Egalitarianism, the scourge against which the modern West seems to have few defences, had its origins in the ancient world, whose people understood it and coped with its dangers and shortcoming a lot better than we did. Like some dormant virus, it lay hidden throughout most of the Middle Ages, to awaken round about the 17th century.
A major reason for its success, after it awoke from its lengthy slumber, was that it managed to infect not only its proponents but also most of its opponents, who were tricked into accepting many of its premises. This includes even the likes of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the philosopher most readily identified with the defence of monarchy and hierarchy in the early modern period.
But one man who wasn’t tricked by egalitarianism on any level was the English political theorist Sir Robert Filmer, who was born in the same year as Hobbes, the famous year of the Spanish Armada, and who died in 1653, in the midst of the English Republic (1649-1660) that was created by the overthrow and execution of the King.
From the start, Sir Robert saw through the absurdities and fallacies on which the first wave of egalitarianism was based and wrote about it extensively in a number of works, of which his Patriarcha, published after his death, is the least obscure. In that period, the movement that would ultimately lead to gay marriage, mass abortions, and other abominations, focused all its energies, not on dethroning kings (a mere detail), but instead on hollowing out their authority. This, of course, is the typical modus operandi of today's New Left, which works like a termite, eating away unseen at an edifice, of which the collapse is only the final act.
The death of King Charles the First was not the intention of Parliament when it set out on its struggle against monarchical power, but it followed as a consequence of King Charles’s refusal to conform to the new ideas of "monarchy," which had caught on in English society and become dominant through the vagaries of war. These ideas were later embodied in such texts as the poet John Milton’s Defensio pro Populo Anglicano (Defence of the People of England), a work commissioned by Parliament to answer charges of regicide and published in 1651. This was one of the works, along with Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and Hugo Grotius’s De Jure Belli that Filmer chose to critique in his manuscript The Originall of Government, which remained unpublished in his life.
What is most noticeable about Filmer’s style in this and other works is the thoroughness with which he questions and attacks the assumptions on which ideas are floated, as well as the relentless logic with which he reveals the undeclared but inevitable end of certain ideas. This is clear in his attack on Milton’s Defensio:
“But though Mr. Milton brings us neither definition nor description of a king, yet we may pick out several passages of him, something like a definition, if we lay them together. He teacheth us that ‘power was therefore given to a king by the people, that he might see by the authority to him committed that nothing be done against law, and that he keeps our laws and not impose upon us his own. Therefore there is no regal power but in the courts of the kingdom, and by them.’ And again he affirmeth ‘the king cannot imprison, fine, or punish any man, except he be first cited into some court – where not the king but the usual judges give sentence.’ And before we are told ‘not the king but the authority of parliament doth set up and take away all courts.’ Lo, here the description of a king: he is ‘one to whom the people give power, to see that nothing be done against law,’ and yet he saith there is ‘no regal power but in the courts of justice, and by them, where not the king but the usual judges give sentence.’ This description not only strips the king of all power whatsoever, but puts him in a condition below the meanest of his subjects.”The Originall of Government. Page 198, Patriarcha and Other Writings, Cambridge University PressUsing his own words against him, Filmer shows that Milton’s idea of a king is little better than a petty official of the courts.
|John Milton: democratic virus|
Milton believed that parliament was the representative of “The People,” a grand-sounding phrase, but his limitation of its political aspect to the “sounder and better part only” was vague and arbitrary, something that also drew Filmer’s criticism, especially as to who would judge of these qualities.
Politics and the Bible
Views like this, which fed the rising need of the bourgeoisie for improved status, sought moral validity by appealing to the two pillars of political precedence at the time, namely the Bible and Aristotle. Much of Filmer’s work is dedicated to showing how egalitarianism based itself on lies and distortions of these seminal texts.
