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Friday, 13 October 2017

Original Sin and Late Medieval Political Thought #5 Martin Luther, Reform, and Conclusion

Hello, all. I will be posting over the next few weeks the results of my 2017 undergraduate thesis. The work focused on the relationship between the Christian concept of Original Sin and its relationship to political theory from the 13th to 16th centuries. My principal argument is that Original Sin plays both a conscious and sub-conscious role in the political thought of the middle ages, and re-enforced a natural understanding of human limitations in the political sphere serving as a natural inoculation against utopian thinking and high ideals that would emerge in more secularize thought.  Furthermore, Original Sin as a political concept played an important role in defining the limitations of peace as a concept and as a pragmatic ideal in medieval thought. If you see any issues with the arguments presented please bring them up to me in the comments as I I know the effort was sophomoric, and I could always use feedback. 

Likewise, my apologies in advance for its limited scope and lack of Nicholas of Cusa as a prominent example of the concepts focused upon. Sadly, this was a single semester project, and both Cusa as well as Richard Hooker, and King James I/VI. If you can forgive this oversight I feel you might have a genuinely enjoyable read on your hands.  


As the humanist movement expanded, and the Protestant Reformation began, contemporaries of the Italian humanists, adopted the literary tradition to argue new theological positions against the Catholic Church. These arguments against the Catholic Church were evident in and derived from the works of the scholastics.[i] Political Scientist J.S McClelland notes that Martin Luther had read the Defender of the Peace, and it likely informed many of his arguments.[ii] Building off his predecessors Luther shook the Catholic church with his assertion that scripture ought to be accessible to all.[iii] This key element in Luther’s theology, would later deeply inform his political thinking. This doctrine of a universal priesthood clashed with the papal prerogative to interpret the message of Christ. This proposition set in motion a politics of resistance, which Luther not only found himself failing to reconcile with but actively opposing in his work Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants.[iv] Meanwhile, in regards to his political theology and his thinking, in general, he held one single principle above all: justification by faith alone.[v] This theology arose from the realization that Christian man had two elements in his nature, one righteous the other steeped in sin.[vi] A feel for Luther’s perspective can be gleaned from his assertion that man’s soul was a “beast over which two riders contend.”[vii] This same conclusion informed his theory of government as well as his ontology.

It is important to understand the way that Luther interprets the relationship between sin and the righteousness and the personal relationship between man and Christ because it will enable one to understand his teachings on obedience and temporal authority. Man exists in two natures for Luther the spiritual man and the corporeal, and this informs his freedoms as a Christian subject. He is both subject to all and lord of all.[viii] Freedom to Luther then was not a political freedom it was freedom in the shape of faith in scripture. Nothing that one could do in the human world would necessarily indicate faith in God or love for Christ and the gospels, and likewise, nothing worldly could truly harm this freedom.[ix] Meanwhile, the civil laws not only protect Christians from the sinful but in turn are a way for Christians to express their love of others; they do this voluntarily and therefore do not need the law to ensure their good conduct.[x] Commandments and promises from scripture differ, however, in that they ensure the Christian of his salvation by causing reflection upon his nature in that “commandments show us what we ought to do. . . . They are intended to teach man to know himself, [so] he may recognize his inability to do good.” Promises then fulfil this covenant allowing man to understand the mercy of God through his own inability.[xi] This is the personal relationship between man and scripture that governs the life of the Christian and it is internally complete and contains no demand works or political activism.

With so much responsibility for faith placed on the individual this creates another problem propounded by historian Susan Schreiner that man’s mind, in Luther’s eyes, had also been damaged by the fall and placed into a beguiling world infested with idols; a place where the word of God was imitated by the word of Satan.[xii] From Satan man became a reasoning creature instead of a faithful one, scepticism infected thought and doubt became comfortable.[xiii] This assertion contradicts the notion that reason, as is understood in the other thinkers in the discussion, is the key to politics and the good. Alternatively, to Luther man constructed laws and demanded obedience by virtue of his reason to appease an idol in the place of God an idol that demanded satisfaction through action.[xiv] This is a radical break by Luther with immense consequences for politics because man cannot trust his reason he has become blind by Satan darkening his vision. The alternative then is to abjure the world as it exists to our reason and instead understand “God as a merciful Father rather than an angry judge.”[xv] These theological considerations formed the bedrock for Luther’s thinking on the relationship between man and the political world and his hopes for peace within it. Firstly, because the theology was centred upon the individual not the community or institutions, and secondly because reason and the world itself provided no answers to the problem of man, it was only in turning away fully that man could begin to perceive the reality of God.

From his theological premises, Luther transformed the relationship between the spiritual and temporal realms, the two kingdoms as they are titled. He created politics that made “the temporal power . . . a member of the . . . spiritual estate.”[xvi] He did this through his demolition of the three walls the pope has constructed to safeguard his power in the temporal realm. The walls are the pope's superiority over the temporal power and the inability of the temporal power to exercise jurisdiction over the pope; the pope’s sole right to interpret scripture on behalf of all Christians; and the pope’s prerogative to summon councils without the permission of temporal authority.[xvii] Each of these arguments is shown to be inconsistent by appeal to scripture and history.[xviii] In doing so Luther brought the spiritual power to account through the temporal power and saw no contradiction in this because the two kingdoms exist in a unity. This is a unity where the perception of Godliness is not certain, and in this way, one cannot even be sure the Popes are Christians. [xix] Only the individual can know this through reflection upon himself. Rather, Christians must live among those who are not of the kingdom of God and this creates the discord both in the polity and between nations for “men would devour one another, seeing as the whole world is evil and . . . there is scarcely a single true Christian.”[xx] The enemy of peace then for Luther becomes man’s fallen nature, and it is inescapable.

As a result of this insufficiency to perceive the world or live rightly as a consequence of original sin, he asks Christians to remain absolutely obedient to the authority of their ruler as scripture informs them in Rom:13: 5-8 and I Peter 2:13-14.[xxi] He further laments that Christians need protection from the world before informing them that God will see to their justice, and that they are not to rebuke a tyrant and have no right to oppose rulers by popular will for to do so would be in opposition to the will of God, who’s providence placed unconscionable rulers above them to drive them toward goodness or to serve as punishment.[xxii] He makes one sole proviso in favour of resistance in that he permits it if the rulers are in direct contradiction with the will of God. However, this is a false exemption because it is immediately qualified with the notion that the mind of the ruler is unknowable and the judgment of men is flawed.[xxiii] Alternatively, man must accept his government as a necessity of the world, hope that it is able to protect him, yet rely on God to see to it that a poor ruler is brought to justice. Those who fail to do so like the revolting peasants are not Christians they are simply using scripture as a tool, and furthermore, they conflate Christian freedom with worldly freedom and they are not the same.[xxiv] To Luther politics is a necessary evil mandated by God’s punishment and assignment to us of a worldly existence. The only true freedom is for the Christian to turn away from sin and live in faith toward God. And the only purview of the state is to guard against sin.

Luther can most readily be compared to Aquinas within this survey and from this comparison, several continuities and several differences appear. They concur on various political positions. Firstly, that the world is one of sin, and this turning from God toward the perceptible and corporeal world is the origin of sin;[xxv] secondly, that sin is the origin of discord and true Christians do not require coercion to obey the law;[xxvi] thirdly, that obedience is required of a Christian toward the secular rulers.[xxvii] From this position, however, two important differences emerge in their thinking. One that the temporal and spiritual worlds do not strive to the same goods, and exist in a hierarchical relationship for Luther as they do in Aquinas, and two, that rebellion is circumscribed by Luther who unlike Aquinas has little trust for the value of human reason to perceive the righteousness of events and causes in the world. When Luther accepts the world as a sinful place, he differs greatly from the humanists, but at the same time, he concedes the divergence of spheres and the temporal authority itself as valid, something that first emerged in the study of Dante and Marsilius of Padua.

Therefore, one may begin to discern patterns in the thinking of various political theorists in discussion. It becomes clear that theorists throughout this period were cognizant of the scarred nature of mankind and working to reconcile it with politics became a chief priority. Whether it was the thought of Thomas Aquinas who envisioned a harmonious relationship between man and natural law, in government by the best, articulated through the human law. Or if it was the unified whole of Dante Alighieri and his monarchy or Marsilius of Padua and his human legislator. Each of these early thinkers laid out a complex approach to guiding and amending politics with an eye toward human nature. Only by working with human nature did these thinkers see a way toward peace only through good laws and powerful rulers executing them could order be brought to the community and flourishing for all secured.

