What Would Hobbes Do?

Tracing the intellectual influence of major thinkers upon subsequent political history is more than a mere parlor game. And it is more than a question of whom to blame. To understand the pedigree of ideas is to understand our world and even ourselves. Now several millennia into the history of Western Civilization the bloodline is so convoluted that finding one ancestor of particular influence could seem a fool’s errand.

Nevertheless, as one sees recurring noses and eyes in a family photo-album, so too do we see especially strong features in some generations. For instance, a young man can look strikingly like the great-grandfather he never met. Although tracing such lineages is not the foremost intention of the book, Devin Stauffer’s Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light, is a timely reminder of the influence of Hobbes’s ideas upon the modern world.

Do we live in the world Hobbes made? Again, it would be too much to say that his influence dominates over that of, say, Locke, Montesquieu, Kant, Nietzsche, or any other great figures of the modern world. Certainly, the institutions of this country owe far more to others. And yet, were Hobbes to have engaged in wish-fulfillment, would his dreams look far different from how we live now?

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