Behemoth (1)

Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth or the Long Parliament (The University of Chicago Press, 1990) ed. and with an Introduction by Stephen Holmes. The Introduction tries to form generalizations about human motivation from what for Hobbes, despite his focus on the period, is a specific case study. Holmes concludes that a Hobbesian theory of behavior locates a primary motivator in irrational impulses (passion and hypocrisy, for example, or fear of dishonor and damnation ). This significantly modifies the view in Leviathan that human behavior is primarily motivated by rational self-interest (self-preservation and mutual protection against aggressors). But who's shitting who here? Hobbes himself never seems to generalize his observations about the historical events in the English Civil War. He never says that pride or gullibility, for example, are always factors in understanding why people do what they do. The circumstances leading to the Civil War were striking largely because they constituted an exception to the type of behavior that causes nations to be formed and maintained. The position in the Leviathan is as much a normative statement as an historical observational statement. Men, according to the Leviathan, should act according to principles of rational self-interest. Behemoth adds a qualification: They can act from irrational motives as long as a strong enough force (e.g. vanity or sexual shame) motivates them to overcome their self interest. But irrational motives can and usually do lead to disaster.

Writing a century later and with the benefit of Lockean theory of government behind him, Hume would view the English Civil War not very differently from Hobbes. For both men, Charles I was the victim and the parliamentarians, army and Cromwell the villains. While rather more detached about religious sectarianism, Hume adds some amusing details about Cromwell’s personal habits. Neither paid much attention to the suppression of the Levellers and radical Quakers, which for modern historians is a greater tragedy than the regicide.

The publisher might look into getting some better glue.