Vainglory, modesty, and political agency in the political theory of Thomas Hobbes

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Histories of political theory have framed the story of the emergence of sovereign states and sovereign selves as a story about secularizationspecifically, a story that equates secularization with self-deification. Thomas Hobbes's investment in modesty and humility demonstrates the need for, and the possibility of, an alternative secularization narrative. Scholars have long insisted that vainglory is a key term for the interpretation of Leviathan. But Hobbes's task is not complete once he has discredited vainglory. Hobbes must also envision, and cultivate, contrary virtuesand modesty is one virtue that Hobbes would cultivate. An analysis of Hobbes's attempt to redefine and rehabilitate the virtues of modesty shows that Hobbes warns against the temptation to self-deification. In Leviathan, the political task is not to enthrone humans in sovereign invulnerability, but rather to achieve the right balance between bodily security and consciousness of finitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-269
Number of pages29
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


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