In fewer than two hundred pages, Glenn Sunshine has produced an overview of law and liberty down through the ages. The title comes from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in 1651, which is well-known for its description of life as ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. In Paris Hobbes had tutored the future king Charles II, and his views were well suited to the Stuart philosophy of the divine right of kings. No Christian, Hobbes left all power in the hands of the sovereign, and so, says Sunshine, ‘Hobbes was at the head of an unstoppable trend towards secularizing political theory.’
What we are seeing now in the West is a new Leviathan. The secular French state lauds the French Revolution (1789-1798) as the guarantor of democracy and freedom when it was nothing of the kind. It was built on a foundation of autonomous human reason and anti-Christian bigotry. The slogan was the beguiling ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’; the result was the slaughter of over 100,000 of its own people, and an emperor (Napoleon) who was as deluded as any monarch from the ancient regime. It was Jean Meslier who declared: ‘I would like the last of the kings to be strangled with the guts of the last priest’ – a suitable tweet for Q & A perhaps.
Democracies have changed in recent times, and come under greater threat as they have become more decadent. The American Founding Fathers saw this possibility coming, as did Alexis de Tocqueville. When the United States was first founded, there were no political parties, and the president was the one who received the most electoral votes while the runner up became vice-president. Such a system now would mean that Joe Biden would be president and Donald Trump vice-president. The advent of political parties seems to have added nothing to the quality of political life.
This is a short but stimulating trip through the issues down through Western history. Anything to help slay Leviathan is to be welcomed.
– Peter Barnes
Buy “Slaying Leviathan” from Reformers Bookshop
Peter Barnes is the editor of AP and pastor at Revesby Presbyterian Church NSW.