Hobbes: Honor and the Emperor’s New Clothes
The first of probably quite a few posts that I’ll be writing about Thomas Hobbes and Leviathan.
I think Rufus is basically right in his understanding of Hobbes here, but Leviathan is, shall we say, a multifaceted book. I believe it’s possibly the only work of political theory that leads with a digression on wet dreams (Part I, chapter 2) — a testament to the great things that can be accomplished in the absence of modern editing.
Much more seriously, Hobbes writes:
To pray to another, for ayde of any kind, is to HONOUR; because a signe we have an opinion he has power to help; and the more difficult the ayde is, the more is the Honour….
To agree with in opinion, is to Honour; as being a sign of approving his judgement, and wisdome. To dissent, is Dishonour; and an upbraiding of errour; and (if the dissent be in many things) of folly (part I, chapter 10).
This seems to me one of Hobbes’s more interesting missteps. One doesn’t honor someone who has erred by playing along and agreeing. At least I wouldn’t say so. The only decent thing to do — if you have any esteem at all for the erring party — is to correct him. Gently, perhaps. In private, perhaps. Or loudly and publicly, as so many of you so very kindly do for me, again and again.
Let’s use a corporeal metaphor. Hobbes loved them, and they seem to make the case especially clear. Would a physician honor a patient by telling him that he was in perfect health, even if he wasn’t? Of course not. Why is the mind any different?
Hobbes would seem to be forced into one of two conclusions. Either (1) the sovereign is in actual fact always right, and the only live question remaining is how you, the subject, are going to treat him; or (2) when it’s a question of honor, truth and falsehood do not matter.
My sense is that (2) is how most politics actually works. But it takes a rare genius to state it as baldly as Hobbes does.
 “And seeing dreames are caused by the distemper of some of the inward parts of the Body; divers distempers must needs cause different Dreams…. In the same manner; as naturall kindness, when we are awake causeth desire; and desire makes heat in certain other parts of the body; so also, too much heat in those parts, while wee sleep, raiseth in the brain an imagination of some kindness shewn.”