Thomas Hobbes, the First Counter-Revolutionary

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niccolo and donkey Roland Misologos Bronze Age Pervert

This is a great article by Corey Robin, one of the rare left-wing academics who treats the opposing side with some seriousness, and worth reading in its entirety:,0

What makes it particularly interesting is that the tendencies the author detects in Hobbes, some of which I've highlighted below, are not limited to him but appear time and time again in other counter-revolutionaries. It also has the added benefit of placing Hobbes in the proper context.

One qualification I would add here is that while the Scientific Revolution had already altered English intellectual life, and this is reflected in Hobbes, the revolutionaries of this period were still largely animated by Christian sentiments. Even the most radical factions, such as the Diggers, were devout Christians rather than deists. This is probably the biggest difference between the English and the French Revolution, the latter being hostile to Christianity.

MLad brought attention to a blogger who lamented the pervasive non-traditionalist ideas within de Maistre's corpus.

Note how the description of Hobbes in Robin's article matches the complaints of the blogger, especially in the charge that de Maistre is saturated in the revolutionary's own ideas. Robin makes that points that 1) the right is frequently the left's best student and 2) the right is intrinsically a modern movement, despite its appeals to a pre-modern past. What the blogger fails to understand is that counter-revolutionaries, and the political right more broadly, are not and never have been "traditionalists" or "conservatives" in the strict dictionary sense of those terms. de Maistre, Donoso Cortés, and many of the other Catholic right-wing thinkers, facing the same exigencies as Hobbes, have often broken with Catholic tradition in profound ways. And while the differences should not be brushed aside, ultimately they share more in common with atheists like Maurras and Nietzsche than with the Doctors of the Church (off the top of my head, the only major conservative thinker of the nineteenth century who took Thomism seriously was Jaime Balmes). Even aspects of Nietzsche's attacks on Christianity can be found in embryonic form in de Maistre's tirades against Protestantism.

Unfortunately, confusion arises when self-identified "conservatives" rely too much upon second hand accounts of what a given author said and not enough on primary texts, and so you have people coming up with their own arbitrary definitions of what a "conservative" is based on their own preferences. In my opinion, the terms "conservative" and "traditionalist" are misleading and perhaps should be jettisoned altogether, because a "conservative" or "traditional" right doesn't really exist, and never has. There is only a radical right with varying degrees of radicalism.

While we're on the topic of definitions, I'd like to also state that I've always disliked the habit of many Throne and Altar types to claim that they represent the only "true" right. The first objection is etymological: right-of-center currents were present as early as the 1820s among the Doctrinaires and the Orléanists, so if we allow that the left/right division emerged in 1789, why would a period of mere few decades give Ultras and Legitimists and their brethren a monopoly on the term? The second objection is philosophical: I think you do find many of the same impulses and propensities in the more moderate rightists such as Tocqueville, and it's not surprising that these moderates gravitate further towards the right when push comes to shove (as happened in Tocqueville's case in 1848).

For the record, I've always thought the real liberal of the English Civil War period was not Hobbes, but John Milton. There is very little in John Locke, who basically recapitulated a century's worth of intellectual and political developments, that is not already in Milton's political pamphlets and essays.
Agreed with #1. The left is to the right as Schopenhauer was to Nietzsche; that is, a schoolmaster whose errors are just as useful, if not moreso, than its truths.

'Catholic tradition' is not monolithic; granted, those who wrap themselves in the mantle of Tradition tend to be of the neo-Thomist set, but there is a fideist strain in Catholicism that runs from Tertullian to Ockham to Pascal and which found its ultimate expression in Lutheranism, as well as a mystical strain influenced by middle and late Platonism (Eckhart, John of the Cross, etc). What you see in de Maistre et al is not a 'break with tradition' necessarily, but merely an abandonment of the late middle ages scholastic project. Much of what Catholics refer to as 'tradition' is simply medieval rationalism. When writers like de Maistre broke with this 'tradition', it was wholly consistent with the Counter-Enlightenment revolt against reason.
I'm pretty sure most Catholics consider Lutheranism a break with their tradition, dude.

Tertullian - heretic, left the Churck.
Ockham - tried and condemned as an heretic.
Pascal - Jansenist sympathies, though not quite heretical.
Eckhart - tried as an heretic.

That leaves John of the Cross, who probably shouldn't be grouped with the others. Nevertheless, the implication of your argument is that de Maistre belongs to a tradition of...heresy, which is a contradiction of sorts, because even if we use the most basic definition of tradition (something "handed down"), I don't think the Church is interested in handing down heresies from one generation to another. While I wouldn't go so far as to call him an heretic, I'm not sure how this refutes the arguments about de Maistre's heterodoxy.

