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The consequences are to furnish support to Mr. Buckle's
opinion that the intellectual element in mankind is the
predominant circumstance in determining their progress.
Undoubtedly the intellectual element is a most important
circumstance, but in the seventeenth century it was not
the predominant one. In the seventeenth century the
moral element, in the shape of Puritanism, was the pre-
dominant element; the element which supplied force
enough to raise in England an armed insurrection, not
merely against tyranny, but against vice, which had
assumed in the high places of Europe a form and
character that renewed in the modern world the old
contest between the Hebrew ^ and Greek ^ religions.

^ Genesis, xviii. xix.

"^ Plato, 1^6/io<, A. The contrast between the Greek and Hebrew religions
could not be more strongly brought out than by the fact that the vice which
the Hebrew religion punished with ' fire from heaven,' and which Plato de-
nounced, the Greek religion deilied.



IIOllBES. 53



ESSAY 11.
EOBBES.

Eeading over again lately Hobbes's ' Human Nature,' and
his ' De Corpore Politico,' has not raised Hobbes intellec-
tually or morally in my estimation. As the attacks on
Hobbes were carried far beyond the bounds of truth and
justice, so the vindications of him, even the most able of
them — that by James Mill, in his ' Fragment on Mackin-
tosh,' and that by John Austin in his ' Jurisprudence ' —
while they have done but justice to the power and origi-
nality of his mind, have, as it appears to me, given too
favourable a view of his political philosophy. For instance,
John Austin ^ attempts to show that Hobbes, like the
French philosophers of the eighteenth century, who were
styled the Economists, could not be an apologist of tyranny,
if tjranny be synonymous with misrule, inasmuch as he
maintains that good and stable government is impos-
sible unless the fundamentals of political science be
known by the bulk of the people. But this is much
too favourable a version of what Hobbes really says ; the
sum of which is that subjects are to be taught not to
desire^ change of government. In fact, all the political
instruction Hobbes desired for the people merely amounted
to as much as might make them quiet slaves. And the

^ See the long note on Hobbes in Austin's ' rrovince of Jurisprudence De-
termined,' p. 2()0, at svy. : London, John MuvDiy, l6o2.



54 ESSAY>'S ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

length to which he goes may be judged from the fact of
his quoting to suit his purpose a passage of Scripture to
prove that ' Kings are gods.' ^ How any man in the pos-
session of his reason could come to the conclusion that
the rulers of the seventeenth century, who certainly did
not themselves know even the first rudiments of political
science — unless the maxim ' qui nescit dissimulare nescit
reo-nare ,' and other similar maxims of the school of the
Borgias, though Machiavelli has, unjustly perhaps, got the
credit of them, be ' political science ' — would put ' the bulk
of the people ' in the way of knowing ' the fundamentals
of political science,' is a question more easily asked than
answered.

Hobbes has built up his main edifice, namely a com-
monwealth, upon ' the consent of many men together,' or
on what has been called ' original contract,' on grounds
altoo-ether false and unsound, on the ' sandy foundation of
a fiction.' Now, as for the question of the laws of human
nature, of what use can they be, even if a man has got at
them, if the man then goes and constructs a complete sys-
tem of political philosophy — a complete philosophy of
politics in direct opposition to historical facts, to liistorical
truth ? If pohtical philosophy is to be formed by the ap-
plication of the laws of human nature to the explanation

of history which means of course historical facts, not

historical fictions, as most history is — it is manifest that
Hobbes could not, by the way he went to work with
imaginary states of society, form a political philosophy
worth the paper it was written on.

Before proceeding to point out some of the fundamental
errors in Hobbes's pohtical philosophy, it may be of use

1 See Leviathan, part ii. chap. xxx. p. 177 : London, 1651.



J JOBBER. 55

to attempt to show how it was possible for a man of so
powerful an understanding as his to fall into such errors.
The case of Hobbes affords a remarkable instance in
confirmation of the theory that the circumstances which
have power to give permanent qualities to the mind may
be traced to the very moment of birth, and some of them,
on which effects of the greatest importance depend, beyond
the birth of the human being. Hobbes is undoubtedly
' a great name in philosophy ; ' but he was not exempt
from the general law of human nature, which makes the
mind in a considerable degree dependent on the body.
Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588 ; and he has told us
himself that the effect of the rumours of the coming
Spanish Armada, which was to make an end of the English
nation, upon his mother's mind before his birth was such
that she brought forth him and fear together.^ In en-
deavouring to form an estimate of Hobbes's philosophy, it
*s important not to lose sight of the strange contrast be-
tween his intrepid intellect, which nothing could frighten
from the pursuit of truth, and his constitutional timidity,
which made him shrink from the idea of resistance to the
temporal power ; for resistance implied war, and that

^ ' Fama ferebat enim diffusa per oppida nostra,
Extremum geuti classe venire diem,
Atque metum tantura concepit tunc mea mater,
Ut pareret geminos, meque metumque simul.