Despite the emergence of the humanists this pattern of reconciling politics to the condition of human nature in its fallen state persisted. Though new humanist discourses argued from a relatively optimistic position of reconciling the individual not through politics, but himself first by means of education. This did not eliminate the idea of politics as a solution. Instead, Thomas More diverged from this position in his masterwork Utopia. More challenged the assumptions of his interlocutors by arguing that man could expect nothing beyond himself from politics except maintenance of the system and inhibition of decay. In this way, he thought in a fashion superficially akin to Machiavelli in that he recognized that one could not reject the political world in its entirety. Rather, politics demanded a degree of acceptance to ensure its functioning. However, this was still a political answer, where man on his own was insufficient for good government and peace.

Likewise, Martin Luther adopted some elements of humanist thinking. Like Machiavelli he argues that there will be no permanent peace, instead, man will always be beholden to his inability to live in righteousness and this observation shaped politics as well.[xxviii] Furthermore, Luther placed the onus for peace on the individual with his emphatic advocacy of obedience due to the inconstancy of human reason. When observing these relationships, it becomes clear that each proposed a different view about peace and each tried to reconcile themselves to the unnatural state of the fallen man within nature. In this way, they painted a picture of politics that sought to reconcile itself to what it was given: the state of man on earth. And each placed different demands upon this nature. It would not be until the modern period, after the advances of the scientific revolution, that one can begin to discern the principle of nature itself as the origin of political problems. However, one can still witness throughout the dialogue the political negotiation between what one should expect of the political world and what one should expect given the nature of man. Man was yet to become the solution to nature; he was still the problem.

[i] Francis Oakley, "Christian Obedience and Authority, 1520-1550," in Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700, ed. J.H Burns (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 159-161.
[ii] Mclelland, A History of Western Political Thought, 130.
[iii] Martin Luther, "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 44-45.
[iv] Oakley, "Christian Obedience and Authority,” 172-173;
[v] Oakley, "Christian Obedience and Authority,” 159.
[vi] Oakley, "Christian Obedience and Authority,” 169.
[vii] Oakley, "Christian Obedience and Authority,” 165.
[viii] Martin Luther, "The Freedom of a Christian," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 25-26.
[ix] Luther, "The Freedom of a Christian,"28.
[x] Ibid., 30-31.
[xi] Ibid., 29-30.
[xii] Susan E. Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011), 324-325, 327.
[xiii] Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? 326-327.
[xiv] Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? 328-329.
[xv] Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? 332.
[xvi] Martin Luther, "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 43.
[xvii] Luther, "To the Christian Nobility,” 39.
[xviii] Ibid., 39-43, 44-45, 46-47.
[xix] Martin Luther, "Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should be Obeyed," in Luther Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 54-55, 56-57. Luther, "To the Christian Nobility,” 38.
[xx] Luther, "Temporal Authority,” 55.
[xxi] Luther, "Temporal Authority,” 51.
[xxii] Martin Luther, " Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 107-110; Martin Luther, "Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 75-76.
[xxiii] Luther, "Temporal Authority 55, 59; Luther, "Admonition to Peace,” 79.
[xxiv] Luther, "Admonition to Peace,” 80-83; Martin Luther, "On War Against the Turk." In Luther Selected Political Writings," in Luther: Selected Political Writings, ed. J.M Porter (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 128; Luther, "To the Christian Nobility,” 47-48.
[xxv]Aquinas, On Law, 165, 189. Luther, "Admonition to Peace,” 83; Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? 326-327.
[xxvi] Luther, "Temporal Authority,” 55-54, 63-64.
[xxvii] Luther, " Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved,” 109; Luther, "Temporal Authority,” 51-53.
[xxviii] Luther, "Temporal Authority,” 56-57; Luther, "Admonition to Peace,” 76-77.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Original Sin in Late Medieval Political Thought #4

Hello, all. I will be posting over the next few weeks the results of my 2017 undergraduate thesis. The work focused on the relationship between the Christian concept of Original Sin and its relationship to political theory from the 13th to 16th centuries. My principal argument is that Original Sin plays both a conscious and sub-conscious role in the political thought of the middle ages, and re-enforced a natural understanding of human limitations in the political sphere serving as a natural inoculation against utopian thinking and high ideals that would emerge in more secularize thought.  Furthermore, Original Sin as a political concept played an important role in defining the limitations of peace as a concept and as a pragmatic ideal in medieval thought. If you see any issues with the arguments presented please bring them up to me in the comments as I I know the effort was sophomoric, and I could always use feedback. 

Likewise, my apologies in advance for its limited scope and lack of Nicholas of Cusa as a prominent example of the concepts focused upon. Sadly, this was a single semester project, and both Cusa as well as Richard Hooker, and King James I/VI. If you can forgive this oversight I feel you might have a genuinely enjoyable read on your hands.  


Thomas More, who follows wrote no traditional mirror for princes or political treatise, however, it will be in light of the principles of the other authors that one must proceed to determine what role human nature plays in both the peace and destruction of the polity. More published his seminal work Utopia in 1516.[i] On close examination the work can be understood as a discussion between More as a contemporary man and politician trying to reconcile and with a Platonic man, embodied by Raphael Hythloday, who himself, despite his pretensions to rationality, and his readiness to flee from politics is espousing the most unnatural state possible; in this way Hythloday himself is nonsense because he fails to realize that the classical Platonic arguments he makes in book I are defeated by the absolute divorce from nature that exists in book II. Alternatively, More argues that man is best off when he lives within the bounds of man's fallen nature as best he is able and produces the best politics that is possible through ready engagement with the political world even if the best that may be hoped for is an adequate degree of peace. 

The discussion begins when More visits friend and colleague Peter Giles in Antwerp and is introduced to a strange and enigmatic man, Raphael Hythloday.[ii] Indeed, Hythloday is immediately compared with the Greeks and Plato, and it is made clear that he only tangentially understands the more pragmatic philosophy of the Romans.[iii] Furthermore, Hythloday is a pilot, who in Plato’s eyes is the best for the ship and serves the ship of state; In the Republic, Plato intends to prove the philosopher is not “useless to cities.”[iv] The pilot knows and navigates by the cosmos, as the demos struggles to pull him and each other down to take the position of the pilot for themselves. To the crew down below he looks like a madman because the sailors and ship-owner do not partake in the knowledge of the philosopher,[v] and yet, the implicit connection is clear, Plato does not see a place for the philosopher among such people, until their nature and their souls are ordered. Otherwise the philosopher is redundant in the city. For he claims it is not natural for the pilot of the ship or the philosopher to beg to guide the sailors rather they must come to him.[vi] Philosophy, in this case, is reactive and requires that the worldly have insight into themselves and their own needs before opening to philosophy. Here is exactly what Hythloday will argue going forward, that as a philosophical man he has no place in the world of government until the people themselves change. More disagrees: his argument will be that the Utopian city cannot exist. This is More’s critique of idealism.

As the dialogue proceeds, Hythloday paints his first picture of nature. Nature and men who are “wild and uncultivated. . . . no less savage and dangerous than the creatures they live among.”[vii] Once Hythloday passed hostile nature he was welcomed on the ships of many nations and met new civilizations alien to the Europeans. Nations prepared to accept him for his knowledge. Hythloday gave these people a sense of direction and oriented them as a true philosopher by providing them a compass. Something that directs truly from any place. It is a substitute for the cosmos, a compass will point toward the north, like the north star, but it does not require knowledge of the stars. Hythloday uses technology to transcend the limits of man. More notes, however, that the compass made them too confident and “cost many lives.”[viii] Nature’s danger is re-emphasized by More as more notes that monsters are more common than civilized men.[ix] 

