Hobbes Among the Heretics

Jacqueline Rose, Jeffrey R Collins, David Marshall, Sim John, Stuart Walker. The Historical Journal. Volume 52, Issue 2. June 2009.

Was Thomas Hobbes a heretic? The answer is less obvious than might initially appear to both modern historians and Hobbes’s contemporaries. When Henry Hammond, effectively the leader of the Interregnum Anglicans, characterized Hobbes’s magnum opus, Leviathan (1651), as ‘a farrago of Christian Atheism’, he summarized the paradoxical nature of Hobbes’s analysis of religion. A generation ago, philosophers and historians questioned whether Hobbes had any ‘sincere’ religious ‘belief’ at all: was he a (not so very closet) atheist, were the dozens of pages of scriptural exegesis in Leviathan merely rhetorical (either in the loose sense of lip service to a Christian culture, or specifically meaning appropriate tropes and figures deployed to dissolve Christian beliefs)?Hobbes’s shocking statements could hardly have been intended to reassure his readers, and his bullish irreverence for clerical authority whilst complaining about its influence provided a constant reminder of the importance of demolishing what would come to be called priestcraft by all possible strategies. For Hobbes to be a heretic, rather than an atheist, he would have to have had some—even if a peculiar—belief; adhering to a theology, albeit a heterodox one.

Hobbes’s theological peculiarities (perversities, many of his critics would have said) feature relatively little in his writings until Leviathan (1651). In the third and fourth parts of that text, he mounted a vehement attack on the clerical ‘kingdom of darkness’ which fosters fear and superstition through philosophically incoherent doctrines of spirit separated from matter and which challenges the sovereign representative by cultivating an alternative source of authority, imperium in imperio. Hobbes offers instead a minimalist creed: faith in Christ and obedience to the laws are the only requirements for salvation. Yet he married this to provocative claims about the nature of the soul, Heaven and Hell, and the Trinity. In order to deny churchmen any worldly authority, Hobbes interprets Christ’s saying ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36) as meaning that Christ’s reign will begin only after the Day of Judgement, and will be an earthly kingdom. The mortalist Hobbes explained that, after the Second Coming, the souls of the damned live in Hell—but though Hell is eternal, the souls punished in it are not.  Hobbes’s description of the damned procreating in Hell riled rather than reassured the orthodox, but this, along with his interpretation of the Trinity as three representations of God’s person: in Moses, in Christ, and in the Apostles, was rephrased rather than recanted in the Latin Leviathan of 1668. These theological claims shaded into ecclesiological ones (the germs of which can be found before Leviathan) about earthly authority being vested solely in the sovereign representative. Hobbes expended page after page showing that the institutional church was subordinated to the sovereign, whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction he magnified into priestly powers to baptize, consecrate, and prophesize; that priestly authority was a ‘Kingdome of Fairies’; and that anyone defending an autonomous religious authority was either seditious, or stupid, or both. Historians who have read such statements as proving Hobbes could not have been a sincere theist have noted their worth in upholding Hobbes’s sovereign; and indeed they do. However, the political value of such statements does not automatically exclude them from being ‘sincerely’ held.

Understanding Hobbes’s religious position in Leviathan is difficult enough, charting his intellectual trajectory is even harder. Furthermore, the methodological imperative which states that understanding the meaning of a text requires attention to its context (and intellectual context in particular) adds a further layer of complexity to a thinker as eclectic and indeterminate as Hobbes. We have Hobbes the royalist critic of parliamentarianism-cum-republicanism, Hobbes the theorist and practitioner of Renaissance rhetoric, Hobbes the de-factoist defender of the Rump, Hobbes the late humanist, and Hobbes the ‘scientist’. With regard to religion, there is the atheistical, the heretical, the Anglican, and the Independent Hobbes, Hobbes the tolerationist and Hobbes the supporter of religious uniformity. No longer can it be said that historians (or political scientists, or philosophers) ignore or forget Parts Three and Four of Leviathan, and whether Hobbes’s theology was Anglican, Calvinist, or otherwise remains an open question. Religion also features in accounts of Hobbes’s changing ideas. Richard Tuck’s argument that De cive offered a sop to episcopalians in referring sovereign decisions on the mysteries of faith to ‘duly ordained Ecclesiastics’, and that Leviathan thereafter shocked Anglicans by endorsing Independency and toleration has been challenged by Lodi Nauta and Johann Sommerville. Recent historiography has thus undergone not only a theistic but also an ecclesiological ‘turn’, for analysis of which several recent studies draw on Hobbes’s readers, critics, and contemporaries as richly as they do his own writings. And rightly so; for Hobbes’s theological and ecclesiological statements must be analysed in our developing understanding of early modern religious ideas, just as we contextualize Hobbes’s politics.

