Political Thought Mark Knights
Lecture plan • Is the term political thought a useful one? • What are the key themes of political thought in the period? • Case study of Thomas More’s Utopia to show • European nature of debate • The importance of context
What is ‘thought’ and who thinks it? • Could study ‘great thinkers’ and examine their ideas; they are indeed part of the story but • Ideas don’t change in isolation from events and movements around them • Ideas aren’t just the preserve of ‘intellectuals’ but are inherent in everyday actions, conflicts and beliefs • ‘political discourse’ [John Pocock, Quentin Skinner]
What is politics? • Religion affected politics • Relations between church and state are certainly key – the two are closely intertwined • Impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on internal and external power relations
The related problems of C16th French wars of religion (1562-1598), the revolt of the United Provinces (1568-1609) and C17th revolutionary Britain Key themes: • Religious pluralism • Fundamental rethinking of the grounds of obedience, • forms of government (republicanism) • and the right to resist
Religious pluralism • Catholic vs Protestant, protestant against protestant • The destruction of religious unity • What is the correct response by church and state? • Toleration/freedom of conscience? Solution adopted in United Provinces, France 1598, England 1689. Recognition of diversity and plurality. • Represssion, enforced uniformity? Solution adopted for much of the C16th and C17th; France after 1685. The Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious toleration in France
How to justify freedom of conscience? • Dutch Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677, of Portuguese-Jewish background), whose Theological-Political Treatise (1670) argued for freedom of thought and conscience • or Locke’s Letters on Toleration (early 1690s) • or the Huguenots and protestant sects • Arguments used
Hostility to freedom of conscience • Duty to avoid heresy and prevent subjects falling into error that will lead them to damnation; without guidance they will not achieve salvation and will fall into superstition, irreligion and immorality. National churches are therefore necessary. • Freedom of conscience is only a cover for political sedition and the two go hand in hand.
Resistance theoryWhy should you obey a secular authority that persecutes or proscribes your religion? or which cannot provide you with security? • The orthodox answer: • The king is divinely appointed; he is empowered by God; God requires obedience; disobedience is sinful; • The king is sovereign and all powerful; he does not share power with the people; people certainly have no right to hold the king to account (God alone will judge him), and even less right to resist him; the king’s will is law • Monarchy is the most natural form of government
Re-thinking the grounds of obedience and authority • There were several ways in which that view was challenged • By appeal to an ancient constitution; legal scholarship; immemorial customs; idealisation of ancient liberty and even of popular sovereignty • E.g. Francois Hotman’sFrancogallica(1573) ; Sir Edward Coke in England in early C17th; Pietor de Gregorio in Sicily; Francois Vranck in Netherlands (Corte Vertooninghe, 1587) • Calvinism: private individuals cannot resist, but there may be institutions that can; developed by his followers; Beza (1519-1605) and the need to follow God’s law not man’s.
A radical Protestant theory • Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos or Defence of Liberty against Tyrants (1579) • Possibly by Philippe Duplessis Mornay. He escaped 1572 massacre and fled to England, returning to France to aid Henri de Navarre (Henry IV); an active philosopher. • State of nature [NB influence of overseas exploration and colonisation; Locke ‘in the beginning all the world was America’], natural freedom and equality
Catholic resistance theory Catholic League needed arguments to favour the rejection of a protestant monarch, such as Henri de Navarre (who was excommunicated in 1585); but also other succession crises in Scotland and England. • Dominican and Jesuit. Francisco de Vitoria (1485-1546), Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1611) and Francisco Suarez (1548-1617); Robert Persons in England (1580s); Juan de Mariana (1599) • Ideas: man not irredeemably evil; Suarez: law of nature ‘written in our minds by the hand of god’; discernible by reason; political society as artificial and man-made not god-given; therefore rested on consent of community; man by nature free and equal.
Contract • Legal and Commercial rather than spiritual • consent as basis for civil society; popular sovereignty; right of resistance • Locke was a revolutionary who placed law above everything
Two versions of contract theory • Thomas Hobbes (1651) an authoritarian version of this contract; the individual transfers all power to the sovereign • John Locke (1690) a liberal version of this contract; the individual entrusts power to an executive but retains both natural rights and a power to judge when the government is dissolved by tyranny; force against force
What is role of state in relation to the Economy • Should the state restrain consumption of luxuries? • Should the state impose trade tariffs? The rise of the ‘mercantile system’
Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) • Describes an ideal society • European Renaissance humanism; by 1650 translated into 6 languages • An intellectual game with Erasmus (1466- 1536) • Written in Latin
The importance of context • The role of the adviser • Equality and community – ‘commonwealth’ (respublica) • Critique of his society • Critique of Machiavelli’s rejection of idealism • Afterlives of texts: contexts can change meanings • 1551 English translation • 1639 as The Commonwealth of Utopia A 1647 tract about the civil wars
Andreae’s Republic of Christianopolis (1619) Campanella’s City of the Sun (1623) City of the Sun Palmanova, near Venice, founded 1593
Literature and visual culture as a vehicle for the discussion of political ideas • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
Conclusion • Political Thought is only a shorthand for discourse about affairs of the state: in relation to the church, the people, trade and commerce, and the best form of government • If we focus on the works of ‘great white men’ thinkers we need to contextualise them and their ideas – including the cultural dimensions.