Philosophy and Rhetoric 33.1 (2000) 74-93
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"Lord Over the Children of Pride": The Vaine-Glorious Rhetoric of Hobbes's Leviathan
Hobbes claimed in the Leviathan that he had, by "industrious meditation," discovered the Principles of Reason that would allow Commonwealths to be everlasting. He claimed, in other words, to have solved the political problem (1968, chap. 30, 378). All that was now required was to have his work "fall in the hands of a Soveraign" who would, "in protecting the Publique teaching of it, convert this Truth of Speculation, into Utility of Practice" (chap. 31, 408). Accordingly, an important element of his political solution was the Leviathan itself, a work that would instruct the people in the Essential Rights of Sovereignty (chap. 30, 379). It would seem, then, that the Leviathan is an essential combination of these two aspects of Hobbes's endeavour; it is a work that is intended to reveal and persuade. Therefore, it is appropriate to evaluate his undertaking, not only in terms of its teaching, but also in the success of its rhetorical ambition. 1
I argue in this paper that Hobbesian rhetoric is fundamentally determined by his political theory, in particular, by his discovery of the problem of vaine-glory, or pride. Pride poses a political problem because it is a passion that produces an unrealistic estimation of our abilities and therefore ultimately leads to deadly struggles and war. Hobbesian political science attempts to overcome the problem of pride by instituting a Leviathan, a lord over the children of pride. Once we see the nature of the political problem as Hobbes presents it and his proposed solution, the rhetorical character of Hobbes's writings becomes clearer.
The extent to which Hobbes relies upon, and in crucial respects departs from, the traditional rhetoric that drew upon Artistotle's Rhetoric and subsequently Cicero's De Inventione and Quintilan's Institutio Oratoria is a complex question. 2 In this paper, I explore the rhetoric of the Leviathan, especially its first part, "On Man," to distinguish the Aristotelian and Ciceronian tradition from what I call Hobbes's Euclidean rhetoric. More [End Page 74] specifically, I argue that the structure and movement of part 1 of the Leviathan can be better understood when it is seen as a direct assault on human pride, a stripping away of all claims that may lead to vaine-glory. It is a step-by-step, Euclidean reductio that attempts to curb the readers' passion of glorying. This argument about the rhetorical character of the first part of the Leviathan has important theoretical consequences: it suggests that Hobbes's influential formulation of power, rights, and justice also had a profoundly rhetorical character.
But how persuasive is Hobbes's rhetoric? For reasons noted above, this question goes to the heart of his political theory. The final part of this paper explores the efficacy of the Hobbesian rhetoric of pride and therefore of Hobbesian science. I argue that the rhetorical descent in the first part of the Leviathan, where the truth about human weakness is revealed to the proud, is simultaneously an ascent that acknowledges independence and self-sufficiency of human beings as "self-makers." Thus I argue that, rather than overcoming the problem of pride, Hobbesian political science re-founds it on the bases of rights and the promise of unlimited progress through science and commerce: Hobbes's rhetoric reformulated, but did not solve, the problem of pride.
The problem of pride
The importance of pride for Hobbes's psychology and political theory is evident from the title and frontispiece of the Leviathan. 3 The Leviathan, according to the Old Testament, is a creature of the Lord, set over the children of pride (Job 41:34). In Hobbes's reformulation, the Leviathan is an artificial body, made by the "Art of man," whose business is Salus Populi or the peoples' safety (1968, "Introduction," 81). Thus, from the beginning, the revolutionary flavour of Hobbes's enterprise is made evident: Man replaces God; pride is a problem of safety...