Afterward, More and Hythloday continue to discuss, this time about whether the philosopher should or should not advise the court. They draw from a hypothetical about the French court that warfare finds its origin in competition, greed, and pride.[x] In this conversation too Hythloday displays his limited thinking about politics and asserts another contradiction when he argues that the people ought to “choose a ruler to further their own interests.” In this way, he hopes the rulers will rule as shepherds fattening their sheep, precisely what brought so much harm to England with enclosures; however now it is inverted, the peoples’ greed ought to be satiated by the ruler rather than his own but the orienting principle remains the same yet not understood by Hythloday.[xi] Meanwhile, More the active politician understands the people cannot rule absolutely and to satiate them with the choice of a ruler would be wrong. He attests to this skepticism throughout. He does this in his reverence of Morton, his skepticism toward Utopia, and the rigour that must be exercised over the Utopians’ social life to ensure the success of their popular regime.[xii] Meanwhile, More cannot conclude that advising the ruler is an absolute redundancy instead he attacks the Platonic ideals of Hythloday in favour of a philosophy that adapts itself to time, circumstance, and contingency.[xiii] More can accept this position and reconcile it because he is aware of the fallen nature of man and the politics it brings. He makes an analogy to the ship of state when he suggests that because the ship is tossed about by the seas—which represent nature—the pilot ought not to leave. Instead, he argues for modesty, and knows that you can at least prevent politics from decaying further, he knows that a perfect state cannot exist “unless you only have perfect people.”[xiv] The irony in this will be betrayed again when the Utopians themselves are exposed as lacking in perfection. In this way, even the ideal Utopian city, the engineering city, the city that constructs its environment and its people, cannot exist. Correspondingly, the text exposes Hythloday’s ideal city, which itself perverts Plato’s egalitarianism that was by no means universal.[xv] 

Utopia itself then will refute the arguments of Hythloday. This refutation is more powerful when read in the light of the conclusion where More claims the “customs and laws established in that country were simply absurd,” and More recognizes the need for “nobility” and “majesty” in the commonwealth. Rather than proceed in an argument with Hythloday he leaves his objections unspoken. As an alternative, More informs the reader that he appreciates the affairs of the utopians, but he does not expect to see any part of their constitution “realized.”[xvi] Coming back to the beginning of the text, one discovers that Utopia from its outset was established by an engineer, someone who constructed Utopia from the ground up. This man is Utopus, who severed the island of Utopia from its isthmus and conquered the native population; therefore, from its birth Utopia is a work of war against nature and the men living in it, those who preceded Utopus.[xvii] The war against nature is embodied in the social life of the Utopians. Utopia exists for pleasure.[xviii] Yet all pleasures, aside from the gardens, are regulated to an obscene degree.[xix] The only place man's nature exists is in the garden where competition flourishes.[xx]

Nature likewise furnishes the sins of the utopians. Nature deprives Utopia of iron yet provides great volumes of gold and silver in its place. This paucity of iron in Utopia and its consequence, the reaction to the foreign diplomats, furnish two of the largest contradictions in the text. Firstly, the possession of great quantities of silver and gold permits the utopians to hire mercenaries to fight on their behalf, [xxi] but it also betrays a larger problem. This because the hiring of mercenaries refutes the notion that the idyllic and irenic city can truly exist and escape the nature of man because it must still reckon with enemies even in its perfection. Likewise, the text asserts many times that money itself is corrupting yet the Utopians must soil themselves with it to buy their peace.[xxii] Likewise, the like lack of iron becomes problematic because it is the metal that is most conducive to their own existence and in the words of Hythloday “iron is as essential to human existence as fire and water,”[xxiii] in this way More through Hythloday shows us that the Utopians do not have a human existence, they have elements of humanity sprinkled throughout the text but lack the essence of man, the essence that makes politics and man’s political nature the way it is in the real world. Secondly, and as consequential as the lack of iron is the treatment of the Anemolian diplomats who visit Utopia adorned with gold, which the Utopians spurn. For it has already been noted throughout that pride and hubris are the root of the evils of the community, and the reason for warfare lies in competition and pride.[xxiv] Despite this prior knowledge the Utopians themselves implicitly embrace pride because they are aspiring to be like gods. Meanwhile, the Anemolians dress like gods adorned with gold and jewels, but they do not act like the Utopians who though dressed plainly embrace godhood.[xxv] Hythloday demonstrates the spirit of the Utopians during the procession “I wouldn’t have missed for anything the sight of [the diplomats].”[xxvi] Meanwhile, the Utopians line the streets to gawk at the procession, and they derive great pleasure from the humiliation of the Anemolians until in their shame they change their fashion to match the utopians.[xxvii] In this brief exchange both show their contemptibility. 

These contradictions illuminate the full meaning of the text. The men in Utopia attempt to live like Gods, they preside over life and death through euthanasia,[xxviii] they kill their enemies and take colonies,[xxix] they govern life down to the minutia and still cannot expunge the criminals from their cities,[xxx] they preside over marriages and dissolve contracts that More would note belong only to God,[xxxi] and finally they conform nature to their will in their great engineering projects. Despite all these marvels or shames Utopia still must reckon with gold, and its pollution to achieve security, and it still cannot free itself from sin. Even the best efforts to construct the ideal city fail because the Utopians are guilty, despite striving to become Gods, despite their abundant wealth of which they place no value, of the ultimate sin: pride.

In this way, the work of More may be placed in dialogue with the other authors. It is evident that More accepts the fall of man, and the limits of politics, but unlike Erasmus and Pizan he does not see room for significant improvements in the condition of man.[xxxii] Likewise, when placed in contrast with Aquinas, there is no absolute end for man in the polity: no absolute common good intelligible and rational. Alternatively, politics just is. Politics is natural insofar as man is bound by it in the oceans of nature.[xxxiii] Consequently, individuals must concern themselves with politics because they are bound by life on earth. 

The upcoming week will focus on Martin Luther and the Reformation turn toward the fallibility of reason. 

[i] Ryan, On Politics, 311; Thomas More, "Utopia," in Utopia with Erasmus's The Sileni of Alcibiades, trans. David Wootton (Cambridge, UK: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 36.
[ii] More, "Utopia," 57.
[iii] More, "Utopia," 58.
[iv] Plato, The Republic of Plato, 487b-487e..
[v] Plato, The Republic of Plato, 488a-488e.
[vi] Plato, The Republic of Plato, 489a-489b.
[vii] More, "Utopia," 59.
[viii] Ibid., 59.
[ix] Ibid., 60.
[x] Ibid., 80, 82-83.
[xi] Ibid., 81.
[xii] Ibid., 76, 102-107,159-160.
[xiii] Ibid., 83-84.
[xiv] Ibid., 84.
[xv] Plato, The Republic of Plato, 416a-417b 546a-547a. Plato’s critique of egalitarianism lies in the failure of the nuptial calculations and the inability of the ideal regime to replicate itself without decaying in Book VIII. This is in spite of the fact that the ideal city he proposed uses advanced mathematics and all the means of engineering both social and biological for its own self-preservation, yet this exactly the foundation Hythloday plans to build Utopia upon: the engineering capacity of man and the supersession of nature.
[xvi] More, "Utopia," 159-160.
[xvii] Ibid., 91.
[xviii] Ibid., 99-100, 107, 117-123.
[xix] Ibid., 98.
[xx] Ibid., 95.
[xxi] Ibid., 109-110.
[xxii] Ibid., 82-83, 86-87 158-159.
[xxiii] Ibid., 110.
[xxiv] Ibid., 80, 82-83.
[xxv] Ibid., 112.
[xxvi] Ibid., 112.
[xxvii] Ibid., 112.
[xxviii] Ibid., 128.
[xxix] Ibid., 103, 130, 141-144.
[xxx] Ibid., 128, 131.
[xxxi] Ibid., 129-130.
[xxxii] Ibid., 84.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 59, 84, 160.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Thoughts on Tradition and Government

Winston Churchill in Quebec with RCMP Honour Guard

I'd like to revisit some of the themes discussed in my essay for Northern Dawn 'Canada Tradition, and Government.' I made the case for a state and government concerned principally with securing and maintaining the traditional institutions of a society. I'd like to suggest that these arguments can be reflected on further by looking at the inadequacies of the alternatives. In this case Liberalism, Socialism, Capitalism, etc . . .

The government must concern itself principally with the preservation of institutions, this is firstly because it is the only body that concerns itself, when operating rightly, with the good of the community as a whole.

A nation or a state in my eyes is only as a whole as its shared history. It shares its history with the people who live within its borders by providing them with a chance to live it. They live their history through ritual, common mores, historical institutions, education, faith, and more. This shared history makes citizens intelligible to one another; they speak the same language. These various organs and phenomena of historical life are problematic, however. 

If history can only be preserved through institutions, and the institutions themselves have a life of their own, organic and arising over centuries, they have value in their permanence. Still, their permanence is not inevitable. They are confronted with various modernisers who would wish to see them destroyed on the basis of utility and more. Institutions are not self-financing much of the time, and cultural capital does not, necessarily, fund itself. Nor, are many people interested in the generation and preservation of this historical identity. Even modern conservatives reject this duty. 

