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Democracy and the History of Political Thought
 1793621594, 9781793621597

Table of contents :
Introduction: The Politics of Democracy • Stephen A. Block, Patrick N. Cain, and Stephen Patrick Sims
1 To Bear the Blame for All Time: The Role of Judah in the Joseph Story • J. David Alvis
2 Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality: Homeric Melancholia and Democratic Theory • Arlene W. Saxonhouse
3 Equality of Speech: Athenian Democracy in the Histories of Herodotus • Ann Ward
4 Democracy and Demagogy in Thucydides • Steven Forde
5 Plato’s Democratic Moment • Mary P. Nichols
6 Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy • Stephen A. Block
7 Cicero’s Populism • Stephen Patrick Sims
8 Reflections on Augustine and Democracy • Douglas Kries
9 Democracy in Muslim Spain: Averroes’s Domestic Account of Popular Rule • Alexander Orwin
10 Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime • Patrick N. Cain
11 Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics • Catherine H. Zuckert
12 Politics, Rhetoric, and Philosophy in Hobbes’s Leviathan • William Mathie
13 Democracy in the Thought of John Locke • Daniel E. Burns
14 The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws • David K. Nichols
15 Rousseau on the Promise and Perils of Democracy • Denise Schaeffer
16 Edmund Burke and the Dependence of Democracy on Community • David Clinton
17 Kant’s Retributive Liberalism • Susan Meld Shell
18 Alexander Hamilton and Popular Government: Friendly Defender and Friendly Critic • Adam M. Carrington
19 On Reading James Madison: Constitutional Republican or Democratic Theorist? • Jerome C. Foss
20 Thomas Jefferson on Democracy • Lee Ward
21 Hegel and the Civil Society of Imagination • Sara MacDonald
22 Tocqueville on Pantheism, Materialism, and Catholicism • Peter Augustine Lawler
23 Marx’s Economic Science and Liberal Democracy • Sean D. Sutton
24 Heidegger and Democracy • Mark Blitz
25 Leo Strauss on Democracy, Technology, and Liberal Education • Timothy Burns
About the Editors and Contributors

Citation preview

Democracy and the History of Political Thought

Democracy and the History of Political Thought Edited by Patrick N. Cain, Stephen Patrick Sims, and Stephen A. Block


Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www​.rowman​.com 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom Copyright © 2021 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Cain, Patrick N., 1979- editor. | Sims, Stephen Patrick, editor. | Block, Stephen A., editor. Title: Democracy and the history of political thought / edited by Patrick N. Cain, Stephen Patrick Sims, and Stephen A. Block. Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, [2021] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2021016691 (print) | LCCN 2021016692 (ebook) | ISBN 9781793621597 (cloth) | ISBN 9781793621610 (paperback) | ISBN 9781793621603 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Democracy—Philosophy—History. | Political science—Philosophy—History. Classification: LCC JC421 .D4629 2021 (print) | LCC JC421 (ebook) | DDC 321.8—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.


Acknowledgmentsvii Introduction: The Politics of Democracy Stephen A. Block, Patrick N. Cain, and Stephen Patrick Sims 1 To Bear the Blame for All Time: The Role of Judah in the Joseph Story J. David Alvis 2 Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality: Homeric Melancholia and Democratic Theory Arlene W. Saxonhouse

1 9


3 Equality of Speech: Athenian Democracy in the Histories of Herodotus Ann Ward


4 Democracy and Demagogy in Thucydides Steven Forde


5 Plato’s Democratic Moment Mary P. Nichols


6 Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy Stephen A. Block


7 Cicero’s Populism Stephen Patrick Sims


8 Reflections on Augustine and Democracy Douglas Kries


9 Democracy in Muslim Spain: Averroes’s Domestic Account of Popular Rule Alexander Orwin 10 Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime Patrick N. Cain v

133 149



11 Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics Catherine H. Zuckert


12 Politics, Rhetoric, and Philosophy in Hobbes’s Leviathan 177 William Mathie 13 Democracy in the Thought of John Locke Daniel E. Burns


14 The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws 219 David K. Nichols 15 Rousseau on the Promise and Perils of Democracy Denise Schaeffer


16 Edmund Burke and the Dependence of Democracy on Community David Clinton


17 Kant’s Retributive Liberalism Susan Meld Shell


18 Alexander Hamilton and Popular Government: Friendly Defender and Friendly Critic Adam M. Carrington


19 On Reading James Madison: Constitutional Republican or Democratic Theorist? Jerome C. Foss


20 Thomas Jefferson on Democracy Lee Ward


21 Hegel and the Civil Society of Imagination Sara MacDonald


22 Tocqueville on Pantheism, Materialism, and Catholicism Peter Augustine Lawler


23 Marx’s Economic Science and Liberal Democracy Sean D. Sutton


24 Heidegger and Democracy Mark Blitz


25 Leo Strauss on Democracy, Technology, and Liberal Education Timothy Burns



About the Editors and Contributors



This volume was conceived in the home of Mary and David Nichols, during a conversation about the need to do justice to democracy in the study of political philosophy. The Nicholses were persistent advocates of the freedom and equality associated with democracy, but they somehow succeeded, in their teaching and in their example, to keep virtue and human greatness always in view. They were for this reason astute defenders of the virtues of democracy and astute critics of democracy’s defects. The editors of this volume were fortunate to be students of the Nicholses, and the Nicholses were instrumental to the completion of the volume, not only by inspiring its theme and editors, but also in its organization. These chapters, written by their colleagues, students and friends, seek to honor their intellectual legacy by once again joining them in conversation about democracy’s place in the history of political thought. David Clinton, who was one of the early champions of this project, was essential to the completion of the volume, both through his encouragement of the project and by securing financial support for the volume’s completion. We would also like to thank Tim Burns, who provided advice and essential support in recruiting many of the volume’s contributors. We are grateful to Joseph Parry and Allison Keefner of Lexington for their advice on the book manuscript and their flexibility during the constraints imposed by the pandemic. Finally, we thank our long-suffering families, particularly our wives, for their patience and support through the years-long process of completing this volume. It could not have been done without Lindsay, Lillian, and Courtney.


Introduction The Politics of Democracy Stephen A. Block, Patrick N. Cain, and Stephen Patrick Sims

Democracy is generally lauded as the only decent, or even the only possible, regime. But as democracy is triumphant in the realm of political discourse, its rise has been accompanied by increasingly powerful and authoritative international organizations and domestic bureaucracies. Dominated by political, economic, and social elites, these institutions challenge the possibility of democracy as it was understood for much of the tradition of political philosophy. Since the 2008 Recession, however, global popular reactions against these institutions have become a common occurrence, even as they continue to surprise politicians, academics, consultants, and financiers. We contend that these reactions against supranational and international organizations, domestic administrative agencies, and traditional political parties, are at least in part reassertions of the democratic spirit. But even as these reactions define our current situation, they are nevertheless not well understood by democratic theorists or political and social elites. “Democracy” has been treated extensively in postmodern theory and discussions of deliberative democracy, but these works lack sustained consideration of the difficulties and problems, virtues and vices, of democracy as conceived by the great thinkers of the Western political tradition. To the extent that these democratic theorists consider the great thinkers of the past, their presentations are filled with simplifications and sometimes misconceptions about what these thinkers actually contended about democratic regimes. For example, it is generally assumed that the ancient political philosophers were “anti-democratic,” and that modern political philosophers were egalitarians preparing the way for the ascendancy of democratic regimes. The story of Western political thought is, to say the least, much more complex. While ancient thinkers expressed various and profound reservations about democracy, they also found resources in democracy supportive of justice and the cultivation of human excellence. Similarly, while modern political philosophers generally espoused some basis for human equality that stands at the core of modern democracy, many essential elements of their thought concerning the relation of the individual to the state and society present serious obstacles to democracy.



Stephen A. Block et al.

The goal of the volume is to address the urgent need to rethink the nature of democracy, and we thus aim at recovering a more complex and comprehensive understanding of democracy, one which might inform both theory and practice. The root of the problem of democracy is, in many respects, that one can give two very different kinds of defenses or justifications of democracy. Most obviously, one can argue that the many, who are the authoritative voice of democracy, together have skills, virtues and interests that can contribute to good, just, and effective governance. Moreover, the people, as the majority make a key contribution to the existence and preservation of society that makes their participation in rule just. Their labors for the sake of the community must be therefore acknowledged rather than ignored by the elite and privileged who depend on them. Because of the goods that the people bring to the political community, and not simply because of the elite’s fear of the many’s force of numbers, they ought to have a share in the governance of the political community. This kind of consideration, evaluation, and weighing of democracy and its distinctive claims about what is just and advantageous was characteristic of classical political thought. The classical analysis of democracy may nevertheless seem scandalous to modern ears, for why should democracy need to defend itself at all? The virtue of the people is irrelevant to the fact of their authority, for they are supposed to be sovereign. To condition the rule of the people on their talents or virtues is to admit of an alternative sovereign; but to do so denies the sovereignty of the people, for there cannot be two sovereigns. The classical thinkers, when they defended democracy or democratic elements, evaluated democracy in light of other kinds of regimes—including those that expressly denied the sovereignty of the people—and did so in a way that treated the popular claim to rule as valid as the virtuous few or the royal one. Thus, the ancient political philosophers generally prescribed a mixed regime constituted of elements of different regimes, neither excluding democracy nor valorizing it. According to the modern teaching, the ancient defense of democracy is problematic because its concern for virtue invites distinction, which is the principle of aristocracy. In this respect, the defense of democracy on the grounds of the people’s goodness or virtues is at best superfluous and more likely dangerous. For the moderns, the weakness of the ancient understanding was that it could not or did not provide people with good government. After all, the classical analysis of democracy allows for multiple regimes, which is to say multiple claims to rule based on multiple criteria such as virtue, wisdom, wealth, or freedom. Each criterion is incommensurable with the other, making these disputes intractable and endemic. The result is political instability and a war of all against all. Hence, some claims to rule must be dismissed, and especially any claims of superiority. For the moderns, human equality as the fundamental political fact solves the ancient problem of faction and civil strife. The key and crucial presupposition of the modern rejection of the classical defense of democracy is nevertheless not simply the positing of human equality—democrats, both classical and modern, have always made this claim—but the positing of a certain kind of equality based on the fear of violent death. Among the moderns, it was Hobbes who took the radical step of positing human equality, not simply as the reality with which all political life must contend, but rather as the foundation necessary to remedy the defects of classical politics.

The Politics of Democracy


It may seem that Hobbes simply universalized the nature of common people—that is, the common people and the elite few are no different, because the ultimate reality is mortality, or more specifically the possibility of violent death. Faced with violent death, all the glorious projects of the noble aristocrat and the wealthy oligarch are revealed to be vanity. In its place, Hobbes emphasized the natural right to self-preservation, borne of the justifiable fear of being killed by our unscrupulous neighbors; as the fear of being killed is ubiquitous, so also is the equal right to life and all it entails. On the back of these natural rights, Hobbes gave the grounds for political order on the basis of radical equality. Within this political order, all differences or hierarchies are matters of convention, not nature. Since all hierarchies are matters of convention, we must seek an original convention provided by an original sovereign. Since all are naturally equal, that original sovereign can only be the people themselves, for they must consent to be ruled. Hence Hobbes’s teaching includes a theory of sovereignty’s origin in the people’s consent to be ruled, that is to say, popular sovereignty. The theory of popular sovereignty explains the ascendancy of “democracy” in political discourse as the only just regime. According to the theory of popular sovereignty, one can counsel the people to act well, but one cannot command them, for to command the people without their consent is despotism or authoritarianism. Even arguing that the people deserve to rule because of their virtue is an affront to the brute fact of their sovereignty. Thus, after defending the many virtues of democracy, James Wilson, often described as the “most democratic man” of the American Founding, held that, “for a people wanting to themselves, there is indeed no remedy in the political dispensary.” The fact of popular sovereignty, the fact that if anyone has political authority it is and can only be “the people,” makes any attempt to defend a people’s distinctive excellence a fool’s errand. While Hobbes’s account of the origin of sovereignty might invite us to focus on the promise of equality, prosperity, and peace, doing so can draw our attention away from the radical character of his arguments for human equality, which he says rests on the fact that even the “weakest has the power to kill the strongest,” and that by nature “every person has a right to everything, even to one another’s body.” Hobbes’s defense of equality rests not simply on the universal possibility of murder but on the universal power and right to murder. Human beings are naturally equal precisely in their essential amorality and willingness to kill in order to accomplish their diverse ends. It would follow that justice and the principles of political order must in one way or another be created out of human will. Hobbes’s argument for equality thus rests on the human preference to self-preservation over the good of another, denying the traditional standard of justice. To the degree that societies are just, it is due to the constructions of the will rather than a recognition of, or bowing to, nature. Conversely, the assertion of equal rights is the assertion of our equal amorality, and has, so to speak, nothing to do with justice. One may assert radical equality if, and only if, one disregards the manifest inequality of the just and the unjust. Hobbes thus repeatedly obscured, therefore, whether his natural right to “all things” was the right to selfpreservation liberated from the moral law only by necessity, or whether the right to do all things, that is, the absence of law and justice, was the necessary presupposition of the state of nature as a war of all against all. That is to say, the modern theory of popular sovereignty—the social contract—rest on the ambiguous absence of justice


Stephen A. Block et al.

in the natural condition, which is either the effect or cause of the natural right to all things. Natural right makes irrelevant any claim to merit a share in rule, because merit has nothing to do with sovereignty, that is, with frank self-assertion. If sovereignty originates in a specific kind of human equality that leaves out justice, and hence just claims to rule, democratic sovereignty finds itself in perplexities. According to classical political thought, the need for rule necessarily raises the question of the purpose or purposes of political life. Such answers were traditionally freedom, wealth, virtue, or even God. But following Hobbes, ends other than pleasant survival are inadmissible, for this is the most common of common desires upon which his project of peace can be built. With all other purposes excluded as irrational or immoral, the classical disputes of who should rule are rendered moot. Questions of governance are transformed into simpler questions that admit of fewer disputes, questions of the “means” to the assumed purpose of pleasant survival. Accordingly, the principal question to be answered by the ruler—what the proper end of political community is and what ought to be honored by the political community—is supplanted and replaced by technical questions about ways and means, particularly regarding health and wealth. These questions are not the object of political judgment, but rather medical and economic science, that is, expertise of the bureaucratic few. This technical elitism, backed by the immense power of Leviathan, makes democratic rule a question again. For the elites are carrying forth the will of all—procuring the goods that all supposedly want. Democracy thus construed is little more than “taking care of” the people, not the rule or judgment of the people. This technical elitism is a direct outcome of the unquestionable grounds of popular sovereignty that makes defending the people’s judgment and virtues unnecessary and suspicious. The broad thesis underlying this volume is that the current confusions within democratic practice can be addressed through the insights of the great thinkers of the Western tradition. We believe this to be the case because, for the great thinkers, equality was something either scrutinized or argued for, not the assumption that it has become. The chapters in this volume, therefore, are variously oriented in two directions. First, they seek to recover the analyses of democracy in classical thought, both criticisms and defenses of democratic claims to share in rule. Second, the chapters seek the origins of modern democracy and its basis in the concept of sovereignty, and in fleshing out the marriage of equality (understood in terms of individual rights) with democracy. The modern analysis of democracy reveals a far more ambivalent attitude toward freedom and equality than is commonly supposed. The volume begins by discussing the foundations of Western political thought. David Alvis discusses the roots of democratic thought as found in the Old Testament through a detailed analysis of Joseph and his father Jacob. In doing so, Alvis reveals the centrality of Judah, who recognizes the need for a political leadership that mediates between the “democracy” of the sons of Jacob and the divine monarchy of the Pharaoh. Arlene W. Saxonhouse continues this theme by considering Homer, who though fully aware of the necessary conflict that arises from claims of moral worthiness of the various heroes, also demonstrates the extraordinary difficulty in establishing a democratic peace, as Hobbes suggested, by the abandonment of claims of worthiness in favor of a calculating rationality in service of amoral ends. Although the Homeric heroes find themselves in perplexities due to their contrary claims of right,

The Politics of Democracy


simply banishing the incommensurability of human excellences will only obscure political reality, and consequently delude us. As Saxonhouse shows the danger of obscuring heroic virtues, so Ann Ward’s analysis of Herodotus shows how the prototypical democracy, Athens, was susceptible to modeling itself on undemocratic Persia rather than on its own virtue, and turned toward the temptation of empire. Democratic regimes can flatten human excellence, but they can also take on delusions of grandeur that go beyond their own nature. The consideration of democracy from the standpoint of revelation, poetry, and history concludes with Thucydides. Steven Forde explicates Thucydides’ depiction of demagogy and its threat to democracy, and that saving democracy requires undemocratic means, that is, monarchial yet moderate statesmen such as Pericles. Without moderate statesmen, democracy becomes susceptible to degeneration through immoderation. Thucydides thus casts doubt on the possibility of a Herodotean moderation identified by Ward. The next handful of chapters analyze democracy through the lights of classical political philosophy. Although Plato is often portrayed as an antidemocrat, Mary P. Nichols shows the limits of this reading by contrasting the Republic’s “city in speech” with Socrates’ own approach to teaching and ruling throughout the dialogue. Although not simply democratic, Socrates’ rule and guidance of the conversation provides a model of a kind of regime that is a superior alternative to the tyrannical regime of the city in speech and to anarchical democracy. Both the city-in-speech and anarchical democracy would preclude Socrates’ philosophic way of life and the manner of ruling demonstrated in Socrates’ deeds. Stephen Block carries forward the ancient argument by taking up the problem of Aristotle’s account of “political rule” and why democratic regimes fail to implement political rule. This occurs due to a misunderstanding of why ruling well and being ruled is good. In consequence, Aristotle helps show why democracies tend toward anarchy or tyranny. The portion on classical political science concludes with Stephen Sims’s chapter on Cicero. Sims argues that Cicero’s analysis of the Roman regime as the best possible regime reveals a tension throughout the whole of classical political thought—the necessity of including the many within the regime, with the necessity of the philosophic statesmen who alone can prevent the natural deterioration of all regimes toward tyranny and empire. The problem is compounded by the fact that the alleged allies of the philosophic statesmen, the aristocrats, are themselves deaf to the requirements of justice and prudence. As such, the section on classical political science reveals the dialectic of the one and the many that is at the heart of the question: Who should rule? After Cicero, we quite naturally turn to the medieval world beginning with Douglas Kries on St. Augustine. Kries shows how Augustine’s critique of Rome and ancient political philosophy as exemplified by Plato and Cicero reveals a new ground for politics—charity and humility. This new ground prepares a new basis for human relations based on natural equality, since all are made in the image of God. Patrick N. Cain’s essay takes up St. Thomas Aquinas’s seemingly strange argument for the best regime as a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Cain argues that underlying Aquinas’s formal analysis is a more subtle account of the inherent dangers posed by the political regime—dangers that highlight the urgency of preserving democratic freedom within the political community. Alexander Orwin completes the portion on


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medieval political thought with his analysis of Averroes, who he argues provides support for a democratic Islamic politics by emphasizing the laws that moderate democratic passions by turning them toward the private concerns of the household. At the same time, even as Averroes shows democracy may be moderated, this very moderation becomes it undoing as public-spiritedness is replaced by economic selfconcern. Hence, Orwin shows that Averroes’s analysis brings forth the ineluctable need for virtue, even if that means mere lawfulness, and the difficulty that moderate democracies have in inculcating that virtue. After the medieval thinkers, we turn to modern political thought. Catherine H. Zuckert devotes her chapter to a consideration of Machiavelli’s democratic politics, showing that he thought the best possible regime would have to be a constitutional republic that limits political power, rather than the lawless tyranny usually associated with Machiavelli. This is partly due to the success that unscrupulous people have in seizing power, and partly because of the constant temporizing that politics requires. This temporizing requires both virtuous leaders who can carefully lead to necessary reforms and an energetic people. William Mathie’s chapter on Thomas Hobbes shows the origins of political liberalism and its fundamentally democratic understanding of human equality, but also its undemocratic emphasis on individual rights and institutions to protect those rights; this is especially seen in Hobbes’s identification of himself with Plato, and hence another, if very different, argument for the rule of philosophers. Daniel Burns continues the meditation on liberalism through an analysis of John Locke. Although Locke is thought to be the intellectual father of modern democracy, his understanding of politics was closer to the ancients in preferring rule of aristocrats, along with a strong assertion of popular sovereignty. He further shows Locke’s belief in the ability of enlightened elites to popularize science and liberal ideas of justice; according to Burns, such a regime has never existed in practice, meaning that the conceit of liberal democracy as the “best regime” has never in fact been demonstrated as successful according to its own criteria. David Nichols’s chapter on Montesquieu explores the origin of the modern teaching of separation of power, showing how dividing up the traditional sovereign powers ends up being an essential institution for protecting modern democracies against the encroachments of state power. Denise Schaeffer’s chapter continues the modern emphasis on institutions and law by revealing Rousseau’s criticism of direct democracy, even though Rousseau is often thought of as a proponent of direct democracy. According to Schaeffer, Rousseau seeks to withhold the passions of the masses while also critiquing the liberalism of Hobbes and Locke, and in so doing offers a way out of the tension between popular sovereignty and liberalism. David Clinton continues to explore modern alternatives to liberal democracy by considering the writing of Edmund Burke. According to Clinton, Burkean democracy is possible only in a community that can sustain it; such a community will be marked by shared religion and experience, or, in other words, genuine democracy requires a genuine nation. But Burke is neither a mere critic nor a partisan of democracy; he, like the classical political thinkers, favors a mixed regime. Clinton, in contradistinction to Burns’s reading of Locke, suggests that Burke is a more credible teacher in that he was able to apply his conceptions regarding political rule to real-life regimes, especially as he navigated the problems between England and

The Politics of Democracy


Ireland, or the American colonies. Susan Shell’s essay on Immanuel Kant shows that the Enlightenment thinker saw shortcomings in the liberalism of Locke and Hobbes. Shell demonstrates this point by examining Kant’s understanding of criminal justice, especially the right to coerce and punish. In doing so, Shell suggests that Kantian liberalism, in recognizing the dignity of the criminal supports the institution of capital punishment as noble, whereas slavery and torture can only ever be degrading and immoral. Shell provocatively argues that Locke’s conception of natural justice has led a great deal of injustice in the United States, particularly regarding criminal justice. In doing so she serendipitously introduces the volume’s focused treatment of the American regime, the oldest democracy, by reflecting Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Adam Carrington considers Hamilton’s insistence on a strong executive and state to counteract the tendency of republics toward vice. Although Hamilton has long been considered something of an elitist, who believed that the people had to be limited and controlled rather than rule, Carrington fruitfully demonstrates that Hamilton, whatever his misgivings of popular rule, did believe that some form of democracy was the only legitimate regime, even if he also thought of the executive branch as a quasi-monarchical branch. Jerome Foss considers Madison, who is variously accused of being antidemocratic in the way he fashioned constitutional institutions that were intended limit the expression of popular will, or secretly turned into a democratic theorist seeking to undermine the Constitution he fathered. By contrast, Foss makes the case that Madison’s central contribution to American democracy was his thoughtful but practical and non-theoretical statesmanship. This thoughtful statesmanship without being a “theorist” enabled him, rather than Hamilton or Jefferson, to fashion the best practical compromises between democratic theory and practical necessities. He thereby established a good government on a popular foundation. Contrarily, Lee Ward considers Jefferson as a full-blown democratic theorist, who thereby aimed to make constitutional institutions and laws more flexible to permit a more direct self-governance by the people from generation to generation more in accordance with democratic justice. Together, these chapters make the case that the American founding made an important contribution to both democratic theory and practice, and that the disagreements among these Founders reflect the difficulties in laying the rule of law on an egalitarian foundation. After the analysis of American democracy, the volume moves into the late modern period. Here we begin with Sara MacDonald on G. W. F. Hegel’s account of the function of modern civil society in bringing about the fullest ethical development of the individual. Although Hegel is often thought of as either a monarchist or a statist, MacDonald suggests ways in which Hegel understands art as mirroring the function of civil society. Aesthetic experience is a way of recovering what is lost in the current religious and intellectual decline of civil society in Western democracies. In a republished essay from the late Peter Augustine Lawler on Tocqueville, we see that modern democracy falls prey to forms of what Lawler calls universalizing religions: in one form pantheism, and in another Catholicism. Lawler argues that a Tocquevillian analysis of democracy, although not the position of Tocqueville himself, shows that Catholicism is better suited for a free people. Sean Sutton develops this theme with his chapter on Karl Marx. Sutton challenges social democrats to consider carefully the


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connection between Marx’s economic science and his conception of politics, to the degree Marx possessed one. Doing so, Sutton contends, shows that Marx’s historical materialism, combined with his labor theory of value, lead to the total undermining of liberal democracy, both the protection of rights, and thus criminal justice tradition like the rights of the accused, or the very possibility of choice and thus self-rule. If MacDonald believes that a Hegelian aesthetic appreciation can revivify civil society, and Lawler suggests a revivification of Catholicism, Sutton argues that the current popularity of Marx’s economic materialism endangers both. The clashing visions of Hegel and Marx are then put into contrast with the thought of their two great critics, Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss. Mark Blitz forthrightly shows the antidemocratic views of Heidegger, and their connection with Nazism and anti-Semitism. Although Heidegger certainly shares a sort of commitment to human freedom that we especially see in the works of Kant, his conceptions of power and technology lead him to deny any fundamental difference between the constitutional democracies of the West and the USSR, to say nothing of the PRC. For Heidegger, each of these regimes is nothing more than a “planetary criminal,” since each regime is “modern,” which is to say technological and responsible for man’s forgetting of Being. Blitz shows us that Heidegger frankly understood his thinking as inhuman, since to be human now is to be modern; which is of course to say then that if the authentic Heideggerian were to act politically, it too would be inhuman. The volume aptly concludes with Timothy Burns’s chapter on Leo Strauss’s nuanced view of constitutional democracy. This concluding chapter should be read with Heidegger in mind, as Burns shows the concern Strauss had that the moral effect of the radical thinker would be deleterious to the extreme, as indeed it was. But Heidegger understood himself as responding to the great forgetting of Being brought on by philosophy; he is nothing other than an extreme critic of the tradition of thought presented in this entire volume. Strauss, however, rather than “going beyond” the modern horizon and thus all hitherto philosophy, sought to recover the classical sources of philosophy and couched his defense of modern democracy in decidedly non-modern terms. According to Burns, Strauss shows us the decency of modern democracy compared to contemporary alternatives. But he also shows the fragility, not to say incoherence, of its own theoretical foundations. Strauss proposes the possibility of cultivating, through liberal education, an “aristocracy within democracy” to respond to the crisis articulated by Heidegger and his followers. Taken together these chapters elucidate both the timelessness of democratic ferment and perplexity, and the timeliness of our own democratic discontent. This reconsideration of the tradition’s thinking about democracy—both the classical tradition and the modern reaction to it—does not aim at specific policy proposals, nor at a fixed political solution to the problems of our discontented politics. We rather strive to show that this discontent is a mixture of persistent (and perhaps natural) patterns of political life, and the peculiar difficulties faced by democratic political communities founded on the principles of individual rights and the sovereignty of the people. Our current situation requires an effort to understand democracy, for we must water the ground from which political judgment springs.

Chapter 1

To Bear the Blame for All Time The Role of Judah in the Joseph Story J. David Alvis

Establishing rule among equals is the central problem of Western Democracy. For guidance on this issue, political theorists have for centuries turned to the Hebrew polity. Though the Hebrews do not have a democracy per se, the tribes of Israel constitute equal units whose unity depends upon the common recognition of authority. As in democratic nations, the Hebrews must address the question of how to rule the whole without alienating any part; how to establish authority over a single nation without compromising the equality of its members. THE PROBLEM OF LEADERSHIP “The Joseph Story” marks the beginning of a critical political juncture for the Hebrews. With the birth of Jacob’s twelve sons, the seeds of the incipient nation of Israel, we are faced with the question of whether the patriarchy will continue particularly amid a contentious playing field of headstrong brothers who are acutely sensitive to their equal standing in the family. Abraham and Isaac have successfully transmitted the covenant to a single offspring, but, as Leon Kass explains, “a household is not a nation. And it is impossible to get from the solitary founder of a new way of life to a great nation adhering to that way if only one son in each generation remains within the covenant. There needs to be not only transmission but also growth and proliferation.”1 Thanks to some aggressive copulation, we now have proliferation: twelve sons, but how this multitude will be politically managed within and the family unit maintained from threats without remains to be seen. Naturally, Joseph would seem to be a prime candidate. Joseph is not just the favorite of his father, he is beloved by readers of the text. Throughout the Bible’s account of his adventures, we are anxious to see him succeed and even hope that his childhood dreams of ruling the family will somehow be fulfilled. Yet, despite the fact that Joseph ostensibly fulfills those dreams, Jacob’s final blessing upon the sons places that authority in the hands of Judah: “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down in your presence” (49:8).2 If the sons of Jacob 9


J. David Alvis

serve as a prefiguration of the political tribes, why does the seemingly unremarkable character of Judah play a more prestigious role in the nation’s history than Joseph? The family and its drama prefigure the political challenges of Israel. The sons are the eponymous founders of the twelve tribes that will constitute one nation. No tribe is really any greater or lesser than any other tribe; all are called to holiness and they are each vested with the obligation of transmitting the covenant. Yet, the unity of the tribes requires some type of leadership that will prevent them from splintering apart both in the face of external threats and, perhaps even more importantly, from discord within. Though Joseph may indeed play an important role in God’s providential plan, he does not possess the qualities of statesmanship that will be required to lead a nation constituted by twelve relatively equal tribal units. The real lesson of “The Joseph Story” is that in searching for the right kind of leadership we must learn to reject the dazzling allure of Joseph in order to embrace the less assuming, but more salutary leadership of Judah. JUDAH AND HIS BROTHERS At first glance, Judah seems to be a marginal character in the Joseph story. He occasionally appears in the story only to just as quickly disappear back into the common company of Jacob’s sons. He has no obvious features that endear him to the reader: he is not favored by his father; he is not described as comely or becoming; and, unlike Joseph, the narrator never tells us that “God was with him in all that he does.”3 For the most part, he simply seems to be one of the boys. But Judah’s periodic interventions in the story always occur at the most critical moments in the plot. It is Judah who convinces his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill their own brother; it is Judah who successfully persuades Jacob to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin, and it is Judah who addresses Joseph in defense of the family’s youngest child—a speech that, in my view, ultimately moves Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers. Whenever the family desperately needs a leader, Judah steps up to the role. Learning to appreciate Judah’s leadership is part of the reader’s education in the Joseph story and a critical prelude to grasping the nature of political rule best suited to the future of Israel. Judah first intervenes in order to resolve the dilemma over what to do with Joseph after the brothers’ decision to expel him from the family. Following the revelation of the boy’s dreams, the brothers can no longer restrain their envy against their father’s favorite and plot to kill “that dreamer.” Their common resolve to slaughter their own flesh and blood would have made them guilty of a truly heinous crime. In the scene that follows we witness two efforts to save Joseph: one by Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the other by Judah.4 The decent, but impolitic Reuben makes the first attempt to save Joseph: “And Rueben said to them, ‘Shed no blood! Fling him into this pit in the wilderness and do not raise a hand against him’—that he might rescue him from their hands to bring him back to his father” (37:22–23). Reuben’s appeal to the Noahide law does achieve a temporary stay of execution; the brothers decide instead to strip Joseph of his tunic and toss him into a pit. However, letting the lad eventually die of starvation would

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have only avoided a literal violation of the law, not the spirit of it. Reuben knows that his brothers will not spare Joseph’s life and thus he plans to strike out alone with a clandestine plan to rescue Joseph from the pit and return him to their father. Though we never get a chance to witness Reuben’s scheme, it seems likely that it would have been fruitless. What would Reuben really accomplish in returning Joseph to Jacob other than to only delay the inevitable? Perhaps Reuben never really thinks his plan through because his real motive for saving Joseph was to redeem his standing with his father. We learn earlier that Reuben has fallen from Jacob’s grace by sleeping with the latter’s concubine—an action that in the Bible commonly implies an attempt at political usurpation.5 But to what end would this new-found favor redound to Reuben? Does he believe that redemption in his father’s eyes would somehow redeem him as the first born and set him up as a leader of the family? If so, that plan would likely have been just as much of a failure given how little respect the sons have for their father and how much they envy his favorites.6 In the end, the brothers are clearly bent on eliminating Joseph and the only hope for his preserving his life would be to remove him permanently from the family.7 Judah offers the only solution that would possibly spare the life of Joseph: “And Judah said to his brothers, ‘What gain is there if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and our hand will not be against him, for he is our brother, our own flesh’” (37:26). Judah does appeal to his brother’s venial instincts, but if the goal here is to spare the life of Joseph and to keep the brothers from “shedding blood,” he also offers the only solution that works. There is no gain from slaughtering Joseph, but there is money to be made. While one might think Judah ranks lower than Reuben on a moral level, it could be that Judah is also more politic than Reuben.8 The brothers are not particularly inclined to respect any authority; no less are they disposed to obey those who might attempt to lead them by barking moral injunctions at them.9 Judah gives them a reason to exercise selfrestraint: “let us sell him.” I do not think that this entirely exonerates Judah for the treatment of Joseph, but I do believe that he is more persuasive than Reuben at least when it comes to finding a way to save the life of Joseph. Only after Judah speaks does the narrator state: “And his brothers hearkened unto him” (37:27). By descending to the level of his brothers’ iniquity, Judah successfully persuades them to not kill “our brother” on the basis of a motive that he professes to share in common with them: the desire for gain. JUDAH AND THE LESSON OF TAMAR In the end, however, Joseph is gone and Judah bears part of the guilt along with his other brothers. In the following chapter of Genesis, Judah departs from his family and goes to reside in Adullam. The events that follow in chapter 38 constitute one of the oddest stories in the book of Genesis not only for its strange plot line but for the fact that the story seems to be a pointless digression in the Joseph’s story’s otherwise neatly structured drama.10 Judah begins a new life in Adullam with a Canaanite wife who bears him three sons. However, life in Adullam quickly takes an ugly turn when Judah attempts to acquire a wife for his first born.


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And Er, Judah’s firstborn was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. And Judah said to Onan, “Come to bed with your brother’s wife and do your duty as brother-in-law for her and raise up seed for your brother.” And Onan knew that the seed would not be his and so when he would come to be with his brother’s wife, he would waste his seed on the ground, so to give no seed to his brother. And what he did was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and he put him to death as well. And Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law that, “Stay a widow in your father’s house until Shelah my son is grown up,” for he thought, lest he, too, die like his brothers (38:7–11).

No explicit evidence is offered as to why Er was “evil in the eyes of the Lord,” but the reader is informed of the sins of Onan. Judah commands his son that: “Come to bed with your brother’s wife and do your duty as brother-in-law for her and raise up seed for your brother” (38:8). Onan, however, refuses to participate in the Levirate marriage arrangement—“wasting his seed” during copulation. The Levirate marriage arrangement had a twofold function: first it served as protection for the widow and her children, ensuring that they have a male provider and protector. Second, by a sort of leap of imagination, it perpetuated the eldest son’s lineage. In a world where the line of descent from the oldest male means everything, these are the types of sacrifices that must be made for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the family.11 Onan objects to the marital arrangement because he does not like the idea of being a mere vessel for his brother’s seed (“Onan knew that the seed would not be his” [38:9]). Onan, therefore, is unbrotherly. He refuses to make the kind of sacrifices that are necessary to keep the family intact.12 Judah decides not to risk a third child (Shelah, whose name literally means hers) and therefore sends Tamar to live with her father-in-law on the pretense that he is waiting for his remaining son to reach a marriageable age. The text does not make clear exactly why Judah suspects that another union with Tamar will have the same result. The natural assumption is that he believes that Tamar carries some sort of curse—“Lest he too die like his brothers” (38:11). But could Judah suspect that the third son, like Onan, is the type of brother who might be just as indignant about making the kind of sacrifice that his second son was unwilling to make? We do not really know what Judah knew about Onan, but it is plausible that his sons are much like his own brothers, himself included. Like Judah’s own brothers, Onan did not live up to the full responsibility of brotherhood. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Even if there is insufficient evidence to prove that Judah is the same kind of man as his son, Onan, his daughter-in-law Tamar certainly believes he is. “And a long time passed. . . . she saw that Shelah had grown up and she had not been given to him as wife.” Seeing that Judah has not fulfilled his obligation, Tamar constructs an elaborate plot to ensnare her father-in-law in order to compel him to deliver upon his obligation. Hearing that Judah has traveled to the vicinity where Tamar is residing with her father, she disguises herself as a prostitute and lures him into sexual intercourse. Judah, however, has nothing to pay her with and so Tamar exacts collateral from him in the form of his seal-and-cord and staff—the symbols of his authority and standing.13 When Judah finally sends his payment, the locals report that there have not been any prostitutes in the area. Embarrassed by the whole event, Judah tells his servant: “Let her take them, lest we be a laughingstock. Look I sent this kid and you could not find her”

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(38:23). If the previous event wasn’t sufficiently embarrassing to Judah, the report that arrives next makes him so indignant that he almost executes his own daughter-inlaw: “And it happened about three months later that Judah was told, saying, ‘Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the whore, and what’s more, she’s conceived by her whoring’” (Genesis 38:24). Judah responds that: “Take her out to be burned,” thereby illustrating both his acute concern about his reputation and his tendency to respond to slights in the same hot-headed way that his brothers do.14 But Tamar has a surprise for Judah: “By the man to whom these belong I have conceived . . . . Recognize (haker na), pray, whose seal-and-cord and this staff?”(38:25).15 Judah immediately turns his condemnation of Tamar on himself: “Judah recognized (haker na) them and he said, ‘She is more in the right than I, for have I not failed to give her to Shelah, my son?’” It is not immediately clear why the elaborate plot conducted by Tamar would have this effect upon Judah. From one perspective, it would seem that her plan only proves that Judah sleeps with prostitutes and, in this case, he is also guilty of incest.16 In what seems to be a rather incredible calculation on her part, Tamar appears to have anticipated that Judah’s embarrassment would lead him to be more introspective. In Tamar’s confrontation with Judah, she carefully employs a common motif repeated throughout the Joseph story: “do you recognize (haker na).”17 The phrase recalls the brothers’ question to Jacob about the blood-soaked tunic of Joseph when they deceitfully report the death of their brother: “Recognize (haker na), pray your son’s cloak” (37:32). Throughout the Joseph story, the term “recognize” always carries a double meaning. In each case, recognizing means more than identifying something by its surface appearance; it also implies seeing beyond the mere appearance of the thing. Just as Jacob recognizes the meaning behind the bloodsoaked tunic, “a vicious beast has devoured him,” so Judah recognizes that these legal forms of documentation bear a deeper meaning. Recognizing the seal-and-cord and staff means seeing what these symbols stand for—his moral obligations as the head of the household. Hence, Judah’s response, “She is more in the right (tsadaq) than I” (38:26), also has a double meaning that neatly captures the lesson. As Robert Alter explains, the statement is on the one hand a legal claim: “she who has presented the convincing evidence. But in the next clause Judah also concedes that he has behaved unjustly toward Tamar, so that in a sense her taking the law into her own hands, however unconventional the act, is vindicated by his own words.”18 In other words, she is right both in the legal sense and in the moral sense.19 Tamar holds the public symbols of his authority—his cord-and-seal and his staff—to reinforce that lesson. Recognizing those badges of authority means “recognizing” those symbols as more than just conventional tokens.20 By turning them into a down-payment for prostitution, Tamar demonstrates how hollow those symbols can be when the “one to whom they belong” does not exercise the kind of responsibility they are meant to convey. Though Judah understands the importance of preserving the family, Tamar teaches him that he must preserve in the right way and for the right ends. In this case, Judah learns that to honor his obligation to do what is right, he must even risk losing his remaining son. The story ends with the birth of Tamar’s twins—one of which Perez who will be the progenitor of the Davidic monarchy. The reference reminds us that what seemed a mere digression is not only important to the development of the character of Judah in the Joseph story but critical to the entire future of Israel. The Israelites will ask for a king “like all other nations” because they assume that the appearance of authority is


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the same thing as having authority. But, unlike other nations, God makes the kingship in Israel conditional: “if you do all that I have charged you, My statutes and My laws to keep, I shall raise up the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever” (2 Samuel 39:5). In other words, Israel must come to recognize that true authority is not found in regal appearances; it is in conformity to the commands of an invisible god. Unlike Joseph whose authority is often manifested by his appearance (his father’s ornamented tunic or his appearance as an Egyptian magistrate), Judah’s path to leadership is acquired over the course of a series of public humiliations. I think the Joseph story is meant to teach the reader that the latter is really a superior means of cultivating leadership than the former. Only by coming to terms with our common humanity do we recognize the necessity of leadership. Israel will be constituted by twelve tribes. Like the brothers, they possess a certain equality that makes ruling more complicated; but like other nations, they also need a common political authority. To rule Israel successfully, its leaders must understand that ruling is based on the mutual needs of the tribes not on the superiority (whether divinely chosen or not) of any one tribe. JUDAH AND JACOB The next time we encounter Judah in the Joseph story he has returned to the company of his brothers and resumes his familial duties just in time for the brother’s dramatic descent into the land of Egypt and their reunion with Joseph. Again, Judah will save his brothers—this time by challenging the head of the family, Jacob. In Judah’s confrontation with his father, we witness the fruits of the education he has acquired during his time in Adullam. In contrast to the Jacob’s passivity and self-indulgence, Judah takes responsibility for preserving the family into the future. The confrontation between Judah and Jacob follows the brothers’ return from their first encounter with Joseph. When the brothers had gone in search of provisions in the land of Egypt, they come face to face with their brother Joseph but do not recognize him. “And Joseph recognized (haker na) his brothers but they did not recognize (haker na) him” (42:8). Joseph, wary of their intentions, accuses them of being spies: “to see the nakedness of the land.” The brothers attempt to defend themselves by explaining: “no, we are the sons of one man.” Unsatisfied Joseph demands that they prove themselves by bringing their youngest brother before him. When the brothers return, they report to Jacob what occurred in the land of Egypt. Jacob is inconsolable: “It is I who bear it all,” and he adamantly refuses to give them Benjamin. Once again, Reuben attempts to take the lead in preserving the family. Consistently impolitic in his efforts in this regard, he tries to persuade Jacob with the following proposal: “My two sons you may put to death if I do not bring him back to you” (42:37). One wonders why Reuben would make such a horrific proposal. But the offer makes some sense if we think of the family in the terms that Jacob does. In Jacob’s mind, the family includes his favorites (Joseph and Benjamin) while everyone else is treated as outsiders. Reuben therefore imagines that his father would accept a tit for tat; his only two sons for Jacob’s only two sons. Jacob does refuse Reuben’s offer but in a way that never corrects the problem with Reuben’s premise: “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone remains, and should harm befall

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him on the way you are going, you would bring down my gray head in sorrow to Sheol” (42:38, emphasis added). The members of the family know what Jacob means: Benjamin alone is left of Rachel now that Joseph is gone. But Jacob has a knack for articulating the family unit as if he did not have twelve sons, but only two. Benjamin will not go with the brothers because, in Jacob’s mind, if Benjamin is taken, the entire family would be lost. Again, it is Judah that takes the lead at another moment of crisis. The family is increasingly desperate having now run out of food. Jacob instructs them again to “Go back, buy us some food,” but still does not budge on letting Benjamin accompany them. Of all of the sons, Judah is the one who convinces his father to let them return with Benjamin. Unlike Reuben, Judah appeals to the welfare of the whole family: “Send the lad with me, and let us rise and go, that we may live and not die, neither we, nor you, nor our little ones” (emphasis added). Having appealed to the good of the whole, Judah offers himself as a sacrificial pledge: “I will be his pledge, from my hand you may seek him: if I do not bring him to you and set him before you, I will bear the blame to you for all time” (43:9). Judah does not offer Jacob some lex taliones, but rather he forces Jacob to confront the type of leadership that Jacob ought to be exercising as the head of the family. Having learned the lesson taught to him by Tamar, Judah stands as “a pledge” for the family and not for some favored part of the family. He will take responsibility for the family’s welfare, even Reuben’s two “little ones.” Forced to confront the kind of leadership he should be exhibiting as patriarch, Jacob relents. JUDAH AND JOSEPH Judah’s third and most critical intervention occurs in the final confrontation with Joseph in Egypt. When the brothers return to Egypt for another round of supplies, Joseph orchestrates an elaborate scheme whereby his steward is instructed to place Joseph’s goblet in Benjamin’s bag, detain the brother’s for theft, and, upon discovering the cup, declare: “Is this not the one from which my lord drinks, and in which he always divines” (44:6). Traditionally, this scene is thought to be a test of the brothers in which Joseph is merely attempting to determine if his brothers have sufficiently reformed their past ways. The problem with this reading, however, is that there does not appear to be any real opportunity for the brothers to exhibit such virtue. Perhaps it is true that they demonstrate some decency by not exacting revenge upon Benjamin for stealing the cup on the spot, but the fact that they are presently detained by an Egyptian guard would seem to make it unlikely that they would attempt to do so. Moreover, the silver they used to purchase the grain had been put into each of their sacks by Joseph, thus making them all appear guilty of some degree of theft. More likely, Joseph intends to separate Benjamin from the rest of the family. Having “divined” the perpetrator, Joseph can now seek the retribution he wants: “The man in whose hand the goblet was found, he shall become my slave, and you, go up in peace to your father” (44:17–18). The exchange between Joseph and Judah that follows is one of the Bible’s most remarkable studies in contrast of character and a profound lesson in the nature of


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leadership. True to his character from the very beginning of the story, Joseph attempts to assert the divine sanction of his authority: “Did you not know that a man like me would surely divine.” Judah responds, albeit with a slight amendment to Joseph’s statement: “God (Elohim) has found out your servants’ crime.” Judah knows that it is fruitless to challenge Joseph’s charges given the obvious evidence against them. However, it is interesting that Judah does not say, “you my Lord have found out your servants’ crime.” Rather, by inserting “God (Elohim)” in place of Joseph’s “me,” Judah responds to the double meaning of Joseph’s statement with a double meaning of his own. Whatever the culpability they may bear for stealing the goblet, the brothers are certainly guilty of another crime—plotting to sell their brother into slavery, causing his demise, and lying to their father about his disappearance. Whatever this Egyptian man may have divined, Judah’s point is that God knows and it is God who will be dealing out the punishment that the brothers deserve. Judah also does not say that Benjamin is guilty, but rather “we” are guilty. Thus, even if Benjamin is not guilty for stealing the goblet, we brothers are collectively guilty for the disappearance of our brother. For Joseph, “the man in whose hand the goblet was found,” must be punished. Of course, Benjamin is neither guilty of the latter nor was Benjamin guilty of the former. But Judah’s rejoinder in both cases offers a correction to Joseph’s view of justice. According to Judah, the whole family should suffer for the sin of one (in the case of Benjamin stealing the goblet) or they suffer as whole for what happened to Joseph (including Benjamin). For Judah, the family cannot be severed into parts in the way that Joseph would. For Joseph, preserving the family really means separating out the good parts (Benjamin) from the bad (the other brothers). He thinks much the same way as Jacob who imagines that the family can be reduced to parts—the sons of Rachel versus “the others.” Judah will not allow the family to be divided this way. The family cannot be divided into parts because the family, like the tribes of Israel, has a collective responsibility as the chosen people of God. Whatever is done by or happens to a part effects the whole. And Judah approached him and said “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing” (44:18). Judah now asks for a private audience with the Egyptian viceroy in order to make his case for Benjamin. He first petitions for an initial sufferance on the part of his audience: “let your wrath not flare against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.” Given that what follows is an appeal for compassion and mercy on the basis of sentimental family attachments, the initial request for clemency would appear to miss the mark. Judah’s rhetorical argument seems to be this: you are like Pharaoh, meaning that you are like a god, and a god does not get angry because gods are not moved by petty human things. But if the man were truly a god, then he would not be moved to pity or compassion since gods are indifferent to trivial earthly matters. Judah clearly does not think that this man is a god, yet he knows that it is rhetorically strategic to appeal to one who thinks he divines as if he were. Judah thus disarms his opponent by appealing to what he knows this Egyptian viceroy is not. In the end, rulers are not gods but human beings who must care deeply about earthly things if they want to be successful and maintain their power. Joseph’s rise to power is a good case in point. While he hoped to convince the Pharaoh that his dream interpretations were divine insights, even Joseph knows that what truly won Pharaoh’s admiration was his plan for mitigating a famine. Judah’s insight into the

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false pretensions behind ruling—which he learns from his Tamar—puts him at a decided advantage here. Having disarmed Joseph through flattery, Judah now presents his case to the Egyptian viceroy as if it were simply a recapitulation of their previous conversations. But in important ways, Judah amends the original script. He begins by recounting a question from the Egyptian viceroy that Joseph actually never asked: “My lord had asked his servants, saying ‘Do you have a father or brother?’” (44:19). But this information had actually been volunteered by the brothers in response to the charge of spying. Then Judah recounts the brothers’ response: “We have an aged father and a young child of his old age, and his brother being dead, he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him” (44:20, emphasis added). For the most part, the boys did in fact tell Joseph that they have a father, and younger brother who is with him, and one that is no more. However, Judah adds the following details: “an aged father, a “young child of his old age,” “he alone is left of his mother,” and that his “father loves him.” Unlike the first account where the brothers had simply related the facts, the retelling here adds a number of carefully calculated emendations. First, the multiple references to the age of his father are important. One could certainly surmise from the age of the brothers that the father is old, but why does Judah emphasize this fact here? Part of the answer of course is that this detail will be critical to making the case against taking Benjamin from his father. But, why would Judah think that the Egyptian viceroy would care about the tenderness of his father’s age? The answer may lie in the fact that it was Joseph who emphasized “the aged” feature of Jacob in his opening question to the brothers upon their return: “How is your aged father of whom you spoke?” (43:27). The boys had never spoken of their father’s age, but Judah seems to have intuited from Joseph that this is a detail of some importance to this Egyptian viceroy. In his private exchange with Joseph, Judah makes that detail central to his appeal for pity. In addition, Judah acts as if the Egyptian viceroy knew the special status of Benjamin in the eyes of his father: “a young child of his old age whom his father loves.” The brothers never described the special status of Benjamin; a bit of detail that would have been useful in accounting for the fact that the lad was not on the original itinerary. Having drawn an intimate portrait of the family, Judah then makes his case for Benjamin. Again, Judah ostensibly recounts their previous exchange: “And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father. Should he leave his father, he would die.’” And you said to your servants, “If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you shall not see my face again” (44:22–23). This part of their exchange is entirely invented by Judah. The brothers had never protested the demand to bring Benjamin because they were determined to prove their innocence. To have quibbled about bringing Benjamin would have immediately raised suspicion. The retelling however does shift the issue from the fate of the guilty Benjamin to that of the father who is innocent of any crime. But why should the indirect consequences for an already elderly parent from a foreign land weigh more in the mind of an Egyptian viceroy than punishment for a crime committed in the land of Egypt against one of the country’s highest-ranking officers? If this man were anyone other than Joseph, how likely would Judah’s speech really have had the desired effect? Finally, Judah concludes by recounting a speech by Jacob that, while it takes certain liberties, could easily have come from the mouth of Jacob.


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And your servant, our father, said to us, “You know that two did my wife bear me. And one went out from me and I thought, O, he’s been torn to shreds, and I have not seen him since. And should you take this one, too, from my presence and harm befall him, you would bring my gray head in evil to Sheol.” And so, should I come to your servant, my father, and the lad be not with us, for his life is bound to the lad’s, when he saw the lad was not with us, he would die, and your servants, would bring down the gray head of your servant, our father, in sorrow to Sheol. (44:27–32, emphasis added)

The speech is a fairly accurate account of an exchange between Jacob and his sons replete even with Jacob’s own pitiful expression: “bring my gray head in sorrow to Sheol” (42:38). But, regardless of how faithful Judah’s retelling is to the words of Jacob, the narration would hardly have made sense to an outsider like the Egyptian viceroy. The appeal only works effectively if one believes that in fact Jacob only has two sons (“two did my wife bear me”) and with the death of one, now he is reduced to a single child. Right in front of his own eyes, the Egyptian viceroy can see that there is not one but eleven sons of Jacob. Of course, the appeal makes perfect sense if Judah actually knows that the person he is speaking to is Joseph. Judah does not have to explain the complicated structure of the family because he knows that the man he is addressing already understands them.21 Judah must know that he is speaking to Joseph. This also helps make sense out of Judah’s desire for a private conference with Joseph away from hearing of the other brothers. Had the brothers been present, they would have caught this and prematurely foiled Judah’s plan. Only in a private conversation with Joseph is Judah able to appeal to the inner feelings of the man he knows to be Joseph: there are only two sons that matter to my father, Benjamin and you. In the end, Judah is not really appealing to Joseph’s mercy. He is firmly warning the man he knows to be Joseph that if he does the thing that he is planning on doing, he will be even more unrighteous than his brothers; Joseph will be guilty of patricide. The boys were wrong to contemplate killing their brother, but could the situation really be made better by killing your “aged father?” This would be the consequence of taking Benjamin and Judah now forces Joseph to confront that. Judah’s final appeal is perfectly designed to strike this chord in Joseph: “For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with us? Let me see not the evil that would find out my father!” Besides their common mother, only one thing connects Joseph and Benjamin: their father’s favoritism. Not only would Joseph kill his father, he would destroy the only bond that that still unites him to Benjamin. Faced with this possibility, Joseph has no choice but to reveal himself. Whereas Judah began by saying that all of the brothers deserve to be slaves to the man, he concludes by proposing that he alone will take Benjamin’s place. To preserve the good of the whole, Judah will be the sacrificial lamb. As a pledge for the family, he would sacrifice himself to honor that pledge. In some ways, Judah has already made that sacrifice. By presenting the family as Jacob sees it—only two sons—Judah sacrifices his own dignity in order to save the whole. It is the lesson that he learned in the course of his time in Adullam under the tutelage of Tamar. By stripping him of his exterior dignity, Tamar taught Judah to recognize the interior responsibilities that are the true foundation of authority—even if it means sacrificing everything you cherish in order to fulfill those obligations.

To Bear the Blame for All Time


I think it is important that the man who learned to see through the appearances of things in order to recognize their worth is the same man who sees through the Egyptian appearance of Joseph.22 Unlike gods, Judah knows how much human beings really need one another, including Joseph. They cannot forget their past just as they cannot transcend their humanity. It is for this reason that Judah is not taken in by Joseph’s mesmerizing powers. He knows Joseph is a man, not a god. So, why did Judah never reveal this information to his brothers? Judah also knows his brothers’ limitations and their vices. They are the same impulsive boys who recklessly wiped out the entire town of Shechem to defend the honor of their sister. Moreover, they cannot be led to do the right thing by demanding that they act in the right way. They must be guided by more subtle means. Judah understands this well because he has been taught to recognize his own limitations. In the end, he knows that he needs his brothers and they need him Judah may understand as little as Joseph about God’s ultimate divine plan for all of them, but he does know what is important to the success of God’s people. It is the task of the leader to preserve the family intact so that each part can pass on the duties of righteousness from one generation to the next. To do so, one must recognize why the members of the family need a leader. Aware of his own mistakes in life, Judah certainly knows the limits of his brothers and their need for guidance, but he also knows that he cannot lord those limitations over them. To act as a whole, they must all think of themselves as equal parts even when they really are not always up to the task of fulfilling their duties. So too, Israel will be constituted by twelve tribes that share an equal degree of responsibility. Moses explained to the people that: “For this command which I charge you today is not too wondrous for you nor is it distant. It is not in the heavens, to say ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?’. . . . But the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14). The Hebrews must shoulder their obligation together as one people, because, in the end, they all carry a debt that no one of them can ever fully repay. NOTES 1. Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (New York: Free Press, 2006), 509. I am deeply indebted to Kass’s reading of the Joseph story for this article. I originally planned to write an essay that simply focused on what I believed were the superior qualities of Judah, but Kass’s work led me to see by comparison both the limitations of Joseph as well as the political significance of Judah. 2. I have used Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis throughout this article except in a few instances where I note my reasons for departing from his translation of the text. Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004). 3. As Robert Sacks states: He [Judah] makes no claim for any special relationship to God; he has no magic and handles himself in a purely human way.” The Lion and the Ass: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, https​:/​/ar​​chive​​.org/​​strea​​m​/Rob​​ertSa​​cksAC​​ommen​​taryO​​nTheB​​ ookOf​​Genes​​is​/Ro​​bert-​​Sacks​​-A​-Co​​mment​​ary​-o​​n​-the​​-Book​​​-of​-G​​enesi​​s​_djv​​u​.txt​, 1976, 144. 4. For an alternative interpretation see Donald Redford, Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph (Brill, 1970), 106–186; and George W. Coats, From Cannon to Egypt: Structural and Theological Context for the Joseph Story (Lexington: Lexington Theological Seminary, 1976), 69–70.


J. David Alvis

5. See 2 Samuel 3:7; 16:22; and 1 Kings 2:17–25. 6. See Kass, Beginning of Wisdom, 522–523. 7. For a more sympathetic reading of Reuben, see James S. Ackerman, “Joseph, Judah, and Jacob,” in Genesis, edited by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986), 98. 8. Adele Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994). 9. See also Kass, Beginning of Wisdom, 535. 10. Johanna W. H. Bos, “Out of the Shadows: Genesis 38; Judges 4:17–22; Ruth 3,” Semeia 42 (1988): 37–67. 11. Gerhard von Rad. “Essay.” In Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 359. 12. Ackerman, “Joseph, Judah, and Jacob,” 102. 13. E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), 298n18. 14. As Von Rad explains regarding the punishment Judah pronounces upon Tamar: “The punishment itself is certainly, in the narrator’s opinion, the severest possible. The later law recognized burning only in an extreme case of prostitution (Lev. 21:9).” Genesis, 361. 15. Tamar is certainly crafty but the unspoken facts here reveal the depths of her cunning. If there are no prostitutes in this place, who knew that Tamar had become pregnant by “whoring?” The only answer is: Tamar. Tamar must have created the rumor that reaches Judah. 16. There is some scholarly debate about whether a father-in-law could serve as the levir. See Eryl W. Davies, “Inheritance Rights and the Hebrew Levirate Marriage,” Vetus Testamentum 31 (1981): 138–144. 17. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 10. 18. Alter, Five Books of Moses, 219n26. 19. Donald A Seybold summarizes the lesson in the following terms: “The message seems quite clear. Preservation of the family and propagation of the tribe are natural, and wasting the human seed or failing to impregnate the woman is unnatural. Incest is paradoxically natural under such a compelling circumstance.” “Paradox and Summary,” 67. 20. Rachel Adelman, “Seduction and Recognition in the Story of Judah and Tamar and the Book of Ruth,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 23 (2012): 92. 21. This helps to make sense out of one other amendment Judah has made to the original account when he explains that Joseph is “dead” rather than the more ambiguous description the brothers originally employed: “he is no more.” Joseph had accused them of spying—of attempting to expose something they shouldn’t (the nakedness of the land). Judah may know that Joseph fears being exposed. But if he thinks that his brothers believe he is dead, Joseph can let down his guard. 22. In recounting his interactions with the Egyptian viceroy to Jacob, Judah relates their exchange word for word with one exception: “The man said ‘you shall not see my face.” Joseph never uses such a phrase, but the line is repeatedly inserted by Judah in his recapitulations of former conversations with Joseph (43:3; 44:24). Of all the features of Joseph that might have been hidden by his Egyptian guise, the one thing that distinguishes Joseph are his looks: “Joseph was comely in features and comely to look at” (39:6).

REFERENCES Ackerman, James S. “Joseph, Judah, and Jacob.” In Genesis, edited by Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

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Adelman, Rachel. “Seduction and Recognition in the Story of Judah and Tamar and the Book of Ruth.” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 23 (April 2012): 87–109. Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. Bekins, Peter. “Tamar and Joseph in Genesis 38 and 39.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 40, no. 4 (June 2016): 375–397. Berlin, Adele. Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994. Clifford, Richard J. “Genesis 38: Its Contribution to the Jacob Story.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 66, no. 4 (October 1, 2004): 519–532. Coats, George W. From Canaan to Egypt: Structural and Theological Context for the Joseph Story, 69–70. Washington, DC: Catholic Bibl. Assoc. of America, 1976. Coats, George W. “Redactional unity in Genesis 37–50.” Journal of Biblical Literature 93, no. 1 (1974): 15–21. Coats, George W. “Widow's Rights: A Crux in the Structure of Genesis 38.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972): 461–466. Davies, Eryl W. “Inheritance Rights and the Hebrew Levirate Marriage.” Vetus Testamentum 31 (1981): 138–144. Gros Louis, Kenneth R.R., James Stokes Ackerman, Thayer S. Warshaw, and Donald A. Seybold. “Essay.” In Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives, 67. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1974. Kass, Leon. “Essay.” In The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Kim, Dohyung. “The Structure of Genesis 38: A Thematic Reading.” Vetus Testamentum 62, no. 4 (2012): 550–560. Millgram, Hillel I. The Joseph Paradox: A Radical Reading of Genesis 37–50. The Joseph Paradox: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers, 2012. Rad, Gerhard von. “Essay.” In Genesis: A Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961. Redford, Donald. Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph, 106–186. Brill, 1970. Sacks, Robert. The Lion and the Ass: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1976), https​:/​/ ar​​chive​​.org/​​strea​​m​/Rob​​ertSa​​cksAC​​ommen​​taryO​​nTheB​​ookOf​​Genes​​is​/Ro​​bert-​​Sacks​​-A​-Co​​ mment​​ary​-o​​n​-the​​-Book​​​-of​-G​​enesi​​s​_djv​​u​.txt​. Speiser, Ephraim Avigdor. The Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964. Van Wijk-Bos, Johanna W.H. “Out of the Shadows: Genesis 38; Judges 4:17–22; Ruth 3.” Semeia 42 (1988): 37–67. Wildavsky, Aaron. “Survival Must Not Be Gained Through Sin: The Moral of the Joseph Stories Prefigured Through Judah and Tamar.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 19, no. 62 (June 1994): 37–48. Zhao, Yong. “The Story of Judah, the Hero: An Analysis of Genesis 38.” The Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no. 4 (October 1, 2014): 238–243.

Chapter 2

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality Homeric Melancholia and Democratic Theory Arlene W. Saxonhouse

Homer is no democratic theorist, but he speaks to democratic theory when he has his characters give expression to those psychological traits that challenge the egalitarian founding principles of a democratic world. Demanding that they be recognized for their individual and distinctive skills, how they exist in the world as individuals, his heroes focus on what is owed them as unique individuals superior to others. They demand recognition of their “worthiness,” a term Thomas Hobbes introduces millennia later into his political vocabulary specifically to expel it from a world seeking to escape the conflicts that threaten the peace for which he longs. Using Hobbes as an unlikely guide for my reading of the conflict-filled Iliad, I explore how his concept of “worthiness” and the concomitant challenge of commensurability—measuring one person, act, deed, and object against another as we try to equalize what cannot be made equal—become in Homer’s poem a melancholic warning about a democratic optimism built on principles of equality. At the beginning of Book 9 of the Iliad, Agamemnon calls upon the heralds to summon each man into a meeting. Crushed by the staggering losses just suffered on the battlefield, he proposes abandoning the expedition to Troy and returning home. In response “all/pantes” were silent until Diomedes “good in the war-cry” spoke and announced that he would be the first to fight (machêsomai) with Agamemnon over this decision. He chastises Agamemnon: “With the sceptre, [Zeus] gave you honor beyond all/ but he did not give you a heart, and of all power (kratos) this is the greatest” (9.38– 39). This is Richmond Lattimore’s translation, but Lattimore’s “heart” has an archaic ring and misses the point for the modern reader.1 Alkê is what Agamemnon does not have: valor, daring, or in Thomas Hobbes’s more accurate translation “a couragious Spirit.”2 Agamemnon endowed by Zeus with the scepter and with the honor thereby granted may rule over the “sons of the Achaeans” who have come to Troy, but his lack of a courageous spirit undermines his claims to the authority to direct the activities of the forces now gathered outside Troy. Diomedes’s resistance illustrates that king Agamemnon’s proposal for abandoning the fight can be challenged—indeed “fought” over as in battle, for such is the implication of Diomedes’ machêsomai. In response 23


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to Diomedes’ defiant speech, the sons of the Achaeans shout their own defiance of Agamemnon’s proposal. Agamemnon’s authority as ruler is not uncontested.3 Who should win this “battle” over whether to leave, as the one with the scepter proposes, or to stay, as the great warrior suggests with the shouts of approval from the sons of the Achaeans to support him? The aged Nestor intervenes; he speaks to those assembled and chastises Diomedes. Diomedes is young: “I am more aged than you,” he asserts. Indeed, Nestor notes that Diomedes could even be his youngest son, such is the youth of this bold warrior. Given Nestor’s age, there is no man who would dishonor him—not even the powerful Agamemnon. And so, while admitting that Diomedes may be stronger in battle and “in counsel . . . best (aristos) among all men of the same age” (9.53–54), Nestor tries to restrain the impetuous youth: “Without brotherhood, outside the laws, without hearth shall be that man/who loves war among his own people” (9.63–64). While ignoring the people’s shouts of approval for Diomedes’ proposal, he urges a moderate path. Do not simply go back into battle, as Diomedes suggests; nor, head home, in accordance with Agamemnon’s announcement, but take time off to eat and reflect. In deference to Agamemnon, he advises him who he describes as “most kingly (basileutatos)” to exercise his rule (archê) and prepare a meal for the “elders (gerousi)” (9.69–70). Then, when the many have gathered (pollôn d’ agoreumenôn), Agamemnon should accept the advice of he “who counsels the best advice (aristên/ boulên bouleusêi)” (9.74–75). A deliberative process should replace the battle between Agamemnon and Diomedes. Agamemnon accepts Nestor’s advice and once the aged counselors have partaken of the meal, Nestor addresses the group of elders gathered in Agamemnon’s tent. He speaks directly to Agamemnon whom he addresses as king of men (anax andrôn) repeating the acknowledgment that Zeus has given him the scepter, but he adds this time that he is king as well of many peoples (pollôn laiôn . . . anax) and as such he should take counsel for them, the many peoples over whom he rules as king (9.97–99). Nestor leaves aside the question that started the conflict between Agamemnon and Diomedes as to whether the army of Achaeans should leave or remain and offers an alternative approach; he advises Agamemnon to acknowledge the folly of his taking the prize Bryseis from Achilles and urges him to send Achilles gifts and gentle words in order to assuage the anger of the great warrior, thereby persuading him to return to battle. Thus comes about the embassy to Achilles, to which I shall turn in a moment. But, first let us parse this preface to Book 9 with the help of that unlikely figure— Thomas Hobbes—who late in life returned to the ancient texts4 by translating the Iliad and the Odyssey into forceful (if not always accurate) English. Much transpires in the first 100 lines of Book 9 as I have just recounted it, but I will focus, in particular, on the issue of worth (or “worthiness,” which will become the relevant term once I introduce Hobbes into the discussion): the criteria according to which one should listen to or accept the rule, the power, the authority, the kratos of another. Why follow the proposal of Agamemnon or Diomedes or even Nestor? What makes their speeches worthy of attention, of being listened to, of being obeyed?5 Though certainly not a democratic theorist, Hobbes develops some of the key theoretical points that underlie democratic theory in the modern world. At the heart of his theory and of democratic theory is the principle of human equality, that no one is born to rule, no one can claim power on the basis of some distinctive or unique quality, or

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


as Thomas Jefferson famously wrote: “[T]he mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred.”6 Hobbes prepares the reader for the articulation of this principle in the tenth chapter of Leviathan where he defines and explores the challenges that “worthiness” poses for political life. Worthiness with its claims of a natural inequality and the expectations of power that derive from such a claim is banished from political life. Hobbes begins chapter 10 of Leviathan by defining “worth” as simply a man’s price, so much as would be given for the use of his power by another man; in so doing he denies for political purposes the notion of inherent worth or what he calls at the end of the chapter “worthiness,” according to which a man may rest a claim whether for power or respect or goods. “Worthiness,” he admits may exist, but he adds that “a man may be worthy of riches, office, and employment, that nevertheless can plead no right to have it before another, and therefore cannot be said to deserve it.”7 In thus exiling worthiness from the realm of politics, though, Hobbes opens up the challenge of defining where rule ought to lie once we can no longer rely on distinctive qualities to determine whose speech should be endowed with the authority to be obeyed, the one honored by Zeus with scepter or the best fighter or the one with most experience of life or the eldest son of the previous ruler. By denying worthiness any claim to political power and by defining worth as simply the price someone might pay for another’s power, Hobbes can ground his political thought on the equality that leads to the creation of the Leviathan through the process of authorization, where political authority simply derives from the equal, independent authorizing actions of each member of the commonweal. The joint actions of the many, “the people,” determine who rules, who has power in the commonwealth or political body, not the distinctive qualities or claims of the one who claims to be the authoritative voice. This theoretical move enables Hobbes to write in the Preface to Leviathan: “I speak not of the men, but (in the abstract) of the seat of power (like to those simple and unpartial creatures in the Roman Capitol, that with their noise defended those within it, not because they were they, but there).”8 It does not matter “who” is the ruler; all that matters is that there be one—that there be geese on the Capitol when the Gauls are invading, not that they be the sacred geese of the gods. This is the move that foreshadows the democratic equality that takes away anyone’s claim to have a natural right to rule, whereby all can participate equally in the authorization of the ruler. If individual qualities do not determine who should rule, anyone can be the ruler; all have an equal claim. The natural condition of mankind where the life of man is famously solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short arises from that equal claim; to escape that condition some mechanism that does not rely on worthiness is essential to determine who is to rule and who is to be obeyed. In the Leviathan this mechanism is authorization; in democracies, it becomes elections where the community at large— not nature nor the gods—determine one’s worth, one’s price. To contend over claims to rule is to introduce claims of worthiness. The political and social problems that arise from claims of worthiness that Hobbes wants to cast aside resound throughout Homer’s Iliad, but Homer does not simply illustrate how claims of worthiness such as we see at the beginning of Book 9 lead to the conflicts that fill the poem; his epic highlights the difficulties those claims pose as the characters try to weigh one claim against the other—age against the scepter


Arlene W. Saxonhouse

against valor, for example. What standard of measurement allows us to affirm the predominance of one over the other? By drawing on Hobbes to help analyze Homer’s presentation, I hope to explore how Homer, however distant he may be from the emergence of democracy in ancient Athens (not to mention in the modern political world), contributes in this way to our understanding of democratic politics and its challenges.9 Homer’s tale questions whether worthiness may be as easily dismissed as Hobbes would like with the flourish of his rhetorical pen, and it captures the deep attachment humans have for the disruptive claims of worthiness. Homer makes evident, as well, that underlying the problem of worthiness that Hobbes so cavalierly dismisses lies the issue of commensurability. The problem of making commensurable distinctive qualities with what is claimed—the scepter as equaling rule, material rewards for risking one’s life in war, tripods and golden cauldrons for the corpse of a beloved child. All these reveal why Hobbes’s move is so essential if we are to escape the natural condition of mankind—or the conflicts that dominate the Homeric epic. And yet Homer’s epic repeatedly explores the difficulty of making such judgments concerning how to measure one good (or bad) against another. By bringing out that difficulty throughout the Iliad, he illustrates the need to create equivalences independent of claims of worthiness if we are to escape a world of constant conflict. We will observe Achilles creating through speech equivalences as rewards for victories in for the funeral games he holds in honor of Patroclus, just as the sovereign of Hobbes’s Leviathan determines honors (or the denial thereof) with his speech.10 They both assert what shall be considered equal, what rewards will attend what qualities. But, in Homer’s story, even the equivalences set up by the speech of the “sovereign” (Achilles in the case of the funeral games) are subject to contestation. Elevating worth over worthiness so that only the speech of the sovereign determines one’s price or value is the prescription Hobbes offers as the theoretical tool necessary to affirm equality. Homer’s characters and stories reveal the complex demands of and challenges to such a theoretical move. In the Preface to Book 9 of the Iliad we find the three most frequent claims to the worthiness that can underlie authority in the camp of the Achaeans: possession of the scepter and the honor it brings from Zeus, valor (alkê), and age.11 These claims in Book 9 take us back to the first passages of the epic where Agamemnon’s authority is also challenged by Achilles who puts forward actions in battle in opposition to the scepter holding power of Agamemnon. In the initial scenes of the epic the issue is not to determine whose advice concerning the collective action of the peoples should hold sway among the Achaeans as it is in Book 9; rather it is a contest over how to assess the claims concerning the distribution of the plundered goods among the Achaeans. How can one measure the valor displayed on the field of battle against the possession of Zeus’ scepter and rule over the most men when determining who gets what? The effort entails assessing incommensurable claims of worthiness. The contending heroes each claim a worthiness that would give him more than he currently enjoys. Stripped of their distinctiveness, the scepter and the valor, they would be equal, deserving equal portions. But their demands that their distinctive worthiness (valor vs. scepter) be recognized—as Hobbes understands so well and Homer’s epic illustrates throughout—are difficult for the characters, for anyone (Achaean, the audience of the poem,

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


Hobbes’s readers, ourselves) to yield; and so, they (and we) foster the conflicts that haunt the world of the Achaeans. As in Book 9, Nestor, blessed with the wisdom that accompanies age, intervenes to suggest that Agamemnon and Achilles listen to, be persuaded by one such as himself whose experiences over time attest to his worthiness as an adviser. “Be persuaded by/ listen to/ obey (peithesth’); both of you are younger than me,” he says (1.259), before supporting his claim by recalling the men with whom he consorted, men who fought the centaurs, men who were far mightier than any of those now on the shores of Troy. From this position of worthiness that marks his superior wisdom in counsel, Nestor warns both Agamemnon and Achilles: the former should not disturb the distribution that has already been made, the latter should not wish to contest (erizemenai) with a king since his honor (timê) is not equal (homoiês) in portion to others. Agamemnon, Nestor repeats, is the sceptered king to whom Zeus gives glory (kudos) and he admonishes Achilles: “Though you are stronger (karteros) and have a goddess for your mother, yet he is the better one (pherteros) and rules over more men” (1.275–280). Nestor enters the fray as one who is superior, has more worthiness. Yet, despite his claim of his own superior wisdom that derives from age, he fails to defuse the conflict as he shall in Book 9. Agamemnon, continuing to insist on his worthiness as the ruler over many, takes the maiden Bryseis from Achilles, while Achilles certain of his worthiness that comes from his successes on the battlefield ignores Nestor’s invocation to yield. It takes the intervention of the gods, specifically Athene who prevents Achilles from raising his sword against Agamemnon, to defuse the conflict. Measuring incommensurables against each other—valor vs. rule over many men—is beyond human resolution in the Iliad. Life in the camp of the Achaeans becomes the melancholy experience of the unending conflicts brought on by an inability to manage competing individual claims of worthiness. The challenges posed by claims of worthiness and its concomitant need for commensurability in order to match such claims with what is granted in acknowledgment of those claims runs through the twenty-six books of the Iliad. As we shall see, only when claims of worthiness are overridden by factors such as pity or a conscious desire to avoid conflict can peace emerge, at least briefly, in Homer’s poem. Hobbes does not rely on pity. For Hobbes the yearning for self-preservation and the reasoning that follows from that desire enable the abandonment of such claims, but (for sure) such rational calculation does not control Homer’s characters. His poem instead depicts how difficult it is to abandon their claims, and yet also how necessary it is to do so if there is to be any cessation from conflict. By engaging his readers/listeners in the unending struggles that come from these claims and the difficulties they pose, Homer warns us about the sanguine dreams of an easy acceptance of Hobbes’s invocation to replace worthiness with worth and thereby build a political theoretical perspective based on equality. Below I consider two emblematic episodes in the epic that address the issue of commensurability as it surfaces in political life. First, I look at the embassy sent to Achilles in accordance with Nestor’s advice in Book 9 and then I turn to the funeral games of Book 23. The former leaves us reeling from Achilles’ rejection of any effort to work with equivalences and the consequences of such a rejection; the latter shows the limitations of efforts to acknowledge worthiness even when equivalences are


Arlene W. Saxonhouse

calculated and announced by a sovereign voice before the whole community. I then reflect on how the concerns with incommensurability translate to a future political world where the egalitarianism of democracy as imagined in Hobbes’s understanding of the difference between worth and worthiness becomes the underlying principle that allows men to constitute a political regime of equals. THE EMBASSY (BOOK 9) The centerpiece of Book 9 is the embassy to Achilles. After Agamemnon has consulted—as Nestor urged—with the generals, he announces that he recognizes his own folly when he failed to honor Achilles, one man, he says, “worth many warriors” (anti nu pollôn/ laôn, 9.116–117). Over the next thirty lines Agamemnon lists the countless (apeireisi) ransom/ compensations (aponia, 9.120) and “glorious gifts” (pericluta dôr’, 9.121) he promises to give Achilles in order to lure him back into fighting on the side of the Achaeans: unused tripods, talents of gold, cauldrons, prizewinning race horses, seven beauties from Lesbos, his own daughter in marriage, seven wealthy cities that border Pylos, and (untouched) Bryseis whom Agamemnon’s men had led from Achilles’ tent in Book 1. Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix comprise the embassy that sets out for Achilles’ tent to tell him of those promised gifts. They anticipate that Achilles shall find these gifts sufficiently commensurate with his worthiness to lead him to forgive Agamemnon and rejoin the Achaeans. They are sorely mistaken. Despite Achilles’ warm welcome and the rich drink and meal he offers the embassy when they arrive, despite Odysseus’ repeating the thirty-five lines of promised gifts, despite Odysseus’ appeal to pity by relating of the suffering of the Achaeans at the hands of the Trojans, Achilles resists, adamant in his decision to return home and leave the Achaeans to fight without him. Achilles explains his determination in a lengthy speech during which he asserts the impossibility of any adequate compensation, whether it be for his value to the Achaean army, for the harm he has suffered from Agamemnon, or for risking his life. It is to the latter issue that he turns first. No one—not Agamemnon nor any of the Achaeans—will persuade him to fight, he says, since the fate that awaits all men ignores all distinctiveness—any claims of worthiness—between them. Death is the great equalizer: “An equal portion or fate (isê moira) comes to the man who remains, stands still, and to the one who fights with energy; both the good and the bad are held in one honor; death comes to both the man who is idle and the one who accomplishes many deeds” (9.318–320). Achilles is almost Hobbesian, finding in death a universality that refuses to acknowledge any worthiness. No benefit attaches to demonstrating such distinctiveness in the face of an equalizing death. All receive the same “reward”: mortality. In a world without distinction, without “worthiness,” the spirit of Achilles and the heroic drive dies. Achilles’ reflections on this equalizing death precede the verbal explosion condemning Agamemnon that fills much of his lengthy speech. He tells the members of the embassy how Agamemnon’s promised gifts are “hateful to me (echthra de moi tou dôra)” (9.378) and to underscore his point, he imagines Agamemnon giving him even more: “Not if he gave me ten or twenty times what he has now and all else

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


that might ever come to be his from elsewhere” would Achilles yield. “Not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand and the dust, not even then would Agamemnon persuade my spirit (thumon)” (9.379–386). As many as the grains of sand, as many as the specks of dust: the task is impossible. Nothing could equal “all this heartrending insolence” that Agamemnon has heaped upon him, says Achilles. Achilles is making demands that can never be met. Agamemnon had imagined an equality between the many goods he has promised and Achilles’ claims of worthiness. Achilles’ refusal to accept Agamemnon’s gifts captures the challenge of making equal what does not have an accepted equal measure. Agamemnon, the ruler, works from the belief that such equivalences can be made, Achilles from the certainty that they cannot. Agamemnon understands tangible goods—fine objects, land, women—as compensation for both Achilles’ psychological suffering and performance in battle and that simply adding to the numbers and value of these goods might create an equivalence. Achilles denies that supposition. And so, his wrath continues and his fellow Achaeans continue to be slaughtered. Achilles rejects Hobbes’s exhortation to attend to “worth” as depending on what another (Agamemnon in this case) is willing to pay for the use of his labor and it is that refusal that leads to the suffering of mortals in their short lives. While the incommensurability between what Achilles demands and what Agamemnon can ever offer causes yet more sorrow to the Achaeans, it brings even more sorrow to Achilles when Hectors kills his beloved Patroclus. Had Achilles accepted the Hobbesian model of worth based on what someone might pay for his labor and not insisted on his worthiness, there would be no Iliad with its tale of the wrath of Achilles and no slaughter of Patroclus. Hobbes’s solution (as I shall discuss in the Conclusion) appears in his laws of nature which urge accommodation and prohibit the sort of demand for (an impossible) commensurability that Achilles insists upon; for Hobbes those laws of nature ensure peace and the end of human suffering, but in Homer’s poem that peace eludes the characters attached as they are to claims of a worthiness that can never be satisfied. After rejecting the gifts offered by Agamemnon, Achilles returns to the theme with which he had begun his response to the embassy, that of an equalizing death. Not only are all Agamemnon’s promised gifts insufficient to compensate Achilles for what he has suffered from Agamemnon, even more they are not sufficient compensation for risking his life in battle. While cattle and sheep and tripods and horses may reward the warrior, “For me whatever they say to be the wealth of Troy cannot be of equal worth (antiaxion) to the human soul (psyche). . . . The soul of man taken and carried away does not return” (9.401–409). There can be no compensation that can match the prospect of death. Achilles ends his speech by telling the embassy that they must urge the Achaeans to sail homeward; there is no hope of conquering the steep walls of Troy (9.417–419) and nothing can compensate the warrior for fighting valiantly on the field of battle where death reigns. He speaks these words with such vehemence (mala kraterôs, 9.430–431) that he stuns his listeners into silence, astounded to hear him so forcefully reject the norms of the Homeric world where material rewards did regularly compensate a warrior for his willingness to face death in battle. Later in the poem, we hear Sarpedon, a son of Zeus fighting on the side of the Trojans, addressing his companion Glaucus, articulate just those norms that make material


Arlene W. Saxonhouse

rewards commensurate with the valor the warriors display and the risks they take on the battlefield: “Why are we two highly honored with noble seats and meats and many cups and viewed as gods in Lycia? And we plow great lands. . . and work beautiful orchards and rich fields” (12.310–314). Reminding Glaucus of this form of recognition, Sarpedon willingly goes off to fight. Achilles scorns what motivates Sarpedon and Glaucus as insufficient. Such rewards do not match the risks one takes. And so, unpersuaded, he scoffs at the gifts Odysseus enumerates.12 When Agamemnon and Achilles reconcile after the death of Patroclus and Achilles agrees to return to battle, he still scoffs at the tangible rewards offered by Agamemnon: “Agamemnon, king of men, should you wish to furnish gifts (dôra) (as is seemly) or to hold onto them, that is up to you (para soi)” (19.147–149). He does not measure his worthiness by what another might pay for his labor; Agamemnon here wants to live in a world of where worth is determined by material rewards. Achilles now lives in a world of vengeance. Material goods, honor, fair maidens all fade before this new obsession; only the death of Hector and the desecration of his body might satisfy him, but even that will not be enough, will not equal what Hector, in Achilles’ imagination, deserves. When Odysseus’ recitation of the proffered gifts fails to soften Achilles’ determination to return home, the elderly Phoenix bursts into tears with concern for the fate of the Achaeans (9.433). He tries to persuade Achilles to change his mind. He leaves behind the language of compensation and efforts to equalize what cannot be made equal. He appeals instead to pity and to friendship. He recalls his close attachment to Achilles, who as a child would not eat unless he was sitting on Phoenix’s lap and who sprayed Phoenix’s tunic when he spit up the wine Phoenix served him. “Control your harsh spirit (thumon),” Phoenix says to him; “It is not necessary that you have a pitiless heart” (9.496–497). Even the gods, he tells Achilles, yield. He does not suggest that the gifts Agamemnon offers can equal the pain Achilles has suffered, but he asks that Achilles look at Agamemnon’s offerings as the gods look at the prayers and libations sent by mortals. He recalls the story of the Meleager who in anger resisted fighting to protect his city until his wife told him of the sorrows suffered when a city is conquered: men taken, cities burned, children made captives. Achilles, like Meleager, should yield, not because he will ever be adequately compensated (though Phoenix nevertheless still urges him to return to battle only if his honor is upheld by receiving the promised gifts). Rather, he should return because he pities the Achaeans who without Achilles to lead them are being slain by the Trojans. Achilles ignores the exhortation to pity; instead, he chastises Phoenix for siding with Agamemnon. In the funeral games and in the final book of the Iliad we will see pity entering to override Achilles’ demands for commensurability, but not here. Pity (to borrow yet again a turn of phrase from Hobbes) is not a passion to be relied upon. Ajax gives the last speech. It is brief. He accuses Achilles of being pitiless, harsh, and cruel (sketlios, 9.630), and castigates him for failing to show affection for his comrades. Ajax calls to mind a man whose blood-relative may be murdered and who nevertheless accepts compensation from the murderer, though any number gifts of any value could never equal for the loss of a son or brother (9.632–636). Both Phoenix’s appeal to pity, and Ajax’s appeal that Achilles not demand an unachievable equality, ask Achilles to attend to the welfare of the political community that exists among

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


the Achaeans. The relative allows there to be an acceptable equivalency that is far from equal; he does so in order that there might be a cessation to conflict and sorrow. The accommodating man of the murdered relative functions in a world where peace can be found. Achilles does not. There would be a place for the man who yields his demand for precise compensation, for the man who is willing to accept as equal what is not, who is not driven by debatable claims of worthiness, in the democratic world of equals. There is no place for Achilles in such a world. FUNERAL GAMES (BOOK 23)13 The death of Patroclus has brought Achilles, filled with anger, back to battle as all of Agamemnon’s gifts could not. Once Achilles has wreaked his revenge on Hector, paid back death with death, once he has dragged Hector’s corpse face down behind his chariot, and wept inconsolably by the shore, he sleeps. And in his sleep the ghost of Patroclus reminds him of the need to arrange for his funeral and the games that will mark the event. These funeral games will test the skills of the various warriors; those who stand out as the best performers, will receive prizes for their displays of excellence, or (we can now say) their “worthiness.” Through the speech of Achilles (playing the role of the sovereign here) the quality of the performance is made equal to the specific prizes and honors. Achilles establishes the prizes for each accomplishment and his speech is accepted by the community of participants in the games. That acceptance is the condition of participating in the games. Worthiness—crossing the finish line first, throwing the javelin the farthest—can be observed and made equal by the decree of the master of the games to the enumerated rewards before the games begin. Except that it does not always work that way. Homer describes Achilles’ preparation for the games. First is the chariot race. The winner will receive “a woman to be led away, one excellent and skillful in her work” (23.263), a tripod, and more. Mares and cauldrons are for those who come in second and third. Setting out the prizes as awards for success in the contests affirms an equivalence accepted by the contestants, one not based on nature, but constructed (so to speak) by the leader and known to and accepted by the participants. With the “sovereign” speaking, there is no debate about who gets what as the measure of worthiness. Victory equals a certain number of women, mares, cauldrons, and tripods. But life—and politics—is not that simple. Adjustments are regularly made as Homer retells the progress of the games under the leadership of Achilles. The restructured equivalences reveal the instability of such efforts to create equivalence. The effort to make victory equal the assigned prize, to match skill with reward, is disrupted more often than not. Victories may seem straightforward, easy to measure with the victor accepting the prize that the organizer of the games has announced as equal to victory. Yet, Achilles and the participants in the games discover that such correlations between victory and prize are plagued by a multitude of other considerations, all of which make the pre-announced equivalences between worthiness and reward dissipate. In contrast to Achilles in Book 9 when he remained adamant in his refusal to equate gifts with compensation for his pains or for risking his life, the community enjoying the games under Achilles’ guidance benefits from adaptation and adjustment, from a


Arlene W. Saxonhouse

willingness to yield the demand for precision and allow pity a chance to play a role in human affairs; these factors muddle the effort at careful measurements making recalibrations necessary as the games proceed. What Achilles had rejected from the embassy, he now introduces as he supervises the games in order to make them succeed in honoring his beloved Patroclus. Peace and comradery among the celebrants take precedence over clinging to the equivalences Achilles constructs when he initiates the games. Much of the twenty-third book describes in fast-paced detail the progress of the chariot race as the contestants try to cut each other off or find short cuts on the circuit. Diomedes is the first to cross the finish line and he receives the woman skilled in her art and the tripod that had been promised to the winner, but awarding the second prize fosters much dissension. Antilochus came in second, but Achilles feels pity (23.534) for the Eumelos. Athene had broken the yoke of Eumelos’ chariot and as a result he was the last to cross the finish line. Pity leads Achilles to announce that Eumelos will receive the goods that were to be awarded to the one who came in second. Though this proposal meets with the assent of the Achaeans, it does not fare well with the one who actually came in second, Antilochus. He protests. Menelaus also complains that Antilochus should not receive second prize. He, Menelaus protests, had cheated, placing second only because he interfered with Menelaus’ own horses; that needs to be added to the calculation of how to award the second-place prize. In addition, Menelaus affirms—irrespective of who crossed the finish line before the other, irrespective of the criterion established by the rules of the games—his own “worthiness” as “superior in virtue and in strength (kreissôn aretêi to biêi)” (23.575). As a result of these complicated claims to the second-place prize, Achilles revises his pre-announced plan. He will give a different prize to Eumelos and award the promised mare to Antilochus. But Antilochus is moved by the angry speech of Menelaus, and acknowledging his own youth and limited wisdom (leptê . . . mêtis, 9.590), he agrees to assuage Menelaus’ anger by giving him the prized mare. In good spirits Menelaus accepts the mare, though he did not come in second. This complicated recounting of the process of awarding the second-place prize suggests that the initial assertions of awards will not necessarily go uncontested. When Sarpedon fights, he claims to know what the rewards will be; they—according to the norms of the society in which he lives—will not be challenged or recalibrated. Within the confines of the funeral games, recalibrations abound—and all accept and are pleased ultimately by the revised awarding of prizes. In the context of the games, new equalities are accepted. A welcome fluidity of measurement exists, and all is well at the funeral games of Patroclus. Outside the stylized structure of the games, however, such fluidity is not welcome and only leads to the anger and conflict we see at the beginning of Book 1. Trying to address the inequalities and the testing of worthiness apparent in the games of skill underscores the challenges that face political communities when claims of worthiness enter. The prizes can never be precise measures of the worthiness of the charioteers and their horses. They are only markers artificially constructed and accepted to identify the worthiness of the actor given the multiple forces at play in mortals’ lives. Assuring that equals are given to equals is beyond the all-too-human speech of Achilles. The wide-spread good will of the participants allows the recalibrations to occur without the arousal of the destructive

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


wrath that set the Iliad in motion. Had the participants followed Achilles’ example when he insisted that even goods as numerous as the grains of sand and specks of dust could not match his worthiness, the funeral games of Patroclus would have been marred by unseemly conflicts and not honored the fallen hero. Although Achilles introduces the games by announcing how victory will be matched with reward, he consistently undermines the measures he himself establishes. Both contending wrestlers will be victors and receive equal prizes (nikê d’ amphoteroisin. aithlia d’ is’ anelontes, 23.736). Nestor who will not compete because of his age will receive a prize as a remembrance of the games in honor of Patroclus (23.616–623). During the funeral games these adjustments and recalibrations are for the most part generously accepted. In the harsher world of politics and war, not so generously. The games and competitions and the friendliness they foster are isolated moments in a world where the problems of commensurability lead to mortal conflicts far more often than to friendly adaptation. An odd scene occurs during the chariot race: two warriors, Idomeneus and Ajax the son of Oïleius, begin arguing as they watch the race as to which one of them observes the far-off chariots more clearly. The dispute becomes heated and Idomeneus threatens Ajax, saying that he, Ajax, will learn the price of his arrogant boasting (23.487). It is a foolish contest and Achilles admonishes them both. But the argument raises a question: how do we (indeed, can we) recognize worthiness? In the contests that constitute the games, we observe who crosses the finish line, or who throws the javelin the farthest. Sight appears to identify the skill in question. And yet as happens in almost each of the contests described by Homer, sight in the end does not determine the reward as Achilles and others keep introducing other factors that need to be considered as to who should receive the prize. Idomeneus and Ajax may contend over who sees better and they may appear foolish as they contest this, but their debate underscores the limitations of a reliance on observation—and thus the limitations of trying to match worthiness with its appropriate reward, of efforts to create commensurables on the basis of what is seen. Though the language is not Homeric, the interchange between Idomeneus and Ajax in the midst of describing the fast-paced chariot race brings in questions of objectivity. If even sight is not a dependable resource for evaluation, can we ever find the standard according to which we can measure deeds, actions, and rewards against each other, and agree as to what equals what. Even sight claiming to observe worthiness when it sees who crosses the finish line first or second may obscure the proper distribution of prizes according to worthiness. In the final contest of the day, after the boxing and the wrestling and the foot race, there is a simple case where worthiness is acknowledged without the need for observation. This is a spear-throwing contest that never takes place. Achilles and others acknowledge that Agamemnon is the most skilled spear-thrower. We do not need uncertain sight to affirm the victor; with such clarity and acceptance of worthiness, there is no need for compromise, recalibrations, adjustments, that is, no potential for conflict. For the most part, though, such certain knowledge of worthiness is unavailable and seldom elicits agreement among the heroes invested in the distinctiveness of their own skills. A simple affirmation of worthiness may work in the case of the spear-throwing Agamemnon, but this is the exception. The Achaeans’


Arlene W. Saxonhouse

willingness to accept this result for the “contest” that never takes place only makes more evident how contested worthiness is in most cases, how challenging is the effort to discover worthiness, leaving us to appreciate the benefits of the Hobbesian move of exiling worthiness from our political lives. In a world where worth is simply what another would pay for your labor, where Achilles would accept Agamemnon gifts as payment for a return to battle as Odysseus urges him to do, where Sarpedon and Glaucus fight knowing what they will receive for risking their lives, there worthiness would not pose the persistent challenge facing the heroes of Homer’s epic poem. But the characters do not live in such a world and even the attempts to institute such a set of relationships in the very constrained moment of the funeral games illustrate the challenge of measuring worthiness. Homer’s poem reveals the need for a rejection of worthiness for the sake of the community. But the heroes of the Iliad resist that rejection and Homer tells a tale of conflict and not peace. CONCLUSION The Iliad begins with an irreconcilable dispute about worthiness when the validity of differing claims to the goods pillaged set Agamemnon and Achilles into conflict with one another; the final book of the Iliad describes the visit of Priam, father of Hector, as he brings a cartful of gifts to offer Achilles in exchange for the body of his son. Iris as the messenger of Zeus had come to Priam to urge him to release through ransom (lusasthai) the corpse of the godlike Hector with gifts that might soften Achilles’ spirit (24.175–176). Though we know from the failure of the embassy in Book 9 that Achilles is not moved by tangible goods, Homer records in detail the ransom Priam loads onto the cart he will bring with him when he visits Achilles’ tent: fine robes and tunics, ten talents of gold, tripods, cauldrons, and a special cup given to him by the men of Thrace (24.229–235). Hecuba upon learning of her husband’s plan to exchange these gifts for their son’s body decries Priam’s proposed trip. She cannot imagine that any number of gifts could equal the corpse of her dead son. Eschewing the idea of commensurability between her son’s body and whatever might be offered in exchange, she viscerally wishes to feast upon Achilles’ liver. Should she sink her teeth into Achilles’ organs, then might she be avenged for the death of her son (24.213–214). No other exchange would satisfy her. But Priam dismisses his wife’s passion for such vengeance and, protected by the gods, heads off with his cartload of gifts across the plain that separates Troy from the camp of the Achaeans. In the fantasy world created by the mists that hide Priam’s journey, Achilles accepts the cartload of offerings in exchange for the body of Hector. The initial scene of the poem and the scene in Achilles’ tent at the end of the epic stand in opposition to one another. In Book 24 Achilles ignores the issue of equivalence and the slayer of Hector dines and weeps with the father of the warrior he has slain. Neither father nor slayer looks for precision in the exchange; both abandon claims of what is due and for a brief moment—as with the funeral games—the Iliad is marked by peace, as it would not have been had Priam acceded to Hecuba’s desire to sink her teeth into Achilles’ organs. Achieving this moment of peace and reconciliation requires the characters to forego impossible demands of commensurability between

Of Power, Worthiness, and Equality


what cannot be measured, what cannot be made equal. So powerful about this penultimate scene of the Iliad is the common humanity that Achilles and Priam express, their fundamental equality—despite age, position, nationality; they are simply mortals tossed about by the will of the gods with no special claims to special treatment because of their status as a great warrior or a king. The wrath of Achilles arose when neither Agamemnon nor Achilles was willing to abandon the claims deriving from their distinctive positions. As a result, all those many souls of brave men fighting before the walls of Troy are sent to their deaths (1.3). The scene in Achilles’ tent with the abandonment of individual claims comes from the sorrowful recognition of the limits of human efforts to order our lives in the face of a world governed by fickle gods. As with Hobbes, whatever peace there is must come from human efforts—not from the gods—and whatever peace there is must derive from the willingness to look beyond worthiness and the challenge of making equal what is not. When Hobbes writes his Leviathan millennia after the Homeric age, well after he had translated Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian war, but before he translates Homer’s poem of war, he is driven by a concern to eliminate the threat of conflict that overshadows human lives. Recognizing that claims of worthiness can never be adequately matched, he offers a theory that demands the eschewal of differences that might support claims of worthiness. He instead proposes an egalitarianism to preclude just the sort of conflicts that constitute the story of the Iliad. Hobbes recognizes well that humans are driven by the vain-glory that searches for the recognition of one’s own worthiness as each man subjectively conceives it. To preclude the conflicts that will arise as the result of vain-glory, he introduces among his laws of nature two that are specifically relevant for my argument. These laws, suggested by reason, as he describes them, are “convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement.”14 The ninth law of nature prohibits pride: “If nature therefore have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowledged; or if nature have made men unequal, yet because men that think themselves equal will not enter into conditions of peace but upon such equal terms, such equality must be admitted. And therefore, for the ninth law of nature, I put this that every man acknowledge other for his equal by nature. The breach of this precept is pride.”15 This law suggested by reason is emphatically resisted by the Homeric characters. Instead, they consistently search for some sufficient marker that points to their distinction, whatever might set them above their fellow warriors. They could never be those faceless figures staring up at the sovereign Leviathan who graces the frontispiece of Hobbes’s work. As such, dreams of peace elude Homer’s heroes and the plague of war and the suffering it brings continue. Hobbes’s fifth law of nature is that of “complaisance,” or what we might think of as accommodation: that every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest. Hobbes explains this law by referring to the stones used to construct a building; those that by their “asperity and irregularity of figure . . . cannot be easily made plain” must be tossed aside. The “diversity of nature rising from . . . diversity of affections” accounts for the need for this law.16 Yes, we are different—some more talented than others, some given the scepter by Zeus, others possessing alkê—but those difference do not, cannot lead to the sort of stature and rewards sought by the Homeric heroes. Homer’s characters emphasize the diversity of nature and refuse to “be made plain,” to accommodate themselves to Hobbes’s necessary precepts for peace. The isolated


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moments that yield to the demands for “complaisance”—the adjustments made during the funeral games where demands for expected rewards adapt to circumstances, or the father of Ajax’s speech in Book 9 and Priam in Book 24—only call attention to how infrequently the characters allow themselves to be satisfied with what they might consider adequate compensations for their talents and value to the men who surround them. Hobbes’s Leviathan exudes a certain optimism: all that is necessary for there to be eternal peace for mankind is education, human effort, and an adherence to reason that recognizes that claims to worthiness must be abandoned, equality accepted, and equivalences subject to the speech of the sovereign, whoever that may be and however it is created. Homer’s poem exudes no such Hobbesian optimism as he shows the overwhelming resistance to such an abandonment. When it does occur, as in the funeral games and the scene in Achilles’ tent, it is startling for its infrequency. At the end of the poem as the funeral of Hector, marked by the poignant lamentations of the women of Troy, takes place comes the sad recognition that we live in a world that not only is governed by the fickle will of the gods, but even more so by our own resistance to following Hobbes’s fifth and ninth laws of nature. I fear that reducing the Homeric epic to a theoretical work may obliterate the powerful evocation of the mighty characters, emotions, and actions that take place on the battlefield, and Homer’s celebration of them. It is not such theoretical work, but the story (and stories) Homer recounts offers a study in the challenges democratic regimes face when they try to build on egalitarian principles that dismiss, as Hobbes prescribes, “worthiness.” Homer certainly celebrates his heroes and in doing so he also makes us question whether the laws of reason that Hobbes in his optimism propounds and that are fundamental to democratic polities could ever control the human spirit. Therein lies the Homeric melancholia that hangs over and must be addressed by democratic theory. NOTES 1. Richmond Lattimore, trans. The Iliad of Homer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). Translations from the Greek are my own unless otherwise specified. 2. Hobbes’s translation is reproduced in Thomas Hobbes, Translation of Homer, 2 vols., ed. Eric Nelson. The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008). As Nelson notes Hobbes alters the Greek when he translates tetimêsthai peri pantôn as “the right to be obeyed”; the Greek reads only “to be honored above all,” 133n119. 3. This point is highlighted by those who write about the “proto-democracy” of the Iliad. See note 9. 4. Cf. his early 1620 translation of Thucydides: Richard Schlatter, ed., Hobbes’s Thucydides (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1975). 5. It is interesting and important to note here that the passive of the Greek verb peithô means both to be persuaded by and to obey. 6. Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826, Thomas Jefferson: Writings (Library of America, 1984), 1517. 7. I use Edwin Curley’s edition of Leviathan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994). I cite Leviathan by page number, chapter and paragraph in that edition. 10.34, p. 57. Italics added.