In Patriarcha he points out how those writers who would question monarchy, such as the French classicist Denis Lambin (1520-1572), would cherry-pick and mistranslate key passages from Aristotle’s Politics to suit their ends:
“Because the Scripture is not favourable to the liberty of the people, therefore many fly to natural reason and to the authority of Aristotle…I find this sentence in the third of his Politics, chapter 16: ‘It seems to some not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since a city consists of equals.’ These words seem to favour the equality of mankind. Lambin, in his Latin interpretation of this text, hath omitted the translation of the word ‘to some’. By that means he makes that to be the opinion of Aristotle which Aristotle allegeth to the opinion but of some. This negligent or wilful escape of Lambin, in not translating a word so material, hath been an occasion to deceive many, who…have concluded…that Aristotle here maintains a natural equality of men.”Much of the cultural history of the late Medieval and early Modern periods only makes sense if one is aware of the battles of ideas raging behind the scenes. Why, for example, was there a Renaissance, which was in essence a revival of classical culture? Why was the term “Gothic” coined first as a term of abuse?
Patriarcha. Page 13, Patriarcha and Other Writings
All of this and more relates to a complex cultural, political, regional, and especially religious struggle in Europe. The case of England, and, indeed, the lifespan of Sir Robert himself are particularly illustrative. It is no mere coincidence that his life started in 1588, a year marked by the Spanish Armada, the attempt by the Catholic power to crush Protestant England, and that he lived to see the English Republic founded on the death of monarchy.
Both acts – the sailing of the Armada and the execution of the King – were each in their own ways anti-monarchical. The Armada, although Spanish, sailed at the behest of the international Catholic system, dominated by the Pope, that was then fighting to maintain its dominion, both through war and through ideas. Catholicism was threatened by the rise of the new kind of independent, Protestant, nationalist monarchy, and, as part of its campaign, it was willing to unleash its intellectual powers to undermine hierarchy and the institution of monarchy. Early on in Patriarcha Sir Robert makes this clear:
“Late writers have taken up too much upon trust from the subtle schoolmen, who to be sure to thrust down the king below the pope, thought it the safest course to advance the people above the king, so that the papal power may more easily take place of the regal. Thus many an ignorant subject hath been fooled into faith, that a man may becomes a martyr for his country by being a traitor to his prince; whereby the new coined distinction of subjects into royalists and patriots is more unnatural, since the relation between king and people is so great that their well-being is reciprocal.”Going back even further, we could ask would there even have been a Renaissance if the Roman Popes had not found themselves at a disadvantage against the German Emperors of the Middle Ages? By reviving classical learning and the memory of Roman greatness, the Popes advanced their own autonomy and hegemony, although it is now clear that, in the long run, they paid dearly for it.
Patriarcha. Page 5, Patriarcha and Other Writings
In the attempt to undermine the power of emperors or emerging national kings, it was necessary to resort to classical culture because the alternative source of political validation, the Bible, had little in it to support the pretensions of the Pope or the uprisings of the populace. Although a theological people, the Old Testament Jews were ruled by “divinely appointed kings,” that is monarchs chosen, when necessary, by the elders of the various tribes to whom the priesthood gave their assent.
Filmer’s system of hierarchy derives both from the Bible and his own understanding of natural law. It is a reflection of the primal family amplified through the complexities of society and politics. Even though the supposed succession, from Adam down through Noah and through the nations thrown apart by the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, is now lost, he believes that the principal of patriarchy permeates society and provides a basis for monarchy and hierarchy. In doing so, he recognizes even the role of the usurper as an expression of the “original paternal and hereditary empire”:
“It is confessed that at first [father and king] were all one…and this fatherly empire, as it was of itself hereditary, so it was alienable by the parent, and seizable by a usurper as other goods are. And thus every king that now is hath a paternal empire, either by inheritance, or by translation or usurpation. So a father and a king may be all one.”It could be claimed that such a principal is useless because it would recognize any successful politician who had managed to seize the reins of absolute power. Examples could be Augustus Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, or even Kim Il Sung, but it also sets store by continuity and kingly behaviour, and, in absence of a clear candidate, it is the role not of the rabble and the mass of the populace to consult the spirit of patriarchy, but rather the “elders,” namely the heads of the leading families.
The Originall of Government. Page 203, Patriarcha and Other Writings
One of the most effective parts of Filmer’s writing is where he argues against the social foundation myths and their “social contracts,” which supposed, in some form, a contract between the ruler and ruled, granting sovereignty on certain conditions. These became a staple of political theorists both in his era and later, and were often believed in as actualities, rather than metaphors or symbols of desirable social and political relations.