For example, institutions cannot be preserved by the modern majority. They are too self-conscious, too self-serving, and too liberal in character. They value freedom and autonomy more than they value unity, and respect from the past. For the liberal mind, various institutions exercise a pernicious reptilian control exercised through tendrils that grasp the common mind, and provide the arguments for various prejudices and impediments to absolute freedom. If that is the case then to realize the idealized freedom of the liberal the common mind will ignore the historical continuity of their state, and the historical character of their lives to free themselves from the associated chains; likewise, the liberal politician will see historical continuity as obstruction, and the sharing of power as inimical to the cause of liberation, and actively seek to undermine these local and plural traditions. 

The socialist on the other hand, and all his associated cancers, the social democrat and the equality minded liberal, see an aspect of discrimination and distinction in the heart of the historically embodied consciousness of the state and people. These various institutions, especially faith, which Marx condemned so harshly as the 'opiate of the masses' is not the enemy because they generate alleged ignorance, but rather because they are obvious instantiations of distinction, hierarchy, and alternative obligation. Alternative obligation because they are a locus of loyalty outside the state. Strong institutions create the 'lumpenproletariat.'

Finally, the capitalist, the who though part of the liberal and more and more frequently the conservative project, also proposes a problem. Roger Scruton characterized himself as a 'reluctant capitalist,' and this was apt because the capitalist mind though capable of providing infinite comforts, fails to see a motive to preserve the old. For the capitalist, the historical character of a nation if not an obstacle to global homogeneity and the universalization of markets, is at least of no concern, and when it is of no concern it is exposed to the common man vulnerable to attack and unsupported. The capitalist is no custodian, no shepherd, no steward. His ends are a means, and this is not adequate for a state. Loyalty to the market kills particularity and aims to bring us all together under the banner of free trade and union. Europe serves as an apt example: anything for finance. 

Therefore, the interested state is what preservation of tradition demands and the conservative has a goal to see it realized. The conservative ought to know that failing to do the necessary work to support the historical character of the nation and fight off the revisionists, profiteers, levellers, and more will lead to an indistinct mess. A state built on nothing, a body without a heart. A land with borders, but no people, and soon that all-important liberal autonomy will seem unnecessary, as the segregation between states will seem arbitrary and cruel. The world will flood the homeland, and the homeland will cease to be. That is why the conservative must actively preserve the traditions of the nation and state of which he is a part. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Original Sin and Late Medieval Political Thought #3

Hello, all. I will be posting over the next few weeks the results of my 2017 undergraduate thesis. The work focused on the relationship between the Christian concept of Original Sin and its relationship to political theory from the 13th to 16th centuries. My principal argument is that Original Sin plays both a conscious and sub-conscious role in the political thought of the middle ages, and re-enforced a natural understanding of human limitations in the political sphere serving as a natural inoculation against utopian thinking and high ideals that would emerge in more secularize thought.  Furthermore, Original Sin as a political concept played an important role in defining the limitations of peace as a concept and as a pragmatic ideal in medieval thought. If you see any issues with the arguments presented please bring them up to me in the comments as I I know the effort was sophomoric, and I could always use feedback. 

Likewise, my apologies in advance for its limited scope and lack of Nicholas of Cusa as a prominent example of the concepts focused upon. Sadly, this was a single semester project, and both Cusa as well as Richard Hooker, and King James I/VI. If you can forgive this oversight I feel you might have a genuinely enjoyable read on your hands.  


The humanist movement that emerged in the 14th century serves as a fascinating contrast to scholastic thought before it, [i] and though humanists had in some respects a more optimistic understanding of human nature than their scholastic counterparts, the humanist movement itself did not abandon these trends. Nor are its consequences for politics immediately clear. Humanism is difficult to define, and characterise, and many scholars see it as indistinct or part of a great continuum of medieval thought. [ii] Contrarily, the continuous thread of limitation and constraint re-emerged in the humanist thinkers of the Reformation, Thomas More and Martin Luther. One way in which humanism can be understood as a change from scholastic thought is that it often engaged in implicit assertions of a more optimistic human nature. One that could be corrected through knowledge and virtue. This emphasis on virtue and knowledge existed in the works of many the humanist writers hence the emergence of the Mirror for Princes literary genre which sought to provide practical advice to rulers and would-be rulers. For example, three authors wrote a mirror for princes. Desiderius Erasmus wrote Education of a Christian Prince, Christine De Pizan composed her Book of the Body Politic, and Niccolo Machiavelli published his infamous text The Prince.[iii] 

As an important humanist Desiderius Erasmus produced works, which hold within them his relatively optimistic understanding of human nature, and his desire for peace.[iv] Erasmus knew that the world was in the grips of corruption and he divided the secular and the spiritual upon those principles “there are really two worlds, in conflict with one another. . . . One gross and physical, the other heavenly.” Each world had different aims and measures. The earthly is measured by its accumulation of earthly goods and sins such as pride, avarice, violence, and lust; the heavenly by contrast succeeds through temperance, sobriety, wisdom, justice, and “spiritual riches.”[v]

In brief, he viewed a lack of knowledge as one of the critical failings of political leadership, and knowledge, if one understands his writings correctly, particularly the Sileni of Alcibiades consists of a capacity to discern. To identify the truth and ignore or reject the evil, the superficial, and the transient.[vi] In this way, the ruler both creates himself as the philosopher and a true Christian.[vii] This was important because “in human beings, the part that is most divine and is immortal is the only one that is invisible.” The part that connects human beings to the imperceptible God and the unity of the cosmos.[viii]  In turn, it was only true Christians who could see the truth and discern what lay beyond the corporeal crust.[ix] In this way, the political leaders of Europe could rule in virtue. 

This virtue and the cultivation of it remained elusive because rulers did not know how to achieve and maintain peace. Rather rulers had been left hollow, empty of the three qualities of rule “goodness, wisdom, and power.” The world stripped goodness and wisdom from the ruler and by extension the polity, and in turn, a superficial tyranny reigned.[x] Thus to make peace a certain character is necessary for the ruler to be a peaceful, and this is the reason why Erasmus wrote his educational tracts The Manual of a Christian Knight and Education of a Christian Prince because a ruler, if taught well could surpass his worldly dilemmas and engage with politics and good government free from the vicissitudes of the moment.[xi] 

Pizan wrote her work The Book of the Body Politic in 1407;[xii] In the work, the same need for education is on display. Though not espousing an explicit political theory as such, her works do provide clues to the concepts that underlie her political vision. Predominately that the attainment of virtue is possible in the earthly life. The polity in turn, receives its virtue through imputation from above by the prince.[xiii] Only the properly ordered polity subject to a virtuous ruler, a ruler who has mastered justice, can be peaceful.[xiv] She still holds to a vision of human nature open to corruption, but it is not determinative, she notes that even Athens, a pre-Christian society, fell because it submitted to “pleasures and lust.”[xv] As a result, there is a fluidity to the character of the prince who is infused with the potential to be the best of people. The prince from his birth has care taken for his soul first so that he may achieve his potential.[xvi] To play the role of shepherd and rise to Roman heights and foster the same respect, admiration, and goodness in his people by ordering them rightly.[xvii] Her tripartite division consists of France’s three estates, and she sees the prince as the absolute head, and therefore all is contingent upon his character including peace.[xviii] Arising from this notion of a virtuous prince shepherding his sheep with the assistance of his sheepdogs—the knights—Pizan exposes her rather modest view of government.[xix] The city is best when everyone knows their role and plays their part. 

