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Crisis and Renewal in the History of European Political Thought
 9004466096, 9789004466098

Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
Introduction • Cesare Cuttica, László Kontler and Clara Maier
Part 1: Conceptualising Crisis
1 What Does κρίσις Entail? The Problem of ‘Decision and/ or Judgement’ in Plato’s Republic and Laws • Andrea Catanzaro
2 Critique and Crisis in Context: Rereading Reinhart Koselleck’s Interpretation of the Enlightenment • Kai Gräf
Part 2: Critical Moments
3 Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection in Ancient and Modern Political Thought • Paschalis M. Kitromilides
4 Pathologies of Democratic Crisis: Lessons from Athens and Florence • Erica Benner
5 Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England: The Ochlocratic Moment • Cesare Cuttica
6 The Crisis of the Spanish Monarchy and the Renewal of the Foundations of Early Modern Neapolitan Political Thought: The Nation as a New Political Actor • Adriana Luna-Fabritius
7 From Regeneration to Resignation: “Crisis” and Crises in Revolutionary France • Adrian O’Connor
8 Treating Revolutionary Sickness. Crisis and the Formative Years of German Liberalism (1834–1866) • Janine T. Murphy
Part 3: Escaping Crisis
9 Houses Without Cities: The Dialectic of Political Crisis and Familial Resilience • Mark Somos
10 Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context. Althusius on Concord and Prudence • Ferenc Hörcher
11 Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy of Public Credit (1775–1791) • George Gallwey
Part 4: Crisis and Thinkers
12 In publicis malis. Justus Lipsius and the ‘Double Face’ of Neostoicism in the European Wars of Religion • Alberto Clerici
13 The Constitution of Crisis: Politics, Decline and Decision in Hegel’s Verfassungsschrift • Nathaniel Boyd
14 Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises: Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society • Niall Bond
15 Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought: Political Action, Judgment and the Figure of the ‘Conscious Pariah’ • Annalisa Furia
16 Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times: The Perspectives of Arnold J. Toynbee and Samuel P. Huntington • Patricia Chiantera-Stutte

Citation preview

Crisis and Renewal in the History of European Political Thought

History of European Political and Constitutional Thought Series Editors Erica Benner (Yale University) László Kontler (Central European University) Mark Somos (Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law) Associate Editors Anna Becker —​Alberto Clerici —​Adriana Luna-​Fabritius Gaby Mahlberg —​Jani Marjanen —​Eva Piirimae Advisory Board Duncan Bell —​Hans Blom —​Annabel Brett —​Lea Campos Boralevi Janet Coleman —​John Dunn —​Pamela Edwards —​Ioannis Evrigenis Xavier Gil —​David Grewal —​Oleg Kharkhordin —​Paschalis Kitromilides Anne Peters —​Christopher Smith —​Balázs Trencsényi Martin van Gelderen —​Richard Whatmore

volume 4

The titles published in this series are listed at

Crisis and Renewal in the History of European Political Thought Edited by

Cesare Cuttica and László Kontler, with Clara Maier


This volume was published in collaboration with the European Society for the History of Political Thought, https://​​ Cover illustration: Der Prager Fenstersturz auf einem zeitgenössischen Flugblatt, 1618, Unknown author. Wikimedia Common. The Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data is available online at http://​ lc record available at http://​​2021019200

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download:​brill-​typeface. issn 2589-​5 966 isbn 978-​9 0-​0 4-​4 6609-​8 (hardback) isbn 978-​9 0-​0 4-​4 6687-​6 (e-​book) Copyright 2021 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi, Brill Sense, Hotei Publishing, mentis Verlag, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh and Wilhelm Fink Verlag. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Requests for re-​use and/​or translations must be addressed to Koninklijke Brill nv via or This book is printed on acid-​free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents  Acknowledgements ix  Notes on Contributors x  Introduction 1 Cesare Cuttica, László Kontler and Clara Maier

part 1 Conceptualising Crisis 1  What Does κρίσις Entail? The Problem of ‘Decision and/​or Judgement’ in Plato’s Republic and Laws 25 Andrea Catanzaro 2  Critique and Crisis in Context: Rereading Reinhart Koselleck’s Interpretation of the Enlightenment 44 Kai Gräf

part 2 Critical Moments 3  Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection in Ancient and Modern Political Thought 65 Paschalis M. Kitromilides 4  Pathologies of Democratic Crisis: Lessons from Athens and Florence 85 Erica Benner 5  Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England: The Ochlocratic Moment 106 Cesare Cuttica 6  The Crisis of the Spanish Monarchy and the Renewal of the Foundations of Early Modern Neapolitan Political Thought: The Nation as a New Political Actor 127 Adriana Luna-​Fabritius

vi Contents 7  From Regeneration to Resignation: “Crisis” and Crises in Revolutionary France 149 Adrian O’Connor 8  Treating Revolutionary Sickness. Crisis and the Formative Years of German Liberalism (1834–​1866) 171 Janine T. Murphy

part 3 Escaping Crisis 9  Houses Without Cities: The Dialectic of Political Crisis and Familial Resilience 195 Mark Somos 10  Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context. Althusius on Concord and Prudence 214 Ferenc Hörcher 11  Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy of Public Credit (1775–​1791) 235 George Gallwey

part 4 Crisis and Thinkers 12  In publicis malis. Justus Lipsius and the ‘Double Face’ of Neostoicism in the European Wars of Religion 259 Alberto Clerici 13  The Constitution of Crisis: Politics, Decline and Decision in Hegel’s Verfassungsschrift 280 Nathaniel Boyd 14  Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises: Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society 303 Niall Bond



15  Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought: Political Action, Judgment and the Figure of the ‘Conscious Pariah’ 328 Annalisa Furia 16  Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times: The Perspectives of Arnold J. Toynbee and Samuel P. Huntington 348 Patricia Chiantera-​Stutte  Index 371

Acknowledgements This volume is based on a selection of papers presented at the Fifth International Conference organised by the European Society for the History of Political Thought, ‘Crisis and Renewal in the History of Political Thought’. This event took place at the University of Heidelberg on 11–​13 October 2018. Much of the original content of the chapters that appears here has been modified, abandoned, revised. It remains clear though that the exchanges among participants at the conference proved fundamental in laying the foundations of this book and its structure. It is also undeniable that without the opportunity of assembling a broad pool of scholars at Heidelberg the present volume would be different, or not be at all. For this reason, we would like to thank our colleagues Susan Richter, Peter Schröder and Gregor Stiebert as well as the Executive Committee Members of the eshpt for their help. Our publisher, Brill, has been –​as always –​generous with financial and editorial support. Alessandra Giliberto, Ivo Romein, Wendel Scholma and Arjan van Dijk have shown constant faith in the project since its inception. The three anonymous peer reviewers of the volume set us straight on a few issues, and we are very grateful to them for this. Last but not least, a sincere ‘thank you’ is reserved for Clara Maier, who contributed to writing the Introduction with us and participated in the initial phases of the editorial work. It is certain that without her precious input, the whole outcome would be a much weaker achievement. Ultimately, we hope that given the theoretical complexity and historical richness of the two key topics of our enterprise, ‘crisis and renewal’, readers might find the strength and the novelty of the current volume both in its thematic and in its chronological approach. We also hope that they might enjoy the diverse range of interpretations advanced in it as the result of the unusually diverse academic backgrounds of its contributors. Budapest and Helsinki, May 2021

Notes on Contributors Erica Benner whose interests range across nationalism, ethics, and knowledge in politics in historical and current perspectives, is the author of Really Existing Nationalisms (Oxford, 1995 and Verso, 2017), Machiavelli’s Ethics (Princeton, 2009), Machiavelli’s Prince: A New Reading (Oxford, 2013), and Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom (Penguin, 2017). Formerly a fellow in political philosophy at Yale, she taught for many years at Oxford and the lse. Niall Bond (PhD Freiburg im Breisgau 1991, habilitation 2010 ehess Paris) is a historian of political, social and economic thought and has worked extensively as a translator and conference interpreter in political, economic, sociological and other academic contexts. He has authored an intellectual biography (Understanding Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society: Volume 1: Political philosophy and sociological theory between enlightened liberal individualism and transfigured community. Lit, 2013); translated Tönnies’ Community and Society into French (puf 2010); edited volumes in German and English; and published more than 60 articles and chapters. He at present works at the research centre ihrim at University Lyon 2 and as a research associate at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg. In 2021 he is a Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg in Bonn. Nathaniel Boyd is currently a postdoctoral researcher (Leverhulme Trust) in the project ‘Rethinking Civil Society: History, Theory, Critique’ in the Department of Politics at the University of York. His work focuses on Hegel in the history of political thought, the history of constitutionalism, legal theory and the Weimar Republic. He has published articles in History of Political Thought and Hobbes Studies and chapters with Cambridge University Press and Brill. Andrea Catanzaro is Associate Professor of History of Political Thought at the Department of Political Science (dispo) of the University of Genoa, where he teaches Political Theories and the State, and War and Peace: the Origin of a Political Concept. His research interests principally focus on ancient political thought and its reception in the political literature of the modern age.

Notes on Contributors


Patricia Chiantera-​Stutte teaches History of Political Thought at the University of Bari. She was Jean Monnet Fellow and daad Fellow. She is on the editorial board of Storia del Pensiero Politico and of a Mimesis Series. She has published on avant-​garde and Fascism, the history of intellectuals, biopolitics, populism and geopolitics. Some of her publications include: with G. Borgognone, The West and the Rest: Global Elites and Conflicting Civilizations in the Civilizational Paradigms (Lexington Books, forthcoming 2022); with U. Jureit, Denken in Räumen. Friedrich Ratzel als Schlüsselfigur geopolitischer Theoriebildung (Nomos, 2021), Animus Comune: Le Lettere di Werner Kaegi e Delio Cantimori (1935–​1966) (Edizioni della Normale Pisa, 2020). Alberto Clerici (PhD University of Rome “La Sapienza”, 2004) is Associate Professor of History of Political Thought at the Università “Niccolò Cusano” in Rome. He is a member of the editorial board of Grotiana and Storia del Pensiero Politico, and Associate Editor of the Brill series History of European Political and Constitutional Thought. His research interests focus on natural law, the law of nations and the history of constitutionalism. His recent publications include an article in Grotiana (2019) and chapters in the volumes Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Brill, 2018), Nicholas of Cusa and the Making of the Early Modern World (Brill, 2019) and The Legacy of Vattel’s Droit des gens (Palgrave, 2019). Cesare Cuttica teaches British History at Paris 8. His work focuses on early modern political thought and the methodology of intellectual history. Besides writing Sir Robert Filmer (1588–​1653) and the Patriotic Monarch: Patriarchalism in Seventeenth-​ Century Political Thought (mup, 2012), he edited Monarchism and Absolutism in Early Modern Europe (Pickering & Chatto/​Routledge, 2012) with Glenn Burgess; Patriarchal Moments (Bloomsbury, 2016) with Gaby Mahlberg; and Democracy and Anti-​Democracy in Early Modern England, 1603–​1689 (Brill, 2019) with Markku Peltonen. He recently completed a monograph on anti-​ democratic ideas in early modern England. Annalisa Furia is Associate Professor of History of Political Thought at the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna since 2019. Her research interests include the study of the political thought of the French Revolution (Sieyès); modern and contemporary doctrines of human rights, citizenship and security;


Notes on Contributors

and feminist political thought (Martha C. Nussbaum, Joan C. Tronto). Recently she has also started studying foreign aid as a practice producing a new space of relations among states and migration intended as a res politica. Over the years, she has taken part as expert and/​or scientific coordinator in many European projects on migration, human rights and development. George Gallwey is a scholar of the history of political economy and international law. He has degrees from Oxford and Cambridge universities and received his PhD from Harvard University. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Kai Gräf is a PhD candidate at the University of Heidelberg. His research focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of the Enlightenment, with a special interest in religion, atheism, and secularity. Ferenc Hörcher is a political philosopher and a historian of political thought. He holds the position of Research Professor at the Research Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Public Service, and is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, both in Budapest. His major research fields include conservative political thought, early modern urban republicanism and early modern aesthetic thought. His monograph, The Political Philosophy of the European City, is in print. Paschalis M. Kitromilides is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Athens and a member of the Academy of Athens at the Chair of the History of Political Thought. He has held visiting appointments at various international universities and academic institutions. He is the author or editor of over fifty books and over two hundred and sixty articles and book reviews in academic journals and collective volumes in Greek and in English. László Kontler is Professor of History at Central European University (Budapest/​Vienna). His research and publications focus on intellectual history, the history of political thought, translation and reception, and the production and circulation of scientific knowledge in early modern Europe, mainly the Enlightenment. His books include A History of Hungary (Palgrave, 2002); Translations, Histories,

Notes on Contributors


Enlightenments: William Robertson in Germany, 1760–​1795 (Palgrave, 2014); and (with Per Pippin Aspaas) Maximilian Hell (1720–​1792) and the Ends of Jesuit Science in Enlightenment Europe (Brill, 2020). He edited (with Antonella Romano, Silvia Sebastiani and Zsuzsanna Borbála Török) Negotiating Knowledge in Early-​Modern Empires (Palgrave, 2014) and (with Mark Somos) Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Brill, 2018). Adriana Luna-​Fabritius is University Researcher in History at the University of Helsinki. She has worked and published on the early modern languages of republicanism, natural law and political economy in the Spanish monarchy, especially Naples and Catalonia, since her undergraduate studies in the 1990s. Before arriving at the University of Helsinki, she was Assistant Professor in the History Department at the Centre for Economic Research and Education (cide) in Mexico. She is also the current President of the European Society for the History of Political Thought and Associate Editor of the book series History of European Political and Constitutional Thought (Brill). She is affiliated with the research groupsCameralism as a European Political Science: A Reassessment and International Research Network: Natural Law 1625–​1850; and she is a member of the Helsinki Centre for Intellectual History. Clara Maier is Assistant Professor at the Department of History at Humboldt-​University, Berlin. She works on political theory, legal history and European intellectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries, specifically on the tradition of the Rechtsstaat in European political thought. She studied in Zürich and Cambridge. She received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2017 for her dissertation titled ‘The Politics of German Peculiarity: American, British and German debates on the German Sonderweg, 1933–​1968’. From 2016 to 2019 she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. She teaches in European history and constitutional theory in Berlin and Heidelberg. Janine T. Murphy completed her PhD at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, with a thesis on the transformation of urban politics and the cultivation of politically capable citizens in Prussia in the post-​revolutionary period. Her research interests include the cultural history of politics, transnational and global history, and migration as a historical field of inquiry. Her most recent project is an exploration of the entangled history of the German Turner



Notes on Contributors

Movement from 1850 to 1914, with a particular focus on how the movement was exported, and reinterpreted, in the United States while remaining continually related to its German iteration. Adrian O’Connor is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida. He is the author of In Pursuit of Politics: Education and Revolution in Eighteenth-​century France (MUP, 2017) as well as of numerous articles on the history of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Mark Somos holds the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft’s Heisenberg position at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. He studied history, political science and law at Cambridge, Harvard, Sussex and Leiden. Mark wrote The Secularisation and the Leiden Circle (Brill, 2011), American States of Nature: The Origins of Independence, 1761–​1775 (Oxford, 2019) and 40 peer-​reviewed papers; co-​wrote with Dániel Margócsy and Stephen Joffe The Fabrica of Andreas Vesalius (Brill, 2018); and co-​edited with László Kontler Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Brill, 2018). Mark is co-​editor-​in-​chief of Grotiana and edits the book series History of European Political and Constitutional Thought (Brill). He taught at Sussex, Harvard, Tufts and Yale universities.

Introduction Cesare Cuttica, László Kontler and Clara Maier In her 1954 essay, The Crisis in Education, Hannah Arendt wrote of a ‘general crisis that has overtaken the modern world everywhere and in almost every sphere of life’.1 This crisis, according to Arendt, manifested itself ‘differently in each country, involving different areas and taking different forms’.2 There was a connection between the crisis in education, which she saw as ripe in her contemporary United States, and the much more dramatic political developments of the twentieth century, ‘the revolutionary turmoil after the First World War, with concentration and extermination camps’.3 One need not share Arendt’s particular view of modernity as an age fundamentally marked by crisis, to take two important theoretical points from her discussion of crisis. First: crisis and crises represent a unique opportunity for the political theorist. In Arendt’s words: crisis ‘tears away façades and obliterates prejudices’, thereby allowing for exploration and inquiry into what ‘has been laid bare of the essence of the matter’. Most of all, for Arendt, a crisis ‘forces us back to the questions themselves and requires from us either new or old answers’.4 In this respect, our volume looks at critical events in European history and at the responses that theorists have found to them. It investigates the innovations in political thought that have sprung from crisis, as well as the conceptual challenges theorists have encountered in dealing with the devastation wrought by the spiritual, economic and political crises in European

1 Hannah Arendt, ‘The Crisis in Education’, in idem, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, with an introduction by Jerome Kohn (London: Penguin, 2006), pp. 170–​ 193, p. 170. The Crisis in Education was first published in 1958 in the Partisan Review (see Partisan Review, 25 (Fall 1958), pp. 493–​513; quotations are taken from the version above). On some of these questions, see also the call for papers of the Workshop ‘Crisis and Political Theory’ (https://​​sites/​default/​files/​MANCEPT%202016_​Crisis%20and%20 Political%20Theory.pdf, accessed on 8 January 2019). See also ‘The 19th International Conference on Conceptual History’, Key Concepts in Times of Crisis (http://​conferences.​key-​concepts-​in-​times-​of-​crisis/​, accessed on 8 January 2019), which, however, does not deal with ideas of crisis prior to the eighteenth century. 2 Arendt, ‘The Crisis in Education’, p. 170. 3 Ibid., p. 170. 4 Ibid., p. 171.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_002


Cuttica, Kontler and Maier

history. Thus, this volume examines the ways in which crisis can be the site of renewal.5 A second insight from Arendt might be that crisis is not an innocent term. Crisis is intertwined with a specific view of history, and, more specifically, modernity. Modernity was characterised by what has been called Machbarkeitswahn, a ‘fury of doability’: a belief –​a conviction even –​that society can be comprehensively renovated, not in the least thanks to the progress of science, technology and governmentality.6 At the same time, “the moderns”, specifically those of the twentieth century, were haunted by a sense of the precariousness of whatever may have been achieved through social engineering, and by anxiety over the chaos and dissolution that may have resulted from the undermining of traditional values and social structures, just as from unmitigated industrial competition and its consequences. To comprehend this, they often resorted to a reading of modernity as crisis.7 In the midst of the profound devastation of the twentieth century, thinkers as different as Arendt, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Eric Voegelin each articulated an understanding of the world that was anchored in this specific view about the broken promise of modernity.8 Crisis, therefore, has its own conceptual history, which this volume traces and analyses. More importantly, crisis understood in this way represents a specific challenge to the historian of political thought. It asks after the historical and temporal preconditions of political thought and political analysis. If crisis is not merely a description of events and moments in history that are deeply disruptive, but a view of history itself, there is a chance to re-​examine the historical preconceptions of the history of political thought with greater clarity. 5 For recent works with a similar title to ours, see e.g. Robin D. Gwynn, The Huguenots in Later Stuart Britain Volume I, Crisis, Renewal, and the Ministers’ Dilemma (Eastbourne, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2015) and Edwin Green, John R. Lampe and Franjo Štiblar (eds), Crisis and Renewal in Twentieth Century Banking: Exploring the History and Archives of Banking at Times of Political and Social Stress (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2016; i edn 2004). 6 Detlev Peukert, ‘Der Traum der Vernunft’, in idem, Max Webers Diagnose der Moderne (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), pp. 55–​91, p. 69; cf. Peter Fritzsche, ‘Did Weimar Fail?’, Journal of Modern History, 68 (1996), pp. 629–​656; idem, ‘Nazi Modern’, Modernism/​ Modernity, 3 (1996), pp. 1–​22. 7 In addition to the titles in the previous footnote, see Edward Ross Dickinson, ‘Biopolitics, Fascism, Democracy: Some Reflections on our Discourse about “Modernity”’, Central European History, 37 (2004), pp. 1–​41, p. 2. 8 Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung (Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1947); Eric Voegelin, ‘The New Science of Politics’, in Manfred Henningsen (ed.), The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 5 (Columbia Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2000; i edn 1952).



The history of political thought is a particularly apt methodological approach to these problems as it combines historical and analytical rigour with conceptual creativity and imaginative thinking. We study political thought, the multiple contexts in which it was expounded and its impact on concrete social, economic, cultural and, obviously, political situations, without neglecting its wide(r) ramifications in multifarious domains of knowledge. Therefore, besides integrating the empirical study of fundamental critical moments in history (e.g. revolution, the advent of modernity, the development of democratic ideals) with exploring the metaphorical aspects of crisis and renewal (e.g. birth, death, sickness, regeneration), we engage with the material and pragmatic facets of crisis (e.g. institutional effects, petitioning, changes in sovereignty) as well as with less-​studied cultural phenomena linked to it (e.g. friendship, perceptions of time). The history of crisis and renewal as presented here offers thus a new standpoint on ideas that shaped people, ideologies and institutions –​old and recent, secular and religious, high and low, close and far –​in contextually embedded situations. True to the mission of the European Society for the History of Political Thought,9 we explore past dealings with crisis and renewal that might put into perspective the dilemmas and decisions of those public actors who are nowadays grappling with the effects of critical situations nationally and internationally. Our objective is to bring to the fore a historically informed outlook on sundry aspects of what it means to theorise about crisis (including, concepts and practices of politics as well as spiritual renewal). Such an agenda enables us to eschew some of the anachronistic, and often confused, accounts of it put forward in contemporary political theory, journalism and public opinion. This way of proceeding should open novel and hitherto ignored avenues of reflection on the broad spectrum of meanings attached to crisis/​es. Equally, our book encourages a new understanding of current critical narratives of our lives by casting light on the viewpoint of different agents who experienced, in thought and action, the weight of critically assessing political, religious, philosophical and social dynamics informing their worlds. Thus, we might advance a better –​that is, more consciously rooted in history –​manner to consider not only the present, but also the future of crisis and renewal as fundamental categories of interpretation in/​of our (daily) existence.

9 The Society was established in 2008; incidentally, this was the year of one of the major economic crises in recent times.


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Amongst the keywords that have shaped the language of media, public conversation, politico-​economic discourse and academic debate in the last few years, crisis holds a prominent place. The term is applied to a huge variety of domains: from the never-​ending cries of a ‘global economic crisis’ and descriptions of war zones as ‘crisis-​torn’, through characterisations of professionals as ‘crisis-​experts’ as well as references to governmental ‘crisis-​management’ teams (including state departments charged with confronting the unexpected arising of financial, political, environmental and terrorist crises) and the ‘crisis in/​of the university’ caused by increasing managerially-​driven measures, on to perhaps the biggest of all: the ‘crisis of liberal/​constitutional democracy’.10 As this volume approaches the stage of submission to the publisher, world leaders and national politicians, think-​tanks and research institutes, journalists and experts are just beginning to assess the critical impact of the covid-​ 19 pandemic on our economies, societies, cultural habits and polities, and the remedies –​the paths to ‘renewal’ –​differ widely. Equally relevant is that covid-​19 has further underscored the oft-​referred-​to ‘crisis of expertise’, which combines with the erosion of societal trust and democracy in many parts of the world.11 This saturation of crisis-​discourse has prompted scholars to remind us that since everything is perennially in crisis and since crisis is everywhere,12 ‘crises either become routine and hence invisible, or we are so battered and 10

11 12

On the latter, see e.g. Alan Toplišek, Liberal Democracy in Crisis: Rethinking Resistance under Neoliberal Governmentality (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) and, especially, Mark A. Graber, Sanford Levinson and Mark Tushnet (eds), Constitutional Democracy in Crisis? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). But engagements with the subject go back, at least, a century: see e.g. Carl Schmitt, Die Geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2017; i edn 1923), translated as The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985). See also Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Soffer (eds), The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perspective (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987). On the ‘crisis of expertise’, see e.g. Gil Eyal, The Crisis of Expertise (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019). As Michael Freeden has maintained, ‘the concept of crisis spreads like a contagious disease, permeating and disjointedly infecting ever-​broader discursive spheres’ (Michael Freeden, ‘Crisis? How Is That a Crisis? Reflections on an Overburdened Word’, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 12 (2017), pp. 12–​28, p. 17; see also ibid., p. 25). Likewise, Helge Jordheim and Einar Wigen argue that nowadays ‘concepts of “crisis” are proliferating’, to the extent that ‘increasingly more areas of society or human life enter into an alleged stage of crisis, not just the economy and the climate, but identity and culture, as well’. However, this does not signify, so they submit, that the ‘international order’ is ‘“in crisis”’; rather, that ‘crisis is increasingly used to order the international’ (Helge Jordheim and Einar Wigen, ‘Conceptual Synchronisation: From Progress to Crisis’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 46 (2018), pp. 421–​439, pp. 437, 439).



shell-​shocked that we cease to care’.13 Some even go as far to claim that whilst ‘[f]‌or most of the past two centuries, the key concept used to synchronise multiple temporalities between different polities has been progress’, in our days that of crisis is about to replace it as ‘the main tool of historicisation in the Western world and beyond’.14 However, our historical analysis shows how long crisis has been a decisive term for political discourse as well as historical conceptualisation. Thus, it appears that rather than superseding progress as a tool for historicisation, crisis and progress have been conceptually interdependent since at least the eighteenth century. A keyword search on “crisis” in the catalogue of the university library of one of the authors of this Introduction has yielded 4198 book titles, 907 of these characterised as ‘most relevant’ and a further 613 as ‘highly relevant’.15 Naturally, amongst the most recent ones, discussions of the 2008 financial crisis and its consequences play a prominent role, but the historian also finds plenty of material of interest. From the titles here compiled it would seem that crisis has been a permanent feature of human existence across the centuries to an extent that it may be its normal condition (a point to which we shall return below). Crisis is associated with what has generally been recognised as the high or flourishing Middle Ages.16 Moreover, the main states of Western Europe, either as wholes or in crucial aspects of their life, appear to have been in a nearly ceaseless crisis throughout the early modern period.17 Equally, during the half century (i.e., not only the years immediately) preceding the First World War, it was not only the Russian old order that underwent crisis, but also European countries otherwise known as living in a belle époque or in the happy times of peace.18 Lastly, the entire inter-​war period is customarily denoted as 13 14 15 16 17


Freeden, ‘Crisis?’, p. 28. Yet this perspective risks downplaying the fact that the COVID-​19 pandemic has made crisis personally, indeed physically, felt for populations worldwide and has done so in unusual ways. Jordheim and Wigen, ‘Conceptual’, pp. 425–​426. Library of Central European University, https://​​. See e.g. Brian Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State 1050–​1300 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988). See e.g. Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558–​1641 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967); Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509–​ 1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971); John H. Salmon, Society in Crisis: France in the Sixteenth Century (London: E. Benn, 1975); Peter J. Coveney (ed.), France in Crisis 1620–​1675 (London: Macmillan, 1977); Bailey Stone, The French Parliaments and the Crisis of the Old Regime (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986); John Lynch, The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1598–​1700 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); Henry Kamen, Crisis and Change in Early Modern Spain (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1993). See e.g. Richard Shannon, The Crisis of Imperialism, 1865–​1915 (London: Paladin, 1976); David S. Luft, Robert Musil and the Crisis of European Culture 1880–​1942 (Berkeley: University


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‘decades of crisis’19 (whilst in the whole of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it would be hard to find a decade that has never figured as one of ‘crisis’ in local, regional, global or civilisational terms in the title of a book). Intellectual dispositions, ideological currents, disciplines, schools of thought or “thought” as such have been described as having undergone a crisis over various periods.20 However, the frequency with which the word is utilised does not signify clarity of meaning, nor does it denote historical and theoretical accuracy with regard to its origins and usages. In fact, according to Reinhart Koselleck, the pre-​eminent theorist of crisis both in his 1954 doctoral dissertation Kritik und Krise and his later contributions on Begriffsgeschichte, the wide range of uses makes for much uncertainty.21 After the seventeenth century, ‘crisis’ came to be used in the realms of politics, economics, history and psychology. In Koselleck’s analysis, the concept of ‘crisis’ entails four ‘interpretative’ keys: first, stemming from the medical (but also political and military) use, ‘crisis’ can be conceived as a series of occurrences conducive to a decisive stage at which ‘action is required’. Second, along the theological perspective, ‘crisis’ can suggest ‘a unique and




of California Press, 1980); Roberta Thompson Manning, The Crisis of the Old Order in Russia: Gentry and Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); John W. Boyer, Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897–​1918 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). See e.g. Arthur Meier Schlesinger, The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919–​1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957); Iván T. Berend, Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Jan Ifversen, ‘The Crisis of European Civilization After 1918’, in Menno Spiering and Michael Wintle (eds), Ideas of Europe since 1914. The Legacy of the First World War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 14–​31; Vittorio Dini and Matthew D’Auria (eds), The Space of Crisis: Images and Ideas of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1914–​1945 (New York: Peter Lang, 2013). The following (selected) titles were published within the span of a decade: Stanley Aronowitz, The Crisis in Historical Materialism: Class, Politics, and Culture in Marxist Theory (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1990); Charles R. Bambach, Heidegger, Dilthey and the Crisis of Historicism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995); David Kettler, Karl Mannheim and the Crisis of Liberalism: The Secret of These New Times (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995); Norman J. Wilson, History in Crisis? Recent Directions in Historiography (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999); John W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848–​1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); John R. Hinde, Jacob Burckhardt and the Crisis of Modernity (Montreal: McGill-​Queen’s University Press, 2000); Julia Kristeva, Crisis of the European Subject (New York: Other Press, 2000). See Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400, esp. pp. 399–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). The dissertation was published as Kritik und Krise. Ein Beitrag [in later editions: Eine Studie] zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Freiburg and Munich: Karl Aber, 1959). On Koselleck’s Kritik und Krise and its context, see Kai Gräf’s chapter in this volume.



final point’, after which ‘the quality of history’ will be altered ‘forever’. Third, departing from ‘the earlier medical or theological semantic spheres’, ‘crisis’ can be seen as ‘a critical situation’ which is a recurrent feature of historical events of ‘momentous consequences’. Last, ‘crisis’ indicates ‘a historically immanent transitional phase’ where the said ‘transition’ might or might not occur and, if the former, whether this will ‘lead to a worse or better condition depends on the specific diagnosis offered’.22 With the late eighteenth century, the term was again endowed with ‘religious and theological connotations’, even though the French and American revolutions transformed the apocalyptic thrust of ‘the last judgment’, so that the general spiritual renewal gained ‘a secular meaning’. Past this period, ‘crisis’ obtained an unprecedented success in that it began to be applied to ‘every day language’: so much so that it became a ‘catchword (Schlagwort)’ informing multiple areas of life.23 Besides the current traction, “crisis” can be thought of as a concept deployed by thinkers (e.g. Jean-​Jacques Rousseau, 1762)24 to describe an entire epoch philosophically; by scholars (e.g. Paul Hazard, 1935)25 to define a historical phase such as “modernity”; or, less grandly, by historians to explain a particular time in the history of a country or region. In many cases, notions of progress or of a cyclical movement are resorted to in order to interpret the meaning of crisis. Crisis can be seen as a new beginning, including one that entails uncertainty (notably, hopes and fears), or the end of an era or even of a civilisation. As a historiographical tool, it is sometimes employed to study how people in the past perceived an unusually harsh time in their (public or private) life due to political, religious, social or economic strife. In this respect, historians often question the usefulness and validity of the category as a legitimate prism through which to approach a bygone historical moment.26 Those defending 22

23 24 25 26

Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, pp. 371–​372. See the (predominantly Marxist) debate on the ‘general crisis of the seventeenth century’, briefly presented below, where crisis was similarly understood as a condition ‘pregnant’ with the ‘new’ (with all the pain and unpredictability involved in pregnancy). Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 358. According to Koselleck, Rousseau was the first author to theorise ‘“crisis” in the modern sense’, namely in relation to ‘a philosophy of history’ with an outlook on ‘the future’ and as a category connected to the notion of ‘progress’ (ibid., p. 372). Paul Hazard, La Crise de la conscience européenne (1680–​1715) (Paris: Boivin, 1935). See e.g. Randolph Starn, ‘Historians and “Crisis”’, Past and Present, 52 (1971), pp. 3–​22, pp. 15, 22; J. B. Shank, ‘Crisis: A Useful Category of Post-​Social Scientific Historical Analysis?’, The American Historical Review, 113 (2008), pp. 1090–​1099, p. 1091. Theodore K. Rabb, who has defined ‘crisis’ as something ‘sharp and short’, has also argued for the interpretative ‘usefulness’ of ‘crisis’ in historical work (Theodore K. Rabb, ‘Introduction: The Persistence of the “Crisis”’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 40 (2009), pp. 145–​150, pp. 145, 146).


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its use as a sound scholarly paradigm tend to underline its descriptive nature rather than its (looser) hermeneutical features. Be that as it may, the meaning of crisis has become more uncertain: from indicating stark alternatives and non-​negotiable demarcations, it has assumed vague overtones, which might be seen as a sign that the current historical era is deeply marked by instability and lack of clear direction(s). In this last respect, we could, for instance, refer to an enduring ideological crisis affecting our post-​1989 political scenario.27 Turning to the dictionary for guidance, we find that ‘crisis’, first, refers to a ‘time of intense difficulty or danger’, especially one ‘when a difficult or important decision must be made’. Second, it denotes ‘[t]‌he turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death’. The original Greek ‘krisis’ means ‘decision’ and comes from the verb krinein ‘to decide, to judge’, both of which are linked to ‘critic (early seventeenth century), critical (late sixteenth century), and criterion (early seventeenth century)’. It is also specified that ‘[t]he general sense “decisive point” dates from the early seventeenth century’.28 However, the Oxford English Dictionary stresses that ‘crisis’ –​whose etymology also recalls the idea of ‘discrimination’ –​points, above all, to the medical (pathological) sense of ‘the turning-​point of a disease for better or worse’, whereas it is only in its third entry that the term holds connotations closer to those normally referred to nowadays, that is of ‘[a] vitally important or decisive stage in the progress of anything; […] now applied esp. to times of difficulty, insecurity, and suspense in politics or commerce’.29 Koselleck’s entry on ‘Crisis’ underscores the three separate meanings the Greek term possessed in the domains of ‘law, medicine and theology’. ‘Crisis’ imposed choices between opposites such as ‘right or wrong’, ‘life or death’, ‘salvation or damnation’, respectively.30 From a medical standpoint, when an illness struck, ‘crisis’ referred to both a discernible ‘condition’ and an assessment made with


See e.g. Jan-​Werner Müller, Contesting Democracy. Political Ideas in Twentieth-​Century Europe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 240. Above all, see Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, pp. 399–​400. 28 See http://​​definition/​english/​crisis, accessed on 1 February 2019. 29 Oxford English Dictionary, ‘crisis, n.’,, accessed on 1 February 2019. The second entry pertains to the astrological sphere, where crisis is ‘[s]‌aid of a conjunction of the planets which determines the issue of a disease or critical point in the course of events’ (ibid.). 30 Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 358. In ancient Greece, ‘crisis’ served as a conceptual vehicle by which ‘justice and the political order’ (‘Herrschaftsordnung’) could be established ‘through appropriate legal decisions’ (ibid., p. 359). On crisis in ancient Greece, see Andrea Catanzaro’s chapter in this volume.



regard to its ‘course’. This situation was indeed critical because it determined whether a patient would ‘live or die’. Moreover, in the early modern period a key distinction –​nowadays lost –​was made between a ‘perfect/​positive’ crisis and an ‘imperfect/​negative’ one, depending on whether such crisis led to a full recovery (life) or to the irrevocable end of a healthy state (death).31 As mentioned, what counts for Koselleck is that the word was always employed to describe mutually exclusive things: just/​unjust, save/​damned, healthy/​dead.32 Koselleck also argued that enlightened ‘critique’ represented a challenge (i.e. of the political by the social, ethical and cultural) and ‘crisis’ the moment of subversion.33 In each of these approaches the idea of ‘crisis’ comes across as a kind of ‘testing time’ that might give rise to new experimentation(s). As a matter of fact, this yields significant insights into the currently ‘critical’ predicament of liberal democracy and the pursuant agenda for present and future political theorising.34

Whilst taking into consideration different accounts of crisis as a concept, this volume is shaped by the thematic and methodological preoccupations of the history of political thought.35 Taking the cue from discussions like Arendt’s, the chapters assembled focus on how political thought reacted/​s to critical 31

32 33 34 35

See e.g. Francis Quarles, The Profest Royalist his Quarrell with the Times, Maintained in Three Tracts […] (Oxford, 1645), pp. 18–​19. For further examples of this, it is sufficient to consult the early modern texts database Early English Books Online (https://​​home). Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, pp. 360, 361. See Victor Gourevitch, ‘Foreword’, in Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), pp. vii–​x, p. vii. See especially Paschalis Kitromilides’ and Erica Benner’s chapters in this volume. See also David Runciman, How Democracy Ends (London: Profile Books, 2018). For examples of recent works tackling crisis from different angles than ours, see e.g. Richard Murphy, Collingwood and the Crisis of Western Civilisation: Art, Metaphysics and Dialectic (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008); Gregory K. Golden, Crisis Management during the Roman Republic: The Role of Political Institutions in Emergencies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); David Runciman, The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Poul F. Kjaer and Niklas Olsen (eds), Critical Theories of Crisis in Europe. From Weimar to the Euro (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016); George Edmondson and Klaus Mladek (eds), Sovereignty in Ruins: A Politics of Crisis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017). For a theoretical-​philosophical standpoint dealing with crisis (and renewal), see e.g. Giorgio Agamben, The Omnibus Home Sacer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), e.g. p. 301. See also Heiko Feloner, Fabio Vighi and Slavoj Žižek (eds), States of Crisis and Post-​Capitalist Scenarios (London and New York: Routledge, 2014).


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moments in history and on whether it produced/​s its own crisis/​es. They then ask whether moments of crisis were/​are also moments of creativity for political theory as well as inquiring about the ways in which the self-​reflection of innovative thinkers in critical times moulded/​s their vocabularies and the modalities in which the critical element of their inputs was/​is articulated. Moreover, the contributors to the volume seek answers to whether existing concepts at a given time were/​are suited to face crises or whether, instead, established principles were/​are deployed in different manners to respond and make sense of them. One might refer here to the notion of ‘paradigm’ and ‘paradigm change’: historical situations in which the existing framework of thought and conceptual apparatus is no longer suitable for asking relevant questions, let alone formulating efficient answers.36 The application of this pattern of interpretation to the history of political thought is by no means new. An incisive and influential example is John Pocock’s exploration of the ‘Machiavellian moment’: ‘the moment in conceptualized time in which the republic was seen as confronting its own temporal finitude’,37 with far-​reaching consequences for the subsequent development of historical self-​awareness and political self-​consciousness, way beyond the confines of the Florentine republic. It must also be added that before Pocock, and before the availability of Kuhn’s analysis of scientific paradigms, ‘crisis’ –​with its capacity to generate new modes of political thinking –​was forcefully employed with reference to Italian civic humanism by Hans Baron.38 But the analytical possibilities of this approach are far from exhausted. This means to further question how we can theorise about crisis, and, at the same time, investigate what trajectories ideas of crisis took in different contexts at different historical junctures. These themes will be addressed by embracing the full geographical and chronological spectrum of European political thought from antiquity to the present.39 Given the cross-​disciplinary nature of our undertaking and of the 36 37 38 39

The obvious reference is Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962). John G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. viii. See Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955). The medieval period is not treated directly in the essays here presented. This is so partly because the period holds little that would be relevant to our volume –​notably, considering the lack of crisis-​usages between ancient Greece and the early modern epoch. Following the example of the Franciscans, it can be said that the ways in which some ideas brought calamity (‘crisis’ –​excommunication and burning) to their exponents is not our primary focus. Without denying our superficial knowledge of the medieval sources, we think that in this historical era it is more difficult to find a set of ideas that indeed triggered



history of political thought, the following pages cover the points raised above from multiple historiographical perspectives. In particular, our book accounts for the complex changes and developments that occurred in the meanings of crisis and the concept of renewal from ancient Greece (where the word was coined) up to the late twentieth century.40 Together with investigating the origins and shifting perceptions of the terms involved through the study of authors such as Plato and Aristotle, our contributors concentrate on the early modern period by attending to religious conflict, the notion of the oikos and the issue of democracy-​ochlocracy. They consider the post-​revolutionary late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and emphasise the Enlightenment’s contribution to the theme of crisis and some of its chief exponents’ new ways of analysing it. They then deal with the proposals major thinkers such as Machiavelli, Althusius, Lipsius, Vico, Hegel, Tönnies, Toynbee, Arendt and Huntington set forth vis-​à-​vis the role of crisis and renewal in both theory and practice. Finally, they pay attention to contextually disparate intellectual and historical landscapes where notions as well as situations of crisis played a decisive part in public debate: from sixteenth-​century Holland to eighteenth-​century Naples, through the Atlantic world to twentieth-​century Germany and up to our “post-​ truth condition”. One pivotal moment of reflection in our volume will focus on


a political crisis (if the ideas themselves can be construed as ‘political’). With regard to church and state crises in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, not least in Dante’s and Marsilius of Padua’s Italy, see Janet Coleman, A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000; paper reprint c.2005). For a reassessment of the ‘model crisis’ expounded by Michael Postan and Georges Duby in order to shed light on the economy of the later Middles Ages, see John Drendel (ed.), Crisis in the Later Middle Ages. Beyond the Postan-​Duby Paradigm (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). The latter’s goal is ‘to understand’ this period’s ‘interactions among exchange, power, and culture in all their bewildering complexity’, expanding its outlook to a larger set of European areas than those originally taken into account by Postan and Duby: see John Drendel, ‘Introduction’, in Drendel (ed.), Crisis, pp. 1–​13, p. 10. See also Benjamin Straumann, Crisis and Constitutionalism: Roman Political Thought from the Fall of the Republic to the Age of Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). We are aware that, in addition to the absence of medieval themes, we also do not address directly Marx and Engels’ account of crisis nor deal at length with the idea of economic crisis –​although some of the chapters (e.g. Paschalis Kitromilides’) do so. This reflects the limits of our expertise and the nature of volumes such as the present one. However, it is also the result of a choice in that the aforementioned topics, and others like the refugee crisis, have been thoroughly treated by other scholars (see e.g. Freeden, ‘Crisis?’ and Janet Roitman, Anti-​Crisis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014)). A final regrettable absence from the coverage of our volume, that of the northern and eastern parts of Europe, admittedly arises from the contingencies of the response to the call for submissions.


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the place of the intellectual in past and present societies and their constructing, adopting or rejecting ideas of crisis and solutions to it.

Since the chronological weight of our volume falls on the centuries after 1500, a brief and inevitably incomplete sketch of the ways in which the themes of crisis and renewal in this period have been dealt with by historians of various brands might help the reader’s orientation. The question of whether the early modern period was an era of crisis is one that has occupied historians since, at least, the 1950s.41 In the seminal debate surrounding the ‘General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, Eric Hobsbawm maintained the need for viewing crisis in conjunction with the emergence of capitalism,42 whilst Hugh Trevor-​Roper underlined how in the early seventeenth century European people felt that society was going through a ‘crisis’:43 so much so that there was a ‘unified sense of gloom’.44 According to Hobsbawm, the century witnessed the move from a feudal to a bourgeois society founded on the development of capitalism. Hence Hobsbawm’s insistence on the economic aspects of the crisis that affected Europe, as a result of which in the seventeenth century ‘economic power’ became concentrated.45 The English Revolution was a bourgeois revolution and as such it is ‘the most decisive product of the seventeenth-​century crisis’.46 Together with emphasising the fundamental importance of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–​48) as a source of major anxiety, Trevor-​Roper insisted on ‘the 41

42 43 44 45 46

See, especially, Trevor Aston (ed.), Crisis in Europe 1560–​1660. Essays from ‘Past and Present’ (London: Routledge, 1969; i edn 1965). The two works that triggered the debate –​Eric Hobsbawm’s Past and Present article cited below and Roland Mousnier’s book Les XVIe et XVIIe siècles –​were originally published in 1954. This chronology is quite important for two reasons. First, this is roughly simultaneous with Koselleck’s work on the subject, which points to the prominence of the topic in the scholarly/​historical community without regard to ideological commitments. Second, within the Marxist camp, this came shortly after the start, and was embedded in the even larger framework, of the ‘transition from feudalism to capitalism’ debate, which began with studies such as Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London: Routledge, 1946) and Paul M. Sweezy and Maurice Dobb, ‘The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism’, Science and Society, 14 (1950), pp. 134–​167, and culminated in Rodney Hilton (ed.), The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1976). Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 5–​58. Hugh Trevor-​Roper, ‘The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 59–​95, p. 59. Ibid., p. 60. Hobsbawm, ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, pp. 28–​29, 31. Ibid., p. 53.



relations between society and the State’ as the main origin of crisis, which was thus neither an economic one (i.e. production) nor a constitutional one (i.e. Crown-​Parliament).47 For Trevor-​Roper, crisis-​war-​revolution were not necessarily connected (e.g. in England). From a Renaissance world dominated by independent city-​states, Europe moved on to one of princes and royal courts with their impressive display of monarchical pomp and strong absolute power. Trevor-​Roper rejected the Marxist link between capitalism’s development and revolution.48 The crisis faced by ‘the Renaissance State’ involved its monstrous bureaucratic apparatus, which turned out to be inefficient and cumbersome.49 Crisis was the outcome of demands made against the burden of centralisation, taxation, fees, waste of offices and so on.50 Roland Mousnier contested Trevor-​ Roper’s interpretation, pointing out that European office-​holders had a crucial role in revolting across the continent.51 Revolt was, for Mousnier, the upshot of an ‘oppressed’ class-​group of public officers opposing the court, not of the so-​called ‘country’ going against ‘an oppressive public service’ and its bureaucracy, as Trevor-​Roper argued.52 In Mousnier’s terms, the structural crisis striking at the core of early modern European monarchies turned into revolution only because of political events such as war.53 In tune with Trevor-​Roper, but against an economic-​crisis interpretation of the ‘General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’ put forward by historians like Hobsbawm and Pierre Chaunu, Mousnier then reflected on crisis as a general chaos affecting society in that turbulent historical phase –​a notion that will return useful in order to understand several contributions to this volume. Following this debate, historians called attention to both the macro and the micro dimension of early modern crisis as well as putting the accent on contemporaries’ perceptions of it versus scholarship’s distant views of the same phenomena. Amongst them, Geoffrey Parker and Lesley M. Smith stressed the fundamental place of economic, environmental and political factors in the development of crisis,54 whilst Niels Steensgaard pointed out the role of 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54

See e.g. Trevor-​Roper, ‘The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, p. 67. Ibid. p. 65. See e.g. ibid., p. 78. Ibid., p. 83. Roland Mousnier, ‘Trevor-​Roper’s “General Crisis” Symposium’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 97–​116, p. 98. Ibid., pp. 99, 101. Ibid., p. 113. Geoffrey Parker and Lesley M. Smith (eds), The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge, 1978), esp. ‘Introduction’, pp. 1–​31. However, they viewed the link connecting all these crises as still ‘tenuous’, so that they thought more appropriate to speak of an analogy between them (ibid., p. 20).


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absolutism in relation to early modern crisis/​es (notably, because of the growing power of the state with its overarching politico-​fiscal might over European nations).55 On the basis of Parker and Smith’s thesis, it could be argued that there occurred a cultural crisis too: one between the courts with their sophisticated new tastes and the population at large with its reluctance to change. Finally, in what is now considered to be his magisterial opus, Geoffrey Parker has attracted attention to the global dimension of the crisis in connection with climate change and its effects on early modern societies and their inhabitants.56 We should also include in this analysis of early modern crisis the critical role of religion not only as a cause of conflict or as a case of ideological imposition top-​down (e.g. cuius region, eius religio), but also as a moment of spiritual change (movements such as Anabaptism and Millenarianism signalled to an extreme degree this type of crisis).57 Regarding the fermentation of religious and political ideas and movements which hallmarked the English Revolution as one of the most obvious and dramatic manifestations of the seventeenth-​ century crisis, mention must be made of the notion of ‘the world turned upside down’ as discussed in the work of Christopher Hill –​a kind of participant-​ observer in the 1960s crisis debate, who wrote the introduction to the volume edited by Aston.58 On a more general level, the Reformation as a whole with its changes in matters of religiosity and ecclesiology represented an agent of crisis in that it altered a large number of people’s religious habits, theological doctrines and official rituals as well as ideas and assumptions about life, politics and society. It thereby occasioned or aggravated fissures in communities, some of them exceedingly bitter and violent. In fact, it presented a problem and an inexhaustible topic for European political thought whose mainstream emphasised that division is one of the greatest evils that may be inflicted on cities and kingdoms, with critical –​because potentially terminal –​consequences. The intellectual remedy to the endemic religious and civil strife in sixteenth-​ and seventeenth-​century European societies, as forcefully argued in a classic book by Paul Hazard, itself constituted a ‘crisis’: that of the ‘European mind’ 55 56 57


Niels Steensgaard, ‘The Seventeenth-​Century Crisis’, in Parker and Smith (eds), The General Crisis, pp. 32–​56, pp. 44–​48. See Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). On crisis (including ‘crisis of ideas’), see ‘AHR Forum: The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited’, The American Historical Review, 113 (2008), pp. 1029–​1099 and ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 40 (2009), pp. 145–​303. See Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972). See also Cesare Cuttica’s chapter in this volume.



during the three decades around 1700, when the foundations of the modern critique of revealed religion were laid down.59 In the perspective of the scholarship inspired by Hazard’s work, instead of Christianity, new pillars came to be erected for Europe’s broken self-​confidence. These consisted in the enhanced power of secular authorities to ensure the safety and happiness of their subjects, and the capacity of societies for economic growth and cultural progress –​in one word, Enlightenment.60 Thus, if the economic and social historians mentioned above addressed the ‘general crisis’ affecting early modern Europe as a series of calamities that inaugurated the dynamic development of capitalism and the emergence of the modern state, Hazard’s crisis of the mind performed a similar feat by stimulating ferment in the intellectual domain. The absolutisation of irreligion and critical reason as trademarks of the Enlightenment have been called into question.61 And yet a commitment to the values and the pursuit of progress in this world without concern with what might come in the next one remains generally acknowledged as its principal feature. More to our present purpose, ever since the Enlightenment became the cornerstone, and a near-​synonym, of modernity in Western self-​ reflection –​around the time when Hazard formulated his thesis62 –​, ‘crisis’ has been a twin brother and inseparable dialectic other of ‘progress’, almost as if crisis had been a permanent and normal element of the modern condition.63 This leads us back to Koselleck’s Kritik und Krise which might well have been entitled ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, had this not been already adopted by Adorno and Horkheimer a decade earlier.64 As we have already mentioned, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufklärung portrayed the confident 59 Hazard, La Crise, passim. 60 The assault on revealed religion, as the fons et origo as well as the prime mover and permanent ideological core of the Enlightenment that determined its course and direction, is the central thread in seminal works such as Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 2 vols (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1967) and Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–​1750 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). See also Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983; transl. Robert M. Wallace). 61 See e.g., John Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Vincenzo Ferrone, The Enlightenment. History of an Idea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015); Ann Thomson, ‘(Why) Does the Enlightenment Matter?’, Diciottesimo Secolo, 1 (2016), pp. 147–​168. 62 The emblematic work is Ernst Cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung (Tübingen: Mohr, 1932). 63 See above in this Introduction. 64 See Ute Daniel, ‘Reinhart Koselleck’, in Lutz Raphael (ed.), Klassiker der Geschichtswissenschaft, vol. 2 (Munich: Beck, 2006), p. 170.


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and optimistic triumphal march of critical reason as self-​destructive, directly inducing the worst evils of modernity. The central claim of Koselleck, too, was that the rational moral critique exercised by the agents of civil society, when inevitably bursting through the confines of freemasonic lodges and the republic of letters, fell into the pursuit of utopia and brought about the revolutionary crisis of the old regime. Koselleck also pointed to the strong rhetorical element that needs to be recognised in the concept of crisis and that is addressed in some of the studies in this volume. Talking about crisis may engender or exacerbate crisis. The criticism of the philosophes was hypocritical in being political in moral disguise: avoiding political confrontation with the regime, they resorted to moralising as a mode of critique specifically aimed at precipitating its downfall.65 Other scholars cast doubt on whether the dispositions which made the outbreak of the Revolution possible were wrought by radical philosophical ideas conceived at the highest level of intellectual sophistication, and suggested that, on the contrary, the chief responsibility lay with the ‘low life of literature’. The latter was a counter-​culture of caricature, satirical and pornographic writing, that led to the corrosion of the traditional respect for authority and took away all scruples to challenge it.66 But the notion that a crisis, rooted in some way in the Enlightenment, there was, and that it caused the end of the old regime in France and in Europe, has become firmly established in the historiography.67 According to some historians, crisis was not only injected into Europe’s social, cultural and political predicament by the Enlightenment (in whatever guise), so as to trigger the Revolution, but it also remained endemic to it during the subsequent phases of modernity. For an incisive study inspired by the approach of the history of political thought, one may look at Istvan Hont’s analysis of ‘the permanent crisis of divided mankind’.68 Hont contested 65 Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, pp. 76–​97, 138–​157; see Jordheim and Wigen, ‘Conceptual’, pp. 438–​439. 66 See Robert Darnton, ‘The High Enlightenment and the Low Life of Literature in Pre-​ Revolutionary France’, Past and Present, 51 (1971), pp. 81–​115; see, in greater detail, Robert Darnton, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). 67 The broadest canvas of these transformations, imbued with a sense of crisis, is perhaps painted in Franco Venturi, Settecento riformatore, 5 vols (Turin: Einaudi, 1969–​1990), whose third volume is titled The First Crisis of the Old Regime, and whose fourth is The Fall of the Old Regime. 68 Istvan Hont, ‘The Permanent Crisis of Divided Mankind: “Nation-​State” and “Nationalism” in Historical Perspective’, Political Studies, 42 Supplement (1994) and in John Dunn (ed.), The Contemporary Crisis of the Nation State (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 166–​231, reprinted in Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade. International Competition and the Nation-​State



the standard proposition that the theoretical foundations of nationalism lay in the (responses to the) French Revolution. Instead, he suggested –​on the basis of comparing pre-​revolutionary ideas of ‘national jealousy’ and later nationalism –​that the Revolution was an unsuccessful anti-​nationalist experiment that ultimately failed to determine the character of modern republican statehood, and raised alternatives and contradictions still carried within, and destabilising, the idea and reality of the nation state to our days. Whilst methodologically fresh and anchored in critical historical scholarship, Hont’s study resonates with a peculiar aspect of a persistent tune in twentieth-​century thought about modernity as a locus of perpetual and par excellence crisis for humanity. It intimates that it was the normative assumption of a condition of politics, which was not critical but normal, stable and justified, that produced an idea of crisis.69 The distinction between crisis as an empirical reality and crisis as a form of analysis, as a rhetoric, is crucial if we look at the concept’s history in modern political thought. Framing and making a historical moment, or indeed an entire epoch, into what it need not be, is the hallmark of crisis talk in the nineteenth but even more pronouncedly in the twentieth century. Crisis has no innate existence: it only exists insofar as it is being diagnosed. Speaking of crisis becomes a way of marking out an issue –​whether political, social, cultural or other –​as decisive.70 It is a rhetoric which, drawing on the word’s potential from the realm of medicine, makes an issue (and the action which is urged on it) ultimately a matter of life and death. As such, crisis describes an entire mode of politics that in itself needs to be examined as ideologically fraught: a crisis calls to action in an entirely different way than, say, a question –​another term which was gaining, as Holly Case has shown, increasing popularity in political language from the nineteenth century onwards.71 Whilst a question demands an answer, this answer might be sought in a somewhat drawn-​out process. A crisis, however, demands immediate action. It was this specific mode of politics, implied by the rhetoric of crisis, that has made it such a popular term in modern political and economic analysis.72 It is also

69 70 71 72

in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 447–​528. This approach seems to be in line with much contemporary historiography inspired by the social sciences, whereby ‘the time of crisis is also a crisis of time’ (Jordheim and Wigen, ‘Conceptual’, p. 435; see also ibid., p. 437). See Adrian O’Connor’s contribution to this volume. See Holly Case, The Age of Questions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019). On crisis as a rhetoric, notably as an illocutionary-​speech act, see Jordheim and Wigen, ‘Conceptual’, p. 438.


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what has given it its place as a central concept of modern political thought. As has already been delineated in this Introduction, for Arendt and others, crisis asks for the continual making and re-​making of political reality. It was this action-​centred style of politics, inspired by the use of crisis as a concept and a rhetoric, that rendered it particularly attractive to thinkers for whom action was at the forefront of political thought.73 Besides its decisionist bent, crisis attained a new historiographical, even historical-​philosophical, dimension in the course of the twentieth century. This is most evident –​again –​in Koselleck’s own rather prescriptive depiction of the concept’s history. Together with being the latter’s most influential historian, Koselleck is also the promoter of a very particular, twentieth-​century, view of crisis as a state of the political in the modern age.74 In Kritik und Krise, it is the increasing use of critical political discourse that produced the crisis of modernity –​a crisis which, in Koselleck’s view, reaches from the challenges against absolutism to his own present in post-​war West Germany. Crisis as a historical-​philosophical concept in this sense brought seemingly unrelated historical events and undertakings into contact with one another and enclosed them in a single analytical frame. Joining together the political struggles of the early Enlightenment with the abysses of Nazi rule might have been a popular interpretation of recent German history in 1954, but it is certainly not a self-​ evident or indeed a plausible one now. This history of the concept of crisis in political thought is, nonetheless, marked by just such a view of “history”. Crisis –​both as a decisionist rhetoric from the nineteenth century onwards and as a historical-​philosophical dimension which unfolds most emphatically in the post-​Second World War era –​shows itself as a politically highly suggestive term. It is this aspect of the term’s history that makes it a worthwhile subject for the historian of modern political thought. In affirming this, we consciously depart from theoretical approaches that –​especially in recent years and sometimes inspired by Koselleck’s work –​have intervened in the crisis-​debate.75 In particular, we do not adopt the same “ontological” analysis of crisis, whereby ‘the term “crisis” signifies a diagnostic of the present’ and unfolds (and presupposes) a philosophy of history.76 Nor do we pursue the type of speculative considerations according to which crisis is intertwined with ‘the predicament of 73 74 75 76

See Annalisa Furia’s contribution to this volume. On the origins of this view at Heidelberg University, see Kai Gräf’s contribution to this volume. See e.g. Amin Samman, ‘Special Issue Editorial: The Idea of Crisis’, Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 4 (2011), pp. 4–​9 and the contributions therein. See Roitman, Anti-​Crisis, pp. 4, 2, 8, 11. Roitman speaks of crisis as a ‘narrative’ that opens some discourses/​questions and forecloses others (ibid., e.g. pp. 5, 10).



signifying human history’ and, ultimately, with the ways in which ‘we produce “history”’.77 Often, conceptual and philosophical readings of crisis offer general taxonomies of crisis/​es78 or privilege epistemological lines of enquiry into its meaning and function.79 Both do this to the detriment of the historical dimension of crisis and renewal informing the thought and concrete experience of particular authors placed in particular contextual circumstances.

The volume is divided in four parts that are in dialogue with one another. The opening section sets the conceptual and philosophical record of ‘crisis’ straight by looking at ancient Greece, notably Plato’s elaboration of it, as well as engaging with the underlying theoretical thread of the volume: Reinhart Koselleck’s deeply influential conceptualisation of crisis. In so doing, this first part shows Koselleck’s continuing relevance for debates about crisis, whilst also exposing his theory’s limitations as an analytical tool. Moreover, ‘Conceptualising Crisis’ does something which is less often done in the historiography: it examines the context of Koselleck’s own work. The second session, ‘Critical Moments’, concentrates on the discipline of political thought and its relationship with lived experience and with contemporary political preoccupations, involving a stronger contextual element than in previous works on the same theme. As such, it revisits what traditionally has been understood about crisis by conceptual historians. By using a broader pool of source material than that usually considered in the canon, that is to say by combining political thought with political agency, the other contributions in this section illuminate various critical –​indeed, in some cases, pathological –​instances of how crises unfolded. At the same time, they demonstrate how these moments stimulated innovative thinking from ancient Greece and Renaissance Florence to early modern England, Naples and France and up to modern Germany. Part iii –​‘Escaping Crisis’ –​engages with “escape routes” out of crisis in realities as varied scale-​ wise as those of the household, the city and the sovereign state. As such, a panoply of different issues concerning the family unit as a building block of the polity, prudential governance and economic policies are raised in ways that bring to light both philosophical questions whose validity for the here and now is undeniable and historical exempla of how ‘crisis and renewal’ were/​are entangled with notions of progress and the stability of political order. Lastly, 77 78 79

Ibid., p. 13. For Roitman, ‘crisis is a point of view, or an observation, which itself is not viewed or observed’ (ibid., p. 13). See Freeden, ‘Crisis?’, pp. 27–​28. See Roitman, Anti-​Crisis, p. 13.


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the fourth portion of the volume, ‘Crisis and Thinkers’, tackles –​through a specific focus on thinkers whose work spans from the early modern period to the twentieth-​first century –​broad themes about the very nature of political reflection, and its capacity for responding to crisis and for finding new solutions to the essential dilemmas of thinking and acting in critical, catastrophic, times.

When dealing with so pivotal a concept as that of crisis, the risk of oversimplification is high. This is why in our historical and philosophical assessment of it we rely on contextualisation as a tool enabling us to consider which answers to critical moments were given, and which forms dynamics of renewal took, at different historical junctures. Rather than embarking upon broad analyses of, for instance, the tight interconnectedness of capitalism and crisis or the problematic relation between imperialism and nationalism and their critically disruptive repercussions on politics and society,80 our contributors consider the role of specific thinkers and ideas in addressing a plurality of political, intellectual, religious and moral crises. This, after all, stands as a defence of the history of political thought; namely, a process of resisting the unreflective character of so much current public discussion on past and present crises. At a time of increased uncertainty vis-​à-​vis the all-​encompassing power of the economic over the political,81 as well as of very alarming factual data concerning the environmental crisis endangering our planet,82 historians of political ideas need not only to theorise what is new (e.g. concepts, perspectives, contexts, categories) in the elaboration of crisis set forth by their objects of study, but they also have to be critical. To be critical, as these essays endeavour to do in their examination and interpretation of thinkers and thoughts, means to understand changes and continuities. It also entails to judge. It might thus 80 81 82

See e.g. Roger Berkowitz, ‘Introduction. The Burden of Our Times’, in idem and Tuan N. Toay (eds), The Intellectual Origins of the Global Financial Crisis (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), pp. 1–​13, pp. 3, 5. See e.g. Antonia Grunenberg, ‘Judging the Financial Crisis’, in Berkowitz and Toay (eds), The Intellectual Origins, pp. 39–​47. The literature on environmental crisis is huge. One particularly thriving area of scholarship is that concerned with the so-​called ‘Anthropocene’: see e.g. Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009), pp. 197–​222 and Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Seventh History and Theory Lecture. Anthropocene Time’, History and Theory, 57 (2018), pp. 5–​32. For a recent contribution with regard to the history of political thought and its engagement (or, lack of it) with environmental issues and crisis, see Katrina Forrester and Sophie Smith (eds), Nature, Action and the Future: Political Thought and the Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).



be that, whereas ‘political theory has not caught up with the need for critical reflection’,83 the history of political thought might have something more valid (because historically grounded) to offer. In an era of growing social tensions and disparities, rising populisms, ethical regression with regard to issues such as abortion, lgbtq rights and immigration, our small contribution to various, past and recent, readings of crisis might lay out some insightful ways with which to better tackle “the crisis of the political”. One major point of departure in this enterprise has to do with the analysis of democratic government and politics articulated by ancient Greek thinkers such as Thucydides and in the Aeschylean tragedy as well as by later theorists such as Machiavelli and, more generally, within the early Italian Renaissance tradition. In particular, it is by looking at the manners in which they conceived of the pathological aspect of democracy-​in-​crisis that their work can suggest remedies to the maladies infecting our own democratic body politic. Equally, to take just another interpretative reading from those expounded in the contributions to our volume, the profound sense of uncertainty surrounding “crisis” can be viewed not only through the prism of disease, but also through that of diagnosis. In this respect, the key focus is on the discursive narratives that, by being chosen to identify it, bring “crisis” centre stage at distinct historical times.84 These sample approaches underlie our two principal goals in speaking of crisis/​es throughout the Western tradition of political thought. First, situations of “real” crisis as selected by historians are meaningful for our purposes inasmuch as they inspired new types of thinking amongst contemporaries (preferably accompanied by a tangible awareness of crisis –​of course not necessarily the term but the concept in the Koselleckian sense). Second, through conceptualisations of crisis drawing on the medical sense (a climax in an illness) or by dint of considering the sense in which the concept was/​is employed in social inquiry (a condition of adversity pregnant with new forms –​engendering a paradigm shift), the volume also stimulates a pivotal question impacting on 83 84

Grunenberg, ‘Judging the Financial Crisis’, p. 46. The notion of ‘regime of historicity’ coined by François Hartog is ‘a heuristic tool’ principally devoted to understand what he calls ‘moments of crisis of time’, of which ‘presentism’ constitutes the name given to ‘today’s [critical] experience of time’ (François Hartog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017; i edn and transl. Saskia Brown 2015), pp. 16, 18). Hartog’s (Koselleckian) book is informed by multiple references to crisis (including ‘our present crisis’ following from the 2008 financial crash and a more substantial crisis of ‘modernity’ as a ‘particular temporal structure’) and, more specifically, by the attempt to pay ‘close attention to moments of crisis of time and how these are expressed’ (ibid., p. xvii; see also ibid., e.g. pp. xiv, xviii, 18–​19, 127, 188).


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all of us –​both as scholars and as citizens. This concerns the very task(s) of thinking about politics and of doing so in novel ways. In turn, our method mirrors what Anthony Giddens has called the ‘circularity of theory and society’,85 whereby the interplay of ideas and the here and now resonates with great(er) force than is often the case in this type of historical-​theoretical analyses of a phenomenon as complex as crisis. After all, our project is a mode of adhering to Koselleck’s idea that historical time is shaped by ‘the space of experience’ (crisis, in all its unexpected modalities) and by ‘the horizon of expectation’ (renewal, including the challenge of the practising historian to face up to both).86

Select Bibliography

Arendt, Hannah, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, with an introduction by Jerome Kohn (London: Penguin, 2006). Aston, Trevor (ed.), Crisis in Europe 1560–​1660. Essays from ‘Past and Present’ (London: Routledge, 1969; i edn 1965). Freeden, Michael, ‘Crisis? How Is That a Crisis? Reflections on an Overburdened Word’, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 12 (2017), pp. 12–​28. Hazard, Paul, La Crise de la conscience européenne (1680–​1715) (Paris: Boivin, 1935). Koselleck, Reinhart, Kritik und Krise. Ein Beitrag [in later editions: Eine Studie] zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Freiburg and Munich: Karl Aber, 1959). Koselleck, Reinhart, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). Parker, Geoffrey, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). 85 86

See Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-​Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). We are aware though that Giddens’ theory has been contested and criticised. Reinhart Koselleck, ‘“Space of Experience” and “Horizon of Expectation”: Two Historical Categories’, in idem, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 1985; transl. Keith Tribe 1979), p. 270.

pa rt 1 Conceptualising Crisis

chapter 1

What Does κρίσις Entail? The Problem of ‘Decision and/​or Judgement’ in Plato’s Republic and Laws Andrea Catanzaro According to A Greek-​English Lexicon by Liddell, Scott and Jones,1 the word κρίσις entails several different meanings in a wide semantic range of meanings that are, to a greater or lesser degree, dealing with an embryonic idea of choice, which is related –​as is well known –​to the corresponding verb κρίνω.2 Liddell, Scott and Jones’ work highlights a series of different but correlated senses, which are worth briefly summarising before entering the main topic. The latter move is necessary since, in what follows, they will be very important in framing Plato’s uses of this term both in Republic and in Laws. What does κρίσις mean in ancient Greek? According again to A Greek-​English Lexicon, it means ‘separating, distinguishing […] decision, judgement […] power of judgement […] choice, election […] judgement of a court […] trial, suit […] result of a trial, condemnation […] dispute […] event, issue’.3 Furthermore, κρίσις, in accordance with the medical tradition, is pinpointed again in Liddell, Scott and Jones’ work as the ‘turning point of a disease, sudden change for better or 1 Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940; revised supplement 1996). 2 On the original meaning of the term “crisis” see: G. Masur, ‘Crisis in History’, in Philip P. Wiener (ed.), Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968), pp. 589–​590; Reinhart Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History. Timing History, Spacing Concepts (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 237; James Dodd, Crisis and Reflection. An Essay on Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences (New York, Boston, Dordrecht, London and Moscow: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), pp. 44–​45; Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357-​400, pp. 358–​361 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). See also Henrik Vigh, ‘Crisis and Chronicity: Anthropological Perspectives on Continuous Conflict and Decline’, Ethnos 73:1 (2008), pp. 8–​9; Randolph Starn, ‘Historians and “Crisis”’, Past and Present 52:1 (1971), pp. 3–​ 5; Randolph Starn, ‘Crisis’, in Maryanne Cline Horowitz (ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005), pp. 500–​501; Amin Samman, ‘Crisis Theory and the Historical Imagination’, Review of International Political Economy, 22:5 (2015), pp. 968–​970; Tangjia Wang, ‘A Philosophical Analysis of the Concept of Crisis’, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 9:2 (2014), pp. 256–​258. 3 Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 997; see Koselleck and Richter, ‘Crisis’, pp. 358–​359.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_003

26 Catanzaro worse’.4 If we want to take into account also the verb κρίνω, we find very similar meanings, namely ‘separate, put asunder, distinguish […] pick out, choose […] decide disputes […] adjudge […] form a judgement of a thing’.5 From these definitions, what immediately comes out is the tight connection of both these terms to the decisional moment, that is something which can be linked to politics:6 if choice and the action of choosing are hallmarks –​or, even, cornerstones –​of living together as a society, the κρίσις and the action of κρίνειν must be pawns of the same game. Koselleck and Richter effectively underline this crucial point by writing: It was in the sense of “judgment”, “trial”, “legal decision”, and ultimately “court” that crisis achieved a high constitutional status, through which the individual citizen and the community were bound together. The “for and against” was therefore present in the original meaning of the word and this in a manner that already conceptually anticipated the appropriate judgment. […] From this specific legal meaning, the term begins to acquire political significance. It is extended to electoral decision, government resolutions, decision of war and peace, death sentence and exile, the acceptance of official reports, and, above all, to government decisions as such. Consequently, κρίσις […] is most necessary for the community, representing what is at once just and salutary […]. For the Greeks, therefore, “crisis” was a central concept by which justice and the political order […] could be harmonized through appropriate legal decisions.7 With these considerations in mind and taking into account the aforementioned meanings, we must distinguish between two different nuances of the idea of κρίσις: one related to the sense of choice and one to the action of choosing in itself. Both sound very significant from the perspective of politics in general and political thought in particular, since they concern crucial elements able to give life to a social body. The first nuance deals with the judicial dimension, that is, as previously sketched out, something deeply related to the need of every human group to be reassured about good and evil. With a view to allowing a society to exist, 4 Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 997. See also the Introduction to this volume as well as other essays in it, such as those by Erica Benner and Cesare Cuttica. 5 Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 996. 6 See also Koselleck and Richter., ‘Crisis’, p. 358: ‘In classical Greek, the term was central to politics’; see also ibid. p. 359. 7 Ibid., p. 359.

What Does κρίσις Entail?


there must be a person and/​or an institution able to κρίνειν (‘separate […] distinguish […] choose’)8 what is or is not in compliance with the rules of the group itself.9 This is a first concept that can be referred to the wide semantic area of the meanings of the word κρίσις. The second notion might be less immediately clear, but is no less crucial from the perspective of politics, since it seems to weave both the idea of choosing and the foregoing one of ‘sudden change for better or worse’.10 In its essence of action aimed at achieving a decision target, the political choice –​like a drug or a consequence of a medical diagnosis –​is enacted in order to produce an effect. The latter might be positive or negative depending on the intentions, the expertise and the skills of the statesman or the physician who κρίνειν what they think it is right or wrong to do. It does not mean that the targeted purpose will be surely achieved, but it entails that a deliberate decision aimed at obtaining that specific goal has been –​or is going to be –​taken. As we will see below with specific regard to Plato’s political thought, this dimension is particularly and archetypically clear in book viii of the Republic, where Socrates discusses both the decline and the collapse of the πóλις –​a κρίσις as for the current meaning of the word –​triggered by a wrong choice by its rulers. From this perspective, both these nuances acquire an important political value since they potentially link the individual sphere to the collective one through the medium of accountability: if the decision might have some good or bad outcomes, those who hold the power of implementing it also have the duty of foreseeing the consequences of their choices. Therefore, the κρίσις as a whole can be conceived as a situation, a decisional moment which might also entail –​from the perspective of its meaning of action of choosing –​an intention of changing; this, however, without any guarantee that the expected result will be achieved. To sum up, firstly from a semantic and then from a political point of view, in ancient Greek κρίσις consists in a choice, a choice that might pave the way to practical consequences and which, therefore, requires a judgement, a discernment before being taken. These two elements can be more or less detached; at times they can overlap; on some occasions they seem to be distinct and

8 9


See footnote n. 5. See Koselleck and Richter, ‘Crisis’, p. 358: ‘For the Greeks the term “crisis” had relatively clearly demarcated meanings in the spheres of law, medicine, theology. The concept imposed choices between stark alternatives–​right or wrong, salvation or damnation, life or death’. See also Koselleck, Practice, p. 237. See footnote n. 4; see also Koselleck and Richter, ‘Crisis’, p. 360; Koselleck, Practice, p. 237; Starn, ‘Historians and “Crisis”’, p. 4.

28 Catanzaro discernible; elsewhere their differences are very subtle. This being said, what appears of much importance from a political thought perspective, is that κρίσις, because of its own nature, involves human beings in their twofold dimension of both individuals and members of a community. Semantic issues aside, my focus will be on the idea of κρίσις as political choice in Plato’s Republic and Laws. This analysis will both clarify some important aspects regarding Plato’s view of crisis and stress some of its features that help to trace the developments of this concept in the tradition of Western political thought. This seems to be particularly significant for those philosophies that connect the actions of men in power to the lives of the ruled people, by stressing the role of this relation, and of care, as the essence of political authority. Archetypical in this regard is what we read in book i of the Republic where Socrates, while discussing with Thrasymachus, compares the statesman to a shepherd by highlighting the role of care in the management of public powers.11 On the one hand, he has the authority to choose what is good or wrong for the community; on the other hand, he has always to pay attention to the entire community. For the previously sketched-​out reasons, I will take into account both these works by Plato, with a view to delineating what he conceives as κρίσις, focusing specifically on the crucial moment of political decision. No further in-​depth analysis of κρίσις linked to other issues in his thought (e.g. the well-​known and aforementioned problem of the κρίσις of the πóλις) will be carried out, since the main focus of this chapter is on its being related to those pivotal situations where individuals, statesmen, and communities make their choices when it comes to the political sphere. Before developing my argument in depth, I deem it necessary to stress that all the previously highlighted meanings of the word κρίσις exist in Greek literature before, at the time of Plato and afterwards too. Just to list a few names, we easily find those significances in, among others, Herodotus, Thucydides, Euripides as well as in Aristotle’s works.12 Here I have chosen to focus on Plato’s political works not so much for the originality of the use of the word κρίσις in 11 12

See Plato, Republic, i, 345b-​345e; on this, see Paulo Butti de Lima, Un’archeologia della politica. Letture della Repubblica di Platone (Milan and Udine: Mimesis Edizioni, 2012), pp. 32–​33. See, for example, Herodotus, Histories, iii (34 and 35), vi (131), vii (26); Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, i (34, 77,131), iii (53), vi (60, 61); Euripides, Iphigenias in Aulis, 580 and 1380; Aristotle, Politics, 1263b, 1268a, 1268b, 1270b, 1271a, 1275a, 1280a, 1283b, 1286a, 1289b, 1295a, 1300b, 1305b, 1306a, 1317b, 1321b, 1326a, 1328b. In order to find all these occurrences of the noun κρίσις, I referred to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae online database (http://​​, accessed on 17 November 2020).

What Does κρίσις Entail?


itself, but to present a sample –​undoubtedly pivotal from the perspective of the history of political thought –​of how Greek culture was used to conceiving this concept in relation to the political sphere. When we analyse Plato’s Republic and Laws,13 we find that the above-​stated wide range of meanings is clearly present, though with different nuances.14 On the whole, the word κρίσις occurs about forty times with a predominance in the Laws.15 By taking into account the uses of the term κρίσις in such works, we can recognise a prevalent meaning of choice –​or choosing –​involving both the judicial and the discernment domains, that is, something quite in line with what has been previously stressed. However, some usages are likely to be more worth highlighting than others because of their meaningful political implications. In order to classify all the occurrences according to a criterion that can allow us to analyse them both collectively and in detail from the perspective of political thought, we can divide them in two broad groups corresponding to the two main semantic areas previously mentioned. As a result, we have a larger group of references dealing with the judicial moment –​both public and private –​ and a smaller one, though no less important, closer to the idea of discernment. The former gives the idea of having a more practical connotation than the latter: accordingly, if, on the one hand, we have a sort of choosing which impacts on the institutional field, on the other hand, there is a more theoretical characterisation of the same kind of action. In spite of that, both of them are essential 13



With regard to the strictly political works of Plato, the word κρίσις also occurs twice in Statesman (260a; 283e). However, these occurrences seem to be scarcely significant from a political thought perspective. This is why I chose not to discuss them in this chapter (see footnote n. 14). On Plato’s political thought as a whole, see: Ernest Barker, Greek Political Theory. Plato and His Predecessors (London: Methuesn & Co Ltd, 1918, first edition); Hugh H. Benson, A Companion to Plato (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006); George Klosko, The Development of Plato’s Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Malcolm Schofield, Plato: Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Richard Kraut, The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); G. R. F. Ferrari, The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Ryan K. Balot, A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2009), pp. 323–​381; Stephen Salkever, The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 156–​208; Mark Blitz, Plato’s Political Philosophy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010); William H. F. Altman, Plato the Teacher. The Crisis of the Republic (Lanham, Boulde, New York and Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2012); Butti de Lima, Archeologia. In order to find these occurrences, I used the database of the Perseus Digital Library (http://​​hopper/​collection?collection=Perseus:collection:Greco-​ Roman, accessed on 6 August 2018).

30 Catanzaro to the life of any community which, as previously indicated, needs to establish justice for its existence and survival. Judging and deciding, judgment and decision: these are the extremes (in fact, not so far from each other if the aim is living together) between which swings the pendulum of the meanings of the noun κρίσις in the two political works by Plato. This latter element seems to be significant from the perspective of the history of political thought, since it allows us to shed light on a particular aspect of the idea of κρίσις, which represents an important element of Plato’s thought. Therefore, in what follows I will try to point out some Platonic uses of this word within these two pivotal semantic areas, in order to make some elements that are relevant to political thought come to light. Before starting the analysis, a preliminary remark needs to be pointed out: while those areas can appear theoretically and semantically clear-​cut, sometimes when the term κρίσις is used within these texts, it is not possible to exactly recognise which of the two is at stake. Accordingly, it has to be continually taken into account that there might be some ambiguities, ambivalences and dubious or questionable classifications, since on some occasions the boundaries between these two semantic areas cannot be exactly identified. Oddly enough, the first group of meanings –​that concerning the judicial dimension –​is the bigger one, but also the less informative: the numerous occurrences do not give us great connotations of reading with regard to κρίσις linked to this semantic area. The second one seems to be richer of consequences. Let’s briefly start taking into consideration some cases coming from the former. In the same passage of book vi of the Laws, we find two slightly different uses of the noun κρίσις, both obviously related to the same narrow semantic field dealing with trials, though partially also to the discernment domain. We read in paragraphs 766d, 766e and 767a: Πᾶσα δὲ δήπου πόλις ἄπολις ἂν γίγνοιτο ἐν ᾗ δικαστήρια μὴ καθεστῶτα εἴη κατὰ τρόπον· ἄφωνος δ᾽ αὖ δικαστὴς ἡμῖν καὶ μὴ πλείω τῶν ἀντιδίκων ἐν ταῖς ἀνακρίσεσι φθεγγόμενος, καθάπερ ἐν ταῖς διαίταις, οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἱκανὸς γένοιτο περὶ τὴν τῶν δικαίων κρίσιν· ὧν ἕνεκα οὔτε πολλοὺς ὄντας ῥᾴδιον εὖ δικάζειν οὔτε ὀλίγους φαύλους.

A State, indeed, would be no State if it had no law-​courts properly established; but a judge who was dumb and who said as little as litigants at a preliminary inquiry, as do arbitrators, would never prove efficient in deciding questions [κρίσις] of justice; consequently it is not easy for a large or for a small

What Does κρίσις Entail?

σαφὲς δὲ ἀεὶ τὸ ἀμφισβητούμενον χρεὼν γίγνεσθαι παρ᾽ ἑκατέρων, ὁ δὲ χρόνος ἅμα καὶ τὸ βραδὺ τό τε πολλάκις ἀνακρίνειν πρὸς τὸ φανερὰν γίγνεσθαι τὴν ἀμφισβήτησιν ξύμφορον· ὧν ἕνεκα πρῶτον μὲν εἰς γείτονας ἰέναι χρὴ τοὺς ἐπικαλοῦντας ἀλλήλοις καὶ τοὺς φίλους τε καὶ ξυνειδότας ὅτι μάλιστα τὰς ἀμφισβητουμένας πράξεις· ἐὰν δ᾽ ἄρα μὴ ἐν τούτοις τις ἱκανὴν κρίσιν λαμβάνῃ, πρὸς ἄλλο δικαστήριον ἴτω· τὸ δὲ τρίτον, ἂν τὰ δύο δικαστήρια μὴ δύνηται διαλλάξαι, τέλος ἐπιθέτω τῇ δίκῃ.

31 body of men to judge well, if they are of poor ability. The matter in dispute of either side must always be made clear, and for elucidating the point at issue, lapse of time, deliberation and frequent questioning are of advantage. Therefore those who challenge each other must go first to the neighbours and friends who know most about the actions in dispute; and if these two courts are unable to settle the matter [κρίσις], the third court shall put an end to the case.16

From an institutional perspective, according to these words, state and κρίσις turn out to be deeply interwoven to each other. In the passage, we can identify two different uses of the term κρίσις and both are necessary for a state to be really a state. If the latter clearly emphasises the practical aspect of choosing by the judge, that is, of delivering a verdict, the former sharply stresses the real essence of judicial activity, an essence that reflects the idea of discernment on justice rather than on its mere application. A real judge must be able to take a κρίσις among what is δίκαιος –​literally what is ‘lawful, just’17 –​and what is not, that is, exactly that operation which, as shown above, allows a society to exist. Accordingly, κρίσις sounds firstly to be the action of choosing about justice as a whole, that is, having clearly in mind what corresponds to good and evil, and then –​though only at a later stage –​the action of choosing with regard to the application of that idea of justice. It amounts to a twofold decisional level, but it does not seem to be by chance that Plato adopts here the same terminology: both these situations lead to political consequences. We can perhaps distinguish between a higher and a lower level, where the former is overriding since it is immediately connected with the idea of justice, whereas the latter

16 Plato, Laws, vi, 766d-​e, 767a, in Robert G. Bury transl., The Loeb Classical Library, IX and X. Plato. Laws, vol. 1 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd., 1961), pp. 440–​443; henceforth both passages and translations coming from Plato’s Laws will be quoted in accordance with this edition. Throughout my chapter, words in square brackets are appended by me. 17 Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 429.

32 Catanzaro deals with its transposition on the practical plan. Be that as it may, their nature of κρίσις as a choice with consequences appears undisputable. Although in a different context and out of the strict judicial boundaries, we find in book ii of the Laws a passage that, because of its showing again a connection between κρίσις and an overarching idea of justice –​that is a well-​ known crucial element of Plato’s political thought –​is worth quoting. While speaking to Clinias, the Athenian says at a certain point: ΑΘ. […] σκοτοδινίαν δὲ τὸ πόῤῥωθεν ὁρώμενον πᾶσίν τε ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν καὶ δὴ καὶ τοῖς παισὶ παρέχει· νομοθέτης δ᾽ἡμῖν δόξαν εἰς τοὐναντίον τούτου καταστήσει, τὸ σκότος ἀφελών, καὶ πείσει ἁμῶς γέ πως ἔθεσι καὶ ἐπαίνοις καὶ λόγοις ὡς ἐσκιαγραφημένα τὰ δίκαιά ἐστι καὶ ἄδικα, τὰ μὲν ἄδικα τῷ τοῦ δικαίου ἐναντίῳ φαινόμενα, ἐκ μὲν ἀδίκου καὶ κακοῦ ἑαυτοῦ θεωρούμενα ἡδέα, τὰ δὲ δίκαια ἀηδέστατα, ἐκ δὲ δικαίου πάντα τἀναντία πάντη πρὸς ἀμφότερα.

Ath. […] Now distance has the effect of befogging the vision of nearly everybody, and of children especially; but our lawgiver will reverse the appearance by removing the fog, and by one means or another–​habituation, commendation, or argument–​will persuade people that their notions of justice and injustice are illusory pictures, unjust objects appearing pleasant and just objects most unpleasant to him who is opposed to justice, through being viewed from his own unjust and evil standpoint, but when seen from the standpoint of justice, both of them appear in all ways entirely the opposite. Κλ. Φαίνεται. Clin. So it appears. ΑΘ. Τὴν δ᾽ ἀλήθειαν τῆς κρίσεως ποτέραν Ath. In point of truth, which of κυριωτέραν εἶναι φῶμεν; πότερα τὴν τῆς the two judgments [κρίσις] shall χείρονος ψυχῆς ἢ τὴν τῆς βελτίονος; we say is the more authoritative, –​ that of the worse soul or that of the better? Κλ. Ἀναγκαῖόν που τὴν τῆς ἀμείνονος. Clin. That of the better undoubtedly.18 Once again, κρίσις plays a key-​role. However, what sounds to be more significant is the knowledge that supervises and drives the decision. All the consequences 18 Plato, Laws, ii, 663b-​c, 122–​125 (vol. 1).


What Does κρίσις Entail?

come from it: the deeper the knowledge, the fairer –​and more effective –​its decisions will be. The central role of the verdicts as the kinds of κρίσις able to ensure a community to survive and last is anew stressed in book ix of the Laws, where we read: Τάδε δὴ μετὰ ταῦτα ὀρθότατ᾽ ἂν εἰπεῖν εἴη, ὡς ἐν πόλει ἐν ᾗ δικαστήρια φαῦλα καὶ ἄφωνα, κλέπτοντα τὰς αὑτῶν δόξας κρύβδην τὰς κρίσεις διαδικάζει, καὶ ὃ τούτου δεινότερον, ὅταν μηδὲ σιγῶντα ἀλλὰ θορύβου μεστὰ, καθάπερ θέατρα, ἐπαινοῦντά τε βοῇ καὶ ψέγοντα τῶν ῥητόρων ἑκάτερον ἐν μέρει κρίνῃ, χαλεπὸν τότε πάθος ὅλῃ τῇ πόλει γίγνεσθαι φιλεῖ.

It will be best to make the following statement,–​that in a State where the courts are poor and dumb and decide their cases privily, secreting their opinions [κρίσις], or (and this is a still more dangerous practice) when they make their decision not silently but filled with tumult, like theatres, roaring out praise or blame of each speaker in turn,–​ then the whole State, as a rule, is faced with a difficult situation.19

Although here only considered in its operative and practical dimension, the passage highlights the need of κρίσις and, particularly, of the public κρίσις by the courts (δικαστήριον)20 as an essential condition allowing a group to exist. The Athenian who is speaking has no doubts at all: if courts do not operate in such a way –​namely, through an evident κρίσις –​the State would be ‘faced with a difficult situation’.21 In Plato’s view, this kind of κρίσις deals a lot with the existence of the state, since when the state is directly involved, people are as well. In his organic conception of the πóλις, all the individuals and their relevant behaviours are interwoven; although roles and function must remain detached, the state is an interconnected community. This is the sense of another significant passage where the term κρίσις plays again a key role. While discussing the judgement regarding the crime against the state, Plato writes:

19 Ibid., ix, 876a-​876b, 274–​275 (vol. 2). 20 See Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 429. 21 Plato, Laws, ix, 876a-​876b, 275 (vol. 2).

34 Catanzaro περὶ δὲ τῶν δημοσίων ἐγκλημάτων ἀναγκαῖον πρῶτον μὲν τῷ πλήθει μεταδιδόναι τῆς κρίσεως· οἱ γὰρ ἀδικούμενοι πάντες εἰσίν, ὁπόταν τις τὴν πόλιν ἀδικῇ, καὶ χαλεπῶς ἂν ἐν δίκῃ φέροιεν ἄμοιροι γιγνόμενοι τῶν τοιούτων διακρίσεων.

In the matter of offences against the State it is necessary, first of all, that a share in the trial [κρίσις] should be given to the populace, for when a wrong is done to the State, it is the whole of the people that are wronged, and they would justly be vexed if they had no share in such trials [διάκρισις].22

Even on this occasion both the uses of the noun κρίσις –​the second one in the form διάκρισις23 –​are related to the decision dealing with trials and the judicial dimension. This close link between the state and κρίσις entailed as a public moment essential for the existence of the state itself –​a pivotal link from a political thought perspective –​is again clearly visible in book ix of the Laws, where we read: πᾶς δὲ ἀνὴρ, οὗ καὶ σμικρὸν ὄφελος ἐνδεικνύτω ταῖς ἀρχαῖς εἰς κρίσιν ἄγων τὸν ἐπιβουλεύοντα βιαίου πολιτείας μεταστάσεως ἅμα καὶ παρανόμου. δικασταὶ δὲ ἔστωσαν τούτοις οἵπερ τοῖς ἱεροσύλοις, καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν κρίσιν ὡσαύτως αὐτοῖς γίγνεσθαι καθάπερ ἐκείνοις, τὴν ψῆφον δὲ θάνατον φέρειν τὴν πλήθει νικῶσαν.

Every man who is of the least worth shall inform the magistrates by prosecuting [κρίσις] the plotter on a charge of violent and illegal revolution: they shall have the same judges as the temple-​robbers had, and the whole trial [κρίσις] shall be conducted just as it was in their case, and the death penalty shall be imposed by a majority of votes.24

This emblematic passage represents the highest extreme of the problem, since it deals with the harshest issue for a political community: the issue of its surviving from a constitutional perspective or, in other words, the issue of actually 22 Ibid., vi, 767e-​768a-​b, 446–​447 (vol. 1). 23 See Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 399. 24 Plato, Laws, ix, 856c, 208–​209 (vol. 2).


What Does κρίσις Entail?

being a community. Seditious and subversive actions are obviously very dangerous for the existence of the state and this is why the text specifies that the subsequent κρίσις –​term which is here clearly used in its acceptation of trial –​ can lead to inflict the death penalty on the guilty. Although it has been shown here only through few examples, in Plato’s aforementioned political works the meaning related to the judicial moment –​ both in its wider and stricter sense –​of the term κρίσις is undoubtedly present.25 It sometimes trespasses into the discernment sphere, still remaining inclined to maintain its main judicial characterisation. By contrast, its second main meaning is more evident in other passages which –​and it seems to be not by chance –​are more linked to the political and practical consequences of κρίσις and, because of this, maybe they are also more interesting from a political thought angle. While speaking about the method for choosing the magistrate in charge of choirs, Plato identifies the character of discernment entailed in the word κρίσις. His proposal consists in a two-​step method where the choice depends on both a decision and drawing lots. According to Plato: καὶ τὴν προβολὴν δὴ τὸν αἱρούμενον ἐκ τῶν ἐμπείρων ποιητέον, ἔν τε τῇ δοκιμασίᾳ κατηγόρημα ἓν τοῦτ᾽ ἔστω καὶ ἀπηγόρημα, τῶν μὲν ὡς ἄπειρος ὁ λαχών, τῶν δ᾽ ὡς ἔμπειρος· ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἷς ἐκ προχειροτονηθέντων δέκα λάχῃ δοκιμασθείς τὸν ἐνιαυτὸν τῶν χορῶν ἀρχέτω κατὰ νόμον. κατὰ ταὐτὰ δὲ τούτοις καὶ ταύτῃ ὁ λαχὼν τὸν ἐνιαυτὸν ἐκεῖνον τῶν ἀφικομένων εἰς κρίσιν μονῳδιῶν τε καὶ συναυλιῶν ἀρχέτω.

Every elector must make his nomination from the list of those who are experts: in the scrutiny, affirmation and negation shall be confined to one point only –​on the one side, that the candidate is expert, on the other side, that he is not expert; and whichever of the ten who come first on votes is elected after the scrutiny shall be the officer for the year in charge of the choirs according to law. In the same way as these they shall appoint the officer elected to preside for the year over those who enter for competitions [κρίσις] in solos and joint performances on the flute.26

25 On this dimension in Plato’s Republic, see, for example, book viii (565c). 26 Plato, Laws, vi, 765a-​b-​c, 436–​439 (vol. 1).

36 Catanzaro What Plato pinpoints as a κρίσις is the decision or, better, the action of distinguishing among people those who are expert (ἔμπειρος)27 and those who are not (ἅπειρος)28. This kind of choice sounds very different from verdicts in trials: it does not imply a mere technical application of the law. It demands a deep discernment, it forces to distinguish, and it widens the responsibilities of those who must take a decision. Therefore, they have not only the applicative and, at least to some extent, the passive role of the judges in court. They have to take their κρίσις actively and they must become part of their choice. Although drawing lots completes the procedure, this first step is crucial. It is the real essence of the decisional process; the second one is merely technical. The real κρίσις comes before the appointment of the magistrates. This situation seems to be similar to the quoted example of book vi of the Laws, where, though apropos of the trial, this detachment between delivering a verdict and the previous and essential phase of discernment was clear. This reading enables us to better understand also the second meaning connected to the term κρίσις, namely that of ‘change for better or worse’,29 which acquires a great value when framed into a political perspective. The persons choosing a magistrate must know that the future of their community will depend on their decision and, accordingly, their κρίσις will not be bereft of consequences in a positive or negative sense. That is why the phase of discernment in choosing the magistrates is more crucial than the technical one where they are drawn and appointed. This enables us to briefly come back to what was previously sketched out with regard to book viii of the Republic, since it is fully inside our topic, though outside the lexical analysis concerning the meanings of the noun κρίσις. Socrates mentions a decisional mistake made by the rulers as the starting point of the decline of the state.30 This will depend on a lack of knowledge, which affects the choices concerning marriages and subsequent births. It will be enough to trigger the degenerative process. Once again, what comes before the decision plays the key role. If that step is duly taken, the following κρίσις will yield a good outcome; otherwise, the evolution of the disease –​to return to the medical meaning of this word –​will get worse till the death of the state. Given the importance Plato assigned to this element of his political theory, we can identify it as a sort of archetype of what we have seen so far. Knowledge should always have primacy in the decisional moment, both in its dimension 27 28 29 30

See Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 544. See ibid., p. 184. See footnote n. 4. See Plato, Republic, viii, 546a-​547a.

