The Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes

A Course with Professor Thomas Patrick Burke

April 16 to July 2, 2008

Thomas Hobbes is considered by some the greatest political philosopher to have written in the English language.  His work Leviathan, published in 1651 during the English Civil War, is a realistic, down-to-earth appraisal of human society which is thoroughly relevant to the times we live in. The natural state of the human race left to itself is a war of all against all, in his view, and the only remedy for this condition is a physical power, an effective government, which will “keep them all in awe.”  Hobbes’s philosophy is a constant antidote to the wishful thinking it is so easy for us to engage in. Whereas Locke bases government on the protection of our rights, Hobbes bases it on the necessity of peace.  He takes the new science of Galileo, Descartes and Harvey as a given and builds his theory of society on that. The result is a consistent materialism; but it is one that does not prevent him from believing in God. Every serious writer of political philosophy since Hobbes has been compelled to take his work into account, and so it forms a necessary foundation for the study of government. Hobbes writes with a fine dry wit, which makes him enjoyable to read even when one disagrees.