of nature’. This right is the minimum claim, which as such is fundamentally just, and the origin of any other just claim; more exactly, it is unconditionally just because it can be answered for in face of all men in all circumstances. A claim of this kind is only the claim to defend life and limb. Its opposite is the maximum claim, which is fundamentally unjust, for it cannot be answered for in face of any other man. The maximum claim, the claim man makes by nature, i.e. as long as he is not educated by ‘unforeseen mischances’, is the claim to triumph over all other men. This ‘natural’ claim is checked by fear of violent death and becomes man’s rational minimum claim, and thus ‘right of nature’ comes into being, or atleast comes to light. That is to say, the ‘right of nature’ is the first juridical or moral fact, which arises if one, starts from man’s nature i.e. from man’s natural appetite. The ‘law of nature’ belongs to a much later stage of the progress from human nature to the State: ‘natural right’ is dealt with in the first chapter of De Cive, ‘natural law’ in the second and third chapters.

The ‘law of nature’ owes all its dignity simply to the circumstances that it is the necessary consequence of the ‘right of nature’. We may ask the question as to what is the peculiarity of modern political thought in relation to the classical political thought?  While modern thought starts from the rights of the individual, and conceives the State as existing to secure the conditions of his development, Greek thought starts from the right of the State. Modern and classical political philosophy are fundamentally distinguished in that modern political philosophy takes ‘right’ as the starting point, whereas classical political philosophy has ‘law’ as its starting point.

Hobbes marked an epoch not only by subordinating law to right. He was at the same time ‘the first writer to grasp the full importance of the idea of sovereignty…he must take the credit of being the first to see that the idea of sovereignty lies at the very root of the whole theory of the State; and the first to realize the necessity of fixing precisely where it lies, and what are its functions and its limits’. By this also Hobbes stands in contrast to classical political philosophy: ‘Amongst the most notable omissions of Greek philosophy is the absence of any clear attempt to define the nature of sovereignty, to determine its seat, or settle the ultimate sanction on which it rests’. In classical times, the question, ‘who or what shall rule?’ has the antiquity answer running, ‘the law’. Philosophers who could not acquiesce in the Divine origin of the law justify this answer in the following way: the rational should rule over the irrational (the old over the young, the man over the woman, the master over the slave) and therefore law over men. Granting that there are men who by force of reason are undoubtedly superior to others, would those others submit to them merely on this ground, and obey them? Would they recognize their superiority? But doubt does not stop at that. It is denied that any considerable difference in reasonableness exists between men. Because reason is essentially impotent, it is not enough to reply that reason is the origin and the seat of sovereignty. Thus it becomes fundamentally questionable, which of the men who are equal and alike is to rule over the others, and under which conditions and within which limits, they have a claim to rule. Because all men a re equally reasonable, the reason of one or more individuals must arbitrarily be made the standard reason as an artificial substitute for the lacking natural superiority of the reason. Because reason is impotent, the rational ‘law of nature’ also loses its dignity. In its place we have the ‘right of nature’ which is, indeed, according to reason but dictated not by reason but by the fear of death. The break with rationalism is thus the decisive presupposition for the concept of sovereignty as well as for the supplanting of ‘law’ by ‘right’.

Hobbes in his writings conceives sovereign power not as reason but as will. Hobbes expressly turns against the view still predominant in his age that the holder of the sovereign power is in the same relation to the State as the head to the whole man. The holder of the sovereign power is not the ‘head’, that is, the capacity to deliberate and plan, but the ‘soul’, that is, the capacity to command, in the State. The explicit break with rationalism is thus the reason for the antithesis of modern political thought to classical and is characterized thusly: ‘the Greeks believed in the need of education to tune and harmonize social opinions to the spirit and tone of a fixed and fundamental law. The modern belief is the need of a representation to adjust and harmonize a fluid and changing and subordinate law to the movement of a sovereign public opinion or ‘general will’.

