Behemoth, or The Long Parliament is essential to any reader interested in the historical context of the thought of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). In De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651), the great political philosopher had developed an analytical framework for discussing sedition, rebellion, and the breakdown of authority. Behemoth, completed around 1668 and not published until after Hobbe's death, represents the systematic application of this framework to the English Civil War.
In his insightful and substantial Introduction, Stephen Holmes examines the major themes and implications of Behemoth in Hobbes's system of thought. Holmes notes that a fresh consideration of Behemoth dispels persistent misreadings of Hobbes, including the idea that man is motivated solely by a desire for self-preservation. Behemoth, which is cast as a series of dialogues between a teacher and his pupil, locates the principal cause of the Civil War less in economic interests than in the stubborn irrationality of key actors. It also shows more vividly than any of Hobbe's other works the importance of religion in his theories of human nature and behavior.
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About the Author
Stephen Holmes, a professor of political science and law at the University of Chicago, is the author of Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism.
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Behemoth or the Long Parliament
By Thomas Hobbes, Ferdinand Tönnies
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1990 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
BEHEMOTH OR THE LONG PARLIAMENT DIALOGUE I.
A. IF in time, as in place, there were degrees of high and low, I verily believe that the highest of time would be that which passed between the years of 1640 and 1660. For he that thence, as from the Devil's Mountain, should have looked upon the world and observed the actions of men, especially in England, might have had a prospect of all kinds of injustice, and of all kinds of folly, that the world could afford, and how they were produced by their *dams* hypocrisy and self-conceit, whereof the one is double iniquity, and the other double folly.
B. I should be glad to behold that prospect. You that have lived in that time and in that part of your age, wherein men used to see best into good and evil, I pray you to set me (that could not then see so well) upon the same mountain, by the relation of the actions you then saw, and of their causes, pretensions, justice, order, artifice, and event.
A. In the year 1640, the government of England was monarchical; and the King that reigned, Charles, the first of that name, holding the sovereignty, by right of a descent continued above six hundred years, and from a much longer descent King of Scotland, and from the time of his ancestor Henry II., King of Ireland; a man that wanted no virtue, either of body or mind, nor endeavoured anything more than to discharge his duty towards God, in the well governing of his subjects.
B. How could he then miscarry, having in every county so many trained soldiers, as would, put together, have made an army of 60,000 men, and divers magazines of ammunition in places fortified?
A. If those soldiers had been, as they and all other of his subjects ought to have been, at his Majesty's command, the peace and happiness of the three kingdoms had continued as it was left by King James. But the people were corrupted generally, and disobedient persons esteemed the best patriots.
B. But sure there were men enough, besides those that were ill-affected, to have made an army sufficient to have kept the people from uniting into a body able to oppose him.
A. Truly, I think, if the King had had money, he might have had soldiers enough in England. For there were very few of the common people that cared much for either of the causes, but would have taken any side for pay or plunder. But the King's treasury was very low, and his enemies, that pretended the people's ease from taxes, and other specious things, had the command of the purses of the city of London, and of most cities and corporate towns in England, and of many particular persons besides.
B. But how came the people to be so corrupted? And what kind of people were they that could so1 seduce them?
A. The seducers were of divers sorts. One sort were ministers; ministers, as they called themselves, of Christ; and sometimes, in their sermons to the people, God's ambassadors; pretending to have a right from God to govern every one his parish and their assembly the whole nation.
Secondly, there were a very great number, though not comparable to the other, which, notwithstanding that the Pope's power in England, both temporal and ecclesiastical, had been by Act of Parliament abolished, did still retain a belief that we ought to be governed by the Pope, whom they pretended to be the vicar of Christ, and, in the right of Christ, to be the governor of all Christian people. And these were known by the name of Papists; as the ministers I mentioned before, were commonly called Presbyterians.
Thirdly, there were not a few, who in the beginning of the troubles were not discovered, but shortly after declared themselves for a liberty in religion, and those of different opinions one from another. Some of them, because they would have all congregations free and independent upon one another, were called Independents. Others that held baptism to infants, and such as understood not into what they are baptized, to be ineffectual, were called therefore Anabaptists. Others that held that Christ's kingdom was at this time to begin upon the earth, were called Fifth-monarchy-men; besides divers other sects, as Quakers, Adamites, &c, whose names and peculiar doctrines I do not well remember. And these were the enemies which arose against his Majesty from the private interpretation of the Scripture, exposed to every man's scanning in his mother-tongue.
