Of Death, Taxes, Time and Thomas Hobbes

Of Death, Taxes, Time and Thomas Hobbes

Comes now the time to pay our taxes.  April 15 is also the birthday of Thomas Hobbes.  This year the old philosopher of Malmesbury would be 421.  However, Hobbes himself celebrated his birthday each year while in England, at least, on April 5.  And therein is a problem of historic notation as thorny as taxes and mysterious as time itself. 

The mystery of time has to do with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar (Which superseded the Julian Calendar that having gotten out of phase because of an over abundance of leap years.)  In much of Europe the change to the Gregorian Calendar came in 1582, but not in England.  As with the recent rejection of the Euro as the coin of the realm, the UK, and its colonies (US, Canada, etc.) would stay on the old and decaying Julian Calendar for another 170 years.  In 1752 Great Britain would finally, by act of Parliament, adopt the Gregorian framework for recording dates.  Because Thomas Hobbes both corresponded with many people on the Continent and traveled there several times as well, when what actually happened gets truly confusing.  Add to the Julian/Gregorian matter the fact that Britain during Hobbes’s lifetime celebrated New Years on March 25 rather than January 1 and the boggle gets even bogglier.

During Hobbes life the differential between Julian and Gregorian dating was 10 days, thus in Malmesbury it was April 5, 1588, when the baby Tommy Hobbes was born.  In Spain, whose Armada was at the moment of Hobbes birth waiting to attack England, it was already April 15.  And in both countries the year was 1588 AD. (The year predicted by theologians to be the end of the world.)  But consider for a moment if Hobbes had been born just two weeks earlier, i.e. March 22.  Then the year in England would have been 1587 and in Spain (ditto France, Italy, Holland, etc.) 1588.  It’s enough to make one reconsider the study of history!

The convention in England during the 17th Century was to use the Gregorian Calendar when writing to colleagues in Europe, and when traveling there to date events in Gregorian reference, but when traveling there and writing home Hobbes and his contemporaries dated their correspondence with Julian numbering.   I hope the reader is following this carefully.

Back to taxes.  This year on April 15, 2009, we in the US will be paying our taxes for income earned during the calendar (Gregorian) year of 2008.  You may recall that up until 1954 tax filing in the US was actually not on April 15 but on March 15, ominous for its ides and the death of Julius Caesar, who if there is any justice should have had his death recorded under the calendar named for him, but didn’t.  So if taxes were due on March 15 of this year, under the British recording of the new year it would still be 2008, so I assume we would be paying 2007 taxes.  And since I’ve already paid those taxes I don’t owe any taxes this year at all. 

Therefore, even though Thomas Hobbes based his Social Contract theory on the foundational reality of death, and even though under the Gregorian Calendar (now used throughout the world for the secular dating of events), April 15 is Hobbes birthday . . . taxes are not as inevitable as advertised. 

NB: The author assumes no liability for penalties or interest incurred by those US citizens, who relying upon this essay, fail to file their taxes on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. 

1 Response to “Of Death, Taxes, Time and Thomas Hobbes”

  1. 1 Jimmy Williams April 29, 2009 at 12:14 am


    At least I am learning a lot —- I think. I just have to figure out how I can take the message(?) here and apply it to the filing of my income tax return for 2009. You see, I filed for an extension so, lucky me, I can take full advantage of all this wisdom.

    Thank you, Dr. Seawell.

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