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The Body Politic “is a fictitious body”

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Hobbes on Imagination and Fiction

image of Hobbes Studies

Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the body politic “is a fictitious body”, thereby contrasting it with a natural body. In this essay I argue that a central purpose of Hobbes’s political philosophy was to cast the fiction of the body politic upon the imaginations of his readers. I elucidate the role of the imagination in Hobbes’s account of human nature, before examining two ways in which his political philosophy sought to transform the imaginations of his audience. The first involved effacing the false ideas that led to sedition by enlightening men from the kingdom of spiritual darkness. I thus advance an interpretation of Hobbes’s eschatology focused upon his attempt to dislodge certain theological conceptions from the minds of men. The second involved replacing this religious imagery with the fiction of the body politic and the image of the mortal God, which, I argue, Hobbes developed in order to transform the way that men conceive of their relationship with the commonwealth. I conclude by adumbrating the implications of my reading for Hobbes’s social contract theory and showing why the covenant that generates the commonwealth is best understood as imaginary.

Affiliations: 1: Lecturer in Political Theory, King’s College London, Department of Political Economy, Room S2.15, Strand Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS, UK, robin.douglass@kcl.ac.uk

10.1163/18750257-02702005
/content/journals/10.1163/18750257-02702005
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/content/journals/10.1163/18750257-02702005
2014-09-08
2018-06-25

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