But what context? Contextualizing a text is undoubtedly helpful to understanding it, but historians need to recognize the diversity and heterogeneity of the traditions in which they wish to ‘place’ a particular thinker; the conventional was not always a single clearly defined entity, and it is the gaps within intellectual conventions which allow them to be subverted. Analysing Hobbes as a heretic, for example, requires attention to the slippery meaning of ‘heresy’. David Loewenstein and John Marshall’s edited collection of essays on early modern heresy in England reminds us of the subjective rather than objective use of the term: the defence of ‘orthodoxy’ is a definitional process designed to reject the ‘heretical’. To speak of heresy (rather than heterodoxy) carries implications for action: for example, the duty to purge Christian society of an existential threat. As Loewenstein and Marshall state in their introduction, issues of heresy necessarily fed into those of authority (p. 4).

To write the history of heretics is, on the surface, to write ‘victors’ history’, for the use of the label reflects the stance of the orthodox. Even properly spelt out as writing the history of those who have been called heretics, it apparently reflects the orthodox perspective through which the Winstanleys and the Biddles and the H[enry] N[iclaes]s seem marginal. Yet, as Ann Hughes notes, there is often an ‘automatic sympathy’ (p. 152) towards radicals, one perpetuated by the editors dedicating Heresy, literature, and politics to those who challenged early modern received wisdom (pp. 9-10). (Christopher Hill redivivus?) The majority of early modern lay men and women, if they thought about theology at all, can hardly be thought to have been radical; and amongst the literate clerisy, there was at least a preponderance of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Several chapters in this volume might have paid more attention to questions of typicality: both of individuals in their own time, and chronologically. To put it crudely, can we speak of ‘early modern heresy’ or only early modern heretics? There are scattered hints of an answer in some chapters. Loewenstein’s study of Anne Askew, one of the minority of female Henrician martyrs, comments that her Examinations were ‘the product of the 1540s’ (p. 15), just as Lake recognizes that the tensions which he highlights were specific to English puritanism between the 1580s and 1630s (p. 101). Contrary to this temporal specificity are the comments made in several chapters about the fashioning of heresy and orthodoxy according to Reformation and, especially, early church models. Carrie Euler’s chapter on Edwardian Anabaptism and anti-Anabaptism and John Marshall’s on orthodox Protestants’ attacks on their radical brethren show how English heresiographers reflected their European counterparts. Marshall’s piece also importantly outlines the similarities with Catholic attacks on Protestantism. Champion describes how Thomas Barlow filled his refutation of Hobbes with citations of the Fathers, Hughes demonstrates the wealth of early Christian models which the Civil War heresy hunters Baillie, Prynne, and Pagitt used or were at least aware of; a significant chapter in the vital—but as yet unwritten—story of patristic study in Stuart England.

Finally, lurking in several chapters is a sense of the milieu of orthodoxy and heresy, questions of information and its circulation, of Christian fellowship and cultural community. Only Lake’s chapter is particularly explicit on these matters, in striking contrast to the recent attention paid by historians of early modern culture to the dissemination and reading of works (although some might welcome the news that the author has not utterly expired and still has a hand in the meaning of his text). That Bishop Barlow was able to refute Hobbes’s Historical narration depended on his access to a scribal copy circulated amongst the earl of Anglesey’s acquaintances. For those trying to control the gangrene of heresy, accessing the radical underground required—as Hughes shows—news, rumour, and eyewitness accounts. Thomas Edwards’s endeavours (and failures) to classify heresy in the 1640s reflected wider issues of the time about keeping control of information through taxonomies of knowledge. Edwards does not present an account of heresy through commonplacing, nor alphabetical indexing; signs that he could not control the flood of reports or clearly categorize them by ancient models. These questions of the circulation of ideas are not specific to any one chapter, but they might have been commented on in a more reflective introduction. Nevertheless in sum Heresy, literature, and politics amasses an impressive range of critical scholarship and readers of the whole will be stimulated to reconsider the complex and changing nature of heresy during the period.