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8. Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 2. 9. Some who have written on Homer and his connection to democracy have focused on the assemblies that recur throughout both the Iliad and Odyssey: see Dean Hammer, The Iliad as Politics: The Performance of Political Thought (Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 2002). Others have identified “proto-democratic” strands in Homer: see John Uhr who focuses on the proto-democratic Thersites who does not claim to rule claim, but rather that he needs to be listened to: Prudential Public Leadership: Promoting Ethics in Public Policy and Administration (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 154–160. 10. Hobbes, Leviathan, 20.3, p. 128; 28.20, p. 207. 11. There is no conflict concerning authority in Troy. There paternity determines worthiness and the unquestioned basis of Priam’s rule. See Iliad 20.179–181 and the genealogy described in 20.212–240. This is one of many differences between life within the city walls of Troy and the contentious life in the armed camp. The unquestioned patriarchy of the Trojan political system means that the Trojans escape the sort of conflicts over worthiness and measurement that roil the political world of the Achaeans. 12. Adam Parry in a pathbreaking article on Achilles’ speech remarks on the “correspondence between individual prowess and social honour” accepted by Sarpedon and Achilles’ denial of any such “correspondence” by making his impossible demands. The thrust of Parry’s article is to identify the incapacity of Achilles to express in the Homeric idiom the strangeness of his departure from the norms of the world within which he functions where such correspondences are accepted. “The Language of Achilles,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 87 (1956): 1–7. 13. This section draws on Arlene W. Saxonhouse, “Thymos, Justice and the Moderation of Anger in the Story of Achilles,” in Understanding the Political Spirit: Philosophical Investigations from Socrates to Nietzsche, ed. Catherine Zuckert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1988), 30–47. 14. Leviathan, 13.14; p. 78. 15. Ibid., 15.21. p. 97. 16. Ibid., 15.17. p. 95.

REFERENCES Hammer, Dean. The Iliad as Politics: The Performance of Political Thought. Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 2002. Hobbes, Thomas. Translation of Homer, 2 vols. Edited by Eric Nelson. The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008. Parry, Adam. “The Language of Achilles.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 87 (1956): 1–7. Raaflaub, Kurt A. “Homer to Solon: The Rise of the Polis, The Written Sources.” In The Ancient Greek City-State, edited by Mogens Herman Hansen, 41–105. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 1993. Saxonhouse, Arlene W. “Thymos, Justice and the Moderation of Anger in the Story of Achilles.” In Understanding the Political Spirit: Philosophical Investigations from Socrates to Nietzsche, edited by Catherine Zuckert, 30–47. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Sturman, Siep. “The Voice of Thersites: Reflections on the Origins of the Idea of Equality.” Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (April 2004): 171–189. Uhr, John. Prudential Public Leadership: Promoting Ethics in Public Policy and Administration. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Chapter 3

Equality of Speech Athenian Democracy in the Histories of Herodotus Ann Ward

In “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” Jurgen Habermas sketches what he calls a “proceduralist” or “deliberative” model of democracy.1 Deliberative democracy, according to Habermas, understands the “communicative conditions” necessary to legitimate “democratic [. . .] will-formation,” as the separation of the agora from the ekklesia, or civil society from the economy and the state, especially the latter’s institutionalized deliberative bodies such as legislatures.2 Such an autonomous civil space uninfluenced by “money and administrative power,” allows for the proliferation of civil society groups distinct from government and business that engage in discussion of values, needs, and wants, thereby reaching mutual understanding of the common good.3 Habermas characterizes mutual understanding of the common good as the “public use of reason jointly exercised by autonomous citizens.”4 Mutuality in understanding for the deliberative democrat means consensus, and the sign of the rationality of argumentation is that its outcome is approved by everyone.5 Unanimity, and therefore rationality, is likely to be achieved only if choices are explained and justified against criticism without reference to personal interest.6 Public reason as consensus on values, needs, and wants points to the “proceduralist” aspect of deliberative democracy. According to Habermas, discursive debate between groups within civil society, “withdraws from universal human rights, or from the concrete ethical substance of a specific community, into the rules of discourse and forms of argumentation. In the final analysis, the normative content arises from the very structure of communicative actions.”7 Habermas implies that for the deliberative democrat, the rules of discourse do not look to a specific end, speech does not have a specific purpose. Rather, the purpose of speech is speech itself, the rules of discourse are themselves the end that discourse looks to; there are no “right” or “wrong” answers only “right” or “wrong” procedures. The deliberative model of democracy thus promotes the equality of speech, meaning that, within an autonomous civil sphere, everyone has their say, as it were, for the sake of a social inclusivity that can ensure consensus on the outcomes of deliberation.



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The deliberative model of democracy can be compared to the Herodotean model of democracy that comes to light in the analysis of Athens. In the Histories, Herodotus defends Athenian democracy within the context of his transcultural system of regime analysis, including Egyptian theocracy, Scythian nomadism, Persian monarchy, and Spartan aristocracy, in which democratic Athens stands at the peak of political possibilities that Herodotus explores. The Athenian democracy of the Histories is characterized by isegorie or the equality of speech, just as the deliberative model of democracy is. Yet, the deliberative model separates the agora from the ekklesia, or political speech from political action, thus separating political speech from responsibility for such speech. The speaker within an autonomous civil sphere is shielded from any political consequences which might flow from their speech. In Athens, on the other hand, there is a direct connection between political speech and political action. Perhaps the clearest example of this connection occurs in the Athenian debate concerning the oracle received before the Battle of Salamis, recorded by Herodotus in book 7 of his Histories. Upon learning of Persian King Xerxes’ intention to destroy Athens and subjugate Greece, the Athenians, Herodotus tells us, sent envoys to the god at Delphi to inquire about what they should do (VII. 140, 145).8 The envoys receive two oracles, the second of which, as we shall see below, tells the Athenians to look to “a wall of wood” which would save them, and concluded, “Salamis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women” (VII. 141). When the envoys return a great debate arises in Athens, made possible by the equality of speech, over the meaning of these two phrases in the oracle. One faction led by the elders who remembered a thorn hedge that used to surround the Acropolis, argued that the “wall of wood” meant the Acropolis which should thus be defended, and that “Salmis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women,” meant that the Athenians would lose a battle at sea at Salamis (VII. 142). Another faction, led by Themistocles, argued that the “wall of wood” was the Athenian navy, and the phrase “Salmis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women,” referred to the many Persian, not Athenian, children of women who would be slain at sea. Themistocles, therefore, argued that the Athenians should prepare their ships for a fight at sea at Salamis which they would surely win (VII. 142, 143, 144). The Athenians decided in favor of Themistocles’ interpretation of the oracle, upon which Themistocles leads the Athenians and the rest of the Greeks to their ships to resist and ultimately defeat the invading Persian force at sea. Contrary to the deliberative model of democracy, therefore, there is a direct connection between Themistocles’ political speech, which takes place in the ekklesia, and the political consequences, of the highest moment, flowing from that speech. Moreover, in the Herodotean or Athenian model of democracy, the rationality of deliberative outcomes does not require consensus. Herodotus indicates the correctness of Themistocles’ judgment when he says that if the Athenians had not “tried to oppose the king at sea,” all of Greece would have fallen (VII. 139). Yet, Themistocles is able to put his judgment into action by persuading the majority of his fellow citizens over the minority who, following the elders to the end, perished at the hands of the Persians while holed up in the Acropolis. Thus, the equality of speech in Athens does not look to the telos of social inclusivity as the deliberative democrat would have it, but to

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“exclusivity,” as it were; political debate in Athens aims to distinguish the true from the false, the right from the wrong. In doing so, it leads to Athenian superiority in war which allows them to defeat their enemies and preserve the freedom of Greece. Thus, we will now turn to an investigation of Herodotus’ Athenians as they appear in the Histories. ATHENS IN THE HISTORIES In Herodotus’ survey of historical regimes, he indicates that it is Athens which is responsible for preserving Greek freedom against Persian attempts to incorporate Greece into a Persian empire ruled by a single Persian king.9 Crucial for Athens’ service to Greek freedom is the Athenian mind’s inclination toward universal truths, such as the nature of human beings unclothed by custom or regime. The Athenian mind’s access to universal truth is derived from Athens’ democratic regime. The Athenian democracy, characterized by isegorie, or the equality and freedom of speech, moves the Athenians from a belief in the divine foundation of their regime to a human one, and thus allows the Athenians to internalize their regime. For the Athenians, the regime is something within themselves and not simply a product of something outside themselves. The gods provide only an indirect rather than direct ground for the regime. Because the human rather than the divine is brought to light as the immediate source of politics, Athens is able to solve the difficulty of combining equality with government by instituting self-government. Moreover, unlike the Egyptians, Scythians, and Persians, the Athenians are more successful in integrating the whole of human nature, both body and soul, in a way that makes possible a life according to the highest human potential—or seeing things in the way that Herodotus does. This includes an appreciation for the complex character of speech. Athenians, guided by Themistocles, understand that words can have more than one meaning, incorporating permanence and change, the universal as well as the particular, and thus require interpretation for the truth to be revealed. Speech can both reveal and conceal the truth at the same time. Thus, despite bringing the human to light as the immediate source of politics, the democracy is also sensitive to the complexity of speech that brings the Athenians into a more nuanced and ultimately closer relation to divine speech as expressed through the oracle at Delphi. Building on scholars who view Athens as Herodotus’ best regime, I argue that the Histories reveals Athenian democracy at the peak of Herodotean political science.10 However, I also believe that Herodotus’ portrait of Athens as the best regime must be understood in light of his simultaneous critique of Athens’ potential for imperialism. Moreover, I argue that Herodotus’ praise of Athenian democracy comes to light against his narrative of its founding in book 1 of the Histories and then its refounding in book 5. In book 1 of the Histories Herodotus reveals the difficulty of combining government with freedom and equality, and the subsequent appeal to the divine as a source of legitimacy. It is to the founding and then refounding of the democratic regime in Athens that we shall now turn.


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THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL POWER Herodotus recounts that the Athenian democracy was first founded by Solon, a ‟wise” man who made laws for the Athenians at their request (L29).11 Yet, Herodotus says that in order to remove the people’s temptation to petition him for changes to the new laws that he had made, Solon bound the Athenians by oath to obedience to his measures and then left Athens himself for ten years (1.29). During this time abroad Solon came to Sardis and the court of Croesus, tyrant of Lydia (1.29). Thus, Herodotus indicates that in order to obey the laws, the Athenians cannot see the man behind the law; he must withdraw or become invisible. The Athenians must come to believe that the power behind the laws, especially new laws, is not simply human, but rather, in its invisibility and distance, god-like or even divine. Herodotus thus indicates in the story of Solon that at the same time laws or regimes are founded, a notion of divinity behind the laws arises, and that such a notion obscures the rational human agency involved. This leads to the discrepancy between what people say of the regime—that it is divine—and what actually operated in its creation—human reason or will. Moreover, Solon appears to have a conception of the divine as distant and antinomian. These aspects of divinity can be seen in his exchange with Croesus about the question of happiness. Herodotus says that when Solon arrived in Sardis, Croesus had his servants take Solon on a tour of all his treasure houses (1.30). Croesus then asked Solon to name the happiest human being he had ever seen, sure that he would win the prize for his great wealth (I.30). However, Solon answered that the happiest man he knew of was Tellus of Athens. Tellus had sons who were both beautiful and good when his city was in a good condition, and he died bravely in battle fighting for his city, for which the Athenians honored him with a public funeral (1.30). The understanding of happiness that Solon expresses in his story of Tellus is clearly from the point of view of the city and its laws, as it suggests that the good life can only be found in the enjoyments of the family, which depends on the good condition of the city, as well as activity within, and sacrifice for, the public sphere. Croesus, however, was surprised at Solon’s answer and prodded him further, asking him to name the second happiest human being, thinking that he would surely be named this time (1.31). Once again Solon disappointed Croesus and named Cleobis and Biton, two Argive brothers who were strong and who both won Olympic prizes (1.31). Cleobis and Biton were extremely dutiful to their mother and, when the oxen failed to come in from the fields, harnessed themselves to their mother’s wagon and pulled her forty stades to Hera’s temple, so that she could celebrate the festival in honor of the goddess (I.31). Overjoyed with this deed of her sons, she prayed to the goddess to give her sons what it was best for men to have. Forthwith Cleobis and Biton, after sacrificing and feasting, died in the temple (I.31). This second understanding of happiness that Solon expresses shows that death is good because life is bad. It is clearly from the point of view of the divine rather than that of the city. Thus, Herodotus indicates that although Solon believes that a notion of divinity behind the laws must be propagated when laws are founded, he also believes, as his story of Cleobis and Biton suggests, that the divine is a being so superior and distant to human beings that it makes human life worthless and political life, therefore, meaningless.

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Solon further manifests this apolitical perspective of the divine underlying his second answer, when he explains to Croesus why he did not choose him as an example of happiness. According to Solon, “man is entirely [chance]. To me it is clear that you [Croesus] are very rich, and clear that you are the king of many men; but the thing that you ask me I cannot say of you yet, until I hear that you have brought your life to an end well” (1.32).12 To say that the whole of human life is chance, thus leaving no room for human beings to improve either their individual or collective prospects by adopting and obeying good laws for their benefit, is to adopt the perspective of the divine in the story of Cleobis and Biton. Solon’s emphasis on this antinomian perspective of the gods links them with the tyrant, who also seeks to be “antinomian” or above the laws that govern all other citizens and human beings.13 Herodotus thus suggests that Solon’s antinomian inclinations may have caused him to foster an alltoo-distant notion of the divine transcending the law and hence prepared for the rise of Pisistratus.14 Pisistratus, Herodotus indicates, first established his tyranny in Athens approximately two years after Solon’s visit to the court of Croesus (I.34, 46). Solon’s attempt to have his laws take root by leaving Athens for ten years—thereby making the power behind the law invisible or god-like—did not work. Rather, a civil war broke out among the Athenians between the “Men of the Coast,” led by Megacles, son of Alcmaeon, and the “Men of the Plain,” led by Lycurgus, son of Aristolaides (1.59). Pisistratus, having an eye on tyranny according to Herodotus, contrived his own faction, the “Men of the Hill.” Forthwith he injured himself and his mules and drove his carriage into the marketplace, claiming that he had just escaped his enemies’ attempt to kill him (I.59). Pisistratus then asked the common people, among whom he was held in high regard, for a bodyguard to protect his person and their interests (I.59). Deceived, the people, according to Herodotus, granted Pisitratus’ request (I.59). With this new body of troops Pisistratus seized the Acropolis and established his rule over the Athenians. Yet, Herodotus maintains that Pisistratus, “in no way deranged the existing magistries or the ordinances (thesmia) but governed the city well and nobly according to [Solon’s] laws that were established” (I.59).15 Not regarded as divine or supported by the divine, however, the all-too-human Pisistratus was soon driven out of Athens by the factions of Megacles and Lycurgus, having reconciled their differences for this purpose (I.60). Yet, as soon as the common threat of Pisistratus was removed, the two factions fell into feuding with one another again. According to Herodotus, when Megacles began to lose to the faction of Lycurgus, he made overtures to the exiled Pisistratus, proposing that if he agreed to marry his daughter, the latter would help Pisistratus regain the tyranny of Athens (I.60). Pisistratus agreed to the terms, and the two men contrived what Herodotus calls the “most simple-minded” deceit against the Athenians. According to Herodotus, the Athenians were supposed to be the “first in intelligence” among the Greeks who in turn were reputed to be distinguished from the barbarians for their “cleverness” (I.60). Megacles and Pisistratus took a very tall and beautiful Athenian woman named Phya, dressed her in full armor, and put her into a chariot. As they drove her into the city, they sent heralds ahead shouting, “Men of Athens, receive with good will Pisistratus, whom Athena herself, having honored him above all mankind, is bringing back from exile to her own Acropolis” (I.60). The rumor immediately spread throughout the


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city that Pisistratus was being escorted back by Athena, and the people, according to Herodotus, were convinced, “that this woman was the goddess herself and offered prayers to her, for all that she was only human, and they welcomed Pisistratus” (I.60).16 The story of Pisistratus’ second establishment of his tyranny illustrates the dangers of divine founding myths. Because the Athenians believed that their regime was a product of divine rather than human agency, Pisistratus was able to convince them that divine will had changed, thus enabling him to overturn the democracy and establish himself as tyrant.17 Pisistratus, however, loses his tyranny over Athens for a second time because, although marrying Megacles’ daughter as per his agreement, he refused to have sex with her “after the customary manner” (I.61). According to Herodotus, Pisistratus did not want to have children with his new wife because he already had grown sons whom he wanted to succeed him and because he believed the Alcmaeonidae were under a curse (I.61). Megacles was furious when he learned of the situation and once again reconciled with the party of Lycurgus. In response Pisistratus removed himself from Athens and fled to Eretria. Yet, after ten years of exile, Pisistratus, on the advice of his son Hippias, decided to return to Athens. According to Herodotus, Pisistratus and his party marched to Marathon, and, while encamped, ‟there came to them factionaries from the city, and there was influx, too, from the country villages, of people to whom the rule of one man (turannis) was more welcome than freedom” (I.62). With these reinforcements Pisistratus took Athens for a third time and, according to Herodotus, he now “rooted his power securely” (I.64). First, he brought in mercenary soldiers loyal to him (I.63–64). Second, he collected revenues from “both the people on the spot and from the districts about the river Strymon,” and, third, he took the sons of prominent Athenians as hostages and removed them to Naxos (I.64). Herodotus shows that in the absence of divine support, a man who wishes to rule other men can do so through fear, the seizure of property, cruelty, and forced depopulation. Lack of belief as well as belief in the divinity of the regime can, therefore, both lead to tyranny. Herodotus turns to the question of why a notion of divine support needs to arise when the regime is founded in his discussion of Deioces’ establishment of tyranny in Media. According to Herodotus, after 520 years of Assyrian rule, first the Medes and then the rest of Asia rebelled and won their freedom. Yet, Herodotus tells us that they soon relapsed into being ruled by tyrants again (1.95–96). This occurred because lawlessness (anomies) and therefore injustice (adikon) broke out in Media after Assyrian rule was cast off (I.96). Herodotus links such lawlessness and injustice with rape and plunder (l.97).18 Injustice involves a dialectic of mastery and slavery in which the weak are subjected to the strong. Among the Medes, however, a wise man named Deioces fell in love with tyranny (I.96). Due to his desire for tyranny, Deioces, according to Herodotus, began to practice justice (dikaiosune) (I.96). As a result the Medes in his village chose him as their judge, and he, desiring rule, was honest and just (dikaios) (I.96). As Deioces’ reputation for justice grew, men from all over Media came to submit their disputes to his judgment (I.96). When Deioces realized that none would entrust their cases to anyone but him, he refused to sit as judge any longer, arguing that looking to the interests of others caused him to neglect his own affairs (1.97). Justice was not

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profitable to himself. As a result of this withdrawal, rape, plunder, and lawlessness increased. The Medes, sorely pressed by their plight, gathered together and persuaded each other to be ruled by a king (basileuesthai). They unanimously chose Deioces to assume the throne (l.98). The legitimacy of Deioces’ rule is initially grounded in consent and the deliberation and speech that this implies. Yet, not satisfied with being a king and wishing to become a tyrant, Deioces turns himself into a god. Having secured rule, Deioces had the Medes build him a fortress on a hill, a fortress which came to be known as Ecbatana (l.98). This fortress was composed of seven encircling walls rising up to the sky, with his palace sitting at the top (1.98). Furthermore, Deioces, like Solon, allowed himself to be seen by no one, stipulating that all business was to be transacted through messengers. Herodotus says that Deioces made himself god-like, “so that those who were his equals and of the same age, brought up with him, and of descent as good, and as brave as he, might not, seeing him, be vexed and take to plotting against him but would judge him to be someone grown quite different—all because they did not see him” (l.99). Herodotus suggests that human beings are hard to govern because they are jealous of their equality. They quickly conspire against any other human being they see trying to rule them.19 The divine thus seems a necessary supplement to consent to legitimate rule. Consent among equals may establish government, but the continuation of government, and the inequality of power that it implies, is often at odds with the notion of equality that is at its origins. What enables human beings to create or consent to government is precisely what makes them hostile to it.20 Herodotus suggests, therefore, that at the same time the regime is founded, a notion of divine support arises to make its continuation legitimate. Herodotus relates that after Deioces secured his tyranny by making himself into a god, he, “was very exact in his observance of justice” (I.100). As divine, Deioces is not only invisible but also visible; he is not just absent but also present and thus feared at the same time. Herodotus indicates the character of Deioces’ justice by claiming that whenever any of his spies and eavesdroppers reported someone “as a man of insolent violence,” Deioces would have him apprehended and punished accordingly (I.100). In keeping these proud and insolent men in their place, Deioces prevented the weak from being subjected to the strong as happened in the time prior to his rule. Deioces’ justice therefore consisted in enforcing equality. Yet, Deioces himself as tyrant claims to be radically superior, and therefore unequal, to all other men. Deioces thus appears as the unequal, but necessary, source of equality. The Medes, in order to secure equality among themselves, had to give up their internal freedom to be ruled by Deioces, who hid the tyrannical source of his justice under the cloak of the divine. THE RE-FOUNDING OF THE ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY In book 5 of the Histories, there is a new founding of the Athenian democracy. I have argued that Solon’s founding was imperfect inasmuch as it left Athens susceptible to tyranny. This very imperfection at the beginning, however, at a later time allows Athens to refound its democratic regime so that it represents what Herodotus believes is the best regime. Solon’s unstable founding allowed Athens to make a remarkable push forward, culturally and politically.


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According to Herodotus, during the reign of Darius in Persia, Athens was freed from her tyrants by the Alcmaeonidae, who had been exiled by the Pisistrads (V.62). Now under the leadership of Cleisthenes, the Alcmaeonidae bribed the Pythian priestess to order the Spartans who came to Delphi, either on private or public business, to free Athens (V.63, 66). The Spartans, in obedience to the Pythia, raised an army under king Cleomenes to drive Hippias—Pisistrarus’ son who now held the tyranny—out of Athens (V.63). Cleomenes, “accompanied by such Athenians as stood on the side of freedom,” entered the city of Athens and besieged Hippias and his family who had barricaded themselves in the Acropolis (V.64). Herodotus asserts that the Spartans would never have driven the Pisistrads out of Athens—they had no intention of executing a long siege—except for a “chance” event that occurred (V.65). The children of the Pisistrads were captured as they were being secretly conveyed out of the country and thus, “everything on the Pisistrad side was brought to confusion, and they were reduced to making any terms the Athenians wanted in return for their children; the terms were that the Pisistrads should get out of Attica in five days” (V.65). After ruling Athens for thirty-six years, the Pisistrads retreated to Sigeum on the Scamander river. Athens was thus freed of her tyrants (V.63). Herodotus’ account of the expulsion of the Pisistrads shows the piety of the Spartans in contrast to the impiety of the Alcmaeonidae who, understanding the piety of the Spartans, corrupt the Pythia in a successful attempt to rid Athens of her tyrants. For the Pisistrads, their private family concerns, especially the desire to perpetuate their line, was their undoing. Tyranny, as revealed in this story, is characterized by an antinomian or apolitical concern for private interests.21 After the Pisistrads under Hippias were expelled from Athens, factious war broke out between “two men who held the power,” Cleisthenes of the Alcmaeonidae and Isagoras, also of notable family but for whom, Herodotus says, he “cannot declare what their antecedents were” (V.66). When losing to Isagoras in the struggle for supreme power, Cleisthenes, according to Herodotus, took the common people (demou), previously “deprived of all rights,” into partnership (V.66, 69). The rights Herodotus refers to here are most likely those of citizenship that would include isegorie, or the equal right of speech, which Herodotus says characterized the Athenian regime after the expulsion of the tyrants (V.78). This added power of the people allowed Cleisthenes to defeat Isagoras, resulting in the emergence of the democratic regime.22 In order to win the people to his side and perhaps to make his victory over Isagoras permanent, Herodotus tells us that Cleisthenes did two things. First, he redivided the tribes of Athens into ten (from four), and he renamed all the tribes except one after native heroes, expelling the old Ionian tribal names of Gelon, Aegicores, Argades, and Hoples (V.66). Second, Cleisthenes established the demes, assigning ten demes to each of the ten tribes (V.69). In establishing the demes, Cleisthenes effected a shift in the basis of citizenship from membership in a family or kinship group to residence in a given locality. As a result, individuals of low origin as well as foreign extraction were admitted into citizenship.23 The redivision and renaming of the tribes after native heroes, along with the establishment of the demes, is a paradoxical combination of patriotism with openness to others. Moreover, with Cleisthenes' renaming of the tribes, Herodotus shows a movement from support for the regime because it is believed to be divine

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in book 1, to support for the regime because it is believed to be Athenian, or native, in book 5. It is a movement from divine support to patriotic support, from a divine foundation to a human foundation of the regime. In showing a movement from divine to patriotic support for the democracy, Herodotus reveals that the Athenians support the democracy because they believe the regime is “theirs.” Athenians believe it is theirs, Herodotus indicates, in two ways. First, because the regime is Athenian, or native. Second, characterized by isegorie or the equality of speech, all share equally in deliberation. Thus all, it is thought, participate equally in its decisions (V.78).24 The Athenians themselves are the regime. Herodotus indicates, therefore, that by instituting self-government, Athens managed to combine equality with political power; Athens ameliorates the felt contradiction between consent and rule. Moreover, that patriotism replaces divine support for the regime means that what people say of the regime—that “it is ours”—and what it actually is—a product of human agency—come closer together. The ability to capture what the regime is in speech allows the Athenians to internalize their regime. They believe it to be something within themselves and not a product of something outside of themselves, and thus they also possess a sense of wholeness rather than alienation. This internalization leads to their willingness at both the battle of Marathon in book 6 and the Battle of Salamis in book 8 to forsake their city walls and Athens’ physical location. Athenians become characterized by motion, but the Athenians do have a city. It is in themselves or their mind—Athens becomes an “idea.” The Athenians have external motion but internal rest; they have an “idea” of the city within themselves. The Athenians are also successful in taking account of the whole of human nature. As refounded by Cleisthenes, the Athenian regime emphasizes both the soul of human beings and their private bodily concerns. Herodotus reveals this in the context of recounting Spartan King Cleomenes’ attempt to reinstate the party of Isagoras in Athens, along with his attempt, with the Boeotians and Chalcidians, to punish the Athenian demos after his failure to do so. After having been defeated by Cleisthenes and marginalized by the democratic regime which Cleisthenes founded, lsagoras sought the aid of Spartan King Cleomenes to expel his rival, overturn the democracy, and place the government of Athens into his own hands and those of his party (V.70). Cleomenes responded positively to the appeals of lsagoras. Herodotus implies that he did so because he had become the guest-friend of lsagoras during the siege of the Pisistrads. Herodotus also reports the “ill-rumor” that Cleomenes “was the lover of Isagoras’ wife” and so wants to do the husband a favor (V.70). In any event, Herodotus says that the first thing Cleomenes did, under the instruction of lsagoras, was to send a herald to Athens demanding that Cleisthenes be expelled because the Alcmaeonidae family was “under a curse” (V.70). Upon learning of the herald sent by Cleomenes and his demand for the expulsion of the “Accursed,” Cleisthenes voluntarily removed himself from Athens (V.72). Cleomenes then entered Athens “with no great military power,” according to Herodotus, and proceeded to banish 700 Athenian families identified by lsagoras (V.72). Next, Cleomenes, “tried to do away with the Council and entrusted the government to three hundred partisans of lsagoras,” thereby dissolving the democracy (V.72). However, the Council, according to Herodotus, “resisted and refused to obey,” forcing Cleomenes and Isagoras with his faction to retreat to the Acropolis, as the Pisistrads had done (V.72). Showing a


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remarkable singularity of thought and purpose, the rest of the Athenians came to the aid of the Council and surrounded and besieged the Acropolis for two days (V.72). On the third day lsagoras and the Spartans made terms with the Athenians and marched out of the city, and Cleisthenes and the 700 families expelled by Cleomenes were recalled (V.72–73, 74). Shortly thereafter Cleomenes raised a great army of Spartans with which he invaded Eleusis, and the Boeotians and Chalcidians invaded and plundered other parts of Attica (V.74). Herodotus says that the Athenians, “caught between two fires,” delayed fighting the Boeotians and Chalcidians in order to confront the Spartans immediately (V.74). Yet, having been abandoned by his Corinthian allies and Demaratus the other Spartan king, Cleomenes abruptly withdrew and returned home (V.75). The Athenians, however, desiring revenge, attacked the Boeotians at the Euripus and won a great victory and then crossed into Euboea and attacked the Chalcidians, defeating them also (V.77). The Athenians eventually ransomed the Boeotian and Chalcidian prisoners of war but as memorials to these first military victories of the democracy, the Athenians hung their prisoners’ chains from the Acropolis walls, and built a bronze, four-horse chariot, which they placed within the Acropolis itself (V.77). Herodotus, reflecting on Cleomenes’ attempt to dissolve the democracy refounded by Cleisthenes, the Athenians’ single-mindedness in resisting this attempt, Cleomenes’ attempt to punish them for this resistance, and the resulting victory of Athens over the Boeotians and Chalcidians, remarks that: So Athens had increased in greatness. It is not only in respect of one thing but of everything that equality and free speech (isegorie) are clearly a good (spoudaion); take the case of Athens, which under the rule of [tyrants] proved no better in war than any of her neighbors but, once rid of those [tyrants], was far the first of all. What this makes clear is that when held in subjection they would not do their best, for they were working for a task-master, but, when freed (eleutherothenton), they sought to win, because, each was trying to achieve for his very self. (V.78)

Herodotus indicates in this passage that the internal freedom reflected by isegorie, or the equality of speech, which proceeds from the soul, allowed individuals to develop a sense of self denied to them under tyranny.25 This sense of self supported the Athenian superiority in war, a superiority which also proceeds from the strength of the body. It did so, according to Herodotus, because the expulsion of the tyrants meant that now in war, each person, when fighting for the city, fought for himself as well, or his own individual good rather than the good of the tyrant. Each felt a sense of ownership in the regime and believed that the city served their interests. Herodotus indicates that the community of speech, shared by all and reflecting the soul, allowed each and was used by each to pursue his own private advantage, rooted in the body.26 This identification of the city with the self drastically improved the fighting spirit, and hence the military effectiveness, of the Athenians. Moreover, not only did Athens combine the soul with the body in this way, it also combined the private with the public. This is apparent from the inscription on the bronze four-horse chariot placed in the Acropolis to memorialize the Athenian soldiers who defeated the Boeotians and Chalcidians (V.77). The inscription, according to Herodotus, reads as follows:

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Boeotians and Chalcidians, both nations have been conquered, by sons of the Athenians [paides Athenaion], in deeds of warlike valor. In murk and iron bondage they quenched the flame of their insolence, and from the tenth of their ransom gave these horses to Pallas. (V.77)

On this inscription no name of any single individual appears, but the fighters are memorialized as “sons of the Athenians,” the implication being that they were generated by their city or political community. They become completely politicized or collectivized in speech. This inclusion in the inscription as “sons of the Athenians” rather than as particular, named individuals, gives to the city a unified identity. Democratic individualism in deed becomes consistent with universalism in speech or thought. Considering this inscription together with Herodotus’ judgment that the equality of speech led to Athenian superiority in war, it seems that, for Herodotus, the pursuit of the self in Athens coincided with the public good when warring against other cities. The presence of an external threat, therefore, is needed to successfully combine private interest with public interest, and body with soul.27 Thus, when Herodotus suggests that Athens takes account of the whole or both parts of human nature, therefore making possible a life according to the highest human potential or the life of the mind, he suggests a potentiality or pinnacle of the regime, not its condition at all times. DEMOCRATIC DEBATE AND THE TRIUMPH OF THEMISTOCLES The potential of the Athenian democracy to make possible the life of the mind and to see things in the way that Herodotus does in his Histories, is revealed in the account of Themistocles’ interpretation of the oracle in book 7. According to Herodotus, upon learning of Xerxes’ plan to destroy Athens and enslave Greece with the might of his entire empire, the Athenians sent envoys to Delphi to inquire about the best plans for their future (Vll.1 40,145). They received instead an oracle that predicted the utter destruction of Athens in the titanic struggle ahead. The oracle encouraged the Athenians to give up notions of resisting the Persians, to abandon their city and the freedom of Greece, and to settle in some distant country. The Athenian envoys were greatly distressed, but a Delphian named Timon advised them to consult the Pythia a second time, as suppliants (VII.141). The envoys returned to the shrine and said, “My Lord, give us a better oracle about our fatherland; be moved to pity the suppliant boughs with which we come before you, or we will never go away from your shrine but remain right here till we die” (VII.141). As a result of this request, the Pythia uttered a second oracle No: Athena cannot appease great Zeus of Olympus with many eloquent words and all her cunning counsel. To you I declare again this word, and make it as iron: All shall be taken by foeman, whatever within his border Cecrops contains, and whatever the glades of sacred Cithaeron. Yet to you Tritogeneia shall Zeus, loud-voiced, give a present, a wall of wood [teichos], which alone shall abide unsacked by the foeman; well shall it


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serve yourselves and your children in days that shall be. Do not abide the charge of horse and foot that come on you, a mighty host from the landward side, but withdraw before it. Turn your back in retreat; on another day you shall face them. Salamis, isle divine [o theie], you shall slay many children of women, either when seed is sown or again when the harvest is gathered. (VII.141)

According to Herodotus, this second oracle to the envoys “seemed to be kinder than the earlier, and indeed it was so” (VII.142). The envoys returned to Athens and reported the oracle to the people, upon which a debate arose, made possible by the institution of isegorie, over the true meaning of two words or phrases in the oracle: “wall of wood” and “divine” in the phrase “Salamis, isle divine” (Vll.142–143). With respect to the meaning of the phrase “wall of wood,” two factions arose. The first was composed of some of the elders, who interpreted the phrase to mean the thorn hedge that used to surround the Acropolis in times past. So they urged that the Acropolis be defended (VIl.142). The second faction, led by Themistocles, interpreted the “wall of wood” to mean their ships. They argued, therefore, that they should be ready to abandon the city and increase the size of their navy in preparation to resist the Persians at sea (VII.142, 143, 144). Two factions again arose, according to Herodotus, with respect to the meaning of the word “divine.” The oracle interpreters asserted that the phrase “Salamis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women” meant “that the Athenians should prepare themselves for a sea battle at Salamis, which they would certainly lose” (VIl.142). The second faction, again led by Themistocles, claimed that the interpreters misinterpreted the meaning of the word “divine” in this phrase. According to Themistocles, because the oracle said “Salamis, isle divine,” instead of something like “O cruel Salamis,” the oracle should be interpreted as favorable to the Athenians and against the enemy (VII.143). Persians and those serving under them, not Athenians, were the children of women who would be slain in a sea fight off Salamis. Themistocles therefore counseled the Athenians to prepare their ships for a fight at sea, which they would win. According to Herodotus, the Athenians decided in favor of Themistocles’ interpretation of the oracle because, “it was preferable to that of the oracle-interpreters; for the latter would not have them prepare for a sea-fight or indeed, to tell the truth, put up a hands worth of resistance at all; they should just leave Attica and settle in some other country” (VIl.143). Herodotus reveals the correctness of Themistocles’ judgment by interpreting the “wall of wood” to mean the Athenian navy and “Salamis, isle divine” to mean that the Athenians should prepare for a fight at sea which they would win, when he says: I am forced to declare an opinion that most people will find offensive; yet, because I think it true, I will not hold back. If the Athenians had taken fright at the approaching danger and had left their own country, or even if they had not left it but had remained and surrendered to Xerxes, no one would have tried to oppose the king at sea [. . . ]. So as it stands now, a man who declares that the Athenians were the saviors of Greece would hit the very truth. (Vll.139)

In his account of Themistocles’ correct interpretation of the oracle, Herodotus shows that the democratic regime of Athens combines not only the body and the private with

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the soul and the public, but that it also makes possible an understanding of speech that combines the principles which underlie Egyptian “lying” and Persian “truth telling.” Herodotus’ Egyptians believe that “ideas” cannot be communicated between speaker and listener. Words, although representing something unchanging in the mind of the speaker, spawn an infinite variety of interpretations. They are thus constantly changing their meaning, or they are in motion, from the listener’s perspective. The Egyptians believe that words require interpretation but that interpretation is impossible; words do not reveal the truth. The Persians, on the other hand, believe, unlike the Egyptians, that words can always act as a vehicle for the communication of “truth” between speaker and listener. Reality is not obscured by particulars but is immediately apparent. Words, therefore, require no interpretation, and there is no reason why they cannot reveal the truth. However, this relies on spoken words having the same unchanging meaning for the listener as for the speaker. Thus words themselves, like the “ideas” they express, are universal or at rest. Yet, Herodotus reveals the problem with this Persian assumption about human and divine communication when he shows that names such as “Smerdis” and “Ecbatana” can each refer to more than one person or polis, and thus can also incorporate change or motion by having more than one meaning (III.61–64). Themistocles, in his interpretation of the oracle, understands, as Herodotus does, that words require interpretation because they can spawn a variety of meanings and incorporate change or motion. The “wall of wood” can mean either the Acropolis, or it can mean the Athenian navy.28 “Salamis, isle divine” can mean a favorable outcome either for the Persians or for the Athenians in the sea battle off Salamis (VII.142–143). Themistocles also understands, however, like Herodotus, that words do have one true meaning underlying the variety of meanings that they spawn. Thus, they incorporate rest as well as motion. Not only is interpretation necessary, but there is a correct interpretation. The true meaning of the “wall of wood” is the Athenian navy, and the true meaning of “Salamis, isle divine” is that the Athenians will be victorious at the Battle of Salamis, thereby preventing Greece’s absorption into the Persian empire and the loss of their freedom, both internal and external (VIl.139). For Themistocles, as for Herodotus, speech, especially divine speech, is a mean between “lying”—which assumes that the “ideas” are forever obscured by the particulars or that the truth can never be known—and “truth telling”—which assumes that particulars do not obscure the “ideas” and that truth is immediately apparent. Divine speech is “ironic,” or can conceal and reveal the truth at the same time. Themistocles understands, and persuades the Athenians, of the necessarily complex character of speech. Words can both conceal and reveal, lie and tell the truth at the same time. For Themistocles and the Athenians, as for Herodotus, the truth can be revealed, but only through interpretation.29 Themistocles’ encounter with the oracle reveals not only the relation between speech and truth, but also the role of the god in such rational reflection. For Themistocles, the god appears to have knowledge, but he expresses this knowledge ambiguously. The words of the god are complex, and the truth he reveals is not immediately apparent but requires the engagement of human rationality to be understood. When the god declares that the Athenians should look to their “wall of wood” and “Salamis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women,” Themistocles pauses and reflects on


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what the meaning of the oracle might be. He concludes, perhaps for the reasons later expressed in the debate of the naval commanders before Salamis (VIII.60), that it must mean that the Athenians should look to their ships and that they should prepare for a naval battle against the Persians, which they would win, off the coast of Salamis. As the Histories shows, Themistocles’ interpretation proves to be correct. Themistocles is initially skeptical toward the oracle, but such rational skepticism is prompted by the god and, in conditions of isegorie, provides the opportunity to achieve greater clarity about the oracle’s deeper meaning.30 Herodotus’ narrative of Themistocles’ encounter with the god through the oracle shows that the oracle initiates a rational reflection that leads to a greater understanding of truth. NOTES 1. Jurgen Habermas, “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” Constellations 1, no. 1 (1994): 1–10. 2. Ibid., 3, 9; and Erik O. Erikson and Jarle Weigard, Understanding Habermas: Communicative Action and Deliberative Democracy (London: Continuum, 2003), 119. 3. Habermas, “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” 4, 8–9; Erikson and Weigard, Understanding Habermas, 112, 122. 4. Habermas, “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” 3. 5. Ibid., 4; Erikson and Weigard, Understanding Habermas, 113. 6. Ibid., 122. 7. Habermas, “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” 6. 8. Herodotus, The History, trans. David Grene (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). All subsequent citations will be taken from this edition. 9. For much of the discussion below, see Ann Ward, Herodotus and the Philosophy of Empire (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008), 107–135. 10. For a discussion of whether the Histories reveals a systemic analysis of politics, see Sara Forsdyke, “Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus' Histories,” American Journal of Philology 122, no. 3 (2001): 224–232, 230; Robin Osborne, “Archaic Greek History,” in Brill's Companion to Herodotus, eds. Egbert J. Bakker et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 514; John Moles, “Herodotus and Athens,” in Brill's Companion to Herodotus, eds. Egbert J. Bakker et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 42, 51. Among those scholars who view the Histories as a work of political theory there is considerable debate over which regime Herodotus thinks is best. For monarchy, see Stanley Rosen, The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry (New York: Routledge, 1988), 47; and Stewart Flory, The Archaic Smile of Herodotus (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987), 128. For Spartan aristocracy, see Charles W. Fornara, Herodotus: An Interpretive Essay (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 48–49; Christopher Pelling, “Speech and Narrative in the Histories,” in The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, eds. Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 136–139; Carl Page, “Thumos and Thermopylae: Herodotus vii: 238,” Ancient Philosophy 16, no. 2: (1996): 328; and E.N. Tigerstedt, The Legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1965) 92, 100. For Athenian democracy, see Forsdyke, “Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus' Histories,” 348; Kurt Raaflaub, The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 59, 95; Binyamin Shimron, Politics and Belief in Herodotus (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Weisbaden GMBH, 1989), 84–91; Peter J. Euben, “The Battle of Salamis and the Origins of

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Political Theory,” Political Theory 14, no. 3 (1986): 368–369; Arlene W. Saxonhouse, Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 30; and Donald Lateiner, The Historical Method of Herodotus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 170–171, 185. Also see Rosaria Vignolo Munson, Black Doves Speak: Herodotus and the Languages of Barbarians (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 4–5. 11. For the democratic and commercial character of Solon’s regime, see Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, trans. John Dryden (New York: The Modern Library, 1903), 107–108, 110. 12. For the distinction between wealth and happiness in this passage, see Henry R. Immerwahr, Form and Thought in Herodotus (Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1966), 156; for a linguistic component to cultural misunderstanding, see Munson, Black Doves Speak, 71. 13. See John Hart, Herodotus and Greek History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), 62. 14. For the antinomian character of Solon's founding activity, see Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, 107–108. 15. That this passage illustrates Herodotus’ lack of animus against tyranny, see Kenneth H. Waters, Herodotus on Tyrants and Despots: A Study in Objectivity (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1971), 21–23. 16. That Herodotus misrepresents this episode with Pisistratus, see Forsdyke, “Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus' Histories,” 236. 17. But see Norma Thompson, Herodotus and the Origins of the Political Community: Arion’s Leap (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 28–30. 18. That it also implies cannibalism, see Eric A. Havelock, The Greek Concept of Justice: From Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance in Plato (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 298. 19. For a similar argument, see Xenophon, Cyropaedia, ed. Walter Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), 5. 20. Also see Saxonhouse, Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens, 45–49. 21. See Seth Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969), 145. 22. This is deeply ironic, as the name Isagoras means “equality of speech.” Also, see Hart, Herodotus and Greek History, 11. 23. See Martin Ostwald, Nomos and the Beginnings of the Athenian Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 151. Also see discussion in Hart, Herodotus and Greek History, 11; and Aristotle, Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 1257b36–37. 24. That Cleisthenes appealed to the slogan isonomia—“equality before the law”—not isegorie, to gain the people’s support, see Ostwald, Nomos and the Beginnings of the Athenian Democracy, 147, 153–157, 159–160. 25. Also see Hart, Herodotus and Greek History, 67; Forsdyke, “Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus' Histories,” 348; Raaflaub, The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece, 59–61, 86; Euben, “The Battle of Salamis and the Origins of Political Theory,” 368–369. But see Fornara, Herodotus, 48–49. 26. See Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 146. 27. See Ibid., 146–147. 28. For an alternative interpretation of the “wall of wood,” see Noel Robertson, “The True Meaning of the ‘Wooden Wall,’” Classical Philology 82, no. 1 (1987): 2, 9–10. Also see Hugh Bowden, Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 73, 103–104, 106–107. 29. Also see Benardete, Herodotean Inquiries, 199; and Thompson, Herodotus and the Origins of the Political Community, 81, 100–103.


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30. For a similar discussion of Socrates' encounter with the oracle in Plato's Apology of Socrates, see Jacob Howland, Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 63.

REFERENCES Aristotle. Politics. Translated by Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Benardete, Seth. Herodotean Inquiries. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969. Bowden, Hugh. Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Erikson, Erik O. and Jarle Weigard. Understanding Habermas: Communicative Action and Deliberative Democracy. London: Continuum, 2003. Euben, Peter J. “The Battle of Salamis and the Origins of Political Theory.” Political Theory 14, no. 3 (1986): 359–390. Flory, Stewart. The Archaic Smile of Herodotus. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987. Fornara, Charles W. Herodotus: An Interpretive Essay. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Forsdyke, Sara. “Athenian Democratic Ideology and Herodotus' Histories.” American Journal of Philology 122, no. 3 (2001): 329–358. Forsdyke, Sara. “Herodotus, Political History and Political Thought.” In The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, edited by Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola, 224–241. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Habermas, Jurgen. “Three Normative Models of Democracy.” Constellations 1, no. 1 (1994): 1–10. Hart, John. Herodotus and Greek History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Havelock, Eric A. The Greek Concept of Justice: From Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance in Plato. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978. Herodotus. The History. Translated by David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Howland, Jacob. Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Immerwahr, Henry R. Form and Thought in Herodotus. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1966. Lateiner, Donald. The Historical Method of Herodotus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. Moles, John. “Herodotus and Athens.” In Brill's Companion to Herodotus, edited by Egbert J. Bakker, Irene F. De Jong, and Hans Van Wees, 187–198. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Osborne, Robin. “Archaic Greek History.” In Brill's Companion to Herodotus, edited by Egbert J. Bakker, Irene F. De Jong, and Hans Van Wees, 497–520. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Ostwald, Martin. Nomos and the Beginnings of the Athenian Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. Page, Carl. “Thumos and Thermopylae: Herodotus vii: 238.” Ancient Philosophy 16, no. 2 (1996): 301–331. Pelling, Christopher. “Speech and Narrative in the Histories.” In The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, edited by Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola, 103–121. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Plutarch. “Solon.” In Plutarch's Lives, translated by John Dryden, 97–117. New York: The Modern Library, 1903.

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Raaflaub, Kurt. The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Robertson, Noel. “The True Meaning of the ‘Wooden Wall.’” Classical Philology 82, no. 1 (1987): 1–20. Rosen, Stanley. The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry. New York: Routledge, 1988. Saxonhouse, Arlene W. Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Shimron, Binyamin. Politics and Belief in Herodotus. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Weisbaden GMBH, 1989. Thompson, Norma. Herodotus and the Origins of the Political Community: Arion’s Leap. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. Tigerstedt, E.N. The Legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1965. Vignolo Munson, Rosaria. Black Doves Speak: Herodotus and the Languages of Barbarians. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. Ward, Ann. Herodotus and the Philosophy of Empire. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008. Waters, Kenneth H. Herodotus on Tyrants and Despots: A Study in Objectivity. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1971. Xenophon. Cyropaedia. Edited by Walter Miller. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914.

Chapter 4

Democracy and Demagogy in Thucydides Steven Forde

Demagogy is a problem as old, probably, as democracy itself. It is a problem distinctive, though not exclusive, to democracy.1 Advocates of democracy must concern themselves with demagogy, as demagogy is a vice capable of destroying democracy. It can arise, as the democratic world of today is discovering, even in modern, nominally liberal and representative democratic regimes. Despite today’s resurgence of interest in demagogy, the classical authors remain our best resource for understanding the phenomenon—and for insights into possible mitigations of it. The architects of distinctively modern democracy put in place devices intended to minimize the opportunities for demagogy. Indirect rather than direct democracy places a cadre of elected officials between popular will and the levers of power, insulating policy to some extent from the gusts of passion and resentment that demagogues typically use to rise to power. Mass societies, embracing the widest diversity of interests and ideologies, were also supposed to stifle demagogy.2 These devices, however, have not proven to be foolproof. In the eyes of some, demagogy in the United States reared its head as early as the presidency of Andrew Jackson.3 Later, Woodrow Wilson and others made an explicit argument that the “outmoded” devices of the U.S. Constitution needed to be replaced by a type of leadership that could appeal to, and mobilize, the populace directly in order to achieve certain policy goals.4 Whether nor not one classifies Wilson as a demagogue, his advocacy of a leadership that circumvents the institutional flood-breaks of liberal democracy in favor of a kind of direct democracy whose threads are gathered together in the hands of a chosen leader, brings back something like the regime of direct democracy. This is the situation that the ancient authors addressed, the situation that they saw as vulnerable to the rise of demagogy. The resurgence of demagogy in the early twenty-first century, based on direct appeals to popular passion and focused on a single prominent leader, may be surprisingly amenable to analyses from antiquity. Thucydides provides one of these analyses, distinctive in that it uses a chronicle of actual events, in Athens and elsewhere in the Greek world, in order to develop its insights. Thucydides uses the word demagogue only once, to refer to Cleon (δημαγωγός, 4.21). Nevertheless the phenomenon of demagogy is very much at 57


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issue in large swaths of his narrative, Cleon not being the sole example. The label Thucydides uses most for one who is supreme with the people is prostatēs.5 This is a rather neutral term—but then, so is “demagogue,” meaning simply “leader of the people.” The demagogue, as we understand him today (and as intended in this chapter) is one who misuses the democratic system, who in fact damages it by undermining proper deliberation. He does this, however, only by “leading the people” in a certain way, to certain ends. Since Thucydides never provides us with a distilled account of how the demagogue operates, we must assemble one from the portraits of demagogy in his History. SPARTAN DEMAGOGY Somewhat surprisingly, the first example of this type of leadership in Thucydides is not Athenian, not even democratic, but Spartan. During the prewar conclave at Sparta in Book One, where the Athenians unveil their notorious argument that imperialism is blameless as the product of universal compulsions (1.75–76), the ephor Sthenelaidas puts an abrupt end to the deliberations (1.86). King Archidamus has delivered a lengthy and sober assessment of the cases for and against war with Athens. He urges the Spartans to pursue arbitration before war. Sthenelaidas then stands forth and, after a brief burst of invective that does not leave Archidamus unscathed, calls a vote,6 which goes lopsidedly for war. It is primarily the rhetoric of Sthenelaidas that interests us. Archidamus’ speech was a model of deliberate sobriety—Thucydides notes that Archidamus was “reputed wise and moderate.”7 Sthenelaidas by contrast opens with belligerent ignorance: “The long speech of the Athenians I do not pretend to understand. They said a good deal in praise of themselves, but nowhere denied that they are injuring our allies and the Peloponnesus” (1.86.1). The subtle, if possibly sophistic, argument of the Athenians was that universal human compulsions excuse their imperialism. Whether or not Sthenelaidas has understood their speech, he rejects it simply because it rings false for him—and because of its very sophistication. He takes his stance as a simple patriot, one for whom the moral world is black and white, subtle or sophisticated argumentation being needed only by those who seek to hide their wrongdoing. Archidamus argued that Athenian naval power and wealth would make it very difficult for Sparta to prevail. Sthenelaidas brushes this away with bravado: they may have ships and money, but we have stout allies who need defending. He provides no strategic analysis to rebut that of Archidamus; all the Spartans need to know is that they are in the right and Athens in the wrong. We Spartans are the same as before, he says, and must come to the aid of our allies against the injustice of the Athenians (1.86.2). The stalwart constancy of the Spartans is important to Sthenelaidas. The Athenians have corrupted themselves, while the Spartans remain steadfast to the principles of old. They are reliable partners and allies, but only by forging ahead unhesitatingly, indeed unthinkingly, with those principles. If an argumentative challenge like the Athenians’ arises, the appropriate response—the patriotic response, the moral response—is shutting down debate rather than engaging with it. Such logical appeals can only seduce those whose morals are insufficiently firm.

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Sthenelaidas takes a voice vote, as was customary. But, says Thucydides, wishing to make the voters declare themselves more openly and to increase their ardor for the war, he asked them to separate into pro-war and anti-war groups. The pro-war group was larger by a significant margin. Thucydides notes before the speeches of Archidamus and Sthenelaidas that Spartan opinion was leaning in favor of war (1.79.2), so it is not clear how much effect the speech of Sthenelaidas had. We are more interested in his rhetoric and his overall moral stance. These will prove to foreshadow the rhetoric and stances of other speakers in Thucydides. ANTI-DELIBERATIVE RHETORIC AND ATHENIAN DEMAGOGY Cleon, clearly, is the premier example of demagogy in Thucydides. He is the only leader labeled a demagogue, as noted, and one of the most thoroughly profiled leaders in the book. The tenor of Thucydides’ treatment is exemplified by the way he introduces Cleon: he was the most violent of the citizens, and at that time by far the most powerful (or persuasive) with the people.8 One wonders what it might mean for someone to be the “most violent” citizen in a city at war. Cleon, who if anything was a coward when it came to actual campaigning (v. 4.28, 5.10.9), was violent in other ways. The present occasion is the debate in Athens over the fate of the Mytilenians. The Mytilenians, Athenian subjects, had revolted and been subdued. The previous day, at the behest of Cleon and others, the Athenians had voted to massacre all the adult males in the city but are now feeling remorse at the barbarity of that decision. An assembly is called to reconsider. In his speech, Cleon takes his audience to task for hypocrisy, berates their remorse, charges them with naïveté and false sophistication, and throws in an attack on democracy per se (3.37–40). Not only his policy prescription but his demeanor is most violent. Athenian naïveté, he begins, stems from the fact that Athenians trust one another and live in domestic peace, failing to reflect that the world at large is a harsh and brutal place.9 Democracy is incapable of empire because this naïveté is characteristic of democratic peoples in general (3.37.1). Your empire is a tyranny, he flatly tells them,10 and you must wake up to the fact that only brute force is keeping your subjects down. Give them the slightest opening and they will rebel. If they collectively succeed, the fate of Athens will be grim. Pity or remorse under these circumstances is suicidal. Cleon bids the Athenians remember the anguish they were in while the Mytilenians were in revolt, and the anger that motivated the initial death sentence against them (3.40.7, 3.38.1). For such cases, only fresh anger can guide policy aright (3.38.1). “I am the same,” Cleon scolds, aping a remark made by Pericles (2.61.2; cf. 1.140.1), while Athens has strayed. It has strayed in allowing its anger to cool. One reason this has happened, according to Cleon, is the manner of Athenian political deliberation. This is the subject of Cleon’s most scathing attack on his audience (3.36.3–4). As opposed to Diodotus, who will speak next and become the principal advocate of revisiting the Mytilenian decision, Cleon is exasperated by such rehashing of matters already decided. All he sees in this endless talk is vanity, frivolity,


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and a false sophistication that drowns out the voice of sound policy. Speakers try to impress their audience with the cleverest argument, not the most sound. The Athenian people themselves have been infected by this pseudo-sophistication (3.38.4–7). They reward speakers for novelty and paradox, judging assembly debates as if they were contests of cleverness rather than life-or-death matters for the city. “Slaves to the pleasures of the ear,”11 he says, and spectators of sophistry, the Athenians are living in a fantasy world that bears little resemblance to the real one. Again, the city suffers. Perhaps most starkly, Cleon attacks deliberation and intelligence themselves as guides to policy. These lead to constant changes in the city’s course. Cleon insists instead that a bad law never changed is superior to good laws with no authority (3.37.3). There is of course some truth to this, as Aristotle was later to acknowledge.12 But Cleon turns it into a general suspicion of deliberation, of thought itself. “Ignorance with moderation,” he says, is more useful than quick-wittedness lacking restraint.13 Indeed, duller people are generally better at managing a city than the more intelligent,14 for the clever always think they are smarter than the laws, while those who mistrust their own intelligence are more modest. They judge on the basis fairness rather than cleverness. Cleon’s remarks appear to apply to democracy in general: intelligence per se is a subversive, corrosive force in popular regimes. Leaving aside the irony that the “law” Cleon bids the Athenians treat as sacred is only one day old, his general argument, and his general approach to leadership, are of great interest to us. Like Sthenelaidas the Spartan, he takes the view that politics— and war!—rest on a limited number of simple truths, moral common sense that is graspable by the meanest intelligence. Sophistication only obscures those truths with quibbling nuance and doubts. Both Cleon and Sthenelaidas suspect that such talk is designed to obscure the plain truth, to the benefit of the speakers. As to what the plain truth is, placing Cleon and Sthenelaidas side by side illuminates how Spartan it is. Citizens must adhere to a black-and-white view of the moral landscape, exhibit discipline in defense of the city and its laws, and close their ears to the siren song of sophisticated speech. Excessive thought will only muddy the clarity of the insight that we are in the right and they are in the wrong. For Sthenelaidas, this pits Sparta and her allies against Athens. For Cleon, it pits Athens against the world, bereft of allies or friends. This helps account for the urgency of Cleon’s plea. The Athenians have their backs against the wall, face imminent destruction, yet are so addicted to dandy speech that they risk hurling the city finally into the abyss. Massacre of the Mytilenians, for revenge and as a lesson to others, is the only appropriate course, as the Athenians knew yesterday. Fear and anger were their guides, and they must strive today to regain the insight that those guides provide. Cleon has pushed, or strives to push, the Athenians into a mentality where loyalty to the city and its laws is the chief role of a citizen, and brute force is the only language of foreign affairs. In a dangerous world, Cleon argues, these are the best guide to policy. Clearly, Cleon has already had some success bringing the Athenians to this mentality. Thucydides introduced him as “the most violent of the citizens, and at that time by far the most powerful (or persuasive) with the people” (3.36.6). What makes violence so persuasive to the Athenians, or to a people conditioned as Cleon wishes to condition the Athenians? If people are convinced that the world is a mortally threatening place, and they believe that their backs are against the wall, they can more likely be made

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to show discipline, to obey without asking questions. Moreover, they are much more likely to be persuaded that violence or coercion is the appropriate response to most if not all situations in intercity relations. It will be much easier to convince them that there may even be domestic enemies, that questioning the laws and decrees of the city is a subversive activity carried on by intellectual elites. In any event, they will be far more likely to respond to leaders who are “violent” in the sense that they confirm all these attitudes, more likely to regard anyone who challenges these attitudes with great skepticism. Such challengers look naïve—dangerously naïve if their arguments are complex and sophisticated. The foregoing is somewhat overblown. Cleon after all loses this debate, while Diodotus, with a remarkably subtle argument, succeeds in partially forestalling the massacre. But the vote is remarkably close (3.49), and in the end, the Mytilenians directly involved with the revolt are summarily executed on Cleon’s motion (3.50). Diodotus had proposed “calmly” (καθ᾽ἡσυχίαν) putting them individually on trial (3.48). While Cleon would seem to be the paradigmatic demagogue, there are a few aspects of his leadership that soften the portrait for us. First, he does not try to pit the economic classes against one another, the poor against the rich, which Aristotle at least suggests is characteristic of demagogues (Politics 5.5 1304b20–25, 5.9 1310a4–8). We will see this characteristic ploy in at least one later case in Thucydides, Athenagoras the Syracusan. What Cleon does, however, may be more insidious. He pits the unsophisticated “lesser people” against a purportedly malign intellectual elite, which strikes at the root of public deliberation itself. Cleon does conform to the more typical mold of demagogy in accusing speakers who disagree with him of being bribed (3.38.2, 40.1). This too has a chilling effect on public deliberation. He does not, however, explicitly accuse anyone of aspiring to overthrow the democracy and establish a tyranny, as Athenagoras (like other demagogues) will do. There are a few details from the remainder of Thucydides’ account of Cleon that are worth noting. In Book Four of the History, Thucydides recounts the complex episode of Pylos (4.1–23, 26–41). Pylos is a remote place on the Peloponnesus where the Athenians with a naval force set up a fortification. This greatly alarms the Spartans, as it is within the Spartan homeland. When the Spartans attack, the Athenians succeed in trapping 400 Spartan troops on the nearby island of Sphacteria. The Spartans, now in a near-panic, sue for a negotiated peace with Athens, sending envoys to Athens to discuss the matter. The Athenians, however, turn them away, being not particularly desirous of peace at a moment when they have the upper hand in the war (4.21.2). Cleon, says Thucydides, was a foremost advocate of this hard line (4.21.3). He persuades the Athenians to make extensive demands, and when the Spartans hesitate, he roundly attacks them for duplicity, sabotaging any chance for a treaty (4.22.2). This is the passage in which Thucydides labels Cleon a “demagogue,” most powerful with the people.15 Some subsequent reversals of fortune at Pylos make the Athenians regret their decision to rebuff Spartan overtures, for which they now blame Cleon (4.27). Cleon denies that things are as bad at Pylos as reports have it, but when he is named as a commissioner to determine the facts at Pylos in person, he realizes he will be exposed as a liar. Having painted himself into a corner, he proposes a military expedition to


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Pylos, taunting the general Nicias for not being man enough to do it (4.27.5). When Nicias cedes his place and tells Cleon to lead such an expedition himself if he wishes, Cleon is caught up short (4.28). Fearful but unable now to back down, Cleon is forced to undertake the military expedition himself. Against all expectation, Cleon (with a very able general, Demosthenes, by his side) succeeds in this mission. What we need to observe, however, is the dynamic of his relationship with the city. Cleon in this episode is revealed as a boaster, a liar, and a coward. He attacks the Spartans in order to derail peace negotiations. He insults Nicias in an attempt to force Nicias to undertake a mission to Pylos, an attempt which badly backfires on him. But the most remarkable revelation, perhaps, is his tenuous relationship with the Athenian people themselves. He is the most powerful or persuasive to them, we are reminded in this context, yet the people simultaneously seem to regard him as a contemptible buffoon. As he tries to back down from Nicias’ offer to cede him the command, the Athenians, seeing his fear, clamor all the more for him to go.16 He finally accedes, boasting that he will reduce the Spartans within twenty days. This draws laughter from the Athenians, says Thucydides, while the sensible or moderate citizens were comforted with the thought that the city would either secure Pylos, or be rid of Cleon (which they rather preferred: 4.28.5). This, in its own way, is one of the more chilling moments in Thucydides. Athens is at war, at a potentially dire moment in that war, and the city’s most sensible citizens are forced to hope that their general is killed in a coming campaign. In their view, the damage Cleon does while alive is greater than the damage a loss at Pylos would do. This situation is created by the people’s consistent preference for a demagogue whom they hold in some species of contempt. They enjoy watching him squirm as he gets tangled in his own lies and boasts. In a later skirmish, at Amphipolis, Cleon finally is killed (running away from the action, Thucydides notes: 5.10.9). The sensible men doubtless are gratified, but we are forced to wonder what sort of political pathology is at work here. We may render it intelligible if we recall Cleon’s appeal to his audience in the speech over Mytilene. That appeal was based on a certain kind of “violence,” a perspective that was persuasive because of its brutishness and simplicity. This perspective, once embraced, easily vilifies its opponents as weak and naïve. In the Pylos episode, Cleon strikes a similarly bellicose pose; he only has the misfortune to get ensnared in the bellicose deeds he was trying to foist on others. His followers, even while laughing at his pathetic boasts, endorse the “violence” that his policy is premised on. They still embrace him as their most cogent advisor. SYRACUSAN DEMAGOGY AND CLASS RESENTMENTS Our final portrait of demagogy comes from Syracuse, in Sicily. The Athenians have undertaken an attack on Sicily, hoping to subdue the entire island with their fleet. Syracuse, the island’s largest city, is a principal target. Before the Athenians arrive, the Syracusans hold an assembly to debate whether the Athenians are in fact coming, and what preparations to make. Hermocrates correctly maintains that the Athenians are on the way, and urgent preparations must be undertaken (6.33–34). Few believe him, however, and one speaker in particular, Athenagoras, ridicules the very notion

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of an Athenian invasion, excoriating any who would maintain the contrary (6.36–40). His opening salvo is a model of demagogic rhetoric. Anyone who does not wish that the Athenians were in fact on the way, he says, must be either a coward or a traitor, for the Athenians would be utterly destroyed if they were to attempt Sicily (6.36.1). Athenagoras flatly asserts that the Athenians are not coming, and launches a broadside against those who try to frighten the Syracusans by claiming they are. These sinister forces within the city hope to use public panic as a cover for their misdeeds. Their ultimate goal, Athenagoras warns, is to overthrow the democracy and establish themselves as rulers (6.38.2). These subversive forces, he claims, keep the city constantly in strife, and occasionally succeed in erecting tyranny or oligarchy (6.38.3). Athenagoras valiantly presents himself as the defender of peace and democracy in Syracuse. This he will do by persuading the people, and going after the anti-democratic plotters. He pledges to punish them not just for their deeds, but for their mere intent to undermine the democracy (6.38.4). More broadly, he will keep a close eye on the few, upbraiding or warning them when their actions warrant it. Athenagoras appoints himself sentinel of the people. He identifies their enemy—the wealthy few—whom they are to regard with tireless suspicion. As long as this suspicion is sustained, obviously, the people will continue to believe they need Athenagoras as their champion. This may be a viable strategy for a speaker to establish himself firmly as the head of the popular party, but it does so at the cost of perpetuating the rift between the few and the many, indeed exacerbating it. Athenagoras then turns to “young men,” evidently the wealthy young, to address them directly. These, apparently, are the greatest threat, or at any rate the most urgent threat, to Syracusan democracy. Somewhat surprisingly, Athenagoras reasons with them (6.38.5–39). He upbraids them for desiring to hold office too young, and for disdaining to be on equality with the many. Justice to the contrary mandates equality of citizens, as all are equally parts of the city (6.38.5). Further, the argument that democracy is incompetent, and the wealthy more qualified to direct affairs, ignores the simple fact that demos, “the people,” includes rich and poor alike (6.39.1). Athenagoras outlines a kind of division of labor for the city. He is willing to concede that the rich are the best guardians of property, while “the wise” (a category of uncertain extent) are the best advisors and the many (a narrower category than the demos he invoked a moment ago) are best at listening and judging (6.39.1). This generous vision of social concord, which could be construed as an olive branch extended to his enemies, is immediately undermined by a strident attack on the few, both young and old. These aspiring oligarchs apparently will not accept this reasonable arrangement, but continue to aim at outright power (6.40.1). Athenagoras blasts them for being “foolish,” “ignorant,” and “wicked” for these designs,17 and returns to the charge that they are spreading false rumors about an Athenian invasion to prepare for some sort of coup. This rumor-mongering itself, Athenagoras even suggests, will be regarded by the city as a punishable act (6.40.2). Regardless of whether Athenagoras sincerely believes what he says about an oligarchic conspiracy being behind the invasion rumors, his rhetorical stance is consistent with Aristotle’s later pronouncement that demagogues typically pit the poor against the rich by stirring up class resentments.18 Athenagoras’ speech illustrates the way such a tactic can shore up the position of a demagogue, less by persuasion than


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by fear of a putative internal enemy. In this case, the strategy runs dire risks for the city, as the Athenians are in fact on the way with an armada. Fortunately for Syracuse, one of the city’s generals stands forth and cuts off further debate (6.41). It is not good for speakers to calumniate one another, he says, or for the city to brook such rhetoric. He clearly fears that if it comes to a vote, Athenagoras will win. Rather than allow that to happen, the generals, on their own initiative, will begin preparations for the coming invasion. NON-DEMAGOGIC DECEPTION From the point of view of democratic deliberation, clearly, the Syracusan general’s peremptory intervention is not ideal. Democracy could not, it seems, survive too many such interventions. Yet the action may have been necessary to rescue democracy from itself. The abrupt conclusion of this episode raises the question of what can be done to forestall demagogy, or at least to neutralize some of its worst effects. The Syracusan general’s ploy cannot be a permanent solution to the problem. But two other passages in Thucydides may illuminate a possible solution. One is the “eulogy” of Pericles (2.65), in which Thucydides briefly describes the vulnerability of Athenian politics after Pericles to demagogy. The other is the speech of Diodotus opposing Cleon’s Draconian measures on the Mytilenian revolt. In his short précis of Pericles’ leadership, and the devolution of Athenian politics after Pericles’ death, Thucydides famously notes that Athens in Pericles’ time became a democracy in name only, being in fact rule by the first man.19 We will look briefly at Pericles’ leadership by way of conclusion, but here Thucydides says that after Pericles’ death no subsequent leader was able to secure the supremacy that Pericles had. This created a competition for primacy among aspirants who were more nearly equal. They competed for popular favor, in effect handing direction of affairs over to the people themselves (2.65.10). This resembles the situation Aristotle later described as the “extreme democracy” that results from demagogy (Politics 4.4, 1292a5–12). But, according to Aristotle, there are other forms of democracy that do not share this pathology. The speech of Diodotus in opposition to Cleon presents a diagnosis of the dysfunction of Athenian democracy in the age of Cleon (3.42–48). His analysis provides little hope that the dysfunction can be cured, but it does help us understand the obstacles to such a cure. Cleon has already identified what he claims to be the illness: excessive public deliberation, speakers and listeners who are addicted to clever novelty of argument, and possible bribery in return for championing a bad cause. Diodotus begins by saying that he will not blame deliberative reexamination of issues as weighty as the Mytilenian decision (3.42.1). Rational deliberation, after all, is the only intelligent way to guide policy. Of greater concern is speakers who flatly deny that close deliberation is of use. Worst of all is accusing opponents of taking bribes. Together, these strike at the root of deliberative democracy, casting a pall over the arguments of speakers regardless of the intrinsic merits of those arguments. The city is deprived of good advisors who fear baseless attacks on their reputation. Diodotus proposes that the wise or moderate city (τήν σώφρονα πόλιν, 3.42.5) will not

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overly honor successful speakers, nor will it dishonor an advisor who happens to lose his cause. Such a system, Diodotus sensibly concludes, would prevent speakers from flattering the people simply to gain the upper hand. But is this a realistic possibility? It would require an exquisite modulation of public esteem on the part of the populace, not overly honoring their favored advisors simply to forestall a competition for prestige among speakers. Such “moderation” would probably be unprecedented, and even then, it seems, a speaker who regularly prevails in debate would inevitably gain greater honor. If such honor is not the prize, we must wonder what the motivation of speakers would be. Would even Pericles have entered the lists on those terms? True, speakers might be found whose motivation is simply public spirit and devotion to the common good (such as Diodotus?), but the public would need to remain ever-vigilant so as not to reward or dishonor any speaker beyond measure. This does not seem to be a realistic cure for the problem of demagogy. Surveying public deliberation as it actually exists, Diodotus strikes a more somber tone. As things are, he says, speakers on all sides cannot prevail in debate without deception. Diodotus makes the eye-opening confession that he, and all public speakers at Athens, must delude their audience in order to prevail, even in a good cause. What Diodotus has in mind in his own speech is most likely the claim that his plea on behalf of the Mytilenians is motivated purely by strategic interest, to the exclusion of pity or compassion. Thucydides informed us that the Athenians reopened debate because they were feeling remorse at the “cruel” decision of the day before.20 Diodotus evidently does not believe he can appeal to this moral sense directly, because the “violent” Cleon has corrupted the terms of debate. By contrast, the deceptions that demagogues use would likely involve manufacturing crises or denying their significance, alleging foreign or domestic enemies, falsely flattering the people, or any number of other devices. The result, according to Diodotus, is that “only the city” requires deception in order to be benefited (3.43.3). This is not just an Athenian problem, perhaps not a problem limited to democratic regimes. It is certainly not clear how it might be resolved, and Diodotus proposes no solution. Diodotus prevails on this occasion, thankfully, but only after alerting his audience to a deception in his argument. We would have to say that his hard-headed realist argument covertly paved the way for Athenian remorse over their brutal decision to massacre the Mytilenians to express itself. If this is so, we might say that, though the decision was righteous, it was not guided by fully rational considerations. CAN DEMOCRACY FORESTALL DEMAGOGY? Diodotus highlights the intractability of the problem of demagogy in politics. Yet Pericles stands as the principal case in Thucydides of a democratic leader who was able to keep demagogy at bay in Athens, which he did for a generation. How did he overcome the political pathologies that gave rise to demagogy? There are some superficial parallels between the leadership of Pericles and Cleon. Like Cleon, Pericles upbraids the Athenians for inconstancy. In both his first speech in Thucydides and his last (1.140–144; 2.60–64), Pericles tells his audience that he remains the same, while they have abandoned their previous resolves. In the first case


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the Athenians waver in their resolve to refuse compromise with the Spartans as the war approaches (1.140.1). In the second it is their resolve to prosecute the war to the end despite unexpected setbacks such as the plague (2.61.2). Cleon was presumably in the audience for those speeches and may have adopted this rhetorical trope to borrow some of the aura of Pericles. The arguments made in this context by the two leaders however are starkly different. Cleon uses the trope to severely castigate his audience for irresponsibility and frivolity, opening with the reflection that democracy itself may be incapable of empire (3.37.1). What he requires of them is unreflective devotion, based on a brutally realist view of the world. Pericles, while he does display some genuine irritation with the Athenians (1.140.1, 2.60.1), chides rather than assaults them, and in both his first and last speeches goes on patiently to explain (yet again) the reasons why the Athenians should reaffirm their resolves. Pericles too espouses a realist view of intercity politics. Any concessions made to an enemy under duress, he insists, will inevitably result in “slavery” (1.141.1), and he tells the Athenians frankly that their empire is a tyranny (or like a tyranny 2.63.2). But his rhetoric is much more balanced, even deliberative than that of Cleon. Pericles does not offer simple or easy solutions; he reviews the reasons for optimism in the war but keeps its risks and dangers ever before the Athenians’ eyes (e.g., 1.140.5–142, 2.62). There will be reversals, he warns, and the Athenians must be prepared to endure them with resolve. Pericles leads his audience through a deliberative process rather than simply badgering them to follow his proposed course of action. He does not attack those who open a question to renewed deliberation. He does not impugn the sincerity or intelligence of opposing speakers, indeed makes no mention of them in the speeches Thucydides gives us. He displays some indulgence toward Athenian inconstancy particularly in his final speech, in the wake of the plague (2.60.1). This is doubtless why Thucydides says that Pericles, unlike his demagogic successors, was able to restrain the multitude “liberally” (ἐλευθέρως, 2.65.8)). He proceeds by persuasion rather than invective, reason rather than anger and fear, gaining a kind of rational consent. According to Thucydides, Pericles alone was able to pull the Athenians down when they were cocky and hearten them when downcast (2.65.9). He was even able to anger them by contradiction (2.65.8). Clearly, what made all this possible, in addition to Pericles’ manner of persuasion, was a level of trust that the people had in him. Even if the people were skeptical at times of his initiatives, they perceived that Pericles was unmatched for judgment and integrity, being clearly immune to bribery.21 Whether Pericles’ example provides a template for forestalling the rise of demagogues in other times and places, though, is open to doubt. Pericles built up this trust through decades of sound advice and irreproachable behavior. Thucydides suggests that the people recognized, and appreciated, that he never gained a point by pandering to their pleasure (2.65.8). Pericles himself, in his final speech, identifies four traits that make him a superior advisor. I am inferior to no one, he says, in identifying the proper course and then explaining it, in devotion to the city, and superiority to money (2.60.5). These are supremely useful traits in a leader to be sure, but can such a leader rise to supremacy in a political arena dominated by demagogues? They would accuse him of being bribed, and his ironclad integrity would not yet be widely recognized. They would whip up popular passions, while he would attempt to appeal to sober rationality. Thucydides

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does not tell us how Pericles first rose to his unassailable position, but it is difficult to envisage such an ascent in a situation like the one that developed after his death. Someone like Diodotus may be able to prevail over Cleon, barely, under precisely the right conditions, but it is highly unlikely that he could ever become the lead citizen (or would want to). This seems to be the import of Thucydides’ dictum that Athens under Pericles was a democracy in name only, being in fact “rule by the first man.”22 It would seem that democracy, in and of itself, cannot encompass such rule. Pericles may have restrained the multitude “liberally,” but it seems that he was still substituting his judgment for theirs, rendering this in Thucydides’ eyes not a true democracy. There is a point at the very beginning of the war when the Athenians’ lands are being ravaged for the first time. The Athenians, in outrage, are eager to march out and confront the Spartan forces, contrary to the strategy of Pericles (2.21.3). Animus develops against Pericles himself. Pericles however refuses to call an assembly, seeing the anguish of the Athenians and their weakened judgment (2.22.1). He had confidence in his own judgment, says Thucydides, but evidently distrusted his (or anyone’s) ability to calm the passions then running high among the people, to make them listen to reason. We have here a situation similar to the Syracusan general’s intervention in that city’s democracy. That general cut off debate; Pericles prevents debate from happening, at least until popular passion subsides. It is heartening, perhaps, that both these democracies, Athens and Syracuse, gave someone in authority the power to do this, but the odds of someone of Pericles’ talents and integrity gaining that authority seem long indeed. It only works, when it works, by essentially suspending the democracy. Yet this may be the sole means, in a direct democracy at least, of suppressing the power of demagogy. NOTES 1. Aristotle speaks of demagogues arising in oligarchies (Politics 5.6, 1305b22–39; 5.9. 1310a4–6). We can see something of this dynamic in Thucydides’ account of the demise of the oligarchy of the 400 in Athens near the end of his history (8.89). 2. Federalist 10 is the classic statement of this in the American context. 3. Some would even have said that Thomas Jefferson was the first such spectacle. 4. A classic statement of this argument is Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). 5. προστάτης, from προίστημι, to stand before or in the first rank. 6. Spartan Ephors had extraordinary powers even vis-à-vis their kings. Aristotle goes so far as to call their power quasi-tyrannical (Politics 2.9, 1270b15). 7. καὶ ξυνετὸς δοκῶν εἶναι καὶ σώφρων, 1.79. 8. βιαιότατος τῶν πολιτῶν τῷ τε δήμῳ παρὰ πολὺ ἐν τῷ τότε πιθανώτατος, 3.36.6. 9. 3.37.2. Interestingly, the Corinthians had criticized the Spartans for the same kind of naïveté, from the same source, in their speech to the Spartans before the war (1.68). 10. Pericles, under duress of the plague, told the Athenians more ambiguously that they held their rule either like a tyranny or as a tyranny (ὡς τυραννίδα, 2.64.2). 11. This is Strassler’s translation of ἀκοῆς ἡδονῇ ἡσσώμενοι, 3.38.7 (Robert B. Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War (New York: The Free Press, 1996).


Steven Forde

12. Aristotle Politics 2.8 1268b23–1269a28. 13. The contrast is between ἀμαθία μετὰ σωφροσύνης and δεξιότης μετὰ ἀκολασίας, 3.38.3. 14. The contrast is between the φαυλότεροι and the ξυνετώτεροι, 3.38.3. 15. δημαγωγὸς . . . καὶ τῷ πλήθει πιθανώτατος, 4.21.3. 16. 4.28.3. Thucydides adds the editorial comment that the Athenians here were behaving “as the crowd is wont to do” (οἷον ὄχλος φιλεῖ ποιεῖν). 17. ἀξυνετώτατοι, ἀμαθέστατοί, ἀδικώτατοι. Athenagoras goes so far as to call them the “most ignorant of the Greeks that I know,” 6.39.2. 18. Politics 5.5, 1304b20–25; 5.9, 1310a4–8. 19. ἐγίγνετό τε λόγῳ μὲν δημοκρατία, ἔργῳ δὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ πρώτου ἀνδρὸς ἀρχή, 2.65.9. 20. 3.36. ὠμός is a word meaning “raw,” “crude,” or “savage.” 21. Thucydides’ language concerning bribery is χρημάτων τε διαφανῶς ἀδωρότατος, 2.65.8. 22. τοῦ πρώτου ἀνδρὸς ἀρχή, 2.65.9.

REFERENCES Aristotle. Aristotle’s Politics, 2nd ed. Translated by Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Jeffrey Tulis. The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides. Edited by Robert B. Strassler. New York: The Free Press, 1996.