What Does κρίσις Entail?


of discernment and in the more practical one, since what is crucial for the life of the state are its consequences. This paves the way for the pivotal issue of the education of the rulers and for consequent questions concerning (obviously) Plato, but also political thought in general. How can a state take care of the education of both present and future citizens and politicians? How can a man achieve such a knowledge that might assure him the ability to choose even in case of new or unexpected challenges? How is it possible to equip rulers with the ability to support them in carrying the burden of their enormous responsibilities? What does the relation between expertise and political power need to look like? Obviously, this is not the place to develop these points, but they seem worth noting here since they call into question the theme of the relation between knowledge and political power. Coming back to our topic, we find in Laws viii (829d), xii (946b-​c), xii (947e-​948a) and xii (961b) analogous uses of the term κρίσις pinpointing the action by which a community chooses –​by election or other means –​who must be in charge, admitted to some authorities, or supervise a peculiar domain or moment of the communitarian life. The first passage is particularly emblematic and consequently worth showing. While speaking about the need for a community to be trained to fight also in periods of peace, Plato suggests that the state has to schedule monthly military drills, in order to have its people always ready to be deployed on the battlefield. However, this is not enough: with a view to making these exercises really effective, they must be followed by a moment where speeches aimed at praising or stigmatising the behaviours of the people involved are publicly delivered. The choice of the poets appointed to compose and recite them is explained by the philosopher in detail. He writes: ποιητὴς δὲ ἔστω τῶν τοιούτων μὴ ἅπας, ἀλλὰ γεγονὼς πρῶτον μὲν μὴ ἔλαττον πεντήκοντα ἐτῶν, μηδ᾽ αὖ τῶν ὁπόσοι ποίησιν μὲν καὶ Mοῦσαν ἱκανῶς κεκτημένοι ἐν αὑτοῖς εἰσι, καλὸν δὲ ἔργον καὶ ἐπιφανὲς μηδὲν δράσαντες πώποτε· ὅσοι δὲ ἀγαθοί τε αὐτοὶ καὶ τίμιοι ἐν τῇ πόλει, ἔργων ὄντες δημιουργοὶ καλῶν, τὰ τῶν τοιούτων ᾀδέσθω ποιήματα, ἐὰν καὶ μὴ μουσικὰ πεφύκῃ. κρίσις δὲ αὐτῶν ἔστω παρά τε τῷ

Such speeches not everyone shall compose; for, first, no one who is under fifty years old shall compose one, and further, no one shall do so who, though he may be fully proficient in poetry and music, has not yet performed any noble and notable deed. But, even they be not musical, those poems shall be sung which are composed by men who are personally good and honoured in the State as

38 Catanzaro παιδευτῇ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις νομοφύλαξι, τοῦτο ἀποδιδόντων αὐτοῖς γέρας, παῤῥησίαν ἐν Mούσαις εἶναι μόνοις, τοῖς δὲ ἄλλοις μηδεμίαν ἐξουσίαν γίγνεσθαι.

performers of noble deeds. The adjudication of these shall lie with the Educator and the rest of the Law-​wardens, who shall grant them the sole privilege of free speech in song; whereas to the others no permission shall be given.31

In general, in all the other aforementioned cases from the Laws, we can see that the discernment –​namely the careful evaluation by the people –​represents the key element. A different nuance of this meaning of discernment comes out again in another passage of the Laws, where the discussion falls on a pillar of politics: equality. In book vi, while speaking to Clinias about this issue, the Athenian says: δυοῖν γὰρ ἰσοτήτοιν οὔσαιν, ὁμωνύμοιν μέν, ἔργῳ δὲ εἰς πολλὰ σχεδὸν ἐναντίαιν, τὴν μὲν ἑτέραν εἰς τὰς τιμὰς πᾶσα πόλις ἱκανὴ παραγαγεῖν καὶ πᾶς νομοθέτης, τὴν μέτρῳ ἴσην καὶ σταθμῷ καὶ ἀριθμῷ, κλήρῳ ἀπευθύνων εἰς τὰς διανομὰς αὐτήν· τὴν δὲ ἀληθεστάτην καὶ ἀρίστην ἰσότητα οὐκέτι ῥᾴδιον παντὶ ἰδεῖν. Διὸς γὰρ δὴ κρίσις ἐστί, καὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἀεὶ σμικρὰ μὲν ἐπαρκεῖ, πᾶν δὲ ὅσον ἂν ἐπαρκέσῃ πόλεσιν ἢ καὶ ἰδιώταις, πάντ᾽ ἀγαθὰ ἀπεργάζεται· τῷ μὲν γὰρ μείζονι πλείω, τῷ δ᾽ ἐλάττονι σμικρότερα νέμει, μέτρια διδοῦσα πρὸς τὴν

31 Plato, Laws, viii, 829c-​d, 128–​129 (vol. 2).

For there are two kinds of equality which, though identical in name, are often almost opposites in their practical results. The one of these any State or lawgiver is competent to apply in the assignments of honours, –​namely, the equality determined by measure, weight and number, –​by simply employing the lot to give even results in the distributions; but the truest and best form of equality is not an easy thing for everyone to discern. It is the judgment [κρίσις] of Zeus, and men it never assists save in small measure, but in so far as it does assist either States or individuals, it produces all things good; for it dispenses


What Does κρίσις Entail?

αὐτῶν φύσιν ἑκατέρῳ, καὶ δὴ καὶ τιμὰς μείζοσι μὲν πρὸς ἀρετὴν ἀεὶ μείζους, ἣττους δὲ τοὐναντίον ἔχουσιν ἀρετῆς τε καὶ παιδείας τὸ πρέπον ἑκατέροις ἀπονέμει κατὰ λόγον.

more to the greater and less to the smaller, giving due measure to each according to nature; and with regard to honours also, by granting the greater to those that are greater in goodness, and the less to those of the opposite character in respect of goodness and education, it assigns in proportion what is fitting to each.32

In this passage, equality is presented as twofold. However, although according to the Athenian its first dimension is easily recognisable by any lawgiver, no human being seems to be able to see the second. He clearly argues that the action of discerning this second idea of equality exclusively pertains to the father of the Olympian gods, namely, that this kind of κρίσις is beyond men’s comprehension. With regard to the acceptation of discernment, three occurrences coming from the Republic are extremely significant, since they are closely related to a pivotal topic in the history of political thought: the topic of the forms of government. While speaking to Glaucon, Socrates discusses the ἦθος –​the ‘custom, usage […] disposition, character […] nature, kind’33 –​of man related to the ἦθος of timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. He says: Ἆρ᾽ οὖν, ὥσπερ ἠρξάμεθα ἐν ταῖς πολιτείαις πρότερον σκοπεῖν τὰ ἤθη ἢ ἐν τοῖς ἰδιώταις, ὡς ἐναργέστερον ὄν, καὶ νῦν οὕτω πρῶτον μὲν τὴν φιλότιμον σκεπτέον πολιτείαν· ὄνομα γὰρ οὐκ ἔχω λεγόμενον ἄλλο· ἢ τιμοκρατίαν ἢ τιμαρχίαν αὐτὴν κλητέον· πρὸς δὲ ταύτην τὸν τοιοῦτον ἄνδρα σκεψόμεθα, ἔπειτα ὀλιγαρχίαν καὶ ἄνδρα ὀλιγαρχικόν, αὖθις δὲ εἰς δημοκρατίαν

32 33

‘Shall we, then, as we began by examining moral qualities in states before individuals, as being more manifest there, so now consider first the constitution based on the love of honour? I do not know of any special name for it in use. We must call it either timocracy or timarchy. And then in connexion with this we will consider the man of that type, and thereafter oligarchy and the oligarch, and again,

Ibid., vi, 757b-​c, 412–​413 (vol. 1). See Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-​English Lexicon, p. 766.

40 Catanzaro ἀποβλέψαντες θεασόμεθα ἄνδρα δημοκρατικόν, τὸ δὲ τέταρτον εἰς τυραννουμένην πόλιν ἐλθόντες καὶ ἰδόντες, πάλιν εἰς τυραννικὴν ψυχὴν βλέποντες, πειρασόμεθα περὶ ὧν προυθέμεθα ἱκανοὶ κριταὶ γενέσθαι; Κατὰ λόγον γέ τοι ἄν, ἔφη, οὕτω γίγνοιτο ἥ τε θέα καὶ ἡ κρίσις.

fixing our eyes on democracy, we will contemplate the democratic man; and fourthly, after coming to the city ruled by a tyrant and observing it, we will in turn take a look into the tyrannical soul, and so try to make ourselves competent judges of the question before us.’ ‘That would be at least a systematic and consistent way of conducting the observation and the decision [κρίσις],’ he said.34

Socrates and Glaucon are here looking for the influences of the various forms of government on human beings, with a view to understanding who, among the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic or the tyrannical man, is the most just. Their systematic analysis on political regimes should allow them to achieve a κρίσις able to answer such a pivotal question. It is clear that the discernment is at stake here, a very significant discernment from the perspective of political thought. This action of choosing entails something more difficult than the mere application of a law, as might be the case in the judicial sphere. Furthermore, this decision involving both political regimes and men will not be without consequences. What they will be, in a positive or negative sense, depends on Socrates and Gaucon’s κρίσις, which, because of this, implies not only a mere decision, but a previous in-​depth evaluation. Some paragraphs later, by following this method, these two characters start talking about the nature of democratic man. Not astonishingly at all, their evaluation is again called κρίσις in the original Greek text. We read in 555b: Δημοκρατίαν δή, ὡς ἔοικε, μετὰ τοῦτο σκεπτέον, τίνα τε γίγνεται τρόπον, γενομένη τε ποῖόν τινα ἔχει, ἵν᾽ αὖ τὸν τοῦ τοιούτου ἀνδρὸς τρόπον γνόντες παραστησώμεθ᾽ αὐτὸν εἰς κρίσιν.

We have next to consider, it seems, the origin and nature of democracy, that we may next learn the character of that type of man and range him beside the others for our judgement [κρίσις].35

34 Plato, Republic, viii, 545b-​c, in Paul Shorey transl., The Loeb Classical Library, Plato. The Republic, vol. 2 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd., 1937), pp. 242–​243; henceforth both passages and translations coming from Plato’s Republic will be quoted in accordance with this edition. 35 Plato, Republic, viii, 555b-​c, 276–​279 (vol. 2).


What Does κρίσις Entail?

Similarly, in book ix, Glaucon again calls this kind of choice κρίσις in his reply to Socrates, asking: Ἴθι δή μοι, ἔφην ἐγώ, νῦν ἤδη ὥσπερ ὁ διὰ πάντων κριτὴς ἀποφαίνεται, καὶ σὺ οὕτω, τίς πρῶτος κατὰ τὴν σὴν δόξαν εὐδαιμονίᾳ καὶ τίς δεύτερος, καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἑξῆς πέντε ὄντας κρῖνε, βασιλικόν, τιμοκρατικόν, ὀλιγαρχικόν, δημοκρατικόν, τυραννικόν. Ἀλλὰ ῥᾳδία, ἔφη, ἡ κρίσις.

‘Come then’ said I, ‘now at last, even as the judge of last instance pronounces, so do you declare who in your opinion is first in happiness and who second, and similarly judge the others, all five in succession, the royal, the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic, and the tyrannical man. ’ ‘Nay,’ he said, ‘the decision [κρίσις] is easy’.36


With a view to summarising the most significant findings coming from my analysis, it can be said that, in accordance with the wide range of meanings of the word κρίσις in ancient Greek, its occurrences in Plato’s Republic and Laws spread into the entire semantic spectrum sketched out in the opening lines of this essay. What is particularly remarkable from a political thought perspective are both the obvious neutrality of the noun κρίσις in itself and its central position with regard to the existence of the state. This second point appears to be particularly emphasised by Plato. His stressing the need for decision –​ conceived as a judicial moment –​as a foundational element of the political community underlines its crucial position both in his political thought and in those threads of thinking related to it. Likewise, the philosopher’s emphasis on the discernment phase allows him to underscore the equally important aspect of accountability in political choice. Both those dimensions have a central place with regard to Plato’s political theory, but they often come out and play a role also in the whole subsequent Western political thought tradition. The most significant aspect that deserves to be stressed at the end of this analysis has to do with the close relation between knowledge and κρίσις. This pair becomes the essential expertise of statesmen, indeed the means allowing them to be good rulers, since knowledge has to superintend the decisional


Ibid., ix, 580a-​b, 368–​369 (vol. 2).

42 Catanzaro moment and the consequent political activity. This relation also introduces the equally essential and timeless question of educating the ruling classes. This is the means by which rulers can become good at choice and, consequently (though outside of the Platonic passages cited in this essay), it also raises the question of how a state should deal with this crucial issue. Lastly, the relation between knowledge and κρίσις casts light on the value of practical expertise. This type of expertise transfers onto the political field through laws, verdicts and political actions in general –​in a word through the means of choice –​the principles of justice, which, in Plato’s view, must be and remain the primary subject of any knowledge at its higher level. The well-​known dichotomy between δόξα and ἐπιστήμη is clearly part of the game here. Only the latter –​real knowledge –​is the authentic precondition for political choice and subsequent political actions. Its being substantial for the existence of the state in itself is for Plato undisputable. However, he is fully aware of the downsides of this kind of knowledge, which a ruler is requested to own. Since perfection is not a characteristic of individuals, perfect knowledge is beyond human reach; accordingly, the expertise of statesmen, even the most skilled ones, will in the end lead them to make a fatal wrong choice. As is immediately visible in book viii of the Republic, this error has an unavoidable outcome: the collapse of the πóλις. Even a single mistake –​that is, a single consequence of a flawed knowledge in the administration of the state by the rulers –​triggers that change for the worse, which is the possible outcome of a κρίσις in its original meaning. Although it is an individual oversight, such a mistake falls back on the πóλις with a multiplied damaging effect. Therefore, a competent decision –​in the broader sense of the adjective –​becomes the basis for a politics aimed at achieving the target of justice as we see it described in the Republic. From this perspective, the meaning of κρίσις as the ‘turning point of a disease’ acquires an even more significant sense. Those who are in power have two principal tasks: the diagnosis and the treatment of political phenomena (although without absolute guarantee of the results). The former deals with knowledge, the latter with decision. A statesman must reach a level of expertise enabling him to discern what kind of political phenomenon the πóλις is involved in. The political treatment –​the choice –​will follow this phase, which is dependent on, and related to, the previous one. Therefore, both the nature and the characteristics of the actions of choosing become essential in Plato’s political theory, because they are related to knowledge. This is why the analysis of the meanings of the word κρίσις in his political thought is useful: it adds some clarifying elements able to widen it and, hopefully, to give way to new questions.

What Does κρίσις Entail?


In conclusion, in Republic and Laws both the idea that judicial choice is indispensable to allow a society to exist and the idea that political choosing could lead a community to ‘sudden change for better or worse’ are clearly present. With regard to this second meaning, Plato undoubtedly stresses that the position of responsibility of those who choose is crucial, that is to say that their κρίσις is –​in the current meaning of the adjective –​really critical.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Plato, Laws, in Robert G. Bury transl., The Loeb Classical Library, IX and X. Plato. Laws, 2 vols (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd., 1961). Plato, Republic, in Paul Shorey transl., The Loeb Classical Library. Plato. The Republic, 2 vols (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd., 1937).

Altman, William H. F., Plato the Teacher. The Crisis of the Republic (Lanham, Boulde, New York, Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2012). Blitz, Mark, Plato’s Political Philosophy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). Butti de Lima, Paulo, Un’archeologia della politica. Letture della Repubblica di Platone, (Milan and Udine: Mimesis Edizioni, 2012). Klosko, George, The Development of Plato’s Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Koselleck, Reinhart, The Practice of Conceptual History. Timing History, Spacing Concepts (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). Schofield, Malcolm, Plato: Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Starn, Randolph, ‘Historians and “Crisis”’, Past and Present, 52 (1971), pp. 3–​22.

chapter 2

Critique and Crisis in Context: Rereading Reinhart Koselleck’s Interpretation of the Enlightenment Kai Gräf*


Reinhart Koselleck’s book Critique and Crisis is the most famous work in German historiography associated with the concept of crisis.1 When it was submitted as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Heidelberg in 1953,2 the perception of the contemporary moment as a time of crisis had already become a commonplace among intellectuals.3 In this respect, Koselleck’s account of the ‘present world crisis’4 simply represented another prominent example of twentieth-​century crisis discourse. Yet, what distinguished him from a more general depiction of modernity as critical was his interpretation

* I owe special thanks to Tim Sommer (Heidelberg) as well as to the editors of this volume, who read and commented on several versions of this chapter. 1 Reinhart Koselleck, Kritik und Krise. Eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973; first published 1959). Quotations are taken from the English edition: Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988). 2 There has been a recurring confusion about the dating of Koselleck’s dissertation, which can easily be resolved through consulting the official doctoral files kept at the University Archives Heidelberg (h-​iv-​757/​56; Promotionsakten der Philosophischen Fakultät 1954–​1955, Dekanat Flasbeck–​Gadamer, Bd. 1, A–​Q). According to these records, the dissertation was submitted in October 1953 and defended on 21 January 1954. The official doctoral certificate is dated 20 November 1954. 3 See Ernst Wolfgang Orth, ‘Krise’, in Christian Bermes and Ulrich Dierse (eds), Schlüsselbegriffe der Philosophie des 20. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg: Meiner, 2010), pp. 149–​172. On terminological aspects and the conceptual history of ‘crisis’, see the Introduction to this volume. 4 See the famous opening of the book, which underlines the irrefutable contemporary relevance of his historical study: ‘The present world crisis, determined by the polar tension between two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, is a result of European history. Europe’s history has broadened; it has become world history and will run its course as that, having allowed the whole world to drift into a state of permanent crisis’ (Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 5). For the English edition, Koselleck revised the opening phrase, which I am supplementing from the German original (Koselleck, Kritik und Krise, p. 1). All translations are mine, unless noted otherwise.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_004

Critique and Crisis in Context


of European history according to which the disastrous state of his own present age had to be ascribed to eighteenth-​century Enlightenment philosophy. According to Koselleck, it was the critique of the absolutist state launched by the philosophes that had caused the French Revolution and thereby unleashed the crisis that was still ongoing at the point he was writing. The political “crisis” of the twentieth century was hence inextricably linked to philosophical “critique”.5 Recent research has shown that Koselleck’s analysis was not detached from German intellectual history at the time, but, on the contrary, formed a characteristic part of the intellectual context from which it emerged in Heidelberg in the early 1950s.6 The objective of this contribution is to illuminate that context further by examining Koselleck’s academic environment, specifically the role of his supervisor Johannes Kühn (1887–​1973) as well as the importance of his fellow students Nicolaus Sombart (1923–​2008) and Hanno Kesting (1925–​1975). I first want to concentrate on two of Kühn’s contemporaneous publications in order to emphasise his particular impact on Koselleck in terms of the critique of utopianism.7 It will become clear that it is the scepticism towards utopian ideas that connects both of them with a more general trend 5 The combination of the terms “crisis” and “critique” had been at the heart of a project pursued some years earlier by Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht. In the 1930s, the two planned a journal titled ‘Crisis and Critique’, which was never realised and of which Koselleck was presumably not aware (see Erdmut Wizisla, Benjamin und Brecht. Die Geschichte einer Freundschaft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004), pp. 115–​163). 6 The current interest in Koselleck’s first publication is stunning. Since I have presented an earlier version of this chapter as a talk at the conference of the European Society for the History of Political Thought in October 2018, no less than three studies have appeared that address Critique and Crisis and the context of its origins: Timo Pankakoski, ‘The Language of Postwar Intellectual Schmittianism’, The European Legacy, 23:6 (2018), pp. 607–​627 compares Reinhart Koselleck’s work to that of Hanno Kesting, Nicolaus Sombart, and Roman Schnur, identifying a common ‘language’ of ‘intellectual Schmittianism’. Lukas Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg. Zeit-​und Geschichtskritik bei Roman Schnur, Reinhart Koselleck, Hanno Kesting und Nicolaus Sombart’, Leviathan, 47:2 (2019), pp. 244–​265 likewise traces the work of the four young scholars to the influence of Carl Schmitt, concentrating on the key concept of Weltbürgerkrieg (‘world civil war’). Sebastian Huhnholz, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt? Heidelberger Entstehungsspuren und bundesrepublikanische Liberalisierungsgeschichten von Reinhart Kosellecks Kritik und Krise (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2019), by contrast, argues that Koselleck’s book should not be reduced to the influence of Schmitt and examines possible connections to the work of Hannah Arendt. On Arendt, see Annalisa Furia’s chapter in this volume. 7 Koselleck himself later stated that Kühn had been ‘one of the most important stimulators regarding the question of utopianism, since the utopistic as a motif of political action occupied him throughout his life’ (Reinhart Koselleck and Carsten Dutt, Erfahrene Geschichte. Zwei Gespräche (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), p. 36).



in conservative thought. Subsequently, I want to take a closer look at Sombart’s and Kesting’s early academic work so as to expose the significant parallels to that of Koselleck. As will be seen, they all share a specific understanding of ‘crisis’ that goes along with an ‘alternative reading of European history’8 –​a reading they probably took from Carl Schmitt (1888–​1985). It will be argued, however, that they should also be investigated as autonomous thinkers as each of them found an idiosyncratic way of dealing with the problem of crisis. While much effort has gone into tracing Koselleck’s argument to the work of Schmitt,9 the immediate intellectual exchanges among this Heidelberg constellation around Koselleck have until recently been largely neglected.10 Koselleck himself pointed out that his dissertation had been influenced by many of his academic teachers, explicitly mentioning Willy Hellpach (1877–​1955, ‘de[r]‌ Alles-​Anreger’), Alfred Weber (1868–​1958, whose private colloquium Koselleck attended), Karl Löwith (1897–​1973, whose Meaning in History (1949) he had translated into German together with Kesting), and Viktor von Weizsäcker (1886–​1957, from whom he received the metaphor of the ‘pathogenesis’ for the subtitle of the book version).11 It is necessary, therefore, to complement a 8 9



Pankakoski, ‘Intellectual Schmittianism’, p. 608. Schmitt’s influence has been discussed extensively: see Niklas Olsen, ‘“Af alle mine lærere har Schmitt været den vigtigste”. Reinhart Kosellecks intellektuelle og personlige relationer til Carl Schmitt’, Historisk Tidsskrift, 104 (2004), pp. 30–​62; Jan-​Friedrich Missfelder, ‘Die Gegenkraft und ihre Geschichte: Carl Schmitt, Reinhart Koselleck und der Bürgerkrieg’, Zeitschrift für Religions-​und Geistesgeschichte, 58:4 (2006), pp. 310–​336; Reinhard Mehring, ‘Begriffsgeschichte mit Carl Schmitt’, in Hans Joas and Peter Vogt (eds), Begriffene Geschichte. Beiträge zum Werk Reinhart Kosellecks (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011), pp. 138–​168. The correspondence between Carl Schmitt and Reinhart Koselleck, published only recently, provides further insights into their intellectual relationship: Jan Eike Dunkhase (ed.), Reinhart Koselleck –​Carl Schmitt. Der Briefwechsel 1953–​1983 und weitere Materialien (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2019). Niklas Olsen, History in the Plural. An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2012), pp. 9–​39, mentions the various formative influences on Koselleck including Kühn, Kesting, and Sombart. See also Jan-​Werner Müller, A Dangeorus Mind. Carl Schmitt in Post-​War European Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 104–​115. On a thorough textual basis, however, these links have only begun to be explored by Pankakoski, ‘Intellectual Schmittianism’; Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’; and Huhnholz, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt. Koselleck referred to his various academic teachers in his speech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Critique and Crisis: Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Dankrede’, in Stefan Weinfurter (ed.), Reinhart Koselleck (1923–​2006). Reden zum 50. Jahrestag seiner Promotion in Heidelberg (Heidelberg: Winter, 2006), pp. 33–​60, pp. 35, 44–​45, and 50–​51. Regarding the translation of Löwith’s book, see Koselleck and Dutt, Erfahrene Geschichte, pp. 37–​ 38. Löwith was the second reviewer of Koselleck’s dissertation, scaling down the mark to magna cum laude after Kühn had considered awarding it the highest possible grade, summa cum laude (Karl Löwith, ‘Report on Koselleck’s dissertation’, 5 May 1954, University

Critique and Crisis in Context


previous mono-​directional line of enquiry by taking a closer look at the origin of the work within the ‘Heidelberg laboratory of ideas’.12 This will provide a richer account not only of Critique and Crisis but also of post-​war conservative thought in Germany.

Johannes Kühn and the Critique of Utopianism

Critique and Crisis is, first and foremost, a study of the detrimental effects of the Enlightenment’s historical thinking, that is to say, its utopian philosophy of history.13 The alleged crisis of the present, according to Koselleck, emerged from a ‘mainly Utopian self-​conception on the part of the philosophers of history’.14 It had been caused by the critical activities of the Enlightenment movement, which, as Koselleck put it in the preface to the English edition of the book, ‘itself became Utopian and even hypocritical because […] it saw itself excluded from political power-​sharing’.15 Exercising its judgement by claiming universal morals, the ostensibly philosophical Enlightenment became a political player and brought down the absolutist state from within. The structure of absolutism had precisely been based on a dichotomy between politics and morals: in legitimising its power in a secular manner only and in demanding Archives Heidelberg (h-​iv-​757/​56; Promotionsakten der Philosophischen Fakultät 1954–​ 1955, Dekanat Flasbeck–​Gadamer, Bd. 1, A–​Q)). See also Huhnholz, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt, pp. 35–​36; Niklas Olsen, ‘Reinhart Koselleck, Karl Löwith und der Geschichtsbegriff’, in Carsten Dutt and Reinhard Laube (eds), Zwischen Sprache und Geschichte. Zum Werk Reinhart Kosellecks (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2013), pp. 236–​255. 12 See Huhnholz, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt, pp. 7–​20 and 28–​31, quotation on p. 17. 13 Koselleck and Dutt, Erfahrene Geschichte, p. 32. See also recently Gennaro Imbriano, Der Begriff der Politik. Die Moderne als Krisenzeit im Werk von Reinhart Koselleck (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 2018), pp. 19–​32; see also Jan-​Friedrich Missfelder, ‘Weltbürgerkrieg und Wiederholungsstruktur. Zum Zusammenhang von Utopiekritik und Historik bei Reinhart Koselleck’, in Dutt and Laube (eds), Zwischen Sprache und Geschichte, pp. 268–​286. 14 Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 5. 15 Ibid., p. 1. Koselleck’s portrayal of the Enlightenment is in some respects historically inaccurate: see Hans Erich Bödeker, ‘Aufklärung über Aufklärung? Reinhart Kosellecks Interpretation der Aufklärung’, in Dutt and Laube (eds), Zwischen Sprache und Geschichte, pp. 128–​174; Anthony La Vopa, ‘Conceiving a Public: Ideas and Society in Eighteenth-​Century Europe’, Journal of Modern History, 64:1 (1992), pp. 79–​116; Franz Leander Fillafer, ‘The Enlightenment on Trial. Reinhart Koselleck’s Interpretation of Aufklärung’, in Q. Edward Wang and Franz L. Fillafer (eds), The Many Faces of Clio. Cross-​ cultural Approaches to Historiography. Essays in Honor of Georg G. Iggers (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2007), pp. 322–​345.



from its citizens a merely external obedience, it had been in a position to end the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The paradox lay in the fact that the absolutist state itself contained the potentiality of crisis within its own structure: it was precisely the moral realm, removed from political access, that provided the basis for the critique that prompted the crisis.16 In this process, the philosophy of history had a normative function: a utopian philosophy of history served as a means for a political end. If Koselleck’s aim in Critique and Crisis was ‘to clarify the link between Utopian philosophy of history and the revolution unleashed since 1789’,17 he followed Johannes Kühn in this, rather than any other of his academic teachers.18 Koselleck had not only been supervised by Kühn during his doctoral work, but later also became Kühn’s assistant and dedicated his habilitation Preußen zwischen Reform und Revolution (1967) to him.19 In the 1949–​1950 winter term, Kühn had given his inaugural lecture at the University of Heidelberg, which was subsequently published as Philosophy of History and Utopianism.20 In it, he outlined the argument concerning the critique of utopianism that can be found again in Koselleck’s dissertation a few years later and that, in short, reads as follows: the current state of the world has to be described as a crisis,

16 Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 8: ‘Absolutism necessitated the genesis of the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment conditioned the genesis of the French Revolution’. 17 Ibid., p. 9. 18 Koselleck himself would always emphasise the important role that Kühn played for him and his research: see Koselleck and Dutt, Erfahrene Geschichte, pp. 35–​37; see also Dunkhase, Reinhart Koselleck –​Carl Schmitt, pp. 330–​331. On Kühn’s importance for Koselleck, see Olsen, History in the Plural, pp. 20–​21, as well as Reinhard Laube, ‘Zur Bibliothek Reinhart Kosellecks’, Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte, 3 (2009), pp. 97–​112, who asserts that Kühn’s meaning to Koselleck could ‘hardly be overestimated’ (ibid., p. 107). See also Koselleck’s obituary on the occasion of Kühn’s death: Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Zum Tode von Johannes Kühn’, Ruperto Carola. Zeitschrift der Vereinigung der Freunde der Studentenschaft der Universität Heidelberg e. V., 25:51 (1973), pp. 143–​144. 19 On Kühn’s biography, see Dagmar Drüll, ‘Kühn, Johannes’, in Dagmar Drüll (ed.), Heidelberger Gelehrtenlexikon 1933–​1986 (Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer, 2009), pp. 369–​ 370; Eike Wolgast, ‘Die Neuzeitliche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert’, in Jürgen Miethke (ed.), Geschichte in Heidelberg. 100 Jahre Historisches Seminar, 50 Jahre Institut für Fränkisch-​ Pfälzische Geschichte und Landeskunde (Berlin, Heidelberg and New York: Springer, 1992), pp. 127–​157, pp. 147–​149. 20 Johannes Kühn, ‘Geschichtsphilosophie und Utopie’, Die Welt als Geschichte. Eine Zeitschrift für Universalgeschichte, 11 (1951), pp. 1–​11. It seems reasonable to assume that Koselleck had attended this lecture. The published version can be found in Koselleck’s library at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach and shows highlightings. See also Huhnholz, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt, pp. 8–​9.

Critique and Crisis in Context


and the reason for this lies in the utopian thinking that has occupied all political factions equally and dates back to the eighteenth century. ‘It is true: utopian thought determines the world’s current fate like never before’,21 Kühn declared, analysing his own present as follows: ‘We find ourselves in a global conflagration of old and new forms of utopianism of all kind, behind which, of course, various interests are hiding. But these interests could fight less doggedly and unscrupulously if they could not rely on a political faith of a utopian character –​as if we were in new religious wars’.22 According to Kühn, utopian thought emerged at the very beginning of the early modern period with Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). In the course of the following centuries, driven by the ideas of technicity, progress, and the autonomy of the human mind, further promoted by a retreat of church and faith, utopianism began to spread and finally infiltrated the philosophy of history. Having until then been a mere intellectual phenomenon, utopianism subsequently would reach its final stage as the eighteenth century saw ‘attempts at a realisation of the utopian spirit in new great revolutions, with which the first general crisis of our history breaks open’.23 From then onwards, utopianism spread without limits: Secularised utopian spirit in rational-​fanatic forms rose with the eighteenth century and the revolution of its society and encompassed all thinking. Liberalism, and even more so democratic Jacobinism, had utopian traits, as all forms of political, social, and economic thought that had developed since the eighteenth century more or less had a utopian tinge. For not only socialism and pacifist internationalism are of utopian origin; democratism and liberalism are also utopistically mixed; even nationalism and the restorative tendencies of the century display reflections of utopian light.24 Kühn left no doubt that his historical reconstruction of ‘utopianism’ involved harsh criticism of any utopian idea. Unlike Koselleck, however, Kühn distinguished ‘utopianism’ from mere ‘philosophy of history’, thereby trying to save one form of philosophy of history while rejecting the other. According to him, utopia ‘breaks into’ the philosophy of history only in the eighteenth century.25 21 22 23 24 25

Kühn, ‘Geschichtsphilosophie und Utopie’, p. 11. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid., p. 7.



Philosophy of history, as he defined it, consisted in the assumption that there was a metaphysical element within history –​whether it be God, a vague will or providence, or a law of history. It tried to come to an understanding of history and its meaning, but always acknowledged that there was an obscure metaphysical power in the background, leaving a residue of unavailability in history. Utopianism, on the other hand, was characterised by the fact that it wanted to exterminate any previous history in order to replace it with the idea of an ‘accurate’ course of history –​a history as it should be.26 One does not find such a strict differentiation between the two concepts in Koselleck’s work. Most of the time, he used the term ‘philosophy of history’ in the sense of ‘utopianism’, and he does not seem to have believed in any useful philosophy of history at all. Kühn, however, does, for a reason related to his idea of the remedy for the present crisis. This becomes clear when taking into account another one of Kühn’s publications, Theses on the Contemporary Crisis of History, a rather short text in feuilleton style that was also published in 1951.27 Kühn began by repeating his diagnosis of the critical condition of his present, identifying a ‘crisis’ that was not only one ‘of the whole earth’, but ‘the very first general crisis of history’.28 More specifically, it was a ‘religious one, namely a total crisis of religion’.29 At this point, it becomes clear why Kühn insisted on the differentiation between ‘utopianism’ and ‘philosophy of history’: for him, the rise of utopian thought was not the actual cause of the present crisis. Rather, there was another reason behind it: the process of the secularisation which Kühn named ‘secularism’.30 Utopianism had only been able to unleash its destructive potential because ‘religious knowledge’ (‘the knowledge about beginning, middle, and end of the world, about being and order, destiny and the salvation of man’) was lost in the process of the secularisation.31 Utopianism stepped into this gap, replacing religious belief with a belief in progress, perfection, and the feasibility of an ideal world. Since this belief, according to Kühn, had obviously led to ruin, the way out of the crisis could only lie in returning to the basis of our existence and to the ‘invisible’.32 Against the radical worldliness of utopianism and its commitment 26 Ibid., p. 1. 27 Johannes Kühn, ‘Thesen zur gegenwärtigen Krise der Geschichte’, Ruperto-​Carola. Mitteilungsblatt der Vereinigung der Freunde der Studentenschaft der Universität Heidelberg e. V., 4 (1951), pp. 21–​24. The text can also be found in Koselleck’s library at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, again showing highlightings. 28 Ibid., p. 21. 29 Ibid., p. 22. 30 Ibid., p. 22. 31 Ibid., p. 22. 32 Ibid., p. 24.

Critique and Crisis in Context


towards individualism, technicity, and secularism, Kühn wanted to establish a ‘religious humanism’.33 In response to the ‘instrumental man’ that symbolised the secular-​utopian crisis, he offered the ‘religious-​humanist man’ aware of his own limitedness.34 This also explains the differentiation mentioned above: for Kühn, any appropriate dealing with history would have to become aware of its metaphysical element. As utopianism fails to acknowledge that element, a true philosophy of history would be able to accomplish it, since ‘all philosophy of history relies on belief’.35 The parallels between Kühn’s and Koselleck’s way of thinking are evident. The deep scepticism about utopian thinking and its origins in the eighteenth century is the common element of the supervisor and his doctoral student, even if Kühn seems to see Enlightenment utopianism foremost as a pseudo-​ religious movement, whereas, for Koselleck, it is primarily a pseudo-​political movement.36 For both of them, in any case, utopianism always contained a ‘radical, even revolutionary’ element that preceded the political mass movements of the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.37 Finally, both agree that the present crisis is not one of individual institutions or of a particular form of government, but a crisis of history itself –​an idea that marks the nucleus of Koselleck’s historical reflections and would later on lead to his theory of history.38

Nicolaus Sombart, Hanno Kesting, and Weltbürgerkrieg

The three young Heidelbergians Nicolaus Sombart, Hanno Kesting, and Reinhart Koselleck have only recently been identified and examined as a constellation that shared certain philosophical ideas and took considerable

33 34 35 36

37 38

Ibid., p. 24. Ibid., p. 24. Kühn, ‘Geschichtsphilosophie und Utopie’, p. 5. In his review of Koselleck’s dissertation, Kühn speaks of the ‘Enlightenment church [Aufklärungskirche]’ and ‘the spiritual alternative or pseudo church of the Enlightenment [die geistige Gegen-​oder Pseudokirche der Aufklärung]’ (see Johannes Kühn, ‘Report on Koselleck’s dissertation’, 3 pages, 22 March 1954, University Archives Heidelberg (h-​iv-​ 757/​56; Promotionsakten der Philosophischen Fakultät 1954–​1955, Dekanat Flasbeck–​ Gadamer, Bd. 1, A–​Q)). Kühn, ‘Geschichtsphilosophie und Utopie’, p. 2. On the connection between the critique of utopianism and Koselleck’s theory of history, see Missfelder, ‘Weltbürgerkrieg und Wiederholungsstruktur’.



intellectual stimuli from Carl Schmitt.39 Sombart, son of the famous sociologist Werner Sombart (1863–​1941), was the one who connected the group with Schmitt, whom he had known through his father since his youth.40 Sombart had been in Heidelberg since 1945, studying mainly sociology and philosophy, and obtained his doctorate in 1951 under the supervision of Alfred Weber. The title of his dissertation was Henri de Saint-​Simon’s Significance for the History of Ideas. A Contribution to a Monograph on the Concept of Crisis.41 Kesting, who had studied first theology and then philosophy and history, finished his studies in 1952 with a dissertation on Utopianism and Eschatology. A Contribution to the History of Ideas of the Nineteenth Century under the supervision of Hans-​ Georg Gadamer (1900–​2002).42 Neither dissertation has ever been published. Sombart, a few years later, used parts of the text for an essay titled On the Origins of the Sociology of History (1955) which was then republished together with other essays in his book Crisis and Planning (1965).43 The essence of



41 42 43

Roman Schnur (1927–​1996), who was a law student in Mainz at the time, is often added to the group. Pankakoski, ‘Intellectual Schmittianism’, p. 608, calls them ‘Schmitt’s four followers’ and reads ‘their postwar theories as decay products of Schmitt’s political theory’. Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’, follows the theorem of ‘world civil war’ through their works. For Missfelder, ‘Die Gegenkraft und ihre Geschichte’, p. 312, they make up the ‘inner circle around Schmitt in Heidelberg’. See further Dirk van Laak, Gespräche in der Sicherheit des Schweigens. Carl Schmitt in der politischen Geistesgeschichte der frühen Bundesrepublik (Berlin: Akademie-​Verlag, 1993), pp. 186–​192 and 266–​276; Müller, A Dangerous Mind, pp. 104–​115. See Koselleck’s account of his first contact with Schmitt in Dunkhase, Reinhart Koselleck, pp. 373–​374. See also the correspondence between Schmitt and the Sombart family printed in Martin Tielke (ed.), Schmitt und Sombart. Der Briefwechsel von Carl Schmitt mit Nicolaus, Corina und Werner Sombart (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2015), pp. 31–​33 and passim. Nicolaus Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​ Simon. Ein Beitrag zu einer Monographie des Krisenbegriffs’, PhD diss., University of Heidelberg, 1950 [typescript, 88 pages, Heidelberg University Library]. Hanno Kesting, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie. Ein Beitrag zur Geistesgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts’, PhD diss., University of Heidelberg, 1952 [typescript, 146 pages, Heidelberg University Library]. Nicolaus Sombart, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, Archiv für Rechts-​und Sozialphilosophie, 41:4 (1955), pp. 469–​510; Nicolaus Sombart, Krise und Planung. Studien zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des menschlichen Selbstverständnisses in der globalen Ära (Vienna, Frankfurt and Zürich: Europa Verlag, 1965). Sombart also participated in Alfred Weber’s Introduction to Sociology, contributing the chapter on Saint-​Simon and Comte: Alfred Weber, Einführung in die Soziologie (Munich: Piper, 1955), pp. 81–​102. See Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’, pp. 257–​258, which does not, however, take Sombart’s doctoral dissertation into account.

Critique and Crisis in Context


Kesting’s dissertation was printed as a journal article in 1954.44 In 1959, however, the same year as Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis was released, Kesting published Philosophy of History and World Civil War. Interpretations of History from the French Revolution to the Cold War, which is sometimes referred to as his doctoral dissertation but in fact develops the thesis of the link between Geschichtsphilosophie and Weltbürgerkrieg from the eighteenth century up to his present.45 These texts are inextricably connected with each other by a common analytical language, a common narrative of European history, and a common depiction of the crisis perceived by their authors. Sombart described their student days in his memoirs, emphasising the common starting point of their thinking: ‘Our experience […] was the same. Our approach was the same’, he stated.46 And moreover: ‘We experienced our present, which did not begin in 1945, but in 1789, […] as crisis’.47 Taking the French Revolution as a focal point for their political and historical thought to them seemed to be the only way to understand their own present. Sombart again: ‘We experienced as a kind of revelation the discovery of the French Revolution […] as a paradigm for the understanding of the historical and social continuum in which we had to situate ourselves. We had a sense that we had found the key that would make it possible to understand the meaning of historical events’.48 On the basis of this common way of thinking, Sombart, Kesting, and Koselleck developed their common analytical language.49 Since important parts of it rely on Carl Schmitt’s theorem of Weltbürgerkrieg (‘world civil war’),50 a ‘language of intellectual Schmittianism’ has been diagnosed in

44 Hanno Kesting, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie. Zukunftserwartungen in der Geschichtsphilosophie des 19. Jahrhunderts’, Archiv für Rechts-​und Sozialphilosophie, 41:2 (1954), pp. 202–​230. 45 Hanno Kesting, Geschichtsphilosophie und Weltbürgerkrieg. Deutungen der Geschichte von der Französischen Revolution bis zum Ost-​West-​Konflikt (Heidelberg: Winter, 1959). 46 Nicolaus Sombart, Rendezvous mit dem Weltgeist. Heidelberger Reminiszenzen 1945–​1951 (Frankfurt: Fischer, 2000), p. 266. 47 Ibid., p. 271. 48 Ibid., p. 270. On the actual significance of the idea of ‘crisis’ in revolutionary France, see Adrian O’Connor’s contribution to this volume. 49 Olsen, History in the Plural, p. 72. 50 Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’; see also Missfelder, ‘Weltbürgerkrieg und Wiederholungsstruktur’. Although there is no doubt that the concept of civil war is a key idea in Koselleck’s early work, he never uses the term ‘Weltbürgerkrieg’ in Critique and Crisis. Still, it can be found in his first letter to Carl Schmitt of 21 January 1953 (see Dunkhase, Reinhart Koselleck, pp. 9–​17, quotation on p. 12).



their work.51 Indeed, Sombart and Kesting speak of the ‘European civil war’ or ‘world civil war’,52 while Koselleck’s analysis similarly proceeds from the assumption of a ‘[c]‌ivil war, whose laws continue to govern us to this day’.53 The three of them even planned a journal called Archiv für Weltbürgerkrieg und Raumordnung (‘Archive for World Civil War and Spatial Planning’), which never came into being.54 Apart from the theorem of ‘world civil war’, the concept of ‘crisis’ was equally important for the common analytical language that Sombart, Kesting, and Koselleck shared.55 As Sombart retrospectively summed up the essence of that language: ‘Revolution was crisis, crisis was civil war, history was crisis as civil war’.56 His dissertation in particular is an examination of the concept of crisis: subtitled A Contribution to a Monograph on the Concept of Crisis, in it Sombart indeed contributed a number of observations on the history of the word and the ambiguity of the concept both as a subjective experience and a historico-​empirical fact.57 Crisis, to him, was nothing less than the ‘fundamental experience of modern man’,58 its ‘truth’ was the ‘European civil war’.59 It was Sombart who first made ‘crisis’ central to his academic research. Using Henri de Saint-​Simon (1760–​1825) as a case study, he clearly addressed a larger issue, as becomes already clear from the opening of the dissertation: Since 1789 Europe has been in a state of exception. […] What was felt only by few at first has in the meantime become part of the self-​image of the masses; today, everyone across the parties and positions speaks of crisis.


See Pankakoski, ‘Intellectual Schmittianism’, who relies on J. G. A. Pocock’s concept of the identification of ‘political languages’ in the history of political thought (see John G. A. Pocock, ‘The Concept of a Language and the métier d’historien: Some Considerations on Practice’, in idem, Political Thought and History. Essays on Theory and Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 87–​105. 52 See Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, pp. 16–​18, 46 and passim; Kesting, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie’ (1952), pp. 5, 8, 11 and passim. 53 Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 185. 54 Mentioned in Sombart, Rendezvous mit dem Weltgeist, pp. 268–​276, who even believes the three had invented the concept at the time (which was not the case). The journal plan is also attested in a letter Kesting wrote to Schmitt on 22 September 1950, which is printed in Tielke, Schmitt and Sombart, pp. 217–​218. 55 See Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’, pp. 257–​258. 56 Sombart, Rendezvous mit dem Weltgeist, pp. 270–​271. 57 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, p. 39, speaks of ‘Befindlichkeit’ and ‘Befund’. 58 Ibid., p. 40. 59 Ibid., p. 46.

Critique and Crisis in Context


The book on the concept of crisis and its history has not yet been written. Still, ‘crisis’ has for 150 years been the secret central concept of all historical-​philosophical and cultural-​philosophical thinking, the key term of every European self-​interpretation. A modern science of history is inconceivable without the knowledge of its deeper meaning.60 This could not only be read as an announcement of Koselleck’s work, but it also resembles the tone of Critique and Crisis. In certain respects, it is no exaggeration to say that Sombart prepared the ground for Koselleck’s argument, even though the latter based his book on a much wider range of primary sources. Both of them, however, refer to the same sources in order to trace the history of the concept –​proceeding from the observation that the term ‘crisis’ is one that does barely appear in the eighteenth century at all,61 to Jean-​ Jacques Rousseau (1712–​1778), who represents one of the few exceptions,62 and to Thomas Paine (1737–​1809), whose pamphlet series The Crisis serves as an example of the American revolutionary discourse.63 Thus, the short ‘excursion on the word “crisis”’64 in Sombart’s dissertation could be regarded as the nucleus of a conceptual history to which Koselleck later contributed in the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe.65 Sombart was convinced that the term ‘crisis’ as an analytical category had been pioneered by Saint-​Simon, the true ‘discoverer of the crisis’.66 According to Sombart, Saint-​Simon was the first to use the concept in the sense of 60 61

Ibid., p. 4. Ibid., p. 43: ‘In the eighteenth century, the word is not yet common’; Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 158: ‘“Crisis” as a central concept was not part of the century of criticism and moral progress’. 62 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, p. 43, and Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 159. Both refer to a quotation from Émile that perfectly fits their approach: ‘Nous approchons de l’état de crise et du siècle des révolutions’. 63 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, p. 45, and Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 180. 64 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​ Simon’, pp. 43–​45. 65 Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Krise’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-​sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, vol. 3 (Stuttgart: Klett-​Cotta, 1982), pp. 617–​650; see also the English translation in Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). 66 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, p. 42. See also Sombart, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, pp. 487–​488: ‘The concept of crisis as used by Saint-​Simon and Comte is an absolute novelty. To this day, it has remained the central term of the modern concept of time’.



‘revolution’, referring not only to the historical events in the years after 1789, but to the ‘permanence of faction’, which is typified by the fact that the meaning of the historical events were controversial themselves.67 That being the case, an understanding of the crisis was equivalent to its remedy: ‘The point was to understand the revolution in order to end it’.68 This, however, has never happened up to Sombart’s present: ‘Thus the experiences of Saint-​Simon have remained our own experiences unaltered, since history is basically crisis, and crisis is only ever the French Revolution’.69 ‘Terminer la révolution!’, according to Sombart, would therefore remain to be the ‘categorical imperative’ of modernity.70 Saint-​ Simon and his pupil Auguste Comte (1798–​ 1857), according to Sombart, tried to end the revolution through establishing the new science of sociology, which should have functioned as ‘the great anti-​crisis-​science’,71 being able to plan the open future of modern man after religious providence had ceased to exist: ‘In the age of positivism, in the domain of sociology, things are being planned. The plan is the form in which man (or, more precisely: mankind) autonomously shapes his fate. He is able to do that because he is sovereign towards the future. He is committed to do that because he abolished God. Salvation history has been secularised to “history”’.72 The consequence of this should have been the rule of sociology, which Saint-​Simon and Comte had sought to achieve. It turned out, however, that sociology was never able to occupy this role. Nevertheless, Sombart was convinced that it still might live up to its potential, forming a good example of Koselleck’s conviction that the planning of an open future was one of the key features of modern life.73 Crisis, to him, did not have an exclusively negative meaning –​according to its etymology, it leaves the way open for improvement and the establishment of a new order.74 Sombart, apparently, did not share the anti-​utopian conviction that guided Kühn and Koselleck. On the contrary, he seemed to affirmatively take up the point of 67 Sombart, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, p. 485. 68 Ibid. 69 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​Simon’, p. 86. See also Sombart, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, p. 486. 70 Ibid., p. 486. See Sombart, Rendezvous mit dem Weltgeist, pp. 270–​271. 71 Sombart, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, p, 497. 72 Ibid., pp. 506–​507. 73 See Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Vergangene Zukunft der frühen Neuzeit’, in idem, Vergangene Zukunft. Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979), pp. 17–​37. 74 Sombart, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​ Simon’, pp. 54–​57.

Critique and Crisis in Context


planning as a remedy to crisis –​a consideration that almost appears like an attempt to finish the revolution rather than to undo it. Hanno Kesting’s train of thought ran quite differently.75 Where Critique and Crisis ended (at the outbreak of the French Revolution), Kesting’s examination began. Concentrating on the development of utopian thought in the course of the nineteenth century, Kesting intended to ‘explain the link between the philosophy of history and the political and historical events which had been the fate of Europe since the eighteenth century and eventually became the fate of the world’ –​a project outline that could also have been formulated by Koselleck himself.76 The two theses turn out to be based on one and the same argument: crisis and critique are dialectically connected; crisis is driven by the Enlightenment philosophy of history, and crisis is tantamount to revolution and civil war. The philosophy of history, while claimed as purely philosophical, serves specific political purposes (for instance, a justification for the bourgeoisie’s aspiration to power). As such, it is nothing but a justification of civil war: Since the European historical bodies, the states, have started to move within themselves, i.e. since 1789, the open outbreak of the European civil war, every ruling elite, as well as every elite pushing for power, has firstly been forced to prove its legitimacy to a special degree and secondly to mobilise large masses of people for itself and its plans. Both are identical in a certain sense and are carried out with the help of the philosophy of history, whose function is therefore eminently political. With its help, elites prove themselves to be the realisers and executors of history’s will, while the opponent works against the course of history and therefore against the interests of all.77 The similarities between Kesting and Koselleck, even in tone, are striking. As Koselleck intended to do, Kesting already determined the philosophy of history via its political function. For him, the philosophy of history served as the instrument of the Enlightenment to determine the meaning and the end of the crisis, after it had been recognised as such.78 Koselleck argued the same way, and the conclusion from this realisation for both of them led to an accusation: the philosophy of history, according to Kesting, ‘was from the very

75 76 77 78

See Potsch, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg’, pp. 255–​257. Kesting, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie’ (1952), p. 1. Ibid., p. 2. Ibid., pp. 8–​9.



beginning entangled with and committed to the European civil war’.79 As for Koselleck, he explained: ‘Civil war, this unexpected end to the enlightened century, had long been justified’.80 To Kesting, the genesis of the philosophy of history itself was to be traced back to the unity of critique and crisis. As he clarified, ‘the situation of its origin is constituted first by the recognition of the coherence of critique and crisis, then of critique and revolution, and finally of critique and civil war’.81 As with Koselleck, the crisis dated back to the critique of the philosophes.82 As with Koselleck, too, critique again was presupposed by a critical situation, and therefore it was not possible to tell whether critique or crisis marked the beginning.83 Crisis was the outcome of critique, but it also legitimised critique84 –​a coherence that remained oblique until the end of the Ancien Régime when the dialectical connection between the two concepts was recognised and consciously made use of by Rousseau. Not to mention that Kesting, too, saw Rousseau as the one who first recognised this and therefore became the ‘executor of the Enlightenment’ –​an assertion he proves by quoting the passage from Émile that is already familiar from Sombart and Koselleck.85 Kesting developed these considerations only briefly in the very first chapter of his dissertation, titled ‘Progress and Utopianism’,86 before moving on to the nineteenth century. While Koselleck intended to reconstruct the origin of the philosophy of history, Kesting wanted to understand its changes in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.87 In doing so, he differentiated between ‘utopianism’ and ‘eschatology’ as two distinct forms of philosophy of history. Since the latter was bound to historical experience and the former was characterised by an unconditional belief in progress, this differentiation, to him, provided the key to an understanding of (the) crisis. Kesting 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87

Ibid., p. 12. He continues: ‘The European civil war is legitimised because its factions legitimise themselves with philosophy of history’. See Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. 154. Kesting, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie’ (1952), p. 5. Ibid., p. 5: ‘A general criticism pervades the entire eighteenth century from Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique (1695/​97) to Kant’s great Critiques which is initially timidly, then more openly and increasingly radically, directed against almost everything’. Ibid., p. 6. See ibid., p. 6. Ibid., pp. 7–​8. See n.62. Ibid., pp. 5–​18. Ibid., p. 1: ‘The present work on utopianism and eschatology aims to present the transformation of utopian philosophy of history into an eschatological ontology of history. This transformation is announced in the nineteenth century and, under the terror of contemporary experiences, seems to be completed today’.

Critique and Crisis in Context


wanted to show how a strand of eschatological thought develops parallel to, and against, the utopian philosophy of history. He followed this line of thought from Joseph de Maistre (1753–​1821) and Juan Donoso Cortés (1809–​1853) via Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–​1900) to Martin Heidegger (1889–​1976), in whose philosophy he saw an ‘ontological eschatology’ completed. It is hard to say whether Koselleck agreed with this depiction –​at least, he himself referred to Heidegger when developing his ‘historical ontology’ as an anti-​model to the philosophy of history.88 In a sense, Kesting’s work was merely a sequel to Koselleck’s book. Given the early reception of both texts as correlating to each other, it is surprising that research is only now beginning to explore the astonishing parallels between the two.89


What can be concluded from this brief contextualisation is that Reinhart Koselleck, the ‘critic of crisis’,90 owes a considerable intellectual debt not only to his supervisor Johannes Kühn, but also to his fellow students Hanno Kesting and Nicolaus Sombart. Rereading Kühn’s, Sombart’s, and Kesting’s contemporary publications reveals that Koselleck and his Heidelberg circle not only shared a common subject, but also similarities in terms of terminology, argument, and intention. The concept of ‘crisis’ served them as a key term for analysing their own present: to Koselleck, as well as to Kühn, Sombart, and Kesting, the global prevalence of different but structurally analogous ideological systems representative of mid-​twentieth-​century political and historical 88 89


See Imbriano, Der Begriff der Politik, pp. 52–​54. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Verrufener Fortschritt –​verkanntes Jahrhundert. Zur Kritik an der Geschichtsphilosophie’, Merkur, 14:147 (1960), pp. 468–​477, was the first to juxtapose Koselleck and Kesting in a withering review of Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis and Kesting’s Philosophy of History and World Civil War. See also Kurt Schilling, ‘Rezension von Reinhart Koselleck, Kritik und Krise, ein Beitrag zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt, Verlag Alber, Freiburg 1959 /​Hanno Kesting, Geschichtsphilosophie und Weltbürgerkrieg, Deutungen der Geschichte von der Französischen Revolution bis zum Ost-​West-​Konflikt, Carl Winter Verlag, Heidelberg 1959’, Archiv für Rechts-​und Sozialphilosophie, 46 (1960), pp. 147–​153, p. 147: ‘It is not so important to the reader whether both authors (who mention each other in the prefaces) have agreed on the question, topic, and answer from the outset, or whether the agreement is only based on the influence (which they may not even be aware of) of their intellectual teacher Carl Schmitt. In any case, the “critique” in the title of Koselleck’s book is the early form of what Kesting later calls “philosophy of history”, and the “crisis” is the origin of the “civil war” that followed’. Ivan Nagel, ‘Der Kritiker der Krise’, in Weinfurter (ed.), Reinhart Koselleck, pp. 23–​31.



crisis had, in fact, begun in 1789 with utopian Enlightenment thinking and its attack on the absolutist state. According to this narrative, the origin of this ‘crisis’ therefore ultimately lies in the political thought of the Enlightenment and its philosophy of history. Still, the solutions they offer differ. While Sombart believed in the crisis-​defusing potential of sociology, Kühn wanted to save himself into a ‘religious humanism’, Kesting thought about an ‘eschatological ontology’, and Koselleck sought to develop a theory of history that was grounded in ontological categories. Transforming his reading of history into a metahistorical theory was precisely what made Koselleck’s work adaptable for so many scholars. It also constitutes the main reason behind the fact that today Koselleck is reputed to be the most influential member of the group (Kesting’s early death and Sombart’s decision to pursue a career outside of academia no doubt played an additional role). Reconstructing these intellectual exchange processes does not mean to refute the (certainly eminent) influence of Carl Schmitt on Koselleck, Kesting, or Sombart. Rather, it is to be seen as an attempt to complete the picture. Moreover, the shift in perspective from the level of the individual thinker to that of the intellectual network not only helps us to identify parallels and detect influences in different works, but also allows us to gain a better understanding of the collaborative development of certain ideas and concepts as part of a specific mode of thinking. Based on this, we can situate this Heidelberg constellation within a wider intellectual context in Germany at the time. It was not only the circle around Koselleck that, in searching for an explanation of the totalitarian experiences of the twentieth century, shared the idea that those experiences could be attributed to the harmful influence of utopian philosophies of history. This specific interpretation of history connected them to another German philosophical circle: the so-​called Ritter School. Gathered around their academic teacher Joachim Ritter (1903–​1974) in Münster from the late 1940s onwards, intellectuals like Hermann Lübbe (born 1926), Robert Spaemann (1927–​2018) and Odo Marquard (1928–​2015) shared a similar ‘anti-​ utopian impulse’.91 Philosophy of history, from their point of view, seemed to turn inevitably into utopianism, which was nothing else than an ideology with a dangerous proximity to totalitarianism. Considering such important similarities in the thinking of conservative intellectuals in post-​war Germany, the critique of the philosophy of history appears as the right-​wing equivalent 91

See Jens Hacke, Philosophie der Bürgerlichkeit. Die liberalkonservative Begründung der Bundesrepublik (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), pp. 48–​52, who points out that it was the ‘anti-​utopian impulse defining the critique of the philosophy of history that constitutes the common ground of the Ritterians’ (ibid., p. 49).

Critique and Crisis in Context


of Ideologiekritik, which tries to expose any moral or political universalism as intellectually false and historically dangerous.92 Thus, this type of historical thinking can be regarded as a specific element characterising post-​1945 conservative philosophical and political thought in general.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Kesting, Hanno, ‘Utopie und Eschatologie. Ein Beitrag zur Geistesgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts’, PhD diss., University of Heidelberg, 1952. Kesting, Hanno, Geschichtsphilosophie und Weltbürgerkrieg. Deutungen der Geschichte von der Französischen Revolution bis zum Ost-​West-​Konflikt (Heidelberg: Winter, 1959). Koselleck, Reinhart, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988). Kühn, Johannes, ‘Geschichtsphilosophie und Utopie’, Die Welt als Geschichte. Eine Zeitschrift für Universalgeschichte, 11 (1951), pp. 1–​11. Kühn, Johannes, ‘Thesen zur gegenwärtigen Krise der Geschichte’, Ruperto-​Carola. Mitteilungsblatt der Vereinigung der Freunde der Studentenschaft der Universität Heidelberg e. V., 4 (1951), pp. 21–​24. Sombart, Nicolaus, ‘Die geistesgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Grafen Henri de Saint-​ Simon. Ein Beitrag zu einer Monographie des Krisenbegriffs’, PhD diss., University of Heidelberg, 1950. Sombart, Nicolaus, ‘Vom Ursprung der Geschichtssoziologie’, Archiv für Rechts-​und Sozialphilosophie, 41:4 (1955), pp. 469–​510.

Huhnholz, Sebastian, Von Carl Schmitt zu Hannah Arendt? Heidelberger Entstehungsspuren und bundesrepublikanische Liberalisierungsgeschichten von Reinhart Kosellecks Kritik und Krise (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2019). Imbriano, Gennaro, Der Begriff der Politik. Die Moderne als Krisenzeit im Werk von Reinhart Koselleck (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 2018). Missfelder, Jan-​ Friedrich, ‘Weltbürgerkrieg und Wiederholungsstruktur. Zum Zusammenhang von Utopiekritik und Historik bei Reinhart Koselleck’, in Carsten Dutt and Reinhard Laube (eds), Zwischen Sprache und Geschichte. Zum Werk Reinhart Kosellecks (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2013), pp. 268–​286. 92 On Ideologiekritik, see e.g. Jan Rehmann, ‘Ideologiekritik. Die Ideologiekritik der Kritischen Theorie’, in Uwe H. Bittlingmayer, Alex Demirović, and Tatjana Freytag (eds), Handbuch Kritische Theorie, vol. 1 (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2019), pp. 663–​700.



Olsen, Niklas, History in the Plural. An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2012). Pankakoski, Timo, ‘The Language of Postwar Intellectual Schmittianism’, The European Legacy, 23:6 (2018), pp. 607–​627. Potsch, Lukas, ‘Die Moderne als Weltbürgerkrieg. Zeit-​und Geschichtskritik bei Roman Schnur, Reinhart Koselleck, Hanno Kesting und Nicolaus Sombart’, Leviathan, 47:2 (2019), pp. 244–​265.

pa rt 2 Critical Moments

chapter 3

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection in Ancient and Modern Political Thought Paschalis M. Kitromilides* Crisis is not an idea. It is human experience, usually painful and agonising, and can afflict individuals, human groups and whole societies. Crisis is the sense of uncertainty and danger that arises when the normal pace of things in the life of individuals and collective bodies is overturned or broken. This results in insecurity and a feeling of loss and an intense craving for a recovery of normalcy, the overcoming of crisis. Social theory has not done very well in dealing with crisis. Although change is at the top of the agenda of social thought, crisis as a component, in fact as a major moving force of change, tends to be overlooked, because, I suppose, the results of change are more attractive as an object of observation and assessment. It might be added that this intellectual agenda cannot be dissociated from what has been described as the ‘Whig’ approach to the history of societies, which remains almost inescapable in the human sciences. In contemporary social science, crisis has been accorded special attention in the field of international relations and, in particular, in the specialised branch of security studies. In this area we may encounter the most elaborate analysis of crisis, not without reason considering that crisis in the age of nuclear power can potentially escalate into the destruction of the planet and the real end of history. The most elaborate and detailed anatomy of crisis in security studies has been provided by Herman Khan in his classic work On escalation (1965), in which he lays out no fewer than 44 steps in the build-​up of crisis between powers, from minor provocation or ‘ostensible crisis’, as he calls it, to full-​scale nuclear holocaust, in his words ‘spasm or insensate war’.1 If we look elsewhere in the social sciences, crisis as an object of reflection and analysis tends to be rather tangential and often incidental. It has been used in order to describe emergency situations: for instance, ‘crisis government’ or * I am deeply grateful to Tony Molho, John Robertson and the editors of the present volume for their valuable advice and suggestions. 1 Herman Khan, On Escalation. Metaphors and Scenarios (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 39. On ‘insensate war’, see ibid., pp. 194–​195.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_005

66 Kitromilides ‘crisis management’ in political science and economic crisis, which always baffles economists. In political science the concept of crisis was also employed in constructing theories of political ‘development’ back in the 1960s.2 Of course, various versions of crisis are endemic in psychology and psychiatry in connection with the pathologies of human personality. One important strand in social theory, Marxism, has been more systematically preoccupied with crisis than many other currents in social thought. It has made important contributions to reflection on the character of crisis primarily in economic relations. It has furthermore elaborated the concept of dialectical contradictions that move capitalist societies toward revolution and transition to socialism. Yet Marxism’s contribution can be considered to have been not so much in what it says about economic crises and the contradictions of advanced capitalism, but in motivating critical thinking about ideology and the roles it serves in society, politics and intellectual life. Historical scholarship seems to have done better in pondering over crisis than the social sciences. This could be argued on the basis of the range and quality of work that has been produced in modern historiography on identifying, describing and appraising crisis situations. As Randolph Starn reminds us in a seminal article of almost half a century ago, crisis has been on the minds and vocabulary of historians since Thucydides.3 It has been modern history, however, that has found in crisis a recurring subject of preoccupation, reflection and research. Jacob Burckhardt in his lectures on world history established the ‘crises of history’ as a subject of historical reflection. An important tradition of historical writing has evolved since then, looking through the perception of crisis at major turning points and periods of change in European history, and trying to identify, to use Burckhardt’s words, ‘the impulse to great periodical changes rooted in human nature’.4 Thus the early Renaissance in Italy, the Reformation, the upheavals of the seventeenth century, the period of escalating pressures and expectations preceding the French Revolution, have all been connected and considered through the prism of crisis.5 Crisis has been privileged as an analytical concept in economic history, perhaps reflecting the impact of Marx’s thought on this particular field. It is more interesting to remark, however, the presence of crisis as a component 2 See e.g. Leonard Binder et al., Crises and Sequences in Political Development (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971) and Raymond Grew (ed.), Crises of Political Development in Europe and the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978). 3 Randolph Starn, ‘Crisis and the Historians’, Past and Present, 52 (1971), pp. 3–​22. 4 Quoted in ibid., p. 9. 5 The relevant historiographical debates are surveyed in the Introduction to this volume.

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


of historical narrative and an object of historical thought in a branch of historiography that programmatically focuses on the longue durée, on long-​term trends and the unchanging determinants of historical life like geography, climate and the recurring patterns of social life and activity. I refer, of course, to the Annales School of historical writing from which I will cite only one important example. Fernand Braudel in his work on the Mediterranean world in the sixteenth century presents an imposing, occasionally breath-​taking, account of the unchanging or permanent factors shaping collective life, but does not shy away from talking about crisis, primarily in economics but also in urban life, in politics and other domains of historical experience.6 The foregoing sketch of the treatment of crisis in the human sciences can perhaps provide an intellectual background for facing up to crisis. The latter remains around us in the contemporary condition of humanity as we constantly hear and share in the universal worries in connection with the global environmental crisis that threatens the survival of the planet and the financial crisis that illustrates fundamentally the deeper moral problems and hypocrisy of advanced societies. These concerns appear to be overtaken at present by the humanitarian and refugee crises in various parts of the world, including Europe, that put to serious tests not only the capabilities but especially the moral conscience and political integrity of our complacent civilisation. The main problem with crisis, however, is not ethical but epistemological. No one can be so morally obtuse or cynical as to remain totally indifferent or apathetic before a critical situation, but the problem is to understand what is really happening in order to react in constructive, perhaps even salutary, ways. Intelligent understanding in crisis situations remains elusive and almost impossible to achieve on account not only of the opacity of politics and human affairs, but also because of the element of surprise and unexpectedness which exerts extreme and usually misleading strain on understanding. So, crisis is often difficult to recognise at first sight and tends to be usually misjudged, which makes its management perilous in the extreme. Epistemological uncertainty is endemic in the human condition and under the circumstances of global crisis it can turn out to be very dangerous indeed. Nothing could be seen to confirm and illustrate epistemological uncertainty in the face of crisis more than the global health crisis that has overtaken humanity in the year 2020, while these lines are being written. The ways that the lethal threat to humanity has been faced, or rather evaded, in the critical early period of its emergence, 6 Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (New York: Harper and Row, 1972; transl. Sian Reynolds), vol. 1, pp. 325–​326, 338–​341, 584–​591, 599–​602, 604–​606; vol. 2, pp. 900, 1195–​1196.

68 Kitromilides by societies and political leaderships dramatically illustrates the inability and lack of courage to prepare and confront crisis, what is contingent and unpredictable or what Machiavelli had long ago described as the inconstancy of Fortuna. This failure, even by societies which pride themselves on being free and advanced, offers a tragic warning concerning the severe epistemological limitations of the various forms the arrogance of secular modernity can take. It is also a sobering reminder of what we should learn to retain and respect from earlier moral and intellectual traditions, including the Greek caution about the dangers of hubris and the Augustinian insistence on the ubiquity of evil in the world. All these constituents of the human condition set a broader framework within which the challenges of crisis have to be faced and understood. What does all of this have to do with the history of political thought? I do not think that in the history of political thought we can find any evidence of the precision with which crisis as a threat to humanity has been treated, for instance, in security studies. In this connection the main question to be raised concerns how political thought has addressed crisis –​as an experience or as a concept? Political thinkers, that is theorists who have tried to write systematically about politics, especially the most original and influential among them, have responded to the experience of crisis in their societies, but they have not really attempted to conceptualise it as an analytical tool. They have seen it primarily as an opportunity to return to the fundamentals of their thinking, the necessary normative preconditions of viable and meaningful political existence. Although both ancient and modern authors have tried to understand the various forms that crisis can take in human affairs (such as revolutions or emergency situations brought about by war), order rather than crisis has been the major preoccupation. This is of course understandable and justifiable because human beings and human societies are primarily interested in order and normality, so as to secure their survival and lead their lives in predictable ways that may satisfy their needs and aspirations. What they expect from political reflection are responses to these needs. Political thought has tried to respond to such expectations, providing answers on the organisation of society and power, and on the moral culture that may sustain various proposals and solutions. These responses do not always appear to be marked by realism, but there is no doubt that they are interesting and very often represent ingenious thinking on very difficult questions. In fact, if we take a global view of the history of political thought, and of the developing dialogue between reflection and politics, which has shaped its content through the centuries, we could read the whole tradition, but especially its most original and innovative components, as responses

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


to crisis, attempts to make sense and provide outlets in the direction of normality and order according to the cravings of individuals and societies. I would like to illustrate this way of understanding the character of the history of political thought with two examples, one from the ancients and another from the moderns. Before undertaking this task, however, I should offer two clarifications. First, my claims refer to European or Western political thought. I make no claims about other traditions, which may have different agendas and orders of priorities. Second, what is particularly characteristic about the logic of the Western tradition is the tendency to transform the primordial striving to overcome crisis into reflection not just on order but invariably to extend this to reflection on justice. This is what gives the Western tradition its distinct character: the lively awareness of crisis and change, and the often unstated conception of justice as the necessary response.

From Ancient Yearnings …

My first illustration will take us back to the origins of the European tradition of political reflection, classical Greek political thought. In Greek culture reflection on the dilemmas of political life and on the appropriate normative standards necessary for their resolution was not limited to philosophy. It permeated the entire civic culture of the classical polis and found expression in many genres of literary expression. First and foremost among them was tragic poetry. The period from the end of the Persian Wars in 480–​479 bc to the end of the Peloponnesian War (431–​404 bc) was the great age of Attic tragic poetry, the inaugural and perhaps the greatest age in the tradition of European theatre, thanks to the genius of three poets, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, whose prolific output dominated the stage of the Theatre of Dionysos on the southern foothills of the Acropolis for almost eighty years.7 There were several other playwrights who competed with the three masters and occasionally even beat them at the annual dramatic competitions. We know their names: from Phrynichos, Aeschylus’ master, to the contemporaries and competitors of Euripides (Ion, Agathon, Kritias). However, posterity knows only the work of the three tragedians that has been transmitted through the manuscript tradition of medieval Byzantium. Even though we know their poetry through the surviving plays, this is only a tiny fragment of their oeuvre, but it is probably 7 This section incorporates material from the author’s ‘discussion note’, ‘At the Origins of European Political Thought. Political Ideas in Aeschylean Tragedy’, Il Pensiero Politico, 53 (2020), pp. 237–​244.

70 Kitromilides the most important. All three of them produced scores of plays each, but what has actually been saved is made up of seven by Aeschylus (one of them, Prometheus Bound, of disputed authorship) out of 80, seven by Sophocles out of 123 known titles, and seventeen from between 75 and 78 by Euripides. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the disappearance of the greatest part of the corpus of Athenian tragic drama constitutes in fact the greatest loss suffered by the classical heritage in the Western intellectual tradition. Tragic poetry was an organised form of literary production and was meant to be presented in the form of ‘trilogies’: namely, three plays –​usually but not always –​focusing on a developing mythological plot, hypothesis, which offered an indirect but unmistakable running commentary on major social and political issues. Among the latter were questions preoccupying public opinion in a city that had been engaged since the end of the sixth century bc in the first major and self-​conscious experiment in democratic politics in the history of humanity. More explicit in the poetry of Aeschylus and Euripides, indirect and draped in exquisite lyricism and piety in Sophocles, these commentaries on public life, ideological conflicts and moral dilemmas constitute the earliest corpus of political reflection in the European tradition. It is not possible in the space of this essay to do justice to a very big and complex subject. I will try to illustrate selectively the range of themes and problems in order to show how the Western tradition of political reflection began as a response to a series of political crises in classical Athens. The oldest surviving tragedy is Aeschylus’ Persians, dated with considerable certainty in the year 472 bc. The play is a reflection on crisis, on the monumental conflict of the worlds of Europe and Asia in the Persian Wars and an attempt to explain in political terms the victory of the Greeks.8 Victory came as a surprise to the Greeks, who were well aware of the superior military might of the Persian empire (which they did not consider as either primitive or uncivilised). They called them ‘barbarian’ because they did not speak Greek, but this involved a primarily linguistic distinction. As we know from Herodotus, the Greeks had great admiration for the civilisations of their Near Eastern neighbours, especially the Egyptians. What they ignored and remained indifferent to until quite late in their historical experience was what was going on in the West. The Persian Wars contributed decisively to the politicisation of the linguistic distinction between Greeks and ‘Barbarians’, and this is primarily the subject of Aeschylus’ Persians. As a young man, Aeschylus had fought in the 8 All quotations and translations come from Aeschylus i and ii, in Alan H. Sommerstein, ed. and transl., The Loeb Classical Library. Aeschylus (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2008).

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


battle of Marathon (490), where his brother Kyregeiros emerged as one of the iconic Athenian heroes. In the play, Aeschylus attempts to narrate the Greek victory at Salamis as perceived by the Persians themselves at the court of the empire at Sousa. The Queen mother Atossa cannot understand how it had been possible for the poor and ill-​equipped Athenians to defeat the army and fleet of her emperor son Xerxes. The explanation comes from the messenger who brings the news of the defeat. To the Queen’s question ‘who is the master of this people?’, he replies οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ’ ὑπήκοοι they are the slaves of no man, their master is the law (Persians 242) Freedom and the rule of law thus offer the explanation for victory. This is how the Athenians understood themselves politically. The rule of law emerges as their defining political value. This is an indication of the self-​ confidence and optimism with which the victories over the Persians, first at Marathon, and ten years later at Salamis and Plateae, had infused the newly founded democratic regime at Athens. Democracy, rule by the many, the δῆμος, had been introduced in 508 bc on the basis of the reforms proposed by Kleisthenes following the crisis connected with the expulsion of the tyrannical regime of the Peisistratids. The new democratic regime met its first major test in the crisis of the Persian Wars. Victory was largely due to the role of the navy, and this strengthened the lower social strata from the city and Piraeus, which supplied the sailors and other manpower needed to operate the fleet. This also reinforced the democratic element in the assembly against the claims of the aristocratic landed class, which supplied the cavalry. These developments contributed and sustained further democratic reforms from the 470s to the 450s, and all of this is echoed in Aeschylus’ subsequent plays. In the Suppliants (Ἱκέτιδες) from 460, Aeschylus reminds his audience through Pelasgos, the king of Argos, Athens’ loyal ally in the Peloponnese, that decisions are not made by one man but only after consultation with the demos. The king appears to be the bearer of executive power, but decisions are made by the assembly through the democratic method of voting by raising hands: δήμου κρατοῦσα χείρ the governing hand of the demos (Suppliants 604) is acknowledged as the decisive factor in the organisation of power in the state.

72 Kitromilides Aeschylus’ greatest poetic triumph came with the Oresteia in 458. This is the only surviving complete trilogy in ancient tragic poetry and re-​enacts the story of the House of Atreus, the mythical dynasty of Mycenae. The trilogy won Aeschylus first prize at the festival of the Great Dionysia, which along with the Panathenaic festival were the two major annual civic celebrations in Athens. The trilogy was in fact a political commentary on the latest constitutional crisis in Athens brought about by the reform of the Areopagus in 460–​ 459 bc by the democratic leader Ephialtes. By this reform, the Areopagus, the ancient Athenian aristocratic body, was stripped of all political and legislative capacities and was limited to the function of a supreme court, whose field of competence was the trial of homicides.9 Thus the last remnants of aristocratic government were removed from Athenian politics and the regime became an unfettered democracy, to the great chagrin of political observers like the so-​ called ‘Old Oligarch’, whose views came down to us from an Oxyrinchus papyrus.10 The ‘Old Oligarch’ bemoaned the political influence given by the new political arrangements to the lowly orders in the city like the sailors of Piraeus. Ephialtes’ deputy in the democratic alignment in Athens was the rising young political leader Pericles, son of Xanthippus, himself an aristocrat, who had been the sponsor of Aeschylus’ Persians back in 472. Ephialtes himself paid with his life for the reforms, falling victim to the first political assassination in Athens since the time of the tyrannicides in the late sixth century. It was staged by followers of the oligarchic party in the city in 459. The great age of Athenian democracy, nevertheless, had been inaugurated by his reforms. The Oresteia is a sublime poetic achievement. Inspired lyricism is combined with the expression of deep and conflicting passions in order to produce a powerful dramatic effect. The first of the three plays, Agamemnon, one of the longest (1673 verses) and arguably the most important Greek tragedy, is



On Ephialtes’ reforms and their significance, which meant the ‘sovereignty of the people’, see Martin Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law. Law, Society and Politics in Fifth-​Century Athens (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 47–​73. See also, most recently, Annabella Oranges, ‘Themistocle e la riforma di Efialte. Osservazioni su Arist. Ath. Pol. 25, 3–​4’, in Cinzia Bearzot, Mirko Canevaro, Tristano Gargiuro and Elisabetta Poddighe (eds), Athenaion Politeiai tra storia, politica e sociologia: Aristotele e Pseudo-​Senofonte (Quaderni di Erga-​Logoi, 7) (Milan, 2018), pp. 253–​273. The criticism of democracy by the ‘Old Oligarch’ is usually attributed to ‘Pseudo-​ Xenophon’. On the significance of this text, see Josiah Ober, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens. Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 14–​27 and passim. See also Dominique Lenfant, ‘Quel modèle pour l’oligarque? Le passé, l’ailleurs et l’utopie dans la Constitution des Athéniens du Pseudo-​Xénophon’, in Bearzot et al (eds), Athenaion Politeiai, pp. 309–​321.

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


in fact a dramatic reflection on legitimate government. Agamemnon returns to his kingdom at Mycenae after the victory at Troy to be greeted by the local elders as their legitimate ruler, who is expected to restore justice in a social world dominated by moral confusion and religious uncertainty. What is justice becomes a central question in the evolution of dramatic action, each of the protagonists putting forward their respective claims. The moral standards elaborated in Greek society in order to move away from the primitive tribalism of Homeric heroes, are repeatedly voiced by the chorus in the warnings against the violation of the principle of μηδὲν ἄγαν (nothing in excess) and especially in the second stasimon in which the blindness provoked by excessive passion (ἄτη) is pitted against the need for justice (δίκη) for communities to survive. Agamemnon as legitimate ruler, and the elders who support him, make plain their devotion to political legitimacy by invoking the significance of public opinion and the need to respect it –​a clear allusion to the requirements of democratic government: φήμη δημόθρους μέγα σθένει the buzz of popular talk is something very powerful (Agamemnon 938) The model of legitimate authority of which both the king and the demos partake is also clearly delineated: τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πρὸς πόλιν τε καὶ θεοὺς κοινοὺς ἀγῶνας θέντες ἐν πανηγύρει βουλευσόμεθα As regards other matters concerning the community and the gods, we will hold public assemblies and discuss them before the whole people together (Agamemnon 844–​846) Against this model of government by consultation and public debate, which guarantees legitimacy through consent, the murder of the legitimate ruler opens the horrible prospect of tyrannis, tyranny. The latter part of the tragedy is a discussion of the evils of tyrannical government which is identified with Agamemnon’s murderer, Aigisthos. The demos is openly against tyranny and the threat of tyranny is their greatest fear. This fear is confirmed at the end of the play, when Aigisthos, insolent upstart driven to folly by newly acquired arbitrary power, openly challenges the public’s sense of justice in threatening to impose tyranny by force. We are thus given to understand that half a century after the overthrow of the Peisistratids the fear of tyranny remained alive in Athens. Aeschylus is

74 Kitromilides giving voice to these fears and worries but also elaborates a response to them. The establishment of democratic government on firmer foundations provides the guarantee of security against the return of tyranny. This promise, and the cultural and institutional preconditions of actualising it, are outlined in the two subsequent tragedies of the trilogy. In the Libation Bearers (Χοηφόροι), which by contrast to Agamemnon, is a short play of only 1076 verses, we are confronted with the tragic inner torment the two siblings, Orestes and Electra, are going through in view of the moral necessity they feel constrained by to restore justice by revenging their father’s murder. The tragic conflict arises form the terrible fact that restoration of justice means the murder of their mother, Queen Klytemnistra, who bears primary responsibility for her husband’s murder. The conflict, however, is wider and deeper than the act of revenge through mother-​killing. The tragic antinomy has to do with the very idea of justice itself. The two siblings, young birds, νεοσσοί, as they are called by the poet (verse 501), represent a new generation with different sensibilities and worries concerning human community and justice. Although still unclear and inarticulate, this new sense conveys to the viewer, the audience of the tragedy, a deeper feeling –​that revenge can no longer adequately satisfy the requirements of human justice. A different concept of justice and moral practice appears to be pressing on the tragic actor’s conscience. The chorus seems aware of this need, too. In its closing song it laments the impasses of revenge, primitive forms of vengeance and reprisal, and looks forward to a humanised idea of justice: There is only one way you can be purified: Loxias, by laying his hand on you, will set you free from these sufferings. […] May you prosper, and may god willingly watch over you and protect you with timely strokes of fortune! See, this is now the third tempest that has blown like a squall upon the royal house, and come to an end. What first began it were the sad sufferings of him who devoured his children; the second time the victim was a man, a king, as, slain in his bath, there perished the man who led the Achaeans in war; and now again, thirdly, there has come from somewhere a saviour –​ or should I say, death?

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


So where will it end, where the power of Ruin sink into sleep and cease? (Libation Bearers 1059–​1076) Thus the stage is set for the third and most explicitly political play in the trilogy, the Eumenides. In the Eumenides we will watch an actual trial in which the new idea of justice will be put into practice. Orestes appears to be looking forward to that as a future liberation. Freedom, ἐλευθερία, is sung in the closing verses of the Libation Bearers as another version of light, which earlier was used as a poetic metaphor to introduce the new idea of justice. We thus see a –​poetically woven –​theory of justice that is combined with the idea of personal freedom and liberation from the multiple forms of submission to the traditional compulsions of tribal society. It is very interesting to reflect on these scattered references to freedom in the closing verses of the play. They seem to suggest that along with the new idea of justice, the idea of freedom was also surfacing in democratic politics in Athens as public consciousness and morality were trying to build their defences, institutional, moral and political, against the lurking fear of tyranny and against the constant danger of relapse into various forms of primitiveness. In the Eumenides, the scene shifts to Athens and we are given a chance to watch the recently reformed Areopagus in its new function as a supreme court for homicides. The play provides very important evidence on judicial procedure in ancient Athens through the dramatic re-​enactment of the trial at the Areopagus. Orestes is acquitted on the basis of new legislation enacted by the Assembly and applied by the Areopagus. The tragic poet makes sure to connect the legislation with the democratic constitution, which possesses a unique feature. It was a regime which was neither anarchic nor despotic: μήτ’ ἄναρχον μήτε δεσποτούμενον (Eumenides 696) This is how the Athenians understood their democratic constitution, and Aeschylus appears to be the earliest exponent of democratic political theory in the European tradition. Democracy, rule by the many, and the freedom of the individual citizen it guaranteed had been the key to the victory over oriental despotism at the Persian Wars and also the key to the protection of the citizen by due process of justice in domestic politics. Democratic thought, however, in Aeschylus’ hands appeared to be even more inclusive and sophisticated than a celebration of the achievements of popular participatory politics. The old world of tribal loyalties and blood ties represented by the Furies could not be simply ignored and suppressed. It had to be handled in ways that would turn it from a possible subversive force into

76 Kitromilides a psychological support for the civic world of the democratic polis. Thus in closing the play and the monumental trilogy, the chthonic deities are invited to be integrated into the politicised religious culture of the polis, to become Παλλάδος σύνοικοι (to reside with Pallas, Eumenides 916), to take residence in a shrine on the slopes of the Acropolis and to be transformed from Furies into beneficial patrons of the city, literally Eumenides. In the Oresteia, and more directly and explicitly in the concluding play, we are given a complete record of the ideological and moral synthesis through which the civic culture of the democratic polis was hoping to overcome the persistent danger of crisis that it felt to besiege it. Secular justice and popular rule were combined with a culture of inclusion, aggregation of opposing forces and recreation of tradition in order to build the moral and psychological supports that would allow the fragile achievements of democracy to survive and flourish, forestalling a possible collapse that crisis might bring. The tradition of tragic poetry as a medium of political reflection lived on after Aeschylus and produced further masterpieces by Sophocles and Euripides. The new crisis precipitated by the Peloponnesian War that eventually led to the defeat of Athens and the collapse of democracy in 404, motivated the criticism of democracy and war voiced by Euripides in several of his late tragedies. These works were produced after 415 bc and the fatal democratic decisions on the Sicilian campaign that ruined Athens. Euripides whose critical mind and religious scepticism invite rethinking and reconsideration of the entire range of conventional truths prevailing in democratic Athens, including the distinction between Greeks and ‘Barbarians’, was called ‘a philosopher on stage’.11 In fact, from the perspective of the history of political thought, we might argue that it was the spirit of criticism that pervaded his reflective poetry, in conjunction with the criticism of knowledge and conventional morality voiced by his contemporary Socrates, that paved the way for systematic political theory in the subsequent century. To a considerable extent the agenda of philosophical reflection that reached its highest achievement in the writings of Plato and Aristotle had been set not only by Socrates but also by Euripides. In a real sense political philosophy in the fourth century was a response to the problematisation of political thought that permeates Euripides’ poetry –​and all this had to do with the crisis of Athens and its democracy. It is interesting to notice, nevertheless, in order to appreciate the inherent difficulties and the fragility of the democratic achievement, that a century later, in 354 bc, the orator Isocrates, at the opening of the last major crisis of 11

Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, 5.70.2.

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


Athenian democracy brought about by Macedonian intervention in Greek politics, remembered and bemoaned the reform of the Areopagus by Ephialtes. In his speech, Areopagiticus, Isocrates warns about the pending dangers to the freedom and prosperity of the city and points out that the only defence would be the restoration of the city’s original democratic constitution as it was legislated by Solon and Kleisthenis, who had expelled the tyrants: ‘we could not find a more popularly inclined and more to our interest than this constitution’.12 That constitution, however, according to Isocrates, had been weakened by the reform of the Areopagus, which had been the school of virtue and respect for the law for the citizens.13 What Isocrates was criticising was ‘ἄκρατος δημοκρατία’, untempered democracy, that was brought about by Ephialtes’ reforms and was connected by later critics with the self-​destructive decisions that had ruined Athens in the Peloponnesian War.14 This, however, was a judgement that could be seen to reflect the appraisal of Athenian democracy by Thucydides, Xenophon and other late fifth-​and early fourth-​century critics. The Aeschylean pristine vision could only perceive the optimistic prospects and possibilities of democracy, which the poet saw as a form of redemption from the passions and compulsions of tribalism and the culture of the irrational.15 This was a ‘culture of freedom’, as it has been aptly characterised, and it forms the point of departure of the European tradition of political reflection.16

… to Modern Ambitions

If my first example attempted to illustrate how crisis motivated the articulation of political reflection at the origins of the Western tradition, the second one will be just a reminder of the significance of crisis in tracing the inception

12 Isocrates, Areopagiticus, 15. 13 Ibid., 37. 14 On Isocrates’ critique of Athenian democracy, see further Georges Mathieu, Les idées politiques d’Isocrate (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1966), c­ hapters 11 and 12, especially pp. 126–​127, 136–​139, 143–​148, 150–​152. 15 As elucidated by Eric R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1951). 16 Christian Meier, A Culture of Freedom. Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). The appraisals by John Dunn, Democracy. A History (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005), pp. 23–​57, and Paul Cartledge, Greek Political Thought in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) and idem, Democracy. A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 61–​227, are also directly relevant at this point.

78 Kitromilides of modern political thought. Here we have to turn to the contribution of a truly seminal work of modern scholarship to the delimitation of a whole field of research within which we can recognise the role of crisis in shaping the foundations of modern politics and modern political ideas. I refer to Hans Baron and his idea that the crisis of the year 1402 in Florentine politics, caused by the defeat of Florence by the tyrant of Milan Giangaleazzo Visconti, gave rise to civic humanism, which represented an intellectual revolution at the origins of modern political theory. I cannot at this point enter into the debate on Hans Baron’s thesis or on the broader issues and questions in the interpretation of civic humanism. Civic humanism, obviously, constitutes one of the major subjects in the history of political thought as a whole: it forms the point of departure of modern political reflection at the crossroads of ancient and modern political thought. Academic deontology, therefore, makes it necessary to recognise Hans Baron’s seminal contribution in first enunciating this understanding of the history of political thought by coining the term ‘civic humanism’ back in 1925 in the Historische Zeitschrift.17 Thinking about civic humanism and its place in the history of political thought can be an eye opener for scholars of the subject –​at least, if I may be permitted to refer to my personal experience, it had that function for me and my effort to understand the complex trajectory of political ideas in historical time. Baron’s concept of civic humanism, nevertheless, has elicited considerable criticism.18 His approach has been criticised most influentially by Quentin



The original term, Bürgerhumanismus, was introduced by Baron in a short review published in Historische Zeitschrift (see James Hankins, ‘Introduction’, in idem (ed.), Renaissance Civic Humanism. Reappraisals and Reflections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 1–​13). On Baron’s contribution, see also William J. Connell, ‘The Republican Idea’, in ibid., pp. 14–​29, esp. pp. 15–​16 on Baron’s thesis and its significance for understanding the emergence of ‘a distinctly modern culture’. On the significance of Baron’s ideas as a motivation for writing the history of political thought, see John G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 55–​58. On the historiographical importance of Baron’s work, see further Riccardo Fubini, ‘Renaissance Historian: the Career of Hans Baron’, Journal of Modern History, 64 (1992), pp. 541–​574 and most recently, and quite notably from the perspective of writing the history of political thought, John Robertson, ‘John Pocock’s Histories of Political Thought’, Storia della Storiografia, 75 (2019), pp. 11–​46, esp. pp. 24–​25. The appraisal of the chronological basis of Baron’s thesis forms the main object of criticism by Gene Brucker, ‘Humanism, Politics and the Social Order in Early Renaissance Florence’, in Sergio Bertelli, Nicolai Rubinstein, Craig Hugh Smyth (eds), Florence and Venice: Comparisons and Relations, vol. 1 (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1979), pp. 3–​11.

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


Skinner on two counts: first, with regard to the emergence of civic humanism in connection with the crisis of 1402 and, second, vis-​à-​vis the main philosophical influence that shaped civic humanist political theory. Concerning the emergence of civic humanist discourse, it is rightly pointed out that there had been an earlier tradition in Trecento Florence, that is during the fourteenth century, represented most eminently by Coluccio Salutati, that expressed views on politics identical with those that Baron ascribes to civic humanism after the crisis of 1402. As for the philosophical inspiration of civic humanism, it is suggested on the basis of extensive textual evidence that it was Stoicism, especially in its Ciceronian guise, rather than Aristotle’s political thought that provided the main philosophical framework for the articulation of civic humanist thought.19 All this is true and it has been convincingly documented. What has been missed, nevertheless, is the broader epistemological significance of Baron’s thesis as it emerges especially from the connection of crisis with new departures in political reflection. Obviously, the chronological framework can be broadened into a more inclusive pattern beyond the year 1402. It was that early fifteenth-​century crisis, however, that set the preconditions for strengthening popular republican government, thus providing the stimulus for civic humanism to develop its theoretical quests focusing on liberty, virtue and corruption, issues and claims that defined the new language of the politics of modernity in the self-​governing cities of Northern Italy. It was primarily this politics that dominated Leonardo Bruni’s thought: to express his concerns, Bruni employed the language of virtue he had found especially in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. His reflection was not delimited by rhetoric and moralism alone. It possessed a pronounced sociological dimension that revealed an epistemological affinity with Aristotle’s Politics and was most eloquently and effectively expressed in the treatise Περὶ τῆς Πολιτείας τῶν Φλωρεντίνων [On the constitution of Florence] he had composed in Greek in 1438 for the instruction of the Greek delegation at the Council of Florence.20 It is quite probable that this important source did not receive the attention it deserves by historians of political thought because it is composed in Greek. It is rather paradoxical that although Greek was one of the languages of humanism and encounters with the Greek classics had in fact shaped the civic content of humanist ideas, still civic humanism’s foremost expression in Greek, Bruni’s treatise on the Florentine constitution, remained marginal and rather neglected in pertinent 19 20

Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. xiv–​xv, 27, 69–​71, 102–​103 and passim. See Anna Pontani, ‘Firenze nelle fonti greche del Concilio’, in Paolo Viti (ed.), Firenze e il Concilio del 1439. Convegno di Studi, vol. 2 (Florence: Olschki, 1994), pp. 753–​812.

80 Kitromilides literature, with the exception of Baron’s own work. In fact, Leonardo Bruni is the main hero in Baron’s work, where the Politeia receives its due.21 If this particular work had received the attention it deserves, perhaps Baron’s insistence on humanism’s Aristotelian substratum might have been better understood. The significance of Bruni’s Greek treatise was recognised by contemporaries, including Greek humanists like the neo-​Platonist political philosopher George Gemistos Plethon. The latter is said to have taken with him back to Mistra in the Peloponnese a copy of the work, in all likelihood in order to use it as a model for his own reform proposals for the political and moral transformation of the truncated East Roman Empire.22 Bruni’s terminology for the description of the institutions of the Florentine republic was also employed by the Greek humanist Laonikos Chalkokondyles in his own description of the Florentine regime to be found in his historical work.23 Despite its appeal to contemporaries, Bruni’s Politeia fell out of sight in subsequent generations and the printing of the Greek text and its Latin translation in 1755 seem to have been generally ignored.24 This also explains why the work was never included in the canon of political thought before Baron. Baron called the work ‘a masterpiece of early humanistic sociological reasoning’25 and pointed out that its significance consisted in describing Florence as a model of a mixed regime. This was the Aristotelian element which Baron recognised in his treatment of Bruni and civic humanism.26 This interpretation is also shared by John Pocock, who underlines the importance of Aristotle’s constitutionalism to civic humanism, especially in connection with the theory of the mixed regime. Pocock suggests that Aristotle’s Politics is necessary in understanding the constitutional commitment of civic humanism, which Cicero’s conception of the civitas could not serve.27


Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 54–​66, 191–​254 and especially 412–​439. 22 Pontani, ‘Firenze nelle fonti greche’, p. 773. 23 Ibid., p. 773. 24 Τοῦ Λεονάρδου Ἀρετίνου Περὶ τῆς Πολιτείας τῶν Φλωρεντίνων /​ Leonardi Aretini de Florentinorum Republica (Florence, 1755). Pamphlet available from Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence. 25 Baron, The Crisis, p. 427. 26 See further Athanasios Moulakis, ‘Leonardo Bruni’s Constitution of Florence’, Rinascimento, Second Series, 26 (1986), pp. 141–​190, which includes the first modern English translation of the work, and Russell Dees, ‘Bruni, Aristotle, and the Mixed Regime in “On the Constitution of the Florentines”’, Medievalia et Humanistica, New Series, 15 (1987), pp. 1–​23. 27 Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, pp. 66–​73 and passim.

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


So after all Baron had not been so wrong about the significance of Aristotle’s language and concepts in the articulation of civic humanism in response to crisis. Bruni’s reflections on liberty and the social dynamics of republican government paved the way that led up through many intricate twists and turns to Machiavelli’s political thought. Even a slight knowledge of the history of Florence and Florentine politics in the course of the fifteenth century, as recorded primarily in Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories, can allow us to appreciate the significance of civic humanism as a therapeutic project for the passions of modern politics. The therapeutic purpose was the deeper ambition of civic humanism. Appraised in this perspective, civic humanism can be seen to have been engaged in a direct conversation with real-​world social and political problems, especially with the issues of civil strife and corruption in public life. This pathology, widely observable in the Florentine experience at the dawn of the modern age, was not very much removed from the political sociology of the ancient city recorded in Aristotle’s Politics. Thus considering the present from the normative vantage point of Aristotelian political theory, civic humanism hoped by means of its rhetoric of civic virtue, devotion to the patria and libertas, to procure remedies for specifically modern problems that threatened the survival of the republic. This is how its therapeutic ambitions might be understood. The significance of Baron’s work for understanding the role of crisis in shaping the history of political thought has relatively recently been effectively illuminated by the biographical researches of Renaissance historian Anthony Molho. Molho has worked on a broad range of primary source material in trying to reconstruct the genesis of Baron’s great work. What emerges with convincing clarity from Molho’s analysis is that Baron’s immersion in the study of ‘crisis’ in the history of Florence, and its impact on the prospects of libertas in the Florentine republic, was motivated by an enduring deeper preoccupation with the crisis he had witnessed and experienced in interwar Germany and in wartime Europe and its impact on the prospects of liberty in his contemporary world.28 This, I think, is an important perspective for understanding the psychological and intellectual dynamics that come into play in the writing of the history of political thought. It is a perspective that suggests the multiple levels 28

Anthony Molho, ‘Hans Baron’s Crisis’, in David S. Peterson with Daniel E. Bornstein (eds), Florence and Beyond. Culture, Society and Politics in Renaissance Italy. Essays in Honour of John M. Najemy (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008), pp. 61–​90.

82 Kitromilides of interpretation and understanding at which the history of political thought should be studied and practised as perhaps the central axis of research and education in the Humanities –​a field of intellectual endeavour replete with possibilities for the development of intellectual criticism. The brief reconsideration of Baron’s ideas suggests that an essential task in the practice of the history of political thought involves revisiting the accumulated heritage of knowledge, understanding, reappraising and rethinking –​not rejecting or, worse, forgetting and ignoring –​the earlier tradition of scholarship and reinventing the wheel with every new generation of scholars.

Concluding Caveats

In drawing this essay to a conclusion, it would be probably advisable to share with the reader a few words of caution but also to briefly attempt to place what has been proposed above in a broader methodological perspective. The cautionary remarks I would like to put forward regard primarily the concept of crisis itself and its usage in writing the history of political thought. It is difficult to come up with a definition of crisis that might prove satisfactory in its applicability as a general concept. I have used it rather as an analytical concept and short-​hand description of situations of anxiety and emergency arising either from radical political change or from war that threatens the survival of a community. Athens in the opening two decades of the fifth century B.C. and Florence at the dawn of the fifteenth century found themselves in exactly such situations. In both cases it is not at all clear whether the concept of crisis was available to contemporaries as a way of understanding their predicament. The experience of crisis itself, however, and the sense of urgency it generated provided motivations for rethinking or reformulating earlier traditions of discourse and conceptions of collective identity and destiny. The reappraisal of the character of the community and the sense of its past made possible the visualisation of new shapes of collective life as a strategy of survival. Such visions possessed considerable power and gave rise to new normative frameworks of collective life and action. In Athens, as articulated by Aeschylus, this was the ideology of democracy; in Florence, with Leonardo Bruni as its initiator, it was expressed in the language of civic humanism. In Florence, thanks to Hans Baron and to all those who wrote after him or in response to him, the record of civic humanist thought is marked by remarkable density and complexity. By contrast, our impression of the elaboration of the democratic political vision set out in Athens in works from Aeschylus’ Persians to Pericles’

Crisis as a Motivation for Innovative Reflection


‘Funeral Oration’ (as recorded by Thucydides) is marked by many uncertainties.29 In both cases, nevertheless, the central message is clear: following a situation of acute crisis resulting from a mortal external threat to the survival of the community, the new normative framework proposed self-​confidence and optimism in reshaping the present and facing the future. All this could be described, I would think, in a broader methodological sense as a transition to a new normative paradigm of political discourse in a sense not very different from Thomas Kuhn’s understanding of scientific revolutions. Scientific revolutions involve the questioning and destruction of paradigms of ‘normal science’ and their replacement by new paradigms that manage to accommodate the ‘anomalies’ that initially undermine and eventually overturn conventional scientific truths and theories.30 The narrative of these transitions makes up the content of the history of science. Political thought, ancient and modern, can be seen to follow a more or less cognate itinerary in historical time with moments of crisis operating as catalysts in the process. This essay has attempted to illustrate this way of understanding political ideas.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Aeschylus, in Alan H. Sommerstein, ed. and transl., The Loeb Classical Library. Aeschylus, vols 1 and 2 (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2008). Isocrates, in George Norlin, ed. and transl., The Loeb Classical Library. Isocrates, vol. 2, (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1929 and reprints). Τοῦ Λεονάρδου Ἀρετίνου Περὶ τῆς Πολιτείας τῶν Φλωρεντίνων/​Leonardi Aretini de Florentinorum Republica (Florence 1755). Moulakis, Athanasios (ed. and transl.), ‘Leonardo Bruni’s Constitution of Florence’, Rinascimento. Second Series, vol. 26 (1986), pp. 141–​190.

