quinta-feira, 29 de dezembro de 2011

Thomas Hobbes, Liberdade, e Tito Lívio

Like every other book, Hobbes’ book is about other books. And I think the key to seeing how to get at this question is to look at the very beginning Leviathan, by which I mean the epistle dedicatory, in which Hobbes says to Godolphin that his book attempts to pass unwounded between two sides, one of which he says is concerned with too much liberty, and one of which is concerned with too much authority. And I think in trying to identify the intellectual opponents whom of course Hobbes never identifies by name in this book, it’s helpful to bear exactly that in mind. What does he mean when he talks about too much liberty? Well, one of the major intellectual contexts here is one which Hobbes does obliquely talk about in Chapter 21 called ‘Of the Liberty of Subjects’, because he says there that most destructive force – and it’s an extraordinary thing to say – in all of England in his lifetime has been the reading of the classics, and he thinks that a study, especially of the Roman classics and above all of the historians, and he must be thinking here of Livy’s discourses, he thinks that by reading these classics, as he says people have come to think that they have rights against their sovereigns and that this has left Europe awash with blood, so that as he says ‘nothing has been more dearly purchased than a knowledge of the classical tongues’. That’s an almost blasphemous remark because of course the dearest purchase was meant to be Christ’s life, but he is saying no, Livy’s history, that’s done all the damage. Well what is the damage that Livy’s history does, and Hobbes does actually in Chapter 21, tell us it says that there’s something called a ‘free state’, that’s to say a state which is independent both of any other states, and of any dependence on particular groups of its own subjects. So if it’s independent of any particular groups it must be a democracy, because it must be ruled by the people as a whole.

And secondly, we learn from the classical historians, that you yourself can only be free in a free state, because if freedom is contrasted with dependence, then the only form of state in which you will not be dependent on some other source of power, is one in which you equally are ruling with everyone else. So the doctrines that Hobbes opposes, as he says in Chapter 21, are the view that we are only free in democracies and in the monarchy we are all slaves, as he says, and that there is something which we can call a free state. Now Hobbes’ analysis of freedom in Chapter 21 seems to me designed to overcome that entire classical republican analysis which he also satirises when he talks about the citizens of Lucar, who have written the word Libertas in great characters upon the turrets of their city at this day, and he goes on to say, ‘but they have no more freedom than in Constantinople’, that’s to say under the most absolute sovereign that Hobbes had any knowledge of. And why is that? Well, because freedom is simply absence of obstruction to your behaviour, it’s nothing to do with democracy, it’s nothing to do with independence, all of this is a misunderstanding of freedom.

Quentin SkinnerAqui. 3ª aula.

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