PP 02 James Harrington Hobbes

GHIST 225: US History
Kevin R. Hardwick
Spring 2012
Seventeenth Century British Conceptions of
Part 1: Absolute Monarchy
Part 2: Two Thinkers
James Harrington
Thomas Hobbes
King James Stuart I of England, 1603-1635
Speech to Parliament, 1610:
In the scriptures kings are called gods, and so their powers after a certain
relation compared to the divine power.
Kings are also compared to fathers of families, for the king is truly . . . the
politic father of his people. (CAPCT, Vol. 1, p. 4)
Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarchia, 1680
Patriarchalism: the simile that a king’s government of his realm is like a
father and husband’s government of his family:
"Adam was the father, king and lord over his family: a son, a subject, and a
servant or a slave were one and the same thing at first.“
John Locke wrote his First and Second Treatises on Government in order to
explain why Filmer is wrong.
Natural Rights and Natural Law
God has created human beings in His image, and thus all human beings
possess a certain divine dignity that must be respected.
God has created the world we live in, in such a way that certain things are
naturally true—are true by nature.
Natural law amounts to what we can know about the world, and infer
from it and from Revelation how God wants us to live.
Note the difference between Natural law and “Positive” law—“Positive”
law is the law promulgated by human legislatures. It is “artificial” in the
sense that it results from human institutions, not from nature.
“Natural”—as God made it
“Manmade”—humanities’ additions (or subtractions) from what is
The office of a king in this nation . . . is unnecessary, burdensome, and
dangerous to the liberty, safety, and public interest of the people.
Resolved, that England is:
a commonwealth and Free state . . . governed . . . by the supreme authority
of this nation, the representatives of the people in Parliament . . . without
any king or House of Lords.
The central question that England then confronted: how do you make a
government work, if there is no King?
James Harrington, Oceana, 1656
Government, according to the ancients, . . . is of three kinds: the
government of one man, or of the better sort, or of the whole people,
which, by their more learned names, are called monarchy, aristocracy, and
democracy. These they hold, through their proneness to degenerate, to be
all evil.
The corruption of monarchy is called tyranny; that of aristocracy, oligarchy,
and that of democracy, anarchy. (CAPCT, Vol. 1, p. 24)
James Harrington, Oceana, 1656
“Mixed Government”
But legislators, having found these three governments at the best to be
naught, have invented another, consisting of a mixture of them all, which
only is good.
James Harrington, Oceana, 1656
All functional governments must possess some means of using force. We
call this today the “Police Power” of the state.
Harrington called it the “Power of the sword”:
The hand which holds this sword is the militia of the whole nation; and the
militia of the whole nation is either an army in the field, or ready for the
field upon occasion. But the army is a beast that has a great belly, and must
be fed: wherefore this will come to what pastures you have, and what
pastures you have will come from the balance of property, without which
the public sword is but a name or mere spitfrog. (CAPCT, Vol. 1, p. 25)
From the OED (you have access to this excellent tool
via the JMU Libraries web portal)
† spit-frog, n.
Etymology: < spit v.1
Obs. rare.Thesaurus »
In contemptuous use: A sword.
1615 Fennor Defence in J. Taylor Wks. (1630) ii. 152/2, I
would not see thy spightfull Spit-frog drawne.
1656 J. Harrington Common-wealth of Oceana 6 What
pastures you have will come unto the ballance of
propriety, without which the publick sword is but a
name or meer spit-frog.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651
NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that,
though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or
of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the
difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man
can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not
pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has
strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by
confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.
If any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both
enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is
principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only)
endeavour to destroy or subdue one another.
Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common
power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called
war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.

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