Fourthly, there were an exceeding great number of men of the better sort, that had been so educated, as that in their youth having read the books written by famous men of the ancient Grecian and Roman commonwealths concerning their polity and great actions; in which books the popular government was extolled by the glorious name of liberty, and monarchy disgraced by the name of tyranny; they became thereby in love with their forms of government. And out of these men were chosen the greatest part of the House of Commons, or if they were not the greatest part, yet, by advantage of their eloquence, were always able to sway the rest.
Fifthly, the city of London and other great towns of trade, having in admiration the great prosperity of the Low-Countries after they had revolted from their monarch, the King of Spain, were inclined to think that the like change of government here, would to them produce the like prosperity.
Sixthly, there were a very great number that had either wasted their fortunes, or thought them too mean for the good parts which they thought were in themselves; and more there were, that had able bodies, but saw no means how honestly to get their bread. These longed for a war, and hoped to maintain themselves hereafter by the lucky choosing of a party to side with, and consequently did for the most part serve under them that had greatest plenty of money.
Lastly, the people in general were so ignorant of their duty, as that not one perhaps of ten thousand knew what right any man had to command him, or what necessity there was of King or Commonwealth, for which he was to part with his money against his will; but thought himself to be so much master of whatsoever he possessed, that it could not be taken from him upon any pretence of common safety without his own consent King, they thought, was but a title of the highest honour, which gentleman, knight, baron, earl, duke, were but steps to ascend to, with the help of riches; they had no rule of equity, but precedents and custom; and he was thought wisest and fittest to be chosen for a Parliament that was most averse to the granting of subsidies or other public payments.
B. In such a constitution of people, methinks, the King is already ousted of his government, so as they needed not have taken arms for it. For I cannot imagine how the King should come by any means to resist them.
A. There was indeed very great difficulty in the business. But of that point you will be better informed in the pursuit of this narration.
B. But I desire to know first, the several grounds of the pretences, both of the Pope and of the Presbyterians, by which they claim a right to govern us, as they do, in chief: and after that, from whence, and when, crept in the pretences of that Long Parliament, for a democracy.
A. As for the Papists, they challenge this right from a text in Deut. xvii. 12, and other like texts, according to the old Latin translation in these words: And he that out of pride shall refuse to obey the commandment of that priest, which shall at that time minister before the Lord thy God, that man shall by the sentence of the judge be put to death. And because, as the Jews were the people of God then, so is all Christendom the people of God now, they infer from thence, that the Pope, whom they pretend to be the high-priest of all Christian people, ought also to be obeyed in all his decrees by all Christians, upon pain of death. Again, whereas in the New Testament (Matt. xxviii. 18–20) Christ saith: All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; go therefore and teach all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and teach them to observe all these things which I have commanded you: from thence they infer, that the command of the apostles was to be obeyed, and by consequence the nations were bound to be governed by them, and especially by the prince of the apostles, St. Peter, and by his successors, the Popes of Rome.
B. For the text in the Old Testament, I do not see how the commandment of God to the Jews, to obey their priests, can be interpreted to have the like force in the case of other nations Christian, more than upon nations unchristian (for all the world are God's people); unless we also grant, that a king cannot of an infidel be made Christian, without making himself subject to the laws of that apostle, or priest, or minister, that shall convert him. The Jews were a peculiar people of God, a sacerdotal kingdom, and bound to no other law but what first Moses, and afterwards every high-priest, did go and receive immediately from the mouth of God in Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle of the ark, and in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. And for the text in St. Matthew, I know the words in the Gospel are not go teach, but go, make disciples; and that there is a great difference between a subject and a disciple, and between teaching and commanding. And if such texts as these must be so interpreted, why do not Christian kings lay down their titles of majesty and sovereignty, and call themselves the Pope's lieutenants? But the doctors of the Romish Church seem to decline that title of absolute power in their distinction of power spiritual and temporal; but this distinction I do not very well understand.
A. By spiritual power they mean the power to determine points of faith, and to be judges, in the inner court of conscience, of moral duties, and a power to punish those men, that obey not their precepts, by ecclesiastical censure, that is, by excommunication. And this power, they say, the Pope hath immediately from Christ, without dependence on any king or sovereign assembly, whose subjects they be that stand excommunicate. But for the power temporal, which consists in judging and punishing those actions that are done against the civil laws, they say, they do not pretend to it directly, but only indirectly, that is to say, so far forth as such actions tend to the hindrance or advancement of religion and good manners, which they mean when they say in ordine ad spiritualia.