Chapter 5

Plato’s Democratic Moment Mary P. Nichols

Plato has had a reputation for centuries as being hostile to democracy. In the Republic, his most famous political work, Socrates and his interlocutors describe “a city in speech,” often referred to as Plato’s “ideal” or best regime. That city has a hierarchical class structure, with philosophic rulers whose wisdom entitles them to rule. There is neither equality nor freedom, the two principles of democracy (563b).1 Furthermore, when Socrates traces the fall of the just city into forms of inferior regimes, democracy is at the lower end of the spectrum, superior only to tyranny, to which it gives birth. Other scholars argue that Socrates’ proposals are not intended as guides for political practice and that Plato throughout the dialogue plants doubts about whether the city Socrates describes is possible. By doing so, they argue, he warns against such “utopian” schemes and more generally teaches the limits of what can be accomplished in political life. One of the best things that can be said for democracy, from this perspective, is that its principles of equality and freedom allow all ways of life, including philosophy (561c–d).2 Recently, others have argued that Plato is more sympathetic to democracy. Their more democratic readings emphasize the more open, more dialogic possibilities that belong to democratic rather than authoritarian politics, such as Socrates’ insistence on knowledge of ignorance rather than philosophic doctrines or systems of thought.3 My chapter on Plato’s Republic contributes to these efforts that explore the democratic elements in Plato’s political thought. I argue that the undemocratic city in speech and the democracy that appears in Socrates’ account of the inferior regimes form antithetical poles of the dialogue, an inegalitarian pole that circumscribes freedom and change and one in which freedom and equality produce an anarchy that gives rise to tyranny. Far from leaving us with these perilous political alternatives, I argue, the Republic presents the community that Socrates forms with his interlocutors as a correction to the “city in speech” and the anarchic democracy. This community could be called “a city in dialogue.” Socrates’ political proposals are tentative, for unlike the wise philosophers who rule in the city in speech, Socrates is in doubt and still seeking (e.g., 450d–451a; 368b). He rules not by force, but by giving arguments. He seeks to persuade. He asks for his interlocutors’ consent to the 69


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direction of their conversation as well as for their contributions, as when he agrees that he will continue his exposition only if Glaucon “joins in” (sullabein) (427e). His interlocutors, moreover, do make a difference, most dramatically when their insistence leads Socrates to elaborate some of the most famous propositions of the dialogue, such as the community of women and children and rule by philosophers (449a–450d). Socrates’ dialogic city is not “anarchic,” or “without rule,” like the democracy Socrates describes, for Socrates is so clearly in charge. All ways of life are not equal, as in that democracy, for Socrates is exploring with the company what the best way of living is (344a). Socrates’ dialogic community calls for giving an account of one’s opinions. While it is not as closed to diversity and change as is the city in speech, it requires judgment. By serving as a more promising model for political community than either the city in speech or the anarchic democracy that form the political poles of the Republic, I argue, it can instruct a democratic order concerned with justice. The extent to which any political community can incorporate what Plato dramatizes in Socrates’ life—both reasoning and self-doubt, rule and consent—remains for Plato an open question. Plato is at best only a cautious democrat. My essay begins with the setting of the dialogue, its time and place, in the factiontorn and weakened democracy of Athens. By means of the setting, Plato indicates from the outset, this dialogue is responding to democracy, whether rejecting it, seeking an alternative, or offering directions for reform. Its setting includes its audience, some who listen to the conversation and some who play a more active role in its direction. The discussion itself proceeds in a democratic manner, with persuasion, consent, and participation, albeit guided by Socrates. In the second section of my chapter, I follow Socrates’ exposition of the city in speech, his search for justice in it, and the parallel he draws to the soul. I argue that by means of Socrates’ at times dubious arguments, the reservations expressed by his interlocutors, and Socrates’ own hesitations, Plato calls into question the justice of that city and of the soul that resembles it. By means of this drama of the dialogue Plato shows us the community Socrates forms with his interlocutors and thus allows us to contrast it with the city in speech. The third section focuses on Socrates’ account of the philosopher’s pursuit of the good, which suggests the impossibility of the sort of philosophic rule based on knowledge that is required by the city in speech. At the same time, Plato shows that the pursuit of the good is possible and even necessary for both individuals and community, as it is enacted in the dialogue of the Republic. Finally, the last section of my chapter examines the Republic’s portrait of the anarchic democracy and how it forms an antithesis to the tightly structured city in speech, and how both are antithetical to a flourishing human life such as Plato shows Socrates living and sharing with others. If any hope for politics, especially a democratic politics, emerges from the Republic, it lies in the possibility that readers like those present for the conversation can bring both its aspirations and its warnings to bear on political practice. THE REPUBLIC’S DEMOCRATIC SETTING The Republic’s setting, when and where it occurs and its cast of characters, all bring Athenian democracy and its history to the fore. According to most scholars, the

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dialogue occurs around 411 BCE, just a few years after the Athenian expedition to conquer Sicily had ended in a military disaster. Athenian preeminence in the Hellenic world was in decline. Conflict between democratic and oligarchic factions in Athens had intensified by the time of the Republic’s conversation (Thucydides 8.48–98). Among the characters present in the dialogue are members of a democratic faction. One of them is Polemarchus, who was later executed by oligarchic forces who came to power in Athens after the end of the war. Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus are also present, men whose relatives led those very forces who executed Polemarchus. Moreover, the dialogue occurs in the Piraeus, the Athenian port, the stronghold of the democratic party. Political turmoil surrounds the gathering, with its time, place, and characters contributing a sense of foreboding. A foreign teacher of rhetoric, Thrasymachus, is also there, and argues that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger (336b, 338c). This foreigner is apparently welcome in Athens, whether in spite of or because of his unsettling rhetoric. Socrates reports that he and Glaucon had gone to the Piraeus to see a religious festival being held for the first time, in honor of a foreign goddess. They are returning to town when Polemarchus’ servant overtakes them and conveys his master’s order to wait. Polemarchus himself soon tries “to persuade” Socrates to stay for the events of the evening with him and his companions by pointing out “how many of us there are” (327b–c). The democrat partisan Polemarchus has the strength of numbers on his side. Of course, Polemarchus is only playing. His threat of force expresses how much he would like Socrates to join the gathering. Plato illustrates the playfulness of friendly exchanges, while reminding us of the harsh actions characteristic of politics. When Socrates and Glaucon are offered other inducements to stay—a horserace, dinner, and conversation, Glaucon speaks for both himself and Socrates before the latter weighs in. “It seems we must stay,” for that is what we must do, Socrates observes, “if it is so resolved.” His speaks in the words used by Athens’ democratic assembly to announce the outcome of a vote, as if he were reminding his assertive young aristocratic friend of their democratic setting. Throughout the dialogue, Plato shows us how Socrates seeks agreement from this diverse group of human beings with different characters and interests. In the first book of the Republic, Socrates discusses definitions of justice offered by three of the characters. His first exchange is with the elderly Cephalus, a resident alien in Athens and the father of Polemarchus, whose house in the Piraeus is the scene of the gathering. That exchange is brief, for Cephalus has duties concerning the religious rites to which he must attend (331e). He leaves the discussion to his son and heir. It is when Polemarchus and Socrates reach the conclusion that justice is doing good to friends who are good while harming no one that Thrasymachus vehemently objects that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger (338c). Although Socrates spends more time responding to the obstreperous rhetorician than to Polemarchus, the latter is central to the opening book of the Republic. With Socrates’ prodding, he is able to go beyond his father’s conventional definition of justice without succumbing to Thrasymachus’ radical formulation. Polemarchus defers to his father, whose moderate wealth he will inherit (331d). He respects those with knowledge (e.g. 332a–333b), and he admits his ignorance when he cannot say what justice is, while insisting that justice must be good (334b). Socrates asks him “to fight together with him” on behalf of


Mary P. Nichols

their argument for justice, and Polemarchus claims he is ready to do so (335e, 340a). Socrates sees him as an ally. Although Polemarchus is reserved during the greater part of the discussion—deferring to Glaucon and Adeimantus—we know from at least one occasion that he is listening attentively (449b). Insofar as the Republic’s dialogic city serves as a model for a just democracy, one tempered by reason and deference, the democrat Polemarchus may be a model member, even though or precisely because he is less sophisticated than Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates’ primary interlocutors in founding the city in speech. Glaucon’s role in the Republic, of course, is marked from the outset, for it is he who accompanied Socrates to the Piraeus for the festival, and it is he who is returning to Athens with him when they are waylaid by Polemarchus’ servant. Socrates distinguishes Glaucon as “always most courageous in everything” (357a). Whereas Thrasymachus appears abashed by Socrates’ skill in defeating him in argument and stops giving Socrates a hard time (354a, e.g., 351c–e, 352a–b, 354a), Glaucon insists that Socrates “truly persuade” them (327b). He wants Socrates to prove that justice is good for its own sake, not simply for its consequences—the good reputation or other rewards that might attach to it. He is concerned with those superior by nature, who are hamstrung by conventions and laws. “Take away the appearances,” Glaucon proclaims, so that we can see what justice itself is and whether it is good (361c). Glaucon is responsible for the discussion continuing beyond the exchange with Thrasymachus the conclusion of which even Socrates finds unsatisfactory (354b–c). More than once, Socrates refers to Glaucon as the “cause” of the conversation’s direction (474a, 509c). Plato shows us Glaucon’s confidence throughout. Glaucon does not hesitate to break into the discussion when he has something to say (357a–b; 372c, 398c, 450b, 506d). He offers himself as Socrates’ ally, claiming that he will defend him if any come after him for what he says (474a). He even supposes he can “answer [Socrates’ questions] more suitably than another” (474a–b). Adeimantus is more cautious than his brother. We meet him as a member of the group at Cephalus’ house rather than as a companion of Socrates. Like Glaucon, he gives a speech about injustice that he wants Socrates to answer, but he does so only after his brother’s. He holds back and allows Glaucon to go first. Whereas Glaucon typically interrupts the discussion to offer his reaction, Adeimantus expresses his greatest concerns through the voice of others, asking Socrates how he would respond, “if someone were to say” (419a), or telling him “how those who hear him are affected” (487b). He assumes the role of spokesman for others. In the first case, he asks Socrates for an “apology” or a defense for one of his more unconventional proposals (419a), foreshadowing the city’s charges against Socrates several years later and the “apology” Socrates offers in court. In the second, he reports what is said about philosophy—either it is useless or vicious, misleading others little by little in the argument until they arrive at absurd conclusions that contradict experience (487a–d). Although he himself does not accuse philosophy, he knows that others do and what they say, and he asks Socrates to answer them. After all, Adeimantus expresses concern about “the souls of the young” who hear the stories poets and others tell, tales about how the gods have no care for human beings or that they can be swayed by prayers and sacrifices to let the unjust prosper. He is indignant when the poets say that gods reward the just in the afterlife with drinking parties, as if “the finest wage of

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virtue were an eternal drunk” (363c–364a, 365a, 365d–366b). Might he not extend his concern about corruption of the young to philosophy? Socrates may admire his moral seriousness, but he knows that it could be directed against his own way of life (see 420d, 453a–c, 488a, 490a). Several times in the dialogue, Socrates urges Adeimantus not to be harsh (426d–e, 500a). Adeimantus offers his speech after Glaucon’s because “what is most needed to be said has not been said” (362d). Socrates expresses his approval, quoting the saying, “Let a man stand by his brother,” and tells him to come to Glaucon’s defense “if he has left anything out” (362d). What Adeimantus regards as a correction, Socrates describes as support. Socrates asks the brothers to be allies, not rivals (consider the rivalry Adeimantus implies when he points out that his brother is “a lover of victory” at 548d). Socrates welcomes their different contributions. Responding to their concerns, Socrates proposes to look for justice in the soul by looking for it first in a city. He seeks agreement from others to his proposal as well as their participation in the undertaking. Is it “so resolved?” he asks, again using the democratic formula used to announce the votes in the Athenian assembly (369b). This time, however, Socrates is not conceding to what others want him to do. He is asking for their support. Later, Socrates calls the city they “are founding in speech” (368e–369a, 370e) “your city,” addressing “the son of Ariston” (427c–d). He could be speaking to either brother. The city is theirs, not only Socrates’, and they contribute by expressing reservations as well as encouragement. Their very aristocratic and noble aspirations—Glaucon’s boldness and eagerness to step up and take responsibility, Adeimantus’ concern with education and its effect on the souls of others, and the desire of both to know the truth about justice, elevate any gathering in which they play a part, as they would a democratic city that allowed their participation. The democrat Polemarchus urges Glaucon as well as Socrates to stay in the Piraeus, and more than once in the discussion he allies himself with Adeimantus. Socrates even encourages both brothers to solicit Polemarchus’ help in the search for justice (327a–c, 328a, 449b, 427d)—he could be their ally as well as Socrates’. FOUNDING A CITY “IN SPEECH” While scholars focus on the search for justice in the city in speech and then in the soul that resembles it, attention to the drama of the dialogue tells a different story about just relations within a community. We will follow that drama as Socrates describes the city and locates justice, including the concerns he introduces along the way, the objections from his interlocutors, and his attempt to accommodate them. With Socrates’ guidance, his city in dialogue emerges as an alternative to the city in speech, a community more open to criticism and change, and to the participation of others in its direction. The Feverish City and Its Purging Speaking with Adeimantus, Socrates describes an egalitarian and harmonious city of artisans. Their bodily needs are satisfied by exchange, as each works at the task to which


Mary P. Nichols

he is best fitted. They live a simple and harmonious life, avoiding poverty and war, having simple feasts, and singing hymns to the gods. Glaucon objects that this is a city fit for pigs, which lacks relishes appropriate to human life. Although there is no poverty, there is no abundance, and if there is no war, he may suppose that there is less opportunity for courage, valor, and preeminence. The people in this city sing of the gods; they do not sing of heroes. Glaucon himself has been in combat, as has his brother, as we learn when Socrates quotes a verse by Glaucon’s lover praising their prowess in war (368a). There is no place for this verse in the city of pigs. There is no place for Glaucon, if there are no “relishes,” nor fighting in which men win glory. Whereas Adeimantus leans toward a shared life of peace and contentment, Glaucon wants excitement. In response to Glaucon, Socrates describes “a luxurious city,” “a feverish city,” larger and more complex, which will eventually expand and go to war (372e–373d). While attention to the soldiers appeals to Glaucon, Socrates points out that they must be not only cruel to enemies but also gentle to their own. Glaucon may be most courageous in everything, but gentleness is also a virtue. Later, when Socrates proposes “a far tamer” sort of fighting between Greeks inasmuch as they are “by nature friends” and “kin,” it is to Glaucon he is speaking (470a–471b). Moreover, soldiers, whom Socrates calls guardians, fight for their own, their own people, whom their courage serves. Founding a city in speech, as Socrates proposes, requires Glaucon to think about what is good for a community, not just for himself. To prove that one person can possess both warlike spiritedness and gentleness to his people, Socrates offers the example of a noble puppy that is friendly toward those he knows and barks at strangers. At the very least, Socrates is poking fun at Glaucon’s tendency to look to the noble warrior as a model. Not only must the soldier be gentle, but also puppy-like in his devotion to others. Socrates even calls the noble puppy “philosophic” or a lover of learning, for the philosopher understands himself in terms of what he knows and what he does not know (375c–376b). This is the first time that Socrates mentions philosophy in the Republic. Socrates could have drawn his analogy between the soldier and the puppy without reference to philosophy. Indeed, Socrates’ analogy would have been better served without it. At least, if we use Socrates as our example of a philosopher, he is not hostile to what he does not know; he seeks to understand it. He loves not only or primarily what he knows, what he has already learned; rather, he loves learning. Moreover, whatever gentleness to his own characterizes Socrates, he is hard on his own fellow citizens by questioning them and demanding that they give an account of themselves, as he recounts in the Apology and is doing this at this very moment by pushing the gathering to look for justice. In this way, Plato offers Socrates as a foil to those in the city in speech if they love only what they know and are hostile to the unknown or foreign. Adeimantus enters the conversation when Socrates raises the question of what education is appropriate for these “noble puppies” (377c). It was Adeimantus who was concerned about the effect of poetic tales on the souls of the young (363c–364a). Socrates obliges him by censoring the tales for the city they are founding, for the poets must portray self-sufficient heroes, with no fear of death, nor given to lamentations or grief at the death of others, and masters over the pleasures of drink, sex, and food (386a–391e). They are men who can resist the corruptions and the temptations of the world Adeimantus describes. Socrates also bans depictions of lovers of laughter,

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who appear to experience a loss of control (389a). Pain is to be endured and pleasure denied, and there is no laughter, other than scornful laughter at unworthy tales (388d, cf. 366c). Adeimantus readily agrees about the general dangers of poetry—by seeing models of inferior human beings in poetry, we come to imitate them ourselves (395c– d; cf. 396d–e and 397c). He agrees that the poet who can imitate all things—and all sorts of human beings—must be exiled from the city in favor of “a more austere and less pleasing one” who follows the rules for poetry they have laid down (398a–b). Socrates distances himself from these poetic models, at least from the ban on laughter, when he tells Adeimantus that this is “your argument” (389b). If the argument is Adeimantus’, it is not necessarily everyone’s. It is not necessarily Glaucon’s, for Glaucon imagines not a harsh world whose dangers and pleasures must be resisted, but a world with relishes. He mentions benefiting friends as a good in his speech about injustice (262c), while Adeimantus does not mention friends in his speech. Socrates never describes Adeimantus as laughing, whereas Glaucon enters the discussion “laughing” on more than one occasion (e.g., 398c, 451b). When Socrates tells Adeimantus that their argument about poetry has advanced far enough that what follows about song and melody “could be discovered by everyone,” for example, Glaucon breaks into the discussion, “laughing aloud” and saying that he “runs the risk of not being included in everyone” (398c). The eager risk-taker Glaucon cracks jokes (398c, 403e, 479b–c). He has fought in battle, to be sure, but he also had a lover who celebrated his exploits. Glaucon wants the truth, not the appearance (361b), not because he is indifferent to whether the truth is good or bad, but because he trusts its goodness. Because he does not live as if he must be always on guard, his trust allows him to play, whereas his brother is adverse to play (397c–d, 424d–425a, 558a, 563d). Glaucon’s trust gives him confidence in the world and in himself, whereas Adeimantus’ suspicion teaches him that he must hold the world at bay, as does the harmonious life of the city of pigs. If Glaucon may not take the necessary precaution when he acts, Adeimantus’ caution may make him hesitant to act. No wonder Socrates exhorted them, “Let a man stand by his brother.” Soon, while speaking with Glaucon, Socrates admits that “unawares we have purged the city that a while ago we said was luxurious” (399d). It was a purging that Socrates undertook primarily with Adeimantus. But with Glaucon too, Socrates drives home the city’s harshness when he turns to gymnastic education, and to medicine in particular. He claims that the city’s doctors must let a patient die if he is too sick to do the job that he is “assigned in the city at which he is compelled to work,” for then he would be “of no profit to himself or to the city” (406c, 407d–e). But even if a sick person could not do his assigned task in the city, would he be of no profit to himself? Is utility to the city the only measure of a human life? Just before this point, Plato worked into the dialogue a personal fact about Glaucon: he loves someone with a beautiful soul but a defective body (402d–e). Would Glaucon, who is quick to accept that guardians fight for their own, be willing to let his beloved die if he cannot do an assigned job? Socrates backs away from this implication by describing in comic terms the education of the doctor who does so: “beginning in childhood,” he should become acquainted with all the diseases he treats by “suffering” them himself, and “not be quite healthy by nature” (407e, 408d–e). Education in the city culminates in absurdity. More absurdities are to come.


Mary P. Nichols

Locating Justice in the City and Soul In order to arrive at a vantage point in which they can locate justice in the city, Socrates divides the city into three classes. He divides the guardians into rulers and soldiers, while the farmers and craftsmen occupy a third class. To prevent conflict and bring harmony to the city, Socrates proposes they all be told “a noble lie”: those in the city were originally born from the earth and are therefore brothers, but a god mixed metals in their souls at birth: gold for rulers, silver for soldiers, their auxiliaries, and iron and bronze in the farmers and other craftsmen. The tale fosters unity, while justifying the different tasks the city needs. However valid this need in any political community, the tale is of course preposterous, as Glaucon’s reaction indicates (414d– e). Moreover, instead of leaving it at this, Socrates proceeds to a difficulty left by the god’s work: if a child belonging to one class is born in another, he must be transferred (415b–c). Socrates thus renders the success of the noble lie even more dubious, for will the parents be persuaded to give up their children to be raised by others as their own? When Socrates asks whether there is any way people will be persuaded of this tale, Glaucon can see none (415c–d). However, only because there are three classes in the city, with justice residing in each one’s doing its own job, ruling, fighting, and producing, can Socrates draw a parallel to the soul in order to locate justice. Before proceeding to do so, however, Socrates adds one more wrinkle for them to consider—common property. To avert the threat the guardians pose for the city they will be allowed no property or houses of their own. While their wages from guarding will ensure they have no lack, they give them no surplus. The guardians will not be permitted even to touch gold and silver, for they have gold and silver of a divine sort mixed in their souls (416e–417a). Once again, there will be no relishes, no luxury. Given Glaucon’s earlier objection to the city of pigs, we must wonder how far Glaucon is “truly persuaded.” Socrates has pushed the austerity of the city so far that even Adeimantus comes to see a need for relishes (see 559a–b). Perhaps Glaucon’s complaint about the “city of pigs” that Adeimantus and Socrates were describing, as well as the austere models for human life that Socrates showed them in the course of the city’s purging, has had an effect on Adeimantus. How would you defend yourself, he asks Socrates, if someone were to say that eliminating private property deprives the guardians of happiness? Those to whom the city belongs have no big fine houses, he objects, no gifts for lady companions, nothing for sacrifices for the gods, and no ability to entertain foreign guests (419a–420a). By implication they lack the conditions for graciousness and liberality. Adeimantus comes close to mentioning friends and to thinking of sharing with them. He looks for more than the necessities provided by the city of pigs. Socrates responds that we should consider the happiness of the whole city and not that of any part, just as a painter of an animal should not give special attention to the beauty of a part rather than of the whole (420b–d). Socrates’ answer on behalf of the city ignores what Adeimantus’ question illustrates, that unlike the part of an animal a human being desires happiness for himself and can question whether he experiences it. Socrates’ answer does not prevent the question of individual happiness from resurfacing later. Both Socrates and Glaucon bring it up again on different occasions (465e–466a, 519d–520a).

Plato’s Democratic Moment


Once the founding of the city has been completed, Socrates returns to the question that prompted its founding: can we see justice in it in order to see justice in the soul? The ruling class possesses good counsel, or wisdom, the soldiers possess courage, and all possess moderation in agreeing that the guardians should rule the farmers and craftsman. Justice lies in each of the parts of the city doing its own job. By analogy, there are three parts to the soul, reasoning, spiritedness, and desire, with the virtues of wisdom belonging to the first, courage to the second, and moderation to the whole. Justice in the soul, as in the city, lies in each part of the soul doing its own job and “minding its own business rather than meddling in that of the others” (427d–442d). An individual’s justice therefore lies not in any external business, but in what is “within [himself],” as he “harmonizes the three parts [of his soul] like three notes in a harmonic scale.” And if justice is the good condition of the soul, it is good for its own sake, regardless of consequences (443c–445a). Socrates has defended justice, as he was asked to do, even though his conclusion that justice is minding one’s own business and not meddling in that of others condemns him as an unjust man, since, as he admits in his Apology, he has led a life of meddling, while neglecting his own affairs in order to serve his fellow citizens (31b–c). While Socrates looks for justice in the city he founds, moreover, Plato allows us to look for it in the drama of the dialogue. Justice is at issue in different ways throughout, as when Polemarchus threatens force to accomplish what he desires, or Socrates complies with the decision of the group. To what extent do their actions involve and hence teach us about justice? So, too, Adeimantus complains that Socrates is “robbing us of a whole section of the argument” when he does not give them sufficient explanation about one of his proposals. He speaks in the language of justice, of what Socrates owes them as their due. A thief is one of the ways the unjust man was earlier identified: a thief takes from others what belongs to them (see 331e–332c). When his companions ask for further explanation, Socrates claims that he does not want either to fall himself in the argument nor to drag his friends down with him (451a), reminding us of the conclusion he had reached with Polemarchus at the beginning of the dialogue that justice is doing good to one’s friends (335a–d). Despite the emphasis on internal harmony in the arguments discussed by the interlocutors, the drama of the dialogue about justice indicates that justice for an individual does not lie simply in the good order of one’s soul. Such a definition is not enough to explain either Socrates’ deeds in the dialogue or the interactions of the Republic’s interlocutors. Plato makes explicit that the characters of the dialogue are forming a community centered around their discussions. When Adeimantus complained that Socrates was robbing them of part of the argument, he acted as the spokesman for others in the group. Socrates reports that he heard Polemarchus whisper to Adeimantus, “Shall we let it go or what shall we do?” Glaucon agrees with the request of those who want to hear more from Socrates: “let my vote be in common [with yours]” (450a). Even Thrasymachus wants to hear more, echoing Socrates’ earlier language of the democratic assembly when he tells Socrates to “consider it resolved by all of us” (450a). Justice involves consulting, coming to agreement, demanding what is due, concessions, and compliance. We can understand the Republic as a study in community-building, a community of a very different sort than that of the city in speech. Of course, there are more risks involved where there is no perfect control, as there


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would be in a city in which wisdom rules, or for an individual whose happiness lay in an internal harmony in his soul for which he alone is responsible. Socrates’ dialogic community, in contrast, depends on the participants, who therefore put themselves at risk. That is why it requires a courage—and trust—like Glaucon’s, and a caution and concern for others like that Adeimantus evinces. In particular, the group wants to hear more about something Socrates mentioned almost in passing, that the women and children of the guardian classes in the city would be held in common. Even though the founding of the city in speech has served its ostensible purpose—helping to see justice in the soul—the group is eager to know more about the relations between the individuals in that city. The interlocutors take into account the happiness of others, not just their own, as we saw when Adeimantus complained that Socrates was not making the guardians happy. Another intervention from Socrates’ addressees, this time from a group of them, has changed the course of the discussion. To them Socrates owes his exposition of the three most radical and innovative proposals of the Republic, the equal treatment of the sexes, the community of wives and children, and the rule of philosophers, three waves of argument, as he calls them, that threaten to overwhelm him (457b–c, 472a). The Three “Waves” Socrates begins with the equality between the sexes—their sharing in all the tasks, which seems required by the abolition of the family. His treatment of each “wave” further undercuts his proposals for this city. For example, Socrates imagines that comic poets will mock his arguments for equal treatment of the sexes, and even gives them cause when he himself describes women exercising naked with the men in the gymnasiums (452a–b)—something that highlights potential problems with the well-regulated and harmonious city but that Socrates chooses not to pass over. The differences between the sexes that the city ignores when it assigns the same arts and tasks to both men and women could not be more visible than in their naked exercises. At the same time, those exercises might exacerbate the “erotic necessities” that the city seeks to control in its marriage arrangements once families are abolished for the sake of the city’s unity (458d–e). To demonstrate the benefit of the abolition of the family, and holding wives and children in common, Socrates describes the city’s need for the best men to mate with the best women, and its need to cover over what may cause dissension by fabricating subtle marriage lots to produce this result (459a–-460b). Only then will perfect unity result. As “a community of pleasures and pains,” “the best governed city” is like “a single human being.” Hence when one of its members suffers, the whole suffers, just as when a person hurts his finger, the human being as a whole feels the pain (462c–d). How could such individuals not be happy, Socrates muses, for they are free from the factions, quarrels, and other evils found in less unified cities. Curiously, Socrates claims not to recall who complained earlier about the happiness of those in the city (465b–e). Is he trying to lure Adeimantus back into the discussion, at the same time underscoring the fact that in so unified a city individuals do not matter? No need to remember who said what, he ironically implies, in a dialogue filled with unique characters whose different voices Socrates has taken care to address.

Plato’s Democratic Moment


When Socrates proceeds to describe the philosophers and their rule of the city, the third wave of Socrates’ defense of the city’s institutions, those philosophers recognize no limits to their rule, no integrity of the ruled that demands their respect. Philosophers are those who love the unchanging ideas themselves, such as the beautiful and the just, Socrates explains. But to one who “contemplates all time and all being,” “human life does not seem anything great” (486a). Without the restraint that would come from contemplating his own time and human beings with whom he is acquainted, this philosopher would “take the city and dispositions of human beings, as though they were a tablet, which they would wipe clean,” like painters using a divine pattern “rubbing out one thing and drawing in another until they made human dispositions as dear to the gods as they admit of being” (501a–c). This philosophic ruler fits the definition of the philosophic puppy who loves his own, what he knows, in that he knows and loves the eternal and unchanging, and is cruel to what is strange or alien to him—the imperfect world of human experience. Of course, the soul of one who contemplates all time and being is ruled by his wisdom and the parts of his soul are therefore in harmony. He satisfies the explicit definition of justice. Even if nothing else has done so, Socrates’ chilling account of the philosopher-rulers surely puts a brake on the founding of a city in which perfect justice can be seen only because souls are remade by one who has seen the idea of justice. Socrates’ Doubts and Divinations, and a Different Look at Philosophy Socrates puts a more explicit brake on this city when he claims that philosopher-kings could not possess the knowledge they need to rule. Even though “the good” is “what every soul pursues and for the sake of which it does everything,” and even though the soul divines that the good is something, the soul is at a loss about what it is. And there can be no adequate guardian of our regime, Socrates claims, until he knows how the just and beautiful things are good (505a–506b). Not only does Socrates call into question the city he has described, but the discussion runs the risk of ending, for what Socrates has said of the soul’s being at a loss about the good applies to himself as well as to any who might come to power in a city. But Adeimantus and Glaucon insist that the discussion continue. Although Adeimantus admits that it is not just to speak of what one does not know as if one does, he observes that one could speak of what one supposes, not as if one knew, but as one’s supposition (506b). Glaucon chimes in, “it will satisfy us even if you go through the good just as you went through justice, moderation, and the rest” (506d). They stand together in this request. It is with this understanding that the discussion continues. That the discussion can continue even though Socrates is in doubt and still seeking is not surprising, for the soul’s divination of the good has been moving the discussion from the beginning. Polemarchus, for example, admits he does not know what he means by justice, while insisting that it must be good. Glaucon and Adeimantus give such “persuasive” speeches about injustice, while remaining unpersuaded. They divine the good, even though they are perplexed about what it is. And Socrates now agrees to continue, elaborating not what he knows or even supposes about the good, but only about its “offspring,” the sun, which he presents as an image or appearance of


Mary P. Nichols

the good. He also presents our cognitive capacities to know the world and its objects by locating them along a divided line, and finally imagines our world as a cave in which we are prisoners but which is not completely closed to the light of the sun. The good is like the sun, for without its light neither could we see nor would visible objects be visible. So too the good “provides truth to the things known and the power of knowing to the one who knows” (508e). We know the good only indirectly, from our experience of knowledge and truth, just as we know that there is a source of light because we are able to see and objects are able to be seen. Socrates goes even further: the sun provides “generation, growth, and nourishment.” Socrates does not elaborate how the good confers both intelligibility and “existence and being.” He simply appeals to our experience of both the light and warmth of the sun. It is an experience of nature that gives us cause to divine its goodness, even if the sun does not shine for us both day and night. Glaucon is moved—“what a daimonic excess,” he observes, using a word with divine overtones (509b–c) (“daimons” were gods or children of gods), and swearing by the sun god (Apollo). As a way of understanding the objects in the world and our capacities to grasp them, Socrates distinguishes between visible and intelligible objects, those we see and those we think about. He asks Glaucon to imagine a line on which these objects may be placed. Doing so facilitates our seeing the differences between objects of perception and those of thought, in that they occupy different sections of the line, as well as the connections between them. That they are located along a line suggests that we can move from one section to another. When we see images reflected in water or other surfaces, for example, we also understand that there are objects that images reflect, objects in the world around us. Our perceptions of images indicate something beyond themselves, on which they depend. Socrates calls our faculty for perceiving the latter “trust.” Our perceptions, and our trust of them, in turn, allow us to think about them, and they therefore serve as images themselves of our thoughts. Socrates gives the example of geometry, for which the round or square objects that can be seen are reflections of the circles and squares about which it makes demonstrations (509d–510e). Socrates earlier spoke of beauty and justice in similar terms: beauty itself appears in the many sights and sounds we see and hear, as does justice in the deeds we experience in all their variety (475d–476a). In contrast to Socrates’ earlier account of the philosophic rulers, which emphasized the radical difference between the lover of sight and sounds who delight in the “many appearances” and the philosopher, who loves “what is” (475d–480a), his account of the divided line, occurring after he introduced his own divination and perplexity about the good, corrects this bifurcation. Socrates no longer dismisses the “many appearances” as “wanderers” between being and nothingness (479d). They are grasped by our capacity for “trust.” Rather than leading us astray, they lead us toward truth. If the appearances entirely deceived, trusting them would be foolish. On the other hand, if the appearances clearly manifested the truth, then trust would not be necessary. Nor would thinking. Our trust allows us to see that appearances are more than they appear to be, and in doing so it generates thinking. Glaucon is correct in wanting to see beyond the appearances and trusting that we can do so, even if he is too quick to dismiss the appearances, as when he tells Socrates to “take away the appearances” in order to see justice (361c). To him, the divided line teaches that the many appearances

Plato’s Democratic Moment


are necessary for thought. Adeimantus is correct in distrusting the clever arguments of philosophy that lead by steps beyond the appearances and confuse their interlocutors (487b–d). To him, the divided line teaches that appearances do not stand alone but require thinking, argument, dialectic, in order to be understood. Socrates “divides the line,” so to speak, for both of them. By including Glaucon’s interjection that he “does not sufficiently understand what [Socrates is] saying” about the divided line (509d–510b, 511c) (emphasis mine), Plato reminds us that those who are participating in the dialogue are illustrating the very capacities that Socrates is describing as they imagine a line, divide a line as a mathematician might do, and try to think about what Socrates is saying. In this case Glaucon hears what Socrates says, but he does not understand what Socrates means. The verb legein, which Glaucon uses, admits of both meanings. We hear words, just as we “see” objects around us, but we do not necessarily understand what they mean. Sounds formed into words, even more clearly than visible objects (see 523a–524b; see Phaedo 99e–1001a), point beyond themselves. Speech links the perceptible and the intelligible. Perception is only the beginning of understanding, however much the latter relies on it. Of course, perception as well as speech can deceive us, but if our orientation toward the world were one of distrust rather than trust (see Phaedo 89c–d), we would make no attempt to understand it. We would not pursue wisdom. Beyond the objects that are reflections of those in the sensible world, Socrates continues, is the higher segment of the intelligible, which “speech [or ‘argument’, logos] touches by means of the capacity for dialectic.” Unlike mathematics and other kinds of inquiry akin to it, which “do not deem it worthwhile to give an account [of its hypotheses] to themselves and others” (510c), dialectic “steps out above the hypotheses” to investigate them, “going to what is free from hypotheses, to the beginning [or fundamental principle] of the whole,” and then proceeding back down again to a conclusion (511b). Dialectic, it seems, directs itself to what thinking otherwise takes for granted and bases its arguments on this. Glaucon now claims to understand, “although not adequately,” and presents his own summary of the divided line (511c–d). With his modest admission (see also 534b, 537c), he indicates that he understands what Socrates has been teaching him, both about the world and about himself, that is, we can understand, but not adequately (e.g., 505a, e, 506a). In recognition of what Glaucon has learned, Socrates claims that Glaucon’s “exposition” is “most adequate” (511d). Although Socrates does not explain what he means by the beginning or fundamental principle of the whole, his use of “dialectic” in his account of our activity on the highest segment of the divided line reminds us of the activity in which Socrates himself is engaging with his interlocutors. The verb from which it is formed, dialegesthai, is a common word for conversing or talking. It was first used in the Republic when Polemarchus offered Socrates the opportunity “to talk” with the young men present if he stayed in the Piraeus (328b), and it is often used in the Platonic corpus to refer to the conversations with others for which Socrates is famous (e.g., Symposium 194d, Gorgias 447b–c). Now, in the Republic, his interlocutors have asked him to give an account of his own suppositions about the good, and he is complying with images of the sun, the divided line, and the cave (see 506d–e). The conversation of the Republic, itself an image created by Plato, reflects the world in which his characters live, about


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which they have suppositions or hypotheses and give and receive accounts. What we see in the dialogue’s drama helps us to understand the image of the divided line, as it calls for us to exercise our abilities to learn, however adequately we do so. Socrates next offers his famous image of the cave, in which human beings are prisoners watching images on the walls that they take to be true. Some are released from their bonds and dragged into the light of the sun (philosophers), and then compelled to return to rule in the cave (514a–515a). When Glaucon expresses a concern that “we are doing them an injustice by making them lead a worse life when a better is possible for them,” he articulates a version of his brother’s concern. Although Socrates reminds him that their goal is that the whole city prosper, not just one individual within it, he also speaks of how law brings all into harmony by “persuasion and compulsion, making them share with one another the benefit each is able to bring to the common [life]” (519e–520a). Persuasion as well as force is appropriate for those in the city. Socrates’ statement resembles the one person, one art standard with which he earlier defined justice, but his emphasis now is on sharing or giving, rather than on doing what one’s nature best fits one to do, or on “doing one’s one own thing and not meddling in the affairs of others” (433a–b). And in the case of the philosopher, if he owes something of his rearing and education to his city, his justice lies in “caring for and guarding the others [in his city]” (520a–b). He speaks of justice as if it required returning good for good. Of course, it would be difficult to imagine any human being who owes nothing of his rearing and education to his city, and even the philosopher Socrates, who was reared and educated in democratic Athens, admits his debt to his city for those very things (Crito 50d–e). In any case, Socrates no longer describes philosophic rule as “wiping clean the slate” and drawing the dispositions of human beings “like a painter using a divine pattern” (500e–501a), but as “caring for and guarding” (520a–b). The prisoners in the cave are “like us,” Socrates says, and “if they are able to converse (dialegesthai) with one another” about what they see, they would not know that they spoke only of shadows (514a–515b, emphasis mine). Socrates’ distinction between the two kinds of perceptible objects on the divided line implies that seeing an image includes an awareness that it is an image. Otherwise, we could not distinguish an image from the objects they reflect. We could not draw a divided line. If the prisoners are “like us,” they have the capacity to see an image as an image and hence for liberation, if not from the cave, at least from the blindness of not knowing that they do not know. If they do not have this capacity, they are not like us. Those in the gathering with Socrates, moreover, are conversing, and Socrates is showing them the extent to which their speech concerns shadows—opinions rather than truth—in part by the image of the cave itself. Socrates’ image of the cave makes clear what images in the cave leave obscure: it shows those images to be images rather than truth. By presenting images of his own making, such as the cave, Socrates indicates a more hopeful view of images—and speeches—than Adeimantus expressed at the outset in his criticism of what the poets say about justice. With Socrates’ guidance, his addressees are not the prisoners of images, for images can reveal truth as well as mislead. When Socrates describes how those dragged outside the cave look at the truth itself as if they could be free of images or appearances, he observes somewhat playfully, “perhaps god knows if this happens to be true, but this is how the appearances appear to me” (ta phainomena phainetai) (517b).

Plato’s Democratic Moment


Socrates proceeds to describe the education of the philosopher, a series of mathematical disciplines that lead the soul from becoming to being, beginning with calculation and geometry, including astronomy and harmony, and concluding with dialectic, which “attempts to attain each thing itself that is and doesn’t give up until it grasps by intellection itself that which is good itself” (532a–b). Socrates speaks of the “intellection” of the good that the dialectic “tries” to attain in terms that recall the soul’s divination of the good that he mentioned earlier. The end of the search seems like the beginning, but as we proceed in the search we come to have something, even much, to say about what we find. Socrates himself is evidence of this. When Glaucon wants to hear what lies at the end of the journey, Socrates tells him that he would be unable to follow, for he “would no longer be seeing an image of what we are saying, but rather the truth itself, at least as it appears to me.” Indeed, “the power of dialectic alone could reveal it to one experienced in the things we just went through” (532d–533a, emphasis mine). Glaucon has been engaging in giving and receiving an account, following and contributing to the extent he is able (e.g., 511c, 530b, 534b). In this way, Glaucon is demonstrating that he is able “follow.” He is not looking at an image of the dialectics of which Socrates is speaking; rather, he is experiencing it along with Socrates. It may be for this reason that although Socrates does not insist that the truth is as it appears to him, he claims “that there is some such thing to see must be insisted on,” echoing his statement that that the soul divines that the good is something, but not what it is (533a, 505e). Socrates’ images of the sun, the divided line, and the cave present the soul as open to the world, especially because the highest eludes it and thereby fosters its ongoing search. To the bold Glaucon, Socrates teaches the imperfection of human knowledge, along with the need for education, and hence the goodness of moderation. These same images that indicate the limits of human knowledge also indicate the different ways we have of grasping the world, beginning with imagination and trust. To someone like Adeimantus they might inspire and offer confidence in the world. Although we are at a loss about the good, we divine that it is something, and we know the world through trust. The truth that Socrates reveals has the potential of moderating one of the brothers and encouraging the other. To conclude his discussion of the city in speech, Socrates mentions almost in passing—reminiscent of his introducing the community of property and then the community of women and children (416d, 423e)—that when the true philosophers “come to power in a city,” they will send out all those who happen to be over ten into the country, and taking over their children, they will rear them . . . in their own manners and laws such as we have described.” In this way the city in speech will be established “most quickly and easily.” Glaucon agrees, even repeating that this would be “the quickest and easiest way” (540e–541a). Socrates’ inclusion of “easiest” in his description, however, highlights the difficulty of this expedient. Here it is not merely a matter of removing a child from one class of the city to another, a child of those who have been told “the noble lie,” a feat that was questionable at the time (415d), or even a matter of removing children from their mothers to common nurseries, as the community of women and children demands (460c). Rather, the philosophers who come to power must take all the children under ten away from parents of some existing city while sending their parents out to the country. Not only does Glaucon


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agree, but none of the other listeners raise any objection or concern. Glaucon says that, “this argument has reached its end” (541b). Has Socrates succeeded in removing all doubts about the desirability and possibility of the city he is describing? But could that have ever been the goal of a man who has doubts and is still seeking (450d)? Perhaps the argument ended because Socrates has revealed just how despotic—and ultimately impossible—the institution of this city would be. Glaucon also says that, “how [this city] would come into being, if it ever were to come into being, you have in my opinion, Socrates, stated it well” (541a). Glaucon has demonstrated a capacity for playing on several occasions, and recently refused to admit that Socrates was serious even in his spirited defense of philosophy (536c–d). Is Glaucon now playing along, having seen the inhumanity to which his desire for perfection has led him unawares? That is, is he laughing at himself? DEMOCRACY Turning away from the city in speech, Socrates gives an exposition of the inferior regimes and soul types, in order to see justice more clearly by way of contrast. The regime that contrasts most with the city in speech is the democracy. Whereas in the city in speech, everyone has a place, a class to which he belongs, and a job to do, in the democracy, everything is permitted, and there are no defined places for anyone. Its license forms an opposite pole to the regimented city in speech. As the antithesis of the city in speech, it too is an impossibility, and Socrates’ description of it is a comic exaggeration. There is “license to do whatever one wants,” and “each organizes his life as it pleases him.” Because everything is permitted, “in this regime especially, all sorts of human beings come to be,” Socrates supposes (557c). The metals that define the classes in the city in speech, by implication, are not exhaustive of human types. All sorts of human beings do not come to be in that city, or if they do, perhaps they would be exiled “to another city,” like the poet who introduces variety in the city with his ability “to become every sort of thing and imitate all things” (388a–b). Since this democracy permits everything, Socrates has found the exiled poet a home. Indeed, this poet of many voices and sounds is like this democracy Socrates describes in his image of “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues” (557b–c). Democracies, Socrates says, make no distinctions among their citizens on the basis of their virtue, as do aristocracies, of their deeds, as do timocracies (549a), or of their wealth, as do oligarchies. Although Socrates attributes to democracy “the law of equality and of freedom” (emphasis mine), democracy as he describes it is lawless, “paying no attention to the laws, written or unwritten” (563d). It is less “a form of rule” or a regime than the absence of rule (archē), or anarchy (an-archia), as Socrates refers to it more than once (560e, 562e). Democracy “defines” (horizein) its good as freedom, its thirst for which is “insatiable,” Socrates says. The exaggeration in Socrates’ description is even more obvious when he explains that in democracy there is no necessity to rule, if one is competent, or to be ruled if one does not wish to be, or to make war when others are doing so, or to keep the peace if one does not desire to do so. So far is the regime from imposing order or making distinctions that those sentenced to death or exile go about as if no one cared or saw (557d–558a).

Plato’s Democratic Moment


Socrates also claims that models for “all species of regimes” can be found in democracy. It is there, Socrates says, where a founder of a regime might “choose the sort that pleases him,” as if it were a “general store” (557b–e). If one of the regimes that founders should examine is a “timocracy,” however, would a city in which “all are alike and must be honored on an equal basis,” be the place to look? Could one see different forms of “rule” (archē) where there is an absence of rule (anarchy)? If “all are alike,” would there be any variety in this “general store”? Would that store offer choices? In the city of pigs, the people sing hymns to the gods, and there are no heroes. In this democracy, if heroes stalk the land, no one cares or sees (558a). So too there would be no verses sung of heroes if equality is dispensed “to equals and unequals alike” (558c). The human being who corresponds to democracy honors all his desires equally, “gratifying the desire that comes to him, at one time drinking and listening to the flute, at another downing water and dieting; now practicing gymnastic, at another time idling,” and “sometimes spending his time as if he were occupied with philosophy,” or jumping at political office, or turning to soldiering or money-making (561b–d, emphasis mine). Socrates had previously warned against philosophy as “a hobby” (parergon) (498a), but this democratic man has nothing but hobbies. This regime may allow philosophy, but it does so on the condition that all ways of life be treated equally. If all ways of life are equal, is any worthy of choice? Could the examined life be the only one worth living for a human being, as Socrates claims in the Apology (38a)? Where all ways of life are equal, one could not ask whether he should live justly or unjustly, as Glaucon and Adeimantus do. Nor would Polemarchus’ filial piety have a place in such a setting, as he evinces when he steps in to defend his father’s argument, nor would his respect for property, for he is after all his father’s “heir” (331d). He is a democrat of another sort than the denizen of the anarchic democracy. He is one who can host in his father’s house a diverse group who if not all friends at least stay for what becomes a friendly conversation (see 498c–d). This anarchic democracy resembles the “disordered and licentious” places like Thessaly, which Socrates rejected as a haven after his trial and conviction. While such places might offer a home to a man condemned for impiety and corruption, by the same token they would be no home for “speeches about justice and the rest of virtue” (Crito 53d–54a). Once Socrates is condemned by Athens, he seems to have no place in the Greek world—neither the disordered and licentious places like the democracy he describes, nor the orderly and well-governed ones such as Sparta and Crete (Crito 52e), which would be almost as adverse to Socrates’ questioning as would be the city in speech in the Republic (Laws 643d–e). Socrates, however, practiced philosophy in democratic Athens for many years, and indeed, in the Republic we witness “speeches about justice and the rest of virtue.” When Socrates referred to the anarchic democracy as “divinely sweet for the moment” (558a), his words could apply to the Athenian democracy as well, which “for the moment” when the Republic is set falls between licentious regimes that permit everything and ordered regimes threatened by questioning and change. Cephalus’ house at this moment better approximates a “general store” of soul types and regimes than the anarchic democracy, for there Socrates is welcomed by Cephalus and asked to stay by the others present, questioning received opinions with their consent, among


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those who have both democratic and aristocratic inclinations, and who to various degrees and in various ways love the truth and seek the good. But it is in such a store, Socrates has said, that a founder of regimes should look. This is not something that he and his interlocutors have done in founding the city in speech. Socrates in effect calls for another beginning, another founding, informed by the aspirations and dangers that have come to light. More than the political poles depicted in the Republic, its drama holds out hope for politics. Some moments, after all, last longer than others. It also serves as a warning for democrats and oligarchs in Athens. Socrates admonishes Adeimantus, for example, not to treat the many harshly, and “instead of indulging yourself in quarreling with them, soothe them” with gentle words (499e). His advice could also be given to anti-democratic factions within the city (see also 426d–e, 500a). Although the Republic was too late to save Athens, Plato issues that warning to his readers, for if human aspirations for both order and virtue, on one hand, and freedom, on the other, cannot be brought together in political life, “there will be no cessation from evils for cities or for humankind” (473d). Such a political life would be democratic, in soliciting and accommodating the opinions of others, in trying to persuade, and in seeking a consensus. This is the example Socrates has set throughout the dialogue, in contrast to the philosopher-king he describes. Only a regime that could adopt such practices would it be one “worth living in for anyone who is by nature free” (562c), that is, the only one worth living in for a human being. Unlike the anarchic democracy, it would be a home to deliberation and choice. The moment of the Republic’s dialogue of course comes to an end, but Plato shows that Socrates wants it to last when he narrates that conversation to an unnamed addressee the next day, bringing this all-night conversation into the light of day (cf. 473e). And Plato shows us that he too wants it to last by writing the Republic. NOTES 1. Translations of the Republic are my own, guided by that of Allan Bloom, The Republic of Plato (New York: Basic Books, 1968). 2. Examples of Plato’s democratic critics are too legion to mention. Good examples of those who find in the Republic an exposure of the necessary limits of political life, in contrast to the life of the philosopher, are Leo Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), and Catherine H. Zuckert, Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of Plato’s Dialogues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). My own work is indebted to these works, each in its own way path breaking. I am also indebted to Stephen A. Block for his numerous suggestions about the Republic that I have developed in this essay. It is a great happiness for a teacher to be taught in turn by her students, including the editors and many of the contributors to this volume, and many others. 3. Patrick Deneen highlights a new “democratic school” of Platonic interpretation, including Peter J. Euben, Christopher Rocco, Gerald M. Mara, Arlene W. Saxonhouse, and Josiah Ober, “Chasing Plato,” Political Theory 28, no. 3 (2000): 421–439. David Roochnik, whose book on the Republic was published three years after Deneen’s essay, could also be included in this group. Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character of Plato’s Republic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).

Plato’s Democratic Moment


REFERENCES Deneen, Patrick J. “Chasing Plato.” Political Theory 28, no. 3 (2000): 421–439. Plato. The Republic of Plato. Translated by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1968. Roochnik, David. Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character of Plato’s Republic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. Strauss, Leo. The City and Man. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964. Zuckert, Catherine H. Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of Plato’s Dialogues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Chapter 6

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy Stephen A. Block

Aristotle identifies democracy as the regime that honors freedom and orders and arranges the life of a political community around this good. In honoring freedom alone and above all, democracy is an imperfect regime, for in distributing authority in accordance with freedom rather than virtue, democracy fails the criteria of a correct regime. Aristotle thus classifies democracy among the deviant regimes (P 1279b4). Since the city is the most authoritative community, and is so because its end is most authoritative, as Aristotle declares at the beginning of the Politics, the city as city must be taken to exist above all for the sake of “noble actions” (P 1281a3). Furthermore, since the performance of the noblest actions requires both the leisure and the equipment unavailable to most people (P 1278a19–20), not only does Aristotle depreciate democracy’s orientation to freedom, he also seems to preclude the possibility of the many being capable of participating in the noble actions for which the city above all exists. The aristocratic claim for excluding the many from participation in the rule of the city rests on the unfortunate fact that most human beings will, by dint of fortune, be compelled to labor in various ways that are incompatible with a life lived with view to virtue. This critique of democracy in the name of the virtue honored only in aristocratic regimes is nevertheless not as decisive as it first appears. When in his extended account of the regimes in Book III of the Politics that culminates in the famous dispute over whether the virtuous, or anyone else, should have all authority, Aristotle concludes that none of the claims, including that of the virtuous, are by themselves decisive, for there is not a preeminence in anything that would merit complete authority (P 1283b). Rewarding contributions to the city’s existence entails that the virtuous have the greatest, but not the exclusive, claim to rule, for the non-virtuous wealthy and the many contribute to the city in various ways. Yet, the deeper problem with the aristocratic claim on the basis of which they exclude the many is why the aristocrat, who honors virtue as the greatest good, makes a claim to rule as the good “merited” (axios) for their virtue. Precisely because virtue is that for the sake of which the city exists—the city’s end or its highest end—the claim of virtue as the basis for merited rule is even more problematic, for by making virtue a good that merits a further reward 89


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virtue, it can longer be understood as the complete activity. If virtue is subordinated to something higher, it could not be the perfect end the aristocrats contend it is. Simply put, to the truly virtuous, shouldn’t virtue be its own reward? Underlying the regime is thus the problem that, even as each regime is identifiable by its distinctive telos and way of life it honors, in every case the regime understands its telos as manifest in its granting of offices (archai). The dispute among the regimes is a dispute that rests on a fundamental agreement about what is good. Even democracy, which honors the good of freedom understood as each being left alone to do as he pleases (and thus appears to honor the freedom available to private life), seems to be compelled to honor freedom through its distribution of rule and authority. Hence, in Aristotle’s account of “extreme democracy” or the worst form of democracy, the destruction of law’s authority arises, not through the anarchical claim not to be ruled, but by the aim of having all share in rule (P 1279a4–40). Through heavily redistributive policies, the many are relieved of their necessary labors and can attend the assembly and engage in politics. However much regimes disagree about who should rule, because they disagree as to what should be honored as good and what is the end of human life, they agree that office and political participation constitute a truly good and honorable way of life. Aristotle questions the assessment by regimes that ruling is the best way of life, however, in his discussion of citizenship in Book III. He distinguishes the excellence of the “good man” from that of the good citizen on the grounds that the best man has a single kind of virtue, that of ruling alone, while the good citizen is praised for his capacity “to be ruled and to rule well,” and in this way Aristotle seemingly identifies the best life and exercise of virtue as that consisting of ruling, as if the exercise of ruling is what perfects the human being, not as citizen, but as a man (P 1277a13–b32). Yet, within a few pages he proceeds to present rule as a laborious service to another’s advantage and asserts that the ambition to rule continuously is a kind of sickness and perversion of human nature rather than its fulfillment (P 1279a8–16). Here he sets the aristocratic honor of leisure against the unleisured life of the statesman who labors “for the advantage of another.” In this respect, democratic and aristocratic regimes not only share the judgment about the goodness of rule and participation in it they also share this implicit, public spirited agreement concerning the worthiness of rule that stands at odds with the understanding of freedom they honor, the former understanding being ruled as unfree, the latter understanding ruling as slavish due to its unleisurely work with view to another. Although democracy is the regime that makes explicit and publicly asserts the worth of freedom, which stands in tension with the needs of political life, and most importantly with ruling, the problem that inheres in democracy is not unique to democracy. This may be one reason why Aristotle more than any of his predecessors insisted that the freedom of the city’s participants, and not their virtue alone, is essential to the city’s existence as a city. Yet, freedom cannot easily become the basis on which rule is merited, for such degrades the good claimed into an instrumental good. In the first part of this chapter, I thus investigate the democratic conception of freedom and the difficulty of conceiving a kind of rule consistent with the freedom of either ruler or ruled. The freedom that is the natural grounds of political life cannot be articulated without explaining it in terms of instrumental rationality. In the second

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


part of this chapter, I explore the moral and theoretical grounds of political rule as it grows out of the rich, but complex, understanding of the statesman and his claim to live well as he is presented in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. FREEDOM, SPIRITEDNESS, AND DEMOCRACY In his fullest account of democracy in Book VI of the Politics, Aristotle identifies freedom (eleutheria) as the “presupposition” of democracy and every democratic regime “aims at” (or “guesses at” [stochazasthai]) freedom. It is thus customarily maintained that only in democratic regimes are people free (P 1317a40–1317b17).1 The freedom of the democratic regime as Aristotle articulates it—or rather as Aristotle allows the partisans of democracy to articulate it—is twofold. On one hand, democratic freedom is “ruling and being ruled in turn,” but in accordance with democratic justice as “numerical equality” rather than equality based on merit, equality by number entails majority rule. Accordingly, democracy in truth is the rule of the many impoverished inhabitants, since for the poor generally constitute the largest number of inhabitants. The second aspect of democratic freedom means living as one wishes, because according to the democrat “the function (ergon) of freedom is to live as one wishes, if indeed not to live as one wishes is characteristic of a slave” (P 1317b113). Although Aristotle numbers the principle of democratic license second, he makes clear that this is the principal meaning of freedom for the democrat. It is in this understanding of freedom, Aristotle says, that the egalitarian and leveling ruling principle of the democratic regime originates, for “from it comes not being ruled, preferably by no one, and failing this, in turns,” and thus it “contributes to” the principle of justice as numerical equality. The problem that besets democracy is its self-contradiction, for it is the regime whose underlying principle and aim is anarchical and thus antithetical to any regime. Yet even as the democrat’s devotion to permitting each to live as he wishes is the source of the regime’s destruction, and thus no democracy could be preserved without restraints that are essentially undemocratic, Aristotle’s critique of democracy is not so much its attachment to freedom, but rather that democracy “defines freedom badly” (P 1310a25). Thus, Aristotle maintains throughout the Politics that the city is uniquely the highest community, and this is so, not only because it aims for the highest good of virtue, but also because the city is constituted by persons who are free. A city of slaves would not be a political community. Aristotle therefore designates a kind of rule he calls political rule as appropriate to the city, a rule over persons who are free. Aristotle thus leaves open the question of whether there is a different understanding and proper definition of freedom possible for democracy, and on what grounds the democrat could make a valid claim to this freedom. When Aristotle states that the democrat claims that freedom is living as one wishes, “if at least (eiper) not living as one wishes is characteristic of the slave” (P 1317b11– 12), he suggests the democrat’s identification of freedom with license is qualified. At its core, the democrat’s understanding of freedom is not the democratic license that is attributed to it, nor simply a debased hedonism that moves it, but rather it is the defiance of enslavement. The problem of democracy, however, is that it joins this spirited


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and even noble resistance to being enslaved with the incapacity to conceive of any rule except despotism and thus any being ruled except slavery. It is appropriate, then, that when Aristotle claims that every democratic regime “aims” at freedom, the verb he uses—stochazasthai—can also mean “to guess at” freedom. The democrat experiences freedom in the negation of his enslavement and in his indomitability, but he is at a loss about what it is except that the slave cannot live as he wants and the democrat wishes not to be a slave. Hence, although Aristotle is severely critical of the democratic orientation to living as one wishes, this recalcitrance to enslavement that lies as the heart of the democrat’s understanding of freedom is in fact elevated by Aristotle. Indeed, it is the grounds on which Aristotle distinguishes his own political teaching from that of his predecessors. In his account in Book IV of the causes of the variety of regimes, and of the statesman’s artful construction of the city by the mixing of its parts, Aristotle adds to his famous critique of Plato’s Republic that he began in Book II. After enumerating the parts of the city related to bodily necessity, such as farmers, vulgar mechanics, commercial elements, laborers—Aristotleproceeds to add a “part that goes to war,” so that the city not be the slave of whoever marches against it—for it is impossible that a city that is slavish merits being called a city. Aristotle interrupts his list of the city’s complements to criticize the Republic: Socrates did not include a warrior class in the city he initially described there as if “the whole city were put together for the sake of what is necessary and not rather for what is noble” (P 1291a19–21). When Socrates does introduce a warrior class that “goes to war,” moreover, it is a mere outgrowth of imperial expansion produced by the expansion of desire. For Aristotle, by contrast, the warrior class, and the freedom it preserves, is an essential part of the city, because the city as city cannot simply be rooted in need lest it fail to be a community of free persons, rather than a tool for achieving the objects of desire. The warriors are thus a more essential part of the city than those that provide the physical necessities, because they are essential to the city’s noble expansion beyond need and thus the foundation of the city qua city as freedom rooted in the defiance to being enslaved. This brief criticism of Socrates’ account of the guardians is thus rooted in a very different conception of the city’s identity that is reflected in his more extended critique, in Book II, of the Republic’s dissolution of the difference between the city and household in its quest for a perfect uniformity of interest. For Aristotle, the city is more than an expression of human need, and in this way the city distinguishes itself from the household, a distinction that emerges out of thumos rather than reason. Thus, Aristotle will take up Socrates’ account of the guardians a final time in the Politics in his introductory remarks about the best regime, and the natures of the citizens that are the presupposed “material” for ordering the best regime. Such “material” is not simply subject to the choice of the statesman, and thus nature— presumably the climate and unchosen conditions of one’s upbringing—limits the scope of the statesman’s rule. In the colder climates of the European nations, Aristotle tells us, the human beings lack intelligence and art, but are thumotic, for which reason they neither have been mastered nor are capable of having a regime. In the Asian nations, by contrast, they lack thumos but possess intellect and art, “for which reason they are ruled and enslaved” (P 1327b31). Absent the presence of thumos,

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


which first appears as little more than the anarchical resistance to the governance of wisdom simply for the sake of resisting being ruled, the city would be reduced to a community of intelligent slaves. The tension between the governance of intellect and thumos is further elaborated by Aristotle when he, without explicitly naming Socrates, addresses what “some assert to be the quality of guardians—love for those they know and harshness to those they do not know” (P 1328a1), which is of course Socrates’ formulation of the thumotic character of the city-in-speech’s guardians. Aristotle initially signals his agreement with Socrates’ formulation of the guardians’ souls, because “thumos is the capacity of the soul to love.” Yet for Aristotle, the sign of this capacity to love is not the gentleness with our own; to the contrary, it is that we are more stirred to anger against our friends and relatives than against strangers when we are slighted by them, and this is reasonable because we expect more from our own than from strangers and make more claims on them as a result of our loving them. Such a claim as we make on our own can be reasonable, of course, only if affection is not simply a necessity or a compulsion. The love and anger that are the principal outward expressions of thumos and seem to be subrational necessities are on a deeper level “reasonable” only because of the assumption of freedom that underlies these expressions. Aristotle thus appropriately proceeds to assert that, in addition to being the seat of affection, all rule and freedom come from it, “for thumos is a ruling and indomitable thing.” Aristotle’s thumos is thus politically dangerous, for it holds out the dangers of civil war in addition to the city’s preservation, while Socrates’ thumos by contrast can be wholly useful for the city by reconciling the necessities of war and peace, because his thumos slavishly obeys the promptings of the intellect, loving and hating the known and unknown, respectively. That thumos is the origin in the soul of affection and the capacity for freedom also entails that it is the primordial foundation of the city as city and of the human being as political by nature. Yet this natural foundation of the city turns out to be problematic, as Aristotle reveals in his account of the regimes in Book III. In order to define and evaluate the different kinds of regimes, Aristotle says, the ends for which the city is established as well as the different kinds of rule over human beings must be explained. Aristotle had already given an account in Book I of the ends of the city’s establishment: the city comes to exist for the sake of “life,” but continues to exist for the sake of “living well.” Referring back to Book I, Aristotle reminds us that human beings are by nature political, yet now he claims that the political nature of human beings is manifest in the fact that “even when they are not in need of others’ help, they strive to live together” (P 1278b19–20). He did not mention this striving to live together in Book I, where the principal grounds of our political nature rested on our incompleteness and need for the city to achieve our perfection. Thus, he identified there only two ends of the political community—living and living well. Now he suggests that the fullest expression of our political nature lies in a striving to live to together that is not explained by any other end or by any human need other than to live together. Even as Aristotle recognizes this meaning of the political nature of human beings, however, it does not enter into the question of the regimes and their differences. The city is “established” with a view to ends, and it will be in relation to these ends of life


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and “living nobly” above all, that he elucidates the different regimes. In this respect, freedom’s inherent resistance to utility and need seems to make it inaccessible to reason and inexplicable, for to ask why human beings strive to live together is to ask about a further good that denies the full experience of the “needless” sociality that manifests our political nature. Aristotle thus makes explicit that the explanation of the city needed to adjudicate and resolve the disputes over the regime and the various claims to share in the rule of the city necessarily obscures and overlooks the way in which human beings are naturally political. To give an account of the affection that moves human beings to seek to live together would be to dissolve the experience of it, for it cannot be accounted for as an expression of either higher or lower needs. In looking for need, such an account would obscure the freedom that underlies this natural striving to live together that marks the human being as political by nature. Aristotle roots the city’s existence, not only in the ends it serves, but also in the political affection of human nature that cannot be construed as an instrument, as a means to an end, either the high end of the common good or the low end of private advantage. Thus, when the democrat attempts to define freedom, as we have seen, he defines it in accordance with its “function” (ergon), and yet in its endlessness its function remains indeterminate and idiosyncratic—living however one wishes—that is antithetical to rule and politics as such. Yet, that democrats should conceive of all ruling and being ruled as mastery and slavery is, as it turns out, hardly an error unique to democracy, and indeed it appears to be the mainstay of those philosophizing about politics. Aristotle in fact begins the Politics, not only by declaring the political community to be most authoritative and most comprehensive for aiming at the most authoritative end, but also by correcting those “thinkers” who identify the rule of the statesman, king, household manager, and master as the same, the ruler possessing the same ruling knowledge (P 1257a7–20). In his introduction to his own account of the best regime at the conclusion of the Politics, moreover, Aristotle returns to the distinction between the kinds of rule by adjudicating a dispute between those who agree that the best life is one of the virtues. Yet, as if to confirm how essential freedom is to the claim of the best life, this dispute about in what activity such a life consists turns not on a claim as to which virtue is better than the other, but on the freedom available to each life. The critic of the political life contends that “the free person’s way of life both is something other than that of the statesman and is the one most worth choosing.” Aristotle grants to this critic of political life that “the life of the free man is different from that of the master.” To the extent that rule is not over the free, ruling is degraded and degrading, not only for the ruled but ruler as well. But Aristotle rejects this reduction of all rule to despotism, “for rule over free persons differs from rule over slaves no less than that which is free by nature differs from that which is slave by nature” (P 1325a28–30). The political rule of the statesman is, therefore, not merely a defense of the free from the unjust attempt to tyrannize them, but turns most importantly on the dignity and worthiness of the life of the ruler. The essential question of Aristotle’s political teaching, therefore, concerns this claim about the nobility and choiceworthiness of political rule, the rule over free persons. Some of Aristotle’s most serious and careful readers suggest, therefore, that Aristotle’s argument for the existence of this kind of rule collapses under the weight

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


of its own claim to be just and good for the ruler. Namely, on one hand, only ruling those who are “free and equal” can be good for the ruler, for the rule over inferiors is as unserious as rule over animals, but on the other hand, ruling those who are free and equal can be justified only as ruling in turns, and thus, incompletely. The best activity would be incompatible with the freedom and equality of the ruled unless the ruler retire from ruling and take his place among the ruled, and therefore the continuous exercise of the best activity is incompatible with political life.2 Political rule appears, therefore, as incoherent, and in this way, reveals not the nobility, but the harsh necessity and force underlying political life. The critic of the political life to whom Aristotle responds, then, would be essentially correct. Aristotle’s account of ruling as a public service and labor looking to another’s benefit would offer evidence for this view, for ruling would be a kind of slavish necessity required for those free and equal to live together, a political compromise that precludes the possibility that political life is in itself good. The activity of the statesman, whatever the nobility of his life and its virtuous exercise, would not constitute his perfection. It would be reasonable and prudent to avoid ruling in the interest of one’s own perfection and freedom. However, in stating that ruling is a public service for the sake of the ruled, Aristotle also points out that when there exists equality and similarity among citizens, they claim to merit ruling in turn, not to merit being ruled and benefited as return for their labors. Human beings do not simply want benefits, they also want to benefit. The question that Aristotle raises that lies at the core of his understanding of the city and the regime is whether and what basis there is for the coherence of the political man’s understanding of the basis of his rule, and thus of political life as such. I argue next that Aristotle’s account of the political life, which begins not in the Politics but in its prequel, the Nicomachean Ethics, does provide the moral ground for political rule. The human good, contrary to what the critics of political rule maintain, is not and cannot simply be a telos in any simple way, for the self-sufficiency of the human good entails in fact an understanding of freedom or self-sufficiency that prompts us toward benefactions in order to be the cause of the good. The good for the human being consists in both possessing and causing the good, in being both the end and beginning of our own actions. SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND THE POLITICAL LIFE Aristotle opens the Ethics by noting that “every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice seem to aim at some good.” From this uncontroversial observation concerning the direction of actions to goods, Aristotle arrives at a more problematic conclusion that it is “beautifully asserted” that the good is that at which all things aim. Instead of fleshing out what this might mean, Aristotle indicates that there is a diversity of human actions or praxeis, all of which aim at seemingly different ends. Aristotle initially reduces the diversity of ends to two kinds. For some, the end is in the activity (energeia) itself, while for others, like arts (technai), the end is a product (ergon) beyond the activity. That is, some activities are means to something else and some are for themselves. In those activities where the works produced are


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beyond the activity itself, Aristotle concludes, the works are superior by nature to the activities (NE 1094a6). In order to reconcile this multiplicity of ends with the single end at which all things aim, Aristotle explains that different arts, sciences, and actions are ordered into wholes through ruling or architectonic capacities. The art of bridle-making has its “end” in bridles, but it is ruled by the art of horsemanship inasmuch horsemanship uses bridles, the art of horsemanship in turn falls under the general’s art inasmuch as the general uses skilled horsemen to achieve his own end of victory in battle. Aristotle concludes, therefore, that the ends of these ruling arts are superior to those that are ruled by them, because the latter are for the sake of the former inasmuch as they and their ends are used for the end of the latter. This ordering presents a difficulty for arts in relation to their own ends. Although arts, such as Aristotle has mentioned, can be understood as a kind of activity whose end is in a work beyond their practice, nothing necessitates that the end is a purely instrumental good. The activity of providing a painful medical treatment is not good for its own sake, but its end of health may certainly be. But with Aristotle’s introduction of architectonic arts, arts and activities initially understood as for the good of those they rule and guide, are directed to a good beyond those they rule. The rule of arts is justified inasmuch as they produce what is good for the ruled, but the architectonic art directs the activity of arts beyond the good of the ruled to its own end. The doctor directs his activities to the benefit of his sick patient by healing him, but by healing him, but also serves the architectonic end by producing healthy soldiers—and citizens. Aristotle makes explicit this problem, concluding that this same architectonic structure holds even in cases where the activities are done for their own sake, where the activities do not even have an external product to be pressed into service of the end of the architectonic capacity (NE 1094a16–18).3 Architectonic arts as Aristotle has modeled them impose an end on the activities and products subordinate to them that those who practice the subordinate art do not necessarily accept or even know.4 The principal function of architectonic ordering is to transform ends into means, even if these goods are understood by their practitioners as for their own sake, whether as activities or ends of activities. In chapter 2 Aristotle articulates the argument about the good a second time, but this time with reference to human wish: “If there is an end of action which we desire for its own sake, an end which determines all our other desires; if, in other words, we do not make all of our choices for the sake of something else—for in this way the process will go to infinity—then obviously this end will be the good, that is, the highest good” (NE 1094a17–22). Aristotle’s turn to “our” desire places the hierarchy in the soul that he initially presented through the model of the ordering of arts in the city. The opening two accounts of the ordering of goods therefore point the reader in two different directions. The highest good in the case of the architectonic ordering of human actions has no essential connection to “us” or anyone’s good in particular, while a need for a final good in reference to human desire is inseparable from “our” desire and thus from the soul of the individual. That Aristotle proceeds immediately to ask whether knowledge of the good to which our longing is directed is necessary for us to have in order to know what to do

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


and what not to do (1094a20–22) makes evident the difference between Aristotle’s two accounts of the highest good—one belonging to the care of the architectonic arts and one in the soul. Aristotle’s question on whether knowledge is needful is thus not simply a rhetorical question. If there is an architectonic art or knowledge to which the highest good is entrusted, knowledge of this good could become a matter of expertise. But inasmuch as this holds true, knowledge of the good would not be necessary for each to possess in order to act well, precisely because it lies in an art directed to our good. An invalid needs no knowledge of health or medical treatments and only needs to obey the doctor’s prescriptions to be benefited (cf. NE 1105b13–16; NE 1143b31– 32). A long and complicated account of the human good might be avoided by listening to and obeying one who knows. The ordering of human actions by means of an art presupposes that knowledge of the final good is peculiar to someone and thereby not necessary as a target for “us.” More specifically, the question underlying the character of the need for this knowledge to guide our actions and choices turns ultimately on whether we can be good by the agency and knowledge of another, whether our own goodness can be the product of an art, and thus whether the human good longed for by the individual belongs to any art. Politikē is the highest capacity as it determines which sciences (epistēmai) will exist in cities, who will study them, and to what extent; and also that the most honored arts come under the authority of politics. From this fact of ruling, Aristotle concludes that “since this science (epistēmē) uses the rest of the sciences, and since, moreover, it legislates what people are to do and not do, its end seems to comprehend the ends of the other sciences. Therefore, the end of politics is the human good” (1094b4–7). The human good as the end of politics is in this way derived peculiarly from the fact that politikē is authoritative—it rules all things and is never ruled—rather than why it is so. In the hierarchy of sciences and actions, its end must be highest because the architectonic art is itself the highest and most comprehensive capacity inasmuch as it rules and directs all other sciences and capacities. The perfection of the end of politics, as the human good, is derived from politikē being at the top of the hierarchy. If one knows the hierarchy, one can know the highest end, because it is the end that belongs to the highest of the ruling arts. Aristotle does not leave matters at this conclusion and immediately proceeds to derive the architectonic order from a ranking of ends independent of the hierarchy of rule. The human good is the end of politics because “even if the good is the same for the individual and the city, the good of the city is the greater (meizon) and more perfect thing (teleioteron) both to attain and preserve. The attainment of the good for an individual alone is satisfying, but [to attain it] for a tribe or city is nobler and more divine” (NE 1094b8–9). Because the political capacity serves and produces the highest good—the good of the city—it is the highest capacity. These two derivations of the human good and its relation to the political capacity point us in different directions. In the former, the highest good is understood as such because of its association with the most comprehensive of teleological capacities, but in the latter the hierarchy of rulers and ruled itself is a result of a ranking of ends that precedes the ordering of capacities to which such ends belong. The hierarchy of rule structures the hierarchy of ends in the first case, and in the second case, the highest end structures the hierarchy of rule. Is the city’s good highest, because it is ruled by the


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most authoritative capacity, politikē, or does politikē have authority over all because the city’s end—the care of the statesman—is highest? Because of our tendency to read Aristotle as a “teleologist” for whom the end is obviously superior to what is for the end, the problem of this dual formulation of the political good is easily overlooked. Aristotle had opened the Ethics with the seemingly uncontroversial observation that among activities where the end is in a work (ergon) outside the activity itself, the end is superior. Health is the better good than the doctoring that produces it. Can politics be understood in this way, however, and if not, why not? On second look, Aristotle’s elevation of the good of the city above that of any individual is more ambiguous than it appears. The comparative adjectives “greater” (meizon) and “more perfect” (teleioteron) Aristotle uses to describe the superiority of the city’s good can also be adverbial. Thus they could be describing, not the city’s good, but the statesman’s activity of attaining and preserving of it (e.g., “It is greater and more perfect to attain and preserve the good of the city [than to attain and preserve the good of the individual]” [NE 1094b8–9]).5 In the precise moment that Aristotle appears to elevate the good of the city as the perfect good over that of the individual, he also makes it equivocal whether the more perfect thing is the city’s good itself or the activity of a statesman who produces this good, the cause of the city’s good. Aristotle’s initial account of the city’s good and its relation to one who brings it about indicates that politikē has two different goods whose relationship is obscure. It produces the city’s good, but it can be understood as itself a choiceworthy way of life and thus to have integrity in its own activity. Hence, when Aristotle provides his own account of the highest good, the highest good must be something that is not for the sake of something else and it must be something independent or self-sufficient (NE 1097a–1097b). But these two ways of characterizing the perfection of happiness—the final (literally “end-like,” teleios) good and the self-sufficient good—are in tension. The former understands everything we do as for the sake of this highest good, as useful for it, and it thus links all we do as necessary for but distinct from this end. In this, it manifests the teleological orientation of human action. However, in being the perfectly useless end and for the sake of nothing higher than itself, the most perfect thing becomes the neediest end of all, needing all particular goods we choose for its sake, dependent on every subordinate activity construed as an instrument for happiness. The finality of the good makes all other goods we choose intelligible inasmuch as they can be called “good” in light of their service to the only good never chosen for the sake of anything else. Aristotle proceeds to clarify what he means by a self-sufficient or independent life, for self-sufficiency for a human being at least is “not by reference to the ‘self’ alone,” nor does it belong to “someone who lives his life alone, but to one who lives with parents, children, wife, friends, and fellow citizens, for a human being is by nature political.” Aristotle’s previous treatment of politikē helps to explain why this is selfsufficiency. Politics appears as the activity that is both for the sake of something else and for its own sake, as an art and a way of life, but Aristotle allowed us to consider the possibility that its desirability is to be found in bringing about its product—the good for the city—that is “more beautiful” and “more divine” than any other good.

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


The dignity of the political life arises from the nature of its object, but by making the city its object, it renders the city dependent and in need of the statesman. Hence, it will become a theme of the Ethics that the deepest need of human beings for others, and thus the most ineradicable obstacle to individual self-sufficiency rests not in our need to be benefited, nor in our vulnerability, but in a need for an object for our beneficence and virtue (see especially NE 1177b9–1178a16). This is to say that self-sufficiency consists in being the cause of good, responsible for good, and thus the problem of the political life consists in its seemingly contradictory claims that it is good for another, a public service and self-sacrifice, and the best life capable of being chosen. The greatest obstacle to individual self-sufficiency rests in the perplexing need to be a benefactor. The question of the meaning of self-sufficiency that is raised by Aristotle’s identification of political self-sufficiency is revealed in the greatest complications for Aristotle’s account of human happiness. These complications arise from two seemingly minor qualifications of the human function—that happiness is the excellent activity, rather than mere possession, of virtue and that happiness must be over a complete life. Misfortune can destroy the conditions for the best activities in any number of ways, for these activities require external goods—wealth, children, friends, and power—over which we do not have complete control and which can be easily taken from us, and we are always, as mortal beings, subject to the possibility of being cut down before living a complete life. The perplexity about fortune that Aristotle raises in his own voice, however, presents a deeper perplexity about the nature of happiness for the human being. Namely, whether happiness (as its English rendering might suggest) is a matter of happenstance or something else: This is also why the perplexity arises as to whether happiness is something that can be gained through learning or habituation or through some other practice, or whether it comes to be present in accord with a sort of divine allotment or even through chance. Now, if there is in fact anything that is a gift of the gods to human beings, it is reasonable that happiness is god given, insofar as it is above all the best of them. But perhaps this would be more fitting to another examination—but it appears that even if happiness is not god sent but comes to be present through virtue and a certain learning or practice, it is among the most divine things. For the prize of virtue or its end appears to be best and to be something divine and blessed. It would also be something common to many, for it is possible for it to be present through a certain learning and care to all who have not been rendered defective in virtue. And if it is better to be happy in this way rather than through chance, it is reasonable that this is how—if in fact what accords with nature is naturally in the noblest possible state, and similar is what accords with art and cause as a whole, and especially the best [art or cause]. To entrust the greatest and noblest thing to chance would be excessively discordant. (NE 1099b12–24)

This question of the origin of the highest good for human beings involves not merely the insecurity of happiness for a vulnerable, mortal being, but a perplexity about what happiness is. No one would be genuinely satisfied if he were aware that his happiness was a matter of luck, but this observation also implies that happiness by itself is essentially insufficient, and thus not the highest human good. Or, at least, that there are better and worse kinds of happiness; happiness from our own efforts and virtue


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is better than happiness arising from fortune. The good for which we wish would be unsatisfactory if it were accorded to us wholly through wishing. This human concern for the cause of good revealed in the critique of fortune, and not just the critique of misfortune, draws into question the extent to which human beings are simply teleologically structured beings. What makes happiness alone insufficient is the concern peculiar to human beings about the origin of happiness. The satisfaction experienced in the end for the human being is shaped decisively by its origin, where it comes from and how it arises. But this is to question whether the telos is ever simply a telos at all. In this most important respect, the underlying cause of the political character of human beings is not their desire for good, but the uniquely human desire to be the cause of good. When Aristotle says that entrusting the greatest of human concerns to chance would be “excessively discordant,” he does not tell us why this prospect is so unpleasant to us, or why we are concerned with the cause of happiness. Do we wish for our greatest concern to be something best and thus divine, and we can identify it as such by crediting it to a divine cause? Or do we have a problem with fortune because we long to be responsible, for ourselves to be the cause of our own happiness? While these alternatives are never expressly resolved by Aristotle, they point to the deepest tension within the human good manifest in our understanding the best activity both as never for the sake of anything other than itself and as the self-sufficient one. Aristotle thus calls both the notion that happiness is something divine and something due to ourselves as “reasonable,” which is simply a formulation that we wish our happiness to be identifiable as the highest activity and for ourselves to be self-sufficient, the cause of good. In order to reconcile the most perfect end with self-sufficiency, the fulfillment of that possibility would entail becoming a god—that our good be divinely caused and caused by ourselves. The disparity between happiness and virtue does not, therefore, arise from our being subject to misfortune but being subject to fortune as such, because we long to make happiness the “prize or telos” of virtue. That is, the human longing is not for happiness per se, but happiness of a certain kind and to come about in the certain way—on the basis of our merits. Virtue is not simply for its own sake but is essentially, rather than incidentally, for the sake of happiness, and we would not want happiness except as a result of our own virtue and care. This longing for happiness to come from our own virtue and care might seem to diminish virtue by treating virtue a “means” and “instrumental” rather than an “end,” except that the quest to turn virtue into an origin rather than an end is a manifestation of our desire to be self-sufficient as the origin of our own happiness. In this respect, the “instrumental” is never simply instrumental, for we have ends in order to be able to act in the world. Aristotle’s repeated reminder throughout the Ethics that the purpose of the inquiry is to become good (NE 1103b28; NE 1105b12; NE 1179b1–4) is not an indication of the purely instrumental status of the knowledge we are supposed to acquire from the Ethics. For if such knowledge were purely instrumental in a teleological hierarchy of means and end, the end, we might think, would not be to “become good” but rather than simply to “be good.” That we wish to be good by our own efforts and would be thoroughly dissatisfied if forced to credit our happiness to happenstance means that the identity of the human good cannot be

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


severed from knowing its origin. Hence, Aristotle opens his account of virtue in Book II in a way that appears odd at first, not by asking what virtue is, but how it is generated and comes into being, ascribing the origin and increase of moral virtue to habit and intellectual virtue to teaching—to human causes (NE 1103a15–26). This beginning with the question of the generation of virtue, and not with the question of what it is, is not simply an indication of the purportedly “practical” and non-philosophic character of Aristotle’s investigation into virtue, one that renders the knowledge of human things good in its utility alone. Rather, it is the ultimate reflection on the nature of human virtue as that which perfects that the human being would not in fact perfect the human being if it were the result of necessity or chance. The whatness of the human good cannot be severed from its generation without it being deeply dissatisfying. Accordingly, when Aristotle defines virtue in Book II, he will give it a twofold account as “that which when present puts in a good condition that of which it is a virtue” and also “that which causes that of which it is a virtue to act well” (NE 1106a14–15) and thus virtue is a possession, a thing, but also has a causal or productive power. Similarly, Aristotle will define moral virtue doubly as the mean disposition (hexis) between two irrational extremes, a possession (NE 1106b5–16) and as the practice of “aiming at the mean” (NE 1106b28), that which is responsible for and guides us in acting well. The duality of virtue as a good to be possessed and as cause of moral achievements is a reflection of the tension between the finality and self-sufficiency of happiness. As human beings, we do not simply seek to be happy unconditionally, but we seek to be happy on account of ourselves. This duality of virtue is nowhere more present than in the puzzling disposition of moral virtue to pleasure and pain that Aristotle makes central to his account of moral virtue. The pleasures and pains that accompany our deeds are to be taken as signs of our character and the virtues we possess. If we are pleased by virtuous actions and pained by vicious ones, we are virtuously disposed. Doing something repeatedly and becoming familiar with it eventually makes acts pleasant that initially are not pleasant and are even painful. Thus, the lawgiver aims at bringing up children through habits so that they enjoy noble things and are pained by base ones (NE 1104b5–16). Yet Aristotle concludes his argument that pleasure and pain are central to the investigation of virtue by observing that the doing of something well is better when it is more difficult. Indeed, “art and virtue always arise in connection with that which is more difficult,” for what is more difficult is a greater achievement when one succeeds (NE 1105a8–13). The achievement of perfect virtue in which we take pleasure in virtuous deeds diminishes the achievement of those particular deeds. Pleasure alone cannot be a sign of the actualization of virtue. Virtue must be pleasant and nevertheless involve our own arduous labors and efforts. The issue of difficulty introduced here becomes thematic to the Ethics as a whole, and Aristotle returns repeatedly to the difficulty and rareness of something as one standard for its worth. It is a hard thing to be good, Aristotle claims, because “to do all of this to the right person, to the right extent, for the right reason, and in the right way is no longer something easy that anyone can do. It is for this reason that acting well is rare, praiseworthy, and noble” (NE 1109a27–29). In this respect, the need to know what to do is not simply a kind of instrumental guidance on how to act in particular circumstances, but is in fact part and parcel of virtue, because virtuous achievements


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are inseparable in some way from the efforts of the intellect involved in bringing our actions to fruition that permit us to identify such actions as our own. Thus, the question of virtue is not simply whether virtue is for its own sake as a final good simply, but whether it is somehow final and comprehensive. Aristotle will of course answer the question of what happiness is, or what the best life is, by defending the unqualified superiority of contemplative life, and on a number of grounds—the life of contemplation is the most divine of our capacities and it is self-sufficient in that, unlike the political life, which offers a secondarily good life, it is free from the need for the external goods over which we do not have full control (NE 1177a–1177b). Political life lacks leisure because it is directed to gaining happiness, for the stateman and for his fellow citizens. Political activity thus lacks the finality demanded of the highest good for which we long—that it be directed to no other end beyond itself (NE 1177b12–7). It is the uselessness of the contemplative life—that it cannot be turned to another good—that gives it its finality and perfection. There are no external works to be gained by the contemplative life, and thus precisely for this reason it cannot be for the sake of happiness. It must be happiness itself. The perplexing character of this argument for contemplation, which seems at first so powerful, is that it necessitates that one could never in fact choose the life of contemplation, because one would have to choose such a life for the sake of happiness, for the sake of our good, for it would thereby lack finality in the same way as political activity. The utter uselessness of the contemplative life abstracted from all human concerns can, of course, only be understood as good for its own sake, for it has no other effect and causes nothing at all and thus has no other end, needs very little in terms of external goods over which human beings have little control, and is free in its utterly useless finality. The contemplative life is nevertheless subject to fortune and unfree in a deeper way, for it cannot be said to be responsible for or the cause of itself or anything good. For how could one explain why some should be equipped by nature for the contemplative life, and others not? How can one say that he has chosen such a life, without explaining that he has chosen it for the sake of happiness, something other than the activity itself? The contemplative life must be so high that it is utterly out of reach of rational human endeavor, and certainly beyond the reach of most people. It is not, as Aristotle says of a happiness that can be due to us, “available to many.” One will be born and die a contemplator, one cannot be persuaded into or out of it by speech, and the goodness of one’s life would turn entirely on the chance of being wellborn. Aristotle’s arguments for the contemplative life prove too much. Insofar as Aristotle’s speech intends to persuade anyone that the contemplative life ought to be chosen, because it will make us happy and satisfy our longing to possess what we divine to be good, Aristotle is performing the work he ascribes to the statesman of seeking to secure the good for himself and others. But then we would choose the contemplative life for the sake of something, as all choices seem to require (see NE 1111b4–31). The contemplative life would be deprived of its finality. In other words, to give reasons for choosing the contemplative life indicates that it is only an instrumental good, for the one who chooses it serves his own good. On the other hand, if the contemplative life did not consider its own good, it would be subject to the whims of fortune or blind necessity. The contemplative life, which has not a care

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


for itself, is most in need of support, indeed, of support from the divine, which cares for its good and guarantees it happiness. This is why Aristotle’s final argument for the contemplative life culminates in an appeal to divine providence. The life that is most of all final, most for its own sake, is the least self-sufficient. The life of the statesman, by contrast, is dependent and incomplete, precisely because his work is a kind of providential care for others which is absent from the contemplative life. Through this care, which addresses our greatest human need, our political nature is revealed. Those for whom the statesman cares, of course, are also political beings, who both welcome the statesman’s care and resist it, for they too long both to have and to cause the good. The statesman can be truly a benefactor (and hence live well) only if he could help another live well and hence become a cause of good in the world like himself. This problem that lies at the heart of political life is reflected in Aristotle’s final turn in the Ethics, which introduces his next work, the Politics. He reminds us once again that the point of the entire inquiry was not merely to know what it is to be good, but rather that “we become good” (NE 1179b4). The entire last chapter, however, moves seamlessly from the question of how we become good to that of what skill and knowledge is needed to make others good through our care (NE 1180b20–28). Aristotle begins by prescribing a “common education” of rigorous habits prescribed by the laws that will instill in the many the proper loves and hates, because it is “difficult,” Aristotle notes, “to happen upon” (tuchein) such an education in virtue absent laws to enforce it (NE 1179b33–34). Such laws, which make virtue easy, however, make one’s virtue less one’s own. For whose benefit is such an education, the lawgiver whose laws make others good or the ruled who will be made virtuous by happenstance without their own efforts and care? Aristotle thus initially praises the Spartan legislator, who provided the harsh education needed, and blames other legislators who neglected such “common care.” Aristotle’s blame of the latter, however, gives way to his suggestion of a second-best alternative to the common care of the laws: each should educate his children and friends. The defect of most lawgivers, which allows the second best, turns out to be a boon, for the care of fathers and friends for each individual for whom he cares is superior to a “common education,” both because of the natural affection of father and child (to say nothing of the affection of friends), and because, like the other arts, none of which simply applies universal rules, this particular care allows that each be cared for individually (NE 1180a33–1180b17). Thus, Aristotle’s search for the political art cannot be primarily for the sake of the ruled and their acquiring virtue, but for the sake of understanding the lawgiver and his good which lies in his becoming a benefactor. It is the neglect that Aristotle attributes to the law that permits this. Aristotle concludes by making one final criticism of those active in political life, which turns out to be a praise of them as well. Instead of blaming them for neglecting a common education in virtue, he claims that they did not leave behind their own way of life, their political life, with others. “One would expect that they would have done so,” he observes, “if they had been able; for they could not have left anything better for their cities, nor is there anything they would rather choose to belong to themselves or to those dearest to them, than a capacity of this kind” (NE 1181a6–10). Aristotle’s critique of statesmen is at once a criticism of their failure and an elevation of their life


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to an extraordinary preeminence, for it is his last word on what is most choiceworthy. Inasmuch as the statesman can make a claim to the best life, his life would entail the self-sufficiency and freedom that the contemplative life lacks, self-sufficiency reflected most fundamentally in his benefactions that imitate providence. But if this is the best way of life, the greatest benefaction would consist in making others like himself, in sharing his life with others. That he does not choose this capacity for others allows others to choose it for themselves. Inasmuch as this activity and way of life is the best thing to choose, the statesmen’s task of choosing it for those dearest to them is an impossible one. The statesman cannot simply make another “good” without turning them into an artifact of the political art, and in this respect failing to provide the benefaction he claims to provide, much like the Spartan education, which Aristotle will in the Politics proceed to harshly criticize. The difficult task of the statesman is that he must choose for the ruled and leave his subjects free like himself to choose. The legislators’ neglect of a common education turned out to leave an at once second-best and yet unexpectedly superior alternative to Spartan education. Aristotle’s formulation of the statesman’s failing to choose his capacity for those dearest to him might, on second look, be more reasonable than we at first “expect,” for it alone opens up the possibility of sharing in rule. Inasmuch as ruling is good, it can only be because it is good to be a benefactor, and the content of such benefaction entails both the care of others in order to lead them to what is good and a studied neglect and purposefully incomplete action that is characteristic of the political art. NOTES 1. Translations from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics are my own, although I have consulted the translations of Martin Ostwald, Nicomachean Ethics (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1962), Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Carnes Lord, Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). I have used the Greek text in the Loeb editions of both texts. Parenthetical references to Aristotle’s texts are represented as follows: NE=Nicomachean Ethics; P=Politics 2. For the most powerful readings along these lines, see Thomas L. Pangle, Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) and Susan D. Collins, Aristotle and the Rediscovery of Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 107–108. For the best defense and explanation of Aristotle’s conception of political rule, see Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 1992). 3. Davis suggests that this movement is a consequence of understanding happiness as a single highest good, in which case even when we do things for their own sake, they must be interpreted as “for” happiness and therefore instrumental and imperfect. See Michael Davis, The Soul of the Greeks (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 64. 4. See Ronna Burger, Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 15–16; Davis, The Soul of the Greeks, 62–63; Ann Ward, Contemplating Friendship in Aristotle’s Ethics (Albany: SUNY Press, 2016), 20–22. 5. Aristotle’s ambiguity is captured in different English translations of this sentence. Ostwald translates it as “the good of the state clearly is the greater and more perfect thing to attain

Aristotle on Statesmanship, Freedom, and the Spirit of the Democracy


and safeguard,” translating these components as adjectives, while Bartlett and Collins translate it as “to secure and preserve the good of the city appears to be something greater and more complete,” translating them adverbially.

REFERENCES Aristotle, Carnes Lord. Aristotle the Politics, 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Aristotle, Martin Ostwald. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 1962. Aristotle, Robert C. Bartlett, and Susan D. Collins. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Burger, Ronna. Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Collins, Susan D. Aristotle and the Rediscovery of Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Davis, Michael. The Soul of the Greeks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Nichols, Mary P. Citizens and Statesman: A Study of Aristotle’s Politics. Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 1992. Pangle, Thomas L. Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Ward, Ann. Contemplating Friendship in Aristotle’s Ethics. Albany: SUNY Press, 2016.