Baron, Hans, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

29 30

See Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens. The Funeral Oration in the Classical City, (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1986; transl. Alan Sheridan), pp. 172–​220. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Fourth edition with an Introductory Essay by Ian Hacking (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2012). Note particularly Kuhn’s discussion of crisis in ibid., pp. 66–​91.

84 Kitromilides Cartledge, Paul, Greek Political Thought in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Dodds, Eric R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1951). Loraux, Nicole, The Invention of Athens. The Funeral Oration in the Classical City, (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1986; transl. Alan Sheridan). Meier, Christian, A Culture of Freedom. Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Ober, Josiah, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens. Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Pocock, John G. A., The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).

­c hapter 4

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis: Lessons from Athens and Florence Erica Benner The past few years have seen a proliferation of book titles containing the words ‘democracy’ and ‘crisis’, or asking how democracies decline, end, or die.1 Their authors worry about the health of democratic institutions and ideals in the places where they have deepest roots. And well they might. We hear almost daily of polls that show a massive loss of public trust in democracy as a form of government, and of leaders and parties winning votes by expressing contempt for multi-​party government, the rule of law, norms of civility, and international alliances. Most scholars and other writers who speak of our current democratic crisis look for parallels in the history of modern democracies, especially in the shift toward fascism in Germany and other parts of Europe during the interwar years of the last century. These comparisons, however, have their limits. The democracies that sickened or died at that time either lacked strong roots or were struggling to recover from the ravages of war, whereas many of the democracies under threat today are centuries old, prosperous, and unshaken by recent wars or threats of revolution. Current discussions of democracy-​in-​crisis occasionally dip into the older history of political thought, citing Rousseau, the American Founding Fathers, John Stuart Mill, and Tocqueville. These authors, however, were imagining or crafting modern republics from what Reinhart Koselleck called a ‘utopian’ standpoint: they saw popular government as an ideal whose time had come, but had yet to be put to its hardest tests.2 From our more experienced –​and jaded –​perspective, their early modern democratic

1 A small sample includes: Roland Rich, Democracy in Crisis: Where, Why, and How to Respond (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2017); Mark A. Graber, Sanford Levinson, and Mark Tushnet (eds), Constitutional Democracy in Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (New York: Broadway Books, 2018); David Runciman, How Democracy Ends (New York: Basic Books, 2018); Adam Przeworszki, Crises of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). 2 See Reinhart Koselleck, Kritik und Krise. Eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973; i edn 1959).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_006

86 Benner hopes look not just tarnished but in tatters. We might still admire and want to breathe new life into the constitutional designs and enlightened ideals that shaped democracies since the late eighteenth century. But we now need a kind of help that goes beyond re-​articulating those ideals, taking a long, hard look at the reasons why they have come to seem so frail. This chapter suggests that some of the best lessons in thinking about democratic crises come from writers who lived under popular governments many centuries earlier. Athens in the late fifth and early fourth century and sixteenth-​century Florence had forms of government that gave deliberative and policy-​making powers to a wide cross-​section of male citizens. Athenians called their government demokratia, while Florentines called theirs repubblica. Two authors, Thucydides and Machiavelli, were particularly acute students of their own cities’ pathologies of self-​government. Both men played an active part in their cities’ political and military struggles, and took a personal battering in the process –​the Athenians exiled Thucydides for his role in losing a key battle against the Spartans and their allies, while Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured for trying (and failing) to defend the Florentine republic against a coup by the princely Medici. They lived, as we do, under fairly long-​standing popular governments that were experiencing mid-​or end-​of-​life convulsions, and examined the causes of sickness from an inside-​crisis perspective, in ways that speak powerfully to present-​day concerns.

Democracies Then and Now

Driven by political science and a fix-​it, problem-​solving orientation, contemporary discussions of democracy’s discontents often treat classical political thought as a source of empirical ‘models’ of democracy that can be adapted to correct contemporary deficiencies. The most useful ‘lessons of history’, on this view, are practical remedies that can be applied to specific problems: ideas about how to improve democratic accountability, strengthen civic participation, or restructure voting systems and party structures. If we start from this perspective, the idea that writers who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago can enlighten us on contemporary political problems might seem counterintuitive, especially given the very different scale and structures of democracies then and now. Athens’ democracy was tiny by our reckoning, with approximately 40,000 male citizens in a population of some 140,000. Participation was direct, with any citizen having the right to speak in the Assembly (ekklesia). Florence’s republic had comparable numbers of citizens whose powers varied with the city’s frequent constitutional changes.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


Democracies today are vast, run mainly by representatives and bureaucrats who have few contacts with voters. There are even greater differences in the globalising economic, international, and technological conditions in which our democracies operate. Within the past decade or so, developments in internet technology and social media have revolutionised means of political communication, making it seem harder than ever to apply ancient and early modern analyses to the pathologies of modern democracy, let alone their remedies. The most valuable lessons I take from Thucydides and Machiavelli, however, are philosophical rather than directly practical. They involve deep self-​ examination as a prelude and accompaniment to any remedial action. One of their most basic lessons is that we cannot find reliable answers to the question ‘What is to be done?’ until we have thought long and hard about the question ‘How did we get here?’. And when asking how we got into our current political malaise, ordinary citizens need to examine themselves and assume their share of responsibility, not take the easy road of blaming particular leaders or party enemies. No writers, old or recent, show how to do democratic self-​examination better than Thucydides and Machiavelli. The Athenian calls his history of the Peloponnesian War ‘a possession for all time’ –​and indeed long after his death, whenever civil conflicts erupted on a grand scale, in the Roman Republic or during the English Civil War, profound thinkers turned to Thucydides to help them understand what was happening to their countries.3 For if he wrote in the first instance for Athenians and other Greeks in his own times, he also knew that certain causes of democratic sickness are common to all times and places, because human psychology, human patterns of cooperation and conflict are always similar –​whatever new technologies we devise or institutions we set up to manage our refractory human-​animal selves. Machiavelli, who refers to Thucydides in his works, agreed that basic patterns of constructive and self-​destructive human behaviour are fundamentally unchangeable. While manmade institutions and technologies (his famous ‘dykes and dams’ in the Prince, or ‘laws and orders’ in the Discourses) may restrain self-​destructive impulses for long periods of time, the causes of political longevity and decline are essentially the same ‘in any city whatever’.4 For, as 3 The historian Titus Livy, writing when the long-​lived Roman Republic was in its death-​throes, modelled his histories of Rome on Thucydides; Thomas Hobbes’ first published work (in 1628) was a full English translation of Thucydides’ history, which he treated throughout his later life as a source of the deepest political wisdom. 4 Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998; transl. Harvey C. Mansfield), chapt. 25; Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996; transl. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov), i.1.

88 Benner he has the Prologue say at the start of his comedy Clizia –​an update of a Latin play by Plautus, itself based on Attic comedy –​‘the very same things are done’ over and over in different times and places because humans are the same. Thus, while the events in Machiavelli’s play happened long ago in ancient Athens, says Prologue, the playwright has transposed them to contemporary Florence, so that viewers will more readily grasp that the follies and character types on comic display are as much theirs as those of long-​dead Athenians: ‘an old man’s avarice, a lover’s madness … a poor man’s distress, a rich man’s ambition, a harlot’s flatteries, all men’s unreliability’.5 The effects of these universal and timeless human dispositions on the health of republics are a core theme of Machiavelli’s political writings as well as of his comic plays.6 There is another reason to doubt that ancient and early modern writers can help salvage floundering democracies today. For many Greek, Roman, and early modern writers, the word democracy was basically pejorative. It described an inherently unstable form of government where one ‘part’ of the political body –​the largest, most diverse, least educated part, the demos –​ exercised ‘kratos’ over the other parts. Kratos is sometimes translated simply as ‘power’, but in ancient Greek it has more specific connotations of ‘power over’ another: closer to ‘imposed dominion’ than ‘accepted authority’. Being imposed by some citizens on (and against) others, demokratia was, one might say, in a state of permanent crisis –​a form of government prone to constant upheaval and incapable of lasting stability.7 Why then should we expect authors who take such a dim view of democracy to help us rescue ours from doom? The answer is that their problem was with the kratos part of demokratia –​with the way power was organised –​not with the demos playing a significant political role. The main reason demo-​kratia could go hideously wrong held just as true for other forms of kratos or arche (rule, dominion, empire), apart from the rule or dominion of laws. Unless 5 Machiavelli, Clizia, Prologue, in Allan Gilbert, transl. Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, vol. 2 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 823–​824. 6 Even more strikingly in his more famous Mandragola: see Erica Benner, Be Like the Fox (London: Penguin Allen Lane, 2017), pp. 265–​268. 7 See Plato, Laws, 715b-​c, in Robert G. Bury and Jeffrey Henderson ed. and transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), (see also Plato, Statesman, 297d-​303c, in Harold North Fowler and Jeffrey Henderson ed. and transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925). Aristotle distinguishes between forms of democracy that are based on the rule of law and those that make the multitude (plēthos) sovereign, which leads to the people acting like a monarch and sliding towards tyranny (see Aristotle, Politics, iv.iv.2–​7, in H. Rackham transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990). These themes are further discussed in Cesare Cuttica’s chapter in the present volume.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


their leading ‘part’ was strictly subject to law, democracy, aristocracy, oligarchy and monarchy were forms of rule imposed by one part of a city over the others, which created a structural potential for civil war (stasis). For this reason Machiavelli calls them all ‘pestiferous’ at the start of his Discorsi.8 The best form of government, he thought together with ‘his’ ancients, was founded on laws that required a wide cross-​section of citizens to share power on terms acceptable to all. Such well-​ordered popular governments were less prone to dangerous discords because they were based on what Thucydides calls sunkrasis, literally ‘power together’.9 Different interests and mutual suspicions were openly acknowledged here, but institutions were designed to keep disparate interests (idia, privato) from overriding the common (koine, pubblico). This form of government –​where power was organised through institutions acceptable to all, not as the direct expression of one class’ or family’s interests –​the Greeks called politeia, the Romans translated as res publica (the public thing, not private possession of one man or part of the city). The ancient and early modern concepts of broad-​based yet well-​ordered politeia or repubblica have an analytical advantage over the term ‘democracy’. They help us focus on one of the most pressing questions facing democracies today, namely, how to manage suspicions between the more popular or poorer majority and higher-​status ‘elites’, whether the latter are elites of wealth or blood or education. In our modern usage, the word ‘democracy’ tends to gloss over these suspicions, as if the interests and identity of ‘Demos’ transcend troublesome status divisions. As we will see, Athenian writers and Machiavelli stress the long-​term risks that come from this self-​deluding myth of natural democratic cohesion.

When Is a Crisis?

As the introduction to this volume notes, here are the most common dictionary definitions of ‘crisis’ today:

8 Machiavelli, Discourses, i.2. 9 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, viii.89–​97, in Charles Foster Smith transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), suggests that sharing (metechtō) authority and shared rule (sunkrasis) underpin stable order in cities, remarking that for the first time in his own lifetime, Athens finally achieved a good constitution when both the few and the many were given their share. Also see Xenophon, Cyropaedia, i.126, in Walter Miller transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000–​2001).

90 Benner 1. A time of intense difficulty or danger. 2. A time when a difficult or important decision must be made.10 Both senses of the word come from the Greek krisis, the noun deriving from the verb krinein, meaning to make a discriminating judgement or judicious decision. Krinein is commonly used for legal, political, and moral judgements, and this forensic sense of our word ‘crisis’ is by no means defunct. But today the word is more often used in its diagnostic sense to mean a high-​stress time or situation that may well be a prelude to disaster, or to death. The person usually credited with giving krisis its diagnostic sense is the pioneering physician Hippocrates. He used krisis to identify the turning-​point in a disease at which either the sickness would get worse and the patient succumb to death, or an improvement would take place and the patient recover.11 Here one sees how the forensic and diagnostic senses are linked, since the diagnosis of a ‘critical’ condition required krinein or ‘critical judgement’: an act of distinguishing between potentially fatal and not-​yet-​fatal symptoms of ill health. On this Hippocratic definition, while it seems reasonable to say that democracies today face great challenges, it remains debatable whether these amount everywhere to life-​or-​death crisis. Not all scholars and pundits agree that we are now at the turning point between sickness and likely death. Some maintain that high-​ stress theatre has always been part of democracies. At times these dramas look as if they are heating up to a tragic, deadly explosion; yet more often than not, their stabilising institutions and civic common sense prevail in time to save the day. Machiavelli agrees with this view, up to a point. Against contemporaries who foresaw disaster in every noisy partisan battle and longed for eternal political harmony, he stresses that well-​ordered popular governments often look turbulent. What he calls ‘tumults’ (tumulti) are a natural effect of the lively, inescapable rivalries between different interests and opinions that one finds in any free polity.12 Tumulti may manifest themselves as rambunctious disagreements over policies and values. But their roots run deeper than mere facts of plurality and diversity; education in toleration and coexistence cannot extirpate them. The deep root of democratic tumults is suspicion between two ‘humours’ (umori) among citizens. In any republic, says Machiavelli, you find a minority of people who want to dominate the rest, and a majority who want not to be


See the editors’ Introduction to the present volume as well as Andrea Catanzaro’s chapter in the same. 11 Hippocrates, xix.45 (‘Ancient Medicine’), i.26 (‘Epidemics’), in W. H. S. Jones transl. vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923), pp. 50–​51, 184–​185. 12 Machiavelli, Discourses, i.4.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


dominated.13 The dominance-​seeking elites think they know best how to run things, and do not trust the majority to choose leaders or policies well. Machiavelli’s analysis is ideology-​free: elitist programmes may be left, right, or centrist. His main point is that all free governments have to deal with this dynamic of inherently conflicting desires. On one side, an ambitious and occasionally arrogant few; on the other side, a suspicious and often prickly ‘many’ on the lookout for any sign of elitist domineering: this is the deep political psychology of popular governments. While such suspicions pose a constant challenge to popular governments, they are by no means inherently threatening. They generate continuous power struggles, but need not degenerate into extremism, since good laws and institutions can keep them in check. When this checking succeeds, tensions among groups with diverse interests and values can be a good thing. For Machiavelli, they help preserve freedom by representing the inescapably diverse interests and values that are found in any free society, and by venting the frequently sour moods of one ‘party’ (parte) against another. His highly systematic vocabulary distinguishes tumulti from unhealthy discordie or dissensions. Machiavelli inherited much of this vocabulary from Hellenophile Roman authors like Sallust and Livy –​both admirers of Thucydides –​and from Latin translations of Athenian writers including Xenophon, Plato, and Thucydides himself.14 Though critical of Athens’ hyper-​democratic excesses, all these writers suggest that even in a well-​ordered politeia or republic there are bound to be strains and lively disagreements that need not turn poisonous. They revel in human beings’ natural and healthy argumentativeness and in people’s natural love of freedom (eleutheria), asking how these dispositions can become political resources rather than liabilities. This perspective warns us against panicking when confronted even with quite intense battles over values, institutional structures, and policies. Turbulence is not necessarily a symptom of democratic crisis, and real-​life polities almost never look like the ideal-​typical ‘deliberative’ democracies or flourishing greenhouses of liberal rights found in much Anglo-​American political theory –​at least not for long. The appearance of orderly concord or ‘unity’ in a polity where almost everyone conforms to well-​defined norms is impossible

13 14

Ibid., i.5; ibid., Florentine Histories, iii.1 in Laura F. Banfield and Harvey C. Mansfield transl. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); ibid., The Prince, chapt. 9. See Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), chapt. 2, and Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Prince: A New Reading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

92 Benner to sustain in a free polity, even a small, culturally cohesive one like Athens or Florence.15

Inconspicuous Corruption

What then are the symptoms of democratic crisis? A central theme of both Thucydides’ and Machiavelli’s works is that they are far more numerous and harder to spot than we might think. Crises do not always look dramatic or deadly. They often creep up through a gradual process of what they called corruption –​a key idea for both authors, as for other ancient and Renaissance thinkers. Nowadays, we tend to think of political corruption in terms of specific, illegal or shifty activities, often crimes committed by people with big money or great power: corporations ‘buy’ politicians, politicians trade favours. Some contemporary political theorists argue that we should get more ‘realistic’ about political corruption; instead of worrying about relatively harmless misdemeanours, we should save moral condemnation and legal strictures for egregious political crimes.16 Thucydides and Machiavelli would protest that this approach ignores the many-​layered, highly infectious character of corruption. They take a broad, anthropological view of political corruption rather than a narrow and legalistic one. They focus on widespread patterns of conduct, not just individual actions (though these are important too). They look at patterns of thought and speech as well as of conduct: corruption starts and spreads through words as well as deeds. And they ask how social practices that most of us take for granted help spread corrupt patterns, along with politicians and flawed political systems. The Greek words most often translated as corruption are metabolē (change for the worse) and diaphthora. Both imply the loss of form or integrity, and focus attention on the long-​term process of loss or change-​for-​the-​worse. One of the things Thucydides shows most brilliantly, without direct lectures 15


See Aristotle’s criticism in Politics, ii.16–​17 of the interlocutors’ quest for unity in Plato’s Republic. Discussing a larger polity, Cornelius Tacitus in his ‘A Dialogue on Oratory’ (1979, 270–​347) obliquely examines how the Roman Empire’s institutions tried to impose conformity to a rigid set of rhetorical norms on debaters, with the aim of eliminating dissent among citizens. While defenders of these ‘modern’ practices denigrate ‘ancient’ rhetoric as ‘undisciplined’ and idiosyncratic, readers should ask themselves which is worse: a somewhat chaotic individualism in modes of speaking, or the heavy-​handed, uniform rules imposed in modern times by state-​controlled schools. See, for example, Mark Philp, Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


or partisan polemic, is that both the causes of sickness in democracies and their symptoms are often recognised only after things have already gone very bad indeed.17 Most people can see after the fact what went wrong, but at the time corruption tends to happen through very small steps that seem harmless enough. Laws are tweaked and twisted just a bit, politicians are allowed to get away with medium-​sized crimes, and soon the public get used to all this. Questionable practices become normalised: just ‘real politics’ as usual. The corruption of political and moral judgement –​which makes it very hard for people to notice that there is anything wrong with the way things are going –​is linked to corruption of language, especially the evaluative language of praise and blame. All politics relies on speech, but democracy more widely and intensely so than aristocracies or monarchies. Here there are not just formal councils and consultations like those called by kings, or the narrow assemblies of patricians; there are also frequent assemblies where citizens high and low debate the most important questions, and the marketplace (agora) or its cyber-​equivalents where citizens argue and speechify. Thucydides’ history dramatises the dangers that come from democracies’ dependence on the slippery, hard-​to-​control powers of speech. Long, ingenious speeches drive his war story, showing us the arguments that persuaded Athenians and other Greeks to launch and prolong what proved a hellishly costly war. Readers may track how speakers changed the meanings of evaluative words, often very subtly, until they mean something totally different, making constructive communication impossible. At first, all Greeks understand something similar by the word ‘justice’, dikē, and invoke it to arbitrate their quarrels. But the longer they fight each other, the more ‘justice’ acquires different meanings for different warring parties. It starts to mean not ‘what’s fair to all, from a general perspective’ –​the customary meaning –​but ‘what seems fair to me’; and eventually, as things get worse, ‘the advantage of the strongest’. This process of corruption becomes critical for democracies when the accepted value of words was changed arbitrarily. Reckless audacity was counted as brave loyalty to party. Prudent deliberation was called


In the Preface to his 1628 translation of Thucydides’ histories, Thomas Hobbes wrote that the Athenian did not lay down ‘open conveyances or precepts’ but instead ‘so clearly set before men’s eyes the ways and events of good and evil counsels, that the narration itself doth secretly instruct the reader, and more effectually than can possibly be done by precept’: Thomas Hobbes, ‘To the Readers’, in David Grene (ed.), Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: The Complete Hobbes Translation, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. xxi-​xxiv.

94 Benner cowardice; reasonable moderation a cover for weakness. Frantic impulsiveness was praised as manly. The hotheaded man was always trusted, his opponent suspected. Men of the same party were bound not by divine law but by common transgression of the laws. Transparency was considered ‘ignorant goodness’, fraud and deceit the height of intelligence.18 Today it is a commonplace that internet and group-​targeted media intensify democratic ‘language wars’ in various ways, not least by fostering ‘echo chambers’ where like-​minded people can escape exposure to other points of view. The technologies may be different, but as Thucydides says about the ‘language wars’ of his own times: ‘Many terrible things happened that shall be seen again as long as human nature is the same’.19 The basic psycho-​political dynamics that corrode civil speech are much the same then and now, and Thucydides helps us understand how they work. Machiavelli’s similar, long-​range view of corruption makes him draw the following lesson: one ‘should not only have regard for present troubles but for future ones’, he writes in the Prince, for with political disorders it is much as physicians say of consumption … When one recognises from afar the evils that arise in a state … they are soon healed; but when they are left to grow because they are not recognised, to the point that everyone recognises them, there is no longer any remedy for them.20 The gradual, almost invisible normalisation of plummeting standards makes it hard to see when corruption starts to turn critical –​which makes crises much harder to avert or cure once they erupt. What we call ‘crisis’ may develop through a succession of small corruptions rather than a few outrageous crimes. And when its symptoms start to look deadly, people are caught off guard, having thought for years that laxness about laws and public standards was normal. Machiavelli traces the sickness in republics to ‘[l]‌ack of prudence in men’, which, he says, ‘begins something which, because it tastes good then, they do not perceive the poison that lies underneath, as I said above of consumptive fevers [febre etiche]’.21 Here Machiavelli follows Thucydides, Plato, Sallust, and other ancients who compared grave political disorders to somatic sickness. Thucydides’ graphic account of the plague in Athens mirrors his narration of 18 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, iii.82. 19 Ibid., iii.82. 20 Machiavelli, The Prince, chapt. 3. 21 Ibid., chapt. 13.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


his city’s political unravelling –​a process that war-​drunk, self-​congratulatory Athenians barely noticed at the time.22 While warning readers not to panic too soon about democratic turbulence, then, this analysis does urge us to keep a constant lookout for the often inconspicuous signs of corruption, since these small developments are what most often lead popular governments toward crisis. Thucydides and Machiavelli are far less optimistic than modern observers of democratic crises who express confidence that checks and balances, the rule of law, and citizens’ basic decency will rise up at last and save the day. This sanguine perspective underestimates the corrosive power of a thousand small measures, omissions and shifts in language that encourage citizens to overlook –​even applaud –​attacks on democratic restraints. Athenian and Florentine writers had fewer illusions about the ability of institutions, however well designed, to regulate themselves. They can only survive in reasonably good health through the constant vigilance of citizens who understand how political corruption works, and what are its deep and proximate causes.

Sources of Corruption

This is a tall order, not just because corruption operates so subtly and, as Machiavelli put it, ‘under colour’ of doing good, but also because it operates with the help of human dispositions that are hard to check. The deepest causes of crisis-​breeding corruption lie in the democracy-​threatening attitudes of citizens themselves, including some that they are most reluctant to admit. Thucydides is a ruthless debunker of all sorts of myths, and his history quietly explodes one of democracy’s pet illusions: the illusion that its citizens are natural egalitarians. In Athenian democracy, of course, citizen equality was parasitic on massive inequalities –​notably of slaves and of women, who were excluded and held up the fort while men went off to war. But Thucydides’ critical point holds even when all adults have the vote. For the cause of the corruptions of language and judgement he so vividly describes was, he says, the quest for dominion (archē) –​for ‘rule’ over political inferiors, whether within one’s own polity or outside. His histories examine many forms and degrees of a widespread human desire to feel superior to others. At the weaker end, it may involve the desire for kratos (power over someone); more pathologically, it may become a desire for overweening greatness (megalos). The hunger 22 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, ii.47–​54.

96 Benner for superiority is closely related to other troublemaking human dispositions, especially the desire to seek more than one’s share of power or material goods [pleonexia] and ambition [philotimia, literally excessive love of honour]. Thucydides sees these urges as the cause of zealous partisanship [philonikein] and observes that in their battle for supremacy, each party [hetairikos] committed terrible crimes that ‘escalated to ever greater revenges’.23 Thucydides’ histories show how easy it was for one man to rouse Athenians of all classes to war-​fervour by promising them easy victory over their enemies, thereby expanding their empire to a height of greatness not seen by any other Greek polis. Pericles, the popular aristocratic leader who dominated the demos as if he were its monarch (as Thucydides notes), moves Athenians to war by playing up the enemy’s weaknesses and over-​praising Athens’ powers. A few years into the war, after many terrible losses, Thucydides has Pericles deliver a Funeral Oration where he praises Athens even more effusively, asserting that the city is a ‘school for the whole world’ and that Athenians are unique among Greeks in their deep respect for laws and their love of freedom –​treating these attitudes as marks of superiority that justify that city’s imperial policies.24 The historian paints Pericles as a brilliant yet comparatively moderate war leader –​ at first. Compared with the rabble-​rousing demagogues who came after him, the patrician Pericles seems elegant rather than vulgar. His speech contains no overt abuse of enemies. Yet he conjures for Athenians an idealised image of their own, vast superiority in everything, and insinuates that this greatness somehow entitles them to dominate other Greeks and guarantees ultimate victory in war. In the three speeches he gives to Pericles, all delivered in the first two years of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides invites readers to track the fast-​ spiralling consequences of citizens’ bloated ambitions and self-​ignorance. Having urged Athenians to throw themselves into war with a view to expanding their empire –​though not in too obvious or aggressive a manner, Pericles warned at the outset –​things go terribly wrong for the great leader. His policies had fostered unsanitary conditions in the city, plague strikes hard, and people blame him for the many thousands of Athenian deaths. In his final speech, desperate to shore up his popularity, Pericles frankly admits an uncomfortable truth, one that his rhetoric had so far concealed from the demos’ egalitarian eyes. At the start of the war, Athenians did not want to admit that their alliance of Greek cities had become a de facto, hated empire; they preferred to think of

23 Cited in Benner, Machiavelli’s Ethics, p. 88. 24 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, ii.35–​46.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


themselves as mere ‘hegemons’ who lead a coalition of the willing for everyone’s equal benefit. Athenians were proud egalitarians, at least when dealing with free men. Pericles affirmed this self-​image and eulogised his freedom-​ loving compatriots in his Funeral Oration. Soon afterwards, however, he sings a different tune. For all their supposed love of equality and freedom and their claims to champion the freedom of all Greece, he now admits, Athenians hold their empire over other Greeks ‘like a tyranny [hōs turannida]’. This means that they can no longer give it up even if they want to without enduring dreadful revenges. So now that their dirty secret is out in the open, he tells Athenians to throw off their scruples and fight their enemies ‘not just with spirit, but with a spirit of contempt’.25 The long-​term effects of this imperial arrogance prove deadly for the Athenians –​though their political language and judgement are already so corrupt that most are unable to recognise their own errors. Machiavelli too treats immoderate desires for superiority –​economic and political and reputational, within and between cities or peoples –​as the basic cause of corruption in republics. He agrees with Plato and Aristotle that to avoid destabilising corruption, republics need to preserve ‘an even equality’, and that large disparities among citizens in opportunities, wealth, and status pose a serious threat to freedom.26 Even the best laws and institutions need to be planted in healthy socio-​economic soil, Machiavelli insists, or they will go to rot. Excessive inequality destroys freedom because it makes it easier for the wealthy few to dominate the rest, and makes the poorer feel –​with reason –​ that the system is stacked against them. The histories of Rome and of Florence taught him, further, that violent partisanship feeds on disparities of wealth and social respect. Extreme inequalities enrage people more in democracies than in most other systems of government because they contradict democratic promises of equality. When a few are able to use money or powerful networks to obtain the lions’ share of public and private goods, the less well-​off lose trust in the system and are more apt to revolt against its hypocrisies. Inequalities are also the main driver of partisan strife and political polarisation. Machiavelli lavishes disdain on the landed so-​called ‘gentlemen [gentiluomini]’ and merchant-​patricians who claim to be better at governing others than men of the popolo.27 But he also points out that it is not just the wealthiest citizens who foster freedom-​corroding inequalities. In hyper-​competitive trading and banking societies like his own Florence, citizens of many backgrounds and parties become obsessed with winners and losers, ranks and titles. People 25 Ibid., ii.60–​64. 26 Machiavelli, Discourses, i.55. 27 Ibid., i.55.

98 Benner from society’s status-​conscious middle levels are often keenest to get an advantage by whatever means they can, even pushing others down the ladder. This anxious competitive impulse fuels polarisation and extremism. In his Florentine Histories Machiavelli recalls that this happened in Florence less than a century before he was born, after middle-​ranking citizens, hoping to increase their ‘honour’ and status, pushed poorer workers out of the guild system that had protected their rights. The result was a civil war, the so-​called Ciompi [Woolworkers’] Revolt, a traumatic episode that shattered trust between social classes up to Machiavelli’s times.28 His account brings home the uncomfortable truth that not even passionate democratic egalitarians are immune to domineering impulses. In a speech given to a nameless insurgent, an appeal to the rights granted to all humans as natural equals quickly degenerates into a call for violence against their morally inferior oppressors.29 Urging the disenfranchised ‘plebs’ to revolt against ‘the avarice of your superiors and the injustice of your magistrates’, the artisan orator declares: Do not let their antiquity of blood, with which they will reproach us, terrify you [sbigottisca]; for all men, having had the same beginning, are equally [ugualmente] ancient and have been made by nature in one mode. Strip all of us naked, you will see that we are all alike; dress us in their clothes and them in ours, and without a doubt we shall appear noble and they ignoble, for only poverty and riches make us unequal.30 The speaker goes on to demand new forms of inequality in the name of redeeming equality: the inferior assert their right to be superior to their oppressors, to become their oppressors in turn, rather than seeking to put all citizens on a par. Machiavelli hints at the fresh cycles of injustice that are in store for those who seek redress in this way when he has his speaker declare: ‘Now is the time not only to free ourselves’ from the oppressions of our social superiors ‘but to become so much their superiors that they will have more to lament and fear from you than you from them’. Almost imperceptibly, the speaker has moved from an initial, levelling egalitarianism, based on reasonable-​sounding premises of natural justice, to an unjust call for new and vengeful forms of inequality. While treating this as an unstable solution to corrupt inequalities, Machiavelli’s account also shows an understanding for those whose insecure 28 Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, iii.12–​18. 29 Ibid., iii.12–​13. 30 Ibid., iii.13.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


position makes them desperate. In corrupt environments where insecurities are ever more acute, people tend to lose their faith in the capacity of man-​ made laws to regulate inequalities and competition. The only escape from inferiority, they may well think, is to fight by any means for top-​dog status. The interplay of over-​anxious desires to dominate and reactive fears of being dominated generate partisan extremism, the proximate cause that speeds up corruption in democracies and ultimately destroys them. Extreme partisanship is always a risk given the distinctive structure of popular governments, which for Machiavelli are free because, and in so far as, they are pluralistic, allowing different interests and parts of society to compete but never to monopolise. Healthy partisan differences become toxic when partisans forget that they have to share public space with rivals. Deep sickness sets in when partisans split the public into permanent enemy camps, thinking they need to win ‘ultimate victory’ over opponents.31 At this point of ‘hyperpolarisation’, leaders of tyrannical disposition are apt to stride onto the political stage, offering their services to the largest and economically most vulnerable constituency, the non-​elite popolo. ‘Tyranny emerges at once’, Machiavelli warns, when a party or people ‘brings itself to make the error’ of empowering one individual ‘because he beats down those who it holds in hatred’.32 These self-​styled defenders of the people start by attacking the elites ‘with the favour of the people’; afterward, they turn to ‘oppress’ (as Machiavelli says) the people themselves. ‘All those who have founded tyrannies in republics’, he says, ‘have used this method’. This pattern of populism escalating into tyranny and overturning democracies from within has recurred through the ages, thanks to the complicity of reckless saviour-​seeking peoples and the demagogues who embrace the saviour’s role. Machiavelli sees partisan extremism as a pathological form of human self-​ centredness, one that drives people to pursue private ambitions at the expense of what is good for public life. But he and Thucydides remind readers that ‘private’ ambitions are often pursued in the name of the public good, so that citizens are misled –​or rather, as Machiavelli says, let themselves be ‘deceived by a false appearance of good’ and by policies that ‘appear spirited’ into attacking the foundations of shared public life. In this way, they go eagerly along with ‘great hopes and mighty promises’, even when ‘the ruin of the republic is concealed underneath’.33 Such ‘ruin’ comes through bad policies, but also –​more

31 Ibid., ii.14. 32 Machiavelli, Discourses, i.40. 33 Ibid., i.53.

100 Benner insidiously –​through the moral confusion that sets in when people start making excuses for partisan extremities.

Self-​Examination and Citizen Responsibility

What does this classical pathology of corruption and crisis suggest about how to respond when it looks as if our democracies are veering towards ruin? Should we –​as many contemporary commentators exhort –​go into warrior mode, sharpen our weapons, and spurn any compromises with partisan foes? Or should we go along with more sanguine others who say “relax, enjoy the high drama if you can, and have faith that democracy will somehow pull through in the end”? This way of presenting the options would have looked shallow to Thucydides and Machiavelli. Like his younger contemporaries Xenophon, Plato, and the comic playwright Aristophanes, Thucydides almost always uses krisis in a forensic sense, not a diagnostic one: usually to mean a ‘trial’ by laws or arbitrators, a moment or a process of discriminating judgement. The key point here is that the moment of krisis is not something that strikes helpless people, so that the only responses are resignation or battle mode. Krisis is a political and moral turning-​point that calls for careful judgement and choice. If choices are prudent –​that is, based on self-​critical scrutiny of the past and attempts to gauge the likely future effects of present actions –​political (and moral) death may be postponed or averted. If not, onward and downward we go. In Thucydides’ history, his fellow Athenians’ choices in their many moments of krisis are mostly bad. But one kind of choice is particularly suicidal: over and over, corruption deepens when people choose not to submit their disputes to common judgement –​that is, they avoid resorting to krisis in this positive, forensic sense of going to trial, going before a tribunal that might adjudicate their differences. The emphasis on choice as an active response to crisis demands intense responsibility from leaders and citizens.34 And the best choices look beyond private or partisan perspectives and accept the need to share political, moral, and socio-​economic space with very different others. These ideas might seem to be meant more for small-​scale city-​states like Athens or Florence than for mega-​democracies like ours. Phrases like ‘citizen responsibility’ or ‘active citizenship’ sound somewhat less abstract when speaking of several thousands of citizens in one compact city instead of tens 34 On krisis and choice, see (again) Catanzaro’s chapter in the present volume.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


or hundreds of millions spread over several time zones. In our times most ordinary individuals feel that they have relatively little power to influence political decisions –​a sense of powerlessness intensified by the growing super-​power of very few extraordinary individuals and corporations. But one of the most important lessons that Thucydides and Machiavelli teach us is that to be fully human means to think about whatever conditions we find ourselves in, for better or worse –​and to try to act, to affect our situation in some way, however miniscule. It may or may not be true that the gods or our past or our animal nature make our efforts pointless. What later came to be called ‘free will’ may well be just self-​deception. But as long as we cannot be 100% sure, it seems to be part of our humanity to keep trying to make a tiny difference even while entertaining the most fatalistic thoughts.35 So what can nearly powerless citizens do to retrieve some control over their so-​called self-​government? For one thing, they can look in a self-​critical way at their history –​not just their country’s writ large, but also at their own personal decisions (or indecisions) that may have contributed to their democracy’s present travails. For another, citizens can scrutinise the ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that drove their decisions. These are partly what moderns call ideologies –​official or collective-​shared worldviews –​and partly personal dispositions and prejudices. Ancient Greek plays, Plato’s philosophical dialogues, and other works of the time confront citizens with the awkward question: are your political ideals and motives really as high-​minded –​or as realistic –​as you like to think they are? Both Thucydides and Machiavelli show that a thorough, honest and, above all, self-​critical pathology of democratic crisis has to guide both our diagnoses and our remedies. They trace the causes of political illness to dispositions in citizens –​some found in all human beings, some formed through specific experiences of war or tyranny or some other trauma –​that are apt to become virulent when people are unaware of them and of the harm they can do. Most dangerous are dispositions in each of us that clash with our own self-​image as self-​governing citizens of democracies, lovers of equality and freedom. The best defenders of democracy are people who admit to themselves some deeply uncomfortable truths. They recognise that their own and their fellow citizens’ attitudes toward self-​government, freedom, and equality are ambivalent and prone to waver under stress. They know that self-​governing citizens of all backgrounds and parties are sometimes attracted to over-​assertive leaders, are


See Machiavelli, The Prince, chapt. 25 on fortune and free will.

102 Benner often intolerant of others’ freedoms of expression and belief, and even more often want to be considerably more equal than others. Aristophanes gives a scathing account of citizens’ complicity in democratic crisis-​making in his comedy Knights. The play stages a contest among a wretched crew of demagogues –​whose names resemble those of Athenian politicians –​for citizens’ affections.36 One says to the character Mr Demos, who represents Athenian citizens-​at-​large: ‘I’d do absolutely anything to gratify you: you know I’ve tortured people, extorted, played the lowest dirtiest games to fill your purse!’. His rival says he would outdo all that and ‘snatch other people’s loaves and give them to you! You see, I don’t care how low I go, how much I risk exciting the gods’ or anyone else’s wrath’. The demagogues promise to gratify the Athenians’ most outrageous fantasies of power and glory. Mr Demos’ favourite oracle forecasts that he will soon rule over the whole earth, judging court cases in the Persian capital Ecbatana while nibbling canapés. At the end of the play, the demagogues contest’s winner transforms Mr Demos into a beauteous young man, taking him back to the golden days when Athenians were on a high after the Persian Wars. On the surface, Aristophanes’ play might seem simply to blame the demagogues for democracy’s troubles. Their fights are so entertaining that it is easy to be distracted from the underlying problem: why does Mr Demos get swept up in all this farce? For most of the play he is offstage or dead silent –​much as in Thucydides’ histories we hear almost nothing from ordinary Athenians deliberating the war in this supposedly robust democracy. Mr Demos looks like a mindless dupe of the demagogues. But when the chorus of elite Knights accuses him of being easily flattered and deceived –​saying ‘you have a mind, but it’s wandered off’ –​Mr Demos turns on them and says: ‘You’re the brainless ones if you think I’m stupid. There’s a method in my foolishness: I like my daily bread, so I pick a leader, raise him up to do what I want and fatten him, then swat him down when he gets too full. I’m the one in control, not my leaders’.37 The deeper truth is that Demos and demagogues ‘play’ each other. Citizens want leaders who promise to keep them fed, put down their would-​be superiors, do the grunt-​work of self-​government for them, while demagogues gratify their thirst for inglorious glory on democracy’s stage. Yet if Aristophanes’ Mr Demos makes a mockery of the usual idealised picture of Democratic Man as an active, self-​governing citizen, the sneering Knights do not help either by mocking Mr Demos’ stupidity. They might be right –​Aristophanes thought 36 Aristophanes, Knights, in Jeffrey Henderson ed. and transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), pp. 366–​375. 37 Ibid.

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


so –​to call Athens’ real-​life demagogues ‘filthy disgusting shout-​downers, who’ve thrown our city into a sea of troubles, deafening our Athens with your bellowing’.38 But their posture of moral and patriotic superiority irritates, as does their claim that their great services to Athens warrant their pseudo-​ aristocratic long hair and taste for luxuries. Between the laughs, Aristophanes’ comedies are dead-​serious wake-​up calls to his fellow Athenians on both sides of the popular-​elite divide. None of them, however sophisticated or fond of professing their love for equality or freedom, were immune to democracy-​threatening attitudes. Contemptuous elitism is by no means a more intelligent or freedom-​friendly political attitude than smug-​ and-​lazy complicity with demagogues: both are part of the problem of democratic crisis.


We hear a great deal today about the need to ‘educate’ citizens to be better at seeing through misleading rhetoric and posturing leaders. Reading Thucydides and Machiavelli is an excellent exercise in how to be a sceptical auditor of political spin, particularly the kind that leads unwary citizens to make deadly decisions. But they clearly imply that the education citizens need does not just involve studying clever tricks of rhetoric and patterns of democratic decay. The ignorance that most weakens democracies cannot be corrected through training in logic or political science, or by studying the past as if it were a foreign country. Democratic education needs to stimulate critical self-​examination on the part of citizens themselves, bringing them face to face with their own democracy-​threatening attitudes and dispositions. In his Kritik und Krise (1954),39 Reinhart Koselleck argued that early modern absolutism drove its critics to ‘utopian’ extremes by depriving them of any realistic hopes of exerting political power.40 Unable to act, anti-​absolutists dreamt up ideal, shiny-​and-​new forms of human life and community, run on rational principles by enlightened people like themselves, where the compromises and conflicts that are part of a robust vivere politico –​something they could not experience first-​hand –​had no part. Losing touch with messier political realities, utopian criticism took on a life of its own and became the predominant

38 Ibid. 39 This refers to the year when the dissertation was officially defended and registered. 40 See Kai Gräf’s chapter in this volume.

104 Benner form of liberal and left resistance to authoritarianism in modern times, up to the Cold War era when Koselleck wrote his book. This argument carries lessons for anyone who wants to defend more liberal and pluralist kinds of democracy against ‘illiberal’ varieties. Absolutism may be long gone, but authoritarian tendencies always lurk within even the most impeccably liberal and democratic politics; and not all of their liberal critics are free from what Koselleck called utopian attitudes. Some strains of contemporary liberal resistance to authoritarianism carry residues of idealisation, dogmatism, and even authoritarianism –​notably recent books that call for a new ‘epistocracy’, government that gives more power to experts and educated elites.41 Deriving from the Greek words epistēmē (knowledge) and kratos, epistocracy gives a large share of political authority to those who are considered –​on some criterion –​to have more knowledge than others, whether specialist knowledge or general. This places the demand for technocratic political knowledge above democratic concerns for legitimation and is therefore likely to irritate those who are deemed to know not as much, unless the relevant fields of expertise are quite narrowly defined and uncontroversial. And even many liberals who resist epistocratic ideals of government are sometimes apt to judge fellow citizens by too harsh a yardstick, not seeing how their attitudes and speech fuel the delicate dynamic of suspicion between elites and the rest. Much has been said over the past three centuries, and again now, about the need to educate the demos. But the would-​be educators also need to examine their own civic shortcomings and realise that responsibility for the conditions that breed democracy’s pathologies lies with all citizens –​including those of us who think of ourselves as democratic warriors against today’s authoritarianisms.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Aristophanes, Knights, ed. and transl. Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Aristotle, Politics, transl. H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990). Hobbes, Thomas, ‘To the Readers’, in David Grene (ed.), Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: The Complete Hobbes Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).


See Jason Brennan, Against Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

Pathologies of Democratic Crisis


Machiavelli, Niccolò, Discourses on Livy, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, Discourses on Livy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Prince, transl. Harvey C. Mansfield, The Prince (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). Plato, Laws, ed. and transl. Robert G. Bury and Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926). Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, transl. Charles Foster Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

Secondary Sources

Benner, Erica, Machiavelli’s Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). Benner, Erica, Machiavelli’s Prince: A New Reading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Benner, Erica, Be Like the Fox (London: Penguin Allen Lane, 2017). Brennan, Jason, Against Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). Koselleck, Reinhart, Kritik und Krise. Eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973; i edn 1959). Philp, Mark, Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

­c hapter 5

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England: The Ochlocratic Moment Cesare Cuttica* This chapter makes a small contribution to the important and –​as explained in the Introduction to this volume –​omnipresent discourse of “crisis” by linking the critical phase of the revolutionary 1640s in England with an analysis of a particular brand of political ideas that emerged at that time. This entailed criticism of various groups of political and religious actors –​Parliamentarians, Levellers, sectaries, Independents –​as people who attempted to erect an “ochlocracy”, namely the “government of the rabble”. Identified with the polity where oratory-​fuelled plebeians held the reins of power arbitrarily, ochlocracy was depicted as worse than democracy (the “government of the people”). The term “ochlocracy” was deployed in the polemics of the time to express fear of, and contempt for, various forms of ‘popularity’.1 As such, references to ochlocracy reveal a critical moment in the understanding of traditional notions of authority and practices of sovereignty. They also cast light on opinions concerning the people and their lack of political discernment that have gained traction in twenty-​first-​century political, economic and cultural debates. The question of whether the seventeenth century was a century of crisis is one that has occupied historians since, at least, the 1950s.2 In the ‘General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’ debate, Eric Hobsbawm maintained that the English Revolution was a bourgeois revolution and ‘the most decisive product of the seventeenth-​century crisis’,3 whilst Hugh Trevor-​Roper underlined how crisis occurred on a wider scale involving a rift between society and state,

* I thank Erica Benner, Camilla Boisen, László Kontler, Gaby Mahlberg, Iain McDaniel and Markku Peltonen, as well as the audience of the ‘Early Modern Intellectual History Seminar’ at Fukuoka University (20 March 2019), for help with, and comments on, this piece. 1 See Cesare Cuttica, ‘Popularity in Early Modern England (ca. 1580–​1642): Looking Again at Thing and Concept’, Journal of British Studies, 58 (2019), pp. 1–​27. 2 See the ‘Introduction’ in this volume. See also Trevor Aston (ed.), Crisis in Europe 1560–​1660. Essays from ‘Past and Present’ (London: Routledge, 1969; i edn 1965). The debate had started in the mid-​1950s in Past and Present with the articles by Hobsbawm and Trevor-​Roper. 3 Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 5–​58, p. 53.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_007

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England


especially in England.4 Rejecting the Marxist perspective focused on economic factors, Trevor-​Roper saw Charles i’s ineptitude as having contributed to the demise of what he called ‘“the last Renaissance Court in Europe”’.5 The revolt was thus against the vast ‘parasitic’ structure of the English monarchy and its ‘rigid’ court-​based bureaucratic scaffolding.6 Historians might question the validity of “crisis” as a paradigm with which to approach a particular historical period. Yet that the 1640s in England produced multiple crises –​as recognised by those then reacting to events and ideas7 –​is hard to cast in doubt.8 The 1640s prompted some writers to ask questions that required new answers: political thought was, in a sense, made necessary by crisis. Hence my objective is to focus on works that, because they were written in that eventful decade, expressed a view of crisis –​indeed, critical apprehension of politically, religiously and socially troubled times –​which articulated an old meaning (degeneration –​i.e. of democracy) in order to face a new challenge (ochlocracy). As we know, in its medical connotation, ‘crisis’ displayed the idea of a stark alternative between life and death.9 Applied to political discourse, this meaning fitted in perfectly with the situation of revolutionary England where some thought the country had reached a critical stage of degeneration from which only one of two opposite outcomes was possible: recovery or collapse. For the authors studied below, unhealthy democracy had degenerated into lethal ochlocracy. At this historical juncture, crisis still entailed a notion of development for better or worse 4 Hugh Trevor-​Roper, ‘The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 59–​95, passim. 5 Ibid., p. 93. 6 Ibid., pp. 94, 95. For a different perspective, see Roland Mousnier, ‘Trevor-​Roper’s “General Crisis” Symposium’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 97–​116. On the crucial place of economic, environmental and political factors in the development of crisis, see Geoffrey Parker and Lesley M. Smith (eds), The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), esp. ‘Introduction’, pp. 1–​31. On the role of absolutism in relation to early modern crisis/​es, see Niels Steensgaard, ‘The Seventeenth-​Century Crisis’, in Aston (ed.), Crisis, pp. 32–​56, esp. pp. 44–​48. On crisis (including ‘crisis of ideas’), see Geoffrey Parker, ‘The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited’, The American Historical Review, 113 (2008), pp. 1029–​1099 and ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 40 (2009), pp. 145–​303. Lastly, Geoffrey Parker has paid attention to the global scale of crisis in relation to climate change’s effects on early modern societies (see Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013)). 7 See below. 8 For a similar interpretation, see Paschalis Kitromilides’ chapter in the present volume. 9 See Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400, p. 358 (transl. Michaela W. Richter).

108 Cuttica in the course of a disease: politically, the odds were that an already sick body politic would not survive the ochlocratic cancer affecting it. Whether incurring the fatal side-​effects of an uncertain time ahead or, more tragically, experiencing an abrupt end, England as was known could be no more. This was the disastrous consequence of the “critically” ochlocratic moment that had gripped the nation.

On 28 April 1640, Sir John Coke (1563–​1644) wrote to his father: ‘God keep the parliament together, things are near to a crisis I fear’.10 Only a few months later, the leader of the opposition John Pym, and others like John Hampden and Oliver St. John, resisted arbitrary taxation and denied that the sovereign had extra-​legal powers. Parliament forced King Charles i to pass legislation that prevented him from dissolving the assembly without its own consent. In February 1641, the Triennial Act established that Parliament had to be summoned every three years and that, should the King oppose this move, the mp  s from the last assembly could gather without need of the royal summon. In March 1641, Baron Dudley North (1581–​1666) appositely observed that ‘stormes and distempers possesse our spirituall and politique part; This Parliament is our Crisis and time of Physick, which if unlucky our State is desperate, and health in truth is never to bee despaired till the body cannot beare the remedy’.11 In this heated climate, the Commons enacted a series of measures aimed at curbing the royal prerogative and the apparatus that sustained it: the courts of High Commission and Star Chamber were abolished. As the leader of the pro-​Covenanting Scottish faction in the Commons, Pym wanted change not only in the church, but also in the state: so much so that ‘as early as May 1641, the Covenanting leadership had designated them [Pym and his followers] “the Commonwealth’s men”’.12 In November 1641, Pym passed his Grand Remonstrance: this was the famous petition addressed to Charles i by the House of Commons with which the King’s policies were indicted and drastic proposals for reform in church and state advanced.13 Unsurprisingly, many people feared the overthrowing of social

10 11 12 13

Cited in Anthony Fletcher, The Outbreak of the English Civil War (London: Bloomsbury USA, 1985; i edn 1981), p. 15. Dudley North, A Forest of Varieties […] (London: Richard Cotes, 1645), p. 238. Allan I. MacInness, ‘The “Scottish Moment”, 1638–​45’, in John Adamson (ed.), The English Civil War. Conflict and Contexts, 1640–​49 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 125–​ 152, p. 134. For accounts of the conflict-​mounting period November 1640-​June 1641, see Fletcher, Outbreak, pp. 7–​41 and MacInness, ‘“Scottish Moment”’, esp. pp. 131–​136.

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England


hierarchy and public order, and even the encouraging of popular rebellion. Charles went as far as to charge five mp  s with high treason: amongst the five were Pym and Hampden. When the King entered the Commons with a large number of soldiers in order to seize the five members, he did not find them. The reaction to Charles’ attempt was fierce as his actions infringed the Commons’ privileges. This event signalled the end of all compromise and the consequent surge of references to crisis –​to the extent that the interplay of crisis in its medical overtones and politics became a staple of public parlance and controversy. Reflecting on the development of the conflict between King and Parliament two years later, the Scots Presbyterian Robert Baillie (1602–​1662) resorted to the language of crisis as his main interpretative prism. He declared that ‘this seems to be a new period and crise of the most great affairs’,14 indicating the unprecedented seriousness of the situation then affecting the country. In addressing the Commons in July 1644, the clergyman and St. Martin Ludgate Presbyterian preacher Stanley Gower (1600?-​1660) adopted the same tune. He argued that ‘Daniels Prophecie concernes the Jewes’ was a text whose message fittingly applied to England because ‘it speakes by way of Crisis, it discovers the temper of the sick body of Church and State’.15 Along similar lines, the religious controversialist Francis Cheynell (bap.1608–​1665) maintained that ‘to consult the Physitians of State, those sage Writers, who have felt the pulse of most Common-​wealths, throughout the world’ meant to learn that ‘if the breach be never so small, yet the Crisis is sad’. The reasons for this was that ‘Discordia inter Consuasores est maxime perniciosa’.16 Politics and medicine were depicted as similar realms of expertise: harmony amongst politicians was as vital as agreement amongst doctors. Just as in the latter case the survival of a human body depended on the experts attending to it, so in the former situation the body politic’s health was in the hands of those responsible for the public weal. Having inveighed against novelties in public affairs –​‘the sudden alteration of a fundamentall Government of the Church, (which necessarily carryes the State with it) threatens, nay brings no lesse then unavoidable ruine to both’ –​the (royalist) poet Francis Quarles (1592–​1644) remarked that England was ‘now’ in a ‘miserable’ situation. This circumstance stemmed from the

14 15 16

Cited in Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 362, n.19. On Baillie, see below. Stanley Gower, Things Now-​a-​Doing […] (London: G. M. for Philemon Stephens at the signe of the Golden-​Lyon in Pauls Church-​yard, 1644), ‘The Epistle Dedicatorie’, sig. A4. Francis Cheynell, The Man of Honour, Described in a Sermon, Preached before the Lords of Parliament, in the Abbey Church at Westminster, March 26. 1645 […] (London: J.R. for Samuel Gellibrand, dwelling in S. Pauls Church-​yard, at the sign of the Brasen-​Serpent, 1645), p. 47.

110 Cuttica fact that ‘unthankfull subjects’ had failed to take ‘advantage’ of ‘the Trienniall Parliament’, whereby they ‘might every 3 years have inspected this new recoverd Kingdome, and kept it alwayes in a perfect Crisis, the approaching Terror whereof, would not have afforded popular evils so long a time, or liberty to root themselves or gather head against the peace and welfare of our happy Government’.17 Once again, the message emerging from these considerations had to do with the importance of balance in political matters. Quarles knew that a ‘perfect/​positive’ crisis led to recovery of the body politic, whereas the prevalence of one element over the others was conducive to an ‘imperfect/​ negative’ crisis whose upshot was death of the same entity.18 It was then that the implications of this language of crisis, and references to the unusual –​but by no means unheard of –​“ochlocracy”, came to the fore in the realm of political ideas. Without positing an explicit connection between the two, the following pages claim that various critical positions vis-​à-​vis popular government and the (alleged) spreading of democratic ideals in the England of the 1640s expressed a profound sense of uncertainty about the nature and health of the body politic. Indeed, attacks on democracy conveyed fears that the country was facing an unprecedented crisis of direction. For the thinkers studied below, this process could have only one outcome: the establishment of an ochlocratic government.

The Greek term ‘ochlocracy’ referred to the ‘[g]‌overnment by the populace’ or ‘mob rule’.19 This regime was a despotism of the rabble. Ochlocracy was tantamount to a degenerated state for it meant the violent emergence of a perverted form of democracy. For instance, Aristotle used the Greek ‘ὄχλος’ in disparaging reference to ‘the mass’ and ‘the rabble’.20 He considered these urban, landless, mobs more dangerous than the parish-​based people as the former could ‘easily attend the assembly’ and were less restrained in their self-​interested political attitudes.21 Aristotle linked elections with aristocracy, which signified that 17 18 19 20 21

Francis Quarles, The Profest Royalist his Quarrell with the Times, Maintained in Three Tracts […] (Oxford, s.n., 1645), pp. 18–​19. On these two meanings of crisis, see the ‘Introduction’ in this volume. Oxford English Dictionary, ‘ochlocracy, n.’,, accessed on 1 March 2019. See Aristotle, Politics, esp. vi, 4 and vi, 5, in David Keyt ed. and transl. Aristotle. Politics. Books V and VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 45 (1319a35) and p. 46 (1320a10). Ibid., vi, 4, p. 45 (1319a30) and vi, 4, p. 43 (1318b9-​1318b16). Following Cleisthenes’ restructuring of the Athenian tribe system (508 B.C.), the “demos” –​a term that at first described the dwellers of the countryside –​came to include both city dwellers (asty) and countryside inhabitants (agros): see Anthony Arblaster, Democracy (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002; i edn 1987), p. 71 n.5.

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England


merit was its central trait, whilst connecting democracy with choice by lot.22 This view was to be successful in that throughout the classical era democracy was consistently identified with the following institutional mechanisms: ‘officials by lot, the scrutiny at the end of a term of office, and the decision of policy by popular assembly’.23 Such conditions for Aristotle were only achievable on a small scale: democracies could function and survive if they were ‘face-​to-​face societies’ enabling their citizens to get to know one another closely.24 For all his criticism of democracy as the government of ‘the needy’, Aristotle saw it as a legitimate form of government.25 It was not so in the case of ochlocracy. Despite the great importance of Aristotle’s doctrines in the history of political thought, it is with the name of Polybius (first century B.C.) that “ochlocracy” is most commonly associated.26 Polybius set out the theory of the anakyklosis (cyclic(al) decay) of the forms of government. In a paragraph taken from the first English translation worth quoting in its entirety, he explained: Wherefore we must say that there are sixe kinds of Gouernments: We haue already spoken of three Common to all the World: The other three are neere vnto them, that is to say a Monarchy, Olygarchy, and Ochlocracy. The first whereof is a Monarchy, rising naturally without any establishment. From whence doth grow a Royall Gouernment, by order and good direction. But when the Royall changeth into its neighbour vices, as into Tyranny, then by the abollishing thereof an Aristocracy takes 22 Aristotle, Politics, vi, 2, p. 41 (1317b21). 23 Richard Wollheim, ‘Democracy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 19 (1958), pp. 225–​242, p. 226. See Aristotle, Politics, vi, 2, p. 41 (1317b17-​1318a2). 24 Josiah Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 33. 25 Aristotle, Politics, vi, 2, p. 40 (1317b9). It should be said that in democracies ‘the needy’ –​ ‘ἀπόρους’ (“apourous”), namely those who are lacking –​have more authority (‘are more sovereign’) than the rich, because they are the ‘majority’ and as such their ‘opinion […] is supreme’ (ibid., vi, 2, p. 41 (1317b9-​1317b10)). 26 Polybius was translated into English in 1633 and was reprinted twice within a couple of years (see Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought 1570–​1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 302). James Hankins has argued that although ochlocratia was rarely used in ancient and medieval times, one exception was Cyriac of Ancona (1391–​1452). Aware of Book 6 of Polybius’ History of Rome, Cyriac used democracy in a positive sense and ochlocracy as its degeneration (see James Hankins, ‘Europe’s First Democrat? Cyriac of Ancona and Book 6 of Polybius’, in Ann Blair and Anja-​Silvia Goeing (eds), For the Sake of Learning: Essays in Honor of Anthony Grafton (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016), pp. 692–​710, pp. 700–​701, 703). Ochlocracy for Polybius meant a coercive government controlled by a lawless mob trying to illegitimately seize other people’s goods (ibid., pp. 697–​698).

112 Cuttica its being: the which naturally changeth into Olygarchia. And when the Commons reuenge with fury the Gouernours iniustice, then growes a Democracia. For the outrages and iniquities whereof, in time it prooues an Ochlocracia.27 To confirm its extreme dangerousness, Polybius qualified ‘Ochlocracia’ as ‘a Gouernment of the mutiny of the people’.28 Significantly, Polybius placed his discussion of the anacyclosis after the account of Rome’s defeat at Cannae (216 bc) in that he saw the Roman constitution as having reached the acme and, therefore, this critical moment was ideal to put its strength to the test.29 Referring to the Achaeans, Polybius made use of two parts of his constitutional theory: from kingship their ‘nation’ had degenerated into tyranny and, subsequently, with the tyrants toppled, democracy –​whose hallmarks were ‘freedom (eleutheria)’, ‘equality (isegoria)’ and ‘free speech (parrhesia)’30 –​was set up.31 However, by 181 bc the ochlos had obtained power under the command of Callicrates, so that a significant ‘“change for the worse”’ took place. After a while though, inevitably followed ochlocracy’s ‘demise’. This meant that ‘the Achaeans elected Critolaus and Diaeus’, who by pandering to the oi polloi seized ‘illegal absolute power’. The cycle experienced by the Achaean nation was therefore one that went from kingship to tyranny onto democracy to ochlocracy and finally to monarchy.32 Most importantly, Polybius thought ochlocracy to be characterised by ‘excessive love of political office’ on the part of the democratic masses (and,

27 Polybius, The History, vi, in Edward Grimeston transl. The History of Polybius the Megalopolitan […] Translated into English by Edward Grimeston, sergeant at armes (London: Nicholas Okes for Simon Waterson, 1633), p. 283 (italics added). The sequence, which included these six constitutional changes, began though with ‘(generic) monarchy, from which kingship arises by improvement through human initiative’. This means that there are seven constitutions involved in the cycle (see David E. Hahm, ‘Kings and Constitutions: Hellenistic Theories’, in Christopher Rowe and Malcolm Schofield (eds), The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 457–​476, p. 466 and 466 n.33). 28 Polybius, The History, vi, p. 283. 29 David E. Hahm, ‘Polybius’ Applied Political Theory’, in Andre Laks and Malcolm Schofield (eds), Justice and Generosity. Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy. Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium Hellenisticum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 7–​47, pp. 7–​8. On the Polybian version of the cycle as reversing to monarchy after ochlocracy, see ibid., p. 9. 30 Hahm, ‘Kings’, p. 471 n.40. 31 See Polybius, The History, vi, p. 283. 32 Hahm, ‘Kings’, pp. 471–​472.

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therefore, a regime distinct from anarchy, where nobody ruled). This ‘deviant democracy’ was marred by a huge number of ‘aspiring leaders’ deprived of morality.33 Equally decisively, ochlocracy was followed by monarchy, not kingship. This entailed a return to the original state where people obeyed a leader (the strongest of a herd) out of fear, not out of willingness and love for somebody who was just, moral and rational.34 A monarchy was led by force and fear, whereas a kingship –​instituted thanks to voluntary submission to an admired leader –​was ruled according to rational judgement. The passage from monarch to king denoted a rational decision on the part of both ruler and subjects. Hence the post-​ochlocratic scenario with its going back to the monarchical condition implied a phase where the demise of rationality was complete.35 Polybius’ theory whereby ochlocracy was the degeneration of democracy became a standard trope of political reflection well into the early modern period.36 When considering seventeenth-​century England, we find that in the 1640s there occurred a surge in the frequency with which the term, and the concept of, ochlocracy were applied to political, ecclesiastical and intellectual debates. This should not surprise: the early part of the decade saw increasing mob activity in the country, especially in London, and growing religious radicalism, which were interpreted as signs of the world turned upside down.37 Soldiers preaching freely were identified with a serious threat to all order:38 so much so that by 1647–​8 many who had been radicals ended up taking more conservative positions, going as far as to embrace counter-​revolutionary stances. At a historical juncture which saw the Levellers appeal directly to the people outside Parliament in what was a new ‘radical notion of parliamentary representation’,39 mobilisation of the lower orders (often through mass petitioning)40 was a weapon deployed by royalist and parliamentarian factions alike. The presence of violent ‘royalist City’ mobs in the summer of 1647 was meant

33 Ibid., pp. 475–​476. 34 On some of these issues, see Hahn, ‘Polybius’, pp. 18–​19. 35 See ibid., p. 19. 36 In Les six livres de la République (1576), Jean Bodin spoke of ‘Ochlocraties’ (I consulted the French edition of 1629 published in Geneva by Etienne Gamonet, p. 969). 37 See Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1972). 38 Robert Ashton, The English Civil War. Conservatism and Revolution 1603–​ 1649 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978), pp. 148–​156, 224. 39 Rachel Foxley, The Levellers. Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), p. 10. 40 See David Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture. Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-​Modern England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), e.g. pp. 262, 265.

114 Cuttica to counteract confusion spread by anti-​monarchical sectarian firebrands.41 Overall, there existed a paralysing fear of popular violence, irrespective of who did the rioting or posed the threat of it. This situation turned England into a country affected by constant outbreaks of crisis.42 Moreover, the creation of the New Model Army (1645), the expanding demands for religious toleration, the Levellers’ campaigning for ‘equity’ and, eventually, the regicide all contributed to shape the period as crisis-​stricken.43 From a theoretical perspective, principles such as separation of powers and freedom of (godly) conscience as well as support for an enlarged franchise and antinomianism took centre stage, generating a predictable hysteria-​fuelled trail of reactions. More panic was prompted by the impact that some theological creeds reputed to be beyond the pale had on the political and social establishment. Amongst these were the theories of the Mortalists according to whom the soul was asleep and the established churches were not the true churches of the true saints founded on congregational premises. Mortalism was seen as an atheistic doctrine, and as such an open door to chaos.44 Remission of sins, cancellation of debts, sectaries’ sexual promiscuity, demands for levelling of private property, lack of deference towards traditional hierarchies and towards entrenched societal practices also caused widespread anxiety. Such menaces were increased by the fact that the 1640s were times of economic crisis and of generalised political dissatisfaction. Consequently, attacks against the much-​ dreaded ‘many-​headed’ multitude became common.45 In fact, the latter was portrayed as a sick and violent ochlocratic rabble.

At the start of the conflict between King and Parliament, Henry Parker (1604–​ 1652) defined the latter as the last bastion against kingly tyranny in that it 41

See Derek Hirst, England in Conflict 1603–​1660. Kingdom, Community, Commonwealth (London: Arnold, 1999), e.g. p. 240. 42 For an overview of the period as affected by crisis, see Michael J. Braddick (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). 43 See e.g. Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Revisited (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). The Levellers reacted with calls for popular power to the critical situation in which ‘the many’ found themselves due to Parliament’s power-​abuses, high-​taxation policies and oppressive tendencies towards non-​voters and soldiers. Amongst the elites, their radicalism was seen as highly critical of the status quo because it also allowed women like John Lilburne’s wife Elizabeth to be petitioners (Hirst, England, p. 243). 44 See e.g. Philip C. Almond, Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008; i edn 1994), p. 43. 45 Hirst, England, pp. 260–​261. See also John Walter, Crowds and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), esp. pp. 181–​195.

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protected people’s liberties and promoted justice. Hence, should Parliament be deprived of the possibility of exercising these roles, all would be lost for England. If the monarch was entitled to strip Parliament of its ‘being’, or if its members could ‘doe nothing but what pleases Him’, lest they might ‘be called Traitors’, Parker asked, ‘what is there remaining to Parliaments?’ The answer was simple: this political body would be ‘in a worse condition then the meanest Subject out of Parliament’.46 For Parker, troubles always stemmed from arbitrary kings, not from ‘Parliaments’ –​where there were no ‘jealousies’ in that these assemblies were ‘so equally, and geometrically proportionable […] that no one can be of any extreame predominance’. In England the two ‘Houses of Parliament’ regulated in a peaceable manner relations ‘betwixt the Prince and his poorest Vassals’, with the crucial result of ‘declining Tyranny on the one side, and Ochlocracy on the other’.47 Parliamentarism of the kind Parker advocated struck a balance between preservation of kingly authority and people’s liberties. Against tyranny, it preserved ‘the good of the whole’, whilst against ochlocracy it prevented ‘the exorbitance of any one part’. According to Parker, ochlocracy was not only an extreme form of government and an extremely unpleasant one; it was primarily the polity where uncouth plebeians wielded power: thus, it was no democracy. To avoid such a catastrophic scenario, Parker advanced the ideal of a balanced constitution for England.48 Parker’s contentions were answered by the royalist lawyer Sir John Spelman (1594–​1643) –​for whom democracy was much ‘unpleasing to God’ and ‘pernitious to the people themselves’, being a state where despite a pretention ‘of doing justice, or preserving true religion’, what really mattered was the attainment of private goals.49 In 1643, Spelman explained that at that time conflict did not centre on the opposition between royal ‘prerogative’ and ‘Subiects libertie’. Rather, the latter struggled ‘with Ot[c]‌hlocracie’: with ochlocratic rabble-​ rule which through Parliament held an oppressive power over England.50

46 47 48 49 50

Henry Parker, Observations Upon Some of His Majesties Late Answers and Expresses (London, s.n., 1642), p. 21. Ibid., p. 21 (italics added). Ibid., p. 24. John Spelman, Certain Considerations Upon the Duties of Both the Prince and the People […] (Oxford: Leonard Lichfield, 1642), p. 10. John Spelman, A View of a Printed Book Intituled ‘Observations upon His Majesties Late Answers and Expresses (Oxford [i.e. London]: Leonard Liechfield [sic], printer to the University, 1642 [i.e. 1643]), sig. E4r. Spelman’s authorship has been questioned (see Michael Mendle, Henry Parker and the English Civil War. The Political Thought of the Public’s “Privado” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; i edn 1995), p. 107). However, the attribution stands according to ODNB, ‘Spelman, John’.

116 Cuttica Indeed, Parker’s Parliamentarian popular polity was no better than ‘Anarchy’.51 Spelman felt that, if until then democratising ideas had been pushing through the commonweal, a year into the clash between Charles and the parliamentary forces things had turned out to be much worse: democratic tendencies had reached their ochlocratic stage. The latter was not merely akin to an anarchic polity, but it represented a specific government where the worst of the worst were in charge. Like the case of democratic Athens under the Thirty Tyrants proved, government by ‘consent’ could well end up in thrall to tyrannical rulers. The moral for Spelman was that parliaments could abuse their authority and be an oppressive ochlocratic force: by the fury and practise of some Members, the whole body may possibly bee lead into error, and injure the Common-​wealth: Some members may possibly combind themselves for alteration of Government in Church and State, and if they can backe their designe which [with] the force of an unruly multitude, they may with that force and hypocrisie mixt together, prevaile with the major part of the Houses, and then having got an Act to bee indissolvable, they may goe on with their designe, making [u]‌se of such schismaticall and seditious dispositions as the Common-​wealth shall then abound with.52 Spelman concluded that this was the abyss into which ‘our Observators [Parker’s] principles’ were plunging England. Explicitly accusing Parker of setting forth arguments ‘to prove Do[e]‌mocracy, or the Soveraine power in a Committee to be better and more safe then in one’, Spelman took his fulmination a step further in that he denounced Parker’s doctrine as a legitimation of ochlocracy. This was a terrible state of affairs in that it amounted to having ‘an absolute arbitrary power to such as shall by what meanes soever make themselves a major part in the Houses neither Statutes nor presidents shall be binding unto them: all oaths and tyes of Allegiance unto their King must cease, if they Vote their Soveraigne bee their danger’.53 For Spelman, the only true defender of people’s liberties was, therefore, the king, not the ochlocratic parliamentary assembly of which Parker was the shameless mouthpiece. What the exchange between Parker and Spelman offers is a clear demonstration of how these concerns were connected to rival conceptions of 51 Spelman, A View, sig. E3v. 52 Ibid., sig. E4r. 53 Ibid., sig. E4r.

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Parliament: whereas for Parker parliamentary authority represented a barrier against both tyranny and ochlocracy, Spelman viewed Parliament as a potential channel for ochlocracy (implicitly, poking fun at “popular” mp s for keeping company with the lowest of the low). Ochlocracy was the unfortunate denouement of a crisis which was understood as the explosion of popular politics. The remedies Parker and Spelman judged necessary to adopt in order to halt this critical moment were though quite different. In even starker contrast to Parker, Bishop John Bramhall (1594–​1663) targeted the Parliamentarians because they promoted the dreadful theory of the popular origins of power. For Bramhall, Parker –​branded ‘the masterpiece of our modern incendiaries’ –​expounded ideas that were being put into practice by the Parliamentarians in order ‘to prick forward, the headie and raging multitude’ and shatter peace in England.54 Fearing the ‘untameable nature’ of the multitude, Bramhall warned that if it became allowed for ‘the sheep’ to ‘dislike the shepherd’ to the extent that the latter was forced to submit to the former, ‘the People’ would be made ‘greater than the king’, so that ‘a Monarchy’ would be transformed into ‘a Democracy’. This situation resembled that of a natural body standing on its head instead of its heels; it also corresponded to a deformation of divine creation. Politically wicked, democracy –​Bramhall charged –​ was an inversion of patriarchal order too: masters would be superseded by their ‘Servants together, or the Major part of them’ and fathers would be controlled by their ‘Children’ losing their claims to ‘Fatherhood’.55 Bramhall argued that the danger of ‘Democraticall’ government had been an enduring threat since people like the sixteenth-​century radical Puritan Thomas Cartwright –​of whom Parker was the true heir –​had circulated ideas of resistance.56 On Bramhall’s account, Parker wanted to reduce England to ‘an Aristo-​ Democracy nicknamed Monarchy, a circumscribed, conditionate, dependent Monarchy, a Mock-​Monarchy, a Monarchy without coercive Power’, which was unable ‘to protect’ or ‘to punish’.57 This was exactly what suited ‘the Citty of Venice’, but could ‘not fit the Kingdome of England’. Tumults were part and parcel of the Venetian government’s history just as of that of Genoa and Florence whose inhabitants lived in a considerably happier state ‘now, then they did before in a Republick’. This fact was easy to explain: during its popular phase Florence made it possible for ‘a bare legged Fellow out of the Scumme of the 54 55 56 57

John Bramhall, The Serpent Salve: or a Remedy for the Biting of an Aspe […] (?, 1643), pp. 14, 13. Ibid., p. 18. Ibid., p. 5. Ibid., p. 152.

118 Cuttica People’ to take part in revolts and manipulate the city’s political authorities. Given the lower orders’ unreliability and irrationality, it was only natural that the Florentines should ‘now [be] freer then when they did injoy those painted rayes of spurious Liberty’. With an eye to the Netherlands, Bramhall trenchantly stated: ‘[t]‌he danger of a Popular Government is Sedition’.58 Ad hoc attacks on the Parliamentarians were combined with hostility towards democratic politics and with criticism of European countries whose political systems differed from England’s. Returning to the crisis at home, Bramhall found things in an even worse state: he pointed out that, should ‘the Independents […] prevail’, they would ‘bring in the Trojan Horse of their Democracy’. In turn, this would engender a monstrous confusion of cults on a scale not seen even in ‘Affricke’.59 In Bramhall’s view, all of this epitomised a world turned upside down not only politically, but also metaphysically and religiously (polytheism).60 From instrument of control over the ruled (e.g. through texts like the Homily on Obedience, 1547), religion was becoming a weapon through which the disenfranchised could make their voice heard.61 In substance, Bramhall thought England was critically ill and likely to die if the Independents had things their way. He pictured a situation where Parker’s remedy (to take ‘His Majestyes negative voice away’ in order to secure the country against ‘Tyranny’) had influenced the Independent hotheads, with the result that England was left ‘open and starke naked to all those popular evil or Epidemicall diseases which flow from Ochlocracy’, amongst which were ‘Tumults, Seditions, Civill Warres’. In Bramhall’s progressively critical analysis (from onslaught on democracies to panic at the prospect of mob-​rule), ochlocracy represented the most deadly malady. Like a doctor replying to a rival physician (Parker), Bramhall gave his diagnosis by answering ‘to that question so often moved, what great virtue is in the Kings single vote to avert evills from us, that an ordinance of both Houses may not be binding to the whole Kingdom without His consent?’ that such a stratagem ‘is of no great virtue against the evills of Tyranny, but is a Soveraigne Remedy against the greater Mischiefes which flow from Ochlocracy’.62 The response was

58 59 60

Ibid., p. 153. Ibid., p. 213. Similarly, in 1652 Sir Robert Filmer (1588–​1653) was to argue that democracy corresponded to polytheism (see Cesare Cuttica, ‘The English Regicide and Patriarchalism: Representing Commonwealth Ideology and Practice in the Early 1650s’, Renaissance and Reformation, 36 (2013), pp. 127–​160, p. 144). 61 See e.g. Walter, Crowds, p. 182. 62 Bramhall, Serpent, pp. 136–​137.

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without appeal: since the latter deleterious regime destroyed the body politic, Bramhall deemed it preferable to deal with the affliction of tyranny than with the poison of rabble-​infested ochlocracy. The last few passages show the prominence of medical language in the political debates of the 1640s. However, this was so in different ways: in some cases, it referred to the cathartic and catalytic moment associated with crisis –​ as with the quotes at the beginning of this chapter; in others (like Bramhall’s), it denoted the simple disease/​cure pattern illustrated in works that highlighted democracy’s degeneration into ochlocracy. The two uses were not incompatible, as the following example proves. In 1645, the already-​mentioned Robert Baillie pronounced a severe verdict on the condition of the patient England: to ‘set up the common people, not onely above their Officers in the Church, but also above their Magistrate in the State’ meant to ‘draw in a popular government and Ochlocracie both in Church and State alike’.63 For many, such a move came closer to be realised two years later with the contested appointment to the role of Vice-​Admiral of the Navy of the Leveller Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, a much reviled figure due to his radical ideas in defence of the common soldiery and the poor.64 Above all, the Putney Debates (1647) saw the officers and soldiers of the New Model Army discuss concepts such as universal suffrage and imagine the abolition of the monarchy. It was in this ideologically explosive climate that the anonymous A Sectary Dissected tellingly depicted the Leveller petition of March of the same year as an ‘Ochlocraticall’ manifesto in which the ‘Arbitrary’ nature of both a ‘tyrannicall’ and a ‘licentious’ government was being promoted.65 The former corresponded to a polity where ‘the insolent’ had the upper hand, whilst the latter had ‘the foolish’ in charge. Between the two, A Sectary Dissected –​like Bramhall –​gave its preference to tyranny because a tyrant might be followed by a moderate successor, whereas when the ochlocratic populace held power a state was destined to have ‘a never dying succession of confusion’. The latter corresponded to ‘a Plebeian Consulate’.66


Robert Baillie, A Dissuasive from the Errours of the Time Wherein the Tenets of the Principall Sects, Especially of the Independents, are Drawn Together in One Map […] (London: Samuel Gellibrand, 1645), p. 194 (italics added). 64 Ashton, English, p. 324. 65 Anon., A Sectary Dissected, or, The Anatomie of an Independent Flie, Still Buzzing about City and Country […] (London: T.W. for Ios. Kirton, and are to be sold at the signe of the white Horse in Pauls Church-​yard, 1647), p. 10. 66 Ibid., pp. 11, 12.

120 Cuttica The very same notion was expounded in a work of uncertain attribution issued the following year,67 where the ‘freedome’ sought after by the petitioners was branded ‘licentitousnesse’. This assertion was accompanied by the statement that ‘the whole tenour of this Ochlocraticall Petition’ led to an ‘Arbitrary’ government from which death of the body politic was eventually (that is, following the violent collapse of ochlocratic oppression) to be expected.68 The examples of Athens’ ostracism, Rome’s agrarian laws and Florence’s murderous factions should, the author maintained, discourage people in England from embarking on the same course, which would carry the country straight into the arms of a ‘Tyranny’.69 This ochlocratic scenario was one that recalled the experience of ‘the German Anabaptists’ too. In each of these cases, despite initially pleading for ‘peace’, these sick fanatics –​having obtained ‘the reines of government’ –​had committed despicable acts of violence.70 Equally, the English sectaries’ ochlocratic government would fall prey to ‘the fury […] derived from the heads of these factions’. At the mercy of mentally unstable and therefore dangerous people, ochlocracy –​a polity where ‘[t]‌he whole rabble of them is a beggars cloak made up of divers patches’ –​typified the worst kind of tyranny because it constituted the most critical stage at which homo democraticus had arrived: boundless liberty created citizens who were pampered and arrogant;71 it made them –​as Plato thought –​‘“ripe”’ for ochlocratic tyranny.72 In 1647, Baillie resorted again to the language of ‘ochlocracy’ to target the Independents as well as ‘Brownism’ and ‘Familisme’. These sectaries had poisoned the body politic to an unprecedented degree: so much so that Baillie distinguished their ‘new Ochlocratorick republick’ (a regime empowering ‘the most poor, base, weak, foolish creatures’) and ‘Democracies’. With the reality of groups advocating ideas close to universal enfranchisement, some authors felt the need to separate democratic government in which ‘the better sort only of the people have voyce in Government’ from ‘ochlocracy’ where, instead, ‘every individuall participates of the Soveraignty’.73 In other terms, for people like 67 68 69 70 71 72 73

See Anon., Some Observations on the Late Dangerous Petition Presented to the House of Commons, September 11. 1648 (London, s.n., 1648). Ibid., pp. 10–​11. Ibid., pp. 14–​15. Ibid., p. 18. Ibid., p. 34. On these points in Plato, see Hubertus Buchstein, ‘Countering the “Democracy Thesis” –​ Sortition in Ancient Greek Political Thought’, Redescriptions, 18 (2015), pp. 126–​157, p. 136. Robert Baillie, Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme […] (London: M.F. for Samuel Gellibrand, at the Brazen serpent in Pauls Church-​yard, 1647), p. 63. See also Jasper Mayne, ΟΧΛΟ-​ΜΑΧΙΑ [Ochlo-​machia]. Or The Peoples War […] (Oxford: By L. Lichfield, 1647). Similarly, at the end of the century

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Baillie –​for whom times were ‘very miserable’, given that ‘the common multitude’ was being catapulted at the forefront of political life74 –​the great appeal of the Independents made it necessary to employ the pejorative ‘ochlocracy’ in order to discredit their ‘new Utopian Republick’ beyond repair.75 Baillie had no doubt that by entrusting ‘the unwise and unjust multitude’ with power, the sects left England in a critical state of infirmity. This situation was particularly frightening because their ideas manifested (again) an ‘Anabaptistick root’.76 Baillie drew a hard lesson from all of this: England was a patient receiving the wrong kind of treatment (Independency), one that appeared immediately beneficial (general equality) but that was to prove deleterious in the long run (ochlos-​styled arbitrary government).77 For Baillie, this ‘new Ochlocratorick government’ was synonymous with ‘a world of simple and malicious ignorants’ and with a society where these base people –​who ‘love to speak’ –​had ‘the Throne of absolute Soveraignty’.78 By associating it with oratory/​rhetoric (‘Ochlocratorick’), Baillie depicted ochlocracy as a regime founded on the uncontrolled use of words on the part of (petitioning) mechanics.79 Established on lawlessness and sustained by ‘a loud noise’ (i.e. street politics in its wildest manifestations), this sectaries-​led government wrecked church and state: ‘as in Religion’ where ‘every man in his conscience thinks to be the sense of the word of God, that is the supream rule to him, so it must be in the State’. Their ochlocracy attacked ‘the souls and bodies of men’ like a cancer.80 Ultimately, as in ancient Rome, so in England events would lead to the instauration of a ‘Dictatorship & absolute Tyranny in the hand of one’. This was so because, Baillie explained, the ‘changes’ brought about by these ‘new Statists’ were so profound that ‘much resistance’ to them would yield violence. As a result, people would assign power to a strong man capable of imposing his ‘designs’ onto the whole nation. Only one operation could be performed to cure England from this rhetoric-​infected ochlocracy; it democracy and ochlocracy will be distinguished in that the former was defined as a government where the people possessed ‘all the Authority’, whereas the latter as one ‘where the Mob dispose of all at pleasure’ (Thomas Hearne, Ductor Historicus […] (London: Tim. Childe, 1698), p. 121). 74 Baillie, Anabaptism, ‘The Epistle’, sig. 2r. 75 Ibid., p. 63 (in the margin). 76 Ibid., p. 65. 77 Ibid., p. 66. 78 Ibid., p. 61 (italics added). Practically, this meant the abolition not just of King and Lords, but also of the Commons. The ensuing chaotic Parliament –​which even ‘the poorest begger’ could access –​would be in place only for one year at a time (ibid., p. 61). 79 Ibid., ‘The Epistle’, sig. 2r, sig. 3v. 80 Ibid., ‘The Epistle’, sig. 3v.

122 Cuttica was an extreme one: it entailed to remove the ochlocratic tumour and implant a dictatorship.81 Having examined the body politic, and having –​like Baillie –​detected within it the presence of too many sick ‘Opinionists’, Richard Jackson (1621–​ 1677) reported that ‘all the Sects’ had altered the life of its members (1647).82 In particular, Jackson asked how the military ‘Commanders’ planned to guarantee the safety of the people of England as well as their own ‘against the common Souldiers’. He wanted to know how they intended to prevent the latter from opposing ‘the Law of Nature’; from erasing differences ‘of brain and spirit’; from swelling their size; and from imitating ‘those brutish Ephesians’ who had resorted to ‘Ostracisme’ far too often despite this practice had been ‘so abused in Athens’.83 Contaminated like the notorious fourteenth-​century rebel ‘Wat Tyler’ by the aspiration to emulate Caesar so as to appear bigger in front of an adoring crowd of credulous base ‘knaves’, the sectaries of the 1640s (affected by ‘ignorance, cruelty, envy and injustice’) nullified all differences between ‘the spirit of Kings and Mechanicks’. Hence –​Jackson wondered –​how was it possible for the Army leadership to assure that ‘none’ of those currently steering their ‘counsells’ might become ‘impatient of and opposite unto all politicke superiority’?84 Fickle and zealous, these soldiers were egged on by “popular” preachers who made them eager to strike at the core of public life. This scenario could easily become reality: it was enough for one of these plebeians to imitate Caesar ‘in an Antipodian or opposite kind of Ochlocraticall ambition aiming at eminency and superiority by popular confusion, as he did by the conquest and ruine of his Countrey’.85 Jackson expressed a broadly-​shared fear that the ‘shapelesse Masse[s]‌’ were becoming active political participants in the country.86 Mistrusting the soldiers, and doubting the capacity of their leaders to keep them in check, Jackson saw too many signs (from the rabble-​soldiery’s ‘savage opinions’ and ‘customes’ to their lack of political discernment, their self-​interest as well as the risk of their leadership giving in to ‘greedinesse’ and unbridled ‘passions’)87 that revealed the devastating impact 81 82

Ibid., p. 64. Richard Jackson, Quæries Proposd for the Agitators in the Army […] (London, s.n., 1647), p. 2. 83 Ibid., p. 3. This referred to the banning from Ephesus of the virtuous philosopher Hermodorus (see Iain McDaniel, ‘Ochlocracy and Democracy in the “Long Quarrel”: Modern Republicanism and its Ancient Rivals Revisited’, unpublished lecture, University of Amsterdam (June 2016), pp. 1–​30, p. 8). 84 Jackson, Quæries, p. 5. 85 Ibid., p. 5 (italics added). 86 Ibid., p. 6. 87 See ibid., pp. 2, 3.

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England


on England of an ochlocratic epidemic of popular politics. This was a seriously damaging instance of a crisis gone wrong.

This chapter has focused on the 1640s in England as a phase of crisis: namely, a period when –​amongst unprecedented events –​a few authors dealt with a politically, religiously and ideologically critical situation by resorting to the term “ochlocracy”.88 This concept served to accuse certain groups –​ Parliamentarians, Levellers, sectaries, Independents –​of setting up the government of the rabble. Ochlocracy was characterised as an intolerable tyranny, and was said to be a brutal state of affairs, embodying the death of order and morality. In brief, it was seen as a regime shaped by “terror”. For these reasons, criticism of ochlocracy went a step further than that devoted to dismantle democracy: the latter was generally despised (especially so, until the 1640s),89 whereas being ‘the degeneration of a corruption’ ochlocracy was also deeply feared.90 The term –​commonly associated with Polybius’ anakyklosis theory –​indicated a particularly severe menace to political, religious and social stability in that after it there was not likely to be a kingship. The increased number of references to ochlocracy expressed a real horror of what might come next; ochlocracy left an institutional as well as a moral void behind it. It revealed a crisis of political direction in the country. Ochlocracy completed the Polybian cyclical course of politics.91 Above all, it illustrated the worst of political and social crises in that it implied a return to a state of collective savagery from which a bottomless pit of uncertainty opened up before a people. In the 1640s in England, the critical consequences of an ochlocractic government generated one key question: what kind of monarchy 88

89 90 91

Although there is no explicit linkage between crisis and ochlocracy in the sources here analysed, I think it possible to argue that the notions of the former group of authors (Coke, North etc.) about their times being a “crisis” were shared by the rest (Parker, Bramhall etc.). Despite crisis not being terminologically part of the latter’s vocabulary, the writers who resorted to ochlocracy to read the troubled 1640s did so with the intention of explaining how an excess of democratic ideas and practices inevitably degenerated into something worse: the government of the rabble. Political vocabulary was slowly changing. This is to say that some fierce critics of popular government (e.g. Baillie) had a change of disposition towards democracy, being prepared to see it as the government of the people versus ochlocracy as that of the rabble. For the quote, see Henry Stubbe, An Essay in Defence of the Good Old Cause (London, s.n., 1659), p. 6a. See Thomas Cole, ‘The Sources and Composition of Polybius VI’, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 13 (1964), pp. 440–​486, p. 442.

124 Cuttica might spring from it?92 Interestingly, in some of the texts examined above, the coming of a strong man was (Polybianly) envisaged; the advent of a new type of dictator-​monarch was hinted at. Taking the cue from theorists like Carl Schmitt and Reinhart Koselleck, whereby Thomas Hobbes was the turning point in political reflection because of his configuration of the modern sovereign state,93 one could venture to say that Leviathan (1651) theorised just such a transformation of politics whose possibility and realisation were left open by the last (critical) stage of the Polybian theory: ochlocracy.94

Given the current global socio-​political climate where the thriving ride of populism95 has reopened topical debates about the foundations, nature and future of democratic government as well as liberal coexistence, it might be worth making a couple of points beyond these pages’ main topic. As Iain McDaniel has observed, for a long time (notably, in the eighteenth century) the key ‘distinction between democratic and aristocratic republicanism’ collapsed ‘the democracy/​ochlocracy distinction’,96 with the result that the latter concept (has) remained largely unexplored in both the history of political thought and political theory.97 The narrative set out in this chapter might thus contribute to a new understanding of the importance of the ochlocratic moment in defining patterns of democratic crisis historically just as clarifying contemporary polemics focused on the crisis of democratic politics 92 93

94 95

96 97

On some of these issues in relation to the classical world, see Frank W. Walbank, ‘Polybius on the Roman Constitution’, The Classical Quarterly, 37 (1943), pp. 73–​89, esp. p. 78 n.3. See Carl Schmitt, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008; transl. George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein; i edn 1938), p. 43 and Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1988; transl.), passim. On the originality of Polybius’ attempt to make his theory a model capable of explaining history and predicting future political courses, see Hahm, ‘Polybius’, e.g. p. 9. The recent wave of media and scholarly interest in populism (see e.g. Jan-​Werner Müller, What is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)) as anti-​ democratic (on the grounds that populism may lead to rule by a dictator or by a few authoritarian leaders) is nothing new. As this chapter shows, the idea that populist policies and popular politics are conducive to arbitrary government find much resonance in the material here studied. See McDaniel, Ochlocracy, esp. p. 3. For one such recent scholarly example where no mention of ochlocracy (apart from one reference to the ‘ochlophobia’ of the republican tradition) is made, see Yiftah Elazar and Geneviève Rousselière (eds), Republicanism and the Future of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), esp. p. 131.

Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England


and values.98 The anti-​democratic discussions, and fears, highlighted above indicate that democracy –​not republicanism –​was thought to contain within itself a seriously threatening virus stemming from its very core. This had to do with (a dangerous portion of) the people, their actions, moral fibre and intellectual propensities. In this sense, “ochlocracy” was not simply a polemical weapon used to smear one’s adversaries. It represented a valuable theoretical category that served to identify real dangers affecting real polities to the extent of menacing the total collapse of the state. These dangers derived from the irrational, out-​of-​control, extreme tyranny of the ochlocratic rabble, which became (or was perceived to have become) increasingly active on the political scene of the 1640s in England. At the risk of making two sweeping statements, I believe it can be safely maintained that the texts studied in this piece say something insightful about the consequences of what Alexis de Tocqueville –​in a different context –​was to famously describe as ‘the tyranny of the majority’. Equally, they illustrate –​ again, under different circumstances –​some of the unpleasant outcomes nowadays produced by the often cacophonous noise released in the public arena by ever more aggressive swathes of anonymous Internet users defending their “democratic” rights of participation in the commonweal. The political thought of revolutionary England might ultimately prove useful not only in helping us to rethink our political terminology, public concerns and ethical principles, but also in pushing us to imagine a renewal of the political sphere in theory and in practice.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Aristotle, Politics, ed. and transl. David Keyt, Aristotle. Politics. Books V and VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999). Baillie, Robert, Anabaptism, the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme […] (London: M.F. for Samuel Gellibrand, at the Brazen serpent in Pauls Church-​yard, 1647). Bramhall, John, The Serpent Salve: or a Remedy for the Biting of an Aspe […] (?, 1643). Jackson, Richard, Quæries Proposd for the Agitators in the Army […] (London, s.n., 1647). North, Dudley, A Forest of Varieties […] (London: Richard Cotes, 1645).


See e.g. David Runciman, How Democracy Ends (London: Profile Books, 2018).

126 Cuttica Polybius, The History, transl. Edward Grimeston, The History of Polybius the Megalopolitan […] Translated into English by Edward Grimeston, Sergeant at Armes (London: Nicholas Okes for Simon Waterson, 1633). Spelman, John, A View of a Printed Book Intituled ‘Observations upon His Majesties Late Answers and Expresses (Oxford [i.e. London]: Leonard Liechfield [sic], printer to the University, 1642 [i.e. 1643]).

Secondary Sources

Aston, Trevor (ed.), Crisis in Europe 1560–​ 1660. Essays from ‘Past and Present’ (London: Routledge, 1969; i edn 1965). Buchstein, Hubertus, ‘Countering the “Democracy Thesis” –​Sortition in Ancient Greek Political Thought’, Redescriptions, 18 (2015), pp. 126–​157. Cuttica, Cesare, ‘Popularity in Early Modern England (ca. 1580–​1642): Looking Again at Thing and Concept’, Journal of British Studies, 58 (2019), pp. 1–​27. Hill, Christopher, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1972). Hirst, Derek, England in Conflict 1603–​1660. Kingdom, Community, Commonwealth (London: Arnold, 1999). Koselleck, Reinhart, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). Zaret, David, Origins of Democratic Culture. Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-​Modern England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

­c hapter 6

The Crisis of the Spanish Monarchy and the Renewal of the Foundations of Early Modern Neapolitan Political Thought: The Nation as a New Political Actor Adriana Luna-​Fabritius In 1700 King Charles ii of Spain (1661–​1700) died childless, which precipitated a crisis in the existing European balance of power. In this chapter I examine the Neapolitan discussion concerning the foundations of the state and its authority. The onset of the War of Spanish Succession (1701–​1714) accelerated an internal political crisis in Naples. The process of renewal of the foundations of state authority had been initiated by members of the Accademia degli Investiganti (1650–​1683), was continued by Giuseppe Valletta (1636–​1714) during the closing decades of the seventeenth century, and then consolidated by Giovan Battista Vico (1668–​1744) in the early eighteenth century. At the local level, the crisis of the Spanish monarchy served to legitimise Neapolitans’ aspirations of independence that did not recede even following the 1648 defeat of the Revolt of Masaniello, which in 1647 had proclaimed the Neapolitan Republic. The historical, rhetorical and theoretical attempts by Valletta and Vico to renew the constitution of the state centred upon the construction of a new political actor, the nation, and the conceptualisation of crisis. Whilst I here argue that the different steps in creating the nation as a new political actor should be seen as a joint enterprise on the part of Valletta and Vico, the conceptualisation of crisis was mainly the work of Vico. ‘Crisis’ is the moment when the nation acquires cohesion and becomes a new political actor, and one of the most exceptional products of Catholic political thought during the Counter-​Reformation. Revisiting established interpretations of Neapolitan political thought, this chapter is part of a larger research endeavour to retrieve the branch of Catholic political thought that emerged from the Accademia degli Investiganti (1650–​1683), seeking to establish a third way between its two main pillars, Scholasticism and Jansenism. This new path initiated by the Investiganti was continued by Valletta’s contemporaries, and consolidated by Vico’s generation.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_008

128 Luna-Fabritius This new political actor was frequently referred to as the ‘people’ or the ‘nation’. I here explain how Valletta and Vico, along with other Neapolitan thinkers who inherited the legacy of the Investiganti, conceptualised human commonality in a new way. They did so principally within the general context of the Investiganti’s explorations of anatomy, underpinning their novel anthropology. Valletta began by introducing the Investiganti’s scientific approach to human nature, emphasising passions and emotions in his conceptualisation of Providence and so distinguishing them from other forms of early modern Catholic political thought, mainly that of Scholastics and Jansenists.1 Vico continued this initiative with his exploration of human passions and their implications for the political agency of the plebs (la canaglia) in the process of civilisation, building upon the former struggles of the Neapolitan plebs and noblemen. In Vico’s early historical, rhetorical and theoretical attempts the plebs gradually transformed into the people (popolo), then into the nation (nazione) and, ultimately, into humankind (gener’umano). This theoretical enterprise matured in his New Science of 1725, when the passionate nation, with all its struggles and lack of cohesion, emerged from recurring crises as the consolidated political actor in the process of civilisation. However, the introduction of this new actor did not establish equality amongst all human beings in the state of nature in the manner that early modern Scholastics and other political thinkers conceptualised it.2 Instead, it recognised human beings’ diverse passions and interests, needs and abilities within the process of civilisation. Hence the impression that the contribution to the civilising process by various groups took place at different speeds though running simultaneously in time. Instead of appealing to God’s grace to guide human action as Jansenists had done, Valletta and Vico turned to the human common sense, which Valletta termed Providence. As for their motivations in constructing an alternative political actor and understanding of crisis, it seems plausible that Valletta and Vico needed to distance themselves from the existing foundations of state authority. Their detachment from Scholasticism and Jansenism was connected to their own interpretation of the current religious common places and controversies that

1 For Hobbes’ comparable introduction of scientific approaches to human nature see Quentin Skinner, Rhetoric and Reason in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 294–​327; Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), pp. 146–​155. 2 Thomas Pink, ‘Suarez, Hobbes and the Scholastic Tradition in Action Theory’, in Thomas Pink and Martin W. F. Stone (eds), The Will and Human Action. From Antiquity to the Present Day (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 127–​153.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


were extensively known and commented in their circles and works. These were disseminated by the principal journals of the Republic of Letters, mostly in Acta Eruditorum and Bibliothèque universelle.3 In respect of the political actor Valletta and Vico emphasised two kinds of concerns, human commonality and equity. Human commonality involved the creation of the starting point for a new science of the state amongst human beings with different needs, interests and abilities. Both seemed interested in fostering a new identity organised around shared human values at times of crisis, transmitted through experience and language. Equity related to distinct needs, aspirations and abilities of different Neapolitan social groups,4 addressing diversity. Human commonality was typically constructed in the state of nature, and primarily exemplified in contract theories. However, the kind of human commonality proposed by Valletta and Vico dismissed that account of the state of nature along with the entirety of social contract theory. Instead of remaining within the confines of established developments in political philosophy, they presented an original structure underpinned by a historical account of the process of civilisation and the origin of language. Along the lines of his interpretation of Grotius’ teachings, Valletta created a new path for philological research into key current topics that was rooted in antiquity. In Vico’s thinking, by contrast, this meant a focus upon the origins of language and of human civilisation.5 It is through the process of civilisation that human beings develop a parallel common sense. As with linguistic evolution, for Valletta and Vico, the gradual progress of nations in the historical process evolves from simple forms of social organisation to more complex forms of economia civile (resulting into diverse accounts of sociability). The distinctive theoretical design for a new political actor started by Valletta was completed by Vico as proceeding in two steps. First, developing a common sense shared by people and on a larger scale by all of humankind at a certain point in historical time. Valletta’s shared common 3 Adriana Luna González, From Self-​preservation to Self-​liking in Paolo Mattia Doria: Civil Philosophy and Natural Jurisprudence in the Early Italian Enlightenment (Florence: European University Institute, 2009), pp. 52–​57. 4 On contemporary theories of cultural communities through language and experience in the search of common good, see Charles Taylor, Human Agency and Language. Philosophical Papers, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 215–​247; idem., ‘Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights’, in Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel Bell (eds), The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 124–​138. 5 Luna González, From Self-​preservation, pp. 59, 72 and Adriana Luna-​Fabritius ‘Providence and the Uses of Grotian Strategies’, in Hans Blom (ed.), Sacred Polities, Natural Law and the Law of Nations in the 16th-​17th Centuries (Leiden and Boston: Brill, forthcoming).