Tliomse Hobbes Malmesburiensis Vita, carmine expressa. Authore seipso,
Scripta anno 1072, London, 1G8L 'The day of liis birth," says Aubrey,
* -was April the fifth, A.D. 1588, on a Friday morninir, which tliat year was
Good Friday. His mother fell in labour with him upon the frijrht of the
invasion of the Spaniards, he told me himself, between the hours of four
and six.' Aubrey then says that his mitivity was as 'I havr it more exact
from his own mouth, 5h. 2m. mane ; ' that his horoscope bad in it a satelli-
tium, and that * it is a maxim in astrology that a native that hath a satelli-
tium in his ascendant proves more eminent in his life than ordinary.' —
Auhivys Lives, vol. ii. pp. o98, 59!).



56 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

which, says Hobbes, ' is worst of all, continual fear and
danger of violent death.' ^ Hobbes has in another of his
works spoken as strongly of death simply, as he does in
the words above cited of violent death. For he says of
avoiding that which is hurtful, ' but most of all, the ter-
rible enemy of Nature, Death, from whom we expect both
the loss of all power, and also the greatest of bodily pains
in the losing.'^

The errors in Hobbes's political philosophy, which may
seem strange in a, man of his powerful understanding,
may have arisen from his total want of any practical
knowledge of politics, combined with his constitutional
timidity. The latter quality seems to have led him into
the following errors in his mental philosophy, which is,
however, in general far more valuable than his philo-
sophy of politics.

Hobbes says, ' Pity is imagination or fiction of future
calamity to ourselves, proceeding from the sense of an-
other man's calamity.'^ 'Thus,' says Butler, 'fear and
compassion would be the same idea, and a fearful and a
compassionate man the same character, which everyone
immediately sees are totally different Further, to those
who give any scope to their affections, there is no percep-
tion or inward feeling more universal than this ; that one
who has been merciful and compassionate throughout the
course of his behaviour, should himself be treated with
kindness, if he happens to fall into circumstances of dis-
tress. Is fear, then, or cowardice, so great a recommen-
dation to the favour of tlie bulk of mankind ? Or, is it

^ Leviathan, part i. ch. xiii.
' De Corpore Politico, chap. i. § 6.

' Hobbea's Human Nature, ch. ix. § 10, p. 52 ; see also Leviathan, part i.
ch. vi. p. 27.



HOBBES. 57

not plain, that mere fearlessness (and therefore not the
contrary) is one of the most popular qualifications ? This
shows that mankind are not aflccted towards compassion
as fear, but as somewhat totally different.' ^

If Hobbes had said that the remembrance of past
calamity, rather than the fear of future, to ourselves, was
the cause of our pity for the calamity of others, he would
have been nearer the mark, and would have escaped the
paradox that pity and cowardice might be expected to be
found toorether, whereas it has been matter of common
observation that cowardice and cruelty go together.
There is a truer philosophy in Virgil's line : * Ilaud ignara
mali,miseris succurrere disco.' When I have felt oppression
and cruelty, or hunger, thirst, and cold, I can enter into
the sufferings of another whom I believe to feel them.
A consequence of this definition of pity given by Hobbes
is to confound our judgments of character, and in some
degree to account for Hobbes's support of the Stuarts.
According to Hobbes, Charles I. should have been a more
humane man than Eobert Bruce, because he was a less
brave man. Yet while Robert Bruce would fight a battle
under disadvantacreous circumstances rather than leave a
poor woman seized with the pains of labour to a savage
enemy, Charles Stuart repeatedly showed a hard insensi-
bility to the sufferings or the sorrows even of those about
him.

Again, Hobbes says, ' Indignation is that grief which
consisteth in the conception of good success happening to
them whom they think unworthy thereof. Seeing there-
fore men think all those unworthy whom they hate, they

* Sermons preached at the TJoUs Chapel, by Joseph Butler, LL.D., late
Lord Bishop of Durham ; Sermon V., mte.



