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- Author: Cesare Cuttica x
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A much-needed monograph of one of the most unpopular and criticised thinkers in the history of political thought, Cuttica’s study provides an illuminating and innovative picture of Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) and patriarchalism. Appealing to a broad audience in the humanities, this thoroughly researched work will make an essential reading for all those interested in early modern politics and ideas.
This book explores Filmer’s patriarchalist theories in connection with seventeenth-century English and European political cultures. The nine chapters address a series of important questions regarding his oeuvre that have been hitherto ignored or, at best, left unanswered. Making use of unexplored primary material and adopting an innovative contextual reading of both Patriarcha’s composition (1620s-30s) and its publication (1680), this monograph has three main strengths. Firstly, it brings new light to Patriarcha’s ideas by unveiling ignored aspects of the context in which Filmer wrote; of its language, aims and targets; of its cultural and political meanings. Secondly, the book offers a novel reading of the patriarchalist discourse and its place in early modern political culture in England and Europe. In particular, Patriarcha serves as a prism through which to see the enduring importance of the languages of patriarchalism and patriotism during the Stuart era in England. Thirdly, it gives a timely and unique explanation of why Filmer’s doctrines were amply adopted as well as strongly contested in the 1680s.
The Introduction presents the aims of the book and the ways in which the project has been carried out. It illustrates the content of the monograph; it presents the main historiographical interpretations of both patriarchalism and Filmer’s ideas; it sets out the methodological approach chosen by the author. Generally identified in the scholarly mainstream as the villain of early modern political thinking, Filmer has been depicted as a narrow-minded representative of a patriarchal society; as a conventional absolutist; or, simply, as the target of John Locke (1632-1704) and the republicans Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) and James Tyrrell (1642-1718). In contrast to these approaches, this study focuses on the political and religious contexts where Filmer wrote and on the intellectual debates in which he was involved during his lifetime. Specific attention is paid to Patriarcha (written in the late 1620s, but not published until 1680) with the aim of unveiling the theoretical cornerstones of the language of patriarchalism, its goals and political message(s).
Chapter 1 provides a new biographical account of Filmer and a complete picture of his native Kent’s intellectual and political environment. It foregrounds the traces he left both as a thinker engaged in a specific social milieu and as a late humanist whose writings articulated questions amply debated in the republic of letters. New light is cast on the personal relations and cultural scene that animated his life and context up to the 1640s. In addition, unprecedented attention is given to Filmer’s non-political tracts on usury, the household and witchcraft. As a result, the orthodoxies of the historiographical mainstream whereby he was a backwoodsman or, at best, an uninteresting erudite whose ideas had no relevance in the pantheon of seventeenth-century culture will be once and for all put to rest.
Relying upon an extensive range of historical texts and archival material, chapter 2 elucidates two important conflicting paradigms of political thought elaborated in the disputes of the late Jacobean (1603-25) and early Caroline eras. The first paradigm is here identified as ‘patriotism’, the second one as ‘patriarchalism’. Based on very different notions of liberty and sovereignty, these paradigms - it is argued - entailed distinctly opposing models of political power and civic life in the body politic. This chapter shows that the treatise intended to provide an answer to the ‘image crisis’ affecting the Crown at the time of the Forced Loan (1626-7) and the Petition of Right (1628), and that it derived from Filmer’s alarm at the popularity that quasi-republican and godly patriotic ideas obtained in the 1620s. These were set forth by the likes of his cousin, the interesting but little-studied figure of local MP and radical thinker Thomas Scott of Canterbury (1566-1635).
Besides patriots, Filmer targeted the theories of papal temporal power advanced by the Jesuits Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and Francisco Suarez (1548-1617). Thus, chapter 3 unravels Filmer’s principles as part of a wider European framework of political theories. This had to do with monarchist (both Catholic and Protestant) rejections of the Jesuits’ tenet of papal deposing power and opposition to their justification of tyrannicide. In writing Patriarcha Filmer did not miss the chance to have his say in this important debate.