And the blog post to which you linked confirmed what I had suspected: that the Vatican initially looked askance at de Maistre's work.

The above demonstrates in large part (though it is not the only reason) why de Maistre is a modern, and why he represents a break with the other names you mentioned. The same applies to Donoso Cortés:

This is also why there is not so wide a chasm separating de Maistre from Donoso Cortés or both of them from someone like Maurras. Though I should add that Maurras's views were shaped more by his reading of Comte, Renan, and Taine, all agnostics and positivists, than by de Maistre and Donoso Cortés, so I would avoid drawing a straight line there. The history of ideas is more complex and fascinating than people realize.
To this day Lutherans consider themselves 'evangelical Catholics', and Luther himself likely did not intend a clean 'break with tradition', at least not originally. And while Tertullian was a Montanist, and did split away from the institutional church, many believe he was ultimately reconciled to it again -- including Augustine. Ockham, Pascal, and Eckhart were not considered wholly orthodox, it's true, but again the point is this: that Catholicism, in the dialectical sense, contained a number of forms and expressions besides Thomism, some of which finally found fuller expression outside the church proper (e.g. in Lutheranism), and that these have left a permanent mark on Catholic tradition whether it is acknowledged by 'traditionalists' or not. You're right that de Maistre was heterodox, but I never argued otherwise.

I haven't read Maurras, but he can be obviously differentiated from Cortes and de Maistre in the sense that the latter were men of real faith, albeit a slightly heterodox one, whereas Maurras used the church as a fig leaf for Romantic nationalism -- which is not markedly different than what many modern-day traditionalists do, except replace 'Romantic nationalism' with 'Western Civ nostalgia'.

Gee, even the quote you included basically confirms what I'm saying:

Niccolo and Donkey
Bob Dylan Roof
I am sympathetic to the author's interpretation of Hobbes, but I also believe it to be entirely compatible with a right-wing interpretation that criticizes Hobbes for erecting a stable foundation for liberalism. Schmitt's book/lecture on Hobbes, ostensibly presented as a defense against Strauss's charges, is one variation of the Hobbes-as-counterrevolutionary thinker argument. But even while attempting to marginalize Hobbes's analytical arguments by stressing his historical purpose and function, Schmitt nevertheless concedes that Hobbes "opened up a crack" through which the forces of liberalism could enter by deeming his Sovereign to be agnostic as to the content of a citizen's private beliefs.

Perhaps related to the "crack", Hobbes also concedes a natural right to rebel against the Sovereign in chapter 17 of the Leviathan: a theme taken up with alacrity by far less powerful minds on the left. Moreover, the emphasis on state-of-nature man, divested of any abstract or prior beliefs about the world, is a mainstay of liberal "philosophy". Hobbes's thought experiment suggesting the formation of a covenant out of the iterated resolution of prisoner dilemmas in Leviathan has evolved into Rawlsian intuitions about the type of covenant men would choose from an original position where they lacked prior beliefs and natural properties like race. I think a compelling argument can be made that the liberal's chief philosophical weapon - the blank slate - originated, at least partially, with Hobbes.

Hobbes was indeed opposed to the political disruption of his age, but it should be emphasized again that his royalist inclinations were fused with a radical anticlericalism that caused Charles II to prohibit the publication of Behemoth, and ultimately rendered Leviathan synonymous with evil in England, despite the restoration of the monarchy. Taken together with his intricate and radical analytical arguments, it is difficult to argue convincingly that Hobbes was an ally of anything besides philosophy.

The problem with this argument is that all the "cracks" that people like Strauss and Schmitt accused Hobbes of opening for liberalism were already introduced well before Hobbes by various Christian theorists who, while somewhat obscure today, were known to the educated at the time. As a side note, Strauss's scholarship on this period is especially poor -- he's even more worse on Locke. I'm going to post some excerpts from a review of Quentin Skinner's Foundations of Modern Political Thought , which delves into far greater detail. I think some of this information might surprise you:
Roland Ferdinand

I'm going to post some excerpts from Skinner's book itself, but since I have to type these out by hand, they're necessarily going to be more abridged.

As for the French Protestants, take this description of Philippe de Mornay and Théodore de Beza, members of the Monarchomaques, who are correctly identified as precursors to the social sontract:

So not only do we have a social contract, but also advocates of the belief in a state of nature (!) as one of natural liberty (!). You simply can't pin this all on Hobbes.

Skinner's book end before the English Civil War, but we should also not forget the contributions of Christians such as John Milton and John Lilburne:

Hobbes's "crack" is nothing compared to the gaping hole opened by numerous Christian theorists.