58 ESSAYS ON HISTOIilCAL TRUTH. ■

think tliem not only unworthy of the good fortune they
have, but also of their own virtues.' ^

Indignation is here quite misrepresented by Hobbes ;
for indignation is, according to the proper meaning of the
term, excited by injustice, which is only another name for
tyranny or oppression. Hobbes appears to reject alto-
gether the idea of generous indignation, and he makes'
indignation synonymous with envy.

Hobbes gives the following strange explanation of the
' tears of reconciliation.' ' Men are apt to weep that
prosecute revenge, when the revenge is suddenly stopt
or frustrated by the repentance of their adversary ; and
such are the tears of reconciliation.' ^

The following illustrations of pusillanimity are more
favourable examples of Hobbes's characteristic manner,
both of thought and expression.

' To be pleased or displeased with fame, true or false, is
a sign of pusillanimity, because he that relieth on fame
hath not his success in his own power. Likewise art and
fallacy are signs of pusillanimity, because they depend
not upon our own power, but the ignorance of others.
Also proneness to anger, because it argueth difficulty of
proceeding. Also ostentation of ancestors, because all
men are more inclined to make show of their own power
when they have it, than of another's. To laugh at others,

1 Human Nature, p. 53. Hobbes adds, in illustration of the effects of
what, as vnW be shown hereafter, he had a particular dislike to, eloquence :
' And of all the passions of the mind, these two, indignation and pity, are
most raised and increased by eloquence : for the aggravation of the calamity
and extenuation of the fault augmenteth pity ; and the extenuation of
the worth of the person, together with the magnifying of his success,
which are the parts of an orator, are able to turn these two passions into
fury.'

^ Iluni.an >sature, p. 50.



IIOBBEH. 59

because it is an affectation of glory from other men's
infirmities, and not from any ability of their own.' ^

Ilobbes begins his speculation on government in his
*De Corpore Politico ' and his ' Leviathan ' by asserting,
for he does not and cannot prove it, that men are by-
nature equal. Men are manifestly not equal by nature
either in strength of body or in strength of mind, but are
entitled to equal rights by good laws. From this alleged
equality, Hobbes then deduces as a corollary ' a general
diffidence in mankind, and nnitual fear one of anotlier.' ^
This is followed by much about what Ilobbes calls the
Laws of Nature, which occupies most of Part I. of the
'De Corpore Politico,' and in whicli there is much
questionable logic, and more of dogmatism than either of
originality or utility. In the thiiteenth chapter of the

^ Human Nature, p. 61. lu a subsequent page (p. 65) Hobbes saj^s : —
' Both fancy and judgment are commonly comprehended under the name of
ivit, which seemeth to be a tenuity and agility of spirits, contrary to that
restiness of the spirits supposed in those that are dull.' The word ' resti-
ness ' seems to be the same word as that given as ' restifness ' in Johnson,
who never cites Hobbes, a high authority for good English, but cites here
and elsewhere ' King Charles,' that is Dr. Gauden, of whom Hume says
that the ' Eikon Basilike 'is 'so unlike the bombast, perpk'xed, rlietorical,
corrupt style of Dr. Gauden, to whom it is ascribed, that no Immau testimony
seems sufficient to convince us that he was the author,' although it is uow
proved, to the sati-ifaction of all who will be convinced by human testimony,
to have been the production of Gauden. Moreover Johnson, instead of
citing Ilobbes, repeatedly cites Bramhall's attack on Hobbes, and brings
I^ramhall as an authority for words, such for example as ' appetible,' for
which there is no other authority — Bramhall, who is so bad a writer that he
could be no authority eitlier for language or thought, and of whom Ilobbes
says * for his elocution, the virtue whereof lieth not in the flu.x of words,
but in perspicuity ; it is the same language with that of the kingdom of
darkness,' and is made up of ' nonsense divided ' and of ' nonsense com-
poundtjd.' — See 'The Question concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance,
clearly stated and debated between Dr. Bramhall, Bishop of Derry, and
Thomas Ilobbes, of Malmesbury ' : London, IGoG.

■^ De Corpore Politico, part i. chap, i, §§ 2, 3. Leviathan, part i.
ch. xiii.



60 ESSAYS ON HISTORICAL TRUTH.

' Leviathan,' ' Of tlie natural condition of manl^ind,' the
celebrated passage, ending with the words ' no arts, no
letters, no society ; and, which is worst of all, continual
fear, and danger of violent death ; and the life of man
solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,' is happily ex-
pressed ; but the chapter might have begun with it ; for
w^hat precedes, though connected with this passage
by a ' therefore,' is false, and useless, since men are
not by nature equal. Further, there needed not the
paragraph immediately preceding to prove that savages
are always in a state of war with their neighbours, and
generally among themselves. But tlie materials in
Hobbes's time for a knowledge of savage tribes were
scanty, and often not authentic. Hobbes also dogmatises,
too often as falsely as M. Comte.

