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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 1 (Sept. 1991)

Wolfgang Palaver, Politik und Religion bei Thomas Hobbes.

Eine Kritik aus der Sicht der Theorie René Girards ["Politics and Religion according to Thomas Hobbes: A Critique from the Perspective of the Theory of René Girard"] (Innsbrucker theologische Studien 33). Innsbruck: Tyrolia 1991. 8th ed. (387 pp.). Hardcover. 390 Austrian Schillings or 56 DM.

The "external framework" of this book is clear. In the first part (pp. 23-141) Palaver compares the political philosophy of Hobbes with that of Girard. In a second part (pp. 142-337) he undertakes a critique of Hobbes' biblical theology. What appears to present itself at first glance as a "clear" monograph is, in reality, an extremely complex work: With this book Palaver has dared an innovative undertaking in the realm of text interpretation. In addition to the usual comparison of two authors in regard to some question (here Thomas Hobbes and René Girard), Palaver's situating of a systematic questioning of the connections between politics and religion on, as it were, several levels makes this work deserving of being considered "innovative". In addition to the texts of Hobbes and the contemporary writers, Palaver concerns himself with the biblical traditions relevant to the theme which Hobbes considered but also left out. The content of these traditions is examined in the context of the biblical revelation both from a historical-critical perspective as well as from a systematic perspective (i.e., from the perspective of Girard's theory). In long passages Palaver's book turns into a sketch of biblical theology which, within the framework of an evaluation of the contemporary theological discussion (especially in regards to historical-critical exegesis), considers questions concerning violence and nonviolence as well as the theological legitimization of political power. This biblical-theological sketch is a necessary background out of which the author can make critical judgments of Hobbes' position. His judgments are therefore of a fundamental type -- for example, his judgment of Hobbes' political philosophy which is qualified as "sacrificial in the broader sense of the term" (pp. 98-141). Christianity, which is treated in Hobbes' writings, is described as "sacrificial Christianity", which necessarily bisects a possible demythologization (in Girard's sense of the term) of political philosophy, because it does not overcome the "structure of persecution which is typical of mythological thinking" (p. 338). The abundance of insights and consequences for a contemporary political theology cannot be at all addressed in this short space. The intentionally diverse nature of this book makes it interesting for diverse groups of scholars: Historians, political scientists, literary scholars, and theologians (both scripture scholars as well as social ethicists and systematic theologians) can find here stimulating ideas for their respective disciplines. This book is indeed, in the truest sense of the term, a successful "interdisciplinary work", especially for the "Girardian". Józef Niewiadomski