130 Luna-Fabritius sense, or Providence, is an awareness of the needs of the diverse groups at any stage of development; it is what forges and legitimises the project of the nation. Common sense is what locates individuals creating communities according to their own needs. This development led to Vico’s account of a people’s common sense that developed and created bigger groups until it eventually became a universal common sense. The background of this conceptualisation can be found in Vico’s Coniuratione Principum Neapolitanorum, written between 1701 and 1707.6 There Vico analysed the difficulties in this conceptualisation. Common sense arises from awareness of the historical struggles of the principal social groups –​noblemen and plebs –​that fought for their primary needs and for the defence of local liberties. According to Vico, the cohesion of these two groups can occur in a moment of crisis from the mutual understanding of their differing needs, the aspirations of social groups, and their ability to overcome the difficulties and customary moral behaviour at each phase of the process of civilisation. The second step consisted in Vico’s conceptualisation of crisis that in the Coniuratione has two dimensions, one related to the Spanish monarchy and the other to the Kingdom of Naples. The 1700 crisis of the Spanish monarchy represented the termination of previous agreements between the parties involved. The Neapolitans’ loyalty to the Spanish King was nullified. This was the moment in which established contracts lost validity. Theoretically, for Vico crisis is the moment in which the communication between individuals disintegrated, there no longer being any opportunity to establish a contract. Internal crisis intensified by the international crisis exacerbated conflicts already existing in the City of Naples. Vico theorised a moment in which both social groups could unite in the face of the threat of Spanish repressive forces.7 Potentially, crisis is a dual moment of cohesion: the threat of repressive forces places all groups in the same condition, while in addition creating a sense of awareness of people’s different needs, interests and abilities. Hence crisis could serve as a starting point not only for Neapolitan society, but also for any other civil society. The present study examines the cohesion of human agency in the process of civilisation, leading to the conceptualisation of a new political actor. The nation emerged from the transformation of the plebs and noblemen into the 6 Giovan Battista Vico, La Coniuratio Principum Neapolitarum MDCCI (Naples: Morano, 1992; ed. Claudia Pandolfi); English translation: idem, The Conspiracy of the Prince of Macchia, (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019; transl. G. A. Pinton). 7 David L. Marshall, ‘The Impersonal Character of Action in Vico’s De Coniuratione Principum Neapolitanorum’, New Vico Studies, 24 (2006), pp. 81–​128, p. 86.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


people through a common sense. It then outlines the rhetorical strategy in the Coniuratione since this is where the conceptualisation of crisis emerged. As this chapter shows, this historical, rhetorical and theoretical enterprise was initiated by the Investiganti and then consolidated by Valletta and Vico, transforming the Investiganti’s legacy into a comprehensive proposal for the renewal of the foundations of Neapolitan political thought. At the same time, it established its own lineage as one of the most original creations within early-​ modern Catholic political thought.

The Investiganti’s Legacy as a Social Construction

The content and form of the historical, rhetorical and theoretical enterprises of Valletta and Vico suggest that they were the social product of the debating societies initiated by the Accademia degli Investiganti (1650–​1683). Following its official closure in 1683, its members re-​assembled in private initiatives –​ at the houses of Valletta and Nicola Caravita (1647–​1717), and in other academies such as the Accademia Palatina, also known as Medinacoeli’s (1698–​ 1701). Besides their contributions in physics, mathematics and anatomy, the Investiganti and their successors had linguistic, literary and legal interests, reflecting the Empires’ origins and crises,8 the political future of the Spanish monarchy and the Neapolitan Kingdom. Immediately after the closure of the Accademia degli Investiganti Valletta assembled one of the most important libraries in the city, mirroring the European intellectual environment and fostering the transformation of Neapolitan cultural life. As it evolved into a public library, it expanded to become a leading cultural centre of the City of Naples. Open to the public, it acquired a role in civil society. Also important were the meetings held in Nicola Caravita’s library, together with other debating societies in the Neapolitan kingdom. Valletta began by drafting legal papers arguing against the devaluation of the coin in 1670s, and reviewing the political actions taken against the trial of the Investiganti (1688–​1697), the main result of which was his history of philosophy that mostly circulated in manuscripts during the following decades.9 8


On a similar eighteenth-​century historical reflection, see Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 12 vols. (New York: Fed de Fau and Co, 1906; ed. J. B. Bury; i edn. 1776); John G. A. Pocock, ‘Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and the World View of the Late Enlightenment’, Eighteenth-​Century Studies, 10:3 (1977), pp. 287–​303. Giuseppe Valletta, Al Nostro Santissimo Padre Innocenzo XII discorso filosofico in materia l’Inquisizione, et intorno al correggimento della Filosofia di Aristotele (B.N.N., ms xv B. 4

132 Luna-Fabritius Known as the Discorso, Valletta’s work was a comprehensive study of the contribution to modern natural philosophy made by Italian and banned European authors, combined with the results of his philological research.10 In his early works, Vico followed on until completing his New Science, which first appeared in 1725 and the last, posthumous edition, in 1744. Vico’s first works were written in the context of the War of the Spanish Succession, and the closure of the Accademia Palatina together with the persecution of its members, especially of its Patron the Duke of Medinacoeli (1660–​1711) and the noblemen that in 1701 raised the Revolt of Macchia in conjunction with some of the plebs. Valletta and Vico assumed a paramount role amongst the Investiganti’s heirs transforming its intellectual and political achievements into a solid cultural legacy. The connection between Valletta and Vico is not solely a scholarly question, but also one of semantic importance. It allows us to understand the correlation in the meaning of Providence and common sense in both authors. As they were part of a larger undertaking initiated by the Investiganti. The connection Valletta-​Vico is essential to an understanding of the impact of the intellectual and political agenda of the Investiganti, which had a genuine Catholic character distinct from Scholasticism and Jansenism. This novel line of Catholic political thought was the product of seventeenth-​century legal and political practices developed within the Spanish monarchy, and improved by the Investiganti’s heirs for the defence of privileges and local liberties against the Spanish monarch and the Pope’s policies in the Counter-​Reformation.11 Crisis and the new political actor were crucial in their jurisdictional fight to establish a new way of structuring political philosophy, and their own line of Catholic political philosophy. Their accounts of crisis and of a new political actor were built upon the anthropology developed by the Investiganti, and this is what makes this new way of structuring modern Catholic political thought innovative. Despite

10 11

Naples, 1697), ff. 140–​256, published as Lettera del Signor Giuseppe Valletta in Difesa della moderna filosofia […] (Rovereto, P. Berno, 1732), henceforth Discorso. Giovanni Santinello and Gregorio Piaia (eds), Models of the History of Philosophy, vol. 2, (Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London and New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2010), pp. 247–​249. Adriana Luna-​Fabritius, ‘The Secularisation of Happiness in Early Eighteenth-​century Italian Political Thought: Revisiting the Foundations of Civil Society’, in László Kontler and Mark Somos (eds), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), pp. 169–​195, p. 173; idem., ‘Ni Escolásticos ni Jansenistas: Filosofía Moral en la Nápoles de la Contrarreforma’, Hispania Sacra, 68:137 (2016), pp. 57–​75.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


the publication dat is 2017, though Investiganti’s interest in the discoveries of the scientific revolution, and the anthropology promoted by the Republic of Letters, Valletta and Vico fully embraced Neapolitan sources. Their decision to cast their political philosophies in terms of a Neapolitan anthropology most probably resulted from their criticism of others for exclusively favouring human reason, or of those that appealed to God’s grace for the guidance of humans, as promoted elsewhere in Europe. The Investiganti’s anthropology emphasised the emotional dimension of human beings. Besides reason, emotions formed an essential component in the development of common sense.12 Valletta studied the effects of the passions and emotions and used them in his accounts of human understanding and agency. Complementing this approach to human nature, Vico placed humans within the process of civilisation. For him, human needs, interests and abilities, and thus human nature itself changes according to the conditions in which humans live in the different phases of the process. Hence accounts of human nature have to be continuously updated. The same applies to conceptions of justice, law and all those areas within political philosophy that derived from human nature, since one conceptual change affects the entire conceptual universe. In renewing the foundations of the state rhetoric had a central role in the Accademia degli Investiganti, the Accademia Palatina and, in the political philosophies of their successors.13 Using rhetorical strategies as their primary vehicle, Valletta and Vico persuaded Neapolitans that cohesion among different groups would over time be a possibility, as well as being a new beginning for Neapolitan society after the crisis of the Spanish monarchy. Although it is argued in the historiography that Vico’s rhetorical strategy to create a new political actor through the impersonalisation of political action was mainly inspired by Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae14 –​this study questions that thesis. It does so by showing that, more than the impersonalisation of human agency, the cohesion of Neapolitan social groups was built upon Vico’s new approach to human nature, as described above. He likewise engaged with the legacy of Valletta’s and the Investiganti, and the commitment to renew


For a strong critique of the impact of emotions on politics, see John Rawls, The Law of Peoples with ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited’ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999); for a comparison between Vico’s “common sense” and public reason, see John Schaeffer, Giambattista Vico on Natural Law. Religion, Rhetoric, and Sensus Communis (New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 65–​80 and 109. 13 David L. Marshall, Vico and the Transformation of Rhetoric in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 31–​67. 14 Ibid., p. 34.

134 Luna-Fabritius the political foundations of the state. Vico, like Valletta, introduced rhetorical strategies to dress up his scientific conclusions so that he might persuade his readers that common sense was the way to overcome the division created by human passions and needs. The Investiganti’s heirs were strongly committed to scientific and innovative scientific and humanistic values. Despite their rejection of Hobbes, Valletta and Vico were aware of the latest developments in the renewal of political thought elsewhere in Europe. Their project in fact resembled that of Hobbes,15 while avoiding its main structural features, his account of the state of nature and his social contract theory. The connection with the classics was certainly paramount. Rhetorical strategies allowed Valletta and Vico to go where the historical analyses did not. They used rhetorical technique to ground their conceptualisations scientifically.16 In so doing the new, potentially virtuous, political actor that they introduced was by definition passionate. Vico’s stronger emphasis on classical sources and his philosophical alignment by the 1730s with the ancients was continuous with the Investiganti’s criticism of an excessive emphasis on the rationality of human anthropology that was gaining ground in the Republic of Letters. The radicalisation of their positions in the 1730s inevitably led to the fragmentation of the Investiganti’s legacy. Vico and Paolo Mattia Doria (1667–​1746) continued their connection to this legacy, in particular having the same attitude towards the combination of humanism and science. They revived the Accademia degli Oziosi in 1733 and continued this line of work until the end of their lives in the 1740s.17

The Nation’s Common Sense: Providence and Il Fato

By 1696, Valletta had drafted the first manuscript of his philosophical discourse 18 whose political utility in defending the members of the Investiganti’s 15 Malcolm, Aspects, pp. 146–​155. 16 Skinner identified three periods in Hobbes’ life and activities, –​humanist, scientific and humanist-​scientific –​that would combine a rhetorical and scientific approach. Valletta and Vico’s enterprise would correspond to the latter. See Skinner Rhetoric and Reason, pp. 11–​12 and 215–​356; William Sacksteder, ‘Hobbes: Philosophical and Rhetorical Artifice’, Philosophy and Rhetoric, 17 (1984), pp. 30–​46; Tom Sorell, ‘Hobbes’s UnAristotelian Rhetoric’, Philosophy and Rhetoric, 23 (1990), pp. 96–​108. 17 Pierluigi Rovito, ‘Doria, P. M.’, in Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani (ed.), Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 41 (Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1992), ad vocem; Harold S. Stone, Vico’s Cultural History: The Production and Transmission of Ideas in Naples, 1685–​1750 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 1997), pp. 308–​309. 18 Valletta, Discorso.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


Libertas philosophandi was identified and was in the crosshair of the Roman Inquisition.19 Several versions of that manuscript circulated until its final unauthorised publication in 1732,20 becoming an extremely sophisticated piece of work which has been interpretated in different ways.21 According to Valletta, its main objective was to ensure a place for the achievements of the Investiganti in the history of modern philosophy. He sought to reframe the history of philosophical thinking from its ancient foundations, so as to include the Neapolitan contribution by the members of the Investiganti, particularly in physics. The majority of authors referenced were banned and included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which also renders this work central to documenting the intellectual history of the circulation of banned literature in Naples. In contrast with the manuscripts, the unauthorised publication in 1732 did not feature citations. This work was edited for an audience already fully immersed in the discussions and their implications. Studies of Valletta’s work have shown that it was embedded in sophisticated, historical and philological examinations of the Biblical texts as represented principally by Acta Eruditorum.22 There is evidence that Neapolitan thinkers from Valletta’s circle had a high level of expertise on such topics and the forbidden material the text discusses.23 More importantly, it hints at a strong connection between Valletta’s reading of Grotius and his philological analyses of the Bible. Like the Dutch author, Neapolitan thinkers used these analyses to underpin the distinction between matters of faith and of politics. Like Valletta in his Discorso, other contemporaries argued for the detachment of politics from matters of faith in their political philosophies, accomplishing different forms of the secularisation of the language of politics. The Investiganti’s heirs aimed to stop the Church’s interventions not only into their practices in Neapolitan academies, but also into politics. The Discorso is one of the most difficult texts for the uninitiated reader; it is, however, crucial for an understanding of the context in which Valletta’s approach to human nature was forged. For the purposes of this chapter, it serves as the key to an understanding of the new anthropological


Luciano Osbat, L’Inquisizione a Napoli: Il Processo agli ateisti 1688–​1697 (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1974); Luna-​Fabritius, ‘The Secularisation’, pp. 173–​182. 20 Giuseppe Valletta, Opere Filosofiche, (Florence: Olschki, 1975; ed. Michele Rak), pp. 75–​215. 21 Eugenio Garin, Dal Rinascimento all’Illuminismo (Florence: Lettere, 1993), pp. 208–​215; Santinello and Piaia (eds), Models, p. 248. 22 Vittor Ivo Comparato, Giuseppe Valletta: Un intellettuale napoletano della fine del Seicento (Naples: Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, 1970); Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Providence’. 23 Comparato, Giuseppe Valletta, pp. 195–​244.

136 Luna-Fabritius approach that formed the basis of the political philosophies of Valletta and Vico’s generations. In the Discorso, the conceptualisation of Providence in terms of the development of the common sense of a nation emphasises the passionate nature of the human condition. Along the lines of Grotius’ philological considerations of the origin of Providence, Valletta argued that Democritus was the former creator of the notion of Providence.24 According to the Greek author, Providence was an imaginary general force of nature that he identified with the creation of human common sense. In Valletta’s idea of Providence, there is an obscure idea of human customary needs which gradually becomes clearer to the human mind. However, not everything will become clear. For Valletta, the unknown elements constitute il Fato. Il Fato and Providence are the forces that order human life in the civilisation process. Valletta equates Providence and the common sense that arises from human consciousness of their needs, and il Fato is the variable that considers the needs and abilities of which the mind is not yet aware. This argument represents the strongest connection between Valletta’s and Vico’s later account of Providence. This idea becomes sharper in the thought of Valletta’s contemporary, the Calabrian author Gregorio Caloprese (1654–​1715) who, in the inaugural lecture to the Accademia Palatina, entitled On the Origin of Empires (1698),25 stated that the main objective during the process of rebuilding the foundations of the political state was to understand the hidden behaviour implied by Providence. He emphasised the importance of improving our understanding of common sense over time, by examining the unknown features in human needs aimed at preserving one’s life in the long term. In Caloprese’s account of Providence, Il Fato is central. For him, once the twofold dimension of Providence was considered, it was ready to serve as the foundation of laws applicable to all human beings. Some of those laws could be considered universal. This evidence indicates that, for Valletta and Caloprese, the list of human needs, interests, and abilities was not fully defined. Actually, “human needs” could be considered to be an empty vessel capable of being filled with 24 25

Ibid. p. 203. Gregorio Caloprese, Dell’Origine dell’Imperi […] Accademia dell’Eccellentissimo Signor duca di Medina Coeli, Viceré e Capitan Generale nel Regno di Napoli (Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, Ms. 9110), published version in Michele Rak (ed.), Lezioni dell’Accademia 1698–​1701, vol. 1 (Naples: Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofi, 2002), pp. 3–​48; see Adriana Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Passions and the Early Italian Enlightenment: Human Nature and Vivere Civile in the Thought of Gregorio Caloprese’, European Review of History, 17 (2010), pp. 93–​ 112 (special journal issue: Adriana Luna-​Fabritius and Freya Sierhuis (eds), The Passions in European Political Thought and Literature, 1600–​1900).

The Nation as a New Political Actor


different elements at each phase by each social group, nation and generation. Nevertheless, the needs that become universal are only those found in all eras, like the need to preserve one’s life. As in natural law, life had been paramount since the beginning of time. People’s property and honour were later added at the same level of importance. The same could happen to the account of Providence. Yet, the equation kept changing, according to other contemporary authors and their understanding of people’s needs. The notorious Jesuit Giovanni Battista De Benedictis (1622–​1706), a participant in the seventeenth-​century campaign against the Investiganti, confirmed the contribution made by Valletta’s text to the renewal of the political foundations of the state and civil laws. He defined Valletta’s effort as an enterprise to change the constitution of the state26 and as a continuation of the work of the Investiganti beginning in the final decades of the seventeenth century. However, for De Benedictis, this was not a positive process. He accused the Investiganti of being innovators, reformers of the constitution, causing the ruin of the city, flagellator of the state and enemies of mankind.27 Valletta’s interest in Providence appears motivated by the need to find a universal principle for the laws but also to create a sense of community and as a binding force amongst men. For Valletta, this search originated in the Investiganti’s departure from the Aristotelian conception of zoon politikon and their endorsement of the full range of consequences stemming from their new anthropology. The detachment from the Aristotelian lineaments provoked much discussion of human unsociability. The effect of passions on human understanding and agency was one of the central themes of the late seventeenth century. Neapolitan authors devoted a great number of texts to human passions, systematically analysing them. They constantly returned to the unpredictable agency of the plebs. This allowed them to consider the unknown factors that they added to their accounts of human nature, which Caloprese had emphasised. For Valletta and later for Vico, the lack of a complete account of the principal social groups’ needs, of a common project and of communication in time of crisis, is what led them to fail in their political enterprises. Equally important is that these elements



Benedetto Aletino (Giovanni Battista De Benidictis), Turris Fortitudinis propugnata a filiis lucis adversus filiis tenebrarum (bsnsp ms. xxiii D 6, ff. 146r–​159r, 1695); Paolo Rossi, ‘Sulle Lettere Apologetiche di Benedetto Aletino’, in idem, Le sterminate Antichità e nuovi saggi vichiani (Florence, La Nuova Italia, 1999), pp. 485–​489; Gerardo Ruggiero, ‘La Turris Fortitudinis tra politici, ecclesiastici e filosofi nella Napoli di fine Seicento’, Frontiera d’Europa, Rivista Storica, 9:1 (2003), pp. 5–​174; Luna-​Fabritius, ‘The Secularisation’, p. 173. Ibid., p. 184.

138 Luna-Fabritius obstructed the possibility of theorising a new social actor, the seat of popular sovereignty, in their political philosophies. De Benedictis again confirmed this interpretation; for him, the Investiganti’s discoveries regarding human nature had caused outrageous damage, undermining the principles of sovereignty and authority.28 Human sociability was discussed as appetitus societatis, while also emphasising human unsociability and the multiplicity of bilateral relations.29 Accordingly, this kind of unsociability put in question the bond to the monarch, to the laws and amongst human beings. In defining human moral capacities, Valletta indicated that at the beginning of time human beings had no capacity to sign a contract, establish a civil state or maintain their bonds to the laws. In Valletta’s view, in the state of nature, human beings lacked the rationality required to understand natural laws. Consequently, at the beginning of time, human beings had no moral faculties, what they had then could not be considered individual freedom, but what Machiavelli termed servitude; in this case, servitude to the passions. The acquisition of moral capacity to be a political agent goes hand in hand with the development of languages in human beings and the development of autonomy. The process of civilisation parallels this evolution. In this context Valletta’s request for a stable element throughout the historical process, a permanent reference, external but superior to positive law and capable of regulating human performance, but also that of the Prince and the public institutions of the state, became significant. However, he insisted, that element could not be natural law. Valletta’s proposal was a universal law underpinned by Providence and complemented by il Fato. Mirroring what Valletta considered to be Grotius’ view, he identified natural law as the product of a barbarian age, to be replaced by other eras with their own product.30 His account of the development of language in Vico’s political philosophy highlighted the substitution of natural law, and the search for universal law. For Valletta, implicit in Providence was that superior element of a universal idea of justice, capable of delivering impartiality despite the kingdom’s economic and political disorders, and particularly the disorder in matters of faith prompted by the barbarity of the Inquisition in Naples.

28 Aletino, Turris Fortitudinis. 29 Adriana Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Visions of Sociability in Early-​Modern Neapolitan Political Thought’, in Martin van Gelderen, Ere Nokkala and Jonas Gerlings (eds), Processes of Enlightenment –​Essays in Honour of Hans Erich Bödeker (Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, forthcoming). 30 Luna-​Fabritius ‘Providence’.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


In Valletta’s idea of universal law, common sense involved creating a system based on the historical and universal analysis of peoples’ needs, building norms possessing the quantity of intrinsic truth permitting them to be self-​ evident and binding.31 Regarding the unknown territory created by human needs of which thinkers were unaware, Valletta recommended that they should further reduce this unknown territory at every stage of the civilisation process by improving their knowledge of human nature. According to Valletta, his universal idea of justice required the support of rhetoric. Rhetoric may also persuade readers that equity was possible through the implementation of a universal idea of justice. He suggested to Neapolitan thinkers that this rhetoric should avoid conflict with the authority of the Church and the Inquisition. The Discorso also includes an appeal to the Church to avoid mixing the delicate matters of theology with politics. The most controversial element of Valletta’s rhetorical strategy resulted in an argument on the utility of declaring from the outset the inability of the human intellect to understand such complicated matters as the immortality of the soul and God’s Providence. He concluded that the price human beings had to pay for their liberty to pursue their activities in the academies, their libertas philsophandi, was the recognition of the abyss that separated them from the knowledge of God.32 Paradoxically given their expertise, he recommended they declare their incompetence to discuss theological matters and so distance the Inquisition from their academic work, explaining that their discussions of Providence had nothing to do with such matters. Over time, Valletta’s rhetorical strategy transformed into a philosophical attitude –​most probably fed by other factors–​ which Vico’s generation continued and improved. Valletta’s jurisdictional practices, directed to the defence of the privileges and political liberties of the City of Naples that had been conceded by the Spanish monarch, and used against the role of the Roman Inquisition in the case of the Investiganti, translated in his Discorso into the systematic claim for a separation between matters of faith and of politics.33 The defence of Neapolitan forms of self-​government led to the renewal and the secularisation of the foundations of the state’s authority, new ways of enforcing the laws by

31 32 33

Giuseppe Valletta, Difesa per Santolo Spina accusato di furto di carlini novantacinque nella Regia Zecca, in Disceptationes forenses ([Naples, 1677] 1682), pp. 55–​97. Valletta followed Pierre-​Daniel Huet’s Alnetanae quaestiones, sive de concondia rationis et fidei (Caen: Cavelier and Paris: Moette, 1690), whilst he refused Descartes’ position on this matter. Valletta, Discorso, pp. 179–​180. In the analysis of Comparato, Giuseppe Valletta, p. 195; and Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Providence’.

140 Luna-Fabritius creating a new actor whose needs were the foundation for their design and their binding force.

Vico’s Theoretical Construction: Blending Common Sense and Crisis

In his final arguments to the Accademia Palatina Valletta made the case for human equity. He argued that humans could overcome even difficult climatic or geographic obstacles, using industry and work to diminish the differences amongst themselves. For Valletta, the lack of equity was not a natural fact, but a social reality founded upon prejudice; and he proposed to treat these prejudices as social constructions. The same happened with the titles of the nobility, which for the members of the Palatina lacked a natural foundation. In the context of these discussions in the Palatina Neapolitan thinkers analysed the case of the Spanish succession, concluding that Naples’ connection to the monarchy was a social construction.34 Likewise, they concluded that they could trust neither the nobility nor the plebs to design a plan for the future.35 Analysing the interests of both groups, Valletta claimed that each situation should be solved according to customary practices, varying human needs according to the relevant stage in the process of civilisation. Solutions should be based on detailed analyses of the cultural and social circumstances of people. With this, the Palatina lectures showed the shift of interest from natural law arguments –​that had proved useful during the period from 1660 to 1690 –​ towards the cultural foundations of the state’s sovereignty and authority.36 In the Palatina, analyses of the rise, crisis and fall of empires were at the centre of the members’ attention. They considered the organisation and stability of a society through the creation of new institutions.37 Providence underpinned the historical analysis of social and cultural phenomena, rather than a natural condition. Natural law explanations for the foundation of the state’s authority were practically abandoned and the renewal of the state constitution continued by reconsidering older avenues and creating new ones. According to Nicola Capasso (1671–​1745), another distinguished lawyer of Valletta’s generation, 34 35 36 37

Luna-​Fabritius, ‘The Secularisation’, pp. 177–​181. Giuseppe Valletta, ‘De l’Imperio de’ Persiani’, in Rak (ed.), Lezioni, vol. 1, pp. 166–​215. Nicola Capasso, ‘Se la Ragion di stato possa derogare alla legge naturale’, in Rak (ed.), Lezioni, vol. 4, pp. 82–​90. Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Providence’.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


even accounts of the foundation of states by reason of state were more common than those provided by natural law.38 In this scenario, Valletta and Vico’s proposals prevailed over the others, with their universal principle originating in human needs. Valletta emphasised that up until then people’s needs had been considered and protected by the prince on whom citizens had conferred authority; however, this situation had to change.39 The Palatina’s analyses had expressed great scepticism in respect of the political agency of noblemen and plebs; however, the eighteenth century had started with the War of the Spanish Succession, bringing more political instability to the Kingdom of Naples and testing the theses of its members. The Revolt of Macchia of 1701 was the first internal conflict of the century and Vico underlined the possibility of the social groups’ cohesion in the Coniuratione Principum Neapolitanorum, seeking to intervene in the historical explanation and create a source of authority. Written between 1701 and 1707 under the Habsburg rule, and some years after the Revolt of Macchia, it narrates the delicate situation not only of the Kingdom of Naples, but also the delicacy of the European balance of power following the death of the childless King Charles ii of Spain. It all began when Philip of Anjou was designated by Charles ii as his legal successor to the throne of Madrid. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of Naples, like the others of the Crown of Aragon, favoured the succession of Emperor Leopold i (1640–​1705). Furthermore, in the particular case of Naples, a group of noblemen concluded a pact with the emperor to overthrow Spanish rule. In Coniuratione Principum Neapolitanorum Vico argued for the freedom of the Kingdom of Naples and the end of its sacred sworn obligation to the Spanish crown. The vacancy resulting from the death of the king of Spain was the event that enabled the formalisation of that rupture. A power vacuum allowed Vico to nominate 1701 as the beginning of the crisis, a necessary fiction and a justification to begin reconstructing the political constitution of the Kingdom of Naples. According to Vico’s account, the elite that initiated the Conspiracy of Macchia attempted to transform it into a popular uprising. The noblemen went so far as to propose a native king for the throne and to declare Naples the capital of the kingdom and the mother city of the provinces. The entire project did, however, require cooperation between the noblemen and plebs under the protection of the Holy Roman emperor. The attempt failed: the emperor 38 39

Capasso, ‘Se la Ragion di stato’, in Rak (ed.), Lezioni, vol. 4, pp. 83–​86; Rodolfo de Mattei ‘Il problema della ragione di stato nel Seicento’, Rivista internazionale di filosofia del diritto, 26 (1949), pp. 187–​210. In the analysis of Comparato, Giuseppe Valletta, p. 205.

142 Luna-Fabritius did not commit with the Neapolitan elite. More importantly, Vico pointed to the lack of communication among these social groups as the main element in the failure of achieving the separation of the Neapolitan Kingdom from the Spanish monarchy at the moment when the European balance of power had been disturbed. From Vico’s account there emerged the details about the ancient struggles of the main social groups in the defence of their needs and local liberties. On 22 September 1701, a group of noblemen had planned to occupy Castel Nuovo, but the authorities discovered the conspiracy and immediately put it down. The conspirators attempted to mobilise the City of Naples against the Spaniards, and the conspiracy appeared successful: the viceroy escaped from the Royal Palace to Castel Nuovo. Nonetheless, the triumph over the Spanish rule was short-​lived. The viceroy realised that the City of Naples –​in particular, the plebs –​had abandoned the rebellion, leaving the noblemen on their own. He was therefore able to defeat them without waiting for further support. According to Vico’s account, the viceroy laid siege and defeated the Coniuratione in San Lorenzo. Retribution followed: some of the noblemen died immediately after the defeat, whilst others were captured in their attempts to escape. Vico’s account of the Coniuratione was not the only text describing the defeat of the noblemen’s conspiracy.40 In other descriptions of the Conspiracy of Macchia the event is depicted as the greatest failure of its time precisely because the nobility could not involve the plebs in achieving the kingdom’s independence. Vico was aware of these accounts when he drafted his own. However, it is also probable that he used the idea as a rhetorical tool to create the fiction of the unity of a conflict-​ridden society and the legitimacy of the resulting government. Commentators have argued that Vico used this event to build the concept of nation upon the impersonalisation of political action, a crucial move for the union of the Neapolitan society.41 It has been suggested that Vico’s model in the Coniuratione mirrors Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae, which served as the inspiration for the creation of the passages, discourses and particular actions adapted to the Neapolitan context.42 Vico described the birth, development and failure of Macchia in much the same way that Sallust had done for the 40 Fausto Niccolini, ‘Vicende e Codici della “Principum Neapolitanorum Coniuratio” di Giambattista Vico’, in Fulvio Tessitore (ed.), Vico Storico (Naples: Morano, 1967), pp. 409–​448. 41 Marshall, ‘The Impersonal’, pp. 81–​128. 42 Ibid., pp. 86–​87.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


Catiline Conspiracy. Hence it is argued that it was in the lectures delivered to the Palatina devoted to the histories of empires and the biographies of emperors that Vico’s history of the Coniuratione took shape. This context offered him the possibility of showing that the events leading to the coup d’état were causally related, creating a sense of unity in the principal actors’ actions.43 Vico’s emphasis on the fact that the conspiracy was part of a more complex game played at the international level is decisive in the construction of this idea. Vico created a chronology, in which he represents a multiplicity of actions at different levels, some Neapolitan and others European. In the Coniuratione, Vico located personal interests within the broader geographic representations of power, creating an impression of the depersonalised nature of social action.44 It has also been suggested that one of the leading rhetorical strategies in Vico’s account reconciling its various elements, is the use of direct discourse, detailing very specific situations –​as for example when a small group of the elite could turn their action into a significant popular uprising, in which an action called for by the noblemen could have been joined by the plebs. Or when under pressure from the Spanish viceroy’s attack, the elite had to attempt to establish communication with the plebs in order to justify the conspiracy and explain its meaning (the potential independence of the kingdom and the new constitution for the state). Or when the noblemen failed to convince the plebs during the crisis, prompting the crowd to withdraw, leaving the elite on their own because of their divergent interests. According to Vico, the main issue was that the elite did not back the plebs in a similar revolt, with Masaniello declaring the Republic in 1647 and it put down in 1648. However, Vico showed that the elite’s actions, or the actions of any other social group, could not succeed without the support from, and unity with, the main social groups within the kingdom. The Coniuratione underscored the necessity of articulated and coordinated social action. However, rather than the impersonalisation of the social groups, it could be argued that Vico used the moment of crisis, when a social action had failed and social groups were about to be repressed, to appeal to all the individuals, to unite in the midst of the crisis. Using the Coniuratione’s rhetorical strategy, Vico sought to promote the cohesion of political action by placing individuals in the same situation during the crisis, creating a moment in which their social status no longer mattered. His intention was apparently to create sympathy amongst the rioters by leading them to reflect on their vulnerable condition, persuading

43 Ibid. 44 Vico, De Coniuratione, pp. 56–​57 in the analysis of Marshall, ‘De Coniuratione Principum’.

144 Luna-Fabritius the reader to support the revolt and the Neapolitan cause. By appealing to their emotions Vico wished to promote joint action in the face of repressive Spanish forces. For a moment he took them beyond their needs and the interests of specific social groups. In reality the struggles of these irreconcilable social groups continued through the eighteenth century. However, in no other work of Vico is it possible to observe step-​by-​step the fictional moment when the nation emerges from the crisis as in the Coniuratione, serving Vico well as an outline of his political philosophy. This makes understanding the structure of the Coniuratione all the more relevant. Yet, it is noteworthy that at the centre of Vico’s oeuvre there remained a need to conceptualise human commonality in the political action of these two irreconcilable Neapolitan social groups, discarding any resort to the state of nature. After the Coniuratione, Vico deepened his engagement with Valletta’s universal idea of justice based on a sense of commonality.45 In his subsequent works, Vico invoked human commonality through crisis and traced human society to its origins in accounting for a shared human nature, and a universal pattern for all nations. Vico claimed that a shared human nature was reflected in language, the storehouse of habits and practices in which the wisdom of successive ages accumulates. This storehouse then creates a sensus communis at the disposal of subsequent generations.46 He defined sensus communis as ‘judgement without reflection, shared by an entire social group, an entire people, an entire nation or the entire humanity’.47 Common sense was also, however, available to the philosopher, who by deciphering and recovering its content could uncover an ideal eternal history negotiated over time in the histories of all nations.48 In this way, Vico met the demands of Valletta and Caloprese. Creating this common sense results in a historical process that reflects the presence of a superior order, which Vico also called Providence. Moreover, Providence could guide the development of human agents and institutions. Whilst Vico argued that nations do not develop at the same pace, he claimed that those nations developing at a slower rhythm as well as those at a more advanced phase must pass through the same distinct stages (corsi), namely of gods, heroes and men. Nations develop in accordance with this division, 45 46 47 48

Luna-​Fabritius, ‘Providence’. Giovan Battista Vico, Diritto Universale (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000; transl. G. Piton and M. Diehl), p. 145; Schaeffer, Sensus Communis, p. 109. Giovan Battista Vico, The First New Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; ed. and trans. Leon Pompa), §145, pp. 63–​64. Ibid., p. 114.

The Nation as a New Political Actor


through a constant and uninterrupted order of cause and effect present in each of them.49 Each stage and, therefore, the history of any nation is made manifest in their natural laws, and ‘[…] the distinct languages (signs, metaphors and words), governments (divine, aristocratic and popular, commonwealths and monarchies), as well as systems of jurisprudence (mystic theology, heroic jurisprudence and the natural equity of free commonwealths) that define them’.50 This was the context in which Vico, like Grotius and Valletta, considered natural law to be a product of the age of barbarism. In Vico’s account, history reveals the improvement of civilisation through human awareness of need and potential. This process continues until corruption and crisis set in. He therefore emphasised the cyclical feature of historical development. Society moves towards perfection, without ever attaining it. Nations continually move towards better stages of civilisation until they become corrupted, fall into a crisis and begin a new cycle (ricorso). However, this moment of crisis is not a reversion to the starting point, since the starting point for each new cycle is more advanced than that of the previous one. Rather than regress, this moment marks the renewal of society’s bonds for the members of the nation, and the beginning of a new cycle. For Vico “barbarism” represents the beginning of civil society, but it is also a civil disease that endlessly returns to corrupt the body politic from within.51 At this moment, communication amongst men breaks down, and language no longer holds sway. Since language serves as the instrument for communication with their fellow humans, each individual reverts to a search for their own advantage, abandoning the search for the common good. During the period of barbarism, human beings are unsociable, they live in solitude and all pursue their own interests and pleasures. However, it is during times of crisis when the bond amongst human beings is reaffirmed. This is the crucial moment for the creation of human commonality and the nation. We can conclude this chapter with the end of Vico’s Coniuratione; with the entrance of Philip ii of Spain to Naples in 1702, the confinement of the viceroy the Duke of Medinacoeli in Spain and with the rioters imprisoned in France. Vico showed then how Naples remained exactly as at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession, subjected to the new European balance of power: specifically, at the mercy of the new Spanish King. Whilst neither the actions of an ambitious and corrupt nobility, nor those of an ignorant and enraged plebs, could lead to effective political action, Vico revealed a third 49 Ibid., § 915, p. 335. 50 Ibid. 51 Ibid., §1104–​1106, pp. 423–​424.

146 Luna-Fabritius element that might have saved the situation: the Duke of Medinacoeli, patron of the Palatina. The Palatina’s main component was the ceto civile, the social group without formal representation in the government, to which Valletta and Vico belonged. Rather than offering a reflection on this social group’s potential, Vico seemed to realise that they should have participated in the revolt. The ceto civile did not appear to be advising Medinacoeli or trying to conciliate with rioters in the midst of the crisis. Vico’s silence could be also read as an implicit critique. In analysing their factual political role in the revolt, it must have been devastating for him and the other members of the Palatina, especially when comparing the political participation of Valletta’s generation in the previous decades. Besides his role as theorist for the renewal of Neapolitan political thought, Vico, just as Valletta, seemed to aspire to greater political participation. From 1691 to 1695 Valletta had a central role in the government of the City of Naples as the representative of the piazza del popolo. He maintained a crucial role in the Neapolitan society throughout his life, whilst Vico spent his life seeking a more relevant place until 1734, when he could join the court as the historian of the kingdom.


This chapter has argued for an understanding of crisis as a possible moment of cohesion between the principal Neapolitan social groups, in which they might become aware of the relation of their different struggles to the renewal of an emergent nation. It has shown that the lack of communication between these two groups between 1648 and 1701 led to the failure in their defence of Neapolitan forms of self-​government and possible independence. However, during the War of Spanish Succession the political potential of the crisis and that of the ceto civile in articulating the political action needed for the kingdom’s independence from the Spanish monarchy became clear. To articulate political action, and to provide the requisite authority and sovereignty, they needed the nation to emerge from the crisis both as a theoretical and real political actor. Given the lack of express communication during the periods of crises, they appealed to individuals’ sense of emotional commonality to create the necessary cohesion, embodying their political actor. By using this rhetorical strategy, they created an idea of the possibility of a new beginning for the Neapolitan society and the Neapolitan state. This chapter has also shown that there is in the background a larger renovation of Neapolitan culture, specifically of legal and scientific practices that had been improved by the achievements of the Investiganti, which itself began to

The Nation as a New Political Actor


renew the foundations of the state. The conflict with the Inquisition forced the heirs of the Investiganti into new paths, creating a matrix in between Jesuits, the influence of Hobbesian theory, and Jansenists. Valletta and Vico were the principal creators of an important branch of early modern Catholic political thought. By linking their works, it becomes evident that their main achievements cannot be understood outside the context in which they acquired meaning. Finally, it was the impossibility of conceptualising human commonality in terms of their former historical projects that transformed their initiatives into a more theoretical form that, ultimately, permitted their further use in other Catholic contexts.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Valletta, Giuseppe, Al Nostro Santissimo Padre Innocenzo XII discorso filosofico in materia l’Inquisizione, et intorno al correggimento della Filosofia di Aristotele (B.N.N., ms xv B. 4 Naples, 1697), ff. 140–​256. Valletta, Giuseppe, Lettera del Signor Giuseppe Valletta napoletano in Difesa della moderna filosofia […] (Rovereto: Pierantonio Berno, 1732). Valletta, Giuseppe, Opere Filosofiche (Florence: Olschki, 1975; ed. Michele Rak). Vico, Giovan Battista, La Coniuratio Principum Neapolitarum MDCCI, (Naples: Morano, 1992; ed. Claudia Pandolfi), English translation: idem, The Conspiracy of the Prince of Macchia (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019; transl. G. A. Pinton). Vico, Giovan Battista, The First New Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; ed. and transl. Leon Pompa).

Comparato, Vittor Ivo, Giuseppe Valletta: Un intellettuale napoletano della fine del Seicento (Naples: Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, 1970). Luna-​Fabritius, Adriana, ‘Providence and the Uses of Grotian Strategies’, in Hans Blom (ed.), Sacred Polities, Natural Law and the Law of Nations in the 16th-​17th Centuries (Leiden and Boston: Brill, forthcoming). Luna-​Fabritius, Adriana, ‘The Secularisation of Happiness in Early Eighteenth-​century Italian Political Thought: Revisiting the Foundations of Civil Society’, in László Kontler and Mark Somos (eds), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), pp. 165–​195. Marshall, David L., ‘The Impersonal Character of Action in Vico’s De Coniuratione Principum Neapolitanorum’, New Vico Studies, 24 (2006), pp. 81–​128.

148 Luna-Fabritius Schaeffer, John, Giambattista Vico on Natural Law. Religion, Rhetoric, and Sensus Communis (New York: Routledge, 2019). Skinner, Quentin, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

chapter 7

From Regeneration to Resignation: “Crisis” and Crises in Revolutionary France Adrian O’Connor* ‘The history of political revolutions has taught us that the revolutionary condition is a condition of violent crisis’.1 So explained Bertrand Barrère to his fellow deputies in the French National Assembly on 25 February 1791, articulating a connection between revolution and crisis that has been axiomatic ever since (and perhaps long before, as Barrère’s historical allusion suggests). Historians and political theorists have largely agreed with Barrère’s assessment. They have also noted that Barrère and his contemporaries lived during a period in which ideas about revolution and about crises took on new meanings and new importance in modern political culture; indeed, it is a staple of the historical and theoretical literature on crises that the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean represents an important moment in the concept’s development. Reinhart Koselleck claimed that from the 1770s on, ‘crisis’ had become ‘a structural signature of modernity’ and, with that, ‘the fundamental mode of interpreting historical time’.2 This is a development of which contemporaries were aware, and a new concept of crisis was central to the political thought of this period. Crises even came to seem like the sort of thing that one could anticipate (whether hopefully or with trepidation), as when the tutor in Rousseau’s Émile predicted an impending ‘state

* For their helpful comments and suggestions on this piece, I thank Micah Alpaugh, Robert Blackman, Stephen Clay, Mette Harder, Larissa Kopytoff, Adriana Luna-​Fabritius, Meghan Roberts, Ronen Steinberg, Timothy Tackett, and David Troyansky, as well as the editors of this volume and the participants in the Crisis and Renewal conference. 1 J. Madival and E. Laurent, et. al. (eds), Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860: recueil complet des débats législatifs & politiques des Chambres françaises, vol. 23 (Paris: Dupont, 1879), p. 507. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author’s. 2 Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​ 400, pp. 372, 374 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). See also Janet Roitman, Anti-​Crisis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014); C.A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–​1914 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_009

150 O’Connor of crisis and […] age of revolutions’, or when Helvétius gave up hope that he might live to see France redeemed by a ‘crise salutaire’.3 In identifying the concept’s genealogy and illustrating the emergence and influence of this new idea of crisis, Koselleck’s studies –​and others like them –​have drawn heavily on normative and learned texts. Thucydides, Aristotle, Rousseau, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, and the Grimm brothers make appearances along with the many dictionaries, encyclopaedias, Wörterbücher, and lexica of the age.4 The range and depth of references upon which these studies draw are impressive, and sources such as these illustrate well the lexical continuities and discontinuities that gave rise to the modern concept of crisis. They offer us less insight, however, into how the idea of crisis was mobilised during –​and modified by –​historical episodes that we, or the historical actors involved, might consider actual crises.5 To address this and related concerns about the representative character of those thinkers and oeuvres included in the history of concepts, scholars have drawn upon journalistic, political, and popular texts, aiming to look beyond the intellectual “mountaintops” of canonical works. On this front, the digitisation of critically important historical sources and their re-​presentation in searchable and more easily navigated formats makes it possible for us to expand on the evidentiary base of these previous studies and to see more clearly how terms such as “crisis” were deployed in less formal and more dynamic environments. These new sources may, in turn, help us make progress on a goal 3 Jean-​Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or On Education (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2010 ; transl. Christopher Kelly and Allan Bloom), p. 343; Claude-​Adrien Helvétius, De l’Homme, de ses facultés intellectuelles, et de son éducation, vol. 1 (Paris: Librairie Arthème-​Fayard, 1989; eds Geneviève Moutaux and Jacques Moutaux; i edn London, 1773), p. 11. 4 Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998). Similar sources and emphases are evident in Randolph Starn, ‘Historians and “Crisis”’, Past and Present, 52 (Aug. 1971), pp. 3–​22; idem, ‘Crisis’, in Maryanne Cline Horowitz (ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005), pp. 500–​501; Harry Ritter, Dictionary of Concepts in History (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986), pp. 78–​84; J. B. Shank, ‘Crisis: A Useful Category of Post-​Social Scientific Historical Analysis’, The American Historical Review, 113:4 (Oct. 2008), pp. 1090–​1099; James R. Martin, ‘The Theory of Storms: Jacob Burckhardt and the Concept of “Historical Crisis”’, Journal of European Studies, 40:4 (2010), pp. 307–​327. Roitman’s Anti-​Crisis offers a self-​conscious break from this tradition, emphasizing contemporary media sources in the early twenty-​first century to examine broader cultural and political forms of crisis-​talk and thought. 5 This is a problem that Koselleck himself identified, noting that ‘precisely what appeared to be so peripheral in lexicography […] [would] become an indicator of and contributor to a widespread sense of radical change from the second part of the eighteenth century on’. See Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 367.

From Regeneration to Resignation


long associated with the history of concepts: ‘to relate conceptualized thought to structural changes in government, society and economy’, and to ‘determine which concepts were used or contested […] both before and during periods of crisis, conflict, and revolution’.6 The digitisation of the French Archives parlementaires offers us an opportunity to undertake this sort of research regarding the French Revolution and its role in the transformation of modern political concepts and culture. The Archives parlementaires was a massive project, with more than eighty volumes produced by French government archivists in the mid-​nineteenth century. The first seven of those volumes present the cahiers de doléances sent to the Estates-​General in 1789, and the remaining seventy-​five volumes offer a re-​created record of the deputies’ discussions, debates, reports, draft decrees, and legislative acts, covering the period from spring 1789 through the end of 1793.7 While it is an imperfect record of those debates and discussions, it is also an invaluable resource.8 And that resource is now easily accessible in a digital and searchable form, thanks to a collaborative project undertaken by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Stanford University Libraries.9 This digitised record allows us to trace the frequency with which particular words and phrases were deployed and the ways in which their meaning(s) changed over time. More specifically, it allows us to examine the rhetorical function and the conceptual evolution of “crisis” during a period long recognised as critically important in shaping the concept’s modern character. To do so, I have analysed individual discussions and invocations of crisis in the Archives parlementaires from the summer of 1789 into fall of 1792, from the early months of the revolution to the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy and proclamation of the republic. The record includes more than 400 instances of the word crise being spoken during or read into the Assembly’s proceedings in this period. While a handful of these are digital miscues (and can be eliminated through a manual review of the ap’s records), the accuracy of the search is very high, and the cases of mistaken lexical identity are very rare. The result is an impressive corpus of crisis-​talk in revolutionary affairs.

6 Melvin Richter, ‘Begriffsgeschichte and the History of Ideas’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 48:2 (April-​June 1987), pp. 247–​263, p. 248. 7 J. Madival and E. Laurent, et. al. (eds), Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860: recueil complet des débats législatifs & politiques des Chambres françaises, 82 vols (Paris: Dupont, 1867–​1913; i edn 1787–​1799) [hereafter AP]. 8 On the limitations of the Archives parlementaires, see Robert H. Blackman, 1789: The French Revolution Begins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 6–​8. 9 Available online at https://​​, accessed on 7 May 2021.

152 O’Connor For what follows, I have situated these discussions within their specific historical moments and traced the development of crisis-​talk as part of revolutionary political culture. And I have done so in light of two (perhaps obvious, but nonetheless important) premises: first, that the nature and character of crises change in and over the course of their occurrence, and agents’ recognition or non-​recognition of a crisis-​state is an important part of that development. Second, that a series of crises evolves in a similarly temporal fashion, so that the experience of later crises feeds off and becomes entangled with the experience of earlier crises, meaning that questions of seriality and severity are necessarily intertwined (though not necessarily in straightforward or easily explained ways). Taken together, these points encourage us to think about how the experience and memory of past crises shape expectations about present and future crises and, with that, affect the range of options that seem available, attractive, reasonable, or acceptable as any particular crisis plays out.10 Of course, this sample does not reflect a national political discourse on crisis, as it is limited to the halls and records of the Assembly, and to those speeches or texts included in the archival recreation of often unscripted legislative discussion.11 Nonetheless, this study offers valuable insight into the emergence and evolution of crisis-​talk in revolutionary politics, especially in its use by legislators who were struggling to make sense of the new political dynamic, hoping to persuade their colleagues to think about events and issues in the same manner that they themselves did, and working to influence the course that the government and the revolution would take.

Crisis-​Talk in the National Assembly

From the first meetings of the Estates-​General in May 1789, the need to establish institutional procedures and protocols was entangled with the need to 10 11

See Amin Samman, ‘Crisis Theory and the Historical Imagination’, Review of International Political Economy, 22:5 (2015), pp. 966–​995, pp. 990–​991. This analysis focuses on discussions of crises in metropolitan France, rather than in the colonies, though the latter are present among the records. However, as the deputy Jacques-​Pierre Brissot noted in December 1791, invocations of crisis in the colonies were a particular rhetorical genre with which colonists and planters often sought to insulate themselves from possible challenges to the slave-​based economies of the Caribbean (AP, vol. 35, p. 479). In light of this, and without intending to imply that colonial and metropolitan affairs can be so easily divorced from one another, this essay has left the role of “crisis” in debates over colonial rule, slavery, emancipation, and independence aside, noting that the topic warrants a fuller inquiry than is possible in the pages below.

From Regeneration to Resignation


address questions of sovereignty and fiscality, constitutionality and efficacy, legitimacy and expediency. Between May and August, the deputies replaced the Estates-​General with the National Assembly, overturned the political, legal, and social foundations of the old regime, drafted and decreed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and committed themselves to establishing a constitutional system of representative and participatory governance in France.12 This process of national transformation was undertaken with various degrees of enthusiasm, reluctance, or opposition by the roughly 1,200 deputies who convened in Versailles (and then, after October 1789, in Paris). While the exact number and composition of deputies fluctuated, roughly one-​quarter of them represented the French clergy, another quarter the nobility, and the remaining half represented the commoners. Taken as a whole, the deputies ‘were mature and at the peak of their powers, with an average age of about forty-​six years at the beginning of their tenures in office’, though they ranged widely in age (from just twenty-​two to over eighty) and in personal or professional background.13 The clerical order was represented primarily by parish priests, whereas the nobility’s representatives came from the ‘highest and most distinguished elements of the traditional aristocracy’.14 The cohort representing the Third Estate was famously full of lawyers, judges, and others who had received training in the law, and ‘a legal turn of mind would be one of the most characteristic features of the culture of the Third Estate’.15 In the day-​to-​day operation of the Assembly, however, issues of sound, space, and stamina were often as important as background or training. To accommodate the many deputies and observers in attendance, meetings were held in massive halls with poor acoustics, making it difficult for deputies to hear speakers unless they were in close proximity to the rostrum.16 Nonetheless, deputies vied for time and exposure, with debates sometimes including more than fifty (and even as many as eighty) speakers, not to mention numerous 12

13 14 15 16

Michael Fitzsimmons, The Remaking of France: The National Assembly and the Constitution of 1791 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); idem, The Night the Old Regime Ended: August 4, 1789, and the French Revolution (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002). Timothy Tackett, Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789–​1790) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 22–​23. Ibid., pp. 28–​35. Ibid., pp. 36–​37. Edna Hindie Lemay, La vie quotidienne des députés aux États généraux 1789 (Paris: Hachette, 1987); and Blackman, 1789, pp. 8–​9.

154 O’Connor interjections, interruptions, and procedural uncertainties. Faced with these challenges, deputies refined their performative and rhetorical strategies in order to persuade their colleagues and command the audience’s attention. As Rebecca Spang and Simon DeDeo have noted, the deputies faced the double challenge of ‘convey[ing] points in a way familiar enough to be intelligible by others, while nonetheless making claims that were in many cases substantially novel (“revolutionary”, even)’.17 Invocations of “crisis” combined a demand for action in the present with a recognition that the future was uncertain, thereby contributing to the temporalisation of political thought described by Koselleck. Like the idea of revolution itself, crisis served as ‘a general concept projecting movement towards future goals and indeterminate outcomes’, becoming itself ‘situated within a temporal process that […] both registered historical change and gave meaning to it’.18 The fact that “crisis” was a word with loose definitional boundaries and a range of connotations across a number of possible contexts gave it the sort of familiarity that made it useful to speakers addressing a large and disparate group; that the term carried with it a sense of urgency and immediacy was useful in trying to hold that audience’s attention. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that crisis served as something of a ‘catchword’ in revolutionary politics.19 As Koselleck notes, the eighteenth-​century term “crisis” carried with it the residue of several millennia of use. The term had been employed in ancient medical discourse to describe transition points in the course of a disease as well as moments at which life-​and-​death decisions about treatment had to be made. It was also used in legal arenas, where it indicated a trial or moment of judgement, and in political or military contexts as a ‘crucial point that would tip the scales’ one way or another (as in a battle). Finally, it had theological uses, with eschatological implications of an impending apocalypse or Last Judgment.20 While the medical uses persisted into the early modern period in the most consistent and linear fashion –​a persistence we see in Théophile

17 18 19 20

Alexander T. J. Barron, Jenny Huang, Rebecca L. Spang and Simon DeDeo, ‘Individuals, Institutions, and Innovation in the Debates of the French Revolution’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115:18 (May 2018), pp. 4607–​4612, p. 4607. Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Introduction and Prefaces to the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe’, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 6:1 (Summer 2011), pp. 1–​37, esp. pp. 11–​13 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 367. Ibid., pp. 358–​361; pp. 370–​373. On the terminological and conceptual history of “crisis”, see the introduction to this volume.

From Regeneration to Resignation


de Bordeu’s almost entirely medical entry on crise in the Encyclopédie21 –​the modern concept of crisis would incorporate variants of each of these older usages. Koselleck summarises both the convergence and the variety of this philological synthesis: ‘at all times the concept is applied to life-​deciding alternatives meant to answer questions about what is just or unjust, what contributes to salvation or damnation, what furthers health or brings death’.22 The polyvalence of “crisis” allowed it, as a catchword, to both reflect and respond to revolutionary circumstances. Transitions in its meaning were not explicitly noted or intended, nor were they linear or total in their effects, but a general evolution is evident across the period, one that reveals five sometimes overlapping but nonetheless distinct accents: 1) crises as temporary, transformative, and regenerative moments of transition between otherwise stable states of affairs; 2) periods of dangerous instability that could allow counter-​revolutionaries to work against the collective process of regeneration; 3) extraordinary occurrences that may (or may not) justify extra-​constitutional measures; 4) ordeals to be faced, trials that reveal the essential character of a person or a state; and finally, 5) moments of social atomisation that dissolve social bonds and prompt individuals to emphasise self-​preservation rather than collective action. By the end of this period, and certainly in France’s domestic affairs, the Revolution’s model of crisis devolved from one in which the temporary dissolution of norms and conventions offered at least the possibility of collective regeneration into a more pessimistic and resigned sense that crises were likely to culminate in civil strife and violence.

Crisis and Regeneration

Despite its growing prominence in the decades before the Revolution, the rise of crisis-​talk in the Assembly seems to have been a result of revolutionary experience rather than an initial symptom. Indeed, records of the deputies discussing or describing crises are surprisingly rare for the first months of the Revolution, especially given that the state’s finances and institutions were clearly in a state of something like crisis. And when they did speak of crisis, it 21 22

Théophile de Bordeu, ‘Crise’, in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (eds), Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, vol. 4, pp. 471–​ 489. Also available at http://​​. Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 361. For more on the connection between the idea of crisis and ideas of justice, especially in ancient Athenian thought, see Paschalis Kitromilides’ contribution to this volume.

156 O’Connor was in tandem with “regeneration”, a promise of transformative moral, political, cultural, and social renewal.23 This expectation was rooted in a belief that the Revolution represented a point of ‘historical fracture or rupture’; after all, the prospect of regeneration required a preceding degeneration or disintegration, and so a point of inflection (or crisis) between the two processes.24 As the Marquis de Sillery put it in a September 1789 speech before the Assembly, the ‘regeneration of the state’ would be born of this ‘moment of danger and crisis’.25 This pairing of regeneration and crisis was evident even among those who were sceptical of the revolutionary agenda, and even from the first appearance of crise in the record of the National Assembly’s sessions. This came on 7 July 1789, a week before the fall of the Bastille, when the Comte de Lally-​Tollendal –​ whose initial support for the Revolution was quickly outpaced by his monarchist allegiances –​argued on the Assembly floor that however salutary a crisis might be, however fortunate its consequences might prove, none of this will be achieved without disruption. And there is no disruption that comes without a sort of instability, and instability becomes dangerous when it is prolonged. It would be wise for us to plan cautiously, but it would also be wise for us to act promptly.26 Despite his reservations, Lally-​Tollendal recognised that the crisis facing France might promise ‘salutary’ or ‘fortunate’ outcomes, a view that was shared by at least some of his conservative colleagues.27 These wary descriptions of crises as unsettled and unsettling periods of transition were matched by more sanguine and even celebratory statements that the difficulties faced by the deputies and by the nation were but a small price to pay for the benefits that would soon emerge. For example, in discussions of the royal veto on 1 September 1789, a deputy from Lorraine remarked 23

24 25 26 27

Mona Ozouf, ‘Regeneration’, in François Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds), A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 781–​790; Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 57–​59. Antoine de Baecque, ‘L’homme nouveau est arrivé: La « Régénération » du Français en 1789’, Dix-​Huitième Siècle, 20 (1988), pp. 193–​208, p. 193. AP, vol. 8, p. 601. AP, vol. 8, p. 195. A similar sentiment was expressed in February 1790 by Louis-​Jacques Grossin de Bouville, a conservative nobleman from Caux. See AP, vol. 11, p. 635.

From Regeneration to Resignation


that ‘as terrible as this crisis may be, we will find it was necessary, and all of the unfortunate particulars that come with it will nonetheless be subsumed into the general good’.28 This reassuring integration of crises into the national narrative fed off the familiar medical discourse in which crises preceded recuperation (the deputies had less to say of fatal crises). For example, the liberal nobleman Jacques-​ François Menou invoked the medical implications of crisis in March 1790 to claim that ‘revolutions are necessary crises for the political body’, and that while the disturbances troubling France were ‘perhaps violent, and bring with them passing inconveniences’, they were nonetheless a ‘necessary and inevitable remedy’ for the state’s various afflictions.29 The doctor-​turned-​deputy Jean-​Baptiste Salle extended the medical metaphor further still in May 1791, proposing that France ‘needs a political fever to purify [its] humours and to feel rejuvenated. And a fever is a state of crisis’, one that brings with it some agitation. But, he continued, ‘a bit of agitation is well-​suited to liberty; it is like the physical exercise that keeps a man healthy and vigorous’.30 On this view, crises were part of the life cycle of states, and the new political order would be stronger for having weathered the crises of its birth. The difficulty lay, however, in knowing when the dangerous parts of a crisis had passed. On 20 October 1790, Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours –​a prominent theorist of political economy and advocate of Physiocratic liberalism –​ distinguished between the circumstances surrounding the fall of the Bastille in July 1789 and those under which he and his colleagues deliberated, noting that during the summer of 1789, France had been ‘in the crisis of Revolution: [therefore] no power was limited, no constitutional laws had been pronounced, and the Assembly was obliged to stand in’ for all established powers. As he saw it, the situation was very different fifteen months later, as constitutional principles had been agreed upon, the division of powers established, and the constitution itself was almost complete.31 Not all of his colleagues agreed though. In November 1790, the moderate Jean-​Paul Rabaut Saint-​Étienne described the revolutionary crisis as ongoing. He noted that in times of peace and stability, the body politic was disturbed only by minor accidents, and the state did not need to do much to maintain political and social order. But, he continued,

28 29 30 31

AP, vol. 8, p. 530. AP, vol. 12, p. 290. AP, vol. 26, p. 274. AP, vol. 19, p. 738.

158 O’Connor sometimes there are extraordinary crises, when every element of the public force must be drawn upon to preserve the state. These moments are a general awakening, a summons to the nation […] that stays in force until the danger has passed. It is this sort of immense movement that first brought the people to arms, and it will not end until the constitution has been completed and its enemies have ceased to oppose the new order.32 Here Rabaut raises a spectre that would haunt the revolutionary discourse on crisis and regeneration: crises might have helped to make the Revolution, but enemies of the Revolution could also foment crises and take advantage of the resulting instability to sustain their opposition. Crises fostered not only regeneration, but conspiracy. This fear that conspirators might create or capitalise on crises became especially acute in the wake of the royal family’s attempt to flee France on 20–​21 June 1791.33 The moderate Théodore Vernier gave voice to these anxieties in his speech on 7 July 1791, describing ‘difficult periods in which the people, agitated by criminal forces, become instruments of larger intrigues about which they are themselves ignorant; these periods of crisis require extraordinary measures to maintain public tranquillity and to conserve people’s rights’.34 On 13 August 1791, Alexandre de Beauharnais, the nobleman deputy and veteran of the American War for Independence, attributed political crises to the provocations of ‘the state’s enemies’.35 A little more than a fortnight later, the lawyer and man-​of-​letters Armand-​Gaston Camus imagined Louis xvi’s aides saying among themselves, ‘let us wait for a moment of crisis, let us ensure that it comes; then we will watch the Assembly destroy itself, annihilate itself, divide itself. Then we will become its masters, then we will call upon foreign help, and then they will be unable to resist us’.36 By February 1792, commissioners in Arles could note laconically that ‘one knows well how political crises incite hatred among men’.37 This change brought the idea of crises as transitional periods together with the fear that crises were provoked or seized upon by nefarious forces and enemies of the people. At the same time, the temporal horizon of crises opened

32 33 34 35 36 37

AP, vol. 20, p. 593. Timothy Tackett, When the King Took Flight (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003). AP, vol. 28, p. 20. AP, vol. 29, p. 397. AP, vol. 30, p. 62. AP, vol. 38, p. 322.

From Regeneration to Resignation


up, and the transitional problem of interregna became an open-​ended state of exception that would only conclude when the Revolution’s enemies had been defeated and when the regeneration of France was complete.38 In the late summer of 1791, however, the deputies hoped that this state of exception was drawing to a close. The constitution was nearly complete, and so too it seemed was the transition from one political order to the next. Indeed, even as the deputies recognised the compromises and possible shortcomings of their work, they celebrated what they imagined to be the end of France’s constitutional and political crisis. On 31 August 1791, Nicolas Frochot congratulated his colleagues on their work and reassured them that the future was bright, that whatever issues remained could be addressed by their successors in the National Legislative Assembly. He pointed out that while ‘chang[ing] a constitution in its entirety announced a great political crisis, accompanied by the liveliest agitations […] [thereafter the] machine of government can be perfected’ without such a disruption of social, political, and civic affairs. Frochot claimed that the deputies’ primary responsibility had been to establish a constitutional order stable enough that it could then be improved over time, and this they had done.39 The next day, the conservative constitutional monarchist Bon-​Albert Briois de Beaumetz, speaking on behalf of the constitutional committee and the committee on revisions, similarly reflected back over the ‘great revolution’ that was coming to a close. He traced the new constitution’s roots back to the ‘fermentation salutaire’ of July and August 1789, and he described the two years since as an ‘interesting crisis’. The crisis had accomplished what it needed to, carrying out the ‘successive demolitions of the old […] and the gradual reconstruction of the new’.40 He congratulated his colleagues that their work had come to a successful conclusion. And indeed, the constitution of 1791 did seem to mark an end to the interregnal crisis –​that is, the disruptive transition from one governing authority to another –​but the deputies of the National Legislative Assembly would nonetheless have their own crises to face. These crises would test the new deputies’ ability to maintain what had been achieved and to preserve the new constitutional regime.

38 39 40

Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005; transl. Kevin Attell). AP, vol. 30, p. 96. AP, vol. 30, pp. 133–​136.

160 O’Connor

The Revolution’s crise conservatrice

Even after the constitution of 1791 was presented to and then accepted by Louis xvi, there remained a sense that conspirators were working against the new government and that the regenerative process promised in 1789 would have to extend out into an uncertain future. As the Girondin deputy Maximin Isnard put it in November 1791, two months after the constitution was completed, ‘a grand revolution has taken place in France; but it is not finished yet. The crisis of creation [la crise créatrice] is finished, but the crisis of conservation [la crise conservatrice] is just beginning. The horizon remains nebulous’.41 That nebulous horizon reflected concerns about how to complete the work of national regeneration and preserve the Revolution’s accomplishments against its enemies’ machinations. This was clear in a pair of debates held in autumn 1791, the first over émigrés and the Legislative Assembly’s right to restrict the movement of citizens in and out of the country, and the second over how to counteract the influence of refractory priests, those who had refused to accept the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (July 1790) or to swear the clerical oath (required as of November 1790). These issues quickly gave rise to a debate over crises and the limits imposed by constitutional governance, over what was and was not permissible in times of crisis. Interestingly, deputies on both sides of these issues –​those who supported and those who opposed extraordinary measures against émigrés and refractory priests –​stressed that there were circumstances under which extra-​ constitutional measures might be legitimate. For instance, in a lengthy speech opposing legislation to ban emigration and to punish émigrés, Pierre Philippe Baignoux (the deputy from Indre-​et-​Loire, a former lawyer and local administrator) spoke at length about how, in principle, circumstances could justify legislation that might otherwise be unconstitutional or illegitimate. He noted that ‘all measures are legitimate, even the most extraordinary, if they help to save the state’, and he even conceded that the law against emigration might be considered just and necessary, if ‘one could establish that such a crisis in fact existed’.42 He denied that the circumstances before the Assembly met this threshold, but his argument served to reaffirm the legitimizing relationship between crises and extra-​constitutional measures. Similarly, Pierre Paganel (a constitutional priest and deputy from Lot-​et-​Garonne) argued on 28 October 1791 that under the existing circumstances, a law against emigration would

41 42

AP, vol. 35, p. 67. AP, vol. 34, pp. 304–​305.

From Regeneration to Resignation


exceed the Assembly’s legitimate authority. He proposed, however, that the deputies establish a procedure so that in the future, should emigration pose a clear danger to the public good, they could declare a state of emergency and require that all émigrés return to France, punishing as rebels those who did not do so.43 The strongest argument against extra-​constitutional responses to crises came from the moderate Guillaume Mouysset, also from Lot-​et-​Garonne. Speaking on the same day (28 October 1791), Mouysset –​who had been a district judge in Villeneuve-​sur-​Lot before being elected to the Legislative Assembly –​granted that there were instances in which extraordinary measures seemed warranted, and that the on-​going problem of emigration posed a real threat to the nation. He then changed course, though, and reframed the discussion of crises and laws. He noted that legislators in the future were also likely to face crises, and that the decisions being made by the deputies would serve as a precedent, and possibly as a justification, for those who might someday try to abuse their powers to serve interests contrary to the public good. In light of this, he argued that ‘a law inspired by circumstance is generally a bad law’, and that the Assembly should resist the temptation to treat every crisis as an excuse for extra-​constitutional measures.44 Mouysset was working to counteract speeches like that delivered by Etienne Philippe Marie Lejosne, who spoke before the Assembly on 21 October 1791. Lejosne –​who was a professor of law before being elected to the Assembly, where he then associated himself with the political left –​warned that the controversy over refractory priests was ‘no longer a question of the liberty of religious opinions, but of the safety of the state’. He declared that ‘the urgency of the on-​going crisis demands a severe law to remove these agitators from the countryside, where they have managed to spread their despotic and infernal maxims’. He concluded by warning that if they were not checked by emergency measures, ‘these priests will cause rivers of blood to flow’ in the French countryside.45 Mouysset’s judicious warning paled in comparison to such terrifying prognoses, and the foreboding sense that the Revolution and the constitution were under assault continued throughout the autumn and winter of 1791–​92. Indeed, on 5 May 1792, Maximin Isnard returned to the theme of a ‘crisis of conservation’, questioning his colleagues’ self-​congratulatory claims that the Revolution was over. As he said: 43 44 45

AP, vol. 34, p. 475. AP, vol. 34, p. 488. AP, vol. 34, pp. 329–​330.

162 O’Connor The Revolution is over! Yes, of course. But the counter-​revolutionary effort is just beginning, and this brings with it a new type of revolution. As I have said before to this tribunal, a crisis of conservation must follow the crisis of creation. It is not only by tracing a few lines upon a paper, by calling out for equality, liberty, and peace that people obtain these things; it is necessary first to disarm one’s enemies and to subdue them so they can no longer fight.46 By the time of this speech, however, the Revolution’s most dangerous enemies were not émigrés and refractory priests, but the foreign armies with which France was newly at war.

Crisis and War, War as Crisis

In spring 1792, the deputies’ vision of a redemptive and regenerative crisis shifted from domestic to foreign affairs. In an atmosphere of suspicion, anxiety, and fear, both deputies and members of the royal administration came to see war as a solution to their respective political problems. In their debates, war took on the eschatological promise of crisis, seeming to offer a climactic resolution of the conflict between revolutionary and reactionary forces not just in France, but throughout Europe (and, some thought, around the world too). In a moment that would transform the Revolution, the deputies of the Legislative Assembly voted on 20 April 1792 to declare war on Austria, sparking a conflict that would soon pit France against the other European powers and send it on a path towards civil war and terror. Even as the Assembly voted for war, some deputies warned of the dangers involved, including the constitutional monarchist Louis Becquey, who described war as ‘a state of crisis for any nation’ and counselled his colleagues that ‘a nation that hopes to regenerate its institutions should do whatever it can to avoid war’.47 But the prospect of war gave new life to the promise of regeneration through crisis, empowering it with even more expansive rhetorical and geographical ambitions. Becquey’s concerns were mocked by his colleagues, including Jean-​Baptiste Mailhe, the former lawyer from the Haute-​ Garonne, who began his pro-​war speech by promising that he ‘would not follow M. Becquey in his frivolous alarms or vain reasoning’. Mailhe accepted the

46 47

AP, vol. 43, p. 397. AP, vol. 42, p. 204.

From Regeneration to Resignation


idea that war came with risks, but he spoke dramatically of the redemption to be found in a post-​war world: ‘No doubt, humanity suffers when we consider that in declaring war, one is sending thousands of men to their deaths; but consider also that your declaration may bring about the liberty of the entire world’. He claimed that all of Europe was facing a ‘political crisis’ –​which he described as a ‘great battle between liberty and despotism’ –​and that ‘a war fought under such circumstances and for such a cause should be considered not the scourge, but the triumph of humanity’.48 As dramatic as this speech was, Mailhe was by no means the most extreme in his claims for the coming conflict; the day after Mailhe addressed the Assembly, the Prussian-​born cosmopolitan and later member of the National Convention Anacharsis Cloots called the coming war ‘the crisis of the entire universe’. He then claimed that ‘the fate of all mankind is in the hands of France. We are fighting for the rights of man, and our victories will add a new radiance to the dignity of man’.49 Contrary to such promises, the coming of war was a disaster for France, whose armies were defeated dramatically and repeatedly in the spring and summer of 1792. And these defeats on the battlefield led to increased tensions and growing unrest at home. By mid-​summer –​less than a year after the constitution’s completion –​the deputies, members of Louis xvi’s administration, and even the king himself had come to recognise that they were once again facing a regime-​altering crisis. In mid-​June, the centre-​right deputy from Vosges, Joseph Marant, declared that we can no longer deceive ourselves about the dangers that surround us. Never has a state marched so rapidly to its dissolution. Never has France found itself in such a violent crisis [.…] It is clear that the constitution is not being enforced, and that the executive power has ceased to function. This time of uncertainty and anxiety must end, and the National Assembly must find a way to save France or to perish along with her.50 Despite his imperative tone, Marant had little to say about how to escape or avoid the coming crisis, suggesting that the Assembly establish a committee to investigate the causes of the nation’s problems and review measures that might be taken to address them. The king and those around him also began to prepare for the impending crisis, taking into account both what they might reasonably hope to achieve 48 49 50

AP, vol. 42, p. 208. AP, vol. 42, p. 252. AP, vol. 45, p. 326.

164 O’Connor and what the public would make of their actions. General La Fayette wrote to the king on 16 June, encouraging him to ‘remain steadfast […] and maintain your resolve to defend the constitution’s principles against all of its enemies; that resolve […] will serve as a guarantee of the harmony that must be maintained between the people’s elected officials and their hereditary representative, especially in such moments of crisis’.51 In a letter he sent to the Legislative Assembly on that same day, La Fayette noted the ‘difficult’ circumstances in which the nation found itself, ‘menaced from abroad and agitated from within’. Together, the domestic and foreign threats were hurtling France towards a ‘moment of crisis, when each of us will have our true character revealed’.52 Louis xvi struck a similar tone in his letter to the Assembly on 23 June, three days after thousands of Parisians had marched throughout the city –​and had forced their way into the royal palace at the Tuileries –​to protest the king’s veto of two pieces of legislation (one regarding the deportation of refractory priests, the other calling for a camp of 20,000 National Guardsmen to be established near Paris). He presented himself as stoical in the face of crowds that had been ‘misled’ by factional influences. He claimed to have ‘resisted [the intruders] with nothing but his conscience and his love for the public good’, and he promised that while he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort and repose, he would not be prevented from fulfilling his responsibilities and obligations to the nation. Echoing La Fayette’s counsel, he pledged that ‘amidst the crisis in which we find ourselves, the king will serve as an example of courage and resolution […] to the end’.53 Like La Fayette and the king, a number of deputies recognised that the end of the constitutional monarchy was fast approaching. Speaking on 1 August, Mathurin Louis-​Étienne Sédillez –​a reformist deputy from Seine-​et-​Marne –​ described the Assembly (and France) as ‘menaced by a political crisis, a crisis that will save or doom us, and so this is the moment to present our profession of [political] faith, our last testament’. His profession of faith was, for the most part, a defence of his conduct in government, of the ‘good but not perfect’ constitution he had sworn to defend and maintain, and even of his choice of seats in the Assembly (‘frequently on the right, because that was the side on which I entered, and it was easy to find a seat there, and it was generally quieter and more peaceful there, and because there I found honourable and enlightened men, true friends of the constitution and of liberty’).54 The coming crisis 51 52 53 54

AP, vol. 45, p. 351. AP, vol. 45, pp. 338–​340. AP, vol. 45, p. 512. AP, vol. 47, pp. 369–​370.

From Regeneration to Resignation


appeared to Sédillez –​a former royal prosecutor –​not as a project or promise, but as a tribunal by which he and his colleagues would be judged. By 9 August 1792, the deputies struggled to maintain control of the regime and of the city, and they declared a state of emergency that morning. Shortly after the declaration, François Lamarque, a deputy and lawyer from the Dordogne, tried to persuade his colleagues that a controlled dissolution of the constitutional monarchy was still possible, pairing the abdication of the king with increased surveillance and security measures, including a temporary suspension of the freedom of the press and a requirement that non-​residents leave Paris. He cited the ‘moment of crisis’ in justifying such extraordinary measures (against both the king and the populace), claiming that the Assembly had to take control of the situation on behalf of the nation.55 More expansively, Pierre-​Anastase Torné, the constitutional bishop and deputy from Cher, discussed the relationship between crises and constitutionalism in a lengthy speech written that day but not delivered in the Assembly. He argued that, given the nature of representative government and the geographical expanse of the nation, the deputies were obliged during that moment of crisis to protect and preserve the ‘natural and imprescriptible rights of man’ by any means necessary. He claimed that the constitution, ‘written for calmer and safer times’, was ill-​designed for the sort of ‘immense crisis’ faced by the Assembly. Finally, he implored his colleagues to ‘reject the political hypocrisy by which you would remain bound to a letter that destroys you’ and to move quickly with the steps necessary to preserve public liberty and order (namely, the suspension of the king and his ministers).56 Aware that they could not avoid or escape the coming crisis, the deputies hoped that they might still be able to manage the regime’s collapse.

Crisis Cometh

Remarkably, there were relatively few invocations of “crisis” when the conflict came the next day, or in the days immediately thereafter. Indeed, the Archives parlementaires record only two instances of deputies describing the situation as a crisis, though a few deputies did preface their comments by noting that time was of the essence, that ‘each moment is critical’, and that the ‘circumstances [had] become critical’.57 And indeed they had. By the time the 55 56 57

AP, vol. 47, pp. 596–​598. AP, vol. 47, pp. 678–​692. For instance, in a speech opposing the actions of the Parisian sections (the forty-​eight units of local political administration into which Paris was re-​organised in summer 1790),

166 O’Connor Assembly’s morning session convened at 7:00 a.m. on 10 August 1792, the sans-​ culottes and the sections of Paris had launched an assault on the royal palace, and the overthrow of the French monarchy had begun.58 In the opening minutes of that morning’s session, a representative of the Parisian municipal government warned the deputies that ‘anarchy has arrived’. As the deputies learned of events at the Tuileries and discussed what to do, the generally moderate Pierre-​Joseph Cambon declared that ‘this is no time for discussion; the public is in danger [….] In a moment of crisis such as this, all divisions must cease. We must unite ourselves and give to the executive authority –​that is, the municipal government –​all of the force it needs to establish order’.59 As the deputies discussed which authorities to recognise and what course of action to take, they learned that the king, queen, and royal family were on their way to the Assembly, seeking refuge from the uprising. This news led to a heated discussion of the separation of powers and the possibility of deliberating while the king was in the hall. When the royal family arrived, the Protestant deputy Marc-​David-​Alba Lasource argued that ‘given the dangerous crisis [crise périlleuse] in which the country finds itself, the legislative body must be able to deliberate […], and so the king must relocate to one of the far ends of the room, after which we can return to our discussions’.60 The king did so, and the deputies debated how to handle the crisis at hand, but the Archives parlementaires do not record another instance of the deputies using the word crise until 18 August, when the term was used to describe problems of tax assessment and collection.61 Perhaps ironically, crisis-​talk had abated in one of the revolutionary episodes best suited to combine its disparate meanings. The nation found itself in a constitutional interregnum brought about by a moment of feverish, dramatic, and decisive violence, culminating in the transition from a constitutional

58 59 60 61

the moderate Jean-​Baptiste Voysin de Gartempe declared: ‘the more critical matters become, the more imperative it is that we fulfill our responsibilities’ (AP, vol. 47, p. 634); in the debate over whether the Assembly could deliberate in the king’s presence, Marc-​ David-​Albin Lasource insisted that his colleagues find a solution quickly, as ‘it serves the general interest for the Assembly to remain in deliberation. The more critical circumstances become, the more we must rally around the constitution’ (AP, vol. 47, p. 636). The deputies’ language in these moments reflects the apparent acceleration and ‘temporalization’ of revolutionary politics described by Koselleck. See Koselleck, ‘Introduction and Prefaces to the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe’, pp. 12–​13. On the events of 9–​10 August 1792, see David Andress, The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), pp. 71–​92. AP, vol. 47, p. 634. AP, vol. 47, p. 636. AP, vol. 48, p. 342.

From Regeneration to Resignation


monarchy to a republic. A ‘national convention’ would soon be elected by nearly universal male suffrage and, in the coming weeks, the revolutionary armies would win their first significant victories, staving off foreign conquest and allowing for the Revolution to continue. But the bond between crises and regeneration was not what it had been in 1789, and it was clear that the regime coming into being could expect no respite from crises and conflicts. Indeed, even before the National Convention’s first meeting on 20 September 1792, France was shaken by a particularly troubling episode of popular violence, one that would haunt the nascent republic and complicate the promise of collective regeneration. From 2 to 6 September, just three weeks after the “revolution” of 10 August, widespread fear that Prussian forces would capture Paris led the city’s inhabitants to attack prisons in search of “counter-​ revolutionaries”, who were then tried before impromptu popular courts.62 Of the 2,700 suspects so “tried”, approximately 1,200 were convicted and executed in the streets of Paris.63 The September Massacres, as they came to be known, served as a dark complement to the uprising of 10 August 1792, raising questions about legitimate and illegitimate acts of popular violence and about the political forces bringing the new regime into being. Reporting to the Assembly on 6 September, Jérôme Pétion, the mayor of Paris, tried to reassure the deputies that order was being restored and that the violence was coming to a close. He remarked that ‘even the least enlightened citizens recognise that a state of insurrection cannot become a habit; that while a moment of crisis can be salutary for political ills, it becomes harmful if it persists; it destroys even what it should conserve’.64 Of course, Pétion was speaking here of the spasmodic violence of early September 1792, but his words suggest larger points about the prolonged state of crisis in which France found itself after 1789, and about the effects that serial crises had on the political ambitions, anxieties, and expectations shaping the Revolution. After all, Pétion, a committed revolutionary and future regicide, was a far cry in his political sympathies from the conservative Comte de Lally-​Tollendal who, as we saw above, had expressed a very similar sentiment on 7 July 1789. By September 1792, even relatively radical deputies like Pétion had become wary of crises, which had ceased to make new courses of collective action seem 62 63 64

Pierre Caron, Massacres de septembre (Paris: Maison du Livre français, 1935); Andress, The Terror, pp. 93–​115. Peter McPhee, Liberty or Death: The French Revolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), p. 160; Timothy Tackett, The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), pp. 210–​216. AP, vol. 49, p. 395.

168 O’Connor possible, appearing instead as storms one could only hope to weather, dangers about which one could do little.


Crises had been tolerable in 1789 –​sometimes welcome, even –​because regeneration had seemed imminent, and because one’s fellow citizens seemed to be engaged in the same regenerative project. Revolutionaries and representatives could approach crises as tumultuous but redemptive episodes in a grand (and beneficial) historical drama. It seemed that even the tumult itself might serve a purpose. As a representative from the Grand Châtelet in Paris put it in a May 1790 letter, crises were periods during which the ‘bonds that hold society together are suspended so that they might receive a new organization’.65 It was the legislators’ job to enable and encourage the formation of those new social bonds. But, over time, the uncertainty of the revolutionary horizon changed the apparent nature of the crises facing France, and it was more than paranoia and suspicion that made salutary crises increasingly difficult to imagine. It was also a loss of faith in crises themselves; the recognition that this crisis would not be the decisive one –​that it was just one more in a series –​served to undermine faith in the Revolution and in regeneration. In a discussion on 5 February 1792, Antoine Christophe Merlin de Thionville (the later-​Jacobin deputy from Moselle) complained that the on-​going crises were eroding public faith in the institutions and agents of the state, making it difficult to carry out public functions in ways that might engender popular support.66 The same might have been said of the Revolution writ large. By July 1792, as the Assembly debated a proclamation that the country was in danger, Charles-​Marie Lafont, a deputy from Lot-​et-​Garonne, despaired that a momentary crisis could once reunite the people. It did so when the king took flight [20–​21 June 1791] […] helping to maintain order; but it will be in vain if you look for that same concert of wills today [….] In June 1791, the supporters of the Constitution were imposing in their number and in their union. Since then, fanaticism and trickery have made great

65 66

AP, vol. 15, p. 523. AP, vol. 38, p. 189.

From Regeneration to Resignation


progress; indifference and a distaste for public affairs have taken root with many citizens.67 The experience of successive crises had left its mark on French revolutionary politics. And, as the Archives parlementaires show, this was true not only for ‘the people’, but also for the deputies of the National Assembly, among whom it was not ‘indifference and a distaste for public affairs’ that had taken root, but more likely fear and fatigue. At the same time, the experience of the French Revolution left its mark on the idea of “crisis”. The persistence of long-​running or recurring troubles –​ along with the knowledge that new and unforeseen emergencies were likely to come –​had undercut the revolutionaries’ faith in the idea that upheaval might bring reform and renewal in its wake, or even that any given crisis might be determinative or decisive. Instead, it was their experience that upheaval brought danger, distrust, and greater uncertainty. Where once such episodes had seemed to promise an opportunity for cooperative action and collective regeneration, by the end of the constitutional monarchy the idea of crisis had come to indicate a state of exception, not only from constitutional norms and limits, but from the social, political, and interpersonal assumptions that underwrite human affairs. These crises isolated and endangered, and they bred not regeneration, but terror.68

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860: recueil complet des débats législatifs & politiques des Chambres françaises, eds J. Madival, E. Laurent, et al., 82 vols (Paris: Dupont, 1867–​1913 ; i edn 1787-​1799) [available online at https://​​]. Bordeu, Théophile de, ‘Crise’, in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (eds), Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, vol. 4, pp. 471–​489.

Baecque, Antoine de, ‘L’homme nouveau est arrivé: La « Régénération » du Français en 1789’, Dix-​Huitième Siècle, 20 (1988), pp. 193–​208. 67 68

AP, vol. 46, p. 346. On fear and the coming of the Terror in the French Revolution, see Tackett, The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution.

170 O’Connor Barron, Alexander T. J., Jenny Huang, Rebecca L. Spang, and Simon DeDeo, ‘Individuals, Institutions, and Innovation in the Debates of the French Revolution’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115:18 (May 2018), pp. 4607–​4612. Blackman, Robert H., 1789: The French Revolution Begins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Koselleck, Reinhart, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). Ozouf, Mona, ‘Regeneration’, in François Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds), A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 781–​790. Tackett, Timothy, Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789–​1790) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

­c hapter 8

Treating Revolutionary Sickness. Crisis and the Formative Years of German Liberalism (1834–​1866) Janine T. Murphy* In the preface to the third edition of Karl (also Carl) von Rotteck (1775–​ 1840) and Karl (also Carl/​Karl Theodor) Welcker’s (1790–​1869) oft-​labelled bible of early liberalism,1 Das Staats-​Lexikon: Encyklopädie der sämmtlichen Staatswissenschaften für alle Stände,2 Welcker reflected on the fear among German liberals that explicit critiques of the political order would ‘recede into confidential circles until a new crisis of public affairs occurs’.3 Facing state reaction following the 1848–​49 revolutions, Welcker’s preface depicted a prevailing sense of doom that liberal German voices would be silenced, unable to

* I would like to thank the editors, Cesare Cuttica and László Kontler, and Clara Maier and the internal peer reviewer for their helpful comments and feedback. My gratitude also goes to Anna Ross and Jean-​Michel Johnston for their support on an early draft, Andreas Fahrmeir for encouraging me to dig deeper into the Staats-​Lexikon, and to Katja Rieck for her assistance with checking the translations. Some of the contributions to the Staats-​Lexikon were published under pseudonyms, for example, G., R., Abt. As it is not entirely clear which author published under which pseudonym, the pseudonym is reproduced for authors’ names throughout this chapter where applicable. 1 For references to the Staats-​Lexikon as the bible of early liberalism, see, for example, Dieter Langewiesche, Liberalismus in Deutschland (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), p. 13. 2 Following Rotteck’s death in 1840, Welcker oversaw the publication of the second edition with Rotteck’s son, Hermann von Rotteck. The second edition remained largely unchanged from the first with the exception of the addition of a new preface and articles that had not been written for the first edition. Edits to already written articles were largely confined to small grammatical and stylistic changes, to indicate, for example, that the subject of the article was deceased. Karl v. Rotteck and Karl Welcker (eds), Das Staats-​Lexikon oder Encyclopädie der Staatswissenschaften, 15 vols (Altona: J.F. Hammerich, i edn 1834–​1843; 4 supplemental volumes); Karl v. Rotteck and Karl Welcker (eds), Das Staats-​Lexikon, Encyklopädie der sämmtlichen Staatswissenschaften, 12 vols (Altona: J.F. Hammerich, ii edn 1845–​1848). Karl Welcker (ed.), Das Staats-​Lexikon. Encyklopädie der sämmtlichen Staatswissenschaften für alle Stände, 14 vols (Leipzig: Brockhaus, iii edn 1856–​1866). 3 Karl Welcker, ‘Vorwort zur dritten Auflage des Staats-​Lexikon’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ed. Welcker, iii edn, vol. 1 (1856), p. xxi. As the Staats-​Lexikon has not been translated into English, all translations unless otherwise indicated are the author’s own.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_010

172 Murphy ward off the crisis they perceived to be looming on the horizon. As he framed it: ‘Our Germany is not yet so fortunate! The bright prospects for an imminent peaceful progress, with which the preface to the second edition of the Staats-​ Lexikon had been written, are today in 1856 much obscured’.4 What exactly the looming crisis was remained unclear. As Reinhart Koselleck laments, despite extensive references to the term, the Staats-​Lexikon lacks a separate entry for “crisis”.5 Throughout the encyclopaedia’s volumes, crisis is evoked as a warning of trouble to come, of a ‘revolutionary sickness’ latent in society. For the contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon and Welcker in particular, revolution was born of a weak state, where people were forced to act to counter the state’s inaction.6 Mitigating crisis was thus depicted as the duty of both the state and of ‘fatherland-​ loving patriots’.7 While the measures that would help to avoid crisis fill the pages of the Staats-​Lexikon, the term’s explicit meaning is largely, as Koselleck contends, left to the reader. Despite the lack of a specific entry, the political trajectory of evocations of crisis are evident over the three editions. In the first two editions, released in the fifteen years leading up to the 1848–​49 Revolutions (the Vormärz editions), crisis is framed as the inevitable outcome of the state’s political overreach and its refusal to extend political rights to its citizens. By the post-​revolutionary edition, crisis is contextualised as the outcome of both the state and its citizens’ refusal to learn from experience, evidenced by the historical failures that had unleashed revolutionary sickness in 1848–​49. It is clear, therefore, that a change in liberal thought occurred in the wake of the revolution: the responsibility for political security no longer lay with the state but was shared with its citizens. As a roadmap for early German liberalism, the Staats-​Lexikon not only had an important impact on fostering liberal political discourses in the Vormärz but also survived the revolution and continued to circulate the German liberal belief in constitutional monarchism in the post-​revolutionary period. Despite such importance, however, the encyclopaedia has largely been overlooked in the historiography of nineteenth-​century Germany.8 Rather than considering 4 5 6 7 8

Welcker, ‘Vorwort zur dritten Auflage’, pp. xxi–​xxii. Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). The association between revolution and sickness can be seen in numerous articles in Staats-​Lexikon. See, for example, G., ‘Revolution’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ed. Welcker, iii edn, vol. 12 (1865), p. 550 and Welcker, ‘Vorwort zur dritten Auflage’. Ibid., p. xxi. One of the few analyses of the Staats-​Lexikon as a source for early liberalism is Hans Zehntner, Das Staatslexikon von Rotteck und Welker: Eine Studie zur Geschichte des deutschen Frühliberalismus (Jena: G. Fischer, 1929). More recently, a conference organised

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


how the Staats-​Lexikon carved the contours of early German liberalism, studies tend to focus on its treatment of specific topics such as how it depicts France9 or its concept of the middle class.10 This chapter, however, underscores that the Staats-​Lexikon has a great deal to tell about how German liberals reacted to the experience of 1848–​49 far beyond its footnoted treatment to date. Drawing on a discourse analysis of crisis in the Staats-​Lexikon, this chapter first depicts five key types of crisis –​general, religious, social, political, and economic –​that are evident throughout the encyclopaedia’s volumes and editions. It then explores how crisis is evoked in the forms of social, political and economic crises and the degree to which these types changed following the experience of revolution in 1848–​49. The chapter concludes by bringing the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary periods into conversation, capturing what remains durable in nineteenth-​century German liberals’ discourses of crisis and what the revolution placed in flux. Reflecting on what this tells us about the role of 1848–​49 in early German liberalism, it becomes clear that the liberals believed that revolutionary sickness would not be eradicated by a one-​size-​ fits-​all cure but would require the proactive treatment of crises that brought it about.

The well-​meaning Liberals of the Staats-​Lexikon

The Staats-​Lexikon was branded as a general-​knowledge educational encyclopaedia for all classes. Its articles covered political and economic theory, history, and geography across three editions. The first volume of the first edition was released in 1834, and the last in 1843. The reprinted and slightly edited and expanded second edition was first published in 1845 with its final volume coinciding with the spreading European revolutions in 1848. Publication of the third and final edition began in 1855, concluding on the eve of the Austro-​ Prussian War in 1866.

9 10

by the Friedrich-​Naumann-​Stiftung für die Freiheit resulted in a volume which focused on the two editors and specific aspects of early German liberal thought. Hans-​Peter Becht and Ewald Grothe (eds), Karl von Rotteck und Karl Theodor Welcker: Liberale Professoren, Politiker und Publizisten (Baden-​Baden: Nomos Verlag, 2018). Claudia M. Igelmund, Frankreich und das Staatslexikon von Rotteck und Welcker: Eine Studie zum Frankreichbild des süddeutschen Frühliberalismus (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1987). Thomas Zunhammer, Zwischen Adel und Pöbel: Bürgertum und Mittelstandsideal im Staatslexikon von Karl V. Rotteck und Karl Theodor Welcker; Ein Beitrag zur Theorie des Liberalismus im Vormärz (Baden-​Baden: Nomos Verlag, 1995).

