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Hobbes: Restraining Fictions

  • Susan McManus
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)

Abstract

I have argued thus far that all theorizing is a form of world-creation, and as such, is ineluctably fictive; but this does not mean that all modes of imagining tend toward creative possibility. This is the force of my claim that theories predicated upon epistemologies of the given (foundational modes of theorizing, or its epistemological “surrogates”) are always-already fictive, but fictive forms of thought that efface, negate, and forget their creative power in favor of their authoritative, and thus legislative and programmatic power. The “fictive” recognizes that foundational accounts are always and necessarily essentially narrational, imaginative, creative, and performative. The point of reading political theory with attention to its fictive groundings is to counter the negation that leads to a mode of theorizing that is legislative, characterized by authority and closure. One way of doing so is to find within that mode the representational sleight of hand that posits the given as such, as natural, or somehow necessary; and in so doing, to open that mode of theorizing to its own reflexive and creatively contingent moments.

Keywords

Social Contract Political Theory Founding Theory Secondary Meaning Strange Form 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson (London: Penguin, 1968), chapter 13.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Samantha Frost gives an analysis of the “Hobbesian subject qua rational actor” in, “Reading the Body: Hobbes, Body Politics, and the Vocation of Political Theory,” in, Vocations of Political Theory, ed. Jason A. Frank and John Tambornino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Common to both is, I think, a recognition of the artificiality of language and hence intelligibility. See Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984) where the “post” signifies a critical interrogation of the founding assumptions of modernity. See also Richard W.F. Kroll, who suggests, as “Michel Foucault intuits, neoclassical discourse is conscious of its own artificiality,” The Material Word pp.3–4.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    William Connolly, Political Theory and Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p.2.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    See Ronald W.K. Paterson, The Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p.61 for this phrase. Political theorists are still trying to find ways to guarantee or underwrite ethical and political action in the loss of a providential worldview.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    The title of Christopher Hill’s classic text, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London: Maurice Temple Smith Ltd., 1972).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    See, e.g., Michael Lessnoff, Social Contract (London: Macmillan, 1986) and Social Contract Theory (ed.) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990). In her exploration of the ways in which generic Man is exclusionary and gendered man, feminist political theoristCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  9. Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p.60. This is simply a displacement, or further abstraction, of the problem of the initial claim. None of these critiques or reformulations, such asGoogle Scholar
  10. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), begins to come to terms with the fictivity inhabiting the very device and the theoretical implications of this.Google Scholar
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    See David Hume, Theory of Politics, ed. Frederick Watkins (London: Nelson, 1951), p.52;Google Scholar
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  13. 14.
    Judith Butler, “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Postmodernism,’” in, J. Butler and J.W. Scott, eds. Feminists Theorize the Political (New York: Routledge, 1992), p.20n1.Google Scholar
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    Anna Yeatman, Postmodern Revisionings of the Political (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p.ix.Google Scholar
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    For alternative accounts of the status of nature, see R. Bernasconi, who argues that “Hobbes is best understood as offering a double account of the state of nature, first as an immemorial past and then as a historical condition of war that always threatens to return,” in, “Opening the Future: The Paradox of Promising in the Hobbesian Social Contract,” in, Philosophy Today 41 (Spring 1997), pp.77–86. Mary Dietz, “Hobbes’s Subject as Citizen,” in, Mary Dietz, ed., Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1990) argues that the state of nature “make[s] quasi-permanent a depersonalized memory of civil war” (p.149n36). When taking the state of nature to be simply chapter 13 of Book One of Leviathan these accounts are accurate; but if the state of nature is taken to be the whole of Book One, as I argue, then the status of nature becomes more complex. In the next chapter, I refer to Rousseau’s critique of this position, encapsulated here: “in speaking of the savage, they described social man” (The Social Contract and Discourses, p.50). C.B. Macpherson’s highly influential thesis of “possessive individualism,” reading Hobbes’s natural man as naturalize, bourgeois man, remains one of the most important works in this direction. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Kirsty McClure “The Issue of Foundations: Scientized Politics, Politicized Science, and Feminist Critical Practice,” in, J. Butler and J.W. Scott, eds., Feminists Theorize the Political, p.341; Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1968).Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings and Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p.96;Google Scholar