Chapter 7

Cicero’s Populism Stephen Patrick Sims

For most of the history of political thought, Cicero’s status as a thinker of the first rank was undisputed. He was a worthy interlocutor for both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Each saw him as an authority on law, virtue, politics, and the nature of the human good. He, along with Xenophon and Livy, was one Machiavelli’s chief interlocutors. But in the nineteenth century, Hegel, and the German historicist political thought he generated, dismissed Cicero as a thoughtless aristocratic republican, who knew nothing of the essence of politics. According to the Hegelian critique, Cicero was an embarrassing conservative who did not see that the zeitgeist had moved on from the old-fashioned aristocratic republic of Rome; he was not a politically modern man as Julius Caesar was. As a philosopher, the Hegelian scholars claim that Cicero was nothing but a poor student of Plato and Aristotle. If there is anything useful to be found in Cicero’s writing, it is that he successfully transmitted the Stoic idea of natural law. It would follow that as a political thinker, Cicero has very little to offer the problems and question of democratic regimes that had not already been said by the Greeks. While Cicero certainly was indebted especially to Plato and Aristotle for his theoretical teaching on politics, he offers a frank defense of democratic or populist principles that is surprising for a supposed aristocratic conservative. We see this defense primarily in Cicero’s political teaching that the mixed regime is the best regime simply speaking, because it is the most just regime and the most stable regime. As I will argue below, Cicero, while aware of the traditional arguments against popular rule, insists that the people must possess meaningful power in any well-mixed republic, that is to say, a good republic.1 Many ancient and medieval political thinkers observed that popular rule had much to recommend it, especially since it could serve as a prudent, although less than ideal, way to prevent the vulgar masses from becoming too restive. Classical political thought, then, tended to see the mixed regime and popular governance as good, but one that fell short of the genuine human good and genuine justice. Cicero, however, suggests that liberty is a necessary condition for just government in the Republic, and not merely a prudent allowance for those manifestly unfit to rule. The justice of the mixed regime receives a sort of poetic support in the teaching of natural law in his Laws. According to that argument, the divine origin of the human 107


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soul implies a fundamental equality that would make a permanent and natural division between the ruler and ruled unfitting. If this is true, then the rule of absolute wisdom, by someone like a Scipio Africanus or Cicero himself, would be contrary to virtue and political wisdom. It follows that the mixed regime is both the best possible regime and the best regime absolutely speaking. ON THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEST REGIME The most important work of political philosophy by Cicero is undoubtedly his Republic, which, like the Platonic dialogue of the same name, features a serious conversation among many friends at the house of Scipio Africanus, the war hero of Rome and nemesis of Carthage and Numantia. The guiding thread of the conversation is the search for the best form of the political community.2 The chief interlocutors are Laelius and Scipio, two old Roman statesmen, although, given the fragmentary condition of the dialogue, other characters may have played important parts that we are unaware of. After some preliminary comments about natural phenomena and the greater importance of thinking about human affairs, especially the fractious condition of the republic, the friends ask Scipio for an account of the best kind of republic. Scipio eschews the natural principles of human communities, such as the coupling of man and woman, and, tailoring his discussion for “prudent” statesmen (who are notable for their exploits in war), Scipio defines the republic a “thing of the people.” The people, however, are not random or haphazard, but a group of people who share a sense of justice and common benefit. Moreover, the people are not drawn together by mutual weakness, but rather they are brought together by love of their own kind. Hence, the republic is a natural community defined, in some sense, by its shared understanding of justice and what it sees as beneficial in common for a good human life.3 It is worth noting that this definition of the republic shows a popular bent, in that the essence of the republic is it being held in common by the “people” and not by the rulers alone. The republic cannot be reduced to the few or the one, but is somehow essentially belonging to all. A union cannot be long lasting without “deliberation,” or thoughtful decisionmaking about what will be good and useful for the union. But who should make these decisions? Scipio gives the classical answer that one, or a select few, or the whole people could deliberate and make decisions about the future of the republic.4 The first is a kingdom, the second an aristocracy, and the last a “popular city” or what the Greeks would call a democracy. Each of these republican forms, if it deliberates with a view toward the purpose of republics—justice and the common benefit—can be a good form of government. Scipio, however, suggests that each of these forms could perhaps be ranked with respect to each other while still being good: he notes in an offhand way that popular republics are the least acceptable of the forms. But rather than ranking the forms in terms of the capacity to serve best the needs of the republic, Scipio argues that each form, in itself, is actually deficient. Kings or the virtuous few, he explains, may possess perfect justice and wisdom, but this justice and wisdom is not shared in common with the people. As such the people would be like slaves, even

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if slaves under a benevolent despotism.5 In this respect rule of the best and kingship are both opposed to the popular city, in that each, to varying degrees, restricts the freedom of others unjustly. If rule of kings and the best is a form of beneficial slavery, popular rule appears as a way of reconciling the need for deliberation without unjustly sacrificing freedom. The equality of popular rule makes it seem most just. But the very egalitarian character of popular republics is a cause of injustice. For while the people may be virtuous (Scipio emphasizes the possible moderation and justice of a popular republic, and hence its capacity to deliberate nobly), there will certainly be those who are more virtuous than others, that is, those who possess moderation, justice, and prudence to a greater degree than their fellows do. It follows that reference to the “people” as just and moderate is reference to something of a fiction; the “people” are just and moderate to the degree that those who make up the people are so, and it is manifestly untrue to suggest that each citizen is equally virtuous. Since each citizen is not equally virtuous, that is to say, not equally committed to serving the common good and not equally prudent about how best to do so, giving each citizen an equal part in deliberation is not obviously good for the republic. For the sake of the common good, it seems that some must be allowed to rise and participate more than others. Scipio does not ignore the classic argument of the few “best” against the popular republic and grants its validity. While popular republics may deliberate well, they cannot be the best kind of republic. The best republic would be the most just republic, but the egalitarian character of the popular republic makes it unjust. It follows from Scipio’s argument that kingship, aristocracy, and popular rule all unjust, if unjust in different ways. In the case of kingship and rule of the best, the people are enslaved, which is unfitting and contradicts the nature of republics, which is that held in common by the people. Rule by all, indiscriminately, does not allow for the degrees of rank that any just society must acknowledge. The defect of each of the regimes suggests that the best republic cannot be found by choosing one of them, but must participate in each to satisfy the double claims of justice, which is recognition of individual virtue and the common freedom of the people. Beyond the inherent injustice of each form of republic, each also easily transforms into its opposite. Thus, a kingdom can easily become a tyranny, rule of best can quickly become rule of the wicked, while popular assemblies, as evidenced by Athens, can be both monstrous and gentle.6 Indeed, Scipio believes that the change from a good form of republic to a bad one is not likely, but necessary; he compares the changes that a city can suffer to the predictability of revolutions of a heavenly body. The difference, of course, is that human beings cannot affect the courses of heavenly bodies, but a “great citizen” who is almost “godlike” could foresee the necessary alterations that happen in political bodies and forestall the worst from happening. One way of doing so is instituting a mixed regime from the beginning, or moving the city toward a mixed regime of monarchy, aristocracy, and popular rule. The mixed regime is the best form of republic for at least two reasons, then. First, it more completely satisfies the requirements of justice than any other form in that it maintains the freedom of the people while also recognizing the difference in virtue and wisdom that necessarily occurs, especially by making room for the “great citizen” who, if he possesses Scipio’s knowledge, can prevent the regime


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from decaying. Justice is neither simply egalitarianism nor simply the ordering of virtuous individuals, but some mixture of the two. The mixed republic best mirrors the complex nature of justice in that it recognizes both the common possession of the republic and the fact that the common possession needs the rule of some citizens more than others. Second, the mixed republic is also the most stable republic, in that it includes all of the claims to rule. The instability of republics seems to be a function of their injustice; to the degree that republics approximate the nature of justice, they will perhaps survive longer. Scipio’s answer to the question of the best regime bears similarities to arguments found in Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, or Polybius; if one can say there is a common position in Greek political thought, it is that the mixed regime is the best possible arrangement for the political community since it is difficult to exclude the popular claims to rule, either due to considerations of justice or the force of numbers. Laelius, being dissatisfied with Scipio’s apparently cautious compromise between excellence and liberty, insists that Scipio identify which of the three pure republican forms is best. Scipio, while reminding his friend that none of them are desirable in themselves, claims that kingship is the best of the pure forms. While popular republics are indeed free, and aristocracies are indeed prudent, kings are marked by sacrificial, even parental, love for the city.7 It is this last that is best, if one must choose from all three good forms. It is worth considering Scipio’s arguments in more detail. Scipio offers several arguments for the superiority of kingship to aristocracy and popular rule. He first offers a theological and cosmological argument, pointing out that all the Roman and Greeks suppose that Jupiter is the king of the gods. He goes on to argue for the universality of the principle, claiming that all peoples, including polytheistic peoples, believe in one god that is superior to all others. Those who do not think gods govern the world nonetheless believe that an intellect governs the cosmos. Next, Scipio appeals to human nature and its many parts. There are several passions and ways in which human beings can be moved, but it is best for a person to be moved by reason or judgment alone. We can see this because reason should rule the many passions rather than the many passions subordinating reason; this shows that human nature itself implies the truth of the ultimate superiority of monarchical rule. Scipio’s next argument is that Rome is a relatively young political community, and that Roman kings were not long ago. Furthermore, the first Romans were civilized just like their Greek contemporaries. Scipio suggests that their example shows that monarchy is compatible with a politically developed people. Scipio also argues from Laelius’ mastery over his own household that he implicitly also approves of monarchical rule; even when Laelius leaves his own house, he appoints one servant above all other servants. Finally, Scipio points out that even the Roman Republic, which expelled kings so long ago, still has recourse to monarchy in times of emergency in the form of a dictator. Thus, in times of great danger the freedom-loving Romans still have recourse to being ruled by an absolute monarch.8 Leaving aside the dubious claim that the early Romans were as civilized as their Greek counterparts, Scipio provides a theological, a psychological, and an economic or domestic argument for the superiority of rule by one rather than few or all.9 Each shows that in its own sphere of the whole of the cosmos, the composite whole of

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human nature, and the domestic whole of the household, it is best and even necessary for a single ruler to order all things. Each of these arguments is at least plausible, since a cosmos with clashing gods is not desirable, nor reason subordinated to anger or lust, nor a household pulled in many directions. But it is also true that each argument relies on the similarity of the political community, as a sort of whole, to the cosmic whole, to a composite whole of human nature, and to the domestic whole. While it is not unreasonable to think that each these examples of an ordered whole may shed light on the ordered whole of the political community, it is by no means clear that the republic is in fact an ordered whole in the same way that the cosmos, the human person, or even a household is an ordered whole. Indeed, the fact that Scipio presents his teaching in dialogue with his friends and fellow citizens indicates that the monarchical rule of the cosmos, soul, or household is not an accurate model of the political community. As if to make this object clear to his auditors, Scipio immediately transitions to brief discussion of regime change, the very thing to which pure regimes are susceptible. Indeed, the “most certain change” happens in the kingly republic. If the king rules unjustly, the entire regime changes to a tyranny. Thus, although the king may be the simply best, he is always potentially the tyrant, and the best regime is the “neighbor” to the worst for this very reason.10 Scipio had made this very point earlier in the dialogue, when speaking of good kings compared to popular and aristocratic republics. Even Cyrus the Persian, “the most just and the wisest,” is not a desirable ruler for Scipio, for everything depended upon Cyrus’ reason. This not only strangely excluded the people from the republic, which, by definition is a “thing of the people,” but also left everything upon the good character of Cyrus. But as Scipio points out, beneath every Cyrus there is a Phalaris. This means that the political knowledge of Scipio, the knowledge of a great citizen who can forestall the revolutions of the republic, must most of all prevent the setting up of a kingship, since it is “most certain” to transform. Scipio’s argument that even Cyrus can easily become an unjust ruler, indeed that is it “most certain,” means that however beneficial for a short time the rule of one may be, it is foolish to propose the wise king as a form for the republic. Since the republic is defined by being the concern of the people, kingship also excludes those who seem most of all to make up the stuff of republics, and in doing so causes the people to become little better than slaves. Kingship is then both unjust and foolish, the very antithesis for a good form of government. If we recall that Scipio’s arguments on behalf of kingly rule appeal to ordered wholes other than the political community, we see then that the arguments in favor of kingship ignore the nature of republics, which necessarily includes the freedom of the people and in the inclusion of multiple types of human beings. The republic is a peculiar kind of being or community that resists the inexorable pull to monarchy found in the rest of nature. A kingly republic, while in some sense conforming to the rest of nature, would deform itself. Political wisdom is not reducible to other sciences such as cosmology or economics. Why is this so? What is the peculiarity of the republic that sets it apart from the rest of nature? As we will see, Cicero writing in his own name proposes the beginning of an answer in his other work of political thought, On the Laws.


Stephen Patrick Sims

ON THE LAWS AND THE LIMITS OF THE MIXED REGIME On the Laws is another dialogue mimicking the Platonic form and calling to mind Plato’s work of that name. It is meant to be read with The Republic in mind, but its setting is much later and with very different participants. Cicero himself is the lead speaker, along with his brother Quintus and their mutual friend Atticus. While visiting Cicero’s garden, they speak of the best way for Cicero to use his leisure, such as composing poetry or writing history. Quintus suggests that his brother busy himself with providing legal counsel to others. At the first suggestion that we should fill our leisure with the study of law, Cicero suggests that it is unfitting for him to do so: the civil law is filled with many small things, such as regulating the walls of houses. Atticus, however, suggests that law can be understood in another, more philosophic way. Just as Plato had attached a dialogue on law to his dialogue on the best regime, so does Cicero, who has produced a dialogue on the best regime, can also provide a more philosophic account of law. Cicero agrees that this would be a suitable use of free time.11 A philosophic discussion of the law entails understanding nothing else than the “entire cause” of justice and laws. Cicero reports that “according to highly educated men” law is “highest reason” which “orders those things that ought to be done and prohibits the opposite.”12 It is both “the force of nature” and the “mind and reason of the prudent man” which was born “before a city was established at all.” The great virtue of rulers, prudence, is derived from and is somehow an image of nature itself; the law that sets the standard of prudent ruling exists even without any political community existing at all. This law is the product of divine legislation. Cicero emphasizes the necessity of a divine law giver by asking Atticus whether he can admit the possibility of divine providence, a ruling intellect that stands between random chance and blind necessity. This ruling intellect, a supreme god, is the founder of a great city or community of gods and men that all share the same source.13 Nature has been providently and generously ordered so that human beings may flourish and develop reason; to the degree that reason is developed correctly, it has the character of law. Having identified the ancient and divine source of human nature and reason, Cicero argues that human beings are marked by a singular equality: “nothing” he says, “is so similar” or “so equal” as one human being to another.14 Human beings are those animals with the divine quality of reason; any being without reason is by definition excluded from the species. Further, any human, by possession of reason, has the potential to attain virtue as long as a good teacher is at hand. Human inequality is the product of vice and ignorance. But even vice and ignorance bear the stamp of universality and equality. Ambition, lust, and greed are common to all peoples, and all recognize the harm they do to human society. Thus, both human goodness and badness are universal and show, in their different ways, human equality. Tracing human nature back to its divine roots and associating justice and law with correct reason leads to the conclusion that human beings are naturally equal. The cosmopolitan egalitarianism rooted in natural law offers support for the idea that human beings are not so unequal to each other that they merit being in the condition of slaves. But the egalitarianism of nature does not necessarily lead to

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democracy as the best regime; on the contrary, human beings are still tempted by pleasure and preeminence to act unjustly and irrationally. At the conclusion of Book I of On the Laws, human beings are blinded to the natural law and their aptitude for virtue through vice and poor education. Philosophers, knowing themselves, can come to see the natural law. Thus, despite the existence of a natural law, human beings still need teachers and rulers; they are not naturally wise. What does Cicero suggest regarding this point in On the Laws? How should human being rule and be ruled? In the third book of On the Laws, Cicero deals with the questions of ruling and offices, or “magistrates,” in order to define the form of the republic. Here, he returns to the question of kingship, noting that kingship is in fact appropriate for primitive peoples, but as they develop politically, ruling and being ruled in turn becomes more appropriate.15 This in turn suggests that a more developed political community will be marked by equality, either of the few that engage in ruling or in a more popular way. In some respects, the regime described by Cicero in the third book appears much like the Roman regime, with offices like consuls, aediles, and consuls in charge of foreign affairs. Indeed, Quintus says that his brother has not been very original in his legislation but seems to honor the legislation of the ancient Romans.16 This fits with the argument of the Republic, that the poeticized mixed regime of Rome is the best regime simply. It is not surprising, then, that Cicero summarily dismisses the notion that the best regime is the absolute rule of the philosopher king; any kingly power must be checked by other forms of political rule. In the case of Rome, the consul in fact possessed authority over all. The only power that checked that power, according to Cicero, is the power of the tribune, the most democratic office in the mixed regime, safeguarding the people from the pride and depravity of patricians and their natural ally, the consuls.17 Quintus, scandalized by his brother keeping the popular institution of the tribunate in the best city, forcefully requests the removal of the popular office. The best regime, as far as he is concerned, is one dominated by a powerful aristocracy that can keep the people in check. He does not take seriously the possibility that the few would oppress the many; nor is cognizant that the unchecked power of the few would appear to be nothing other than slavery to the many. For Quintus, theorizing about legislation and politics finds its worth in the question of rule, especially in showing that the noble few have a much greater claim to rule than the motley masses of the Roman people. In his longest speech of the dialogue, Quintus argues that since the tribunes arose in a time of civil war, its origin is tainted; it can only be associated with revolution, with an ugly populism that chafes against Quintus’ enlightened elitism. Further, the democratic thrust of the tribunate does violence to justice, for it “mixes” all the orders of the city, suggesting that Quintus in fact disagrees with Scipio’s conclusion in the Republic that the mixed regime is the best regime simply, his language recalling Scipio’s description of democracy amok.18 Cicero does not deny the evils of the tribunes, but gently points out that political rule may always be abused, including the rule of the consuls. He even suggests that the authority of the tribunes is excessive, or goes beyond reason, but says that it must be so; after all, the power of the people is in fact far greater. It is better for the power of the people to be concentrated in the office of the tribune, even with its capacity to


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veto legislation, than for the people to turn to violence if ignored or abused by the few. If the institution of the tribunate was born in violence, it was also the fruit of political wisdom, for it caused an end to violence in Rome and brought about political moderation.19 Cicero geos so far as to say that the institution of the tribunes saved Rome from near certain death. Hence, Pompey’s restoration of the tribunate was a recognition of the need for an expression of the will of the people other than mob violence. In doing so, the tribunate not only is more just in that it includes the popular element, but it makes the people less vulnerable to the demagoguery that potential tyrants use. The institution of the tribune, and the impressive power that it gives the people of the republic, is an example of what Scipio says in the Republic, that the nature of republics often goes against reason.20 Quintus believes that a simple regime of aristocracy would be best, and is angry at his brother for diluting the nobility of his vision of the best regime. Atticus, even as an apolitical Epicurean, rejects the popular tribunes as well, perhaps due to his respect for Socrates’ argument in Plato’s Republic, vehemently agreeing with Quintus that only the best and wisest should rule. For Cicero’s interlocutors, the best regime would have the appetitive and irrational people benevolently guided by the pure wisdom of those such as Quintus and Atticus. Cicero, for his part, recognizes the necessity of adequately including the rule of the people, and what is more, that political justice demands such inclusion. Although Cicero is gentle with his interlocutors, Quintus and Atticus reveal themselves as lacking judgment, for excluding the people would make the republic both unstable and unjust. They could be more accurately called partisans than devoted caretakers of republican freedom. Following this line of reasoning, the essential irrationality of republics that Scipio mentions does not necessarily mean that only the cry for popular liberty is irrational, but also refers to the conservative stubbornness of the ruling elites. But Cicero, showing in both word and deed what republican rule looks like, asks his brother whether he will assent to the tribunate’s presence in the laws after his long defense of it. Quintus persists in denying the wisdom and justice of the office, refusing to assent on this important question to his brother’s populist leanings. Rather than forcing his brother to agree to the tribunate, Cicero passes over the question so that the conversation may continue. In doing so, he makes room for his brother’s liberty, no matter how potentially unwise it may be.21 Both the unwise people and the unwise elites must be given the liberty to participate, lest Cicero become a master rather than a friend.22 In this respect, Cicero’s dialogues offer an example of mixing the superiority of the wise (Cicero) and the unwise while maintaining the freedom of each. Although the tribunate is an important protection for the people of Rome, the chief business of ruling remains in the Senate for Cicero. Historically, senators had been chosen by consuls and then later the censors; as such it was not a particularly democratic institution. Cicero, however, makes it clear that he breaks with Roman tradition by making the Senate an institution with a popular bedrock; each senator must be elected by the people rather than chosen by other magistrates. It would possess true legislative authority, and thus bring an element of wisdom to the making of law, while also being an expression of the popular will.23 Because of the important role that the people play in the best regime, Cicero emphasizes that a genuine public morality is of

Cicero’s Populism


the utmost importance, especially one that emphasizes the virtue of the elites. If the supposedly best citizens are seen to be impious, lustful, and unjust, their bad example will corrupt the rest of the republic. The popular element will not be what Quintus fears it to be if he leads with a life of public virtue. Quintus, for his part, while agreeing that the elites must live virtuously for the sake of a good republic, argues that this standard must be applied to all equally. The best way of doing so, while maintaining the form of a mixed regime, is to make all voting public. Public voting forces everyone to make their choice before the eyes of all, making shameful decisions painful and perhaps dangerous.24 This is the best way to ensure that the people vote with justice in mind, rather than for their own private interests, or because they have been bribed. When the people are allowed to hide their choices from others, then all manner of mischief may happen in elections. Cicero agrees that the best should rule, but does not think that it is possible to truly have a mixed regime if there is not at least a semblance of a secret ballot. The reason is clear enough, although the elitist Quintus and Atticus again fail to see political necessities; if the people are forced to vote in public, in the view of powerful people, then the people are not voting in a free fashion. They can easily be threatened by their neighbors or perhaps the gangsters that run their neighborhoods. Fear of reprisal is the obvious likely consequence to public voting. Thus, votes must be in secret so that the regime will truly possess a democratic element, rather than being democratic in name only. Cicero offers a compromise to his brother—the people are given the power of sharing their vote with good and honorable men in the republic. In this way, the truly virtuous will still have the right to know how people have voted, while the people do not necessarily have to vote in public. Just as Cicero does not wish to browbeat his brother into agreeing with him on the place of popular power within the best republic, so also he wishes to find compromises that, while not perfectly satisfying either the populist or the elitist, is nonetheless an example of the political rule that allows each the liberty required by justice. Cicero’s political thought is not stubborn conservativism. It is also not a radicalism that would wipe clean the human soul. Contrasting his own prescriptions for the best regime against his brother’s moral objections to populism makes this clear. Hence, Cicero offers a reasonable, and, to Quintus, radical, defense of populism in the best republic. But even the more theoretically inclined Atticus, a lover of Plato, fiercely rejects Cicero’s populism. The disagreement of Atticus suggests that his prescriptions are not obviously derivative of Platonic philosophy. Cicero’s populism shows him to be a genuinely philosophic statesman, whose prudence and intellect allows him to see farther and more deeply than either his brother or his Athenian friend. NOTES 1. In this chapter, I will usually use the term “popular” instead of “democratic” as it is closer to the Latin. When it would be confusing, I have used the Greek “democracy” instead. 2. Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Republic, in On the Republic and On the Laws, trans. David Fott (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014), 1.34. All references to On the Republic and On the Laws are from this edition.


Stephen Patrick Sims

3. Ibid. 1.39. 4. Ibid. 1.42. 5. Ibid. 1.43. 6. Ibid. 1.43–44. 7. Ibid. 1.55. 8. Ibid. 1.56–63. It is worth considering that Cicero associated Scipio with war, which is the natural context for kings as well. 9. As noted be Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, trans. Marc L. LePan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 188. 10. Ibid. 1.65. 11. On the Laws, 1.13–15. 12. Ibid. 1.18. 13. Ibid. 1.23–24. 14. Ibid. 1.29 15. Ibid. 3. 4–5. 16. Ibid. 3.12. 17. Ibid. 3.15–17. 18. Ibid. 3.19–20. Cf. On the Republic, 1.67. 19. On the Laws, 3.24 20. On the Republics 2.57. 21. On the Laws 3.26–27. 22. Cf. On the Republic, 1.70, where Scipio explicitly rejects monarchically ruling over his friends in favor of a dialogue. 23. On the Laws, 3.28. 24. Ibid. 3.34–36.

REFERENCES Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On the Republic and On the Laws. Translated by David Fott. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. Manent, Pierre. Metamorphoses of the City. Translated by Marc L. LaPan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Chapter 8

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy Douglas Kries

When we think of modern democracy, we usually have in mind a regime based ultimately on autonomy of some sort. The modern democratic regime therefore addresses itself to ideas such as consent, freedom, rights, and contracts. We are hardly surprised that Augustine does not embrace such modern democratic ideas, for autonomy, or giving law to oneself, conflicts quite completely with a theistic view featuring instead accepting or submitting to the commandments or directives of God. The man and the woman in the garden, for example, made a big mistake by preferring the idea of knowing and deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong rather than accepting or submitting to God’s commandment regarding right and wrong. Autonomy thus first comes to sight in the Bible as inherently rebellious. Augustine did not use the word “autonomy” to state the essence of the original sin; he preferred the word “pride.” Indeed, after Augustine, within Christian thought pride comes to occupy what it seeks, namely first place—but first place only on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. What is perhaps surprising is that Augustine—at least at first glance—has so little to say about ancient democracy, by which I mean for the moment simply a regime that is dominated by the many, or the multitude, or the people. Even though, as Ernest Fortin confirms,1 Augustine evinces a much greater knowledge of classical political philosophy than any of the other Latin Church Fathers, popular rule is not something that receives extensive treatment in his voluminous oeuvre; to the best of my knowledge, Augustine does not even use the actual word “democracy” in any of his major works and only rarely refers to conceptual analogues like “popular rule.” When we think of ancient democracy, we think of course of ancient Athens. To be sure, ancient Athenian voting practices are mentioned in the City of God, but only because they give Augustine the opportunity to point out that the very naming of the city was accomplished by means of an election stolen by demons;2 centuries later, he also notes, the fickle Athenian multitude made itself famous by killing Socrates, only soon to change its mind and kill one of his accusers in addition.3 Of course, if Augustine has little to imply about modern democracy except that it is misbegotten from the start because of its emphasis on autonomy, and if he has little to note about ancient democracy except that multitudes are fickle, it seems that 117


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the auspices are not favorable toward our attempt to honor Mary and David Nichols by means of a chapter on Augustine and democracy. Even from his youth, however, Augustine did not abide by the auspices,4 and in the event he is able to contribute insightfully if indirectly to any discussion of democracy. Our inquiry into his thoughts on the subject will be divided into two parts, corresponding to the two principal approaches to the classification of political regimes in the ancient world. AUGUSTINE ON CICERO’S CLASSIFICATION OF THE REGIMES, INCLUDING ESPECIALLY THE POPULAR REPUBLIC One traditional classification of political regimes within classical political thought incorporates two distinctions. The first distinction is according to the number of those who rule in a regime—either one, or a few, or the many. The second distinction is between good and bad regimes, or just and unjust ones. Since three times two equals six, it turns out that there are six basic types of regimes. Augustine knew of this simple classification scheme from Cicero, who may in turn have been especially reliant upon Polybius. Readers of this chapter are probably most familiar with it from Aristotle, who calls the rule by one “kingship” if it is good and “tyranny” if it is bad, and the rule of the few “aristocracy” if good and “oligarchy” if bad. Aristotle’s naming of the two sorts of rule by the many is more offensive to modern sensibilities; he says that there is no generally accepted name for the rule by the many that is good, so he will name it with the generic name for regime, which is often translated today as “polity”; the rule of the many that is bad is named “democracy.”5 The work of Augustine that most comes to sight as a treatment of politics is the massive City of God against the Pagans. Augustine does not emphasize the sixfold division of the regimes in this work, but he does say more about it there than anywhere else. In particular, he reports that the distinction is part of the argument of Cicero’s On the Republic. This report is contained within Book 2 of the City of God, wherein Augustine considers it necessary to give an explication of the third book of the Republic of Cicero. In the passage of interest here, Augustine states that Scipio Africanus the younger, the dominant interlocutor of Cicero’s dialogue, defines a republic or res publica as a res populi, and that he defines a populus or a people in terms of a consensus or agreement concerning ius, which could be translated as right or justice (iustitia): Next, he [Scipio] shows the great advantage of definition in argumentation, and from his own definitions he then concludes that a republic, i.e. the affair of a people [res publica], exists when a people is governed well and justly, whether it is by a single king, a few aristocrats, or the whole people [universus populus]. However, when a king is unjust, he calls him, according to the Greek usage, a tyrant; when the aristocrats are unjust, he says their fellowship is a faction; when the people itself is unjust he finds no customary name for it, unless it would also be called tyranny.6

Cicero’s On the Republic was almost completely lost after the collapse of Antiquity; by the Middle Ages, only the concluding part—the famous “dream of

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


Scipio”—remained, along with a few scattered quotations, most of which were found in Augustine. Fortunately, about a fourth of Cicero’s On the Republic was discovered by Cardinal Mai in the Vatican Library in 1819—ironically, as a palimpsest over which a text of Augustine had been copied. The recovered portion includes much of what Scipio says about the classification of the regimes, and consequently modern scholars can compare Augustine’s summary with the very words of Scipio.7 The passage in the extant text that corresponds most closely with Augustine’s summary is the following: Then [the deliberation in a republic] should be assigned to either one man or certain select men, or it should be undertaken by the multitude [multitudo]—that is, by all. Therefore, when the authority over all things is in the possession of one, we call that one a king and the form of the republic his kingdom. And when it is in the possession of select men, then that city is said to be ruled by the will of the aristocrats. And the city is popular (for so they call it) where all things are in the people’s hands.8

In comparing the two descriptions of the classification of the regimes, the first thing one notices are the names of the regimes. Both authors use “king” and “aristocrats,” with neither author actually using the name “democracy.” Cicero’s Scipio speaks of the deliberative authority belonging to the multitudo in a “popular regime,” whereas Augustine speaks of the rule by the universus populus or a “whole people.” Fortin has wondered whether this is a misunderstanding on Augustine’s part or perhaps an intentional alteration of Cicero’s schema of the regimes.9 Scipio is thinking of a regime in which the many who are poor and uneducated dominate over the nobles, but Augustine may be suggesting that all citizens—nobles and the poor alike—are treated the same in the third regime. Within his Republic, Cicero advocates ultimately for a mixed regime comprised of an amalgam of the three basic types, but even in such a mixture the different classes would still be treated differently. Augustine, then, perhaps does not even know or agree that there is a type of regime that Cicero terms popular, let alone call such a regime “democracy.” Even if Augustine’s understanding of the third regime remains somewhat unclear, he does explicitly say that Scipio has no name for its perversion, unless it would be called “tyranny,” just as the unjust version of rule by a single individual would be called. Scipio, however, does not actually say this in the passage quoted above. About a page later, though, he speaks of how the three types of regimes can become dominated by “ruinous defects.” Among the monarchs, a Phalaris can arise, and the rule of the aristocrats can degenerate into a rule like that of the Thirty at Athens. When it comes time for Scipio to speak of a ruinous popular regime, his words break off in mid-sentence, but we can imagine that he might have said that a popular regime such as Athens could become tyrannical: “Now as for the Athenian people’s power over all things—not to ask about other peoples—once it changed into the furor and licentiousness of a multitude.” Scipio also speaks later on of the cycle of changes that regimes go through, and specifically refers to and quotes Plato’s view that democracy is the regime that is given to the generating of tyranny.10 Perhaps, then, in saying that a corrupted popular regime can be called tyranny, Augustine is referring to such aspects of Scipio’s speech; still, from the way Augustine states it, one is inclined to think that


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Augustine is probably looking at a passage from On the Republic that has not come down to us.11 In the extant portions of On the Republic, following the basic classification of regimes, Cicero’s Scipio goes on to discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of the three regimes, showing how they can each be practiced well or poorly. He thinks that the popular republic is, all things considered, not quite as well-conceived as the other good forms of republic, but it can certainly be acceptable if it is done right. The popular republic does always face the problem that it is prone to violations of distributive justice because it finds it difficult to avoid treating unequals equally, and thus it tends to violate the general rule of justice that equals ought to be treated equally and unequals unequally. The popular republic too often fails to value the things that make human beings different—things such as virtue, nobility, and the like. As a result, it treats the great and the small alike, and in this way it is tends toward violations of justice. Still, if such tendencies can be controlled, tempered, and checked, the popular regime should function in a satisfactory—if not supreme—manner, for it does emphasize freedom, which is also important.12 In the City of God, Augustine does not follow Cicero’s basic classification of the republics with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each of the types of republics. One place where Augustine does say something about the relative merits of the popular republic is in passing in a dialogue written over twenty years prior to The City of God, a dialogue titled De libero arbitrio or On Free Choice. This is a dialogue between an interlocutor named “Augustine” who poses a predicament about justice and law to another interlocutor named “Evodius”: Then if a people is moderate and serious and a most diligent guardian of the common utility, and if everyone in it thinks less of the private good than the public good, is it not right to enact a law permitting this people to choose for itself the magistrates through whom its affairs—that is, its republic—are to be administered?

After Evodius agrees, the interlocutor “Augustine” continues: Now, imagine that same people, having become depraved little by little, so that it prefers the private to the public good, sells its votes, is corrupted by those who covet honors, and turns the regime over to shameful and villainous people. Is it not also right that, if some good and most capable man is to be found, he might remove from the people the power to bestow honors and hand it over to a few good men, or even one?13

In the dialogue, the conclusion Evodius and Augustine draw from this example is that temporal laws are changeable.14 Still, the example seems to imply that the popular regime may be judged as sufficiently just if it is practiced well or unjust if practiced poorly. The popular republic is thus not good or bad because it involves the rule of the multitude, but it is good or at least acceptable when ruled in accord with the common good and bad when it is not. A sort of neutrality regarding the form of the popular regime thus seems to be implied. After some teasing and extrapolation, then, what are we to conclude about democracy in Augustine’s view of the sixfold classification of the regimes? The

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


word “democracy” does not even appear in the City of God, nor does it appear in Augustine’s principal source for classifying the various republics.15 We hear of a “popular” republic, or one made up of the “whole people,” but we do not know for sure that such a republic occupies, in Augustine’s mind, the position that the rule of the multitude held in the traditional classification of regimes. Moreover, we learn that even if the popular regime is understood by Augustine along the lines of what others call “democracy” or a “popular republic,” Augustine also knows that, while it could be practiced well, it is also easily enmeshed with tyranny and injustice. What Augustine is most interested in establishing in the City of God, however, is not a definition or a description of the popular republic. Rather, what he really wants to show is that the very definition of a republic put forward by Scipio is such that it precludes the existence of republics of any sort. In Book 2, Augustine hints at this argument and promises to lay it out in more detail later, which he does in Book 19.16 There the argument is rather straightforward: Scipio defined a res publica (i.e., a public thing or a republic) as a res populi (i.e., as a thing or a matter or an “affair” of a people), and he defined a people (a populus) as “a fellowship united through a consensus concerning right and a sharing of advantage.” But right (i.e., ius) is what justice (iustitia) consists of. Thus, if Augustine can show that there is no ius in a people, that means there is no iustitia in a people, and if there is no iustitia, then there can be no fellowship based on iustitia, and hence a people does not really exist. But if there is no people, then there is no “affair of the people” or res populi, and if there is no res populi there is no res publica or republic. Stated more succinctly, Augustine’s argument is that once Scipio has defined a republic as necessarily requiring justice, his argument is in trouble, for Augustine thinks he can show easily enough that justice has always been absent from human collectives; certainly he thinks he can show that justice has been absent from Rome for a long time, and hence there has been no Roman republic. And if there has been no Roman republic, then obviously the Christian Church cannot possibly have undermined it as the pagan critics are asserting. Of course, there is reason to think that Cicero himself realized the implications of Scipio’s argument for the question about the existence of republics. Augustine points out that on the second day of the argument of On the Republic, Scipio yielded place to Philus and Laelius, who argued mightily over the question of whether injustice is required in cities.17 The problem is that while Scipio expresses joy at the speech of Laelius, which argued that injustice is inimical to republics, and while Philus himself says that he does not believe his own speech on the necessity of injustice for republics, it is not at all obvious that Laelius actually bests Philus in the debate. Scipio seems to be well aware that there has always been plenty of injustice in Rome, even though it is often said to be the best of republics. Cicero himself, Augustine says, removes all doubt on how Rome is to be judged at the beginning of the fifth book of the On the Republic, when Scipio clearly says that morals and justice have fled from Rome, which implies that the Roman republic does not exist.18 Indeed, although basing himself on the definitions and arguments of Scipio, Augustine draws the conclusion that there has never been a republic that existed anywhere, for nowhere has there been much justice in republics. And of course, if there are no republics, then there is little point in worrying about how to classify republics into things such as kingships and aristocracies and democracies. Indeed,


Douglas Kries

they are all tyrannies or oligarchies, since they are all unjust. The only possible exception is, of course, the Christian Church, which is in some sense a republic: “True justice does not exist except in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ—if it is admitted that it, too, may be called a ‘republic,’ since we cannot deny that it is ‘the affair of the people.’” 19 To conclude that, except for the Church, there are not now nor have there ever been republics is severe indeed, even if the conclusion follows necessarily from Scipio’s definition. What is sometimes overlooked about Augustine’s argument is that, at its end, he does admit that there may be other definitions of a republic—definitions that do not require the presence of justice among peoples: If, however, a people is not defined in that way, but in another—if, for example, it is said that a people is “a fellowship of a multitude of rational beings united through sharing in an agreement about what it loves”—then truly, in order to see the character of a people, what it loves must be considered. If it is not a fellowship of a multitude of beasts, but of rational creatures, and is united through sharing in an agreement about what it loves, then no matter what it loves, it is not unreasonable to call it “a people.” It is a better people if it agrees in loving better things; a worse one if it agrees in loving worse things.20

And of course, if there are peoples, then there can be public things, and thus there can be republics. In other words, it seems as if there is a classification of republics or regimes to be made after all, but it is more sophisticated than the simple threefold or sixfold classification based on the number of rulers and their goodness or badness. In order to classify republics, we will have to understand what they love. Presumably, all republics have many different loves, so the analysis will have to be made according to what such a republic as a democracy loves most. AUGUSTINE ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF REGIMES IN TERMS OF THEIR DESIRES Book 8 of the Republic of Plato offers one such classification of political regimes according to what each loves most. We may state the basics of Plato’s classification as follows: There are five different regimes that are determined by the objects of their loves, and the objects of these loves, arranged from highest to lowest, are (1) wisdom or virtue; (2) glory or honor; (3) property, which can be used to satisfy basic or necessary desires required to sustain life; (4) equality and freedom, which can be used to satisfy both necessary and unnecessary desires, as well as the desires for glory or wisdom; and (5) the lawless, unnecessary desire that is described as great, erotic, and all-consuming. If a love of wisdom dominates the regime, then that regime is an aristocracy; if love of glory dominates, the regime is a timocracy; if love of property, the regime is an oligarchy; if love of equality and freedom, the regime is a democracy; if the lawless erotic desire dominates, then a tyrannical regime is generated. Although Augustine is thought to have studied doxographies or handbooks and summaries that treated Plato’s dialogues, he does not demonstrate an unambiguous

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


knowledge of the classification of regimes that Plato elaborates in Book 8 of the Republic, which means that he does not discuss democracy directly in terms of its love of an equality of all desires and the freedom to pursue them. As a result, we cannot assert with confidence that Augustine knew as much about Book 8 of the Republic as is even contained in the summary of the previous paragraph. Nor can we assert that Augustine would have known this fivefold classification from Cicero’s On the Republic, for after articulating the threefold or sixfold classification of the regimes, Cicero discusses various characteristics of the regimes, but he nowhere attempts—at least in the extant sections of On the Republic—to classify regimes according to their various loves in the manner that Plato does. Cicero stays within the threefold or sixfold classification rather than the fivefold one. Nevertheless, it is surely possible to ask what Augustine thinks about the various ends that Plato finds among cities. Since democracy, in Plato’s treatment, is marked by the pursuit of all desires in no particular order and thus by a refusal to rank some desires as superior to others, it may well possess within itself the full range of loves but cannot prefer any of them. The regimes superior to democracy, it seems, would then be those that are able to suppress lower desires in favor of higher ones. Oligarchy is superior to democracy, consequently, because it at least treats the desire for necessary things as preferable to the desire for unnecessary things. Timocracy is better still because it suppresses desires for both property and unnecessary things to the desire for glory, and aristocracy is the best of all because all desires except the love of wisdom—which is claimed to be the highest and to be interchangeable with love of virtue—are suppressed. Of course, it is surely the case that Augustine has no great love for property and its ability always to be used for the satisfaction of the merely necessary, so it is not surprising he evinces little interest in the loves that move the oligarch. The desires to be taken more seriously for Augustine are therefore the love of glory and the love of wisdom. We will begin with the desire for glory and honor, which Augustine criticizes repeatedly in the City of God, but especially in Book 5.21 Plato had criticized such desires in his attack on Homer’s appeal to thymos and its corresponding heroic way of life; Augustine parallels such an attack through his critique of the great warriors and patriots of the Roman republic. Augustine’s critique displays respect in many ways— perhaps surprisingly so. Many of the famous men of republican Rome had used their love of earthly glory to achieve admirable deeds, he notes. Their virtues were not completely true, but a semblance of virtue is visible in their acts. Moreover, loving glory is surely higher than the lust for dominion or libido dominandi—the terrible passion that came to control the souls of emperors like Nero. Glory-seeking can grow into libido dominandi, Augustine says, but they are not the same thing; in fact, if one cares about what others think of oneself, and others contemn libido dominandi, then caring about the opinions of others—which is what glory-seeking often reduces to—can actually control the lust for domination.22 The great exemplars of republican virtue thus made many extensive sacrifices for their country in order to win glory, and Augustine does not diminish these; in fact, he points out to fellow Christians that, if the republicans could do so much in order to win earthly praise, why should not Christians do so much more in order to win eternal life? These noble Romans therefore offer a check on any temptation to pride that may arise in the Christian soul:


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“Consider what great things they scorned, what things they endured, the desires they conquered for the sake of human glory.”23 Nevertheless, Augustine ultimately insists that virtue attained through glory-seeking is a pale imitation of the real thing. After all, the Sermon on the Mount itself had mocked the desire for distinction, especially in its exhortations to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The followers of Christ are told not to call attention to themselves when they give alms by blowing a trumpet; they are not to pray in public view; and they are not to look dismal and gloomy when they fast. Because the hypocrites do these things and call attention and glory onto themselves thereby, Jesus says for all three cases, “Truly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Mt 6:2, 6:5, 6:16). Augustine interprets the meaning of Jesus’s words to be that those who seek glory must be satisfied when they attain it, even if glory is ultimately worthless. Thus, the great republicans of ancient Rome performed their own versions of great deeds, but did so to win groundless praise, and it is with groundless praise that they must rest satisfied: They scorned their own private good for the sake of the common good, that is, for the republic, and for its treasury. They resisted avarice. They concerned themselves with their country’s affairs through their generous advice. Crimes and vices were punished according to their laws. Through these qualities they sought, as if by a true path, honor, power, and glory. They were honored among nearly all peoples; they imposed the laws of their own empire on many peoples; and today they are glorified by the literature and history of almost all peoples. They have no reason to complain about the justice of the supreme and true God. “They have received their reward.”24

Book 5 of The City of God, then, must be understood as a Christian attack on thymos in its most noble form. Yet attacking the glory-seeking that marks timocracy does not necessarily result in the promotion of the desire for equality and freedom that Plato thought marked democracy. Even so, a trajectory away from distinction and rank based on honor does exist within Augustine’s thought, and the suppression of distinction and rank may indeed point toward a love of equality that we might associate with democracy. In order to explore this tendency in Augustine’s thought further, it is profitable for the moment to turn away from Augustine’s most overtly public and political work and toward his most private and intimate one, namely, the Confessions. One passage suitable to begin with is in Book 8, wherein Augustine speaks of the conversion story of Victorinus, the famous scholar and rhetor who, among other things, had translated into Latin the books of the Platonists that made such an impression upon Augustine. At one point in his life, Victorinus had become intellectually convinced of the superiority of Christianity, but he had hesitated to become baptized and join the Christian Church. He finally decided to do so, however, but was then faced with the question of whether to profess the baptismal creed in private—an option permitted to famous elites who might find public profession of a religion as despised as Christianity an embarrassment. Victorinus decided to risk embarrassment, to mount the platform in the church and profess publicly—an act which caused a great deal of joyousness among the simple Christians of Rome.25 Augustine reflects on this story extensively in the Confessions, thereby emphasizing its importance in his view. Among other things, he is troubled about the fact that

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


the Roman Christians were more excited by the conversion of an eminent and noble man than they presumably would have been by a simple or “ordinary” one. Speaking to God of the phenomenon of Victorinus’s reception by the Church in Rome, Augustine—quoting 1 Corinthians 1:27–28—writes that, It would be shameful if in Your tabernacle the persons of the rich should be welcomed before the poor, or the nobly born before the rest: since “Thou hast rather chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and hast chosen the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible, and things that are nought, in order to bring to nought things that are.”26

Such a line of thinking might suggest that it was wrong for the simple Christians of Rome to rejoice more at the conversion of Victorinus than at the conversion of other, simple people. Augustine considers this possibility, but claims in the end that what was probably most at work in the hearts and minds of the Roman Christians was a natural feeling of rejoicing more when a person is thought to have converted from a more hopeless condition. And Victorinus’s condition was less hopeful precisely because of his fame and nobility. “Victory over the enemy is greater,” Augustine says, “when we win from him a man whom he holds more strongly.” And Victorinus was held more strongly because the enemy “has a firmer hold on the eminent by reason of their noble rank.”27 This story about Victorinus can thus be read as a suggestion of a kind of egalitarianism in Augustine’s Confessions. We must be clear that the story of Victorinus is about entry into the Church, and Augustine never states that it shows that democracy is the best form of regime. Still, because it casts doubt on the phenomenon of rank as such, it serves as an example of the rejection of the life of glory-seeking that animates timocracy, the second highest regime in Plato’s scheme. From loving glory we turn to loving wisdom or philosophy, which gives rise to Plato’s greatest “inegalitarianism” or his radical aristocracy. The best regime in Plato’s classification is ultimately predicated on the superiority of the quest for wisdom, so that philosophers—the lovers of wisdom—are judged to be the best of human beings and hence the ones who ought to rule. The love of wisdom thus appears as the supreme enemy of the love of equality. If we are to suggest, then, that Augustine advocates for a sort of egalitarianism, it is necessary to consider his criticism of philosophers. Again, there are several texts within Augustine’s oeuvre that address this problem, but one that has perhaps often been overlooked is found in Book 9 of the Confessions. Much of this book is devoted to an extended treatment of Monnica, Augustine’s mother, and especially to a treatment of Monnica’s death at Ostia. In one memorable and famous passage, Augustine describes a spiritual ascent that occurred just a few days before Monnica died. In Augustine’s telling, both the son and the mother rise through “the various levels of bodily things, up to the heavens themselves.” Their movement is directed toward “the Selfsame,” or “the eternal Wisdom.” At the height of this mysterious ascent, the two encounter an utter silence in which the divine “Word” speaks directly to them.28 This “vision at Ostia,” as it has come to be known, is clearly meant to be a re-write of the “dream of Scipio” that occurs at the end of Cicero’s On the Republic.29 In his dream, Scipio rises through the spheres and ascends to the


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heavens where he converses with his biological father, whereas Augustine is present in his vision with his biological mother. Both Monnica and Scipio are associated with Africa, both are fifty-six when they die, and the numbers 7, 8, and 9 are symbolic in both accounts. Hearing special sounds is also a feature of both narratives.30 Unlike Augustine, Monnica is presented in the Confessions as someone without the inclinations required to practice philosophy. For example, whereas Augustine wanted to ask Ambrose many questions before agreeing to his suggested principles of biblical interpretation, Monnica was willing to accept the dictates of Ambrose simply on the basis of his authority as bishop of Milan. Similarly, whereas Augustine reads incessantly and finally comes to Christian faith through the Platonic books and the letters of Paul, we are not even sure from what is said in the Confessions that Monnica knows how to read at all. She is not, to be sure, stupid; but she is hardly philosophical. Yet, in the vision that occurs at Ostia, Monnica and Augustine wind up in the same place. Augustine’s superior philosophical talents do not place him on a higher plane in the vision. If we read the vision at Ostia against Scipio’s dream, it seems that we must conclude that it is Augustine’s view that one does not need to be a great defender and savior of Rome, let alone an accomplished philosopher, in order to attain a high position in the afterlife. Augustine thus presents Monnica on a level with the philosophically-inclined such as Scipio Africanus or Victorinus or himself. Whereas Plato had suggested in the Republic that the philosopher should rule, the philosophers—at least in the most decisive respect—seem rather ordinary according to the Confessions. How is this possible, in Augustine’s view? If common people are able to reach truth through accepting faith on the basis of the authority of the one preaching faith, then the distance between the philosophically-inclined and the believers is considerably narrowed. With the advent of Christianity, Augustine implies, faith in revelation offers the multitude a viable means to attain truth. The philosophers are consequently no longer simply superior to everyone else, and in fact what once appeared as a justified superiority now looks to be very similar to pride. In the Confessions, this arrogance of philosophy is attested to, for example, in Book 7, wherein the proud Platonists are said to reject the teaching of Matthew 11:29: “But those who wear the high boots of their sublime doctrine do not hear Him saying, ‘Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.’”31 Another passage in the Confessions where the pride of the philosophers is assailed is in Book 3. After first coming across Cicero in his course of studies, Augustine says that he approached the Sacred Scriptures but was unable to grasp them because of his philosophically-rooted arrogance: [T]hey seemed to me unworthy to be compared with the majesty of Cicero. My conceit was repelled by their simplicity, and I had not the mind to penetrate into their depths. They were indeed of a nature to grow in Your little ones. But I could not bear to be a little one; I was only swollen with pride, but to myself I seemed a very big man.32

To be sure, in Plato’s classification of the regimes according to the objects of their loves, the rule of the philosopher is based on the philosopher’s love of wisdom rather than any sort of pride. According to Augustine’s criticism of the rule of philosophy, however, the love of wisdom is also present in the pursuit of Christian piety, and

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


Christian piety can be pursued by the many because it appeals to the authority of revelation, which has its roots in divine grace rather than in superior human talents. Hence, the claims of philosophy’s superiority, which were rooted in the claim that philosophy loves something inaccessible to the many, are undermined by the authority of revelation. Such a conclusion has direct implications for the philosopher’s continuous need for protection from the aims of the many. In Plato’s Republic, the philosophers have to mask the object of their love from the many, for the many are incapable of grasping wisdom, let alone loving it. In other words, philosophical esotericism is necessary in order for philosophers to rule—or, for that matter, simply for them to pursue their passion in safety within the confines of society. It is this masking of wisdom and truth from the multitude that Augustine hones in on as among the weakest aspects of the claims of philosophical superiority.33 Augustine attacks the esotericism of the philosophers in a number of his works, but perhaps most vigorously and directly in the openings pages of On True Religion, a short work that he completed a few years before turning to the Confessions. He initiates this work by calling out the philosophers for teaching what they claim to be true in their schools but yielding to popular opinion in their worship of gods. He cites Plato by name as someone who was “afraid of the perverse public opinion of his times.”34 This fear was coupled with an inability of the philosophers to convince the multitudes of the truth of their conclusions. Unable to persuade the many to give up their unhealthy practices, the only thing for the philosophers to do was to join them in the temples and participate in the traditional pagan religious practices, even though they knew them to be false. Dissembling regarding religion is of course a base quality for Augustine, although he does not so much excoriate the philosophers for their dishonesty as he pities them for having no suitable alternatives. Happily, because of the new dispensation of grace that has come to human beings in the Christian era, the many are no longer in the difficult position they were once in. The Platonists seemed to have had the right goal, or at least to have got a glimpse of it, but they were utterly unable to make it effective in the minds of the many. Christian revelation, however, had rescued the many from their deplorable ignorance, so that now what Plato and the philosophers had wanted to assert but were forced to limit to “a few timid conjectures” is being made actual in the Christian Church, wherein is being effected “the manifest salvation and reform of whole populations.”35 Plato, consequently, would have to approve of the new situation: For if those men [Plato and his early followers] . . . were to come back to life and find churches crammed, temples deserted, the human race being called away from greed for the abundant good things of the times to the hope of eternal life and to the goods of the spirit and the mind, and racing to obey the summons, they would probably say, if they were such as they are recorded to have been: “All this is what we never dared to put across to the common herd, and we gave in to what they were accustomed to, instead of attempting to bring them across to the object of our faith and will.”36

The sort of criticism that Augustine ultimately makes, then, against the aristocracy of Book 8 of Plato’s Republic, agrees that wisdom-loving is a worthy goal and indeed, properly understood, the highest one possible for human beings. His complaint is


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rather that the goal is unattainable for almost everyone if it can only be achieved through philosophy. The advantage of Christian faith, according to Augustine’s argument, is that it bursts open the doors to truth so that all may share it. The widespread dissemination of Christian faith is also advantageous to the philosophers themselves, for they no longer need to practice esotericism. This portrayal of Augustine’s “egalitarian” inclinations, however, must be qualified. Augustine rejected the Platonic distinction between the few and the many, which is at the heart of the argument between aristocracy and democracy, but he replaced it with Paul’s distinction in 1 Corinthians 3:2 between the “little ones” who need milk and the more advanced who require solid food. What has changed is that the little ones and the more advanced are all part of the same Church, they all receive the same saving sacraments, and they all worship the same God. There is a distinction of degree in some areas perhaps, but all seek and are able to attain the same virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In addition, all can read the same Sacred Scriptures. These books are remarkable in that they have a message profitable to both the simple and the sophisticated. In the Confessions, Augustine describes how, under the influence of Ambrose’s preaching, he began to recognize this feature of the very same Scriptures that he had once, under the influence of Cicero, dismissed with derision: Indeed the authority of Scripture seemed to be more to be revered and more worthy of devoted faith in that it was at once a book that all could read and read easily, and yet preserved the majesty of its mystery in the deepest part of its meaning: for it offers itself to all in the plainest words and simplest expressions, yet demands the closest attention of the most serious minds.37

CONCLUSION We do not possess a direct comment by Augustine on democracy. Indeed, the conclusion of the first part of this chapter is that with respect to popular rule as one form of regime or republic, Augustine knows about the arguments surrounding the various regimes but seems to be neutral with respect to them. He follows Cicero in suggesting that there are three basic types of republics, but each of the basic types may be good or bad. The three good are to be preferred to the three bad, of course, but all of the three good ones are sufficiently good, so neutrality among them seems to be the best position to adopt. The conclusion of the chapter’s second part, which considers democracy as one reflection of the desires of the soul, is that Augustine does offer his readers a real criticism of both timocracy and aristocracy, the two best regimes in Plato’s analysis. Augustine, of course, is hardly the first to criticize love of glory, although his cutting sarcasm toward ancient Roman republicanism in the City of God does astonish. It is, nevertheless, Augustine’s treatment of classical aristocracy and its insistence on the role of philosophy within it that most engages our wonder; it is here that we recognize not exactly support for democracy per se, but certain suggestions of an egalitarianism that could perhaps bend the soul in the direction of democracy’s charms, or at least toward its most noble ones. To be sure, there is no straightforward advocacy for democracy anywhere in Augustine’s thought or even an

Reflections on Augustine and Democracy


extensive analysis of it. Nevertheless, he is quite sure that no living soul is beyond the redemptive power of God, and in this way he points toward not only intimations of immortality but also intimations of egalitarianism. NOTES 1. Ernest L. Fortin, “Introduction” to Augustine: Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994), vii. 2. Augustine, City of God, translated by Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries in Augustine: Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994), 18.9. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Augustine’s work will be taken from this volume. 3. City, 8.3. 4. Confessions, 4.2.3. 5. Politics, 3.7. 6. City, 2.21. 7. One still must be careful with such an exercise, however. Augustine says that his summary of Cicero on the regimes comes from Book 3 of the Republic, but Augustine’s description seems to correspond to the classification that is extant in Book 1. Augustine says that in Book 3 Scipio picks up what he was saying earlier, so we would guess that Scipio’s teaching from Book 1 was repeated in Book 3, but we do not actually have the hypothetical restatement from Book 3, although 3.35 was surely part of it. See City 2.21. 8. Cicero, On the Republic 1.42. Translated by David Fott (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014). All translations of Cicero’s On the Republic used in this essay will be taken from Fott’s translation. 9. Fortin, “Introduction” to Augustine: Political Writings, xxvii, n. 2. 10. Cicero, On the Republic, 1.65–68; Scipio’s reference is to Plato’s Republic, 8.562c–563e. 11. In City 5.19, Augustine indicates that he is aware of other meanings of the word tyranny, some of which are not negative in connotation. In this context, though, innocuous meanings are not what Augustine is thinking about. 12. This paragraph is a summary of some aspects of On the Republic, 1.42–53. 13. On Free Choice, 1.6.14. 14. It should also be kept in mind that in composing these passages, Augustine probably is also obliquely referring to the history of Rome, with its ancient republican form collapsing into imperial government. That interpretation of the history of Rome is articulated by some of the authors featured especially in Book 2 of the City of God, such as Sallust and Cicero. 15. In addition to Cicero’s On the Republic, which is surely Augustine’s main source regarding the classification of the regimes and the only one he identifies himself, Justin A. Stover has argued recently that Augustine may have known a text that can be identified as the previously lost third book of Apuleius’s De Platone. If indeed Stover’s thesis about this manuscript is correct, then it is plausible that Augustine would have known a list of regimes contained therein since Apuleius was an African and since Augustine knew other books of the De Platone. What the manuscript offers is a summary of the works of Plato; in treating Book 8 of the Republic, it says, “In the eighth book, he [Plato] says that there are four states of the republic: the governance of the best, which is the kingly, then that of the few wealthy, and the popular, and the tyrannical.” It is curious that Apuleius—if this really is Apuleius’s work, as Stover suggests—leaves out the timocratic regime, but more interesting to us is that he replaces the democratic regime with “the popular.” See Justin A. Stover, A New Work by Apuleius: The Lost Third Book of the De Platone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 68–69, 102–103.


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16. Cf. City, 2.21 and 19.21. 17. Ibid., 2.21; On the Republic, 3.7–29. 18. Ibid., 2.21. Cicero’s words have not survived except in Augustine’s quotation of them. 19. Ibid., 2.21. 20. Ibid., 19.24. 21. See also the treatment of this theme in “Augustine’s Response to the Political Critics of Christianity in the De Civitate Dei,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 74 (2000): 83–86. 22. City, 5.19. 23. Ibid., 5.17. 24. Ibid., 5.15. 25. The story is told in Confessions 8.2. 26. Confessions 8.4.9. Translated by F.J. Sheed (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2006). All quotations of the Confessions in this essay will be taken from this translation. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid., 9.10. 29. The account of the dream is placed in current versions of Cicero’s On the Republic at 6.12. The text is preserved through Macrobius, who also bequeathed to us a Commentary on the dream. Scipio’s dream is clearly a re-writing of the “myth of Er” with which the Republic of Plato concludes. 30. A much more extensive reflection on the two passages is contained in “Echoes and Adaptations in Augustine’s Confessions of Plato’s Teaching on Art and Politics in the Republic,” in St. Augustine’s Political Thought, edited by Richard J. Dougherty (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2019), 152–172. 31. Confessions, 7.9.14. 32. Ibid., 3.5.9. 33. This topic is discussed more completely in “Augustine as Defender and Critic of Leo Strauss’s Esotericism Thesis,” in Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 83 (2009): 241–252; also “Augustine’s Response to the Political Critics,” 86–91. 34. On True Religion 3.5. Translated by Edmund Hill, O.P. in On Christian Belief (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2005). 35. Ibid., 4.6. 36. Ibid. 37. Confessions, 6.5.8.

REFERENCES Balot, Ryan K. “Truth, Lies, Deception, Esotericism: The Case of St. Augustine.” In Augustine’s Political Thought, edited by Richard J. Dougherty, 173–199. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2019. Dodaro, Robert. “Augustine’s Revision of the Heroic Ideal.” Augustinian Studies 36, no. 1 (2005): 141–157. Foley, Michael P. “St. Augustine: The Confessions.” In Finding a Common Thread: Reading Great Texts from Homer to O’Connor, edited by Robert C. Roberts, Scott H. Moore, and Donald D. Schmeltekopf. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013. Fortin, Ernest L. “Introduction” to Augustine: Political Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994, vii–xxix.

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Fortin, Ernest L. “The City of God.” In Ever Ancient, Ever New: Ruminations on the City, the Soul, and the Church. Vol. 4 of Ernest L. Fortin: Collected Essays, edited by Michael P. Foley, 71–82. Lanham, MD, 2007. Fortin, Ernest L. “The Political Thought of St. Augustine.” In Classical Christianity and the Political Order: Reflections on the Theologico-Politico Problem. Vol. 2 of Ernest L. Fortin: Collected Essays, edited by J. Brian Benestad, 1–30. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. Kries, Douglas. “Augustine as Defender and Critic of Leo Strauss’s Esotericism Thesis.” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 83 (2009): 241–252. Kries, Douglas. “Echoes and Adaptations in Augustine’s Confessions of Plato’s Teaching on Art and Politics in the Republic.” In Augustine’s Political Thought, edited by Richard J. Dougherty, 152–172. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2019.

Chapter 9

Democracy in Muslim Spain Averroes’s Domestic Account of Popular Rule Alexander Orwin

Plato’s description of democracy in the Republic is both famous and infamous, but the two outstanding adaptations of it by Islamic political philosophers are not nearly as well known. I have analyzed the first, by Alfarabi, in a couple of previously published articles, so I now wish to turn my attention to the second, which to the best of my knowledge has yet to be carefully analyzed.1 Averroes’s frame is a commentary on Plato’s Republic,2 but his work is much more original than that. Averroes includes two separate accounts of democracy: while the second is, more or less, a literal commentary on Plato (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 92.12–96.27), the first does not even pretend to be anything other than Averroes’s own work (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.16–85.6). While this discussion includes certain statements and themes that are easily traced to Plato and his Muslim predecessor Alfarabi, the lion’s share of it covers topics that are unique to Averroes, such as law, property, the household, taxation, and war. While Plato and Alfarabi tend to treat democracy as an abstraction based on near-absolute freedom and diversity, Averroes examines the relationship of democratic government and society to concrete political necessities at home and abroad, thus becoming the only medieval Muslim author to examine the practical details of a government based on popular will. Before we turn to the substance of Averroes’s discussion, we must touch upon two major difficulties involved in interpreting the work. Unfortunately, the original Arabic text does not survive, forcing interpreters to rely on a Hebrew translation. Since we cannot know whether this translation is entirely reliable, it is more difficult than usual to interpret the text word by word. The problem is especially serious regarding Islamic religious vocabulary, which may not have been rendered clearly into Hebrew, due to the absence of appropriate words and lack of knowledge of the Provencal Jewish translator, Samuel Ben Judah. Yet should we decline to interpret so important a work on linguistic grounds alone? I contend that we must strive to make sense of this text as best we can, assuming basic competence, but certainly not perfection, on the part of the translator. It follows that we must resist equally interpretations that depend on suppositions concerning the exact wording of the original, and interpretations that



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depend on the assumption of our knowing better than the translator what Averroes actually wrote. Averroes’s text presents itself as a commentary on Plato, and in many cases reproduces Plato’s arguments with great fidelity. Yet with the sole exception of Socrates, who appears more as an illustration than a character (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 38.1), none of the dialogue’s interlocutors find their way into the commentary. Moreover, Averroes also includes numerous passages that can only be ascribed to Averroes himself. One is tempted to say that Averroes replaces Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon with a dialogue of sorts between Averroes and Plato. The result is an enigmatic mixture of Platonic and Averroean thoughts. This characteristic of the work is evident in Averroes’s treatment of our theme, since he elaborates his own account of all the regimes, including democracy, well before commenting on Plato’s.3 The precise relationship between Averroes and Plato remains to be worked out, but this should suffice to justify our procedure of beginning with Averroes’s own thoughts. I intend for the purposes of this chapter to focus mainly on the thoughts about democracy presented unambiguously in Averroes’s own name. When these views differ from the views of Plato as reproduced by Averroes, I have attempted to explain why Averroes might have wanted to update or even contradict the Greek master whom he admired and studied so closely. DEMOCRACY AND THE THREE KINDS OF LAWS Averroes does not begin his account of democracy by emphasizing his originality. The first few lines of his account of democracy strongly echo his predecessors, Plato and Alfarabi. They speak of a licentious and diverse city where everybody acts more or less as they please, so that all kinds of dispositions and cities emerge within it (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.16–23). This description should be highly familiar to readers of Plato, and parts of it are taken almost verbatim from Alfarabi’s Political Regime (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 86.113, 87.115, Plato, Republic, 557a9–d9). Yet we should not be fooled by Averroes’s early show of fealty to his masters. He immediately veers off in his own direction, by introducing the notion of “primary laws” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.24 ff.), for which one looks in vain in either Plato or Alfarabi. It is this novel idea that will determine the course of the rest of his account. At the same time, the more traditionally Platonic statement with which Averroes begins should always be kept in mind. How does the moral anarchy of democracy as Plato presents it fit with the limits on it that Averroes so promptly introduces? The primary laws forbid above all crimes such as robbery and murder. Since the desire to commit such transgressions is “fixed in the nature of many humans” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.26–27), these laws preserve some basic requirements of political society, such as public order and the protection of life and property. It follows that they alone make government in democracy possible: “It seems that there is no lordship here other than by the will of those who accept being lorded over on account of the primary laws” (83.24–25). Such acquiescence to government implies that the original Platonic premise of democratic man doing ‟what his heart desires” (83.17) must be modified: as

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Averroes puts it, “it is not fitting that all things be permitted every man” (83.25–26). The inhabitants of democracy may long for absolute freedom, but they voluntarily submit to a certain amount of government and law for the sake of protecting the original property allocation of the city and its food supply (83.28–29). The challenge that the licentiousness so typical of democracy poses to the very existence of law and government was hardly unknown to Averroes’s predecessors. In Plato’s notoriously permissive democracy, not even crimes such as robbery and murder are reliably punished: this passage is indeed summarized by Averroes in the proper place (Plato, Republic, 558a4–8, cf. Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.29– 30). Alfarabi’s democracy is not quite as licentious as Plato’s: Alfarabi does speak of law in it, but in a much less precise fashion than Averroes. Law prescribes the general equality of inhabitants in every respect, but no specific rules and punishments (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 86.113). At the same time, some kind of government is needed to temper the anarchy produced by the democratic principle of absolute freedom and equality. Alfarabi soon turns to a relatively detailed discussion of the government of democracy. He includes among the functions of the effective democratic ruler the preservation “of the freedom and divergent passions of the people from one another and from their external enemies” (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 86.114). The phrase “from one another” points to the antagonism between some of democracy’s inhabitants, reflected in such phenomena as robbery and murder. While Alfarabi indicates that an effective democratic ruler ought to restrain such crimes, he does not specify how that ruler should accomplish this goal. Does he make use of law, or simply good sense and example? The role of law in Alfarabi’s democracy is left deliberately vague. Averroes echoes Alfarabi, but not in his own account. It is rather Plato’s democracy that has an “equal nomos” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.14, see Plato, Republic, 561e1). Perhaps Alfarabi’s understanding of democratic law is as insufficient as Plato’s. By ascribing “equal laws” to the democracy of his predecessors but introducing primary laws only in his own account, Averroes highlights his own decision to go beyond his predecessors’ minimalist description of democratic law. However licentious democracy may appear to be at first, it no less than other regimes requires stringent laws against crime, and not merely adroit governance. The latter’s substantial discussion of democratic rulers, distinguishing the effective from the ineffective (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 86–87), leaves at most slight traces in Averroes, who speaks of the ruler only with the greatest generality, emphasizing both the fortuitous character of his rule and subjection to changing popular whims (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.6–7, 13). Averroes avers that the primary laws among the democracies of his time are preserved not by the Muslim kings who govern them, but by whatever remains of the nomos (84.14–16). In Averroes’s democracy, the emphasis shifts from government by human beings to government by custom and law. Apart from the primary laws, Averroes also speaks briefly of secondary and tertiary laws. The secondary laws, which seek to guarantee fair exchanges in the marketplace, appear as a logical extension of the primary laws from personal property to commerce. The tertiary laws, however, extend beyond mere money and property, regulating “dispositions and what resembles them” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.1–2). It


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is not easy to discern the character of these dispositions from so terse a statement, but it surely implies that even if “all the . . . dispositions emerge in this city” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.22),4 not all of them are treated equally by the law. Averroes’s suggestion that law must take an interest in morals marks a further departure from Plato and Alfarabi. Rather than accept without reservation Alfarabi’s claim that “people of every tribe are procreated in [democracy], from every kind of pairing and sexual intercourse” (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 87), or Plato’s claim that “every sort of man, I suppose, would arise in this regime” (Plato, Republic, 557c1–2), Averroes insists that law must impose some restraint on democracy’s tendency toward moral diversity. Compared to Plato’s or Alfarabi’s colorful, free-wheeling, and chaotic democratic city, Averroes’s democracy displays a modicum of order and obedience. DEMOCRACY FOR THE SAKE OF THE HOUSEHOLD The purpose of Averroes’s discussion of law is clarified by the introduction of a new theme, the household. Having enumerated the three kinds of laws, Averroes promptly explains that the household constitutes “the primary intention” for whose sake the democratic city exists (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.3). Averroes’s terse account of the laws should be viewed in conjunction with the preeminent position of the household in the democratic city. If such a city exists mainly for the sake of the household, then its laws may be expected to serve the household as well. Averroes does not clearly define the household, here or elsewhere in the work; however, the general tenor of the discussion, along with its reference to “most of the cities existing today” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.5), implies a conventional definition of it. In marked contrast to Plato’s virtuous city, known for its abolition of private property and the family, the democratic city cherishes the individual possession of goods, to the point where virtually all property in it is domestic (84.4–5, 16). Aren’t these the goods that the primary laws protect, in the face of natural human inclinations toward robbery and killing? It is precisely because the inhabitants of democracy value their households above all that they learn to appreciate these laws and the protection that they afford their modest personal ambitions. They consent to abandon the absolute democratic freedom for which they long not out of any public concern, but rather for the safety and increase of their households. The secondary laws of commerce could also be understood in this vein. Consistent obedience to the laws protecting property and commerce reinforces the notion that the private pursuit of household goods is sacrosanct. The meaning of the tertiary laws concerning moral dispositions could also follow from the preeminence of the household in the city. These laws serve to protect the household’s integrity, insofar as it is menaced not only by robbers and murderers, but also by libertines and courtesans. Another comparison between Averroes and Alfarabi speaks in favor of this view. The household that plays so central a role in Averroes’s account of democracy does not figure at all in Alfarabi’s. This follows naturally from the extreme flexibility of customs and morals that pervades Alfarabi’s democracy, in which every kind of upbringing and sexual practice will emerge (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 87.115). Such a variety of moral habits would tend to weaken the household,

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or at the very least diversify its form. But as we have already seen, this particular passage of Alfarabi finds no real parallel in Averroes, for whom the undeniable diversity of dispositions that arise within democracy is tempered by the tertiary laws. While non-conventional sexual arrangements are said to exist in relative freedom in Alfarabi’s democracy, they are never mentioned in Averroes’s, and would most likely be frowned upon. The respect for household property that pervades Averroes’s democracy also affects its class structure. The most notorious class in Plato’s democracy are the drones, a group of licentious troublemakers who dominate the city by extorting wealth from the more orderly natures who produce it (Plato, Republic, 564e6 ff.). While Averroes dutifully and accurately summarizes this passage (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 95.30–96.4), he makes no mention of drones in his own account. What role could they have in a society whose laws effectively protect the private property of households? So while Plato’s democracy has three classes, namely the drones, the moneymakers, and the people, Averroes’s has only two, the multitude and the mighty (cf. 84.19 with 95.30–96.4). The inspiration for its class structure is taken not from Greece, but from ancient Persia, and the cities of Averroes’s day (84.19–20). Since it may be supposed that these two classes are highly unequal, Averroes drops equality from the features of his democracy, again in marked contrast to both Alfarabi and Plato (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.16 ff., cf. 93.13–14, Alfarabi, Political Regime, 86, Plato, Republic, 557a4, 558c5, 561e1). A city whose laws encourage love of wealth and respect private property so judiciously can hardly promise equality: not only might the original distribution of lands have been somewhat unequal, but those households most devoted to moneymaking and social status are bound to become richer and more powerful than their neighbors (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.28–29, 84.23–34). Given the respect for wealth that permeates democracy and economic inequality that grows in it, how should it be distinguished from oligarchy? Most importantly, its focus is not exclusively on money. Moneymaking certainly plays a more significant role in Averroes’s democracy than that of his predecessors’, but freedom, rather than money, remains its principle (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.16, 84.10). Its free inhabitants pursue whatever they deem beneficial for their households, and wealth is loved only insofar as it belongs to a given household and advances its goals (84.16, 84.22–23 cf. 82.22–24). Since wealth is only one of many goals pursued in democracy, the rich do not necessarily become the rulers of the city (83.8–15, 24–25, 84.13). The division between the multitude and the mighty, which we will return to shortly, is not based simply on wealth (83.14–15, 84.19–20). Averroes’s emphasis on the role of basic law and order, property, and the household within democracy has a somewhat modern, even bourgeois ring that cannot be traced to the less inhibited democracies of Plato and Alfarabi. The people’s unexamined love of democracy is inspired by its freedom (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.8–9), but not necessarily, as Alfarabi and Plato would have it, by its colorful diversity (Plato, Republic, 557c1–8, cf. Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.16–17, Alfarabi, Political Regime, 87.115). Averroes seeks to give a more sober account than his predecessors of how democratic freedom will actually be used. Rather than induce most of the inhabitants to become bohemians or busybodies, such freedom will encourage them to pursue their own private ends within their households. Averroes’s democracy


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may be more diverse than the other kinds of regimes, but in contrast to Alfarabi’s rare, beautiful democracy, home to all human qualities and types (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 87), it risks appearing dull and commonplace. Nonetheless, more virtuous or eccentric goals continue to be pursued in it (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.21– 23), if only by a small minority of the inhabitants. The freedom granted by democracy allows this unconventional subset to flourish, so that all kinds of people grow up within democracy even while domestic concerns come to dominate the society as a whole. HOW IS AVERROES’S DEMOCRACY DEMOCRATIC? Defining modern democracy as such lies well beyond the scope of this chapter. Yet we may assert, safely I hope, that it involves some degree of political participation, at least in the form of elections. One looks in vain for such participation in Averroes’s democracy. Desire for freedom and the prosperity of their households does not endear the inhabitants of democracy to the burdens of political involvement. Averroes does not identify democracy with assemblies or elections, but with “Muslim kings” of his own time, and illustrates its class structure with an example taken from ancient Persia (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.5–6, 14–15). In displaying absolutely no interest in the participatory democracies that he ought to have known about from reading Plato and Aristotle, Averroes follows the lead of Alfarabi. Alfarabi’s Arabic term from democracy, jimā‘iyya, is used consistently by Averroes in extant Arabic texts.5 It is therefore reasonable to assume that Averroes uses the same word, which may be literally rendered as “associational,” here. It signifies large numbers of people but, unlike its Greek equivalent, does not entail any popular control over offices or participation in assemblies. The medieval Islamic philosophers prefer to direct their gaze toward the governments known to exist in their time. For Averroes as for Alfarabi, democracy is a relatively weak monarchy.6 It is unable to unite its citizens in the service of any overarching political goal, and therefore obliged to solicit their support by helping them pursue their own private ends. On the basis of these observations, we must ask whether “democracy” as used by Alfarabi and Averroes is a misnomer, based on confusions in history and translation. I do not deny that the term can be misleading, but believe that it becomes less so if placed in its proper political and historical context. Despite the absence of elections and assemblies, democracy in both philosophers is indeed characterized by a high degree of popular power. In the democracy of Alfarabi, the people wield power indirectly but brutally: the lingering threat of killing or deposing the ruler through riots (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 88) should suffice to keep him on his toes, and make it extraordinarily risky to act too strongly against the popular will.7 Averroes does not speak so bluntly about the dangers faced by democratic rulers. Yet he leaves little doubt about the link between democracy and strong popular support. Democracy is the city most admired by the multitude, who cherish the freedom it offers (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.8–9). Averroes emphasizes the attractiveness of democracy by introducing another statement that has no direct precedent in either of his predecessors: once humans have established the necessary

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city, their desires impel them toward democracy (84.9–11). Because democracy fulfills the broadest range of natural human desires, it is the form of society to which humans seem most inclined. In the absence of a skilled ruler or prevailing political dogma, most people relish the freedom to absorb themselves in the ends of their own households. Whatever its faults, democracy becomes close to inevitable in certain times and places, including, as we shall soon see, Averroes’s own. We conclude that Averroes’s democracy can be understood as a popular form of government, as long as we take care to distinguish popular enthusiasm for the government from popular participation in it. Indeed, insofar as democracy lacks other sources of strength, such as a vigorous ruler or well-equipped army, it becomes highly dependent on popular support. The perils of such dependence become evident in Averroes’s account of its demise. TAXATION AND CLASS WARFARE I have hitherto argued that Averroes’s democracy is less chaotic than Alfarabi’s and Plato’s. Does this mean that it is also sturdier? The decline of Plato’s democracy is set in motion by the class of drones, and their hankering after the property of others (Republic 564b4 ff., Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 95.19–21). We have observed that the drones are absent from Averroes’s democracy, where primary laws protect private property. This would appear to protect Averroes’s democracy from a major cause of turmoil. Other symptoms of decay, however, soon begin to manifest themselves, linked not to the insecurity of private property, but to the zeal with which it is guarded. The inhabitants of democracy are characterized by an unexamined belief in their own freedom and strong attachment to their household. These qualities foster a corresponding aversion to politics, understood not only as popular participation, but more broadly as any kind of strong government capable of uniting its people under a common notion of the good. Averroes explains that “the association in these [democratic] cities is necessarily only accidentally an association since they do not aim at a single end in their association” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.12–13). The absence of any common notion of the good does not contribute to strong laws. Averroes asserts that “what remains of the nomos” helps to preserve the primary laws in the democratic cities of his day (84.15–16): the phrase “what remains” implies that the force and extent of law has weakened considerably over time. This remnant of the nomos preserves only the primary laws, as if the secondary and tertiary laws have begun to lapse. The implication is that while democracy will continue to abhor robbery and killing, it may eventually wink at cheating in the marketplace, or the transgression of moral norms. While democracy certainly has laws, their enforcement around the edges risks becoming somewhat lax. The weakness of democracy is amplified under the inevitable pressure of war, which compels even democratic rulers to demand public sacrifice from a populace that clearly resents giving it. The rulers are left with two unpalatable alternatives: either they ask their subjects to fight the wars themselves, or they impose taxes on them. Averroes is quite convinced that people distracted by the preoccupations and


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pleasures of a developed democratic society, and no longer dependent on hunting and robbery for their livelihood, will reject the first option (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.24–29). The rulers are therefore forced to infringe upon the sanctity of domestic property, imposing “tributes and imposts” on the households of the city (84.16–18). The response of property-loving democratic householders to any kind of taxation is predictably resentful. The multitude fears that the taxes which are supposed to contribute to the common defense of the city are merely a trick by the mighty to seize their property. This fear is frequently vindicated, as the surplus collected by the mighty in the name of war often ends up in their own hands (84.21–23, 84.30–85.5). Such corruption is by no means surprising, once the mighty have also imbibed the democratic view that all property is domestic. Outright robbery may be rare, but graft is common. Democracy struggles to sustain war because both the multitude and the mighty value their domestic property so highly that they are unwilling to finance it.8 Rather than unite in war against external enemies, they begin to turn on one another: the multitude seeks to shake off the mighty and the taxes demanded by them, while the mighty seeks to oppress the multitude. The multitude becomes increasingly anarchic, the mighty, increasingly tyrannical (85.1–5). Averroes implies that this tug-of-war between multitude and the mighty may lead to the collapse of the regime even before external enemies are able to exploit its military weakness. The strife between the two classes in Averroes’s democracy ultimately proves just as destructive as strife between the three classes in Plato’s. Class warfare along with household acquisitiveness gradually causes civic property to be dissolved into domestic property (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 85.3–4), and without civic property of some sort, the government cannot endure. The overwhelmingly domestic focus of democracy leads to its eventual unraveling. A government that entices its households by promising unfettered pursuit of private ends falters on account of its inability to collect from those same households the minimum amount of funds required for its upkeep and defense. DEMOCRACY IN AL-ANDALŪS Another original aspect of Averroes’s account of democracy is its foundation in actual governments and societies. Averroes bluntly declares that “most of the cities existing today are democratic” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.5–6). Plato and Alfarabi, in contrast, do not ascribe democracy explicitly to any concrete peoples or regimes.9 This might be because the license and diversity that permeates their description of democracy surpass anything that could come into being in any actual city. Athens and Baghdad were, for their time, unusually free and diverse societies, but the former did not permit convicted criminals to wander the streets freely, and the latter did not allow every kind of education and sexual practice to flourish in it.10 Averroes’s democracy, with its greater constraints on both license and diversity, is much more plausibly attributed to particular governments. Despite its Platonic source, Averroes’s account of the democracy as well as the other non-virtuous regimes is replete with references to governments and places in al-Andalūs. While an interpreter of Plato’s and Alfarabi’s discussions of the regimes can afford not to delve too deeply into the

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political circumstances of their time, a student of Averroes must attempt to make sense of the abundant historical references in the work. Let us begin by compiling these references. As we have just seen, Averroes ascribes democracy to the “cities” of his time. He adds that the “associations of many of the Muslim kings are entirely domestic,” that is to say, democratic (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.14–15). He also asserts that “Cordoba was almost completely democratic,” before it was transformed into tyranny in 1145 (96.23–26). Finally, Averroes interrupts his commentary on Plato to emphasize that short-lived “democratic cities” have existed both in Averroes’s time and the period preceding it (93.18–19). As sweeping as these statements may appear, Averroes does not invoke democracy indiscriminately: neither the Almoravids nor the Almohads, the two most famous dynasties of his era, are ever called democratic or associated with cities. The Almoravids declined from a law-based government, to timocracy mixed with oligarchy, and finally to hedonism, before perishing in Averroes’s youth (92.4–8). The Almohads, under whose rule Averroes wrote, are identified more discretely as the government existing “now” and “among us”: they have declined from a government based on law and virtue to a timocracy, and finally to a base form of oligarchy (89.31, 92.8, 103.8–10). Plato’s account of decline, of course, passes through democracy: its absence from Averroes’s account of Almoravid and Almohad decline indicates just how loose his application of Plato’s schema to contemporary regimes tends to be. Averroes’s refusal to call either the Almohads or the Almoravids democratic follows from the attribution of democracy to “cities” and “kings.” These two empires encompassed large territories on both sides of the Mediterranean, and their rulers never assumed the royal title. The Almohads went so far as to style themselves Caliphs, or legitimate successors to the Mahdi who founded their dynasty.11 In contrast to these ambitious, imperial rulers, a motley group of local rulers who dominated Andalusian politics following the collapse of all central authority at the beginning of the eleventh century fit Averroes’s account of democracy quite well. Unable to derive their authority from Caliphs or any other traditional source, they claimed little consistency in their titles, but the standard Arabic historiographical name for the group is “party kings” (mulūk al-ṭawā’if, Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 130–131). I rely here on a well-known modern historical account of this period, whose assessment tends to accord with Averroes’s portrayal of democracy.12 Most of these kings ruled over ethnically diverse subjects in a territory that was little larger than a city (Wasserstein, Party Kings, 105–106). None boasted any significant political achievements, or displayed much concern for the outside world, be it Christian or Muslim (125, 133–135). They were unable to support large armies, and constantly feared popular uprisings, often against taxation (133, 152–153). When Averroes observes that “the associations of many of the Muslim kings today are only associations that are entirely domestic” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.14–15), he probably means Muslim kingdoms of this sort. While Alfarabi’s democracy is a vast, cosmopolitan city to which the nations flock (Alfarabi, Political Regime, 87.115), Averroes’s is a petty local kingdom arising from the disintegration of larger dynasties. The most obvious objection to this thesis is that while Averroes speaks of democratic governments “today” or in “our time,” the heyday of the party kings occurred a century before his time. The Almoravid and Almohad invasions from North


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Africa are generally thought to have put an end to that era. Averroes may allude to the former period when he speaks of short-lived “democratic cities existing in that [time] which preceded [ours].” But the same statement also mentions democratic cities “in this time of ours” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.18–19). The implication is that neither the Almoravids nor the Almohads have fully succeeded in reasserting central control, so that weaker, democratic governments persist at the local level. Averroes himself has given a notable example, namely Cordoba, the site of a bloody uprising against Almoravid rule in 1120 that was put down only with troops imported from North Africa (Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 181–183). This democratic city later declined, according to Averroes, into tyranny, presumably in the aftermath of the expulsion of the Almoravids in 1145 and the eventual seizure of power by Ibn Ghāniyya (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 96.25–26, 97.6–7, Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 192). Local autonomy was hardly limited to Cordova. Modern historians now believe that Almoravid rule entailed collaboration between the foreign Berber tribesman, who formed the military backbone of the regime, and local Andalusian notables, who were the effective governors of most of the cities (Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 178–179). When Almoravid rule collapsed in the 1140s, the cities became effectively independent, so that historians have come to speak of a “second ṭā’ifa period.”13 The most enduring of these kingdoms, the Levante, was not absorbed into the Almohad realms until 1172, and even then Almohad rule “had surprisingly little effect on the structure of society or the personnel of government in the area” (Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 189–195, 224–225). The phrase “democracies existing in this time of ours” refers most probably to the second wave of ṭā’ifa kingdoms. Averroes may anticipate the reassertion of these small, democratic governments due to the “troubles of the time” and general weakening of Almohad authority (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 105.6). Averroes’s identification of democracy with the party kings does little to allay concerns about its stability and strength in war. The most urgent, and ultimately fatal, wars fought by Muslims in Averroes’s time were against Christians, whose courage and spiritedness appears to have impressed Averroes (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 27.9). The earlier party kings, crippled by internal quarrels and a shortage of troops, struggled mightily against these Christians in war, so that they were eventually forced to summon the Almoravid Berbers from Morocco for their defense (Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 149–153, 161–162). The historical context strengthens Averroes’s fundamental contention that democracy is a short-lived regime ill-equipped to handle the vicissitudes of war and politics. Its survival might depend on the military support of law-based or timocratic empires, such as the Almoravids and Almohads in their prime. Once these dynasties had withered, to whom could the democracies turn? WHITHER VIRTUE AND HONOR? Averroes’s pessimism about the longevity of democracy appears to be tempered by one glimmer of hope. In most cases, democracy “perishes rapidly,” but not if it is “strengthened by virtue or honor” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.18–19). He

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thus encourages his readers to reconsider his discussions of virtue and honor with the following question in mind: Is there any way for the democracies of his day to strengthen themselves with these qualities, or are they doomed to decline toward anarchy and tyranny (85.1–6, 96.23–26)? All kinds of humans, including lovers of virtue and honor, come into being in the democratic cities (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.19–21). For this reason, Averroes argues that “the virtuous city” and “every one of the other cities” may emerge in democracy (83.21–23, 93.23). In practice, however, not every kind of city is equally likely to do so. Averroes adduces only one historical example of the transformation of democracy, namely Cordoba, and it declines into tyranny (96.24–26, cf, 85.5). Besides, virtue and honor barely figure in the rest of Averroes’s discussion of democracy, whereas love of property and freedom predominate in it (83.24–85.6). In the midst of the narrow, self-interested concerns that characterize much of democratic society, the significance of honor and virtue seem to fade. In order to better understand the relative weakness of honor in democracy, let us review Averroes’s account of timocracy, the regime that is governed by it. Averroes divides honor into two types. The honor of the marketplace, which “consists only of equality,” is perfectly compatible with democratic politics as well as democratic faith in commercial exchange, but since it does not entail the subordination of one person to another, it generates no claims to political authority (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 81.14–18, 84.1). The honor that imposes such authority requires subordination to a superior owing to the admiration of his perfection, with regard to a large selection of attributes that according to popular opinion promise to help or hurt the city’s inhabitants (81.14–15, 81.25–82.4). Residents of a democracy, however, are inclined to submit to a ruler not out of respect or admiration, but because he helps them attain their personal desires (84.6–7). Could they be persuaded that a powerful, honorable ruler of this sort is most likely to serve this end? While timocratic subjects revere people of high status and rank, democratic subjects are inherently suspicious of them, as became clear in Averroes’s account of taxation and war. Such suspicion might undermine democratic obedience to any forceful ruler. Still, by emphasizing that honor-loving people exist in democracy, and that rulership in it is due entirely to chance (84.13), Averroes does not rule out the possibility that honor could somehow figure in it. Unfortunately, the chance ascension of a few honorable people to the ruling offices hardly guarantees their sustained influence, or any solid basis for the long-term preservation of democracy. The gap between democracy and timocracy becomes a chasm in light of Averroes’s historical examples. Averroes places democracies firmly in the present and the period immediately prior to it, while consigning the most powerful timocracies to a glorious but receding past. Al-Mansur is cited as a model of timocracy (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 82.9–11): this wily Andalusian was the last man to effectively rule all of the Muslim territories in Spain at the end of the tenth century, just before the Umayyad Caliphate’s rapid disintegration inaugurated the period of the party kings (Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal, 115–129). Averroes concludes his discussion of timocracy by observing that “the existence of such a city as this is difficult. But you yourself know that this kind of governance was frequently found among us” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 82.20–21). The use of ‟was” in the past


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tense suggests that timocracy barely exists at present. Averroes does acknowledge that timocracy resurfaced briefly among the Almoravids, mixed with oligarchy and lasting for barely one generation, and then among the Almohads, under whom it has already declined into oligarchy (92.4–8, 103.8–10). Given how fleeting timocracy appears to be even among the centralized Berber military governments from North Africa, how much influence would honor be expected to have among the local democratic governments of Andalusian notables? Averroes’s somewhat nostalgic account of timocracy provides an additional reason to doubt his confidence in the potential of honor to strengthen democracy in his era. Should we expect the few honor-loving people that grow up in democracy to have any influence on their governments in times that appear so unfavorable to them? Virtue, unlike honor, does recur in Averroes’s treatment of democracy, but only by way of contrast. The “entirely domestic” focus of the democratic city places it squarely at odds with the virtuous city (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 84.3–4, cf. 93.31–32). In light of this sharp dichotomy, it is hard to understand what Averroes means when he speaks of virtue strengthening democracy. This issue is not entirely clarified by Averroes’s somewhat cryptic references to the watered-down versions of Plato’s virtuous city that have existed in the Islamic world. Averroes states that the Arabs before the time of the Umayyad Caliph Mu‘āwiyya “used to imitate the virtuous governance” (89.30). Whatever this imitation may have been, it was almost certainly not the genuine article.14 Furthermore, it occurred over five centuries ago in the Arab heartland among Muhammad and the rightly guided Caliphs (622–661 CE), quite remote from Averroes’s own time and place. Averroes does initially promise a parallel between the decline from virtuous rule to timocracy in the days of Muʿāwiyya and governments existing in his time and place (89.31), but when he finally introduces those governments, he dilutes the imitation even further. The original rule of the Almoravids “imitated governance based on the nomos,” while that of the Almohads “resembled governance based on the nomos” (92.4–8). The substitution of law for virtue implies that whatever virtue is possible in Averroes’s time depends on law: it is not virtue as such, but rather law-bred or civic virtue. While timocracy fosters respect for rank, governments that imitate virtue foster respect for law. Among recent dynasties in al-Andalūs, both kinds of government have lasted only for a single generation (92.4–6, 103.8–10).15 In assessing the appeal of a law-based virtuous government in democracy, it is helpful to recall the attitude of democracy toward law. It appears to be somewhat respectful, but only as long as law does not demand too much. A remnant of the law endures, to be sure, but the prevalence of both moral diversity and democratic acquisitiveness in the city might make the imposition of sterner laws impossible (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 83.19–23, 84.15–16, 23–24). In such an environment, the rare individuals who seek to impose a stricter version of law, let alone inculcate virtue, seem unlikely to wield much influence (see 83.22, 103.11–12). Democracy resists the wide-ranging respect for law characteristic of governments that imitate virtue, just as it resists the respect for rank characteristic of timocracies. The foregoing analysis makes it seems somewhat improbable that honorable or virtuous inhabitants of democracy would be able to affect the society from within. An alternative interpretation of the phrase “strengthened by virtue and honor” would be that the strengthening comes from without. In other words, the party kings and local

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democracies were strongest whenever a potent imperial authority, be it Almoravid or Almohad, was able to come to their defense. Unfortunately, the transient nature of both timocracy and the law-based, virtue-resembling government among these dynasties suggests that even this is not a long-term solution. Averroes may have wished for the strengthening of virtue and honor in democracy, but his own political analysis betrays its small probability of success. Writing in a time when Andalusian decline was much more advanced, Ibn Khaldūn accuses Averroes of failing to understand the role of group feeling16 in politics, because such feeling had long been absent from Averroes’s native land (Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, vol. 1., 275). A partial defense of Averroes against this criticism follows from the interpretation presented in this chapter. Averroes did indeed perceive the severe weakness of al-Andalūs, and like Ibn Khaldūn he traced it to the absence of both strong governance among the leaders and strong political feeling among the people. In such a situation, the general political inclination tends toward democracy, that weak form of government that appeals to popular love of property and freedom but proves unsuitable for long-term political and military success. Did Averroes predict the string of decisive Muslim defeats that would lead to permanent withdrawal from most of Spain as early as 1236, less than forty years after his death? He could not have done so openly, but his criticism of the dynasties of his day does not bode well for the future. It seems unlikely that a contemporary of Averroes’s stature would have failed to perceive what modern historians now believe to have been readily apparent: “between 1031 and 1157, the waxing of the north and waning of the south in Iberia had already proceeded sufficiently far to suggest the probable outcome.”17 Whatever Averroes’s private thoughts might have been, his reference to the possibility of strengthening the democracy so prevalent in his day by virtue and honor encourages his fellow Andalusians not to give up without a fight. AVERROES AND CONTEMPORARY DEMOCRACY Averroes’s novel approach to democracy diverges considerably from the treatment of his predecessors. Yet we still need to ask how the new path charted by Averroes remains significant to us. While his association of democracy with the protection of property and other domestic goods does render it more practical, it does not obviously lead to modern democracy, due to the absence of key institutions such as elections and courts. Nor does Averroes’s ascription of democracy to the small local regimes of al-Andalūs allay longstanding pre-modern concerns over democracy’s inadequate military force and doubtful political stability. If Alexander Hamilton could introduce Federalist 9 by lamenting the tempestuous politics of the “petty republics of Greece and Italy,” he would surely have said the same about the fractious ‟democratic” states of the party kings of Andalusia; he did not have to, of course, because unlike Rome, Sparta, and Athens, or even Alfarabi’s Baghdad, popular memory of these doomed regimes and societies has not endured. Averroes, of course, would not simply have disagreed with such a critique, since he presented a rather dim prognosis for the future of al-Andalūs and its democratic cities. More significantly for us, many of Averroes’s sober observations about democracy continue to ring true long after the demise and oblivion of his own political world. The


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beautiful, licentious dreams of Platonic or Alfarabian democracy surely serve a philosophic purpose, but offer relative little practical analysis or advice. Averroes presents the possibility of a proto-bourgeois society with laws that guarantee the protection of property, fairness of commerce, and sanctity of the household, none of which sounds at all alien to contemporary ears. This means, however, that we should grapple with his conclusion that such a government is likely to fail, especially since hindsight regarding his own epoch has generally confirmed it. His critique of democracy’s failings demands more serious practical consideration than, for example, Plato’s joke about how mules in it refuse to obey their owners. At the dawn of modern democracy, John Locke argued that government and society could be constructed around the goal of the preservation of property. In contrast to Locke, Averroes denies that that the pursuit of such private goals can be harnessed for the sake of any durable public good. He shows how an excessive focus on private households ultimately undermines the regime, due to the very public exigencies of taxation and war. Democratic peoples are inclined to resist these necessities with either outright refusal or wishful thinking, while corrupt elites may exploit them for their own personal advantage. This tense dynamic inevitably incites both popular resentment against the elite and elite contempt for the people. Present-day democracies still display, to various degrees, these symptoms. They are generally averse to what contemporary politicians euphemistically christen “new revenues.” They also seem increasingly unwilling to sustain the costs, in both blood and treasure, of military engagements that extend beyond a few surgical strikes. Finally, populist political movements that reject equally high taxation, foreign war, and elite opinion, have had surprising success in recent years, partly attributable to a widespread public perception of corruption and complacency among the elite. Averroes’s fears on these points seem very far from being obsolete, with their long-term impact on Western democracy yet to be determined. Equally relevant is Averroes’s suggestion that democracy needs to be strengthened by virtue, understood as greater respect for law, and honor, understood as greater respect for rank. These qualities are essential for narrowing the gaping divide between public and private that is sure to plague any regime explicitly devoted to the promotion of private goods. As different as our institutional framework may be, we seek to inculcate some form of virtue and honor, whether we describe them in that way or not. The Declaration of Independence begins by speaking of ‘inalienable rights,” but ends with the pledge of “our sacred honor,” while Lincoln’s now canonical Lyceum address reflects on how to strengthen a civil religion based on the rule of law. We disagree, often fanatically, on how to instill these qualities, but does anyone outside the most dogmatic libertarians reject the need for them outright? Not only did Averroes describe the inherent weaknesses of democracy, but he sketched some possible remedies, in a way that resonates across an enormous institutional and historical divide. NOTES 1. See Alexander Orwin, “Democracy under the Caliphs: Alfarabi’s Unusual Understanding of Popular Rule,” Review of Politics 77 (2015): 171–190: as well as Alexander Orwin,

Democracy in Muslim Spain


“Democracy without Elections: Popular Rule According to Alfarabi,” in Democratic Moments, edited by Xavier Marquez (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 41–48. A translation of the relevant passage of Alfarabi may be found in Alfarabi: The Political Writings: Volume II, trans. Charles Butterworth (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015), 86–88. In Arabic: Kitāb al-Siyāsa al-Madaniyya, ed. Fauzi M. Najjar (Bayrut: Dār al-Mashriq, 1993). 2. Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, trans. Ralph Lerner (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974). Lerner has preserved, in the margins, the page numbers of E.I.J. Rosenthal’s pioneering Hebrew edition, so all citations apply both to Lerner’s English translation and Rosenthal’s Hebrew. See E.I.J. Rosenthal, Averroes’ Commentary on Plato’s Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966). All citations from the Republic follow the Stephanus numbers in Platonis Opera, Vol. IV, ed. Joannus Burnet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982). 3. The name Plato does not occur at all during that account, stretching from 80.18 to 87.13. In 87.14, Averroes returns to Plato’s dialogue by reintroducing the expression “Plato says,” variants of which recur frequently in the following section. 4. The same Hebrew term that is translated as “dispositions,” tekūnot, appears in 83.22 and 84.2. 5. See Averroes, Commentaire Moyen à la Rhetorique, Vol. 2, trans. Mroun Aouad (Paris: J. Vrin, 2003), 68, 70. 6. For evidence of the monarchic character of Alfarabi’s democracy, see Orwin, “Democracy under the Caliphs,” 176–179. 7. See Orwin, “Democracy under the Caliphs,” 178. 8. This might be Averroes’s interpretation of the remark that he transcribes from Plato: “He [Plato] said: Since in this city no one is compelled to undertake any of the useful civic matters such as wars, peace, and the rest, it easily comes to ruin” (Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, 93.27–29). 9. Plato goes so far to suggest that most actual regimes among both Greeks and barbarians do not fit any of his five prototypes (Plato, Republic, 544d1–4). He does associate timocracy with Crete and Sparta, but never democracy with Athens (Plato, Republic, 544c1–7). Alfarabi does not explicitly refer to any particular regime in his treatment of democracy. 10. See Orwin, “Democracy under the Caliphs,” 184–186. 11. Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: The Political History of al-Andalūs (New York: Addison Wesley Longman Inc., 1996), 201. 12. David Wasserstein, The Rise and Fall of the Party Kings: Politics and Society in Islamic Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 1002–1086. 13. Ṭawā’if is the broken plural of ṭā’ifa, meaning faction or group. 14. As Lerner observes: see Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, p. 121, n. 89.28–31. 15. Lerner makes some similar points in his introduction and notes: see Averroes, On Plato’s Republic, xx–xxi, as well as p. 125, n. 92.4–8. 16. Or aṣabiyya in Arabic, a concept made famous by Ibn Khaldūn. 17. Bernard F. Reilly, The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain: 1031–1157 (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992), 1.

