May 14, 2007

A new Hobbes tract?

This review in the Telegraph by Blair Worden, one of the most respected seventeenth century historians around, of Noel Malcolm's new book is interesting- apparantly Malcolm has discovered amidst the papers of William Cavendish, Thomas Hobbes's employer and Duke of Newcastle, a translation of Altera Secretissima Instructio, a tract published in Vienna in 1626, into English. According to Malcolm, who is the most important textual scholar of Hobbes around, the translation must have been done by Hobbes and therefore may be added to his other 1620s translations- that of Thucydides for example. I have not read the book, only the review by Professor Worden, but I would be surprised if both Professors Worden and Malcolm were wrong- having said that without having read the book, I am resting my opinion on their authority. If true, this throws yet more light upon the development of Hobbes as a philosopher- it suggests a personal involvement with a line of European thinking- called by historians the reason of state literature which concentrated on reminding Princes about the interest of their states as opposed to the morality of their actions- which may throw further light upon De Cive, Leviathan and Behemoth.


El Dave. said...

Very interesting. Of all the political philosophy I did at LSE, Hobbes was the one I could most engage with - easy enough to grasp to begin with, but with a whole host of issues coming off Leviathan. That's possibly a little harsh on Hume, who I also enjoyed, but Hobbes does stand above the others, in no small part to looking both back to the ancients and forwards to the moderns. The justification he uses for the Leviathan has echoes in communism and, perhaps, neoconservativism and he is identifying a solution to divergent with a state that many contemporary states deal with and, I think, can be argued to have led to the downfall of the multinational empires - the Romanovs, Habsburg and Ottomans. It is the birth of realism and, as Worden says, raison d'etat.

Wikipedia gives the date of the translation of the History of the Peloponesian War as 1629, meaning that this has to sit as a precursor to the later developments of Ele. Phi. etc. and does (which we already knew) show Hobbes as very earnestly looking around political knowledge at the time as a basis for his later opinions. IMHO.