Hobbes’s writings show that it was not only the orthodox who defined heresy, but that attempts by radicals to define (and destabilize) orthodoxy were also made. The Historical narration was one of a flood of works Hobbes penned in the late 1660s and early 1670s to attack pre-emptively those who he (according to his close acquaintance the antiquary John Aubrey) feared would prosecute him for heresy. Although Hobbes’s writings from this era, one of the most productive periods of his career, still need full scholarly attention in their Restoration context—modern editions of them are only now emerging—their genesis was sometimes rooted long before. Hobbes’s Answer to a book published by Dr Bramhall (1668), which discussed questions of the church and of religious belief, was directed against one of his oldest opponents. Their relationship is the focus of Nicholas Jackson’s monograph. The Irish bishop John Bramhall is a useful foil to Hobbes, since the two quarrelled over philosophy, theology, ecclesiology, and sovereignty. Both fled into exile in the 1640s and had links with the Stuart court in France—although one could never argue that they had a ‘shared experience of exile’ (and Jackson duly does not). Jackson’s book, an expansion of his doctoral thesis of 2005, emphasizes the continuing arguments between Hobbes and Bramhall from the mid-1640s into the Restoration. In particular, he rightly asserts the wider religious significance of their most famous argument over the existence or otherwise of free will. Bramhall’s defence of the freedom of the will was associated with Arminian theology, a position which pre-Civil-War Englishmen often confused with popery, whilst Hobbes’s rigid insistence on determinism as a consequence of God’s omnipotence echoed a Calvinist theory of predestination which could slide towards fatalism. Assertions of popish free will or atheist determinism had wider political resonances; both Hobbes and Bramhall claimed the other’s position contributed to discontent and, ultimately, civil war. Such politicking was intensified by each having a very different view of the best polity. Bramhall advocated a moderate or constitutional royalism, stressing laws, parliaments, and counsel as assisting royal authority. Hobbes derided this as mere ‘mixarchy’, instead arguing for an absolute sovereign, instituted by contract, supreme over church and state. That the sovereign-in-being (i.e. the authority offering protection) was parliament rather than a Stuart king was only made explicit in 1651, in the ‘Review and conclusion’ to Leviathan, but Bramhall spotted the implication earlier, and scorned De cive as a ‘rebel’s catechism’.

At the heart of Jackson’s book are chapters 4 to 8, which deal with the debate over ‘liberty and necessity’. In these he narrates each text in turn, as well as suggesting a fairly precise chronology of writings and events. After an ad hoc postprandial debate at the marquess of Newcastle’s home-in-exile, both Bramhall and Hobbes submitted their opinions and responses on paper. Both were initially keen to keep the debate private, largely because Hobbes’s determinist views seemed to absolve individuals of any moral responsibility, or at least lessened the justification for punishing them for misbehaviour. (This theme would revive during the Restoration, when Hobbes was associated with libertine views. Indeed, most of Bramhall’s defence of free will rests on the dire consequences of jettisoning the concept.) Nevertheless, in 1654 Hobbes’s paper was published, perhaps without his permission but certainly lacking his prohibition—Jackson argues he might have prevented it—changing the discussion to a printed debate in a wider public arena. Jackson carefully outlines the way in which this theologico-philosophical question seamlessly moved into broader political and ecclesiastical issues. However, it might have been useful to present claim and counter-claim in parallel: a text-by-text narration encourages repetition. Indeed, repetition of material occurs rather too frequently in this work: the same lengthy quotation about the unauthorized copy of Hobbes’s paper appearing on pages 111, 190, and 202; the repetition of a sentence on page 127 and in note on the same page; and the same comparisons of Bramhall with Cartwright at pages 4 and 246. The footnotes, too, are often overly discursive.

Jackson’s work, therefore, provides contributions which are sometimes more implicit than explicit. (Or which are buried: the key passage setting out divisions amongst exiled royalists, on page 134, needed placing at the start of chapter 5.) Sometimes issues are raised more than resolved: the exact relationship between Ussher and Bramhall, the differences between the Articles of the English and Irish Churches, the key Pauline passage (Romans 9:11-18) Hobbes cites against Bramhall on necessity. More importantly, understanding of the long-term theological origins of the liberty and necessity debate cannot be found here: there are only footnote references to Molina and a handful of paragraphs on the Jansenists, and the concluding discussion moves forwards rather than backwards in time. A contextual overview of the controversy which stretched back to Augustine (at least) would have been helpful in showing how Hobbes could assert his theological orthodoxy whilst Bramhall claimed to be following ‘the general current of the Christian world’. Readers more familiar with these debates will get more out of this book, which is well worth exploring.