REFERENCES Alfarabi. The Political Writings: Volume II. Translated by Charles Butterworth. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015. Averroes. Commentaire Moyen à la Rhetorique. Translated by Mroun Aouad. Paris: J. Vrin, 2003. Averroes. On Plato’s Republic. Translated by Ralph Lerner. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974.


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Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal: The Political History of al-Andalūs. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Inc., 1996. Orwin, Alexander. “Democracy under the Caliphs: Alfarabi’s Unusual Understanding of Popular Rule.” Review of Politics 77 (2015): 171–190. Orwin, Alexander. “Democracy without Elections: Popular Rule According to Alfarabi.” In Democratic Moments, edited by Xavier Marquez, 41–48. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. Plato. Platonis Opera. Edited by Joannus Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Reilly, Bernard F. The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain: 1031–1157. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992. Rosenthal, E.I.J. Averroes’ Commentary on Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966. Wasserstein, David. The Rise and Fall of the Party Kings: Politics and Society in Islamic Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Chapter 10

Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime Patrick N. Cain

One of the less discussed features of St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of government in the Summa Theologica is that his account of the best regime combines monarchy and aristocracy with democracy, polity’s purportedly bad counterpart that pursues selfish ends rather than simply the common good.1 Aquinas does not give a robust defense of democracy anywhere in the Summa, instead leaving us to piece together why he thinks it is part of the best regime. To do so, I begin with Aquinas’s De Regno. This treatise on kingship does not give a formal defense of democracy either. Instead, it endorses kingship as the best regime, and barely mentions democracy explicitly, except to contrast it with polity in quite unflattering terms. Nevertheless, I think De Regno provides some ground for understanding Aquinas’s ultimate endorsement of democracy within the context of the mixed regime. For as I will try to show, as the treatise proceeds, a subtle critique of the rule of kingship emerges in such a way as to highlight the limits that prevent the possibility of it—and perhaps of any regime—fully realizing the shared pursuit of the common good. By sketching out this movement I not only highlight how De Regno’s arguments guard against tyranny by supporting democratic checks on monarchic government, but also how they point toward the positive goods enabled by the proper incorporation of a democratic element into a mixed regime. Then, turning to Aquinas’s discussion of the mixed regime in the Summa, I attempt to show how its analysis of the best regime fits with the arguments of De Regno and with its own defense of human freedom and judgment. By thus highlighting the relationship between monarchic rule and democratic freedom, I hope to lay the ground for improving our understanding of the place of political rule in Aquinas’s thought, including his view of the relationship between human freedom, prudence, and the natural law. DEMOCRACY IN DE REGNO Given the thrust of De Regno’s formal argument, it is at first hard to see it providing anything close to a defense of democracy. After all, the treatise endorses kingship 149


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as the best regime because its ruler’s extreme excellences offer a regime both the best possibility of good rule and the best possible protection against tyranny. Virtues are enhanced and made sufficient when rule is wholly vested in a king, and such a monarch has the added advantage of providing the unity necessary to truly call a regime a regime (DR I.15).2 Needless to say, democracy cannot offer the same unity, nor promise the same virtue. It may not even be a regime. Indeed, De Regno provides only two explicit discussions of democracy, both with negative assessments. The first is especially harsh: “If finally, the bad government is carried on by the multitude, it is called a democracy, i.e. control by the populace, which comes about when the plebeian people by force of numbers oppress the rich. In this way the whole people will be as one tyrant” (DR I.11). Democracy thus first appears as potentially the worst form of government, insofar as it involves the total corruption of the most people. On the other hand, Aquinas does not say here who calls such a regime a democracy, or whether doing so is correct, or whether the rule of the people might be exercised in better ways than in this account. We should not be surprised, then, that De Regno’s subsequent discussion of democracy seemingly provides a corrective to the first. Aquinas here claims (and now in his own voice) that what makes democracy the most tolerable of the bad regimes is not its unity of purpose, but its division. Democracy can be distinguished from tyranny because its many rulers means there is a divide in the ends it seeks, which makes it less effective at pursuing bad ends and thus less harmful than either tyranny or oligarchy (DR I.23). As a result, “if the government should turn away from justice, it is more expedient that it be a government by many, so that it may be weaker and the many may mutually hinder one another” (DR I.25). On first blush this may not seem like much of an argument in favor of democracy, but since its inexpedience makes it the most expedient corrective to unjust regimes, we are led to consider the large number of political moments under which democracy emerges as the best available political alternative.3 And as the treatise proceeds, this frequency is encouraged to expand in our estimation, for the distinction between kings and tyrants increasingly breaks down, so that we are led to consider the possibility that virtually all so-called kingships are really variations on tyranny. This occurs in two related ways. First, Aquinas narrows the definition of kingship to such a degree that it becomes seemingly impossible for a human ruler to fulfill. Second, he begins to discuss historical kings and tyrants interchangeably (DR I.30).4 By thus vastly expanding the instances under which democracy qualifies as the preferred political option for a regime, Aquinas subtly reintroduces it as an important and even necessary element of the best possible regime. Thus, it is fitting that, although he doesn’t explicitly mention democracy again, he does proceed to argue that the people can correctly choose, restrain, and even depose a king (DR I.44), and that their power to do so should be legally established (DR I.48–49). Aquinas’s gradual implicit endorsement of the people’s role emphasizes a specific feature of democracy’s character: its demand for freedom. The diverse ends pursued by democratic people are not guided by a shared concern for the common good, but they do lead to a shared concern for their liberty. And this concern can in turn benefit the regime, as seen when “kings were expelled by the Roman people when they could no longer bear the burden of their rule, or, rather, of their tyranny” (DR

Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime


I.30; my emphasis). In fact, argues Aquinas, the democratic desire for freedom has compounding positive effects, not only allowing for the defeat of these tyrants/kings, but persisting beyond that defeat, resulting in a new-found liberty that led directly to Rome’s swift growth (DR I.30). Aquinas’s reflections on these phenomena lead to his deepest critique of kingship as a viable regime, one that moves us even further toward democratic rule: It often happens that men living under a king are reluctant to exert themselves for the common good, no doubt supposing that whatever they do for the common good will not benefit them but someone else who is seen to have the goods of the community under his own power. But if no one person is seen to have such power, they no longer regard the common good as if it belonged to someone else, but each now regards it as his own. (DR I.30)

This analysis strikingly suggests that the political problem with kingship is not simply that all historical kings really carry with them some element of tyranny, but also that the character of kingship makes it intrinsically unable to achieve its political ends.5 In a monarchy, the king’s concern for his own good vs. the common good (the principle by which the good and bad regimes are distinguished) collapse into one another. At the same time these concerns are made completely separate for the ruled, for the people must either selflessly obey, or selfishly disobey, the king. Earlier in De Regno Aquinas claims that the positive counterpart to democracy is polity and that polity is the rule of the people for the sake of the common good. But if the common good can only be pursued through the people’s selfless obedience to a king, then the good of pursuing the common good, and what one understands to be the common good, which must constitute at least part of the common good itself (since the king always acts for the common good), cannot belong to anyone but the king; it is not a good that can be pursued by the people, who cannot use whatever prudence they might have.6 Under kingship (or any unified or shared understanding of the common good), the people’s selfless pursuit of the common good must literally constitute a loss of self, and so any good that is achieved cannot rightly be said to belong to the people themselves as members of the regime any more than the good of a household might belong to a slave.7 We are left with the following problem: the democratic liberty necessary for each individual to regard (and pursue) the common good “as his own” means that a diversity of selfish ends rather than a shared common good is sought, whereas the unified pursuit of the common good (by kingship, aristocracy, or even polity) means that the good sought cannot belong to each member of the regime as their own. Because the unity of kingship entails the identification of the common good with the king, it seems bound to disconnect the regime from the people, thereby failing to provide its promised unity. In contrast to this problem is Aquinas’s example of the Roman Republic, in which democratic liberty seemed to allow for the good of the regime, even though it did not entail unified rule. It seemed to suggest that democracy’s common pursuit of freedom, and the diverse pursuits that freedom allows, may add up to some shared goods within an already existing regime. However, unlike kingship, democracy seems to offer neither firm ground on which to form a regime, nor a unifying principle that explains


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why the goods that result from freedom ought to be shared by a defined community. Democracy does not seem to be able to provide sufficient ground for a shared regime or for a good that is common.8 It is therefore not surprising that De Regno soon suggests mixing elements of kingship and democracy. Providing the people with the power to elect and remove the king, and preserving the good of democratic liberty within this restrained form of kingship, requires people and rulers alike to be concerned with their liberty and their good, and so to share in ruling and being ruled. But while such a mixed regime may allow and encourage each of its members to pursue good, and for the common benefit, it is still hard to see how it can fully secure the common good, or reach the full definition of a regime. DEMOCRACY IN THE SUMMA THEOLOGICA The Summa explicitly endorses the mixed regime with a democratic element in two separate discussions. The first is brief. Citing Aristotle’s Politics, Aquinas argues that, since human law is framed by those who govern, there are various human laws according to the different forms of government (ST I.II.95.4).9 Mentioning monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, Honorary/Praetorian,10 and democracy as the forms of rule, he tells us that democracy offers “decrees of the commonality,” whereas aristocracy offers “authoritative legal opinions” and “decrees of the Senate,” and kingship “Royal Ordinances.” Tyranny is said to be rule with no law, and if oligarchy has any law, we are not told about it. Aquinas concludes by backing a mixture of these different regimes: “There is a form of government made up of all these, and which is the best: and in this respect we have law sanctioned by the Lords and Commons” (ST I.II.95.4). This final remark is striking. By mentioning the laws of the Lords and Commons, and not the laws of the monarch, Aquinas seems to suggest that the Royal Ordinances do not qualify as laws within a mixed government. And without the element of law, there is no ground given by which to distinguish the Royal Ordinances from the commands of the tyrant. The Summa’s first account of the mixed regime thus seems to point toward what emerges in De Regno, namely that all human kingships are variations on tyranny, or contain at least some element of tyranny. It is striking that Aquinas claims that the best regime includes “all” the listed forms of rule, for that list includes tyranny. The monarchic element means that the so-described best regime cannot provide fully lawful rule. The Summa’s later return to the mixed regime might seem to be designed to solve this issue by endorsing the seemingly idiosyncratic version of mixed government provided for by the judicial precepts of the Old Law. This regime provided for a mediated version of monarchy—the rule of Moses and his successors—that was ultimately replaced by the institution of a human kingship in the form of King Saul and his successors (Davidic kingship). In his discussion of the judicial precepts, Aquinas defends the Mosaic biblical regime structure as being in accord with Aristotle’s general political teaching about the mixed regime, and also offers arguments of his own to explain when the Old Law goes further than the philosopher in its detailing of

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particular recommendations for the regime—for instance, fathers’ education of their children in the faith. This change is possible because God has properly directed and ordered human beings how to properly practice divine worship (worship which could otherwise only be directed by legislators with a view to the goods that worship might produce for the regime; ST I.II.99.3).11 And divine direction concerning how to properly serve and worship God will in turn reorder how human beings are to interact with one another (at least in certain ways—e.g., how parents are to educate their children). The mixed regime of the Old Law as the best regime is thus made possible through the judicial precepts, that is, through divine intervention. On the other hand, although the divine ordering of the Old Law in some sense presents a radically new variation on the best regime, it may not be a viable option for the Summa’s readers. After all, its judicial precepts belong to a particular historical situation that has been eclipsed by a Christianity that does not require all of the biblical laws to be practiced. One might therefore conclude that the best regime according to the Old Law now only exists as a guide for a Christian regime, providing political wisdom to be adopted or adapted as circumstances might require.12 But even if there is something to part of this argument, its overall thrust doesn’t adequately explain why the Christian Aquinas endorses the government of the Old Law as the best regime— why not simply show how the Old Law is a useful guide for the best Christian regime and outline that regime for us instead? I want to suggest that we should read Aquinas as doing precisely that—that his discussion of the Old Law is meant to complement his discussion of the best Christian regime in De Regno, but that it does so in part by showing the ways that the Old Law’s regime practiced a politics that was inadequate and incomplete. Aquinas’s discussion of the judicial precepts does provide a kind of political teaching on a variety of legal principles, and even on specific rules and practices that emerge from these principles, which he thinks ought to be adopted or adapted by regimes under the right specific circumstances. But Aquinas also indicates that the Mosaic regime was unable to meet the standard given by the judicial precepts; it did not fully satisfy the issue of the best regime. To help show why I take this to be the case, it is useful to note how Aquinas’s account of the best regime in relation to the Old Law is split between a theoretical account of how rule ought to be divided and shared, and his subsequent analysis of how the Mosaic and Davidic regimes fit with that account.13 In the theoretical account Aquinas exclusively cites Aristotle, arguing for a politics which, though part monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, is at the same time a government that “is shared by all—all are eligible to govern, and the rules are chosen by all.” The monarchic and aristocratic elements are mixed with democracy in the sense that they are chosen democratically, since (in addition to the power to choose the rules of the regime) “the people have the right to choose their rulers.” Yet, at the same time, this democratic power appears at least somewhat dependent on the monarchic element, for Aquinas also cites Aristotle’s argument that “the ordering of the people depends mostly on the chief ruler” (ST II.I.105.1). Who the chief ruler actually is under the schema of the Old Law turns out to be the fundamental issue in Aquinas’s examination of how the Israelites practiced government in relation to the best regime. At first, Moses and his successors appear


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to form the monarchic part: “[they] governed the people in such a way that each of them was ruler over all; so there was a kind of kingdom” (ST II.I.105.1). But Aquinas soon suggests that only God qualifies as a true king—God’s ordering of the people, including His selection of Moses as the ruler of a “kind of kingdom,” shows that “the Lord reserved to Himself the institution of the chief ruler” (ST II.I.105.1.reply1).14 And at the same time we are told that, because Moses and his successors could not achieve the “perfect virtue” needed to avoid degenerating into tyranny, God directed aristocratic judges and governors to at least partially rule over their office. The institution of a fully human kingship entailed the removal of these checks, which were replaced by political and spiritual prescriptions that the king was given to follow in order to preserve himself from becoming a wholly unjust tyrant.15 All of this, I think, indicates that the Mosaic mixed regime is better than the inevitable tyranny of the entirely human kingship that emerges in the Davidic regime structure, but not able to fully reach the heights of the truly best regime because the standard of kingly rule cannot be consistently met. As in De Regno, strictly speaking, only God qualifies as a true king, for no human ruler is able to achieve the perfect virtue necessary to the strict definition of kingship.16 Aquinas’s analysis likewise confirms what the Summa’s first account of the mixed regime suggested: even if ruled by the finest and most kingly of human rulers, no regime will be able to avoid at least some element of tyranny. The best regime in speech is the direct rule of God, but since human beings have chosen not to obey his rule (ST II.II.163–164), the secondbest option is the mixed regime. It would seem that the judicial precepts offered by the Old Law (including those arranging the mixed regime) are a form of kingly legislation (God’s rule) that acknowledges the imperfection of human and political life. The regime of the Old Law mixed God’s perfectly kingly rule and legislation with the less kingly rule of its human executive. By thus showing the limits of political rule in relation to Divine rule, Aquinas lays the ground for De Regno’s endorsement of a (perhaps) modified Aristotelian political arrangement—one that leaves the rule of the political realm to the guide of prudence, while preserving space for the Divine rule through the preservation of democratic freedom; a political arrangement that is especially made possible by the advent of Christianity. THE MIXED REGIME AND DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM For readers who share the democratic concern for freedom from oppression, the Summa’s argument for some democratic rule as a defensive check on the inherent element of tyranny may seem to be the most striking reason for democracy’s place in the mixed regime, and satisfying enough on its own. Yet elsewhere in the Summa Aquinas suggests a more positive argument for democracy’s active inclusion as part of the best political regime. As in De Regno, Aquinas associates democracy with liberty, arguing that, in a democracy, distributive justice occurs in proportion to its defining characteristic: freedom (ST I.II.61.2). And he defends freedom as being at the foundation of politics, saying both that it is the very thing that makes government necessary, and that liberty belongs to man’s nature (ST I​.II​.83​.1​.​reply 3). Two related reasons for these claims are given: first, that free-will is a natural and immutable

Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime


power of human beings (ST I.II.83.2); and second, that this power both guards against freedom from coercion, and allows for choice (ST I.II.83.2, answer 3). As such, “the subjection of slavery is incompatible with liberty; for slavery consists in lording over others and employing them for one’s own profit” (ST I.II.34). In contrast, human freedom consists in acting in accordance with a judgment tied to the pursuit of happiness (ST I.II.83.1). In addition to its defensive character, the democratic element of the mixed regime would provide the possibility for each to use one’s own judgment and choice, both of which (following Aristotle) are elements of virtuous action necessary to the life that properly aims at happiness. As we saw, De Regno suggested that the problem of regimes which aim exclusively at the common good is that doing so leaves no room for the pursuit of the good by all, and especially not the good of freely pursuing the good through the exercising of good human judgment. By tying freedom to both self-rule and to the pursuit of one’s own interest, Aquinas defends democratic liberty as a natural good for human beings because it allows the pursuit of what is best for oneself in a way that perhaps no regime without a democratic element will allow. Democratic freedom allows citizens to more fully exercise their judgment, and act in their own self-interest, without denying them the possibility of also acting with a view to the common good. Democratic liberty is not a good simply because the mixed regime always includes an element of tyranny—even if it didn’t, absent such liberty, citizens would themselves be unable to freely pursue what is good and would instead be merely slavish tools of the ruler or rulers. Under the democratic extension of prudence, each is allowed at least some freedom to act as they see fit, including in regards to what each understands to be his or her moral and civic duty. Needless to say, democratic liberty limits the ability of the best rulers to act on (but not exercise) superior prudential judgment, and Aquinas does not provide a detailed account of how far democratic freedom should extend to limit this judgment. He does, on the other hand, offer his famous account of the natural law to which he says all human beings are bound. Does this law in a sense replace the detailed rules and regulations of the judicial precepts? While answering this question is more than I can do here, it is noteworthy that Aquinas argues that the natural law is available at least in part to all human beings, and likely to some more than others. While the principle of this law may not suffer exception, its particular applications are so dependent on the relevant circumstances that any general rules that might be derived from this principle are inevitably subject to the judgment of prudence. For Aquinas, there cannot be universally valid rules of human action in the political domain that apply to each particular case; any rule that might be derived from the natural law would be limited to particular cases and circumstances17 that in turn must be defined by the judgment of prudence (ST I.II.94.4). Insofar as the natural law is one law (ST I.II.94.2), it is not subject to exception. But insofar as the natural law is more than one law, each question of human action may or may not fall under its purview, making it impossible to define natural law as containing universal rules of human action that are not subject to particular circumstances for their application (see ST II. I.100.8.reply3). And when we add to these considerations the necessarily limited knowledge of the particulars that are involved in, and related to, each possible action or inaction (ST II.II.47.3), it is increasingly hard to pinpoint how natural law differs from prudential judgment.18


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For Aquinas, as for Aristotle, it does not seem that we can have a scientific knowledge of action.19 If the judicial precepts were instituted by divine intervention at least partially in response to the sinful character of his people, the subsequent departure from this arrangement through the institution of the Davidic kingship is a (perhaps natural?) punishment for the people’s failure to live according to the graceful gift of the Old Law (ST I.II.105.1.reply5). It seems likely that the mixed regime of the Old Law is a best regime in speech that was perhaps never fully realized in practice. And even to the extent that it was realized, its ultimate failure would not seem to speak well of the people, since—as Aquinas makes sure to remind us—the people turned from God and demanded a king even after being told that he and his successors would tyrannize them (ST I.II.105.1.reply3). The universal character of Christianity would seem to limit the possibility of returning to the regime of the judicial precepts, and the regime’s failure perhaps suggests that doing so is not the best option. On the other hand, Aquinas does not say the democracy of the Old regime consisted in liberty;20 instead, it is outside his discussion of the judicial precepts that he ties democracy to a robust view of human freedom and prudence. CONCLUSION The regime of the judicial precepts may have been the best possible regime for the time and place of the Israelites. Even so, it is not clear that it was ever fully realized, perhaps not even momentarily; and it certainly could not be realized now. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle’s recommendation that the best possible regime be mixed in character, but what that mixture might be is necessarily ambiguous. Like Aristotle, he cannot offer us a detailed account of the best possible regime because the answer to the question is at least partially dictated by circumstances. Yet giving a precise definition of the best possible regime absent particular circumstances (including those of the Israelites) might seem to be both required and impossible if he is to preserve Christianity as part of the best regime, for Christianity wishes to be practiced by peoples in all nations. But Aquinas makes no such claim upon any regime, leaving that to prudence and the natural law. Instead, he insists only on democratic freedom as a necessary part of any good regime, not in the form of specific democratic institutions or strictly defined powers, but rather in the form of ensuring a place for free human judgment in the formation and practice of politics. Absent God’s full rule, Aquinas denies the possibility of defining the best regime for the practice of politics, and instead shows why a mixture of regimes is necessary, arguing that no human regime is able to achieve the full pursuit of the common good because each regime will contain some element of tyranny. But this also means that each regime will always be in need of prudence. Because tyranny is inevitable, the exercising of prudence, including acting for the best form of rule possible, will always be necessary. At the same time, Aquinas suggests throughout his analysis that this same democratic free judgment is essential to all human beings accepting and understanding the kingly rule of God and his commands (DR I.109), even when the regime does not.21 It is this freedom, which was given by God to his people in the

Thomas Aquinas on Democracy and the Best Regime


best regime of the Old Law, that persists under Christianity. While its practice is not always conducive to the unity sought by each regime, it does provide a perhaps essential limit on human rule that is necessary to the health of any political community. By endorsing this mixture of all the regimes, Aquinas leaves us to further consider the extent to which the acceptance of God’s rule can be mixed with or separated from the practice of politics, including the divine law’s compatibility with the natural law and human prudence. NOTES 1. Ernest L. Fortin’s influential account of Aquinas’s political philosophy surprisingly misses this distinction. See “St. Thomas Aquinas,” in History of Political Philosophy, ed. Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 257. 2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas: Political Writings, trans. R.W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). This book’s translation of De Regno is cited parenthetically by book and paragraph number. 3. Aquinas says that, in Aristotle’s schema, democracy has a minimum of perversion, as it departs very little from the character of polity. See Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, trans. C.J. Litzinger (Notre Dame: Dumb Ox Books, 1993), 1679–1680. 4. For a fuller account of these elements in De Regno’s analysis of kingship, see Patrick N. Cain, “The Best Regime in Thomas Aquinas’s De Regno,” in Classical Rationalism and The Politics of Europe, ed. Ann Ward (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017), 114–125. 5. Aquinas highlights a related problem during his investigation into the proper reward for the king, an investigation which proves difficult to satisfy. Without such a reward the king’s task of seeking the common good “would seem unduly onerous” (DR I.61), but no reward can fully answer. He eventually settles on honor, but makes it clear it is a second-best solution that is fit for a not fully virtuous and independent king. He thus highlights the less than ideal character of most “kings,” and moves to mitigate their defects and tendencies by tying their rule to the influence of the approval and disapproval of others (DR I.60), thus fertilizing the ground for the mixed regime. 6. See also ST II.II.47.15. 7. See also Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, 1699 and ST II.II.104.5. On the incompatibility of slavery with liberty and therefore with proper rule see ST Supplement.34.1, where Aquinas critiques slavery on the ground that absolute rule deprives the slave (and perhaps even the slaveholder) from his proper liberty. Proper order, Aquinas says there, includes the freedom to seek one’s salvation. See also ST I.II.105.objection 5. 8. Aquinas’s reference to Rome’s republican revolution’s “swift growth,” soon is revealed as more ambiguous that it first appeared, with Aquinas reminding us that the Romans soon fell into civil war and then turned to emperors (Aquinas calls the emperors both kings and tyrants). He then tells us that “a similar process” took place in biblical history. Although the Israelites were ruled by judges, each began doing “what was good in his own eyes,” which led them to be “plundered on all sides.” As a result, they requested human kingship, and the kings led them into wickedness (DR I.35). Aquinas would thus again seem to indicate that the democratic regime’s lack of a ruling principle is unsustainable. 9. St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1920). I cite this parenthetically.


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10. Aquinas does not here entirely make clear whether the “Honorary/Praetorian” regime is simply a variation on oligarchy or its own regime. 11. This paragraph in many ways follows Douglas’s Kries’s helpful and insightful article: “Thomas Aquinas and the Politics of Moses,” The Review of Politics 52, no. 1 (1990): 84–104, and especially 99–101. 12. See Kries, “The Politics of Moses,” 101–102. 13. The institution of Davidic kingship (i.e. human kingship in the form of King Saul and his successors) replaces the mediated version of monarchy given through Moses. 14. Here Aquinas also answers the objection that the king orders the regime by noting that God provided the regime with a king. 15. But, as foretold by God, the kings did not avoid this fate and the people were ruled tyrannically, “as though they were his slaves” (ST II.I.105.1). 16. See also Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, 1675–1677. 17. ST II.I.100.8 allows for “dispensation from precepts based on particulars.” 18. Compare with Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 160–164. Strauss leaves it to the reader to distinguish his reading of the “Thomistic Doctrine” from his reading of Aquinas’s own argument. 19. For a discussion of Aristotle on the question, see Stephen A. Block and Patrick Cain, “Socrates’s Spirited Defense of Knowledge: Continence, Incontinence, and Human Action in Book VII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics,” Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 42, no.1 (2015): 3–32. 20. In his analysis of the judicial precepts (but not how they order the regime) Aquinas does speak of the freeing of slaves, and of the precept that “no public duties be laid on a recently married man, so he might be free to rejoice with his wife” (ST II.I.105.4). 21. See also DR I.109; ST I.I.65.2; Supplement.34.

REFERENCES Aquinas, St. Thomas. Aquinas: Political Writings. Translated and edited by R.W. Dyson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Aquinas, St. Thomas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by C. J. Litzinger. Notre Dame: Dumb Ox Books, 1993. Aquinas, St. Thomas. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1920. Block, Stephen A. and Patrick Cain. “Socrates’s Spirited Defense of Knowledge: Continence, Incontinence, and Human Action in Book VII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 42, no. 1 (2015): 3–32. Cain, Patrick N. “The Best Regime in Thomas Aquinas’s De Regno.” In Classical Rationalism and The Politics of Europe, edited by Ann Ward, 114–125. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017. Fortin, Ernest L. “St. Thomas Aquinas.” In History of Political Philosophy, edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, 248–275. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Kries, Douglas. “Thomas Aquinas and the Politics of Moses.” The Review of Politics 52, no. 1 (1990): 84–104. Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

Chapter 11

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics Catherine H. Zuckert

What can Machiavelli teach us about democratic possibilities and problems? At first glance, the answer to that question would seem to be, not much. In the first sentence of The Prince Machiavelli declares that there are two and only two types of states (stati) that have rule (imperio) over men: principalities and republics. He does not explain the basis of his typology. However, if we compare his minimalist division with Aristotle’s well-known sixfold categorization (of which we know that Machiavelli and his immediate audience were aware (Discourses, 1.1–2), if only indirectly from Polybius), two differences immediately stand out: First, Aristotle distinguishes regimes not only according to the number of rulers—one, few, or many—but also according to whether the rulers serve the common good or merely their own advantage; Machiavelli distinguishes the kinds of states solely on the basis of the number of rulers. By doing so, he indicates that he does not think that there are any governors who do not rule for their own benefit. Second, by further reducing the division of the types of states according to number simply to rule by one or by more than one, he also indicates that he does not see a fundamental difference between rule of a few and the rule of many. Like Aristotle, the famously “realistic” Machiavelli recognizes that most members of a political association cannot devote all or even most of their time to governing. He thus suggests that one—or at most, only a few—will decide what the community as a whole should do and then see that their decision is carried out. In The Prince, which is not only dedicated and addressed to a reigning prince, but which also explicitly deals only with principalities, Machiavelli describes these “states” as possessions that provide the person who acquires them status as the one who controls the land and the people living on it.1 Yet when he describes the different ways “princes” acquire their “states” (of which heredity is only one), Machiavelli suggests that all states have and ought to have a fundamentally popular or, we might say, “democratic” character. As he indicates in his description of the four great founders in chapter 6 of The Prince and writes explicitly in his account of the beginning of “cities” in the first chapters of his Discourses on Livy, individual human beings recognize that they are weak and vulnerable. They thus band together and seek a leader to order them so that they can defend themselves against aggressors. 159


Catherine H. Zuckert

However, he observes in chapter 9 of The Prince and Discourses 1.4, once such a political association is formed, the human beings composing it become divided by two opposed “humors” or “appetites”: the desire of “the great” to command and oppress the people, and the desire of the people not to be commanded or oppressed. Each “humor” will seek a leader to help it prevail over the other.2 And in chapter 9 of The Prince, Machiavelli advises a leader, whether he acquires control of a state with the support of the few grandi or the many people, once he is in control, to gain the support of the people. Governing with the support of the people clearly does not constitute rule by the people or democracy in its fullest, most explicit form. Machiavelli’s recommendation does, however, point government in a more democratic direction than was common when he wrote. Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest that rulers or governments ought to serve the end or purpose of the people in establishing it, because their desire not to be oppressed is more decent than the desire of those who wish to oppress them. THE PRINCE: MAKING THE ENDS OF GOVERNMENT DEMOCRATIC FOR THE SAKE OF THE PRINCE Machiavelli’s reasons for advising a “prince” to seek to gain and maintain the support of his people are telling. First, he observes, a leader will never be able to satisfy the desire of his “great” supporters to command and oppress the people. On the contrary, because they believe that they are his equals or superiors, the great will demand ever more goods, offices, and honors as the price of their continued support; and in attempting to satisfy their rapacity, a prince will necessarily have to injure others, who will then become his enemies. A prince can satisfy his people, however, because the end of the people is more limited than that of the great, “since the great want to oppress but the people [merely] want not to be oppressed” (39).3 Machiavelli does not base his argument primarily on the basis of the moral superiority of the people’s end, however. Reflecting his conviction that all human beings are attached first and foremost to their own lives and possessions, he appeals instead to the leader’s desire to retain command. “A prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, as they are too many”; but, he observes that, “against the great, he can secure himself, as they are few.” Machiavelli recognizes that a leader needs subordinates in order to govern, but a leader does not have to use the persons currently thought to be great, “since he can make and unmake them every day.” Just as he makes some “great” by giving them offices and goods, so he can “unmake” those same “great” individuals by taking away their offices, honors, and goods along with their lives. To put the point bluntly, Machiavelli suggests that no one is “great” or entitled to rule by nature. Whether one shares the “humor” of the great or that of the people depends upon one’s position or situation.4 In Discourses 1.58, Machiavelli states, human nature is the same in all. Later in The Prince when he turns to the question of how a “prince” should treat his subjects and friends, Machiavelli advises him to do what is necessary to make his people believe that their lives, families, and properties are secure, if he wants to

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


maintain his state. Previous writers had urged political leaders to be virtuous; and, like Aristotle, Machiavelli identifies virtues and vices as qualities that are praised and blamed. However, he also observes that it is impossible for a single human being to have all the qualities said to be good or to avoid all those said to be bad. He thus counsels a political leader to be prudent enough “to know how to avoid the infamy of those vices that would take his state from him, . . . [but] not care about incurring the infamy of those vices without which it is difficult to save one’s state” (62). For example, instead of seeking a reputation for liberality or generosity by rewarding his supporters with expensive gifts, Machiavelli urges, a leader should conserve his own resources to use when required to defend himself. He will prove himself to be truly liberal and generous to his many subjects or fellow citizens, if he does not deplete his own resources by giving them to his supporters so that he has to burden his people with heavy taxes in order to replenish his treasury. Likewise, a political leader may seem to be merciful, if he pardons convicted criminals. However, if he allows potential offenders to believe that they can murder, rape, or steal from others with impunity, his people will suffer. He will act better—and more mercifully to more human beings—if he makes potential criminals fear punishment by seeing that the law is strictly enforced. Because he has continually to fight with other ambitious grandi who wish to rule, however, a political leader cannot always govern simply according to the law; upon occasion, he will have to use force or fraud to defeat the opposition. Machiavelli thus reiterates that “a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are held good, since he is often under a necessity, to maintain his state, of acting against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion.” Yet he should take “care that nothing escape his mouth that is not full of the above-mentioned five qualities and that, to see him and hear him, he should appear all mercy, all faith, all honesty, all humanity, all religion.” Few, if any people can perceive the inner motives of others; but everyone sees how others appear. So, Machiavelli concludes that, “let a prince win and maintain his state: the means will always be judged honorable, and will be praised by everyone. For the vulgar are taken in by the appearance and the outcome of a thing, and in the world there is no one but the vulgar” (71). Machiavelli is one of the few who recognize that politically ambitious human beings are moved not by a desire to serve the common good or to prove themselves to be the most virtuous individuals, but by their own desire to command, if not oppress. However, he also sees that if a leader declares that he has mustered and trained an army to defend his people (as well as his own government) from foreign aggressors, and he institutes and enforces laws that protect the lives, families, and properties of his fellow citizens, they will believe him when he says that he has done all this for their sake—or for the sake of God. His deeds will support his words, and his words explain his deeds. Machiavelli argues that all “cities” or political associations will be fundamentally divided by the conflict between the desire of the “great” to command or rule and the desire of the people not to be ruled or oppressed. There is, in other words, no common good, strictly speaking; there is, however, the possibility of creating what contemporary political scientists and philosophers call an “aggregate” good. In chapter 19 of The Prince, he suggests that institutions can be created that satisfy the desires of both the


Catherine H. Zuckert

people and the great, to the greatest extent possible, by checking the excesses of each humor with the other. Identifying France as one of the “well-governed” kingdoms of his time, he singles out its parlement for praise. The French parlement was a court that enabled the people to protect themselves from oppression by accusing and trying nobles for violating the law. By enabling the people to check the abuses of the nobles, this court not only secured the people from oppression by the great; it also contributed to the security of the king by constraining the individuals most apt to challenge him and his laws. The king did not, therefore, have to act against the nobles directly and so arouse their anger and hatred. The court thus functioned to satisfy the desire of the king to maintain his rule and the desire of the people not to be oppressed by the great, even though those desires continued to be opposed to each other. Only in Discourses 1.16 where he advises “princes” who have become tyrants over their fatherlands to inquire what his people desire does Machiavelli acknowledge that a leader who maintains his rule by enforcing the law and so convinces his people that they are not oppressed cannot satisfy his people’s desire for freedom completely. He can satisfy their desire for vengeance against those who previously oppressed them by eliminating all the “aristocrats.” A tyrant cannot completely satisfy his people’s desire to be free, however, because he wants to rule them. He can protect himself from the forty to fifty who want to command others either by eliminating them or loading them with so many honors that they have to be in good part content. “The others, to whom it is enough to live secure, are easily satisfied by making orders and laws which secures everyone generally along with one’s own power. If a prince does this, and the people see that he does not break such laws . . . , in a short time he will begin to live secure and content.” Again, Machiavelli points to the example of France, but this time he emphasizes that the people feel secure because they see that kings are obligated by the innumerable laws which secure the people as well instead of the power given the people to check the “great” by means of the parlement that also protects the king from his noble competitors. DISCOURSES ON LIVY: THE REPUBLICAN MEANS OF ACHIEVING DEMOCRATIC ENDS In The Prince Machiavelli states that there are three possible results of the conflict between the two humors that divides all political communities: principality, liberty, and license. However, because The Prince is addressed to a prince and explicitly concerns the way in which a political leader can acquire and maintain his rule, Machiavelli does not explain how the conflict between the two humors can give rise to laws that secure the liberty enjoyed by citizens of a republic or escalate into a civil war that results in a state of anarchy where laws are not enforced, that is, “no-rule” or “license,” in which both liberty and security are lost. In his Discourses, he does. It is difficult to determine exactly what Machiavelli is “doing” or proposing in his Discourses. In the Preface he claims that he has discovered “new modes and orders” and taken a “path as yet untrodden by anyone.” Yet at the beginning of the book he seems to be presenting the Roman republic as an example to be copied. However, as the discussion proceeds it becomes clear that Machiavelli is not merely or simply

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


arguing for the revival of a Roman form of republicanism. He is proposing a new, more democratic form of checks and balances that not only rewards political leaders for satisfying the desires of their people but also restrains their potential excesses. Machiavelli first praises Sparta, traditionally considered to be the model of a virtuous republic, because it was founded by one legislator, Lycurgus, whose laws were maintained for 800 years. But Machiavelli then suggests that both the ancient Spartans and the modern Venetians erred in giving the “aristocrats” or “nobles” the primary responsibility for preserving the liberty of the republic rather than giving it to the people. These “great” men want to dominate the people and have more power to usurp the liberty of the people, whereas the people merely wish not to be oppressed. So in cases of conflict, Machiavelli concludes, the people should be able to decide in the end what the city ought to do. He thus re-affirms the democratic definition of the end or purpose of government he had first announced in The Prince. Although Machiavelli initially suggests that the Roman model is less good than the Spartan, because Rome developed its mixed regime only in stages, that ability to modify its government in response to changing circumstances proves to be a virtue. “Since all things of men are in motion and cannot stay steady,” he observes, it is not possible to maintain one people with one set of laws over time. If a republic is not forced to fight wars and expand the way Rome did, its people will become weak, effeminate, or divided, and finally, the republic will perish. No single set of laws will last over time, Machiavelli argues, because each of the humors that divide all cities continually seeks to prevail over the other. It becomes necessary, therefore, constantly to adjust the balance so that each remains able to check the excesses of the other. In the Discourses Machiavelli does not, therefore, propose any single set of laws as being simply best. Instead he talks of “modes and orders,” that is, of different ways of ordering or organizing the inhabitants of a city and procedures those people can use to select and then evaluate their magistrates or rulers. And he emphasizes the ways in which Rome changed its “modes and orders” over time, at first to protect the liberty of the people, and then in ways that led to their losing it. Machiavelli praises the founder of Rome, Romulus, for understanding that it takes one mind to establish a government; if more than one person has a voice in the decision, there will be disagreements and delays. However, Machiavelli also praises Romulus for creating a Senate with whom he consulted as soon as he had established his government. He understood that other people would need to see the benefits of his government in order to maintain it, and the best way of enabling them to see those benefits is to give them a part in it. Human beings generally do not want to be ruled, Machiavelli observes. In founding Rome, Romulus thus had to impose his government by force on a ferocious band of men. But after order was established, Machiavelli also argues, the Senate demonstrated its wisdom by electing Numa Pompilius as Romulus’s successor.5 He pacified the Romans by introducing religion. However, Machiavelli then argues, the Romans would have become too weak and effeminate to preserve their own liberty from foreign aggressors, if Numa’s forty years of ruling had not been followed by the election of another harsh man. Tullus Hostilius trained them again to be soldiers. The first


Catherine H. Zuckert

advantage a republic has over a principality, Machiavelli points out (Discourses, 1.20), is that it can elect different sorts of individuals to lead it in changing circumstances. Although they were elected by the Senate, Machiavelli shows, the early kings of Rome became tyrants, because there was no legal way to remove them. Lucius Junius Brutus thus had to hide his desire to overthrow Tarquin and replace the king with two consuls elected by the Senate, until the rape of Lucretia gave him an opportunity to enlist the outraged soldiers, Senators, and people in the effort. Brutus erred, however, in merely exiling Tarquin (who was a member of his family) rather than killing him. As a result, Brutus had to witness the trial and execution of his two sons as traitors who had conspired with Tarquin to re-establish the monarchy they hoped to inherit. The execution occurred as the result of a trial, however, which is to say by law and not by an arbitrary decree; and the trial was conducted in public, not before a small jury of nobles who might have sympathized too much with the defendants. Machiavelli nevertheless states that the Roman republic was not “perfected” or completed until they added the offices of the tribunes. These officials were needed to protect the people from oppression by being drafted into the army or otherwise be taxed by the Senate, or from losing life or limb to the lictors of the consuls, who had the power to accuse and punish individuals on the spot without formal accusations or trials. Machiavelli does not describe the origins or development of the tribunate over time. (In fact, this history is not altogether known.) However, he does explain why he is presenting his own improved model of a republic in the guise of a description of Rome when he observes that: If someone who desires or who wishes to reform a state in a city wishes it to be accepted and capable of being maintained to the satisfaction of everyone, he is under the necessity of retaining at least the shadow of its ancient modes so that it may not appear to the peoples to have changed its order even if in fact the new orders are altogether alien to the past ones. For [as he had observed in The Prince] the generality of men feed on what appears as much as on what is; indeed, many times they are moved more by things that appear than by things that are. (Discourses 1.25, 60)

Recognizing the necessity of retaining the forms and names of ancient offices, so that people do not see how much the government has actually been changed, the Romans did not grant the two consuls of the republic more than the twelve lictors who had served the kings. Likewise, because Rome had an annual sacrifice that could only be offered by the king in person, and they did not wish the people to desire anything ancient because of the absence of the kings, they created a head of this sacrifice who they called the sacrificing king. And, Machiavelli concludes, anyone who wishes to establish a political way of life in the form of a republic or kingdom rather than a tyranny must proceed in this way. By pointing out features of the Roman republic that his Florentine readers should imitate (and some mistakes that they should not), in his Discourses Machiavelli tries to persuade his readers to adopt new orders disguised as old. He seeks to persuade them and their successors of the advantages of these “ancient” orders in comparison to those they now have. He does not have the power to make everything anew, “to make in cities new governments with new names, new authorities, new men; to make

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


the rich poor, the poor rich . . . to exchange the inhabitants from one place to another.” He apparently does not even want to adopt such measures, since he describes them as “very cruel, and enemies to every way of life, not only Christian but human” (Discourses, 1.26, 62). He does not point out that ancient authors like Plato had argued that such measures were necessary, if one wanted to found a new and more just regime. Nor does he remind his readers, as he does at the beginning of his Florentine Histories, that these were the effects of the spread of Christianity under the Roman Empire and its subsequent conquest by the hordes of “barbarians” from the north. In other words, he does not bring out the fundamental differences between the new republican “modes and orders” he is recommending and those of previous ancient and Christian regimes. Instead, he casts his recommendations merely in the form of useful lessons that can be derived from Livy’s history. After pointing out the mistakes early Roman kings made in trusting the preservation of the state to a few individuals, but warning his readers against trying to destroy everything in order to build a state anew, Machiavelli advises his readers not to criticize the citizens of republics for being ungrateful to their leaders. His description of the “humor” of the grandi in The Prince shows why he thinks the people should not be grateful to their leaders, but be suspicious of their ambition. But in the Discourses (1.30) he merely suggests that a prince can defend himself from the “vice” of ingratitude—as well as the possibility that a victorious general will seek to displace him—by leading his own troops. A republic obviously cannot do that. Instead, Machiavelli advises (Discourses, 1.33), the best way the “notables” in a republic can prevent any one individual from becoming pre-eminent is to compete with him for popular favor.6 In times of emergency, it may be necessary to grant one individual absolute power to make decisions expeditiously without consulting anyone else. However, like the office of the Roman dictator, this grant should be made for a limited time and specific purpose; and the holder of the office should be held accountable for what he did after his term expires. Laws that institute competitive elections of leaders for short terms and rotation in office are necessary, but not sufficient to enable the people of a republic to retain their liberty. The powers of any specific office must be limited to specific purposes—and the individuals who hold those offices subject to examination and dismissal by others upon proof of malfeasance. However, the conflict between the humors continually tempts the leaders of each to try to destroy the other. Machiavelli uses the history of the Decemvirate in Rome to illustrate the disastrous effects of such extreme partisanship as well as the errors of the would-be tyrant who reveals his character before he has entirely secured himself by eliminating all his potential rivals. After many disputes and contentions, Machiavelli reports, the Roman people and nobles agreed to send three men to Athens to obtain examples of the laws Solon gave that city so that they could base Roman laws on them. It might look as if an agreement between the patricians and the plebs that not merely ended the conflict, but led to having the laws of Rome codified and written down was a wonderful, beneficent development. We know from other sources that the Twelve Tables listing the rights of citizens that the Romans finally adopted remained the fundamental statement of Roman law for 1,000 years. Yet Machiavelli fails even to mention that fact. Nor does he inform his readers what the laws codified and adopted were. Instead, he emphasizes


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the Romans’ failure to understand the need for each part or “order” of the city to check the other in order to maintain the liberty of all under the rule of law. It is neither possible nor desirable to eliminate the conflict between the humors that exists in all cities, he insists; it is necessary to channel or guide it. In recounting the history of the Decemvirate, Machiavelli first reports that, because the plebeians wanted to eliminate the consuls, who were elected by the Senate, and the Senators wanted to destroy the tribunes, who were elected by the people, the people and the patricians agreed to elect ten citizens for a year to codify the laws, and to remove all other magistrates along with the appeal to the people in capital cases to expedite the process. Extreme partisanship thus led to a foolish suspension of all constitutional restraints on the ten elected to govern. During their first year in office the ten prudently continued to follow the old procedure for trying individuals accused of homicide before a popular jury. They also wrote the first ten tables and displayed them in public to allow anyone to point out any defect. Their good behavior during their first year of office led the people to re-elect them for another year with unlimited power so that they could write the last two tables. And, as a result, everything changed. The nobles had become suspicious of the leader of the ten, Appius Claudius, who had previously expressed his contempt for the people, but in order to be elected, had openly courted their favor. The nobles thought that they could prevent Appius from being elected again by giving him the authority to propose ten candidates, since it was not customary to name oneself. However, Appius was not restrained by “aristocratic” norms. He nominated himself; and once he and the other nine were re-elected they began using their unlimited power to oppress the people. At this point, the armies of some of the neighboring states attacked Rome; and perceiving the weakness of their government, the ten decided that they needed the help of the Senate to muster an army to defend them. The plebs pleaded with the Senate to reinstate the orders of the old constitution, but the Senators hoped that if the ten relinquished their magistracy voluntarily, the tribunate might not be reinstated. So they voted for war. However, feeling that they were not fighting for themselves, but for their oppressors, the Roman soldiers did not display their customary virtue and were defeated. Left to rule Rome, Appius tried to rape Virginia; and after killing his daughter to preserve her virginity, her father led the soldiers out of Rome to the Sacred Mount where they vowed to remain until new tribunes were created. From this incident Machiavelli draws several cautionary lessons about the difficulty of maintaining a free way of life in a republic. The first is that leaders of the two “humors” or parties will try to destroy the other party. The people tend to view the nobles as oppressors who should be deprived of their powers, and the nobles bridle at the power of the people to limit their authority. It is not the conflict between the two humors per se, he shows, but only the laws in favor of liberty to which that conflict gives rise that secure it. Neither of the “humors” recognizes the need for both to be able to check the excesses of the other. That is the first “lesson” Machiavelli seeks to teach his readers. Second, he uses the example of Appius to show that, if the offices held by the opposing “humor” are destroyed, the result will be the rise of an unchecked leader, that is, a tyrant. And that tyrant will remain in office, if he does not begin to oppress

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


the people until he has destroyed the other notables who might successfully challenge him. “For although nobles may desire to tyrannize, that part of the nobility that finds itself outside the tyranny is always an enemy to the tyrant; nor can he ever win over all of it, because of the great ambition and great avarice that are in it, since the tyrant cannot have either so much wealth or so many honors that he may satisfy all of it” (1.40, 88). Third, although Appius brought about his own downfall by revealing his tyrannical ambitions before he had entirely secured his state, he nevertheless showed how easily men can be corrupted by favors. Thinking particularly of Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence, Machiavelli observes that one way a republic breaks down is by the gradual rise of an ambitious citizen who at first seeks merely to protect himself not only from private individuals but also from the magistrates by acquiring friends, “either by helping with money or by defending them from the powerful” (Discourses, 1.46, 95). These acts appear to be virtuous, so no one seeks to bring them to a halt, until the ambitious man acquires so many allies that both the magistrates and other private individuals fear to act against him. The only way to counteract this danger is to force ambitious individuals to compete for public honors by performing services for the city as a whole, for example, leading an army to victory or providing prudent counsel in public assemblies, rather than buying support by benefiting individuals privately (Discourses, 3.28). Machiavelli does not claim that the people always make wise decisions about policy or choose the best leaders. On the contrary, he observes, people are generally attracted by bold, spirited proposals, and impatient with those who advise caution and moderation. They can be flattered and deceived by a man like Appius who promises to be their friend or like Varro who claimed he could win a great victory over Hannibal. Nor are the people willing to take responsibility for the damages resulting from their own bad choices (Discourses, 1.53). They can learn from experience, however; and generally speaking, they are able are able to distinguish a good, virtuous man from a vile one, and will elect the good one. It is possible, moreover, to institute a “remedy,” so to speak, in advance for the people’s voting an individual with tyrannical ambitions into office by establishing public accusations and trials of anyone suspected of scheming to overthrow the republic. These trials should take place in front of large popular juries, because decisions made in secret by a few judges will always be suspect (Discourses, 1.49). Such trials not only serve to deter those who might want to seize control of the city for themselves; by reminding the public that even the most pre-eminent citizens can be prosecuted and condemned, these trials also instill a healthy fear of disobeying the law more generally (Discourses, 3.1). More explicitly than in The Prince, in the Discourses Machiavelli declares that the people are the best judges of who should rule, because they are the best judges of what benefits them. However, he does not think that the people are capable simply of ruling themselves. He advocates republican rather than democratic government, strictly speaking, because he sees that people need leaders to organize them in order to protect themselves politically. Machiavelli recognizes that there is brute strength in numbers. “There is nothing more formidable than an unshackled multitude without a head,” but he also observes that,


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there is nothing weaker; for even though it has arms in hand, it is easy to put it down provided that you have a stronghold that enables you to escape the first thrust. For when the spirits of men are cooled a little and each sees he has to return to his home, they begin to doubt themselves and to think of their safety, either by taking flight or by coming to accord.

Because unorganized multitudes tend to disperse as their anger dissipates, a mob needs to make one of them “a head to correct it, to hold it united, and to think about its defense.” That is what the Roman plebs did when the army followed Virginius out of Rome after the death of his daughter, and he persuaded them to elect twenty tribunes to represent their interests in negotiations with the Senate.7 The fourth lesson Machiavelli derives from the errors of the Romans in electing magistrates unchecked by other constitutional restraints thus concerns the need for leadership, not only to found a republic, but also to maintain it. In Discourses 1.58 Machiavelli nevertheless declares that “the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince.” He first argues that a multitude “shackled by laws” is not any more varying, mutable, and ungrateful than a prince, because they are all human beings with the same passionate nature that leads them astray if they are not restricted in what they can do by laws. But he then argues that the people are less likely to be erratic, proud, or humble than a prince, because they tend to have greater respect for the laws. He goes so far as to “say that a people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince.” The reasons he gives are a bit strange. First he observes that: “Not without cause may the voice of a people be likened to that of God; for one sees a widespread general opinion produce marvelous effects in its forecasts, so that it appears to foresee its ill and its good by a hidden virtue.” Machiavelli does not explain how or why common opinion appears to contain foresight (one definition of prudence) as a “hidden virtue.” But if we consider the fact that people generally act on the basis of their opinions, we see that widespread opinions can and will be good predictors of the ways in which most people will behave. In praising the people’s ability to judge, Machiavelli observes that when the orators are of equal ability, people usually choose the better side of a debate. And in choosing magistrates, they are not nearly as easily persuaded as a prince is to nominate an infamous man of corrupt customs. With regard to the stability of popular opinion, often seen to waver, he argues that once people come to fear something (as, he reminds his readers, the Roman people came to detest even the name of a king), they retain their animus against it for centuries. (This long-lasting opinion appears, of course, to be irrational, although the Romans’ aversion to granting Julius Caesar a crown, even though he exercised something like monarchical power in fact, has been taken for centuries as a sign of their attachment to their own freedom.) What appears to be decisive for Machiavelli, however, is that “one sees cities in which people are princes make exceeding increases in a very brief time, and much greater than those that have always been made under a prince. . . . That cannot arise from anything other than that governments of peoples are better than those of princes” (118). In Discourses 2.2 he explains that: “It is not the particular good but the common good that makes cities great. And without doubt this common good is not observed if not in republics, since all that is done is undertaken for that purpose.” Machiavelli

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


acknowledges that “every individual citizen may, in fact, not share in this common good.” Nevertheless, he contends, “those for whom something undertaken by a republic is good are so many that they can go ahead with it against the disposition of the few crushed by it.” But, he now emphasizes as he had not in The Prince, “the contrary happens when there is a prince, in which case what suits him usually offends the city and what suits the city offends him . . . . He alone, and not his fatherland, profits from his acquisitions” (130). To state the point succinctly: principalities are ruled for the benefit of the prince; in republics where the people rule, everything is done for them. And in republics, the people prosper. “All towns and provinces that live freely . . . make very great profits,” he observes. They tend to have larger populations than principalities, “because marriages are freer and more desirable to men since each willingly procreates those children he believes he can nourish.” Because no one “fears that his patrimony will be taken away,” the citizens of a republic strive to produce more, both in agriculture and their arts, in order to become wealthy. A prince can secure the lives, families, and properties of his citizens; Machiavelli urges princes to do so. But, unlike the subjects of a prince, citizens of a republic know “not only that their children are born free and not slaves, but that they can, through their virtue, become princes.” And because everyone “willingly multiplies . . . those goods he believes he can enjoy once acquired, . . . men in rivalry think of private and public advantages, and both the one and the other come to grow marvelously” (Discourses, 2.2, emphasis added). The great advantage of a republic over a principality is that its government gives all its citizens an incentive to compete in achieving ever greater public goods, for which they can earn honor, as well as to augment their own private goods. Where everyone in a community strives to increase both public and private benefits, the sum must vastly exceed what the servants of one master can produce. The ancient historian Xenophon suggested that the founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus might have been a greater human achievement and thus more glorious than the founding of Athenian democracy by Solon or its re-founding by Pericles; indeed, it might even have been a greater human achievement than the founding of political philosophy by Socrates. But, as Machiavelli knew, Alexander of Macedonia had conquered Persia, and Rome conquered Macedonia. And seeming to reflect on that that history, he concludes that: “If all the disorders of peoples are reviewed, all the disorders of princes, all the glories of peoples, and all those of princes, the people will be seen to be by far superior in goodness (bontà) and in glory.” The comparison between the rule of one man or of many has to be carried out not only in terms of the benefits, but also in terms of what is lost. As in The Prince, so Machiavelli suggests here that good government requires a kind of division of labor. “If princes are superior to peoples in ordering laws, forming civil lives, and ordering new statutes and orders, peoples are so much superior in maintaining things ordered that without doubt they attain the glory of those who order them” (118). Whether governments last beyond the lifetime of a virtuous leader and that he and his work are remembered depend not so much on that leader as it does on the people he has ruled who persist after his death (Discourses, 1.10). Just as Machiavelli declared in The Prince that the end or desire of the people not to be oppressed is more decent than the desire of the “great” to command, so he


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argues in the Discourses that the rule of a people not effectively “shackled” by laws is less bad than that of a lawless prince. As Cicero had urged (see Discourses, 1.4), a good man may be able to persuade a licentious and tumultuous people to return to good order; but, as Seneca’s attempt to educate Nero indicates, he will not be able to persuade a wicked prince. Moreover, when a people is lawless, it is not the present evil that is to be feared so much as the tyrant that may arise from the confusion. But, when a tyrannical prince rules, that evil is already at hand. Whether they act according to law or by force, the people act for the common good, whereas a prince always acts for his own benefit. “The cruelties of the multitude are against whoever they fear will seize the common good; those of a prince are against whoever he fears will seize his own good” (119). However, just as Machiavelli urged a prince to seek the support of his people less because their desire was more decent and more because it would enable him to maintain his rule, so in arguing that the rule of the multitude is “wiser and more constant” than that of a prince, Machiavelli does not claim that the leaders of a republic are inherently more moral or honest than princes. He describes them, indeed, as republican princes. In the chapter that follows his declaration that the multitude is wiser and more constant, he maintains (in implicit comparison with the chapter of The Prince entitled “in what mode faith should be kept by princes”) that a republic is more apt to abide by the agreements it makes than is a prince. However, the reason republics tend to do what they have promised is not because they are more moral or “good” (onesto or bontà) than solitary princes. As in the case of the support for a prince, the superior faithfulness of republics is a result of the number of people involved. Republics tend to honor their agreements more than solitary princes simply because the number of people involved in making a decision makes it more difficult for them to hide a deception or articulate a justification for their lack of faith. Because a number of individuals inevitably have different opinions, it takes more time for a republic to debate and decide what it should do; and it is hard to keep these deliberations secret. Machiavelli concludes his account of the internal orders and policies of the Roman republic by praising them especially for making all citizens eligible to hold the highest offices solely on the basis of their demonstrated virtue, without regard to age or blood. He acknowledges that the Roman Senators did not agree to make plebeians eligible to become consuls as a matter of choice, so much as necessity; but, he argues, they were wise to do so, “For men cannot be given trouble without a reward, nor can the hope of attaining the reward be taken away from them without danger” (Discourses, 1.60, 121–122). A republic benefits from having all its citizens compete for public honors by demonstrating how well they can serve the city. Like conflict between the two humors, however, this competition preserves rather than destroys a republic only when it is directed or channeled by laws that foster a free way of life. As Machiavelli reminds his readers in Book 3 of the Discourses, the Roman republic fell after the Gracchi brothers’ attempts to enforce the agrarian law led the patricians to oppose them violently. (The Gracchi themselves also violated the law by seeking illegal second terms as tribunes, and thus refused to recognize the importance of rotation in office, but instead of recognizing the results of the election or accusing and having the tribunes judged by a popular jury in court, the Senate had them attacked illegally with force.) At the same time Marius recruited landless

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


Romans to man his armies, and by granting them parts of the lands they conquered, he made them more loyal to him than to the republic. He was illegally elected consul seven times; and after he refused to recognize Sulla’s victory in Asia, his subordinate marched with his army on Rome itself. The civil wars that resulted in the destruction of the republic began with illegal uses of violence on the part of the leaders of both the patricians and the plebs. CONTINUING THREATS TO THE PRESERVATION OF LIBERTY—FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC Although Machiavelli begins his Discourses by urging his readers to imitate the ancients in political and military affairs, and suggests that Livy’s history of Rome is most instructive, he by no means maintains that Rome was a perfect republic or that it should be imitated in all respects. First and foremost, he reminds his readers that Roman imperial expansion culminated in the loss of freedom almost everywhere, including Rome itself. So long as Roman conquests were confined to Italy, they either destroyed the other city completely or forced it to join an alliance which allowed the “partners” to retain their own government and laws internally, but required them to contribute troops to the Roman armies under Roman command. When Rome’s armies were sent beyond Italy, however, her partners “came to subjugate themselves by their own labors and blood without perceiving it.” After they began “to reduce kingdoms to provinces, and to get subjects who did not care about being subjects since they were accustomed to living under kings and . . . did not acknowledge a superior other than Rome, . . . the partners of Rome who were in Italy found themselves in a stroke encircled by Roman subjects and crushed by a very big city” (Discourses, 2.2, 136). Like Rome in the end, Machiavelli observes, republics such as Athens and Sparta who treated the peoples they conquered as subjects ended up losing their own liberty along with their empires. Indeed, the expansionist success of Rome brought with it the loss of the fear from foreign aggressors that removed a check on popular envy that prevented the Romans from electing their best men, and which in turn provoked the indignation of the best men offended at being dishonored by the elevation of inferior men in their place, who would seek to overturn the laws and regime. The threat of the immediate destruction of the city by foreign aggressors shows people that it is “necessary not only to maintain religion and justice but also to esteem its good citizens and to take more account of their virtue than of those advantages that it appeared to them that they lacked,” because of the honors bestowed upon others. The danger, however, is that the frustrated ambitions of able leaders will lead them to risk the future existence of the republic by starting a war it may not win. Machiavelli thus looks for an internal, less dangerous means of reminding citizens of their need for virtuous leadership and claims to find it in the institution of trials or, as he calls them, “executions” (even though the examples he mentions did not all result in the death of the accused) of prominent citizens suspected of attempting to overthrow the republic. Such trials not only deter the ambitious from actually conspiring to overthrow the republic and its laws; they also renew the fear ordinary citizens have of disobeying the laws, when they see that even the most prominent individuals can be punished.


Catherine H. Zuckert

Leaders of a republic will not welcome the threat of a trial that may result in their banishment or death. They have reason to fear that they and their deeds may not be judged justly by those who envy their honors. Machiavelli thus advises them to follow the example of Camillus (after he was exiled) to avoid arousing the envy of others by sharing honors and command. However, if a leader’s competitors cannot be “bought off” with shared honors, he will like Moses have to use force to eliminate the opposition that stands in his way of doing what is necessary to establish and maintain the state. Like Moses (or Romulus or Agathocles), however, a leader who forcibly eliminates the opposition founds a monarchy or principality (and thus justifies the suspicions of his elite competitors, if not of the people as a whole that he intended to do so). “No state should ever believe that it can always adopt safe courses,” Machiavelli warns in The Prince 21. “On the contrary, it should think it has to take them all as doubtful. For in the order of things it is found that one never seeks to avoid one inconvenience without running into another; but prudence consists in knowing how to recognize the qualities of inconveniences, and in picking the less bad as good” (91). In this transient world, everything is always changing. Because human beings are always striving to improve their condition, no one set of laws or institutions can resist the constant, conflicting pressures for change coming from different individuals or groups. Machiavelli does not, therefore, describe an imagined republic or principality that would be best at all times or in all circumstances. He does suggest that there are certain commonalities or regularities of human behavior that can and should be observed. Summarizing what he has learned from his extensive reading and practical experience, Machiavelli declares that: “Whoever considers present and ancient things easily knows that in all cities and in all peoples there are the same desires and the same humors, and there always have been. So that it is an easy thing for whoever examines past things diligently to foresee future things in every republic and to take the remedies for them that were used by the ancients, or, if they do not find any that were used, to think up new ones.” However, he also sees that “because these considerations are neglected or not understood by whoever reads, or, if they are understood, they are not known to whoever governs” (Discourses, 1.39, 83–84), the same sorts of problems recur. Machiavelli thus tries to instruct his readers about the commonalities in human behavior that can be learned from reading history and current observation. But he also shows them that the passions that move all human beings in one way or another do not have the same outcomes or results, because human beings have different natural inclinations, opinions, circumstances, and experiences. It is not possible to repress fear of death or the consequent desire to acquire with laws or moral education; it is possible, however, to channel or direct those passions with laws and institutions so that the worst excesses of some are checked by the potential excesses of others. And, as he demonstrates with his own admiring critique of the Roman republic, it is possible not only to learn from the past but also to improve upon it. Because all human beings are continually trying to secure, if not to improve their own condition, the balance of forces in any polity is constantly changing. Therefore, if a prince or leader of a republic wants to maintain his state, he must constantly be on the lookout for developments that threaten to upset the balance of the forces or “humors” that sustain it. Because the old customs, laws, and institutions no longer work, new “remedies” have to be devised. In the last chapter of his Discourses, Machiavelli thus declares that “a

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


republic has need of new acts of foresight every day if one wishes to maintain it free” (Discourses, 3.49, 308). The example Machiavelli gives of the kind of foresight a republic needs in order to remain free reveals his overall understanding of the way in which political life is and should be conducted. Although Machiavelli initially praised Rome in contrast to Sparta and Venice for taking in a great many foreigners as citizens, he acknowledges at the very end of his book that the incorporation of many strangers who were not accustomed to living in a republic threatened to undermine the habits, opinions, expectations, or “training” (esercito) of the citizens necessary to maintain it as a free regime. Fabius Rullianus thus deserved to be named Maximus for having devised an apportionment scheme (what we would call a “gerrymander”) that crowded all the “new men” into a small voting block which did not have enough influence to change the character of the government. In writing that Fabius deserved to be named “maximus” for this invention, Machiavelli suggests that the consul did not receive the honorific title for this reason. He did not, because neither his contemporaries nor later readers of the history understood the importance of such apparently minor, temporary expedients. (The Romans changed the way in which they apportioned votes several times later.) Machiavelli’s point is first to underline the arguments he gives late in the Discourses about the importance of “training” as opposed to “nature” in determining the character of individuals, families, and nations. In describing the “humor” of the people in The Prince, Machiavelli observes that they not merely do not want to be oppressed; they do not want to be “commanded” (comandare). They thus “naturally” resist being ruled, but accept and follow a “prince” when they see that is necessary in order to preserve their lives, families, and properties. They can, indeed, become so accustomed to being ruled by another that they become not merely obedient, but slavish, unable to rule themselves.8 A “new prince” cannot, therefore, found a republic de novo, from scratch. He will have to use tremendous force in order to destroy all previous institutions, laws, customs, and opinions in order to impose his own. In order to establish a “political way of life” with the consent of the governed, it is necessary to proceed incrementally by disguising the extent to which small changes in the laws actually mask fundamental alterations. Machiavelli’s second point is that apparently small changes in the laws can have big, often unintended effects. Fabius was responding to the unintended effect of the Romans’ decision to incorporate the populations they conquered and grant them citizenship. They saw this as a means of both expanding and unifying the city; but Fabius saw that the policy threatened to undermine both the unity and the republican institutions of the city instead. Machiavelli argues that two apparently small changes in the law were responsible for the fall of the Roman republic. These were the attempt by the Gracchi to enforce the agrarian law that had long been “on the books” combined with the Senate’s decision to prolong the commands of the consuls so that they would have time to return to Rome to celebrate a triumph for the victories of their armies in provinces far from the city. Neither was intended to spark a civil war. However, the Gracchi’s attempt to revive the republic by making property holdings more equal provoked armed resistance from the wealthy patricians. And the Senate’s decision to prolong the commands of the consuls so that they would have time to return to Rome to celebrate a


Catherine H. Zuckert

triumph enabled these commanders, whether they sympathized with the plebs or with the patricians, to form partisan armies. Serving so long under one commander far from home gradually made the soldiers more loyal to him than to the distant republic. Machiavelli suggests one of the useful lessons his readers can learn from history concerns the high price and thus inadvisability of redistributive policies as a means of maintaining a republic. He also urges his readers to adopt policies that force ambitious men to compete to be elected to high offices by serving the city in public ways rather than by acquiring partisan supporters by providing them with private, individual benefits. However, he also warns his readers that people do not always honor individuals who serve the public so much as they glorify individuals like Manlius Torquatus or Scipio for demonstrating their ability to overcome ordinary passions such as the fear of death, love of their own, or sexual desires, even when such extraordinary acts do not really serve the public.9 Later generations may reward past leaders with glory or reverence (after they are dead and no longer apt to be envied) in recognition of the benefits those who have come later have received from the “founders’” work.10 But Machiavelli thus also gently reminds his ambitious readers that such “glory” or reputation is basically a form of public opinion, and that opinion is often shaped by “writers,” if they are free to report what actually occurred.11 Freedom may be both a more “realistic” and satisfying goal than “immortal” fame. Machiavelli argues not only that human beings can learn useful lessons from a combination of history and experience, but also that they can improve on past efforts. He reminds his readers that it is possible to train human beings to become decent citizens by encouraging them to act both in private and in public on their own behalf. He suggests that the free way of life possible only in a republic is superior to rule by a prince, because the former gives all citizens an incentive to try to serve the public as well as their own private good, and that the community as a whole is more prosperous as a result. However, precisely because everything in this world is transitory and human circumstances are, therefore, always changing, Machiavelli never suggests that human beings, either as individuals or as groups, have or can have complete control over what happens. Most, if not all policies, laws, and institutions will have unintended effects and thus require new “remedies”; but most human beings cannot imagine things being very different from what they see around them.12 Peoples thus need leaders not merely to order or organize them, but also to think up new ways of doing so. However, Machiavelli also uses history to show that well-intentioned leaders often, if not always fail, and villains succeed in gaining control. It is a mistake, therefore, to grant any individual—or any group—unlimited power. A republic or mixed regime is the best possible form of government because it does not do that. But it takes both constant vigilance and understanding on the part of those who wish to command to devise new forms of the checking and balancing of the two humors needed to maintain the rule of law. NOTES 1. In chapter 2 Machiavelli states that he will “leave out reasoning on republics because [he] has reasoned on them at length elsewhere” (6), presumably in his Discourses. Page

Machiavelli on the Possibilities and Problems of Democratic Politics


citations to Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). On the meaning of “stato,” see Harvey C. Mansfield, “On the Impersonality of the Modern State: A Comment on Machiavelli’s Use of Stato,” American Political Science Review (December 1983): 849–857. 2. Leo Paul de Alvarez, The Machiavellian Enterprise (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1999), 9, points out the derivation of the Italian principe from the Latin princeps, which means “first citizen,” and was the title Caesar Augustus chose for himself rather than imperator, when he became head of the Roman empire. David Wootton, “Introduction,” in The Prince (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995), xxviii, usefully suggests that Machiavelli’s “principe” should generally be translated as “political leader.” 3. Page citations to Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 4. As Miguel Vatter, Machiavelli’s “The Prince”: A Reader’s Guide (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), observes: “For him, people and nobles do not designate natural kinds: instead, whoever speaks and acts out of a desire to dominate assumes the standpoint of the nobility, and whoever speaks and acts out of a desire for non-domination assumes the standpoint of the people. One and the same individual may therefore occupy these different standpoints at different moments” (63). 5. According to Machiavelli’s source, Livy, Romulus also introduced some religion. Machiavelli separates the necessarily forceful imposition of rule from the “arts of peace” that persuade human beings to obey it once established. 6. In arguing that Machiavelli praises “popular princes” like Agathocles and Cleomenes for eliminating the nobles John McCormick, Reading Machiavelli (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018) fails to observe the way in which Machiavelli thinks competition among the nobles is necessary to preserve the freedom of a republic. See also D 1.40 quoted below. In arguing that the “grandi” ought to be eliminated, Yves Winter, Machiavelli and the Orders of Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) and Christopher Holman, Machiavelli and the Politics of Democratic Innovation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018) confront the same problem. 7. D 1.57, 115. In his Florentine Histories 3.16 Machiavelli describes the way in which a poor ragged woolworker named Michele de’ Lando emerged out of the crowd and organized the mob on the spot so that they could seize control of the city and establish a new government. 8. The Prince, 4; Discourses, 1.16. 9. Discourses, 3.34. 10. Discourses, 2. The Prince, Preface, 6. 11. Discourses, 1.10. 12. The Prince, 6.

REFERENCES de Alvarez, Leo Paul. The Machiavellian Enterprise. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1999. Holman, Christopher. Machiavelli and the Politics of Democratic Innovation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discourses on Livy. Translated by Harvey Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by Harvey Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.


Catherine H. Zuckert

Mansfield, Harvey C. “On the Impersonality of the Modern State: A Comment on Machiavelli’s Use of Stato.” American Political Science Review 77 (1983): 849–857. McCormick, John. Reading Machiavelli. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. Vatter, Miguel. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”: A Reader’s Guide. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Winter, Yves. Machiavelli and the Orders of Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Wootton, David. “Introduction.” In The Prince translated by David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995.

Chapter 12

Politics, Rhetoric, and Philosophy in Hobbes’s Leviathan William Mathie

Why should a volume of chapters intended “to rethink the nature of democracy” include a chapter on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes? Whatever we might learn about the vices of democracy from a philosopher most often described as a champion of absolute sovereignty, can we hope to learn anything here of democracy’s virtues? To “rethink the nature of democracy” is, I suppose, to understand and assess democracy as a regime—as a possible answer to the question of who should rule and how human beings should live where the answer to either question entails an answer to the other. For Hobbes, however, the institution and maintenance of sovereign authority, or how “the commonwealth,” whatever its kind, can be preserved has replaced the question of regimes that was central to classical political science.1 If three kinds of commonwealth can still be distinguished and even compared as sovereign authority is in the hands of one or few or many, Hobbes will not permit us to distinguish, as Aristotle famously did, between the right and deviant forms of each: for Hobbes, tyranny is only the name given to monarchy by those who “mislike” it. Nor will Hobbes admit the advantage or even the possibility of the mixed regime praised by Aristotle (Politics 1296b1–3). So far as democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy are to be compared, it is only as more or less “inconvenient.” And if on this basis there is a case to be made for the superiority of one of these forms to the others—say for monarchy as opposed to aristocracy or democracy, as Hobbes seems to claim in his Leviathan—that case in no way reduces the obligation of the subjects of aristocracy or democracy to obey the sovereign authority.2 The editors have included Hobbes in their volume of essays that is intended to consider the “difficulties and problems, virtues, and vices of democracy” because he is one of the “great thinkers of the Western political tradition.” Now if Hobbes is rightly regarded as one of several thinkers who comprise the tradition spoken of here, we must also heed his reputation and even his boast to have improved upon or even rejected that tradition. If Hobbes insists that political science turn away from the question of regimes—who should rule and how should we live—to the indirect questions arising out of the theory of sovereign representation, may we not—must we not—try to see what Hobbes maintains as well as what he abandons of the question 177


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posed by classical political philosophy?3 Although Hobbes denies that the controversy posed by conflicting claims to rule can be successfully resolved if understood as a question of justice, he does not deny the political importance of justice. In fact, he claims to be the author or discoverer of the true science of justice. Nor does he deny the traditional understanding of justice in advancing his claim. “They”—his predecessors—say that justice is “the constant will of giving to every man his own” (Leviathan 2.15 [3]).4 Hobbes does not dismiss this understanding; he insists rather that we ask what makes anything mine or another’s. But how does Hobbes himself understand or portray his relationship to his predecessors? We have described Hobbes as revising the tradition, but would it not be more accurate to say that he would condemn what we (and the editors of this volume) propose: to examine his teaching as if it belonged to a tradition that is for Hobbes the source and cause of all that is unsatisfactory in political life? We are told by his contemporary and first biographer that Hobbes called Aristotle the worst teacher that ever was, and Hobbes himself writes in the penultimate chapter of his Leviathan of his conviction “that scarce anything can be more absurdly said in natural philosophy than that which is now called Aristotle’s Metaphysics; nor more repugnant to government than much of that he hath said in his Politics; nor more ignorantly than a great part of his Ethics” (4.46 [11]).5 My essay supposes that Hobbes is, what he implicitly claims, and what competent students of political philosophy have supposed him, one of the inventors—perhaps the inventor—of the politics of modernity. This essay aims at a better understanding of our politics through a better understanding of the intention of its inventor. This I will seek by juxtaposing two claims Hobbes makes in his Leviathan with the account he himself gives of the tradition of political philosophy in the “Preface to the Reader” of his De Cive. In the “Preface,” Hobbes seems to state his most severe and complete condemnation of the tradition of political philosophy and of Socrates as the initiator of that tradition. What Socrates began is, it seems, the cause of all that is bad in political life. In his Leviathan, Hobbes claims that the internal causes of the commonwealth’s destruction can be permanently overcome, and that this has been made possible by his own civil science as already set out in his De Cive. But at (almost) the same time Hobbes identifies himself with Plato. The prospect of overcoming the evils that beset political life depends for Hobbes as for Plato upon the rule of the philosopher. What would seem Hobbes’s most radical and complete condemnation of the tradition comprising “the great political philosophers” occurs in the second paragraph of the “Preface to the Readers” of his De Cive.6 Here Hobbes contrasts an ancient time of peace, that he calls a “golden age,” with the age in which he writes (“Preface” [6]). In that “golden age” rulers did not need to justify their commands and the ruled did not imagine that they might, or even ought to, consider the justice of those commands before they obeyed them. Rather, they simply obeyed the commands of their rulers recognizing that thereby, and in no other way, could their own peace and security be assured. They “measured justice, not by the preachings (sermonibus) of private men, but by the laws of the city; nor did they remain in peace by debating, but by the force of command. Indeed, they revered the supreme command whether in one man or one council “as a kind of visible divinity.” They could not imagine a stupidity that would

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endanger that command by which they were made safe. Rarely did the men of that time bind themselves together with ambitious or desperate men to overcome the state of the city. Indeed, the wise men of that “remotest antiquity” believed that the “sacred mystery” of command should never be handed on to posterity except in poetic verse or clouded (adumbrated) in allegory lest it be contaminated by becoming a subject for disputation by private men. The “golden age” ended, as it seems according to Hobbes, when Socrates “it is said” took up the civil science and was followed in doing so by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the other Greek and Roman philosophers and in time not only by all philosophers but also by the leisured gentlemen of all nations (“Preface” [2-3]). The damage occasioned for mankind by the questioning begun by Socrates and continued by his successors is great: it is the source of the now prevalent moral philosophy that is in turn the cause “of all quarrels and bloodshed” (“Preface” [7]). Before we turn to Hobbes’s account of the role of Socrates and his successors in ending the “golden age,” I want to pose two questions implicit in the account we have just outlined. First, how does Hobbes know—how can he claim to know— what he tells us about the “golden age” which he has described, even that there was such an age, and that certain wise men of that “remotest antiquity” attempted to prevent the handing on of the teaching of the science of justice to posterity except in pretty stories or clouded in allegory? Must we suppose that Hobbes saw through the allegorical clouds in which the ancient wise men hid the mystery of command? Did he successfully interpret the stories the ancients told to hide the mystery? This Hobbes seems, at first reading, to claim as he recounts and interprets one such story. The story is that of Ixion who was invited by Jupiter to a banquet, fell in love with Juno the wife of Jupiter, and was tricked by Jupiter into making love to a cloud that had the appearance of the goddess (“Preface” [7]). According to the story as retold by Hobbes, the centaurs, half-human and half-equine in nature, “a violent and restless race” were conceived by this coupling. “Changing the names,” says Hobbes, “it is the same as if they said: when private men are called into council about the supreme affairs of the republic and wish to subject justice, sister and wife of command, to their own knowledge, and instead embrace a semblance of her, false and empty like a cloud, then are conceived those ambivalent dogmas of the moral philosophers, partly right and fair, partly brutal and wild, the causes of all quarrels and killings.” However apt the comparison of centaurs and moral philosophers, do we find in the tale of Ixion an event that could correspond to the end of the “golden age” Hobbes has described? Was not the Jupiter who deceived Ixion himself the God who expelled Saturn and perhaps, even authored the “teaching that one could take up arms against kings”? The second question I want to introduce is this. Following immediately upon his interpretation of the story of Ixion, Hobbes refers to the opinions of the moral philosophers that “arise daily” as themselves “clouds” and promises to “disperse them, showing by the firmest reasoning that there are no valid (authenticus) teachings about the just and the unjust, the good and the evil, beyond the laws set up in each city, and that no one should ask whether some action is just or unjust, good or evil, except those to whom the interpretation of the laws is entrusted” (“Preface” [8]). What does the notion of such an age add to the famous distinction Hobbes makes between civil society and the state of war? Why, we may ask, would Hobbes want to appeal to such a “golden


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age”? What distinguishes the “golden age” he has described, in which rulers did not defend their commands by arguments and the ruled did not imagine that they could or even that they should assess the justice of what was commanded before they obeyed, from the condition Hobbes will promise on the basis of his own teaching? Rulers will command and citizens obey their commands in the condition obtained by the acceptance of Hobbes’s teaching just as they did in “the golden age” but they will do so not in the natural simplicity of men of that ancient age but because they are persuaded by Hobbes’s own civil science and especially by his famous demonstration that the alternative to civil society is a natural condition that is a state of war of all against all. A second difference is this: in the “golden age” no one will ask whether commands are just; in the condition to be achieved by the acceptance of Hobbes’s teaching “no one should ask whether some action is just or unjust, good or evil, except those to whom the interpretation of the laws is entrusted” (emphasis added). No such “interpreters of the laws” figure in Hobbes’s account of the “golden age.” Their role in Hobbes’s commonwealth we must later consider. If, as I have argued, Hobbes’s interpretation of the tale of Ixion’s embrace of the cloud that looked like a goddess is not a completely satisfactory account of the end of “the ‘golden age,’” we may ask how its end is portrayed in Hobbes’s account of Socrates and his successors. Socrates “is said” to have been “the first to have fallen in love with this civil science.” Hobbes can only report what “is said” because, like us, he cannot base his account on anything Socrates himself said or wrote but on what others have said or written about what Socrates has said or done; he must rely like us on Plato or Aristotle or Aristophanes, for example. Hobbes can tell us that if Socrates was the first to fall in love with the civil science, he was not the first philosopher. “Some philosophers had already observed the shapes and motions of things to the great benefit of mankind, while others had contemplated the nature and causes of things without doing much harm” (“Preface” [2]). And it seems that if the wise men of that time—Hobbes does not call them philosophers—handed on “the holy mystery of command,” they did so only in poetic verse or clouded in allegory. Why had Socrates fallen in love with the civil science? Why had he turned away from, and even scorned, all other parts of philosophy? Why did he regard this part of philosophy as alone worthy of his ingenuity? Hobbes will acknowledge, as he concludes the Preface of De Cive, that he too, at least in this work, has set aside the other parts of philosophy in order to complete his civil science, but the reasons he gives for doing so would seem very different than any we could attribute to Socrates: the prospect of civil war in his country has made of civil science not a likely object for philosophic love but something urgently needed, and that science is made possible by the fact that the principles upon which it is based are known—or knowable—by all from experience. And yet we may ask whether Hobbes could write as he does of Socrates’ love of civil science without some understanding of that love and even some share in it. Why did Socrates fall in love with the civil science? In the immediate sequel Hobbes writes of those who followed Socrates, philosophers and men of leisure, but we cannot easily suppose that we find here an explanation equally applicable to all of those named or identified and, in particular a possible explanation of Socrates’ love, for of these, some for Hobbes, were pleased by the mere semblance of that which Socrates loved, and many pursued it as something easily obtained by “anyone inclined

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to it,” whereas Socrates had regarded it as the only worthy subject for his intellect. We may suppose that Socrates and Hobbes are agreed as to the difficulty of the study of “the politics” (Leviathan 2.30 [25]). How did Socrates discover the object of his love? Hobbes says that the civil science became the object of Socrates’ love and study “despite the fact that it had not yet been conceived as a whole but was, as it were, showing a bit of itself through the clouds in the matter of civil government” (De Cive “Preface” [2]). That Socrates should be associated with clouds is not, of course, the invention of Hobbes. What Socrates himself identifies in Plato’s Apology as the first accusation against him is made in, and by, the comedy Aristophanes called his Clouds. In Aristophanes’ story, we recall that Socrates begins his education of his pupil Strepsiades by introducing him to “the clouds” but eventually leaves them behind as if they were his own invention and under his control. But as the comedy proceeds to its conclusion, we see that Socrates has misunderstood his relation to the clouds. The poet identifies himself with “the clouds” even as they persuade Strepsiades to punish Socrates for the corruption of his son by destroying the philosopher’s school. Does Hobbes mean to associate himself with Socrates’ accusers?7 Before speaking of the utility of civil science “when rightly taught,” Hobbes writes of its dignity (dignitas) or worth (“Preface” [4, 3]). Indeed, in the first words of his Preface, he had sought the “attention” of his readers by speaking both of the dignity (or worth) and of the utility of what he will teach. Speaking now of its dignity, he first notes the great satisfaction found in the mere semblance or appearance (species) of civil science both by those who deem that they possess it, and by those who ought to possess it. As Socrates cared for nothing but the civil science with which he had fallen in love and to which he had devoted his ingenuity, so those of whom Hobbes now speaks do not mind the students of other sciences being called “ingenious, learned, and erudite or anything else but prudent (prudentes).” This name they think should be theirs and only theirs because of their “excellence in civil skill (peritiae civilis).” How are we to reconcile the pre-eminence attached to the civil science or even its appearance by those who possess it, or who ought to possess it, with the belief of many that it is easy and accessible to anyone inclined to it? Might we not say that the acknowledgment of the greater prudence of others, unlike the recognition of their greater wit, or learnedness, or erudition entails the possible thought or fear that one should be ruled by those others? Hobbes concludes his account of the worth of civil science by offering several considerations that show that this is “certainly” the worthiest of sciences. This is so, Hobbes says, whether we measure the dignity of a science by the dignity of those who possess it, or the number of those to whom it belongs, or the fact that it belongs to princes and the human beings engaged in ruling, or the delight of most men in its mere semblance, or the fact that the finest wits of the philosophers have been bent on it. The case Hobbes makes for the utility of civil science is very different than the case for its dignity, in fact, almost the converse of it (“Preface” [4]). We will best see the utility of civil science rightly delivered (sed recte traditae), that is, clearly derived from true principles, by recognizing the bad consequences for humankind of its false or rhetorical semblance. Among those consequences are the killing of kings, themselves good men, on the pretext that tyrannical rulers may be killed; the slitting of throats, because of the error that the supreme prince can be deprived of rule by


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certain men for certain reasons; the shedding of blood, because of the false teaching that kings are servants, not superiors, of the multitude; and the rebellions caused by the doctrine that the justice of kings’ commands should be debated by private men (“Preface” [5]). Hobbes does not, like the wise men of antiquity, insist that true civil science should be “delivered” in the poetic or allegorical guise. Nor, we learn now, is rightly delivered civil science useful only because it is free of error. In matters we must reflect upon for the conduct of our lives, ignorance as well as error must result in “offenses, quarrels, and killing.” This could seem to justify the inquiry initiated by Socrates, though of course what Socrates discovers through his questioning is what he and others do not know and that the life devoted to the questioning he takes up is the only life worth living. Should we suppose that Hobbes’s demonstration of the utility of his own rightly derived civil science by appeal to the unhappy consequences of a false and rhetorical teaching will suffice to make his own teaching effectual? Should we ignore the complex and ambiguous case whereby Hobbes establishes civil science as the worthiest science? Hobbes has said that all philosophers of all nations have taken up the inquiry begun by Socrates. And one proof he has given to show that civil science is the worthiest of sciences was that the finest wits of the philosophers have been bent on it. Does Hobbes exclude himself when he speaks thus of “the philosophers”? Having set out the method of his civil science (“Preface” [97]) Hobbes writes of the “cause” of his writing. He had taken up philosophy for intellectual enjoyment and had intended an arrangement of his work in three parts dealing in turn with Body, Man, and City. What he had planned as the third part of his project has become the first for the reason we have cited. What made this possible was the fact that the third part does not depend upon the first and second. The principles upon which it is based are known or knowable by all, and that third part is no different than it would have been if written when Hobbes had intended. It is the work of the same man, and so Hobbes would seem to be one of “the philosophers” he has spoken of in describing those who took up the inquiry initiated by Socrates and in arguing the worth or dignity of civil science. If an enumeration of the unhappy consequences of false and rhetorical civil science will not suffice to establish true civil science, can that science be established in another way? In the twenty-ninth chapter of his Leviathan Hobbes claims for the first time— he is the first to make the claim and it is the first time in his writings that he does so—that the internal causes of the dissolution of the commonwealth can be overcome: Though nothing can be immortal, which mortals make; yet, if men had the use of reason they pretend to, their commonwealths might be secured, at least, from perishing by internal diseases. For by the nature of their institution, they are designed to live as long as mankind, or as the laws of nature, or as justice itself, which gives them life. (Leviathan 2. 29 [1])8

What is necessary to secure the commonwealth against destruction by “internal diseases” is not any change in human beings, as they are the matter out of which commonwealths are constituted but greater wisdom in the making of commonwealths: [W]hen they come to be dissolved, not by external violence, but intestine disorder, the fault is not in men, as they are the matter; but as they are the makers, and orderers of them.