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  19. 29.
    Gary Shapiro writes that “Hobbes is a crucial case in determining the interplay of philosophical themes and literary modes,” and also associates Hobbes with the performative mode in philosophy, where “the writer undertakes to perform a certain act,” which is the construction of the “Mortall God.” See “Reading and Writing in the Text of Hobbes’s Leviathan” in, Journal of the History of Philosophy 18 (April 1980), pp.147–157. Hobbes’s “intellectual coercion” has been commented upon by, among others, Miriam Reik, cited by Victoria Silver, who writes of the “almost intellectually coercive” nature of Hobbes’s rhetoric, “The Fiction of Self-Evidence in Hobbes’s Leviathan” in, ELH 55 (1988), pp.351–379, 351, 372n4. Wolin asks if there is a “correspondence between political structures and theoretical discourse? Is it sufficiently pronounced that we might say that the political structure of a theory intimates/imitates a corresponding form of rule?,” (in Deitz, ed., 1990, p.13). See “Hobbes and the Culture of Despotism,” in, Mary Dietz, ed., Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory, p.13. Hobbes’s very acts of imagination and understanding in his political theory are juridical and ostensibly closed: I go on to show the Hobbesian state of nature narratives to be profoundly, if ironically, resistant to closure. Hence, the answer to Wolin’s question is yes, but also no.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 37.
    For a useful survey of the place of nature within political theory, see John Barry, Environment and Social Theory (London: Routledge, 1999). SeeGoogle Scholar
  21. Vincent Geoghegan, Ernst Bloch (London: Routledge, 1996) for a utopian understanding of nature, where nature itself is a vital part of a “spectacular cosmology” of becoming.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 39.
    Ibid., p.689. On debates between the plenists and the vacuists, see, among others, Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, and Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
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    Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.ix. Friedrich Nietzsche, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault are obviously the crucial influences on body-politics. See also Samantha Frost, “Faking It.”Google Scholar
  25. 59.
    William Connolly, Why I Am Not A Secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  26. 60.
    Joshua Foa Dienstag, Dancing in Chains: Narrative and Memory on Political Theory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp.89–90.Google Scholar
  27. 62.
    Ibid., p.91. The distinction between being awake and dreaming is an immensely suggestive and rich problem in modern philosophy, from Descartes to Nietzsche. I can only touch on this here, but develop more fully with Nietzsche in chapter five, section two, “hinge two.” Concomitant with this distinction, however, are others: the clarity of daylight and reason versus the irrational, dark dreamtime world (Nietzsche goes beyond this); autonomous and self-conscious subjectivity versus the polymorphous, infinitely desiring id; the world of objectivity and facts, versus the world of illusion, fictions, and narratives. For a brief comparison of Descartes and Nietzsche (who, I stress, are not representatives of the opposing sides), see Gary Shapiro Nietzschean Narratives (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp.26–27.Google Scholar
  28. 65.
    Ernst Bloch, “Man as Possibility,” in, Cross Currents 18 (1968), pp.273–283, 281.Google Scholar
  29. 66.
    Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” in, The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, ed. Raymond Guess and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  30. 68.
    Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp.39–40.Google Scholar
  31. 77.
    Christopher Pye, “The Sovereign, the Theater, and the Kingdome of Darknesse: Hobbes and the Spectacle of Power,” in, Representations 8 (Autumn 1984), pp.84–106, 91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 78.
    Robert Bernasconi, “Opening the Future: The Paradox of Promising in the Hobbesian Social Contract,” in, Philosophy Today 41 (Spring 1997), pp.77–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 81.
    Derrida, “Declarations of Independence,” trans. Tom Keenan and Tom Pepper, in, New Political Science 15 (1985), pp.7–15, 10.Google Scholar
  34. 82.
    Philip Pullman, The Shadow in the North (London Scholastic Ltd., 1999), p.62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Susan McManus 2005

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  • Susan McManus

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