Hobbes not finding this one maxim that government
is founded on fear ' sufficient,' as Mr. John Stuart Mill
observes, ' to carry him through the whole of his subject,
was obliged to eke it out by the double sophism of an
original contract. I call this a double sophism,' continues
Mr. J. S. Mill, ' first as passing off a fiction for a fact,
and secondly as assuming a practical principle or precept
as the basis of a theory ; wliich is a petitio principii, since
every rule of conduct, even though it be so binding a
one as the observance of a promise, must rest its own
foundations upon the theory of the subject, and the
theory therefore cannot rest upon it.' ^

The three forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy
and democracy — or four, if oligarchy be added as difiering
from aristocracy — Hobbes reduces to two thus. He sayg
that the two words oligarchy and aristocracy ' signify the

» J. S. Mill's Logic, vol. ii. pp. r^52, 553, Ist edition : London, 184.S.



IIOBLES. 61

same thing, togetlier with the divers passions of those
that use them ; for when tlu' men tliat ])e in that
oflice please they are called an aristocracy, or otherwise
an ohgarchy.' ^ And he further says that democracy and
aristocracy ' are in effect but one, for democracy is but
the government of a few orators.' ^ And in anotlier place
he says : ' In a multitude of speakers, where always either
one is eminent alone, or a few being equal among them-
selves are eminent above the rest, that one or few must of
necessity sway the wliole ; insomuch that a democracy in
effect is no more than an aristocracy of orators, interrupted
sometimes with the temporary monarchy of one orator.' ^
Ilobbes says that i\\Q first form of government in order
of time is democracy.'* This assertion, like that about
the original contract, is in direct opposition to flict, and
fm'uishes another proof of the value of historical truth,
and that all true philosophy is the rationale of accm-ately
observed facts. In savage tribes an absolute monarchy
is generally found existing. But in a subsequent page
he says that ' monarchy was instituted in the beginning
from the creation, and that other governments have
proceeded from the dissolution thereof, caused by the
rebellious nature of mankind, and be but pieces of broken
monarchy cemented by human wit,' * which is inconsistent
with what he said before, making democracy ^/?rs^ in time.
He goes backwards and forwards as it suits hun in the
construction of his political philosophy ; when facts are
against him, going to fiction, and returning to fact or
appai'cnt ftict when that seems to suit his purpose. He
says that ' out of democracy the institution of a political

» De Corpore rolitico, p. loO. ^ Jli^l p, 190.

* Ihid. p. 105. •» Ibid. p. 1U2. * Ihid. p. YSi-



62 JESS AYS OX HISTOBICAL TRUTH.

monarcli proceedeth by a decree, of the sovereign people,
to pass the sovereignty to one man named and ap-
proved by plm\ahty of suffrage.' ^

Tliis is a fm'ther example of Hobbes's mode of dealing
with historical truth — falsifying history. He speaks as if
the power passed from the many to one by faiy^ means,
whereas it is notorious that in all such cases as he here
contemplates it has passed by foul means. And he also,
as I have shown above, shifts his ground, sometimes
speaking of monarchy formed out of an established demo-
cracy, sometimes of monarchy which is usually, if not
always, found existing among savages ; and sometimes
he grounds his argument on the sophism of the original
contract which forms a monarchy out of a democracy,
sometimes on divine institution of ' monarchy in the
becrinning from the creation.' But the original contract
is his favourite and stock argument. Whether those
monarchies that existed lately in some parts of Africa
were formed by original contract, or were instituted in
the beeinning from the creation, they were absolute
enough to have satisfied Hobbes's utmost requirement as
ret^arded both the absolute and unUmited dominion of
the monarch, and the absolute and unlimited obedience
of the subject. It is material to add that Hobbes goes
farther than the preachers of passive obedience in England
in the time of Charles I., who said, ' if princes command
anything which subjects may not perform, because it is
acrainst the laws of God or of nature, or impossible, yet
subjects are bound to undergo the punishment without
either resistance or reviling, and so to yield a passive