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Two chapters later, Hobbes writes again of the prospect of eliminating the internal causes of political dissolution. What he says now could seem to qualify, if it does not reverse, his previous statement. Here he writes that when he considers how far his teaching is from the practice of the greatest part of the world, especially of these Western parts, that have received their moral learning from Rome, and Athens, he finds himself at the point of believing his labor as useless as the commonwealth of Plato; “For [Plato was] also of opinion that it is impossible for the disorders of state, and change of governments by civil war, ever to be taken away, till sovereigns be philosophers” (2.31 [41], emphasis added). What overcomes Hobbes’s temptation to despair is not that he differs with the view which he attributes to Plato. He does not. Like his Plato, Hobbes thinks sovereigns will have to be philosophers if the disorders of states and prospect of civil war are to be overcome. Though the sovereign upon whom Hobbes’s hope depends must be a philosopher, neither he nor his ministers need know the mathematical sciences, as Plato’s ruler did according to Hobbes. More importantly, the only science the sovereign does need to know, the science of natural justice, was not previously but is now available. That no such coincidence of kingship and philosophy has occurred up to this time says nothing against its possibility now, for neither “Plato, nor any other philosopher hitherto, hath put into order, and sufficiently or probably proved all the theorems of moral doctrine, that men may learn thereby, both how to govern, and how to obey” (2.31 [41]). In fact—Hobbes will observe a few years later—what Plato and the other philosophers failed to accomplish was accomplished for the first time by Hobbes himself in his De Cive. If Hobbes’s new hope to overcome “the disorders of state, and change of governments by civil war” depends upon the chance of some sovereign considering for himself and acting upon this “short and clear writing” of Hobbes, it does not depend upon the discovery of “the science of natural justice” as such. Hobbes’s new hope of overcoming the causes of political disorder must depend, rather, upon what Hobbes brings to his Leviathan other than the science of natural justice itself. I suppose, as have others, that what is modified in Leviathan is not the science of natural justice as, say, Hobbes’s account of sovereignty or how it is instituted or acquired; nor the consequences of this account as these determine the obligations of subjects; nor his account of the state of nature, or of the human passions as they constitute this condition and make it a state of war.9 I must rather suspect, again in agreement with others, that where Hobbes departs from other versions of his teaching in Leviathan and so establishes the basis for his new hope, those departures are linked to the question of how Hobbes’s science of natural justice might be successfully transmitted and established, or how his “truth of speculation” might be converted “into the utility of practice” (2.31 [41]). One might say then that the differences between Leviathan and Hobbes’s other statements must be rhetorical. But we should not be led by saying this to underestimate the significance of these differences. We can prevent this mistake if we recall that there must be in principle a close connection between how one understands the role of rhetoric or eloquence in political life and the form a political teaching would have to have so as to overcome the causes of political disorder. We may begin to see the reasons for Hobbes’s new hope if we ask why he ventures no such hope in his Elements of Law or De Cive. What do we learn about sedition and


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the role of rhetoric in those works? In both, Hobbes supplies a kind of formula for sedition. Sedition will occur when discontented subjects, who believe that they have the right to rebel against the government and have hope that their sedition may succeed in removing the causes of their discontent, find an appropriate leader (Elements of Law 2.27; De Cive 2.12 [11]).10 That leader must be both eloquent and unwise. He shows his lack of wisdom by believing the false opinions he resorts to in arguing that sedition is justified. He shows his lack of prudence because he does not know that for every successful leader of a sedition twenty have failed. Hobbes calls these leaders “authors of sedition.” Their eloquence is, in fact, more than a necessary condition of sedition; it is very nearly a sufficient condition (Elements of Law 2.27.13). The eloquent can cause listeners to burn with a discontent they did not previously feel, to be enraged for no reason other than the passion of the speaker, and to hope for success where their hope has no basis. One could say, then, that Hobbes condemns rhetoric here by presenting its power as almost unlimited (Elements of Law 2.27.14). On the other hand, one could equally say that Hobbes furnishes an implicit justification for rhetoric in this same passage. What Hobbes takes to prove that the leaders of sedition must be eloquent are the requirements of demonstrating and teaching the truth: long deductions and close attention that are unpleasant to most hearers and impossible when the hearers are many. To be sure, the eloquent aim not at truth but at getting a certain belief in their hearers out of what they already believe, or out of their passions rather than truth, but what Hobbes acknowledges is the impossibility of demonstrating and teaching anything, whether true or false, under the conditions in which rhetoric operates. In any case, what makes eloquence powerful and demonstration of the truth difficult, or impossible, must make the hope of overcoming sedition doubtful. How, then, is the possibility of sedition overcome in Leviathan? In the explicit analysis of the causes of dissolution, we find no explanation of Hobbes’s new hope (2.29). The formal and universal statement of the Elements of Law and De Cive that sedition will occur whenever the eloquent and unwise incite those who are discontented and subscribe to one or another false opinion justifying rebellion, and hope to succeed, is abandoned. Although Hobbes had himself condemned the eloquence associated with sedition as the “metaphorical use of words, adapted to the passions” (De Cive 2.12.12), what replaces his previous analysis of the causes of sedition is their metaphorical treatment. The things that weaken or destroy the commonwealth are so many more or less fatal diseases. And within the now metaphorical treatment of dissolution, seditious doctrines are described as “poison.” As for eloquence, it appears nowhere in Hobbes’s new treatment of political dissolution; it is not identified as one of the diseases that threaten the commonwealth. Should its omission lead us to suppose that Hobbes has now embraced what he so recently condemned?11 To be sure, Hobbes writes in Leviathan of the need for eloquence to secure attention to what must be attended to if civil science is to be established. But if Hobbes has reconsidered the necessity of rhetoric or eloquence in securing his political aims, must this mean that he no longer thinks it a source of political danger? Or has he found a new and more certain, if less direct, way of overcoming that danger? Has he overcome the threat posed by rhetoric by its use? Do we find in Leviathan a new use of rhetoric as understood in his Elements and De Cive, or a new kind of rhetoric?

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A persuasive but incomplete answer to this question has been furnished by David Johnston in The Rhetoric of Leviathan.12 Johnston argues that the great difference between Hobbes’s Elements of Law and his Leviathan is that the former is essentially a scientific work in both aim and form intended to demonstrate its claims to the restricted readership open to such a demonstration; Leviathan, on the other hand, is a work of rhetoric intended to reach and influence the public at large. In the Elements, Hobbes had thought in terms of the conflict between reason and rhetoric and appealed entirely to the former while recognizing the power and threat posed by the latter. In Leviathan the opposition between reason and rhetoric is replaced by an opposition between reason and superstition: the belief in miracles and prophecy and, above all, the threat of eternal damnation. According to Johnston, Hobbes develops a powerful and largely rhetorical response to the threat posed by the fear of invisible things to the acceptance of his own political teaching and so also to the final obtaining of civil peace. In fact, Johnston considers Leviathan far more than a treatise; it is the great, and largely successful, political act through which Hobbes seeks to transform the Christian and Jewish culture that is the primary, if not the only, obstacle to the rational political order that would otherwise arise out of the human fear of death, by eradicating the irrational fears nurtured by religion.13 And so in Leviathan we find at once a far deeper and more pessimistic account of the seeds of religion and a radical increase in the portion of Hobbes’s teaching devoted to the interpretation of biblical revelation. The aim of that interpretation achieved through largely rhetorical means is what Johnston calls “enlightenment,” or freedom from the “religious” understanding of the themes central to revelation: the nature and fate of the human soul; prophecy, miracles, and magic; and the understanding of the kingdom of God. Though Hobbes had previously examined some of these themes, especially in De Cive, his aim then had been to promote a safe civil religion. Now he aims to eradicate the threat of religious superstition altogether.14 Johnston’s study says much that is true and important to a consideration of the questions I am pursuing here.15 What Johnston supposes, however, is that the work of cultural transformation which he plausibly attributes to Hobbes could be completed once and for all so as to establish an “enlightened” culture within which the politics of calculated rational self-interest would then rule without challenge. The fact that the politics of cultural transformation is a work for rhetoric suggests otherwise. We cannot ignore Hobbes’s insistence that the seeds of religion are sown in human nature. Nor can we assume that the new weight Hobbes attaches to the contrast between reason and superstition means denying the danger posed by eloquence or the eloquent sophistry Hobbes links to classical political philosophy. What I want to suggest is this: Hobbes surely does mean to show that what is necessary for our salvation according to scripture is consistent with our obedience to the sovereign no matter what the sovereign commands. And he sets in motion a powerful skepticism designed to undermine the foundations of those teachings of biblical religion that could justify resistance to the civil sovereign, if not biblical religion altogether. But in Leviathan he seeks also to plunder the Egyptians, to employ his own radically transformed biblical theology as part of the public understanding and practice of his own civil science. And it is partly through his new political theology, and especially his notion of representation,


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that Hobbes finally overcomes the threat to public life posed by ancient sophists and Christian theologians. Here I can only offer a broad outline of the institutional and theological innovations whereby Hobbes hopes to make the commonwealth everlasting. In the first place, in Leviathan Hobbes pays much more attention to the organization and administration of sovereign power than in The Elements and De Cive. Although the political problem of eloquence is omitted from the explicit treatment of political dissolution in chapter 29, it is discussed at two other places in Leviathan. Its role in the public deliberations of assemblies in aristocracies and democracies is an important reason why monarchy is to be preferred as less inconvenient than other kinds of commonwealth (2.19 [5–8]). And in “On Counsel,” a chapter Hobbes adds to Leviathan, an analysis of the role played by eloquence in public deliberations explains why the wise sovereign will seek advice but hear his advisors apart and in confidence rather than be guided by a public discussion. Hobbes suggests the superiority of a form of commonwealth in which the former means of taking counsel is institutionalized, as it will be in those forms of commonwealth Locke later calls “moderated monarchies and well-framed governments.”16 The elimination of public deliberations in an assembly, and the separation of the exercise of executive power from any assembly that may be retained make good counsel more likely and reduce the chances that envy may lead to disagreement and civil war. On the other hand, the same changes would seem to increase that discontent to be anticipated on the part of those deprived of the possibility of public participation which Hobbes had acknowledged as a source of discontent in his Elements of Law and De Cive. What may answer, if it does not satisfy, the complaint of those deprived of the opportunity to display their wisdom in public deliberations, or in political life generally, is the role of equity, or the acknowledgment of natural equality, as a law of nature, as a standard for the performance of sovereign authority and for the assessing of that performance, and as the basis for an expanded role of the judiciary in the interpretation of the law in Hobbes’s commonwealth. The rule of equity, that “every man acknowledge [every] other for his equal by nature,” is explicitly named as one of the nineteen laws of nature enumerated in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Leviathan. In fact, its significance for the account Hobbes gives of the laws of nature, that is, of morality, is much greater than this suggests. In Leviathan the second law of nature that derives from the first, that men should seek peace where obtainable, demands that men give up the right to all things they enjoyed in the state of nature when others are willing to do the same and content themselves with as much liberty against others as they will allow others against themselves. So, the law of equity precedes the law of justice requiring the keeping of covenants. It is the rule that modest men would observe in the state of nature, if it did not make them vulnerable to those who enjoy the contemplation of their own power in acts of conquest. When Hobbes refutes the fool who thinks it may sometimes be reasonable to violate his covenants, the mistake the fool makes is to think himself superior to his fellows. He wrongly supposes that he can deceive others whose interest it is to discover his unjust intention (2.15 [5]). Further, the distinction made by Aristotle and others between commutative and distributive justice is “not right” according to Hobbes (2.15 [14]). The former is reducible to keeping our covenants, and the latter is equity. Hobbes will

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later say that all morality is contained in these three: justice, gratitude, and equity (2.25 [4]) but justice, or the keeping of covenant, is one single and distinct law within Hobbes’s treatment of the nineteen laws of nature. And, gratitude, the fourth, is, we suppose, another.17 If, as Hobbes says, all morality is contained in these three, we may suppose equity to be the basis of all the rest. And, indeed, when Hobbes imagines someone to object to his account of the nineteen laws of nature as too subtle for most men, he replies that one need only imagine himself in the position of the other to know what he should do. Hobbes’s sovereign can never be rightly accused of injustice, and indeed can never be guilty of injustice, because injustice is the violation of covenant and the sovereign has made none. He can however ignore or violate the rule of equity and be criticized by Hobbes and others for doing so, though no such complaint could justify his subjects in disobeying his commands. Equity is, in fact, a rule the wise sovereign will observe. He will know, or learn from Hobbes, that his subjects should receive equal treatment in his law courts. He will respect their property rights against one another. He will distribute the burden of public expenditure fairly. And he will not punish the innocent. Observing equity in these ways he will not weaken but strengthen his sovereign authority. Equity is also the basis for the new role of the judiciary in the interpretation of laws both natural and civil, which Hobbes provides for within the greatly expanded treatment of law in Leviathan. That role he justifies, in the first place, by the consideration that all laws need interpretation. That interpretation must, in the second place, go beyond the letter of the law to discover its final end in the intention of the legislator. But how is this to be determined? On the basis of the judge’s own understanding of equity, Hobbes replies. To think that the law maker intended anything else would be a great contumely. Though the lawyers as students of the common law remain enemies of Hobbes’s new civil science in their claim to an authority based on their long study of the laws, Hobbes finds in his own understanding of law a large role for a different kind of judiciary. If what makes law is not its content, or its congruence with the law of nature, or divine law, or its long usage, but rather the fact that it is the will of the sovereign, that is, of him whom we have previously covenanted to obey, that same will empowers judges as servants of the sovereign to interpret the laws and, “if the word of the law do not fully authorize a reasonable sentence to supply it with the law of nature” (2.26 [26]). Judges can find that reasonable sentence in their own understanding of that fundamental law of nature acknowledging natural equality which Hobbes calls equity.18 If these reforms of political life do not furnish a clear substitute for the opportunity for participation in political life by the ambitious, we might suppose that they will reduce the prospect of seditious faction by making it less likely that subjects will offer their support to the ambitious likely to become “authors of sedition.” This thought may be confirmed, in part at least, by a close consideration of the case Hobbes makes for the requirement that we recognize natural and universal human equality. What that consideration reveals, I think, is the rhetorical character of that case. Thus, the case begins by ridiculing Aristotle for basing his political doctrine on the claim that some men, the wiser kind, philosophers like him, should rule, while those with strong bodies but incapable of philosophy should serve.The Aristotelian


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claim which Hobbes reduces to the supposition that “master and servant were not introduced by consent of men but by difference of wit . . . is not only against reason; but also, against experience” [1.12 [21]. Few are so foolish as to prefer to be governed by another than by themselves. The “experience” that refutes Aristotle is the fact that when the wise “in their own conceit” contend by force against “those who distrust their own wisdom,” the wise seldom if ever “get the victory.” The argument against Aristotle from reason as set out in Hobbes’s account of the state of nature is that even the strongest can be killed by others acting “by secret machination, or by confederacy with others” (1.13 [1]). As for the mind, Hobbes claims to find an even greater equality than in bodily strength in the only relevant faculty, prudence. “Prudence is but Experience; which equal time equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto.” Hobbes does not remind us here that in his earlier account of prudence, he had acknowledged that men differ in how they attend to, and benefit from, experience. Instead, he observes here that what causes men to think themselves wiser than others is that they see their own wit close at hand and that of others at a distance. Repeating a joke of Descartes, Hobbes concludes that the conceit of all men that others are not wiser than themselves actually “proves” their equal prudence, for “there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything, than that every man is contented with his share.”19A careful consideration of what Hobbes has said in support of natural equality of men will lead us to see why he concludes his account of the law of equity thus: “If Nature . . . have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowledged; or if Nature has made men unequal; yet because men that think themselves equal, will not enter into conditions of Peace, but upon Equal terms, such equality must be admitted” (2.15 [21]). If getting a conclusion from the passions is rhetoric, the case for equity is at least partly rhetorical. In his Leviathan Hobbes also gives much more attention to the public instruction the sovereign ought to provide in order to eliminate the false opinions to which sedition appeals; he attaches greater importance to that duty and gives a far longer and more complex account of the means and content of the public instruction required.20 That the public should be instructed in the rights of the sovereign is essential because those rights cannot be maintained by any civil law or by punishing the disobedient, and it is the discovery by Hobbes of the “principles of reason” underlying those rights that makes it possible for the commonwealth, like a modern house, “to last as long as the materials out of which it is constructed” (2.30 [5]).21 But how are the public to be instructed in those rights? Always Hobbes says this must begin with the instruction of the young in the universities in the true civil science, particularly as it refutes the false doctrines that justify sedition. In his Elements, he says that the false opinions the young now learn in the universities were first insinuated by the “eloquent sophistry” of Aristotle and others, and argues that the young will readily abandon false for true doctrine because their minds are ‟yet as white paper” (2.28.8). In De Cive he thinks that those educated in the universities in accordance with his science of justice will instruct the vulgar “cheerfully and powerfully” because they are convinced of the truth of what they profess (2.13.9). In neither work has Hobbes distinguished, as he does in Leviathan, between what the young at the universities are to be taught and what they shall subsequently teach others. He makes that distinction in Leviathan when he replies to someone who might object that even if Hobbes’s “principles of reason”

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are right—because reasonable or because they can be derived from scriptural authority—they are beyond the capacity of the common people (2.30[6]. Hobbes’s answer is that it is the common people who are like “clean paper” ready to be written upon.22 What proves this is their acquiescence in religious doctrines that are beyond, or even contrary to, reason. As this “proof” might lead us to expect, what the people is to be taught by those educated at the universities in Hobbes’s civil science is not that science, nor anything derived from it; if fact it is a set of commandments modeled upon the Decalogue. If those teachers are to teach these things “cheerfully and powerfully” this can no longer be because they are convinced of the truth of what they teach. Could the divergence between what they have learned at the university and what they are expected to teach furnish a different kind of satisfaction for those teachers? When I wrote above of the limits of David Johnston’s Rhetoric of Leviathan, I claimed that Hobbes’s political theology plunders the Egyptians. Hobbes invents representation to prevent priests from ruling men through their consciences, but in doing so he does not simply jettison biblical authority. We begin to see how Hobbes does use the Bible as he confirms his deduction “of sovereign rights from the nature, need, and designs of men in erecting of commonwealths, and putting themselves under monarchs or assemblies” (2.20 [15]). As in De Cive, Hobbes appeals to the biblical account of the origin of kingship under Saul to show that sovereign right is absolute and derived from consent. But in Leviathan, he also cites what “God himself” said “by the mouth of Samuel” concerning the right (or manner) of kings. And he links this account to the plea of the children of Israel to Moses: “Speak thou to us, and we will hear thee; but let not God speak to us lest we die” (2.20 [16]).23 The authority of Moses, as advanced here to corroborate the Hobbesian account of sovereign authority, is derived from the consent of those who thereby become his subjects, and their consent arises out of their fear of being spoken to by God himself. In Leviathan, Hobbes adds a remarkable interpretation of God’s first command, of the disobedience of that command by the first human beings, and of God’s response to that disobedience. Hobbes begins with the devil’s promise to the woman that, eating the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat, they should “be as gods knowing good and evil” (2.20 [17]). “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” God demands. Hobbes’s God knows that the human beings have disobeyed his command because they have become ashamed of their nakedness. Whether they, or God, are correct to think their nakedness “uncomely” Hobbes does not indicate, other than to say that it was God’s will to create them naked. Without the ability to distinguish rightly, the man and woman have judged good and evil and thereby God’s command. They did not realize that to be “as Gods,” judging good and evil, they must become God’s enemies. Though Hobbes will later observe that he is unable to understand, on the basis of reason or revelation, how God could speak to Moses, or any other human being, his God here does address the man and the woman. When the Israelites fear to hear the voice of God, might they be remembering this angry response to the first humans judging good and evil? As Harvey Mansfield has shown, Hobbes invented representative government in order to establish an indirect science of politics, in which men would no longer ask the direct question of whether the laws or commands they confront are good or bad. Instead, men will ask the indirect question: do those laws or commands derive from


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a legitimate source in the representativeness of that source.24 We are not required, as Hobbes’s Aristotle would require us, to acknowledge the wisdom of the makers of those laws. They are made by us in the sense that they are made by the sovereign representative whom we have authorized. So it is, that in our own versions of representative government it is difficult to say whether our representatives rule us, or we them. When we deplore the quality of our representation, is it because our representatives have forgotten who authorized them, or is it because they are so obsequious in bowing to the opinions of those they represent? And when we consider for the first time how Publius employs representation to avert majority tyranny in the “10th Federalist,” we are startled to realize that representation is more, or other, than we thought: not a means of making democracy possible on a large scale, but a means of avoiding it through an expansion of the orbit made possible by representation. What do we learn about representation when we consider the new language of authorization Hobbes uses to describe the authority of the sovereign? Hobbes writes now of the “sovereign representative” as one who bears the person of those who have authorized him (2.17 [13]. What does he mean by a person? A person can be one whose words or actions are considered as his own, or one who represents the words or actions of another, or of any other thing to whom those words or action are attributed whether truly or by a fiction (1.16 [1]). He is called a “natural” person when his words and actions “are considered as his own,” an artificial person when his words and actions are “considered as representing the words and actions of another” (1.16 [2]). Of natural persons Hobbes says little, of artificial persons a great deal. When an artificial person’s words and actions are “owned” by those whom he represents we call him an “actor” and those who “own” those words and actions their “author.”25 In this case we should say under Hobbes’s direction, that the actor acts by authority (1.16 [4]). Hobbes’s sovereign representative as so far described would seem to constitute such an artificial person, acting by the authority of those who have covenanted to acknowledge him sovereign. In this case, a multitude is personated or made one, as it is by one person represented (1.16 [13]). But Hobbes does not confine his discussion to the personation or representation of multitudes in this chapter devoted to “Persons, Authors, and Things Personated.” Inanimate things like “churches, hospitals or bridges” can also be personated, though these cannot be authors or give authority to their actors (1.16 [9]). Children, fools, and madmen can also be personated, though they too cannot be authors (1.16 [10]). Idols and figments of the imagination like the heathen gods “cannot be authors; for an idol is nothing” (1.16 [11]). Here then we have personation, though what is personated is not the author of its representative’s words or actions. Here what makes personation possible is the existence of civil government. What Hobbes calls the dominion of persons cannot exist until the civil state is established. The authority that cannot be granted by an inanimate object, a lunatic, or a heathen idol, can be granted by the legal owner of the inanimate object, by the legal guardian of the lunatic, or by the state in the instance of a heathen god. And having treated these three cases of personation, where the things personated cannot be author of their actors’ words or actions, and accordingly where authority derives directly or indirectly from the state, and having noted in particular that the gods of the heathens could not be personated

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until civil authority had been established, Hobbes turns next to the case of “the true God” (1.16 [12]). The “true God may be personated,” and was in fact personated first by Moses, who governed the Israelites not in his own but in God’s name, then by “our blessed savior Jesus Christ,” who came to induce the gentiles into his Father’s kingdom not as of himself but as sent by his Father, and finally by the Holy Ghost “speaking and working in the Apostles” who “came not of himself, but was sent and proceeded from them both [the Father and the Son]” (1.16 [12]).26 Hobbes does not explicitly indicate whether the personation of the true God is like that of the inanimate objects or heathen gods, where what is personated cannot authorize its actor’s actions or words, or like that of the multitude, where all the members give their common representer authority. So we are left uncertain at this point whether God can authorize the words and actions of those who bear, or claim to bear, his person. In chapter 14 of Leviathan, Hobbes says that it is impossible to make a covenant with God except through the mediation of those to whom God has spoken, either by supernatural revelation or by his lieutenants who govern under and in his name (1.14 [23]).27 In chapter 36, Hobbes deals with the case of Moses whom he identifies as the first of those who have borne God’s person. In fact, as we have already observed, Hobbes says that he can think of no satisfactory theological or rational account of how God could have spoken to Moses (2.36 [11–14]). In chapter 40, Hobbes concludes that Moses’ authority over the Israelites was, like the authority of all other princes, grounded on the consent of the people and their promise to obey him. While he lived, Hobbes says that Moses alone represented to the Israelites the Person of God. And this is merely to say—as Hobbes hastens to add—that Moses was the Israelites’ sole sovereign under God. God’s person was borne a second time by Christ as man and teacher, though not as king “during his abode on earth.” Finally God was represented a third time by the apostles and continues to be represented by their successors in their office of preaching and teaching, an office which Hobbes will later insist must belong to the sovereign (2.42 [68]). Thus Hobbes concludes that God who has been represented or personated thrice may properly be said to be three persons. What can we make of Hobbes’s “bizarre” treatment of “persons, authors and things personated”28 Some have found in it “a theory of authorization” by which Hobbes remedied limits and faults of his previous account of political obligation. But Hobbes’s “theory of authorization” adds nothing to the power the sovereign acquires when men covenant not to resist him in the exercise of his natural right to do anything and everything.29 Certainly, Hobbes explicitly insists that the most important power of sovereignty—that of punishing—is an exercise of this natural right. Nor is it the bearing of the person of his subjects in itself that frees Hobbes’s sovereign from allegations of injustice or from any other kind of accountability to his subjects; he was always immune to such charges and unaccountable to his subjects because he had made no covenant with them. What is accomplished by Hobbes’s new language of personation is a way of seeing every act of the sovereign as something more than a mere exercise of his own natural right made effective by the agreement of his subjects not to resist him. Though every act of the sovereign remains this, it can also be seen now as an act of what has been called representative agency.30


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Apart from the case of the sovereign as representative of the multitude in the commonwealth, the instance of personation Hobbes seems to emphasize both in chapter 16 and in his treatment of the Christian commonwealth, is the personation of God. At least where he claims to be a Christian, Hobbes’s sovereign not only bears the person of those who have covenanted to authorize his actions; he also bears the person of God. By doing so he overcomes that dangerous conflict between civil and spiritual, or ghostly, authority, which had beset Judaism and Christianity since that time when the Israelites first turned from the government of Moses’ successors to the election of a king. In chapter 43 of Leviathan, Hobbes says that “the difficulty not yet sufficiently resolved of obeying at once both God and man” when their commands are contrary has been the most frequent pretext of sedition and civil war in Christian commonwealths. In Leviathan Hobbes resolves this difficulty, while acknowledging that men should always obey those commands they know to be God’s.31 Here Hobbes argues that men obey God by obeying their sovereign even when he commands them to offer external worship to false Gods. Men are freed of any possible sin in those actions they perform in obedience to the sovereign, not only because obedience to the sovereign is required of them by the law of nature which is also the law of God, but also because their acts of obedience if sins are not their sins but the sovereign’s. Do we, like the children of Israel, consent to the sovereign representative in part because otherwise God might speak to us and we might die? However this might be, it does seem that through representation, we give up the right to judge good and evil taken up by the first human beings at the suggestion of the devil. Does the sovereign representative acquire this right? Even in the case of Moses this does not seem to be the case. The Israelites, on Hobbes’s account, consent to the rule of Moses not because he has spoken to God, but so that his subjects will not be spoken to by God. It would seem that the indirect politics invented by Hobbes means the removal of the question of good and evil from politics altogether. If this is correct, the consequence of Hobbes’s politics of representation could be described as the privatization of morality. I have tried to identify several of those features of Hobbes’s Leviathan that explain his new hope of overcoming the internal causes of sedition. One is the expanded role Hobbes now gives to equity or the acknowledgment of natural equality in the performance of the sovereign’s role and in that of the judiciary. Another is this: Hobbes’s critique of eloquence is no longer part of his explicit analysis of the causes of sedition but is the basis for new institutional arrangements which reduce this danger. Hobbes also proposes a new form and means of public instruction. Finally, I have argued that the sovereign as representative, in Hobbes’s new formulation of his civil science, at once takes from the subjects of the commonwealth the need and responsibility for moral judgment, and in place of these offers a new if private liberty (2.21 [6]). But now I must ask how and how far Hobbes’s revised account of the causes of dissolution, and the new means he has discovered of overcoming them, permit him to associate the prospect of his labor’s success with Plato’s. Can he claim that the success of his enterprise depends, as did Plato’s, upon his sovereign being a philosopher? And how if this condition were satisfied, would Hobbes’s “truth of speculation” become “the utility of practice” (2.31 [41])?32 Hobbes entertains his doubt just at that

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moment when he claims to have “derived from principles of natural reason” what is to be said “concerning the constitution, nature, and right of sovereigns . . . and the duty of subjects.” What has caused his doubt is a consideration of how different his teaching is from the practice of most of the world, especially the parts of the world that have “received their moral learning from Rome and Athens,” and “how much depth of moral philosophy” is required of those that administer sovereign power. What Hobbes doubts is whether the condition necessary for the removal of the “disorders of state and change of governments by civil war” can be fulfilled. That condition is that “sovereigns be philosophers.” The conviction that the elimination of political disorder depends upon this condition is what Plato and Hobbes share, according to Hobbes. The improbability of fulfilling the condition is what makes Hobbes’s labor seem as useless as Plato’s. What restores Hobbes’s hope is that what is required of his sovereign-philosopher is less than Plato required—not mathematical science but only the “science of natural justice.” And Hobbes has now “sufficiently or probably” proven the theorems that comprise that science and placed them in proper order, as neither Plato nor any other philosopher has. What is required is that some sovereign consider Hobbes’s “short and clear” writing for himself, that is, without the interference of interested or envious interpreters, and employ his entire sovereignty in protecting its public teaching.33 But why must that sovereign be a philosopher? Hobbes does not say whether this is because as a philosopher the sovereign will not need the interference of interpreters who prevent him from reading Hobbes’s writings for himself, or whether it is in the study of these writings that the sovereign will become a philosopher.34 Socrates proposed that philosophers must become kings, or kings take up philosophy seriously, to show how improbable it is that the city in speech could become a city in fact. For Socrates the question of whether the community of wives and children (and perhaps complete sexual equality of opportunity) could be established was replaced by the question of why philosophers don’t rule, and, indeed, this question is finally replaced with another: why the potential philosophers fail to become philosophers. We—Glaucon and those of us who participate in his conversation with Socrates— arrive at a point of view from which the actual city is seen as the great corrupter of those young human beings who might uncorrupted have pursued philosophy. The improbability of the city in speech ever existing is finally seen as a consequence of the philosopher’s preference for a life devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. Socrates’ argument for the rule of the philosopher is made not to overcome the causes of political dissolution, but to defend philosophy. In the Republic, the claim that the philosopher must rule is the paradoxical response to the claim made “on behalf of the city” by Meletus and others that Socrates must die. Does Hobbes belong to the party of Meletus? In the “Preface to the Readers” of his De Cive, Hobbes said that when Socrates fell in love with civil science he brought to a close a “golden age” in which rulers did not have to argue for sovereign power, but simply exercised it, and citizens measured justice not by the opinions of private men but by the laws of the commonwealth. Later philosophers and all others who had leisure took up the inquiry into civil science begun by Socrates. Some, though not all of them, did so because they enjoyed its semblance and thought it easy and accessible to all. And the consequence was the development of those “ambiguous” and dangerous “dogmas of the moral philosophers, partly correct


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and attractive, partly brutal and irrational.” The “golden age”—if it ever existed—cannot, of course, be restored. Though Hobbes must argue the case for sovereign power and against the private interpretation of the justice of the laws, as rulers in the “golden age” did not, we doubt whether his acceptance of this necessity can be regarded as the defense of philosophy. Nor does a consideration of the ways in which Socrates defends philosophy make the comparison any more plausible. In part at least, the Socratic case for rule by the philosopher is an appeal to the qualities or virtues of the philosopher as these resemble the qualities common opinion would attribute to the best possible ruler. When Socrates claims that the philosopher must rule to overcome the evils of political life, he treats the philosopher as a lover and pursuer of wisdom, not as its possessor. And the political or public case for rule by the philosopher—the case Socrates presents to Glaucon in the Republic at 484a–487b—supposes that wisdom is a good that can be pursued for its own sake, and attributes to it, as a good, a quality that distinguishes it from other possible objects of human pursuit. Wisdom is not a good in finite supply that a ruler can only obtain at the expense of the ruled—the kind of good Thrasymachus is able to imagine when he assumes that if ruling is advantageous to rulers it must be harmful to the ruled. For Socrates the case for rule by the philosopher and the reason the philosopher will not rule are the same; the political problem is solved by finding a way of life superior to ruling and compelling those who wish for that life to rule (520b-520a). This argument indirectly justifies philosophy as the means of overcoming that longing experienced by some human beings that leads to tyranny—what we see happening to Socrates’ interlocutor in the course of the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon.35 Hobbes, like Thrasymachus, seems unable to imagine the good Socrates appeals to. Hobbes restricts possible human goods to glory and those that feed the belly, for example, at De Cive 1.2. And, indeed, in this same passage, Hobbes denies the claim that philosophers pursue any other good. Wisdom, Hobbes suggests, is only an indirect means of securing sensual commodity or recognition. Finally, we may recall Hobbes’s claim that experience refutes the Aristotelian case for rule by the wiser. The unwillingness of men to be ruled by those claiming greater wisdom is justified, regardless of whether human beings are naturally equal or not, because the basis of any possible intellectual superiority relevant to the question of ruling must be the passionate desire on the part of the superiors to dominate others (1.8.15). Do these considerations not compel us to dismiss any possible parallel here between the Hobbesian and Socratic cases for the rule of the philosopher? Though I cannot provide a complete response to this question here, I will offer a few good reasons for hesitating in answering this question this way. If the “Preface to the Reader” of De Cive goes so far as to identify Socrates’ love of civil philosophy as the ultimate source of the moral doctrines responsible for all subsequent political disorder, Hobbes does not simply condemn or dismiss Socrates’ love of civil science. If Socrates brought the “golden age” to an end when he glimpsed civil science through the clouds that obscured it, Hobbes too claims to “disperse clouds” that obscure true civil science, albeit clouds for which Socrates or his successors may be responsible. In any case, if Socrates did begin the process that ended the “golden age,” that age was not an age without philosophy: philosophers were already active in that age,

Politics, Rhetoric, and Philosophy in Hobbes’s Leviathan


some “observing the motions and shapes of things” to human advantage, and others “contemplating the nature and causes of things, which did man no harm.” Nor was this even an age without any awareness of civil philosophy. The golden age was not simply constituted by rulers who wielded sovereign power without argument and subjects who obeyed without questioning the justice of their rulers’ commands. It was also, Hobbes claims, the time of certain unidentified wise men “of remotest antiquity” who, wiser than Socrates, thought the civil science best handed on to posterity in poetic or allegorical disguise. These ancients, according to Hobbes, foresaw the unhappy consequences of the ambiguous moral doctrines that Socrates’ successors would generate and so “preferred that the knowledge of justice be wrapped up in fables rather than exposed to discussion.” But if they thought this knowledge of justice best disguised, that knowledge cannot be equated with the laws. And as Hobbes proceeds to interpret one of the fables within which they wrapped the knowledge of justice, albeit a fable that turns out to predict or rather explain the Socratic error, he does not simply maintain that tradition begun by the wise men of antiquity. He also joins the inquiry initiated by Socrates. If Hobbes seems to define philosophy by its uses (Leviathan 4.46 [1]) and to condemn its schools for their lack of utility (Leviathan 4.46 [11]),36 he nevertheless hints at a different understanding of it when he compares its first few natural or uncultivated plants to “corn and wine” (Leviathan 4.46 [6]). In the first chapter of his De Corpore he says his labors are for the sake of “some men, though but few, who are delighted with truth and strength of reason in all things” (1.1). Indeed, in the course of what could seem an unrelenting condemnation of the “vain philosophy of Aristotle” and at the very point of refuting the fundamental and disastrous doctrine of separated essences built on that philosophy, Hobbes speculates that Aristotle may have known it “to be false philosophy, but writ it as a thing consonant to, and corroborative of, their religion fearing the fate of Socrates” (Leviathan 4.46 [18]). In the final section of the same chapter of Leviathan, Hobbes condemns “the suppression of true philosophy, by such men, as neither by lawful authority, nor sufficient study, are competent judges of the truth” (4.46 [42]). But how could the innovations of Leviathan that I have identified as reasons for Hobbes’s new hope to overcome the internal causes of dissolution, belong to the defense of philosophy and therefore with Socrates’ proposal? Consider, first, the reform of political life implicit in Hobbes’s treatment of counsel, the performance of the office of the sovereign, the equitable interpretation of law, and the recasting of political rule as representation. The consequence of these is to reduce the sphere for eloquence, or “seeming wisdom,” and this is a great contribution to perpetual civil peace if eloquence contributes to sedition as Hobbes has claimed in his Elements of Law and De Cive. How might institutional arrangements that restrict the sphere of “seeming wisdom” affect the life of the philosopher? The answer to this depends on whether one hopes, as Aristotle does, to justify philosophers as arbiters between conflicting claims to rule, or rather fears, like Socrates, politics as the corrupter of potential philosophers. However Hobbes might have judged this issue, for him, the greatest threat to the philosopher is the suppression of true philosophy that is the result of the alliance of philosophers with ecclesiastics. This alliance is responsible at once for the “Aristotelity” in the universities (4.46 [13]), and the dangerous conflict between political authority and


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individual conscience.37 The liberty from the demands of conscience made possible by representation, as an expression of Hobbes’s new political theology, is also the end of that fatal alliance. But does this justify Hobbes’s identification of his purpose with that of Plato or Socrates? We have observed that Socrates defends philosophy by arguing that the evils of political life will not cease until philosophers rule, and that philosophers will never rule because as pursuers of wisdom they cannot wish to. On the other hand, Socrates does admit one reason why philosophers might want to rule: to avoid being ruled by their inferiors (347b-d). The understanding of political life in the Republic, even the account of why philosophers will not be kings, is the rule of the philosopher Plato. For Hobbes, as for Plato, a world safe for philosophy must be a world ruled, if indirectly, by the philosopher. NOTES 1. See William Mathie, “Justice and the Question of Regimes,” Canadian Journal of Political Science (September, 1976): 449–463. 2. Though Hobbes does argue the superiority of monarchy in all versions of his political teaching, in De Cive he acknowledges that this is the only claim in that book he has not “demonstrated” (De Cive, “Preface” [22]). Below we must consider the removal of this qualification in Leviathan. 3. See Harvey Mansfield, “Hobbes and the Science of Indirect Government,” American Political Science Review (March, 1971): 97–110. 4. References to Leviathan are to Edwin Curley’s edition and include the paragraph numbers he has added. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994). 5. See John Aubrey, Brief Lives (Godine, 1999), 158. 6. References are to the edition of Richard Tuck, On the Citizen (Cambridge, 1998) and include the numbering of sections added by Howard Warrender to his edition of the Latin text. De Cive, the Latin Version, ed. Howard Warrender (Oxford University Press, 1983).For the most part, I have used the translation furnished by Michael Silverthorne included in Tuck’s edition. Tuck and others have argued persuasively against the attribution of the English translation published in 1651 to Hobbes himself. 7. Below I discuss what Hobbes says about the misuse of the universities, where the eloquent sophistry of Aristotle and others has so far prevailed, and their proper use. 8. For the traditional view that disorders of state and political change within and between regimes are likely to be perpetual see the eighth book of Plato’s Republic and the fifth book of Aristotle’s Politics. 9. I have argued against the claim that Hobbes has reduced or eliminated the role of glory in his treatment of the passions that make the state of nature a state of war in “Reason and Rhetoric in Hobbes’s Leviathan” in Interpretation 13.2–3 (1986), 292–296. 10. Hobbes circulated the Elements of Law in 1640 but the first edition authorized by Hobbes was published in 1652. See J.C.A. Gaskin, ed., Human Nature and De Corpore Politico (Oxford, 1994), xlvii. My references to the Elements are to Gaskin’s volume. 11. This is what Quentin Skinner has claimed. See, for example, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (London: Cambridge, 1996), 356ff. 12. David Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation (Princeton University Press, 1989).

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13. Rhetoric is necessary in Hobbes’s view when he writes Leviathan according to Johnston both to undermine religious beliefs, by for example setting in motion a process of skepticism that the reader himself eventually applies to matters of orthodox belief, and to establish science itself. See also Devin Stauffer, Hobbes's Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy (University of Chicago Press, 2018), 127–183 for a shrewd analysis of Hobbes’s rhetorical strategy against Biblical revelation. 14. Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan, 183. 15. I have discussed the considerable strengths and the serious limits of Johnston’s study in William Mathie, “Review: The Rhetoric of Leviathan,” Interpretation 17, no. 1 (1989): 145–152. 16. Second Treatise on Government, Ch. 14, Sec. 159. Hobbes careful treatment of the role of eloquence in chapter 25 suggests that he has recently reconsidered what Cleon and Diodotus say about it in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. In Leviathan Hobbes also teaches as he had not previously that it is an important and very difficult duty of the sovereign to choose able counsellors though it is no duty at all where the sovereign is not a single person but an assembly because in the latter case “the persons counselling are members of the person counselled” (2.30[25]). Previously Hobbes has written as if the relative inconveniences of the kinds of commonwealth are matters of degree, sometimes as if the case for monarchy is only probable, not demonstrable like so much of Hobbes's teaching. Yet here is an important duty that cannot even be attempted except in monarchy. If the proper performance of this important duty partly explains Hobbes's new hope of preserving the commonwealth, that hope must be confined to monarchy. 17. Might gratitude have a wider scope than I have supposed? This is a possibility worthy of further consideration than I have given it here. It does seem to me that several of the laws of nature can be tied closely to equity including the second, ninth, and those that follow the ninth. 18. My argument here and above is set out more fully in “Justice and Equity: An Inquiry into the Meaning and Role of Equity in the Hobbesian Account of Justice and Politics,” in C. Walton and P.J. Johnson, Hobbes’s Science of Natural Justice (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), 257–276. 19. See Mathie, “Rhetoric and Reason in Hobbes’s Leviathan,” 291–292. 20. One paragraph of the nine that outline the sovereign's duties in the Elements of Law (2.29.8) and one of the seventeen that do so in De Cive (2.13.9) are replaced by ten of the thirty devoted to “The Office of the Sovereign Representative” in Leviathan. 21. That rebellion can be averted only when the people understand their duty to obey as a natural obligation is barely suggested in De Cive (2.13.9) but stated far more emphatically at Leviathan 2.30[4]. 22. More difficult are the powerful who object to whatever might restrict their appetites, and the learned who object to being found wrong (2.30[6]). To see that true doctrine can be taught to the people Hobbes says we must consider how the false doctrines "contrary to the peace of mankind" have been "instilled into the people." What he shows us in fact is that most of mankind are diverted from the deep meditation needed for the understanding of natural justice by the demands of their trade or by their devotion to sensual pleasures. They therefore get their notions of duty from the pulpit or from acquaintances whose readiness to talk of them makes them seem wiser than themselves in these matters. In turn “the divines, and such others as make show of learning” get their notions at the university, or schools of law, or from books favoured there (2.30 [14]). As Richard Allen Chapman has pointed out, what Hobbes's fifth commandment teaches here about the origin of the commonwealth and why children ought to obey and reverence their parents is contrary to what he himself teaches elsewhere. See his "Leviathan Writ Small: Thomas Hobbes on the Family," American Political Science Review 69 (1975), 82. 23. The words emphasized were omitted in De Cive when Hobbes spoke of the Israelites consent to be ruled by Moses.


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24. Mansfield argues that Hobbes’s thoughts on representation are the root of our contemporary practice of representative government (107). 25. As “owner” is to goods or possessions, so is “author” to actions (1.16 [4]). 26. See Curley in his edition of Leviathan at 103n6 for the Latin version of this passage which was revised, as the editor observes, because of questions raised about the consistency of what Hobbes had written with the teaching of the Nicene Creed. The objection noted by Curley is that Hobbes denies the coeternal existence of the three persons of the Trinity. 27. See Curley’s comments at 85-86n10 on this statement and on what Hobbes adds to this in 18[3] that only the sovereign can mediate a covenant with God and on the difficulty of covenanting with God even through a mediator if God’s right follows as Hobbes says it does from his omnipotence. Also see references here to Hobbes treatment of Abraham’s covenant with God. 28. The adjective is Mansfield’s at 108. 29. Those who identify and applaud a wholly new theory of authorization in Leviathan must see his answer to the question of how there comes to be in the sovereign a right to punish as an anomaly. We may prefer Hobbes’s understanding of what authorization has and has not done. 30. My discussion here and in what follows owes much to Clifford Orwin’s account of the ”rhetorical improvement” Hobbes achieves through authorization. Orwin, “On the Sovereign Authorization,” Political Theory 3, no 1 (1975): 32–41. 31. The difficulty, or impossibility, of knowing this is one of the findings of Hobbes skeptical interpretation of Biblical theology. 32. Although Hobbes links his situation with that of Plato and elsewhere distinguishes Plato from Socrates, the condition he speaks of recalls that stated by Socrates in the fifth book of the Republic and we propose here to consider what distinguishes and links his statement with Socrates’ proposal. 33. In the Latin Leviathan Hobbes gives these reasons for his doubt: that there are many for whom it is advantageous that Hobbes’s principles be false, that the upholders of contrary doctrines are not corrected, and that “the best minds are nourished by the seditious doctrines of the ancient Greeks and Romans.” His final hope as stated there is that someday when the rights of the king are undiminished and “learned men and citizens more attentive to their duties” his doctrine “made more tolerable by custom, will be commonly received for the public good” (2.31 [41], editor’s note 15). 34. Hobbes speaks of the sovereign being a philosopher not of a philosopher becoming sovereign. For Socrates the two conditions seem to differ in their exact meaning and even in the degree of their improbability. 35. Or we may recall Aristotle’s remark, in his treatment of the proposal of Phaleas to eradicate the motives of injustice by legislating equality, that the only satisfaction for the human longing that leads to tyranny is furnished by philosophy. Politics 1267a3–13. 36. At Leviathan 4.46 [1] Hobbes writes, “By PHILOSOPHY is understood the knowledge acquired by reasoning, from the manner of the generation of any thing, to the properties; or from the properties, to some possible way of generation of the same; to the end to be able to produce, as far as matter, and human force permit, such effects, as human life requireth.” At De Corpore 1.2 he gives almost the same definition but omits the words to which I have added emphasis. 37. In An Historical Narration concerning Heresy, and the Punishment thereof, Hobbes says that most of the pastors of the primitive church responsible for its early growth were chosen out of the numerous philosophers in Greece and other parts of the Roman empire because they had better skill in disputing and oratory than the common people, and thereby were better qualified both to defend and propagate the Gospel(English Works, v.4, 388).

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REFERENCES Aristotle. Politics. Translated by Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Aubrey, John. Brief Lives. Edited by Oliver Lawson Dick. Jaffrey, NH: David Godine, 1999. Chapman, Richard Allen. “Leviathan Writ Small: Thomas Hobbes on the Family.” American Political Science Review 69, no. 1 (1975): 76–90. Hobbes, Thomas. An Historical Narration concerning Heresy, and the Punishment Thereof. In English Works, Vol. 4, edited by William Molesworth, 385–408. London: John Bohn, 1839–45. Hobbes, Thomas. De Cive: The Latin Version. Edited by Howard Warrender. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994. Hobbes, Thomas. On the Citizen. Edited by Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Hobbes, Thomas. The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic. In Human Nature and De Corpore Politico, edited by J.C.A. Gaskin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Johnston, David. The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980. Mansfield, Harvey C. “Hobbes and the Science of Indirect Government.” American Political Science Review 65, no. 1 (1971): 97–110. Mathie, William. “Justice and Equity: An Inquiry into the Meaning and Role of Equity in the Hobbesian Account of Justice and Politics.” In Hobbes’s Science of Natural Justice, edited by C. Walton and P.J. Johnson, 257–276. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987. Mathie, William. “Justice and the Question of Regimes.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 9, no. 3 (1976): 449–463. Mathie, William. “Reason and Rhetoric in Hobbes’s Leviathan.” Interpretation 13, no. 2/3 (1986): 281–298. Mathie, William. “Review of The Rhetoric of Leviathan, by David Johnston.” Interpretation 17, no. 1 (1989): 145–151. Orwin, Clifford. “On the Sovereign Authorization.” Political Theory 3, no. 1 (1975): 26–44. Plato. Republic. Translated by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1968. Skinner, Quentin. Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Stauffer, Devin. Hobbes's Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. Strauss, Leo. The Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis. Translated by Elsa M. Sinclair. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Steven Lattimore. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.

Chapter 13

Democracy in the Thought of John Locke Daniel E. Burns

John Locke is an egalitarian but not a democrat. After laying out his egalitarian moral principles in the first part of the Second Treatise, he spends the remainder of that work showing how those principles favor a relatively undemocratic system of government. Locke’s egalitarianism is satisfied by his own doctrine of popular sovereignty, which is at most a kind of cousin of democracy. Popular sovereignty is to be the quasidemocratic foundation for government by Lockean elites. Lockean elites would not be Lockean if they were not themselves governed by egalitarian moral principles. Locke thus adopts and modifies the Hobbesian political program of non-democratic means to popular ends. Just as in Hobbes, however, even the popularity of the Lockean popular ends is ambiguous. Lockean government is to serve a rational understanding of the common people’s interests, but the common people themselves have never shared that understanding. Locke is a political rationalist. Even his commitment to popular sovereignty must depend on its compatibility with his rationalism. Although Locke never pretends that the common people are able to reason well, he does appear to expect that a welldesigned commonwealth will bring popular passions essentially into line with the dictates of reason. Locke expects the effective reasonableness of the multitude, and hence of the government resting on the consent of the multitude, to be demonstrated by a massive social experiment of whose eventual result he appears fully confident. EQUALITY Locke may be best known for his radical teaching on human beings’ natural freedom and equality. He begins the Second Treatise by asserting humans’ natural equality in “Power and Jurisdiction”: “nothing [is] more evident, than that Creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without Subordination or Subjection.” Natural freedom and natural equality are two ways of describing this same phenomenon. For equality of “Jurisdiction” means that all have 201


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an equal “Freedom” to act “as they think fit . . . without asking leave, or depending upon the Will of any other Man,” unless God should explicitly appoint a ruler over them.1 The many natural inequalities among human beings are completely consistent with “the Equality, which all Men are in, in respect of Jurisdiction or Dominion one over another, which was the Equality I there spoke of . . . being that equal Right that every Man hath, to his Natural Freedom.”2 The natural freedom and equality of all men was known to Locke as a Hobbesian doctrine. As Locke admits, “the sum of all [Robert Filmer’s] arguments . . . against Natural Freedom” were found in a single passage from Filmer’s commentary on Hobbes, where Filmer was attacking Hobbes’s assertion of the natural freedom and equality of all men.3 Locke spends four chapters of the First Treatise demolishing that single passage from Filmer. Locke concludes those chapters with a striking anticipation of the beginning of the Second Treatise: he says that given the failure of Filmer’s arguments (against Hobbes), we must conclude that “Man has a Natural Freedom. . . . since all that share in the same common Nature, Faculties and Powers, are in Nature equal, and ought to partake in the same common Rights and Priviledges,” unless God should explicitly appoint a ruler over them.4 Locke is then well aware that the beginning of his Second Treatise echoes the Hobbesian view of natural equality. Like Locke, Hobbes had built his case for man’s natural freedom, or equality of jurisdiction, on a more basic equality in what Locke would call men’s “common Nature, Faculties and Powers.”5 Whatever these mysterious equal “Faculties” may be for Locke,6 they become morally and politically relevant for Locke only because they somehow prove our natural equality of jurisdiction: the latter moral equality, not the more basic equality in “Faculties,” was “the Equality I there spoke of, as proper to the Business” of “understand[ing] Political Power right.”7 Natural freedom or equality in this moral sense is at the heart of Locke’s political thought. Not only this natural freedom or equality, but even its immediate logical consequences (such as that if “any one” may claim a given natural right, “every one” must be able to claim the same right), are subjects of “demonstration” in Locke’s view.8 Contrary to the assumption of many readers today, Locke means this natural equality to extend to women as well as men—to all adults who are sane and of relatively sound mind.9 Nor is this state of natural equality any mere historical curiosity or mental construct. It is a real moral fact experienced by “Every Man” upon reaching the age of majority, applying to people “born under constituted and ancient Polities” as much as to people “born in the Woods, amongst the unconfined Inhabitants that ran loose in them,” even though the former tend mistakenly to “take no notice of it.”10 Our natural moral equality is the constant background condition, and hence the limiting condition, of all legitimate government. Apparently as a consequence of this egalitarian view of human nature, Locke’s whole political theory is visibly animated by a passionate concern for ordinary human beings and their equal natural rights. The epigraph to the Treatises identifies Locke as a partisan of the lowly and the downtrodden against their arrogant and brutal oppressors, a defender of the innocent sheep against the bloodthirsty wolf or the proud lion.11 In constructing a government that will defend the rights of the common man, Locke refuses to admit any political doctrine whose consequence would be that the people “can never be secure from Tyranny”: the common people’s security from tyranny appears to be a non-negotiable requirement of true political philosophy.12

Democracy in the Thought of John Locke


The common people’s equal natural rights are to be secured against tyrannical oppression by the egalitarian rule of law. Ordinary working folk must be kept safe “against the oppression of power and narrownesse of Party” through “established laws of liberty,” “common to every one.”13 Where “every single person [is] subject, equally with other the meanest Men, to those Laws,” there all persons are equally free from subjection to “the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”14 Laws must be “settled standing Rules, indifferent, and the same to all Parties,” laying down “one Rule for Rich and Poor, for the Favourite at Court, and the Country Man at Plough.”15 If the violator of these laws should be rich and powerful, or even a king, this will (if anything) only aggravate his guilt.16 POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY But egalitarian rule of law is not yet democracy. We come closer to Locke’s thought on democracy proper by examining his view of popular sovereignty, which is another direct consequence of his view of natural equality. The term “sovereign” is a Hobbesian term of art and not a Lockean one. Throughout the Treatises, Locke uses the term only when referring to political theories at odds with his own—in fact almost exclusively when referring to Robert Filmer’s theory.17 Within a constituted Lockean government, no single person (whether individual or corporate) is ever permitted to possess all twelve of the attributes that Hobbes had famously ascribed to his “sovereign.”18 Nonetheless, it is not misleading to use the anachronistic term “popular sovereignty” to describe the basic doctrine of Lockean politics. For like the Hobbesian sovereign, the Lockean “People” is the supreme political and moral authority within a given civil society. The people’s declared will, for Locke, is by definition law.19 And law, whereby the sovereign people decides “what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions which they think worthy of it,” is the “rule” for every individual in society “to live by.”20 Any legislative power outside the people exists only to the extent that, thanks to the people’s express and immediate delegation, the decrees of the people’s chosen legislative may be taken “as” a declaration of the popular will.21 All other political authority—over judicial and executive functions, rewards and punishments, war and treaties—belongs to powers “Ministerial and subordinate to the legislative.”22 The people retains the perpetual right to judge whether the legislative has abused its trust and, in that event, to replace it with a new legislative.23 Like the Hobbesian sovereign, the Lockean people possess unitary and absolute political authority over a given territory.24 Entrusted with “the declaring, and as it were keeping of [the sovereign people’s] Will,” the legislative (while it exists) is the unchallengeably supreme political authority, with “all other Powers . . . derived from and subordinate to it.”25 No independent executive or judiciary checks the will of the sovereign people: all officers of government “may be at pleasure changed and displaced” by the legislative in the name of the people, as may all “subordinate Powers” including provincial and local governments.26 Nor can one appeal to any written constitution against the will of the legislative, for the Lockean “Constitution”


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consists merely in the people’s designation of who shall hold the supreme, unitary, and (while that constitution lasts) unchallengeable legislative power.27 Nor can one appeal to any long-standing legal custom. The dead cannot bind the living sovereign: “ancient Names, and specious forms” mean nothing or less than nothing when they interfere with the popular will.28 Nor can one appeal to any religious or moral authority, including that of one’s own conscience. By signing the social contract, one has already agreed that “all private judgment of every particular Member” in opposition to the popular will must be “excluded.” And the conscience is merely a private individual’s judgment.29 Like the Hobbesian sovereign, the Lockean people can never forfeit its supreme authority except by voluntary abdication or by losing the capacity to enforce its decrees. Each citizen “is perpetually and indispensably obliged to be and remain unalterably a Subject” of the sovereign people for as long as the people wishes him to be.30 Like the Hobbesian sovereign, the Lockean people will not be morally perfect but will at least be strong enough to weather any political backlash against its own imperfections: even the justifiable resistance provoked by some “examples of particular Injustices, or Oppression of here and there an unfortunate Man” need never pose any threat to the people’s power, Locke promises.31 And like the Hobbesian sovereign, the Lockean people can never be legitimately called “tyrannical.” Unlike Hobbes, Locke does leave room for the term “tyranny” as something more than the name for a monarchy one dislikes: tyranny for Locke is the harmful transgression of law (i.e., of the sovereign people’s declared will) by any official or group of officials.32 Locke is very much concerned with the danger of tyranny, even by popularly elected leaders. But a tyranny of the majority itself appears for him to be a contradiction in terms.33 This doctrine of popular sovereignty is the most democratic aspect of Locke’s political teaching. Locke never emphasizes, and hence never directly defends, the absolutism that his sovereign people shares in common with the Hobbesian sovereign. But he does say enough to show us that Lockean popular sovereignty is a modification of Hobbesian conclusions that is derived from Hobbesian premises via Hobbesian arguments. For the popular character of Lockean popular sovereignty follows directly from the natural moral equality of human beings. Hobbes had already shown that if naturally free and equal individuals are to form a political society, they will have to resign part of their natural freedom to the collective whole—a whole formed in that very moment of mutual resignation of natural rights. Because we are naturally free, each individual must consent to this resignation. Because we are naturally equal, no member of the new society has any authority to direct its collective decisions until the society itself should confer that authority on him.34 Every new society is therefore ipso facto, or even “naturally,” a direct democracy governed by its whole membership—for Locke as for Hobbes.35 Just as the primeval Hobbesian democracy may elect to transfer its sovereignty to a monarch or aristocratic body, so the primeval Lockean democracy may elect to transfer its legislative power to a monarch, an aristocratic body, a house of periodically elected delegates, or any combination thereof.36 This is the necessary democratic foundation on which any non-democratic political form must rest—for Locke as for Hobbes.

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The main difference between Hobbesian sovereignty and Lockean popular sovereignty appears only in that the government’s democratic origins remain permanently visible in Lockean politics as they do not in Hobbesian politics. For Locke, society reverts to the primeval democracy whenever the people determines that the government has breached its trust, and society remains in this democratic state until the people should constitute a new legislative.37 Hobbes of course denies the people any right to overthrow a non-democratic sovereign.38 The primeval Lockean (and Hobbesian) democracy is governed by the majority of its population, who “have a Right to act and conclude the rest.” For Locke, “the act of the Majority passes for the act of the whole.”39 This basic majoritarianism is at least as fundamental to Locke’s political system as to Hobbes’s, and Locke spends more time than Hobbes ever does addressing the objection that 51 percent of the sovereign people does not actually equal the sovereign people.40 It is hopeless, Locke argues there, to expect the whole populace to agree unanimously on anything beyond the simple proposition to become one political society. And yet by deciding to become a political society, they have obviously shown that they intend to take some further actions in common.41 The decision to become a political society must therefore logically entail a delegation, to some individual or group other than the whole populace, of the right to speak on behalf of the whole populace.42 But if that individual or group were less numerous than the majority, then the society’s unity could not “continue” (i.e., could not continue indefinitely). For the majority, having by definition “greater force” on its side, would sooner or later be able to refuse the minority’s will and so destroy the “Union of the Society.”43 Thus, consenting to join a society “must be understood” to include consenting to be governed by a majority of its members.44 Locke presupposes the same principle again later when laying out his rule of no-taxation-without-consent, for he assumes there (without explanation) that every individual has consented to a tax as soon as “the Majority . . . of the People” has consented to it.45 Aristotle defined a democracy as a city ruled by the free and poor majority.46 Locke seems to have assumed that the majority of any given society would always remain poor relative to the rich within that society, although within a Lockean society the so-called poor would of course be much wealthier than the kings of many non-Lockean societies.47 With that qualification, then, we could certainly say that Locke’s understanding of popular sovereignty is “democratic” in the Aristotelian sense of the term. DEMOCRATIC SELF-GOVERNMENT Yet it remains true that Locke’s political theory as a whole is not democratic, either by Aristotle’s definitions or by his own. Locke is not a democrat, first of all, because he does not much care who actually rules his commonwealth. Like Hobbes, he is concerned above all with how the rulers should be authorized by the people, not with who the rulers themselves should be. Locke is of course aware that debates over “who should have” political power have been responsible for “the greatest part of those Mischiefs which have ruin’d Cities, depopulated Countries, and disordered the Peace of the World.”48 But like Hobbes,


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Locke largely sidesteps that seemingly central political question. He permits himself to make one single recommendation—suggesting that the legislative and executive powers should probably be placed in “distinct hands”—and otherwise maintains complete indifference as to forms of government, so long as those forms are legitimately chosen by the sovereign people.49 Once that choice is made, neither the people nor their periodically chosen “Deputies” need have any say in the government’s operations, nor need they consent to any specific governmental action, with the single exception of the raising of taxes.50 Locke does suggest that his no-taxation-without-consent requirement could easily be met by a legislative (like England’s) of which one part is elected periodically by the whole people. But he makes clear in the same breath that even this partially democratic form of government could be avoided if another form of government were simply to hold plebiscites on tax increases.51 As for what Locke actually calls “a perfect Democracy,” while it is technically a possible form of government, Locke barely treats it as one and does not even seem to consider it a “Constituted Commonwealth.” For a democracy is formed precisely by the people’s decision not to take what would otherwise be its “first and fundamental Act” of constituting a legislative other than itself.52 Certainly Locke’s main discussion of political legitimacy appears constantly to presuppose the existence of a “Constitution,” which an unmixed democracy by definition lacks.53 And in making his passing recommendation about separating the legislative from the executive, Locke says that the sovereign people would do well to give the legislative power to an assembly of persons who, when dissolved, become individually subject to the laws they have made; he does not seem to treat as a serious possibility that the whole people themselves could continue to convene regularly as such an assembly.54 Locke’s indifference, and even subtle hostility, toward actual democracy may be illuminated by a contrast with Aristotle’s description of it. Because the question of who should actually hold power was as central to Aristotle’s political thought as it is to real political life, the Politics offers us a vivid portrayal of how real democratic rule would be enacted within the three basic elements of any government: the “deliberative” (or “authoritative”), the “official,” and the “adjudicative.” For Aristotle, the “deliberative” element of government is democratic when the city entrusts most or all decisions of major political significance—legislation, war and peace, treaties, impeachment, and others—either to a vote of the entire populace or to officials chosen by random lottery from the entire populace.55 Locke shows zero interest in random lotteries; they would in any case be a waste of time in his commonwealth, as any officials chosen by lot would be immediately replaceable at pleasure by the legislative or its delegate.56 And the only “deliberative” decision for which he does require some popular intervention is, to repeat, the raising of taxes. Even there, he permits decisions on taxes to be made by popularly elected representatives, which Aristotle says is characteristic of moderate or republican oligarchy rather than democracy.57 At no other point does Locke expect the people to be directly involved in the authoritative decisions of their own community.58 For Aristotle, the “official” element is democratic when all citizens are eligible for all public offices or magistracies, which are then to be filled either by lottery or by direct popular election.59 Locke never says anything about who should be eligible for

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public office, so he certainly has no objection in principle to any number of restrictions on that eligibility. And he expects all non-legislative offices to be filled, not by lottery or election, but by appointment from the legislative or its delegate—a procedure that Aristotle would call oligarchic or aristocratic.60 For Aristotle, the “adjudicative” element is democratic when judicial decisionmakers (i.e., judges and juries) are selected from the whole populace without any qualifications.61 Locke speaks frequently about judges but shows no interest in who they are selected from, so long as they be “indifferent and upright.”62 As we will see shortly, he probably takes for granted that there ought to be at least significant educational qualifications for judgeships. And the English word “jury” is conspicuous in the Treatises by its absence. Since the judicial function is part of the executive for Locke,63 the jury system with its necessarily random selection would be at least quite hard to square with Locke’s antipathy to the selection of any executive officials by random lot. Locke’s cool indifference to the elements of actual democratic rule explains his lack of interest in the arguments that real-world partisans of democracy have been making since well before the classical political philosophers recorded them. Locke’s only argument for majoritarianism rests (we have seen) on the brute fact of the majority’s “greater force,” which is an argument rarely heard in public from partisans of democracy. Locke never suggests that there is some collective wisdom in the populace that public deliberation allows the city to take advantage of.64 He never suggests that an important part of evaluating any given policy is listening to those most affected by it.65 He never suggests that the people have earned a say in public deliberations by their contributions to the city’s well-being.66 He never suggests that equality under the law, an essential element of any plausible view of justice, necessarily entails civic equality and therefore active civic responsibility by the people.67 He never suggests that, if everyone is eligible for office and has an equal chance to impress his fellow citizens, then the best can rise to the top in a kind of elective aristocracy.68 He never suggests that the political freedom granted on paper to citizens will be a mockery of freedom if they are excluded from collective self-determination.69 The doctrine of popular sovereignty, by satisfying the egalitarian demands of Lockean natural law, preserves Locke not only from any need to be an actual democrat, but even from the need to employ (or engage) the arguments of actual democrats. ARISTOCRATIC MEANS TO DEMOCRATIC ENDS In place of what we would recognize as democratic self-government, Locke wants society to be run largely by elite experts. He expects these elites to serve popular ends much more reliably than any democratic government would. For the people are often ignorant of the means to the ends that they desire. Of course the people do not wish their rulers “to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish” them, or in general to oppress them.70 This is why they so often rebel against oppressive rulers “in all sorts of Governments in the World.”71 But not having inquired into “the Original and Rights of Government,” the people do not know how to design a government in a way that will “prevent [its] Abuses” and minimize the


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need for such rebellions.72 Their political knowledge comes mostly from their personal “experience”: they do not “read” enough to benefit from the “light” that “we have . . . from History” in designing constitutions.73 And yet history is “the great Mistress of Prudence and Civil Knowledge”; for “a Gentleman, or Man of Business in the World,” it can never be studied too much.74 In the rare event that a political constitution should need to be designed from scratch, then, Locke would seem to expect it to be written by educated elites and adopted by the common people, rather than deliberated on and adopted directly by the people (as his phrasing might have otherwise seemed to suggest).75 In the more ordinary circumstance of a functioning Lockean commonwealth, the common people should not be permitted to staff its judicial offices. For all positive law within that commonwealth must be “regulated and interpreted” by the law of nature. And the law of nature is “intelligible and plain” only to those who have studied it.76 Those “ignorant for want of study” of the Treatises (or of future books that likewise manage “to understand Political Power right”) are not then competent to perform judicial functions, which should be reserved instead to the educated.77 This explains Locke’s silent antipathy to juries. Yet since all citizens can be expected to know more or less what civil laws literally say,78 it will be hard for Lockean judges to interpret those laws in accord with the law of nature unless they have already been written at least roughly in accord with the law of nature. Thus an elite education that includes instruction in Lockean political philosophy, while not as strictly necessary as it is for judges, would be of great help to the commonwealth’s legislators as well. The commonwealth’s non-judicial officers, or what we today would call (following Montesquieu rather than Locke) its executive branch, need a somewhat different but similarly demanding education. For even a well-designed government under wellwritten and well-interpreted laws still requires skillful administration. “Politics [as a discipline] contains two parts very different the one from the other, the one containing the original of societies and the rise and extent of political power, the other, the art of governing men in society.”79 The former, Locke says, is the subject of the Treatises (and so is, we have seen, the proper study of judges and legislators). The latter, by contrast, is acquired “by experience and history”—that is, by a combination of study and practical education.80 This combination will be necessary for those “in the Administration” of a Lockean commonwealth, for they need “Prudence,” “Wisdom,” “Skill,” and “the great art of government” in order to make decisions that truly serve the people’s ends—particularly in foreign policy, but also in domestic matters.81 All branches of government should then be run by elites well educated in history, with further relevant qualifications of experience and/or formal education depending on the office. Nor is Locke’s preference for elite leadership confined to strictly governmental positions. In fact, a large part of the “great art of government” just mentioned is the protection, through “established laws of liberty,”82 of the economic elites whose contributions to the common good are almost as indispensable as those of political elites. For the Lockean economy depends on “Invention and Arts” that improve “the conveniences of life.”83 The inventors and scientists who produce these technologies are foremost among those whose “honest industry” needs “protection and incouragement” for the sake of mankind’s well-being.84 The Lockean economy likewise depends on those

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diligent entrepreneurs whose greater “degrees of Industry” preserve them from the “contented” laziness to which “Men . . . for the most part” appear to be inclined.85 As Leo Strauss points out, it is only when the acquisitive activity of this industrious minority gets sufficient protection against the “Fancy or Covetousness of the Quarrelsom and Contentious” that the lazy majority is forced to work much harder even for their bare subsistence, so that this subsistence ultimately becomes much more comfortable thanks to the collective labor of all.86 Hence our economic and scientific elite must be rewarded with “Possessions” in “Proportion” to their “Industry,” so as to compensate them sufficiently for the “pains” through which they enrich us all.87 Locke thus anticipates major inequalities of both wealth and political power between social classes within his commonwealth. He does not share Plato’s or Aristotle’s concern to restrain such inequalities by law for the sake of civic friendship.88 He of course continues to assume that the sovereign people retains the ultimate right to overthrow its elites if necessary. But he does not try to justify his elitism (such as it is) merely by appealing to the ultimate sovereignty of the people: after all, oppressive forms of government remain illegitimate even if the people should verbally consent to them.89 Rather, Locke requires that the political and economic dominance of elites should positively advance the people’s objective good, a good that he insists must be understood popularly and even vulgarly. Wise judges, experienced and well-read statesmen, brilliant inventors, outstanding captains of industry: all earn their elevated place in society only by improving the standard of material comfort enjoyed by the average day-laborer.90 That same day-laborer, in a commonwealth whose elites work to secure comfortable self-preservation and hence easy population growth for all, will find it relatively easy to procreate and raise his children to adulthood, as most human beings have a strong natural inclination to do.91 He and his sons even have a good chance of escaping any dangerous military service, as the elites will be well-educated enough not to engage in the “Quarrelsom and Contentious” wars over matters of “Fancy” that have previously depopulated Europe, while the commonwealth will also be able to deter many would-be attackers thanks to its large population and advanced military technology.92 Finally, although no economy can ever satisfy all the varied and often vicious tastes of corrupt men,93 the well-run Lockean economy promises the day-laborer, not only the strictly utilitarian “conveniences of Life” around which it is designed, but also such “innocent Delights” as “Wine” and “Tobacco.”94 Locke accepts undemocratic political and economic institutions only insofar as they serve the end of “Happiness and Security,” or “Political Happiness,” for the vast majority of citizens.95 POPULAR ENLIGHTENMENT The claim that Locke’s elitism ultimately serves popular ends requires one more major qualification. Locke requires his political institutions to serve the welfare of the common man as Locke conceives of that welfare, not as the common man himself does. The common man may of course be counted on to appreciate a system that generally keeps him from being killed, enslaved, or designedly impoverished, and that offers every “advantage of life” that a flourishing and dynamic economy


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can produce.96 But every demos prior to Locke’s writing has also demanded that its government secure other apparent goods, goods that may indeed conflict with the comfortable preservation of life, liberty, and property. For example, Locke’s own fellow Englishmen expected their law to enforce certain moral norms, informed by Christian doctrine, on such issues as divorce and abortion.97 Such legal norms, being at odds with the dictates of Lockean natural law,98 may impede the populace’s comfortable self-preservation and so are unlikely to be upheld by truly Lockean elites. Locke’s fellow Englishmen also tended to share something of the aristocratic “generous Temper and Courage” that chooses death over any “vile” submission—an attitude that, while it can perhaps be channeled into the spirited defense of the natural right of self-preservation, has also inspired much “Quarrelsom and Contentious” bloodshed in defense of honor, and hence can thwart the peaceable imperatives of a Lockean foreign policy.99 Locke goes so far as to show visible frustration at his fellow Englishmen’s unreasonable attachment to the constitution that they had for centuries “been accustom’d to”: Englishmen persist obstinately in revering “ancient Names, and specious Forms” of government in spite of the “acknowledg’d Faults” of these “old Forms” from any rational point of view.100 Locke knew that many Englishmen revered this constitution in part because they held irrational (albeit very common) views of the right of conquest by William I, as well as of the “Natural or Divine Right of Primogeniture” by which rule is supposed to have descended from William and his companions to today’s King and Lords.101 Englishmen in this and other respects followed the general tendency of “Nations” to regard as “Sacred” the “Customs” that “time seemed to have confirmed,” a tendency that in effect consecrates the ancient ravings of “fancy and passion” as a standard for nations’ “Governments, Religions, and Manners.”102 Neither Englishmen nor any other populace can then be counted on to share Locke’s view of the goods that his commonwealth will secure for them. By Locke’s own admission, “Men . . . for the most part” would actually prefer lazy indolence over the laborious quest for material well-being that his whole system forces them to engage in. For even if we granted his assertion that indolent pre-agricultural savages are “wretched” on account of their poverty and hence unenviable, Locke himself concedes that a primitive agricultural civilization with a barter economy can supply plenty of the “Conveniences of Life” that pre-agricultural savages lack, while still avoiding the restless industry of the Lockean money-based economy.103 Yet according to Locke, the indolence of savages does not represent some sort of untutored, natural human tendency toward rest rather than labor. It represents just another instance of the strong, custom-bred, non-natural desires that drive nearly all of our actions nearly all of the time: “a young Savage has, perhaps, his Head fill’d with Love and Hunting, according to the fashion of his Tribe.”104 Fashion or custom is also the source of the time-consuming and wasteful superstitions of savage peoples, which (at least in pre-agricultural societies) plainly violate the natural law prohibition on waste.105 The Lockean economy does not then attempt the impossible task of supplying every good that could be desired by a populace in the grip of irrational fancy or superstition. It supplies only reasonable goods. It supplies the goods that “Reason alone, without some other Help, is not able to” stop us from desiring.106 It supplies our natural wants—not our “wants of fancy” or “adopted desires,” which “custom has

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made natural to us” only through our “fantastical” and “acquired habits.”107 These true goods, being natural, are universally desired and hence in that sense popular. But the ability to distinguish these true natural goods from fantastical or imaginary goods is neither common nor popular. How can Locke reconcile his doctrine of popular sovereignty with his rationalist’s insistence on protecting society from the tyranny of fancy and custom? If government may be overthrown when it fails to protect genuine natural goods, why would Locke allow it to be judged in this task by fanciful and superstitious commoners? On his own premises, ought not Locke to admit that “the People being ignorant, and always discontented, to lay the Foundation of Government in the unsteady Opinion, and uncertain Humour of the People, is to expose it to certain ruine”?108 Locke of course denies this conclusion. In his view, even the common people’s necessarily inadequate conceptions of their own good always contain a large kernel of truth. The people are indeed not fully rational, but they do “have the sense of rational Creatures, and can think of things no otherwise than as they find and feel them.”109 Because the genuinely natural desires cannot be eliminated, the people cannot help but suffer pain whenever those desires are thwarted. They will always be able to “see” and “feel” when their government is oppressing their natural rights.110 And they can be counted on, sooner or later, to rebel against such an oppressive government even in the teeth of any sacred customs or superstitions that forbid them from doing so.111 The popular revolutionary rhetoric of Locke and his students may indeed foment such rebellion, but only by building on an awareness of oppression that nature has already implanted in the common people—even while Locke also (and more importantly) seeks to make that rebellion unnecessary by warning vain and ambitious rulers how foolish it is to fight against human nature.112 The people’s superstitious or fanciful desires cannot prevail forever against their natural desires. The “sense” or “feeling” of the common people would not be a reliable guide to their genuine good if their feeling was consistently distorted by some strong irrational passion. “Ambition” is such a passion, as it puts the ambitious individual at odds with the stability and welfare of the society of which he is a part.113 Locke’s confidence in the common people’s sense therefore rests in part on an observation that he shares with Aristotle and Machiavelli: the common people have less ambition than do the elite few, preferring not to be oppressed themselves rather than to oppress others.114 Factional conflict “hath oftener begun” in the “Insolence” and “Oppression” of rulers than “in the Peoples Wantonness.”115 In fact, were it not the oppressions of ambitious rulers, history would never have witnessed so much as a single attempt by the people to “lessen or restrain the Power of the Magistrate; and so no contest betwixt Rulers and People about Governours or Government.”116 The “sense” of the common people can be trusted, in part, because their sentiments are rational to this limited extent: the private goods that they naturally desire tend not to be the destructive objects of ambition which, requiring competition for public honors at others’ expense, are intrinsically incompatible with the common good of peace.117 Locke does not claim that the common people can always sense when they are being oppressed. (If they could, he would hardly have had to write the final chapter of the Second Treatise.) He insists only that the common people can always sense when they are not being oppressed. It is “impossible” for the people not to “see and


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feel” when their “Governor . . . really means the good of his People,” even when through “humane frailty” he may make some bad policy choices.118 A “wise” prince “never need come in the danger of” a popular rebellion, for the people have never rebelled without some good cause.119 “There is only one thing which gathers People into Seditious Commotions, and that is Oppression.”120 There is no danger that the people will ever mistake a legitimate use of the executive’s “due Prerogative” (i.e., an unlawful act for the public good) for an illegitimate act of “Tyranny” (i.e., an unlawful act contrary to the public good).121 Once they experience a government that actually protects their natural rights, the common people’s passions are rational enough that they will not be moved to disturb that government. Even “all the Bustles and Wars, that have been in the Christian World, upon account of Religion” will vanish, as irrational religious attachments will lose their former power to unsettle political life.122 “Change the laws, take away the Penalties unto which [some people are unjustly] subjected, and all things will immediately become safe and peaceable.”123 Locke’s deep confidence in the ultimate rationality of popular passions is an essential presupposition of the entire methodology of the Second Treatise. The first part of that work (§§1–86) lays out the meaning of our natural freedom or equality. The remainder (§§87–243) deduces what government must look like in order to bind such naturally free and equal individuals. Again and again, Locke’s deductions about the nature of government rely on arguments about what a rational individual “may be supposed to” intend when exchanging natural freedom and equality for the bonds of society. Locke seeks to rule out only political arrangements that a rational individual “cannot be supposed to” intend when choosing to leave the state of nature.124 But why do all these arguments proceed as if human beings in general “may be supposed” to act rationally? Why should everyone leaving the state of nature be “presumed” to know and respect the law of reason, when we know that in the state of nature, “the greater part” of men do not know or respect the law of reason?125 The answer is that this presumption becomes self-vindicating when put into practice. A government formed for rational subjects will cause its subjects to behave rationally. The legal fiction of popular rationality ceases to be a fiction when it is consistently acted on. Once they find themselves under a government that operates as rational people would wish it to operate, the majority of men are indeed rational enough (or rather, they are moved by passions that are rational enough) not to overthrow it. This is why Locke expects that when the “Gentlemen” are “by their Education once set right, they will quickly bring all the rest [of society] into Order.”126 The populace will act like good Lockeans once they are governed by elites who both think and act like good Lockeans. The peculiarly Lockean political edifice—aristocratic structures built on a quasidemocratic foundation, serving popular ends as defined by elite rationalists—is ultimately to be vindicated by its own real-world stability. It is therefore difficult for us to evaluate Locke’s semi-democratic teaching, or indeed the deep optimism that undergirds that teaching. When he put his political doctrines to paper, Locke knew well that no government had ever followed them. In begging his readers to “change the Laws” in accord with his doctrines, he had to ask them to “believe me” that things would turn out as he had predicted: he knew there could be no decisive evidence either way until someone was willing to try his experiment.127 To this day, no government

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has tried that experiment or even anything closely resembling it.128 Neither history nor present experience can give us any test of Locke’s unproven hypothesis. His teaching on democracy is thus a particularly striking example of what he says about his whole system of thought. At least, if mine prove a Castle in the Air, I will endeavor it shall be all of a piece, and hang together. Wherein I warn the Reader not to expect undeniable cogent demonstrations, unless I may be allow’d the Privilege, not seldom assumed by others, to take my Principles for granted; and then, I doubt not, but I can demonstrate too. All that I shall say for the Principles I proceed on, is, that I can only appeal to Mens own unprejudiced Experience, and Observation, whether they be true, or no.129

NOTES 1. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (New York: Cambridge University, 1970), 2.4. References to the Treatises are given by Treatise number (1 or 2) followed by section number. 2. Ibid., 2.54. All italics in quotations are original. 3. Ibid., 1.14; see Robert Filmer, Observations Concerning the Originall of Government, Upon Mr Hobs Leviathan [etc.], 187 (sec. 1), in Patriarcha and Other Writings, ed. Johann P. Somerville (New York: Cambridge University, 1991), 184–197. 4. Locke, Treatises, 1.67. 5. See the references to “faculties” at Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, ed. Ferdinand Tönnies (Totawa, NJ: Frank Cass & Co., 1969), 1.14.14; De Cive: The Latin Version, ed. Howard Warrender (New York: Oxford University, 2004), 1.15; Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), 13.1. 6. In my “The Meaning of Locke’s Law of Nature,” forthcoming, I argue that Hobbes and Locke mean more or less the same thing by these “faculties.” 7. Locke, Treatises, 2.54, 2.4. 8. Ibid., 2.113. 9. I argue this in “How English is Locke’s Political Thought?,” forthcoming. The exception for “Lunaticks and Ideots” is made at Locke, Treatises, 2.60. 10. Locke, Treatises, 2.15, 2.116–119. 11. See also Locke, Treatises, 2.228, 2.93. 12. Ibid., 2.220. 13. Ibid., 2.42, 2.22. 14. Ibid., 2.22, 2.94. 15. Ibid., 2.87; also 2.136–137. 16. Ibid., 2.176. 17. The single exception is at Locke, Treatises, 2.108, where he uses the term in reference to the primitive American Indian kings of whom the whole chapter on property is an extended critique (cf. Ibid., 2.41). 18. Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 18. 19. Locke, Treatises, 2.214. 20. Ibid., 2.88, 2.22. 21. Ibid., 2.141; 2.212, 2.227. 22. Ibid., 2.131, 2.143–147, 2.153. 23. Ibid., 2.212, 2.220, 2.226, 2.240–242.


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24. On territoriality see Locke, Treatises, 2.120. 25. Ibid., 2.149–150. 26. Ibid., 2.152, 2.131. 27. Ibid., 2.134, 2.153–157, 2.212. 28. Ibid., 2.116, 2.225; see also 2.157–158, “not by old custom, but true reason.” 29. Ibid., 2.87; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (New York: Oxford University, 1975), 1.3.8; A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. James H. Tully (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 48 (126). References to the Letter are given by English page number followed by (in parentheses) Latin page number from Epistola de Tolerantia, ed. Raymond Klibansky and trans. J. W. Gough (New York: Oxford University, 1968). 30. Locke, Treatises, 2.121, 2.211. 31. Ibid., 2.230, 2.208. 32. Ibid., 2.202. 33. See Locke, Treatises, 2.201. 34. Ibid., 2.95–96; Hobbes, De Cive, 5–6; Elements of Law, 19.1–20.3; Leviathan, 17.1– 18.1. For Locke as for Hobbes, all this is more easily grasped in the hypothetical and rare case of commonwealths formed directly out of the state of nature, and becomes more complicated (although still intelligible) in the more common case where naturally free and equal individuals graft themselves onto existing commonwealths. See Locke, Treatises, 2.102–104, 2.117, 2.175–196; Hobbes, Leviathan, 20.1–3, and “Review and Conclusion,” para. 8. 35. Locke, Treatises, 2.132; cf. Hobbes, De Cive, 7.7. 36. Locke, Treatises, 2.132; cf. Hobbes, De Cive, 7.8–12. 37. Locke, Treatises, 2.220, 2.212; for elaboration on these passages see Nathan Tarcov, “Locke’s Second Treatise and ‘The Best Fence Against Rebellion,’” The Review of Politics 43, no. 2 (1981): 204–210. 38. See Hobbes, De Cive, 12.8. 39. Ibid., 2.95–96. 40. Ibid., 2.96–99; cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, 16.15. 41. Locke, Treatises, 2.98. 42. Ibid., 2.97. 43. Ibid., 2.96; 2.211–112, 2.214. 44. Ibid., 2.99. 45. Ibid., 2.140. 46. Aristotle Politics, ed. W. D. Ross (New York: Oxford University, 1957), 4.4.6. I cite Aristotle by the section breaks found in Aristotle’s Politics, trans. Carnes Lord, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2013). 47. Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, ed. John C. Higgins-Biddle (New York: Oxford University, 2018), 147 (ch. 14), 169–171 (ch. 15); see Treatises, 2.41. 48. Locke, Treatises, 1.106. 49. Ibid., 2.143, 2.159. 50. Ibid., 2.140, 2.142. 51. Ibid., 2.142. 52. Ibid., 2.149; see 2.132, 2.212. 53. See Locke, Treatises, 2.152–157. 54. Ibid., 2.143. 55. Aristotle Politics 4.14.3–7. 56. See Locke, Treatises, 2.152. 57. Aristotle Politics 4.14.8. 58. See The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter (New York: Signet Classics, 1961), 384–385 (no. 63) with 67 (no. 9): the great modern advance in the “science of politics” is not

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“the principle of representation” but rather the new reliance entirely on representation, to the “total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity, from any share in” government, which Publius contrasts with the people’s role in ancient republics both democratic and aristocratic. 59. Aristotle Politics 4.15.19. 60. See again Locke, Treatises, 2.152; cf. Aristotle Politics 4.15.20–21. 61. Aristotle Politics 4.16.8. 62. Locke, Treatises, 2.131. 63. See Locke, Treatises, 2.144, 2.147, with 2.88 and 2.131. 64. Cf. Aristotle, Politics 3.11.1–6. 65. Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 3.11.14. 66. Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 3.12.8–3.13.4. 67. Cf. Cicero, Republic, ed. J. G. F. Powell (New York: Oxford University, 2006), 1.49. 68. Cf. Plato, Menexenus, 238c5–d8. 69. Cf. Cicero, Republic, 1.47. 70. Locke, Treatises, 2.168, 2.135. 71. Ibid., 2.224; Letter Concerning Toleration, 52 (138–140). 72. Locke, Treatises, 2.111. 73. Ibid., 2.107, 2.112. 74. Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, ed. John W. and Jean S. Yolton (New York: Oxford University, 2000), §182, §186. 75. Cf. Locke, Treatises, 2.132, 2.134. 76. Ibid., 2.12. 77. Ibid., 2.124; on the unprecedented achievement of the Treatises see ibid., 2.1–2, 2.4. 78. Ibid., 2.59. 79. Locke, “Some Thoughts Concerning Reading and Study for a Gentleman,” in The Educational Writings of John Locke, ed. James L. Axtell (New York: Cambridge University, 1968), 400. 80. Ibid. 81. See Locke, Treatises, 2.242, 2.148, 2.156, 2.42. 82. Ibid., 2.42. 83. Ibid., 2.43–44. 84. Ibid., 2.42; Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 4.12.12. 85. Locke, Treatises, 2.48, 2.45. 86. Ibid., 2.34, 2.41; Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1953), 243–244. 87. Locke, Treatises, 2.48, 2.42. 88. Plato, Laws, ed. John Burnet (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962), 5.743d–745a; Aristotle, Politics, 2.9.14–17. 89. See Locke, Treatises, 2.90–94. 90. Ibid., 2.41. 91. See Locke, Treatises, 2.42, 1.33, 1.41, 1.88; Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.21.34. 92. See again Locke, Treatises, 2.34, 2.42; Letter Concerning Toleration, 54–55 (144–146). 93. See Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1.3.13. 94. Locke, Treatises, 2.44, 2.41, 1.86, 2.128, 2.42, 2.40. 95. See Locke, Treatises, 2.92, 2.107, 2.57. 96. See Locke, Treatises, 2.135, 2.31, and the entire chapter on property. 97. See Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1.3.19.


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98. On divorce see Locke, Treatises, 2.81–83, 2.65; on abortion see ibid., 2.25, “once born.” 99. See Locke, Treatises, 1.1; cf. on the one hand the Preface, and on the other hand 2.24 and 1.43 with the entire chapter on conquest. 100. Ibid., 2.223, 2.225. 101. See Locke, Treatises, 2.177; 2.223, 2.213, with 1.91–93. 102. Ibid., 1.58; 2.94, 2.110. 103. See Locke, Treatises, 2.48; cf. 2.41, 2.37. 104. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1.2.27. 105. See Locke, Treatises, 2.31: “Nothing was made by God for Man to spoil or destroy.” Before land was divided up, anyone who did allow food to go to waste (say, by burning it) “offended against the common Law of Nature, and was liable to be punished” (ibid., 2.37). 106. See Locke, Some Thoughts, §107. 107. Ibid.; Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding 2.21.45. 108. Cf. Locke, Treatises, 2.223. 109. Ibid., 2.230. 110. On “seeing” and “feeling,” see Nathan Tarcov’s very helpful “Locke’s Second Treatise and ‘The Best Fence Against Rebellion,’” 198–217. 111. Locke, Treatises, 2.224. 112. Ibid., 2.226. 113. See Locke, Treatises, 2.111, 2.230; 1.10; 2.93 with 1.156. On the relation between private and public welfare see ibid., 1.93. 114. See Aristotle, Politics, 5.7.6–7; Machiavelli, The Prince, ed. Harvey C. Mansfield, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998), 39 (ch. 9). 115. Locke, Treatises, 2.230. 116. Ibid., 2.111. 117. See similarly Hobbes, Leviathan, 13.14: “the passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living, and a hope by their industry to obtain them.” 118. Locke, Treatises, 2.209, 2.165. 119. Ibid., 2.168. 120. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, 52 (140). 121. Locke, Treatises, 2.240–242, 2.199, 2.202, 2.159–161. 122. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, 55 (144). 123. Ibid., 53 (140). 124. See, e.g., Locke, Treatises, 2.17–18, 2.98, 2.120, 2.130–131, 2.137–138, 2.149, 2.164, 2.168, 2.222. 125. Cf. Locke, Treatises, 2.59 with 2.123–126. 126. Locke, Some Thoughts, 80 (epist. ded.). 127. See Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, 52 (138) with 53 (140). 128. See my “Liberal Practice v. Liberal Theory,” National Affairs 41 (2019): 127–141. 129. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1.4.25.

REFERENCES Aristotle. The Politics. Translated by W.D. Ross. New York: Oxford University Press, 1957. Burns, Daniel. “Liberal Practice v. Liberal Theory.” National Affairs 41 (2019): 127–141. Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Republic. Edited by J.G.F. Powell. New York: Oxford University, 2006.

