Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Hobbes on Job

Thoughts generated by Gordon Hull's article on Hobbes' Leviathan and the book of Job:

Hull says that the reason for Hobbes' reference to Job in his titled work Leviathan is threefold: "it serves as an image of the great and powerful civil apparatus... Second, the products of Job's speech are given as parts of the state of nature. In other words, without a sovereign for the establishment of meaning, i.e. without a prior and explicit submission to God, Job's speech is meaningless... Third, and finally, given the position of Job as Aristotle, and of the language Hobbes uses to attack scholastic politics, the reference to Job creates a Hobbesian critique of scholastic politics on the grounds that it expresses a hubristic desire to speak with God, a hubristic confidence in human ratiocination in the name of God which is explicitly prohibited by the Bible." (28-29)

First, the use of the imagery of Leviathan to picture the civil magistrate or the state is highly intriguing. Only Hobbes seems to have missed the role that Leviathan plays in the narrative. On his reading, Job's carrying on and argumentation has revealed him to be one of the "sons of pride" and therefore in need of taming like the Leviathan. As the above quote says explicitly, Job's insistence on speaking with God is hubris. But that's not the answer that the book itself gives. In fact, Job's insistent request to speak with God is fundamentally answered in the affirmative. Yahweh speaks to Job out the whirlwind, and the conclusion also indicates that Yahweh would keep up the conversation. Job is invited to pray for his three friends, and Yahweh promises to hear and answer the prayer of Job. Yahweh invites Job to continue speaking to Him because Job has spoken what is right. The desire to speak with God seems entirely justified, ratified, and openly approved by God.

The basic argument of Hobbes seems to be that human reason cannot approach the wisdom and doings of God (witness Yahweh's speeches). The point is that similarly, human government should satisfy itself in the realm of human discourse and reason. Attempts to sanction civil government with 'thus saith the Lord statements' are the same kind of hubris that Job evidences. Hobbes wants the church to stay out of politics and sees attempts by the church to enter the political sphere as arrogant imitations of foolish Job. But again, the text does not bear this out. In fact the lesson of the text seems to be just the opposite. Job's journey is one that begins in a context of isolation from the courts of God and ends with Job being invited to speak directly to God in prayer. Thus, the overall thrust of the narrative actually suggests the very opposite of what Hobbes was after. Of course Job was not merely trying to "reason" his way to God, and on that level, Job would agree with Hobbes that human reason is completely insufficient. This is why Job wants to die. He knows that it's futile to attempt a meeting with God on his own.

Last thought: Part of the problem Hobbes is reacting to is the high scholasticism which interwove biblical standards with ancient philosophers like Aristotle. This was the Empusa, the demon, which Hobbes sought to cast out of society. He was not opposed at all to a "Christian Commonwealth," but when the Church intervened, she ended up (apparently of necessity) bringing all her extra-biblical (and unwanted) friends with her. Strikingly, as Hull points out, Hobbes is implicitly arguing for this separation on Scriptural grounds, even scholastic grounds. But this "immanent critique" as Hull calls it, appears to rest on faulty exegesis. But it does rest on exegesis, and Hobbes notes this himself: "Therefore, when anything therein written is too hard for our examination, wee are bidden to captivate our understanding to the Words; and not to labour in sifting out a Philosophical truth by Logick, of such mysteries as are not comprehensible, nor fall under any rule of naturall science."

The point seems to be that if you can understand it with a simple reading then it may be used, but if it takes more than that much thought, it ought to be left to the Church to figure out but is not binding on the magistrate. And for the Church to enforce her interpretation on the magistrate is to follow in the hubris of Job and the Leviathan.

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