Category Archives: Philosophy

NL XXXVIII: Civilization and Wealth

To be richer than another person is to have economic power over that person (38. 61). The rich can force the poor to sell their labor for a lower price (38. 64) than if the poor were free (38. 65) of the emotional strain of poverty (38. 66).

Rembrandt, Esau Selling His Birthright, c. 1640–1, British Museum

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NL XXXVII: Civilization As Education

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Knowing, from the previous chapter, what civilization is, we ask: How do we bring it about? Collingwood’s answer is to homeschool our children.

This is the New Leviathan’s first detailed piece of positive advice, and it may sound crazy. Rather than list reasons why, I want to see what sense can be made of the ideas.

Civility is respect (37. 15). To respect another person is to recognize their freedom (37. 14). To do this, one needs self-respect (37. 13).

Instead of respect, we may approach another person with servility, namely “the demeanour of a man lacking self-respect towards one whom he fears” (37. 17). The will to barbarism is just the will to servility (37. 19).

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), The Boating Party, 1893/1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art

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NL XXXVI: The Essence of Civilization

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After thirty-five earlier chapters, we reach the point of the New Leviathan. The essence of civilization is being civil to one another (36. 5).

Henri Rousseau (French, 1844 – 1910), The Equatorial Jungle, 1909, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art

That may sound trivial or tautologous. It’s not. We are talking about being civil, in the ancient sense discussed in the previous chapter:

35. 41. Behaving ‘civilly’ to a man means respecting his feelings: abstaining from shocking him, annoying him, frightening him, or (briefly) arousing in him any passion or desire which might diminish his self-respect (13. 31); that is, threaten his consciousness of freedom by making him feel that his power of choice is in danger of breaking down and the passion or desire likely to take charge (13. 67).

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NL XXXV: What Civilization Means Specifically

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Civilization is a process, from barbarity towards the ideal of civility (35. 1). The ideal itself, and any particular stage along the way, are also called civilization (35. 11). This is our understanding from the previous chapter.

Civilization happens to a community. Any member can refer to the community in the first person plural: it is a “we” (35. 24). There is the corresponding possibility of a “not-we” (35. 25), in the sense discussed in Chapter VIII, “Hunger and Love” (8. 16). The “not-we” can be relative (35. 28) or absolute (35. 27), according as, to its own members, it is a “we” or not. To us, a relative “not-we” can be a “you” (35. 28). I shall suggest that the “not-we” is always at least a “they,” although Collingwood uses this only for the relative “not-we” (35. 28).

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NL XXXIV: What Civilization Means Generically

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Having studied, in the New Leviathan,

  • the individual human being in Part I, and
  • communities of human beings in Part II,

we turn now to Part III, on the subject of civilization (34. 1). This is something that happens to a community (34. 4). It is a “process of approximation to an ideal state” (34. 5). That is the gist of Chapter XXXIV, “What ‘Civilization’ Means: Generically.”


We have returned to Istanbul. Below are sunset photos from our last night on the Aegean coast

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NL XXXIII: Decline of the Classical Politics

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Lacking the experience of social and political life mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, Germans could not understand the classical politics. German communities were non-social (33. 32). What experience those communities did have of freedom was despised (33. 5). When Marx converted Hegel’s dialectical idealism into the equally nonsensical dialectical materialism (33. 91), he sought only to teach what materialism entailed: that there was no such thing as freedom of will (33. 97).

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NL XXXII: Society and Nature in the Classical Politics

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In the last chapter, we described classical politics by analogy with classical physics. Now we turn entirely to politics. The nature of “Society and Nature in the Classical Politics,” Chapter XXXII of the New Leviathan, is not the nature studied by physics; it is the nature of the “state of nature” (32. 32), which is our theoretical political origin.

The “problem of the classical politics” (32. 1) is “to give an account of the social element” of political life (32. 19). The non-social element of political life is nature (32. 19).

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NL XXXI: Classical Physics and Classical Politics

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As my beach holiday winds down, so perhaps does the current spate of blog posts. Here is one more. Setting aside Homer, I continue immediately with Collingwood, in part because, in the 2000 paperback impression of the 1992 Revised Edition of the New Leviathan that I take to the shore, I have now also read the Editor’s Introduction by David Boucher. (Back at the cottage, I have to type out the quotes from this that I make below; for quotes of Collingwood himself, I cut and paste from a scan of the 1947 corrected reprint of the 1942 First Edition.)

As I could infer from my pencil-marks, I had read Boucher’s introduction some time before; but I could remember little of it. I think it is aimed at professional philosophers, rather than at anybody who would admire Collingwood for saying, as he does in An Autobiography (page 6), when he describes getting prepared to go to Rugby School,

The ghost of a silly seventeenth-century squabble still haunts our classrooms, infecting teachers and pupils with the lunatic idea that studies must be either ‘classical’ or ‘modern’. I was equally well fitted to specialize in Greek and Latin, or in modern history and languages (I spoke and read French and German almost as easily as English), or in the natural sciences; and nothing would have afforded my mind its proper nourishment except to study equally all three.

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NL XXX: War As the Breakdown of Policy

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Humans have not always made war (30. 1); why do we make it now? War is said to be a continuation of policy (30. 14); but as Collingwood cleverly points out (30. 15), the saying due to Clausewitz (30. 69) is ambiguous: a continuation could be an extension or a breakdown (30. 16–17).

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIV

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When Neptune was helping the Greeks stave off certain defeat, I tried to suggest that divine intervention in the course of events might be understood as human resolve to change that course. This was in Book XIII of the Iliad, where Neptune took the form of one of the Greeks—Calchas—in order to exhort the others. They would have listened to Calchas anyway; he was a prophet. Ajax Oileus said he could tell Calchas was “really” a god; we can read this to mean Calchas was inspiring. We can say this of somebody today, without meaning to suggest any supernatural influence.


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