Order and conflict

Anthony Ascham and English political thought, 1648–50

Author: Marco Barducci

The Puritan Revolution of mid-seventeenth-century England produced an explosion of new and important political thinking. In addition to most famous thinkers, Thomas Hobbes, Sir Robert Filmer and the Levellers, there are other important figures who have been relatively neglected, of whom Anthony Ascham is one. This book is the first full-scale study of Ascham's political thought. Ascham's works were intended to convince lay Presbyterians and royalists to adhere to the policy of national pacification implemented from 1648 by the Independent 'party' within Parliament. From 1648 to 1650 Ascham's propaganda primarily dealt with the issue of the validity of oaths, and insisted on the reciprocal relation between obedience and protection. The first part of Ascham's Discourse focused on 'what things, and how farre a man may lawfully conform to the power and commands of those who hold a kingdome divided by civill warre'. Ascham adopted a twofold line of argument: in the first, he sought to demonstrate that war was consistent with natural law and scripture. Secondly, not all types of war were consistent with the Christian religion and the natural law of self-preservation, only the defensive war. Ascham's natural law theory, which he drew from Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes and John Selden, had therefore both civil and religious implications. Ascham proposed a synthesis between Grotius and Niccolò Machiavelli, underlining the priority of state order over political participation, and justifying war as a means of accessing power only to confirm the necessity of re-establishing order.

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