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Filmer, Robert. Patriarcha and Other Writings. Edited by Johann P. Sommerville. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison and John Jay. The Federalist Papers. Edited by Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics, 1961. Hobbes, Thomas. De Cive. Edited by Howard Warrender. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by Edward Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994. Hobbes, Thomas. The Elements of Law. Edited by Ferdinand Tönnies. Totawa, NJ: Frank Cass & Co., 1969. Locke, John. A Letter Concerning Toleration. Edited by James H. Tully. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983. Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. New York: Oxford University, 1975. Locke, John. Epistola de Tolerantia. Edited by Raymond Klibansky and translated by J.W. Gough. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Edited by John W. and Jean S. Yolton. New York: Oxford University, 2000. Locke, John. “Some Thoughts Concerning Reading and Study for a Gentleman.” The Educational Writings of John Locke. Edited by James L. Axtell. New York: Cambridge University, 1968. Locke, John. The Reasonableness of Christianity. Edited by John C. Higgins-Biddle. New York: Oxford University, 2018. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Edited by Peter Laslett. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Edited by Harvey C. Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998. Plato. Laws. Edited by John Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University, 1962. Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1953. Tarcov, Nathan. “Locke’s Second Treatise and ‘The Best Fence Against Rebellion.’” The Review of Politics 43, no. 2 (1981): 198–217.

Chapter 14

The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws David K. Nichols

It is difficult to determine Montesquieu’s views of democracy in the Spirit of the Laws. He has often been seen as a defender ancient democracy and the virtuous small republics it produced. Others argue, however, that Montesquieu rejects the harsh demands of ancient democracy in favor of a modern liberal commercial republic. Still others maintain that Montesquieu’s defense of republicanism, ancient or modern, is less wholehearted than it is often thought to be and that a close examination of his work will demonstrate his appreciation of monarchy. Finally, recognizing some truth in all of these perspectives, I will show that while Montesquieu’s recommendations do not fit perfectly into any of the traditional regime classifications, he ultimately finds room for a number of democratic elements, broadly defined, in many aspects of his political theory. It should not be surprising to see such a range of interpretations of this work, for Montesquieu warns his reader from the outset that it is not possible to reduce his political theory to a simple formula. He explains in the preface that: Many of the truths will make themselves felt here only when one sees the chain connecting them with others. The more one reflects on the details, the more one will feel the certainty of the principles. As for the details, I have not given them all, for who could say everything without being tedious?1

His is not a text for those seeking simple formulas, or even simple definitions of terms. In his forward to the 1757 edition he tells the reader that: “I have had new ideas; new words have had to be found or new meanings given to old ones.”2 This is the spirit in which one must approach the text. THE CLASSICAL IDEA OF DEMOCRACY Surprisingly democracy is not even one of the three basic forms of government Montesquieu identifies. It is merely a sub-species of republican government. According to Montesquieu the three kinds of government are republican, monarchical, 219


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and despotic. Republican governments are those in which the people have sovereign power.3 When the people as a body have sovereign power it is a democracy, but when only a part of the people hold sovereignty it is an aristocracy.4 The animating principle of democracy according to Montesquieu is virtue, because in a democracy subjects of the law are also in charge of its execution. If the people are not virtuous, the laws will not be well executed and democracy will cease to exist. Then, ambition enters the hearts of some and avarice enters them all. Once free under the laws, the people now want to be free against them. “Each citizen is like a slave who has escaped from his master’s house.”5 Montesquieu offers the example of England during the time of Cromwell. The people wanted to establish a democracy, but they lacked the virtue necessary for it. The result was the tyranny of the most audacious or the constant battle for supremacy among different factions. Montesquieu initially defines virtue as love of the laws and the homeland. This love requires constantly preferring the public interest to one’s own.6 Such virtues demand a kind of self-renunciation, and Montesquieu admits that this is always painful.7 It is unlikely to be found in a large state with large fortunes, and hence little moderation, but it may be possible in a small state, where citizens better feel and know the public good, inasmuch as it lies closer to each of them.8 Montesquieu adds two additional elements to his definition of democracy, love of equality and love of frugality. Having the same advantages citizens share the same pleasures and expectations.9 A frugal small state thus provides the most nurturing home for the virtuous citizens who are necessary for a successful democratic government. Nonetheless, Montesquieu quickly questions the notion that any kind of pure democracy is possible or desirable. Although he says that in a democracy the people are at once the sovereign and the subject, he immediately qualifies this by explaining that the people can rule only through voting.10 Not everyone, however, has a right to vote on every issue. That is why the fundamental law must regulate how, by whom, and on what issues voting occurs.11 “A people having sovereign power should do all for itself that it can do well, and what it should not do well, it must do through its ministers.”12 It becomes more and more obvious that Montesquieu thinks that most of the activities of government in a republic should be carried out by ministers. Whereas the selection by lot of these ministers would be the most democratic method, Montesquieu claims that great legislators have striven to regulate and correct democratic selection.13 In contrast to selection by lot in democracies, selection occurs by voting in aristocracies and thus seems the most attractive alternative.14 By the end of his discussion of democracy, moreover, he explains that although it is a fundamental law in democracy that the people alone should make the laws, it is often necessary for the senate to enact laws.15 In contrast, Montesquieu describes the best aristocracy as one in which those having no share in powers are so few and so poor that those with power have no interest in oppressing them.16 This rather inclusive democracy, however, is not simply a democracy, for the spirit of moderation is the guiding principle of aristocracy, and this is precisely the spirit that is missing in democracies.17 According to Montesquieu, extremism in defense of virtue is a vice, and his description of ancient democracies in which individual citizens live only for the common good would destroy all

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intermediate associations, require uniform education, and encourage the pursuit of absolute equality. At its best he shows that the pursuit of the ancient democracy’s ideal of equality will always prove to be elusive because it is so difficult to create and maintain perfect equality with regard to property. At its worst such a society in pursuit of virtue will share many of the defining characteristics of tyranny. He argues early in Book XI that: “Who would think it! Even virtue has need of limits.”18 MONTESQUIEU’S DEBT TO MONARCHY Some have even claimed that Montesquieu was far more sympathetic to monarchy than he was to republican government. He has high praise for this form of government, which he regarded as a quintessentially modern regime. Monarchies accomplish great things while relying on as little virtue as possible, just as the finest machines use few motions, forces, and wheels as possible. This is a state that dispenses with “love of homeland, desire for true glory, self-renunciation, sacrifice of one’s dearest interests, and all of those heroic virtues we find only in the ancients and know only by hearsay.”19 These accomplishments are possible because the spring of monarchy is honor. “Honor makes all parts of the body politics move; its very action binds them, and each person works for the common good, believing he works for his individual interests.”20 As Montesquieu concludes, it is remarkable that the most difficult tasks will be performed merely for the sake of renown without any further reward.21 By sustaining a noble class that loves honor, Montesquieu’s monarch not only finds a way to turn self-interest toward the public good, but he also creates a check on the power of the monarch.22 Intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers are at the heart of monarchic government,23 and the most natural immediate, subordinate power is that of the nobility.24 The nobility requires a monarch as a source of the honors it desires, but the monarch requires the check of the nobility in order to avoid becoming a despot. The most important distinction between a monarch and a despot, however, is that the monarch governs according to fundamental laws.25 These laws provide channels through which power flows thus checking the momentary and the capricious will of one who governs alone.26 In addition there must be a depository of laws that announces new laws and recalls them if they are forgotten.27 This depository cannot be placed in the monarch’s council or in the nobility. The nobility would be too lax and cares little for civil government, whereas the monarchy would confuse its momentary will for the fundamental law. The bodies that constitute the depository of laws best do their job “when they drag their feet” and bring to the prince’s business the reflection concerning the law that cannot be expected from an unenlightened court of nobles or from hasty councils of the prince.28 The rule of law creates stable expectations for government and is thus is better able to protect liberty. Law therefore plays the role in monarchy that virtue plays in democracy. It provides for the restrained exercise of power that leads to a stable and effective government, and also provides for a kind of democratic equality. Law is the common denominator that binds all citizens together in a common enterprise and at the same time provides security to each individual. The people do not rule as in an ancient democracy, but


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they have achieved a kind of equality that provides security without requiring the kind of harsh virtue that would be necessary to support democracy. The monarch has the authority to rule effectively, but the law creates a check on the exercise of power that gives each individual a kind of security. To the extent that the monarch rules through law, the people do not have to fear the arbitrary power of one person. They also do not have to be subject to the harsh and ultimately futile efforts necessary to maintain an equality of property nor the self-renunciation necessary for their claim to rule in a democracy. Finally, because power will be exercised through a variety of intermediate associations they will have multiple opportunities to exercise some form of rule. Montesquieu argues that England, and most of Europe, had taken their idea of government from the conquering Germans. Gothic government was originally a mixture of aristocracy and monarchy, but it had one major drawback, the common people were slaves.29 It obviously had the capacity for improvement, and did so when emancipation became the custom.30 Then the civil liberty of the people, the prerogatives of the nobility and of the clergy, and the king’s power were in such harmony as to produce the most well-tempered government there has ever been. Montesquieu finds it remarkable that the best government ever devised should have come from the corruption of the government of a conquering people.31 Just as democracy required moderation though the introduction of aristocratic elements, the German system required moderation through the recognition of the civil liberties of the people and prerogatives of the nobility and the clergy. Montesquieu’s modern monarchy places the sovereign authority in the monarch, but it governs only through the laws and the intermediate institutions that allow for the distinction between monarchic and despotic government. According to Montesquieu this form of monarchy is a distinctly modern phenomenon.32 After having discussed the forms and principles of republics (both aristocratic and democratic), monarchy, and despotism, Montesquieu claims that a given state may not follow the principle that is appropriate to its form, for example, in every democracy the people are not virtuous, but if the correct principle is not present, the government suffers.33 The integrity of the regime requires that it remains true to its principle. But by the time he reaches Book XI, however, he says that states flourish best when they imperceptibly shift from one constitution to another. Then “all the springs of government are stretched; all the citizens have claims; one is attacked or flattered; and there is noble rivalry between those who defend the declining constitution and those who put forward the one that prevails.”34 Here Montesquieu points to the possibility that a goal of his political theory is to institutionalize such noble rivalry and create a regime in which all the possible springs of government are present and are continually stretched. MODERN GOVERNMENT At the beginning of Book XI Montesquieu shows how the English constitution moved beyond the simple principles of virtue, moderation, honor, and fear that had characterized his traditional scheme of regimes to a constitution directed toward liberty. In the past, Montesquieu complains, in democracies the power of the people

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was confused with their liberty.35 He points out that democracy and aristocracy are not by nature free states.36 Only the constitution of England has political liberty for its direct purpose.37 The English identified a new spring for government. Liberty exists only when there is no abuse of power.38 Montesquieu’s most famous contribution to political thought is his theory of the separation of powers. He argues that three sorts of power exist in every state: legislative, executive, and judicial. There is no liberty, he argues when legislative and executive power are combined, since the one that makes tyrannical laws can then execute them tyrannically. The power of judging, moreover, should be separable from both. If combined with the legislative, the body that makes the laws would have power over the life and liberty of citizens. If combined with the executive, the judge would have the power to oppress.39 In a good constitution abuse of power will be prevented because power must check power “by the arrangement of things.”40 Although the English philosopher John Locke had already presented a plan for government where executive and legislative power were separated, Montesquieu argues that the addition of an independent judiciary is necessary to create an adequate division of power. This addition marks a major development in the doctrine of separation of powers. Montesquieu even suggests that unification of executive and legislative powers may not be as dangerous as the failure to establish an independent judiciary. He notes that in European monarchies, the government is moderate because although the prince has legislative and executive power, he leaves the exercise of judicial power to his subjects.41 A prince who combines executive and legislative power can write and enforce general laws that apply to all, but if judging is added to the prince’s powers he can destroy each individual by his ability to judge them.42 Montesquieu is particularly concerned with judicial power because of the terrors it holds by threatening the liberty and even the life of each citizen.43 He argues that the power of judging should be given to persons chosen from people at specific times of the year as prescribed by law to constitute a tribunal that will exist only for as long as is necessary.44 In this way the judicial power becomes, in effect, invisible.45 Although the judges should not be fixed, their judgments should be fixed so that they always follow the precise text of the law.46 The law must be enforced against individuals, and enforced in a consistent matter, but rendering the power of judging invisible, increases the sense of security that each individual has in his liberty. In a footnote Montesquieu quietly acknowledges that he is being a little slippery in his use of terms. He admits that those he is calling judges would be identified in England as jurors. He defends his use of the term judge because it is these jurors who render judgment.47 Montesquieu’s emphasis on the role of juries democratizes judging, and it also has the effect depreciating the function of actual judges. What makes this all the more remarkable is the central role such judges played in the development of judicial independence of the English system. He reluctantly admits that there continue to be judges in the traditional sense of the term but he claims that the judges of the nation merely pronounce the words of the law, like inanimate beings who do not moderate its force.48 Why downplay the role of judges? One reason might involve the ambiguity concerning the form of government in England. As Montesquieu explains, since there is no law in despotic states, the judge himself is the rule. Judging in monarchies is more


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nuanced. While the judge follows the law when it is precise, when it is not he seeks its spirit. In republican government, it is in the nature of the constitution for judges to follow the letter of the law. The England he describes is monarchic at least in form. If that is his ideal regime then there would be warrant for judges to look to The Spirit of the Laws at least in certain circumstances. Given the title of Montesquieu’s book, the judges in a monarchy would be the institution most attuned to the spirit of the work. Moreover, Montesquieu, a judge himself, must have been aware of the role of judges in establishing and independent judiciary in England. Following the Magna Carta it was judges who often tried to interpose the law between citizens, at least the nobility, and the arbitrary will of the monarch. As long as judges were removable by the crown the independence of the judges was always in jeopardy. The Settlement Act of 1701 which guaranteed that future monarchs would be Protestants, also included the important provision that judges would hold office during good behavior rather than at the pleasure of the monarch. Judicial independence thus gained a crucial institutional support. But Montesquieu does not mention this history. Instead he elevates the jury to the chief guarantor of liberty in England. Putting the people in charge of their individual fates puts a more democratic face on English monarchy. Questions of war and peace, and taxation may be dominated by the struggle between the legislative and the executive but the question “Will I be punished?” is placed in the hands of this democratized judiciary. At the same time that he generally downplays the role of judges, when he discusses juries he explains that their decisions must be limited to questions of guilt or innocence. He gives the examples of the Roman and Greek towns, where the jurors were given three options: “I absolve, I condemn, It is not evident to me.”49 In monarchies “judges assume the manner of arbiters; they deliberate together, they share their thoughts, they come to an agreement; one modifies his opinion to make it like another’s; opinions with the least support are modified into the two most widely held.”50 Thus we are left with some confusion; if we view the judiciary primarily as juries who follow the letter of the law and decide only questions of fact, the system Montesquieu is describing as the English constitution looks like a republic as he described it, but if judges deliberate and act as arbiters, in the way they had historically performed in England, then England appears to be more like a monarchy. Montesquieu thus sought to transcend the traditional categories of regime, by avoiding the pitfalls of traditional monarchy, republic, and despotisms. The energy of monarchy, the equal representation at the foundation of republicanism, and even the fear of punishment that characterizes despotism, will contribute to a competent government and the moderating effect of each on the others will protect the liberty, or at least encourage that tranquility of spirit which comes when each feels secure from his opinion that judgment lies in the people.51 The virtues and restraints of the older forms of regime will be incorporated into a new regime that is dedicated to liberty. POLITICAL LIBERTY AND THE CITIZEN Book XII opens by telling us that it is not enough to look for liberty only in the constitution; we must also look for it in the lives of citizens.52 Mores, manners, and received

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examples can promote the liberty of the citizen as can certain civil laws.53 But rather than treat all of these subjects in depth at this point most of the book is devoted to what we may call the civil rights of the citizens. In chapter 2, Montesquieu traces the liberty of citizens primarily to the goodness of the criminal laws.54 Moreover he claims that criminal laws were perfected over time.55 He clearly prefers modern government to ancient government, but he is no revolutionary. A gradually evolving body of criminal law such as that developed in England is, he claims, of greater concern to humanity than anything else.56 The following chapters of Book XII focus on the identification and protection of the rights of individuals and the moderation of the harshness of any necessary penalties. First Montesquieu argues that no one should be sentenced to death based on the evidence of a single witness. His rationale is that if only one accuses and the one accused denies the accusation there is no way to decide between the claims. A second witness is necessary to break the tie.57 Without the second witness the tie should be decided in favor of the accused. Thus Montesquieu introduces a presumption of innocence more broadly, a presumption that lies at the foundation of the rights of the accused, and is informed by the democratic principle of majority rule. He next speaks of the need for penalties that fit the crime. He designates four types of crime, some run counter to religion, some to mores, some to tranquility, and some to the security of the citizens.58 Of the first, Montesquieu explains that punishment should consist only of the loss of the advantages afforded by religion.59 The matter should be left to god to punish any such infractions. If human laws were to attempt to avenge an infinite being, they will be ruled by the weakness, ignorance, and caprice.60 Liberty would never be secure if the state were to take responsibility for the defense of religious doctrine. Crimes against mores are those that concern the pleasures of the senses and the body.61 These crimes come less from wickedness than from one’s forgetting or despising himself.62 Montesquieu proposes only minimal sanctions for such crimes, including fines, public shame, and expulsion from society.63 In other words, one would be punished by being deprived the benefits of society, rather than imprisonment. He also minimizes the third, crimes against tranquility proposing penalties that restore troubled spirits and return those who commit them to the established order.64 There is a certain open-endedness in this description, but it is clear that Montesquieu is trying to play down the importance of such crimes. It is only the fourth category of crimes that should call forth punishments. These punishments retaliate by refusing security to one who has deprived or wanted to deprive another of security.65 Death is the appropriate penalty for murder or attempted murder. When the crime is against the goods of another, it would be best if the punishment could be limited to restoration of the lost goods. Although in society where the distribution of goods is unequal, a corporal penalty may be necessary, otherwise those with little property would have little incentive for restraint. Montesquieu claims that all of his recommendations favor the liberty of citizens.66 Following chapters in which Montesquieu repeats his call for moderation with regard to crimes of magic, heresy, and mores, Montesquieu also calls for restraint with regard to the crime of treason. The crime is so vague, he says, that in punishing it a government could degenerate into despotism.67 In chapter 11 he gives the example of


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one who was punished for dreaming that he killed the tyrant Dionysius. Montesquieu says that this was an act of great tyranny. He concludes that laws should punish only external actions.68 He follows up this argument with chapters that call for the protection of citizens against being punished for crimes attributed to speech or writing. Criminal laws should never be directed at thoughts or opinions, because just as in the case of religion, the potential crimes would be infinite. He also makes an intriguing argument against the imprisonment of debtors. He has already told us that corporal punishment for theft may be necessary if the accused has little property to lose. One might think that this logic would carry over to debtors who could not repay their debts. Instead Montesquieu explains how cruel laws against debtors endangered the Roman republic. Such laws did little to secure repayment, but they did lead to public outrage that gradually led the people to demand laws to protect debtors. Montesquieu soon makes a similar point regarding monarchy. The happiness of the subjects of a monarchy lies in their opinion that the government is gentle. The monarch should therefore encourage, and leave menacing to the laws.69 In addition Montesquieu says that the monarch “should be flattered by the love of the least of his subjects,” for they are all human beings. Indeed because the people ask for so little attention, it is just to grant it to them. It costs little for the monarch to acknowledge the dignity of even the least of his subjects, and such acknowledgment increases the feeling of security of the people as well as their support for the government. At one point Montesquieu describes the civil law, as looking at each individual with eyes of a mother, even considering each individual as if he were the whole city.70 Montesquieu concludes this discussion of political liberty and the citizen by arguing that even despotisms might benefit from establishing some forms of restraint on the arbitrary power of the despot. He notes that in some despotisms one can appeal to sacred books to provide principles of restraint. Here the religious code might replace the civil one in fixing what is arbitrary.71 This is not only in the interest of the subject, but also is of benefit to the despot. It is a mistake that princes reject the virtue of mercy.72 Montesquieu is implicitly pointing to the limits of fear in controlling the people even in a despotism. A wise despot will recognize such limits and in doing so may find some room for the liberty of his subjects, not out of regard for their wellbeing, but for his own self-interest. Although the constitution of despotism denies any liberty to the people, as Montesquieu said at the beginning of Book XII, he nevertheless examines which laws in each constitution, support liberty to the extent possible.73 THE MODERN COMMERCIAL REPUBLIC After he describes the English constitution he turns to the monarchies that “we know,” which aim at glory rather than liberty.74 Nonetheless they may approximate the liberty of England. But where does this leave England? It is surely a political regime that we know. Is it therefore not a monarchy? One possibility is that unlike those monarchies that focus primarily on honor, its focus is on the rule of law. But there is also ample evidence to suggest that Montesquieu sees England more in terms of modern commercial republic than a monarchy. As early as Book IV, Montesquieu offers a surprising aside on the effect of commerce on the virtue of citizens. He claims that:

The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws


[W]hen a democracy is founded on commerce, it may very well happen that individuals have great wealth, yet that the mores are not corrupted. This is because the spirit of commerce brings with it the spirit of frugality, economy, moderation, work, wisdom, tranquility, order, and rule.75

This claim is remarkable in a number of respects. First, commerce that creates great wealth may be consistent with some notion of virtue. Second, democracy may not require the singled-minded devotion to the common good that he had originally suggested. The old citizen virtue can be replaced by more moderate virtues such as frugality, economy, moderation, work, wisdom, tranquility, order, and rule, all of which are inspired by commerce. This idea is not fully developed until Book XX. That book begins with a reference to the Aeneid, in which Atlas pleas for inspiration from Virgins of the Pierian Mount: “You are never as divine as when you lead to wisdom and truth through pleasure.”76 One cannot help but be reminded of Montesquieu’s earlier description of monarchy, although less poetic in form, where politics accomplishes great things with as little virtue as possible.77 But rather than repeat his defense of monarchy, Montesquieu now praises the benefits of commerce, which cures destructive prejudices, and is tied to gentle mores.78 This is true not only in individual countries, but he claims that the influence of commerce tends to spread to other nations whose mores in turn become gentler. Finally, he argues that commerce naturally leads to peace.79 Lest this be seen as utopian, Montesquieu explains that commerce is not equally at home in all regimes, and different regimes encourage different forms of commerce. In monarchy, for example, commerce is founded on luxury, and procures for the nation all that serves its arrogance and delight.80 By contrast republics are more often characterized by economy.81 Although this economic commerce gains less than other nations, it gains continually, and cannot be found in luxurious nations in which expenses are as great as their objects.82 The luxury of monarchies does little to encourage the multitude of small projects that animate the commercial spirit. Great projects are still possible in regimes dominated by economic commerce. Small enterprises lead to increasingly larger ones, and those who in the beginning sought only small gains come to desire greater ones.83 Economic commerce is more democratic than the commerce of luxury, because it may lead individuals by small steps to ever larger goals, goals they could have not imagined at the beginning. It also allows for the satisfaction of a range of talents and efforts. Not everyone will achieve great things, but everyone may be moved to try to achieve a little more, because they see that their efforts will be rewarded. In fact Montesquieu argues great commercial enterprises are associated not with monarchy but with government by the many.84 In monarchies the individual is always in fear that his accomplishments will be usurped by the monarch, but in a republic individuals dare to risk more because they feel that rewards of their efforts will be secure. Montesquieu provides examples from the practice of England in describing the characteristics of a commercial republic. He praises England because unlike other nations whose commercial interests often give way to political interests, in England the reverse happens.85 England places limits on traders, for example, prohibiting the import of wool, in order to favor commerce.86 England also structures its import duties in such a way as to avoid the corruption and inefficiency of states where the collection


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is turned over to tax farmers.87 England even protected foreign traders from having their goods seized during a time of war. He praises England for making this an article of liberty.88 Commercial activity should not be subject to criminal penalties. Is England the perfect model for Montesquieu? Montesquieu would of course be quick to criticize any idea of political perfection. But it may be particularly valuable and important to examine some of the limits Montesquieu identifies with England. As we have noted it is far from clear whether Montesquieu is describing either England as it exists or some idealized version. His England is obviously neither a pure monarchy, nor a classical republic, but it is also not even clear that he sees it as essentially a commercial republic. In Book XII he speaks of the ancient city-state of Marseilles as the example of a state that had commerce as its purpose, just before he identifies England as the only country whose constitution aims at liberty.89 Then in Book XX he identifies Tyre, Carthage, Marseilles, Florence, Venice, and Holland as republics that engaged in the economic commerce he finds so valuable. Although in chapter 7 of the book he has praised England for allowing politics to yield to the interests of commerce, he concludes the chapter by praising the English as those who have taken advantage at the same time of religion, commerce, and liberty.90 He implies that England is distinguished not just by its commerce but also by its attitude toward both religion and liberty. At the very least he reminds us that the devotion of the English constitution to political liberty distinguishes it from other commercial states. Montesquieu argues that the decision of the English to allow the nobility to engage in commerce weakened monarchic government.91 Once again it is not clear whether he thinks this a positive or negative development. As noted earlier Montesquieu says that states flourish most when they imperceptibly shift from one constitution to another.92 Montesquieu does not think that England will always be the perfect balance he describes it to be in, or that it was necessarily ever so. He explains that: “It is not for me to examine whether the English enjoy this liberty or not. It suffices for me to say that it is established by their laws.”93 He even identifies the point at which the English will lose their liberty when the legislative power becomes more corrupt than the executive.94 At that point we may assume that the healthy tension of a regime in transition will give way to the slackness of a regime that has lost some of its balancing principles. It may be equally difficult to maintain the balance among religion, commerce, and liberty. MORES AND MANNERS In Book XIX, which immediately precedes the books on commerce, Montesquieu admits that many things contribute to the spirit of a nation including climate, religion, laws, the maxims of the government, examples from the past, and mores, and manners.95 Although the relative influence of these different causes vary from nation to nation, among the savages nature and climate dominate.96 What distinguishes us from savages is in part our ability to escape from the tyranny of climate and physical nature. His focus in this book is on the role of manners and mores in shaping the spirit of a nation. Indeed, the most striking difference between Montesquieu and earlier modern theorists is his emphasis on manners and mores in all regimes. These should not be

The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws


confused with the idea of ancient virtue. Manners and mores may represent a more democratic way to address the problem of the need for restraint in all regimes. All regimes have manners and mores. All healthy regimes recognize a distinction between political and legal rules and manners and mores. Only despotic regimes would confuse these different aspects of a regime. At the beginning of chapter 16 he distinguishes between laws and mores. The former regulate the actions of a citizen, the latter our actions as human beings.97 Human existence is not defined simply in terms of politics. It is obvious that Montesquieu sees himself as part of a liberal tradition that draws boundaries between public and private life. In this formulation laws regulate the political interactions of citizens. Laws are authoritative, but as we have seen they should avoid harshness, arbitrariness, and most important of all they should not try to mandate things that are beyond the political sphere. Montesquieu says that it is bad policy to change by laws what should be changed by manners.98 Montesquieu, however, does not envision a strict separation between public and private life that is often associated with modern liberalism. Manners and mores, as he explains, must prepare the way for the best laws. He goes on to distinguish between mores and manners, the former are more concerned with internal conduct, and the latter with external conduct.99 Manners are the product of our desire to please others. France is described, at least indirectly, as a nation whose spirit is formed by its manners. If there were in the world a nation which had a sociable humor, an openness of heart; a joy in life, a taste, an ease in communicating its thoughts; which was lively, pleasant, playful, sometimes imprudent, often indiscreet; and which had with all that, courage, generosity, frankness, and a certain point of honor, one should avoid disturbing its manners by laws, in order not to disturb its virtues. If the character is generally good, what difference do a few faults make?100

He recognizes the mixture of virtues and vices in such a society. Although the society of women may corrupt mores, it also forms taste.101 And vanity can produce innumerable goods including luxury, industry, the arts, fashions, politeness, and taste.102 As he develops his argument, however, his emphasis moves from manners to mores. His association of mores with internal conduct illustrates his concern with the workings of something like a human soul. Individuals cannot be reduced to their behavior, or at least we must understand that behavior is the product of some form of self-direction. As he explained in Book I, man is an intelligent but limited being. He is prone to error, imperfect knowledge, and a thousand passions. Legislators serve to remind him of his duties to others through political and civil laws, but perhaps the greatest danger is that he could forget himself. It is the laws of morality that remind him of himself.103 As we saw in the section on civil rights, crimes against mores are due less to wickedness than to forgetting or despising oneself.104 “It is easy to regulate by laws what one owes others; it is difficult to include in them all one owes oneself.”105 Montesquieu has not returned by some circuitous route to the political virtues of ancient democracies, but he is also not content to rest with a description of modern politics in which the proper balance of the constitution will solve all political


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problems. Individuals must be prepared with the manners and mores that will support such regime. Moreover, he spends a great portion of Book XIX showing how the constitution affects manners and mores, and how they affect the constitution in turn. The balance of forces created by the constitution encourages both the self-assertion and self-restraint that could in turn support a successful political order. It is worth noting however that his portrait of a commercial republic at the end of Book XIX is not one of unreserved praise. A citizen of such a state would not be moved by hatred, but neither would he be moved by friendship. The individual would be independent, and hence subject to his own caprices.106 There would be more wit than taste in such a nation, but the witty would be tormented by that very wit; having disdain or disgust for everything they would be unhappy while having so many grounds not to be so.107 The goods and freedoms of the commercial republic would not guarantee individual happiness. Finally, because liberty always gives birth to factions and prejudices that enslave as much as a despot, the historians of a free state might yield to prejudices and betray the truth in their attempt to record it.108 This is particularly ironic given that his praise of commerce in Book XX begins with the claim that commerce cures destructive prejudices.109 Perhaps neither the balance of the constitution nor the moderating effects of commerce are sufficient to prevent persons from forgetting themselves. They must remember that they have some responsibility for controlling their own lives. If this is not strictly speaking a democratic insight, it at least reminds us of a closely related idea, that of self-government. We should also remember that The Spirit of the Laws does not end with the books on commerce, but goes on for almost another 300 pages to discuss population, marriage, religion, and the complex history that led to our current state. An important part of self-government is recognizing the context within which our choices are made. We do not simply create ourselves, but we depend on those who came before and perhaps owe a debt to those who will follow. NOTES 1. Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, trans. and ed. Anne Cohler, Basis Carolyn Miller and Harold Samuel Stone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), xliv. 2. Xli. 3. II, 1, 10. 4. II, 2. 10. 5. II, 3, 23. 6. IV, 5,36. 7. IV, 5, 35. 8. VII, 8, 124. 9. V. 3, 43. 10. II, 2, 10. 11. II, 2, 11. 12. II, 2, 11. 13. Ibid. 14. II, 2, 13. 15. Ibid. 16. II, 3, 17.

The Place of Democracy in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws

17. IV, 7, 51. 18. XI, 4, 155. 19. III, 5, 25. 20. III, 7, 27. 21. Ibid. 22. V, 9, 55. 23. II, 4, 17. 24. II, 4, 18. 25. I, 4, 17. 26. I, 4, 18. 27. I, 4, 19. 28. V, 10, 56. 29. XI, 8, 167. 30. Ibid. 31. XI, 8, 167–168. 32. XI, 8, 167–168. 33. III, 11, 30. 34. XI, 13, 173. 35. XI, 2, 155. 36. Ibid. 37. XI, 5, 156. 38. XI, 2, 155. 39. XI, 6, 157. 40. XI, 4, 155. 41. XI, 6, 157. 42. XI, 6, 157. 43. XI, 6, 158. 44. XI, 6, 158. 45. Ibid. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 48. XI, 6, 163. 49. VI, 4, 76 50. Ibid. 51. XI, 6, 157. 52. XII, 1, 187. 53. Ibid. 54. XII, 2, 188. 55. Ibid. 56. Ibid. 57. XII, 3, 189. 58. XII, 4, 189. 59. XII, 4, 189–190. 60. XII, 4, 190. 61. Ibid. 62. XII, 4, 191. 63. XII, 4, 190. 64. XII, 4, 191. 65. XII, 4, 191. 66. Ibid.



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67. XII, 7, 194. 68. XII, 11, 197. 69. XII, 25, 209. 70. XVI, 15, 510. 71. XII, 29, 211. 72. XII, 30, 212. 73. XII, 1, 187. 74. XI, 7, 166. 75. IV, 6, 48. 76. XX, Preface, 337. 77. II, 5, 25. 78. XX, 1, 338. 79. XX, 2. 338. 80. XX, 4, 340. 81. Ibid. 82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Ibid. 85. XX, 7, 343. 86. XX, 20 345. 87. XX, 13, 346. 88. XX, 14, 346. 89. XII, 5, 156. 90. Ibid. 91. XX, 21, 350. 92. XI, 13, 173. 93. XI, 6, 166. 94. Ibid. 95. XIX, 4, 310. 96. Ibid. 97. XIX, 16 317. 98. XIX, 14, 315. 99. XIX, 16, 317. 100. XIX, 5, 310. 101. XIX, 8, 311. 102. Ibid. 103. I, 1, 5. 104. XII, 4, 191 105. VII, 10, 106. 106. XIX, 27, 326. 107. XIX, 27, 332. 108. XIX, 27, 333. 109. XX, 2, 338.

REFERENCE Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Translated and edited by Anne Cohler, Basis Carolyn Miller and Harold Samuel Stone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Chapter 15

Rousseau on the Promise and Perils of Democracy Denise Schaeffer

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is known as a vehement and uncompromising defender of a radically democratic vision of popular sovereignty. In On the Social Contract (1762), he identifies the sovereignty of the people, instantiated through a social contract and expressed through the general will, as the only legitimate foundation of political authority. He also insists that the people’s sovereignty is inalienable and cannot be transferred onto a separate ruling body (as Hobbes had proposed), nor onto democratically elected representatives. “Sovereignty cannot be represented for the same reason it cannot be alienated. It consists essentially in the general will, and the will cannot be represented. Either it is itself or it is something else; there is no middle ground possible” (III.15, CW 192).1 In keeping with this rejection of any middle ground, Rousseau goes on to claim that “the instant a people chooses Representatives, it is no longer free; it no longer exists” (III.15; CW 194).2 In light of such bold statements, it is tempting to read Rousseau as a purist—as a defender of direct democracy as the best regime, or, at a minimum, as a promoter of vigorous democratic participation who was deeply skeptical toward representative government as well as toward institutional checks on the popular will. Indeed, Rousseau has long been a target of those who criticize direct democracy, whether in favor of constitutional democracy, as in the Madisonian tradition, or on the basis of the excesses of the French Revolution. Or one might criticize Rousseau on practical grounds, noting that however desirable the ideal of direct democracy might be, it is simply not feasible to achieve on a large scale, and is therefore impossible in modern nation-states. While these can sometimes seem like abstract theoretical debates, we should note that the issues at stake are quite relevant to some very live contemporary political controversies, such as the debate about whether the U.S. Electoral College should be abolished in favor of a more directly democratic electoral process. In an era when political institutions and elites (both in the United States and globally) are increasingly criticized for being insufficiently accountable to ordinary citizens, questions about the virtues and perils of direct democracy are not simply academic. Furthermore, technological advances have made the practical challenges of large-scale direct 233


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democracy apparently surmountable. In fact, when Italy’s populist Five Star Movement party, which advocates “digital democracy,” unveiled its online platform designed to facilitate routine plebiscitary voting, they named the platform “Rousseau.” It is thus an opportune moment to look carefully at Rousseau’s writings on these matters, especially On the Social Contract, and to engage thoughtfully with his view of democracy. To do so, we must first consider the model of human freedom that underlies and informs Rousseau’s understanding of democratic sovereignty, and how his understanding of sovereignty in turn shapes his view of government (which he treats quite separately). A fundamental question about Rousseau’s political theory is whether his ideas about popular sovereignty and human freedom necessarily point toward direct democracy as the ideal form of government, or toward some other political vision. HUMAN FREEDOM AND DEMOCRATIC SOVEREIGNTY For Rousseau, human freedom is grounded first and foremost in the independence of the will. This does not mean doing whatever one wishes in the moment, however. What it means for an individual to be free is that they are subject to no will other than their own. “When each does what he pleases, often he does what displeases others, and that is not called a free state. Liberty consists less in doing one’s will than in not being subjected to someone else’s; it also consists in not subjecting someone else’s will to our own.”3 Rousseau takes this model of individual liberty and turns it into a political model, which in turn raises the question of whether such an understanding of freedom is compatible with the requirements of social order, that is, with the need to live under the laws of a political community. This question underlies Rousseau’s formulation of the political problem that he seeks to resolve in the Social Contract, which is to conceive of a form of political association that is compatible with his understanding of individual freedom—that is, a form of freedom that entails a particular combination of independence and accountability. Whereas Hobbes conceptualized freedom in terms of the absence of constraint, Rousseau linked freedom with self-rule and thus sought to theorize a form of association in which each citizen “obeys only himself and remains as free as before” (I.6; CW 138). How is this possible if social order requires obedience to the law? Rousseau’s answer lies in the idea of obedience to a law one prescribes for oneself. This “alone makes man truly the master of himself. For the impulse of appetite alone is slavery, and obedience to the law one has prescribed for oneself is freedom” (I.8; CW 142). This foundational principle of self-rule, translated into a political context, is what grounds Rousseau’s commitment to democratic sovereignty and his idea of the general will. The general will is perhaps Rousseau’s most famous political concept, and yet it is far from straightforward. He discusses it at various points in the Social Contract but provides no sustained, systematic treatment or formula. Indeed, the general will has been described as “cryptic.”4 It rests on the premise that there is a common interest that citizens share as citizens, and that citizens are individually capable both of discerning it and of willing the law(s) necessary to support it. The phrase itself reflects the merging of two ideas that stem from this premise: that this collective will

Rousseau on the Promise and Perils of Democracy


must be generalized—both in the sense that it emanates from all citizens and that it produces laws that apply equally to all citizens—and that the will of the people, generalized in this way, is the only legitimate source of authority in a legitimate regime. This generalized will is, to Rousseau, the essence of the social contract itself: “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (I.6; CW 139). This contract establishes a collective body, “the people,” in which sovereign authority resides. The individuals who participate in this contract “are called Citizens as participants in the sovereign authority, and Subjects as subject to the laws of the State” (I.6; CW 139). Because the general will “comes from all, and applies equally to all,” obedience to it preserves freedom in the sense that Rousseau defines it. By submitting to the general will, “each Citizen is in a position of perfect independence from all the others” (II.12; CW 164). Rousseau identifies several factors that impede the proper expression of the general will. The first and most fundamental is private interest, which puts the good of individuals ahead of the common good. “Nothing is more dangerous than the influence of private interests on public affairs” (III.4; CW 173). Thus, the general will is not simply an amalgamation of particular wills; it transcends those particulars to indicate a genuinely common good. This is also reflected in Rousseau’s explicit distinction between the general will and what he calls the “will of all,” which “considers private interest, and is only a sum of private wills” (II.3; CW 147). There is a tension between Rousseau’s concept of the general will and democracy in the strict sense that refers to a system in which whatever outcome ensues from a democratic process that aggregates many individual preferences into a collective decision is considered legitimate. Rousseau’s concept of the general encompasses both a decision-making process for arriving at a common understanding and a principle or standard that transcends that process.5 Another factor that can undermine the proper expression of the general will is the existence of partial associations, or factions. While embodying a broader perspective than that of individual wills, factions reintroduce particularity in the guise of a smaller version of generality. While they cause individuals to look beyond their particular interest and to identify with the interest of a group, it is not the interest of the political community as a whole. Citizens will tend to identify with “partial associations at the expense of the large one” (II.3; CW 147). Rousseau worried about factions and partial associations for the same reasons that he worried about private interest. Only by giving oneself to a whole—a whole to which all of one’s fellow citizens are equally subject—might an individual remain “as free as before,” in Rousseau’s distinctive sense of maintaining independence from subjection to the (particular) will of another. Of course, the idea that the individual might willingly relinquish some measure of autonomy or independence in order to be part of a functioning social unit did not originate with Rousseau; it is the foundation of all social contract theories. But Rousseau saw his predecessors’ attempts to preserve a sharp distinction between public and private realms as exacerbating the problem of human dividedness that the social contract is meant to resolve. He therefore insists that the general will requires “the total alienation of each associate, with all his rights, to the whole community” (I.6; CW 138, emphasis added). This has led some to accuse Rousseau of proto-totalitarianism.6


Denise Schaeffer

Rousseau insisted, however, that under the general will individual freedom was in fact preserved and indeed perfected. Each, by giving himself to all, “gives himself to no one” (I.6; CW 139). Insofar as citizens are obedient only to laws they have prescribed for themselves, their individual freedom is preserved; while they may be in a position of “excessive dependence” on the republic, each citizen nevertheless maintains “perfect independence” from all other citizens (II.12; CW 164). Rousseau argued that by following laws that they have prescribed for themselves, citizens secure their own freedom, thereby reconciling the classic tension between freedom and authority. The incorporation of each individual into the larger whole and shared identity of the collective citizenry (i.e., the people) in order to express the general will is precisely what enables the sovereign independence of the people as a whole. Individuals following their own particular wills would be anarchy; whereas citizens following the general will, which they have willed, is self-rule. If they willingly follow the general will, they do not need to subordinate themselves to a sovereign ruler in order to achieve peace and social order, as Hobbes had theorized. This places Rousseau squarely in the classical republican tradition. And unlike classical liberals, he did not see the social contract as consisting of a collection of selfinterested individuals with a shared goal of seeking a means of protecting their private interests within a stable social order; he argued that for a people to be able to legislate for themselves, they must first be a People, with a genuinely common interest. He thus set a high bar for what it means to be a citizen, in order to establish a collective body capable of expressing a unified will and thus capable of appreciating and exercising its sovereignty. The individual must be able to discern what is good for the whole community and willing to support that good on the level of the law. In Rousseau’s ideal society, citizens experience very little tension between their private interest and the common interest, because they identify strongly with the collective whole. They are educated to embrace willingly —and even zealously—the norms and laws of their community, instead of experiencing these merely as constraint, or obeying only out of fear of punishment. Thus, civic virtue is a fundamental precondition of Rousseau’s general will, which is why civic education looms so large throughout his political writings. Rousseau recognizes that the people’s perception and expression of the general will is not infallible. “By itself the people always wills the good, but by itself it does not always see it. The general will is always right, but the judgment that guides it is not always enlightened” (II.6; CW 154). To address this difficulty, he introduces the figure of a Legislator, a great-souled, semi-divine figure who is able to fashion a “blind multitude” into a cohesive unit capable of functioning as a “people” and thus capable of sovereign self-rule. This legislator, however, stands outside of the law and does not answer to the people as the magistrates do. Thus, some scholars argue that in resorting to such a mechanism, Rousseau undermines his own case for democratic sovereignty.7 Yet Rousseau seems to believe that such a legislator is compatible with popular sovereignty. For example, he makes clear that the Legislator’s function “is not magistracy, it is not sovereignty” (II.7; CW 155, emphasis added). It seems to be pre- or extra-political, and Rousseau goes on to explain that once the people no longer require such a figure, the Legislator (somewhat mysteriously) departs. This allows Rousseau to insist that the Legislator’s role in the initial formation of the

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people is compatible with their sovereignty and with the primacy of the general will. A comprehensive discussion of the legislator is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it is important to note that Rousseau’s recourse to this undemocratic mechanism in order to secure the conditions that make democratic sovereignty possible adds yet another layer of complexity to his treatment of democracy. DEMOCRATIC SOVEREIGNTY VS. DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT The next step is to consider what sort of political arrangement follows from this vision of popular sovereignty and the general will. This is not as obvious as one might expect. For as strongly as Rousseau insisted that sovereign power is and must be invested in the people, he was skeptical toward democracy as a political regime. “In the strict sense of the term,” Rousseau states, “a genuine Democracy has never existed and never will exist” (III.4; CW 173). He goes on to conclude, “If there were a people of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. Such a perfect Government is not suited to men” (III.4; CW 174). Since human beings are imperfect and are not gods, Rousseau’s reasoning would seem to suggest that democracy is therefore simply impossible. In his very next chapter, he praises several features of elective aristocracy (III.5; CW 715), discussed in more detail below. And yet Rousseau never backed away from his commitment to democratic sovereignty, nor from his insistence on the ultimate legislative authority of the people: “Any law that the People in person has not ratified is null; it is not a law” (III.15; CW 192). We are thus confronted with the question of how Rousseau’s democratic and aristocratic leanings might be reconciled.8 On a strictly practical level, Rousseau acknowledges that it is hard to imagine that citizen assemblies could gather as frequently as would be necessary to carry out the relentless business of governing. He concedes that the people would have to be constantly assembled. But of course people cannot spend all of their time gathered in the assemblies; they want to live their individual lives. At the same time, Rousseau pushes back against the assumption that such assemblies have no place in a modern context: “The people assembled, it will be said, what a chimera! It is a chimera today, but this was not the case two thousand years ago. Have men changed their natures? The limits of the possible in moral matters are less narrow than we think” (III.12; CW 189). It is thus not surprising that scholars disagree about whether direct democracy was in fact Rousseau’s ideal, and question whether his criticisms of direct democracy were primarily pragmatic, stemming from his recognition of the implausibility of implementing it on a practical level, or stemmed from a set of deeper, more principled concerns.9 What may appear to be equivocation or inconsistency on Rousseau’s part is first and foremost a function of an important distinction that he draws in the Social Contract and elsewhere between democratic sovereignty and democratic government. He favors the former unreservedly while expressing concerns about the latter. While popular sovereignty is a theme that runs throughout the Social Contract, democracy as a form of government is specifically addressed in Book III. It is here that Rousseau most explicitly rejects democracy not only as impractical but as an undesirable form


Denise Schaeffer

of government. His reasoning rests on the distinction that he draws between the establishment of law and the execution of law. “By the first, the Sovereign enacts that there will be a Governmental body established under a specific form. . . . By the second, the People appoints the leaders who will be put in charge of the established government” (III.17; CW 195). These elected leaders are entrusted with the power to execute the laws, that is, the day-to-day administration of the government, while remaining accountable to the sovereign people. This accountability distinguishes the form of elective aristocracy that Rousseau advocates from hereditary aristocracy, which he calls “the worst” form of government (III.5; CW 175). The problem with democracy, as Rousseau sees it, is that it conflates legislative and executive power. He begins by noting that while it may seem advantageous to combine the two functions insofar as making the law would seem to equip one to interpret and execute it, “it is this very thing” that makes a democratic government “inadequate,” for the opposite is actually the case. “It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute them, nor for the body of people to turn its attention away from general considerations to particular objects” (III.4; CW 173). The first point Rousseau is expressing here has to do with how difficult it is for any human being to act as an impartial judge in one’s own case, and thus to execute laws fairly when the legislation applies to oneself, as private interest is likely to come into play. The second point is very specific to Rousseau’s view of what it means for the general will to be general. It must be general “in its object as well as its essence” (II.4; CW 149). That is, it must concern itself only with legislation that applies fundamentally and across the board to all citizens, rather than concerning itself with the various specifics and particular considerations that necessarily come into play when applying or translating general principles into practice. The general will does not, and cannot, generate decrees regarding specific matters. In short, what threatens the general will is whatever undermines its generality, whether through cooptation by private interests of particular individuals or groups, or, more subtly, because of a drift in focus toward the particular details involved in governing. It is the executive power that attends to these particulars, and so the day-to-day administration of the law must be entrusted to an executive government. In the dedicatory letter that opens his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse), Rousseau describes as “necessarily ill governed” any republic where the People, “believing it could do without its Magistrates . . . would imprudently have retained the administration of Civil affairs and the execution of its own laws.” Rather, a sovereign people should elect “the most capable and upright of their fellow citizens to administer justice and govern the state.”10 In short, if he were to choose his own birthplace, he would choose to live under a “democratic government, wisely tempered.”11 While this may seem like a preference for democratic government, the addition of “wisely tempered” makes all the difference. Rousseau goes on to make clear that what he means by “wisely tempered” democracy is a combination of democratic sovereignty and democratically elected administrators. These leaders, which he calls “magistrates” or “chiefs,” make up an elected aristocracy that executes the law and oversees the practical administration of the government. Although Rousseau favors government by officials who are elected by the people to govern, he insists that they are not the people’s representatives in the sense that not

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one ounce of the people’s sovereignty is transferred to them. The government has no sovereign authority whatsoever. Rather, the elected officials are “simple officers of the Sovereign” who “exercise in its name the power that has been entrusted to them by the sovereign, and that the sovereign can limit, modify and take back whenever it pleases” (III.1; CW 167). It is important to note that Rousseau is in favor of elective aristocracy only insofar as it, too, preserves the all-important distinction between legislative and executive power, enshrining sovereignty in the people, to whom the elected administrators answer. Thus, “the instant the People is legitimately assembled as a Sovereign body, all jurisdiction of the Government ceases, the executive power is suspended” (III.14; CW 191). Rousseau embeds this provision into the Social Contract, calling for periodic referenda in which the entire citizenry votes on two questions: whether the present form of government should continue, and whether the present officeholders should continue in their offices (III.18; CW 197).12 In a direct democracy, it would be difficult for the assembly to carry out this evaluation effectively, as there would be insufficient separation between those evaluating and those being evaluated. While he did not contend that democratic self-evaluation is strictly impossible (see, for example, his reference to the British House of Commons in III.17), he argued that it is especially vulnerable to corruption, as it requires a perspective that alternates between the particular and the general. When the sovereign gets involved in the particulars of governing, it loses its general character and becomes yet another particular body, subject to the critique discussed above. Furthermore, Rousseau insists that the people must ratify any decision reached by the government in order for it to become law. This step of ratification is a crucial requirement that ensures that the government remains accountable to the sovereign people.13 The assemblies are not meant to generate legislative proposals.14 Beyond voting on the two fundamental questions mentioned above, the assemblies are meant to ratify proposals generated by the chiefs or magistrates. This echoes a similar point made in the Second Discourse, where Rousseau expresses a preference for countries where “the right of legislation [is] common to all citizens” but also “where the individuals, being content to give sanction to the laws and making decisions in assemblies on proposal from the chiefs on the most important public business.” Moreover, Rousseau suggests that in a well-governed regime, it is rarely necessary to create new laws, as reverence for the established law creates stability. The role of the popular assembly in Rousseau’s vision of elective aristocracy is thus both fundamental and highly circumscribed; the assembly “meets only infrequently, debates very little, and concerns itself primarily with constitutional questions.”15 While Rousseau thinks democratic government creates an especially problematic entangled relationship between the particular and the general, this difficulty is not exclusive to democracy. It is a permanent political problem. Rousseau argued strongly that it is the tendency of all governments, over time, to usurp the sovereignty of the people. “Just as the private will acts incessantly against the general will, so the Government makes a continual effort against Sovereignty.” This tendency toward usurpation is a built-in feature of government as such; it is an “inherent and inevitable vice” (III.10; CW 186).


Denise Schaeffer

While the issue of usurpation is addressed at several points throughout the Social Contract, Book III concludes with a chapter specifically dedicated to “The Way to Prevent Usurpations by the Government.” Rousseau begins by reiterating the principles he established earlier about the necessary subordination of the government to the sovereign people. He then goes on to discuss ways in which the people might willingly concede power to the government in a way that imperils their own sovereignty, including by willingly establishing a hereditary aristocracy, which he earlier identified as the worst form of government. Here Rousseau treads a fine line between the people’s expressed will and the general will as abstracted from, and higher than, their actually expressed will. He encourages both vigorous attention to, and restraint in, how they “check” their government. For example, he insists that to establish any government at all is only a matter of giving the administration “a provisional form . . . until [the people] wishes to organize things differently” (III.18; CW 196). This suggests that the people may reorganize their government whenever they wish, which is reflected in the second of the two questions that assemblies should pose to themselves when they meet. His tone then becomes more cautionary, and he argues that, in general, “the established Government must never be touched until it becomes incompatible with the public good.” In other words, the sovereign authority of the people over the government must not be a recipe for continual upheaval. It is essential that any challenge to the government must proceed through established channels of the regularly scheduled assemblies. Indeed, Rousseau states that “it is impossible to be too careful about observing all the requisite formalities, in order to distinguish a regular, legitimate act from a seditious tumult, and the will of an entire people from the clamors of one faction” (III.18; CW 196). If one reason to observe the formalities of regularly scheduled assemblies is to prevent popular “tumult,” and hence to prevent instability, the other is to prevent the government from taking advantage of the downtime between assemblies to increase its power incrementally. Thus the assemblies must meet on a regular and periodic schedule that “nothing can abolish or postpone” (III.13; CW 190). It is all too easy for a ruler to extend the period between assemblies “under the pretext of public peace” (III.18; CW 197). Ultimately, Rousseau is concerned about both too much and too little activism on the part of the sovereign people. Above all, the popular assemblies must be regularized and should not require the government to convene them, since the government has no incentive to do so. Rousseau explains that, “In this way, the [Roman] Decemvirs, at first elected for one year and then continued for another, tried to retain their power in perpetuity, by no longer allowing the comitia [popular assemblies] to assemble. And it is by this simple means that all the governments of the world . . . sooner or later usurp the Sovereign authority” (III.18; CW 197). Usurpation is not the only threat to democratic sovereignty that concerned Rousseau, however. As much as he worried about the government’s deliberate encroachment on the people’s sovereignty, he was equally worried about democratic apathy, that is, the people’s tendency to abdicate their own responsibility for preserving their sovereignty. “In a well-run City, everyone rushes to assemblies;” conversely, “as soon as someone says what do I care? about the affairs of the State, the State should be considered lost” (III.15; CW 192). Rousseau underscored the risks of both too much and too little activism on the part of the people. This also sheds light on

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his critique of representative government, which he expresses using stronger rhetoric than his ultimate prescription for elected aristocracy combined with periodic referenda would seem to require. Aside from the principled stance that sovereignty cannot be represented because the will cannot be alienated, representation is problematic on a purely practical level. Representation exacerbates the erosion of civic virtue. Citizens who delegate responsibility for their common existence to administrators are likely to stop paying attention to the political sphere, which allows the general will to atrophy. There is thus a certain circularity to Rousseau’s insistence that the people be routinely politically engaged. Such activity is not only procedurally necessary to preserve democratic sovereignty against the creeping encroachment of government, but also, even more fundamentally, it helps to foster the civic mindset that inclines individual citizens to see themselves as part of a larger whole, and thereby fosters the social cohesion that makes democratic sovereignty possible at all. ROUSSEAU AND DEMOCRACY: CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER REFLECTIONS In Lectures on the French Revolution, Lord Acton argues that Rousseau connected his theory of popular sovereignty directly to democratic government. “By this chain of reasoning, with little infusion of other ingredients, Rousseau applied the sequence of the ideas of pure democracy to the governments of nations.”16 We have seen, however, that Rousseau does not simply “apply” the idea of pure democracy to government. His stance is rather more complicated. If there is a sense in which Rousseau does indeed “apply” the idea of democratic sovereignty to the question of how to structure a government, it is by establishing a strong norm against which the legitimacy of any and all forms of government ought to be judged. And when discussing particular historical examples—whether modern Geneva or ancient Rome—he demonstrates how one might go about evaluating them against the standard of democratic sovereignty. In doing so, he typically presents democratic sovereignty as an unqualified ideal. But the view of government that ultimately emerges from his uncompromising affirmation of democratic sovereignty is precisely not democratic government. What emerges from Rousseau’s treatment of the relationship between legislative and executive power is that the character of the relationship between the sovereign people and the government is somewhat paradoxical. First and foremost, the roles must be sharply separated, embodying divergent perspectives (general vs. particular). The government cannot claim sovereign authority, and the sovereign cannot get involved with the particulars of governing, or else it loses its general character and thus becomes a particular ruling body. In other words, there must be some distance preserved between the people as sovereign and the nitty-gritty particulars of governing, so that the people’s collective identity and perspective can remain focused on the general. This is necessary to protect the people’s sovereign self-rule and therewith the freedom of individual citizens from dependence on any other individuals. The problem with direct democracy is that this distance is breached, creating a vulnerability to particularity, which threatens this generality and therewith freedom. This is why Rousseau does not


Denise Schaeffer

advocate for directly democratic government. Instead, he prescribes very distinct roles for the popular assemblies and the magistrates, as explained above. At the same time, Rousseau makes it clear that if there is too much distance between the people and their elected magistrates, there is an increased risk that the governing body will lose sight of its accountability to, and subordination to, the sovereign people. Each must operate in perpetual awareness of the other, even as they preserve their separate roles. In his introduction to his Project on the Constitution of Corsica, for example, Rousseau attributes the inevitable degeneration of even the most welldesigned governments to the “undue separation of two inseparable things, the body which governs and the body which is governed.”17 This separation is as likely to be caused by citizen apathy as by anything that the government might itself do to undermine or disregard the people’s sovereignty. We are living in a moment in which it is widely proclaimed that democracy is in peril. If one were to ask Rousseau how best to preserve democracy against that which threatens it, he would direct attention away from efforts to preserve it as a form of government—an administrative apparatus—and toward concern for democratic sovereignty, enshrined as a principle against which all governments should be judged. And he would remind us to attend to that which threatens popular sovereignty from within (i.e., citizen apathy) as well as from without (i.e., usurpation). In his own time, he was arguing against those who viewed democracy skeptically as a recipe for lawless disorder, and instead insisted that democratic sovereignty is the only principle of political legitimacy. This is what he means when he says that “every legitimate government is republican” (II.6; CW 153), that is, subject to the authority of the people. This authority has a peculiar character, however, in Rousseau’s political theory. As we have seen, its influence is less direct than one might expect when considering “democracy” as a political regime, which perhaps helps to explain why Rousseau’s defense of it is similarly less than straightforward. Rousseau’s hesitations about democratic government stem not from a desire to constrict the people’s capacity to rule themselves but precisely in order to protect that capacity—that is, for democratic reasons. By making democratic sovereignty a more primary focus than democratic government, Rousseau shifts the “burden of proof” in social contract theory, ushering in “an epochal transvaluation in the meaning and appeal of democracy.”18 Democracy is not simply one form of government among others; it is the essence of legitimate government, which may take different forms in different places and under different conditions, but which must in all cases answer to general will and thus to the sovereign people. In making a strong case for the inviolability of that sovereignty, Rousseau offers a spirited rhetorical defense of democracy as an apparently unqualified ideal. Rousseau insisted that democratic sovereignty is the standard against which all forms of government must be evaluated, and furthermore that this is the case even (perhaps especially) with regard to the form that calls itself a democracy. Yet even as he presents democratic sovereignty as permanent and pure, insofar as it transcends individual wills and interests, he simultaneously presents it as fragile and easily corruptible, insofar as it requires, in practice, that individual human beings express their actual will. There is thus a tension in his rhetorical defense between the idea that there is nothing higher than the people’s will and that, at the same time, there is

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a transcendent ideal of “the general will” to which the people’s expressed will ought to conform. His understanding of the promise and perils of democracy is inseparable from this tension between process and principle—a tension that inheres within the very idea of democracy, as Rousseau understood it, even apart from the practical challenges he identified with regard to achieving the right balance between a legislative body that embodies democratic sovereignty and an elected administration that “wisely tempers” it. NOTES 1. All references to Rousseau’s On the Social Contract will be cited parenthetically, first noting the book and chapter of the Social Contract, followed by the page number in Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly, eds., The Collected Writings of Rousseau (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990–2010), Volume 4, abbreviated as CW. 2. For an influential discussion of Rousseau’s view of representation, see Richard Fralin, Rousseau and Representation: A Study of the Development of His Concept of Political Institutions (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978). The scholarly literature that addresses democratic sovereignty in the Social Contract more broadly is extensive; a few examples of in-depth treatments include Christopher Bertram, Rousseau and the Social Contract (London: Routledge, 2004); Céline Spector, Rousseau (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019), Ch. 2; and David Lay Williams, Rousseau’s Social Contract (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), as well as other works cited below. 3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Letters Written from the Mountain, in The Collected Writings of Rousseau, Volume 9 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), 260–261. 4. Arthur Ripstein, “The General Will,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 9/1 (January 1992): 51–66, 51. 5. See also Christopher Bertram, “Rousseau’s Legacy in Two Conceptions of the General Will: Democratic and Transcendent,” The Review of Politics 74/3 Summer 2012: 403–419. 6. Some classic examples of this view include Leslie G. Crocker, Rousseau's Social Contract: An Interpretive Essay (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve Press, 1968), and J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London: Secker & Warburg, 1952). 7. See, for example, Steven Johnston, Encountering Tragedy: Rousseau and the Project of Democratic Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999). 8. See also Maurice Cranston, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Fusion of Democratic Sovereignty with Aristocratic Government,” History of European Ideas 11 (1989): 417–425. 9. See, for example, Robin Douglass, “Rousseau’s Critique of Representative Sovereignty: Principled or Pragmatic?” American Journal of Political Science 57, no. 3 (July 2013): 735–747. 10. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse),” in The Collected Writings of Rousseau, Volume 3, eds. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990–2010), 6. 11. Ibid, 4. 12. The second of these is more familiar to us, as a question that is asked of citizens (through elections) on a regular basis, than the first, which addresses the fundamental framework of the regime. Indeed, in Federalist #49, Madison argued explicitly against regular constitutional conventions. 13. This relationship between the legislative and the executive in Rousseau’s thought has been interpreted by some scholars as a form of “checks and balances.” Qvortrup, for


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example, argues that while Rousseau was not a full-fledged liberal constitutionalist, his discussion of institutions “was a good deal closer to other constitutionalist theories than is commonly assumed.” Mads Qvortrup, The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibilty of Reason (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 65. 14. There is scholarly debate on the practical, institutional implications of this point. See Ethan Putterman, “Rousseau on The People as Legislative Gatekeepers, Not Framers,” The American Political Science Review 99/1 (2005): 145–151 and John T. Scott, “Rousseau's Anti–Agenda-Setting Agenda and Contemporary Democratic Theory,” The American Political Science Review 99/1 (2005): 137–144; and Joshua Cohen, Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 15. Matthew C. Simpson, “The Social Contract,” in The Rousseauian Mind, eds. Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly (London: Routledge, 2019), 186–195, 191. 16. Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, eds. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: MacMillan, 1910), 17. Also quoted by Cranston, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Fusion of Democratic Sovereignty with Aristocratic Government,” 417. 17. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Political Writings, ed. Frederick Watkins (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), 277. 18. James Miller, Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984).

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bertram, Christopher. Rousseau and the Social Contract. London: Routledge, 2004. Bertram, Christopher. “Rousseau’s Legacy in Two Conceptions of the General Will: Democratic and Transcendent.” The Review of Politics 74/3 (Summer 2012): 403–419. Cohen, Joshua. Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Cranston, Maurice. “Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Fusion of Democratic Sovereignty with Aristocratic Government.” History of European Ideas 11 (1989): 417–425. Crocker, Leslie G. Rousseau's Social Contract: An Interpretive Essay. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve Press, 1968. Douglass, Robin. “Rousseau’s Critique of Representative Sovereignty: Principled or Pragmatic?” American Journal of Political Science 57 (July 2013): 735–747. Fralin, Richard. Rousseau and Representation: A Study of the Development of His Concept of Political Institutions. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. Johnston, Steven. Encountering Tragedy: Rousseau and the Project of Democratic Order. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991. Miller, James. Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984. Putterman, Ethan. “Rousseau on The People as Legislative Gatekeepers, Not Framers.” The American Political Science Review 99/1 (2005): 145–151. Qvortrup, Mads. The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibility of Reason. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Ripstein, Arthur. “The General Will.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 9/1 (January 1992): 51–66. Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Collected Writings of Rousseau. Edited by Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990–2010.

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Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Political Writings. Edited by Frederick Watkins. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986. Scott, John T. “Rousseau's Anti–Agenda-Setting Agenda and Contemporary Democratic Theory.” The American Political Science Review 99/1 (2005): 137–144. Simpson, Matthew C. “The Social Contract.” In The Rousseauian Mind, edited by Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly, 186–195. London: Routledge, 2019. Spector, Céline. Rousseau. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019. Talmon, J.L. The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. London: Secker & Warburg, 1952. Williams, David Lay. Rousseau’s Social Contract. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Chapter 16

Edmund Burke and the Dependence of Democracy on Community David Clinton

The name of Edmund Burke is not generally first associated with advocacy of democracy—liberty, yes; stability, certainly; justice, as Burke understands it; prudence, in all cases—but not democracy. Between respect for tradition, as expressed in historically rooted manners and prescriptive laws, on one side, and veneration for the eternal principles of moral law, as part of the created order, on the other, is there a place for democratic participation in ruling in the present?1 In his manifold writings Burke contends for the desirability of a “popular” element in government, and even for its necessity, though only to the degree that it sustains a proper degree of liberty and stability and is consistent with respect for justice and prudence. A degree of democracy is essential in a mixed regime proper to govern a people, but its success depends on the prior existence of a “people” to govern. A people is set apart from the general aggregation of humanity, binding together what would otherwise be isolated individuals. It is differentiated into different orders but confident in the interdependence and shared loyalty of these orders to the organic community of which they are inseparable parts. This intangible sense of a distinctive oneness makes possible whatever admixture of democracy is safe and healthful to combine with aristocracy and monarchy in the particular circumstances facing an identifiable people or nation. The circumstances are all-important in determining how large that admixture is, and the primary danger to including a proper popular element in any constitution lies in an inclination to act in accordance with bigotry or abstract propositions that are used to justify ignoring the real needs of real men in a real time and place. In a country blessed with a firmly rooted and widely shared sense of common feeling and common inheritance, a fairly substantial popular element may be a safe and beneficial component of a mixed regime. In circumstances in which that sense of community has been greatly weakened or has never existed at all, a polity leaning in the direction of democracy is likely to be unjust and foolish, but also short-lived, since under such conditions democracy is likely to degenerate quickly into either anarchy or tyranny. One may approach Burke’s thoughts on democracy, therefore, by examining settings in which such a community stands solidly established, settings in which a sense of community is endangered, and settings in which it has never existed or has been destroyed. The 247


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first would be found in the England in which Burke pursued almost the entirety of his public life; the second in the community that bound together England with America or Ireland; and the third in Revolutionary France. THE “HAPPY CONSTITUTION” OF ENGLAND As an MP for three decades, Burke had occasion both to take an active part in discussions of all the important issues of the day and to reflect on the larger questions that these issues raised. His speeches, letters, and publications demonstrate a measure of evolution in his thought (as would be expected from someone for whom the need to conform to circumstances is always vital), but in a deeper sense their continuity is their most striking characteristic. From his election to the House of Commons in 1765 until his retirement in 1794, he testifies to the advantages that England derives from the stability of its national community and the close fit between the English political order and the community it serves. This consonance between the English polity and its mores, traditions, and legal enactments is the sole meaning of Burke’s famous description of society as a “contract.” Rejecting the common formulation of social-contract thinking, in which society is an artificial contrivance to which naturally autonomous individuals accede in order for their private benefit, he conceives of this contract as more in the nature of a trust or a communion. As man’s natural state, society should be thought of as “a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection,” and therefore it should be looked on with “reverence.” In large part, this reverence is due to the state or society because it is far more than an autonomous reality itself. It is nested in and reliant on two larger realities—its own history and the obligations of natural law. It is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born,” and it “is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.” History is thus important not for its own sake, but because it is through historical experience that humanity slowly feels its way toward a partial realization of truths that, while difficult for the limited human intellect to discern in their completeness, nonetheless form a law “that is not subject to the will of those who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound to submit their will to that law.”2 The tenets of the natural law, working themselves out across time, nurture institutions that, forming bulwarks of community, render liberty, justice, and wisdom possible in human affairs: “an established church, an established monarchy, an established aristocracy, and an established democracy.”3 Strikingly, Burke places the Church before any of the political orders. He does so because of its beneficent influence as a tie that binds its members together and renders mutual obligations more intelligible than would be possible otherwise. There is no reason to doubt Burke’s own religious faith; he places its atheism and its effort to destroy the Catholic Church in France first among the crimes of the Revolution. He sought throughout his adult life to unite all traditions within Christianity. But he

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also believes that religion enriches the political community. It reminds the “persons of exalted situations” that “they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to that great Master, Author, and Founder of society.”4 This sense of responsibility will prompt the higher orders to perform their public duties with the end of serving the people, those fellow creatures of God who are also their neighbors. Meanwhile, the democratic order will likewise find its largely indirect role in government elevated; the people will empty “themselves of all the lust of selfish will, which without religion it is utterly impossible that they ever should,” and “be more careful how they place power in base and incapable hands.”5 In addition to the teachings of a shared revealed religion, the community of interests and feelings that created a people derives from long experience as humans introduce, try, refine, and come to accept as legitimate all the orders and institutions of a particular society, unique to that society. These include distinctions among the people, such as subsidiary orders derived from prescription, legal possession, and constitutional practice—indeed, “all the antient corporate capacities and distinctions of the kingdom . . . the whole fabrick of its antient laws and usages, political, civil, and religious.”6 In England, these included the experience of living for generations under the common law, which applied equally to all and protected the personal liberty and property of all; an independent judiciary that protected the tested and well-known rights of all; and local magistrates and other officials who made government familiar and unoppressive. Beyond these components of the legal regime, there existed a multitude of “ancient usages” that were “civic” in nature, including the manners and customs of a people, the examples of a special closeness to fellow members of a kindred group, such as the family, and memories of a shared and often glorious past. All together convinced Burke that “public affections, combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements, sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law.”7 With the foundation of this social and political unity, the role of each of the elements Burke identified in the British constitution—the monarchic, the aristocratic, and the democratic—becomes clear, as does the perhaps surprisingly large influence allotted to the popular influence in each. “We are Members in a great and ancient Monarchy,” Burke told the citizens of Bristol on the day that he was declared their Member of Parliament, “and we must preserve religiously, the true legal rights of the Sovereign, which form the Key-stone that binds together the novel and well-constructed Arch of our Empire and our Constitution.”8 The monarch was to balance between the aristocratic and democratic components of the constitution (as they together were to balance against him), and was to contribute the steadiness and far-sightedness that were to be desired particularly in the conduct of foreign and security policy as an “awful trust. . . placed there as a sacred deposit, to secure us against popular rashness in plunging into wars, and against the effects of popular dismay, disgust, or lassitude in getting out of them as imprudently as we might first engage in them.” Burke was entirely clear that this aspect of the constitution acted as a check on democracy; to do without it would be “to throw us back upon that very democracy which, in this part, our Constitution was formed to avoid.” Possessing greater information, “when it appears evident to our governors that our desires and our interests are at variance, they ought not to gratify the former at the expence of the latter.” In matters of this sort, the King’s “ministers are not only our natural rulers but our natural guides.” Yet


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even in this realm of governing, responsibility to the people and their representatives remained vital. While the specifics of any initiative might demand secrecy, the broad grounds of the policy that initiative or action was to serve equally demanded publicity and reasoned explanation. And in the end, if reason, evidence, and argument failed to convince the representatives of the people of the wisdom of the general policy, then even an unwise popular opinion was entitled to prevail in a free polity. Burke could not have presented the resolution of the dilemma in starker, or clearer, terms: “When we have our true situation distinctly presented to us, if then we resolve, with a blind and headlong violence, to resist the admonitions of our friends, and to cast ourselves into the hands of our potent and irreconcileable foes, then, and not till then, the ministers stand acquitted before God and man, for whatever may come.”9 To speak of leaders or guides on one hand and followers or the led on the other is, of course, already to depart from pure democratic equality and introduce some measure of aristocratic inequality, and here one finds the second of the elements of the state— that “established aristocracy” that Burke asserted was a central part of the inherited customs, practices, and norms that formed the British constitution. Here was the place of the “natural aristocracy,” which Burke defined with some care: A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths. To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one’s infancy; to be taught to respect one’s self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the wide-spread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned wherever they are to be found; to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honor and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity, and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequence—to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow citizens, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man—to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind—to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenuous art—to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice—these are the circumstances of men, that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.10

The role of a natural aristocracy, then, is at least twofold. First, it constitutes the nation or society. No human group can exist lacking any direction; any group must have leaders, and without them, it lives not as a group but as a temporary assemblage of individuals with no common purpose or plan for accomplishing that purpose. “When great multitudes act together, under that discipline of nature,” Burke noted, “I recognize the PEOPLE.” Second, this natural aristocracy gives guidance to

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society, reminding its members of the purposes for the attainment of which they are distinguished from the rest of humanity, and counseling them on the wisest and most prudent means of pursuing their shared ends, so that, “when you . . . break up this beautiful order, this array of truth and nature, as well as of habit and prejudice; when you separate the common sort of men from their proper chieftains, I no longer know that venerable object called the people.”11 When Burke referred to the natural aristocracy, then, he did not mean only those bearing noble titles. Rather, he meant those whose characters had been shaped in a noble way, so as to instill in them certain virtues, the possession of which fitted and entitled them to leadership. Their prudence, courage, and practical wisdom prepared them to act in matters of state. Their learning, cultivated often in conditions of some leisure, gave them a more-than-ordinary glimpse into human nature and human conduct. Their acuteness, sometimes developed in the busy world of commerce, was suited to the business of government. Their sense of the long-established communion of generations that underlay society, usually associated with the inheritance of landed property, and their experience of always acting under public scrutiny, developed a readiness to brave temporary unpopularity in order to earn the approbation of posterity. These qualities Burke thought were in many cases more likely to be found among the gentry than the titled aristocracy, and “gentlemen” might be the most accurate way of encapsulating his understanding of the natural aristocracy.12 All these virtues would be beneficial in enabling members of a natural aristocracy to carry out their responsibilities in any position of leadership, civil, military, ecclesiastical, or educational, to which they might be called, but in the present instance the important point to note is that such qualities made those who held them not only competent but disinterested and public-spirited in their execution. Burke’s understanding of human nature was not such as to render him sanguine about the likelihood that one could be given a position of power without being tempted to abuse that power out of motives of self-interest. He did, however, believe that the proper preparation for life could develop an attraction to honor that lay within the human soul, ennoble it, and make it the motivating force in life. Equally significant, the education of a man into a natural aristocrat would not only give such a man a powerful sense of honor, it would make obvious to the people that he could be trusted to ensure their well-being. In him there could be confidence that in his perception his own self-interest and the public interest would be one and the same. And it would be his maturation in the rich sense of community that a Burkean nation or society provided that would create the honor on one side and confidence on the other. Burke puts it as, “To enable men to act with the weight and character of a people, . . we must suppose them. . . . to be in that state of habitual social discipline, in which the wiser, the more expert, and the more opulent, conduct, and by conducting enlighten and protect the weaker, the less knowing, and the less provided with the goods of fortune.”13 Acting among themselves, the members of this Burkean aristocracy find that their common adherence to their inherited society gives them a shared conception of honor, and a willingness to accept one another’s good faith in seeking the common good of the society, which together allow for the resolution of controverted questions by deliberation rather than force. The circumstances allow for a “loyal opposition” to


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exist, and make possible the distinction of party—which Burke defined as “a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavors the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed”—from faction (and the use of party as a means for maintaining popular control against any attempt by government to undermine the liberties of the people).14 In the relations between the aristocracy and the people, the beneficent effect of a shared society produced selflessness on one side and deference on the other, promoting liberty without license and authority without exclusive reliance on coercive force. The result was not a perfect system guaranteed to encourage limitations on government power and respect for necessary authority in every instance—as no human contrivance could do—but Burke’s notion of a compact between the aristocracy and the people, in which the people owed their governors “an enduring, but not an unreflecting confidence” and the holders of office owed “a responsibility to conscience and to glory, a responsibility to the existing world, and to . . . posterity,” demonstrated the popular element even in that portion of the constitution in which the natural aristocracy took its rightful and useful role.15 Finally, there is the “established democracy” that Burke described as just as much a part of the constitution as monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy as some form of popular assent to state action is a necessary precondition for government to govern; “in all bodies, those who will lead must also, in a considerable degree, follow,” he asserted. “They must conform their propositions to the taste, talent, and disposition of those whom they wish to conduct,” an observation he found as true in the relation of government to the people as it was between party leaders and their parliamentary followers.16 This attention to the “disposition” of the people is more than a necessity for obedience to be obtained without excessive cost, however; it is also a moral duty imposed by divine example: “when the God whom we adore appeared in human form, he did not appear in a form of greatness and majesty, but in sympathy with the lowest of the people—and thereby made it a firm and ruling principle, that their welfare was the object of all government.”17 In later years, and on another subject, Burke speaks of “those, on whose account all just authority exists; I mean, the people to be governed,” and adds, “If any ask me what a free Government is? I answer, that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so, and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.”18 Burke’s balanced and limited role for democracy in a proper regime, then, has three elements. First, such a regime should feel with keenness any abuses of the rights of the people, but leave to others the discernment of the proper political response to those abuses and the institution of safeguards to forestall future abuses.19 Second, he who serves as a representative in the popular element of the constitution should look after the interests of the people (and not only the people of his own constituency, but the whole people of “one Nation”), but as a trustee and not a delegate; he owes his constituents his own best judgment on the ways to advance their interests. Burkean “virtual representation” is superior to direct representation.20 Third, their sympathy with, but remove from, direct dependence on the people allows even those representing the popular element of the constitution the freedom to act in accordance with honor and justice, even when those attributes are not immediately popular. Burke finds in this balance associated with a mixed regime “the most noble and refined part of the constitution.”21

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Nevertheless, Burke never departs from the conviction that he voiced early in his career, that “Government certainly is an institution of Divine authority, yet its forms, and the persons who administer it, all originate from the people.”22 That being so, the “great and only foundation of government” is found in “the confidence of the people,” and the task of leaders in the natural aristocracy is always “to reconcile the strength of government with the rights of the people.” In the performance of that task, Burke believes that the existence of a faithful, reliable, deeply grounded national community makes it possible to strike the necessary balance. “AN ETERNAL RENT AND SCHISM IN THE BRITISH NATION”: CONCILIATION WITH AMERICA Although a well-rooted community in its own right, England also formed the center of a broader community, beginning with the union with its neighboring realms of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and spreading further to encompass those parts of its empire peopled by British colonization. Burke had particular reason to consider the links that bound the English of England and the English of America; as a young man he had considered moving to America, and in the years leading up to the American War of Independence he served as the parliamentary agent of the colony of New York. Taking his stand on this transatlantic community, he argued that the imperial metropole could safely accord its kinsmen in the New World a large measure of autonomy, confident that the ties of the heart would make even the largely popular governments of the North American colonies trusted partners and loyal subjects. Burke had occasion to contemplate the sources of unity among the participants in this community that spanned the North Atlantic and encompassed two hemispheres, for relations between England and its North American colonies were troubled from the beginning of his career. To this distracting quarrel he devoted two of his most well-known compositions, the “Speech on Conciliation with America,” delivered to the House of Commons in the opening stages of the evolution of the quarrel into a rebellion, on March 22, 1775, and his “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” the city he represented in 1777. In them may be found Burke’s understanding of the fundamental nature of the community that linked Americans and Englishmen, and indeed all political communities marked by liberty; his description of the American colonies as largely popular or democratic in character; and his willingness to trust to the fidelity of those local democratic societies the continued existence of the imperial connection itself. Beginning, as always, with reference to the particular facts of the problem at issue, Burke declares that this connection is necessarily loose and flexible. It is so, first, because of geography, for “Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them,” he reminds his fellow parliamentarians, and “No contrivance can prevent the effect of this distance in weakening government.” To attempt to govern as if this fact did not exist would be to “fret and rage, and bite the chains of nature;” it is “the eternal law of extensive and detached empire.”23 Next to geography comes history. Over more than a century and a half, the American colonies “in general [have owed] little or nothing to any care of ours,” but, “through a wise and salutary neglect, a


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generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection.” The result has been a set of colonies that have attained a sizable population; a productive agriculture, commerce, and fishing fleet; and experience in the arts of government and law, but almost entirely through piecemeal adaptation to immediate necessities and never through a general plan. “The colonies were from the beginning subject to the legislature of Great Britain on principles which they never examined, and we permitted to them many local privileges, without asking how they agreed with that legislative authority,” and the result has been that “modes of administration were formed in an insensible, and very unsystematick manner.” In highly Burkean fashion, “they gradually adapted themselves to the varying condition of things.” In particular, the issue that divided the two sides of the Atlantic in the 1760s and 1770s, “a regular revenue, by the authority of Parliament, for the support of civil and military establishments, seems not to have been thought of until the colonies were too proud to submit, too strong to be forced, too enlightened not to see all the consequences which must arise from such a system.”24 Yet despite these obstacles Burke insists that America and England are not two communities, but one, resting, first, on a shared religious tradition. True enough, except in the Southern colonies, the Anglican Church was not particularly strong in North America, but the Protestant Dissenters, who formed the majority of the population, had come directly or indirectly from British soil. Having “sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world” and justifying “that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty,” they represent “the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.” This religious emphasis on liberty reinforces other elements of the American “temper and character,” most prominently “a love of freedom” as “the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole.” This devotion to freedom is no abstract concept, but “liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.” And all of this suspicion of concentrated and unaccountable power, this determination to retain long-established rights and dearly bought freedoms, Burke tells his listeners, should be no surprise to them, for “the Colonies draw from you, as with their life-blood, these ideas and principles.”25 He terms the American, in fact, “another Englishman.”26 Two years on, when fighting has actually begun and prospects that this community could survive the worsening conflict have declined, Burke is, if anything, more emphatic in asserting that “the people of Great Britain” and “the American English” are one and the same. He variously characterizes the colonists as “our brethren,” “the English in the colonies,” the “offspring” of England, and “kindred.”27 The armed conflict is described as “a civil war” or “civil dissention” or “the frenzy of civil contention” or, most terrible of all, “a fruitless, hopeless, unnatural civil war”—unnatural because, as a civil war, it divides what by nature was meant to be united.28 Unnatural, too, because one of the parties had introduced forces that were truly foreign into its contest with its own offspring. Burke seems to have had a particular horror of the use of Hessians against English colonists. “War is at present carried on between the king’s natural and foreign troops, on one side, and the English in America, on the other,” he declaims.29 It was the German forces who were the “foreign” combatants, not the fellow Englishmen against whom the armies of the Crown were fighting.

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Rather than continuing “to make an eternal rent and schism in the British nation,” Burke favors negotiation and compromise, and in both the terms of the settlement he believes could still be struck and the nature of the negotiating partner with whom those terms would be struck, he gives evidence of his hope that similarity of manners and ancient affections—that “cement of reciprocal esteem and regard which can alone bind together the parts of this great fabric”—that still marked the two halves of this transatlantic community make possible and safe the acceptance of a considerable popular element in their shared political life.30 In that confidence, Burke proposes a concession of the most sweeping nature: to forego taxing the Americans entirely and to rely instead on grants freely and voluntarily given by each colonial assembly to sustain the ordinary expenses of the government of the empire and to defray the costs of the most sensitive expenditures any government could incur—those for protection against foreign attack. Affection, he tells the House, “grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection,” and so long as that affection lasts, the English in America “will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance.”31 To lay down as one’s starting point the proposition that the terms of any settlement to the quarrel that was dividing the Anglo-American people had to be acceptable to the American people was already to carry the democratic principle far. In considering the question of the parties that would carry out any such renewed relationship, Burke goes still further. Recall that under his scheme of reconciliation the security of the most valuable component of the British Empire, North America, is to be placed in the hands of the colonial assemblies and the grants they would voluntarily make to its defense. Burke recognizes the strongly democratic nature of these assemblies, saying that, “Their governments are popular in a high degree; some are merely [that is, purely or solely] popular; in all, the popular representative is the most weighty; and this share of the people in their ordinary government never fails to inspire them with lofty sentiments, and with a strong aversion from whatever tends to deprive them of their chief importance.”32 Burke finds this democratic element perfectly consistent with imperial safety because of his “opinion of the absolute necessity of keeping up the concord of this empire by a Unity of spirit, though in a diversity of operations.”33 The “unity of spirit” subsisted in the commonly treasured habits of mind, revered and long-established laws, and multitudinous private ties that, for him, made the Americans fellow members of the same people, with the same conception of virtue and honor, even after the advent of war. The “diversity of operations” required a prudent adaptation of the methods of government to the conditions that experience had produced in the various component parts of the empire. Statesmanship recognized the “duty, in all soberness, to conform our government to the character and circumstances of the several people who composed this mighty and strangely diversified mass.” As for Burke himself, “I never was wild enough to conceive that one method would serve for the whole, that the natives of Hindostan and those of Virginia could be ordered in the same manner, or that the Cutchery court and the grand jury of Salem could be regulated on a similar plan.”34 Respect for local customs and ideas, even those of a strongly democratic cast,


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would result in the “unsuspecting confidence” that Burke held to be the most potent adhesive force within any community.35 THE SUPERIORITY OF A NATURAL ARISTOCRACY OVER A “FRANTIC DEMOCRACY”: CONCILIATION OF THE CATHOLICS OF IRELAND Whatever the troubles of Virginia, Salem, “Hindoostan,” or other imperial outposts, Ireland was the geographically most proximate part of the Empire, and Burke returned to Irish questions throughout his career. In the final decade of his life, the political and civil disabilities of Catholics in relation to Anglicans and Protestant Dissenters in Ireland were his central concern; his remedy lay in encouraging the political recognition of the natural aristocracy among the Catholics rather than introducing a greater element of democracy for all. Burke was well aware of some 700 years of Anglo-Irish relations, marked primarily by English domination of Ireland. From at least the time of the Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366, which attempted to save the English settlements in Ireland from decline, a series of laws and policies had attempted “the establishment of the power of the smaller number [the English then in Ireland] at the expense of the civil liberties and properties of the far greater part [the native Irish].” With other than religious motivations, then, “the spirit of the Popery laws . . . as applied between Englishry and Irishry had existed in that harassed country before the words Protestant and Papist were heard of in the world,” and “what was done was not in the spirit of a contest between two religious factions, but between two adverse nations.” Of course, the Reformation had superimposed a sectarian hostility upon an already existing cultural one, so that, by the seventeenth century, “in England, the double name of the complainants, Irish and Papists, (it would be hard to say which singly was the most odious,) shut up the hearts of every one against them.” Legislation, following opinion, “tended to harass and ruin a set of people who were looked upon as enemies to God and man, and, indeed, as a race of bigoted savages who were a disgrace to human nature itself.” The result, entirely predictably, was the division of “the [Irish] nation into two distinct bodies, without common interest, sympathy, or connection,” one (the Protestants) “to possess all the franchises, all the property, all the education,” and the other (the Catholics) “to be composed of drawers of water and cutters of turf for them.”36 In the late eighteenth century, though, a combination of three influences brought about fairly dramatic change. The “English in Ireland” had begun to conceive of themselves as possessing less an “English interest” than “an independent Irish interest.” To pursue this interest, “the Anglo-Irish” found it “necessary to demonstrate to the whole people that there was something, at least, of a common interest combined with the independency, which was to become the object of common exertions.” Meanwhile, the lessening of religious hostilities in England meant that the moderate requests of the Anglo-Irish met with a new “mildness of government” that “acted . . . with the greatest temperance and wisdom.” The greater of the two powers “rose above the vulgar ideas of policy, the ordinary jealousies of state, and all the sentiments of national pride and

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national ambition” and “instantly complied with the whole of your [Irish] demands.”37 The result was the creation of the Irish Parliament of 1782. Now, a decade later, expressions of dissatisfaction were again being heard in Ireland. In a letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, a young Irish peer who had written to Burke seeking his advice on measures of conciliation in Ireland, Burke called for a renewal of the prudence and moderation of the reforms of 1782—a far-sightedness that would “weigh maturely whether it be exactly true that conciliatory concessions are of good policy only in discussions between nations, but that among descriptions in the same nation they must always be irrational and dangerous.” Timely improvements in the condition of the disaffected would “separate the cause of the moderate and rational from the ill-intentioned and seditious.”38 First, however, it was necessary to understand the political circumstances that Burke, going beyond the suggestions of Langrishe, would propose as an emollient to “the green soreness of a civil war.” Some two million Catholics (or three-quarters of the population) inhabited Ireland, all of them deprived, solely because they were Catholic, of both the franchise (the right to vote) and the right to sit in the Irish Parliament. Some 600,000 to 700,000 Protestants inhabited Ireland, all of them possessing, solely because they were Protestants, the franchise and eligibility to hold a seat in Parliament. These Protestants were further divided, roughly equally, between the Established Church and various sects of Protestant Dissenters. Burke found this state of things both unprecedented in history, for “no nation in the world has ever been known to exclude so great a body of men (not born slaves) from the civil state, and all the benefits of its Constitution,” and incompatible with the principles of the Irish state, for “our Constitution is not made for great, general, and proscriptive exclusions; sooner or later it will destroy them, or they will destroy the Constitution.”39 And it is to the Constitution that Burke directs his hopes, believing as he does that, despite all the unhappy history of Ireland, timely political change, made under the direction of the right leadership, will bring peace and further reconciliation among these fellow adherents of Christianity, and will at least result in “the union of the honest and peaceable of all sects [and] their separation from all that is ill-intentioned and seditious in any of them.” The “great law of change . . . the most powerful law of Nature and the means perhaps of its conservation” can best be accommodated by reforms that will assure the anxious that all their just demands can most effectively be realized within the Constitution and by making use of the principles of the Constitution.40 For Burke, this way forward means preserving the Irish Constitution, as the British Constitution, as a mixed regime. In such a regime, as has already been noted, the democratic element can find expression in part through actual representation, under which those possessing the franchise voted to elect their representatives in a parliamentary body, and in part through virtual representation, “in which there is a communion of interests and a sympathy in feelings and desires between those who act in the name of any description of people and the people in whose name they act, though the trustees are not actually chosen by them.” Virtual representation, being less directly democratic, has certain advantages in Burke’s opinion, including its tendency to produce representatives of judgment and ability, who can respond to changing circumstances in ways that best serve the people’s well-being, even if they differ from the opinion the people


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held at the time of the last election. “The people may err in their choice,” Burke contends, “but common interest and common sentiment are rarely mistaken.” Even under virtual representation, however, “the member must have some relation to the constituent,” and so long as Catholics are forbidden the vote solely on the basis of their Catholicism, members can conceive that their electoral interest might not only not include protecting the interests of Catholics (who cannot help them with their votes), but be directly contrary to the interest of Catholics (who can be sacrificed to the supposed interests of their Protestant rivals for the purchase of land, say, or business competitors).41 A related flaw in the Constitution as it stood stemmed from the fact that a natural aristocracy required the virtue or “magnificence” or both that would bring the symbiotic public-spiritedness on one side and deference to others’ judgment on the other into common sympathy. Both extraordinary virtue and magnificence are rare, and “admiration, that first source of obedience, can be the claim or the imposture of the few” alone. Instead, Burke’s native land bore the burden of a “plebian oligarchy,” under which “the Protestants of Ireland are not alone sufficiently the people to form a democracy; and they are too numerous to answer the ends and purposes of an aristocracy.”42 The Protestants are not uniformly superior in accomplishments or wealth to the Catholics, but their political privileges could be justified only through the possession of such superiority. Burke recognizes that there are “countries in which an hereditary nobility possess the exclusive rule,” and he grants that “this may be no bad mode of government”—but only on condition that “the personal authority of individual nobles be kept in due bounds, that their cabals and factions are guarded against with a severe vigilance, and that the people (who have no share in granting their own monies) are subjected to but light impositions, and are otherwise treated with attention and with indulgence.”43 Yet these conditions are the very aspects of social and political life that Burke insists that Ireland lacks: no authority exists superior to the Protestants and the Irish Parliament that they alone elect, which could suppress the misdeeds of individual Protestants, forbid making Catholics the pawns of intra-Protestant factional contests, or prevent government taxes and legislation from falling heavily on Catholic subjects. Burke terms this framework of government a “monster.”44 Yet there could be cures worse than the disease. Burke was most disturbed by documents sent to him by Langrishe suggesting that certain of the Protestant Dissenters were proposing a joint movement with the Catholics in favor of universal male suffrage. This expedient would dangerously derange the Constitution by rendering it too democratic. Such “absurd persons . . . find no way of providing for liberty, but by overturning this happy Constitution, and introducing a frantic democracy.” To go from the present extreme, of a total exclusion of Catholics from the franchise, to the opposite extreme, of “an universal unmodified capacity, to which the fanatics pretend,” would be wholly imprudent.45 It would be to forget that “the smallness of the property which individually [the majority of the people, whatever their religion] possess renders them less attentive [than the holders of a greater stake in society] to the consequence of the measures they adopt in affairs of moment.” The “vile scheme of altering the principles of election to a right of voting by the head” would produce an

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electorate “absurdly and dangerously large,” and “that scheme of election is known to have been at all times perfectly odious to me,” Burke recalls. Still, he grants that, were he and Langrishe Catholics and “the question was to be put to you and me—Universal popular representation, or none at all for us and ours—we should find ourselves in a very awkward position.” He does not wish to present the Catholics of Ireland with such a dilemma, tempting them to derange the Constitution.46 Far better that Catholics be allowed “to enjoy the ancient, fundamental, tried advantages of a British Constitution”—“to profit of the protection of a common father or the freedom of common citizens.” A natural aristocracy already existed among Catholics; discrimination had not prevented a certain number from attaining education, amassing property, and meriting the esteem of their co-religionists, and, Burke would say, of others as well. “It is one excellence of our Constitution, that all our rights of provincial election regard rather property than person. It is another that the rights which approach more nearly to the personal are most of them corporate, and suppose a restrained and strict education of seven years in some useful occupation.” Admitting to the franchise and to the possibility of election to the Irish Parliament those Catholics who had demonstrated the qualities that elicited admiration would support, not undermine, this feature of the Constitution. “By admitting settled, permanent substance in lieu of the numbers, you would avoid the great danger of our time, that of setting up number against property,” Burke argues. He contends, not for the elimination of a democratic component of a mixed regime (for “the numbers ought never to be neglected,” because of “what is due to them as men”), but for its restraint; sheer numbers “ought to have . . . protection; they ought to have security; they ought to have even consideration; but they ought not to predominate.”47 If a history of invidious discrimination “had reduced [at least some in the majority religious tradition] to a mob, that, whenever they came to act at all, would act exactly like a mob, without temper, measure, or foresight,” the proper remedy would be “to raise an aristocratic interest, that is, an interest of property and education, amongst them—and to strengthen, by every prudent means, the authority and influence of men of that description.” If “absurd persons” advocated something closer to pure democracy, the answer lay in ceasing to “prevent better people from any rational expectations of partaking in the benefits of that Constitution as it stands.”48 Burke believed that Irish society was not so fundamentally divided that further moderate reforms, effective because they accorded with natural justice but respected the existing circumstances and habits of the population, could not reconcile Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestant Dissenters in an ordered whole that accepted at least a modicum of democracy.49 Doing so “would be healing; it would be satisfactory and protecting.” When Protestants and Catholics were placed in the relation of representatives and constituents, “the stigma and reproach, the hideous mask will be taken off, and men will see each other as they are,” without “alienation on the one side and pride and insolence on the other.”50 With a shared foundation of Christianity at least to give stability to their common endeavors, all religious traditions in Ireland could participate in a mixed Constitution in which democracy was a part but not the whole.


