The Eternal Jouissance of the Community: Phantasm, Imagination, and 'Natural Man' in Hobbes
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The Eternal Jouissance of the Community
Phantasm, Imagination, and 'Natural Man' in Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan and De Cive each present an unromantic vision of 'natural man': a staple of social contract theory and, pace Rousseau and Locke, often an optimistic depiction of humanity's primary disposition, and accordingly, our 'essential nature.'1 As with other theorists within the tradition, Hobbes presents 'natural man' in the guise of a thought experiment. He is posited not as an historical forebear to Hobbes's political contemporaries, but rather as a hypothetical result of the abstraction of human being from whatever gives it to be socialized and cultured.2 But whereas for Locke this stripped-bare humanity would yield man in simple, unmediated relation to natural law, and for Rousseau we find a human freedom all too raw, but as yet untarnished by the foibles of mannered society, Hobbes is not so nostalgic about natural man. He represents, rather, a state of being that we would wish to transcend and that, moreover, we should be willing to exchange our freedoms for obligations in order to get past.

Notwithstanding Hobbes's preference for socialized humanity, in this paper I apply psychoanalytic theory to the task of demonstrating the extent to which his depiction of natural man contributes to a cultural fantasy regarding pre- (or extra-) social existence most usually accredited to Rousseau's 'noble savage.' Hobbes renders the fantasy of 'natural man' more deeply ambivalent, however, endowing a bleak and dangerous dimension to our understanding of uncultivated humanity. Such a fantasy, I contend, determines the social destiny of marginal groups, not quite (or at best ambiguously) included by social contract into the political sphere: 'native' peoples, the mentally ill, the stateless, women, and children. Construed broadly as social novices and even 'innocents,' these groups are the 'protected' and possibly threatening remnants of pre-contract, 'natural' anthropology. But moreover, like the part that woman plays for Hegel as 'the eternal irony of the community,'3 those seen to approximately embody Hobbes's 'natural man' are an 'excluded inclusion,' disrupting as they support the Hobbesian state.4 This paper argues from a psychoanalytic perspective that individuals who are not easily incorporated by the civil state come to play an important role for the maintenance of community identity and desire, as objects of fantasy or 'jouissance.' Through a fantastic relation to these figures, regular citizens contain and control their impulses and affects; and are thereby also compensated for the relinquishments demanded of them by society. My contention is that the political community thus requires the specter of an anti-social remnant of nature, about which it can fantasize, and whose segregation performs a pivotal function for the maintenance of social order.

In order to sharpen the focus of this approach to reading Hobbes, I will rely not only upon the political tracts but also his writings regarding the nature of perception and cognition. For, although Hobbes's social contract experiment is already ripe for a psychoanalytic interpretation, turning also to his notions of 'fancy' and 'phantasm' will enable a richer and more integral engagement between political and psychoanalytic theory. Considered in terms of psychoanalytic theory, Hobbes's musings about the nature of sensory perception and imagination are cast in a new light, and deployed to reflect upon his political theory in novel ways. For instance, we can then ask after the ontological and ethical status of 'natural man' and 'the state of nature,' as products of the imagination, within the terms of Hobbes's own philosophical system. What is the significance of Hobbes's gesture of founding his system by invoking its outside5—or modes of address (the imaginary, fantasy) that elsewhere he radically excludes from legitimate philosophical discourse? And what are the social effects of such an including-exclusion? As will be demonstrated below, Hobbes's curious manner of disavowal employed as philosophical technique supports the disavowals he enacts at the political and social levels: his denigration of the imagination implicitly reinforcing an exclusion of those individuals who do not embody the rational subject. This gesture of disavowal, notably the foil of psychoanalysis, also provides the terms of reference through which...