B. What power then is left to Kings and other civil sovereigns, which the Pope may not pretend to be his in ordine ad spiritualia?
A. None, or very little. [And this power not only the Pope pretends to in all Christendom; but most bishops also, in their several dioceses, jure divino, that is, immediately from Christ, without deriving it from the Pope.]
B. But what if a man refuse obedience to this pretended power of the Pope and his bishops? What harm can excommunication do him, especially if he be the subject of another sovereign?
A. Very great harm. For by the Pope's or bishop's signification of it to the civil power, he shall be punished sufficiently.
B. He were in an ill case then, that adventured to write or speak in defence of the civil power, that must be punished by him whose rights he defended, like Uzza, that was slain because he would needs, unbidden, put forth his hand to keep the ark from falling. But if a whole nation should revolt from the Pope at once, what effect could excommunication have upon the nation?
A. Why, they should have no more mass said, at least by any of the Pope's priests. Besides, the Pope would have no more to do with them, but cast them off, and so they would be in the same case as if a nation should be cast off by their king, and left to be governed by themselves, or whom they would.
B. This would not be taken so much for a punishment to the people, as to the King; and therefore when a Pope excommunicates a whole nation, methinks he rather excommunicates himself than them. But I pray you tell me, what were the rights the Pope pretended to in the kingdoms of other princes?
A. First, an exemption of all priests, friars, and monks, in criminal causes, from the cognizance of civil judges. Secondly, collation of benefices on whom he pleased, native or stranger, and exaction of tenths, first fruits, and other payments. Thirdly, appeals to Rome in all causes where the Church could pretend to be concerned. Fourthly, to be the supreme judge concerning lawfulness of marriage, that is, concerning the hereditary succession of Kings, and to have the cognizance of all causes concerning adultery and fornication.
B. Good! A monopoly of women.
A. Fifthly, a power of absolving subjects of their duties, and of their oaths of fidelity to their lawful sovereigns, when the Pope should think fit for the extirpation of heresy.
B. This power of absolving subjects of their obedience, as also that other of being judge of manners and doctrine, is as absolute a sovereignty as is possible to be; and consequently there must be two kingdoms in one and the same nation, and no man be able to know which of his masters he must obey.
A. For my part, I should rather obey that master that had the right of making laws and of inflicting punishments, than him that pretendeth only to a right of making canons (that is to say rules) and no right of co-action, or otherwise punishing, but by excommunication.
B. But the Pope pretends also that his canons are laws; and for punishing, can there be greater than excommunication; supposing it true, as the Pope saith it is, that he that dies excommunicate is damned? Which supposition, it seems, you believe not; else you would rather have chosen to obey the Pope, that would cast your body and soul into hell, than the King, that can only kill the body.
A. You say true. For it were very uncharitable in me to believe that all Englishmen, except a few Papists, that have been born and called heretics ever since the Reformation of Religion in England, should be damned.
B. But for those that die excommunicate in the Church of England at this day, do you not think them also damned?
A. Doubtless, he that dies in sin without repentance is damned, and he that is excommunicate for disobedience to the King's laws, either spiritual or temporal, is excommunicate for sin; and therefore, if he die excommunicate and without desire of reconciliation, he dies impenitent. You see what follows. But to die in disobedience to the precepts and doctrines of those men that have no authority or jurisdiction over us, is quite another case, and bringeth no such danger with it.
B. But what is this heresy, which the Church of Rome so cruelly persecutes, as to depose Kings that do not, when they are bidden, turn all heretics out of their dominions?
A. Heresy is a word which, when it is used without passion, signifies a private opinion. So the different sects of the old philosophers, Academians, Peripatetics, Epicureans, Stoics, &c, were called heresies. But in the Christian Church, there was in the signification of that word, comprehended a sinful opposition to him, that was chief judge of doctrines in order to the salvation of men's souls; and consequently heresy may be said to bear the same relation to the power spiritual, that rebellion doth to the power temporal, and is suitable to be persecuted by him that will preserve a power spiritual and dominion of men's consciences.
B. It would be very well (because we are all of us permitted to read the Holy Scriptures, and bound to make them the rule of our actions, both public and private) that heresy were by some law defined, and the particular opinions set forth, for which a man were to be condemned and punished as a heretic; for else, not only men of mean capacity, but even the wisest and devoutest Christian, may fall into heresy without any will to oppose the Church; for the Scriptures are hard, and the interpretations different of different men.
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