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Composition of Hobbes's Elements of Law, The

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Hobbes claimed to have written the The Elements of Law during the Short Parliament of the spring of 1640. However, it seems unlikely that such a lengthy, systematic treatise could have been composed in so short a time. This article closely examines the text to make the case that the bulk of it was written prior to the 1640 political crisis. What was probably written that spring were chapters defending absolutism. Their hurried composition accounts in particular for the odd assertion that democracy is foundational to all forms of government. The puzzle surrounding the composition of the Elements opens up general issues concerning Hobbes's method of writing. His habit of slotting new material into pre-existing frameworks generated inconsistencies and frustrated his ambitions for rigour. Readers need to be alert to the possibility that textual puzzles may be artifacts of Hobbes's composition process

Keywords: The Elements of Law; Thomas Hobbes; absolutism; history of the book; manuscript publication; political theory; seventeenth-century philosophy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, 1284 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1284, USA, Email: baumgold@oregon.uoregon.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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