The view of classical rationalism, that only reason justifies dominion, found its most radical expression in Plato’s saying that the only necessary and adequate condition for the weal of a State is that the philosophers should be Kings and Kings philosophers. This amounts to stating that the setting up of a perfect commonwealth depends exclusively on ‘internal policy’ and not at all on foreign policy. From here on, Plato’s theory of justice can be summed up thus: there is no happiness for men without justice; justice means attending to one’s own business, bringing oneself into the right disposition with regard to the transcendent unchanging norm, to which the soul is akin, and not meddling into other people’s affairs; and justice in the State is not different from justice in the individual, except that the State is self-sufficient and can thus practice justice; attending to its own business; incomparably more perfectly than can the individual who is not self-sufficient. The citizens of the perfect State, for this very reason to foreigners, happen to be either allies to be esteemed or foes to be feared. Let us take Plato’s example; if the essence of the thing is to be preferred to its external conditions, to the self-realization and self-assertion of that thing against its external conditions, then, for instance, the right constitution of the body, its health, is to be preferred to its return to its health, to its recovery after its loss of health. By this example, Plato makes clear that the good statesman carries out his legislation with an eye to peace, which is to the good internal constitution of the State, and not with an eye to war, that is, to the assertion of the State against external conditions. Hobbes differs from Plato and asserts that the recovery of health is to be preferred to the undisturbed possession of health. While for Plato and to an extent for Aristotle, and in accordance with the primary interest they attach to home policy, the question of the number of inhabitants of the perfect State, that is, the limits set to the State by its inner necessity, is of decisive importance; Hobbes brushes this question aside in these words: ‘The Multitude sufficient to confide in for our security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison by the enemy we feare…’ The primacy of foreign policy is not specifically taught by Hobbes, but it is an integral part of all of modern political philosophy. Immanuel Kant in one of his works has a phrase, which runs like: ‘The problem of establishing a perfect civil constitution is dependent on the problem of a lawful external relation between the States and cannot be solved independently of the solution of the latter problem’.

The antithesis between Platonic and Hobbesian political philosophy, reduced to principle, is that the former orientates itself by speech and the latter from the outset refuses to do so. This refusal originally arises from what may be called natural valuations. While Plato goes back to the truth hidden in the natural valuations and thereof seeks to teach nothing new and unheard of, but to recall what is known to all but not understood, Hobbes, rejecting the natural valuations in principle, goes beyond, goes forward to a new a priori political philosophy, which is of the future and freely projected. Measured by Aristotle’s classical explanation of morals, Platonic moral philosophy is as paradoxical as Hobbes’. But whereas the paradoxical nature of Platonic moral philosophy is as irreversible as the  ‘cave’ existence of men bound to the body, Hobbes’ moral philosophy is destined sooner or later to change from paradox to an accepted form of public opinion. The paradoxical nature of Hobbes’ moral philosophy is the paradox of the surprisingly new, unheard of venture. Whereas Plato retraces natural morals and the orientation provided by them to their origin, Hobbes must attempt in sovereignty, and without this orientation, to discover the principles of morals. Hobbes travels the path, which leads to formal ethics and finally to relativist skepticism. The enormous extension of the claims made on political science leads at least to a denial of the very idea of political science and to the replacement of political science by sociology. Plato does not question the virtue character of courage, to which speech bears witness but simply opposes the over-estimation of courage, which underlies the popular opinion. Hobbes, because he renounced all orientation by speech, goes so far to deny the virtue character of courage. And just as disdain of speech finally leads to relativist skepticism, the negation of courage leads to the controversial position of courage, which becomes more and more acute on the way from Rousseau by Hegel to Nietzsche and is completed by the reabsorption of wisdom by courage, in the view that the ideal is not the object of wisdom, but the hazardous venture of the will.

