What might Arendt have to say about Trump?

A few people have been asking me my thoughts on the recent surge of interest in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, in relation to our present political crisis.  I’m working on writing something on the subject, but meanwhile – to air some rough ideas –  I offer the following snippet  of a conversation I had last week […]

Arendt: “The reality in which we live”

“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who […]

Misremembering Plato’s Noble Lie

Back when I taught at Yale, I used to give a quiz about Plato’s Republic in the first class meeting for one of my upper-level seminars. The students were all supposed to have taken at least one prior course in which the Republic was read, and I wanted to see how well they remembered it.  (I also […]

Leviathan’s Science of Morals

1. Time for another go at Hobbes’s moral philosophy.  This time around, I’d like to take a closer look at how Hobbes himself defines moral philosophy in Leviathan, and how he makes use of that definition. “Morall Philosophy,” he says, “is nothing else but the Science of what is Good, and Evill, in the conversation, […]

Thoreau the Revolutionary

1. In “Thoreau and the Tax-Collector,” I looked at Thoreau’s reasons, as stated in “Civil Disobedience,” for refusing to pay his poll-tax.  My concern was to emphasize Thoreau’s political purpose, his understanding of the act as a practical step toward  combating the evil of slavery.   As I noted, this side of his argument in “Civil Disobedience” has often been slighted, when readers focus […]

Thoreau and the Tax-Collector

There’s a side of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” that I believe is often misunderstood – or maybe just misremembered. We remember his refusal to pay the Massachusetts poll tax, even at the cost of going to jail.  But what is it that he hopes this act will accomplish, practically speaking?     Perhaps that question seems […]

Laws of Nature in De Cive and Leviathan

Fourth in a series. The first two posts in this series sketched my proposal for reading Hobbes’s moral theory in Leviathan, together with some remarks on the bearing of that theory on the book’s political argument.  In the third, I pointed out some discreet, but decisive differences between Leviathan‘s Laws of Nature and their antecedents in De Cive, […]

Hobbes’s Swerve: From De Cive to Leviathan

Third in a series. 1. The preceding posts in this series have proposed reading Hobbes’s moral philosophy in Leviathan as a theory of peace.   Departing from the widely-held view that Hobbes’s theory is addressed to singular agents’ prudential or strategic interests, I have argued that Hobbes means to do no more (and no less) than identify appropriate norms for peaceable social intercourse, suitable […]

Surveying the Whale

Second in an ongoing series. In last week’s post, I sketched a proposal for reading Hobbes’s venture in moral philosophy in Leviathan. Today I would like to develop that proposal further, opening a broader perspective on the argument of Leviathan as a whole. My proposal — to recapitulate in brief — is that the various moral […]

Hobbes’s Moral Philosophy: A Proposal

(First in a series.) 1.  What is the point of Thomas Hobbes’s moral philosophy? What question or questions  of moral theory did he think he had settled?  In writing Leviathan, Hobbes evidently took great pride in his would-be achievement, in that field specifically.  Near the end of the book’s First Part, “Of Man,” he claims to provide “the true and only moral philosophy.”  He […]