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Monday, May 20, 2019

On Political Hedonism and Political Atheism

Leo Strauss notes that Thomas Hobbes is the creator of political hedonism and political atheism. In his book Natural Right and History, (Chapter 5, “Modern Natural Right”; Page 168-169), Strauss writes:
Hobbes rejects the idealistic tradition on the basis of a fundamental agreement with it.  He means to do adequately what the Socratic tradition did in a wholly inadequate manner.  He means to succeed where the Socratic tradition had failed.  He traces the failure of the idealistic tradition to one fundamental mistake: traditional political philosophy assumed that man is by nature a political or social animal.  By rejecting this assumption, Hobbes joins the Epicurean tradition.  He accepts its view that man is by nature or originally an a-political and even an a-social animal, as well as its premise that the good is fundamentally identical with the pleasant.  But he uses that a-political view for a political purpose.  He gives that a-political view a political meaning.  He tries to instill the spirit of political idealism into the hedonistic tradition.  He thus became the creator of political hedonism, a doctrine which has revolutionized human life everywhere on a scale never yet approached by any other teaching. 
The epoch-making change which we are forced to trace to Hobbes was well understood by Edmund Burke: “Boldness formerly was not the character of atheists as such. They were even of a character nearly the reverse; they were formerly like the old Epicureans, rather an unenterprising race. But of late they are grown active, designing, turbulent, and seditious.” Political atheism is a distinctly modern phenomenon. No pre-modern atheist doubted that social life required belief in, and worship of, God or gods. If we do not permit ourselves to be deceived by ephemeral phenomena, we realize that political atheism and political hedonism belong together. They arose together in the same moment and in the same mind.
According to Strauss, Thomas Hobbes’s political philosophy is a typically modern combination of political idealism with a materialistic and atheistic view of the whole.

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