For these reasons, all authority stems from the prince and originates his the office. Which due to the temporal nature of man, must always be renewed in virtue by generations of men educated with the right qualities.[xx] By asserting the pertinence of roman virtue for the Christian prince, insisting on the efficacy of education, dividing the contemplative and active lives, and seeing the potential for a ordered polity on earth Pizan is an example of early humanism that proposes the renewal of virtue and potential of man despite his nature. Political theorist Alan Ryan identifies not a concern for all the elements of a city, but a of exceeding nature that originated in her determinations that women could work and live equally with men something evident in her oeuvre.[xxi]

In contrast with Erasmus and Pizan, Niccolo Machiavelli promoted a different type of political understanding, one shaped by the world and man’s role in it that did not gauge the efficacy of politics in relation to human nature, but alternatively examined politics as its own substantive end. By moving from Machiavelli to the reformation authors this theme ought to be kept in mind as one approaches the Discourses on Livy as it will illuminate the depth of continuity with the scholastic approach that emerged in the wake of his divergence. The Machiavellian spirit is commonly held by scholars to one of realism, truly political politics, through action and virtue or as Machiavelli redefines it virtù: ability and mastery in politics over fortune.[xxii] The discourses then can be thought of as a reflection of the virtù of a people, the Prince a reflection of the virtù of one man.[xxiii]

To Machiavelli peace is unnatural, and the nature of politics is constant flux.[xxiv] He does not see this as a bad thing, but rather an opportunity, and views the failure of polities such as Sparta as a product of their stasis because in the human  

world “all things of men are in motion and cannot stay steady, they must either rise or fall.”[i] It's not a turning from the world that frustrates Machiavelli, but stasis. Evidence for this is in Machiavelli’s argument against gentlemen and the propensity to adopt their manners, gentlemen “live idly in abundance . . . without care. . . . such as these are pernicious in every republic.” The answer is to kill them if they arise in a political state because they are “the beginnings of corruption and cause of every scandal.”[ii] Worse, he held that polluted Christianity symbolized the decadence and stasis that had led men to lose their historic virtù by turning men toward the heavens making them “‘humble and contemplative.”[iii]

His response to this tendency then was an active republican constitution. Machiavelli viewed the rule of one with a skeptic's eye and maintained that the prince’s interest always opposes the common good.[iv] Republics could avoid these issues, however, because well-ordered republics to Machiavelli, will always elect virtuous rulers who will beat the problem of inconsistent inheritance and therefore become more stable and well-ordered over time assuming they are governed by good laws.[v] 

After one examines examples of the humanist tradition it is evident, that it is difficult to see the humanists as qualitatively different from other writers because humanism served diverse ends and became established in the political system as a sort of rhetorical swiss army knife as historian Anthony Grafton states. “Humanism, in short, had established itself as vital to the public justification of political power: it could legitimate or attack a regime, defend a war, instil patriotism, and offer advice in time of crisis.”[vi] Though it may appear that more drastic changes had occurred when one considers the optimistic propositions for education in virtuous ways and the propositions of Machiavelli that the political order was in flux and self-justifying. This divergence is nulled when one can see how Reformation thought focused on human nature as one of the primary concerns of politics. 

[i] Ibid., 23, 133-134.
[ii] Ibid., 111.
[iii] Ibid., 131.
[iv] Ibid., 130.
[v] Ibid., 16, 54. 
[vi] Anthony Grafton, "Humanism and Political Theory," in Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700, ed. J.H Burns (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 14. 
[i] Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 103-104; Ryan, On Politics, 293.
[ii] Cary J. Nederman, "Empire and the Historiography of European Political Thought: Marsiglio of Padua, Nicholas of Cusa, and the Medieval/Modern Divide," Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 1 (January 2005): 1-2.
[iii] Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 128-129, 241; Ryan, On Politics, 295-296.
[iv] Ryan, On Politics, 301-302;
[v] Erasmus, "The Sileni of Alcibiades," 185.
[vi] Erasmus, "The Sileni of Alcibiades," 175-177. 
[vii] Ryan, On Politics, 301-302, 310-311.
[viii] Erasmus, "The Sileni of Alcibiades," 174.
[ix] Ibid., 176.
[x] Ibid., 178.
[xi] Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 241-242.
[xii] Ryan, On Politics, 296.
[xiii] Christine De Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, Trans. Kate Langdon Forhan (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 3-4, 38, 92-93.
[xiv] De Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, 5. 
[xv] Ibid., 24.
[xvi] Ibid., 8-9.
[xvii] Ibid., 16-18.
[xviii] Ibid., 3-4, 92-93.
[xix] Ibid., 16-18.
[xx] Ibid., 11-12.
[xxi] De Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, 42-43, 54; Ryan, On Politics, 295-296.
[xxii] Ryan, On Politics, 370, 375; Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 121-122; Alison Brown, "Review Article: Political Thought in Early Modern Europe I: The Renaissance," Journal of Modern History 54, no. 1 (March 1, 1982): 48-49.
[xxiii] Ryan, On Politics, 375.

[xxiv] Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, 25.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Contents: Original Sin and Late Medieval Political Thought

I have been working on publishing my undergraduate thesis in a slightly modified and essentially syndicated form because I like to expose my ideas for criticism. 

To make navigation easier, I have decided it would be wise to add a content page and fill it out as I go. You can find all the elements of my undergraduate thesis on this page and view it in independent order on this page. 

This work, the thesis itself, ended up a bit encyclopedic, and this harmed my grade, though I still did very well; still, it permitted me to post this material in a  format that works perfectly for the blog. Pretty fortunate I suppose. 

The whole work asks what is the relationship between medieval political thought and original sin? And what are the consequences for peace and the formation of an effective polity? I hope some readers find fascinating answers to these questions in the text written.

Part 1: Introduction and Thomas Aquinas
Part 2: Marsilius of Padua and Dante Alighieri
Part 3: Humanism and Innovation Desiderius Erasmus, Christine Pizan, and Niccolo Machiavelli
Part 4: Thomas More
Part 5: Martin Luther and Conclusion

Original Sin and Late Medieval Political Thought #2

Hello, all. I will be posting over the next few weeks the results of my 2017 undergraduate thesis. The work focused on the relationship between the Christian concept of Original Sin and its relationship to political theory from the 13th to 16th centuries. My principal argument is that Original Sin plays both a conscious and sub-conscious role in the political thought of the middle ages, and re-enforced a natural understanding of human limitations in the political sphere serving as a natural inoculation against utopian thinking and high ideals that would emerge in more secularize thought.  Furthermore, Original Sin as a political concept played an important role in defining the limitations of peace as a concept and as a pragmatic ideal in medieval thought. If you see any issues with the arguments presented please bring them up to me in the comments as I I know the effort was sophomoric, and I could always use feedback. 

Likewise, my apologies in advance for its limited scope and lack of Nicholas of Cusa as a prominent example of the concepts focused upon. Sadly, this was a single semester project, and both Cusa as well as Richard Hooker, and King James I/VI. If you can forgive this oversight I feel you might have a genuinely enjoyable read on your hands.  

These same patterns [as found in Thomas Aquinas] begin to emerge as one considers the contributions of Marsilius of Padua in his book the Defender of the Peace and Dante Alighieri’s treatise De Monarchia. Both authors place a premium on two objects: virtue and Law. Both virtue and law accord with the search for peace and its manifestation in the political realm. One acts to cultivate man and align his will with the common good, and the other compels man and limits him because of the vicissitudes of his nature.  This relationship is further complicated by Historian Quinten Skinner who postulated that both men, as theorists, dissociated “philosophy and theology” as well as “nature and grace.”[i] This is a consequence of their antipathy toward the papacy, and places them not only direct opposition to Aquinas but allows for the authors to propose that mankind has additional ends outside of beatitude in God. Instead, man can engage in politics independent of faith for the purposes of securing peace and tranquility.

The argument Dante makes for peace begins with first an observation of man's two ends divine and earthly, corruptible and incorruptible. The two goals are earthly happiness and happiness in eternity each requiring its own respective leader and attained through specific virtues. The temporal goal is reached through cardinal virtues, and the eternal goal is reached through faith and the theological virtues.[ii] The path to the earthly end then begins with his assertion that the end of man resides in the potential actualization of the highest human activity. This activity by virtue of both nature, man’s naturally social character, and proximity to God is the social use of human reason.[iii] For this world of fulfilled intellectual potential, the reaching of this telos, universal peace is the ultimate means and precondition.[iv] For he does not conceive of anything less than a universal state “hence it is clear that universal peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our human happiness.”[v] Universal peace can enable man to maximize this faculty firstly because reason resides in the community; therefore, the potential for reason is greater in a greater community both in terms of unity and size. Secondly, unity is a quality of God and things united toward their ends by reference to the greater from the lesser are most like the character of God.[vi] 

To fulfil these demands Dante then exalts the men of the classical world and focuses on the absence of virtue in his contemporary man as a key failing in politics. It is implicit from the start that he believes that the nature of man is not only flexible, but flawed as he notes that it is imperative that “higher natur[ed]” men leave behind a legacy to posterity.[vii] If there is a higher nature there must be a lower and in this sense his contending with those who lack adequate virtue and jeopardize peace. Man is prone to dispute in his discourse; in order to rectify these continuing conflicts the proposition is that men naturally designated leaders of exceptional virtue to arbitrate between them.[viii] This is evident even in the narrowest society: the household where fathers take on this prerogative for the benefit of the family.[ix] The monarch, who is the solution to universal peace, illuminates the conundrum of human nature, for human beings including the monarch, are appetitive, and the will can be motivated and twisted by its desires. As a solution, the monarch is proposed to be not only highest in rule but provided with the greatest wealth and abundance of resources so he may covet nothing further.[x] Dante does not solve the problem of nature through character, though his ideal monarch has a virtuous character but rather by inundating the desires with commodities to satiate them. Unity with the will of God and the proper order of the universe cannot be achieved in one man, even if he is the monarch, but the unity could be found in a return to right if the people of the world place their trust in the proper authority: The Holy Roman Empire.