Relinquishing orientation by speech does not mean that Hobbes ‘forgets’ the question of standards, but that he poses this question only as an afterthought, and, therefore, inadequately. Whereas Plato distinguishes between two kinds of reasons, the good and the necessary, Hobbes recognizes only one kind, the necessary. Since as a result of this he is obliged to take into account the inevitable difference between the good and the necessary within the necessary itself, the question of the standard, of the good, becomes for him the question of what is par excellence necessary, and he discovers the retreat from death as the necessary par excellence. For Hobbes, the denial of natural standards was irrefutably evident on the basis of his materialist metaphysics. Thus this metaphysics is the implicit pre-supposition even of his turning to Euclid, provided that the acceptance of the ‘mathematical’ method presupposes the negation of absolute standards. For the question arises; why did Hobbes decide in favour of materialism? On the ground of what primary conviction was materialism so vividly evident for him? The answer can be based on rough indications i.e. Hobbes’ turn to natural science is to be explained by his interest not so much in nature as in man, in self knowledge of man as he really is, i.e. by the interest that characterized him even in his humanist period. His scientific explanation of sense perception is characterized by the fact that it interprets perception of the higher senses by the sense of touch; and the preference for the sense of touch, which this presupposes is already implied in Hobbes’ original view of fundamental significance of the antithesis between vanity and fear. If Hobbes’ natural science is dependent on his ‘humanist’, that is moral, interests and convictions, on the other hand a particular conception of nature is the implicit basis of his views on moral and political philosophy. It is certain that the conception of nature, which is the presupposition of his political philosophy and the conception of nature, which he explains in his scientific writings, has a kinship and which in principle are to be kept separate. It is for these reasons that his scientific investigations could exert a powerful influence on the evolution of his political philosophy. He could not have maintained his thesis that death is the greatest and supreme evil but for the conviction vouched for by his natural science that the soul is not immortal. His criticism of aristocratic virtue and his denial of any gradation in mankind gains certainty only through his conception of nature, according to which there is no order, that is, no gradation in nature. From this standpoint we can understand the difference between Hobbes’ conception of Pride and the traditional conception. ‘Pride’ in the traditional sense means rebellion against the gradation of beings; it presupposes, therefore, the existence and the obligatory character of that gradation. Hobbes’ conception of ‘Pride’, on the other hand, presupposes the denial of natural gradation; this conception is, indeed, nothing other than a means of ‘explaining’, i.e. of denying that gradation: the allegedly natural gradation concerning the faculties of the mind proceeds from a ‘a vain concept of ones own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the Vulgar’. The idea of civilization achieves its telling effect solely by reason of the presupposition that the civilization of human nature can go on boundlessly, because what tradition in agreement with common sense had understood as given and immutable human nature is for the main part a mere ‘natural limit’, which may be over passed. Very little is innate in man; most of what is alleged to come to him from the nature is acquired and therefore mutable, as conditions change; the most important peculiarities of man; speech, reason, sociality are not gifts of nature, but the work of his will. This example creates a duality in his political philosophy. The idea of civilization presupposes that man, by virtue of his intelligence, can place himself outside nature, can rebel against nature. The antithesis of nature and human will is hidden by the monist (materialist-deterministic) metaphysic, which Hobbes found himself forced to adopt simply because he saw no other possibility of escaping the ‘Kingdom of darkness’. This signifies that the moral basis of his political philosophy becomes more and more disguised, the farther the evolution of his natural science progresses. In other words, with the progressive evolution of his natural sciences, vanity, which must of necessity be treated from the moral standpoint, is more and more replaced by the striving for power, which is neutral and therefore more amenable to scientific interpretation. But Hobbes took great care not to follow this path as he thought that consistent naturalism would ruin his political philosophy. To compare Spinoza with Hobbes, Spinoza was more naturalistic than Hobbes. Spinoza relinquished the distinction between ‘might’ and ‘right’ and taught the natural right of all passions. Hobbes, on the other hand, by virtue of the basis of his political philosophy asserted the natural right only of the fear of death. On the other hand, if we consider Montesquieu, who carried the naturalistic analysis of the passions to its logical conclusion, came forward with the result that the State of nature cannot be the war of all against all this clearly exemplifies that if inconsistent naturalism is compatible with Hobbes’ political philosophy, the consistent naturalism, which Hobbes displays in his scientific writings cannot be the foundation of his political philosophy. This foundation must be another conception of nature, which although being related to naturalism is by no means identical to it.