By means of a comparative approach, chapter 4 sheds light on Patriarcha’s place within the Jacobean and early Caroline monarchist canon. The treatise is analysed in conjunction with the reinforcement of kingship pursued in the late 1620s in England. A major section of the chapter focuses on the pungent rhetoric of King James VI and I’s (1566-1625) monarchist tracts and his Parliament-speeches devoted to dismantling the ideological apparatus of ‘popularity’. James’ opinions are compared with Filmer’s. This comparison highlights their differences rather than simply assessing their similarities. By concentrating on the rhetoric MPs and pamphleteers employed to depict events in the country, to conceive ideal constitutional arrangements and to counterattack any attempts to enlarge the royal prerogative, this chapter also opens up new ground for a much-needed discussion of patriarchalism and its role in early seventeenth-century political parlance. En route to map out the intellectual territory in which Filmer’s concept of kingship developed, light is, subsequently, cast on the English theorists who claimed the supreme power of the fatherly ruler by resorting to the metaphor of the pater patriae.
Resuming the account of Sir Robert’s life and his public engagements detailed in chapter 1, chapter 6 – which ends Part I – concentrates on the period of the Civil War and the troubles he experienced then; on his close friendship with Peter Heylyn; on his little-known but insightful theological views; finally, on his prolific phase of intense political writing occurred between 1648 and 1652 when he combined what we might term “high theory” with a more immediately polemical involvement with the issues and arguments of the day. The status of these later works as in effect applications of some of the doctrines laid out in Patriarcha to recent events and debates will thus be rendered apparent.
Chapter 5 focuses on the reign of Charles I (1600-1649), especially from the start of the so-called ‘Personal Rule’ (1629). It thus considers the King’s policies, both at home and abroad; financial strategies; ideal of command; cultural taste. In particular, it examines their repercussions for thinkers who, like Filmer, were at work to carve out a successful image of the ruler and a forceful narrative of sovereignty. In addition, the chapter endeavours to establish how Patriarcha took part in the ideological enterprise of fortification of monarchical authority involving different types of cultural codification: political, pictorial, theological, literary. This approach involves references to models of royalty others than Charles’: Prince Henry (1594-1612) and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632) feature as leading figures on a stage where the key issues were the defence of Protestantism as well as the promotion of English identity. In this context attention is then paid to Charles’ refusal to give permission to publish Patriarcha (1632). New questions are here raised: how compatible was Patriarcha with the Caroline narrative of kingship (e.g. with the writings of Roger Maynwaring and Robert Sibthorpe)? What significance did Filmer’s theories have for Charles’ own vision of power?
Following the work of Jonathan Scott, Mark Knights and others, chapter 7 – which starts Part II – clarifies the continuities in political theory as much as in political practice that accompanied the composition and the publication of Patriarcha in the 1620s and 1680s, respectively. Coupled with this general historical narrative, this chapter complements previous ones in that it discusses patriarchalism as an alternative model to republican, parliamentarian and Whig claims to patriotic values. It also pays new attention to why Locke felt compelled to try to overthrow Filmer’s theories. Against the grain of mainstream scholarship, the chapter equally details how widely employed Filmer’s political patriarchalism was in late seventeenth-century England, and why this was the case. The chapter also demonstrates that Filmerian doctrines formed a theoretical asset for the political edifice erected by important figures such as Sir Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704).
Chapter 8 illustrates in detail the work of the absolutist Edmund Bohun (1645-1699) with his steadfast defence of Filmer and edition of Patriarcha (1685). Bohun’s Filmerian works are placed in conjunction with the polemics engendered by the political problematic of exclusion and the assault on Patriarcha carried out by Algernon Sidney, James Tyrrell, Henry Neville and others. Bohun’s texts – which remain off the historiographical radar – are dissected as a direct product of that genus of patriarchalism that re-appropriated patriotic discourse to promote the cause of absolute monarchy. On this basis, the chapter shows how this whole process mirrored the increasing resonance of Filmer’s name in the late seventeenth century.