Modernity’s Bodyguard

Phil Withington

Four historians in a Cambridge bar, c.1998: one literary, a second legal, the third political, and the fourth a social historian. All specialise in the 16th and 17th centuries. The social historian, desperate for something to say, asks: ‘So who’s the most important writer of the early modern period?’ Without hesitation the legal and political historians reply, in unison: ‘Hobbes.’ Eyes turn to the literary historian, who has a reputation for irascibility, expecting the conversation to kick off. After a considerable pause he says: ‘I’m afraid that on this occasion I can only agree.’

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