Therefore, the foundation of Hobbes’ political philosophy, which is the moral attitude to which it owes its existence, is objectively prior to the mathematical scientific founding and presentation of that philosophy. The mathematical method and the materialistic metaphysics each in their own way contributed to disguise the original motivation to undermine Hobbes’ political philosophy. Hence, Leviathan is by no means an adequate source for an understanding of Hobbes’ moral and political philosophy, although the presuppositions and conclusions dealing with moral attitude are clearly manifest in the Leviathan.

Hobbesian Morality and State


Political Philosophy, as that branch of knowledge which consists of moral philosophy on the one hand and, and politics on the other, was treated systematically and in details by Hobbes in three different pieces of work viz., Elements of Law (1640), in the second and third parts of the Elementa Philosophiae, and in the Leviathan (1651). In all of these three presentations, his political philosophy shows traces of Galilean science and more so of Galileo’s ‘resolutive – compositive’ method. Everyone who has written about Hobbes’ political philosophy has interpreted his treatises as heavily dependent upon natural science, either for his material or method, which he heavily incorporates through out his works. However, the recognition of this fact on closer and meticulous scrutiny proves to be extremely questionable.

The propensity of natural sciences in his political philosophy is questioned, because Hobbes very well knew the fundamental differences between the two disciplines in the contest of material and method. On this awareness lay his basic conviction that political philosophy is essentially independent of natural science. This independence is corroborated because the principles of political philosophy are not borrowed from natural science, and indeed not from any sciences, but borrowed from experience, which one has of him, or to put it more accurately, are discovered by the efforts of self-knowledge and self-examination of everyone. The evidence of political philosophy on the one hand, is much easier to understand: its subjects and its concepts are not so remote from the average man as are the subjects and concepts of Mathematics which form the basis of natural science. On the other hand, ‘the politiques are the harder study of the two’; by reason of their passions, men obscure the, in itself, clear and simple knowledge of the norms which political philosophy builds up. Moreover, man with his passions and his self-seeking is the particular subject of political philosophy, and man opposes by every kind of hypocrisy the self-knowledge on which the proof of these norms rests.

Hobbes considered both political philosophy and the natural sciences as the main components of human knowledge. It can be said that Hobbes’ classification of the sciences is based on a classification of existing things into natural and the artificial. It is not so much the artificially produced things that are basically different from all natural things as the production, the human activity itself, i.e. man as an essentially productive being, especially as the being who by his art produces from his own nature the citizen or the State, who, by working on himself, makes himself into a citizen. In so far as man works on himself, influencing and changing his nature, so that he becomes a citizen, a part of that artificial being called the State, he is not a natural being. ‘Manners of men’ are something different from ‘natural causes’. The basic classification of existing things which in truth underlies Hobbes’ classification of the sciences is classification under nature on the one side, and under man as productive and active being on the other.

The question whether his political philosophy is intended to be naturalistic or anthropological, bears not only on the method, but above all on the matter selected. The significance of the antithesis between naturalistic and anthropological political philosophy for the matter becomes fully apparent if one grasps that this antithesis is only the abstract form of a concrete antithesis in the interpretation of and judgment of human nature which extends throughout the whole of Hobbes’ work. Hobbes summed up his theory of human nature as it underlies his political philosophy in ‘two most certain postulates of human nature’. The first postulate being that of ‘natural appetite’. Eclectic as he was, this postulate takes its roots as rooted in man’s sensuousness, in his animal nature. Like that of all animals, his is constant movement. But, the specific difference between man and other animals is that of reason. Thus man is less at the mercy of momentary sense impressions, he can envisage the future much better than can animals; for this very reason he is not like animals hungry only with the hunger of the moment, but also with future hunger, and thus he is the most predatory, the most cunning, the strongest, and most dangerous animal. This view of human appetite is a specifically Hobbesian view, but then is contradicted in Hobbes’ writings by his repeated and emphatic statement that human appetite is infinite in itself and not as a result of the infinite number of external impressions. Seeing this, one can note that human appetite is essentially distinguished from animal appetite in that the latter is nothing but reaction to external impressions, and, therefore, the animal desires only finite objects as such, while man spontaneously desires infinitely and this corresponds to the intention of Hobbes’ political philosophy. The two conceptions viz., mechanistic and vitalistic conceptions differ not only in substance, but also in method. The mechanistic conception is based on the mechanistic explanation of perception and on the general theory of motion; on the other hand, the apparently vitalistic conception is based not on any general scientific theory, but on insight into human nature, deepened and substantiated by self-knowledge and self-examination. In spite of these differences, the two conceptions below the surface have something in common, which allows us to characterize them both  as naturalistic. 

