Hobbes and Republican Liberty

Ellen Meiksins Wood writes:

In his new book, Skinner traces in scrupulous detail the refinements and changes in Hobbes’s ideas about freedom as the English Civil War proceeded. His account of Hobbes is characteristically lucid, elegant and, on its own terms, persuasive. It is indeed very hard to make sense of Hobbes – or any other political thinker – without situating him within the urgent debates of his time and place. But as the argument proceeds, its limitations become increasingly apparent. Against the background of Skinner’s historical narrative, his concluding question about the insensitivity of others to the many conditions that can interfere with human liberty is jarring. The question can easily be turned against Skinner himself, not only because his ‘republican’ answer is itself so restricted but, more generally, because the political world and the spectrum of political debate as he presents them are so strikingly limited.

(LRB 25 September 2008)

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