Despite these infelicities, Jackson’s book raises several important questions about Civil War attitudes and, since he is seeking to move away from the philosophical debates in which Hobbes versus Bramhall is usually located, his wider conclusions merit evaluation. Those who fought for Charles Stuart took up arms for church and king, but both of those concepts proved nebulous, and more attention to the varieties of each, and to the relationship between them, is still needed from historians of the period. Jackson’s work partly contributes to developing studies of Civil War royalism, especially royalist exiles. It cannot, however, make up its mind about what royalism was. At times Jackson operates with an essentialist definition: proper royalism involved a defence of the 1630s Church and Caroline religion, a topic on which Hobbes was either silent or critical. But this definition of royalism might exclude the constitutional royalists whose role in Charles’s campaign David Smith has highlighted, and later Jackson speaks (more fruitfully in my opinion) of a ‘war of royalist factions’ (p. 17) between Laudian royalists and men like Newcastle, jostling for the favour of Charles I and II. He is on firmer ground when excluding Hobbes from royalism because Hobbes failed fully to endorse a legitimist Stuart hereditary succession. Hobbes’s texts, he concludes, were absolutist but not royalist, or royalist books but not written by a royalist author (p. 18). More attention to the chronology of parliamentarianism might have helped here. In the Elements of law and the first De cive Hobbes’s assertion of absolute sovereignty would have served Charles, not his parliamentarian opponents who took up arms for king and parliament, and advocated mixed or co-ordinate monarchy. Only after Parker’s Observations, when this shifted into a discourse of parliamentary sovereignty, would Hobbes’s writings prove double-edged. Furthermore, even if (as Jackson asserts), Leviathan was penned after the regicide, it might have served a monarchist rather than Cromwellian victor of Dunbar and Worcester. Hobbes—whether or not sincere—was accurate when he told Charles II he had defended him with a double-edged sword. Operating with a looser definition of royalism, as he sometimes does, Jackson makes a vital contribution to the still developing scholarship on Civil War royalism.

If royalism was an arena to be conquered rather than a single theory to which to adhere, then so was the church. The Laudians/Arminians like Bramhall did not have it all their own way after 1642, although they remained a powerful intellectual force. Hobbes’s ecclesiology, which might either have abolished bishops or reduced them to civil servants, was anathema to Bramhall, whilst the bishop’s defence of episcopacy iure divino reeked of popish sedition to Hobbes. After 1643, defending any sort of bishops and a justification for the Church of England independent of establishment by the state became imperative: Bramhall had a sharp eye for the contradiction between Hobbes’s professions of obedience to the sovereign’s religion whilst offering, unsolicited, his own advice on theology and ecclesiastical organization, a paradox Jackson explores in detail. Both Bramhall and Hobbes were battling on several fronts: Bramhall against Catholic courting of the Stuarts and attacks on the Church of England (to which Jackson briefly refers); Hobbes against Presbyterian and Calvinist assaults on his heterodoxy. And, after 1662, whilst a Bramhallian church was (re)constructed de iure, de facto Charles II was never far from undermining it. Read in conjunction with Oxford University Press’s forthcoming edition of Hobbes’s Restoration writings on religion and Collins’s description of Herbert Thorndike’s anti-Hobbesian works, Jackson’s account of Bramhall versus Hobbes on episcopacy will provide a diverse yet complementary set of studies of Hobbes and his critics on the Church, helpful both to scholars of Hobbes and those of Interregnum and Restoration Anglicanism.

If Hobbes wrote with one jaded eye on the formerly established church, he also engaged with its replacement: Independency and the Cromwellian search for a broad national church, as Jeffrey Collins’s provocative monograph outlines. Collins argues that theological quarrels were subordinated to questions of the nature of the church and its relationship to the state for Hobbes, whose attitude reflected the nature of the English Revolution. Whilst other historians have noted the ‘Erastian’ strains in Hobbesian thought, Collins suggests that the philosopher’s Christian rhetoric was insincere, a superficial masking of a politically instrumental civil religion in Machiavellian mode. Though Hobbes pursued a ‘fundamentally religious’ ‘project of ecclesiological reform’ (pp. 4, 6), his ‘humanism trumps his Protestantism’ (p. 57). Collins richly embeds this Machiavellian statist Hobbes in the ecclesiological turmoil of the Civil Wars and Interregnum, themselves characterized as ‘a war to protect England’s Erastian Reformation’ (p. 58). (There is a slight mismatch here, since Collins sees Hobbes as reflecting an Erastian Interregnum, and yet asserts his ultimately humanist civil religion rather than Protestant Erastianism.) Collins’s work highlights the difficulty in locating Hobbes on the ecclesiological spectrum. In contrast to Tuck, Collins does not see the Hobbes of De cive as able to satisfy an Anglican-episcopalian readership, although he suggests that this was still a royalist text, unlike Leviathan. (He admits (pp. 66-8) an inability to explain the passage in De cive about the sovereign’s obligation to hear ‘duly ordained ecclesiastics’, but rightly notes the way in which Hobbes flatly conflated church and state in the majority of this work.) But Tuck’s thesis that Hobbes endorsed Independency in Leviathan is fully explored in the central part of The allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, which uncovers the similarities between Hobbes and the Cromwellian Independents who were more magisterial than might initially appear.

