- The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes's Leviathan
This is the second Cambridge Companion devoted to Hobbes in little over a decade. The first, edited by Tom Sorrell in 1996, was organized around the ideas of Hobbes and ranged widely through his writings. This new Companion focuses on Leviathan and, as Patricia Springborg explains in her introduction, is intended to serve several purposes. First, it marks the great achievement of Hobbes' s treatise: Leviathan is one of only four works —with The Republic, Locke's Essay, and Origin of Species —to have its own Companion. It assembles an international group of scholars reminding us of longstanding traditions of Hobbes scholarship in many countries and befitting a thinker who was very much a philosophical cosmopolite. This collection also reflects the intense focus in recent years on the religion of Leviathan and the chapters on its theology and ecclesiology by Roberto Farneti, Luc Foisneau, Franck Lessay, and Gianni Paganini, among others, are some of the most interesting in the book. This approach has been facilitated by Springborg's excellent decision to distribute the essays evenly among the four books of the treatise so that the last two books of Leviathan, "Of a Christian Common-Wealth" and "Of the Kingdome of Darknesse," so long neglected by modern scholars (though not by Hobbes's contemporaries), receive equal treatment.
Like other volumes in the series, this is very much a "companion" and not an introduction to its subject: it assumes a fair knowledge of the works of Hobbes and his contemporaries and of the commentary on them from Hobbes's time to our own. Readers unfamiliar with Bishop Bramhall, Gassendi, Mersenne, and Grotius, or who have read only Leviathan, will sometimes be at a loss; but in most of the essays, or by reading one in the light of another, they will find just enough description of the background and essential figures to make all clear. This occasional disorientaton is recompensed by the depth of the analyses, where contributors feel free to pursue particular points of interest. So here we find Horst Bredekamp speculating on how the famous frontispiece of Leviathan might have drawn on Hermetic tradition; Gabriella Slomp on Hobbes's idea of "glory"; and Quentin Skinner, in a typically subtle reading, teasing out Hobbes's notions of representation. Skinner's analysis, like others here, reminds us of the ways Hobbes works upon words —in this case, persons, authors, and representatives —by shaping their sense to his peculiar purpose and creating out of them a new way of conceiving a political belief or civic relationship. [End Page 920]
The Companion ends with several chapters on the contemporary reception of Hobbes's masterpiece. Much of the material will be familiar to students of Hobbes: accusations of licentiousness, impiety, and atheism and attempts to suppress the work. But here the old story of the "hunting of Leviathan" is refined by Jon Parkin and, in particular, Jeffrey R. Collins, in two of the most stimulating essays in the book. Parkin shows how the hostile reaction to Leviathan was driven in part by the apparent and (to many) shocking acceptance of some of its arguments; and that what Hobbes later became, an almost absurdly exaggerated figure of abuse, was not at all what he was in the years just following the appearance of his book. Collins, distilling earlier work in The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes (2005), points the way to a far more richly inflected appreciation of Hobbes's reception as he describes an attack on Leviathan by a group of disgruntled booksellers with strong Presbyterian sympathies and supported behind the scenes by figures as prominent as Richard Baxter. Collins draws on a detailed knowledge of religious and political alliances, and the nature of publishing and censorship during the Interregnum, to show how a true understanding of the reception of Leviathan can only be had by embedding it in its history, not only as a...