The naturalistic conception of human appetite is clearly expressed in the proposition that man desires power and ever greater power, spontaneously and continuously, in one jet of appetite, and not by reason of a summation of innumerable isolated desires caused by innumerable isolated perceptions

‘…in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in Death’. And the cause of this, is not alwayes that a man hopes for a more intensive delight, than he has already attained to; or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and the means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more’.

According to him, only the irrational striving after power, which is found more frequently than the rational striving, is to be taken as the natural human appetite. The only natural striving after power, and thus man’s natural appetite, is described by Hobbes as follows: ‘men from their birth, and naturally, scramble for everything they covet, and would have all the world, if they could, to fear and obey them’.1 In the case of man, animal desire is taken up and transformed by a spontaneous infinite and absolute desire which arises out of the depths of the man himself.

We find a more detailed definition of the irrational striving after power:

‘because there be some, that taking pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires; if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should  not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their defence, to subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men, being necessary to a man’s conservation, it ought to be allowed him’.

It is clearly seen here that rational permissible striving after power is in itself finite. The man guided by it would remain ‘within modest bounds’, would ‘be content with a moderate power’. Only the impermissible, irrational, lustful striving after power is infinite.

In four different arguments, Hobbes designated the characteristics in the difference between man and animal as the striving after honour and positions of honour, after precedence over others and recognition of this precedence by others, ambition, pride, and the passion for fame. Since man’s natural appetite is a striving after precedence over others and recognition of this precedence by others, the particularities of natural appetite, the passions, are nothing other than particular ways of striving after precedence and recognition. Speaking about the cause of madness, Hobbes says: “The Passion, whose violence, or continuance maketh Madnesse, is either great vaine-glory; which is commonly called Pride, and selfe-conceipt; or great Dejection of mind”. All passions and all forms of madness are modifications of conceit or of a sense of inferiority, or in principle, of the striving after precedence and recognition of that precedence.

The same conclusion is reached if one compares the arguments by which Hobbes in the three presentations of his political philosophy proves his assertion that the war of everyone against everyone arises of necessity from man’s very nature. Every man for that reason is the enemy of every other man, because each desires to surpass every other and therefore offends every other. The discrepancies between the three presentations shows that Hobbes himself never completed the proofs of his fundamental assertion, and, as is seen on closer inspection, did not complete them simply because he could not make up his mind explicitly to take as his point of departure the reduction of man’s natural appetite to vanity. At the end of the most important part of his work, “Leviathan”, Hobbes says:

‘Hitherto I have set forth the nature of Man, (whose Pride and other passions have compelled him to submit himselfe to Government;) together with the great power of the Governour, whom I compared to Leviathan, taking that comparison out of the last two verses of the one and fortieth of Job; where God having set forth the great power of Leviathan, called him the King of the Proud’.

The state is compared to Leviathan, because it and it especially is the ‘King of all the children of pride’. Only the State is capable of keeping pride down in the long run, indeed it has no other raison d’etre except that man’s natural appetite is pride, ambition, and vanity. 

Why could not Hobbes take man’s natural appetite, which is vanity as the basis of his political philosophy?  If this conception of natural appetite is right, if man by nature finds his pleasure in triumphing over all others, then man is by nature evil. But he did not dare to hold this consequence of his theory. For this very reason, in the Leviathan, he puts vanity in the end. Because man is by nature animal, he is not by nature evil, therefore he is as innocent as the animals; thus vanity cannot characterize his natural appetite. Hobbes in defence against the reproach that according to his theory man is by nature evil does not mention vanity at all. In laying the foundations of his political philosophy, Hobbes puts vanity more and more into the background in favour of innocent competition, innocent striving after power, innocent animal appetite, because the definition of man’s natural appetite in terms of vanity is intended as a moral judgment. He is finally obliged to attribute to the judges the wickedness which he disallows in the case of the guilty, the criminals; he betrays particularly in his description of the striving after power itself, that the innocence, neutrality, and moral indifference of that striving is only apparent. The apparent moral indifference arises simply and solely through abstraction of the necessary moral difference. Hobbes’ political philosophy rests not on the illusion of an amoral morality, but on a new morality, or, so to speak according to Hobbes’ intention, on a new grounding of the one eternal morality.