This groundwork for this conclusion is laid out in book two and confirmed in book three. These previously abstract considerations of the nature of man receive greater illumination in two arguments made by Dante. First, that politics only became necessary after the fall of man.[xi] This is briefly considered when arguing against the apologists for the pope's authority over the secular world.[xii] Furthermore, this argument is buttressed by the claim that, any error in the world, any flaw in “earthly things are flaws do to the material they are constituted.”[xiii] Secondly, that man showed himself to be flawed when he deviated from “true and pure right”[xiv] by renouncing the authority of the Roman Empire, the first universal monarchy, which has now in his contemporary time been divided schismatically between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire.[xv] To assert this position first it must be demonstrated that the secular power can receive its authority directly from God. Dante does so by drawing on Virgil and Livy to demonstrate God’s favour toward the Roman emperor as universal monarch.[xvi] God’s will is directly evident in history through both the success of the Roman Empire and the incarnation. God willed the success of the Romans because they were the noblest people, at the end of a great chain of other empires whom they beat in a divinely judged contest between them. Each empire rose and fell in time, from east to west leading to a summation in Rome.[xvii] True confirmation of the approbation of God then is found in the incarnation and the events proceeding from scripture. For Christ chose Roman territory as the land of his birth and because Christ was born under the Roman law, God conferred his favour to Roman law.[xviii] In addition, the Roman law and empire preceded the incarnation indicating that the authority of Rome did not need the sanction of the Catholic Church and operated completely independently of the Church.[xix] To bring the argument into 14th century Europe Dante asserts the transmutation of the Roman prerogative to the Holy Roman Empire that serves as the inheritor of the Roman tradition. This is made evident by references both to the Donation of Constantine, and the crowning of Charlemagne and Otto the Great.[xx] The restoration of the emperor and empire with the relegation of the Church to its spiritual duties becomes the method to restore man's nature to righteousness by realigning it to the will of God in history.[xxi] This, to Dante, would have the further consequence of achieving man’s earthly end by establishing universal peace as the only means to absolutely fulfil man’s teleological potential.

Dante then exists in a tension with Aquinas, his predecessor. There are distinctions and continuities between the two. Both work within a scholastic framework and draw heavily on the works of Aristotle, but differences are immediately obvious both in relation to peace and the relation of the secular and spiritual powers. Aquinas remained vague on the question of the superiority of the spiritual and temporal powers, he subscribed to the theory of two swords, both in possession of the church in a literal sense, and openly called the church the higher power in relation to the temporal power.[xxii] Meanwhile, he does not explicitly state that the church may command the secular power, rather “the temporal sword should be unsheathed at the church’s bidding.”[xxiii] This statement leaves open a voluntary subordinate relationship which Dante rejected. Instead, he proposed that the Pope caused discord through his usurpation of the authority of the temporal ruler while remaining convinced that historical precedent reinforced the claim that the spiritual and temporal powers received their ends independently of one another and equally from God.[xxiv]

Moreover, they differed in another important respect: they saw different origins for discord in the polity. Aquinas traced warfare and rebellion, in their negative incarnations, to the relationship between man and the good, specifically the common good, in that man when he caused unrest in the political world did so out of a misguided notion of the good. His will to sin arose from a lack of virtue.[xxv] In opposition to this position, Dante despite taking a dim view of human nature, not unlike Thomas Hobbes, saw the political world as suffering from problems when there was no absolute sovereignty to resolve necessary disputes between political actors.[xxvi] Only when no higher appeal to authority could be made did Dante predict that a just and stable constitution would arise. That being said, both thinkers saw the highest good on the earth and available to man as the ability to exercise reason in a social context. In this way, they will both be set apart from the individuals who follow. 

It comes next to identify whether the same strains can be recognised in the Defender of the Peace by Marsilius of Padua. Marsilius certainly favoured law as the measure of political society but is their evidence of his determining its necessity based upon the fallen nature of man itself? If so this is him presenting the political world as a solution to the turning of man from God. The first thing to be noted about the Defender of the Peace is that it is principally an anti-papal tract[xxvii] that also attempts to assert the independence of the Italian Republican city states against projects like Dante’s De Monarchia that exchanged the vassalage of the Papacy for subordination to the empire.[xxviii] These considerations mean that Marsilius must identify new origins for the power of the city to exercise sovereignty and in turn he needs to show that independent government by “the faithful human legislator” can supplant the government of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Church while remaining efficacious at dealing with the fallen nature of mankind.[xxix] 

Marsilius begins his treatise by citing Cassiodorus who claimed that “every realm must desire tranquility,” for the purposes of prosperity, profit, multiplication of the human race, and resources.[xxx] This emphatic focus on the material world immediately sets the stage for the division of the human temporal world of politics and the spiritual world which belongs to the church. The aim of politics to Marsilius became “sufficiency of this life” originating in “peace and . . . tranquility.”[xxxi] To identify the origins of tranquility Marsilius suggests the examination of contraries by identifying the origins of intranquility. He asserts that the Italians lived rightly before they came into discord amongst themselves. This he portrays as a sickness of man identified by men of the philosophy of civil science, but it is chiefly the product of a prior unforeseen power. This power, later identified with the papacy, capitalized on the sickness of the Italian people to subjugate them further. In identifying this source, however, it becomes imperative then to find the source of the evil within the papal government, and identify why to Marsilius it asserts itself unjustly into the realm of civil government. 

Marsilius follows Aristotle and Plato in the assertion that man lives for man and has his origin as a complete person within the civil community.[xxxii] He is insightful, however, in that he first asserts that the civil order can never be completely free from disturbances caused by sophism.[xxxiii] Furthermore, he follows the assertion with a citation from James 4:17 that give great insight into the problem Marsilius faces, for “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”[xxxiv] This opens the possibility that man's will is potentially contrary to the will of the good even when the good is known to him. St. Augustine makes the Christian notion abundantly clear when he combats the multiplicity of disobedient wills in his Confessions.[xxxv] If Marsilius was arguing along Platonic lines strictly then the axiomatic assumption would be that knowledge of the good leads to doing the good.[xxxvi] He explicitly states that he is dealing with a fallen man, when he argues “and [if Adam] had remained in this state [of innocence], the institution or differentiation of civil functions would not have been necessary.”[xxxvii] This recognition of the new fallen nature will be further corroborated in Marsilius condemnation of pretensions of the Church to a right to civil government, its simultaneous corruption, and his recommendation for the best political constitution. 

