Published Humanitas, Volume VII, No. 1, 1994

Hobbes and Human Nature, by Arnold W. Green. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. 257 pp. $32.95.

This newest book by Arnold Green has two indisputable merits. One, it is clearly and felicitously written; and two, it is by an outstanding academic sociologist now retired from the University of Pennsylvania. As a volume of political opinion, it might be passable without being particularly insightful; but as a study of Hobbes, or the application of Hobbes’ political theory, it is inadequate. Green’s references to Hobbes contain misleading statements: e.g., that Hobbes intended the sovereign to have “total control” over all human activity and that this Hobbesian project leads naturally into socialism. Even a cursory reading of Leviathan or De Cive should indicate that Hobbes was interested in a government that protected life and curbed violence to facilitate “commodious living.” He did not envisage a collectivist reorganization of the economy for the purpose of reconstructing human nature. Green, who cites Michael Oakeshott in his bibliography, would do well to read Oakeshott on Hobbes for a fuller statement of this interpretation.

Green deals less with Hobbes and political theory in general than with that which irritates him about contemporary American politics. There are people out there, whom he calls “utopian socialists,” who do not appreciate the good reforms he and other progressives of his generation pulled off. Feminists, civil rights advocates, gays, and workers should all be grateful for the progress in equality and social justice that Arnold Green and others have made possible by their moderate liberal politics. Alas, these ingrates are pushing too far, and Green chastises them for not recognizing how much has already been done for blacks, homosexuals, women, and other approved victims. Like the neo-conservatives, Green assumes that social and cultural revolutions should and can be turned off when they have ceased to please him and his friends. But if in “comparative terms” the civil rights movement and its offshoots and the expanding American welfare state have achieved the positive results Green attributes to them, it would be proper to allow these forces even freer rein. It is unclear, furthermore, why Green and those who agree with him are entitled to occupy an ideal vital center: with those on their right being depicted as bigots and with those on their left being condemned as “utopian socialists.” Surely there can be different but tolerated prudential judgments about what constitutes enough or too much change!

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