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Is Hobbes now our leading philosopher?

Hobbes is easily the most pessimistic philosopher in history, which is one of the reasons I’ve always loved him. His vision was of a society composed of men “in a state of war” against one another — until a “common power” slaps ‘em around and forces them to behave. My second-year professor of political philosophy put it this way: “If Machiavelli’s philosophy discovered a bold new world of self-interest amongst the elites, Hobbes landed on those shores, cut down the trees, and built Orillia.” (This joke will mean nothing to people who don’t know that Orillia is a trackless suburban moonscape about two hours north of Toronto. Indeed, Orillia is so bleak that it’s a punch line that needs no joke.)

But I digress. The point is, my friend Erik at his blog Culture Raven has been observing a rise in Hobbesian punditry. It seems that today’s pundits are finding many parallels between Hobbes’ Leviathan and today’s America. One is Paul Johnson, who penned a recent essay “Leviathan to the Rescue” for the National Review.

The fun part, though, is Erik’s hilarious ad hominem analysis of Johnson’s motivations. I won’t give it away — go read it here.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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