174 Murphy For its founders, the Staats-​Lexikon’s goal was to disseminate the politically relevant knowledge German liberals believed was required for citizens to competently participate in politics. The Staats-​Lexikon was thus conceptualised as a means to facilitate Germans’ understanding of Sattelzeit11 transformations, which saw the idea of freedom as the foundation of civilised nations. The impetus was to bring the cyclic pattern of revolution and violent reaction to an end and protect nations from eventual destruction.12 The contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon were among the “who’s who” of early German liberals: Friedrich List (1789–​1846),13 Friedrich Daniel Bassermann (1811–​1855), Carl Joseph Anton Mittermaier (1787–​1867), Karl Mathy (1807–​ 1868), Friedrich Wilhelm Schulz (1797–​1860), Paul Pfizer (1801–​1867), Gustav von Struve (1805–​1870), among others, all contributed articles. The contributions are exhaustive and uphold academic standards: background information, quotations, statistics, and citations. Its first and second editions were broadly circulated in the Vormärz period, helping to shape Vormärz political discourses. Initially, the encyclopaedia benefitted from relatively permeable censorship regulations in Baden and in Holstein, where it was published.14 With the fifth volume of the first edition, publication moved to Leipzig where one of the contributors, Georg Friedrich Bülau, was also, conveniently, responsible for its censorship. In Prussia and Austria, although circulation of the Staats-​ Lexikon had been forbidden, copies nonetheless made it into circulation.15 11 The Sattelzeit was coined by Reinhart Koselleck to describe the period of transition between the early modern period and modernity, generally from 1750–​1830 but has also been expanded to 1850 and 1870. See Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Einleitung’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-​sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Klett-​ Cotta, 1972), p. xv. 12 Welcker, ‘Einleitung: Vorwort zur ersten Auflage des Staats-​Lexikon (1834), Über den politischen Kampf unsers Jahrhunderts und die Aufgabe des Staats-​Lexikon’, in Staats-​ Lexikon, ed. Welcker, iii edn, vol. 1 (1856), pp. v–​vi. 13 On List’s involvement with the conceptualisation of the Staats-​Lexikon, see: Friedrich Lenz, ‘Friedrich List als Politischer Publizist’, Zeitschrift für Politik, 3:3 (1956), pp. 228–​242. 14 Welcker upheld Holstein as an example of freedom from censorship in his article on the German Confederation’s legal system. Welcker, ‘Deutscher Bund und deutsches Bunderecht’, in Staats-​Lexikon, eds. Rotteck and Welcker, ii edn, vol. 4 (1846), p. 28. On censorship in Holstein during this period, see Elke Blumenauer, Journalismus zwischen Pressefreiheit und Zensur: Die Augsburger ‘Allgemeine Zeitung’ im Karlsbader System, 1818–​ 1848 (Cologne: Böhlau, 2000) and Bärbel Cöppicus-​Wex, Die Dänisch-​Deutsche Presse, 1789 –​1848: Presselandschaft zwischen Ancien Régime und Revolution (Bielefeld: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 2001). 15 Helga Albrecht, ‘Rotteck, Welcker und das “Staats-​Lexikon”’, in Becht and Grothe (eds), Karl von Rotteck, pp. 144–​145.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


The articles in the Staats-​Lexikon centred on the idea that the cycle of revolution and reaction would only be curbed if a constitutional monarchy were installed. The system was depicted as the perfect compromise: the monarch could maintain his power while the people would gain a voice in their governance. For many, the era of reaction that had unfolded in the wake of the Carlsbad Decrees had served as a warning that without such a balanced system, tumult would continue. As Karl von Rotteck explained in his preface to the first edition: The vast majority of liberals had been faithful to the system of the constitutional monarchy; they had seen in it the most beautiful and at the same time safest realisation of the ideal of a constitutional state and had hoped, even after the experience of bitter illusions and sad failures, for the finite victory of this system over the hostile tendencies of most ministers and elite. Even now, many hope for such a victory, but others have given up hope or are close to doing so. Certain sad acts of the State, not the republican journals, not the declamations of the ultra-​liberals, have brought about such a shift in thoughts and attitudes. The dispute that used to be fought over more or less genuine representation of the republican constitution under monarchical leadership, over progress or stagnation, is now threatening to become an eradication campaign, a struggle for death and life between throne and freedom, between absolutism and republic, between oppression and upheaval, between sultanism and demagogy.16 In the Vormärz, German liberals had become increasingly convinced that if the political trajectory remained unchallenged, revolution would be the only outcome. Thus, the contributions to the Staats-​Lexikon not only served to inform but also to preclude the cycle of revolution and reaction by fostering an understanding among Germans of the theoretical and historical value of a just agreement between the state and its citizens for the benefit of the common good. Without such a foundation, the ‘well-​meaning liberals’ would see their desire for political freedom foiled by the circumstances in which they found themselves, and a democratic Germany would only be realised through violence.17 Such warnings were not without grounds. After the barricades and violence of 1848–​49, the same liberals faced a rather pessimistic predicament.

16 Rotteck, ‘Vorwort zur ersten Auflage’, p. xxi. 17 Ibid.

176 Murphy Revolution had not ended with their vision of a unified and democratic Germany. Instead, liberals across the German states found themselves facing the prospect of reaction that many were not even present to witness: in the summer of 1849, upwards to 30,000 German revolutionaries fled to other European countries in political exile. Thousands found themselves unable to return home when European countries closed their borders at the end of 1849 and instead made the passage to the New Worlds of America and Australia.18 Those who remained were subjected to punishment, surveillance, and police harassment.19 Welcker himself was only spared harsh punishment in Baden as he had resigned from the National Assembly prior to the Revolution’s final violent turn in 1849.20 By 1851, reaction had become the law of the land when the German Confederation implemented the Bundesreaktionsbeschluß21 (Federal Reaction Decree) at the behest of Prussia and Austria. The decree’s stated goal was to ensure public security and order in the post-​revolutionary period. It primarily resulted in the erasure of the liberals’ revolutionary achievements, particularly in terms of freedom of the press and voting rights. Reaction in the form the German Confederation would have likely preferred was, however, not entirely possible. There was no going back to the Metternich Era repressive tactics of the Carlsbad Decrees, which had been strictly implemented in the German Confederation in 1819 and had only been repealed when revolution broke out in Germany in April of 1848.22 Many German states had adopted constitutions 18 19

20 21 22

On the political exile of the 48ers, see Heléna Tóth, An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848–​1871 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), particularly pp. 16–​20, 33, 154. Historians have largely focused on the fate of the Frankfurt Assembly’s more well-​known deputies: of the 261 left-​wing deputies in the assembly, nearly half were subjected to legal persecution, with eighteen sentenced to death. As most had fled into exile, only two death sentences were carried out. See Christian Jansen, Einheit, Macht und Freiheit: Die Paulskirchenlinke und die deutsche Politik in der nachrevolutionären Epoche, 1849–​1867 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2000), pp. 55–​73. Friedrich v. Weech, ‘Welcker, Carl Theodor –​Deutsche Biographie’, https://​www.deutsche-​​sfz14826.html, accessed on 29 August 2019. Deutscher Bund, Bundesbeschluß Über Maßregeln zur Wahrung der Öffentlichen Sicherheit und Ordnung im Deutschen Bund vom 23. August 1851. The inability of the state –​and perhaps its unwillingness –​to embark on a Carlsbad-​style reaction was first raised by Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte, 1800–​1866: Bürgerwelt und starker Staat (Munich: Beck, 1983). More recent work on the Prussian state in particular further underscores how the revolution profoundly impacted governance and have revised the historical understanding of 1850–​1858 in particular as one of reaction to one of a revolution in governance. See, for example, Christopher Clark, ‘After 1848: The European Revolution in Government’, Transactions of the Royal Historical

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


during the revolution and the desire to revoke them was balanced by concerns that if reaction was too severe, radicals would once again take to the streets. Moderate liberals shared these concerns. In the post-​revolutionary period, they entered into a prolonged negotiation with the state whereby they abided with the state’s rules to ensure that some of the progress that had been achieved during the revolution could be maintained.23 Thus, after the 1848–​49 Revolutions, the third edition of the Staats-​Lexikon was revised substantially as a means to return to the Vormärz strategy of not only educating Germans so they would be prepared for the eventual arrival of democracy, but also restoring the delicate balance between the state and its citizens. Moreover, the final volume turned its attention to establishing the foundation for the eventual realisation of a German constitutional monarchy by proactively mitigating any crisis that could stand in the way of political progress.

The Five Crises of the Staats-​Lexikon

The word crisis appears 299 times in the approximately 25,000 pages produced by the contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon.24 These mentions can be classified into five key types: general crisis, religious crisis, social crisis, political crisis, and economic crisis. While general mentions of crisis are rather unspecific (for example, references such as ‘if any crisis breaks out’),25 references to religious crisis largely pertain to confessional contestation, for instance, in historical depictions of the Reformation and issues of papal succession.26 Such


24 25 26

Society, 22 (2012), pp. 171–​197 and Anna Ross, Beyond the Barricades: Government and State-​Building in Post-​Revolutionary Prussia, 1848–​1858 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). For the liberal’s refusal to retreat in the face of Prussian law that could have fostered a more severe reaction, see Janine T. Murphy, ‘The Transformation of Urban Politics: The Cultivation of Liberalism in Germany, 1850–​1864’, PhD diss., Goethe University, Frankfurt, 2015. On the notion of the post-​revolutionary period as one of negotiations between the Prussian state and its citizens, see Janine T. Murphy, ‘Contesting Surveillance: The German Gymnastics Movement and the Prussian State, 1850–​1864’, German History, 36:1 (2018), pp. 21–​37. The first and second editions are largely reproductions with the exception of additional articles in the second edition. As such, for the purpose of quantitative data for this chapter, I focus on the second and third editions. Abt., ‘Albigenser: Kirchlicher Absolutismus, Ketzerei und Ketzerverfolgung’, in Staats-​ Lexikon, eds. Rotteck and Welcker, ii edn, vol. 1 (1845), p. 436. See, for example, the articles on Europe: Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Europa’, in Staats-​Lexikon, eds. Rotteck and Welcker, ii edn, vol. 4 (1846), pp. 526–​542; Wilhelm Schulz-​Bodmer and F. Kolb, ‘Europa’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ed. Welcker, iii edn, vol. 5 (1861), pp. 171–​186.

178 Murphy 120

100 80 60 40 20 0




Second edition



Third Edition

­f igure 8.1  References to crisis in the Staats-​Lexikon, second and third editions

references are rather minimal, with only ten references across the second and third editions. Similarly, mentions of social crisis, largely related to social transformation related to industrialisation and urbanisation, appear just 18 times. The majority of references to crisis pertains to political and economic crises, comprising 266 of the 299 mentions of the terms in the two editions, at 161 and 105 total references, respectively. Although quantitative data can tell us very little about the qualitative meaning of such references, what emerges from this limited quantitative analysis is that political crisis –​not surprising given the Staats-​Lexikon’s general purpose –​holds the most prominent place in all references to crisis over the encyclopaedia’s run. Moreover, the analysis also shows that references to crisis appear more in the third edition than the second edition: economic crisis appears three times more often in the third edition while references to political crisis are more than doubled. Three key quantitative changes are prominent between the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary editions. First, of the original references to crisis in the second edition, only eight remain the same in the third edition: two pertaining to economic crisis and six relating to political crisis. These range from references to the free press being a form of protection for smaller German states during crisis,27 to the ability of the British to withstand the crisis of the continental system28 and the crisis of the conflict between the plebs and the patricians in Rome,29 or the series of banking crises in England from 1792 to 27 28 29

Welcker, ‘Censur der Druckschriften’, in Das Staats Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 3 (1846), p. 139. Welcker, ‘Censur der Druckschriften’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 3 (1859), p. 415. F. Bülau, ‘Continental-​System; Continental-​Sperre’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 3 (1846), p. 549. F. Bülau, ‘Continental-​system’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 4 (1860), pp. 644–​645. Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Dictator, Diktatur’, in Das-​Staats Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 4 (1846), p. 41. Wilhelm Schulz-​Bodmer, ‘Dictator, Dictatur’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 4 (1860), p. 540.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


1837.30 Other references are less historical and are reproduced in the post-​ revolutionary period. This is the case, for instance, with the following references to a brewing storm: This fear itself gave birth, as children of horror, both to a desperate courage for preservation and wise caution, which united to form a system of justice that at least for the time being has succeeded in preserving the essential features of the status quo. Thus, some now believe with greater confidence in its continuation, while crisis appears to others, nurtured by the significant signs of the times, to have merely been postponed.31 Forty-​seven of the other original references are removed entirely; that is, no reference appears in the third edition article or the article itself is no longer included. Most of these references are to political crisis. Those that remain the same predominantly refer to specific concepts, events, or people, where depictions are relatively stable over time (for instance, entries on political regimes and their downfalls, national histories, etc.). There is no consistent pattern in what is removed. Beyond remaining the same or simply removing the information, a second change is evident in the third edition: although the reference that was made in the second edition has been removed, the third edition of the article mentions crisis in a different context with an altered formulation. The third change between the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary versions, and the most frequent change, is a new reference to crisis in an article where there was no reference to crisis in the second edition or in an article that was not included in the earlier versions of the Staats-​Lexikon at all. While the reasons for these changes cannot be gleaned from the quantitative data, the number of new references to crisis and the increased use of the term in the third edition seem to signify a shift in emphasis in the post-​ revolutionary period. Whether this shift was made as an attempt to distance German liberals from the impetus for and failure32 of the 1848–​49 Revolutions 30 31 32

Karl Mathy, ‘Papiergeld’, in Das Staats Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 10 (1848), p. 457. Karl Mathy, ‘Papiergeld’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 11 (1864), pp. 282–​283. Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Gleichgewicht, Völkerrechtliches’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 6 (1847), p. 31. Wilhelm Schulz-​Bodmer and H. Marquardse, ‘Gleichgewicht (Politisches)’, in Staats-​ Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 6 (1862), p. 645. While historians have dismissed the assessment of 1848–​49 as a failure, early assessments by German liberals often referred to it as a failed revolution. On the difficulties associated with referring to the revolution as a failed revolution, particularly in consideration of liberal actors’ perspectives in the early 1850s, see Murphy, ‘The Transformation of Urban Politics’, particularly pp. 55–​67.

180 Murphy or if the revisions were the result of censorship –​self, state, or attempts to avoid –​or were perhaps simply a matter that the former articles no longer fit the liberal Zeitgeist of the time would be difficult to ascertain. There does, however, appear to be some intentionality behind the transformed evocation of crisis in the post-​revolutionary edition, as the next section discusses.

The Crisis of Immoral Development

That the German liberals repositioned themselves and the knowledge they hoped to disseminate in their “bible” following –​what they perceived to be –​their unsuccessful revolution found expression in the third edition of the Staats-​Lexikon is unsurprising. That they did so in the frame of crisis is, however, noteworthy. How the contextualisation of crisis shaped and was shaped by the goal of the revised third edition offers an opportunity to reconstruct the transformation of German liberal political thought from the Vormärz into the post-​revolutionary period. In particular, how the liberals positioned economic and political crises for society in the post-​revolutionary period underscores the degree to which 1848–​49 acted as a catalyst to rethink the German liberal project. Understanding how requires a deeper look at what was changed and what remained the same in references to the three key types of crises, social, economic and political crisis, in the post-​revolutionary edition. In the Vormärz, evocations of social crisis primarily centred on the social transformations of the Sattelzeit, migration, the foundation of new empires, the acceptance of new religions, etc., often referred throughout the articles to as ‘crises of development’, which had culminated in the social question as industrialisation, capitalism, and migration.33 Against a background of increasing working-​class precariousness, the contributors to the Staats-​ Lexikon positioned the social uncertainty of the new industrial age as a major contributor to a declining sense of security. The avoidance of social crisis hinged on answering major questions brought about by these social transformations: how could working-​class men, women and children acquire the rights they would need to ensure their own security? Drawing on the English experience, Wilhelm Schulz warned that industrialisation had created a situation where it would be only possible to speak ‘of the economic independence of a greater part of the nation, with which moral and political independence


See for example, Welcker, ‘Adel (Altgermanischer)’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 1 (1845), p. 296.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


are so intimately connected, when the preponderance of material property over personal wealth disappears’.34 Renewal would be impossible if the industrialists just became richer and their workers were increasingly at their mercy. By the third edition, the crises of development had become questions of morality. It was not only the uncertainty that came with social transformation that worried the contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon but also the immorality of an economy that favoured production over the producers. The crisis of an immoral economy was framed, for example, in references to slavery.35 Americans, for instance, were depicted as bringing shame to their Fatherland in upholding slavery and not the freedom professed in the American constitution.36 For Welcker, slavery was moreover a betrayal of the Enlightenment and its expression in the American Revolution. Social precarity was also positioned as a major crisis in the post-​revolutionary era. Citing an article from the Journal des Economistes, Georg Friedrich Kolb (1808–​1884) warned that radicals were worsening the ‘moral spirit’ of France, as ‘the corruption of public morals is manifested by the characteristic sign of the fall of nations, namely permanent increase in the most abominable attacks against persons, the lowest attacks against the property, and the most shameful against the state’.37 Inequality had purportedly pushed people into resorting to such acts as progress left the lower classes behind. This, in turn, was seen as having created the conditions that could fuel another revolution. Inequality was thereby a crisis in and of itself that needed to be averted if security was to be ensured. For when the crises of the past had not been averted, the Würzburg liberal, Joseph von Held (1815–​ 1890), warned in his article ‘Organisation’, the outcome would be a larger crisis, more uncertainty, and exploitation.38 Thus, it was important to learn from crisis to ensure renewal in its wake: ‘Humankind’s developments, too, have their crises, which are not overcome by holding them back and suppressing them, but by giving them healthy, fresh life-​blood, so as to guide them towards the right ends’.39 Although both the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary editions reference social crises, by the post-​revolutionary period, the Vormärz warnings about a crisis of development had been transformed into concern about moral crises, with fear

34 35

Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Englands Statistik’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 4, p. 428. Karl Welcker, ‘Amerika: Das Wechselverhältniß von Amerika zu Europa und die Sklaven Frage’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 1 (1856), p. 464. 36 Ibid. 37 G. F. Kolb, ‘Frankreich (politische Statistik)’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 5 (1861), p. 602. 38 J. Held, ‘Organisation’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 11 (1864), pp. 40–​52. 39 X., ‘Kunst’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 9 (1864), p. 372.

182 Murphy that working-​class precariousness would be a harbinger of radicalism. Thus, although the revolution had not been thwarted by the earlier warnings in the previous editions, how the state and citizens responded to the revolution and learned from it was positioned as a potential source of renewal that could catalyse beneficial preventative developments in society. If the lessons of crises were not learned, any attempts at renewal would be futile. In this context, the revolution was not to be seen as a failed, useless endeavour, but was positioned instead as a moment of learning, when actors could reassess the path they had taken and devise new strategies and encourage the state to do the same. An essential component of the conceptualisation of political crises was that they needed to be navigated from below and not from above. The revolutionary spirit of the nineteenth century had been born of the promise of a new political direction: ‘The spirit of freedom is gaining power on a daily basis, political absolutism is becoming increasingly desperate, it will fall victim to the next crisis, and ecclesiastical absolutism will collapse with political absolutism’.40 As distrust grew between the state and its citizens, reaction would do nothing to bring the German confederation out of the ‘the first dangerous crisis’ of revolution it had experienced. As Welcker lamented: ‘the dangers of a state that fluctuates between true, satisfactory freedom and between paternalism and oppression […]. Indeed, in a second important respect, such an unfortunate reaction and paternalistic or police systems […], the defenders of this disputed system, they now defeat themselves’.41 It was not only the state but also its citizens who would need to refine their political behaviour if revolution was to be avoided. True emancipation could only be achieved if people adopted a stance of the most glorious foundations and principles of true and lasting freedom: the love and respect for morality, religion, science and a well-​ ordered princely and aristocratic power, true piety, a force that precludes revolution, and the firmness and security of both the government and its constitution […].42 In this reading, political agitation in the nineteenth century had only been made possible by the lower classes’ increasing distress and their desperation 40 Abt., ‘Albigenser: Kirchlicher Absolutismus, Ketzerei und Ketzerverfolgung’, pp. 439–​440. 41 Welcker, ‘Sittlichkeit, Sitten-​ , Religions-​und Unterrichtspolizei: Die Verirrungen in Beziehung auf dieselben und ihr richtiges System; Der christliche Staat und die Hegel’schen Philosophen’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 12 (1865), pp. 195–​196. 42 Ibid., p. 196.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


to make their situation better. This was seen on a global level in the Age of Revolution: in Ireland, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Asia, and the Middle East, among numerous other references in the articles.43 In the Vormärz period, Welcker and the other contributors to the Staats-​ Lexikon, professed that freedom was the only real ‘saving fever of the sick body politic’ as it was only freedom that could prevent revolutionary crises.44 Revolution was only necessary if the state failed to ensure that development meant progress for all and not only the few. In the third edition, the contributors insisted that their warnings had gone unheeded; crisis had not been avoided. Thus, Welcker cautioned in a new reference to crisis in his article, ‘Association’, which sought to remind society of what happened when political crises went unchecked and the state and its citizens failed to uphold their more important ‘duty and task’ of prevention. As Welcker asked the reader, ‘does one really believe that political crises can never return’?45 The experience of revolution had disrupted the German liberals’ hopes that the state would adopt a system of constitutional monarchism. At the same time, with disorder already on the table, the state would be amiss to attempt reaction after 1848. ‘If, despite a dull retirement in 1848, the Carlsbad and Viennese exceptional measures suddenly in 1848 show themselves to be so destructive in their effects, can one then blame the patriot for fearing even worse from their even more injurious successors?’46 Although the hope that the 1848–​49 revolutions might be a necessary evil that eventually led to the realisation of a German constitutional monarchy were dashed with King Frederick William iv’s refusal of the German imperial crown from the “gutter” in April 1849, there was no going back to the political status quo. The revolution had placed the constitution and notions of political freedom firmly in the German political imagination, passing from the pages of the liberal bible into everyday life. It was now for the state to ensure that desires for freedom would not push Germans into the streets again and that the German nation could be secured through peace and order. For the Staats-​Lexikon’s contributors, however, there was a third form of crisis that could undermine this peaceful and orderly pathway: economic turmoil. In the second edition, economic crisis had been depicted as the product 43 44 45 46

See Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Revolution’, in Das Staats Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 11 (1848), pp. 549–​562. Welcker, ‘Sittlichkeit’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 12 (1848), p. 196. Welcker, ‘Association’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 1 (1856), p. 785. Welcker, ‘Belagerungsstand, Ausnahms-​Maßregeln, -​Gesetze, -​Gerichte, Aufruhracte, Kriegs-​und Standrecht (Der Ausnahmszustand in Deutschland)’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 2 (1858), p. 456.

184 Murphy of new market realities, particularly trade and monetary crises, brought about by major world powers. Protectionism was positioned as a crisis of closed borders in a global market as ‘the whole business world is shaken and thrown into disarray, as if by an earthquake, by one of those crises that arise from time to time’.47 Increasing global economic entanglement was thus a particular concern in the Vormärz. More worrying, and related to social crisis, were industrialisation and capitalism. Here, crisis was not only the concern of the industrialist but of the worker who had no agency to avert economic crises but who would also be directly impacted by factory owners’ reckless gambles. Thus, the references cautioned industrialists to think about the impact of their actions, as ‘the cautious manufacturer pulls in the sails as the storm approaches and thus survives the danger with relatively tolerable losses and with sufficient means to acquire new riches when the tides turn’.48 Due to such volatility and the lack of agency of a significant proportion of the population, economic crises were positioned in the Vormärz as the contributing factor to potential social and political crises. The new economy’s blind spot had resulted in a disregard for the increasingly unequal and unfair distribution of wealth.49 In the decades preceding the 1848–​49 Revolutions, wealth had increased for the few and poverty for the many. Wages were unable to sustain the cost of living while security was elusive in the ‘present anarchy of so-​called free competition’.50 Political and social unrest seemed to be inevitable as lower-​class dissatisfaction grew: Thus, with the population now so much denser and accustomed to more abundant needs, the economic crisis would be all the more shocking and dangerous. Such a pressure of time would only be endurable to all members of society if it were distributed equally; therefore, the principle of a more just and proportionate distribution than exists today needs to be established and applied in advance. If, on the other hand, a future emergency should only make social inequality more visible and palpable, such outbursts of bitterness and dissatisfaction among a vast mass of the population and such attacks on the political and social status quo can be 47

Robert Mohl and Karl Mathy, ‘Gewerbe-​und Fabrikwesen’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 5 (1847), p. 756. 48 Ibid. 49 For this line of argument, see Wilhelm Schulz, ‘Staatskunde, Statistik’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 12 (1848), pp. 343–​350, particularly pp. 346–​347. 50 Ibid., p. 347.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


predicted –​with almost mathematical certainty –​as the old pillars of the latter will hardly be able to resist the shock.51 With the third edition, the Staats-​Lexikon articles continued to reiterate the need to curb growing economic instability. Only the first volume of the third edition had been written prior to the first global economic crisis52 caused by the Panic of 1857. The Staats-​Lexikon contributors were thus no longer warning of the volatility of an interconnected, transnational market and the precarity of the working class they had an actual example of what could happen when the anarchy of the free market was unleashed. As Karl Mathy questioned in his article on banking: what would happen if a banking crisis ‘coincided with a general political crisis, during which the government, far from being able to help the institution, found itself obliged to withdraw funds from public coffers?’53 More concerning still was the perception that despite having experienced a crisis, people had not learned from it and it would likely be repeated; the faulty economic system was therefore seen as a ‘revolutionary lightning rod’.54 Accordingly, the German liberals’ experience of two key crises in the mid-​ nineteenth century, the Revolutions of 1848–​49 and the fiscal crisis of 1857–​58, shaped German liberal thought in the post-​revolutionary period. Trepidations about the ability to maintain peace and order tinged the pages of the encyclopaedia’s volumes. There was a particular concern that the economy was a ‘grave social malady’55 that threatened the relative balance that had been achieved between the German ruling class and citizens in the immediate post-​ revolutionary period. The increasing entanglement of political and economic progress in the mid-​nineteenth century had made the task of political thought increasingly important but also more complex. The new field of political science was, as Schulz contended, ‘by no means capable of appropriately distinguishing the two phases of evolution that have been going on in European life for half a century’.56 51 52

Ibid., p. 346. Despite questions about the label’s accuracy, it is generally referred to as such. See J. R. T. Hughes, ‘The Commercial Crisis of 1857’, Oxford Economic Papers, vol. 8:2 (1956), pp. 194–​222. 53 Karl Mathy, ‘Banken und Bankwesen’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 2 (1858), p. 287. 54 E. Pickford, ‘Capital’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 3 (1859), pp. 323–​338, p. 333. For a larger discussion on the ills of the economic system, see G. F. Kolb’s aptly titled ‘Börsenschwindel und –​Täuschungen’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 3 (1859), pp. 2–​8. 55 Wilhelm Schulz-​Bodmer, ‘Communismus und Socialismus seit 1848’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 3 (1859), pp. 624–​689, p. 686. 56 Ibid.

186 Murphy The concern with the volatility of the economy culminated with the addition of a new article, ‘Handelskrisis’, in 1862.57 Commercial crises were depicted as those born of a state of confusion in the credit market that led to widespread insolvency in the economy. Drawing on the medical understanding of the term, crisis is described as a time when the ‘already existing malady in the human body breaks out and leaves its improvement or decline to the prevailing forces of nature itself’.58 In such cases, crises move rapidly and are difficult to control. The only recourse of action was to prevent the crisis before it formed. Otherwise, left alone, crises would rapidly accelerate already existing problems to the degree that any measures that had previously slowed it down would be futile to stop its further spread.59 What could be done in times of economic crisis? For the contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon, the only hope was to adequately prepare people for the experience and for the state to implement measures that ensured that suffering would be spread across the organism of civilisation. If such precautions were taken, the crisis could be lessened. Otherwise, the crisis would be judged by that failure to learn from the past.60 The defence was not, however, simply a matter of cultivation but of reflection. There was no single cure for crisis: ‘Every crisis wants to be treated as a reasonable doctor treats his patients, according to the particular situation’.61 The experience of 1848–​49 and then of economic turmoil beginning with the financial crisis of 1857 led to a repositioning of the importance of preventing crisis in German liberals’ vision of a democratic and unified Germany. In each of the three key types of crisis referenced in the third edition of the Staats-​Lexikon, the articles rethought the crises of their time and issued a call for intervention before it would be too late to prevent the revolutionary sickness that seemingly lay dormant in German civil society. 57

Interestingly, Google Ngram data also indicate that the use of the term peaked around the 1860s only to decline over the course of the nineteenth century. For the Ngram see: Google Ngram, ‘Handelskrisis’, https://​​ngrams/​graph?content=Handelskrisis&year_​start=1789&year_​end=1914&corpus=20&smoothing=3&share=&direct_​ url=t1%3B%2CHandelskrisis%3B%2Cc0#t1%3B%2CHandelskrisis%3B%2Cc0, accessed on 1 September 2019. The weakness of the Google Ngram corpus nevertheless must be considered. For an overview, see Eitan A. Pechenick, Christopher M. Danforth and Peter S. Dodds, ‘Characterizing the Google Books Corpus: Strong Limits to Inferences of Socio-​ Cultural and Linguistic Evolution’, PloS one, 10 (2015). The Ngram data however do seem to correspond well with the economic instability of the late 1850s to early 1860s. 58 G. Cohen, ‘Handelskrisis’, in Staats-​Lexikon, iii edn, vol. 7 (1862), p. 364. 59 Ibid. 60 Ibid. 61 Ibid., p. 380.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


For social crisis, the Vormärz contributions had emphasised the degree to which the social question, the product of industrialisation, capitalism, and migration, required urgent addressing. For German liberals, the elusiveness of working-​class security seemed to place workers one crisis away from economic devastation that could easily become political tumult. The preference for profits over progress thus made states and their citizens increasingly vulnerable. Even in the Vormärz, the volatility of the social question was considered, if not a trans-​Atlantic, certainly a European problem that had been reproduced in the colonies. The immorality of the economic system had placed production not only over the wellbeing of the producers but also of the state. Desperation caused by social inequality was pushing people to commit desperate and immoral acts of violence and rebellion. As such, people were pushed to become immoral beings themselves. As the poor and working classes were increasingly left behind, the state’s vulnerability to revolution increased. Accordingly, working-​class security was crucial for the common good. In the third edition articles, the challenge of the time would concern how people reacted to the experience of social crisis and developed systems that would prevent subsequent crises from materializing. Similar themes could be seen in the transformation of political crisis over the two periods. In the Vormärz period, political crisis was conceived of as the natural outcome of the new political developments that had characterised the long nineteenth century. It was the state’s responsibility to act, to provide citizens with freedom. Without such interventions, a political crisis, almost certainly a revolution, seemed inevitable. It was no longer acceptable for the state to provide freedom only to take it away with reaction. The responsibility for the political tumult of the Sattelzeit was thereby directly attributed to the state and political agitation was seen as the outcome of lower-​class distress stemming from the state’s failure to intervene in an increasingly socially unjust and unequal system. This was also not solely a problem of the German confederation: for the liberal contributors to the Staats-​Lexion, it was a transnational outcome of the Age of Revolution. The cure for political crisis in the Vormärz period was thus positioned in the peaceful acquisition of what those revolutions had sought to achieve: freedom. By the third edition, the tone had changed as the warnings had not been heeded. The experience of political crisis convinced the contributors to the Staats-​Lexikon that, first, the state needed to ensure that freedom was secured for all citizens, while, second, citizens had to uphold political morality and refrain from resorting to violence and rebellion. It was the duty of both to prevent a further crisis from unfolding if the status quo remained as it were. For political crisis, thus, the focus in the third edition is also on prevention found in

188 Murphy warnings against reaction and calls for a renewal of the political development of national unity. It was the task of the post-​revolutionary period to ensure that such gains remained in place and that political progress took a peaceful path. This peaceful path risked a significant disruption in the form of looming economic crises. New market realities were positioned in the Vormärz edition as being rife for financial and trade crises, particularly as the global economy became increasingly entangled. As industrialisation and the capitalist system spread across the globe, the contributors once again reiterated concern for its impact on and exploitation of labour. Due to the perceived inherent volatility and the working class’ lack of agency, economic crises were positioned in the Vormärz as the contributing factor to potential social and political crises. Following the experience of economic crises in the later 1850s and early 1860s, and in the wake of the 1848–​49 Revolution, the third edition underscores that renewal required that actors learned from crises as a means to establish interventions that would ward off future crises. Thus, like social and political crises, the Staats-​Lexikon no longer contained warnings but depictions of how crises unfolded and the lessons they offered. For the contributors, the social impact of political and economic progress in the mid-​nineteenth century had made the task of political thought increasingly important but also more complex. Remedies to crisis could only be developed to address each crisis individually; the only prescription for crisis was ensuring that it never happened. Taken together, these three key uses of the term crisis underline the stability as well as the transformation of the use of the term from the Vormärz into the post-​revolutionary period. Renewal following a crisis was only possible through preventative treatment. Early German liberals’ concerns about social, political, and economic crises thereby remained durable across the Staats-​ Lexikon. While the contributors were seeking to lay the foundation for security in Germany, the connectedness of the problems they were facing to those of other countries on other continents was clear. Moreover, the entanglements not only at the transnational level but also between the three key types of crisis remained a mainstay of the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary editions. From the Vormärz edition warnings, the experience of both revolutionary and economic crises in the post-​revolutionary period offered concrete examples of what could go wrong if such warnings continued unheeded. Thus, the revolution saw the realisation of what the liberals had feared was on the horizon in the decades leading up to it. As the additional article ‘Handelskrisis’ in the third edition reiterated, the sickness was already there; how it could be contained and balanced was the larger question of the time. Without general improvements for all people across social, political, and economic spheres, crisis would continue to have its grip in the history of humankind.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness


Conclusion: The Prevention of Crisis

Each of the editions of the Staats-​Lexikon includes a preface that serves to guide the reading of its volumes. In the subsequent editions, the prefaces are reprinted so that a reader could read all three as a history of the Staats-​Lexikon editors’ envisioned role for the time. In Rotteck’s 1834 preface to the first edition, he framed the purpose of the encyclopaedia as preparing citizens for a, hopefully, coming constitutional monarchy. He pleaded with liberals to let go of the idea of republic, as a constitutional monarchy would be the least dangerous nation state despite previous failures following the French Revolution. The goal of the first iteration of the Staats-​Lexikon was to proliferate the liberals’ claims for freedoms, using historical knowledge to avoid the mistakes of the past to establish the path for the future. By the second edition, the preface had been revised as a call for action for both citizens and the state. The goal remained the same: the realisation of a civic representative constitution and political unification for the safety and the salvation of the fatherland. What had changed was the perceived speed at which such goals needed to be realised. For Welcker, who had taken over the editorship after Rotteck’s death, there were great dangers and evils on the horizon; the revolution was at their door.62 Following the experience of revolutionary tumult, Welcker set out again to reinvent the Staats-​Lexikon’s role in 1856. Depicting the nineteenth century as an age of crisis and tumult, Welcker took a broadened view of the transnational experience of crisis from the French Revolution, to Napoleon through reaction and the promise of the Vormärz leading up to 1848. He contended that it was only in states where political freedom had been realised (foremost examples being England and America) that the threat of the danger of change had been mitigated. The Staats-​Lexikon’s Vormärz and post-​revolutionary had thus born witness to the ‘great waves of forward and backward’ as people ‘driven by liberty’ pushed for progress, only to later find themselves in the ‘arms of the reaction’.63 It was in this preface that Welcker defined the critical moment the state was facing: constitutionalism, liberalism, and democracy could not be denied if violence and revolution were to be prevented. And that critical moment was not limited to politics but was pertinent to social and economic progress as well.

62 63

Welcker, ‘Vorwort zur zweiten Auflage des Staats-​Lexikon’, in Staats-​Lexikon, ii edn, vol. 1 (1845), p. xii. Welcker, ‘Vorwort zur dritten Auflage’, p. xx.

190 Murphy The prefaces accordingly capture three distinct messages: a plea for democratisation in the first edition; a warning that time was running out for the state to act in the second edition; and a call for intervention to both move forward from and prevent crisis in the third. In terms of the editorial prefaces, the term “crisis” is first evoked in the preface to the second edition. Its mention here comes in the notion of the crisis facing patriotic life, which Welcker professed the Staats-​Lexikon was seeking to overcome. In the preface to the third edition, crisis is explicitly mentioned in the context of anxiety and uncertainty of what will become of the post-​revolutionary period. The term appears here, in comparison to the second edition’s preface’s single reference, four times. This sets the tone for the central role crisis plays in the articles that followed. Historians have reflected on crisis from different angles: Eric Hobsbawm, as a series of calamities inaugurating the dynamic development of capitalism and the emergence of modern states in Europe; Paul Hazard’s ‘crisis of the European mind’ as leading to the Enlightenment; Reinhart Koselleck’s moments of subversion where ‘crisis’ emerges as a kind of ‘testing time’ that might give rise to new experimentation.64 The analysis of the Staats-​Lexikon adds two additional dimensions this this understanding of crisis. First, crisis is positioned as an important component of renewal as a moment of learning where the experience of crisis could offer an opportunity to develop intervening remedies that could prevent future tumult. Second, the continuity between the Vormärz and post-​revolutionary periods underscores the entangled and embedded nature of crisis in its various forms. Social, economic, and political crisis cannot be understood or addressed in a vacuum. In the new political and economic trajectories of the Sattelzeit into modernity, crisis became more prominent and could not be confined by borders. The prescription for revolutionary sickness was, accordingly, not to be found in its cure but in its prevention.


Eric J. Hobsbawm, ‘The General Crisis of the European Economy in the 17th Century’, Past and Present, 5:1 (1954), pp. 33–​53; Paul Hazard, The Crisis of the European Mind, 1680–​1715 (New York: New York Review Books, 2013); Reinhart Koselleck, Kritik und Krise: Eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp-​Taschenbuch-​Verlag, 1973). See also the Introduction to this volume.

Treating Revolutionary Sickness

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources


Rotteck, Karl von and Karl Welcker (eds), Das Staats-​Lexikon oder Encyclopädie der Staatswissenschaften, 15 vols (Altona: J.F. Hammerich; i edn 1834–​1843; 4 supplemental volumes; ii edn 1845–​1848 [12 vols]). Welcker, Karl (ed.), Das Staats-​ Lexikon: Encyklopädie der sämmtlichen Staatswissenschaften für alle Stände, 14 vols (Leipzig: Brockhaus; iii edn 1856–​1866).

Becht, Hans-​ Peter and Ewald Grothe (eds), Karl von Rotteck und Karl Theodor Welcker: Liberale Professoren, Politiker und Publizisten (Baden-​ Baden: Nomos Verlag, 2018). Clark, Christopher, ‘After 1848: The European Revolution in Government’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 22 (2012), pp. 171–​197. Jansen, Christian, Einheit, Macht und Freiheit: Die Paulskirchenlinke und die deutsche Politik in der nachrevolutionären Epoche, 1849–​1867 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2000). Murphy, Janine T., ‘Contesting Surveillance: The German Gymnastics Movement and the Prussian State, 1850–​1864’, German History, 36:1 (2018), pp. 21–​37. Murphy, Janine T., ‘The Transformation of Urban Politics: The Cultivation of Liberalism in Germany, 1850–​1864’, PhD diss., Goethe University, Frankfurt, 2015. Ross, Anna, Beyond the Barricades: Government and State-​ Building in Post-​ Revolutionary Prussia, 1848–​ 1858 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

pa rt 3 Escaping Crisis

chapter 9

Houses Without Cities: The Dialectic of Political Crisis and Familial Resilience Mark Somos


Excellent scholarly work has been published on the history of the interwoven notions that the family is the natural building block of society, law begins with parents’ authority over children, and the household is a political and juridical unit. Variations on this theme occur throughout European intellectual history.1 ‘Crisis and renewal’, the theme of this volume, brings out an aspect in the history of this idea that seems absent from the scholarly literature. It is one thing to start with the family, and model society, the state, and the history of their evolution by expanding from the family as the starting point. It is quite another to resolutely keep family and state separate, and formulate a view of the household as an adaptable, potentially self-​sufficient, element that works with the state when the state functions, but defends and sustains itself when the state fails, ultimately becoming the seed of a new, or the revived old state. Throughout European intellectual history, many well-​known works developed family as a historical, political, and juridical starting point for the state. Less known are the works that present the family as a Janus-​faced construct, resilient and resistant to fundamental political crises. However, although less known and outnumbered, some of the most influential works did the latter. The lineage of the tripartite entanglement of crisis, household and renewal stretches back to the earliest recorded mythopoetics of political society. Atra-​ Hasis and Utnapishtim in 4,000-​year-​old Akkadian tablets, and Noah in the Bible, escape the cataclysm caused by (respectively) overpopulation, a feud, and impiety. The causes of crisis differ, but its nature is the same, namely imminent divine wrath and the annihilation of humankind, portrayed as one big polity. The heroes gather their extended family, perhaps a few animals, and put them on boats, which is the specific material form that the crisis prescribes

1 Simone Zurbuchen, ‘La famille, une société naturelle?’, Rousseau Studies, 6: Rousseau et la Nature (2018), pp. 129–​153.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_011



for containing the household that escapes the state in order to save humanity. Then comes the end of the world, and its reboot. To bring out the distinctive features of this genre, this chapter discusses only a few illustrative texts, by anonymous ancient story-​tellers, and by Xenophon, pseudo-​Aristotle, Philodemus, Columella, Leon Battista Alberti and Giovanni Caldiera. These texts have several distinctive features in common. They counsel the reader not only to build households that are resilient and robust, but also to create spaces and relationships that are semi-​permeable toward politics. The household’s spaces and relationships should, ideally, render the household self-​sufficient and self-​contained when the polity disastrously fails in a crisis, but also enable the household to reengage conventional political spaces and relationships when the polity is renewed, or needs to be replaced.

Xenophon (ca. 431–​354 bce)

At twenty-​four centuries old, Xenophon’s Oeconomicus is much younger than Akkadian myths, but it offers new solutions to the problem of inevitable crises.2 Socrates leads Critobolus, son of Crito, to admit that “economists”, managers of all of one’s affairs, possess specialised knowledge, and should be paid for their high-​skill work. Part of their job is to deal with their master’s foe. According to Socrates, all foes are outside the household, since the interest of families is unitary, even when it is misunderstood or obscured. In the household the husband earns and the wife saves, for instance by spending wisely. Cultures such as Sparta, which contrast manual labour with war, are gravely misguided. One should imitate the Persians instead, Socrates suggests, because they combine the practice of husbandry, especially agriculture, with war. Since these two fields of activity are equally of the highest importance, Persians have one minister for war and another for husbandry, both equally powerful and acting as checks on one another. At the provincial level, by contrast, the satrap is in charge of both war and the economy. Socrates believes that free men should combine husbandry with war. Agriculture and animal husbandry make men just, and collaborative but self-​ sufficient in terms of food and horses. Husbandry is not ancillary to, but co-​ dependent with arms. Luck plays a huge role in both husbandry –​one can lose

2 Xenophon, Oeconomicus, in Sarah B. Pomeroy, ed., Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

Houses Without Cities


everything in a sudden hailstorm –​and war. Combining husbandry and war teaches free men how to persevere and handle risk and uncertainty. Those who pursue both war and husbandry are naturally located outside the city, cultivating their land. They protect the city by producing food, by becoming excellent soldiers, and by absorbing attacks before they reach the city walls. They are therefore the best citizens. One great exemplar is Ischomachus, whom Socrates takes Critobolus to meet. The first reason Ischomachus identifies for his success is his wife, who can manage domestic affairs without him. When they got married she knew nothing about household management and had only one skill: self-​control. Now she has duties akin to a queen bee’s, who manages the hive, nurses the young, then sends them out as colonists.3 Ischomachus taught his young wife that the first rule is order: everything must have its place. That way objects are easy to find, and they cry out for attention if they are stolen or damaged. Orderly arrangement in the home and in the city creates memories, and order in both is recreated by memories in turn. Ischomachus prepares for city politics at home by listening to complaints and arbitrating between parties.4 He educates his servants, as well as his bailiff. Passions distract members of the household, except for the passion for profit, which provides the key to training them in correct husbandry. Yet there are limits to delegation: only “the master’s eye” can effectively oversee the whole household and activate latent potential in both property and household members. In addition, the master needs to work the land himself to reap the material and moral benefits of husbandry. To control the staff, Ischomachus recommends using variation in the design of clothes and little perks to create a system of ranks that the master fully controls. Ranks come with rules for advancement or demotion. The status markers and the rules of mobility generate predictability. This predictability alone suffices to regulate people’s passions and habituate them to serving the household’s interest. The creation of households must follow this sequence of steps because the desire for honour and praise is greater than the desire for sheer material gain. Start building your household by establishing ranks and a rule for mobility between the ranks. The rest, including the habituation of virtue, will follow.5

3 Ibid., pp. 27–​28. 4 Ibid., p. 44. 5 Ranks begin in the family: Hugo Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis, in Richard Tuck, ed., The Rights of War and Peace (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2005; henceforth IBP), ii.v.xxi.550–​1.



Socrates is shocked when Ischomachus applies the Socratic method to him. As Ischomachus replies to his questions about sowing and cultivating, Socrates realises that subconsciously he had always known these things, and the right answers unfold in his mind in pace with the conversation.6 The reason for this cognitive discovery of independently pre-​existing ideas and ideals is that earth is the most honest entity. It does not deceive, does not promise things it cannot deliver, and does not accommodate self-​deceit or distortion in other entities it comes into contact with.7 Ischomachus tells Socrates that his father was able to draw on the same natural knowledge to start a household from scratch. Though he taught Ischomachus how to rule a household, and Ischomachus in turn had just brought the same innate knowledge in Socrates to the surface, Ischomachus’ father did not have a teacher, did not take over his father’s farm, but cleared and converted barren land to agriculture. This is what first settlers and colonists do. Unlike in conditions of post-​crisis renewal, when pre-​existing polities can be rebuilt, in moments of original founding the first settlers rely on the guidance of nature to create self-​sufficient households that can but need not exist in a polity. To revive a failed or failing city, one must rediscover nature in oneself, and attune one’s human nature to the harmonies of land, seasons, agriculture and household management. Husbandry, Socrates and Ischomachus agree, is the easiest thing to learn and the most rewarding to pursue.8 The process is one of rediscovery rather than learning. Importantly, Cicero translated Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, though the looseness or originality of his translation remains debated.9


The pseudo-​Aristotelian Oeconomica exists in two-​and three-​book versions, and the relationship and cohesion of Books Two and Three are much disputed. Here I will focus on Book One, which is clear, relevant, and coherent. It blends Xenophon, Aristotle, and original ideas. It begins by contrasting

6 Xenophon, Oeconomicus, pp. 64, 68. 7 Ibid., p. 71. 8 Leo Strauss, Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse: An Interpretation of the “Oeconomicus” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970). Fabio Roscalla, ‘La dispensa di Iscomaco. Senofonte, Platone e l’amministrazione della casa’, Quaderni Storici, 31 (1990), pp. 35–​55. 9 Eusebius on Cicero translating Xenophon’s Oeconomica: Praef. in Eus. Chr. 1. Luigi Alfonsi argues that Cicero was rewriting more than translating it (Luigi Alfonsi, ‘La traduzione ciceroniana dell’Economico di Senofonte’, Ciceroniana, 3–​6 (1961–​64), pp. 7–​17).

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economics, which deals with the household, with politics, which concerns the city. Economics precedes politics both functionally and historically, as the household precedes the city; and it is needed for both city and household. By contrast, politics is useless for the home. According to the pseudo-​Aristotelian ontology and practical manual of household management, you start with a house, add a wife, and land. Recapitulating ideas raised and developed in the earlier sources discussed above, pseudo-​ Aristotle holds that agriculture is the most just thing because it does not take away anything from anyone; it is natural; and it makes its practitioners strong, brave and adventurous, especially since husbandmen ‘are the only citizens whose property lies outside the fortifications’.10 The woman nurtures the children, the man educates them. He also instructs the slaves through rewards and punishments, power over which is the chief mark of sovereignty. The husband and wife must never deceive each other, otherwise the household inevitably plunges into crisis. To build, maintain and control a resilient, crisis-​proof existence, the husband and wife must keep their possessions in order, attend to everything in person, and work harder than other members of the household. From the thirteenth century this Oeconomica gave rise to a thick, multi-​tier layer of commentaries, including Leonardo Bruni’s (1370–​1444) famous translation and edition dedicated to Cosimo de Medici. Bruni translated and wrote a commentary on the ps.-​Aristotelian Oeconomica in 1419–​20, between his translations of, and commentaries on, the Nicomachean Ethics (1416–​7) and the Politics (1438). He presented them as three works that form a sequence on personal, domestic, and political ethics. Despite extensive and excellent scholarship, the tradition of manuscript dissemination and commentary on Bruni’s translation is not fully charted or understood.11 The pseudo-​Aristotelian 10


Ps.-​Aristotle, Oeconomica, ed. E. S. Forster (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920), 1343b. In another tradition, agriculture is not necessarily the most just, but the first sign that justice must exist in a society, however small (Grotius, IBP ii.ii.ii.2.424). Society grew, property had to be divided, and family was the basic unit for original distribution: ibid., IBP ii.ii.ii.3.425–​6. Families and tribes still exist outside the state, under the same natural law as all humankind did before states came into existence: ibid., IBP ii.xx.xl.1025. When an inheritance cannot be settled, it should remain in the family, as family is a primordial legal category: ibid., IBP ii.vii.ix.4.597–​8. Translation in Gordon Griffiths, James Hankins and David Thompson (eds) The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni: Selected Texts (Binghamton NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1987), pp. 305–​317. See Josef Soudek, ‘The Genesis and Tradition of Leonardo Bruni’s Annotated Latin Version of the ps.-​Aristotelian Economics’, Scriptorium, 12 (1958), pp. 260–​268; idem, ‘Leonardi Bruni and His Public: A Statistical and Interpretative Study of his Annotated Latin Version of the ps.-​Aristotelian Economics’, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 5 (1968), pp. 49–​139; idem, ‘A Fifteenth-​Century



Oeconomica also shaped Francesco Barbaro’s (1390–​ 1454) De re uxoria,12 Giovanni Caldiera’s (ca. 1400–​1474) De oeconomia (1463) and Ermolao Barbaro’s (1454–​1493) De coelibatu (1471–​2).13 One “remix” I will come back to is Leon Battista Alberti’s (1404–​1472) I libri della famiglia (1433–​4).14

Philodemus (ca. 110–​35 bce)

We are still in the process of discovering and editing the works of Philodemus, the prolific Epicurean. In his book on household management, he speculates that Book One of the aforementioned pseudo-​Aristotelian Oeconomica was composed by Theophrastus, who based it on Xenophon.15 The genre reconstructed in this chapter, which Philodemus seems to treat as distinctive, helps Philodemus to self-​consciously develop original positions by adapting and criticising conventional topoi. Philodemus thinks that one can have a happy

Humanistic Bestseller: The Manuscript Diffusion of Leonardo Bruni’s Annotated Version of the ps.-​Aristotelian Economics’, in Edward P. Mahoney (ed.), Philosophy and Humanism: Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 129–​143; Margaret L. King, ‘Personal, Domestic, and Republican Values in the Moral Philosophy of Giovanni Caldiera’, Renaissance Quarterly, 28:4 (1975), pp. 535–​574, at 540n15. Many surviving copies are heavily annotated, begging for close analysis. See e.g. the copies at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich: https://​books. ​ b ooks?id=j4yEVLhXzD8C&pg=PT12&dq=leonardo+bruni&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwib89KIsJnZAhWR26QKHXc8C3sQ6AEISDAE#v=onepage&q=leonardo%20bruni&f=false; the copy at Rauner Special Collections at Dartmouth College; and at the Kislak Library of the University of Pennsylvania, recently restored. 12 Written in 1415, first published in 1513, with French translations in 1537 and 1667, Italian translations in 1548 and 1785, and further Latin editions in 1533, 1535, 1560 and 1639. 13 See Nancy G. Siraisi, Medicine and the Italian Universities, 1250–​1600 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2001), chapt. 5: ‘The libri morales in the Faculty of Arts and Medicine at Bologna: Bartolomeo da Varginana and the Pseudo-​Aristotelian Economics’. See also Giorgio Jackson, ‘Leonardo Bruni e l’Economico Teofrasteo o Pseudo-​Aristotelico’, in E. Flores, A.V. Nazzaro, L. Nicastri and G. Polara (eds), Miscellanea di studi in onore di Armando Salvatore (Naples: Pubblicazioni del Dipartimento di Filologia Classica ‘F. Arnaldi’ dell’Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico ii, 1992), pp. 233–​256. 14 On the notion and proposed practice of remixing, eminently applicable to a historical understanding of Renaissance literature, see Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (New York: Penguin, 2008). 15 Philodemus, On Property Management, vii.37–​42, in Voula Tsouna ed., Philodemus, On Property Management: Writings from the Greco-​Roman World (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012).

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household without a wife and children,16 and that there really is no need to wake up earlier or work harder than the slaves.17 The contrast with earlier works in the genre may not reflect Philodemus’ idiosyncratic opinions, but his accurate commentary on his times. According to Armstrong, ‘Epicurean attitudes to property-​management and housework, once revolutionary in their individualism and independence, have become commonplace to the elite of a more prosperous age’. Yet potential disengagement from family does not mean that the household-​city dialectic comes to an end: ‘one goes to war for self-​preservation, duty, friends and country, as one does business in the City (negotium), but one retires to one’s country place for philosophic pleasure (otium)’.18 This is a notable step in the evolution of the genre. To previous models of preparing for war and recovering from crises in the Janus-​faced household, Philodemus adds that even men without families can use the resilience and reviving potential of the household not to restart the polity, but to attain epistemic independence comparable to the material independence that the aforementioned writers explored.

Columella (4–​70 ce)

Columella’s tremendously influential De re rustica, written during the prosperity and stability of the Pax Romana, is in many ways a reinterpretation of earlier Greek norms, as well as a rebellion against the Roman elite’s complacency epitomised by Philodemus. Like Xenophon and pseudo-​Aristotle, Columella asserts that husbandry is closer to wisdom and more just than any other occupation, and the only one worthy of a free man, who must pursue it directly and in person. Romans should imitate their ancestors who worked the land in peace and went to war hardened, having always preferred the country to the city. Columella advises his compatriots to stay outside the city walls like their ancestors, who entered the city for politics only when they were needed. In fact, life in the countryside is “more” civic than in the city: you can talk to each other any time, in contrast with city assemblies that convened only every nine days. When Rome combined agriculture and war, Columella muses, it was self-​sufficient. Now, in its long peace, Rome had come to despise farming and

16 17 18

Ibid., viii.45-​ix.3. Ibid., xi.30–​41. David Armstrong, “Review of Tsouna, Philodemus”, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 13 March 2014.



depends on imported food.19 Romans must also care for public gardens better than their ancestors had to, because Romans of old were frugal and industrious, and provided for themselves and personally supported the poor. In Columella’s view, the Romans of his day live in luxury but give less to the poor directly, therefore the poor must rely on public gardens for food.20 The crises that lurk beneath Rome’s prosperous surface are moral corruption and social inequality. Yet the world moved on, Columella notes, and it is too late to revive pristine Roman glory. You should wish to sell your city house, he informs the reader, and live full-​time in the country, even though in this age that is no longer practicable. The best you can do is keep an estate near the city so you can fully engage in both politics (nostrum civilis ambitio) and agriculture.21 Work and inspect the estate in person.22 Have your own water source.23 Lay out the estate following prudent architectural principles, such as distinguishing between structures for living, farming, and storage; taking into account the seasons and workflow; make sure you can do repairs without disrupting workflow; ensure safety from fire, pests and wild beasts; and regulate degrees of slavery, for instance by using an underground prison for chained slaves and allowing some sunshine for the unshackled.24 Try to have good neighbours, but do not make the mistake of counting on their support. Instead, assume at all times that they can turn envious. Buy an estate just large enough so that you can work it, perhaps with assistants. If you buy a bigger plot, not only will you come to realise that you cannot cultivate and improve it, but the city-​dwellers would think that you are too rich.25 Make your bailiff work the land, too, so he becomes and remains virtuous and efficient.26 Columella cites Xenophon to agree with Ischomachus that one diligent bailiff is better than ten lay-​abouts.27 A good bailiff will not even go to town unless on business. When it comes to socialising, the most he will do is entertain his master’s guests.28 The bailiff has to be just, as if he had greater 19 Columella, On Agriculture, i.i.2–​8, in Harrison Boyd Ash, transl., Columella. On Agriculture, vol. 1: Books 1–​4 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1941). 20 Columella, On Agriculture, x.417–​8, in E.S. Forster transl., Columella. On Agriculture, vol. 3: Books 10–​12 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1955). 21 Ibid., i.i.19. 22 Ibid., i.ii. 23 Ibid., i.v. 24 Ibid., 25 Ibid., i.iii. 26 Ibid., i.viii. 27 Ibid., xi.453. 28 Ibid., xi.455.

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powers than in fact he does, since he stands in for his master.29 It is not enough to have wise rules and order for the estate: the bailiff and his wife must continuously observe that the rules are followed and reenacted, the same way Greeks had both laws and guardians for the laws.30 The upshot of all this is that the bailiff, who controls the physical and legal memory of the household, replaces the master. According to Columella, Xenophon’s Oeconomicus is right about the respective tasks and relationship between husband and wife. Yet, Columella admits, we are now irretrievably corrupt. The master used to live and work in the country, while his wife frugally managed the household. Their interests were identical. Now wives live in the city because they are addicted to luxury, while men live there for politics. Xenophon’s virtue applies to the bailiff, if anyone.31 Note that Columella refuses to choose among versions of virtue like Philodemus’, nor does Columella propose his own updated version to fit virtue into the city. Instead, he embraces the older view that virtue lives only in the countryside, and leaves the problem unsolved. It is unrealistic to expect Romans to recover their virtue in a time of affluence and stability; the best Columella can offer is exhortation to shock-​proof both households and the city, to prevent internal crises from inequality and corruption and in the rational anticipation of exogenous crises. Speaking of virtue, Columella suggests that you buy his book. Showing that he recognises the distinctness of his book’s genre, Columella argues that Cicero’s translation of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus is great, but the material is old. Ischomachus even argued that anyone could become a husbandman using natural, innate knowledge. Given agricultural discoveries and progress, that is no longer the case. Ischomachus’ advice only goes to show that Xenophon is outdated, and you should really have Columella’s text instead.32

Leon Battista Alberti

Poggio Bracciolini’s recovery of Columella’s De re rustica in 1414–​18, or Leonardo Bruni’s edition of the pseudo-​Aristotelian Oeconomica in 1419–​20, are influential stages in the evolution of the distinctive genre on crisis-​proof households. Yet the next text to be examined here is Alberti’s –​not for lack of material from 29 Ibid., xi.456. 30 Ibid., xii.iii.509. 31 Ibid., xii introduction, pp. 500–​502. 32 Ibid., xi.450.



the intervening centuries, but because architecture is a particularly interesting part of his account. It has been argued that Alberti’s key innovation was to introduce the family as the defining unit of analysis, through which politics must be viewed.33 As one can see from the previous texts, this is not the case. Alberti worked as an architect on major projects in Florence and Mantua, and of course wrote De re aedificatoria.34 I submit that his architectural skills and knowledge give his treatment of the family a distinctive character. The Libri della famiglia was first printed in 1734 and attributed to Agnolo Pandolfini, a confusion that was not fully cleared up until 1843. I will focus on Book Three, written around 1434 while Alberti was in Rome, and widely circulated separately from Books One and Two.35 The book has long fascinated genealogists of capitalism. Max Weber (1864–​ 1920) argued that the Libri della famiglia was irrelevant to the rise of capitalism because Alberti’s materialism, verging on hedonism, does not fit the Puritan spirit, and because Alberti imported certain capitalist-​looking concepts, such as masserizia, straight from Christian liturgy and thought, without much adaptation. Werner Sombart (1863–​1941) discussed the Libri della famiglia at length to refute Weber, and Alfred Doren (1869–​1934) agreed with Sombart that Alberti’s book was a major landmark in the genealogy of capitalism.36 In the second edition of The Protestant Ethic, Weber addressed Sombart’s criticism and restated his own view of Alberti’s significance. Antonio Gramsci (1891–​1937) and, more recently, Jan Rehmann have taken Weber’s side.37 This ongoing debate misses the basic point that Alberti’s protagonist, Giannozzo, is 33

Pietro Sebastianelli, ‘Giovanni Battista Assandri e il posto dell’economica tra le arti di governo nella crisi del Rinascimento italiano’, Politics. Rivista di Studi Politici, 7:1 (2017), pp. 107–​121, pp. 110–​111. See also Nicolai Rubinstein, Il governo di Firenze sotto i Medici (1434–​1494) (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1974) and Amedeo Quondam, Forma del vivere. L’etica del gentiluomo e i moralisti italiani (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2010). Interestingly, however, Quondam argues that Alberti foregrounds the family because he expects crisis. 34 Anthony Grafton, Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), pp. 160–​170. 35 Cecil Grayson, ‘Notes on the Texts of Some Vernacular Works of Leon Battista Alberti’, Rinascimento, 3:2 (Dec. 1952), pp. 211–​245. See also Grafton, Alberti, p. 175. 36 Werner Sombart, Der Bourgeois: zur Geistesgeschichte des modernen Wirtschaftsmenschen (Munich and Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1913. Translated as The Quintessence of Capitalism; A Study of the History and Psychology of the Modern Business Man, 1930). Weber criticises Sombart’s interpretation in Protestant Ethic (Grafton, Alberti, p. 153). 37 Jan Rehmann, Max Weber: Modernisation as Passive Revolution: A Gramscian Analysis (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015; transl. from 2013 German original). Weber and others are wrong that Alberti’s masserizia is a retrograde religious concept that Alberti adapts from Catholic liturgy and theology.

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not proposing a new type of household that participates in politics (hedonistically or otherwise), but one that can engage, disengage, and re-​engage on its own terms. Alberti begins Book Three by praising the Latin language but declaring his intention to elevate Tuscan. He defines the subject of Book Three as masserizia, unfortunately translated variably as virtue, economy, good management, thrift, and so on.38 Alberti announces that he will emulate Xenophon.39 (Weber strangely writes that although his writing seems to follow Xenophon, Alberti did not know him). The three main speakers are Lionardo, who is 29, Adovardo (45), and Uncle Giannozzo Alberti (64). In relative age they correspond to Critobolus, Socrates and Ischomachus in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus. Giannozzo explains that he was a profligate young man, particularly annoyed when his wise parents, who were great managers (buoni massaiotti), refused to give him everything he asked for, for economic reasons (per masserizia).40 The humiliation of not being self-​sufficient and having to ask others for things cured him of wastefulness and extravagance. Between avarice and stinginess one finds thrift (masserizia), which does not harm anyone. It is a holy thing (sancta cosa) and unequivocally good for the family, like husbandry itself, as Xenophon and pseudo-​Aristotle have correctly pointed out.41 Lionardo informs Giannozzo that the greatest service he can do for him and the youngsters present (Battista and Carlo) is to explain masserizia to them.42 Giannozzo tells them what these days Jack Bogle, Warren Buffett and others teach: it is more about protecting what you have than about expansive acquisition, because if you look after what you have, you also harness its natural growth. So consume what you have only as needed, and carefully preserve the rest.43 This is the art of masserizia. Yet there is more to the concept than thrift and good management. Fortune can enrich or destroy your household, but cannot deprive you of the power to love, desire, and hone self-​mastery to direct your will to mobilise appropriate passions. Moral self-​government is the key to resilience in the face of fickle 38 39 40

41 42 43

Salvatore Battaglia et al. (eds) Grande dizionario della lingua italiana, 21 vols (Turin: UTET, 1961–​2009). This is in the Proem, which corresponds to the end of Book Two in the translation. Leon Battista Alberti, The Family in Renaissance Florence (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1969; transl. Renée Neu Watkins), p. 158; Alberti, I primi tre libri della famiglia (Florence: Sansoni, 1911), p. 294. Henceforth when two page references are supplied, the first is for the 1969 translation, the second for the 1911 critical edition of the original. Ibid., pp. 160; 303. Ibid., pp. 160–​163; also 202. Ibid., p. 163.



fortune. Another thing you have is your body, governed by your spirit, which loves to exercise command over itself, and thereby become self-​sufficient and independent.44 Virtue is exercising your faculties in service of your family, and not the state. Keeping your spirit pure and simple is the best way to please God –​you do not need organised religion, a church, or a state.45 Lionardo describes Giannozzo’s advice as la vera masserizia (unsatisfyingly translated as ‘true thrift’), and the best way to become noble, excellent, happy and free from doubt.46 Now that he understands masserizia over body and mind, Lionardo asks about mastery over time, or time management in current parlance.47 Giannozzo explains that the point is to never be idle, to perform tasks at their proper time, and to do so early enough to prevent the natural accumulation of adverse effects that will inevitably cause a crisis. Though he does not spell it out, the cumulative harm that accrues from idleness is the inverse of the force of natural growth that Giannozzo invokes earlier to show that masserizia over what you have is more important than new acquisitions, because masserizia –​the antithesis of idleness –​secures the conditions for harnessing natural growth.48 Echoing Columella, Giannozzo explains that an adverse effect you must particularly look out for is envy, which worsens by unseen increments until it becomes too late to protect yourself.49 The Albertis suffered from others’ envy. Lionardo now asks Giannozzo if he agrees with the prevailing definition of onore as tied to holding public office. This prompts Giannozzo to burst into a jeremiad against the state. Giannozzo always considered the state and the practice of politics to be the opposite of wise management, i.e. masserizia. Politics –​always and by its design –​threatens the household with crisis. His view was merely confirmed by the ill fortune of the Albertis. Politics offers a choice between two types of corruption: chasing the favour of the elite, or of the plebs. Particularly annoying are the men with illustrious lineage who become poor, but are convinced they are superior to you –​the inverse of Cicero’s homines novi in De lege agraria

44 45 46 47 48 49

Ibid., pp. 165; 313–​314. Ibid., pp. 166–​167. On p. 170 Giannozzo talks about serving self, family, and state with one’s faculties, but only the family features in his considered definition of virtue. Ibid., pp. 167–​168; 319. Ibid., pp. 171; 330. Ibid., pp. 172–​173. I signal a few echoes in this chapter between Columella and Alberti because this link is much less studied than Alberti’s use of Xenophon and ps.-​Aristotle.

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ii.50 In turn, only corrupt and cruel people want to participate in politics, every benefit of which is grounded in unjust dominion over others. A man wants to live for himself, not the community. He is willing to be asked for help by his friends, true, where this does not mean that you neglect your own concerns and where it does not lead to serious loss for you. A man is no friend of mine if he does not avoid doing what would lead to my injury or shame.51 Still, given the existential need for politics, a few decades before Machiavelli’s first writings, Alberti’s Giannozzo advises his young debating partners to steer away from politics but maintain an appearance of being good, just and honorable in the political sense.52 Smart people are ‘trying only to be good and just householders’ (buoni, et giusti massai).53 Household management is the antithesis of politics. Giannozzo’s doctrine is the opposite, for instance, of Giovanni Caldiera’s De oeconomia veneta libri duo, written and circulated at the same time or shortly after Alberti finished Book Three of the Libri della famiglia. Caldiera describes political life as encompassing and superior to personal and domestic life, illustrated among other things by the architectural superiority of city walls over domestic houses.54 Contrary to Alberti’s ideal, Caldiera’s great man must build a house that impresses the city, and the supreme rule of the paterfamilias is proved from an analogy with the singular authority of the architect in any building project.55 Lionardo –​the civic humanist –​understands Giannozzo’s desire for self-​ sufficiency, which is laudable. However, those who are dissatisfied with comune liberta in fact want licenzia, license rather than true liberty, and to build a stable household at the expense of the republic –​myopically so, since if everyone followed their example, the republic would disappear. Even if only some people acted like Giannozzo, they would effectively leave politics to the wicked and undermine the common good through their indifference. Private honour is nonsense. However, after this long speech, Lionardo adds that the

50 Alberti, Family, pp. 174–​175. 51 Ibid., p. 47. 52 From the start, and throughout Book Three, Alberti explicitly and consistently distinguishes between a person’s qualities and her or his reputation (see Alberti, Family, pp. 155, 158, 167, 177, 184, 212). 53 Ibid., pp. 176–​177; quotes on pp. 177; 349. 54 Bodleian Library, cod. Laud. misc. 717, fols. 79–​99v. King, ‘Personal, Domestic’, pp. 542–​543. 55 Ibid., pp. 551–​552.



state happens to be in crisis, and in this exceptional situation we should follow Giannozzo’s advice, wait for the tide to turn, and reengage our household with the city.56 Giannozzo disagrees and repeats that one must ‘never cease to bear rule over oneself’ nor ‘abandon your private concerns for public affairs’ for political honour and a chance to rule over others. ‘Public honors will not feed the family’.57 Prioritise the domestic, Giannozzo advises, and contribute to public affairs only as your conscience, leisure and fellow citizens prompt you. Domestic masserizia, we learn, entails the management of relatives and servants, as well. When you start a household, pick a healthy spot with natural defenses. Place your family in a single home to keep down costs.58 Try to be self-​sufficient and avoid buying and selling as much as possible.59 If you have a surplus or need help, always favour kin from your extended family over strangers.60 If your children start a family, they can stay with you as extended family (in which case they must obey you), or they can move out and start colonies.61 Also choose a country with good government, because its laws and manners will protect you from enemies both foreign and domestic.62 Here Giannozzo effectively concedes Lionardo’s point that in its search for resilience, the household asymmetrically piggy-​backs on politics. Yet unlike Lionardo, Giannozzo presents this as honourable conduct, given that the foundation and measure of honour is the family. Lionardo admits that the farm provides the best occupation. Everything else brings risks, anxiety and regret. Giannozzo adds that the farm is profitable, honourable and truthful chiefly because everything is visible, so no one is cheated or ever needs a lawyer. You can withdraw completely from the dangers and violence of the city, the marketplace and the townhall. While Columella praised conversation among farmers as more civic than city assemblies that take place every nine days, Giannozzo finds assemblies to be pure and pleasant, and virtuous by private standards. Giannozzo suggests sending your children to study in the city a little, so they become familiar with vice and reject 56 Alberti, Family, pp. 178–​179; 351–​356. 57 Ibid., pp. 179–​180. Deliberately repeated on pp. 200; 411: ‘There is more honor and valor in helping your own family than outsiders’. 58 Alberti, Family, p. 185. 59 Ibid., p. 187. 60 Ibid., pp. 200–​201. 61 Ibid., p. 186. 62 Ibid., p. 183. The private benefits of good politics were a well-​known trope: see Grotius, De iure praedae, commentarius, Prolegomena 39 (citing Pericles), in Gwladys L. Williams and M. J. van Ittersum, transl. and ed., Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2006).

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it knowingly.63 Lionardo disagrees: when there is no crisis, ‘it is in the city one learns to be a citizen’ and gets a taste for honour, glory, praise, fame, and immortality. Giannozzo counters that cities are factories of dreams, ‘for such are governments, constitutions, fame’.64 The countryside offers peace, contentment, and freedom to seek honour and vitality. We should note that Giannozzo is not some Renaissance survivalist. Though he recommends a self-​sufficient household and prioritises the family’s interests, he does not advocate a full withdrawal. Masserizia finds a natural extension in investing in, and personally supervising, wool or silk manufacturing, or a similar ‘civic occupation’ as a source of side income (better than trade, which is nerve-​racking). Giannozzo suggests supervising such industry closely, but not personally engaging in it.65 Columella’s tripartite division of life and space into house, farm and storage effectively becomes house, farm and the shop in Alberti (la casa, la possessione et la bottega).66 Lionardo seeks to summarise the lessons on masserizia. Giannozzo emphasises that he speaks from experience, not book learning. Books compare human prudence with the behaviour of ants, even bees; that is nonsense. Instead, emulate the spider, Giannozzo admonishes, industriously spinning out threads, then remaining motionless but alert in the centre of your web, and taking care of situations when alerted by the slightest movement in any part of your domain.67 After Giannozzo rejects even the potential value of politics at its best, Adovardo criticises Giannozzo for discounting money in his lectures on masserizia. Money is better than land, Adovardo argues, due precisely to the political crises against which Giannozzo’s method was supposed to shock-​proof his protégés. According to Adovardo, money is the root of all things: you can either buy things directly or buy the means to produce them. Thus money is the most robust good, and the obvious key to masserizia. When the Albertis are exiled or in danger, they cannot carry their houses and fields. Giannozzo protests most vehemently. Money is subject to even more crises than the city, including deceit, misuse, theft, treachery, unpredictable political forces, and the constant risk of all these. Even if once in a while you have a bad harvest, over several years you are still better off with land –​and it is easier to protect land than money.68 Giannozzo contends that making, lending, or 63 Alberti, Family, pp. 191–​194. 64 Ibid.: ‘le fabriche die quelli grandissimi sogni, stati, reggimenti, et fama’, pp. 194; 397. 65 Ibid., pp. 195–​196. 66 Ibid., pp. 202; 418. 67 Ibid., pp. 205–​206. 68 Ibid., pp. 232–​235; 497–​502. Giannozzo: be practical householders, prattichi massai.



handling money is always and inherently dangerous. You should take it away from children the same way you would a razor. Instead, Giannozzo prefers ‘the self-​sufficiency of wealth’.69 This leads the protagonists to debate the correct approach to friends, who exist both inside and outside the city. Adovardo argues that even if you have a self-​sufficient household, you need friends to defend you in crises. Giannozzo agrees, but repeats the proviso that you should still do all you can to depend on them as little as possible.70 As we saw, masserizia is virtue, economy, thrift and mastery over physical, moral and legal arrangements. It is also a distinct architectural form, something between a villa and a farmhouse. It is a large homestead with a specific spatial arrangement, division and function, both defensive and productive. It denotes an extended household that can serve the city but can also separate and become independent when circumstances (for instance, war) so require. Today you can still find masserizie in the Tuscan countryside; but we have largely forgotten that this architectural form is part and parcel of a political theory that encourages and enables you to arrange your life such that you can both participate in, and withdraw from, politics.


The variation within this genre helps to review its key organising themes. The view of agriculture as the most virtuous pursuit is a recurring theme.71 In The Discourse of Civill Life (1606) Lodowick Bryskett (ca. 1547–​1612) describes a Dublin townhouse set up for English administrators in charge of governing Ireland. In addition to their imperial townhouse, they are provided with a nearby villa in the countryside where they can withdraw to enjoy leisure –​or hole


Ibid., pp. 242–​243, quote on p. 243; pp. 523–​527, p. 527: ‘Et io pur sono uno di quelli el quale vorrei più tosto potere da me con mie richezze, mai avere a richiedere al cuno amico’. Grotius approvingly cites Aristotle that barter is sufficient and money is not obviously necessary (Grotius, De iure praedae, 354). 70 Alberti, Family, pp. 243–​244. This goes against the well-​established idea that friends creating ties through mutual support is desirable for constitutional stability (Grotius, IBP x.229, citing Digest v.iii.25.11). 71 Freedman lists Ferdinandus Rhoensis (1504), Wilhelm Witzendorff (1642) and Otto Aicher (1690) among those who made this point. Clemens Timpler (1610) added that agriculture best prepares men for war (Joseph S. Freedman, ‘Philosophical Writings on the Family in Sixteenth-​and Seventeenth-​Century Europe’, Journal of Family History, 27:3 (2002), pp. 292–​342, at pp. 296–​297). Also see John Locke, ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’, in The Works of John Locke, vol. 3 (London: John Churchill, 1714), p. 94, §205.

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up in a crisis, in moral, cultural and military self-​sufficiency, ready to engage, disengage and reengage their conquered empire.72 Henry David Thoreau’s (1817–​1862) Walden (1854) also meets many criteria: full withdrawal into self-​ sufficiency due to a political crisis –​but, like Bryskett, no provisions for family, sustainability, or intergenerational growth. Therefore, although they share elements with the genre adumbrated here, neither Bryskett’s Discourse nor Thoreau’s Walden belongs to it, since the self-​sufficiency they present is not grounded in a family or the social renewal described by Philodemus. Attention to multiple families is also uncharacteristic of the texts that describe a Janus-​ faced household. Jean Bodin (ca. 1530-​1596) and his followers posited that the minimum for a commonwealth was fifteen people, five in three families, and they duly focused on the relationship between these families –​something that Xenophon, Columella and Alberti completely ignore.73 By contrast, William Shakespeare’s (1564–​1616) Tempest (1610–​11) and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur’s (1735–​1813) Letters from an American Farmer (1782) do belong to the genre identified here. They formulate households as resilient, and able to join or leave the state. Remarkably, neither text shows the reconstitution of the original polity that suffered a crisis. The households in this genre are self-​ sufficient and have the power to repair or restart polities –​but they do not necessarily do so. These texts have in common a search for robustness and resilience, seeking to render spaces and relationships liminal and semi-​permeable toward politics: resistant to crises, but able to reengage conventional political spaces and relationships in post-​crisis renewal. Works that define this tradition are misread. It is often said that modern economics owes nothing to household management. This has convincingly been shown to be wrong, though the moderate position that states and families are never analogous remains compelling.74

72 73 74

Andrew Wadowski, ‘Framing Civil Life in Elizabethan Ireland: Bryskett, Spenser and The Discourse of Civill Life’, Renaissance Studies, 30:3 (2015), pp. 350–​369. Freedman, ‘Philosophical’, pp. 308 and 322 n116. Heads of families combined make for the ideal state: Grotius, IBP ii.v.xxiii.552. E.g. Jean-​François Melon, as contextualised in István Hont, Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-​State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). On Francisco Suárez’s imperfect state –​family analogy, see Annabel Brett, Changes of State: Nature and the Limits of the City in Early Modern Natural Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), p. 149. Also note that Suárez explicitly denied that households can be self-​sufficient: see e.g. Francisco Suárez, A Treatise on Laws and God the Lawgiver, iii.i.3, in Thomas Pink, ed., Selections from Three Works (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2015), pp. 419–​420. On Samuel von Pufendorf, see David Grewal, ‘From the State of Nature to the State of Economy: Pufendorf on Commerce and



What had been missed in all this is the tradition in which family is not the origin, part of, or the model for the state, but has a unique modality in which it can replace the state or at least weather its crises, and can transition from full and fruitful collaboration with the state to self-​contained modes before and after the state’s crisis. This distinct conceptualisation of a household optimised for agricultural and military self-​sufficiency also explains why some thinkers considered farmers to be fair game in war. Since their productive prowess and toughness sustained the entire state, and held the potential to re-​start a state if it failed or was occupied, farmers’ lands and assets must be subject to the laws of war.75 Once we distinguish texts that promote households’ ability to become and remain robust through cycles of crisis and recovery, we can start figuring out, for instance, how they inform the literature on colonial projects, conventionally divided into top-​down, state-​initiated forms, and bottom-​up, organic outgrowths of natural expansion. A conventional contrast describes Roman colonialism as the former, and the latter as Greek.76 The architecture and productive and juridical characteristics of these distinct households cut across this division, since both states and individuals may choose between Xenophon’s, Columella’s and Alberti’s Janus-​faced, robust household model on the one hand, and the alternatives of interdependent families and states, or interdependent families outside states, on the other hand. The difference is whether top-​down and bottom-​up colonialists regard the extended household as a viable and desirable basic unit. You may want to establish a colony on Crete or Plymouth, but if you assume that families cannot become self-​sufficient without state support, then you and fellow entrepreneurs may well consider the colony to be a prohibitively expensive imperial proposition. Conversely, you may not want to settle families even in a nearby but distinct location, as Cicero warned about settling veterans in Capua,77 because you believe that families have a natural ability and tendency to become self-​sufficient and must be kept in permanent dependence through asymmetrical trade and other means.

Natural’, in Mark Somos and Anne Peters (eds), The State of Nature: Histories of an Idea (Leiden and Boston: Brill, forthcoming). 75 E.g. Grotius, De iure praedae, 163. 76 Mark Somos, ‘Sigonio in Anglo-​American Projects to Reform the Imperial Constitution, 1751–​1777’, in Arthur Weststeijn and Jeremia Pelgrom (eds), The Renaissance of Roman Colonization: Carlo Sigonio and the Making of Legal Colonial Discourse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 95–​113. 77 Cicero, De leg. agr. i.v.16-​vii.22, 357–​363.

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The cluster of household literature uncovered here thus brings out several interweaving strands in intellectual history, and makes them easier to follow.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Alberti, Leon Battista, I primi tre libri della famiglia (Florence: Sansoni, 1911). Columella, On Agriculture, in Harrison Boyd Ash transl. Columella. On Agriculture, vol. 1: Books 1–​4 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1941); E.S. Forster transl. Columella. On Agriculture, vol. 3: Books 10–​12 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1955). Philodemus, On Property Management, in Voula Tsouna ed., Philodemus, On Property Management: Writings from the Greco-​Roman World (Atlanta GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012). Ps.-​Aristotle, Oeconomica, in E.S. Forster ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920). Xenophon, Oeconomicus, in S.B. Pomeroy ed., Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

Freedman, Joseph S., ‘Philosophical Writings on the Family in Sixteenth-​and Seventeenth-​Century Europe’, Journal of Family History, 27:3 (2002), pp. 292–​342. Grafton, Anthony, Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000). Grayson, Cecil, ‘Notes on the Texts of Some Vernacular Works of Leon Battista Alberti’, Rinascimento, 3:2 (Dec. 1952), pp. 211–​245. Sebastianelli, Pietro, ‘Giovanni Battista Assandri e il posto dell’economica tra le arti di governo nella crisi del Rinascimento italiano’, Politics. Rivista di Studi Politici, 7:1 (2017), pp. 107–​121. Soudek, Josef, ‘The Genesis and Tradition of Leonardo Bruni’s Annotated Latin Version of the ps.-​Aristotelian Economics’, Scriptorium, 12 (1958), pp. 260–​268. Zurbuchen, Simone, ‘La famille, une société naturelle?’, Rousseau Studies, 6: Rousseau et la Nature (2018), pp. 129–​153.

chapter 10

Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context. Althusius on Concord and Prudence Ferenc Hörcher


The main protagonist of this chapter had a stake in both political theory and practice. Johannes Althusius (1563–​1638) was both a very successful academic thinker and an urban magistrate, who held local power for more than three decades (1604–​1638) in an important city of the Holy Roman Empire. What makes this coincidence of a theoretically minded university teacher and a practically minded local religious and urban leader all the more fascinating is that he engaged in both of these activities in the context of a specific crisis, the crisis which eventually led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War (1618−1648). Yet his interest in this crisis was also more parochial: he was called upon to address the internal struggles of a small town in the North West of the Empire, Emden. His opus magnum, Politica methodice digesta, was published both before (1603) and during the period when he held office in the town (1610, 1614). In one sense, it can be read as a German equivalent to Bodin’s République (1576), confronting the specific circumstances of the German empire. He also aimed, however, to reflect on the political struggles of the town of which he was the chief magistrate, at first only in the secular realm, but later also in the religious sphere. This gave his theory an Aristotelian bent, attempting an extensive analysis of prudence, which was also a key concept for other thinkers of the age, including Botero and Lipsius. By elucidating the art of politics, he was dispensing advice to magistrates as well as to the rulers of states on how to avoid the type of local crisis he had confronted in Emden. He did so in the post-​Reformation, but pre-​Westphalian urban setting of a relatively independent German city, which was both an imperial town and a Calvinist stronghold. This chapter will outline the intellectual context in which Althusius worked, before examining his specific teachings on prudence.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_012

Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context


The Context of Politica and Policey

In his contribution to a volume on the Europe-​wide crisis of the 1590s, Heinz Schilling focused on the situation in the German towns in this period.1 He was primarily interested in the consequences of the growing confessional strife of that era on the activity of urban magistrates, and on the perception of their duties, as well as in the changes to the social structures of urban communities being initiated in general in the early modern context. Schilling carried out field research in the Emden presbyterial archives to reconstruct exactly how Althusius’ practical governance as the Syndic, or chief magistrate of the city, related to his theoretical work, as presented in his opus magnum. Ian Hunter has characterised this duality of Althusius’ activity thus: ‘while Althusius sought an appropriate figuration for the governance of the city and the state, his Politica was grounded in the political metaphysics of the church, as the kingdom of God on earth’.2 In other words, a triangle of city, state and church was at the centre of Althusius’ theoretical reflection, while his practice was based on the correlation between theory and practice. Robert von Friedeburg has argued that it was in connection with this crisis that a new genre was born, Politica, which flourished at German universities between 1590 and 1620.3 This movement spawned a wave of theoretical literature connected to the Aristotelian inclinations of the Melanchtonian wing of Lutheranism. It was also inspired by the ‘religious civil war’ in France in that period and the theoretical reflections of Bodin, as well as the international tension which built up during the Dutch revolt and was reflected in the constitutional debates of the day.4 Contributions to this new genre of political literature came not only from the Protestant camp, but also more broadly from 1 Heinz Schilling, ‘The European Crisis of the 1590s: The Situation in the German Towns’, in Peter Clark (ed.), The European Crisis of the 1590s (London and Boston: G. Allen & Unwin, 1985), pp. 135–​156. 2 Ian Hunter, Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 62. 3 Robert von Friedeburg, The Philosopher as Vir Bonus: Affectiones and Virtutes of Councillors and Inferior Magistrates in Althusius’ Politica of 1614, p. 3 (https://​​ 3bac/​3dfd8abf7c9c585b87f31c13af694497b571.pdf). See also Michael Philipp, The ‘Politica’ of 17th Century Germany, as Reflected in the ‘dissertationes politicae’. Some Aspects of the Older Tradition in Academic Political Science, 2004 (https://​forschungen-​​mitarbeiter/​ philipp_​tulane.pdf). 4 Von Friedeburg connects the reception of Bodin from the 1590s directly with the development of the genre of the Politica (Robert von Friedeburg, Luther’s Legacy. The Thirty Years War and the Modern Notion of ‘State’ in the Empire, 1530s to 1790s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 89).



different religious denominations. Its popularity was due to the fact that the debates of the age centred on this field of theoretical reflection. It is worth recalling another observation made by von Friedeburg: Althusius’ effort is to preserve order by the detailed regulation of the economy and of society –​a degree of regulation possible only on a small scale, and which is particularly difficult, but even more necessary, in times of trouble.5 Von Friedeburg also speaks of the genre of Policey or Policei: ‘Christian Policey created agency to intervene in society beyond what was legally regulated […] providing legitimacy for princely and urban magistrates to expand their power at the cost of groups subsequently subject to their rule’.6 His understanding of the function of Policey is that it enabled the authorities to intervene, without a legal basis, in the affairs of society. What is crucial here is size: the leadership of German towns is compared to running a household.7 This concept of Policey encompassed the fields of ethics, the study of administration and economics, which makes it similar to Politica, by lending a moral overtone to administrative orders. In this it also approaches patriarchal discourse. This early modern German academic approach to the administration of social life was thought to be indispensable, particularly in times of crisis such as civil wars or peasant revolts, or during epidemics: ‘urban government had […] developed ideas of intervention in society beyond providing the administration of Justice’.8 Political peace, social order, and economic prosperity were all necessary for the well-​being of the city. All of them were regarded as legitimate aims of government, which entailed, as László Kontler (referring to the natural jurisprudence of Althusius and Pufendorf) has pointed out, ‘ensuring good morals and the maintenance of order by Polizey-​Ordnungen’.9 Partly based on the same literature, Gerhard Oestreich stressed that the concept is connected to the administration of German towns, had the meaning of 5 Von Friedeburg, Vir Bonus, p. 5, n.7. 6 Von Friedeburg, Luther’s Legacy, p. 83. 7 See Roger Brock, ‘The State as a Household and Family’, in Roger Brock, Greek Political Imagery from Homer to Aristotle (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 25−42. 8 Von Friedeburg, Luther’s Legacy, p. 156. 9 László Kontler, Translations, Histories, Enlightenments. William Robertson in Germany, 1760–​ 1795 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p. 38; Kontler relies on the following German literature: Hans Maier, Die ältere deutsche Staats-​und Verwaltungslehre (Polizeiwissenschaft). Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der politischen Wissenschaft in Deutschland (Neuwied and Berlin: Luchterhand, 1966); Michael Stolleis, with Karl Härter and Lothar Schilling (eds), Policey im Europa der Frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1996); Karl Härter (ed.), Policey und frühneuzeitlicher Gesellschaft (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000); Thomas Simon, ‘Gute Policey’. Ordnungsnilder und Zielvorstellungen politischen Handelns in der Frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 2004).

Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context


‘police and good order’ and aimed ‘to produce a well ordered civic or territorial community’.10 Oestreich also connected its appearance with ‘social disorders which had to be remedied’, which he attributed chiefly to the new phenomena of urbanisation and ‘the failure of ecclesiastical jurisdiction’.11 He labelled the effort to keep events under the government’s control in towns, counties and Empire ‘regulation-​mania’, based on the tacit assumption that ‘people had to be “coached”’.12 It is especially telling that Oestreich indicated the kind of cities where regulation is best achieved: ‘[t]‌he cities, with the concept of “police”, led the way in the regulation of society, setting the pattern for the territories, while in these the idea of prudentia civilis was spread by a new ruling elite educated in the universities’.13 The following section examines Oestreich’s claim that in this period ‘(t)he major concept in politics was prudentia civilis or prudentia politica’.14 Althusius applied this concept, proposing to conserve Aristotelian concord and like-​ mindedness in the city at a time of crisis, as is clearly shown by his own activity to consolidate the internal politics of Emden. As will be demonstrated, the revision of his Politica connects the axes of theory and practice in early modern German urban politics.15

Aristotelianism and the Early Reformation

The new discipline of Politica, which emerged at the end of the sixteenth century and which was heavily indebted to the work of Aristotle, was also the title of Althusius’ monumental work. It is well known that the most educated follower and companion of Luther, Melanchton, had found it requisite to draw on Aristotle in matters concerned with politics, as the Bible had no clear message in this respect. It was also Melanchton who set a good example in his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics in 1530–​31. It was not only Lutheran but also Calvinist thought which fed into the Aristotelian renaissance of the late sixteenth century. Althusius himself was contemporary with these developments and 10

Gerhard Oestreich, ‘Police and Prudentia Civilis in the Seventeenth Century’, in idem, Neostoicism and the Early Modern State, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982; transl. David McLintock), pp. 155–​165, p. 156. 11 Ibid., p. 156. 12 Ibid., p. 157. 13 Ibid., pp. 161–​162. 14 Ibid., p. 162. 15 See Robert von Friedeburg, Self-​ Defence and Religious Strife in Early Modern Europe: England and Germany, 1530–​1680 (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), p. 110.



manifested an early interest in, and profound knowledge of, the Aristotelian heritage. Althusius studied Aristotle in 1581 (at about the age of 24) in Cologne. He also spent some time in Basel, staying at the home of Johann Grynaeus, and in Geneva with Denis Godefroy. These Calvinist scholars inspired him to embrace a humanistic approach to politics, with some Aristotelian influences, even though his Basel diploma was actually in law, and his first publication (1586) was about Roman Law.16 Having established himself as a legal expert with a wide humanist background, Althusius was invited to the law faculty of the newly founded Calvinist Academy in Herborn. He soon became an adviser to the founder of the Academy, the Count John of Nassau. After a spell in Heidelberg studying theology, Althusius finally became the rector of the Academy. As such, he was engaged in an Aristotelian practical philosophical project: he first published a volume on ethics (Civilis conversationis libri duo, 1601), which was followed by Politica in 1603. He understood politics in accordance with Aristotelianism ‘as a practical art or science that is addressed to the problem of ascertaining how human good can be achieved in community’.17 One should not, however, overestimate the presence of Aristotle in Althusius’ thought and work. Explicit references to Aristotle are not particularly frequent, and Althusius’ own complex terminology does not make his scholarly influences easy to identify. As a learned individual with a wide range of knowledge, his way of thinking was not confined to a single intellectual path. In fact, Horst Dreitzel has identified no less than ‘six roots or overlapping sets of influences characterizing the Politica’.18 One should also keep in mind that the Calvinist orientation informing Althusius’ way of thinking precludes his taking a purely Aristotelian approach.

16 17


Thomas O. Hueglin, Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World. Althusius on Community and Federalism (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999), p. 32. Frederick S. Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, in Johannes Althusius, Politica. An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodologically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, ed. and transl. Frederick S. Carney (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), pp. ix-​xxxiii, p. xxiv. Von Friedeburg, Vir Bonus, p. 5, referring to Horst Dreitzel, Absolutismus und ständische Verfassung in der frühen Neuzeit: Ein Beitrag über Kontinuität und Diskontinuität der politischen Theorie in Deutschland in der frühen Neuzeit (Mainz: von Zabern, 1992), pp. 23–​35. These influences are Bodin, French monarchomachism, the Dutch discourse on independence, Spanish natural law theory, Presbyterian ecclesiology and Lipsius. For engagement with some of these topics, see Alberto Clerici’s chapter in this volume.

Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context


The Political Crisis of Emden and the Invitation of Althusius

Althusius’ political ideas must be understood in their contemporary political contexts. It is thus necessary to link his realist Aristotelian theory with his long and successful practical activity as the Syndic, and later also elder of the city of Emden. Situated in East Friesland, near the border of the Dutch territories, Emden played a major role in the commerce of Northern Europe.19 The city joined the Reformation camp very early on. After the arrival of John Laski (Jan Łaski), a Polish reformer, at the invitation of Countess Anna of Oldenburg, the Regent of East Frisia between 1540/​42–​1561, its religious life was reorganised, and it became a kind of ‘Geneva of the North’, forming a bastion for the Dutch Reformed Church. The holding of the Synod of Emden in 1571 was a recognition of the city’s confessional role. All this being said, it was not always easy to reconcile religious leadership and commercial interests. At first, Emden profited from the Dutch émigrés and from the closed seaports of the Dutch revolt, which made its own seaport indispensable for the whole region. Emden experienced a period of conflict with its ‘provincial lord’, the Oldenburg family (some of whom became Lutheran), due to the rising tax burden and to unacceptable local legislation enacted by the council of the overlord. This situation led to what was known as the Emden Revolution, which ended with the toppling of the overlord and the declaration of the semi-​autonomous city-​state of Emden. However, tensions did not stop with the revolt, and soon the city was embroiled in a civil war against its earlier overlord, Count Enno iii. The conflict also had an international dimension. Due to its vested interest in Dutch Protestantism, Emden became involved in the Dutch revolt against Spain. This was the result of Menso Alting’s (the religious leader of the city) intention to create a Protestant Union against Counter-​Reformation efforts. It was at this point of internal and external struggle that Alting became aware of Althusius’ reputation through his son, who was studying in Herborn under Althusius, and who sent home his professor’s newly published volume on Politica. Althusius’ fame helped him to receive an invitation from Alting to the position of Syndic of Emden and, later, of elected elder. While his role as Syndic allowed him to control the city’s administrative organisation, as an elder he became responsible for ecclesiastical leadership as well. The two functions ‘enabled him to coordinate the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the city, and thus to exercise somewhat the same kind of influence in Emden as Calvin did in Geneva’.20 19 20

In what follows, I will rely on Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, pp. xi−xii. Ibid., p. xii.



The tasks Althusius faced in Emden were to end the internal and external crises in the city, by pacifying the opposing interests, and to arrange local conditions so as to make peaceful coexistence possible. Apparently, Althusius was very successful in managing the affairs of the city, both in secular and ecclesiastical matters. His rule lasted for thirty-​four years, and it was to have a major impact on the life of later generations. His theoretical work was enriched by his personal experience, and helped to sustain peace and harmony in Emden.

Althusius and the Political Theology of His Age

Connecting Althusius’ theoretical output with his practical activity can help us –​in several ways –​to interpret his ideas correctly. A major potential mistake is, for example, to fashion him as a revolutionary Calvinist. Even Quentin Skinner’s admirable summary of the history of modern political thought make this mistake, labelling Althusius’ work ‘the most systematic statement of revolutionary Calvinist political thought’.21 Skinner brackets Althusius with George Buchanan (1506−1582), as two early examples of efforts to liberate the discourse of politics from juridical and theological preconceptions. It is noteworthy that Skinner deals with Althusius somewhat superficially, only referring to the Introduction of his opus magnum.22 Howard Hotson and von Friedeburg returned to the issue, attempting to demonstrate the anti-​revolutionary potential of Althusius’ radical Calvinism.23 Hotson drew attention to the fact that the establishment of the Herborn Academy itself should be understood within what has become known as the Second Reformation in Nassau-​Dillenburg. According to Hotson, Herborn’s function was to educate the administrative and educational elite of the county, in the midst of an ambitious reform wave

21 22


The quotation is from Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 341–​342. This has been pointed out in E. H. Kossmann, ‘Popular Sovereignty at the Beginning of the Dutch Ancien Regime’, in E. H. Kossmann et al. (eds), The Low Countries History Yearbook: Acta Historiae Neerlandicae (Dordrecht: Springer, 1981), pp. 1–​28. The reference to Skinner is to be found on pp. 21–​22, where, besides quoting this crucial sentence from Skinner, Kossmann proves the latter’s negligence by referring to ‘his suggestion (ii, 346) that Althusius was unable to accept the Aristotelian view of man as a social being’. Howard Hotson, ‘The Conservative Face of Contractual Theory: The Monarchomach Servants of the Count of Nassau-​Dillenburg’, in E. Bonfatti et al. (eds), Politische Begriffe und historisches Umfeld in der Politica Methodice des Johannes Althusius (Wiesbaden in Kommission bei Otto Harrasowitz, 2002), pp. 251–​289. For von Friedeburg’s points, see the main text above.

Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context


which was initiated by its count. Clearly, then, this ideology was not intended to lead Herborn’s students to subversive conclusions. Considering this, one can hardly suppose that the intended readership of Althusius’ work would have been some sort of activist group, interested in fomenting a revolution in the county or elsewhere. After all, the whole academy, including Althusius himself, was in the service of the counts. For von Friedeburg, the whole genre of Politica, including those parts of it which originated from the Calvinist context, were not much more than ‘a body of work dedicated to the control of subjects and to the avoidance of turmoil […] It meant to forestall disorder, not to support rebellion’.24 The authors of these works granted sweeping powers to their rulers to enable them to resolve conflicts and preserve internal harmony, which they saw as crucial in a political community: ‘a main issue of these works was how to avoid, forestall or suppress internal conflict for the sake of the common good, as unity and the preservation of internal harmony were seen as key problems’.25 When constructing a counterargument against the above line of interpretation, one might point to the contractual element of Althusius’ politics. According to Hotson, however, ‘[c]‌ontractual political theory […] acted within the country (of Nassau-​Dillenburg) as conservative rather than radical ideology, intended not to justify rebellion but to encourage the active co-​operation of the people with the ruler’.26 Besides, the resistance clause is not necessarily an instrument for facilitating the overthrow of a political system, but rather to defend one. This is the argument used by Martyn Thompson to explain Althusius’ inclusion of it in the second edition of Politica, published in 1610, when he was Syndic of Emden. Althusius’ intention was to defend his city from external threats: ‘Althusius added a lengthy, penultimate chapter justifying armed resistance to tyrants, exactly the kind of armed resistance that was currently being pursued by the Calvinist city of Emden under Althusius’ leadership against the Lutheran prince of Ostfriesland’.27 There is only one assertion in Althusius’ Politica that could truly open up a Pandora’s box, albeit unintentionally on the part of the author.28 Until Chapter xxviii, Althusius is careful to stress that it is only the body of the commonwealth as represented by its ephores and optimates (that is, a historically 24 Von Friedeburg, Self-​Defence, p. 105. 25 Ibid., p. 105. 26 Hotson, Conservative Face, p. 252. We shall return to Hotson below. 27 Martyn P. Thompson, Michael Oakeshott and the Cambridge School on the History of Political Thought (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019), p. 71. 28 Von Friedeburg, Self-​Defence, p. 123.



legitimated elite) that can actively oppose the ruler. At this point in the Politica, however, private persons seem to be granted the authorisation to resist: ‘[b]‌ut when a tyrant without title invades the realm, each and every optimate and private person who loves his fatherland can and should resist, even by his private authority without awaiting the command of another’.29 In the particular circumstances of Herborn and Emden, there was good reason to raise this possibility, but this does not necessarily reconcile Althusius’ theory with political radicalism. According to an alternative reading, what Althusius is doing is to argue along the lines of ‘reason of state’ thinking, in which the most important value is indeed the realm, but not simply in the sense of the good of the realm, but rather the stable position of its ruler. Hence what the author is raising here is simply the possibility of the supreme magistrate breaking the law in certain circumstances, to stabilise his monopoly of power and, through it, his realm.30 After painting this somewhat dramatic background to Althusius’ project, let us now turn to how he theorises concord and conflict.