1 De Corpore Politico, p. 166.



HOBBES. 63

obedience when tliey cannot exhibit an active one.' ^
Now IIol)bes goes beyond this; for lu; deprives man of
any appeal to the laws of God against the command of
his king, saying, ' Since God speaketli not in these days to
any man by his private interpretation of the Scriptures,
nor by the interpretaion of any power above, or not
depending on the sovereign power of every common-
wealth, it remaineth that he speaketli by his Vice-gods,
or heutenantson earth, that is to say by sovereign kings.' '^

I will here give, by way of illustration, an example of
passive obedience and an example of active obedience,
from the accounts given by credible and trusworthy wit-
nesses of the government of the Zulu Kafirs — a govern-
ment which was precisely what Ilobbes required, a pure
monarchy — a monarchy in its purest and most imadul-
terated state, under which the subjects not only submitted
to the most horrible caprices of the cruelty of their king,
but accepted a cruel death from his orders, not only with-
out resistance or reviling, but with expressions of thanks
and eulogies of their king's greatness and goodness. The
divine-right worshippers could desire nothing more per-
fect.

The following is the example of passive obedience. On
one occasion Chaka, king of the Zulu Kafirs, commanded
a father to be the executioner of his own child. The man
hesitated. ' Take him away,' said Chaka ; ' let me see if
loving his child better than his king will do him any good.
See if your clubs are not harder than his liead.'^

The following again is a case of active obedience. ' He

^ See tlie Sermon of Sibthorpe, vicar of Brackley, in Rushworth, vol. i.
p. 422 ; and ^Vhitelock, p. 8. * De Corpore Politico, p. 220.



3



Descriptive History of the Zulu Kdlirs, p. 2o : Loudon, lt>o3.



C4 ESSAYS OX HISTORICAL TRUTH.

began by taking out several fine lads and ordering their
own brothers to twist their necks,' ^

And tliis king, whose power of dissimulation was on a
level with that of Ca3sar Borgia, while his cruelty was but
little greater than the cruelty of Borgia, of Philip II., and
of Charles IX., was, according to Hobbes, a Vice-god.
Ceesar Borgia was of course a Vice-god. Philip II.
was a Vice-god. Charles IX., Henry III., and James I.
were all Vice-gods. Indeed James I. appears to have
been an especial favourite with Hobbes, for he calls him
' our most wise king, King James.' ^ Hobbes appears to
have studied Kin^ James's ' True Law of Free Mon-
archies,' and he even condescended to take a hint from
his ' most sacred Majesty ' on the art of mutilating Scrip-
ture to suit his purpose, as I will show presently.

I do not in the least dispute the doctrine so well eluci-
dated by John Austin in his ' Province of Jurisprudence
Determined,' who shows that it is asserted by renowned
political writers of opposite parties — by Sidney as well as
by Hobbes — that the power of a sovereign is incapable of
legal limitation. But I altogether dispute the sophistry
and the fictions put forward as facts by which Hobbes
seeks to maintain his conclusion that monarchy, by which
he means an unlimited government of one, is the best
form of government ; for I do not think that John Austin

* Travels in Eastern Africa by Nathaniel Isaacs, vol. i. p. 160, London,
1836. This king employed the argumentum huculinum on all occasions. On
one of those mentioned by Mr. Isaacs, some of King Chaka's warriore having
entered into an argument with his majesty, the royal logician settled
the matter by killing eight of them. ' The cause of this,' adds Mr. Isaacs,
' I could not comprehend, neither could I elicit it from any of the natives.'
Isaac's Travels in Eastern Africa, vol. i. p. 141. See also Captain King's
(/4th Highlanders) Campaigning in Katirland, in the years 1851-2.

2 Leviathan, p. 101.



HOBBES. 65

has succeeded in proving that Hobbes's principal purpose
is not the defence of inonarcliy. Of the constitutional
history of England IIol)bes knew nothing, or very little ;
otherwise he would have known that in England, at least
since the granting of Magna Charta, no English king
was the sovereign of England. Consequently Ilobbes, by
styhng the King of England the sovereign, makes an erro-
neous assertion, confounding kings, improperly styled
sovereign, whose power is not only capable of legal limi-
tation, but had been actually so limited, with kings or
monarchs, properly styled sovereign, whose power is by
the definition of the word sovereign incapable of legal
limitation. Whether King Chaka belonged to the class
of kings, properly called sovereign or not, it is beyond a
question that King James I. did not belong to that class.
Nevertheless James I. asserted that he did, and acted pretty
much as if he did, as will appear from some of the essays
in this volume ; whence will also appear the conse-
quences of giving the sovereign power to one man, who,



Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 5 of 40)