Freedom of Conscience
(IV) Hobbes' Analysis


Silences are sometimes quite as noteworthy as positive assertions. The restraint with regard to the issue [of freedom of conscience by the Oxford Politcal Philosophers] is remarkable, and certainly in need of explanation;  for it is one of the glories of English political philosophy to have faced the question of conscience and its suppression unflinchingly in the person of Hobbes.

Under the impression of the Puritan revolution one of the greatest psychologists of all times laid down the rule that men who are moved by their religious conscience to civil war, for the purpose of imposing their creed on others, are not moved by the spirit, but are guilty of pride, of superbia in the Augustinian sense, to the point of madness. Hobbes diagnosed passionate self-assertion, the amor sui, as the formative force of the Puritan conscience; he understood its dictates as a manifestation of libido dominandi, not of the spirit of Christ.

This diagnosis tears the problem of moral conscience wide open; beyond conscience lies the spiritual personality of the man who has it. A conscience may be good in the moral sense and nevertheless thoroughly evil in the spiritual sense, as Hobbes's predecessor in this question, Richard Hooker, had already shown in his acid portrait of the Puritan, in the preface to his Ecclesiastical Polity.

Hobbes, to be sure, was in error himself when he assumed that there was no such thing as a true spiritual orientation of the soul through amor Dei and that every conscientious conviction, when in conflict with the civil order, was thereby proven evil. Nevertheless, in his estimate of the movements of his time he was empirically as shrewdly right as he could be without the conceptual apparatus for the classification of phenomena of this type that is at our disposal today. . . .

CW VOL 11,
The Oxford Political Philosophers , pp 35-36.

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