The second of the ‘two most certain postulates of human nature’ is ‘the postulate of human reason’. In accordance with the naturalistic reasoning this postulate is reduced to the principle of self-preservation: since the preservation of life is the condition sine qua non for the satisfaction of any appetite, it is the ‘primary good’. As a logical conclusion of this thought, Hobbes attempts to deduce natural right, natural law, and all the virtues from the principle of self-preservation. It is noteworthy that Hobbes prefers the negative expression ‘avoiding death’ to the positive expression ‘preserving life’. That preservation of life is the primary good is affirmed by reason alone. On the other hand, that death is the primary evil is affirmed by passion, the passion of fear of death. And as reason itself is powerless, man would not mind to think of the preservation of life as the primary and the most urgent good, if the passion of fear of death did not compel him to do so. According to Hobbes, the preservation of life is the primary good, an unhindered progress to ever further goals, a ‘continuall prospering’, in a word, happiness is the greatest good, but there is no supreme good in the enjoyment of which the spirit might find repose. On the other hand, death is the primary as well as the greatest and the supreme evil. For death is not only the negation of the supreme good; but at the same time, it is the negation of all the goods. Only through death has man an aim, the aim that is forced upon him by the sight of death, the aim of avoiding death. For this reason, Hobbes uses the negative expression ‘avoiding death’ to the positive expression ‘preserving life’. This is also because we fear death infinitely more than we desire life. 

But Hobbes also does not adhere to the theory of death as the supreme evil, since for him the tortured life is a greater evil as compared to death. So for him, an agonizing death is much more evil than death. But in contradiction, if Hobbes had considered agonizing death as the supremest evil, he would have attributed an ever-greater importance on medicine, which he tends to forget. When he says of an agonizing death that it is the greatest evil, he thinks exclusively of violent death at the hands of other men. This fear of getting killed at the hands of other men, is a mutual fear, i.e. it is a fear each man has of every other man as his potential murderer. This fear of a violent death, pre-rational in its origin, but rational in its effect, and not the rational principle of self-preservation, is, according to Hobbes, the root of all right and of all morality. He finally denied the moral values of all virtues which do not contribute to the making of the State, to consolidating peace, to protecting man against the danger of violent death, or, more exactly expressed, of all virtues which do not proceed from the fear of violent death.

Since, Hobbes reduces man’s natural appetite to vanity, he cannot but recognize the fear of a violent death, not the fear of a painful death, and certainly not the principle of the preservation of life as the principle of morality. The ever-greater triumph over others, and not the ever-increasing, but rationally increasing, power is the aim and happiness of natural man. ‘Continually to out-go the next before is felicity’. Man’s life may be compared to a race: ‘but this race we must suppose to have no other goal, nor other garland, but being foremost’. Absorbed in the race after the happiness of triumph, man cannot be aware of his dependence on the insignificant primary good, the preservation of life and limb; failing to recognize his bodily needs, man experiences only joys and sorrows of the mind, i.e. imaginary joys and sorrows. Living in the world of his imagination, he need do nothing, in order to convince himself of his superiority to others, but simply think out his deeds for himself; in this world, in which indeed ‘the whole world obeys him’, everything is accomplished according to his wishes. He can awaken himself from this dream world only when he feels in his own person, by bodily hurt, the resistance of the real world. ‘Men have no other means to acknowledge their own Darknesse, but onely by reasoning from the unforeseen mischances, that befall them in their ways’. Because man by nature lives in the dream of the happiness and triumph, of a glittering, imposing, apparent good, he requires a no less imposing power to awaken him from his dream: this imposing power is the imperious majesty of death.

