Hobbes, Locke, and the Christian Commonwealth

Tim Stanton, Timothy John Stuart-Buttle*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The intellectual relationship between Hobbes and Locke has long generated frustration, fascination, and fervid speculation among historians of political thought. Locke refrained from engaging explicitly with Hobbes in any of his writings. This essay contends that Locke's policy of non-engagement should be interpreted neither as evidence of his lack of interest in (or ignorance of) Hobbes’s arguments, nor as an extended exercise in elaborate evasion intended to conceal from the uninitiated Locke’s covert Hobbesian commitments. Locke's silence reveals rather than conceals. What it reveals is an absolute determination to “distinguish,” as he puts it in Epistola de Tolerantia, “between the business of civil government and that of religion, and to mark the true bounds between them”. Approached in this way, precisely because Locke’s account of the “business of civil government” says nothing about ecclesiastical government, the second of Two Treatises can be read, in its entirety, as a powerful critical response to Hobbes. To see why, it is necessary to grasp what most modern interpreters of Hobbes have been unwilling to grant: that Part III of Leviathan (“Of a Christian Common-wealth”) is integral to Hobbes's positive argumentative purposes in the work, rather than a massive fig-leaf designed to protect his purely secular theory of sovereignty from accusations that it was an egregious affront to Christian truth.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages51
JournalHobbes Studies
Early online date12 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2024

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© Timothy Stanton, 2024

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