The strength of Collins’s book lies, ironically, not in its treatment of Hobbes but in its description of ecclesiological debates during the 1640s and 1650s, republican civil religion, and ‘magisterial Independency’. The first theme develops investigations by D. Alan Orr as well as Collins himself.  The second enriches the account of republican civil religion given by Mark Goldie by including not only James Harrington but also Marchamont Nedham, John Hall, and William Rand. The third fits with recent stress on the limits of toleration under the Cromwellian Protectorate, and the fears of radical theology which haunted many Independents both at the intellectual level (their desire to crush Socinianism) and at the local (the resistance of Congregationalists to Quakerism and, on occasion, Fifth Monarchism). In the 1650s, some magisterial Independents allied with Cromwell to limit liberty of conscience and engaged in discussions with Presbyterians over a national church: the ideal settlement was a broad Calvinist church under a godly magistrate. Such a sovereign, if repressing the intolerant forces of popish priestcraft, could appeal to men as diverse as Nedham, Harrington, and Hobbes. Hobbes could be a Cromwellian not just for defactoist reasons but also ecclesiological ones. Indeed, as Collins might have noted, his mid-1650s writings against Oxford Presbyterians praised Cromwell as the new supreme governor of a state religion.

Collins’s recognition that Independents could bear strong witness to a godly magistrate is a valuable reminder of the perpetuation of a Foxean Reformation, and the lingering reluctance of many on the Protestant ‘left’ to endorse separatism and full-blown toleration, even in the heady days of revolutionary pluralism. (Although of course some did: John Milton, John Goodwin, Roger Williams.) But Collins puts Hobbes and the Cromwellians too close together. Owen and the Independents who signed the Apologeticall narration of 1644 were by the 1650s fighting against what they feared to be a growing tide of atheism, blasphemy, and Socinianism. To such men, Hobbes’s theological whimsies would have appeared a danger which probably more than cancelled out his endorsement -of Independency in Leviathan. In his battles with Oxford Presbyterians, Hobbes gained little active support from the Owenite Independents; Owen himself frowned on Stubbe’s plan to translate Leviathan, and public endorsement was a fanciful dream. Collins suggests that Barlow, Owen, and the latter’s circle privately came near to endorsing Hobbes, but this reading relies on Stubbe not having overstated the case. This is not to deny that there were similarities between Hobbes’s language and a national church-commonwealth organized into individual congregations, and indeed Hobbes could well have courted Cromwellian Independents. But to treat the two as allies, or the courtship as a mutual rather than unidirectional process, overstates the case. From this perspective, Hobbes appears as a theorist of civil religion more than of Christianity. Describing this as ‘statism’ rather than ‘Erastianism’ may be a sensible move on Collins’s part: his reasonable definition of ‘Erastianism’ as jurisdictional control over the church by the state does not encompass all of Hobbes’s ecclesiological radicalism. Hobbes’s state was the church, but his sovereign was a priest, not a purely temporal authority, a position which was rejected with horror by the undoubtedly Erastian Thomas Coleman in the 1640s. Hobbes’s statist refusal to place any distinction between church and commonwealth echoed even as it took to extremes traditional Anglican ecclesiology; a priestly sovereign was an atypical twist which Hobbes could not have found in the humanist or Machiavellian tradition.

Collins’s intriguing story of the 1650s would have benefited from extension into the Restoration. The constantly fluctuating religious policy of Charles II provided both Hobbes and the magisterial Independents with opportunities which they were not slow to seize, particularly in the late 1660s and early 1670s. In these years Hobbes’s ecclesiological statism (no longer particularly Independent) grew bolder, pace Collins, his career had not ‘essentially ended’ during the 1650s (p. 1). Hobbes attacked clerical meddling of all varieties in Behemoth, dissected Tudor church-government in the third appendix to the Latin Leviathan of 1668 and in his work on the common law, and took Bramhall to task for undermining Charles II’s ecclesiastical supremacy (neither the riposte to Bramhall nor the Historia ecclesiastica (perhaps begun in the late 1650s), appears in Collins’s bibliography). Meanwhile, magisterial Independency flourished in response to toleration by royal prerogative: not now propounded by Owen but promoted by Philip Nye and Louis du Moulin, amongst others. Collins argues that it would be anachronistic to characterize Independency as anti-magistratical before 1660, but focuses on its increasingly separatist strains thereafter rather than otherwise. But his evidence drawn from Nye and du Moulin shows otherwise.

