In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes's landmark work on
political philosophy, James Martel argues that although Hobbes pays
lip service to the superior interpretive authority of the
sovereign, he consistently subverts this authority throughout the
book by returning it to the reader.
Martel demonstrates that Hobbes's radical method of reading not
only undermines his own authority in the text, but, by extension,
the authority of the sovereign as well. To make his point, Martel
looks closely at Hobbes's understanding of religious and rhetorical
representation. In Leviathan, idolatry is not just a
matter of worshipping images but also a consequence of bad reading.
Hobbes speaks of the "error of separated essences," in which a sign
takes precedence over the idea or object it represents, and warns
that when the sign is given such agency, it becomes a disembodied
fantasy leading to a "kingdom of darkness."
To combat such idolatry, Hobbes offers a method of reading in
which one resists the rhetorical manipulation of figures and tropes
and recognizes the codes and structures of language for what they
are-the only way to convey a fundamental inability to ever know
"the thing itself." Making the leap to politics, Martel suggests
that following Hobbes's argument, the sovereign can also be seen as
idolatrous-a separated essence-a figure who supplants the people it
purportedly represents, and that learning to be better readers
enables us to challenge, if not defeat, the authority of the
Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science, Language & Literature
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