Althusius’ Discussion of Concord

The discussion of concord is present from the opening sentence of Althusius’ volume: ‘Politics is the art of associating [consociandi] men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called “symbiotics”’.31 That this political prioritisation of the community is an Aristotelian starting point is made obvious by Althusius himself, when he writes: ‘Aristotle teaches that man by his nature is brought to this social life and mutual sharing’.32 However, as Hunter suggests, Althusius’ view of sociability is even stronger than that of Aristotle. This can be seen, for example, in his handling of Cicero. According to Frederick Carney, it was Cicero ‘from whom he learned much about the nature of social life and the vocabulary of politics’.33 Indeed, at the very beginning of his long treatise, Althusius explicitly quotes Cicero in connection with his own main theme of symbiotics as a system of consociationes: ‘Cicero said: “a political community is a gathering of men associated by a consensus as to the right and a sharing of what is useful”’.34 Michael 29 Althusius, Politica, pp. 196–​197. Von Friedeburg quotes the sentence in the Latin original. 30 Michael Behnen, ‘Herrscherbild und Herrschaftstechnik in der Politica des Johannes Althusius’, Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 11:4 (1984), pp. 417−472. 31 Althusius, Politica, p. 17. 32 Ibid., p. 24. 33 Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, p. xxvii. 34 Quoting from Cicero, The Republic, i, 25, in Althusius, Politica, p. 19.

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Behnen claims that Althusius referred back to the Ciceronian concept of ‘consensus juris’, in order to explain the rather surprising fact that a multitude can be turned into a political community.35 Yet Althusius was neither a civic humanist nor a Ciceronian Roman republican. Behnen has detected Tacitist overtones below the surface of the edifying style of the Althusian conceptual structure.36 The main point of the whole institutional edifice is that the common good may be achieved by striving for consent, harmony and concord. But how can these values be upheld? After all, we know from our own experience that human beings are egotistic. If that is a constant feature of human beings, then citizens need to be manipulated to achieve such concord. Behnen has argued that Althusius provided frequent advice for magistrates to direct, discipline and manipulate the behaviour of subjects.37 The most important part of the Politica, in this respect, is the middle portion, where such opinion-​mongering techniques are dealt with. Specific chapters address the nature and affections of the people (Chapter 23), censure (Chapter 30) and the issue of how to maintain concord (Chapter 31).38 Interestingly, Behnen’s interpretation associates these topics with the very influential discourses of Tacitist dictatorship, with the discourse on reason of state and with Botero’s ideas.39 However, this explanation seems to be too overcomplicated to be true. In the early modern period, directing, disciplining and manipulating subjects were key requirements of the traditional discipline of rhetoric. There is no need to posit Tacitism or reason of state thinking in order to make sense of these demands by Althusius. This period saw intense interest in rhetoric –​even philosophy seems to have sometimes been sacrificed on the altar of rhetoric.40 Neither medieval Christian thinking (e.g. Augustine) nor Reformation theory (e.g. Melanchton) was opposed to rhetoric per se. Finally, to trust rhetoric as 35 Behnen, Herrscherbild, p. 422. 36 Ibid., p. 422. 37 See von Friedeburg, Self-​Defence, p. 111 and Behnen, Herrscherbild, p. 423. 38 Ibid., p. 426. 39 For an overview of some of these topics and more, see Richard Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 1572–​1651 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). See also Peter Burke, ‘Tacitism, Scepticism, and Reason of State’, in J. H. Burns, and Mark Goldie (eds), The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450–​1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 477–​498. 40 About this, see Ernesto Grassi, Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001; transl. John Michael Krois and Azizen Azodi); and Jerrold E. Seigel, Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism, The Union of Eloquence and Wisdom, Petrarch to Valla (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968).



a way of impressing an audience, so as to change its attitudes, or as a way of creating cohesion within it was not at all alien to the Aristotelian–​Ciceronian tradition either. Aristotle wrote an influential treatise on rhetoric, and Cicero, being a rhetor himself, published a number of treatises on the topic, which were perhaps even more influential in the early modern context. Although Althusius drew on this body of knowledge on the art of rhetoric, his approach was not truly Tacitist. It is easier to explain it as a kind of political realism on his part, an awareness of the nature of politics, which sometimes requires deeds which we would not be prepared to perform in other contexts. For Althusius, this realism is expressed by the concept of prudence. It is also worth noting that, for Althusius, the aims of simulation and dissimulation (as techniques for convincing others) were not to further an individual’s self-​interest, but rather to advance the common good through the preservation of symbiosis. After all, the challenge he faced was to calm the political passions raised by the crisis, and to return political life to normality. One should, of course, be aware that he was not fond of democracy either, because he did not trust the masses. He preferred to lead Emden on his own, with the help of a patrician elite. At this point, let us turn to the opposite of concord: stasis in the populus.

Althusius on Crisis and Faction

Like Aristotle, Althusius was rather sceptical about the rule of the multitude, as democracy was defined in the classical sense.41 This scepticism was based on the view that human nature inevitably leads social groups into conflict (stasis) with other groups. The Greek term agon refers to the struggle due to competition for resources within a community, which was referred to as faction in a later context. The agonistic tendency of human communities results in the rise of a centrifugal force within them. Thomas Hueglin characterises Althusius’ view on conflict thus: ‘[a]‌s in Aristotle’s discussion of the mixed constitution, stability and justice arise from co-​operation. Without co-​operation, all social order disintegrates into factional conflict (stasis)’.42 In a similar vein, Althusius claimed that ‘nothing is better for a commonwealth than unity, and nothing worse than divisiveness’.43 Leadership, therefore, is about supporting 41 42

See Cesare Cuttica’s chapter in this volume. Thomas O. Hueglin, Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World. Althusius on Community and Federalism (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999), p. 143. 43 Althusius, Politica, p. 181.

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unity within a community and doing everything possible to avoid division: ‘[t] he care of this concord is entrusted to the magistrate. He should conserve it by removing all causes of factions and seditions’.44 Again, Althusius used Aristotelian language when comparing the political leader to a doctor. Leaders are in charge of the health of the body politic, while physicians are responsible for the health of the individual human body. As he put it, ‘[f]or a city or commonwealth is like the physical body. Civil disturbances are its sicknesses, and the king or magistrate is its doctor’.45 Althusius employed a further layer of the language to describe faction: he turned to expressions of political theology, as when referring to one form of faction which is ‘confirmed by oath’ and then to another which is ‘organized around a covenant’.46 This language is especially interesting if we recall that the crises in Althusius’ places, both in Herborn and in Emden, were to a large extent caused by theological disputes and denominational conflicts. In addition, it is worth remembering that Althusius was part of a religiously-​inspired administrative reform movement in his own county of Nassau, and that when in Emden he took the side of the Calvinist reformers. In both cases, he was an active participant in actions that risked factional division. On the other hand, both in Nassau and in Emden the Calvinist party –​of which he was a leading member –​was on the side of the status quo. It is for this reason that, as a member of a reforming Calvinist movement, Althusius was interested in devising methods to avoid the rise of factions and sedition, or to overcome them in times of crisis. He believed that the city or commonwealth needs unity, because divisions can lead to civil war or worse, as his example (besides Biblical antagonisms) of the Guelphs and Ghibellines in medieval Florence suggested. To avoid and overcome faction is therefore the primary task of the magistrate. Althusius listed ways of achieving this: by destroying ‘the seeds that cause them’; by reconciling warring parties; by taking precautions and avoiding provoking such enmities; by preventing envy by just measures; by abolishing ‘the names and insignia of factions’; and by not permitting ‘secret deliberations and meetings’.47 This list reflects the conclusions drawn by Althusius from his own crisis-​management methods in Emden. The political significance Althusius attributed to urban discord, as the most important source of political crisis, is illustrated by the fact that besides faction he distinguished another form of stasis, or crisis, which he called sedition. The 44 45 46 47

Ibid., p. 181. Ibid., p. 181. Ibid., p. 181. Ibid., p. 181.



main difference between the two is that faction takes place between citizens, while sedition is between citizens and the magistrate. In both cases there is dissent, but in the case of faction the ‘dissension’ is ‘with other citizens’, while in the case of sedition, the ‘dissention’ is ‘against the magistrate’.48 This definition of sedition identifies two types: the first being ‘dissention of a united group against the magistrate’, and the second ‘the sudden and violent uprising against the magistrate’.49 Althusius also summarised the main potential causes of sedition, citing ‘excessive and unusual taxation’, being ‘afraid of punishment’, ‘excessive indulgence and laxity’, ‘indigence of the poor’ and ‘excessive riches’.50 There are seven further general causes of sedition including ‘conflict of religion’.51 His causational link seems to lead from social conflicts to political turmoil, including sedition. Quoting Petrus Gregorius (c.1540–​1597), the moderate Catholic French jurist, who is the authority he cited most frequently, and who in fact taught at a Jesuit school, Althusius listed three general remedies.52 The first one is to try to avoid it; the second concerns the use of ‘appropriate corrective measures’; and the third is severe punishment. As for special remedies, Althusius sounded rather drastic: if ‘negotiation and compromise’ do not work, the only alternative is ‘civil war’.53 To sum up, Althusius’ approach to resolving crisis stresses removing the social conditions of faction and sedition. It is through these political measures that a city can achieve what Althusius found to be its most important aim: ‘conserving concord’.54

Althusius’ Means to Fight Crisis: Prudence

The role of prudence in the early modern discourse of ethics and politics is well known.55 It is not surprising, then, that the topic is covered in Althusius’ practice-​oriented treatise. After all, he himself was first an adviser and later (after the first issue of his book had come out) a magistrate. Thus, his views on politics were not simply of an academic nature. Moreover, the city was in a 48 Ibid., pp. 181–​182. 49 Ibid., p. 182. 50 Ibid., p. 182. 51 Ibid., p. 182., n.16. 52 On Gregorius, see Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, p. xxv. 53 Althusius, Politica, p. 182. 54 Ibid., p. 182. 55 See Maurizio Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State. The Acquisition and Transformation of the Language of Politics 1250–​1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Tuck, Philosophy.

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crisis, and the city employed him as a crisis-​manager. Clearly, then, he had the necessary practical experience to appreciate practical intelligence which lies behind the notion of prudence. Carney’s introduction to the abridged English translation of the Politica enumerates the authors who had a major impact on Althusius, including figures generally associated with classical or early modern literature on prudence. Besides such well-​known names as the ex-​Jesuit Giovanni Botero (1544−1617) and Justus Lipsius (1547−1606), who was continuously and most cleverly shifting his political and religious alliance, we find among them the French moderate Huguenot Innocent Gentillet (1535−1588), who was an anti-​Medici, anti-​ Prince author, and the Italian Catholic Scipione Ammirato (1531−1601), who was a pro-​Medici historian of Florence.56 The variety of authors on this list shows very well that Althusius was ready to learn from different theorists, including those from opposing camps, if they had proven credibility of first-​hand knowledge of politics. He was not an author driven by doctrine, but rather one who tried to learn from as many sources as possible to enable his teachings to be applicable in concrete political scenarios. As for Althusius’ own teaching of prudence, as based on his own practice, let us return for a moment to the description of how to avoid faction and sedition. We saw that he referred to the Catholic Petrus Gregorius in this context, borrowing three remedies for sedition from him. Of these, the first is crucial in connection with prudence: the ‘First [remedy] is precaution, prevention, and foresight’.57 Now, in the Christian-​Aristotelian tradition, precaution and foresight were both closely linked to the cardinal virtue of prudence. Aquinas had identified the quasi-​integral elements of prudence as ‘foresight, circumspection, caution’ in the section of the summa traditionally entitled ‘Treatise on Prudence and Justice’.58 This meaning of the term is most probably due to the etymology of the Latin term of ‘prudentia’, where it was seen as a contraction of the Latin term ‘providentia’, meaning ‘foresight’.59 Cicero seems to have been crucial to the development of the Latin language in this regard: his parallel use

56 Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, p. xxv. 57 Althusius, Politica, p. 182. 58 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, ii-​ii, in Alfred J. Freddoso transl. New English Translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae (Summa Theologica) (online: University of Notre Dame; updated 10 January 2018), ‘Pars Secunda-​Secundae (Part 2–​2)’, p. 49 (https://​​~afreddos/​summa-​translation/​Part%202-​2/​st2-​2-​ ques49.pdf). 59 For the contraction, see the term ‘Prudence’ in the Online Etymology Dictionary (https://​​word/​prudence).



of the terms ‘prudentia’ and ‘providentia’ established the connection between the two concepts.60 It is interesting to note that although Carney admits that prudence is one of the main concerns of Althusius, he is rather critical of the way the author presents the topic. He points out that ‘the actual administration of the commonwealth’ is expected by Althusius to be guided by political prudence. This is because of the ‘changing and contingent circumstances’ of politics. As Carney sees it, ‘such contingent factors in political life as the character and customs of rulers and peoples give Althusius considerable methodological difficulty’. Carney adds that ‘this discussion impresses the reader as the weakest and least convincing in the entire volume’.61 However, the problem is that Carney does not take into consideration that Aristotle, too, had such difficulties with those particular conditions of politics, which cannot be tackled theoretically, and which make phronesis and the phronimos necessary in politics. Yet we do not find Aristotle’s account of practical wisdom any less convincing just because it does not consist of generally valid precepts. On the contrary, one of the elements of Aristotelian politics that helped it survive was just an honest admission that, in philosophy, it is difficult to provide an analytical account of the contingent elements of political life. Althusius is Aristotelian in this sense of the term: to speak honestly about the difficulties of scientific approaches applied to the field of politics. Therefore, this is arguably not a weakness, but a strength of his teaching. In the chapters on prudence (xxi–​x xvii), Althusius defined prudence along the lines of his near contemporary Lipsius: it is ‘the understanding and choice of those things that publicly and privately are to be done or to be omitted in the administration of a commonwealth’.62 Going beyond Lipsius, he referred to the Roman teachings on the virtue of prudence (including Cicero’s and Seneca’s versions of it) as well as to the Bible and to Gregorius. Althusius’ division of political prudence into understanding (intellectus) and choice (delectus) reminds the reader of Aristotle’s shift in the understanding of phronesis, partly, as an intellectual and, partly, as a practical moral virtue.


For the terms’ connections in Cicero, see Luciano Traversa, ‘Prudence and Providence in Cicero. The “Return to the Future” from the On Invention to the On Duties’, Historia, 64:3 (January 2015), pp. 306–​335; Sophie Aubert-​Baillot, ‘Prudentia, prouidentia: prudence et prévoyance dans les lettres de conseil et de direction chez Cicéron’, in Élisabeth Gavoille and François Guillaumont (eds), Conseiller, diriger par lettre (Tours: Presses Universitaires François Rabelais, 2017), pp. 121–​136. 61 All the above quotations are from Carney, ‘Translator’s Introduction’, p. xxii. 62 Althusius, Politica, pp. 135–​136.

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When admitting that prudence is crucial to preserve concord, Althusius was also aware of the historical and geographical differences that exist between political communities. He repeatedly emphasised that prudential understanding is needed to identify the needs of the particular political community by the magistrate: ‘[t]‌he character, custom, nature, attitude, and viewpoint of the people are to be sought and learned from the nature and location of a region, and from the age, condition, circumstances, and education of the people therein’.63 This type of political particularism, together with a keen support for political education, are two of the outstanding features of Althusius’ Politica, which makes it much more useful for actual rulers than the simple, generalised duties of a Christian prince laid out in the traditional humanist literature of princely advice books. In spite of the fact that this part of the Politica does not seem to be as well-​structured and its categories as well-​defined as the other parts of the book, it is in many ways much more relevant to practising magistrates. While the geographical conditioning of the political culture of a given region found here had already been considered by Bodin, and would be popularised by Montesquieu much later, Althusius’ own efforts seem to be inspired, partly, by the Ciceronian ideas of prudence and decorum and, partly, by the Italian advisory literature of the rising reason of state discourse (notably, Botero and Ammirato). Cicero’s rhetorical theory famously gave a detailed account of the relevance of decorum in politics: ‘in life, nothing is harder than to determine what is appropriate. The Greeks call it prepon, let us call it decorum or “propriety” […] The universal rule, in oratory as in life, is to consider propriety’.64 Although this last norm seems to be a universal rule, what Cicero actually teaches is that each political scenario requires its own, particular solution. To find the best approach to a specific situation requires less the knowledge of general norms, and more the virtue of prudence. Prudence encourages the magistrate to acquire an experience-​based knowledge of human nature, and a history-​based knowledge of the particular character traits of the specific nation in question. If one has both a knowledge of human nature and a historical knowledge of a political community, one is enabled to compare a particular situation to other circumstances, and that will indeed help to choose the right action in a given case. Therefore, as Cicero points out, ‘to know what is appropriate at each time is a matter of intelligence (prudentiae)’.65

63 Ibid., p. 149. 64 Cicero, On the Ideal Orator, 3. 212, in James M. May and Jakob Wisse transl. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 357, 359. 65 Ibid., p. 359.



According to the Ciceronian teaching on decorum, propriety –​finding the appropriate action for a situation –​is crucial in social life. This principle was adopted by Althusius in his account of how to rule a people: ‘it is advisable that the magistrate accommodate himself for a time to the customs and character of the people that he may learn what things are fitting and appropriate to them, and may propose suitable laws’.66 Instead of fear and hatred, as encouraged by Machiavelli, he encouraged arousing sympathy and benevolence, which he explained with concepts like temperance, gentleness, equity and clemency. Here he returned to the Aristotelian-​Ciceronian idea of political friendship (called kindness), citing Cicero, whereby ‘Nothing is more appropriate to human nature than kindness’, and adding himself that this kindness ‘generates friendship and affection’.67 When Althusius spoke of practice as an important part of the doctrine of prudential administration, along the lines recommended by Botero, he was again arguing in a Ciceronian way of the things to do or not to do: ‘[p]‌ractice and experience can teach the magistrate about the things to be done and to be omitted by which the position of the commonwealth and its security are conserved’.68 Not only did Althusius seem to be (like Cicero) defensive and tradition-​based in this account: ‘he [the magistrate] should prefer the old to the new’, ‘the certain to the uncertain’.69 He also drew on the ancient teaching of Kairos and Occasio, or the right timing of political decisions: ‘he should not commit himself to chance and misfortune, but prepare himself for each particular time and occasion’; and once again: ‘he should seize the opportunities offered in any enterprise’.70 This Ciceronian thread is also present in Althusius’ account of another element of political prudence: “choice”. Choice, as he understood it, is ‘the right judgment by which the magistrate discerns and separates the upright, useful, and good from the dishonourable, useless, illicit, and harmful, and aptly accommodates the former to the business at hand’.71 This accommodation is called propriety or decorum. However, decorum is also linked to simulation and dissimulation, which had been a major theme in the language of court 66 Althusius, Politica, p. 150. 67 Ibid., p. 153. 68 Ibid., p. 155. 69 Ibid., p. 156. 70 Ibid., p. 156. For an overview of the ancient teaching on kairos, see Philip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin (eds), Rhetoric and Kairos. Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002). See also my A Political Philosophy of Conservatism. Prudence, Moderation and Tradition (London: Bloomsbury, 2020). 71 Althusius, Politica, p. 156.

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literature since at least Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528).72 These are terms introduced in Castiglione’s fictional conversations to describe the communication and miscommunication between courtiers in late Renaissance Italy. Interestingly, the Calvinist Althusius (referring to Ammirato) also dealt with the art of concealing: ‘[t]‌his choice or judgment should be tempered by a certain distrust and concealment’.73 That Althusius was relying on this court literature is not only alluded to by his reference to Ammirato and Botero, but also by his discussion of the office of counsellor. The reason for this discussion is that magistrates have two kinds of civil prudence at their disposal: one is the magistrate’s own skill or virtue; the other is called ‘alien or borrowed prudence’, and this is borrowed from counsellors. Counsellors, according to Althusius, need to be endowed with ‘prudence, a liberal mind, a sound disposition and fidelity towards the commonwealth, and a capacity for silence’, as well as with the ability to acquire ‘judgment and discretion’.74 Beyond being equipped with a sound theoretical basis, counsellors –​Althusius (whose analysis of counselling is based on the works of authors like Gentillet) added –​need to be experienced and ‘well acquainted with public affairs’, to the extent that they should prefer experience even to academic teachers or political theorists.75 Althusius’ discussion of political prudence, ending as it does with an overview of the function of the counsellor in politics, is already a post-​Machiavellian account of the virtue of prudence. By ‘post-​Machiavellian’, I mean that this account is aware of the realist elements of Machiavelli’s thought, although it does not accept its amoral dimension. Althusius’ thinking on prudence is inspired in this respect still by Cicero, who was likewise a practising statesman whose view of political theorising had to be similarly realistic, but who also had normative demands, beyond political and rhetorical techniques. Althusius’ account of prudence, as we have seen, is Ciceronian; in other words, it belongs to a tradition which holds that the main task of prudence is to create and preserve concord (lat. concordia, Greek homonoia) and harmony in a society, and to avoid faction (Lat. factio, Greek stasis) and political crisis. This is achievable by decorum, which involves taking the appropriate decision, and acting accordingly. His theory is made the more credible by the fact that, as


See Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier (London: Penguin, 1976). It was originally published in Venice in 1528. See also Peter Burke, The Fortunes of the Courtier. The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995). 73 Althusius, Politica, p. 156. 74 Ibid., p. 157. 75 Ibid., p. 157.



a political leader in Emden, Althusius seems to have exercised precisely that level of prudence.


Drawing upon some recent literature on Althusius and his urban context, this chapter has shown that the radical Calvinist political thinker Johannes Althusius’ political theory proposed unity of mind (concordia, homonoia) as the best way to avoid faction, as faction could lead to conflict (stasis) and even to political crisis, both within a political community and in intercommunal relationships. Special significance has been attributed to the fact that he was not simply a political thinker but also a practising urban magistrate and a local pastor. The test of the Aristotelian discussion of disorder and conflict for him was the applicability of its insights to the recent denominationally-​motivated conflicts in the East Friesland city of Emden. Following the success of the first edition of his work of Aristotelian political theory, Politica methodice digesta, Althusius was invited to take the office of Syndic (chief magistrate) in the thriving city of Emden. This city was in the midst of internal and external crises; in the aftermath of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572); and in the middle of the Dutch revolt. It appears that its council and patrician elite were convinced of the utility of Althusius’ theory, and their confidence was to be borne out: the theory proved its viability in practice –​and Althusius was able to draw on valuable further experiences to expand the second and third editions of the book. Moreover, while theologically Althusius belonged to a reforming wing of Calvinism, the preceding pages have argued that his political intention was not to overturn the social order, or to push forward urban democratisation. On the contrary, he favoured preserving order and like-​mindedness, along traditional lines, in a conservative vein, as a means of overcoming crisis and faction. In Althusius’ version of the classical tradition, the starting point was that ‘Politics is the art of associating [consociandi] men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them’.76 While proceeding from this starting point to the theoretical support of concord seems to be a logical necessity, Althusius advanced further arguments to bolster his position. The most important of these was an Aristotelian view: that faction leads to conflict, which can be fatal for a political community, while concord is the 76

Ibid., p. 17.

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best way to avoid faction. It is therefore both desirable and objectively right to do whatever is required to preserve concord in order to avoid the fatal consequences of faction. To establish what needs to be done in order to preserve concord and avoid stasis, chief magistrates must rely on their own virtue of prudence. Althusius’ prudence is post-​Machiavellian, but unlike that of the Florentine secretary, his is not amoral. Rather, Althusius gave a Protestant overtone to his account of prudence, which was, however, more realistic than traditional moralist accounts of it. Its standard was decorum or propriety: the Ciceronian idea that the right decision fits the occasion, namely specific circumstances and particular moments. This realism, echoing some of the ideas expressed in reason of state thinkers like Botero, also entails ‘an alien and borrowed prudence’, lent to the magistrate by his counsellors. The counsellor is a major player of the court literature of the age; one who is not only prudent, but one who can also play the game of simulatio and dissimulatio, while having the capacity for silence. Althusius the theorist was thus able to explain a great deal of what Althusius the practical town leader did to overcome the political crisis affecting his city of Emden.77

Select Bibliography

Althusius, Johannes, Politica. An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodologically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995; ed. and transl. Frederick S. Carney). Cicero, On the Ideal Orator, in James M. May and Jakob Wisse transl. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Secondary Sources

Behnen, Michael, ‘Herrscherbild und Herrschaftstechnik in der Politica des Johannes Althusius’, Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 11:4 (1984), pp. 417−472. Friedeburg, Robert von, Self-​Defence and Religious Strife in Early Modern Europe: England and Germany, 1530–​1680 (New York and London: Routledge, 2002). Hotson, Howard, ‘The Conservative Face of Contractual Theory: The Monarchomach Servants of the Count of Nassau-​Dillenburg’, in E. Bonfatti et al. (eds), Politische 77

I am grateful to the editors of the present volume for their suggestions; to Stephen Patrick for polishing the chapter’s English; as well as to Andrea Robotka for her careful help in copying the text and its philological apparatus. No need to say that its remaining faults are fully my own responsibility.



Begriffe und Historisches Umfeld in der Politica Methodice des Johannes Althusius (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2002), pp. 251–​289. Hörcher, Ferenc, A Political Philosophy of Conservatism. Prudence, Moderation and Tradition (London: Bloomsbury, 2020). Hueglin, Thomas O., Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World. Althusius on Community and Federalism (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999). Schilling, Heinz, ‘The European Crisis of the 1590s: The Situation in the German Towns’, in Peter Clark (ed.), The European Crisis of the 1590s (London and Boston: G. Allen & Unwin, 1985), pp. 135–​156. Tuck, Richard, Philosophy and Government 1572–​1651 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

­c hapter 11

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy of Public Credit (1775–​1791) George Gallwey


Modern democracies owe much to the discourse of rights, liberties, and progress derived from the Age of Revolutions.1 However, as much as the late eighteenth century remains identified with the spirit of improvement in human welfare, the intellectual history of that time was equally defined by intense, often pessimistic, speculation and debate over the future of humanity; a prospect many associated with crisis and decline, as much as with progress and optimism. One issue which came to loom ominously over the future of European states concerned the growth in public debt of Europe’s imperial monarchies. The reliance of both Britain and France on innovations in public finance and markets for sovereign debt, came to be seen by many as a driving force for the kind of collapse and corruption not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. Far from securing representative government or readying societies for emergency, public debt was widely considered a sign of increasing militarism, moral bankruptcy, and rising despotism. Thought experiments on the fateful trajectory of indebted states, employed diluvial imagery, reflecting the potential for financial crises to let loose a cascade of bad debts, and in the process washing away the foundations of social and political order.2

1 R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–​1800, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014; revised edn); Joanna Innes and Mark Philp (eds), Re-​imagining Democracy in the Age if Revolutions. America, France, Britain, and Ireland 1750–​1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Gareth Stedman Jones, An End to Poverty: A Historical Debate (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). 2 J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment; Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975); Michael Sonenscher, Before the Deluge: Public Debt, Inequality, and the Intellectual Origins of the French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade International Competition and the Nation State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_013



David Hume (1711–​1776) offered one of the eighteenth century’s most famous analyses of political and economic crisis along these very lines in his essay ‘Of Public Credit’ (1752). Here the risks of public debt were nothing less than the destruction of property rights and even civil society itself. For Hume, the internal and external implications of mortgaging public revenue, contracted future wealth and security for the verisimilar needs of the present. This made it highly likely that future generations would pass the burdens of debt onto the next, so beginning an unvirtuous cycle of escalating liabilities. Disputing the connection between the use of public debt as a ‘kind of money’ and the increase in a state’s commerce or industry, Hume judged the more likely consequence to be the concentration of financial capital and political power, in a movement towards despotism. In these circumstances he envisioned two scenarios; one in which a state voluntarily bankrupted itself, the other in which a state found its debt violently expunged as a consequence of invasion and conquest. Faced with the latter threat, debt cancellation, with all its terrible implications for property rights, became the only strategy of survival; in Hume’s memorable words, ‘either the nation must destroy public credit, or public credit will destroy the nation’.3 Hume identified Great Britain as visibly walking toward such a crisis. It was for this reason that John Pocock interpreted Hume’s understanding of the American crisis of the 1760s and 1770s to be consistent with aspects of the colonist’s own ideology of revolt, rooted in an older tradition of ‘country’ opposition thought.4 The British colonists were avid readers of Hume’s writings, particularly his History of England (1754) and it was in 1775 that a young Alexander Hamilton (1755/​57–​1804) penned a defence of the colonists’ constitutional rights on taxation and the regulation of trade, invoking a theory of unitary sovereignty for the British Empire in which the King rather than Parliament provided the connective tissues uniting its territories and peoples. In later speeches Hamilton drew upon Hume’s account of Parliament’s gradual accretion of powers beyond its jurisdiction and its encroachment upon royal prerogatives.5

3 David Hume, ‘Of Public Credit’, in Knud Haakonssen (ed.), Hume’s Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 166–​174. 4 J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 132. 5 Alexander Hamilton, ‘The Farmer Refuted, &c., 23 February 1775’, in Harold C. Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), pp. 81–​165. For Hume’s influence in early America see e.g. Mark G. Spencer, David Hume and Eighteenth Century America (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2005). On Hume’s importance to Patriot arguments on the sovereignty of the Crown against Parliament, see e.g. Eric Nelson,

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 237

Hamilton’s reputation as a founder has always been controversial and ambiguous. As first Secretary of the Treasury (1789–​1795) and a leading member of the Federalist party, he was identified by his Jeffersonian critics as a hypocrite, a Tory monarchist, and an anti-​republican Anglophile, intent on the same kind of malign political influence as Robert Walpole.6 However, as an attentive reader of Hume, Hamilton would have been highly aware of the arguments the former had made on the corrupting nature of modern debt-​ based finance.7 Although there are multiple lines of Humean influence in his thinking, Hamilton regarded the modern system of public credit as providing the basis for securing American sovereignty, its wealth and welfare, through an integrated domestic and foreign policy. More fundamentally, he reversed the scenario Hume had sketched out, demonstrating in the American case, how public credit would lay the foundation for durable sovereignty and accelerated improvement in a world where human antagonisms within and between states required permanent readiness for crises. His response to the American fiscal crisis of the 1780s was secured by his conviction that public credit was the central underlying structure of modern sovereignty, without which political authority, representation, and commercial prosperity could be neither stable nor durable. Culminating in his famous reports to Congress in the early 1790s, Hamilton’s political project developed from his own original reflection on the relationship between financial crisis and political union. His writing addressed the internal and external necessity of public credit, linking problems of civil disorder with the threats posed by imperial and commercial competition from European powers.

The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 20, 196–​197. 6 For an account of Hamilton’s life and his contested legacy for politics and the economy, see e.g. Douglas Ambrose’s introductory essay in Ambrose and Robert W.T. Martin (eds), The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life and Legacy of America’s Most Elusive Founding Father (New York: New York University Press, 2006). 7 For Hume’s influence on Hamilton’s political thought see e.g. John M. Werner, ‘David Hume and America’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 33:3 (1972), pp. 439–​456; Simon, The Ideology of Creole Revolution, pp. 60–​63; Walling, Republican Empire, pp. 28–​29; Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970).



Oeconomy, Public Debt, and Political Union

Crises of public credit were a recurring problem during the American Revolution and remained so even after the conclusion of the War of Independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783). The bankruptcy of the Continental Congress, its default on foreign loans, inflationary currency, and lack of access to foreign or domestic loans, continued the tumultuous period of financial instability experienced during the Revolution, where a non-​existent credit rating in foreign capital markets reflected the absence of international recognition of its claims to independence.8 Both the Continental Congress and the states had resorted to a well-​established practice of issuing paper currency by American legislatures as tax anticipation notes or bearer bonds.9 The scale and duration of Congress’ reliance on this method has gone down in history as a disaster in which the over issuance of continental dollars triggered bankruptcy. Members of Congress justified the policy as an act of necessity, even as they recorded their horror at the spectacle of floods of worthless paper money, seeming to confirm British accusations of the immorality and illegality of the American cause.10 The bankruptcy of the United States continued well into the mid-​1780s with an attempt to float a loan on foreign markets failing in 1786.11 As the United States experienced a prolonged commercial depression, many in Congress diagnosed the problems of public finance as one of fiscal and moral mismanagement. Irresponsible popular legislative bodies, passing tax and debtor relief measures, had imperilled attempts to make payment to the public creditors by printing paper currency on the old colonial model. Benjamin Rush (1746–​1814) understood the financial crisis of the 1780s as a fever or malady, which had disrupted the oeconomy of the body politic. It had originated in the Revolutionary 8

E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, A History of American Public Finance, 1776–​ 1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961). On the international recognition of sovereignty and independence, see e.g. David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Eliga H. Gould, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 9 Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, pp. 3–​25; Farley Grubb, ‘Is Paper Money Just Paper Money? Experimentation and Variation in the Paper Monies Issued by the American Colonies From 1690 to 1775’, NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper 17997. 10 On the immorality of Congress’ currency emissions, see the contemporary account of Thomas-​François Guillaume, The Revolution of America by the Abbe Raynal (Dublin: C. Talbot, 1781), p. 54. 11 Douglass A. Irwin, Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), p. 55.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 239

circulation of mass paper currency whose lack of material backing had undermined property rights in trade and public morals. He was referring to the ‘disease’ of speculation in paper currency and debt certificates issued against the credit of Continental Congress.12 From the early 1780s public and private oeconomy were described as republican strategies to restore America’s public credit through the careful management of the states’ and union’s revenues and expenditures. Rush, who became a fierce critic of paper currency not backed by specie, described how a speculation had ‘unhinged the judgement, deposed the moral faculty, and filled the imagination, in many people, with airy and impracticable schemes of wealth and grandeur’. He used the history of the Israelites crossing from Egypt into the promised land to warn of the dangers of moral and commercial corruption.13 It was also idiomatic of the sense in which American political thought on questions of commerce and money was part theodicy, where the circulation of paper currency in excessive quantities was like the biblical flood. The floods of paper money were responsible for victory in the war and as Hamilton himself stated; this part of the public debt had been the ‘price of independence’, a cost which if unpaid, imperilled not just the reputation but survival of the United States.14 Redemption of the outstanding revolutionary debt became a matter of literal repayment but also atonement in the eyes of the founding generation. Redeeming debt was expressed in the language of political Hebraism and attached to notions of spiritual and constitutional renewal.15 Alongside Hebraic and Christian conceptions of the American nation, the genealogy of oeconomy derived from the ancient conception of politics. Though Aristotle’s (385–​323 bce) Politics had considered the governance of the household to be only ancillary to the higher form of life found in the polis, there nonetheless developed a strong historical connection between the strength of a state and its careful management of resources.16 Hamilton’s own conception of oeconomy expressed a commercial republican understanding of politics 12 13 14 15 16

Benjamin Rush, ‘An Account of the Influence of the Military and Political Events of the American Revolution Upon the Human Body’, in idem, Medical Enquiries and Observations, By Benjamin Rush, M.D. (Philadephia: 1789), pp. 215–​227, p. 225. Nestor, ‘Thoughts on Paper Money’, The American Museum (July, 1787), p. 40. Alexander Hamilton, ‘Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit, 9 January 1790’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6, pp. 65–110, p. 69. Samuel Langdon, ‘The Republic of the Israelites, An Example to the American States’, in Ellis Sandoz (ed.) Political Sermons of the Founding Era, vol. 1 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998), pp. 114–​115. Jacob Soll, The Reckoning, Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p. 14.



with financial stewardship at its heart.17 The treasury was the vital centre of any government, whose status was likely to produce intense political infighting over its management.18 He effectively took the long established Ciceronian maxim that money was the sinews of war and provided a modern argument concerning its centrality to the intertwined problems of war and commerce. In this way, he drew from his experiences as George Washington’s aide de camp in the Revolutionary War. In the spring of 1780, one of the worst periods of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton described the inability of the Continental Army to muster supplies and troops to carry on the fight: ‘the Country exhausted; the people dispirited’ and the ‘reputation of these States in Europe sunk … Our Enemies deriving new credit; new confidence, new resources’.19 Witnessing at first hand the failure of the states and Continental Congress to provide a fractious army, bordering on mutiny, with resources and money, Hamilton first set down his thoughts on the problem of American sovereignty and its crucial relationship to public credit. In a letter to his friend the New York attorney, James Duane (1733–​1797), in the autumn of 1780, Hamilton outlined the steps he thought the Confederation should take in order to secure victory in the war and to cement the ‘weak and disunited federal government’. Congress’ weakness had arisen from an imbalance of power between the government and the states, so that the latter now ‘show a jealousy of all not in their own hands’.20 This rivalry had led the states to take more power over the organisation of the army and the disbursement of funds for its support and had prevented Congress from establishing its own credit based on its receipt of state contributions. Noting that the Confederation ‘gives the power of the purse too intirely to the state legislatures’ for ‘that power, which holds the purse strings absolutely, must rule’, Hamilton instead imagined the almost ‘complete’ surrendering of sovereignty from the states in ‘war, peace, trade, finance, and to the management of foreign affairs’ to Congress. Such an arrangement would be solidified by the importance of a funded debt, which was ‘productive in its nature … and at the disposal of a single will’.21 As such the powers of public credit in the right to issue debt, manage 17 18 19 20 21

On commercial republicanism, see e.g. David Wootton (ed.), Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649–​1776 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). ‘Alexander Hamilton to Edward Carrington, 26 May 1792’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 11, pp. 426–​445. Quoted in John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1 (New York, 1834), p. 258. ‘Alexander Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 400–​418, p. 401. Hamilton, ‘Report on an Impost Duty 1782’, in Henry Cabot Lodge (ed.), The Works of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2 (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1971), pp. 179–​191, p. 184.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 241

money, and collect taxes were special forms of corporate power. The scale of debts incurred in the cause of war had created the need for a new sovereign body, capable of discharging liabilities and gaining life or motion through the capacities which a circulating debt, monetised by a national bank, offered for commercial improvement. Hamilton’s writing on public debt could be usefully compared to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s (1712–​1778) conception of public economy which involved understanding the structure of the body politic, its anatomy and principles of life, as a part of the obligation of society to care for its members, but in determining the General Will.22 Hamilton showed a strong aptitude for the kind of political arithmetic which had appeared in the writings of early political economists, including William Petty (1623-​1687).23 His correspondence with Robert Morris (1734–​ 1806) and Duane included national accounting measures designed to ascertain the potential revenue able to be extracted from those living within the borders of the United States. Using Hume’s figures, the wealth of France, Great Britain, and the United Provinces, was analysed by way of the proportion between the quantity of their circulating money and their total revenue. By using the most commercially advanced states as comparative indices for the United States, he intentionally sought to emulate the relationship between the revenue and expenditure of these large and commercially advanced states. The radical aim was to transform the United States, speeding up its commercial development through the use of public credit, from an agrarian system of confederated republics into a modern body politic with an integrated or mixed private and public economy. Given the scope of this ambition, it was significant that Hamilton began to address the problem of despotism in this context, recognising how the power to delegate and extract taxation from citizens, was most effectively exercised by despotic states. Free societies paid the heaviest taxes, a paradox Hamilton thought key to the character of modern freedoms. More to the point, the necessities of the moment, or reason of state, required powerful extensions to the machinery of the state.24 In effect, the conditions of 22

23 24

For discussion see e.g. Keith Tribe, The Economy of the Word: Language, History, and Economics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 43–​44. Rousseau of course was an inveterate critic of the system of public debt in Europe’s corrupt monarchies: Michael Sonenscher, ‘The Nation’s Debt and the Birth of the Modern Republic: The French Fiscal Deficit and the Politics of the Revolution of 1789’, History of Political Thought, 18 (1997), pp. 64–​103. Bill McCormick, William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). ‘Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 400–​418, 410.



necessity or crisis were highly useful for expanding governmental power in the way Hamilton imagined.25

Commerce, War, and the American State

Hamilton’s ideas and his policies in government have been taken to be consistent with the emergence of the United States as a nation state, through the consolidation of fiscal centralisation and unitary sovereignty.26 However, this view of Hamilton misses the sense in which the language of American empire and nation were still conceptually related and not historically contingent on the phasing out of the former by the latter.27 The complexity of American affairs ruled out a centralisation of power or ‘an empire under one simple form of government’ exercising imperium over ‘counties, provinces, or districts’.28 The context for Hamilton’s thinking was one of small republics in a world of empires. In this context the term nation was specific to diplomatic relations and the law of nations, an external state form. It made little difference what the internal constitution of such a state comprised, whether empire, republic, or kingdom. Constructing a national government to support a continental American empire, one founded on representation and democratic consent, required mastering the powers of credit and coercion to defend and foster a prosperous union as an assembly of states. In this way the precedents Hamilton drew upon were commercial republican states whose commerce and defence supported powerful financial oligarchies. Italian republics (specifically, Venice and Genoa) had initiated the practice of instituting ‘national banks’, which were the ‘happiest engines ever […] invented’ for ‘advancing trade’ by the ‘increase of public and private credit’.29 An official provision of 1470 described 25

Along with its medical associations with fever, the eighteenth century understanding of ‘crisis’ included the very specific sense of the ‘conjunction of events’ that ‘created a favorable opportunity for action’ (Van Cleeve, We Have Not a Government, pp. 9, 312). 26 For interpretations of the American Founding Era with fiscal power and the nation-​state as the focus of events, see e.g. Ben Black, ‘Forging a Nation State: The Continental Congress and the Financing of the War of American Independence’, The Economic History Review, 54:4 (2001), pp. 639–​656; Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government; Origins of the US Constitution and the Making of the American State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 27 David C. Hendrickson, Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2003). 28 ‘Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, pp. 402–​403. 29 ‘Hamilton to Robert Morris, 30 April 1781’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 604–​635, pp. 615–​620.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 243

the system of consolidated debt in Florence as ‘the heart of this body which we call city, whose every limb, large and small, must contribute to preserving this heart as the guardian fortress, immovable rock and enduring certainty of the salvation of the whole body and government of your State’.30 The strategy of channelling private funds towards the aims of state policy, not just its exigencies, would come to define Hamilton’s approach to financial and trade policy. It was not enough to provide the Continental Congress with sufficient revenue from taxation and the regulation of foreign commerce. Like the Scottish and English precedent of ‘incorporation and Union’, Hamilton imagined the marriage of public and private credit in a reformed American constitution finding its realisation in a funded debt and a national bank. Working in tandem, this would ‘erect a mass of credit that will supply the defect of monied capitals and answer all the purposes of cash, a plan which will offer adventurers immediate advantages analogous to those they receive by employing their money in trade, and eventually greater advantages’.31 In his later contributions to The Federalist Papers (1788) Hamilton depicted the division of powers within a confederacy government as comparable to the reformed feudal aristocracies of England and Scotland. Feudalism functioned much like a system of confederacy and it tended to encourage not only a competition for power between the chieftain and his subordinate vassals, but a greater sentimental attachment of the people to the latter. On the same basis as a man is more attached to his family than to his neighbours, ad infinitum, so too would the state governments retain the sentimental attachment of their citizens over a national government. Unless ‘the force of that principle’ could be ‘destroyed’ by a better administration of the latter’.32 His fear of rising regional confederacies in America was an illustration of the failure of the balance of power as a model for political union. Structural conditions in America prevented any viable balance: ‘some of the states will be powerful empires’ and ‘remote from other nations we shall have all the leisure’ to ‘cut each other’s throats’.33 Unlike his contemporaries, Hamilton did not make substantial use of the language of virtue to specifically analyse the failure of the states to supply Congress with the money it needed. Instead, he carried out a structural 30 31 32 33

L. F. Marks, ‘The Development of the Institutions of Public Finance in Florence During the Last Sixty Years of the Republic, 1470–​1530’, PhD diss., University of Oxford, 1954, p. 20. ‘Hamilton to Robert Morris, 30 April 1781’, pp. 612–​617. Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 17’, in Henry Cabot Lodge (ed.), The Works of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 11 (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1904), pp. 129–​135, p. 131. ‘Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, pp. 403–​406.



analysis of the existing Confederation, drawing upon historical precedent as a guide to the present problems of Congress, a diplomatic body akin to an international union of states.34 Further underscoring his departure from traditional republican thought, Hamilton quoted at length Hume’s essay of 1753 ‘Of the Independency of Parliament’ on the passions and human nature; ‘contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave’ and ‘to have no other end in all his actions, but private interest’.35 Such a view on the destructive passions of human nature, and the need to find a means of their control or check had a long genealogy.36 For Hamilton, it was because of their commitment to political equality that republics and democracies were so susceptible to the internal anarchy of popular passions, which could easily spill over into external aggression. States understood as externally orientated nations would not find a common orbit but would pursue their self-​interest just as private citizens pursued their own benefit as individuals in a state of nature. Public credit was uniquely constitutive of sovereignty and productive of commercial value, but only if it could be secured through a constitutional union whose executive and military powers were centralised under one government. Hamilton extended his critique of the revolutionary oeconomy of finance to the administration of the Confederation’s government. If the American Revolutionary War had relied upon tapping the resources of public property and credit, the lesson of those years was the unique chaos of relying upon the local and purely public pooling of resources across a composite union of states. Instead Hamilton envisioned the capacity of a relatively small pool of capital to be the basis for strengthening the commercial and political power of the United States.37 Such a strategy favoured, as Morris put it, ‘distributing property into those hands which could render it most productive’.38 Here we see how Hamilton’s views on the necessity of securing a circulating financial capital as part of the energy or vitality of a state, was also tied to what Richard Tuck has recently described as the distinction between sovereignty

34 Hendrickson, Peace Pact, pp. 36–​40. 35 Hamilton, ‘The Farmer Refuted, &c.’, p. 95. 36 Albert Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013; revised edn). 37 ‘Hamilton to Robert Morris, 30 April 1781’, pp. 615–​620. 38 ‘Notes on Debates, 29 January 1783’, in Robert A. Rutland and Charles F. Hobson (eds), The Papers of James Madison, vol. 6 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977), pp. 158–​169, p. 169.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 245

and government.39 Financial management would be partly privatised to wealthy capitalists guiding the American state into commercial prosperity, while the fiscal architecture of the state would be governed by men of wealth and influence in government. Hamilton described the principle of consent to be crucial to the process of forming an American union in which sovereignty, derived from the people, would constitute one complete and absolute power.40 Although he supported principles of political equality between branches of the constitution, he favoured ‘a vigorous executive’ as not ‘inconsistent with the genius of republican government’. Illustrating the way in which his understanding of republicanism was more commercial than classical, he described the appointment of men of fortune and fame (dissimilar in their abilities and wealth, than the majority of the population) to the executive departments of government as a sure means of giving ‘method and energy’ to an administration.41 By taking advantage of representation, the useful passions of pride and ambition, a new American constitution could ‘blend the advantages of a monarchy and republic’.42 Without a permanent role for the ‘rich and well-​born’ in government, there would be no check to the instability and impermanence of the majority.43 Hamilton concurred with Machiavelli on the role of emergency powers of the Roman dictatorship as a defence against internal and external crises of power. The necessity of a strong unitary executive, as he outlined it in The Federalist Papers was for the ‘protection of property’ from domestic conspiracies and foreign attacks.44 He tied the principle of strong executive authority over foreign affairs to the capacity for ‘putting a personal face to sovereign 39 Richard Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign: The Invention of Modern Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). 40 As Hamilton went on to explain, according to the Constitution of 1787, the federal and state governments had total power over their own areas of jurisdiction, meaning that it was not possible to deny the right of the former to enforce its sovereignty by claiming an exception to the extent of its power. For this explanation of sovereignty, see Hamilton, ‘Final Version of an Opinion on the Constitutionality of an Act to Establish a Bank, 23 February 1791’, in Syrett (ed.) The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 8, pp. 97–​134. 41 Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 70’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, pp. 599–​602; ‘Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, p. 408. 42 As Tuck points out, Hamilton was the first to use the term ‘representative democracy’: Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign, p. 7. Hamilton’s analysis of pride and ambition was in keeping with Montesquieu’s thinking: Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests, pp. 70–​ 80. For Hamilton’s use of Montesquieu, see Walling, Republican Empire, pp. 107–​116. 43 Max Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), p. 371. 44 Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 70’, p. 599.



credit’, shoring up American credit among international lenders by instituting trust in the honouring of debt.45 In his early 1780s correspondence Hamilton discussed the creation of a fiscal architecture which would channel taxation and private wealth from domestic creditors into the war effort and once peace was established, provide liquidity for commerce, trade, and manufacturing. The task was to convince capitalists, those who were interested in investing in the public funds, to lend their money for the ‘wants of the government’, bringing their ‘means together and uniting them with the public’.46 His plan for the assumption and consolidation of the individual states’ debts and for a national bank was essentially a means to draw out the useful ‘monied capitals’, being denied from circulation by the reluctance of private citizens to part with their specie.47 Understanding the vulnerability of America not just to war but to jealousy of trade, Hamilton’s intellectual response to the challenges of post-​war independence was immersed in the arguments over the future of Europe’s great powers, namely British and French imperial competition and its implications for smaller states caught in their orbit.48 The fiscal crisis facing the Confederation in the mid-​1780s was joined by the mounting crisis over trade policy. Despite American attempts, British reluctance to accept the United States as a commercial power with whom it would sign a commercial treaty posed a serious blow. American trade was faced with new restrictions from Britain, France, and Spain. Congress sought in vain to be granted the power to regulate foreign and domestic commerce. Continuing his criticisms of the Confederation’s constitution, he ran for office in the New York State Assembly in 1786, specifically to oppose New York’s protective tariffs on intercontinental goods. He was a delegate to the Annapolis convention (1786) which met to consider harmonising trade policy across the states. A year later in The Federalist Papers Hamilton pressed the case that without a stronger union the American states would in time find themselves in a crisis born of jealousy of commerce.49


Mark Somos, ‘Varieties of the Secularisation in English and Dutch Public and International Law’, PhD diss., University of Leiden, 2014, p. 321. 46 ‘Hamilton to Robert Morris, 30 April 1781’, pp. 617–​618. 47 Ibid. 48 Richard Whatmore, Against War and Empire: Geneva, Britain, and France in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). 49 Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 7’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, pp. 319–​326. Hamilton uses the phrase ‘jealousy of commerce’ in his notes at the time of the Constitutional Convention: ‘Alexander Hamilton’s Notes [18 June 1787]’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, pp. 178–​187, p. 182.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 247

For Hume, commerce was Janus-​faced, in that it could afford tremendous advance in the welfare of a state’s population, and yet entailed competition with other states over the profits and resources of trade.50 Commerce might suggest a different logic of cooperation and reciprocity than that of warfare, but the modern fusion of both together, in the form of ‘jealousy of trade’, was highly destructive.51 Hamilton followed Hume’s argument. The financial powers of the modern mercantile state were the most destructive expression of the linking together of commerce and militarism since the decline of European feudalism established territorial monarchies.52 To the problem of civil disorder and paper money made visible by Shays’ Rebellion (1786–​1787), Hamilton employed the history of ‘petty republics’ and the circular motions of the body politic; ‘seditions and insurrections are unhappily maladies as inseparable from the body politic, as tumours and eruptions from the natural body’. Without coercive powers for arbitration and the extraction of revenue, the problems of disorder and commercial jealousy would lead to ‘disunion, anarchy, and misery’.53 Unlike his critics, Hamilton always remained skeptical of a view of modern politics in which commerce was deemed capable of permanently pacifying the competitive rivalry of states. In the reception of The Wealth of Nations (1776) among American readers, Adam Smith’s (1723–​1790) arguments on the role of commerce in fostering the relations of states were grafted onto existing contentions about the possibility of establishing a permanent peace among European powers.54 Hamilton, however, understood Smith’s point about commerce and peace quite differently. The ‘industrious habits of the people of the present day, absorbed in the pursuit of gain’, meant that professional, rather than citizen, armies were the future, since the character of modern manners were quite different, with men feeling less inclined to face the horrors of war when alternative means of gaining status were available.55 For a young and not opulent nation, understanding, respecting, and implementing financial principles was essential to successful defence and the growth 50 51

Hume, ‘Of Civil Liberty’, in Haakonssen (ed.), Hume’s Political Essays, pp. 51–​57, p. 51. For Hume’s arguments on jealousy of trade and its importance for eighteenth century political economy see e.g. Hont, Jealousy of Trade. For Hume’s original essay, ‘Of the Jealousy of Trade’, see Haakonssen (ed.), Hume’s Political Essays, pp. 150–​153. 52 Somos, Varieties of the Secularisation, p. 326. 53 Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 28’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, pp. 439–​443, p. 439. 54 Drew McCoy, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), p. 44. 55 Cited in Walling, Republican Empire, p. 182.



of foreign commerce. Questions of domestic union and of preserving independence from foreign powers formed two sides of the problem of American sovereignty. Hamilton’s observations of the League of Armed Neutrality (1780–​ 1783) during the Revolution had convinced him of the ‘opportunities offered’ to the United States ‘by the international will to counterbalance British domination’.56 If American could find its way towards a stronger union, then it could benefit from the continued warring of Europe’s naval powers, but only if it could avoid being dragged into ‘the pernicious labyrinths of European politics and wars’.57 Commercial neutrality came to encompass a range of associations including the neutral approach of a federal government to internal and external conflict as it affected the American union. In this respect, the ‘protection of foreign capital’ under the law was a key aspect of good governance.58 Hamilton explored the latter point as part of his Letters of Phocion (1784) where he defended Loyalists against confiscation of property by New York’s legislature. Although many states ignored such provisions, under Article 4 of the Treaty of Paris, debts owed to both Loyalists and Patriots were to be honoured. Hamilton’s quotation of Emer Vattel (1714–​1767) on the law of nations was consistent in this respect with the recent recognition that both public and private debts were to be honoured by the sovereigns of Europe as contracts protected by the safety of commerce against the violation of ‘public trust’.59 In several of his contributions to The Federalist Papers, Hamilton linked the need for establishing strong public credit with the principle of armed neutrality in foreign commerce. The new federal Constitution enforced provisions against the frustration of treaties by the individual states and prohibited them from issuing paper currency or from interfering with foreign or domestic contracts. The utility of the Constitution lay in its equalising the rights of foreign and domestic creditors through the ‘retroactive protection’ of ‘private debt, foreign public debt, and domestic public debt’.60 Honouring past debts would make future debts more valuable.

56 Somos, Varieties of the Secularisation, p. 318. 57 Hamilton, ‘The Federalist No. 7’, pp. 319–​326, p. 320. 58 Daniel J. Hulsebosch, ‘Being Seen Like a State: How Americans (and Britons) Built the Constitutional Infrastructure of a Developing Nation’, William and Mary Law Review, 59:1239 (2018), pp. 1239–​1319, p. 1244. 59 Emer Vattel, The Law of Nations (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008; eds Bela Kapossy and Richard Whatmore), p. 513. 60 Cited in Daniel J. Hulsebosch, ‘From Imperial to International Law: Protecting Foreign Expectations in the Early United States’, UCLA Law Review (March 2018), https://​www.​from-​imperial-​to-​international-​law/​.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 249

Crises of Sovereignty and the Temporal Dimensions of Public Credit

Hamilton’s proposed policies on public credit and manufacturing as they appeared in the reports of 1790 and 1791, grew out of the preceding six or seven years of failed American attempts to establish commercial treaties and alliances with foreign powers. America would struggle to break into foreign markets without engaging in trade wars or alliances. There was a clear necessity of remaining neutral in international commerce and war while providing through policy the beginnings of a strategy of self-​sufficiency for the United States own domestic commerce.61 The argument for emulating institutions of finance in America, those resembling the most advanced practices of contemporary states, was also meant to provide a large degree of self-​sufficiency or insulation from Europe. In his Report on Public Credit, Hamilton showed how assuming the liabilities of the states, combining them with those owed by the union, and consolidating the debt, the effect would be to mortgage the new-​found sovereignty of the republic. Domestic and international capitalists would recognise its probability of survival and its profitability as a long-​term investment. By turning debts into assets, the federal government’s indebtedness became a measure of its capacity for commercial independence by linking together the productive capacity of its public debts with an accelerated plan for commercial development. Hamilton had studied Hume’s Political Discourses (1752), containing the essay ‘Of Public Credit’, before the Revolution. As a commonly read and cited piece in the 1780s, the most quoted passage was not related to the problem of crisis but rather the benefits of public debts: ‘More men, therefore, with large stocks and incomes may naturally be suppos’d to continue in trade, where there are public debts: And this, it must be own’d, is of some advantage to commerce, by diminishing its profits, promoting circulation, and encouraging industry’.62 Hamilton’s arguments on public credit largely rejected the contention that the market for public debt was inherently unstable, leading in extremis to sovereign crisis.63 This was in many ways an obvious outcome of the fact that

61 Somos, Varieties of the Secularisation, p. 319. 62 ‘Introductory Note: Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6, pp., 46–​56, p. 55. For the edition of Hume’s writing from which the quote derives see David Hume, Political Discourses (Edinburgh, 1752), p. 128. 63 See Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970).



as a revolutionary republic, the crisis of American sovereignty had been the absence of credit, which had led Congress and the states to appropriate private property. Establishing the financial architecture of public credit was the basis for an integrated conception of political economy, especially necessary for a young state locked out of international markets. It was the ‘expected’ ‘exigencies’ or ‘emergencies’ in ‘the affairs of nations’ which made public borrowing a ‘necessity’, especially in a country ‘possessed of little active wealth’ or ‘monied capital’.64 The plan called for issuing new federal bonds to be exchanged for the full value of state and federal debts, with a lower rate of interest. Since the Federal government had no money, he requested the contracting of new foreign loans to pay off the existing debt abroad and to help finance payments on domestic debts. By agreeing to pay the interest in the form of annuities to the public creditors, it would honour its obligations and fund a permanent debt. A quick resolution would see a rise in the value of securities which would discourage speculative attacks on the debt by foreign markets or sceptical domestic creditors.65 In acknowledging the dangers of public debt for the stability of the federal state, Hamilton used the example of Britain with a clear nod towards the kind of effects described by Hume in ‘Of Public Credit’. It was the ‘great disorder’ of the British state which had forced it under conditions of necessity to make peace with America, since Britain’s ‘public debt had almost arrived at that point, when the expenses of a peace establishment were nearly equal to all the revenues they were able to extract from exhausting the sources of taxation. Had they carried on the war till they had exceeded this point, a bankruptcy would have been the inevitable consequence’.66 Hamilton very deliberately countered the claim that ‘public debts were public benefits’, a ‘position’ which, as he put it, encouraged excess in government finances. Instead, Hamilton laid down the view that provision for public debt had to be accompanied by the ‘means of its extinguishment’. Given that Hamilton had spent much of the 1780s writing and thinking about the utility of public credit, such a remark might seem disingenuous. But the circulation of the public debt as ‘artificial 64 65


Hamilton, ‘Report Relative to a Provision’, pp. 65–​67. Hamilton saw that payments on the new loans would be less expensive because they were contracted at a lower rate of interest. See e.g. Richard Sylla, ‘Financial Foundations: Public Credit, the National Bank, and Securities Markets’, in Douglas A. Irwin and Richard Sylla (eds), Founding Choices, American Economic Policy in the 1790s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Hamilton, ‘Letters from Phocion’, ii, in Carson Holloway and Bradford P. Wilson (eds), The Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 240–​259, p. 255.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 251

capital’ could –​just like ‘plethora in the political’ and ‘natural body’ –​be too great.67 Yet, as he admitted, determining the safe limit of public debt was ‘the critical point’ whose location ‘cannot be pronounced’ so easily.68 Using the familiar Enlightenment metaphors of fluid circulation, Hamilton averred the importance of finding balance in the management of the public debt. Management or oeconomy was a term he employed in Report on the Subject of Manufactures (1791) to describe how the ‘division of labour’ would ‘carry to a much greater perfection’ the human resources of the community. It was James Steuart’s (1707–​1780) Inquiry into the Principles of Oeconomy (1767), well known to Hamilton, which made the explicit connection between ‘the art of providing for all the wants of the family’ and the ‘intervention of the statesman … adjusting the state machine’ for the greatest order and utility.69 Against the traditional usage of oeconomy, Hamilton meant to evoke a similar meaning to the one Steuart had set out in his Inquiry. The household model of oeconomy was easily translated into the management of the political body as if the latter were a machine for living, requiring the direction of the statesman or legislator for its greatest utility. The national bank, was a ‘political machine’ whose ‘oeconomy’ circulated the capital produced by the sale of public debt to improve both the value of land and the quantity of trade. Both uses of oeconomy would have been provocative in late eighteenth-​century America where public debt and industry evoked moral anxiety over the kinds of social transformation they entailed and the speed with which they operated.70 Hamilton’s subsequent plan for manufacturing was designed with rapid transformation as its chief object. In mapping out the diversification of the economy in agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing, the Report on Manufactures brought together the different components of his project. What distinguished the plan and its implementation was the highly ‘ordered and hierarchical’ vision of federal support for ‘economic development by which public creditors could be the direct beneficiaries of the bounties government bestowed upon large scale manufacturing enterprises, to the detriment of

67 68 69 70

Hamilton, ‘Final Version of the Report on the Subject of Manufactures, 5 December 1791’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 10, pp. 230–​340, p. 282. Hamilton, ‘Fourth Draft of the Report on the Subject of Manufactures, 5 December 1791’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 10, pp. 124–​230, p. 168. Quoted in Tribe, The Economy of the Word, pp. 54–​55. Hamilton, ‘Final Version of the Second Report on the Further Provision Necessary for Establishing Public Credit (Report on a National Bank), 13 December 1790’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 7, pp. 305–​342, pp. 328, 329.



craftsmen and artisans’.71 For Hamilton, manufacturing in the United States was capable of advancing much faster than the natural pace of development because public credit allowed for the fast circulation and employment of investment capital by investors in the public funds. Hamilton made this point explicitly, as a way of demonstrating the necessity of supporting the advancement of manufacturing for the purposes of defence. His case was made through another reference to Smith’s arguments in the Wealth of Nations, which supported the controversial view that manufacturing was capable of more productive improvement than agriculture. Smith had shown how the path of commercial development in Europe had followed an unnatural trajectory in which rather than following a stadial process of development, commerce and manufacturing in the cities had been the cause of improvement and greater cultivation in the countryside.72 Hamilton drew upon Smith’s argument and used it to cement his claim that in the absence of ‘perfect liberty to industry and commerce’ between nations, arguments for avoiding the pursuit of manufactures were spurious. The United States would find itself trapped in a spiral of impoverishment at the hands of European powers; its recourse was therefore to pursue the accelerated growth of its own manufacturing and financial institutions, yielding greater self-​sufficiency and protection from the destructive commerce of Europe.73 Hamilton’s arguments on public credit were intended to answer the internal and external challenges of modern sovereignty. He regularly discussed how the absence of a powerful federal union made more likely the rise of military despotism in the warring states of North America. The problem of security in both cases was the basis for state action. Where he anticipated obstacles to the promotion of manufacturing from a ‘scarcity of hands’ in an overwhelmingly agricultural society, he imagined harnessing the labour of ‘women and children’ with ‘machines’ and ‘foreign emigrants’.74 Hamilton was aided by the political economist Tench Coxe (1755–​1824), whose unpublished writings explored the link between ‘internal tranquility’, manufacturing, and the threat posed by ‘large masses of African population … Indian and foreign neighbours’. Coxe considered the benefits of manufacturing for its capacity to increase the


Andrew Shankman, ‘“A New Thing on Earth”, Alexander Hamilton, Pro-​Manufacturing Republicans, and the Democratization of American Political Economy’, Journal of the Early Republic, 23:3 (2003), pp. 323–​352, p. 331. 72 Hont, Jealousy of Trade, pp. 374–​375. 73 Hamilton, ‘Final Version of the Report on the Subject of Manufactures’, pp. 262–​272. 74 Hamilton, ‘Second Draft of the Report on the Subject of Manufactures’, in Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 10, pp. 49–​63, p. 63, n.83.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 253

numbers of white men and to arm white populations against slave insurrections. ‘Combining manufacturing and agriculture’ would ‘plant a dense population on all our borders adjacent … the Northern British provinces’.75 In both Hamilton and Coxe’s plans, the link between public debt and manufacturing was based on igniting the industry of the labouring poor, by increasing the available capital for investment. Such a view belied an acknowledgment of the large-​scale extraction of commercial value in the United States under the despotic regime of slave labour.76


As Jay Sexton has recently observed the development of the United States, since the nineteenth century, has been shaped by international crises and the rise of global capitalism. Aided by the ability to borrow and attract capital at low rates of interest, the speed of transformation in its internal markets as well as its global trade remains remarkable.77 Both Hume and Hamilton identified the acceleration of time as a fundamental change accompanying the rise of the modern system of public credit. Markets for government debt had encouraged a huge increase in speculative fortunes, allowing for the rapid accumulation and transfer of wealth on a time scale wholly out of sync with previous ages. As credit or artificial wealth abstracted value from its basis in real or natural goods, such a process initiated the detachment of the wealthy from their ties to the state, society, even the family.78 That Hamilton acknowledged the dangers of public credit was undeniable. Yet his proposals and policies commended a fast and accelerated pace of development, powered by credit, with little modulation. This energy or motion would be the basis for the transfer of wealth and

75 76

77 78

Tench Coxe, ‘Internal Tranquility and Public Safety Deeply Affected by American Manufactures’, (1790), Tench Coxe-​Correspondence and General Papers (Coxe Family Papers), Series 2a: Box 118 Folder 18, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For the debate over slavery and the Constitution, see e.g. David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010); Sean Wilentz, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018). For Hamilton’s statements and beliefs on slavery, see e.g. Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1979), pp. 121, 212–​213. Jay Sexton, A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History (New York: Basic Books, 2018), pp. 8–​9. Edward Jones Corredera, ‘“Amazing Rapidity”. Time, Public Credit, and David Hume’s Political Discourses’, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 14:1 (2019), pp. 17–​41, p. 27.



population from Europe to America. The settlement of new land in the interior of America would compel the existing states to provide new ones with manufactured goods. Where Hume had warned that credit within a state found a definite limit in its stock of resources, the extension beyond which imperilled the life and liberty of its subjects, Hamilton’s conception of the possibilities of public credit drew upon the United States ‘infinite fund of resources yet to be unfolded’.79 Foreign loans and investment in the land and industry of the United States offered a rich mine for the movement of surplus European capital into its borders. Hamilton described the fear that foreign loans could be used to ‘deprive our own citizens of the profits of our own industry’ to be an ‘unreasonable jealousy’. Speculative investments employing capital for private gain would in due course be converted into ‘agriculture, commerce, and manufactures’. It was the ‘rapid flux and reflux’ of this neutral capital within and across borders, channelled through industry, that could be harnessed through the funded debt.80 A translation of Britain’s empire to North America was recognised in the later eighteenth century as a potential future for the British colonies but such an idea was related to a classical and Judeo-​Christian conception of time and history. After independence, Hamilton’s conception of public credit, like Hume’s argument on the competitive dynamics of rich and poor states engaged in commerce,81 drew upon a changing idea of the nature of time, strongly inflected by the necessities of commerce, and its connection to the rise and fall of states. Both Hume and Hamilton adapted the traditional republican preoccupation of virtue and cyclical decline towards a new understanding of the capacities of commerce to determine these motions. In Hamilton’s case the oeconomy of public credit would secure a commercial status for the American republic which belied its infancy, accelerating the translation of capital from Europe to the Americas.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Coxe, Tench, ‘Internal Tranquility and Public Safety Deeply Affected by American Manufactures’, (1790), Tench Coxe-​Correspondence and General Papers (Coxe Family Papers), Series 2a: Box 118 Folder 18, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 79 Hamilton, ‘Final Version of the Report on the Subject of Manufacturers’, p. 237. 80 Ibid., pp. 281–​282. 81 Hont, Jealousy of Trade, pp. 267–​322.

Alexander Hamilton on Crises of Sovereignty and the Oeconomy 255 Hamilton, Alexander, ‘Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit, 9 January 1790’, in Harold C. Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), pp. 65–​110. Hamilton, Alexander, ‘From Alexander Hamilton to James Duane, 3 September 1780’, in Harold C. Syrett (ed.), The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), pp. 400–​418. Hume, David, ‘Of Public Credit’, in Knud Haakonssen (ed.), Hume’s Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 166–​174. Langdon, Samuel ‘The Republic of the Israelites as an Example to the American States’, in Ellis Sandoz (ed.) Political Sermons of the Founding Era, vol. 1 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998), pp. 114–​115. Vattel, Emer, The Law of Nations (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008; eds Bela Kapossy and Richard Whatmore).

Secondary Sources

Hendrickson, David C., Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2003). Hont, Istvan, Jealousy of Trade. International Competition and the Nation State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). Nelson, Eric, The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). Sexton, Jay, A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History (New York: Basic Books, 2018). Shankman, Andrew, ‘“A New Thing on Earth”: Alexander Hamilton, Pro-​Manufacturing Republicans, and the Democratization of American Political Economy’, Journal of the Early Republic, 23:3 (2003), pp. 323–​352. Stourzh, Gerald, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970).

pa rt 4 Crisis and Thinkers

chapter 12

In publicis malis. Justus Lipsius and the ‘Double Face’ of Neostoicism in the European Wars of Religion Alberto Clerici


Could we consider the European Wars of Religion as a time of ‘crisis’? In Kritik und Krise (published in 1959), his first major work, Reinhart Koselleck famously linked the beginning of ‘classical Absolutism’ to the ‘general anarchy’ of the sixteenth century, when ‘the entire social order became unhinged’.1 The significance of this dramatic age for the history of political and social concepts was later reaffirmed by Koselleck in the renowned, multi-​volume Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, both in the entry on ‘Crisis’, and especially in the entry on ‘Revolution, Rebellion, Revolt, and Civil War’.2 Interestingly, in the same year the British historian Hugh Trevor-​Roper published his influential article on the ‘General Crisis of the Seventeenth-​Century’, starting a widespread and prolonged debate among historians. It is not my intention to reconstruct that intense and lively discussion, which included some of the finest historians of the twentieth century.3 I will 1 Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), p. 17. 2 Neithard Bulst, Jörg Fisch, Reinhart Koselleck and Christian Meier, ‘Revolution, Rebellion, Aufruhr, Bürgerkrieg’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-​ sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, vol. 3 (Stuttgart: Klett-​Cotta, 1984), pp. 653–​788. 3 See the Introduction to the present volume and, at least, Hugh Trevor-​Roper, ‘The General Crisis of the 17th Century’, Past and Present, 16 (1959), pp. 31–​64; Trevor Aston (ed.), Crisis in Europe 1560–​1660 (New York: Routledge, 1965); Theodore K. Rabb, The Struggle for Stability in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: OUP, 1975); Hugh Trevor-​Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001); Geoffrey Parker and Lesley M. Smith (eds), The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (New York: Routledge, 1997; ii edn); Francesco Benigno, Mirrors of Revolution: Conflict and Political Identity in Early Modern Europe (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010); Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven and London: YUP, 2013).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_014

260 Clerici only confine myself to the fact that, as Koselleck himself was bound to admit, the term ‘crisis’ is very rarely found in early modern sources, except of course for its medical assumptions and not for its political implications, for which ‘troubles’ was more commonly used.4 Also, all the major figures of the ‘General Crisis’ debate have not really tackled the issue of defining a whole century with a word now carrying a different meaning. As Theodore Rabb put it, ‘to discuss a subject while studiously ignoring the word that commonly describes it is to raise more problems than one solves’.5 Nevertheless, while being conscious of this conundrum, and following those who have spoken of continuity between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries as far as a ‘General Crisis’ is concerned, I will deal with one of the most peculiar (and allegedly most influential) intellectual responses to that period of political, economic, religious, cultural and even climate-​related turmoil, normally known as the European Wars of Religion. This refers to Neostoicism, that is to say the early modern revival of late Roman Stoicism, or, better, the rediscovery of, or the improved focus on, authors and ideas usually associated with that multi-​ layered philosophical school.6 There seems to be a strong connection between the experience of crisis in Europe and a new interest precisely in the Stoic tradition. This is evident, for example, considering the editorial history of the two most important early modern texts of Neostoicism, namely Justus Lipsius’ De Constantia libri duo (1584) and Guillaume du Vair’s Traité de la constance et de la consolation (1590). The first book had a new French translation in Paris in 1870, during the conflict with Prussia, and was republished in English at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Du Vair’s treatise had a Parisian edition in 1941, with the war still raging. The anonymous introduction hailed the author as ‘a great Statesman and a great writer. He wrote this book in 1590. Today he would have written the same book’.7 In what follows, I will handle the term ‘Neostoicism’ and the adjective ‘Neostoic’ very loosely, not in order to show an allegedly clear-​cut and

4 Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Krise’, in Brunner, Conze, Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 3, pp. 617–​650. 5 Rabb, Struggle, p. 30. 6 Pierre-​François Moreau (ed.), Le stoïcisme au XVIe et au XVIIe siècle. Le retour des philosophies antiques a l’âge classique (Paris: Albin Michel, 1999); Steven Strange and Jack Zupko (eds), Stoicism. Traditions and Transformations (Cambridge: CUP, 2004); John Sellars (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 2016). 7 Quoted in Jacqueline Lagrée, ‘La vertu stoïcienne de la constance’, in Moreau (ed.), Le stoïcisme, pp. 94–​117, p. 94.

In publicis malis


well-​defined ‘Stoicism’ in the authors I will discuss,8 but just to check how they used texts and sources generally connected to the tradition of the Roman Stoa. Also, here I will not deal with Stoic physics or metaphysics, but only with a specific theme of Stoic ethics, namely the notion of societas hominum or the common society of men, and its political significance in the early modern history of the idea of what is now called “humanitarian intervention” or the “responsibility to protect”, as a special kind of justification of the right to resist tyrants.9 While mentioning other authors, I will focus mainly on the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius (1547–​1606),10 one of the leading humanists of his age and universally acknowledged as ‘the most influential transmitter of Stoicism in early modern Europe’.11 In a way, the rise of Neostoicism in early modern Europe is not difficult to understand. In fact, the appeal to the essential Stoic attributes of reason, freedom from the emotions, patience in adversity and subjection to Fate (or, in Christian Stoicism’s perspective, to God’s will) could provide men with both a consolation and a solution to what Lipsius called the ‘public calamities’ of his times. Moreover, as Koselleck noticed in his Zeitschichten, the recourse to classical antiquity for moral and political exempla made it possible, in political 8

Indeed, as Fiammetta Palladini rightly stressed, the term ‘Stoicism’, given the complicated history of the philosophy behind it, could amount to no more than ‘a vague generalization under which we can find almost everything and its contrary’: Fiammetta Palladini, ‘Pufendorf and Stoicism’, in Hans W. Blom and Laurens C. Winkel (eds), Grotius and the Stoa (Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2004), pp. 245–​256, p. 246. 9 Naturally, I am here using present-​day concepts only in order to stress the necessity of “historicising” them. See in this direction David J. B. Trim and Brendan Simms (eds), Humanitarian Intervention. A History (Cambridge: CUP, 2011); David J. B. Trim, ‘Intervention in European History, c1520–​1850’, in Stefano Recchia and Jennifer Welsh (eds), Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill (Cambridge: CUP, 2013), pp. 21–​47; Luke Glanville, Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect: A New History (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2014); Alexis Heraclides and Ada Dialla (eds), Humanitarian Intervention in the Long Nineteenth Century: Setting the Precedent (Manchester: MUP, 2015); Alex J. Bellamy and Tim Dunne (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect (Oxford: OUP, 2016). 10 The bibliography on Lipsius is vast. Apart from Richard Tuck, Philosophy and Government 1572–​1651 (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), for some (more recent) works, see Jan Waszink, ‘Introduction’, in Justus Lipsius, Politica: Six Books of Politics or Political Instruction, Jan Waszink ed. and transl. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2004), pp. 3–​204; Erik De Bom, Marijke Janssens, Toon Van Houdt and Jan Papy (eds), Unmasking the Realities of Power: Justus Lipsius and the Dynamics of Political Writing in Early Modern Europe (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011); Christopher Brooke, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought From Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton: PUP, 2012). 11 Jula Wildberger, The Stoics and the State: Theory, Practice, Context (Baden-​Baden: Nomos, 2018), p. 201.

262 Clerici literature, to avoid discussions over the much controversial Holy Scripture, creating an a-​confessional and ‘universal’ ground for speaking to the widest audiences.12 So, notwithstanding the enduring impact of Stoic philosophy in the medieval period,13 scholars generally agree that there is a clear link between the crisis generated by the European Wars of Religion and the simultaneous renewal of Stoicism (a social crisis that gives birth to an intellectual renewal), even though they disagree about the actual cultural impact of “Neostoicism” (especially, its practical relevance to the birth of the so-​called “modern absolute State”).14 Most studies of Lipsius and the Neostoic movement, starting from the ground-​breaking works of Gerhard Oestreich, focus on the notions of self-​ discipline, impassivity and the heroic detachment of the citizen in the face of external events, in order to build his ‘inner citadel’ against the blows of destiny.15 In Oestreich’s words, Neostoicism ‘demanded self-​discipline and the extension of the duties of the ruler and the moral education of the army, the officials, and indeed the whole people, to a life of work, frugality, dutifulness and obedience’. According to Oestreich, this was Lipsius’ practical programme, as based on a precise theoretical background, mainly forged by ancient Stoicism.16 Oestreich concluded that Lipsius could be considered as ‘the philosophical father of the modern state’.17 Recent scholarship, however, has underlined the complexity of the category of ‘absolutism’, suggesting the use of the plural ‘absolutisms’ for a better understanding of that tradition.18 Scholars have also questioned Oestreich’s too straightforward and even ideological interpretation of Lipsius and the Neostoic movement,19 qualifying Lipsius’ involvement with Stoicism according to his biography and the events surrounding his life,20 or highlighting the 12 Reinhart Koselleck, Erfahrungswandel und Methodenwechsel. Eine historisch-​ anthropologische Skizze (1988), in Reinhart Koselleck, Zeitschichten. Studien zur Historik. Mit einem Beitrag von Hans-​Georg Gadamer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2000), p. 71. 13 Nadia Bray, La tradizione filosofica stoica nel Medioevo. Un approccio dossografico (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2018). 14 Waszink, ‘Introduction’, pp. 108–​110; Brooke, Philosophic, chapt. 1. 15 Gerhard Oestreich, Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (Cambridge: CUP, 1982). 16 For special emphasis on Seneca, see ibid., p. 7. 17 Ibid., p. 71. 18 Cesare Cuttica and Glenn Burgess, ‘Introduction’, in idem (eds), Monarchism and Absolutism in Early Modern Europe (London and New York: Pickering & Chatto/​Routledge, 2012), p. 2. 19 Peter N. Miller, ‘Nazis and Neo-​Stoics: Otto Brunner and Gerhard Oestreich Before and After the Second World War’, Past and Present, 51 (2002), pp. 144–​186. 20 See Waszink, ‘Introduction’, especially pp. 10–​15 and 108–​109.

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contribution of Jesuit moral theology to his outlook.21 More importantly for us, Christopher Brooke and Jula Wildberger have correctly stressed a ‘politics of opposition’ inside the Stoic tradition,22 that is to say the tensions between a philosophy of obedience to existing social and political structures and the possibly contradictory implications of the Stoic ethics of inner resistance to external events, up to suicide or –​in Christian Stoicism –​martyrdom in the name of disobedience. While Brooke and Wildberger follow perhaps too closely Oestreich in judging Lipsius’ deference to absolutism as a departure from the true values of ancient Stoicism, my suggestion here will be that Lipsius, writing in the difficult times of the French and Dutch wars of religion, was nevertheless fascinated by the Stoic concept of societas hominum, or the common society of men, as developed by Cicero and Seneca, and already mentioned by some Protestant authors, and even by Jean Bodin and, later on, by Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius. I will try to show how Lipsius, in the context of the French and English involvement in the Dutch Revolt against Spain (1576–​1583 and 1585–​1587),23 toyed with Stoic arguments for cosmopolitanism and ‘humankind’, already circulating in some contemporary literature, in relation to the much-​disputed discussion over the right to resist tyranny. He did so first in the celebrated dialogue De Constantia (1584),24 in order to legitimate the aiding of those who suffer, and subsequently in his Politicorum libri sex (1589)25 as a justification for foreign intervention against tyranny and extreme oppression (yet always mediated by Tacitean prudence and an underlying anthropological pessimism). This attitude possibly captures Charles Taylor’s remark about Lipsius’ true Stoic stance in rejecting ‘miseratio, or misericordia, the compassion of feeling, in favour of the compassion of active intervention, but on the basis of a full inner detachment’.26 I would like to look at Lipsius as participating in an ongoing discourse on foreign intervention, triggered by the new political situation caused by the Wars of Religion in France and the Netherlands. In addition, by analysing the uses 21

Vincenzo Lavenia, ‘Conscience and Catholic Discipline of War: Sins and Crimes’, Journal of Early Modern History, 18 (2014), pp. 447–​471. 22 Brooke, Philosophic, pp. 63–​69; Wildberger, The Stoic, pp. 204–​207. 23 Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477–​ 1806 (Oxford: OUP, 1995). 24 I will use the English translation Justus Lipsius, On Constancy, in John Sellars ed. (Bristol: Phoenix Press, 2006) and, where appropriate, the original edition Justus Lipsius, De Constantia (Leiden: Plantin, 1584). 25 I will use Waszink’s edition. 26 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 115.

264 Clerici of Senecan and Ciceronian ethics and the duties towards humankind, my intention is to highlight a possible “double face” of early modern Neostoicism. Indeed, amidst the dramatic events of the Wars of Religion, Neostoicism emerged as an innovative tradition of European political thought, an attempt to build a new private and public ethics for both citizens and princes, in order to overcome the nefarious passions aroused by a time of crisis, and regain social stability. But Neostoicism also contained a possible tension between two of its main concepts, the “inner citadel” of the wise man and the “cosmopolis” of the whole humankind. One of the issues at stake was how to deal with tyrants oppressing other populations inside the societas hominum, causing political crisis. Should the wise man appeal to the “inner citadel” and let Fate continue its path, or should he appeal to the “cosmopolis” and the shared values of humanity in order to actively intervene in defence of his brethren, chasing the tyrant and producing a political renewal?

Stoicism, Humankind and Intervention in the Literature of the Wars of Religion

The revival of Stoicism in early modern Europe is a complex phenomenon, one concerning a variety of disciplines. Here I will content myself with political thought. In particular, I will consider the interesting link between the reference to Stoic tropes and reasoning and the discourse on the right of war (ius belli), and will do so by taking into account the larger issue of the rising and shaping of the early modern law of nations.27 Before looking at Lipsius, I will first explore this intellectual development in a few relevant texts produced in the hottest phase of the Wars of Religion. I will turn to the issue of intervention on behalf of people oppressed in their bodies or their souls by a ‘tyrant’, a major theme especially –​but not exclusively –​among the so-​called “Calvinist monarchomachs”.28 In his massive study of the doctrine of tyrannicide from antiquity 27 Randall Lesaffer, ‘The Classical Law of Nations (1500-​ 1800)’, in Alexander Orakhelashvili (ed.), Research Handbook on the Theory and History of International Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011), pp. 408–​440; Stephen Neff, Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 62. 28 On the monarchomachs, see especially Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 2 (Cambridge: CUP, 1978); Mario Turchetti, Tyrannie et tyrannicide de l’Antiquité à nos jours (Paris: PUF, 2001); Paul-​Alexis Mellet (ed.), Et de sa bouche sortait un glaive: Les monarchomaques au XVIe Siècle (Geneva: Droz, 2006); Paul-​Alexis Mellet, Les traités monarchomaques: Confusion des temps, résistance armée et monarchie parfaite, 1560–​1600 (Geneva: Droz, 2007). According to Mellet, the vast majority of monarchomach

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to our days, Mario Turchetti has called this ‘right of interference’ a ‘relatively new problem’.29 However, recent scholarship has excavated the remote origins of the debate as a specific part of the just war theory.30 Certainly, as Wilhelm Grewe has argued, the quintessential ‘openness’ of medieval polities assured that intervention was not seen as very problematic at a theoretical level, given that a clear separation of a foreign ‘outside’ from a domestic ‘inside’ was lacking.31 Restraints for entitlement to intervene were thus connected to the just war doctrine, that is to the concepts of just cause and right intention. With the rise of (proto-​)states or, at least, the emergence of the language of absolutism, intervention did become increasingly complicated. Yet, as we will see, it remained a possibility in certain cases, even for so-​called “absolutists” like Jean Bodin and Alberico Gentili.32 Without exaggerating the distinction between a ‘Scholastic’ and a ‘Humanistic’ approach to the law of nations,33 on the issue of intervention we can reasonably see a difference between the treatment of defensio innocentium in the writings of, say, Francisco de Vitoria,34 and that of the Calvinist monarchomachs. Such difference can be described in terms of sources and education, but also by considering the different historical context: the monarchomachs were, first and foremost, involved in the European Wars of Religion. It is not a coincidence if the most relevant texts dealing with the problem of foreign action against ‘tyrants’ were published in the aftermath of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572),35 which overlapped with the brutal repression of the Dutch Revolt by the Duke of Alba (1569–​1573). I would like to show how, in those politically charged pamphlets, the traditional scriptural and juridical sources used to justify resistance were gradually coupled with Stoic notions, without completely replacing established authorities and the Christian propaganda could be described as ‘a vast record of pleas for foreign help’ (‘un vaste ensemble d’appels à l’étranger’): see Mellet, Les traités monarchomaques, p. 169. 29 Turchetti, Tyrannie, p. 441. 30 See above. 31 Wilhelm Grewe, The Epochs of International Law (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2001), p. 176. 32 Richard Tuck, ‘Grotius, Hobbes and Pufendorf on Humanitarian Intervention’, in Recchia and Welsh (eds), Just, pp. 96–​112. 33 As famously described in Richard Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford: OUP, 1999). The two approaches were, in fact, often overlapping (see Lesaffer, ‘Classical’, p. 408). 34 William Bain, ‘Vitoria: the Law of War, Saving the Innocent, and the Image of God’, in Recchia and Welsh (eds), Just, pp. 70–​95. 35 Luca Scuccimarra, ‘Combattere per l’umanità. Resistenza al tiranno e dovere di intervento in Francia nell’epoca delle guerre di religione’, in Giuseppe Giunta (ed.), Studi in memoria di Luigi Gambino (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2012), pp. 477–​494.

266 Clerici viewpoint.36 Undeniably, the texts of Cicero and Seneca could provide, in the ethical sphere, a practical guide for living in an age of shaken religious and moral certainties and violent geopolitical changes. One of the most revitalised Stoic principles was the notion of societas hominum, the ‘universal commonwealth’ as opposed by Seneca to one’s place of birth.37 This common patria, in the Stoic belief, was said to be formed by men out of their reasonable nature, and irrespectively of race, language or citizenship, leading to the recognition of an organic connection between all human beings, where everyone is bound to observe duties towards his brethren.38 Among those duties, Cicero famously placed also the obligation to aid all who are in need, attacking those ‘who say that account should be taken of other citizens, but deny it in the case of foreigners; such men tear apart the common fellowship of human race’.39 It is here that Stoic cosmopolitanism meets the ius gentium and the question of intervention against tyrants, who as pirates were considered ‘enemies of mankind’ (communis hostis omnium).40 From this perspective, intervention 36

Jan Papy, ‘Lipsius’s (Neo-​)Stoicism: Constancy between Christian Faith and Stoic Virtue’, in Blom and Winkel (eds), Grotius and the Stoa, pp. 47–​72. 37 Seneca, De vita beata, 31: ‘Duas respublicas animo complectamur, Alteram magnam, & vere publicam, qua dii atque homines continentur … alteram cui nos ascripsit condicio nascendi’. 38 Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘Duties of Justice, Duties of Material Aid. Cicero’s Problematic Legacy’, in Strange and Zupko (eds), Stoicism, pp. 214–​249. 39 Cicero, De officiis, iii, 6, 27–​28: ‘Qui autem civium rationem habendam, externorum negant, ii dirimunt commune humani generis societatem’. 40 Ibid., iii, 29, 107; Seneca, De Beneficiis, vii, 19: ‘Quidquid erat, quo mihi cohaereret, intercisa iuris humani societas abscidit. Si praestitisset quidem aliquid mihi, sed arma patriae meae inferret, quidquid meruerat, perdidisset, et referre illi gratiam scelus haberetur. Si non patriam meam impugnat, sed suae gravis est et sepositus a mea gente suam exagitat, abscindit, nihilo minus illum tanta pravitas animi, etiam si non inimicum, invisum mihi efficit, priorque mihi ac potior eius officii ratio est, quod humano generi, quam quod uni homini debeo’ (‘For whatever the tie that bound him [the tyrant] to me, it has been severed by his breach of the common bond of humanity. If he had bestowed something upon me, and yet bore arms against my country, he would have lost all claim upon me, and it would be considered a crime to repay him with gratitude. If he does not assail my country, but is the bane of his own, and, while he keeps aloof from my own people, harrows and rends his own, nevertheless, even if such depravity does not make him my personal enemy, it makes him hateful to me, and regard for the duty that I owe to the whole human race is, in my eyes, more primary and more pressing than the duty I owe to a single man’). Translation in Seneca, Moral Essays, vol. 3 (London: Heinemann, 1935), pp. 502–​503. On the genealogy of the concept of ‘enemies of mankind’ and its relevance for the history of the law of nations, see Walter Rech, Enemies of Mankind: Vattel’s Theory of Collective Security (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013); Mark Chadwick, Piracy and the Origins of Universal Jurisdiction: On Stranger Tides? (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019), chapt. 4.

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could indeed be seen as a neglected form of early modern resistance theory, to be found next to the private law theory (based on self-​defence) or to the constitutional version focused on the role of ‘inferior magistrates’.41 While Lutheran political thought had already relied on Cicero’s writings for the justification of resistance,42 the break-​in of Stoic reasoning and sources in Huguenot literature after 1572 was immediately associated with the discussion on the obligation to support the oppressed. This becomes visible already in one of the most well-​known monarchomach pieces, the Rights of Magistrates, written by the humanist Théodore de Bèze, Calvin’s successor in Geneva, published in 1574 and frequently reprinted in both the Latin and French editions. Indeed, as Jeffrey Mallinson has argued, Bèze ‘was well versed in the writings of Cicero’ and ‘Ciceronian-​Stoic themes, such as the lex naturae, and the communes notiones, permeate his theological works’.43 The third quaestio of the treatise deals with the legitimacy of disobedience to commands going against religion or against ‘equity’. While employing primarily Biblical sources,44 Bèze nonetheless also stresses the cogent character of such disobedience by speaking of the ‘law of nature common to all mankind’ and ‘the duties which men owe to their fellowmen both by the law of God and by the law of nature’.45 A similar line of reasoning, stressing the mandatory character of resistance against tyranny in the name of natural bonds, appears in two other texts. First, in one of the most significant pamphlets from Simon Goulart’s influential collection, Mémoires de l’estat de France sous Charles Neufiesme (1577), that is the dialogue The Politician;46 second, in another evocative, albeit unsystematic 41 42 43 44 45 46

For an overview, see Martin van Gelderen, ‘“So meerly humane”: Theories of Resistance in Early Modern Europe’, in Annabel Brett and James Tully (eds), Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge: CUP, 2006), pp. 149–​170. Andries Raath, ‘Stoic Roots of Early Reformational Resistance Theory: a Marginal Note on the Origins of the Right to Resistance in Early Reformational Political Thought’, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, 35 (2009), pp. 303–​322. Jeffrey Mallinson, Faith, Reason, and Revelation in Theodore Beza, 1519–​1605 (Oxford: OUP, 2003), p. 53. Diego Quaglioni, ‘“Religio sola est, in qua libertas domicilium conlocavit”. Coscienza e potere nella prima età moderna’, in Luisa Simonutti (ed.), Religious Obedience and Political Resistance in the Early Modern World (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), pp. 33–​52, p. 40. Théodore de Bèze, Du droit des Magistrats sur leurs subjets: Traittè très-​necessaire en ce temps … 1574, pp. 6–​7. See Théodore de Bèze, Du droit des Magistrats, ed. Robert Kingdon (Geneva: Droz, 1970). I quote from the original edition. Simon Goulart, ‘Le Politique, dialogue traittant de la puissance, authorité, et du devoir des Princes …’, in idem, Mémoires de l’Estat de France sous Charles Neufiesme, vol. 3 (?, 1577). I used the second edition from 1578, where the text is available at pp. 61r-​116v. The author relies heavily on Cicero’s writings. See for example p. 86: ‘Cicero, in the third book of his On duties, shows that the law of nations [droit des gens] is a constitution [constitution]

268 Clerici monarchomach text, the Alarm Bell of the Frenchmen (Le Reveille-​matin des François).47 The latter’s international character is clearly visible starting from the anonymous author, who significantly calls himself ‘Eusebius Philadelfo Cosmopolita’ (‘Pious brother-​loving citizen of the world’). From the narrative of the second dialogue emerges why in a truly Christian perspective it is necessary to intervene in defence of the –​unjustly persecuted –​French Huguenots. Thus, we find the bond of ‘benevolence and charity’ that holds together all Christians by virtue of their brotherhood in Christ, but also the duty of mutual aid existing between the different parts of the Ecclesia Universalis, and the irreversible damage that the weakening of one of them is likely to cause to the whole body of the Universal Church. The will of God is not, however, the only source evoked in support of an external assistance for the torn-​apart kingdom of France. Other voices, far more worldly, do intervene in the text to reaffirm the duty of European princes to oppose force with force in extreme cases of tyrannical degeneration, and to combat the perpetrators as ‘sworn enemies of mankind’.48 Among them is the influential voice of Cicero, who in his book on the Duties says that we cannot and should not associate or have anything to do with tyrants, but rather that we must take the distance and separate from them; and that it is not against nature to deprive them of their power, if we can also kill them honestly; that all such obnoxious and profanes must be cut off from the community of men, being a very reasonable thing, as you cut the gangrenous limbs from the body, and detach these cruel and ferocious beasts from the human consortium and the common society of men.49 So, from the scattered remarks of this “eschatological” piece of propaganda, it is possible to detect a minimal but important shift from a purely religious that has to be respected by the civil law: for it brings all its laws under the universal society, as confirmed by the laws of all peoples … Its source is a common law by which nature obliges all men to share the necessary commodities of life, and to refrain from doing anything against the society of mankind [societé humaine]’. 47 Anon., Le Réveille-​Matin des Français et de leur voisins, composé par Eusèbe Philadelphe Cosmopolite, en forme de dialogues (Edinburgh, 1574). The pamphlet has been attributed (without certainty) to Théodore de Bèze, Philippe Duplessis-​Mornay and Nicolas Barnaud (see Jean-​Raymond Fanlo, Marino Lambiase and Paul-​Alexis Mellet (eds), Le Réveille-​matin des François (Paris: Garnier, 2016)). I quote from the original edition. 48 Le Reveille-​matin des Francois, Dialogue ii, p. 60. 49 Ibid., Dialogue ii, p. 60 (my translation), based on Cicero, De officiis, iii, 7, 32.

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duty to help the innocents against tyrants, to a moral duty in the name of a Neostoic “humankind”, no longer specifically tied to a Christian cosmos. The expansion and radicalisation of Huguenot views towards an ethics of “responsibility to protect” men as simple human beings are, of course, less a complete and mature process of the secularisation than the tactical juxtaposition and integration of different rhetorical strategies and philosophical traditions aiming to achieve a political goal –​as Philip Benedict has rightly emphasised.50 The best case in point of the latter is the most well-​known, widely read and carefully argued, of all the monarchomach texts: this is the notorious Vindiciae contra tyrannos, published in 1579 and written by the anonymous Stephanus Iunius Brutus (usually identified with Philippe Duplessis-​Mornay and/​or Hubert Languet).51 Thanks (mainly) to David Trim, this text now has a place in the histories of humanitarian intervention. However, Trim, underestimating the Stoic elements in Protestant political thought, argues that the monarchomachs ‘conceived tyranny in narrow confessional terms’.52 This claim must be qualified.53 In the fourth section of the Vindiciae, which is devoted to the question of whether neighbouring princes may by right, or even ought to, render assistance to subjects of other princes when they are persecuted on account of pure religion or oppressed by manifest tyranny, we see on stage a powerful “rhetoric of liberation”. The latter is a feature of the entire work, presented with metaphors (wounds, fire, shipwreck), historical evocations (the emperors as defenders of the faith, the Crusades) and scriptural elements (with quotes and paraphrasing), all culminating in the image of Christ’s passion and innocents massacred. As usual in monarchomach literature (and in early modern 50

Philip Benedict, ‘Were the French Wars of Religion Really Wars of Religion?’, in Wolfgang Palaver, Harriet Rudolph and Dietmar Regensburger (eds), The European Wars of Religion (Farnham: Ashgate, 2016) pp. 61–​86, esp. pp. 77–​79. 51 Anon., Vindiciae contra tyrannos, sive de Principis in populum populique in Principem legitima potestate … (Edinburgh [Basel], 1579. See George Garnett (ed.), Vindiciae, contra tyrannos: or, Concerning the Legitimate Power of a Prince over the People, and of the People Over a Prince (Cambridge: CUP, 1994). I quote from the very good critical edition edited by Garnett. For the authorship of the text, see Hugues Daussy, Les Huguenots et le Roi: Le combat politique de Philippe Duplessis-​Mornay, 1572–​1600 (Geneva: Droz, 2002), pp. 229–​239. 52 Trim, ‘“If a prince use tyrannie towards his people”’, p. 36. 53 Alexis Heraclides has already pointed out that ‘the monarchomachs were primarily concerned with the plight of their fellow Protestants. However, in their works they also referred to people in general’: Alexis Heraclides, ‘The Origins of the Idea of Humanitarian Intervention: Just War and Against Tyranny’, in Heraclides and Dialla (eds), Humanitarian Intervention, pp. 14–​30, p. 19.