Reading Hobbes through the eyes of his contemporaries, the final chapter of The allegiance of Thomas Hobbes turns away from Independents and the republicans who celebrated an ally in their war against priestcraft, to Anglicans, particularly the increasingly high-church Herbert Thorndike. Whilst the rise of dualism in the seventeenth-century Church of England made Hobbes appear more extreme than a Calvinist church might have done, Collins rightly notes that Hobbes reflected as well as refracted English Reformation thought. Hobbes’s Restoration works present him as a peculiar Anglican rather than a Machiavellian in religion and, although they must be read with care, that Hobbes was able to make this case is significant not only for understanding his writings, but also those of his critics. Collins emphasizes Thorndike rather than Bramhall as defining the reaction to Hobbes’s works, and he makes a reasonable case for the importance of Thorndike to many contemporaries—albeit Thorndike was on the extreme edge of catholic Anglicanism. Collins’s previous work on the 1660s church effectively outlined the ‘rise of ecclesiological dualism’, but his reading here is too indebted to Robert Bosher’s view of the 1662 Settlement as Laudian-driven. (He does not cite Ian Green’s counter-thesis.) Although his emphasis on Anglican dualism as prominent amongst the leaders of the restored church is not inaccurate, there remained churchmen willing to endorse a iure humano church-government chosen by the government, and such men were denounced as Hobbesian for it. Historians of mid- and late- seventeenth-century religion as well as of Hobbes will find Collins’s thesis worthy of engagement (if not of agreement).

Whilst the majority of Leviathan’s comments on religion come in the final two Parts, Hobbes’s bold claim that religion was nothing more than fear of an invisible power was stated as early as chapter 6, before the institution of the commonwealth. In The discourse of sovereignty, Hobbes to Fielding: the state of nature and the nature of the state, Stuart Sim and David Walker chart the idea of the linkage between the natural state of man and the nature of the state across the century from Hobbes to Fielding, focusing in particular on literary texts in the latter part of their book. The project is sadly mishandled in a number of ways and misconceived in its endeavour to divide the authors studied into ‘radicals’ and ‘reactionaries’ (p. 2). Indeed, it is not entirely clear what the purpose of the book is: an overview of several writers and relevant commentaries on them (as in chapters 2 and 5), a new thesis on their work (as in chapter 9), or newly pairing up writers for novel comparisons (as in chapter 10). Some chapters are more successful than others in explaining the details of the texts under review, whilst others assume a prior knowledge of the writers. Similarly, an endeavour historically to contextualize writings works well for Aphra Behn’s Love letters (ch. 7), but poorly when modern theory is tossed in as well (Crusoe apparently subscribed to complexity theory (ch. 9, esp. pp. 138-9), an idea of which Defoe was surely unaware). Chronology is also problematic, since Harrington’s Oceana (1656) appears before the Diggers (of the late 1640s), Locke and Sidney’s works of the 1680s before Neville’s Isle of pines (1668), and—most glaringly—in the opening sentence speaking of ‘the Civil War [sic] of 1640-49’; whether this phenomenon would have more surprised the English in 1640 or the Irish and Scots in 1649 to 1651 is hard to say.

The one author whom it would be reasonable to take out of chronological sequence is Hobbes, and a too-crude reading of Hobbes on human nature lies at the heart of this book. Hobbes himself spoke not of the ‘state’ but the ‘condition’ of nature in Leviathan, in his (failed) endeavour to open up an unbridgeable gulf between libertas and imperium, as he put it in De cive. The ghost of C. B. Macpherson haunts Sim and Walker’s chapter on Hobbes, whose sovereign state is depicted as resting on force, controlling self-interest, and insensitive to sincere religious belief, making him ‘a moderniser in his secularisation’ and less ‘hopelessly dated’ than Filmer (pp. 18, 19). Although some of these points, put in a subtler way, are not wholly invalid, they obscure the complexities of Hobbes’s project. Enough on his attitude to church and clergy has been said above; more significant is the implication that Hobbes’s is a theory of pure force. In Leviathan, only God rules by power alone, all other sovereignty rests on consent, even after conquest. Furthermore, Hobbes recognized the need to persuade the citizens of Leviathan that it was in their interest to submit their wills to the sovereign’s. Without their willing (in Hobbes’s own sense of the voluntary) authorization of sovereign actions, without their recognition of the value of political society (which Leviathan sought to teach them), their state would collapse and relapse into nature, the situation Hobbes faced in England, and might have known in France, in the 1640s. Hobbes sought to teach subjects obedience, not just sovereigns coercion.