In identifying the Pope as the chief enemy of tranquility and asserting that the purview of the priestly class ought to be restricted to “instruction and education of men on the subject of . . . things according to the evangelical law, it is necessary to believe, do, or, omit.”[xxxviii] He challenged the Catholic Church’s de facto and de jure claims to authority; in doing so he envisioned a new more precisely defined order on earth where the two governments, the two sovereignties adhered to a strict division of powers. This attack originated in a reading of scripture as well as an analysis of the activities of the church and relative disharmony between what the church claimed belonged to it by virtue of its ecclesiastical institutions, and the way the men in these institutions actually behaved. To Marsilius, the men of the church could not govern with adequate character and needed subjection to human law because “deacons . . . priests [and] . . . bishops commit, many voluntary actions that . . . inconvenience or inju[re] . . . in the status of this worldly life.”[xxxix] Instead, just like the problematic temporal rulers they indulged in pride, avarice, and caprice.[xl] In opposition to the claims of authority, he attacked the throne of Peter by arguing that the keys only bound and loosed souls; he assaulted the doctrine of the two swords; he undermined the Donation of Constantine; he argued that church was not the Roman Church but alternatively, the body of believers; and furthermore he claimed that Christ himself never made any claim to the temporal power instead he remained obedient to secular authorities even and up until his passion.[xli] For these reasons Marsilius aimed to invalidate the authority of the Pope, who managed to secure his rule through, custom, opportunity, and fear.[xlii] 

The points made against the papacy are indicative of a larger problem, however. The body of the Church itself has been corrupted, and it has become unable to shepherd the souls of those most in need of salvation toward their spiritual end. This is part of the sinful nature of the Church, which is the source of discord and intraquility in Italy.[xliii] The Church itself has turned away from God and in turn away from the truth by concerning itself with things of the world, and will not assume its proper role until it can be stripped of all earthly jurisdiction, which is the source of its corruption.[xliv] This same corruption serves as the cause that will drive Marsilius toward his novel constitutional model whereby the sovereignty is held first by the people, not in an absolutely democratic sense, but an aristocratic sense regarding the “prevailing part,” and resides in the consent of the city as a whole.[xlv] It is a necessary inculcation against the nature of the individual man in the political realm, which has already received the modest end of the “sufficient-life.”[xlvi]

To rectify or at least ameliorate the hardships of temporal life and politics a new form of government is suggested. This new government is designed to rectify individual “perverted affection.”[xlvii] In so doing it may achieve harmonious, sufficient, and sovereign government. This is achieved by subordinating the legislator and sovereignty of a city to the assembled whole and will of that city defined as the “human legislator.”[xlviii] This is the only way that Marsilius can see to prevent the emergence of tyrannical government because “the prince, being human, has an intellect and a desire which can take on different forms . . . it is possible for him . . . to do things contrary . . . to the law.” The prince then needs “something else” to “measure or regulate him.”[xlix] Because even the leading most men in a community, no matter how virtuous, are still scarred by a fallen nature. However, by insisting upon the government of the community, and the many, in its own name, the government can adopt and capitalize on human wisdom expressed by the many.[l] In this way the city receives the most virtuous ruler as in “heroic times” and, in turn, it’s possible to justify its liberty.[li] This new model of sovereignty and jurisdiction permits each government the temporal and spiritual to realise its ends in concert with its nature, just as the ideal citizens each work as a part of a greater body politic;[lii] this model unites politics into a whole and recognizes its limits, and in turn the spiritual guidance of the papacy and the temporal government can both best fulfil their ends: guiding men to salvation and the sufficient life respectively. 

From these two inheritors of the scholastic tradition Dante and Marsilius, one can see two vastly different attitudes toward rectifying government and politics to the fallen nature of man. One proposes vast and universal ends that assign the intellect and rationality as the final cumulative end for mankind on earth ruled over by an absolute monarch in the form of the Holy Roman Emperor. The other seems to envision a popular sovereignty[liii] that restricts itself to the local will of the “human legislator” and the sufficient life. Despite these differences, both argue for a secular authority independent of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, contrary to the writings of Aquinas, and propose instead two ends for mankind a spiritual and temporal.[liv] In concurrence, they both assert that the claims of the Pope to temporal power is a corrupting influence upon the institution of the Catholic Church and argue instead that the spiritual ends of man can only be achieved when the eyes of the Church turn from earth back towards God. In this way, these two medieval thinkers represent a growing tradition of limiting and designating ends for the ephemeral political realm that differ qualitatively from what can be achieved in the eternal.

The upcoming week will focus on various exmaples of Humanist thought and quasi modern theories. The Figures include Erasmus, Christine Pizan, and Niccolo Machiavelli.

[i] Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 1 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 17-18. [ii] Dante Alighieri, De Monarchia, Trans. Prue Shaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 92. [iii] Alighieri, De Monarchia, 6-7, [iv] Ibid., 6-8. [v] Ibid., 8. [vi] Ibid., 13. [vii] Ibid., 3. [viii] Ibid., 8, 10-11. [ix] Ibid., 10. [x] Ibid., 18. [xi] Ibid., 71. [xii] Ibid., 69. [xiii] Ibid., 32. [xiv] Ibid., 33. [xv] Ibid., 62, 64, 66. [xvi] Ibid., 34. [xvii] Ibid., 34, 49-52. [xviii] Ibid., 59. [xix] Ibid., 87. [xx] Ibid., 80-81, 83-84. [xxi] Ibid., 92. [xxii] Aquinas, On Law, 182-183, 196. [xxiii] Ibid., 196. [xxiv] Alighieri, De Monarchia, 92 [xxv] Aquinas, On Law, 178, 188-189. [xxvi] Hobbes, Leviathan, 115, 213-214, 216-217; Alighieri, De Monarchia, 4, 10, 17-19. [xxvii] Ryan, On Politics, 273; J.S Mclelland, A History of Western Political Thought (London, UK: Routledge, 1996), 137. [xxviii] Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 18. [xxix] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, trans. Annabel Brett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 159. [xxx] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, 3 [xxxi] Ibid., 3. [xxxii] Leo Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 13-14, 16-17, 107-108. [xxxiii] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, 6-7. [xxxiv] "The General Epistle of James," in Holy Bible (The Bible League, 1769), 4:17. [xxxv]St. Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), 148-150, VII (22-25). [xxxvi] Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans. Allan Bloom, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 381c; Plato, "Meno," in Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Gorgias, Menexenus, trans. R.E Allen, vol. 1, The Dialogues of Plato (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1984), 77c-77e, 88a-89a; Plato, Dialogues of Plato: Gorgias, 460a-460c. [xxxvii] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, 31. [xxxviii] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, 35. [xxxix] Ibid., 150. [xl] Ibid., 134-135, 464-465. [xli] Ibid., 162-164. [xlii] Ibid., 134, 139, 142-143. [xliii] Ibid., 135. [xliv] Ibid., 142, 162-163, 246-247. [xlv] Ibid., 66-67, 73, 76. [xlvi] Ibid., 3. [xlvii] Ibid., 56-57. [xlviii] Ibid., 51, 62. [xlix] Ibid., 124. [l] Ibid., 74-76. [li] Ibid., 5, 44, 117. [lii] Ibid., 12-13, 127-128. [liii] Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 61, 65. [liv] Alighieri, De Monarchia, 92; Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, 3, 35

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Original Sin and Late Medieval Political Thought #1

Hello, all. I will be posting over the next few weeks the results of my 2017 undergraduate thesis. The work focused on the relationship between the Christian concept of Original Sin and its relationship to political theory from the 13th to 16th centuries. My principal argument is that Original Sin plays both a conscious and sub-conscious role in the political thought of the middle ages, and re-enforced a natural understanding of human limitations in the political sphere serving as a natural inoculation against utopian thinking and high ideals that would emerge in more secularize thought.  Furthermore, Original Sin as a political concept played an important role in defining the limitations of peace as a concept and as a pragmatic ideal in medieval thought. If you see any issues with the arguments presented please bring them up to me in the comments as I I know the effort was sophomoric, and I could always use feedback. 

Likewise, my apologies in advance for its limited scope and lack of Nicholas of Cusa as a prominent example of the concepts focused upon. Sadly, this was a single semester project, and both Cusa as well as Richard Hooker, and King James I/VI. If you can forgive this oversight I feel you might have a genuinely enjoyable read on your hands.  


The Human Condition and the Prospect of Peace in Late Medieval Political Thought

Political thinking in the late middle ages had an immensely Christian character that imparted its theological premises on politics itself as is evident in the political philosophy of the thinkers Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, Marsilius of Padua, Thomas More, and Martin Luther. Despite an interlude where humanist thinking brought forth some elements of a more malleable nature in man, this understanding of the permanence of sin in man, as a mark upon his creation in absolute goodness did not disappear. Instead, it seems imperative to understand that man, as understood by late medieval thinkers was because of original sin, not a properly natural man, rather he was fallen man; political theorist Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddin asserted that the need for politics can be understood as a direct consequence of the fall.[i] In adopting this paradigm late medieval political thought in relation to expectations regarding the attainability of peace can be more clearly understood. Likewise, questions regarding the aims of politics, and their relative modesty or immodesty can be brought into clarity. Late medieval political thought in this way can be understood as attempting to reckon with a unique and complex political problem, which will better inform one's understanding of political thought throughout the period and political expectations as a result. 

