Civilization and its Others: American Imaginaries, State of Nature, and Civility in Hobbes
Stephanie Martens

May 7, 2024, 8:00pm - 9:30pm

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Monash University

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In Modern Social Imaginaries (2003, later forming a chapter in A Secular Age, 2007), Charles Taylor suggests, among many conceptual clarifications, that ‘a social imaginary’ may simply be thought of as ‘the ways people imagine their social existence.’ (p. 23)  This deliberately loose yet comprehensive approach can be very fruitful in the history of ideas —and this is indeed shown by the vast and ambitious project Taylor undertakes re. secularization.  More modestly, in past works, I have explored the way American imaginaries spread by Renaissance travel literature were transformed during the 17th century into a sort of ‘Aboriginal imaginary’ —the background against which the notion of civilization developed and endured.  Such an approach may contrast with and complement recent critical approaches to the canon of Western political and legal thought, often applying the critical lens of race and genre to draw connections between supposedly universalist philosophies and their role in sustaining or legitimizing imperial and colonial conquests.  This paper and presentation proposes to apply Taylor’s notion of ‘social imaginary’ to Hobbes’s texts, as part of a larger genealogy of civilization – civilization working as a form of exclusion and domination that eschews biological determinism in favour of social, historical bias. This “civilizational” thinking certainly can work – and will work later on in conjunction with modern racism and white privilege – to exclude many. The racial contract – as per Mills – is only a late instalment on a more fundamental one, the civilizing contract.

Stéphanie B Martens is Sessional Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University, Canada. She is the Author of The Americas in Early Modern Political Theory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and has published widely on Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Foucault and Nietzsche.

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May 7, 2024, 8:00pm UTC

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