Hobbes’s readers might have reduced his theory to the amoral play of self-interest, but again his own conception—the two are only once distinguished in this work—was more complex. Hobbesian humans—all zoon and no politikon—are driven by self-preservation; more importantly and specifically, by what they perceive to be necessary for this. In a world of matter in motion, viewed subjectively by animals buffeted about by their passions, there are no right decisions about what is one’s best self-interest and agreement is inhibited by the lack of a stable natural language. (This created a problem for Hobbes’s theory, since such animals had to perceive natural precepts to seek peace and somehow work out how to create Leviathan.) It is Hobbes’s view of human nature and language which lies behind his conception of the condition of nature, and which makes it an amoral (not merely immoral) world. The language of self-interest is more complex than Sim and Walker suggest. Although it could without too much difficulty be discovered in Hobbes’s theory, its later seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century development requires subtle handing. The passions which drove men, according to Behn, Manley, and Bolingbroke, were acquisition and sexual lust, a departure from Hobbes’s view that ‘the Passion to be reckoned upon, is Fear’. Attention to developing arguments about human nature (by, for example, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, and Hume after 1700) might have revealed interesting developments. Only by following the complex processes of reception which tied Hobbes to libertinism explains how these theorists could be described as Hobbist at all.

But it is not only Hobbes whose work is treated too crudely, for it would be possible to suggest that writers responded to an image of Hobbes rather than his own complex analysis of nature. Selective readings give a misleading impression of many other theorists. The chapter on Harrington, muddled in its structure, rightly notes Harrington’s rejection of Hobbes’s refutation of classical republicanism, but fails to mention the convergence of the two thinkers through their anticlericalism. Furthermore, when Harrington refutes Hobbes’s sneer at classical republican praise for Lucca he does so to revive a theory of law and liberty, not of human nature. Indeed, Oceana says very little about the state of nature, instead using a historical language to analyse political developments over time—language which invoked (as this study says) and adapted (as this book fails to note) Bacon’s history of Henry VII.

According to Sim and Walker, Harrington’s interest in the ‘balance of class’ and belief in the gentry as his ‘ideal class’ (p. 32) caused his work to be held in esteem by late seventeenth-century and aristocratic whigs—a story picked up in chapter 6 on Neville. To discuss the Isle of pines instead of Plato redivivus is an interesting move, yet one which loses its resonance as Neville is treated as a Harringtonian not neo-Harringtonian writer (whether his Isle of pines helps explain this process is not made clear). This reversal in the meaning of Harrington’s insights, charted in John Pocock’s classic work The Machiavellian moment, is omitted—along with Pocock’s book. The diversity of the republican tradition, recognized in Sim and Walker’s introduction (p. 6), vanishes; so the paradox whereby aristocratic whiggism only drew on Harrington’s theory by reversing it is missed. Since Neville was a key agent in this process, a more refined study of him remains necessary.

Two non-Harringtonian whigs prominent in the Restoration were John Locke and Algernon Sidney, treated together in chapter 5. Whilst paying close attention to the demolition of Filmerian absolutism in Locke’s First ‘Treatise’ is important, the claim that the Second ‘Treatise’ was ‘something of a blueprint’ (p. 80) for the whig political project needs more justification; Locke’s claims went far beyond what many whigs would stomach in 1689. Sidney and Locke make uneasy bedfellows: the republican prepared to countenance change by popular will at any point versus the cautious conservative revolutionary who sought the reconstruction of England’s mixed government, ‘the best possible that ever was’. Reference to prior scholarship is also patchy. Hill on the Diggers and Ashcraft on Locke provide Marxist roots to those chapters, proto-capitalism is discovered via Defoe and Macpherson on Hobbes. By contrast, not only Pocock on neo-Harringtonianism, but also Keeble on nonconformist literature is omitted, and Goldie on Filmer and Locke miscited. If this book aimed to propose a new thesis, it fails; if it was intended to provide summary overviews of these thinkers, better alternatives already exist.

The difficulty of charting uses of a thinker’s ideas has propelled historians towards studying readings and direct responses rather than the nebulous concept of ‘influence’. Jon Parkin’s magisterial survey of the reception of Hobbes and his thought in England between 1640 and 1700 draws on Parkin’s prior studies of Hobbes’s reception and of the natural jurist Richard Cumberland, whilst developing previous treatments of Hobbes’s reception in England by Mark Goldie, and in Europe by Noel Malcolm. Parkin is careful to acknowledge his debts to John Marshall and Samuel Mintz as well. Taming the Leviathan’s embedding of Hobbes in contemporary debates is balanced by an emphasis on the deliberate indeterminacy of Hobbes’s thought, which could be used—and abused—by all sides, especially during periods of political crisis. At such times, Hobbes’s account of the problems which arose outside of the state was variously too significant, too useful, and/or too dangerous to ignore. Hence Hobbes’s readers characterized him as both authoritarian and seditious, too absolutist and too republican, tolerant and intolerant. Their selective depictions crudely reduced Hobbes to a set of images, particularly during the Protectorate, Cabal, and revolutionary moments when a ‘Hobbesian mood’ was apposite (p. 378). Parkin treats Hobbes’s critics in broadly chronological fashion, which befits his linkage of the reading of Hobbes to particular political and intellectual circumstances. The single period lacking in Parkin’s account appears to be the reign of James II before the Revolution (although his treatment of the 1690s also seems less detailed than those of earlier periods). Since he comments both that the advent of a Catholic sovereign made Hobbes’s state-controlled religion even more dangerous, and that Hobbesian arguments could be used by nonconformists seeking toleration, whether the two coalesced in James’s alliance with the Dissenters would have been intriguing to study—especially since the quasi-Hobbist Samuel Parker and latitudinarians engaged in those debates.

