Making Space for Leviathan: On Hobbes’ Political Theory

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Abstract: Most discussions of Hobbes’ political thought leave one with the impression that Hobbes’ most important contribution to political theory is the contractual nature of his commonwealth from which the modern social contract and many discussions of contemporary political theory emerge. Adopting this perspective on Hobbes’ political thought risks losing sight of the philosophy of politics he develops. This philosophy not only draws on a realist attitude toward human political motivation, but it also takes a position on the place of politics in culture, and redefines the horizons of culture to emphasize the role of religion within it, at times drawing on and echoing classical Jewish sources. In Leviathan, politics inherits the classical role of religion as the determining force of this cultural horizon. Political theology legitimizes the sovereign not only politically, but culturally. Liberal political theory has for over two centuries assumed the question of religion and politics to be settled. This article proposes that this question be reconsidered in light of liberalism’s foundational philosophy.

Biography: Menachem Lorberbaum is chair of the Department of Hebrew Culture Studies at Tel Aviv University and a research associate at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of Politics and the Limits of Law: Secularizing the Political in Medieval Jewish Thought (Stanford, 2001), and coeditor with Michael Walzer and Noam Zohar of The Jewish Political Tradition, vol. 1, Authority (Yale, 2000) and vol. 2, Membership (Yale, 2003).

Volume 2, Number 1 (Winter 2007) pp. 78-100