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Hobbes and the Origin Myth of Capitalism

February 21, 2010

I’m presently reading Marshal Sahlins’ Cultural and Practical Reason. In a sense it is really dated; the  book is designed as a corrective to anthropological and Marxist theories of the 50s and 60s. In addition, it presumes a lot of prior familiarity with these mid-century guys (they are, of course, all guys), which I don’t have. However, I get the impression that reading it will nevertheless be a quite rewarding investment of my time. Consider the following quote, which has really got me thinking:

[W]e are the only people who think themselves risen from savages; everyone else believes they descend from gods. … [W]e make both a folklore and a science of the idea, sometimes with little to distinguish between them. The development from a Hobbesian state of nature is the the origin myth of Western capitalism. But just as Hobbes did not conceive that the commonwealth abolished the nature of man as wolf to other men, but merely held that it permitted its expression in comparative safety, so we continue to believe in the savage within us—of which we are slightly ashamed.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. larry c wilson permalink
    February 23, 2010 9:07 pm

    It would be better to read Hobbes and draw your own conclusions.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 23, 2010 9:15 pm

    Reading Hobbes won’t tell me how others have used him …

  3. larry c wilson permalink
    February 23, 2010 10:21 pm

    What do you mean by “used him”?

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 24, 2010 10:48 am

    Reading the Bible won’t tell me how Catholics and Protestants use the Bible—they use the same thing differently. Similarly, Hobbes’ work could be used as a capitalist myth even if he did not intend it that way, and even if such a use is a bastardization of his work.

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