270 Clerici political thought more generally), the exempla quoted are first taken from the Scriptures, and subsequently fortified by other sources. At a crucial point of his argument, Iunius Brutus introduces the Stoic theme of ‘human society and the common nature of all’. Citing a passage from the third book of Cicero’s De officiis, he announces that ‘the nature of all men is one, nature itself prescribes that man desires to show concern for another man, whoever he may be, for this very reason: that he is a man. If this were not so, all human association would, of necessity, dissolve’.54 This moral stance is repeated when the author of the Vindiciae counters the objection of the inviolability of borders and jurisdictions: ‘that it is not lawful to thrust a scythe into another’s harvest’, answering again with Cicero quoting Terentius: ‘I am a man. I think that nothing human is alien to me’ (nihil humanum a me alienum puto).55 It is interesting to note that even critics of the monarchomachs such as Bodin and Gentili did argue that while a subject could not resist a legitimate sovereign, a foreign prince could (and sometimes should) avenge wrongdoings perpetrated by despotic rulers. Evoking the Stoic hero Hercules, in Les six livres de la république (1576), Bodin famously remarked that ‘it is a most beautiful and magnificent thing for a prince to take arms in order to avenge an entire people unjustly oppressed by a tyrant’s cruelty’.56 His opinion was fiercely rejected by Balthasar Ayala a few years later.57 Yet it must be remembered that Ayala was a judge in the Spanish armies fighting against the Dutch “rebels”, and that he was writing just after Bodin got involved in the Duke of Anjou’s intervention in the Low Countries.58 In fact, the Dutch context appears to be crucial in our discussion, if we think that also the Vindiciae are connected to it,59 as well as Gentili’s first defence of the English expedition in the Netherlands.60 In the 54 55 56 57

58 59 60

Vindiciae, contra tyrannos, quaestio iv, p. 181. Ibid., p. 183. Julian Franklin (ed.), Jean Bodin. On Sovereignty (Cambridge: CUP, 1992), p. 113. For the original, see Jean Bodin, Les six livres de la République. (Paris: Du Puis, 1576), ii, 5. Balthasar Ayala, De iure et officiis bellicis et disciplina militaris (1582), i, 6, in James Brown Scott ed., vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1912), p. 94: ‘Again, Bodin … recommends insurgents not to make such contracts [between sovereign and rebels] themselves, but to induce some outside neighboring prince to act for them. My advice, however, would be that they should return into the right way and humbly seek forgiveness …’. Howell A. Lloyd, Jean Bodin: ‘this Pre-​eminent Man of France’: an Intellectual Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2017), pp. 190–​193. Hugues Daussy, ‘L’Insertion des “Vindiciae contra tyrannos” dans le Combat Politique aux Pays-​Bas’, in Mellet (ed.), Et de sa bouche sortait un glaive, pp. 101–​120. Diego Pirillo, Filosofia ed eresia nell’Inghilterra del tardo Cinquecento. Bruno, Sidney e i dissidenti religiosi Italiani (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2010); Raymond Kubben, ‘“We should not Stand Beside …”. International Legal Doctrine on Domestic Revolts and Foreign Intervention throughout the Early Stages of the Dutch Revolt’, in Paul Brood and

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Commentationes de iure belli (1588), speaking of the just causes for waging war, Gentili introduced the category of ‘honest defence’ of an oppressed people, precisely with a reference to Cicero and the Stoic ‘society of humankind’.61 Overall, this was the main bulk of sources for the discourse on intervention when Lipsius wrote his two main political works, De Constantia (1584) and Politica (1589), conceived as ethical guidebooks for citizens and princes in a time of crisis.

Stoicism and Intervention in Justus Lipsius

Justus Lipsius’ fame is largely derived from his seminal contribution to the early modern reception of Seneca and Tacitus. Actually, his broader engagement with Stoicism lasted until his death, and it is now clear that it is not possible to understand his works without following his involvement in the political, religious and cultural turmoil of the second half of the sixteenth century.62 It has also been underlined that, in Lipsius, the ‘Neostoic’ element can be very different from text to text, as is the case with De Constantia and the Politica, and should be weighted together with other important intellectual traditions crucial to his stance, such as Tacitism and Machiavellianism.63 The overall evaluation of Lipsius’ attempt to reconcile Christianity and ancient Stoicism remains disputed, too.64 But my task here is a slightly different one. I would like to draw attention to Lipsius’ place within the history of the early modern law of nations. While some of his contemporaries have recently found a place


62 63 64

Raymond Kubben (eds), The Act of Abjuration. Inspired and Inspirational (Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2011), pp. 119–​153; Alexandra Gajda, The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Political Culture (Oxford: OUP, 2012), pp. 90–​95. Alberico Gentili, De iure belli commentatio prima (London: J. Wolfe, 1588), D1v: ‘An honest defence [defensio honesta] is undertaken only for the benefit of others, without any reference to fear of danger for ourselves … because the relationship among men is constituted by nature, and because the law of nations is fixed in the society of humankind [generis humani societate], as it is also called by Cicero in the third book De finibus’. Gentili’s ideas were later refined and heavily expanded in his De iure belli (1598): see Luca Scuccimarra, ‘Le ragioni dell’umanità. Alberico Gentili e il problema della “difesa onesta”’, in Pepe Ragoni (ed.), Alberico Gentili. Giustizia, Guerra, Impero (Milan: Giuffrè, 2014), pp. 311–​330; and Valentina Vadi, War and Peace: Alberico Gentili and the Early Modern Law of Nations (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020), pp. 217–​223. Waszink, ‘Introduction’, passim; Violet Soen, ‘Challenges to Clemency: Seneca, Lipsius and the Dutch Revolt’, Acta Conventus Neo-​Latini Upsaliensis, 14:1 (2012), pp. 1039–​1048. Waszink, ‘Introduction’, chapt.4. Lagrée, ‘Vertu’, passim.

272 Clerici also in the “canon” of international legal thinking,65 Lipsius’ name seems to be –​with a few exceptions –​largely ignored.66 This fact is striking, given that he was one of the most widely read authors of his age, and he was concerned by the same historical challenges and political anxieties as his contemporaries Bodin, Ayala, Gentili, Grotius, Althusius. In what follows, I will content myself to trace the ways in which Lipsius applied the concept of societas hominum to the thorny issue of the right and/​or duty of resisting tyrants on behalf of foreigners. As we have seen, the question was already laid down in the literature of the French and Dutch civil and religious strife and became paramount precisely in the years immediately preceding the publication of Lipsius’ major political works. When De Constantia appeared in 1584, the French intervention in the Dutch Revolt (1578–​83) had just ended with the resounding failure of the Duke of Anjou’s military coup known as the ‘French Fury’.67 The first edition of the Politica came out in 1589, soon after the disgraceful conclusion of the English expedition in the Netherlands (1585–​87), welcomed by Lipsius (at least, in the beginning).68 Lipsius’ knowledge of the Calvinist monarchomach texts is uncertain. Contrary to Grotius, he never quotes Bèze or the Vindiciae openly. However, given his extensive intellectual network, the manifold relations among the protagonists of the French and Dutch “troubles”, and the indissoluble link between the two contexts in political literature, it is safe to maintain that he had at least a fair picture of the main arguments of the monarchomachs.69 Moreover, he 65


67 68 69

Take the case of Jean Bodin and Johannes Althusius, who both earned a chapter in Stefan Kadelbach, Thomas Kleinlein and David Roth-​Isigkeit (eds), System, Order and International Law. The Early History of International Legal Thought from Machiavelli to Hegel (Oxford: OUP, 2017). Domenico Taranto, ‘Lipsio e la guerra necessaria’, Filosofia Politica, 3 (2003), pp. 487–​496; Halvard Leira, ‘At the Crossroads. Justus Lipsius and the Early-​Modern Development of International Law’, Leiden Journal of International Law, 20 (2007), pp. 65–​88; Harald Kleinschmidt, ‘War, Diplomacy and the Ethics of Self-​Constraint in the Age of Grotius’, in Olaf Asbach and Peter Schröder (eds), War, the State and International Law in Seventeenth-​ Century Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 103–​129. See Mack P. Holt, The Duke of Anjou and the Politique Struggle during the Wars of Religion (Cambridge: CUP, 1986). Waszink, ‘Introduction’, pp. 25–​27. Jan Waszink, ‘Virtuous Deception: The Politica and the Wars in the Low Countries and France, 1559–​1589’, in Gilbert Tournoy et al. (eds), Iustus Lipsius Europae Lumen et Columen. Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Leuven, September 17–​19, 1997 (Louvain: Leuven University Press, 1999), pp. 248–​267. See also Martin van Gelderen, The Political Thought of the Dutch Revolt 1555–​1590 (Cambridge: CUP, 1992), pp. 180–​187; Philip Benedict, Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands 1555–​1585 (Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999); Cornel Zwierlein,

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knew Bodin’s République and, by the time he published the Politica in 1589, may possibly have known or, at least, heard of Gentili’s Commentationes de iure belli, since Gentili and Lipsius shared many friends in the English entourage around the Earl of Leicester, starting from Philip Sidney and Jean Hotman.70 Moreover, Alberico’s brother, Scipione, had been Lipsius’ pupil in Leiden between 1582 and 1587,71 and remained in contact with him even after Lipsius moved to Louvain. In any case, Lipsius seems to join the early modern discourse on foreign intervention both in De Constantia and in the Politica, but, as we will see, he did so from a very peculiar point of view, moderating the Stoic plea to get rid of the ‘enemies of mankind’ with arguments taken from reason and prudence. Lipsius himself, at the beginning of the Politica, established the link between the two works. While De Constantia was directed at the ordinary citizen, the later book, instead, is made ‘to equip those who rule for governing’.72 The two texts differ on several counts, from the degree of commitment to Neostoic values, to the different style of composition, historical context and, especially, the preponderance of Tacitism and of a “moderate” Machiavellian stance in the Politica. However, on the issue of cosmopolitanism and intervention against tyrants there is, arguably, a certain similarity at work between the two. De Constantia is a dialogue on the need for the ‘wise man’ to follow the virtue of constancy instead of fleeing the adversities of fortune, the mala publica now raging in the Low Countries. It centres on the inner fight of individuals, guided by ‘reason’, against emotions and ‘false opinions’. Among those deceitful beliefs, we find dissimulation, patriotism or pietas for one’s own homeland, and compassion or miseratio for public evils affecting others. Lipsius considers patriotism a masked vice, for the conviction that we mourn on account of the sufferings of our country causes us, in fact, to grieve only for ourselves and our properties. So, the false belief of patriotism is countered with a reference to the Stoic cosmopolis, ‘our true country’:

70 71 72

‘French-​Dutch Connections. The Transalpine Reception of Machiavelli’, in Vincenzo Lavenia and Cornel Zwierlein (eds), Fruits of Migration. Heterodox Italian Migrants and Central European Culture, 1550–​1620 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), pp. 320–​361. Jan van Dorsten, Poets, Patrons, and Professors. Sir Philip Sidney, Daniel Rogers, and the Leiden Humanists (Leiden: The University Press –​London: OUP, 1962). Alberto Clerici, ‘“Maxima quaestio”. Scipione Gentili, Alberico Gentili e la rivolta dei Paesi Bassi (1582–​1587)’, in Vincenzo Lavenia (ed.), Alberico e Scipione Gentili nell’Europa di ieri e di oggi. Reti di relazioni e cultura politica (Macerata: EUM, 2018) pp. 91–​126. Justus Lipsius, Politica, ‘Praefatio’, in Jan Waszink ed. and transl., Politica: Six Books of Politics or Political Instruction (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2004), p. 230.

274 Clerici You feare the warre, I know it. Why? […] Beholde, if warre be among the Ethiopians or Indians, it moveth thee not (thou art out of danger), if it bee here (Belgica), thou weepest, cryest out … Thou wilt say, it is none of my countrie. O foole. Are not they men, sprung first out of the same stock with thee? Living under the same globe of heaven? […] The whole world is our countrey, wheresoever is the race of mankind sprong of that celestiall seed […].73 After patriotism, Lipsius (or, better, Langius, the character who in the dialogue plays the role of the wise man teaching Lipsius) goes on to dismiss the equally harmful feeling of compassion (miseratio). Here Lipsius seems to be struggling to reconcile the Stoic command to suppress emotions with the Christian praise of charitas.74 The result is a “moderate position” that actually does not rule out the possibility of individual active intervention in favour of those in need. It is true that compassion is considered a bad emotion. However it could become a good one if it turns into mercy, as the genuine, factual (but emotionally detached), rescue from miseries in the name of “humanity”: What Stoyical subtilities are these? (said I) Will you not have me to pittie an other mans case? Surelie it is a virtue among good men … What then? Are we so unkind and voyd of humanitie, that we would have no man to be moved at anothers miserie? Yes (said Langius), I allowe that we be mooved to help them, not to bewaile or waile with them. I permit mercy, but not pittying […] But he that is trulie mercifull in deed, wil not bemone or pittie the condition of distressed persons, but yet wil do more to helpe and succour them […] he will performe more in workes than in words: and will stretch out unto the poore and needy his hand, rather than his tongue.75 Thus, the wise man of De Constantia is not the emotionless, disciplined citizen ready to obey his sovereign’s commands and to face the blows of destiny without flinching, as a long-​standing interpretation of Neostoicism has it. Instead, it seems that Lipsius did participate in the revival of Stoic cosmopolitanism as connected to the question of intervention with the aim of removing from 73 Lipsius, De Constantia, i, 9, p. 45. 74 Jill Kraye, ‘Moral Philosophy’, in Charles B. Schmitt et al. (eds), The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge: CUP, 1988), pp. 364–​370; Waszink, ‘Introduction’, p. 29n. 75 Lipsius, De Constantia, i, 12, p. 53.

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the earth the ‘enemies of mankind’ of Cicero and Seneca. The issue is raised in Book Two of De Constantia, where Lipsius is describing the apparently paradoxical benefits of ‘public calamities’, among which we find the punishment of ‘tyrants, and thieves of the whole world’. Indeed, using a well-​known analogy in monarchomach literature, Lipsius equates the tyrant with a private malefactor, whose actions dissolve common society and deserve punishment. In this sense, Langius goes on, punishment is good again in regard of men, among whom no society can stand or continue if busy and ungodly wits may practice what they please uncontrolled. And as it is expedient for the security of each private person to have execution done upon a particular thief or murderer, so it is necessary in general that the like justice is shown upon notorious public malefactors. These punishments upon tyrants and spoilers of the whole world must necessarily be inflicted sometimes […].76 However, if Lipsius toyed with Stoic ideas of opposition to tyrants based on the bond between all human beings in a common society, he did not endorse the Ciceronian view –​later reaffirmed by the monarchomachs –​that intervention on behalf of those oppressed by enemies of humankind is a real duty for both citizens and princes alike. There is always prudence to be taken into account. In fact, the lessons taught by Tacitus and Machiavelli (among others) seems to be visible not only in the Politica, but also in De Constantia. This occurs when Lipsius, just after having allowed ‘merciful’ assistance to the needy, specifies that this must be done ‘with discretion and care, that he infect not himselfe with other men’s contagion: and that (as Fencers use to say) hee beare not others blowes uppon his owne ribbes’.77 If we now turn to the issue of foreign intervention in the Politica, we find a similar pattern. As previously mentioned, Lipsius’ political masterpiece was heavily influenced by the failed hopes for the English expedition of 1585–​1587. From his correspondence, we know that he put strong hopes in the Earl of Leicester, the newly appointed governor general of the Netherlands, partly because he had close personal and cultural ties with many members of his circle. Lipsius even delivered a private lecture to the Earl on the occasion of his visit to the University of Leiden in March 1586.78 However, after the struggle between Leicester and the government of Holland became irreversible, and 76 Ibid., ii, 10, p. 93. 77 Ibid., i, 12, p. 53. 78 Waszink, ‘Introduction’, p. 27.

276 Clerici the Earl unsuccessfully attempted to use violence against a few Dutch towns, Lipsius became discouraged and eventually left the country for the Spanish Netherlands, in order to join the University of Louvain. As it was for Gentili, the problem of foreign intervention is treated by Lipsius in the fifth book of the Politica, dealing with military matters, and precisely within the discussion on just war. As said, the audience now is not that of ordinary citizens, but that of ‘Emperor, Kings and Princes’.79 In a fashion that echoes perhaps Agricola more than Ramus,80 Lipsius makes use of several dichotomies, first dividing the just causes for war into defensive and offensive wars, then subdividing defensive war into self-​defence and defence of others. Finally, the latter is divided into defence of allies and defence of the ‘Oppressed’ (in Oppressis). Here Lipsius makes use of the now familiar Stoic notion of ‘universal tie of Community’, with a precise quote from Cicero’s De officiis, but instantly coupled with a reference from a Christian author, St. Ambrose. All this in order to justify intervention ‘to help people who are affected by heavy violence or extreme Tyranny’. Yet, as in De Constantia, prudence should be added: it is interesting to note that, when speaking about the cogent character of such interventions, Lipsius uses the Latin videor, that is a verb conveying opinion, not obligation. The line runs as follows: ‘It seems [videtur, my emphasis] that the universal ties of Community oblige you to help people who are afflicted by heavy violence or extreme Tyranny’.81 Actually, Lipsius immediately proceeds to express some warnings, perhaps remembering the Leicester case. For example, he makes clear that the Prince must not use war ‘as a pretext for stretching out hands and feet, and seizing what belongs to others’. And, as a matter of fact, a few pages later he clarifies that the Prince is not obliged ‘to descend immediately to the Field of Mars, even if a just Cause has presented itself. War is a matter of great weight: it demands deliberation, and slow deliberation’.82 Harald Kleinschmidt has correctly spoken of an ethic of ‘self-​constraint’ in Lipsius’ doctrine of warfare,83 which represented a departure from the enthusiastic pleas for intervention against tyrants in the monarchomach literature discussed above. Even if Lipsius justified invasions ‘against savages, or people whose morality or religion is entirely different from ours’,84 he did so always as a possibility, not as a moral obligation to act. 79 Lipsius, Politica, ‘Praefatio’, p. 227. 80 Waszink, ‘Introduction’, p. 54. 81 Lipsius, Politica, v, 4, pp. 546–​547. 82 Ibid., v, 5, p. 551. 83 Kleinschmidt, ‘War’, pp. 118–​125. 84 Lipsius, Politica, v, 4, p. 549.

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Concluding Remarks

By analysing the rise of Neostoicism as an antidote to the “crisis” generated by the Wars of Religion, I tried to place Justus Lipsius within the history of the law of nations. I thus showed how he participated in the revival of the Stoic notion of societas hominum, which was articulated in the writings of Cicero and Seneca and was linked to the justification of intervention against tyranny. The issue was already debated in the political propaganda of the late sixteenth century, especially in the context of the political turmoil in France and the Netherlands, when universal principles drawn from different traditions, such as Stoicism and natural law, clashed over, or blended with, the growing ideology of absolutism(s). This cultural struggle, and the fascination with Stoicism, is discernible not only in Protestant literature, but also in the works of Lipsius’ contemporaries Jean Bodin, Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius. Like the monarchomachs, Lipsius uses Stoic sources together with Christian ones, not in opposition to them. However, in contrast to the monarchomachs –​ and to Cicero –​Lipsius does not endorse a real duty of intervention. For him, to decide in favour of the latter should always be mediated by prudence and caution. He seems aware of the risks of political instability deriving from an unconditional duty for individuals and sovereigns to wage, or take part in, wars in the name of “humanity”. It might be said that, while using Stoic arguments for cosmopolitanism, Lipsius nevertheless weakens their moral implications with a dose of scepticism and raison d’état thinking.85 He praises intervention but sees it as a prudence-​based possibility rather than as an ethical obligation (more or less in the same vein as Hugo Grotius after him).86 With some exaggeration, Gerhard Oestreich claimed that ‘the ideological foundations of natural law, which dominated the jurisprudence of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries […] are to be sought not so much in scholasticism as in the direct revival of the Stoa’.87 As the history of the reception of the Stoic principle of societas hominum as well as its political implications show, he was at least partly right. But this reconstruction also suggests, against


The mixture of Scepticism, Stoicism and Reason of State as a form of ‘new humanism’ is forcefully advocated, with special references to Lipsius, by Tuck, Philosophy, especially pp. 31–​64. 86 For Grotius’ handling of Stoic sources, see Martine Julia Van Ittersum, ‘The Wise Man is Never Merely a Private Citizen: The Roman Stoa in Hugo Grotius’ De Jure Praedae (1604–​ 1608)’, History of European Ideas, 36 (2010), pp. 1–​18; Luke Glanville, ‘Grotius and the Marginalization of Cosmopolitan Duties’, Grotiana, 40 (2019), pp. 102–​122. 87 Oestreich, Neostoicism, p. 38.

278 Clerici Oestreich, the persistence of a politics of ‘Stoic opposition’88 also in the realm of international political thought. Indeed, Neostoicism could provide a coherent moral framework for individuals to face a time of crisis and fight adversities inside an “inner citadel”. However, following Cicero’s verdict that ‘a wise man is never merely a private citizen’,89 at the level of international relations Neostoic cosmopolitanism could also go in an opposite direction. That is to say, a direction not of self-​mastery over passions and obedience to existing authorities, but one conceived as a solidarity call to political engagement, sharing others’ suffering and actively intervening against the ‘enemies of mankind’ in any part of the global oikoumene,90 resulting in a problematic and –​perhaps paradoxically –​even in a crisis-​generating doctrine. Lipsius, however, was aware of this danger.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Anon., Le Réveille-​Matin des Français et de leur voisins, composé par Eusèbe Philadelphe Cosmopolite, en forme de dialogues (Edinburgh, 1574). Bèze, Théodore de, Du droit des Magistrats, ed. Robert Kingdon (Geneva: Droz, 1970). Garnett, George (ed.), Vindiciae, contra tyrannos: or, Concerning the Legitimate Power of a Prince over the People, and of the People over a Prince (Cambridge: cup, 1994). Gentili, Alberico, De iure belli commentatio prima (London: J. Wolfe, 1588). Lipsius, Justus, On Constancy, in John Sellars ed. (Bristol: Phoenix Press, 2006). Lipsius, Justus, Politica, in Jan Waszink ed. and transl., Politica: Six books of Politics or Political Instruction (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2004).

Brooke, Christopher, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought From Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton: pup, 2012). Koselleck, Reinhart, ‘Krise’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, Reinhart Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-​sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, vol. 3 (Stuttgart: Klett-​Cotta, 1984), pp. 617–​650.

88 Brooke, Philosophic, pp. 63–​69; Wildberger, The Stoic, pp. 204–​207. 89 Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes, iv, 51: ‘qui hoc Stoicorum verum esse declaravit, numquam privatum esse sapientem’. 90 Martha C. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire. Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: PUP, 2009 [1994]), pp. xiv–​xv.

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Moreau, Pierre-​François (ed.), Le stoïcisme au XVIe Et au XVIIe siècle. Le retour des philosophies antiques à l’âge classique (Paris: Albin Michel, 1999). Oestreich, Gerhard, Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (Cambridge: cup, 1982). Parker, Geoffrey and Lesley M. Smith (eds), The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (New York: Routledge, 1997; ii edn). Recchia, Stefano and Jennifer Welsh (eds), Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill (Cambridge: cup, 2013). Trim, David J. B. and Brendan Simms (eds), Humanitarian Intervention. A History (Cambridge: cup, 2011).

­c hapter 13

The Constitution of Crisis: Politics, Decline and Decision in Hegel’s Verfassungsschrift Nathaniel Boyd


In the early thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–​1831), crisis appears twice.1 In the first instance, in 1802, Hegel excerpts and reproduces a copy of a diplomatic document or report on the meeting of the estates in Regensburg Churbrandenburg; it is collected in the fragments of what has popularly come to be known as the Verfassungsschrift.2 The context here is the protracted demise of the Holy Roman Empire in light of the decisive failures of the Second Coalition War (1798–​1802) –​a crisis calling for decision: In the unprecedented situation in which the worthy German fatherland reportedly finds itself [sich befinde] at the present time, the extraordinary daily increase in the urgency of the circumstances would make the rapid decision of this crisis a pressing necessity, because solely on it do peace, order and public safety depend […].3

1 I wish to thank Samo Tomšič and Donald Goodwin for their help with some of the more difficult German translations, László Kontler for his very generous comments and, finally, Cesare Cuttica for his editorial assistance and insights on the original draft conclusion. 2 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Über die Reichsverfassung, ed. Hans Maier (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2004). I will be using this study edition, which is a revised paperback of the definitive critical edition (idem, ‘Fragmente einer Kritik der Verfassung Deutschlands’, in Manfred Baum and Kurt Rainer Meist (eds), Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5: Schriften und Entwürfe (1799–​ 1808) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1998), pp. 1–​219). I have made my own translations throughout this chapter and, when possible, have compared them to the translations of Hugh Barr Nisbet, ‘The German Constitution’, in Lawrence Dickey and Hugh Barr Nisbet (eds), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 6–​101. Page numeration to this edition will be referred to in brackets after the critical edition with the acronym ‘GC’. 3 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 191.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_015

The Constitution of Crisis


In the second instance, crisis appears in a far more extensive discussion in Hegel’s Jenaer Systementwürfe III. Naturphilosophie und Philosophie des Geistes (1805–​1806) –​revealing his relationship to Hippocratic medicine:4 […] this dissolution passes over into form, product, the organism falls into the lymph, sweat; liquid existence. This product has the meaning that in it the isolation, the individual, the determinacy ceases, the organism has emerged as a whole, has even digested itself; it is the cooked matter of disease, as the ancients expressed it; a very good concept, –​it is the critical excretion; –​the crisis is the organism that has become master of itself, that reproduces itself and proves this power through excretion; –​ it is certainly not the contagious matter that is excreted, so that if this matter in the body had not been able to be scooped out with a spoon, it would have been healthy, but crisis is even like digestion, at the same time an excretion –​the product is doubled. Critical excretions, therefore, are very different from powerless excretions, which are not excretions, but dissolutions of the organism, having directly the opposite meaning. –​ Thus it comes to be universal, not as this sickness; –​the determinacy first changes itself into movement, necessity, the entire process, and this into the whole product, and thereby also into the whole self; –​the product is simple negativity –​5 What are we to make of such examples? In the first case, from the Verfassungsschrift, a concurrence can be established with the research of Reinhart Koselleck, which emphasised a semantic shift in the German vernacular: from a medical category to a term increasingly applied in political discourse.6 Utilising the medical analogy, a ‘turning point’ –​ a ‘culmination of a dangerous development’ or ‘difficult situation’7 –​had been reached for the German constitution that, as Hegel recorded in the excerpt, necessitated a ‘rapid decision’. In this context, it is important to note that 4 See the editorial remarks on the possible sources in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III. Naturphilosophie und Philosophie des Geistes. ed. Rolf-​Peter Horstmann (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1987), p. 305. The second part of this Jena system has been translated into English as idem, Hegel and the Human Spirit: A Translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805–​6) (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983; transl. Leo Rauch). I will reference this text for comparison when possible with the acronym ‘HHS’. 5 Ibid., p. 168 (original italics). 6 See Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400, p. 366 (transl. Michaela W. Richter). 7 https://​​wb/​Krise, accessed on 5 April 2020.

282 Boyd the word constitution [Verfassung] in German was not only linked to author [Verfasser] and to something written,8 but also carried physiological import. Thus it signified the ‘law of a state over the social and political order and the rights and obligations of its citizens’, as well as the ‘condition’ or ‘state’ in which a human body or something is found9 –​just as in English. Political treatises in the eighteenth century took up the earlier Latin status concept,10 which by and large did not mean state in the modern sense of the word, but condition or form of government or the condition or state of a given form of government.11 As a scientific concept, a precedent had thus long been set for the use of crisis where medical nomenclature had been employed in discussions on the constitution: not only did Staats-​Verfassung originally refer to the condition or state –​i.e. status –​of a constitution, but was also the translation of ratio status into German, thus linking the word state with reason. This should bring us to pause and take note that medicine and politics were equivalent sciences and indeed often used interchangeably: doctors of politics such as Henning Arnisaeus (1570–​1636) and Hermann Conring (1606–​1681) were first and foremost physicians. Hence, the aims of the sciences of medicine and politics were comparable: ‘the knowledge of the structure, change, decay and restoration of a healthy person or healthy political system’.12 In the Verfassungsschrift, Hegel spoke of ‘the organisation of this body, which is called the German state constitution [Staatsverfassung]’.13 Here he followed the German translation of the ratio status that he most likely inherited from Johann Jacob Moser (1701–​1785) and the Göttingen School. In this literature, the empire was commonly referred to as a body politic [Staatskörper]. In the second case, in Jenaer Systementwürfe III, the introduction of the concept of crisis belongs to the last pages of the final section on The Organic. Dealing with ‘the crisis of the organism’, the larger context is disease, death and fever.14 Death is individual, whereas the species is a unity or a complete whole. 8 https://​​wb/​Verfassung, accessed on 5 April 2020. 9 Ibid. 10 See Heinz Mohnhaupt, ‘Verfassung I’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck (eds), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politische-​sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, vol. 6 (Stuttgart: Klett-​Cotta, 2004), pp. 831–​862, p. 854. 11 Ibid., p. 853. 12 Horst Dreitzel, ‘Politische Philosophie des Aristotelismus’, in Helmut Holzey and Wilhelm Schmidt-​Biggemann (eds), Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie. Die Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts, vol. 4: Das Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nation (Basel: Schwabe, 2001), pp. 637–​672, p. 668. 13 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 6 (GC, p. 9). 14 See Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, pp. 162–​169.

The Constitution of Crisis


Disease occurs when the organism is dissociated from itself or when there is an independence or opposition between the individual as something negative and the organism.15 Crisis is the elimination of this disease through fever, and its product, in Hegel’s reference to the ancients, is sweat.16 Given what I have just discussed in the paragraph above, the ubiquitousness of such terminology should come as no surprise. When Hegel, in the preceding pages leading up to his discussion of crisis, makes mention of ‘freedom’ and ‘the independence of both sides’, ‘individual and state’, of ‘substance as subject’, and the latter as a ‘determined negativity’,17 it is unclear whether the discussion is physiological or political. With this description of the individual, Hegel later diagnoses the disease of the Holy Roman Empire. In this chapter, I will explore the concept of crisis as a descriptive and diagnostic concept of Hegel’s early political theory. I will situate the philosopher within what the critical literature has termed the crisis of political Aristotelianism.18 In this respect, the rigid characterisation that sees Aristotelian politica as the philosophy of ‘the “old European” society up until Hegel’19 will be broken down through demonstrating the German Idealist’s relation to the previous literature on Aristotelianism.20 Just like the political tradition that preceded him, Hegel saw a certain necessity in categorising the type of rule or constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, the forma imperii, ratio status or Staats-​Verfassung –​ its condition or state –​before setting out to establish his own proposals or remedies for the body politic. This followed Aristotle’s Politics, the reigning authority who had discussed how different forms of state or constitution could be preserved or destroyed.21 In the arcana imperii literature of Arnold Clapmar (1574–​1604) that first took up the ratio status doctrine in Germany, this discussion became the essential starting point.22 As the historical literature has established, the most nuanced reception of Niccolò Machiavelli 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Ibid., p. 165. See ibid., p. 168 and the editorial remarks, p. 305. Ibid., pp. 165–​166 (original emphasis). See Horst Dreitzel, ‘Reason of State and the Crisis of Political Aristotelianism: An Essay on the Development of 17th Century Political Philosophy’, History of European Ideas, 28:3 (2002), pp. 163–​187. See Dreitzel, ‘Politische Philosophie des Aristotelismus’, p. 649. Here I follow Karl-​Heinz Ilting, ‘Hegels Auseinandersetzung mit der Aristotelischen Politik’, in idem, Aufsätze über Hegel, eds Paolo Becchi and Hansgeorg Hoppe (Frankfurt: Humanities Online, 2006), pp. 11–​35. See Aristotle, Politics, 1301a19–​24, 1307b26–​30. See Rudolf Hoke, ‘Staatsräson und Reichsverfassung bei Hippolithus a Lapide’, in Roman Schnur (ed.), Staatsräson: Studien zur Geschichte eines politischen Begriffs (Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 1975), pp. 407–​425, p. 411.

284 Boyd (1469–​1527) in Germany also occurred within the context of a modernising Aristotelianism (an Aristotelianism ‘adapted to the modern era’ [Neuzeit])23 –​ the very Machiavelli that stands at the centre of Hegel’s early political theory. In intellectual circles, Machiavelli became a ‘secret tip’ and was conjoined to Tacitus and Aristotle as part of the arcana, a ‘political Hippocrates’ who uncovered the illnesses of a body politic and the remedies required for its recovery.24 Moreover, it was Machiavelli who first resumed the discussion on the best form of the constitution, or condition of a commonwealth, which predominated in the ancient Aristotelian tradition.25 It is entirely within this earlier context of political Aristotelianism that Hegel’s infamous appeal to the pestifera doctrina of chapter xxvi of The Prince belongs –​or so I will argue –​, as does his later reference to the German abhorrence of Machiavellism and the disease it diagnoses,26 which I will demonstrate is part and parcel of his historical comprehension of the crisis of the imperial constitution in Germany. My argument will be structured into three sections. Firstly, I will discuss Hegel’s relation to the earlier debate in the Holy Roman Empire over which of the classical Aristotelian types of rule applied to the constitution. The second section will pursue a similar line of thought by analysing the exceptional position of Bogislaw Philipp von Chemnitz (1605–​1678), who stands at the centre of Hegel’s polemic. In the last section, I will turn to Hegel’s interpretation of Machiavelli, which I will argue belongs to the earlier Aristotelian tradition and Hegel’s understanding of the crisis in the imperial constitutional form.

Forma imperii and the Crisis of Aristotelianism

Evidence that the Verfassungsschrift belongs to a history of commentaries on Aristotelian politics and public law can clearly be seen in Hegel’s references to what in the Latin literature was called the forma imperii: the Aristotelian types of rule (monarchy, aristocracy and politeia)27 as well as their corrupted forms 23

See Michael Stolleis, ‘Machiavellismus und Staatsräson. Ein Beitrag zu Conrings politischem Denken’, in idem, Staat und Staatsräson in der frühen Neuzeit: Studien zur Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1990), pp. 73–​105, pp. 73, 95. 24 See Michael Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland, vol. 1: Reichspublizistik und Policeywissenschaft 1600–​1800 (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1988), pp. 92, 95. 25 See Michael Stolleis, ‘Arcana Imperii und Ratio Status: Bemerkung zur politischen Theorie des frühen 17. Jahrhunderts’, in idem, Staat und Staatsräson, pp. 37–​72, p. 50. 26 See Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 236 (HHS, p. 156). 27 Politeia is at once a ‘generic name –​a constitution’ (Aristotle, Politics 1279a38) and a particular type of rule.

The Constitution of Crisis


(tyranny, oligarchy, despotism28 and democracy).29 No doubt referencing the older tradition of politica, Hegel stated how ‘the lectern statisticians who had the official duty to classify the constitutions of the state, and according to the classes of monarchy, aristocracy and so on specified by Aristotle, never knew how to do justice to German rights’.30 That being said, this criticism is balanced by Hegel’s attack on the more recent approaches to imperial history, law and state law doctrine –​that of Moser and leading Göttingen academics. From his point of view, such tendencies in political thought only had legitimacy in statu cadentis imperii –​in the state of a crumbling empire.31 When he set out to define how the concept of the imperial constitution is constructed, he thus returned to the earlier Aristotelian tradition. What Hegel pinpoints in the quote above is the historical fact that imperial or public constitutional law came into being at the same time as the estates were achieving political rule over their territorial domains.32 This resulted in the juridification of politics or the pure application of law at the level of the Reich, which for Hegel came into contradiction with the concept of the state and the essential character of its political power.33 What Hegel rightly recognised here is what has been called in the historical literature the crisis of Aristotelianism, which in this instance was symbolised by the failure of its typology. In other words, he saw the historical shift from the supremacy of politica to jurisprudence,34 which degraded the former into a mere practical art. This forms a contrast to how politica appeared as an Aristotelian architectonic science in which the unity of the theoretical and practical sciences was achieved.35 Against the modern empirical and formal ways of treating natural law in his contemporaneous Naturrechtaufsatz (1802), Hegel held up


Aristotle identifies despotism with ‘the fourth sort of oligarchy’ that ‘approaches a monarchy’ and it is ‘analogous to the last sort of democracy’ (Aristotle, Politics 1293a13–​34). 29 See Hegel, Reichsverfassung, pp. 3–​7, 47, 48, 52, 58–​61, 67–​72, 124–​126ff (GC, pp. 6, 14, 78). 30 Ibid., p. 47. 31 Hans Maier, ‘Hegels Schrift über die Reichsverfassung’, in idem, Politische Wissenschaft in Deutschland: Aufsätze zur Lehrtradition und Bildungspraxis (Munich: R. Piper, 1969), pp. 52–​69, p. 264, n.11. 32 Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, p. 186. 33 See Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 44 (GC, p. 46). 34 See Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, pp. 127–​130. Such disciplinary distinctions were made first by Johannes Althusius (1557–​1638) at the opening of his Politica methodice digesta (1603). See Ferenc Hörcher, ‘Overcoming Crisis in an Early Modern Urban Context. Althusius on Concord and Prudence’ in this volume. 35 See Nicomachean Ethics 1094a27.

286 Boyd this earlier architectonic as an ideal.36 According to his diagnosis, the crisis of the Holy Roman Empire involved the supremacy of private law over politics –​ established constitutionally after 1648. Thus, Hegel contrasted the Aristotelian science of politics to the modern doctrines of constitutional law, which no longer had a concept of the state or constitution in view: The older teachers of constitutional law when treating German constitutional law had the idea of a science in mind and therefore set out to establish the concept of the German constitution, but they could not come to an agreement on this concept. The moderns gave up trying.37 Dependent on the standpoint of the author concerned, completely different political tracts appeared during the conflicts of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–​ 1648), which disputed at the academic level which of the Aristotelian types of rule was to be applied to the empire. The simple fact that German authors were all in the employ of territorial universities or were counsellors to territorial princes or imperial cities meant that they all took the interests of the estates for granted.38 Not only involving the electors and their territories, but also other estates, as well as cities, bishoprics, imperial knights and princes, the imperial constitution was a complex system of rule. Given the fact that some of these polities relied on the empire to assure their continued existence and freedom, monarchy was often upheld in the empire at the same time as the estates. Many theoreticians thus leaned towards the Polybian mixed form of rule, which had been applied to the Roman state, as well as this doctrine in Aristotle and Dionysus Halicarnassus.39 This went directly against the contentious description of the empire by Jean Bodin (1530–​1596) who saw sovereignty or maiestas invested in a pure aristocracy of estates (pura ſit Ariſtocratia) –​ diminishing the emperor to a mere vassal.40 Citing Bodin, Johannes Limnaeus 36 See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, ‘Wissenschaftliche Behandlungsarten des Naturrechts’, in idem, Jenaer Kritische Schriften (II), eds Hans Brockard and Hartmut Buchner (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1983), pp. 90–​178, p. 104. 37 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 3 (GC, p. 6). 38 See Julian H. Franklin, ‘Sovereignty and the Mixed Constitution: Bodin and his Critics’, in James Henderson Burns, with Mark Goldie (eds), The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450–​1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 298–​328, p. 311. 39 See Aristotle, Politics 1265b41–​43. 40 See Iohannis Bodini, De republica libri sex; Latine ab auctore redditi, multo quam antea locupletiores (Frankfurt, 1591), i.9, pp. 190–​191, ii.1, p. 283, ii.7, pp. 369–​379. I reference the Latin version of Jean Wechel and Pierre Fischer, which was so central to the German reception in the seventeenth century.

The Constitution of Crisis


(1592–​1665) proposed that not only did the French jurist recognise a maiestas regnantis, but also a majesty or sovereignty of the state itself, a maiestas regni:41 the empire was a subject of sovereignty through the rule of foundational laws.42 This led to the doctrine of real and personal majesty or double sovereignty. Whereas maiestas realis was firmly anchored in the Holy Roman Empire and its foundational laws, represented by the collectivity of estates, the emperor possessed the maiestas personalis –​a power that was bound by the foundational laws.43 This was an attempt to overcome Bodin’s doctrine of the sovereignty of the ruler and to replace it with a doctrine of the sovereignty of the state.44 To this end a functional division of the rights of sovereignty was required and the status mixtus doctrine retained.45 In other words, both monarchical and aristocratic elements were present. Limnaeus was the first to give a real concise meaning to the formula Kaiser und Reich.46 Writing in view of the emergence of a new system of balance, which became very clear in the eighteenth century and particularly after the Seven Years’ War (1756-​1763), this formula, for Hegel, had lost all meaning: The teacher of constitutional law, who can no longer call Germany a state, because he would otherwise have to admit some consequences that follow from the concept of a state, and which he cannot […] gives the title Reich as a concept. Or, since Germany is not a democracy, nor an aristocracy, but should be a monarchy by its very nature, and yet the Kaiser should not again be regarded as a monarch, one helps oneself to the title of head of the Reich, which he carries even in a system in which not titles, but certain concepts should prevail.47 The latter concepts for Hegel are the Aristotelian types of rule. Sovereignty or maiestas, forced beyond the constraints of its original monism –​its indivisibility –​to accommodate the dualistic character of empire and imperial estates,

41 See Rudolf Hoke, ‘Bodins Einfluss auf die Anfänge der Dogmatik des deutschen Reichsstaatsrechts’, in Horst Denzer (ed.), Verhandlungen der internationalen Bodin Tagung (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1973), pp. 315–​332, p. 327. 42 See ibid., p. 325. 43 Ibid., p. 328. 44 Ibid., p. 327. 45 Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, p. 180. 46 Ibid., p. 223. 47 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 67 (italics added) (GC, p. 14).

288 Boyd was never fully exercised in either respect.48 Obviously, as Hegel saw it, the crisis of Aristotelianism involved the dissolution of the concept of the constitution or state; the inapplicability of the typology was the failure of the empire, which left positions of power vacant or contested. Historically speaking real constitutional development took place in the territories where attempts were made to follow the ‘absolutist’ model without this ever being realised in a pure form.49 Moreover, the very concept of the constitution as a written document only emerged at the imperial level in connection to the perpetual electoral capitulations drawn up by the imperial estates and presented to the emperor to strictly limit his powers.50 Through territorial supremacy [Landeshoheit] a form of quasi-​sovereignty was attained for the estates during the Thirty Years’ War, transforming the empire from a political structure –​or state in Hegel’s words –​into one of permanent legal compromise. Drawing a parallel with Machiavelli’s Italy, a variety of Aristotelian political forms appeared, ‘monarchies, aristocracies, democracies’, and ‘the degeneration of these constitutions into tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy’.51 Yet, at the level of the empire, the concept of the constitution remained a point of conflict. For Hegel, this followed a specific logic, which was defined by the very character of German public and constitutional law: The principles of German public law are therefore not derived from the concept of a state, or the concept of a particular constitution, a monarchy, etc. German constitutional law is not a science that follows principles, but an urbarium of the most diverse of constitutional rights acquired in the form of private law.52 With respect to the expansion of the individual interests of the estates over and against the imperial constitution, Hegel made explicit reference to both Chemnitz and Conring53 who, when dividing Roman private law from the imperial constitution, as he saw it, conflated the real difference ‘between 48

Diethelm Klippel, ‘Staat und Souveränität VIII’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 6, pp. 107–​128, p. 118. 49 See Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, pp. 206–​207. 50 See Mohnhaupt, ‘Verfassung I’, p. 857. 51 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 124 (GC, p. 78). See Cesare Cuttica, ‘Democracy and Crisis in the 1640s in England: The Ochlocratic Moment’, in this volume. 52 Ibid., p. 64 (italics added) (GC, p. 12). A register of fief ownership, an urbarium or rent roll consisted of the rights and benefits a fief holder possessed over his serfs and peasants. 53 See ibid., pp. 120, 161 (GC, p. 74 –​the fragment referencing Conring is missing from the translation).

The Constitution of Crisis


state power and the legal object […]; a legal object is a private property; state power cannot be private property as it flows from the state’.54 For Hegel, Aristotelianism had degenerated from a political science applied to the constitutional context of the empire to a particularistic doctrine, which had dissolved into an empirical description of different forms of territorial rule. Indeed, it was in the territorial context that constitutional analogies with sovereignty were slowly developed.55

Chemnitz: ‘Re-​emergence of the Bodinian View’?56

In the Verfassungsschrift, Hegel considered how Chemnitz (and Conring) began a process that eventually ‘constituted the estates as states’.57 As he saw it, if ‘Germany is an empire, a body politic, under a common imperial head in imperial federation, such expressions cannot be overstated as legal titles, but a consideration in which concepts are dealt with has nothing to do with those titles’.58 Once again, the problem was that the Aristotelian concept of the constitution, the forma imperii, remained undefined. In speaking of legal titles and claims, Hegel followed the more Machiavellian or Tacitean inflected tradition of the arcana imperii whereby such attributes were possessed as the mere appearances of rule (simulacra imperii). In a similar fashion, if not for very opposite reasons, Chemnitz also set out to prove the de facto ‘legal reality of the Reichskörper behind the silhouettes of honorary titles and deceptive phrases’.59 He did so with reference to the arcana rerum publicarum or the lura Dominationis ab Arcanis Dominationis –​as well as the rights of sovereignty, the iura maiestatis borrowed from Bodin.60 These traditions went back to both Aristotle and Tacitus, to what Aristotle had considered the wise maxims or secrets of princes that Bodin drew attention to in his Methodus ad facilem

54 55 56

Ibid., p. 160. See Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, p. 185. See Hanns Gross, Empire and Sovereignty: A History of the Public Law Literature in the Holy Roman Empire, 1599–​1804 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973 [Midway Reprint]), pp. 235–​254. 57 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 161. 58 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 67 (italics added) (GC, p. 14). 59 Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland, p. 205. 60 See Chemnitz’s pseudonymous Hippolithus à Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status in imperio nostro Romano-​Germanico (Freistadt [Amsterdam]: n.d., 1640 [1647?]), i.2, p. 6, i.18, pp. 310–​324. The date of publication remains contested.

290 Boyd historiarum cognitionem (1566) and that Clapmar may have alluded to in his De Arcanis rerum publicarum libri sex (1605).61 Hegel viewed the political extremism of Chemnitz as symptomatic of an epoch in political discourse.62 An integral part of the history of modernity and the development of the Germanic World, Chemnitz’s contribution solidified the territorial (aristocratic) principle. Under the threat of the absolutist tendencies of Ferdinand ii (1578–​1637), Chemnitz’s proposals were a solution to the crisis of the Reich in the period of the Thirty Years’ War: ‘German freedom meant nothing other than the independence of the estates from the emperor, either slavery or despotism –​or the abolition of state union –​no third option was known in earlier times’.63 Ushering in the epoch of German particularism by dividing Roman from constitutional law ‘more for the dissolution of the state than any connection to it’,64 for Hegel, Chemnitz ‘certainly expressed the inner character and tendency of the nation. In the Westphalian peace Germany gave up trying to consolidate itself as a secure state power and surrendered itself to the good will of its members’.65 Attempting to extirpate any form of Habsburg suzerainty and asserting the absolutely sovereign rights of the princes, Chemnitz compared the Holy Roman Empire, as Bodin had done before him,66 to Venice and the emperor to the Doge who was given the highest honour and the most tribute precisely because he was deprived of all real power. In this way, the emperor possessed the simulacra imperii but not the iura dominationis –​the real rights of rule.67 To this end, sovereignty was shared between the territorial estates, an aristocracy concentrated in the Reichstag, which stood above all positive law, according to that ancient Roman legal formula of legibus solutus.68 For Chemnitz, the status of the empire was settled in favour of the interests of the estates: ‘Quomodo verò ex diverſis ariſtocraticis formis Status hic Imperii mixtus ſit’.69 While the 61 62

See Gross, Empire and Sovereignty, p. 229. See Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 120; compare Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte, Berlin 1822–​3, eds Karl-​Heinz Ilting, Karl Brehmer and Hoo Nam Seelmann (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1996), p. 511. 63 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 143 (GC, p. 92). 64 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 161. Hegel most likely drew this interpretation of Chemnitz (and Conring) from the Halle professor Johann Christoph Krause (1749–​1799) (see Kurt Rainer Meist, ‘Anmerkungen’, in Hegel, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5, pp. 749–​807, p. 761). 65 Ibid., p. 120 (GC, p. 74). 66 See Bodini, De republica libri sex, i.8, p. 146; i.9, pp. 190–​191; ii.1, p. 283. 67 See Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, i.10, pp. 151–​203, ii.6, pp. 390–​404. 68 See ibid., i.5, pp. 84–​97. 69 Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, i.2, p. 35: ‘How truly this imperial Status is mixed from different aristocratic forms’.

The Constitution of Crisis


emperor was maintained, he became a mere cipher: the apex of a pyramid composed of several aristocracies.70 This mixed aristocracy retained monarchy as the appearance of sovereignty (simulacra maiestatis) in an administrative form, while the real rights of rule (iura dominationis) lay in the hands of the estates. At his most extreme, Chemnitz seemed to come close to drinking from the bitter draught the political Hippocrates had provided: ‘ſicut in corporibus ægris, Nihil quod nociturum eſt, Midici relinquunt: Sic nos, quicquid obſtat Imperio noſtro (cujus fundamentum Libertas, non unius arbitrium eſt) recidamus’.71 To restore the original aristocratic ratio status, to cure the Reichskörper of the crisis of monarchical tyranny, extrema et acerrima remedia could be used.72 Hence Chemnitz spoke realistically in terms of political power, even though his ratio status, which was Christian and anti-​Machiavellian in origin, still butted up against fear of God, faith, and morality.73 In one fell swoop Hegel spurned Chemnitz (and thus Bodin before him), dismissing the idea that the emperor was akin to ‘the former Doge of Venice’, a ‘chief magistrate’ or ‘most limited head of an aristocracy’: […] because the concept of a chief [Oberhaupt] fits the most varied extent of supreme state power, it is completely indefinite, and has no value for that; it pretends to have expressed something, and basically does not express anything at all.74 When Hegel set out to determine the concept of the constitution, the forma imperii, he worked in the tradition of the status mixtus –​utilizing the rights of sovereignty to determine the character of the constitution as the tradition had done before him. Not only should Montesquieu come to mind here, but also the works of Arnisaeus –​who continued to be quoted as an authority in the eighteenth century –​and the entire tradition of politica and imperial public

70 See ibid., i.3, pp. 36–​54, i.18, pp. 306–​317; compare Bodini, De republica libri sex, i.8, p. 125. 71 Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, iii.2, p. 531: ‘as in sick bodies Doctors leave nothing behind that will be injured: as a consequence we may cut back anything that stands in the way of our Government (whose foundation is Liberty, not the decisive mastery of one person)’. 72 Ibid., iii.2, p. 510. 73 See Hoke, ‘Staatsräson und Reichsverfassung’, p. 411; Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, Prolegomena, pp. 1–​20. 74 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 67 (GC, p. 15).

292 Boyd law.75 What was integral for much of this literature was to achieve a balance between the monarch and estates, which thus gave preference to the mixed constitution. The Tübingen jurist and political Aristotelian Christoph Besold (1577–​1638) was the first to integrate the early modern conception of (Bodinian) sovereignty successfully in the Reich, through his compound polyarchic or mixed form.76 For Hegel, however, the discussion ought to focus on the reality of the empire and emperor, which he separated from legal titles and claims, as we have seen. No longer ‘a civitas composita, in an unum imperium’ (Besold),77 ‘the German constitution in largest part essentially exists in the universal guarantee of the abolition of the state’.78 It was a mere Reichs-​ or Staatskörper without a constitution. In broad strokes, this followed Samuel von Pufendorf’s (1632–​1694) description of the empire as a monstro simile in his De statu imperii Germanici (1667).79 Just as the kingdom of nature at times produced abnormalities, the imperial political order was an anomalous and irregular species of state. Pufendorf referred to how ‘this Body is attack’d by furious Diseases’80 that was ‘by reason of its own Internal Diseases and Convulsions, so weakened, that it is scarce able to defend it self’.81 Even if such political disease had become strikingly apparent in imperial history after 1648, the question of finding a cure was to prove much more difficult.82 Pufendorf opted for maintenance of the status quo.83 When composing the Verfassungsschrift, Hegel undoubtedly came across Pufendorf –​in particular, when consulting the imperial public law literature of Moser, Johann Stephen Pütter (1725–​1807) and Karl Friedrich Häberlin (1756–​1808). Yet with the description of the empire as a Staatskörper, the critical literature has rather pointed to the influence of the works of Johann Christian Majer (1741–​1821) or what Hegel heard when attending the latter’s 75

Horst Dreitzel, Absolutismus und ständische Verfassung in Deutschland: ein Beitrag zu Kontinuität und Diskontinuität der politischen Theorie in der frühen Neuzeit (Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1992), p. 105. 76 See Franklin, ‘Sovereignty and the Mixed Constitution’, pp. 323–​328. 77 Karl Otmar von Aretin and Notker Hammerstein, ‘Reich IV’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 5, pp. 456–​486, p. 469. 78 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 60 (original italics). 79 Samuel von Pufendorf, The Present State of Germany, ed. Michael J. Seidler (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007; original transl. Edmund Bohun (1696)), vi, §9, p. 176. 80 Ibid., p. 178 (original italics and capitalisation). 81 Ibid., vii, §7, p. 199 (original capitalisation). 82 Ibid., viii, §1, p. 210. 83 See Peter Schröder, ‘The Constitution of the Holy Roman Empire after 1648: Samuel Pufendorf’s Assessment in His Monzambano’, The Historical Journal, 42:4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 961–​983.

The Constitution of Crisis


lectures in Tübingen. In 1775, Majer had used the concept of Staatskörper for the Roman-​German empire –​employing it as a substitute for the imperial federation [Reichsverband].84 Influence of Majer’s other works on Hegel in this period is also evident, such as Germaniens Urverfassung (1798), Teutsche Staatskonstitution (1800) as well as his lectures on Tacitus.85 Irrespective of the source, with condition and constitution, words that were themselves interchangeable both physiologically and politically, significations could be developed related to the health of the imperial body politic and its crises. To breathe new life into the constitution, to resolve the dissolution of the empire, and create a modern state, Hegel turned to Machiavelli. Invoking the cursed name of this political Hippocrates, his language could not be more pointed: ‘gangrenous limbs cannot be healed with lavender water […], life that is close to decay can only be reorganised by the most violent means’.86


Looking to the Italian context, Hegel drew an historical parallel between the warring factions of the late Middle Ages and eighteenth century Austro-​ Prussian dualism.87 As he states, ‘the condition of Italy cannot be called anarchy, because the mass of conflicting parties were organised states’.88 The same is true of Germany where ‘all the signs of the German state association have been conscientiously preserved for centuries [even] if the very thing itself, the state, has disappeared, and has dissolved not in anarchy but into many separate states’.89 The ratio status in the Holy Roman Empire had determined the forma imperii in the interest of the estates (Chemnitz). As the consequences of the War of the Second Coalition took their toll, the idea that a reform of the imperial body politic could remedy the situation disappeared; Hegel shifts from proposals to what becomes tantamount to an abolition of the constitution.90 Crisis in terms of decision becomes necessity, which results in his 84 Johann Christian Majer, Teutsches weltliches Staatsrecht abgetheilt in Reichs-​und Landrecht, vol. 2 (Leipzig: n.d., 1775), p. 93; Meist, ‘Anmerkungen’, p. 770. 85 See Franz Rosenzweig, Hegel und der Staat (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), pp. 152, 207 n.55. 86 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 128 (GC, p. 80); compare Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, iii.2. 87 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 125 (GC, p. 78). 88 Ibid., pp. 124–​125 (GC, p. 78). 89 Ibid., 100 (GC, p. 57). 90 Kurt Rainer Meist, ‘Zur Textedition der Verfassungsschrift’, in Hegel, Reichsverfassung, pp. vii–​lxxxi, p. xlix.

294 Boyd radical elimination of all existing structural forms. The Prince in this context becomes either a model for the removal of a pathology or, once the empire itself has disintegrated or is on the brink of doing so, a diagnosis. Given its ‘vigorously unbiased tone’, the Verfassungsschrift thus ‘freely pointed to the seat of evil’, which made it ‘more scientific, richer in historical connections’.91 One of the most important historical consequences of Machiavelli’s thought as well as of Renaissance Tacitism was the apparent separation between what is right and just and what is useful (iustum and utile),92 which had previously remained united in the common good or prudence. Obviously, for a long time the two sources of the modern concept of politics –​the Aristotelian legacy and a mundane utilitarianism –​were intertwined.93 In this way, the idea of a Sattelzeit can be considered a more generalizable term for conceptual change irrespective of epoch. Indeed, Machiavelli belonged to the classical tradition when, in the Discourses, he opposed tyrannical rule to constitutional government ‘in the traditional Aristotelian sense’.94 It was most likely in this respect that Bodin, in his Methodus stated that Machiavelli was the first of the modern authors to resume the classical discussion on the issue of the best form of constitution.95 Given the fact that the word politico is nowhere to be found in The Prince, arguably Machiavelli considered the recommendations he made for acquiring and preserving power as the art of a tyrant. He was still engaged with the traditional Aristotelian meaning of politics. Thus, as Conring suggested in his Prolegomena to his revised Latin translation and commentary of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1660), the latter book did not really deal with the principality, but rather with tyranny.96 If only to complicate such discussions further, we could add here Aristotle’s remark from the Politics that ‘even tyranny is reckoned by us to be a form of government’.97 Tyranny, as he put it, was a necessary subject, ‘which I place last in the series because I am inquiring into the constitutions of states, and this is the very reverse of a constitution’.98 In treating tyranny, Aristotle was a predecessor of Machiavelli. One must know wickedness and degeneration in order to avoid being ruined by it.

91 Rosenzweig, Hegel und der Staat, p. 142. 92 See Dreitzel, ‘Reason of State’, pp. 186, 184. 93 Volker Sellin, ‘Politik’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 4, pp. 789–​874, pp. 808–​814. 94 Sellin, ‘Politik’, p. 810 (italics added). 95 See Stolleis, ‘Arcana Imperii und Ratio Status’, p. 50. 96 Dietmar Willoweit, ‘Hermann Conring’, in Stolleis (ed.), Staatsdenker in der frühen Neuzeit, pp. 129–​147, p. 134. 97 Aristotle, Politics 1295a1–​3. 98 Aristotle, Politics 1293a29–​31.

The Constitution of Crisis


For Hegel, in polemic against the anti-​Machiavellism of Frederick ii, ‘the very purpose of Machiavelli, to raise Italy to a state, is misunderstood by the blindness that recognises nothing but a foundation for tyranny, a golden mirror for an ambitious subjugator in Machiavelli’s works’.99 Consequently, Hegel understood The Prince in a complex and nuanced way, conceiving of the use of violence from the Aristotelian perspective of the aims of the state, which kept the interests of the good of the people in view. The highest duty of the state was preservation, not of and for the ruler, but for the common good: ‘freedom is only possible in the legal association of a people in a state’, which, Hegel added, must be ‘elevated to a principle of political science’.100 All of a sudden, then, Machiavelli had much to say about the prudentia civilis whereby Hegel could speak of the ‘truly idealistic demands that Machiavelli makes of an excellent prince’.101 In other words, we do not yet see that utilitarianism identified with strict worldly political action, but an echo of the earlier political Aristotelian tradition: a Machiavelli in part ‘reduced to mere prudence’ –​even if some commentators have considered this a ‘diluted’ and ‘pedestrian’ Machiavellism.102 Taking into account the stage of Hegel’s philosophical development,103 clearly his understanding of Machiavelli belongs to his early political Aristotelianism. The violent means Machiavelli discusses are teleologically oriented to the universal or the state and by consequence the legal safety of its citizens –​qui est civium salus. For Hegel, in this sense ‘tyranny, pure horrible domination […] is necessary and just insofar as it constitutes and preserves the state as this real individual’.104 Against the alterum Germanica Libertatis of Chemnitz that could conceive of nothing other than the independence of the estates from Austrian rule (Dominationis Auſtriacie),105 Hegel considered what had been condemned as a synonym for despotism in the German literature on public law106 –​correctly perceiving that ‘even the name Machiavelli carries with it the guarantee of rejection’.107 Nevertheless, Hegel carefully 99 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 128 (GC, p. 80). 100 Ibid. (GC, p. 80). 101 Ibid., p. 129 (GC, p. 81). 102 See Arnaldo Momigliano, ‘The First Political Commentary on Tacitus’, in idem, Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2012), pp. 205–​ 229, pp. 207–​208. 103 See Ilting, ‘Hegels Auseinandersetzung’, pp. 11–​15. 104 Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 236 (original italics) (HHS, p. 156). 105 See Lapide, Dissertatio de ratione status, ii.3, 358, ii.4, 359–​ 61; compare Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 143. 106 See Dreitzel, Absolutismus und ständische Verfassung, p. 36 nn.7 and 8; compare, Peter Schröder, ‘“A ognuno puzza questo barbaro dominio”: Machiavelli and the German Strife for Liberty’, University of Tokyo Journal of Law and Politics 2 (2005), pp. 1–​12, p. 2. 107 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 128 (GC, p. 80).

296 Boyd distinguishes tyranny from despotism, conceiving the latter as a world historical concept already equivalent to the Orient in the Verfassungsschrift.108 Hence what Aristotle had discussed as ‘the worst of governments […] the farthest removed from a well-​constituted form’,109 for Hegel, by contrast, is a transitional phase that founds or constitutes the state:110 Through this education to obedience –​to know the universal rather as the real will –​tyranny has become superfluous and the rule of law steps in. The violence that the tyrant exercises is the violence of the law as such.111 For Hegel, the foundations of German public law narrate another type of reality. What he grasped was how the codification of the rights and duties of the feudal constitution were given pride of place. This involved shifting private patrimonial (seigniorial) claims into the field of politics, which restricted the authority and capacity of the empire as a ‘state’ through a process of juridification. In short, what occurred with the dualistic statehood shaped by the interplay between ruler and estates that made up the given form of state, government or constitution at the territorial level, did not take place in the overall structure of the empire that remained conservative in form.112 Hegel lays the blame here on ‘every individual member of the political hierarchy, every princely house, every estate, every city, guild, etc.’.113 In this case, the preservation of individual freedoms meant nothing other than the devolvement of the imperial constitution to a system of particularistic powers. When the emperor took office, he swore an oath that he would uphold particular negotiated rights and duties, which belonged to basic imperial laws.114 On the contrary, as Hegel put it, ‘where the supreme state authority speaks it does not make an application of the laws, but gives […] law’.115 If the imperial estates determined the fundamental laws, the empire was not merely a catalogue of their essential 108 Ibid., p. 107 (GC, p. 63). For an extended discussion of these ideas, see Hella Mandt, ‘Tyrannis, Despotie’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 6, pp. 651–​706, pp. 686–​687. 109 See Aristotle, Politics 1289a40–​1289b4. 110 For an extensive treatment of this discussion, see Nathaniel Boyd, ‘Tyranny and Ethical Life in Hegel’s Political Thought: the Tyrant-​Legislator and Constituent Power’, Etica & Politica/​Ethics and Politics 23:1 (2021), pp. 145–​162. 111 Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 237 (original italics) (HHS, pp. 156–​157). 112 See Mohnhaupt, ‘Verfassung I’, p. 856. 113 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 64 (GC, p. 11). 114 See Mohnhaupt, ‘Verfassung I’, p. 857. 115 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 44 (italics added) (GC, p. 46).

The Constitution of Crisis


rights, they were the true possessors of sovereignty. Thus, Hegel essentially grasped the fate that would engulf the empire on 6 August 1806.116 Looking to France, he began to measure the Reich with a view to the universal concept of the modern state and politics that had little in common with the reality of the old empire.117 With reference once again to Machiavelli and the concept of tyranny, he diagnosed the German pathology, which lay in the sovereignty of the estates as states: The only means of establishing the state is to destroy these sovereignties that, indeed, only want to be sovereign as immediate individuals, the only means that is against cruelty is to put the leaders to death and strike horror into the rest.118 If the situation in Germany is so comparable to Machiavelli’s Italy, it is because disparate political forms vie for hegemony that definitively attained sovereignty after 1805.119 As he explained it, ‘according to its original legal justification […] German constitutional law is actually a private law and political rights a legal possession, a property’.120 As Tacitus famously stated when speaking of the folly of the Germanic tribes: ‘Fortune can guarantee us nothing better than discord among our foes’.121 For Hegel, such discord had become identical with Germanic custom [Sitten] or ethical life [Sittlichkeit]. In other words, the system of feuds –​or more appropriately fiefs –​in the Holy Roman Empire did not develop into a regular system of representation or parliament as it had done elsewhere, but was a stumbling block on the path to modernisation.122 In this political system, ‘the isolated energies of the ethical [Sittlichen] […] must be thought of as embroiled in a war of mutual annihilation’.123 Following Aristotle, the objective state or status of a healthy constitution was known and could be established –​even produced with given methods and controlled.124 As Hegel rightly recognised, the foundation for any system of law 1 16 See Werner Conze, ‘Reich V’, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 5, pp. 487–​488, p. 487. 117 See Aretin and Hammerstein, ‘Reich IV’, p. 486. 118 Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 236 (HHS, p. 156). 119 See Helmut Quaritsch, Souveränität: Entstehung und Entwicklung des Begriffs in Frankreich und Deutschland vom 13. Jahrhundert bis 1806 (Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 1986), pp. 108–​123. 120 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 52. 121 Tacitus, Germania 33. 122 See Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 98. 123 Hegel, ‘Naturrechts’, p. 101. 124 See Aristotle, Politics, 1301a19–​24, 1307b26–​30.

298 Boyd according to ‘the older “empirical” way of treating natural law’ begins from the idea that ‘the people are by nature prior to the individual’125 –​in essence overturning the ‘modern systems of ethical life’, which made ‘being-​for-​itself’ and ‘individuality into a principle’.126 The implications involved in the inclination towards experiment and induction in the political field, which rejected traditional Aristotelian metaphysics, left the new science of politics bereft of the normative guidelines of religion and ethics. Put simply, the body politic had transformed from a natural unity where the particular individual was united in ‘a pure absolute form […], that is to be seen and worshipped as the God of the people’,127 to an artificial totality opposed to a nature degraded to conflict. In this respect, the crisis of Aristotelianism was at one with the Holy Roman Empire that did not have or ‘want a constitution to protect its members against foreign enemies’.128 In other words, the empire that previously accorded with ‘the unity of a constitutional concept such as monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc.’129 was now reduced to its constituent parts, the functioning of its system only grasped through the fragmentation of its components: The relation of the parts to one another and to the whole, because state power is their private property, is a legal relation […]. The power of Germany is not a power of the state, but of the individual.130 […] The feudal constitution did not form itself into a state power [in Germany], but disorganised itself by remaining true to its original character of the independence of the individual from the universal, the state.131 For Aristotle, politics is not the subject of a specific constitution, but concerns the genus civitatum –​a universal.132 There is such a thing as a legitimate constitutional order as he had established. And from such an objective condition or state of the bene constituta Respublica, the health or illnesses of a given body politic are to be diagnosed. Medicine must also identify a poison, like tyranny for Aristotle, which cannot be cured if only the healthy constitution is known.

125 Ilting, ‘Hegels Auseinandersetzung’, p. 11; Hegel, ‘Naturrechts’, p. 155, referring to Aristotle, Politics 1253a25–​29. 126 Hegel, ‘Naturrechts’, p. 154. 127 Ibid., p. 158. 128 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 79. 129 Ibid., p. 52. 130 Ibid., p. 73. 131 Ibid., p. 111 (emphasis added) (GC, p. 67). 132 Aristotle, Politics 1279a37.

The Constitution of Crisis


In this respect, Hegel emphatically understood that death is individual: i.e. it does not affect the genus or the species.133 Attacking the ‘naïve patriotic representation’134 of the ‘inner venerability’ and ‘moral power’ of the estates,135 he grasped how ‘the principle of the original German state’, which was ‘the principle of monarchy’, had been destroyed: ‘just as the nourishment of a healthy body if used by a sick body would corrupt it even more, so too did the true and genuine principle that it is the territory that gives power and the right to vote contribute all the more to dissolution when applied to the condition of the German Reich’.136 For Hegel, the political Hippocrates had the objective condition of the whole closely in view. Machiavelli was still engaged with the traditional Aristotelian perspective: not simply concerned with a given empirical situation, but with a more universal idea or ‘the unity of a constitutional concept’ –​that of the state.137 Just like Aristotle and Tacitus before him, Machiavelli was also very knowledgeable of the causes of the downfall of constitutions. Tyranny in such an instance diagnosed the pathology of the body politic, but was also its cure: In this great sense Machiavelli’s The Prince was written, that in the constitution of the state in general, what is called assassination, insidiousness, cruelty, etc. does not have the meaning of evil but of self-​reconciliation.138 As Hegel saw it, the constitutional crisis was the loss of the unity of its concept, which was not strictly monarchy per se, but a status mixtus –​the royal principle maintained alongside representative government. Modern state development along the lines of the French model was foreclosed after the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, which ended in a stalemate. Nevertheless, the territories were still dependent on the imperial constitution and constrained by its laws. Thus, the medieval structure of the empire was not overcome even if there was an obvious shift in power that did tend towards state formation in the territories.139 The exceptions of Austria and Prussia, as truly sovereign states, prove the rule. Such facts are later attested in the very wording Napoleon personally dictated in the Ludwigsburg Treaty with Hegel’s native Württemberg on 5

1 33 See Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 165. 134 Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, p. 92. 135 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 115. 136 Ibid., p. 98 (GC, p. 55). 137 See ibid., p. 128; compare Jenaer Systementwürfe III, pp. 236–​238 (HHS, p. 156). 138 Ibid., p. 236 (HHS, pp. 155–​156). 139 See Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts, p. 206.

300 Boyd October 1805, as well as the Brünn Treaty (10–​12 December 1805) and the Peace of Preßburg (26 December 1805). Such treaties had as their object the complete internal and external sovereignty of the territories in question, with the explicit aim of destroying the imperial constitution and the suzerainty of the emperor.140 For Hegel, the territorial estates had risen in power to the status of quasi-​sovereign states –​voting rights only increased their efficacy. The empire was a constitution of divided powers that acted independently of the whole. In his move away from describing the forma imperii in terms of legal anarchy and the overwhelmingly prevalent use of sovereignty and its cognates,141 Hegel intuited a historical shift in the epoch after the Peace of Westphalia, which came to a head in the War of the Second Coalition and the later treaties with Napoleon. Having given up on the empire, his wording no longer carries the idea of reform, but of revolution.


If viewed from the perspective of Hegel’s 1805–​1806 Jenaer Systementwürfe III, the concept of crisis marks the shift from the philosophy of nature to the philosophy of spirit. After differentiating the types of organism, the philosophy of nature breaks off with a final reference to crisis.142 What remains is a fragment, but not much has been lost.143 This is confirmed by looking ahead to Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1817, 1827, 1830) where the organic is similarly developed and the philosophy of nature likewise concludes this part of the system with disease, illness and death.144 The very concept of crisis is, however, absent. Perhaps, then, the earlier reference to crisis in 1805–​ 1806 discloses a unique transformation: from ‘the organism that has become master of itself’ to the contrast between the ‘abstract forms of the whole’, a discussion that leads Hegel from the philosophy of nature to the philosophy of ‘spirit according to its concept’.145

1 40 See Quaritsch, Souveränität, pp. 108–​110. 141 See Hegel, Reichsverfassung, pp. 30, 33, 55, 67, 89, 105, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 132, 136, 137, 146, 148, 154, 157, 158, 160, 170, 171 and 186. 142 Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, p. 169. 143 Rolf-​Peter Horstmann, ‘Einleitung’, in Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, pp. ix–​xxxii, p. xix. 144 See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830), eds Friedhelm Nicolin and Otto Pöggeler (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2011), §371–​6, pp. 306–​309. 145 Hegel, Jenaer Systementwürfe III, pp. 168, 169, 171–​204 (original italics) (HHS, pp. 85–​118).

The Constitution of Crisis


For Hegel, crisis is integral to ‘the concept of disease’ and is part and parcel to convalescence. To overcome disorder, the organism has to undergo a crisis, which implies the climax of an illness. Disease entails opposition; it is the organism ‘diverging in itself’, undergoing an activity of separation where particularity or individuality are opposed to the whole.146 In this context Hegel makes reference to ‘individual and state’, drawing an equation between political and physiological pathology. Thus his account of ‘the first stages of disease’ where ‘an individual takes control of the whole’147 can be compared to his later reference in the manuscript to the Germans and Machiavelli’s Italy where ‘every nobleman, leader, [every] city asserted itself as sovereign’.148 Hegel describes the same disorganising malaise in the imperial Staatskörper of the Verfassungsschrift. Put in the language of his philosophy of nature, here ‘the individual pathological affection transforms itself into the whole […]’.149 It may be helpful to recall that Jenaer Systementwürfe III was composed over a period that saw the final dissolution of the imperial constitution. Is it any wonder then that the epidemiological description of crisis applies equally to politics? A difficulty, however, remains. This is because crisis, according to its earlier significance, involves a transformative or sometimes even a positive process in the course of an illness. Hence, Hegel states that ‘this disease of the whole is at the same time a cure, because it is the whole that is set in motion’.150 On the contrary, given that the Germans ‘could not tolerate a tyrant, they have disappeared as a people. […] The Germans have abhorred such teachings the most, and Machiavellism expresses the most evil [das Böseste], for they have been prostrated by the same disease and have died of it’.151 To resolve political disorder and the force of prolonged constitutional crisis, Hegel turned to world history and sought to transform the empire, as Friedrich Schiller (1759–​1805) had done before him, into a spiritual kingdom,152 which corresponds to the final stage of world history –​the Germanic World.153 In his treatment of crisis, Koselleck overlooked Hegel’s use of the concept. Whereas Schiller’s dictum ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’ [‘The history of the world is the Last Judgement’] figures prominently in Koselleck’s entry,154 1 46 Ibid., p. 165. 147 Ibid., p. 166. 148 Ibid., p. 236 (HHS, p. 156). 149 Ibid., p. 167 (in the margins, original italics). 150 Ibid., p. 167 (in the margins). 151 Ibid., p. 236 (and in the margins) (HHS, p. 156). 152 See Conze, ‘Reich V’, p. 488. 153 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 107 (GC, p. 63). 154 See Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, p. 371.

302 Boyd no mention is made of the fact that since his youth Hegel had frequently cited from Schiller’s Resignation (1786) and that it stands at the transition to his later philosophy of world history. Throughout the Verfassungsschrift, Hegel attempted to renew the imperial constitution and did so within the framework of the status mixtus of the earlier political Aristotelian tradition. But, all else failing, he ‘spiritualised’ the empire by transforming its principle of representation into a world historical idea: ‘this system of representation is the system of all modern European states; it was not in the forests of Germania, but it did emerge from them; it made an epoch in world history’.155

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Über die Reichsverfassung, ed. Hans Maier (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2004). Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Jenaer Systementwürfe III. Naturphilosophie und Philosophie des Geistes. ed. Rolf-​Peter Horstmann (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1987).

Dreitzel, Horst ‘Reason of State and the Crisis of Political Aristotelianism: An Essay on the Development of 17th Century Political Philosophy’, History of European Ideas, 28:3 (2002), pp. 163–​187. Franklin, Julien H. ‘Sovereignty and the Mixed Constitution: Bodin and his Critics’, in James Henderson Burns, with Mark Goldie (eds), The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450–​1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 298–​328. Ilting, Karl-​Heinz, ‘Hegels Auseinandersetzung mit der Aristotelischen Politik’, in idem, Aufsätze über Hegel, eds Paolo Becchi and Hansgeorg Hoppe (Frankfurt: Humanities Online, 2006), pp. 11–​35. 155 Hegel, Reichsverfassung, p. 107 (gc, p. 63).

chapter 14

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises: Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society Niall Bond* This chapter shows how different philosophies of history have been elaborated as responses to crisis. I shall start by arguing that the genre of philosophies of history, common in the nineteenth century, underwent an epistemological crisis when debunked by Nietzsche, Dilthey, Simmel and Rickert at the turn of the century. Yet Ferdinand Tönnies and others continued to elaborate unilateral and unidirectional narratives of social development. I shall then consider narratives Tönnies drew from in his own response to a personal and broader social crisis in fin-​de-​siècle Germany. Following this, I shall summarise those factors to which he attributed social disaggregation or the swing from community to society and conclude with a comment on how he coped with his first liberal crisis against authoritarianism in the late 1870s and his second crisis, prompted by his analysis of the toll political and economic freedoms take on human relations when drafting Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft between 1880 and 1887. Philosophies of history underwent crisis when 1) the optimism of various philosophies of history was abandoned during social and economic crises, triggering e.g. a reappraisal of both Smith and Marx; 2) epistemologies of the human sciences emphasised both the subjectivity of value references (Max Weber) and an understanding of the world as a heterogeneous continuum bereft of reason (Rickert); 3) value-​bound teleological constructs became linked to authoritarian and totalitarian systems during political crises; 4) the fragility of the planet was recognised through ecological crisis, generating speculation as to an end to the species and the logical inconsequence of philosophies of history;

* The author thanks the Käte Hamburger Centre for Advanced Study “Law as Culture” for its fellowship, the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Humanities where the author is Associate Researcher, as well his main university in France.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_016

304 Bond 5)

Dilthey pointed out (as early as 1883) the subjectivity of interpretations of the ‘Sinn und Richtung’, the ‘meaning and direction’ of history.1 Nietzsche had suggested that any philosophy with a goal be regarded as a symptom of illness,2 and as the century came to a close, philosophies of history were debunked. Yet in his critique of Community and Society of 1888, Friedrich Paulsen noted Tönnies’ ‘philosophy of history’ as a ‘selling point’:3 after all, uncovering the meaning of the history of the species may illuminate the meaning of individual existences. Although Hegel was not a primary source,4 Tönnies had accepted the premise that a sort of ‘reason’, ‘Vernunft’, could be found in a process of rationalisation in history. Though he achieved recognition as an intellectual historian and philosopher, the academic community that recognised him as its founder was that of sociology, notwithstanding René König’s misgivings.5 Although Dilthey’s Introduction to the Human Sciences made philosophies of history and thus positivist sociology problematic, triggering an epistemological crisis, Tönnies was unperturbed by Dilthey’s dismissal of such constructs as a ‘gigantic dream idea’, and continued to assert laws governing the development of society, reified as an organism, and to uphold Comte and Spencer,6 as well as Romantic philosophies of history as models.7 Tönnies’ response to crisis through his own philosophy of history has rarely been focused on, no doubt because Simmel and Weber had so clearly distanced themselves from such philosophies. Merz-​Benz’s voluminous exploration of the ‘architecture’ of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft8 does not address Tönnies’ 1 Wilhelm Dilthey, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1883). 2 Niall Bond, ‘Tönnies und Nietzsche zwischen Liebe und Mitleid’, in Eike Brock and Jutta Georg (eds), ‘-​ein Leser, wie ich ihn verdiene’. Nietzsche-​Lektüren in Der Deutschen Philosophie Und Soziologie (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler 2019), pp. 331–​347. 3 Friedrich Paulsen, ‘Tönnies, Ferdinand. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Abhandlung des Communismus und des Socialismus als empirischer Culturformen. Leipzig, Fues’s Verlag, 1887’, Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 12 (1888), pp. 111–​119. 4 For a comparison with Hegel, cf. Nele Schneidereit, Die Dialektik von Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegriffe einer kritischen Sozialphilosophie (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2010). 5 René König, ‘Zur Problematik und Anwendung der Begriffe Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Die Begriffe Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft bei Ferdinand Tönnies’, Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 7 (1955), pp. 348–​420. 6 Niall Bond, ‘Ferdinand Tönnies and Western European Positivism’, reprinted in: idem, Understanding Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society: Social Theory and Political Philosophy between Enlightened Liberal Individualism and Transfigured Community (Berlin and New York: Lit Verlag, 2013), pp. 193–​224. 7 Ibid., pp. 169–​192. 8 Peter-​Ulrich Merz-​Benz, Tiefsinn und Scharfsinn: Ferdinand Tönnies’ begriffliche Konstitution der Sozialwelt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995).

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


theory of social evolution, setting Tönnies at odds with Rickert and Weber, to whom Merz-​Benz had dedicated another work.9 Yet Tönnies’ philosophy of history was praised by Werner Sombart, Hans Freyer (who after the Nazi takeover declared that Gemeinschaft became Gesellschaft which became Volk), Stoltenberg,10 Heberle11 and Cahnman.12 Tönnies called his philosophy of history ‘applied sociology’, and he maintained that the turning of Gemeinschaft into Gesellschaft was unilinear, inexorable and irrevocable. But his terms were polysemic and fluid: while many may accept that capitalism will not revert to feudalism, fewer will probably accept that materially interested relationships cannot become affectionate. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, subtitled ‘a treatise on communism and socialism as empirical forms of culture’ in 1887, was re-​subtitled ‘fundamental concepts of pure sociology’ in 1912 by Tönnies, thereby distancing himself from his philosophy of history. This change reflected the shift of ‘sociology’ from sweeping cultural diagnoses to constructing concepts for individual historical or contemporary description in the wake of debates on methods and the professionalisation of the field in the early 1900s. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft of 1887 was intended as a synthesis of ‘rationalist’ and ‘historicist’ social theory and individualist and collectivist visions, respectively grasped as those of modern ‘society’ or pre-​modern ‘community’. But if we trace back the dichotomy to Tönnies’ earliest writings, his commentary of Hobbes’ and Locke’s understanding of the social contract, we can see that while the chronological order of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is a constant, the terms’ meanings changed as a reflection of the different crises Tönnies confronted. We can find a shift in the terms’ meanings between his earliest exegesis of English-​language natural law theory of 1879, his habilitation thesis of a few years later, and the mature work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft of 1887, reflecting a reinterpretation of history from a liberal narrative of social 9

Peter-​Ulrich Merz-​Benz, Max Weber und Heinrich Rickert. Die erkenntniskritischen Grundlagen der verstehenden Soziologie (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1990). 10 Hans Lorenz Stoltenberg, Wegweiser durch Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Berlin: K. Curtius, 1919). 11 Rudolf Heberle, ‘The Sociological System of Ferdinand Tönnies: “Community” and “Society”’, in Harry E. Barnes (ed.), An Introduction to the History of Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 227–​248. Heberle writes that Tonnies refuted accusations of ‘cultural pessimism’ by explaining that he merely intended to describe ‘the irreversible course of social evolution which he occasionally compared to the cycle of human beings’. 12 Werner Cahnman, ‘Tönnies’ Theory of Social Change’, in Werner Cahnman (ed.), Ferdinand Tönnies, a New Evaluation (Leiden: Brill, 1973), pp. 103–​123.

306 Bond progress recalling Locke (1692), Ferguson (1767), Henry Sumner Maine (1861), John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer (1873), to a pessimistic narrative of decline. This latter narrative, anticipated by Rousseau (1754), was furthered by Romantics such as Novalis, Fichte, Müller, Schelling and Carlyle, and not least Comte’s, Marx’ and Nietzsche’s portentous critiques of modern society. An epidemic of pessimism in Germany’s intelligentsia had been noted by Wilhelm Windelband in Pessimismus und Wissenschaft in 1876, i.e. more than a decade before Tönnies’ chief opus. Tönnies’ work of 1887 became an important part of this development.

Whiggery in Tönnies’ Earliest Writings

In his four essays on Hobbes from 1879, Tönnies, after introducing Hobbes’ pessimistic vision of humanity, presents Locke’s ‘more optimistic’ vision of human coexistence sympathetically. He had read, and was influenced by, such authors as Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson. He demonstrates his mastery of the canon, isolating those shortcomings in Hobbes which he later sought to surmount: Hobbes’ ‘mechanistic’ understanding of the psyche, his failure to recognise that ‘human nature’ is not immutable, his ignorance of historical evolution, and an erroneous construal of human nature. For Hobbes, a repressive and absolutist ‘Commonwealth’, translated by Tönnies as ‘Gemeinschaft’, was a necessary evil because of men’s propensity to make war against one another; Locke was by contrast convinced of men’s ability to live peaceably in ‘politic society’, translated by Tönnies as ‘Gesellschaft’. Tönnies faulted Hobbes with an inability to think historically. Later Tönnies was to conclude that Hobbes’ depiction of the natural animosity of men to one another, their lack of consideration for their fellow men, did justice to man in the modern age of capitalism, but not to earlier humans, who Tönnies felt had been naturally attendant to others’ needs. In his articles of 1879, Tönnies writes that Hobbes’ natural law deduced all Gemeinschaft (here ‘Commonwealth’) from contracts among individuals to the detriment of traditional sources –​custom, traditional authorities and especially religion, and was as such ‘revolutionary’. He faults Hobbes with having failed to acknowledge that alongside the fear of death which subjects us to the norms decided by the sovereign of a Commonwealth or Gemeinschaft, humans might act out of love to their Gemeinschaft. The term Gemeinschaft here is slippery, meaning countrymen, whether or not of acquaintance, or tautologically an intimate beloved circle. Tönnies struggles against Hobbes’ assumption that fear of death and self-​interest are the only springs in the mechanism of human

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


action and his notion that inequality rather than a harmony among equals is the safeguard against the war of all against all. Tönnies’ argument against self-​interest as the motor of all social action stems from German historicism’s answer to Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Tönnies writes that in contrast to Hobbes, who stipulates that reason dictates that subjects submit themselves to the common will of absolutism, Locke, with his more ‘optimistic vision of human nature’, ‘abhorred’ such authority, feeling that ‘a Commonwealth (Gemeinschaft) as such was not really necessary, and that the greatest possible human happiness could be attained through mere society (Gesellschaft) and a societal state (gesellschaftlichen Staat); i.e. reciprocal, equally binding and dissoluble relations among people’. In its first version, the Gemeinschaft-​Gesellschaft dichotomy opposed the coercive absolutist monarch with the power to kill to an egalitarian liberal society of the rule of law; historically, the latter followed the former. This liberal reading of history, issuing from the crisis of the belief in divine right, and corresponding to the crisis of monarchy in Germany from the French revolution to the end of the First World War, recalled Smith and Ferguson and the historical interpretations of Henry Buckle and Herbert Spencer; the latter assumed that ‘militant’ societies based upon compulsory cooperation (such as Prussia) ceded to superior ‘industrial’ societies based upon voluntary cooperation (such as England) when absolutism yielded to liberal democracy. Tönnies’ first articles were a reflection of his scepticism of the Hohenzollern monarchy and the liberal aspirations of the 1848 Revolution that had motivated his ersatz father Theodor Storm, who had influenced Tönnies’ political socialisation13 and accounts for his readiness to buck authority, as seen in Tönnies’ autobiography.14 Tönnies’ articles of 1879 expressed his liberal concern for political equality and constitutionalism in Germany’s authoritarian Second Empire, and constituted an act of resistance to illegitimate authority. But Germany’s bourgeoisie was to undergo other crises, refocusing concern on other social ills.

An Anti-​Whig Philosophy of History in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft

Tönnies radically altered his terms in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft after reading the Romantics, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, socialists of the lectern and 13 14

Niall Bond, ‘Tönnies and Storm: Elective Affinities’, in Bond, Understanding, pp. 57–​80. Ferdinand Tönnies, ‘Ferdinand Tönnies Eutin (Holstein)’, Die Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellung, vol. 3 (Leipzig: Verlag von Felix Meiner, 1922), pp. 199–​234.

308 Bond Marx. From 1879 to 1887 Ferdinand Tönnies underwent personal crisis. On the one hand, his travels to England acquainted him with proletarian suffering and bourgeois indifference. This experience exacerbated his criticism of human relations: in the present society of contractual equality, but material inequality, relations were dictated by individual pursuits of happiness to the detriment of the commonweal.15 (In his 1888 review of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Durkheim saw that Gesellschaft was defined by Benthamism).16 In the early 1880s, Tönnies also found himself in a triangulation with the philosopher Paul Rée, both wooing the woman Tönnies loved, Louise von Salomé: Tönnies may have found himself in the uncomfortable position of being an unchosen commodity on a market. The femme fatale’s refusal of Nietzsche’s hand had prompted Nietzsche to write Thus Spake Zarathustra. We speculate that Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft may have been written differently if Tönnies’ amorous overtures had been requited. Between 1879 and 1887, Tönnies’ understanding of the shift of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft was transformed. The unchosen relations into which we are born, those of piety and love which Tönnies believes we want with all our essence, yield to relationships chosen (in German “gekürt”) for deliberated self-​interest. The salient point of modern society was the widespread capacity of its bearers to choose arbitrarily with ‘Kürwille’, ‘arbitrary will’. While for Tönnies in 1879, the victory of Gesellschaft over Gemeinschaft and of Locke over Hobbes was the victory of liberty among equals over absolute monarchy, for the mature Tönnies of 1887, the victory of Gesellschaft over Gemeinschaft had become the victory of egotism, impudence, lies and artifice, greed and hedonism. Did the adolescent pursuing equality progress or regress to the apologist of patriarchy? At any rate, the passage from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft later meant the passage of unity to division: The theory of Gesellschaft constructs a circle of people who, just as in Gemeinschaft, live and dwell together peacefully, but who are not essentially united, but essentially separated, and while in the latter are

15 16

Cf. Niall Bond, ‘Trust and Happiness in Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society’, in László Kontler and Mark Somos (eds), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), pp. 221–​235. Niall Bond, ‘Ferdinand Tönnies, französisch gelesen’, in Uwe Dörk and Fabian Link (eds), Geschichte der Sozialwissenschaften im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2019), pp. 114–​137.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


essentially united despite all separations, in the former are separated despite all unity.17 Gemeinschaft becomes Gesellschaft: the ardour of youth now inexorably yielded to the sobriety of adulthood. The work of 1887 incidentally includes a damning indictment of women’s emancipation.

Tönnies as a Historian of Political Thought

Tönnies’ philosophies of history of 1879 and 1887 relate to liberalism and the Whig reading of history. Connected to history as progress from absolutism to Lockean political society are Spencer’s reading of industrial society as the highest stage of evolution (while it was for Nietzsche the “meanest” form of social existence ever) and Maine’s reading of the evolution of relations from status to contract with concomitant dissolution of families and the rise of individual obligation of 1861.18 Other philosophies of history fed into Tönnies’ first work. Crises of rationalism, many tied up with the French Revolution, had prompted Romantics to bring forward a host of philosophies of history of which Dilthey was also critical. They included Johann Gottfried von Herder’s concept of organic growth;19 Novalis’ assumption that Europe prior to the Protestant Reformation had been united by a single community interest, dissolved in religious strife;20 Müller’s ideas that Adam Smith fell into the ‘thrall’ of mercantile values when individuals took leave of society during the French Revolution;21 Schelling’s philosophy of history around the notion of will;22 Rousseau’s theme of moral decline through 17

Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979), p. 34. All translations, unless otherwise indicated, are by the author. 18 Henry James Sumner Maine, Ancient Law: Its Connection with the Early History of Society, and Its Relation to Modern Ideas (London: John Murray,1861), chapt. 5. 19 Johann Gottfried von Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit. Mit einer Einleitung von Heinrich Luden, 2 vols (Leipzig: Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, 1841; iv edn). 20 Novalis, Three Works: Die Lehrlinge zu Sais, Blütenstaub, Die Christenheit oder Europa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955), p. 77. 21 Adam Müller, ‘Colbert, Adam Smith und die Physiokraten’ (1809), in Albert Josef Klein (ed.), National-​ökonomische Schriften (Lörrach: Verlag Albert Kern, 1983), pp. 1–​13. 22 Dietmar Hübner, Die Geschichtsphilosophie des deutschen Idealismus: Kant –​Fichte –​ Schelling –​Hegel (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2011). To quote Schelling: ‘where the light of revelation disappeared, and men found knowledge not from the Universe but from one

310 Bond civilisation;23 Fichte’s idea of around 1804 that the epoch of emancipation, directly from authority and indirectly from the instinct to reason and reason itself, led to an age of indifference to all truth –​the ‘state of complete sinfulness’;24 and, finally, Carlyle’s Past and Present of 1843 with its comparison of medieval monks’ devotion with the sham leadership of his day.25 These sweeping romantic interpretations of the direction of human society issued from the crisis of rationalism and emancipation; and while Tönnies later took distance from romanticism because of reactionary consequences Romantics drew from their apotheosis of medievalism,26 Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft was romantically inspired. Georg Simmel pointed to an erroneous assumption of previous sociological theory: If […] all of the facts of life are considered in such a way as to suppose that they transpire within and through a social group, there must be common aspects regarding the manner in which they transpire (even if they are not identical everywhere due to differing circumstance), i.e. character traits that show in and by themselves that the life of society is the origin or the subject of those events.


24 25


another, not in unity, but in division, and sought to understand themselves in their isolation and separation from the Universe, science … became desolate, … the beauty of life disappeared, a wild war of opinions broke out over the first and most important things, and all fell apart into particulars’ (F. W. J. Schelling, ‘Darlegung des wahren Verhältnisses der Naturphilosophie zu der verbesserten Fichteschen Lehre’ (1806), Ausgewählte Schriften, vol. 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985), p. 629). Cf. Ferdinand Tönnies, ‘Rousseau und wir’, Die Hilfe. Wochenschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst, 1912, 18. Jg (27.6.1912), 409–​411, Berlin, reprinted in Arno Mohr and Rolf Fechner (eds), Tönnies, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 9: 1911–​1915 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000), pp. 251–​258. Rousseau’s philosophy of history can be derived from his Discours sur les sciences et les arts of 1750 and Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes of 1755. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Die Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (Berlin: Holzinger, 2014; i edn 1806). Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843). On 1 January 1888, Paulsen wrote to Tönnies that Carlyle was the thinker with whom Tönnies had the greatest affinities, quoted in Arthur Mitzman, Three Sociologists of Imperial Germany. Sociology and Estrangement (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1987), p. 66. Ferdinand Tönnies, ‘The Development of Sociology in Germany in the Nineteenth Century’, in E. G. Jacoby ed. and transl., On Social Ideas and Ideologies (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1974), p. 126.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


Although he was not convinced of the necessary repetition of historical patterns, Simmel went on to compare Tönnies’ philosophy of history with that of Comte. Simmel sums up Tönnies’ philosophy of history: one can see all historic life as a process progressing from organic communality to mechanical juxtaposition; property, work and interests initially allegedly grow in a solidarity among individuals bearing the life of the group but then are distributed among egotistic persons only looking to their individual interests and prepared to ally only for that reason; the former is the manifestation of an unconscious will of our deepest essence, revealed only through feeling, the latter a product of arbitrary choice and calculating intellect. And Simmel juxtaposes it with Comte’s: a permanent relationship between the intellectual world view of a given epoch and its social conditions, inasmuch as both are to an extent only expressions of the biological development. Human knowledge by and large allegedly proceeds in three states, the theological, which explains natural phenomena from the free will of supernatural beings, the metaphysical, in which supernatural causes are supplanted by laws, however also by mystic and speculative causes such as ‘life force’ or ‘nature’s purposes’, and finally the positive, which corresponds to today’s experimental and exact sciences.27 Simmel and Weber moved incipient sociology away from such teleological constructs, inter alia under Nietzsche’s influence: such constructs revealed more about their author than about history. When Nietzsche acknowledged in hindsight that his first work, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, had a ‘Hegelian odour’, it was in a spirit of dismissiveness about his own philosophy of history (although in Thus Spake Zarathustra he developed the idea of the ‘eternal return’). Yet Tönnies saw the strength of Nietzsche’s first work in its philosophy of history, praising it as ‘a hesitant attempt’ to grasp the ‘parallelism’ between the history of antiquity and present society. Of greatest importance for Tönnies was Marx, whose critique of capitalism inspired Tönnies’ theory of Gesellschaft –​although Tönnies did not believe capitalist society would


Georg Simmel, Grundfragen der Soziologie, Individuum und Gesellschaft (Berlin and Leipzig: G.J. Göschen’sche Verlagshandlung GmbH, 1917), pp. 23, 24.