The ideal condition for self-knowledge is, therefore, unforeseen mortal danger. The vain man, who, in his imagination, believes himself superior to others, cannot convince himself of the rightness of his estimate of himself; he requires the recognition of hiss superiority by others. He therefore steps outside his imagination. Now, either the others take his claim seriously and feel themselves slighted, or they do not take his claim seriously and he feels himself slighted. In either case the making of the claims leads to contempt. The one slighted longs for revenge. In order to avenge him he attacks the other, indifferent whether he loses his life in so doing. Unconcerned as to the preservation of his own life, he desires, however, above all that the other should remain alive; for ‘revenge aimeth not at the death, but at the captivity and subjection of an enemy…revenge aimeth at triumph, which over the dead is not’. The struggle which thus breaks out, in which, according to the opinion of both opponents, the object is not the killing, but the subjection of the other, of necessity becomes serious, because it is a struggle between bodies, a real struggle. From the beginning of the conflict, the two opponents have, without realizing and foreseeing it, completely left the imaginary world. At some point in the conflict, actual injury, or, more accurately, physical pain, arouses a fear for life. Fear moderates anger, puts the sense of being slighted into the background, and transforms the desire for revenge into hatred. The aim of the hater is no longer triumph over the enemy, but his death. The struggle for pre-eminence, about ‘trifles’, has become a life and death struggle. In this way natural man happens unforeseen upon the danger of death; in this way he comes to know this primary and greatest and supreme evil for the first time, to recognize death as the greatest and supreme evil in the moment of being irresistibly driven to fall back before death in order to struggle for his life. Only for a moment can he free himself from the danger of death by killing his enemy, for since every man is his enemy, after killing of the first enemy he is ‘again in the like danger of another’, indeed of all others. The killing of the enemy is thus the least far-sighted consequence of the withdrawal from death. In order to safeguard his life, not only for the moment, but also in the long run, man needs companions, with whose help he can successfully defend his life against the others. Companions can be gained in two ways, by force or by agreement. The former appears as if it stands in the midway between the killing of the enemy and agreement with him; so it is natural enough for him to try out the latter. Since fear can hardly be made manifest, but by some action dishonourable, that betrayeth the conscience of one’s own weakness; all men in whom the passion of courage or magnanimity have been predominated, have abstained from cruelty…In one word, therefore, the only law of actions in war is honour. Thus arises the relationship of master and servant. The victor who has safeguarded his honour becomes the master. The vanquished, who ‘submitteth…for fear of death’, who admits his weakness and with that has forfeited his honour, becomes the servant. The dominion of the master over the servant, despotic rule, is one form of the natural State, and as the other part of the natural State, patriarchy, is construed by Hobbes entirely according to the pattern of despotic rule, we may even say: despotic rule is the natural State. The artificial State, which is as such more perfect, arises when the two opponents are both seized with fear for their lives, overcome their vanity and shame of confessing their fear, and recognize as their real enemy not the rival, but ‘that terrible enemy of nature, death’, who, as their common enemy, forces them to mutual understanding, trust, and union, and thus procures them the possibility of completing the founding of the State for the purpose of providing safeguards for the longest possible term, against the common enemy. And while in the unforeseen life-and-death struggle, in which vanity comes to grief, the futility of vanity is shown, it is revealed in the concord of living, and of living in common, to which their pre-rational fear of death leads them, that the fear of death is appropriate to human conditions, and that it is ‘rational’. It is even ostensibly shown that it is only on the basis of fear of death that life comes to concord and that the fear of death is the only ‘postulate of natural reason’.

