Northwestern University, EE. UU.
MA in Politics from Edinburgh University, Scotland in 2001. She has been in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University since 2002. In the fall of 2006 and 2007 she participated in the Critical Theory program in Paris, whilst on academic exchange with Sciences-Po.
Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan: A Politics of Civilization or of Culture?
Nietzsche critiques the modern state by pointing out the nihilistic core of its valorization of peace under law. «A system of law conceived […] as a means against fighting in general, […] this would be a principle hostile to life, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of fatigue and a secret path to nothingness» (On the Genealogy of Morality, edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson, translated by Carol Diethe, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 54). Thomas Hobbes Leviathan is considered the best account of the necessity of the modern state, as one of the earliest legitimations of modern state power. Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality recovers the same ground covered in Leviathan, the transition from feudal society to the bourgeois state, and implicitly critiques it.
The Hobbesian transition from the state of nature to the civil state could easily be read as an attempt to civilize man, to reject his animal instincts in favor of Christian guilt, especially since the laws of nature express a Christian ethos, and steps towards the civil state are illustrated with Biblical quotes, mapping covenanting for the state onto the concept of being saved (Leviathan, edited by Richard Tuck, Cambridge University Press, 2006). Hobbes argues the laws of nature can be summed up with the Golden Rule, p. 109, and the biblical allusions can be found in p. 25 (tower of Babel), p. 20 (the Word made Flesh), p. 36 (John 14:6). My paper explores whether or not there are resources in Leviathan that can challenge Nietzsche’s classic reading of it.
If mimesis, in the Aristotelian sense of the «imitation of action» can explains the construction of the text, and if the problem of the state of nature involves the problem of mimetic desire, can Nietzsche help the reader find ways in which Leviathan itself holds the resources to undermine its own conclusion? In what ways does Hobbes’s reliance on man’s mimetic proclivities and a mimetic textual strategy undermine the civilizational effects of the text? Are there other ways that a mimetic text and the problem of mimetic desire can inform our understanding of a positive politics of culture? My paper will draw on Nietzsche in order to think the Leviathan against itself, that is, against its usual genealogy as a harbinger of modern domination.