This article engages the longstanding debate over Hobbes's use of rhetoric, with the aim of rethinking both the political logic of Leviathan and the way contemporary theorists approach rhetoric in relation to reason. Rhetoric was a particularly acute problem for Thomas Hobbes, whose pursuit of a stable political order may appear to require the absence of rhetoric and the presence of a purely rational order. This appearance is misleading, and it is suggested therefore that political theorists rethink how they understand rhetoric to grasp more fully Hobbes's understanding of political order. The common view that Hobbes resolves the problem of semantic indeterminacy must be questioned. Hobbes in effect understands that stable meaning structures are impossible to attain, even under Leviathan. This reworking suggests the need for refining our understanding of Hobbes, who envisions political order not by privileging reason over rhetoric, but by moving beyond engagements with language altogether.
Daniel Skinner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Capital University.
I thank the following for helpful comments and criticisms on previous drafts: Leonard Feldman, Jennifer Gaboury, Jonathan Keller, Steven Pludwin, Nader Sadre, George Shulman, Joan Tronto, Alex Zamalin, and five anonymous reviewers at the Review of Politics.