Hobbes distinguishes no precisely than any other moralist between legality and morality. Not the legality of the action, but the morality of the purpose, makes the just man. That man is just who fulfils the law because it is law and not for fear of punishment or for the sake of reputation. Although Hobbes states that those are ‘too severe, both to themselves, and others, that maintain, that the First motions of the mind, be Sinnes’, he yet ‘confesses’ that ‘it is safer to erre on that hand, than on the other’. In believing that the moral attitude, conscience, intention, is of more importance than the action, Hobbes is at one with the Christian tradition. He differs from this tradition at first sight only by his denial of the possibility that just and unjust actions depend wholly on the judgment of the individual conscience. In the state of nature every action is in principle permitted which the conscience of the individual recognizes as necessary for self-preservation, and every action is in principle forbidden which according to the judgment of the individual conscience does not serve the purpose of self-preservation. If, then, in the state of nature, any and every action is permitted, even in the state of nature not every intention is permitted, but only the intention of self-preservation. Thus the unequivocal distinction between just and unjust intentions holds even for the state of nature and is, therefore, absolute.

Hobbes expressly denies the existence of a law, as if it were a natural law, which obliged man unconditionally, and therefore obliged him even in the state of nature. He says: ‘These dictates of Reason, men use to call by the names of Lawes; but improperly: for they are but Conclusions, or Theoremes concerning what conduceth to the conservation and defence of themselves; whereas Law, properly is the word of him, that by right hath command over others’. Law as an obligation is the basis of a covenant between formerly free and unbound men. Thus ‘where no Covenant hath preceded, there hath no Right been transferred, and every man has right to everything…But when a Covenant is made, then to break it unjust: And the definition of injustice, is no other than the not Performance of Covenant’. The just attitude cannot be anything but earnest striving to keep one’s given word; and is therefore far from being obedience that it is, on the contrary, nothing else but proud self-reliance. From the Leviathan, it is clearly noticeable that opinion, far from being the origin of just attitude, is rather the only origin of the unjust attitude. Not pride, and still less obedience, but fear of violent death, is according to him the origin of the just intention. It makes possible the distinction between the attitude of an unjust man who obeys the laws of the State for fear of punishment, and the attitude of the just man, who for fear of death, and therefore from inner conviction, as it were once more accomplishing in himself the founding of the State, obeys the laws of the State. 

Since man is by nature fast in his imaginary world, it is only by unforeseen mischance that he can attain to knowledge of his own darkness and at the same time a modest and circumspect knowledge of the real world. That is to say: the world is originally revealed to man not by detachedly and spontaneously seeing its form, but by involuntary experience of its resistance. The least discriminating and the detached sense is the sense of touch. This explains the place of honour which is tacitly granted to the sense of touch in Hobbes’ physiology and psychology of perception; all sense-perception, particularly that of the most discriminating and detached sense, the sense of sight, is interpreted by experience of the sense of touch.

Thus it can be seen, that the moral and humanist antithesis of fundamentally unjust vanity and fundamentally just fear of violent death is the basis Hobbes’ political philosophy. As an objection, it can be called to effect that this antithesis is to be found in Hobbes’ political philosophy only because Hobbes had not yet completely freed himself from the influence of the Christian Biblical tradition. This antithesis is the ‘secularized’ form of the traditional antithesis between spiritual pride and fear of God, a secularized form which results from the Almighty God having been replaced by the over-mighty State, ‘the Mortall God’. Is this affiliation to the antithesis in Hobbes’ moral work right by itself?

On the contrary, this antithesis is an essential indispensable element, or, more accurately, the essential basis of, Hobbes’ political philosophy. Political philosophy deprived of its moral foundations is, indeed, Spinoza’s political philosophy, but not Hobbes’. Spinoza made might equivalent to right. Thanks to the moral basis of his political philosophy, Hobbes kept the possibility of acknowledging justice as such and distinguishing between right and might. Hobbes’ political philosophy is really based on knowledge of men, which is deepened and corroborated, by the self-knowledge and self-examination of the individual, and not on a general scientific and metaphysical theory. And because it is based on experience of human life, it can never, in spite of all the temptations of natural science, fall completely into the danger of abstraction from moral life and neglect of moral difference.

The contention is that Hobbes’ humanist moral motivation of his political philosophy is more original than the naturalistic motivation. The important points of his moral motivation were firmly established well before he turned his attention to natural science and especially to Euclid’s Elements. This discovery of Euclid was an epoch in his life; everything he thought and wrote after that is modified by this happening. His discovery lent maturity to his later works and whether this is the case, can be decided only after the sparse remnants of his youthful philosophy is meticulously studied.