In his book, Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes created one of the most famous of these, prefaced by the state of perpetual and atomistic war, in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” providing the impetus for men to surrender their rights and power to a king in exchange for security. Although, this work was written in support of monarchy, Filmer is at his most vituperative in his criticisms of it.
|Thomas Hobbes: man as mushroom|
Given that man is a social animal and that the family and the tribe are primal forms of human organization, Filmer believes that you could never actually have an absolute state of war of the kind that Hobbes describes. At any stage of human existence there must always have been some element of society, and this must have drawn its authority from the patriarchal principle.
“I cannot understand how this ‘right of nature’ can be conceived without imagining a company of men at the very first to have been all created together without any dependency one of another, or as ‘mushrooms they all on a sudden were sprung out of the earth without any obligation one to another,’ as Mr. Hobbes’ words are in his book De Cive, chapter 8, section I; when the Scripture teacheth us otherwise, that all men came by succession and generation from one man.”The reason Filmer takes issue with Hobbes is that the latter is guilty of forcing his case, through a kind of post-dated terrorism. In short, his argument is ‘accept absolute monarchy because it once prevented barbarism.’ This is why Hobbes feels the need to make the state of war of all men against all men the central feature of his system. Using little besides common sense, Filmer is able to expose the absurdity of this:
The Originall of Government. Page 187, Patriarcha and Other Writings
“I do not see why such a condition must be called a state of war of all men against all men. Indeed if such a multitude of men should be created as the earth could not well nourish, there might be cause for men to destroy one another rather than perish for want of food. But God was no such niggard in the creation, and there being plenty of sustenance and room for all men, there is no cause of war till men be hindered in the preservation of life, so that there is no absolute necessity of war in the state of pure nature.”Another problem with Hobbes’ arguments is that they admit the concept of universal rights, and that these rights then have to be surrendered for monarchy to exist. Filmer doesn’t neglect to mock the idea of such a transaction in its imagined details:
The Originall of Government. Page 188, Patriarcha and Other Writings
“Hence it follows that if all the men in the world do not agree, no commonwealth can be established. It is a thing impossible for all the men in the world every man with every man to covenant to lay down their right. Nay, it is not possible in the smallest kingdom, though all men should spend their whole lives in nothing else but in running up and down to covenant.”Filmer is not arguing against rights per se. He just believes them to be more organic and grounded in the person or in specific human relationships. They are not abstract and transferable as Hobbes conceives them.
The Originall of Government. Page 189, Patriarcha and Other Writings
His idea of the king also differs. Hobbes’ king is a more totalitarian entity. He represents a Faustian bargain made by his subjects with him, and, lacking intrinsic royalty, seeks it extrinsically by rigorously enforcing laws and exerting the kingly power to the full. He is like a hyper-empowered version of Milton’s pointless petty official. There is much of the essence and evil of modernity in this. Rather than a defence of monarchy, Hobbes work seems engaged merely in creating an avatar for the all-controlling power of the modern state. Combined with Milton's "petty official of the courts" and his self-appointed guardians of the people, it is easy to see how Hobbes's ideas lead to the soft totalitarianism of modern political correctness, with its all-seeing eye and attempt to control and punish us for our thoughts. Filmer’s king is altogether more natural and easy to live with:
“There can be no such tyranny in the world as the law if there were no equity to abate the rigour of it. Summum jus [law pushed to the extremes] is summa injuria [extreme justice]. If the penalties and forfeitures of all laws should still be exacted by all kings, it would be found that greatest tyranny would be for a king to govern according to law. The fines, penalties and forfeitures of all laws are due to the supreme power only, and were they duty paid they would far exceed the taxes in all places. It is the chief happiness of a kingdom and their chief liberty not to be governed by the laws only.”The main benefit of true monarchy, then, is that, being the rule of one man, distracted by the pomp and pleasures of his exalted state, and assured of his sovereignty, there is every chance that he will leave the rest of us alone, most of the time.
The Originall of Government. Page 206 Patriarcha and Other Writings
Originally published in Aristokratia II.
Aristokratia III will be published later this year.