Parkin pays detailed attention to the reading of Hobbes’s works before Leviathan, although (perhaps necessarily) this section is organized around Hobbes’s works rather than those of his readers. Whilst later on Leviathan predominates, Parkin also keeps De cive and Hobbes’s philosophy in his sights; and he provides an account of Hobbes’s Restoration writings, albeit less so of their reception. His central thesis is that the reception process was one of taming, not hunting down, the Leviathan (Hobbes’s book and, increasingly, Hobbes himself). His case is largely convincing, despite an occasional tendency to slide into the language of the incorporation of Hobbes into the ‘mainstream’, somewhat at odds with the multiplicity of readers and uses which Hobbes could have, and with the many currents within the ecclesiological, juristic, and political mainstreams. Hobbes’s ‘juridical gymnastics’ (p. 280) were not easy to fit in or to reject because the ‘norm’ itself was so elastic. But in general Parkin, like Malcolm and Goldie, properly tends to stress the dangers of Hobbes’s proximity as stimulating many critics.

Parkin’s care to capture the complexity of Hobbes’s reception occasionally leads him to minor contradictions. In contrast to the ‘taming’ of Leviathan referenced in the title, he suggests on pages 181 to 182 that many critics simply rejected Hobbes. Later, he notes that Hobbes’s credal minimalism was barely noted by Restoration commentators, before arguing that Locke must have known of the concept via Hobbes’s critics if not through directly reading Hobbes (pp. 400-1). In contrast to his general thesis, a comment in the final chapter (p. 388) suggests that even in the 1690s the Malmesburian monster remained untamed. More importantly, it would have been useful to have had a sense of the relative significance of individual critics: it is not clear whether Parkin feels that the latitudinarians (he does not define the term) were particularly perceptive Leviathan-tamers or whether the large amount of space spent on them in chapter 5 is driven by his own interests. Nevertheless, there is only one episode where Parkin may have overplayed the significance of Hobbes: the Oxford book burning of 1683. Although Parkin points out the borrowing by Oxford of Richard Cumberland’s condemnation of Hobbism and the exposure of a Hobbist suicide at Oxford in 1681, the Decree had wider purposes than he suggests. Indeed, the Presbyterian Richard Baxter was equally frequently (perhaps disproportionately) condemned. Secondly, although there is the right amount of biographical information sketched for individual critics, networks and relationships are less well handled—the Interregnum readers of Hobbes (specifically Christ Church more than Oxford men in general), Hobbes’s admirer Bathurst and the semi-Hobbist Parker, and the issue of how Hobbes’s target of the 1640s Thomas White became a frequent associate of Hobbes in the following decade. Was the campaign against Hobbes orchestrated? Or was it ad hoc, individually driven? That question might well extend to uncovering networks in Europe between Hobbes’s readers. And finally, there are tantalizing hints about how the reception of Hobbes was shaped in part by that of the works of Selden, Spinoza, and perhaps Grotius; the first two are briefly invoked, but the theme is not fully pursued.

These criticisms are, however, often met in part in some chapters, and go beyond Parkin’s own agenda, unrivalled in the sweep of its research (which justifies Cambridge University Press’s decision to print a longer monograph than usual). The book is a model of reception history which should be read by all scholars of Hobbes. Along with the valuable (if not necessarily definitive) contributions made by Jackson and Collins it highlights the importance and complexity of the ecclesio-theological dimensions of Hobbes’s thought as well as the still undoubtedly significant political and juridical aspects thereof. As our understanding of mid- to late- seventeenth-century theology and church politics deepens, the complexity of the contexts for Hobbes’s writing and reception increases. Furthermore, although Hobbes’s mind was undoubtedly sharper, and his writings more all-encompassing (dare one say, canonical?) than those of the majority of his English contemporaries, his works stimulated more explicit defences and descriptions of orthodoxy and church-state relationships, which exposed variants within orthodox and official religion. Thus, as each of these books show, not only is embedding Hobbes and his readers in the polemic of their time vital, but historians of mid- to late- seventeenth-century religion and politics can learn much from an awareness of such writings. Hobbes subverted religious conventions, but how he did so can only be understood through carefully elucidating how ‘orthodoxy’ left loopholes for him to exploit.