Starting Points: “Thomas Hobbes and a Society Divided”
By Benjamin Warner
JMC fellow Benjamin Warner has recently written an article for Starting Points on Thomas Hobbes and the tensions of living in a society. The essay is in part based on notes taken during the August 2019 Jack Miller Center Summer Institute.
The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is, for anyone who wanders through its doors, a rather morbid place. Unlike the many museums of art and history that dot the city, the Mütter is obscure, known only by those who seek it. It resides in a small, unassuming building, within which one finds much of the disorder and darkness that plague the human condition—most notable, a wall of well-preserved skulls. Above each is a plaque describing how the person to whom it belonged died, and the circumstances by which it came into the museum’s possession. Yet, despite the plaques giving these old bones historical context, each is merely a vestige of what was once a complete whole.
I begin with this ghoulish anecdote because it seems fitting of the current political climate in the United States and many modern liberal democracies. One might be forgiven for seeing our nation as fractured into its constituent parts, each holding a plaque describing the nation to which they once belonged. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes saw versions of this same sort of political disunity in the mid-1600s, and on that basis analyzed some of the more unpleasant aspects of human nature to understand why achieving political unity is so difficult…
Benjamin Warner received his B.A. in English Literature from Grinnell College in 2015, and his M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago in 2016, where his Master’s thesis was on “Politics, Religion, and Societal Values: Christianization in Beowulf“. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of Dallas. His research interests include early medieval British literature, Homer and Greek tragedy, Gothic literature, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Jonathan Swift, and the intersections of literature, history, and philosophy.
Warner is a JMC fellow.
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