The first authors to be considered are Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, and Marsilius of Padua. Each author is representative of late medieval political thought, and each is similar in that they relied on the scholastic method to make their claims. The scholastic method originated with the discovery of Aristotle’s writing in the 1250’s and the subsequent translation into Latin by William of Moerbeke[ii] who’s translation would serve as the basis for the work of Thomas Aquinas; as a result of this synthesis the propositions of the Greek political thought became complicated by a new monotheistic end and a new nature of man.

Due to Thomas Aquinas introducing this new monotheistic system to the methodology of Aristotle, to understand Thomas Aquinas in relation to peace, one must first understand the origin of politics as Aquinas perceived them. To Aquinas, the first precept of natural law is to “seek good, and shun evil.”[iii] This first precept, however, is incomplete without the administration of justice, which itself cannot be practiced outside the political community because the political community binds us in stable relation with one another and provides the means to administer justice as properly understood by Aquinas.[iv] This is encapsulated in his definition of justice which states “justice is the habit whereby one with a constant and perpetual will renders to others what is due to them.”[v] This is necessarily political justice, by virtue of the other, Aquinas elevates the persons beyond their individual pursuit of virtue and their particular interest and directs them toward a new good: the common good, alternatively described as happiness.[vi] Moreover, the common good is the authoritative good insofar as it permits for coercion both in the facilitation of virtue, and the protection of the political community. The capacity to enforce the law by promulgation and execution is what divides the political community from all other communities and defines its unique character. This is most obviously contrasted to the practice of ruling the family. This rule lacks the character of law in that it pertains to particulars and is not enforced in a uniform fashion due to the family being a single being and subject to paternal justice.[vii] Meanwhile, within the political realm, this capacity for coercion and authority extends to the purposes of uniformly “induc[ing] subjects to . . . virtue.”[viii]

This seeking of the good, which is living in harmony with the natural order prescribed by God, and living in comity with the will of God is a necessary element of human flourishing; human flourishing that encompasses the best of human life. To Aquinas, people live as virtuously as they are able, but only reach the truest and most perfect blessedness or summation of human happiness through union with God who’s will they attempt to abide by in the political realm.[ix] This will of God is the eternal law, which is expressed by the natural law; the natural law being the law of reason, in which human beings due to their rational nature participate in.[x] Yet, adherence to the natural law lacks, because human nature lacks,[xi] and therefore its precepts, touched through Synderesis and understood through reason, require application to the necessarily contingent circumstances of the human world.[xii] This human world possesses the potential for happiness in the cultivation and exercise of the individual human virtues: moderation, courage, justice, and practical wisdom, but it is justice and its political nature that serves to guide these individual virtues, and justice can be considered the virtue of a citizen not necessarily a virtue of the individual. In this way, it is not “identical with all virtue” because it directs the other virtues that themselves terminate in the common good.[xiii] This places specific demands upon the rulers who uphold the political order that enables and facilitates the flourishing of these virtues under the auspices of justice as exercised through human law; primarily, this obligation to virtues requires that they rule in the interest of those they govern, and take upon themselves the responsibility of inculcating and educating those who participate in the community so that they are most able to pursue the common good.[xiv] This is the origin of the human law and the subject of politics. 

If politics is natural and peace is natural then by necessity the things that disturb peace will be unnatural; in this case, then it becomes pertinent to identify how exactly the peace is disturbed in political communities.[xv] In the case of war, Aquinas subscribes to a just war theory that receives its positive sanction from the intention of the ruler, the authority of the ruler, and the cause of the war.[xvi] In this case, peace is the superior of war and it is by virtue of securing peace that states ought to go to war.[xvii] Just war is initially defined by a reaction on behalf of the common good, and the key to its justice for the individual is that the sword is not taken up on his own behalf but in the name of the common good.[xviii] This is one of the key instances where he draws a line between the private individual and those who have authority. The evil of violence does not come from the those who commit violence necessarily, but those who commit it as private persons, not deferring to those who have been assigned the role of judgment and decision, that natural leaders who act as arbitrators are stewards on behalf of the common good.[xix] 

War then for Aquinas in a complex fashion originates within, for its first genesis is within the sinful soul of a person whose intention is to secure their desires or has succumbed to sinful compulsion to harm others by acting as a judge in in their own case.[xx] For the war exists to punish sinners against their will who have done wrong to the whole. In this case then the sinner is stimulated by his will and compelled by it, indicating the sinner is sinning by free choice and has determined it is to his advantage to subject what is not naturally his own, to his own will, while also neglecting to air his grievances to the appropriate authority.[xxi] This is the origin of war within the disordered soul succumbing to sin. 

Yet, war also comes from without, for the invader has placed himself beyond the common good by bypassing the proper authority of the ruler as an arbitrator and sought to act in his own interest.[xxii] He is different from the warrior who takes up the sword rightly insofar as the one who fights with good intent, under legitimate authority, for the defence of the common good does so with the approbation of God and the law.[xxiii] Furthermore, the soul of the sinner is being sentenced by the sword in that it is for the benefit of the sinner that he dies and faces his judgment under God, and if the sinner does not die by the hand of an enemy he dies the worst death in his own soul when he truly perishes.[xxiv] These linkages demonstrate that to Aquinas there cannot be a war that originates within the natural political community, but within man’s fallen nature and his will’s impulsion toward sin and his acceptance of it. This further binds the political thinking of Aquinas to the notion that the political community is inexorably linked to the good of its subjects and the good of mankind in general. Virtue is paramount, for the proper character does not make war, but knows how to rectify himself to the common good via proper channels under law.[xxv] To Aquinas, the soul and politics are inseparable and will be explicated further in his thoughts on rebellion, for they are qualitatively alike. 

Rebellion, and disobedience, to Aquinas, are mortal sins in direct contradiction with one of the highest virtues for they violate and attack the common good.[xxvi] Human beings are obliged to obey others based upon the understanding that some are closer to the divine will. These individuals are higher and designated to move the lower in the direction of God’s will.[xxvii] Yet a potential for valid disobedience remains. For the system to breakdown justice itself must breakdown and this is exactly what Aquinas tells us when he informs one that “human beings are obliged to obey secular rulers insofar as the order of justice requires.” He then provides the example of a usurper and the ruler who “command[s] unjust things.”[xxviii] This then is the ruler, who being an absolute tyrant rebels against the common good, as rebellion as commonly understood is the rebellion against the common good and divine order, which is as wrong for the subject as it is for rulers.[xxix] Aquinas then defines rebellion as a mortal sin meriting punishment, and if the people topple a ruler, who by ruling against the common good, is himself in rebellion their action becomes valid. In the case of rebellion then, the ruler rebels, and is himself acting in sin, which is an inward force motivating him to pursue his own good at the expense of the common as Aquinas states “discord from what is clearly good cannot happen without sin.”[xxx]


[i] Erik Ritter Von Kuehnelt-Leddin, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Times (Auburn, AL: Mises Institute, 2014), 92-94.
[ii] Nicolai Rubenstein, “The History of the Word Politicus in Early-Modern Europe,” In The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe, Ed. by Anthony Pagden. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 41. 
[iii] Thomas Aquinas, On Law, Morality, and Politics, ed. William P. Baumgarth, trans. Richard J. Regan (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2002), 43.
[iv] Aquinas, On Law, 108.
[v] Ibid., 106. 
[vi] Ibid., 13, 103.
[vii] Ibid., 103-104.
[viii] Ibid., 27, 29, 164.
[ix] Ibid., 20-21.
[x] Ibid., 18.
[xi] Aquinas, On Law, 20; Alan Ryan, On politics: a History of Political Thought From Herodotus to the Present (New York: Liveright Pub. Corp., 2012), 240. 
[xii] Ibid., 2, 18-19.
[xiii] Ibid., 113.
[xiv] Ibid., 189, 200, 202-203. 
[xv] Ibid., 165.
[xvi] Ibid., 165.
[xvii] Ibid., 166. 
[xviii] Ibid., 166.
[xix] Ibid., 166, 168.
[xx] Ibid., 165, 189.
[xxi] Ibid., 14, 165.
[xxii] Ibid., 167-168.
[xxiii] Ibid., 166.
[xxiv] Ibid., 166.
[xxv] Ibid., 58-60, 173-174. 
[xxvi] Ibid., 188-189.
[xxvii] Ibid., 174, 177.
[xxviii] Ibid., 185.
[xxix] Ibid., 185, 206.
[xxx] Ibid., 189. 
The upcoming week will focus on two prominent Italian thinkers of the early Humanist period of the late 14th Century. Marsilius of Padua and Dante Alighieri.