312 Bond be surpassed by revolution.28 The term Gesellschaft designates contradictory trends: rising individualism with the dissolution of the commons, but subsequently monopolistic concentrations of property by capitalists and states, as predicted by Tönnies’ teacher, the social monarchist Adolph Wagner.29

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as Empirically Observable Forms of Culture

Given the absence of a systematic account of Tönnies’ philosophy of history in the literature, the factors indicated in Tönnies’ 1887 narrative of the great transformation from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft merit enumeration. Manifestations of Gemeinschaft, embryonic in the family, extend to kinship, neighbourhood and friendship.30 The development and differentiation of a community of blood to a community of place strains Tönnies’ derivation of community from the ‘biological fact of birth’, and friendship among non-​ kindred raised a theoretical problem that Tönnies addressed briefly in his Habilitationsschrift, but neglected in 1887. The idea that community bonds were biologically determined, which was to become a key ideological issue in the twentieth century, was belied by Tönnies’ observation that ‘similarity of work and mind-​set’31 among colleagues could be a basis for friendship. Ultimately, Tönnies’ fatal derivation of essential relationships of community from blood relations and locality was his response to a crisis triggered by the proliferation of human relations in the market, allowing people to discard sacrosanct community bonds. This is evident in his choice of the word Kürwille, the arbitrary will to choose relationships in modern society. In Tönnies’ theory of community, the town ‘is a self-​sufficient household, an organism living as a Gemeinschaft’.32 As an ‘economic-​communist constitution’, functions of Gemeinschaft were, as Gierke had observed, ‘organically maintained, fed and fostered by a common will’.33 ‘Servants of the community’34 were ‘mandated by the group as a whole’.35 ‘Natural distribution’ and ‘sacred 28

Niall Bond, ‘Tönnies’ Appraisal of Marx: Debts and Distances’, in Bond, Understanding, pp. 255–​290. 29 Niall Bond, ‘Tönnies and Academic Socialism’, in Bond, Understanding, pp. 225–​254. 30 Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 13. 31 Ibid.., p. 13. 32 Ibid., p. 31. 33 Ibid., p. 26. 34 Ibid., p. 30. 35 Ibid., p. 31.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


tradition’ reposing upon this natural distribution dominated ‘all realities of life and all corresponding ideas of its right and necessary order’.36 Thus, members of a Gemeinschaft are ‘comparable to organs of its body. The constitution of group life is economic, i.e. gemeinschaftlich (communist)’.37 By equating the terms ‘ökonomisch’, ‘gemeinschaftlich’ and ‘kommunistisch’, Tönnies indicates that in households (oikos), based as they are upon solidarity, goods are distributed according to communist principles of need. In the first English translation, Loomis’ Cold War rendition of ‘kommunistisch’ as ‘communal’ obscured Tönnies’ adherence to what he called communism; but, as Tönnies observed in his Marx biography, ‘communism’ had a broad range of meanings. The development of community as organic unity from its basis within the family allowed Tönnies to propose a natural law that differed from the natural law of contract theory or Gesellschaftsnaturrecht –​a ‘natural law as an order of group life, which assigns a sphere or function, which incorporates duties and privileges to every will’.38 Tönnies thus invented the idea of Gemeinschaftsnaturrecht, an idea that was to become influential under National Socialism, but also make its way into international jurisprudence in the process of European integration. Gemeinschaftsnaturrecht hinges upon the fiction of frictionless order of people consenting to harmonious hierarchical relationships into which they had been born, which seemed to reflect a fading age to contemporary patriots of Tönnies, many of whom came to regard Germany as a champion of Gemeinschaft over the capitalist Gesellschaft of its western neighbours. Tönnies commenced his theory of Gesellschaft in Book 1 section 2 –​a diametrically opposed explanation of social life from theory of Gemeinschaft –​ without explaining the relationship between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft. Cross-​ references arise sporadically, while an illuminating synthesis or juxtaposition of the terms is only found at the end of the work. While Gemeinschaftstheorie recalled historical Nationalökonomie’s depiction of medievalism, Gesellschaftstheorie was a critical discussion of commercial society focusing on homo oeconomicus. The contrast between these two theories corresponded to a central nineteenth-​century antimony. The theory of Gesellschaft ‘constructs a group of people who … remain separated despite all unity’. In Gesellschaft, ‘we find no actions that can be derived from an a priori and necessarily existing unity’, for

36 37 38

Ibid., pp. 28–​29. Ibid., p. 31. Ibid., p. 17.

314 Bond here, everybody is by himself and isolated, and in a state of tension with all others. Their spheres of activity and power are sharply separated, so that everybody refuses to everyone else contacts with and admittance to his sphere; i.e. intrusions are regarded as hostile acts. Such a negative attitude is the normal and invariably underlying relationship among these power-​endowed subjects, and it characterises Gesellschaft in a state of rest. Nobody will do anything or provide anything for, grant or give anything to anyone else if it not be in exchange for remuneration or compensation which he considers at least equal to what he has given.39 In Gesellschaft, social relationships are not biological givens, but established between latently hostile people for material gain: they must appear opportune for securing advantage. Other people are treated as a means to an end, (an attitude denounced by Kant in his Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten) in a constant quest to enhance one’s own means and power at the expense of those of competitors or adversaries. The individualistic utilitarian quest for pleasure leads to a general state of latent war. Here, the primary means is money, ‘a worthless commodity in itself […] that obtains its value exclusively through society (Gesellschaft) and is not intended to be used for any purposes apart from use in trade in Gesellschaft’.40 To make money, people conclude ‘contracts’ –​fleeting links lasting only ‘until completion of the exchange’.41 Tönnies calls the totality of profit-​oriented contractual relations, which do not stop at national borders, ‘bürgerliche Gesellschaft’ (civil or bourgeois society) and ‘Tauschgesellschaft’ (exchange society), quoting Adam Smith’s observation that ‘every man […] becomes in some measure a merchant’.42 Tönnies writes: In the conception of Gesellschaft, the original or natural relations of human beings to each other must be excluded […] As every person in Gesellschaft strives for whatever is to his own advantage, only affirming others to the extent that they are also furthering his interest, the relations of all to all before and outside of convention and also before and outside of each special contract, may therefore be perceived of as potential hostility or latent war, against which all agreements of will stand out as just as many treaties and peace pacts.43 39 40 41 42 43

Ibid., p. 34. Ibid., p. 39. Ibid., pp. 39–​40. Ibid., p. 44. Ibid., p. 45.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


And as it turns humans into merchants, trade creates no value but only profit. Objects of exchange and other operators involved in transactions are only perceived of as means to ends. The assumption that legal liberty and equality among contractual partners offer freedom is illusory, as spurious contractual freedom conceals relations of domination: Merchants and capitalists –​possessors of money which can be increased by double exchange –​are the natural lords and masters of commercial society. Gesellschaft exists for their sake and is their tool. All non-​ capitalists within society are either themselves like inanimate tools –​the very essence of slavery –​or they are legally nonentities, deemed incapable of exercising rational choice, therefore unable to make contracts valid within the system.44 While the working class and the capitalist class are participants in the contractual relationship of purchasing and applying labour, only the capitalists participate in the sale of labour as product value; while the working classes are only ‘half free’ and only ‘formally’ able to exercise freedom, the ‘capitalist class’ is ‘entirely free’ and ‘materially’ able to do so.45

The Historical Relationship of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft

In designating forms of relationships and social, legal and economic orders, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft offers explanations of how those orders emerged and were perpetuated: There is a contrast between a social order which, inasmuch as it is based on a consensus of wills, rests on concord and is ennobled by folkways, mores and religion, and an order which, inasmuch as it is based on a union of arbitrary will, rests on convention and agreement, is safeguarded by political legislation, and finds its ideological and conscious explanation or justification in public opinion.46 The underlying forms of volition of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, called ‘essential will’ (Wesenwille) and ‘arbitrary will’ (Kürwille), are ‘in part interrelated, in 44 45 46

Ibid., p. 51. Ibid., p. 61. Ibid., p. 207.

316 Bond part juxtaposed and opposed … in the social and historical life of mankind’. Their relationship is historical and chronological: Just as an individual essential will evolves naked thinking and arbitrary will out of itself, which seeks to dissolve and subjugate that essential will, we see that the peoples of History underwent, from their original life forms in Gemeinschaft, the process of development towards Gesellschaft and gesellschaftlich structures of arbitrary will, a development from the culture of the folk to the civilisation of the State.47 Just as individual gemeinschaftliche and gesellschaftliche relationships are based on individual forms of volition, the empirical historical stages (or cultural forms) of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are based on two collective forms of volition: Two eras thus stand contrasted, to conclude our theory, within the sweeping developments of culture: an era of Gesellschaft follows an era of Gemeinschaft. The latter is characterised by the social will as concord, folkways and mores (Sitte), and religion, the former by the social will as convention, legislation and public opinion.48 Gesellschaft as an epoch follows Gemeinschaft, just as adulthood follows childhood. ‘This whole development, from its primary to its subsequent manifestations, can also be conceived of as a transition from an original, simple family communism and ensuing village-​town individualism, to an independent, (universal, urban) individualism and ensuing (state and international) socialism’.49 Tönnies argues the validity of this generalisation through analogous developments in other civilisations, namely antiquity. The development of these forces and contrast and their struggle for supremacy are common to the two cultures and their peoples about which we may believe ourselves to have astronomic knowledge. One is the southern European classical culture which reached the acme of its life in Athens and saw its death in Rome, the other that culture that was later to take up its traditions, in many respects was influenced and furthered by it, and is characterised as northern European and modern. 47 48 49

Ibid., p. 209. Ibid., p. 215. Ibid., p. 125.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


We discover these similar developments under an enormous variety of historical facts and conditions. Within the general uniform process to which all elements contribute, each of these has its own hidden history, which is determined partly by the general development, partly by causes of its own, and which, impeding or furthering, interferes with that history. –​However, through the concepts and findings which have been presented in this book, we hope to understand the currents and struggles which extend from recent centuries into the present day and age and well beyond its limits.50 Tönnies does not specify how he distinguishes between a ‘general uniform process’ and ‘hidden history’, but declares that the similarities of developments in civilisations past and present show that ‘the whole development of Germanic culture, which rose up from the ruins of the Roman Empire and, as its heir, expanded under the fertile influence of the Church […] is in a constant state of both progress and decay’.51 He and his contemporaries had the privilege of living at a turning point in history enabling them to perceive the tragedy of this development. For at their moment of crisis, humankind had experienced enough effects of modernisation to realise that material progress is not its sole consequence, while remaining sufficiently rooted in Gemeinschaft to respond to what was being irretrievably lost: In contradistinction to all historical theory that deduces its findings from the past, we take as our actual, indeed necessary starting point that moment in History in which the present-​day observer enjoys the inestimable advantage of observing the movements as they occur in the light of his own experience and perceives, though chained to the rocks of time, the tones and fragrance of Oceanus’ approaching daughters. (Aeschyl. Prometh. v. 115.) 52

An Explanation for the Great Transformation

While causal explanations for the process of modern rationalisation have been the focus of libraries of secondary literature on Max Weber’s theory of rationalisation, aiming ‘to understand the specific nature of western rationalism, and 50 51 52

Ibid., p. 219. Ibid., p. 220. Ibid., p. 220.

318 Bond within it, modern western rationalism and to explain it against the background of its genesis’,53 the explanation for what Tönnies considers to be a universal and inexorable cultural development from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft has not been thoroughly examined.54 Tönnies’ arguments are economic, political, demographic and immanent within the volitional biological evolution of human reason. He also suggests a class conspiracy. Apart from the book’s prefaces of the first and second editions, the first indication that Tönnies’ concern was a theory of social evolution is economic and one to be found in his theory of Gemeinschaft –​in his description of economic life in Gemeinschaft, the distributive ethos of justice of which is transformed into the commutative ethos of commerce. Decisions had to be taken on the use of surplus in individual households, exchanged against differing surpluses created by other households. Trade in Gemeinschaft was barter –​a ‘simple circulation of commodities’. But individuals looking for a better deal left ‘a mere caricature’ of that relationship, and the ‘needs and wills of individuals’ came to prevail over community bonds.55 The primacy Tönnies accords to economic motives in the development of society recalls his indebtedness to Smith and especially Marx. In Gemeinschaft, an inflexible and limited supply defined by a finite number of barterers determines demand. The transition of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft occurred when individuals came to disregard traditional loyalties in the quest for that spice of life, variety. Again, the verb ‘küren’, to choose, sums up one source of fear in modernity: that people are, to quote Milton Friedman’s apotheosis of the market, ‘free to choose’. Alongside his economic explanation, Tönnies furnished a second, political explanation for the great transformation in the legitimacy of authority. Here, we find a transformation of Tönnies’ original liberal concern with the legitimacy of rulers of 1879. In Tönnies’ Gemeinschaftstheorie of 1887, authority is derived from the relationship of a father to his children, the children’s ‘reverence’ and the father’s ‘dignity’ and ‘instinctive and naive tenderness of the strong for the weak, a desire to aid and to protect, which is closely connected with the pleasure of possession and the enjoyment of one’s own power’.56 With the remission of affects, the relationship of authority becomes mere domination: orders are given for the sake of expediency and obeyed out of opportunism. 53

Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, vol. 1 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1987), p. 12. 54 Not explicitly, at any rate, by Jacoby, Bickel or Merz-​Benz; Cahnman writes of Tönnies’ Theory of Social Change. 55 Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 24. 56 Ibid., p. 11.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


But pressure and resistance, which correspond to domination on the one hand and dependence on the other, will also continue and be constantly renewed if domination can assert itself only by virtue of the superiority of greater over smaller property.57 In his Gemeinschaftstheorie, Tönnies puts forward the traditional legitimation of authority of Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha refuted by Locke when he distinguished the father and the magistrate. For Tönnies, traditional allegiances to a sovereign are founded on belief in the ruler’s superiority. Tönnies’ discussion of legitimate rule proceeds from his assumption in the opening of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft that motives behind relationships are symmetrical (either positive or negative, either gemeinschaftlich or gesellschaftlich). But this need not be the case: cynics can exploit the devotion of their subjects, and sentimental despots entertain delusions about the loyalty of opportunistic followers. Tönnies’ discussion of illegitimate rule is coloured by his reception of Marx: as soon as a relationship of authority is perceived as oppressive, Tönnies sees it as an emanation of property relationships –​as a superstructure based on economic exploitation. When a ruler retains the affective legitimacy of his following, differences in wealth distribution are irrelevant. A third cause for the development of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is demographic. Gemeinschaft takes time –​the time needed for a relationship to deepen, and to gain intimacy and knowledge of one another. The more connections cultivated for social and economic reasons, the less important the relations of home, hearth and neighbourhood will be for people. Tönnies assumes that when a natural propensity to do good to acquaintances diminishes as numbers of acquaintances rise, a new ordering instance replaces instinct. Religion becomes ‘all the more necessary the more varied and motley town life becomes, the more kinship and neighbourhood are reasons for friendly feeling and action, and close friendship and mutual shame lose their power or become limited to smaller groups’.58 Urbanisation and alienation within a metropolis are developments propelled by their own growth, described by Weber’s term Eigendynamik. Tönnies follows Schmoller’s lead in using the organism analogy: The village is a closed economic and trade system in itself […] Similar to the village-​community and its organs, the town tends more to develop into

57 58

Ibid., p. 28. Ibid., p. 32.

320 Bond an economic body with a strong life of its own that dominates everything individual […] Each town, especially each larger town, attempts to isolate itself as an economic entity, but, at the same time, to extend its realm of economic and political domination as far as possible.59 Yet the analogy of a growing, ageing organism developing rationalism has its limits. The social group is determined through quantitative factors, as Simmel learned from Tönnies. However, not everywhere is demographic expansion accompanied by rationalism, which can take on diverse and contradictory forms.60 Overpopulated, needy areas need neither be rife with ‘arbitrary will’, nor become loci of naked commercialism. Tönnies’ Gesellschaftstheorie presents a fourth factor of evolution: technology, which despite its cursory treatment, is central to Tönnies’ theory. Industry grows through functional differentiation, subordinate to the growth of commerce.61 Tönnies modifies the ‘masterly analysis’ of Karl Marx, positing three phases of work: ‘1. simple co-​operation, 2. manufacture, 3. industry based on machinery (real, large-​scale industry)’.62 The salient feature of each phase is the state of technology, referred to once, but crucially, inasmuch as it makes workers leave their homes: But the decisive factor that makes a separate and centralised workshop necessary is the development of technology (Technik): partly the breaking up of artistic work into its elements by simplifying and by allocating these related but deliberately divided tasks to trained specialists, partly and particularly the invention of tools that grow to gigantic proportions quite beyond the physical capacities of a family of workers and their house: i.e. machinery.63 To understand the role of technology in the transformation of community to society, Tönnies’ definition of technology as the division of labour is less pertinent than Max Weber’s as means to ends: In our understanding, the ‘technique’ of an action (Technik eines Handelns) refers to means applied in contrast to the sense or purpose 59 Ibid., p. 33. 60 Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen: Mohr, 1976; v edn). 61 Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 55. 62 Ibid., p. 57. 63 Ibid., p. 57.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


towards which the action is in a concrete case ultimately directed, and ‘rational’ technique refers to the use of means which are deliberately and in planning based upon experience and reflection –​at the apogee of rationality, upon scientific thinking.64 Weber’s reference to deliberateness and planning recalls Tönnies’ concept of Kürwille or arbitrary will. While ends are essential (wanted by essential will), means are arbitrary. Modern alienation is the victory of means over ends. The advance of Kürwille over Wesenwille in relationships means reducing humans to tools, leading to estrangement among humans and from human activity. Technology had fundamentally modified our psychology. In Tönnies’ system, technology is central to the evolution of individual and social will from primeval wants to the quest for means and power. Marx had seen the technological development of the means of production as pivotal in shifts from feudal to capitalist society. Tönnies, too, saw technology as the key mover from (feudal) community to (capitalist) society, but unlike Marx regarded the mind-​sets described in his forms of volition not as superstructure but as the substructure upon which economic reality was based. The topicality of Tönnies’ analysis is striking in our age, in which not just the form but even the content of communication is often dictated by algorithms, –​as increasingly, screens prompt us to respond in predefined manners.

Non-​Agency and Agency in the Shift from Community to Society: The Historical Process as an Internal Dynamic and as a Conspiracy

Tönnies offers a fifth and sixth factor: on the one hand, the shift from community to society is automatic and independent of the intents of the actors engaged in an immanent teleology and, on the other hand, results from conspiracy by a dominant class. These affirmations coexist in Tönnies’ Gesellschaftstheorie, in which Tönnies states that evolution to Gesellschaft is its own cause. For the generality of this situation is by no means, as the famous Scot imagined, the immediate or even probable result of the innovation that labour is divided and products exchanged. It is more a remote goal 64 Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 32. Cf. also Max Weber, ‘Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit der soziologischen und ökonomischen Wissenschaften’, in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Tübingen: Mohr, 1976; v edn), pp. 489–​540, esp. pp. 523–​524.

322 Bond towards which the development of Gesellschaft must be understood to be directed, and to the extent that this goal has been realised, is the existence of a Gesellschaft at a given time real in our sense of the word. It is something in the process of becoming, which should be conceived here as the subjective agent of the general will or general reason.65 While Smith describes changes in the life conditions and characteristics of people living and working in a social order as the unintended result of the mode of production and the spontaneous division of labour, Tönnies’ approach is teleological. Anything which is not yet Gesellschaft is potential for Gesellschaft, and history is its realisation. While this ‘something in the process of becoming’ remains indeterminate, Tönnies finds causes, or more precisely culprits for that ‘something’ through analogy. Tönnies employed ‘as though’ as a method on any number of occasions, for instance when writing that something must be ‘conceived of as’ (‘gedacht als’): If, confining our attention to the economic sphere, we consider the advance of Gesellschaft, […] this advance is manifest as the transition of a general household economy to a general trade economy, and closely related, the transition from the predominance of agriculture to the predominance of industry. This development can be conceived of as though it had been carried out by plan in such a way that, with increasing success within every nation, the traders as capitalists and the capitalists as traders push their way to the top and seem to unite for a common purpose. This purpose can be expressed best through the word ‘trade’.66 While for Smith, trade and with it prosperity are the felicitous coincidental outcomes of individuals’ seeking to improve their lot, Tönnies presents ‘trade’ as a conspiratorial goal. This complicity is underscored by Tönnies’ assurance that only members of the ‘capitalist class’ are ‘altogether voluntary … constituents of Gesellschaft’.67 Tönnies attributes the demise (‘Untergang’) of society to capitalists and enjoins the reader to act ‘as though’ it was deliberate. In his theory of Gesellschaft, Tönnies seeks to persuade us that the development of Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is its own cause while enjoining readers to look upon the nefarious development as the outcome of capitalist conspiracy. 65 Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 44. 66 Ibid., p. 46. 67 Ibid., p. 52.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


Although in his Marx biography, he argued that Marx’s agitation stirred up resentment and class enmity, polarizing society without inculcating the working classes with ethics, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft contains a message of resentment towards obscure forces who not only get more than their share of social wealth, but also undermine morality. This appears to be a passing affect: in his political engagement in the ideological oppositions of his age, Tönnies did not seek out scapegoats or class enemies but embraced cautious social democratic reform.

The Process of History and the Evolution of Forms of Will

Tönnies sees the movement from essential to arbitrary will as a unilinear process in which reflection increasingly dominates human lives. For Tönnies, relationships based upon ‘essential will’ are more ‘real’ than those based upon ‘arbitrary will’.68 The former are ‘rooted in the past’ as an embryo, while the latter can be ‘understood only with reference to developments in the future, by which it is brought to fruition’, aiming at abstractions.69 Essential will turns into arbitrary will in the individual psyche as ‘a succession of acts of will’, all of which are derived from ‘the original instinctive will’.70 An organism’s growth is ‘a spontaneous process’71 influenced by endogenous or exogenous factors. Arbitrary will is a manner of thinking in which an ‘imagined goal, i.e. an object to be gained or a desired event, continually sets a standard by which future activities are planned and determined. Ideally, the thought of the goal governs all other thoughts and considerations and consequently all freely chosen actions’,72 necessarily involving ‘a sharp division between means and ends; a division which is spelt out and clarified when the one is seen to be the antithesis of the other, i.e. the end is something good and pleasurable, the mean something bad or painful’.73 Yet the means take on value per se.

68 69 70 71 72 73

For a discussion of reality and reality loss –​for Tönnies a loss of community –​see Annalisa Furia’s account of Hannah Arendt’s discussion of reality loss under totalitarianism in this volume. Ibid., p. 74. Ibid., p. 75. Ibid., p. 75. Ibid., pp. 90–​91. Ibid., p. 92.

324 Bond When happiness is strived for and hunted down, a future event becomes, in the thinking process, like an object whose reality is determined by its causes, and these causes seem to offer themselves as possible ways of acting. In defining his capacity for rational choice as control over means, man turns a part of his potential freedom into its opposite, which is itself at first only imaginary but becomes real in the process of being put into effect. Formerly his own master, man becomes his own debtor and bond-​ servant by tying himself down.74 Tönnies concurs with Hobbes’ diagnosis of ‘a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death’.75 The quest for forever more power follows from the need to shore up acquired power. The rise in the capacity to acquire and accumulate leads to the emergence of human types characteristic of modern society of whom Tönnies offers trenchant, contemptuous critiques: the ambitious (Ehrgeizige) and the parvenu (Streber). The quest for more and more enslaves modern humans. The two forms of volitions are present as ‘feelings’ or ‘intelligence’, the ‘heart’ or the ‘head’76 in all humans, but to differing extents. The advancement of arbitrary will depends not just on biological predisposition, but also on activities: It is not true that people can only succeed in being really active, independent of nature and with some degree of mastery over it, by means of abstract thought and rational calculation. But it is true that such activity begets and develops rational calculation and is (in turn) infinitely increased with its aid. The advance of modern society meant the transformation of roles: ‘Among the educated’, friends and family retreat further and further before the rationally based freedom of individuals. They increasingly detach themselves from the ordinary common people and make their own arrangements quite independently […] The family becomes an accidental form for the satisfaction of natural needs, while neighbours and friends are replaced by special interest groups and conventional socialising.77 74 75 76 77

Ibid., p. 96. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Indianapolis: Bobbs-​Merrill, 1958), p. 86. Ibid., p. 102. Ibid., p. 141.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


Notwithstanding the solid clannish relations in Tönnies’ family, which underwent change when his father went from being a farmer to being a banker, Tönnies saw the emergence of civil society as triggering a crisis in the family and relations in general: ‘conventional socialising’ suggests that a spurious increase in freedom did not make communication more genuine. In his theory of volition, Tönnies describes the evolution of essential will to arbitrary will as ‘spontaneous’ (‘selbst-​tätig’). He apologises for omitting to attribute effects to causes in his developments on the forms of will: Note 1. Since this book starts out from the psychology of the individual, the parallel but contrasting account –​of how Community fosters and nourishes (essential) will while restraining and confining arbitrary will –​ is missing. Society on the other hand not only unleashes arbitrary will but also actively requires and promotes it. Indeed, it makes unfettered use of competitive rational calculation a prerequisite for the survival of the individual, thus causing the fruits of (essential) will to wither and die.78


Moving from a crisis over unconquered civil liberties to a crisis over the decline of genuine affects, Tönnies offered two competing, perhaps even diametrically opposed, philosophies of history, positing the unilinear shift from ‘Gemeinschaft’, ‘community’, to ‘Gesellschaft’, ‘society’ in a new science, ‘sociology’, and ultimately focusing our attention on the difference in quality between emotionally essential bonds and arbitrarily selected relationships of instrumentalisation. This was a seminal moment for many disciplines of the human sciences. Tönnies’ philosophies of history were responses to two crises: first, that of monarchy and the Hohenzollern rule, and later that of essential innate relationships, endangered through the mercantile repression of authentic feeling, the withering away of piety and devotion, the suffocating of the sublime by science, the domination of a misleading pseudo-​equality, and rampant alienation. Tönnies’ sincerity is beyond doubt, however fashionable pessimism had become prior to Tönnies’ major work –​a trend to which he contributed. Importantly, Tönnies saw no salvation in revolution, whether under the auspices of nationhood or class. The irreversible passage from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft was dictated by eternal iron laws, with individual 78

Ibid., pp. 142ff.

326 Bond actors caught up in an inexorable movement from essential to arbitrary will to which they were oblivious. Notwithstanding his agenda of cautious political reform, which found communities in the cooperative movement or Ethical Culture,79 Tönnies reiterated his cultural pessimism in his last work, Geist der Neuzeit (1935), just one year prior to his death; his chief solace was to partake of the tones and fragrance of the Oceanids.

Select Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Dilthey, Wilhelm, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1883). Paulsen, Friedrich, ‘Tönnies, Ferdinand. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Abhandlung des Communismus und des Socialismus als empirischer Culturformen. Leipzig, Fues’s Verlag, 1887’, Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 12 (1888), pp. 111–​119. Simmel, Georg, Grundfragen der Soziologie, Individuum und Gesellschaft (Berlin and Leipzig: G.J. Göschen’sche Verlagshandlung GmbH, 1917). Tönnies, Ferdinand, ‘The Development of Sociology in Germany in the Nineteenth Century’, in E. G. Jacoby ed. and transl., On Social Ideas and Ideologies (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1974). Tönnies, Ferdinand, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979). Weber, Max, ‘Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit der soziologischen und ökonomischen Wissenschaften’, in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Tübingen: Mohr, 1976; v edn), pp. 489–​540.

Bond, Niall, ‘Tönnies und Nietzsche zwischen Liebe und Mitleid’, in Eike Brock and Jutta Georg (eds), ‘-​ein Leser, wie ich ihn verdiene’. Nietzsche-​Lektüren in Der Deutschen Philosophie Und Soziologie (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 2019), pp. 331–​347. Bond, Niall, ‘Trust and Happiness in Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society’, in László Kontler and Mark Somos (eds), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), pp. 221–​235.


See Niall Bond, ‘The Politics of Ferdinand Tönnies’, in Adair-​Toteff (ed.), The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tönnies (London and New York: Anthem, 2016), pp. 181–​204.

Philosophies of History as Responses to Crises


Bond, Niall, Understanding Ferdinand Tönnies’ Community and Society: Social Theory and Political Philosophy between Enlightened Liberal Individualism and Transfigured Community (Berlin and New York: Lit Verlag, 2013). Cahnman, Werner (ed.), Ferdinand Tönnies, a New Evaluation (Leiden: Brill, 1973). Heberle, Rudolf, ‘The Sociological System of Ferdinand Tönnies: “Community” and “Society”’, in Harry E. Barnes (ed.), An Introduction to the History of Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 227–​248. König, René, ‘Zur Problematik und Anwendung der Begriffe Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Die Begriffe Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft bei Ferdinand Tönnies’, Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 7 (1955), pp. 348–​420.

­c hapter 15

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought: Political Action, Judgment and the Figure of the ‘Conscious Pariah’ Annalisa Furia


It is difficult to overstate the role that crisis, whether mentioned expressly or not, plays in Hannah Arendt’s political theory. From her analysis of the totalitarian abyss and the status of violence in relation to power, to her reflections on the condition of statelessness, exile and the alienating dynamics of mass society, it seems fair to say that crisis in its multiple occurrences is the ever-​changing yet constant worldly phenomenon through which she has fearlessly tried to sharpen in particular, but not only, her conception of political action.1 Crisis was a first-​hand experience for Arendt, as she had been confronted with the enduring condition of vulnerability throughout her life and had (too) often detected its signs in those around her.2 While inextricable from lived 1 On the interactions between crisis and Arendt’s treatment of violence and evil, as well as of civil disobedience and revolutionary changes, on the one hand, and of constitutional transformations, law and the institutionalisation of power, on the other, see e.g.: Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1972); Anthony F. Lang and John Williams (eds), Hannah Arendt and International Relations. Reading Across the Lines (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Peg Birmingham, Hannah Arendt and Human Rights: The Predicament of Common Responsibility (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006); Andreas Kalyvas, Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary. Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Patricia Owens, Between War and Politics: International Relations and the Thought of Hannah Arendt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Patricia Owens, ‘The International Origins of Hannah Arendt’s Historical Method’, in Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson (eds), International Origins of Social and Political Theory (Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017), pp. 37–​62; Christian Volk, Arendtian Constitutionalism. Law, Politics and the Order of Freedom (Portland: Hart Publishing, 2015). 2 A touching example of her and other Jewish people’s personal experience of crisis is provided in Hannah Arendt, ‘We Refugees’, in Marc Robinson (ed), Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile (London: Faber & Faber, 1994), pp. 110–​119. For the sake of this chapter, vulnerability, which is a notion currently hotly debated in many academic disciplines, is intended as the socially constructed condition of those individuals who, mainly due to their personal

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_017

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


experience, the phenomenology of crisis is however also a constitutive, living component of her peculiar epistemological approach, historical method and way of theorizing on political matters. In this sense, her intellectual reaction to crisis relies upon the attempt not to repel it, obliterate it or somehow resolve it, but rather to understand it as an irremediable occurrence of reality, to integrate its difficulties into both her conceptualisations and her method of theorising.3 As the first section will substantiate, her analysis of crisis mainly consists in a radical critique of modernity that aspires to detecting and exposing its logic without continuing to fall prey to it.4 However, contrary to other scholars who had the same critical intent like Voegelin and Strauss, Arendt does not think that designing a new political philosophy could be a proper response to crisis because this would mean continuing to privilege thinking over acting, reinstating the philosophical hostility to phenomena that has led to the fatal totalitarian attempt to manipulate and even suppress reality. If Arendt’s diagnosis of crisis may thus be close to that of other scholars of her time, and it was influenced in a definitive way by the experience of, and reflection on, totalitarian domination, total war and the Holocaust, her prognosis is original and peculiar. As illustrated in the second and third section, she in fact boldly departs from the traditional concept of political action as being the actualisation of a doctrine or value, or consisting in a hierarchical, impersonal relationship, to identify the real opportunity for renewal offered by crisis in the recovery of a notion of an equal, spontaneous and boundless action, keeping to the particularities of reality and shaping history as continuously interrupted by unpredictable characteristics and/​or social positions, experience the crisis of a certain society more directly and intensely. 3 On Arendt’s method, see among the many: Ernst Vollrath, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Method of Political Thinking’, Social Research, 44:1 (1977), pp. 160–​182; Jerome Kohn, ‘Introduction’, in Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), pp. vii-​xxix; Nancy Fraser, ‘Hannah Arendt in the 21st Century’, Contemporary Political Theory, 3:3 (2004), pp. 253–​261. 4 The position of Arendt with regard to modernity is widely disputed, also depending on the notion of modernity that is adopted. Seyla Benhabib argues for instance that Arendt is a ‘reluctant modernist’, for many authors her praise of the ancient agorà represents an indicator of her anti-​modernism, while Dana Villa suggests that Arendt’s concerns are similar to those of post-​modern thinkers. In this regard, Galli convincingly argues that Arendt’s position is difficult to categorise because it includes both pre-​modern and post-​modern elements. See Seyla Benhabib, ‘The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt’, Hypatia, 14:3 (1999), pp. 162–​ 169; Dana Villa, ‘Postmodernism and the Public Sphere’, The American Political Science Review, 86:3 (1992), pp. 712–​721; Carlo Galli, Modernità. Categorie e profili critici (Bologna: il Mulino, 1988), pp. 205–​223.



human actions. For Arendt, political action remains forever relevant, even in extreme circumstances and for the most vulnerable, in which case judging, i.e., engaging in thinking and being concerned with the world is not only an inescapable responsibility, but also a form of political action. In this regard, the chapter argues that the figure of the ‘conscious pariah’, of the outcast of the Jewish tradition who appears in Arendt’s Jewish writings and who will be described in the last paragraph, can be seen as a symbol of both the existential, personal experience of crisis she lived and proudly accepted, and the external judging position, the methodological view she continuously tried to adopt when approaching the most consolidated notions of Western political thought and their crisis. Crisis, Arendt tells us, signals a dissonance between reality and knowledge and challenges the ways in which we understand, signify and act upon this very same reality, in which we assign meaning to history and we structure our relationship with the past and the future,5 but it is no excuse –​not even in political emergencies and when in the condition of a pariah –​, for not acting, for not judging and taking our part of responsibility towards the world. Indeed, it is the moment in which the meaning and nature of political action is to be recovered anew and embraced.

Crisis and Crises: Tradition, Common Sense and Dark Times

Although Arendt does not clearly define crisis, the notion of crisis seems mainly to have two meanings in her writings: a general, broad meaning, dealt with here, and the contextual, particular meaning(s) periods of crisis reveal and illuminate in some parts of the world. To put it concisely, for Arendt there are both crisis and crises. In this sense, in Between Past and Future, and namely at the beginning of her analysis of the crisis in education affecting the United States of America from the late 1940s, Arendt talks of a general crisis that ‘has overtaken the modern world everywhere and in almost every sphere of life manifests itself differently in each country’.6

5 For an effective analysis of the theoretical function of the term crisis, that draws from Reinhardt Koselleck’s conceptual history of crisis, and has been particularly useful for the investigation of Arendt’s use of this notion, see Janet Roitman, ‘Crisis’, https://​​roitman-​crisis/​, accessed on 13 April 2020. 6 Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future. Six Exercises in Political Thought (New York: The Viking Press, 1961), p. 173.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


The general crisis Arendt is preoccupied with in this book is firstly the ‘crisis of tradition’,7 ‘the crisis in our attitude toward the realm of the past’,8 that is the result of a slow, long-​standing, but not linear or predetermined process which started with the collapse of Ancient Rome, has progressed with modernity and has become ‘an accomplished fact’ with the unprecedented tragedy of totalitarian domination.9 The breakdown of tradition for Arendt constitutes the first sign of the meta-​crisis, of the general, destabilizing crisis that affects modern society and whose main effect is what she terms as ‘wordlessness’,10 the peculiar form of loss of the world that comes from the shrinking of the public sphere of action and speech, from the disappearance of political action.11 This general crisis thus represents for Arendt the background against which particular incidents emerge, but it also complicates their understanding and interpretation because it has left individuals without instructions on how to fill the gap between the past and the future, without the securely anchored standards and long-​established categories tradition used to provide. In her view the notion and function of tradition is to be traced back to the Roman attitude ‘to consider the past qua past as a model, ancestors […] as guiding examples’,12 and to believe that the source of all greatness lies in the sacredness and unrepeatability of the foundation of Rome, of a unique beginning to be respected and continuously renewed in and throughout time.13 Together with authority and religion, tradition in fact formed the sacred trinity upon which the Romans erected the political realm, it exerted a binding force that had its roots in the past and tied every act back to the past, but was no less a living force present in the reality of Rome.

7 Ibid., p. 193. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., p. 26. 10 See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958; ii edn), pp. 54–​58. 11 In this regard, Arendt seems to reiterate and reinterpret the shared assumptions on crisis that informed the German culture of her time. In this intellectual context, according to Sluga, the notion of crisis was ‘not an empirical idea waiting for confirmation but a regulative ideal, an a priori that structured the perception of the world for those who were in its grip. It determined their philosophical thinking as well as their political involvement’: Hans Sluga, Heidegger’s Crisis. Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 67. 12 Arendt, Between Past, p. 193. 13 On the difference between beginnings and absolute beginnings in Arendt’s thought, as well as on the distance between Arendt’s and Schmitt’s conception of the political in this regard, see Kalyvas, Democracy, pp. 194–​253.



In the modern world the role of tradition as providing qualified guidance, cohesion and stability over time has been increasingly disarticulated, it has relentlessly dried up until the final blow struck by the totalitarian catastrophe produced an irremediable, irreversible break in history, thus making it very difficult, especially but not only for common people, to establish and maintain a dialogue with the past. Although the loss of tradition obviously does not mean the loss of the past, it however means that, as Tocqueville stated, ‘the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future’, that it has become extremely difficult to retain the ‘original spirit’ of traditional concepts –​such as freedom, authority, justice, responsibility, virtue, power–​that continue to exercise their influence over the minds but have lost their meaning.14 With the loss of tradition, humanity has thus lost the collective capability of making sense of the past, of questioning and preserving it and projecting its living force into the public sphere: without tradition –​which selects and names, which hands down and preserves, which indicates where the treasures are and what their worth is –​there seems to be no willed continuity in time and hence, […] neither past nor future, only sempiternal change of the world and the biological cycle of living creatures in it. 15 […] We are in danger of forgetting, and such an oblivion […] would mean that […] we would deprive ourselves of one dimension, the dimension of depth in human existence. For memory and depth are the same, or rather, depth cannot be reached by man except through remembrance.16 Arendt approximates the idea of crisis in at least two other ways that are the expression of the same, profound concern for the risk of worldlessness, of the inclination to migrate from the world to the realm of introspection and private interests that crisis brings with it. In the first instance, she uses the expression ‘dark times’ not to specifically identify the events of crisis that took place in the twentieth century or in other historical moments, but rather the modality in which they appeared in the 14 Arendt, Between Past, pp. 7, 15. For Arendt, the three constituting elements of the trinity –​ tradition, authority and religion –​stand and fall together, so the crisis of tradition implies the crisis of institutional religion and the loss of authority. Ibid., pp. 94–​95. 15 Ibid., p. 5. 16 Ibid., p. 94.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


public realm and yet remained opaque and hidden because they were ‘covered up […] by the highly efficient talk and double-​talk of nearly all official representatives’.17 In relation to this, the crucial political problem for Arendt lies in the fact that in those moments, which are no rarity in history, reality is so disfigured by what Heidegger called the ‘power of mere talk’, of the ‘incomprehensible triviality’ that arises out of the public realm and obscures everything, that people are very likely to lose commitment to the public realm, that is, to shift from the world as the ‘in-​between’ that lies between people to an interior realm, to the world of thinking and feeling in which the reality of the world loses any appeal or relevance.18 Very close to this facet of crisis is the other, quite elusive and dispersed way in which Arendt substantiates this notion as the progressive erosion of what, following Kant, she names ‘common sense’: Whenever in political questions human sound reason fails or gives up the attempt to supply answers we are faced by a crisis; for this kind of reason is really that common sense by virtue of which we and our five individual senses are fitted into a single world common to us all and by the aid of which we move about in it. The disappearance of common sense in the present day is the surest sign of the present-​day crisis. In every crisis a piece of the world, something common to us all, is destroyed.19 Common sense is for Arendt ‘the political sense par excellence’ as it assumes a common world and allows the experience of the complexities of reality as a whole.20 More specifically, common sense for Arendt is a specifically human sense, a ‘community sense’, the sense of being in a community that allows us to share and communicate our opinions.21 The cognitive and guiding role that is played by this sense in fact includes a crucial dimension that is important to highlight here and that explains the closeness between common sense and the faculty of judgment. In addition to being an efficient instrument to manage what is new and unexpected (similarly to prejudices), common sense in fact also suggestively 17 Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc 1968), p. viii. 18 Ibid., p. ix, pp. 4, 19. 19 Arendt, Between Past, p. 178. 20 Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding: 1930–​1954. Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism (New York: Shocken Books, 1994), p. 318. 21 Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, vol. 2 (New York: Harcourt, Inc, 1978), p. 269.



implies the sense, a sort of reassuring sensation, that other people would relate to the reality of the world in a similar way, that ‘my impressions are in principle communicable and will at least potentially be ratified’ by others, and it is for this reason that the loss of common sense for Arendt matters not only in epistemic terms, but more crucially in political terms.22 Being a prerequisite of understanding –​meaning not only having correct information or scientific knowledge but the activity by which ‘we come to terms with and reconcile ourselves to reality’–​the disruption of common sense entails, in the first place, the growing incapacity of taking cognizance of factual phenomena, of the reality of the world.23 In this regard, Arendt highlights that whereas the crisis of common sense reached its decisive manifestation under totalitarianism, its destruction was already under way as a result of the atomisation of individuals, of their ‘loss of social status’ and ‘communal relationships’.24 Common sense had in fact already started to lose its validity and to be replaced ever more with stringent logicality for quite a long time when the perverse totalitarian combination of logicality and ideological reasoning made it possible to transform a mere abstraction, an idea into a premise from which the explanations of facts were to be consistently deduced, thereby definitively obscuring and annihilating reality.25 The problem with this process is in fact, as Arendt further explains, that whereas common sense presupposes and depends on the existence of a common world and other people, logical reasoning does not need them because it ‘can claim a reliability altogether independent of the world and the existence of other people’.26 The generalisations and categorisations central to the logical operations of objective theory in fact do not need to remain connected to the world to function and to be persuasive, and in this sense not only are they irremediably unable to allow any sort of understanding of factual, phenomenal reality, but they also make it impossible to make distinctions between events, detect newness and attribute meaning to facts. In addition to these very troubling effects, for Arendt, the loss of common sense produces yet another consequence that is charged with political


Jakob Norberg, ‘Arendt in Crisis: Political Thought in Between Past and Future’, College Literature, 38:1 (2011), pp. 131–​149, p. 136. On the ways in which Arendt connects common sense to understanding and knowledge, see Arendt, Essays, p. 311. 23 Arendt, Essays, p. 308. See Vollrath, ‘Hannah Arendt’, pp. 173–​177. 24 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1973; vi edn), p. 352. 25 See Arendt, Essays, p. 317. 26 Ibid., p. 318.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


significance: whereas the loss of prejudice liberates us from stereotyped and rigid categories, the loss of common sense ‘makes us utterly lonely, for it is the loss of a sense of sharing the world with others’;27 it entails the end of the idea that the world is our common reality because we can make sense of it through political action, through our words and deeds, through the speech and actions we make in public and that reveal our identity to others.28 A crucial sign of crisis, together with the loss of tradition and the ever-​ impending darkening of times described above, the loss of common sense thus implies the most serious of political risks for Arendt, that is, being deprived of the conditions for any future understanding and (inter)action, and thus for political action, to arise and blossom; the risk of the ‘gradual destruction of a common world’.29

(Re)discovering Political Action

In Koselleck’s masterly conceptual history of crisis, and namely in his reconstruction of the complex and decisive semantic shift that this notion underwent in the eighteenth century, the modern experience and signification of crisis, as well as its constitutive links with the role of critique, is the result of the dualistic relationship between politics and morality that emerged at that time and that allowed a specific temporalisation of history through the elaboration of a philosophy of history.30 To put it very simply, it resulted from the critique of politics and history performed, in the secret, private domain, by the enclaves of intellectuals that were excluded by, and staked against, the absolutist state and that eventually developed into centres of elaboration of a secularised moral authority, of a severe moral critique of political societies.31 The main point for Koselleck is that the political nature and impact of this (pretended) moral critique was denied and covered over by the elaboration of a philosophy of history, by the perpetual invocation of a future, utopian world to be realised, in the name of which absolutism was morally condemned, and

27 28 29 30 31

Norberg, ‘Arendt in Crisis’, p. 136. On political action as disclosing the identity of actors, see Arendt, The Human Condition, pp. 175–​181. Norberg, ‘Arendt in Crisis’, p. 136. See Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1988); Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Crisis’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67:2 (2006), pp. 357–​400 (transl. Michaela W. Richter); Roitman, ‘Crisis’. See Gourevitch’s preface to Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, p. viii.



the (political) conditions for (a perpetual) crisis, for the French Revolution, for terror and dictatorship, were reinforced and justified.32 Confronted with a disaster in which high moral standards and principles had proved to be utterly weak and far too easy to replace and defraud, Arendt argues in a similar vein that continuing to juxtapose thinking and acting, that is, theory and reality, does not represent an adequate answer to the crisis unleashed by totalitarianism but rather ‘lead[s]‌to ruin’ and ‘increase[s] that estrangement from the world by which we are already threatened on all sides’. ‘A crisis becomes a disaster’, Arendt affirms, ‘only when we respond to it with pre-​formed judgments […]. Such an attitude not only sharpens the crisis but makes us forfeit the experience of reality and the opportunity for reflection it provides’.33 In this sense, for Arendt the answer to crisis cannot thus be provided by the reiteration of the same, crystallised attitudes nor by a desperate attempt to make sense of it by elaborating the most consistent philosophical theory, renewed historical narrative, refined ideology or sophisticated moral system: for her, as for Koselleck, the rule of utopia, in its multiple, old and new, forms, has already proved to be a dreadful dead end. Against any attempt, like those of Voegelin and Strauss, aimed at redressing crisis by re-​establishing a relationship between reality and transcendence (philosophy), Arendt’s reply is realistic and practical, though her realism is profoundly different from any sort of Realpolitik, instrumental logic, empiricism or appeased form of conciliation with reality.34 Her unorthodox answer is, in fact, that crisis offers the opportunity to recover the irreducibility of reality and thus the proper nature and meaning of praxis, of political action. By stripping individuals of their ready moral standards and internalised orthodoxies, crisis creates the opportunity ‘to explore and inquire into whatever has been laid bare of the essence of the matter’ directly, without the rigidities and constraints set by tradition and by being free to (re)discover the treasures that were lost in this very same tradition. Sweeping away all the given answers, Arendt states, crisis ‘forces us back to the questions themselves’.35 It is a moment in which we are confronted anew with ‘the elementary problems of human living-​together’,36 in which the need for political action to be

32 Koselleck, Critique and Crisis, pp. 174–​186; Roitman, ‘Crisis’. 33 Arendt, Between Past, pp. 194–​195, pp. 174–​175. 34 On Arendt’s peculiar form of realism, see Patricia Owens, ‘The Ethic of Reality in Hannah Arendt’, in Duncan Bell (ed.), Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 105–​121. 35 Arendt, Between Past, p. 174. 36 Ibid., p. 141.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


(re)discovered and, as Norberg highlights, for politics ‘to come to its own’ is, at the same time, vital and made extremely difficult by crisis itself.37 As is known, for Arendt political action does not denote a predictable, hierarchical and impersonal action responding to a means-​end logic, nor the mere application of ideas, theories, models aimed at suppressing the contingency of reality. This is actually what in her view has made an authentic consideration of human affairs impossible in Western political philosophy and has produced the crisis of the modern world and the tragedy of totalitarianism. Rather, for her, political action –​which is the only form of activity that is proper to human beings and the highest realisation of their potentialities –​is to be recovered in its meaning of a spontaneous, boundless, and undetermined action, keeping to the particularities of reality, the unpredictability and frailty of human affairs, and whose sense and dangers are contained in this very same unpredictability and frailty.38 Bound up with the facts of natality and plurality, being the consequence and public, narrative actualisation of those two facts –​of the capacity to initiate something new, inherent in birth, and of expressing difference in speech, intrinsic to plurality –​, political action consists of spontaneous ‘miraculous’ moments of rupture and ‘new beginning’; it is the realisation of freedom as ‘the capacity to begin’ and it thus contributes to shaping the world and history as the realm of contingency, unexpected and unique events rather than of necessity.39 In Arendt’s view, action in fact does not have any prefixed end but is an end in itself, and it is from political action, that is, whenever and wherever people act together, in concert and publicly, that power –​which contra the tradition of Western political thought is not to be equated with sovereignty, violence or a relation of hierarchy–​springs up and the public sphere is shaped, kept alive and secured.40 What happens then when the irreversible interruption of the continuity of history and the destruction of plurality are wilfully pursued and realised? Which form of political action is possible when individuals seem to no longer have anything in common –​neither the world, nor the categories and 37 38

Norberg, ‘Arendt in Crisis’, p. 144. See Kohn, ‘Introduction’, pp. viii-​xxvi; Margaret Canovan, ‘Introduction’, in Arendt, The Human Condition, pp. vii-​xx. 39 Arendt, Between Past, pp. 169–​170. 40 This explains why Arendt praises every instance of spontaneous public action she encounters in her life and study –​from the ancient polis and the modern revolutions, to the 1871 Commune of Paris, the Russian soviets and the workers’ councils of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution –​and relentlessly stigmatises the dynamics that facilitate world alienation and the contraction of the public realm.



convictions to which they used to fall back on, to understand and navigate through reality? When public and private spaces are methodically destroyed? Judgment is the puzzling and controversial answer Arendt offers, an answer whose content, evolution and function in her political thought is still widely debated and studied. Whereas her conceptualisation of judgment, which is unfinished being only partially elaborated, acquires divergent inclinations over time and problematically stands at the crossroads between the role of the actor and that of the spectator, between ‘vita activa’ and ‘vita contemplativa’ and their complex relationships with history and morality, this work is aimed at highlighting the close link –​which is also inscribed in the etymology of the word crisis that comes from the Greek krinein, ‘to separate’, ‘to decide’, and ‘to judge’ –​that Arendt establishes between judgement and crisis.41 Arendt focuses her attention on the connection between the two, and more precisely on a possible extension to politics of Kant’s aesthetic judgment and reflections on taste, in her investigation of totalitarianism. In particular, she attempted to understand what allowed some (very few) individuals to be able to discriminate between right and wrong in such a moment of ultimate dissolution of the established norms and standards, while the majority of the others, like the Nazi lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, proved to be dramatically unable even to think. Following Kant’s reflections, Arendt is thus interested in judgment intended as ‘the faculty of thinking the particular’42 without resorting to any general standard or rule. In this light, judgment is not a routinised operation whereby a particular is subsumed under an accepted rule, but rather a reflective operation that starts from the particular, from the original and contextual character


It is not possible here to provide a comprehensive account and analysis of Arendt’s concept of judgement, as well as of the diverging interpretations provided by scholars, on which see at least Tuija Parvikko, The Responsibility of the Pariah. The Impact of Bernard Lazare on Arendt’s Conception of Political Action and Judgment in Extreme Situations (Jyväskylä: SoPhi, 1996); Tuija Parvikko, ‘Committed to Think, Judge and Act. Hannah Arendt’s Idealtypical Approach to Human Faculties’, in Joke J. Hermsen and Dana Villa (eds), The Judge and the Spectator. Hannah Arendt’s Political Philosophy (Leuven: Peeters, 1999), pp. 111–​133; Simona Forti, ‘Judging Between Politics and History’, Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought, 2 (1998), pp. 15–​36; David L. Marshall, ‘The Origin and Character of Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Judgment’, Political Theory, 38:3 (2010), pp. 367–​393; M. Passerin d’Entreves, ‘Hannah Arendt’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019: https://​​entries/​arendt/​, accessed on 13 April 2020. 42 Arendt, Life of the Mind, vol. 2, p. 271.

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of phenomena, to judge their uniqueness as well as their universal import and meaning, their ‘exemplary validity’.43 In Arendt’s view, the power of this form of judgment stems from what Kant called ‘enlarged mentality’,44 that is, the capability of comparing a subjective standpoint with possible judgments of other judging individuals, using imagination and representation to evoke events and to make others present. Enlarged thought, however, does not mean empathy, or simple acceptance of the difference between individual standpoints, but is the result of abstracting from the limitations of one’s subjective condition, needs and self-​interest, so that judgment can reach a validity that is ‘neither objective and universal, nor subjective’, but rather inter-​subjective; a validity that the more positions I take into consideration, the more ‘representative’ and impartial it becomes. Judgment, Arendt continues, is thus integrally connected with plurality; not with the existence of a man as an intelligible being but of ‘men in the plural, as living in a community’.45 The comparison of my judgment with the possible judgments of others and its communicability are made possible by common sense, which, as we have seen, is the sense that allows me to be in ‘anticipated communication with others’ who are absent but with whom I know I can come to a potential agreement.46 Drawing not from speculative thought but from common sense, judgment does not transcend the public realm, but it is entirely concerned with it. It is ‘disinterested’ because it concerns the factual reality of the world and its appearances, not the private or moral life of individuals.47 Whereas at one stage Arendt seems to consider judgement as a faculty that enables the political actor to decide what to do in practice (like the Greek phronesis), in her last writings judging seems no longer to be configured as a modality that connects thinking and acting but rather, as we will see in the next paragraph, as the privilege of the impartial spectator, the historian or the poet, who appeals to judgement to retrospectively cull meaning from the past in order to hand it down, through narration, to the future generations. While this contradiction has been (and still is) extensively debated in literature, it is the peculiar 43

Ibid., p. 272. On the notion of exemplary validity, which Arendt extends also to the actions of individuals and historical figures, as well as to past events, see Passerin d’Entreves, ‘Hannah Arendt’. 44 Kant quoted in Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment (New York: Shocken Books, 2003), p. 140. 45 Ibid., pp. 141–​142. On the validity of judgement, which is linked to the crucial difference between opinion and truth, see Passerin d’Entreves, ‘Hannah Arendt’. 46 Arendt, Between Past, p. 220. 47 Ibid., p. 222.



function, simultaneously political, ethical and historical, judgement plays in moment of political emergencies that is to be emphasised here,48 as this long and crucial passage of Arendt’s Life of the Mind shows: When everybody is swept away unthinkingly by what everybody else does and believes in, those who think are drawn out of hiding because their refusal to join is conspicuous and thereby becomes a kind of action. The purging element in thinking, Socrates' midwifery, that brings out the implications of unexamined opinions and thereby destroys them –​values, doctrines, theories, and even convictions –​is political by implication. For this destruction has a liberating effect on another human faculty, the faculty of judgment, which one may call, with some justification, the most political of man's mental abilities. It is the faculty to judge particulars without subsuming them under those general rules which can be taught and learned until they grow into habits that can be replaced by other habits and rules. The faculty of judging particulars (as Kant discovered it), the ability to say, ‘this is wrong’, ‘this is beautiful’, etc., is not the same as the faculty of thinking. Thinking deals with invisibles […] judging always concerns particulars and things close at hand. But the two are interrelated in a way similar to the way consciousness and conscience are interconnected. If thinking […] results in conscience as its by-​product, then judging, the by-​product of the liberating effect of thinking, realizes thinking, makes it manifest in the world […]. The manifestation of the wind of thought is no knowledge; it is the ability to tell right from wrong, […]. And this indeed may prevent catastrophes, at least for myself, in the rare moments when the chips are down.49 Especially in times of emergency, thinking ceases to be a marginal activity, Arendt states in the long quotation above, because it prepares the ground for judgement as an autonomous activity, as an activity not supported by any sort of ‘banister’,50 be it a universal rule, a shared norm or a consolidated concept. It is particularly when ‘the chips are down’, she continues, that judging, that


See Forti, ‘Judging’, p. 31. On the different phases and possible interpretations of Arendt’s theory of judgement see Forti, ‘Judging’, pp. 15–​35; Passerin d’Entreves, ‘Hannah Arendt’. Drawing from Kant’s idea of united mankind, Arendt seems to reconcile the roles of actor and spectator in Life of the Mind, vol. 2, p. 271. 49 Arendt, Life of the Mind, vol. 1, pp. 192–​193 (emphasis added). 50 Cf. Hannah Arendt, Thinking without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953–​1975 (Schocken Books: New York, 2018; ed. Jerome Kohn).

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is, engaging in thinking and being concerned with reality, becomes not only an inescapable responsibility, but also ‘immediately action’,51 even though, we may hope, not the only possible form of political action.

Redeeming Meaning and Dignity from the Past: History as Storytelling

The peculiar nature of judgment as ‘the place of resistance with respect […] [to] the existent’52 becomes more manifest if we now address the ways in which Arendt, especially in her last writings, deals with the relationship between judgment and history. Contrasting the transformation of history into a philosophy of history, as well as any deterministic or monist reading and construction of it, Arendt affirms that judgment –​in line with the old Greek meaning of history as historein (inquiry, knowledge from inquiry, or judge) –​is what will make it possible for us to ‘reclaim our human dignity’, to win it back from the ‘pseudo-​ divinity named History of the modern age’.53 For Arendt, the modern conception of history is in fact another result of the Western attitude that privileges theory over praxis, or necessity over contingency, in the attempt to escape from the frustrations and fragility of human action and by construing historical events as forming a process, as the derivative and predictable stages of a teleological development. By conceiving history as something that has a beginning and a determinate end, as well as intelligible content, laws and means, modern historiography has in fact managed to reconcile rationality and reality but at the price of depriving the particular, the realm of ‘single events and deeds and suffering’, of any independent meaning and relevance. Quite ironically, having affirmed that ‘meaning is contained in the process as a whole’, modern historiography, for Arendt, has produced the loss of history, the loss of relevance of both factual reality and human actions, of the uniqueness and particularity of past actions and events.54 As we have seen, with the fatal break in tradition produced by totalitarianism, individuals have irremediably lost their consolidated categories of thought and evaluation and are thus left with what ‘is still the past, but a fragmented

51 Forti, ‘Judging’, p. 34; see Parvikko, Responsibility, pp. 207–​228. 52 Forti, ‘Judging’, p. 34. 53 Arendt, Life of the Mind, vol. 1, p. 216. 54 Arendt, Between Past, pp. 80, 87.



past, which has lost its certainty of evaluation’.55 In this situation, each generation, each human being, must find a way to think about and remember the past because without this process of reflection there are no stories, nor history, to be told. It is in this context that judging, with all the specific characteristics Arendt assigns to it, becomes the faculty that makes it possible to find a way out of this conundrum and to cull meaning from the past, to bear witness to the events of the world by deciding, independently and impartially, that is, without resorting to authoritative and generalizing standards, what is worthy of being remembered and preserved in its particularity from disappearing in time. Re-​establishing a link with the past for Arendt thus requires us, first of all, to recognise that making history does not mean tracking down the causes of an event –​a manipulative and falsifying operation. Rather, it means selecting particular stories and events in order to recover their meaning, which for her can be done only when the event is narrated as part of a story because it is this narration that illuminates the past and allows our reconciliation with reality not through empathy, complacency or passivity but through our active confrontation with its factual nature. In this perspective, historiography is the art of the storyteller who ‘reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it, […] [who] brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are’.56 No longer distracted and constrained by tradition, a storyteller, like Arendt was, cannot save the past as a whole but is like a pearl diver ‘who dive[s]‌deep and excavate[s] the original meaning of the phenomena which lay covered by sedimented layers of historical interpretation’, and who tries to identify newness and uniqueness by searching for pearls that can ‘unsettle the present’, for the lost treasures, forgotten meanings and origins that can still illuminate the present, that can be reappropriated, remembered and transformed into examples, a source of guidance for the future, and it is in the historian’s search for newness, particularity

55 Arendt, Life of the Mind, vol. 1, p. 212. On the alteration of the relationship between present, past and future produced by the modern notion of progress, see ibid., p. 214. On the similarities and differences between Arendt’s and Koselleck’s conception of this relationship, see José D’Assunção Barros, ‘Rupturas entre o presente e o passado. Leituras sobre as concepções de tempo de Koselleck e Hannah Arendt’, Revista Páginas de Filosofia, 2:2 (2010), pp. 65–​88. 56 Arendt, Men, p. 105. See Arendt, Essays, pp. 318–​319; Vollrath, ‘Hannah Arendt’, pp. 180–​181; Seyla Benhabib, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Redemptive Power of Narrative’, Social Research, 57:1 (1990), pp. 167–​196, pp. 186–​190; Owens, ‘International Origins’, pp. 50–​55.

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and individuality that in her view resides the other side of political action as the human capacity to begin something new .57 In the first sense, the recovery of the lost nature of political action as a spontaneous and undetermined action further proves that history cannot be told as a continuous and teleological flow because it is through individuals’ action and speech that ‘condition for remembrance, that is, for history’ is created,58 and that it lies in the realm of contingency, of unexpected and unique events rather than of necessity: History, in contradistinction to nature, is full of events; here the miracle of accident and infinite improbability occurs so frequently that it seems strange to speak of miracles at all. But the reason for this frequency is merely that historical processes are created and constantly interrupted by human initiative, by the initium man is insofar as he is an acting being. Hence it is not in the least superstitious, it is even a counsel of realism, to look for the unforeseeable and unpredictable, to be prepared for and to expect ‘miracles’ in the political realm.59 In the second and interconnected sense, by judging and selecting events, by denying history its ‘right to being the ultimate judge’ in the Hegelian sense, historians as storytellers can further claim back human dignity and capacity for action, so that, as is also seen in the figure of the ‘conscious pariah’, history can ultimately become the history also of the ‘defeated’ cause, and no longer only of the victorious.60

Seeing Like a Pariah

The figure of the conscious pariah, just like Arendt’s thought in general, has seen a steady resurgence of interest and investigation for quite some time now. In addition to epitomizing her peculiar historical and theoretical method, the figure of the ‘conscious pariah’ is identified here, on the one hand, as the figure of those individuals who embody, experience and give testimony to, the crisis of a certain society through their vulnerability, in their flesh, making 57

Benhabib, ‘Hannah Arendt’, p. 189. On the particular that can become an example that, in turn, will help us to judge reality in its particularity, see Arendt, Responsibility, pp. 143–​146. 58 Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 9. 59 Arendt, Between Past, p. 170. 60 Arendt, Life of the Mind, vol. 1, p. 216.



visible the need for new answers and for (re)thinking the conditions of human co-​habitation. On the other, it is argued that this figure is also particularly apt for capturing the political relevance of judgment in extreme circumstances and for affirming that nothing, not even the condition of exclusion she embodies, can exempt from the responsibility of practicing it, as Arendt tried to demonstrate by being a proud pariah herself, not only with respect to the broader society but also Jewish people, and by reconstructing and recounting the stories of many pariahs in her writings (Rahel Varnhagen, Sholom Aleichem, Heinrich Heine, Bernard Lazare, Franz Kafka, Charlie Chaplin), investigating their deeds and suffering.61 In Arendt’s view, the status of the pariah characterises the condition of the Jews in Western Europe even after their emancipation because, even though they lived amidst European peoples, they continued to be excluded and discriminated, not truly accepted as Jews, thus remaining in an outsider condition that has historically given rise to two different attitudes: that of the conscious pariah, who is aware of her condition and nevertheless reaffirms, in various ways, her right to be included and recognised as a Jew, that is, for her uniqueness and particularity, and that of the ‘parvenu’ who unsuccessfully tries to be assimilated and to succeed in the world of the gentiles, and yet who cannot escape her (Jewish) identity. The conscious pariahs were those who did the most for their people’s dignity because, contrary to the ‘parvenus’ who were social climbers denying their historical identity and wanting to be assimilated at any price, they never denied nor traded their identity for a simulacrum of acceptance and recognition. They actually tried to preserve, defend and affirm their identity in its particularity in as many ways as they could afford, in a context of exclusion.62 In this context, the figure of the conscious pariah is thus the figure of a person who is aware of her condition as an outsider, of the ways in which history and politics have shaped and continue to shape her existence, and who accepts her condition of vulnerability, ‘rather than denying it, retreating from it, trying to hide who they are’, but does not submit to it.63

61 62


See Ron H. Feldman, ‘Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The Case of Hannah Arendt (1906–​ 1975)’, in Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings (New York: Shocken Books, 2007), p. xliii. See Arendt, Jewish Writings, pp. 275–​297; Feldman, ‘Introduction’, pp. xlii–​xliii; Jennifer Ring, ‘The Pariah as Hero: Hannah Arendt’s Political Actor’, Political Theory, 19:3 (1991), pp. 433–​452, pp. 441–​444. On the historical sources of Arendt’s conception of pariahdom, see Parvikko, Responsibility, pp. 13–​60. Ring, ‘The Pariah’, p. 443.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


Due to her specific position, by being, at the same time, inside and outside the world of human affairs, she is in fact in the best position to judge history and politics independently, because resorting to the dominant ideologies, moral standards or given answers would mean resorting to the very same logic and means that produced her exclusion. When she accepts being conscious, she cannot but judge reality for what it is –​and not for what it should be, is supposed to be or she would like it to be –​because she experiences its harsh reality in everyday life. But whereas she is irremediably doomed to bear the burden of reality, she also gets something very precious in exchange: she understands the logic that produces this burden. Even though she knows that her condition is not of her own making, when the pariah recognises her condition, she, in her rejection of any form of resignation or self-​pity, in fact recognises that she has at least a partial responsibility for it, depending on whether she decides to capitulate or consent to it or to resist it (at least, but if possible, not only) by judging it.64 As Arendt affirms with regard to refugees who, like the conscious pariahs of the Jewish tradition, accept their condition and do not deny their identity, they obtain ‘one priceless advantage’ in exchange: history is no longer a closed book to them and politics is no longer the privilege of gentiles. They know that the outlawing of the Jewish people in Europe has been followed closely by the outlawing of most European nations. Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples –​if they keep their identity.65 The same privilege is assigned, as Arendt’s experience and reflection regarding crisis suggest, to those who dare to look at reality from the standpoint of a pariah, to judge it “from outside” instead of holding fast to consolidated categories, meanings and hierarchies, instead of resorting to the opinions and narratives of the majority.



See Parvikko, Responsibility, pp. 206–​220. On the ways in which the complex and articulated role of the pariah connects with Arendt’s analysis of both the role of the Jewish councils under totalitarian domination, the condition of refugees and stateless individuals and the predicament of individuals in mass society see: Ring, ‘The Pariah’, pp. 443–​450; Parvikko, Responsibility, pp. 209–​213. In the pariahs’ stories Arendt narrates, the conscious pariahs are often those who decided to act in unconventional, eccentric ways (poetry, humour, art), and to become rebels in as many ways as they could. Arendt, ‘We Refugees’, p. 119.




While political action and judgment are the twofold, and not so uncommon, answers Arendt provides to crisis, the peculiar characteristics Arendt assigns to them –​from the essence of political action as being an equal and spontaneous action keeping to the particularities of reality, to the relevance and responsibility of judging especially in political emergencies, and to their connections with history as continuously interrupted by unpredictable human actions and with historiography as storytelling –​cannot be grasped in their dense originality without comprehending them as the result of Arendt’s attempt to understand reality in its contingent, unpredictable and undetermined nature, and thus to understand crisis as an inescapable manifestation of such a reality; of her attempt not to circumvent the manifold dangers and potential of crisis but instead to integrate them into her conceptualisations and method, as fiercely as she personally confronted it during her life as a pariah, contesting any pretense, assertion or form of necessity and escape from reality, and stating that accepting the inescapable contingency of human condition, accepting our responsibility to act and to judge, is ‘the price we pay for being free’66 and for saving our dignity.

Select bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958; ii edn). Arendt, Hannah, Between Past and Future. Six Exercises in Political Thought (New York: The Viking Press, 1961). Arendt, Hannah, The Life of the Mind, 2 vols (New York: Harcourt, Inc, 1978). Arendt, Hannah, Essays in Understanding: 1930–​ 1954. Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism (New York: Shocken Books, 1994). Arendt, Hannah, Responsibility and Judgment (New York: Shocken Books, 2003). Arendt, Hannah, The Jewish Writings (New York: Shocken Books, 2007).

Forti, Simona, ‘Judging Between Politics and History’, Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought, 2 (1998), pp. 15–​36.


Kohn, ‘Introduction’, p. xxvi.

Crisis and Vulnerability in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought


Kohn, Jerome, ‘Introduction’, in Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), pp. vii–​xxix. Owens, Patricia, ‘The International Origins of Hannah Arendt’s Historical Method’, in Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson (eds), International Origins of Social and Political Theory (Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017), pp. 37–​62. Parvikko, Tuija, The Responsibility of the Pariah. The Impact of Bernard Lazare on Arendt’s Conception of Political Action and Judgment in Extreme Situations (Jyväskylä: SoPhi, 1996). Passerin d’Entreves, Maurizio, ‘Hannah Arendt’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019: https://​​entries/​arendt/​, accessed on 13 April 2020. Vollrath, Ernst, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Method of Political Thinking’, Social Research, 44:1 (1977), pp. 160–​182.

­c hapter 16

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times: The Perspectives of Arnold J. Toynbee and Samuel P. Huntington Patricia Chiantera-​Stutte Referring to a specific kind of intellectual, namely historians, Ian Ifversen has recently observed that these ‘are professional narrators of changing time. In this sense they imagine change’.1 Historians, and intellectuals generally, foresee crises, prepare public opinion for facing them, and even create new terms (Vorbegriffe) in order to define future events and scenarios, the perception of which is not clear in times of transition.2 The function of acknowledging a crisis is implied in the exercise of thinking, but, for this same reason, the political elites may legitimise their authority through artistic, cultural and scientific support.3 Indeed, writing about crisis is a multiple reflective exercise: it entails considering the authors’ explanations of crises and, at the same time, the positions of those same authors –​the intellectuals –​in society, and, finally, the general demands of society on intellectuals: what an intellectual is supposed to do with regards to crisis. This reflective exercise seems particularly fruitful when crisis theories concern an endogenous crisis, namely when the decadence of political and intellectual elites is explicitly thematised and the author himself/​ herself has a political role.4 This is what Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–​1975) and later Samuel P. Huntington (1927–​2008) did. The following pages will be devoted to these two intellectuals, who share many traits: they did not observe events as academics, but rather as 1 Jan Ifversen, ‘Time Bandits and Concepts of Bad Times’, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 12:2 (2017), pp. 1–​11, p. 3. 2 Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Introduction and Prefaces to the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe’, , Contributions to the History of Concepts, 6:1 (2011), pp. 7–​25, p. 21 (transl. Michaela Richter). 3 Zygmunt Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Post-​ Modernity, and Intellectuals (Oxford: Polity Press, 1987), p. 5. 4 On the role of intellectuals as part of the elites and, at the same time, as representatives of a critical function against the political and economic elites, and on intellectual authority in public opinion, see Pierre Bourdieu, ‘Intellectual Field and Creative Project’, Information. Intellectual Social Science Council, 8:2 (1969), pp. 89–​119 and idem, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Oxford: Polity Press, 1996).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | DOI:10.1163/9789004466876_018

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


political advisors; both were living in times when the geopolitical world system radically changed; both reflected on the relations of incompatibility between civilisations; for both, civilisation was not one but many different entities. Explaining political and general crisis as conflicts between civilisations and decay within them led both to suggest the need for a renewal of political elites.5 Most comparative research on these authors has dealt with their respective ideas in order to underline their theoretical and methodological differences,6 but little attention has been paid to the relation between their intellectual work and their political roles, and to their models of society and politics. The following analysis aims to fill this gap by showing that the main difference between their models of civilisation and of social crisis is related not only to their political beliefs, but also to their position as critical intellectuals commenting on political and social crisis. The following analysis focuses on their main works, Toynbee’s Study of History (1934–​1961) and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations? (as an article 1993 and as a book 1996), which were written during critical political periods and enjoyed huge public attention well after their publication. I will also partly consider their reception, which may reveal the legitimation they gave (consciously or unconsciously) to the specific geopolitical system of power in the Western world after the Second World War. This chapter aims at discussing the main scale theories of civilisation in the twentieth century as they tackle, but also as they respond intellectually to crisis. The models of interpretations were even then turned to direct uses in international politics by high level policy makers in order to offer a rationale for some steps 5 On Toynbee, see e.g. William H. McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Cornelia Navari, ‘Arnold Toynbee: Prophecy and Civilisation’, Review of International Studies, 26 (2000), pp. 289–​301; Michael Lang, ‘Globalization and Global History in Toynbee’, Journal of World History, 22:4 (2011), pp. 747–​783; Luca G. Castellin, Ascesa e Declino delle Civiltà (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2010); Ian Hall, ‘“The Toynbee Convector”: The Rise and Fall of Arnold J. Toynbee’s Anti-​Imperial Mission to the West’, The European Legacy, 17:4 (2012), pp. 455–​469; Federico Leonardi and Luca Maggioni (eds), Arnold J. Toynbee. Il Mondo oltre le Civiltà (Milan: Unicopli, 2016). On Samuel P. Huntington, see Jule-​Ann Davis, ‘Clashing Civilisations or Conflicting Interests?’, Geopolitics, 13:4 (2008), pp. 757–​760; Richard Bonney, False Prophets: The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ and the Global War on Terror (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008); Thomas D. Meincke, ‘Vom Politikwissenschaftler zum Meinungsmacher? S.P. Huntington und die Amerikanische Politik’, PhD diss., University of Hamburg, 2011; Jeffrey Haynes, ‘From Huntington to Trump: Twenty-​Five Years of the “Clash of Civilisations”’, The Review of Faith and International Affairs, 17:1 (2019), pp. 11–​23. 6 Hayword R. Alker, ‘If Not Huntington’s “Civilisations” Then Whose?’, Review Fernand Braudel Center, 18 (1995), pp. 533–​562; Krishan Kumar, ‘The Return of Civilisation –​and of Arnold Toynbee?’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 56:4 (2014), pp. 815–​843; Ian Hall, ‘Clashing Civilisations: A Toynbeean Response to Huntington’, in Davide Orsi (ed.), The Clash of Civilisations 20 Years On (Bristol: E-​International Publ., 2018), pp. 5–​14.

350 Chiantera-Stutte taken in the management of relevant political crisis –​whether or not such uses comply with the ideas and intentions of the author of the theory.

Toynbee: Civilisations on Trial

Toynbee, who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, felt himself to be a particular –​intellectual –​kind of witness to a time of troubles. ‘Time of trouble’ is the definition given in his interpretation to particular dangerous situations, when the crisis of a civilisation has begun but there is still hope that it may recover.7 In A Study of History, he considered different times of troubles that bring about the end of one civilisation and the birth of another: for instance, the ‘Hannibalic war’, or the transition to the Fifth Dynasty in ancient Egypt.8 During these times of transition a persistent war threatens to destroy a civilisation which is torn internally by a deep schism between elites and masses, as well as by a ‘schism in the soul’, i.e. the degeneration of social and moral conduct.9 Politically, the end of a civilisation may be preceded by the emergence of a universal State and its juxtaposition with, and fight against, the ‘external proletariat of barbarians’.10 Accordingly, the years between the two World Wars too represented for Toynbee ‘a turning point’ in Western civilisation that could possibly lead to a ‘time of trouble’. Already at the beginning of the century, Britain, as well as Europe, had palpably lost her pivotal role in the cultural, political and economic fields. Moreover, the international order was collapsing and, more generally, the whole geopolitical conceptual map of global relations was changing in terms of political actions and in the way it was perceived by intellectuals. However, it was only at the end of the 1930s that Toynbee stated that a ‘time of trouble has undoubtedly descended upon us in our Western World today’11 and discerned the signs of it in the political international crisis, the end of the League of Nations and the incumbent threat of war to Western civilisation.

7 8 9 10 11

Ian Hall, ‘“Time of Troubles”: Arnold J. Toynbee’s Twentieth Century’, International Affairs, 90:1 (2014), pp. 423–​436. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939–​1961) (hereafter SH), here vol. 1, pp. 53 and 137. SH, vol. 5, pp. 35–​193 and 376–​568. Ibid., pp. 194–​319. SH, vol. 4, p. 3. See also Arnold Toynbee ‘A Turning Point in History’, Foreign Affairs, 17:2 (1939), pp. 305–​320.

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


During this deep crisis of the European international order, Toynbee, as a distinguished academic but also as Head of the Foreign Research and Press Service,12 addressed two different audiences –​the academic world and the wider public –​in his academic writings and in the political ones (the Surveys of International Affairs published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs for the information and the public discussion of political international events and developments). The investigations into civilisations originated both from his studies on ancient empires and from his personal political experience –​he had had to study, compare, report on and politically ‘translate’ between different civilisations and acknowledge their plurality in his political work for the Foreign Office. Toynbee’s initial background was the so-​called ‘evolutionary idealism’ that tried to combine Darwinian naturalism with the idealistic philosophy elaborated by T. H. Green.13 A pivotal role in his education and career was played by the Hellenistic historians Gilbert Murray and Alfred E. Zimmern, who was also the first professor of international relations at the University of Aberystwyth and an influential political internationalist. Zimmern’s role in the League of Nations and in the British Foreign Office and in the Royal Institute for International Affairs was also to ensure that the public was informed and thus to strengthen popular support for international cooperation. Zimmern’s and Murray’s faith in the natural coincidence of human progress and evolution was mirrored in their optimistic vision of the future of world society and their Eurocentric approach to the issues of peace and war. In their view, a peaceful international political society was attainable through the diffusion of a universal European civilisation, whose cosmopolitan and liberal values would make possible the coexistence of different peoples and cultures.14 12

13 14

Robert H. Keyserlingk, ‘Arnold Toynbee’s Foreign Research and Press Service, 1939–​1943 and Its Post-​War Plans for South-​East Europe’, Journal of Contemporary History, 21:4 (1986), pp. 539–​558; Andrea Bosco and Cornelia Navari (eds), Chatham House and British Foreign Policy 1919–​1945: the Royal Institute of International Affairs in the Inter-​War Period (London: Lothian Foundation Press, 1994); Elie Kedourie, Chatham House and Other Essays (London: Brandeis University Press, 1984), pp. 351–​394. Lang, ‘Globalisation’. On this milieu, see Edward H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919–​1939 (London: MacMillan, 1939); Martin Wight, The Three Traditions (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1991); Hedley Bull, ‘The Theory of International Politics 1919–​1969’, in Brian Porter (ed.), The Aberyswyth Papers (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 30–​55; Jeanne Morefield, Covenants without Swords. Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Jeanne Morefield, Empires without Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Gary K. Peatling, ‘Globalism, Hegemony and British Power: J.A. Hobson and Alfred Zimmern Reconsidered’, History, 89:3 (2004), pp. 381–​398; Paul Rich, ‘Reinventing Peace: David Davies, Alfred Zimmern and Liberal Internationalism in Interwar Britain’, International Relations, 16:1 (2002), pp. 117–​133. On G. Murray, see e.g.

352 Chiantera-Stutte Toynbee, who grew up in this liberal milieu and deeply shared its goals,15 He defined himself a ‘liberal of the Campbell-​Bannerman School’, believing in Free Trade, Peace, Retreatment and Reform.16 He soon began to play a role both in the University of Oxford and in the main British institutions for foreign politics, which aimed to inform the political elites and create public support for the British Commonwealth and for liberal internationalism. He worked in the British Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (from 1917) and later at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), which he directed from 1925 to 1954, and the Foreign Research and Press Service (1939–​1943). Yet, the outbreak of the First and then the Second World War instilled doubts in Toynbee’s belief in evolutionary idealism and liberal internationalism.17 Three main issues became crucial in his historical and political writings at this point: going beyond the national political model and, at the same time, fighting against the creation of a universal State; defining the civilisational crisis and the ways to overcome critical periods; and the analysis of the specific collapse of Western politics and liberal internationalism.18 The concept civilisation, therefore, meant for him finding a new geographical and political category describing the global power constellations and cultures that could supersede the national state model and even the imperial idea, as it was meant to point out the main historical, cultural and religious differences between groups of individuals, which never completely overlap with the Peter D. McDonald, Artefacts of Writing: Ideas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 36–​49. 15 Daniel Gorman, The Emergence of International Society in the Twenties (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). I am referring to nineteenth-​century British liberalism, which was based on the protection of civil rights, on the value of property and free trade and partly on British imperialism. In particular, Toynbee’s milieu –​ his main friends and mentors Zimmern and Gilbert –​belonged to Whig conservative liberalism. 16 Quoted in David J. Rosner, Catastrophe and Philosophy (London: Lexington Books, 2019), p. 220. For Toynbee’s liberalism, see Hall, ‘Convector’; Jürgen Osterhammel, ‘Arnold J. Toynbee and the Problems of Today’, lecture at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, 6 January 2017 (https://​www.ghi-​​fileadmin/​user_​upload/​ GHI_​Washington/​Publications/​Bulletin60/​69.pdf, accessed on 6 May 2021). 17 Lang, ‘Globalisation’; Luca G. Castellin, ‘Toynbee on Trial: Sul Rapporto tra Storia e Relazioni Internazionali’, in Leonardi and Maggioni (eds), Arnold Toynbee, pp. 95–​110. On the crisis of liberal internationalism, see Casper Sylvest, British Liberal Internationalism 1880–​1930 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009); Carr, The Twenty; Rich, Reinventing; Leonie Holthaus, ‘L.T. Hobhouse and the Transformation of Liberal Internationalism’, Review of International Studies, 40:4 (2014), pp. 705–​727. 18 Arnold J. Toynbee, The New Europe (London: Dent and Sons, 1916), pp. 19–​24.

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


political unities. Civilisation was not only a practical political idea, it was used in Toynbee’s work for the governmental agencies in order to understand the political perspectives and mentalities of the different political individual and collective agents; but it was also a historical concept, which he later defined as: ‘[t]‌he smallest unit of historical study at which one arrives when one tries to understand the history of one’s own country’.19 The ‘time of trouble’ concept, which originated from his experience of the Western political crisis, was integrated into his study of the decline and fall of civilisations. Time of trouble meant a crisis that was not external, due to the relations between different civilisations, but rather endogenous, namely the crisis of the ruling elites. At the end of the 1940s, the crisis between civilisations was accompanied by a crisis within Western civilisation. Already in 1922, in a clear and far-​sighted interpretation of the relations between the West and its colonies, he observed that conflicts between civilisations and inside Western civilisation were related to the asynchronies between economic and political development in global society: the emergence of ‘economic Westernisation’ of non-​European countries, which adopted also the European political State model, clashed with their culture and their ancient political traditions.20 Thus, the First World War, like the Bolshevik Revolution and the disintegration of the British Empire, could be explained only if the negative impact and side-​effects of Western imperialism and globalisation were to be taken seriously. Remarkably, before many historians of the time, Toynbee here began not only to cast doubts on the superiority of Western civilisation, but also accused it of having unleashed forces that would be self-​destructive.21 Moreover, the necessary interdependence of all civilisations also entailed the responsibility that a dominant civilisation –​the Western one –​had to take toward the world and that the League of Nations had to take against arrogant imperialism: every abuse of international power –​and every refusal to consult with other civilisations –​could provoke a ‘nemesis’, a counter-​reaction directed against the dominating power.22 In the first volumes of A Study of History that he had begun to draft between 1919 and 1921, but published between 1934 and 1939, Toynbee turned the reflections of his political experiences into a general historiographical framework, 19 Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilisation on Trial (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 222. 20 Ibid., p. 85 and Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (London: Constable, 1922), pp. 30–​40. 21 Toynbee, ‘A Turning Point’, p. 319. 22 Arnold J. Toynbee, ‘Abyssinia and Italy’, Survey of International Affairs, 2:1 (1935), pp. 106–​112.

354 Chiantera-Stutte which methodologically represented the coalescence of Spengler’s civilisational model, his Hellenist studies carried out at Oxford, as well as the studies on the decline of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon and Eduard Meyer’s monumental work.23 In contrast to Spengler’s organicist model of separated civilisations growing and decaying autonomously,24 Toynbee aimed to show their dynamic development, their interrelations and the reasons for their emergence and decline.25 Like Zimmern and Murray, he outlined the parallels between contemporary history and the history of ancient empires but, unlike them, he focused on the plurality of civilisations, on their equivalence and on the interactions between them.26 Civilisations were characterised, according to him, not by their juxtaposition with others, but by their relation of ‘affiliation-​ and-​apparentation’ with others.27 Their ability to absorb, assimilate and learn from other societies distinguished real civilisations from primitive societies –​ the latter being closed, short-​lived and incapable of learning. Toynbee established that historically pluralism and the capacity to learn were, ultimately, the reasons for the success of civilisations. For instance, the successful Western civilisation preserved its internal plurality in history only because it could take control of its environment and change it, or rather, in Toynbee’s words, because it was able to grow. Here ‘growth means that the growing personality of civilisation tends to become its own environment and its own challenge […] the criterion of growth is progress towards determination’.28 A growing civilisation was not expanding, but rather changing, opening its boundaries and transforming the conflict between itself and the other into a productive


Edward Gibbon, The History and Decline of the Roman Empire, 6 vols (London: Strahan & Cadell, 1776–​1789); Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, 5 vols (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1884–​1902). 24 Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Vienna: Braunmüller, 1918). Another important source for Toynbee’s idea of civilisation was Frederick J. Teggart, The Processes of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1918). Apparently, Toynbee did not know Feliks Koneczny’s work on civilisations. 25 See McNeill, Toynbee, pp. 98-​110. On Toynbee and Spengler, see James Joll, ‘Two Prophets of the Twentieth Century: Spengler and Toynbee’, Review of International Studies, 11 (1985), pp. 91–​104; David O. Wilkinson, ‘Comparative Civilisations’, in Robert A. Denemark and Renée Marlin-​Bennett (eds), Encyclopedia of International Studies, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 363–​385; John Farrenkopf, ‘American Decline and World Disorder: Spengler, Toynbee and Huntington’, in Sebastian Fink and Robert Rollinger (eds), Oswald Spengler Kulturmorphologie (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018), pp. 305–​322. 26 Gordon Martel, ‘From Round Table to New Europe: Some Intellectual Origins of the Institute of International Affairs’, in Bosco and Navari (eds), Chatham House, pp. 13–​39. 27 Toynbee, SH, vol. 1, pp. 46–​60. 28 Toynbee, SH, vol. 3, p. 21.

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


challenge for itself and for the other. Indeed, he stated, ‘[t]‌he growths of civilisations are in their nature progressive movements. Civilisations grow through an élan that carries them from challenge to response to further challenge and from differentiation through integration to differentiation again’.29 Following a Bergsonian approach,30 Toynbee stated that the élan vital inside civilisations could explain social change and their success. Moreover, civilisations were neither unchanging nor monolithic, according to Toynbee: internally, they were structured in strata with different functions. These views can be understood in the context of Toynbee’s conscious or unconscious premises: his Eurocentrism, his Whig liberalism, his individualism and, at the same time, his elitism and scepticism about democracy. The positive social response to challenge and the subsequent growth of a civilisation were only possible if the so-​called ‘creative personalities’ tackled the social challenge and made out of it an opportunity for transformation and growth. Elites were separated from the masses and they should be imitated by the majority: ‘[t]‌here is an overwhelming majority of ordinary people … and the humanity of all these people is virtually primitive’.31 Again, contrary to Spengler’s interpretation, decline was endogenous: it began not when a power threatened a civilisation, but only when the elites within a civilisation became closed, static and incapable of stimulating the mimetical process of responding to new challenges and to the stimulus from other civilisations. The problem for the advancement of a society and of internal order, Toynbee wrote, was an issue concerning mimesis, imitation of the elites’ positive behaviour (i.e. ‘bringing the uncreative rank and file of a growing society into line with the creative pioneers’).32 Three signs characterised the internal decline and the final crisis: ‘the failure of a creative power of a minority, an answering withdrawal of mimesis on the part of the majority, and a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole’.33 The dominant minority would therefore degenerate ‘into a close corporation whose ideas and ideals have the legendary rigidity of the unchanging laws of the Medes and Persians’.34 On the contrary, good elites had to be open to the recruitment of external elements, flexible –​‘in perpetual flux’ –​and serve as an instrument for the growth of a society. They had to create internal 29 Ibid., p. 128. 30 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (New York: Holt and C., 1911). 31 Toynbee, SH, vol. 3, p. 243. 32 Ibid. 33 Toynbee, SH, vol. 4, p. 6. 34 Toynbee, SH, vol. 5, p. 31.

356 Chiantera-Stutte cohesion through mimesis and external flexibility through the process of learning from challenges. In sum, the role of elites was key to facing challenges with an open and responsible attitude and taking responsibility meant for the elites being conscious of the historical role of Western civilisation and creating the conditions for international order. Here Toynbee rejected both Hegel’s progressive philosophy of history and Spengler’s model of the decadence of civilisations because progress or decay were not taken for granted. Intellectuals, as a part of the creative elites, were crucial both for the renewal of Western civilisation and for the preservation of its freedom and plurality, as well as for creating international institutions and promoting the conditions for balanced and peaceful global development. They could and should work on public opinion and on politics. Affirming these pivotal tenets was the priority for Toynbee, who, though sceptical about democracy, continued to believe in the moral role of intellectuals and in the liberal state. His intellectual work was split into two parts. His historiographical writing was separate from his political surveys. In the surveys he took on his public responsibilities for the defence of the European international order and of liberal internationalism. However, in his historical work Toynbee wrote as an ‘intellectual, ris[ing] above the partial preoccupations of [his] own profession and engag[ing] with the global issues of truth, judgement and taste of the time’.35 In line with this general perspective, in his Study of History he states that all civilisations are bound to rise and fall, and that the perpetual flux of civilisations does not come to a halt with the rise of Western civilisation, which is one of many and one bound to end. This more general view, together with a highly critical stance against Western civilisation, became more evident after the Second World War, when Toynbee denounced the consequences of colonialism and the dangers of consumerist society, observing that ‘Western civilisation has produced an economic and political plenum and … a social and spiritual void’36 and that the Islamic world had been exploited materially and morally by the West. The increasing criticism of capitalism and US hegemony, and Toynbee’s stress on the role of spirituality and religion for the recovery of Western values after the 1940s, may explain the disparaging reception of his work. 35 Bauman, Legislators, p. 2. 36 Toynbee, Civilisation, p. 207. On Toynbee and Islam, see Laura Di Fiore, ‘L’Islam di A.J. Toynbee. Prima di Huntington, oltre Huntington’, Contemporanea, 13 (2010), pp. 423–​ 456; Di Fiore, ‘L’Impero Britannico come Scenario del “Contatto” tra Occidente e Islam. Toynbee Analista Politico nel Primo Dopoguerra’, in Leonardi and Maggioni (eds), Arnold Toynbee, pp. 147–​160.

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


The first six volumes of A Study of History published before the war (1939) were warmly commended by the Edwardian Liberal-​Left in Great Britain: Leonard Wolf, Richard Henry Tawney, John Middleton Murray and John Laurence Hammond. They were all from the same milieu as Toynbee and had the same approach to history, namely ‘the encyclopaedic conception of late nineteenth century history writing’.37 Toynbee’s anamnesis of the political and cultural crisis seemed to be supported also by the English public intellectuals. In contrast, Toynbee’s subsequent volumes (from 7 to 10) published in 1954 were violently attacked in the 1950s and 1960s by academics for their content and particularly their method. From 1948, at the time of a first serious confrontation between Toynbee and the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl,38 and throughout the 1950s Toynbee was dismissed by his fellow historians –​yet at the same time he was celebrated by the public. According to Geyl, Toynbee even reflected and contributed to the development of European irrationalism –​with its origins in German mysticism –​thus promoting antidemocratic and reactionary forces as well as showing no consideration for objective empirical historiography. Hugh Trevor-​Roper mocked Toynbee’s work as a prophecy with no scientific or academic value.39 After these attacks Toynbee’s reputation among his contemporary historians would never completely recover. The rejection of Toynbee’s work because of his criticism of capitalism, which allegedly concealed ‘communist sympathies’,40 or even because of his sabotage of the British elites and Western way of life,41 his retreat into mysticism,42 and his philosophical support for ‘any conqueror who will destroy the West’43 may be understood nowadays in the context of the Cold War and also of the growing professionalisation and specialisation of the historical discipline.44 The attack was twofold: against the historian, who did not cope with the new historiographical methodologies

37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44

Alexander Hutton, ‘A Belated Return for Christ? The Reception of Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History in a British Context, 1934–​1961’, European Review of History, 21:3 (2014), pp. 405–​424. p. 407. See also Hall, ‘Convector’. Pieter Geyl, ‘Is there a Pattern to the Past?’, Listener (15 January 1948), pp. 93–​94. Hugh Trevor-​Roper, ‘Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium’, Encounter (June 1957), pp. 14–​28 and Hugh Trevor-​Roper, ‘The Prophet’, New York Review of Books, 36:15 (1989), pp. 15–​16. Geoffrey F. Hudson, ‘Professor Toynbee and the West’, The Twentieth Century, 148 (1953), pp. 210–​218. Douglas Jerrold, The Lie about the West (London: Dent, 1954). Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version, and Middle Eastern Studies (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970). Trevor-​Roper, ‘Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium’. Hutton, ‘A Belated’; Hall ‘Convector’.

358 Chiantera-Stutte and against the intellectual, who criticised and betrayed his own Western cultural and intellectual tradition. Certainly, Toynbee’s way of writing history did not conform to European academic standards after the Second World War: his descriptions of wide and general universal processes, his disregard for specialised objects of research and his conception of history as a moral and generally educational enterprise were anachronistic in post-​1945 historiography. He was writing as a ‘public historian’,45 as Zimmern and Murray had done, when they felt they were the heirs of the Victorian Whig tradition of history-​writing, according to which ‘[t]‌he language of history served as the primary Victorian medium of public discourse, and that fact was a great boon to Liberal politics. Whig history functioned as an instrument of transmission’.46 To make history meant, according to them, reasserting and legitimising the liberal history of constitutionalism. It represented a step forward in the struggle for liberties rather than an assertion of academic specialisation and objective neutrality.47 Toynbee, who was part of this tradition, was well-​aware of the changes in international politics, of the shortcomings of internationalism and post-​colonialism, but disregarded the academic modernist approach to history, the end of the old way of doing public history and the decline of a kind of intellectual elite of Whig historians who had been replaced by specialised academics.48 In spite of that, his reputation as opinion maker and expert political advisor remained stable, even if his writing did not have a strong direct political impact.49 Remarkably, just before the controversial debate on his work’s reception in academic milieux, Toynbee enjoyed enormous success with the American public when he was praised in the magazine Time as the promoter of a Copernican revolution which finally acknowledged the pivotal role of civilisations in history (1947).50 Indeed, Henry Luce, the famous editor of Time, used the work 45

This definition is given by Victor Feske, From Belloc to Churchill. Private Scholars, Public Culture and the Crisis and British Liberalism 1900–​1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York: Norton and Company, 1965). 46 Feske, From Belloc, p. 4. 47 Ibid., p. 5. On the modernist turn in historiography in England during the nineteenth century, see Michael Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past. English Historiography in the Age of Modernism 1870–​1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) and Doris Goldstein, ‘The Professionalisation of History in Britain in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century’, Storia della Storiografia, 3 (1983), pp. 3–​27. 48 Feske, From Belloc; Bentley, Modernising. 49 McNeill, Toynbee; Keyserlingk, ‘Arnold Toynbee’s’, Hall, ‘Convector’. 50 W. Chambers, ‘Our Civilisation is Not Inexorably Doomed’, Time (17 March 1947); see also McNeill, Toynbee, pp. 215–​217 ff.

Civilisations and Political Elites in Critical Times


of the well-​established, old liberal and aristocratic English intellectual Arnold J. Toynbee, who had a quite wide impact on the public opinion, as a cultural legitimation for the global role of America as the leader of the Western civilisation during a difficult phase of the Cold War. In 1947 the tension between the Russian foreign Minister Molotov and President Truman increased, as the political balance between the two blocs was unclear in the Aegean region. Since 1946 Greece had been torn by civil war between communists and the country’s monarchy: the first was supported by the antifascist partisans, the second by Great Britain and the USA. At the same time Turkey, an old strategic ally of Russia, refused to give the control of the Straits to the Soviet Union. Truman, in order to regain the American hegemony on the Aegean region on 12 March 1947, asked Congress to approve economic and military assistance against the spread of communism in Greece and Turkey against Soviet Union. The powerful opinion maker Henry Luce, five days after Truman’s presentation in Congress, published in Time a eulogistic description of Toynbee’s theory of civilisation, in which Whittaker Chambers directly related Toynbee’s alleged praise of Western civilisation with the international crisis, ‘a crisis in Western civilisation itself’. He concluded that the only remedy to the decline of Europe would be US intervention: ‘The US must, in Britain’s place, consciously become […] the champion of the remnants of Christian civilisation against the forces that threatened it’.51 However, as Luce admitted later,52 the commonalities between his own belief in the US’s exceptional mission and Truman’s doctrine, on the one hand, and Toynbee’s aristocratic, critical perspective on American society, on the other, were few: Toynbee’s theory had been used only to say ‘what the American public wanted to hear’.53 On this occasion, Luce and Chambers transformed Toynbee’s grand historical framework into a speech act:54 a political lesson for American citizens that served to support the American government, using the civilisation theory to describe the political situation of the Cold War, and providing normative and moral justification for the President. It is remarkable, though, that Toynbee’s strongest

51 52 53 54

Ibid., p. 216. Ibid., p. 213. Ibid., p. 215. According to John Searle, Expression and Meaning. Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), speech acts have some of the following functions: they tell people what reality looks like (assertive), get people to do things (directive), commit them to doing things (commissive), express feelings and attitudes (expressive) and bring about changes in the world through utterance (declaration).

360 Chiantera-Stutte impact on public opinion was unintended and derived from a contingent use of his theory by the American mass-​media.

The Westernisation of the Elites

The theory of civilisation, which in 1947 was politically useful as a way of promoting stronger US intervention in Europe and consolidating American world hegemony, re-​emerged almost fifty years later in a successful article which led to an intense debate in both the political and intellectual milieu. In 1993 in ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington adopted the model of civilisations in order to explain contemporary events and foresee future conflict. In the 1990s, the world was in a time of trouble, in ‘a condition of geopolitical vertigo […] where the old nostrums of the Cold War were redundant and new ones had not yet been invented, issued and approved’.55 However, the ‘Clash’ was not only –​as the critical literature has seen it –​a reaction to a new global political situation and a new paradigm