- The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes
Perhaps many still think of Hobbes as the foremost apologist of Stuart absolutist monarchy. As a royalist, it is supposed, he wrote in denunciation of all the rebels against the Caroline regime. But even as early as the 1640s, while that regime was being dismantled, some of Hobbes's contemporaries considered his royalist allegiance dubious. Jeffrey Collins not only explains why many of those contemporaries read him as an apologist of the English Revolution, but why it was reasonable for them to do so. Collins leads his reader to the conclusion that the allegiance of Hobbes shifted from royalist to Cromwellian.
Chapter 1 portrays Hobbes as an anti-Christian Machiavellian humanist whose aim was "to render Christianity a . . . civil religion" (56). Thus, Hobbes's Christianity was only skin-deep: he was much more an Erastian than a Protestant. In Collins's view, the English Revolution was one of religion. But the central issue was not so much articles of faith (theology) as the location and nature of the religious authority (ecclesiology). He argues that this revolution was essentially an Erastian attempt to transfer clerical power to the secular sovereign. As an Erastian, then, Hobbes was bound to sympathize with at least some of the rebels who emerged in the 1640s: and this is why, Collins contends, we must ultimately view Hobbes as "a defender of core elements of the revolutionary cause" (58).
In the second chapter Collins argues that there was a significant change in [End Page 946] Hobbes's political theorizing (or writing) between the unpublished English treatise of 1640, Elements of Law, and the first published treatise, the Latin De Cive. In the latter, Hobbes became a great deal more concerned with questions of ecclesiology, spending many more pages developing Erastian points made merely in passing in the Elements of Law. Chapter 3 offers a convincing account of Hobbes's alienation from the exiled Laudian clergy and their royalist allies, who both came to Paris in the mid-1640s to be with Henrietta Maria and Prince Charles. Thus, even before Leviathan Hobbes had upset a very powerful group of royalists.
The motivation for writing that book is examined in chapter 4. The question of Hobbes's motive is one that many commentators have been content to neglect. Collins answers emphatically that Hobbes did not write to "re-establish a traditional monarchical order" but to lend support to "forward-looking state-building and religious reform" in England. (116) Thus, the masterpiece ought to be considered a "revolutionary text," not because of its break with traditional political thought from, say, Plato to Machiavelli but because it was Hobbes's contribution to the ongoing (Erastian) English Revolution. As Collins emphasizes throughout this chapter, Leviathan was not pro-Stuart but pro-Rump. The execution of the king had prompted Hobbes to cast the die: to begin composing his longest political treatise, switching from the Latin of De Cive to the vernacular, in order to provide argument for accepting the new non-monarchical and Erastian regime. As an Erastian, Hobbes was bound to favor the revolutionary group whose agenda was most anticlericalist: the Independents. According to Collins, in Leviathan Hobbes went farther than condoning Independency: he endorsed it. The book was Hobbes's way of submitting to the new regime — the regime bereft of the king, the House of Lords, and, most importantly, the Episcopal Church. As Cromwell had become the leader of the Independents, Hobbes, in turn, was inclined to favor the successful general who was emerging as the primus inter pares in this regime. So while he wrote Leviathan, Collins contends, Hobbes might well have imagined that Cromwell would ultimately be the Leviathan, the civil sovereign, described in his book.
Collins devotes chapters 5 and 6 to an attempt to show that Hobbes was quite comfortable in Interregnum England. Collins casts Hobbes as a happy member, or at least associate, of some Cromwellian, Independent circles in Oxford and London. The final chapter describes the Laudian (or "high...