David Clinton

“THE DUST AND POWDER OF INDIVIDUALITY”: THE DESTRUCTION OF SOCIETY AND THE ABUSE OF DEMOCRACY IN FRANCE Much of Burke’s reputation as an opponent of democracy derives from his vociferous and inveterate rejection of the French Revolution and its entire works. Yet what Burke criticized was not democracy, but the Revolution’s betrayal of the role that properly circumstanced democracy could play in a just regime. He devoted much effort to demonstrating that Revolutionary France was not a regime ruled by the people, and in fact that the people of France exercised far less control over their government than did the people of Britain at the same historical moment. This somewhat surprising conclusion resulted from Burke’s way of defining “the people.” Much of his bitter criticism of the French revolutionary regime rested on his accusation that it had betrayed the French people and fastened upon them a government that did not represent them and systematically acted in ways that harmed their true interest. He was in this way an early investigator of the modern phenomenon of secular totalitarianism, and its tendency to cloak its oppression of the people with the language of popular rule. As early as 1773, Burke had spent some weeks in France, where, as the editor of his Reflections on the Revolution in France puts it as, “he was handsomely received by the leading elements of French society,” but “the atheism and religious indifference which were so widespread among these people profoundly shocked him.”51 He was therefore not wholly surprised when the revolution beginning in 1789 soon took an anti-clerical turn. There followed the confiscation of the lands and properties of the French Catholic Church; the transformation of the French clergy, from the humblest parish priest through the loftiest cardinal, into salaried employees of the French State, paid in assignats (paper currency the value of which derived from the assigned value of the possessions of the Church seized by the State); and the requirement by the National Assembly that clergy swear primary allegiance to the State if they were to be allowed to carry on their clerical duties and receive their compensation. Much worse, in Burke’s eyes, was to follow, with widespread murder of priests and the creation of a new secular civil religion, symbolized by the transformation of Notre Dame Cathedral into a Temple of Reason after the banning of Catholicism in 1792. “We know, and what is better, we feel inwardly, that religion is the basis of civil society,” Burke says of his countrymen, and in attacking the Church, the revolutionary French government had assaulted the basis of civil society as well. Because “man is by his constitution a religious animal,” all persons holding any species of power, whether single rulers or the people themselves in more popular regimes, “ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, responsible to their Creator.”52 Without a sense that all authority, including popular authority, possessed no legitimacy unless it accorded with the laws laid down for human conduct by the Divine, any framework of government would be motivated by sheer will, with all the temptations of corruption and injustice to which the unfettered will is prey. This degradation was already underway as the government in Paris approached its ultimate objective of “the utter abolition, under any of its forms, of the Christian religion.” It was already true that, with the National Assembly, “possession is nothing, law and usage are nothing.”53 Lacking any guidance on what principles of right held

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human beings together with their fellow citizens, government, including democratic government, became an engine for exploitation and not an instrument of any common good.54 As with the Church, so with the Monarchy. In the Reflections Burke goes through the many practical virtues that he perceives in the recently fallen monarchy: the increase in population that France had experienced in the previous half-century, the comparable increase in national wealth, and the consequent improvement of the general cultural standard of the French people, as discerned in the scale and quality of public works, “the excellence of her manufactures and fabrics,” the “grand foundations of charity, public and private,” and the accomplishments of “her able statesmen, . . her profound lawyers and theologians, her philosophers, her critics, her historians and antiquaries, her poets and her orators, sacred and profane,” all encouraged by “an earnest endeavor [of the royal government] toward the prosperity and improvement of the country.”55 Above all these material achievements—and, like them, tending toward the satisfaction of a happy national community—is the embodiment of the society “in persons so as to create in us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment.” A well-wrought monarchy “engages the affections on the part of the commonwealth,” and “these public affections, combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements, sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law.”56 The cultivation of an organic society thus begins with “the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit of religion,” but it does not end there. It includes the efforts of individuals (particularly leading individuals) throughout the country and subsidiary orders derived from prescription, legal possession, and constitutional practice. It includes “the original individual proprietors of lands. . . the states and the bodies politick, such as the colleges of justice called parliaments, the corporation noble and not noble of balliages, and towns, and cities, the bishops and the clergy, as the true constituent parts of the nation, and forming the legally organized parts of the people of France.”57 It is therefore clear that, if speaking of France or the people of France, “it is impossible we should mean the geographical, we must always mean the moral and political country.”58 And it was just this morally and politically defined people that the Revolution was most determined to destroy. By dispossession it had brought ruin to the Church. By regicide it had brought to an end the Monarchy. By impoverishment and intimidation it had driven out of the country much of the nobility and the clergy. By proscription and cooptation it had deprived guilds, towns, and the independent judiciary of any part of their traditional contribution to the cohesion of the community. By 1793, when Burke puts the question, “It is material to know who they are, and how constituted, whom we consider as the people of France?” his answer is that no “people” of France any longer exists.59 The Revolution, then, had dissolved the French people and returned them to a state of nature, which was for Burke the most unnatural state in which human beings could find themselves. A people require a shared heritage and a sense of community in beliefs, practices, and manners. To say that a numerical majority of the persons presently living in what had been France had been brought to agree on any one thing was meaningless; as a random collection of atomized individuals, even a majority had no right to speak for the minority who did not agree with the decision (even setting


David Clinton

aside the violent coercion by which the majority had been brought to signify its acquiescence in the decision).60 Under such circumstances, Burke saw no prospect for any truly popular component in government at all. The Revolution had begun with a wholesale flouting of the popular will, as expressed in the summoning of the Estates General in 1789. “When the several orders . . . had met in the year 1789 . . . to choose and to instruct their representatives, so organized, and so acting (because they were organized and were acting according to the conventions which made them a people), they were the people of France.” The three orders “had a legal and a natural capacity to be considered as that people.” Their instructions were ignored, however, and their representatives, once gathered in the National Assembly, had proceeded to act in ways wholly contrary to the expressed will of the people. “I will venture to affirm,” Burke declares, “that if any one of the changes were proposed, which form the fundamental parts of their revolution, and compose its most distinguishing acts, it would not have had one vote in twenty thousand in any order.” Whether through the wiles of certain factional leaders or the menaces of the Parisian mob, the radicalized National Assembly proceeded to revolutionary actions “that had never received any previous sanction, general or particular, expressed or implied, from the nation (in whatever sense that word is taken) or from any part of it.”61 Once society dissolves, politics assumes the form purely and simply of a contest for power, and neither a “rational and thinking” popular element in government nor any other type of regime that is guided by the common good is possible. “What publick voice is there in France?” Burke asked. “There is no public, only audacious tyrants and trembling slaves.”62 He predicts one of either of two possible futures—anarchy or tyranny, with anarchy perhaps leading to the seizure of power by one man who would proceed to organize a tyranny. He foresaw no avenue for any domestic reconstitution of a French society within which some democratic element might be included, and instead devoted his efforts to calling upon a broader, though thinner, European society to pursue war with the Revolutionary regime to its eradication.63 Only once this international aim was accomplished could the various orders and institutions that constituted the real France—the Church, the monarchy, the nobility, and other representatives of a natural aristocracy, and the people speaking through their traditional local leaders—recreate a government in which true popular influence would be desirable and attainable. CONCLUSION: A “SHAMELESS” DEMOCRACY? From these examples it may be seen that, far from being the determined opponent of democracy, Burke believed that the degree of popular influence over government was a matter to be determined in each case, depending on the circumstances of time and place, those circumstances including most particularly the health of the sense of community binding a society together with shared manners, political traditions and laws, and a common sense of what merited honor and shame. Burke consistently opposed any tendencies toward arbitrary government in his own country, but in general he found Britain an admirable example of such a society. Elsewhere, if this

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sense of community was strong, Burke was willing to conclude that its government could be popular in a high degree, as he did with the English in America. In settings in which that sympathy was fractured or only partial, he would say that a smaller role for the democratic element was more likely to lead to justice in its statutes and policies; such would appear to have been the case in his prescriptions for the conciliation of the Catholics of Ireland. It should be recalled that it is the case of Revolutionary France—the regime in which all common sympathies had been destroyed and all the historic institutions that had sustained those sympathies had been leveled—that Burke famously described democracy as “the most shameless thing in the world.”64 When enormities are being committed by a multitude, the responsibility of each actor is diffused and diminished by being shared with so many others. (And the same would be true of acts of great distinction; the share of the credit belonging to each citizen of a democracy would be very small.) When any sense of common loyalty or responsibility has already been reduced by the annihilation of common ways of life, there is likely to be very little shame felt by any individual participant in a mob. Moreover, Burke is here referring specifically to a “perfect” democracy, by which he means a purely democratic regime, unmixed and untempered with the principles of any other type of regime. Yet Burke is also critical of pure, or “perfect,” monarchies and aristocracies, which carry their own dangers if they are not moderated into a composite. It is only the mixed regime that he states is capable of the highest justice, mercy, and magnanimity. And it is this sense of a moderate, balanced regime that Burke seems to have in mind as the model of a polity that can preserve liberty even as it seeks glory. In such a regime the people have their say, but it is not the only say. It is counterbalanced and improved through being forced to compromise with the other orders of a stable society, and it is limited and restrained by the recognition on the part of the people that “they too are responsible to God for the use of the power which they also hold as a trust derived from Him.”65 Burke could not be described as a partisan of democracy, but he valued the opinions and interests of the people enough to wish them ennobled by the people’s collaboration with their natural leaders, and humbled by the people’s submission to the inscrutable ways of Providence. NOTES 1. The complementarity between history and nature is well explicated by Francis Canavan in his essay on Burke in Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, ed., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: Rand Mcnally, 1972), 659–678. 2. Edmund Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford, 9 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981–2016), 8:146–147. 3. Ibid., 142. 4. Ibid., 143. 5. Ibid., 145. 6. Burke, “Remarks on the Policy of the Allies,” 8:459. See also Richard Boyd, “‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke’s Defense of Civil Society,” The Review of Politics 61, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 465–491.


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7. Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” 8:129. 8. Burke, “Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll, 3 November 1774,” 3:70. 9. Burke, “First Letter on a Regicide Peace,” 9:260–261. 10. Burke, “An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,” 4:448–449. 11. Ibid., 449. 12. See, for example, Burke’s dismissive “Letter to a Noble Lord,” in which he rejected the criticism by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale of Burke’s pension, and condemned what he saw as their foolish refusal to see any threat to liberty and ordered society in the principles and actions of the Jacobins in France. On the first of these matters Burke contrasted “his Grace of Bedford, swaddled, and rocked, and dandled into a Legislator,” with Burke’s own experience: “no rank, no toleration even, for me. I had no arts, but manly arts.” On the second, Burke reminded his noble target, “I have omitted no exertion to prevent him. . . from sinking to that level, to which the meretricious French faction, his Grace at least coquets with, omit no exertion to reduce” him (Burke, Writings and Speeches, 9:160, 162). 13. Ibid., 167. 14. See Burke’s “Thoughts on the Present Discontents,” in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981–2015), 2:317. See also Harvey Mansfield, Statesmanship and Party Government: A Study of Burke and Bolingbroke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965). 15. Burke, “Third Letter on a Regicide Peace,” 9:385, 386. See also Richard Bourke, “Edmund Burke and Enlightenment Sociability: Justice, Honour and the Principles of Government,” History of Political Thought XXL, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 64–641, 645–646, 648–649; Abraham Kriegel, “Edmund Burke and the Quality of Honor,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 12, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 337–349. 16. Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” 9:91–92. 17. Burke, “Speech on Opening of Impeachment, 19 February 1788,” 6: 459. 18. Burke, “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” 3:314, 317. 19. Burke, “Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe,” 9:621. 20. Burke, “Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll, 3 November 1774,” 3:68–69. 21. Burke, “Thoughts on the Present Discontents,” 2:279. 22. Ibid., 292, 286. 23. Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 3:124–125. 24. Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 3:118; Burke, “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” 3:320–321. 25. Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 3:120–122. 26. Ibid., 130. 27. Burke, “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” 3:290, 293, 294, 303. 28. Ibid., 290, 295, 303, 322, 323. 29. Ibid., 294. See also 303, 308. 30. Ibid., 303. 31. Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 3:164. 32. Ibid., 121. 33. Ibid., 136. 34. Burke, “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, 6:316–317. 35. Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” 3:108. Burke assigned great significance to this phrase. For his attribution of it to a statement from the Continental Congress, see “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” 321. See also Richard Bourke, “Liberty, Authority, and Trust in Burke’s Idea of Empire,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61, no. 3 (July 2000): 453–471. 36. Burke, “Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe,” 9:615–616. 37. Ibid., 616–618.

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38. Ibid., 619, 618. 39. Ibid., 619, 601, 628. 40. Ibid., 634, 638. 41. Ibid., 629. 42. Ibid., 599. 43. Ibid. 44. Indeed, it was the “popular part of the Constitution” that must be to Catholics “by far the most odious part of it.” All property or other restrictions on the franchise of Protestant Dissenters in Ireland had been abolished, even though Burke insisted that they were at least as far removed as Catholics from the doctrines of the Anglican Church. Yet the Popery laws would “deprive a man who has five hundred a year, under that [Catholic] description, from voting on a par with a factitious Protestant Dissenting freeholder of forty shillings” (Ibid., 600). 45. Ibid., 597, 600. 46. Ibid., 625, 627, 628. 47. Ibid., 630, 634–635. 48. Ibid., 597. 49. The essential unity of all Christian traditions in Burke’s thought is a theme of Daniel O’Neill’s discussion of Ireland in O’Neil, Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016), 124–167. 50. Burke, “Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe,” 9:629, 630, 635. 51. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Thomas Mahoney (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), “Editor’s Introduction,” xv. 52. Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” 8:142, 143. 53. Ibid., 197, 200. 54. See Francis Canavan, “The Relevance of the Burke-Paine Controversy to American Political Thought,” The Review of Politics 49, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 163–176, 167. 55. Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” 8:180. 56. Ibid., 129. Burke frequently employed variants on this phrasing. 57. Ibid., 130; Burke, “Remarks on the Policy of the Allies,” 8:457. 58. Burke, “Remarks on the Policy of the Allies,” 8:461. 59. Ibid., 457. 60. Burke, “An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,” 4:454–459. See also George Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958), 612–613. 61. Burke, “An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,” 4:456–456. 62. Burke, “Third Letter on a Regicide Peace,” 9:343. 63. See Peter Stanlis, “Edmund Burke and the Law of Nations,” The American Journal of International Law 47, no. 3 (July 1953): 397–413. 64. Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” 8:144. 65. Sir Ernest Barker, “Burke on the French Revolution,” in Barker, Essays on Government (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1951), 227. Barker argues, in a companion essay in the same volume, on “Burke and his Bristol Constituency, 1774–1780,” that “to espouse without reserve the cause of Burke against Bristol” in the matter of representatives being trustees rather than delegates is “to deny the cause of democracy,” because democracy values free discussion, “which elicits and enlists the energy of a people’s mind . . . and . . . achieves a common purpose, an agreed object . . . of the common life, a general will which is the peace of the whole community,” while in Burke’s “normal belief the union of minds was confined to a narrow circle, and the area of discussion was an area of the elite” (p. 198). It has been the argument of this essay that Barker, one of the wisest and most perceptive readers of Burke, has in this instance made his subject seem somewhat more skeptical of democracy than Burke in fact was.


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REFERENCES Barker, Sir Ernest. Essays on Government. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1951. Bourke, Richard. “Edmund Burke and Enlightenment Sociability: Justice, Honour and the Principles of Government.” History of Political Thought XXL, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 632–656. Bourke, Richard. “Liberty, Authority, and Trust in Burke’s Idea of Empire.” Journal of the History of Ideas 61, no. 3 (July 2000): 453–471. Boyd, Richard. “The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke’s Defense of Civil Society.” The Review of Politics 61, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 465–491. Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edited by Thomas Mahoney. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965. Canavan, Francis. “The Relevance of the Burke-Paine Controversy to American Political Thought.” The Review of Politics 49, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 163–176. Kriegel, Abraham. “Edmund Burke and the Quality of Honor.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 12, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 337–349. Langford, Paul, ed., The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981–2016. Mansfield, Harvey. Statesmanship and Party Government: A Study of Burke and Bolingbroke. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1965. O’Neil, Daniel. Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016. Sabine, George. A History of Political Theory. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958. Stanlis, Peter. “Edmund Burke and the Law of Nations.” The American Journal of International Law 47, no. 3 (July 1953): 397–413. Strauss, Leo and Joseph Cropsey. History of Political Philosophy. Chicago: Rand Mcnally, 2015.

Chapter 17

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism Susan Meld Shell

Unlike that of most liberal thinkers, Kant’s theory of punishment is unabashedly retributive.1 For classical liberals punishment is justified only by the harms it can prevent, not by any allegedly intrinsic good served by making the guilty suffer. Here Hobbes’s blunt insistence that the aim of punishment “is not a revenge, but terror”2 is prototypical in substance, if not in style. Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Bentham, and Beccaria, for all their differences, agree that punishment must look to future good rather than to avenging past wrongs. This attitude on the part of classic liberalism toward retribution is not surprising, given its association with the kind of theocratic politics liberalism arose to combat.3 Kant’s account of punishment, on the other hand, combines a liberal focus on protecting individual rights with an almost Biblical (and backward looking, and thus—from the viewpoint of classical liberals—irrational) preoccupation with public “expiation” through the imposition of suffering on those whose guilt makes them deserve it. The latter feature has, indeed, led some interpreters (e.g., Jeffrie G. Murphy) to exclude the latter features as inconsistent with Kant’s juridical teaching as a whole.4 This approach has some textual support, in as much as a set of relatively early lecture notes (1784–1785) explicitly asserts that punishments imposed by sovereigns and governments are “pragmatic,” that is, “designed either to correct or to make an example,” rather than “retributive” or “moral,” that is, looking to what the criminal deserves—although the criminal must first be guilty, or deserving of punishment in the first place, before pragmatic goals can justify inflicting harm.5 Still, when Kant came to write his long promised Metaphysics of Morals (1797), he insisted that the kind and amount, not just the fact, of punishment must take its bearings from desert, as dictated and measured by the principle of retribution (6: 332).6 I will argue that Kant’s position in the Metaphysics of Morals is no anomaly, but, on the contrary, consistent with intellectual commitments fundamental to his practical teaching generally. As such, I will go on to suggest, it represents a powerful addition to the liberal understanding of crime and punishment, one that might help us better meet the challenges that confront America today.



Susan Meld Shell

JUSTICE AND DESERT “The origin of critical philosophy,” Kant once wrote, “is moral, as concerns the imputability [Zurechnungsfähigkeit] of actions” (20: 335). Critical philosophy arises, on this account, to solve the otherwise unavoidable conflict between a priori concepts to which reason is driven—God and immortality on the one hand, freedom on the other—a conflict so fundamental that (as Kant goes on to state) “all philosophies prior to the critical one are alike in their essentials.”7 The centrality of imputation to Kant’s thought is likewise indicated by his definition of a moral person (or our “noumenal” or true self in the only way it is accessible to us) as a “subject whose actions can be imputed,” a quality inseparable from a subject’s freedom. Thus, “moral personality” is “nothing other than the freedom of a rational being under moral laws,” while “a thing is that to which [lacking, as it does, ‘free choice’] nothing can be imputed.”8 Human dignity, for Kant, arises from our status as morally responsible agents, capable of meriting reward or punishment. The “humanity in our own person” from which human rights derive is thus inseparable from related notions of moral and/or juridical appraisal: Imputation [Zurechnung] (imputatio) in the moral sense is the judgment by which someone is regarded as the author [Urheber] (causa libera) of an action, which is then called a deed [Thät] (factum) and stands under laws. If the judgment also carries with it the rightful consequences of the deed, it is rightfully forceful [rechtskräftige] imputation (imputatio iudiciaria s. valida); otherwise, it is merely an imputation appraising the deed (imputatio diiudicatoria)—The person (physical or moral) who has authority to impute [zuzurechnen] with rightful force is called the judge or court . . . . If someone does more in the way of duty than can be constrained by law, it is meritorious (meritum); if he does just what the law requires, he does what is owed [Schuldigkeit] (debitum); finally, if what he does is less than the law requires he is morally culpable [Verschuldung] (demeritum). The rightful effect [rechtliche Effect] of what is culpable is punishment [Strafe; poena]; that of a meritorious deed is reward . . . (assuming that the reward, promised in the law, was its motive cause)9; conduct in keeping with what is owed has no juridical/rightful effect at all. Charitable recompense [on the other hand] stands in no juridical/rightful relation to the deed. (6: 227–228)

“Conscience,” on this account, is “consciousness of an internal court in man” in which our thoughts “accuse/take legal action against [verklagen] and excuse [entschuldigen] each other”: this inner voice is at once a judge and issuer of commands, and hence is “to be thought of as the subjective principle of being accountable to God [who alone has power to give the law effect in heaven and earth] for all one’s deeds” (6: 438–439). A man who accuses and judges himself in conscience must—if reason is not to “contradict” itself—regard himself as a double being—one that “trembles before” a court that is yet entrusted to him, and whose voice “is to be thought of as the subjective principle of being accountable to God” (6: 439–n). These passages from the Metaphysics of Morals indicate the close connection in Kant’s mind between moral feeling (with its peculiar combination of self-abasement and self-exaltation) and the proceedings of a court that passes sentence by determining what is merited. To be a person in the moral sense is (for humans) to be both a

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism


defendant and a judge, that is, to hold oneself accountable, and hence potentially deserving of reward and punishment. The importance of the principle of imputability is also evident in the Groundlaying of the Metaphysics of Morals, where “moral value [Wert]” (or virtue) and “worthiness to be happy” are treated as interchangeable (as they are virtually throughout the Kantian corpus). Likewise, the first element of ordinary moral knowledge from which the rest of Kant’s argument unfolds—the thesis that good will is the only thing that can BE thought of as capable of being held good without limitation—is given weight by the observation that an “impartial rational observer” cannot “take delight” in unmerited prosperity (or the flourishing of one who wholly lacks good will). Kant’s addition of this point calls attention to the feature of good will that makes it the only thing whose unlimited goodness can be conceived as possible to affirm: an implicit connection to notions of deserved punishment and reward. What makes the unconditional goodness of good will possible to thus affirm is that by any rational standard of imputable desert, good will (or that but only that which is wholly within an agent’s power) is all that reasonably can be demanded or expected. What makes good will unique among things that we hold good is its status as unlimited and therefore absolute in an economy in which(all) other values are relative. Whereas all other goods are dependent on the goodness of something else, good will, in its capacity to confer desert, serves as a standard by which the worth of all other valued things are, or should be, measured. Even happiness, which Aristotle allowed to be the ultimate good (“if such there be”) must be subordinated to good will, or obedience to the moral law, obedience which “has no other motive” (as Kant puts it in the first Critique) than worthiness of being happy (A/806=B/834). The equivalence of virtue and worthiness to be happy sets the stage, in turn, for Kant’s treatment, in the Critique of Practical Reason, of the “highest good,” or virtue (as the “worthiness to be happy”) and happiness combined.10 INNATE RIGHT AND THE AUTHORIZATION TO COERCE OTHERS That a “disinterested rational spectator” could “take no delight in the unmerited prosperity” of a being “graced with no feature of a pure and good will” (4: 393), does not authorize punishment understood as the intentional infliction of suffering. That task could only be properly assumed by a “fathomer of hearts” who had access to the inner moral disposition to which no human being is privy. The right to punish, insofar as it applies to human beings, derives, rather, and in the first instance, from the “innate right” invested in us by virtue of our humanity—a right that is inseparable, according to Kant, from authorization to coerce: Resistance [Widerstand] that counteracts [entgegengesetzt wird] the hindering of an effect promotes this effect and is consistent with it [stimmt mit iher zusammen]. Now whatever is wrong [unrecht] is a hindrance to freedom in accordance with universal laws [Gesetzen]. But coercion is a hindrance or resistance that happens to freedom. Therefore, if a certain use of freedom is itself a hindrance to freedom . . . (i.e., wrong), coercion that is opposed to this (as a hindering of a hindrance to freedom) is consistent with freedom . . . (i.e., right). Hence there is connected with right by the principle of contradiction [Widerspruchs] an authorization to coerce someone who infringes on it.11


Susan Meld Shell

Our innate right as embodied rational beings includes, in the first instance, the right to resist those who would encroach upon the space we rightfully occupy by virtue of being placed on the earth without our consent, so to speak. Everyone is entitled by virtue of his/her earthly embodiment to some place upon earth, a place that each occupies without encroaching on the right of others—thanks to both to our bodily individuation and to the laws of physics according to which two bodies cannot simultaneously occupy a single space. We are similarly free to move from one place to another, so long as we do not coercively remove its present occupant, who may by right coercively resist our efforts to do so. Similarly, I may act coercively against someone who threatens to remove me from my place, but not someone whose mere existence in a certain place puts me at physical risk: say the peaceful co-occupant of a life boat that is only large enough for one (6: 235). Kant differs dramatically in this respect from Hobbes, for whom one’s basic right to preserve oneself gives one a natural right to “all things,” including the use of others’ bodies. For Kant, by way of contrast, self-preservation is a secondary matter, subordinate to the right to independence from another will. As with Rousseau, independence is or ought to be of higher value, to rational being, than life itself. But independence may, in turn, be rightfully claimed only if it is consistent with the equal independence of others “in accordance with a universal law.” Hence one’s innate right to the use of one’s own body only extends to the point that it does not violate the right of others in accordance with a law that applies equally to all. Kant introduces into the “state of nature” a “universal law” that has its intellectual origins in Rousseau’s Social Contract. An artful device originally intended to resolve the contradiction between men’s natural love of freedom and the requirements of human society is here transformed into a product of pure reason. Thus, as Kant states, “there is only one innate right”: Freedom (independence from being constrained by another’s choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law, is the only original right belonging to every human being by virtue of his humanity (6: 237). By “humanity” here, Kant means “homo noumenon,” or “personality independent of physical attributes,” as distinguished from “homo phenomeon,” or the human being as affected by such attributes (6: 239). Kant defines personality as one’s “freedom as a rational being under moral law.” To be a person in this sense is to be an agent to whom actions may be imputed as the deed’s author, and hence one who can be owing to another and to whom something can be owed (6: 223). It is by virtue of the personhood in the peculiar form it takes in us (i.e., “humanity in our own person”) that we are “human beings” to whom other human beings have innate duties of right and who can in turn have innate duties of right toward others (6: 240). I am accordingly authorized, as a matter of innate right, to hinder hindrances to freedom not only in my own case but wherever they arise—say, as coercive encroachment by a local bully on an innocent neighbor. In this respect Kant is closer to Locke, who recognizes a natural right to “execute” the law of nature by “retributing” those who violate the natural rights of others, than to Hobbes. Lockean “retribution” is forward rather than backward looking, and aims not at vengeance but only at “for restraint and reparation.” And it calls to mind, in this respect, Kant’s own description of the law of nations, which authorizes wars of mutual defense but not wars that aim at “punishing” the offender, that is, retributing him beyond what is necessary to restore what was taken and prevent further aggression.

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism


And yet for Locke, possession in a state of nature rightful extends, beyond the space occupied by one’s own body, to the land whose value one has improved with the addition of one’s labor. Since one has thereby added to the “total stock of mankind,” and provided that one leaves “as good and as much” for others, only the “quarrelsome and contentious” would object, in evident in violation of the law of nature which directs us to preserve the rest of mankind “when [one’s] own survival isn’t at stake,” so that, except in the case of “punishing an offender,” no one may either take away or damage anything that contributes to the preservation of someone else’s “life, liberty, health, limb, or goods.” And the measure of that punishment is whatever may be needed to hinder violation of that law, including the destruction of offenders as “things noxious to mankind.” By breaking the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by some rule other than that of reason and common fairness (which is the standard that God has set for the actions of men, for their mutual security); and so he becomes dangerous to mankind because he has disregarded and broken the tie that is meant to secure them from injury and violence. This is an offense against the whole ·human· species, and against the peace and safety that the law of nature provides for the species. Now, every man, by the right he has to preserve mankind in general, may restrain and if necessary destroy things that are noxious to mankind; and so he can do to anyone who has transgressed that law as much harm as may make him repent having done it, and thereby deter him—and by his example deter others—from doing the same.12 For Kant, by way of contrast, we have a natural right not to the fruits of our labor (for who gave us permission to exclude others from the land we would improve beyond that we stand on?) but to “independence from being bound by others to more than one can in turn bind them,” as befits the quality of one who is his “own master,” and irrespective of one’s contribution to the happiness of others (6: 238). And although that quality can be limited by actions that offend the innate right of others, one cannot forfeit one’s status as a person (and the humanity that dwells in it) rather than a thing without canceling the agency that makes juridical “offence” (as distinguished from mere harm) intelligible. Our organic individuation into separate human bodies makes enjoyment of innate right naturally lawful on its face, given that two bodies cannot occupy the same space (leaving aside the problematic case of pregnancy). And yet this lawful enjoyment breaks down as soon as we find ourselves compelled to make use of things to which others might lay equal claim—an eventuality that is virtually guaranteed by the fact that “the earth’s surface is not unlimited but closed” (6: 311). ACQUIRED RIGHT AND THE DUTY TO ENTER CIVIL SOCIETY Right to “external” property, or property with which one is not physically connected, requires a further justification, beyond that immediately contained in the concept of “innate right,” and ultimately resting, according to Kant, on an otherwise indemonstrable postulate.13 According to that postulate: “It is possible for me to have any external object of my choice as mine”; or, alternatively, an object of choice would in itself (objectively) have to belong to no one (res nullius) is contrary to rights. If I could


Susan Meld Shell

make use of something external (say a plot of land extending beyond the ground that I am standing on) consistent with the right of others in accordance with a universal law, than to regard it as juridically off-limits would constitute a “contradiction of outer freedom with itself.” And yet without the mutually guaranteed agreement of all to abide by such a law, such a claim would violate the innate right of others to be bound by nothing to which they might not also bind the claimant—a condition that cannot be met, or can be met only “provisionally,” outside of civil society (6: 255). Such a right cannot be established, in other words, solely by my own unilateral will and hence within the state of nature, but requires a “general (common) and powerful will” that puts everyone under ‟obligation” by assuring both mutual compliance (a la Hobbes) and one consistent with the independence of each from the arbitrary will of others in accordance with a general law (a la Rousseau). A state of nature, on this account, is defective, not (primarily) because life there is “nasty, poor, brutish, and short,” or because the rational and industrious cannot enjoy the just fruits of their labor, to the general detriment of mankind, but because rights (beyond our innate right to the space our bodies occupy, and other than to compel others to join with us in civil society) cannot be exercised at all: It is not some experience, through which we become apprised of men’s maxims of violent activity [Gewalthätigkeit] and of their maliciousness [Bösartigkeit], [in] feuding among themselves prior to the appearance of an external law-giving that has might [Macht], and thus not some factum that makes public lawful compulsion necessary. Rather, even if one thinks men as benign [gutartig] and justice-loving [rechtliebend] as one will, it still lies a priori in the rational idea of such a (non-just [nicht-rechtlichen]) condition, that, before a public lawful condition should be erected [errichtet], individual/individuated men, peoples and states could never be secure against one another, and indeed [und zwar], against their doing to each [other] what each fancies right and good [was ihm recht und gut dünkt], according to his own right [Recht] not to be dependent here on the opinion of another.14

Hence: Unless one wants to renounce any concepts of right, . . . one must resolve to leave the state of nature, in which each follows his own judgment, unite oneself with others (with whom one cannot avoid interacting), subject oneself to common lawful external coercion, and so enter into a condition in which what is to be recognized as belonging to one is determined by law and is allotted by adequate [external] power. (6: 312)

Beyond the limited coercive rights inherent in innate right, and with the exception of the state of nature obtaining among nations,15 any exercise of rights absent a juridical condition is self-negating. CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE AUTHORIZATION TO PUNISH How, then, does the right to “punish” enter? And in what way exactly does it differ from the coercive right, coeval with the innate right of humanity, that prevails within

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism


a state of nature—at least up to the point that our use of external things brings us into potential conflict with others? This seemingly technical question is no small matter, for on it hinges the specific character of civic life. And it may help explain why punishment, as Tocqueville was perhaps the first to note, occupies such a prominent place in the competing American understandings of freedom. Rights to external property can be coercively enforced and thus definitively enjoyed, according to Kant, only where laws are made “public” by being generally promulgated and enforced (6: 311). For it is only in such a “civil condition” that such rights can be asserted on without doing violence to the innate right of others to be bound by nothing to which they could not bind one in turn. In a state of nature, by way of contrast, there can be no judge “competent” (competent) to pass judgment (Ausspruch thun), where right “is contentious” (streitig; ius controversum) with “rightful force.” Accordingly: Although each can acquire something external according to his own concepts of right, such acquisition is merely provisional, so long as it does not have the sanction [Sanction] of a public law, since it is not determined by public (distributive) justice nor secured by power [Gewalt] executing this right. (312; [124])

Absent the execution of a determining distribution of parts (Theilen), by which persons, too, become parts of a larger, but still “personal,” whole, right lacks ‟sanction”— a term that invokes the figure of (a punishing) God. To illustrate: voluntary repayment of a debt is entirely possible within a state of nature—for example, when one nation returns funds that it has borrowed from another. That such repayment may be morally obligatory does not make it juridically obligatory, that is, obligatory in a way that can be rightfully enforced by coercive means, however, unless the loanee is assured that any loans he might make would likewise be repaid. (“No one is bound to more than that to which he can bind another.”) Absent such assurance, the loaner has merely a provisional right against the loanee. To be sure, the loaner may have the physical means to take back his property by force; in doing so, however, he would impose on the rightful freedom of the loanee, who did what seemed “good and just to him” resulting in a net limitation on the totality of external freedom overall. Civil punishment, by way of contrast, preserves the offender from the divestiture of dignity implicit in submission to the judgment of another individual will, a being whose standing as a person is no higher than the offender’s own (6: 271, 347). This consideration gives a conceptual and moral (rather than simply prudential) reason why private property can be secured only in a civil condition in which right becomes public. It also helps explain Kant’s hostility to revolution, and concomitant willingness to tolerate juridically defective governments, whose lapses necessarily pale before that posed by a violation of public authority de facto—violation that would undermine the possibility of justice as a real community of persons, interacting in accordance with a universal law. And it sheds light on Kant’s description of the execution of a monarch as a kind of “civic suicide” in which the “possibility” of right is “swallowed up”—a characterization that might otherwise seem hyperbolic.


Susan Meld Shell

This consideration also helps account for Kant’s acceptance of what he calls “passive citizenship” as consistent with rights to which citizens are minimally entitled. For what makes one “part” of a civic community is, minimally, not the self-sufficiency (Selbständigkeit) (and related competence to vote) that permits one to be a “member” of society but rather the “independence” (Unabhängigkeit) from the arbitrary will of others that is satisfied by equal standing before a court authorized to judge with force of right and hence to which all could consent without renouncing the right of humanity in his/her own person.16 Most importantly, for present purposes, the priority of innate to private right (or of reciprocity of will to security of external property) underlies, and thereby helps explain, the primacy that Kantian punishment affords the principle of retribution. “The kind and amount of punishment that public justice makes its principle and measure,” according to Kant is none other than the principle of equality (in the position of the needle in the scale of justice) . . . . Accordingly, whatever undeserved evil you inflict upon another within the people, that you inflict upon yourself.17 This is not to say that criminals will their actual punishment, as Beccaria (and Hegel differently) maintain (cf. [6: 335]). Indeed, it “is no punishment if what is done to someone is what he wills” (the latter being what Kant calls “expiation”). What Kant instead has in mind is that that the criminal “not be able to [justifiably] complain” that by his treatment he is wronged, a condition that is met, only when the criminal brings “his evil deed back upon himself” so that “what is done to him . . . is what he has perpetrated [in spirit if not letter] upon others” (6: 292, 364).18 Hence Kant’s otherwise puzzling insistence that no murderer condemned to die has ever “complained of being treated too severely” (6: 334; 143). Such an utterance, Kant says, would be “laughable,” for it would amount to claiming that the state’s law-giving power lacks “authorization” (Befugniß) to perform something not “contrary to right according to the law.” Just as no one “is bound by others to more than he can in turn bind them,” so the murderer (or any other criminal) cannot bind state to refrain from the choice of an action (i.e., taking the life of a human being) from whose choice he did not himself refrain (6: 237). PUNISHMENT AND CIVIC HONOR If reciprocity of obligation is the principle that limits the amount and quality of punitive justice, honor is its currency. To be guilty of a crime is, in the first instance, to deny one’s victim the respect that each human being properly insists on. The first “duty of right” is to “be an honorable man (honeste vive),” that is, to assert “one’s worth as a human being in relation to others” (6: 236).19 The essence of crime lies not in only in the accompanying damage to life or property, but rather, and in the first instance, in offense to the victim’s equal standing under public law and accompanying honor as a citizen. By visiting the offender’s deed back upon himself (i.e., universalizing his/her maxim) civil punishment restores the balance, by degrading the criminal through a proportional restriction of external freedom in keeping with the crime (6: 236).

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism


The distinction between arrogance and the honor attendant on our humanity roughly parallels the distinction, in Latin, between “honor” and “honestas,” or honor in the sense of distinction over others, and honor in the sense of honesty or decency.20 Unlike honor as distinction, which implies superiority over others, honor properly conceived is grounded in a value that is both equal and absolute in the sense of lacking an equivalent. “The respect that I have from others or than another can acquire from me . . . is recognition [Anerkennung] of a dignity [Würde] (dignitas) in other men, that is, of a worth that has no price, no equivalent for which the object of value-estimation [Werthschätzung] (aestimii) could be exchanged” (6: 462; 234). The right of humanity in one’s own person, which is coeval with one’s capacity for moral action, reconciles equality of right with an obligation to strive to realize one’s full potential as a moral being. To be sure, one cannot be rightfully coerced—that is, externally compelled—to undertake such striving. And yet it is one’s capacity to do so that ultimately grounds the duty of others to respect one’s innate right as an embodied rational being. One’s “juridical honor,” on the other hand, can be coercively limited, and the “assertion of one’s right as a human being in relation to others” thereby hindered (6: 236–237), in varying proportion with the crime. Thus, a nobleman who verbally injures a commoner (i.e., “outrages his love of honor”) is rightfully retributed by a comparable hurt to pride (e.g., an apology combined with kissing the latter’s hand). If he also commits a violent act, he should also undergo a solitary confinement involving hardship, so that “in addition to the discomfort . . . the offender’s vanity would be painfully affected” (6: 332; 141). The link between punishment and degradation of honor (e.g., imprisonment as ‟servitude,” or demotion to the “status of a slave” [6: 333; 142]) is likewise brought out in Kant’s discussion of the proper penalty for treason. Here death gives each his due, since honorable rebels will prefer death to imprisonment while scoundrels will find death the greater evil (6: 334; 143). But although public slavery in this limited sense is authorized, private slavery (including the serfdom still common in Kant’s Prussia) is not. Locke, by way of contrast, specifically permits, for the sake of preserving mankind generally, the enslavement, and accompanying reduction to the status of a thing, of those who violate the law of nature—for example, by resisting efforts to make productive use of land that is otherwise being “wasted.”21 Civic honor is also at issue in Kant’s opposition to executing soldiers who kill while dueling, or mothers who kill illegitimate children out of a sense of shame. Those who commit such crimes are partly excused by the fact that they act from of a sense of honor that is “real” albeit “barbarous and undeveloped,” owing to a lack of civic culture for which they are not themselves to blame. “No legislation can remove the disgrace” of an illegitimate birth nor protect a soldier who refuses a challenge from the taint of cowardice. Such crimes stem from a “feeling of honor,” and indeed, “true honor,” of a sort that “obliges” as a duty the class of soldiers and of women, respectively. Dishonor in such cases cannot be canceled by the state (say, by declaring a bastard legitimate or by punishing the issuer of a challenge). The individuals in question thus ‟seem to find themselves in a state of nature,” where they can be guilty of “killing” but not “murder” punishable by death22—a conclusion that marks the peaceful maintenance of citizens’ (love of) honor as a necessary feature of civil existence. And


Susan Meld Shell

it marks out a path for dealing with such crimes as punishable, with less than death and with a view to promoting civic education more generally (6: 336–337). Finally, attention to the role of honor in punishment helps explain Kant’s rejection of certain penalties (e.g., quartering, and loss of limbs) as “degrading to humanity,” even when otherwise in keeping with the principle of lex talionis: it is not only, Kant says, that the “honor-loving” (who “claim others” respect, as everyone must) find them more “painful” than loss of life and goods, but also that such penalties make a “spectator blush with shame at belonging to a species that can be so treated” (6: 463; cf. 363).23 Man’s very standing to punish and be punished presupposes, it seems, a capacity for honorable pride (or “elatus animi”), that our susceptibility to bodily dismemberment (the material wages in which we pay or natural due) calls into question. Hence, Kant’s claim that a criminal’s death can be “ennobled” (its disgrace canceled) by the steadfastness with which he dies (6: 436). In short, through the commission of a wrongful deed one forfeits, by progressive negative degrees, one’s quality as one’s own master—to the point, in the case of murderers who are rightly executed, of vanishing entirely. Although the execution of a murderer thereby cancels out his wrongful assertion of his own value as a human being relative to that of others (a value that he, by virtue of his act, holds to be infinitely small), he must be put to death without doing violence to his “humanity” whose right in one’s own person no human being, however heinous his deeds, is capable of forfeiting. KANT’S RETRIBUTIVE LIBERALISM AND AMERICA TODAY What, then, are the implications of Kant’s theory of punishment for America today? Unlike earlier liberal thinkers, who left the source of rights notoriously obscure, Kant (with a nod to Rousseau) links them to our most fundamental experiences of indignation, which has the peculiar quality of assuming the intentionality of the harm against which it is vented. If Hobbes and Locke link man’s rights with his desire for self-preservation and material acquisition, Kant associates them, most fundamentally, with our concern for honor (our inability or unwillingness, in other words, to renounce or be divested of our [equal] status as persons rather than mere things). At the same time, punishment in a Kantian sense diverges from retributive doctrines that take their bearings from desert in a more absolute sense—something, says Kant, that only God can know. Civic punishment directs itself not against moral wrongs per se, but against assertions of personal value that would deny, if publicly allowed to stand, the equal status of other human beings qua fellow citizens. The authority of government to secure life and property is ultimately grounded in, and thus limited by, the “innate right” that belongs to every human being “originally” and “by virtue of his humanity.” In so claiming, Kant’s account gives greater weight to basic notions of fairness and personal dignity, and is as such arguably more attuned with republican mores, than those based in Lockean natural rights or progressive appeals to human progress and/or the reduction of human suffering. It might also help one better understand the relative popularity of capital punishment among Americans (as distinguished from other liberal democracies), along with our almost visceral hostility to corporeal

Kant’s Retributive Liberalism


punishment, even in the military. For most Americans seem to recognize intuitively, execution that leaves the body more or less intact (e.g., death by lethal injection) is more in keeping with the dignity of the executed than flogging, however much the victim as an individual might subjectively prefer it. (In constitutional monarchies like Great Britain (or, in a limited sense, Canada), punishment seems to be directed more toward the maintenance of “peace, order, and good government” than to maintaining the independence, and accompanying equal civic honor, implicit in the revolutionary republican motto “don’t tread on me.”) More importantly, a Kantian understanding of the purposes and limits of punishment would reintroduce considerations of moral proportionality into a policy whose narrow focus on “reducing crime” has grown shockingly indifferent to considerations of fairness or broader notions of public utility. What sort of public message is sent when minor drug dealers or those unable to pay petty civic fines molder in jail while murderers who are more difficult to convict roam free, and what sort of effect might this be expected to have on the larger community, including the children of those thus haplessly incarcerated? The misguided effort to make even the lowest-level crimes too costly to be worth committing tends to impose the harshest sentences on the most desperate rather than those whose crimes are most intrinsically offensive to the rights of others. One suspects that the public callousness that prevailed until only recently was itself a displaced expression of a normal retributive impulse that was unable to find an outlet more in keeping with the best of our national character. As Aristotle long ago observed, those “who cannot return evil for evil” think their position “mere slavery” (Ethics, Bk 5). To this extent, at least, civic honor and the ability to requite injury would seem to go hand in hand. To be sure, America’s long and shameful history of slavery furnishes additional, less admirable, reasons for the peculiar harshness of punishment in the state. For too long in our past, the right to punish was accompanied by extreme civic inequality, and citizens deemed themselves authorized to execute the Lockean law of nature in the most cruelly punitive of ways. They could draw on Locke’s own argument that enemies taken in a just war might be rightfully enslaved (ST 187), and, by implication, justly sold to others (although Locke himself never attempted to justify enslavement of their children) (ST 189).24 Especially in the South, as Tocqueville already noted, punishment had to be more degrading, both physically and morally, than slavery itself, lest slaves face no greater penalty than loss of liberty. Criminal justice in the historic North, by way of contrast, was dominated by two main models, as Tocqueville also noted: one directed toward the moral and religious aims (the Pennsylvania penitentiary), the other at efficient physical control (the so-called Auburn system exemplified by Sing Sing). We have subsequently oscillated between these two models—abetted, one suspects—by an infusion of the harsher Southern system, which not only deprived criminals of their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that they have justly forfeited by virtue of their crime, but also failed to honor the “innate right” that no one—even the criminal —can, on Kant’s, account give up. In maintaining a prison system that imposes solitary confinement without regard to the requirements of human sanity, or that fosters homosexual rape and similar forms of physical abuse, we tacitly permit a degradation greater even than that which once legally visited upon American slaves. Might the pathologies of our


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current system of criminal justice reflect, at least in part, the confused conjunction of these three historic aims: moral redemption, physical incapacitation, and (most harmfully) civic reassurance that we are actually free, given the contradiction inherent in our Founding? If there is any merit in this suggestion, then Kant’s theory of punishment has a corrective role to play on all three planes. First, by reconciling a morally grounded understanding of punishment with a clearer grasp of the limits of the possible, especially in a liberal society like ours, Kant could restore retribution to its proper place as the measure of just punishment. Second, in so doing, a Kantian approach to civil punishment would impose just limits, in better keeping with our deeper moral intuitions, on the otherwise proper goals of reparation and constraint on which a liberal order especially depends. Finally, and not least, it would attenuate the worst abuses supported by our current policies by drawing attention to the distinction between the rights of which a criminal may justly be deprived, and those rights of humanity that no liberal society can justly disregard or safely ignore for long. NOTES 1. Portions of the argument previously appeared, in a much earlier form, in Susan Meld Shell, “Kant on Punishment,” Kantian Review 1 (1998): 115–135. 2. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), chapter 28. Cf. Thomas Hobbes, A Dialogue of the Common Laws of England, ed. Joseph Cropsey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 131, 140–141. (I am indebted to Bernard Harcourt for drawing my attention to this essay.) 3. Montesquieu’s qualified approval of retributive punishment, in the interest of mitigating the harshness of tyranny, is an exception to the general rule. 4. Jeffrie G. Murphie, “Does Kant Have a Theory of Punishment?,” Columbia Law Review 87 (1987): 509–532. 5. Lectures on Ethics (Collins) (27: 286); tr. in Kant, Lectures on Ethics, trans. Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 79. For an alternative view, see Samuel Fleischacker, “Kant’s Theory of Punishment,” Kant-Studien 79 (1988): 434–449. For a defense of the claim that liberalism and retribution are incompatible, see Stanley C. Brubaker, “Can Liberals Punish?,” American Political Science Review 82 (1988): 821–836. See also M. Margaret Falls, “Retribution, Reciprocity, and Respect for Persons,” Law and Philosophy 6 (1987): 25–51; and Jean Hampton, “A New Theory of Retribution,” in Liability and Responsibility, eds. R.G. Frey and Christopher Morris, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 6. All references to Kant’s work cite the Academy edition (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968). 7. The centrality of the problem of imputation both to Kant’s thought in general, and to his ethical teaching, is not commonly remarked, even by scholars who regard themselves as generally sympathetic to his practical project. Typical in this regard is the work of John Rawls (and many of his students). See, for example, John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), especially 235–257. On matters of punitive justice Rawls defers to H.L.A. Hart’s mostly non-retributive account of punishment in Punishment and Responsibility (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). 8. See Metaphysics of Morals (6: 223–224; 50). 9. Kant here has in mind the fact that doing one’s duty, as such, merits no reward. 10. Critique of Practical Reason (5: 110).

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11. Metaphysics of Morals (6: 231; 57). 12. Locke, Second Treatise of Government, in Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), ch. 2. 13. The basis of this postulate, without which external objects that were physically usable would remain juridically off limits, cannot detain us here. 14. Metaphysics of Morals (6: 312; 123–124). 15. International right, for Kant, includes a right to conduct defensive wars but not coercive action that is “punitive” (6: 347). 16. It is not participation in positive law-making per se, but participation in enlightened lawmaking that is juridically crucial for Kant It is no injury, by Kantian lights, to be barred from voting if one lacks the characteristics of sex and occupation that facilitate enlightenment in the required sense. That there may be exceptions is no more an objection to this rule than the fact that some children are “wise beyond their years” is an objection to the practice of denying the vote to minors. 17. Metaphysics of Morals (6 331–332; 140–141). 18. Cf. reflection nr. 7289 (19: 303): the principle of retributive punishment consists in “each always being conscious that he acquiesces, according to the rule of justice, of being done to as he does to another.” 19. Cf. Perpetual Peace (8: 375). 20. That these words share a common root underscores the complexity of the underlying phenomenon as traditionally conceived. Kant’s association of virtue with equality of rank (rather than distinction) owes much to Rousseau. See, here especially Kant’s famous confessional note, in which he credits Rousseau with “turning him upright/around” (zurecht) from a sense of human honor (Ehre des Menschheit) based on his own intellectual progress and concomitant contempt for “the masses (Pöbel), who know nothing,” to an honor altogether dependent on belief that his philosophy might help establish the “rights of man” (20: 44). 21. Locke, Second Treatise, ch. 7. 22. Cf. the superficially similar case of the shipwreck who casts another from a plank in order to preserve himself. Kant calls such a person “objectively culpable” but “subjectively unpunishable” because the threat of future execution could not reasonably deter an act of immediate self-preservation (6: 235–236; 60–61). In this, as with crimes of honor, perpetrators find themselves in something like a state of nature, the difference being that those who commit crimes of honor act for the sake of something other than mere life. 23. One is here reminded of the “spectator” whose lack of delight in unmerited prosperity introduces Kant’s Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cf. Michel Foucault’s very different treatment of the disinterested “spectator,” along with punishment as a theater of spectacular pain. 24. To be sure, Locke holds that no one is a slave by nature. Still, one can “forfeit” one’s liberty as one can forfeit one’s life through violation of the law of nature. And since the ultimate criterion of punitive justice is the security of life and property of the vast majority, one who threatens that security (as unruly slaves were thought to do) may presumably be destroyed “as if he were a lion or a tiger” or other savage beast (Second Treatise, # 11). See in this regard Jefferson’s comparison of slavery to a wolf whose ears could not safely be relinquished (letter to John Holmes, April 22, 1820).

REFERENCES Brubaker, Stanley C. “Can Liberals Punish?” American Political Science Review 82 (1988): 821–836.


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Falls, M. Margaret. “Retribution, Reciprocity, and Respect for Persons.” Law and Philosophy 6 (1987): 25–51. Fleischacker, Samuel. “Kant’s Theory of Punishment.” Kant-Studien 79 (1988): 434–449. Hampton, Jean. “A New Theory of Retribution.” In Liability and Responsibility, edited by R.G. Frey and Christopher Morris (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Hart, H.L.A. Punishment and Responsibility (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Hobbes, Thomas. A Dialogue of the Common Laws of England. Edited by Joseph Cropsey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971). Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Kant, Immanuel. Kants gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1905). Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Ethics. Translated by Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Kant, Immanuel. Practical Philosophy. Edited by Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government, in Two Treatises of Government. Edited by Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960). Murphie, Jeffrie G. “Does Kant Have a Theory of Punishment?” Columbia Law Review 87 (1987): 509–532. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971). Shell, Susan Meld. “Kant on Punishment.” Kantian Review 1 (1998): 115–135.

Chapter 18

Alexander Hamilton and Popular Government Friendly Defender and Friendly Critic Adam M. Carrington

The Alexander Hamilton now best known to Americans is that portrayed in Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical. That production showcases Hamilton the common man, the “bastard, orphan” who, though “impoverished, in squalor,” would “[g]row up to be a hero and a scholar.” Hamilton did rise, meteorically, from low origins. His accomplishments were breathtaking not only for the conditions of his birth but also the relative shortness of his life. These accomplishments included distinguished military service under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, authorship of fifty-one out of eighty-five Federalist Papers, creation of America’s financial system as the first Treasury Secretary, and formation of one of the first American political parties, the Federalists. While coming from common stock, some viewed Hamilton as unfaithful to his origins—an enemy of the people. In particular, Hamilton’s political opponents repeatedly questioned his commitment to popular rule. The National Gazette, a DemocraticRepublican newspaper, declared one Hamilton’s financial plan “hereditary monarchy in another shape.”1 Ron Chernow noted that by the early 1790s “monarchy and aristocracy were standard code words for Hamilton and the Federalists.”2 Well after his death, this perspective remained. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for instance, spoke of those who, after the American Revolution, “surrendered to the belief that popular Government was essentially dangerous and essentially unworkable . . . . The most brilliant, honest and able exponent of this point of view was Hamilton.”3 Much modern scholarship agreed.4 Though prevalent, this position was not the only interpretation of Hamilton. Some saw a very different Founder, one fully supporting popular rule. Historian Forrest McDonald described Hamilton’s “vision” as committed to “limited republican government, on the basis of consent.”5 Both perspectives existed because both touched upon truths about Hamilton. He affirmed popular government as the only legitimate regime. However, Hamilton leveled pointed critiques at such governments, seeking to stretch and bend republics to mitigate their inherent vices. To explain this twofold perspective, I will first discuss Hamilton as popular government’s defender. Hamilton argued that the only 281


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valid regime rested on consent of the governed who formed political communities to preserve natural rights. Second, I turn to Hamilton the friendly critic. After describing the vices inherent in humanity and popular rule, I explore how Hamilton looked to institutional mechanisms that bolstered rule by the people with monarchical and aristocratic tendencies, all within a thoroughly republican foundation. Finally, I conclude by discussing the complete Hamilton’s lasting contribution to American politics. DEFENDER Hamilton defended republican government from the start. As a teenager in the Winter of 1774–1775, he composed two documents, “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress” and “The Farmer Refuted.” Therein, Hamilton responded to essays penned under the pseudonym “The Farmer”—likely Episcopalian rector and fierce loyalist Samuel Seabury. The Farmer savaged the First Continental Congress as subversive, asserting the British Parliament’s supreme authority over the Colonies, all while accusing the Congress of furthering an “ill-projected, ill-conducted, abominable scheme of some of the colonists, to form a republican government independent of Great-Britain.”6 Hamilton replied in republican fashion. “[T]he origin of all civil government, justly established,” he declared, “must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled.” Here, Hamilton did more than argue for popular rule as a legitimate form of government. He argued for it as the legitimate form. To make this case, Hamilton described just government’s origins. Prior to the existence of political community, Hamilton began, man lived in the “state of nature.” Describing humans in this condition, “prior to any human institution whatever,” illuminated principles for forming just government. Though lacking formal legal codes, the state of nature still contained a law, one called, predictably, the “law of nature.” The law of nature stemmed from “the deity,” who “constituted” this law to govern “the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other.”7 As this law originated with the Divine, Hamilton described it as “eternal and immutable.” As it governed human relations, he referred to it as “indispensably [sic], obligatory upon all mankind.” The key to understanding this law began with man’s creation. Hamilton argued that God’s creative act not only gave man “existence.” God also bestowed humans with “the means of preserving and beatifying that existence.”8 Humans possessed a dual purpose—to live and to live well. God’s primary provision to these ends consisted in endowing humans “with rational faculties.”9 Man, far from mere creatures of sense, possessed reason. The use of reason then not only allowed man to maintain his life but also to seek its highest manifestation. Man’s ends, along with the means of reason, then helped explain the law of nature’s content. To preserve existence, man should exercise his reason toward furthering “personal safety.” To beatify life, humans possessed “an inviolable right to personal liberty.” Property, too, allowed for the protection and enhancement of that life. Thus, “in a state of nature,” he summarized, “no man had any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property or liberty.”10

Alexander Hamilton and Popular Government


These additional means Hamilton referred to as “the natural rights of mankind.”11 The state of nature therefore contained a law of nature that mandated rights by nature. Eternally and immutably, man possessed those rights through the mere fact of his humanity, by his created status as a being intended to live and to live well. This understanding helped explain why government must rest on popular foundations. Quoting English jurist William Blackstone, Hamilton argued that “the first and primary end of human laws, is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.”12 Governments’ purpose lay in protecting natural rights, “which could not be preserved, in peace, without that mutual assistance, and intercourse, which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities.”13 Humans did not exercise their rights alone but in community, in relation to each other. However, how were individuals then to communally interact? As Hamilton grounded man’s right to life, to liberty, and to property in the use of reason, so he said a person must exercise self-determination regarding their application. None possessed the power rightfully to eliminate another’s existence, dictate his actions, or dispose of his goods. Thus, Hamilton argued that in the state of nature, “[n]o reason can be assigned why one man should exercise any power, or pre-eminence over his fellow creatures more than another.”14 This limit included political power, as Hamilton specified that no one held “the least authority to command, or exact obedience from”15 others. This point presented a difficulty for establishing government. For what else was political rule than the power to command, to exact obedience? How, then, could government ever begin and then fulfill its purpose of protecting natural rights? Hamilton answered by turning to the ground of popular government: consent. No authority ever could be rightfully exercised by one man over others “unless they have voluntarily vested him with it.”16 Consent made rule among equals possible, forming the “original title” for men “to govern others.” In consenting to rulers, man did not deny his equality. Government officers remained bound to go no further than those consenting “were willing to entrust.” Officials served the people, not the other way around. Rulers remained bound, furthermore, to respect the equal rights by only acting “to protect individuals, in the enjoyment of those absolute rights” for which governments were formed. Otherwise, “[t]o usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience.”17 Herein lay legitimate government’s sole grounds. By this reasoning, Hamilton declared “[t]he origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled.”18 Hamilton then used this foundation to criticize the British Parliament, calling them “enemies to the natural rights of mankind . . . because they wish to see one part of their species enslaved by another.”19 Far from extolling monarchy or aristocracy, Hamilton robustly asserted the sole legitimacy of popular rule. Hamilton never again explained his views of popular government at such length and in such depth. Nevertheless, he continued to affirm it throughout his public career. First, Hamilton continued asserting mankind’s equal rights. In his 1792 Catullus essays, for instance, Hamilton defended himself as “sincerely desirous that


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the sublime idea of a perfect equality of rights among citizens, exclusive of hereditary distinctions, may be practically justified and realized” in the United States.20 The Convention debate over Congressional representation reinforced this point. Hamilton opposed equal representation for the states in the Senate. He pointed out that “the States are a collection of individual men.”21 Given that fact, he asked “which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or of the artificial beings resulting from their composition. Nothing could be more preposterous or absurd than to sacrifice the former to the latter.”22 Yet equal state representation meant indulging in just that absurdity. It honored equality between artificial states over the equal rights of natural persons. Second, and most important for our purposes, Hamilton retained his commitment to government by consent. In arguing for New York’s ratification of the Constitution, Hamilton declared that “we must submit to this idea, that the true principle of a republic is, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.”23 Far from a grudging admission, Hamilton declared that “[t]his great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.”24 In an 1802 critique of President Jefferson’s First Annual Address, moreover, Hamilton reiterated that “[c]ivil government . . . must be conducted by common consent.”25 CRITIC Hamilton’s defense of popular rule was an important and often overlooked part of his political thought. Left alone, however, it was incomplete. While he believed popular government as the only valid kind, he did not believe it to be flawless. Far from it; all government was flawed. “It is the lot of all human institutions,” he declared, “even those of the most perfect kind, to have defects as well as excellencies—ill as well as good propensities.”26 The problem’s universality began with its source of power. Institutional defect, Hamilton explained, “results from the imperfection of the Institutor, Man.”27 The key, widespread human deficiency resided in distorted self-interest. Hamilton did not consider self-interest a fault, per se. Self-interest could manifest itself in reasonable decisions to preserve one’s life, exercise one’s liberty, and use one’s property. But, often, it morphed into selfishness with which the “vast majority of mankind is intirely [sic] biassed.”28 In the political realm, Hamilton saw selfishness manifest itself in a “spirit of faction”29 or a “Party-Spirit.” Driven by selfish motives, this factious or party-spirit sought ends inimical to justice, producing “baneful effects” that resulted in “tyranny.”30 For this spirit pursued purposes, as Madison famously described it, that were “adverse to the rights of other citizens.” Moreover, government could not cure man of this vice. In fact, so deep-seated was this trait, that Hamilton claimed “[i]t is as easy to change human nature, as to oppose the strong current of the selfish passions.”31 This universal, intractable problem then poisoned all human rule. For as party-spirit grew naturally among human beings, it “is therefore to be found in all Governments.”32

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Factions would seek to tyrannize not only against government but through it. This problem held true regardless of who ruled. In a speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, Hamilton asserted that “[e]xperience has by no means justified us in the supposition, that there is more virtue in one class of men than in another.”33 Thus, at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton declared that if you “[g]ive all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many.”34 All governments struggled with the spirit of party; they revealed themselves differently in distinct regimes. Hamilton argued that “[t]he difference” between “the rich and the poor . . . the learned and the ignorant . . . indeed consists, not in the quantity but kind of vices, which are incident to the various classes.”35 As the various classes possessed distinct virtues and vices, so rule by each mirrored those tendencies. Popular government most exposed the vices of the many. Hamilton summed these inherent flaws up in an address to the New York Ratifying Convention. Therein, he argued that “it is . . . unquestionable that they [the people] do not possess the discernment and stability necessary for systematic government.”36 Instead, he declared, the people “are frequently led into the grossest errors, by misinformation and passions.”37 Popular rule’s first distinct weakness concerned “misinformation.” Here, Hamilton meant that “popular assemblies are frequently misguided by ignorance”38 which damaged their decision-making and effectiveness and led to two pernicious effects. For one, it left popular government susceptible to demagogues. Lacking perception, these polities often succumbed to “the intrigues of ambitious men.”39 Once chosen, such men destroyed popular rule itself. In fact, in Federalist 1, Hamilton noted that demagogues came regularly as wolves in sheep’s clothing, saying “that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants.”40 Thus, ignorance could lead to popular government’s self-destruction—election, then usurpation culminating in despotism. For another, ignorance often resulted in poorly administered government. In a letter to James Duane, Hamilton declared that “[f]rom the popular spirit on which most of the governments turn, the state agents, will be men of less character and ability.”41 Popular governments suffered from poor administration because the people would not always choose based upon the characteristics best suited to good government. Instead, those chosen often garnered popularity less from pertinent virtues and more from name recognition, looks, or another irrelevant trait. Second, popular governments tended to act from their passions. In a 1780 letter to Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Hamilton lamented that “the people commonly act more from their feelings than from their understandings.”42 Again, so acting helped transform popular governments into tyrannies. For the passions of men led to violent violations of rights. Hamilton asked in Federalist 6 “[a]re not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities?”43 “[T]his most dangerous spirit,” he continued, “is apt to rage with greatest violence, in governments of the popular kind.”44 Thus,


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Hamilton declared that “the spirit of Faction is a common and one of the most fatal diseases of Republics, one which has most frequently wrought their destruction.”45 Third and finally, popular government lacked stability. In 1777, Hamilton appeared less concerned about this issue, telling Gouverneur Morris he found very disputable that “instability is inherent in the nature of popular governments.”46 By 1787–1788, after experiencing government under the Articles of Confederation, Hamilton changed his mind. In Federalist 9, for example, Hamilton declared that “the history of the petty Republics of Greece and Italy” showed these republics were “continually agitated” with “distractions” and faced a “rapid succession of revolutions.”47 In an important sense, these instabilities resulted from a combination of popular government’s first two vices: ignorance and passion. They then threatened the rights of citizens—persons the government was formed to protect. For in their constant revolutions, the Italian and Grecian states “were kept in a state of perpetual vibration, between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy”48—each a form of despotism. Hamilton therefore gave popular rule a scathing review. However, one should not take these critiques as definitive rejection. Though frustrated by his experiences between 1776 and 1787, Hamilton did not forsake his fundamental popular beliefs. Speaking more generally of republics’ weaknesses, Hamilton argued that “[n]o inference can be drawn from these examples that republics cannot exist; we only contend that they have hitherto been founded on false principles.”49 Thus, the vices of popular government need not be fatal; past need not be prologue. Hamilton believed this because “[t]he science of politics . . . like most other sciences has received great improvement.”50 New principles had been discerned and could be applied to popular rule. In Federalist 9, Hamilton listed the improvements in the science of politics that gave America’s popular government a chance to succeed where its ancient counterparts failed. They included: The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by deputies of their own election as well as “the Enlargement of the Orbit within which such systems are to revolve.”51

Through these “powerful means,” Hamilton argued that “the excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.”52 Some of these means fell squarely within the confines of popular rule, such as an extended sphere of territory that Madison discussed in Federalist 10. Others, at least as Hamilton explained them, addressed republican vices by infusing tendencies natural for other regimes. Hamilton assured his hearers that these infusions would not replace the republic with monarchy or aristocracy. However, toward them “we ought to go as far, in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit.”53 I now turn to several of those mechanisms, examining how Hamilton understood their mitigating role. Each means, while popularly based, sought to bolster republican government against its inherent flaws by incorporating elements more monarchical and aristocratic.

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REPRESENTATION I first consider “representation by the people.” In a democracy, the people ruled directly—proposing, debating, and approving laws in person. Most agreed that the United States could not operate in such a manner. Some kind of representation was necessary. Hamilton noted, however, that for some, representation only existed due to the limits of time and space. “It has been observed” he noted, “that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government.”54 Thus, democracy’s problem rested on logistical grounds. Hamilton emphatically rejected such optimism, stating “[e]xperience has proved, that no position in politics is more false than this.”55 Turning to history, Hamilton asserted that, “[t]he ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”56 Democracy was not just impracticable in the American context. Even when executable, democracy resulted in bad government. Hamilton’s rejection of democracy stemmed from his concerns about popular rule. He believed this form brought the trio of popular vices—ignorance, passion, and instability—to their apex. Hamilton carefully noted that representation still would broadly align with the people’s wishes. The “rule,” he argued, was that “the general sense of the people will regulate the conduct of their representatives.”57 The representatives must be representative, after all. However, representation must mitigate this rule by changing how it manifested. The people’s deputies should not merely mirror their constituents but instead seek to channel, to mold popular opinion. The need to do so arose when, swept up by “the strong current of selfish passions,”58 the people sought ignorant, factious injustices. He argued that, in those instances, “[a] wise legislator will gently divert the channel and direct it, if possible, to the public good.” Self-interest was unavoidable; but such self-interest could be enlightened and made more just. Representation, using persuasion, could accomplish that task. In rare circumstances, Hamilton even said representatives must step beyond channeling to outright contradiction. Instances would arise “when it may be necessary and proper to disregard the opinions which the majority of the people have formed.”59 Such outright resistance would occur infrequently and for short periods of time. Representatives could only do so temporarily because, after so long, they would stand for re-election. But Hamilton also believed representatives only would need to do so for a little while. Hamilton almost always spoke of the people succumbing to faction in the language of brevity. He described a “momentary interest or passion” that “is sure to give a wrong biass”60 or that “[n]othing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions.”61 These “ill humors,” therefore, would “speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection.”62 Thus, even temporary resistance to popular will would seek to persuade the people’s long-term views. Hamilton recognized the incongruence in so arguing. “Representation is imperfect” he admitted, “in proportion as the current of popular favour is checked.”63 Yet this imperfection in representation’s purity involved a needed corrective to popular ills.


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In these explanations, Hamilton’s representation bore a distinctly aristocratic tendency, which showed itself even more prominently in his discussions of three representative institutions found in U.S. Constitution. CONGRESS To begin, Hamilton looked to the two chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives most accorded with democratic leanings. It served two-year terms and had lower age requirements than the Senate. In fact, Hamilton at times referred to it using democratic language. At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton supported a motion to expand the number of representatives, for “he held it essential that the popular branch of it should be on a broad foundation.”64 Even the House, though, did not perfectly mirror society. In Federalist 35, Hamilton rejected that the House should include “all the different classes of citizens; in order to combine the interests and feelings of every part of the community, and to produce a due sympathy between the representative body and its constituents.”65 Instead, Hamilton appealed to the need for knowledgeable representatives, particularly regarding the taxing power. For “[t]here is no part of the administration of government that requires extensive information and a thorough knowledge of the principles of political economy, so much as the business of taxation.”66 House members must possess knowledge beyond the typical citizen, knowledge that guarded against ignorant legislation. Moreover, Hamilton in the same essay noted “the momentary humors or dispositions” that could plague parts of the populace.67 The answer, in part, lay in electing “the man whose situation leads to extensive inquiry and information.”68 Thus, even the more democratic House would temper popular woes. Hamilton also discussed the Senate. The Senate represented the states—with two senators each regardless of population, each chosen originally by their legislatures. For reasons previously discussed, Hamilton’s public defense of the Constitution largely bypassed the Senate’s state-equitable composition. Instead, he supported the Senate in distinctly aristocratic terms. His June 18 Constitutional Convention speech, for instance, noted that giving power to the many resulted in oppression of the few while power to the few resulted in tyranny over the many. Hamilton’s solution was that “[b]oth therefore ought to have power, that each may defend itself agst. the other.”69 Hamilton’s own notes for this speech spoke of the many and the few as “The democracy” and “The aristocracy.”70 Hamilton believed this reasoning should distinguish the House from the Senate. He reinforced this point in the same speech by connecting the Senate’s role to that of the British House of Lords—the body of nobles representing that country’s legal aristocracy. He said of the British that “[t]heir house of Lords is a most noble institution”71 and strongly asserted the need for a similar one here. The Senate’s necessity lay in its capacity to mitigate popular government’s vices. Speaking to the New York Ratifying Convention, Hamilton reiterated republics’ pernicious tendencies, namely that “popular assemblies are frequently misguided by ignorance, by sudden impulses and the intrigues of ambitious men; and that some firm barrier against these operations was necessary.”72 He continued that, in response

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to this problem, New York “instituted your senate.”73 The new American senate would fulfill the same role nationally by contributing two elements lacking in popular governments: “knowledge and firmness.”74 Both qualities would stem from its longer, six-year terms. First, Federalist 62 noted that “a defect to be supplied by a senate lies in a want of due acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation.”75 Those legislators with little experience in lawmaking would showcase the ignorance that so plagued popular government, resulting in bumbling procedure and poorly crafted law. The Senate’s extended terms provided relief to this knowledge problem. By accruing experience in legislative affairs, this body would “be the center of political knowledge.”76 Better knowledge would breed better process and better law. And better law would result in greater protection of rights. Second, regarding firmness, Hamilton said that “the main design of the convention, in forming the senate, was to prevent fluctuations and cabals.”77 It would do so by acting to “correct the prejudices, check the intemperate passions, and regulate the fluctuations of a popular assembly.”78 This possibility, too, came from its duration. Longevity gave Senators a more permanent interest, a more long-standing perspective that mitigated myopic passions. The Hamilton Plan at the Convention in fact had called for a Senate chosen for life. He there had argued that “there should be in every republic some permanent body,” to “form a permanent barrier agst. every pernicious innovation.”79 But when defending the new Constitution, Hamilton found six-year terms good enough to accomplish the task. When popular rage sought to de-stabilize the republic and violate individual rights, the Senate could fulfill an important aspect of representation—opposition to short-term ills in defense of long-term goods. Nonetheless, while Hamilton extolled the Senate’s aristocratic contributions, he never considered it a fully aristocratic institution. Instead, he wished to guard against any body turning into one. Early on in his public life, for instance, Hamilton worried that New York’s senate could degenerate into an actual aristocracy.80 The Senate, selected by popularly chosen state legislatures, did not fall into that camp. Instead, it would serve to strengthen republican government by helping it to a better version of itself. ELECTORAL COLLEGE Third and finally, Hamilton saw the Electoral College as exemplifying aristocratic representation. His defense of that institution, found in Federalist 68, followed his overall perspective on popular rule. He declared that the system “unites in an eminent degree all the advantages . . . the union of which was to be desired.”81 On one hand, the system affirmed popular government. Hamilton declared it “was desirable, that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.”82 Importantly on this point, the electors would not comprise “any pre-existing bodies of men.” Instead, they would only be chosen, by the people, “for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment.”83 One reason for this set-up lay in protecting against bribery and intrigue, both foreign and domestic. However, doing so also would give special responsiveness to the people’s will. More


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permanent bodies such as Congress performed many functions, some anticipated and some not at the time of selection. In those cases, voters had to make choices about which issues to prioritize in relation to their suffrage. Here, the one task focused the choice. The one task would mean here, more than other institutions, the decisions of the Electoral College would reflect those of their temporary constituents. At the same time, he declared it “equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.”84 Such persons would supply certain qualities a direct selection would not. For even though they would only accomplish one task, Hamilton described what they would do as a complicated one. Doing so would best involve persons who would be “most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.”85 Hamilton had expressed such thoughts concerning executive selection as early as 1777. In a letter to Gouverneur Morris, concerning New York’s Constitution, Hamilton argued that “[t]o determine the qualifications proper for the chief executive Magistrate requires the deliberate wisdom of a select assembly, and cannot be safely lodged with the people at large.”86 This point he reiterated in 1788, saying that the electors would “possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”87 Here, by means of representation, the few would possess another avenue to channel the passions of the many. Taken together, Hamilton viewed representation as a fundamentally republican set of institutions whose structure, with its aristocratic tendencies, mitigated the vices of popular rule. Far from anti-republican, the House, Senate, and Electoral College each stretched the popular form better to enlighten, rationalize, and stabilize it. THE JUDICIARY I next turn to the courts. Like the Senate, the judiciary resembled an aristocratic institution. Federal judges were nominated by the President and confirmed by Congress’s upper chamber, not by popular election. Moreover, these officers served “during good behavior,”88 meaning a lifetime appointment absent impeachment. Hamilton did not immediately defend the judicial branch’s republican bona fides. Instead, he appealed to the necessities of good government, focusing on ways the judiciary would curtail the vices attendant to popular rule. With life tenure, for instance, the Court possessed the time to understand the laws and accompanying precedents in a manner rotating jurists could not hope to attain, much less maintain. With selection by the executive and the Senate, their choosing would more often stem from abilities directly related to the task of judging. Their knowledge could thereby overcome the threat of popular ignorance. Moreover, because their life tenure and exercise of judicial power bolstered, even isolated, their use of reason, the Courts were also capable of thwarting the populace’s passions. Hamilton declared that courts “may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment.”89 He did so to underline the weakness of the judiciary in relation to the other branches, famously arguing that the courts would comprise the “least dangerous [branch] to the political rights of the Constitution.”90 Judges could not use coercion to get their way, either through money or threats of force. But he also

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meant something about the nature of judging. For neither should judges’ decisions reflect their own personal opinions. In making the latter distinction, Hamilton pointed to the unique place reason held in the judicial branch. Congress, in making the laws, would certainly exercise rational faculties. In Federalist 70, Hamilton asserted the legislative branch should be defined by “deliberation.”91 But it used reason to enact its will in the form of law. The courts, by contrast, had no will of their own to follow. In applying the law, they sought to carry out a will entirely distinct from their own—that of the Constitution or of the legislature. This legislative will, due to the deliberation it involved, itself proved more rational than momentary popular impulse. Therein lay a corrective to popular rule. For the judges’ absence of will meant the absence of passion. Rightly applied, the judiciary exercised reason shorn of impulse. While he acknowledged judges would fall short of perfection on this score, Hamilton thought their life tenure a way to secure this division of reason and will, thus aiding the law’s faithful application and helping to overcome the passionate, pernicious, short-lived tendencies of popular government. At the same time, Hamilton carefully noted that this institution, while contributing the benefits of rule of the few, rested on popular grounds. He made this case on two levels. First, Hamilton sought again to stretch the definition of republican government. Madison had done so in Federalist 39, where he said “we may define a republic to be . . . a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.”92 The important innovation came in republics including offices with only indirect connections to the people. Hamilton gave a similar definition at the Convention. When speaking of his proposed plan of government at the Convention, Hamilton asked if his plan fell within the definition of a republican polity. He replied to himself that “[y]es, if all the magistrates are appointed and vacancies are filled by the people, or a process of election originating with the people.”93 The judiciary tested this indirectness more than any other institution. For initially it was at least twice removed from popular selection, with an (originally) indirectly chosen president nominating and an (originally) indirectly chosen senate confirming. Still, so long as its ultimate source remained with the people, Hamilton (and Madison) claimed it for republics. And such an argument was not entirely forced. Those who nominated and consented to federal judges—the president and the Senate—both ultimately answered to the people. Thus, their choices for the judicial bench would inevitably become an issue in their own selection. Given enough such elections, the people often would get the judiciary they demanded. Second, Hamilton pointed to the judiciary’s peculiar role defending the Constitution. This argument responded to the claim that judicial review would contradict popular rule. In Federalist 78, Hamilton noted that the claim that courts could void legislative acts fostered “an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power.”94 He responded by distinguishing the direct sources of ordinary statutes as opposed to Constitutional provisions. Statutes “declared . . . the will of the legislature.” Congress passed bills that became laws. On the contrary, the direct will “of the people” was “declared in the Constitution.” Only the Constitution was ratified by the people themselves acting in bodies chosen only for that purpose.


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Hamilton then noted that these two wills did not always align, that the legislature could act “in opposition to that [will] of the people.”95 In that case, the judiciary’s action voiding a law protected the Constitution against attacks from Congress. In so doing, “the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.”96 The Courts, in protecting the Constitution, protected the people’s will, including when the threat came from the people’s representatives. Such an institution, Hamilton implied, ultimately was a popular one. THE PRESIDENCY Finally, while the preceding institutions contributed benefits of aristocracy, Hamilton thought the presidency added the virtues of monarchy. Hamilton acknowledged the concern regarding a strong president. He began Federalist 70 by noting “THERE is an idea, which is not without its advocates, that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government.”97 While unexplained in that essay, the reason for such a conclusion was not hard to decipher. A powerful, active executive bore the marks of the rule of one, of a king. Interestingly, as with the Courts, Hamilton never outright denied the tension. Instead, he warned that those supporting republican government “must at least hope that the supposition is destitute of foundation.”98 They must do so “since they can never admit its truth, without at the same time admitting the condemnation of their own principles.”99 Rejecting the possibility of a vigorous republican executive required giving up on popular government. To understand this point, we must examine the pitfalls attending a republic without a strong executive. Hamilton argued that “[e]nergy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.”100 This claim rested on an important point about law. Laws prescribed and proscribed human action. Such rules must be created, an origination which resided in the legislative power. Hamilton believed popular governments tended to fixate on legislative power, since laws often were made by assemblies seemingly imaging the exercise of popular rule. But creation was only a first step in the law’s function—its alpha, not also its omega. Laws were made to be followed, to actually protect the lives, liberties, and properties of the people. Yet the mere passing of a law did not guarantee obedience to its prescriptions and proscriptions, thus not assuring protection. Laws needed enforced. What good, then, was a law poorly or not carried out? Hamilton answered that “a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.”101 In theory, a government could possess the perfect construction. Its legislature could compose flawless laws, boundless in wisdom, perfectly calibrated to justice. But if no or bad practice accompanied it, if no or poor execution attended it, then the result would work ill. Popular government’s abiding flaws tended to result in such poor execution. In a 1780 letter to James Duane, Hamilton lamented the sorry administrative abilities of the Confederation Congress. He declared that one prominent “defect in our system is want of method and energy in the administration.”102 The want of method and energy

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stemmed from defects of ignorance and instability. The republic established in the Articles of Confederation lacked the knowledge and the steadiness to administer laws well. It therefore was, by Hamilton’s standards, a bad government. Hamilton then argued for how a strong executive could provide the answer to poor administration. But to obtain this benefit, America needed to get over its desire for republican purity. It needed to accept the vaccine of monarchical virtues to inoculate it from the diseases to which it was prone. Thus, in his 1780 letter to James Duane, Hamilton argued that, in forming unitary executive heads still under the power of Congress, “we shall blend the advantages of a monarchy and republic in our constitution.”103 Without such blending, the new American republic would go the factious, rights-destructive way of past popular governments. Hamilton believed the Constitutional presidency did make that necessary fusing. It provided the qualities for energetic administration to combat the flaws related to ignorance and stability. The first monarchical element consisted in number. Hamilton urged that a unitary executive would contribute four elements conducive to the requisite energy: “Decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch.”104 Each quality allowed for better protection of individual rights. Good execution of law required decisiveness, for before a president could enforce the law, he must decide—repeatedly—to do so. Furthermore, enforcement was itself an activity and an endlessly repetitious one at that. In creating a law, the legislature acted in a moment. But the result—the law—continued beyond that moment and existed whether or not the legislature was in session. Law’s enforcement, on the other hand, was a momentary action that required constant repetition, constant new protection for individuals. Moreover, execution required secrecy at times in order to boost its effectiveness, particularly against possible criminals. Dispatch—speed— also was necessary to curb crime and to fulfill the goods of a law for as many as possible and as long as possible. Second, in addition to unity, Hamilton also pointed to duration. Hamilton’s executive in his Convention Plan looked kingly here, too, with life tenure once chosen. Of course, Hamilton did not get his wish for such an executive. But he believed he got an adequate equivalent in the form of re-eligibility, which could extend the duration of an effective president well beyond the four-year term specified by the Constitution. As did unity, longevity facilitated good administration. First of all, it provided stability. In defending perpetual presidential re-eligibility, Hamilton described “the intimate connection between the duration of the executive magistrate in office and the stability of the system of administration.”105 A long-standing chief executive could provide consistent application of the laws, while a new administration would be tempted to change enforcement to distinguish himself from his predecessor. Furthermore, duration added to the knowledge and thus skill of administration. Duration gave the executive and those working for him the time to garner experience. Positively, in Federalist 72, Hamilton declared that “experience is the parent of wisdom.”106 As with the Senate, extended practice would accrue skill in exercising one’s office. Negatively, Hamilton argued that denying re-eligibility resulted in “depriving the community of the advantage of the experience gained by the chief magistrate in the exercise of his office.”107 Long-serving presidents, with knowledge bolstered by experience, would prove a great resource for stable and thereby effective law enforcement.


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While seeking the benefits of monarchy, we must remember that Hamilton’s executive, like his view of Congress, the Electoral College, and the Judiciary, retained a firmly republican base. As discussed before, Hamilton defended the Electoral College as a modified representative assembly, by no means mirroring its constituents but certainly bound to generally follow its wishes. That mode of selection then tied the selected to the selector, the president to the American populace. Thus, while defending the Constitution at the New York Ratifying Convention, Hamilton declared that “the President of the United States will be himself the representative of the people.”108 Furthermore, Federalist 70 calls for a unitary executive entailed a popular element alongside its plea for effectiveness. Hamilton there argued that monarchical energy must “be combined with those other ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense.”109 Therefore, while a unitary executive acted with energy, the same characteristic lent itself to republican safety as well. For the people could easier hold a unitary executive responsible for his actions than a numerous set. Multiple executives, alternatively, could and would pass the blame onto each other, confusing culpability and thereby escaping responsibility. Finally, Hamilton would urge us not to separate good administration and popular rule too much. Hamilton argued on several occasions that good administration would endear a government to the people even better than expansive representation. At the New York Ratifying Convention, he noted the claim “that a numerous representation was necessary to obtain the confidence of the people.” Hamilton replied that “[t]his is not generally true. The confidence of the people will easily be gained by a good administration.”110 Hamilton reasoned thus because “[p]robably the public attachment is more strongly secured by a train of prosperous events, which are the result of wise deliberation and vigorous execution.”111 Here, we must recall government’s purpose. Hamilton in the same speech noted the “objects, which are most dear to the people— life, liberty and property.”112 A government that protected these objects well would garner the affections of those protected, much more than representation that failed in this task. Echoing his Convention remarks, Hamilton in Federalist 77 declared that “[w]e have now completed a survey of the structure and powers of the executive department, which, I have endeavored to show, combines, as far as republican principles will admit, all the requisites to energy.”113 It did so in part by realizing Hamilton’s hope, expressed to Duane in 1780: an executive that blended the benefits of monarchy with a firmly republican grounding. CONCLUSION In the forgoing discussion, I sought to explain Hamilton as both a friendly defender and a friendly critic of popular government. His apology for rule by the people grounded itself in the theory of equal, natural rights protected by a government whose just powers came from consenting citizens. At the same time, Hamilton cautioned that popular government suffered from particular ills, namely ignorance, passion, and instability.

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Deadly when republics maintained their purity, the new science of politics offered in part aristocratic and monarchical mitigations to strengthen the republican form. Through these measures, Hamilton argued that he had not “had any other object than to give to it stability and duration; the only solid and rational expedient for preserving republican government in the United States.”114 In so arguing, Hamilton provided a necessary corrective to our own time as well as to all time. Citizens would always face the temptation toward regime purity, the call to seek popular rule undiluted or to unabashedly yearn for its elitist alternatives. You must swear allegiance; and such allegiance must manifest itself in unqualified adoration. Yet Hamilton argued the best republican was the honest one; the best republic, the impure version. The honest republican, therefore, would acknowledge its vices; the best republic would incorporate the strengths of its political alternatives. Such may be tough love for republics. But Hamilton showed us that it is not only the love of a true friend, but a love that built to last. NOTES 1. National Gazette, December 5, 1792, in The American Museum, or Universal Magazine, V. 12 (Philadelphia: 1792), 338. 2. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), 397. 3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Great Speeches, ed. John Grafton (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 20. 4. See John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014), 231–232. 5. Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1979), 3. 6. A Farmer[Samuel Seabury], Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Congress at Philadelphia (New York, 1775), 6. 7. Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted,” in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold Syrett (Charlottsville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 1: 87. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid., 1: 87–88. 10. Ibid, 1: 88 11. Ibid., 1: 86, 87. 12. Hamilton, “Farmer” 1: 88. Quoting William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Bk. 1, Ch. 1, 124. 13. Ibid. 14. Alexander Hamilton, “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress” in Papers 1: 47. 15. Hamilton, “Farmer” 1: 88. 16. Hamilton, “Vindication” 1: 47. 17. Hamilton, “Farmer” 1: 88. 18. Ibid. 19. Hamilton, “Vindication” 1: 46. 20. Alexander Hamilton, “Catalus III” in Papers 12: 498. 21. Madison, Notes, 215. 22. Ibid.


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23. Alexander Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention First Speech of June 21 (Francis Child’s Version) in Papers 5: 43. 24. Hamilton, “First Speech of June 21” 5: 43. 25. Alexander Hamilton, “The Examination No. VII” in Papers 25: 491. 26. Hamilton, “The Defense No. I” in Papers 13: 393–394. 27. Ibid., 394. 28. Hamilton, “A Full Vindication” 1: 53. 29. See Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 15 in The Federalist (The Gideon Edition), eds. George W. Carey and James McLellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011), 73; See also Federalist 27, 133. 30. Hamilton, “Tully No. 4” in Papers 17: 179. 31. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention. First Speech of June 25 (Francis Childs’s Version)” in Papers 5: 85. 32. Hamilton, “The Defense No. I” XIII: 393. 33. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Speech of June 21” 5: 43. 34. Madison, Notes, 135. 35. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Speech of June 21” 5: 43. 36. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention. Remarks [June 24] (Francis Child’s Version)” in Works 5: 68. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid., 69. 39. Ibid. 40. Hamilton, Federalist 1, 3. 41. Hamilton, “To James Duane, September 3, 1780” in Papers, 2: 406. 42. Hamilton, “To Marquis de Barbé-Marbois” September 13, 1780, 26: 393. 43. Hamilton, Federalist 6, 23. 44. Hamilton, “The Defense No. I” in Papers 13: 393. 45. Hamilton, “On James Blanchard” in Papers 13: 521. 46. Hamilton, “To Gouvernor Morris, 19 May 1777” in Papers 1: 255. 47. Hamilton, Federalist 9, 37. 48. Ibid. 49. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention [June 20]” 5: 22. 50. Hamilton, Federalist 9, 38. 51. Ibid. 52. Ibid. 53. Madison, Notes, 136. 54. Hamilton, “New York Convention Ratifying Speech. First Speech of June 21 (Francis Child Version)” 5: 38. 55. Ibid., 38–39. 56. Ibid., 39. 57. Ibid., 37. 58. Hamilton, “Ratifying Convention Speech [June 25]” 5: 85 59. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention Speech. First Speech of June 21 (Francis Child’s Version) 5: 37. 60. Hamilton, “The Continentalist I” in Papers 2: 651. 61. Hamilton, “A Letter from Phocion to the Considerate Citizens of New York” in Papers 3: 485. See also Federalist 22, 27, and 35. 62. Federalist 78, 405. 63. Hamilton, “New York Ratifying Convention Speech. First Speech of June 21” 5: 43. 64. Madison, Notes, 608. 65. Hamilton, Federalist 35, 169.

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66. Ibid., 172. 67. Ibid., 171. 68. Ibid., 172. 69. Madison, Notes, 135. 70. Hamilton, “Alexander Hamilton’s Notes” in Papers 4: 185. 71. Madison, Notes, 135. 72. Hamilton, “Ratifying Convention Remarks [June 24, 1788]” 5: 68. 73. Ibid. 74. Hamilton, Ratifying Convention Speech, June 25, 5: 81. 75. Federalist 62, 322. There is debate as to whether Madison or Hamilton composed this Paper. Regardless, it captures well Hamilton’s thoughts regarding the Senate’s benefits. 76. Hamilton, “Ratifying Convention” [June 24], 5: 68. 77. Ibid., 72. 78. Ibid., 68. 79. Madison, Notes, 135. 80. Hamilton, “To Gouvernor Morris” 1: 255. 81. Hamilton, Federalist 68, 352. 82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Ibid. 85. Ibid. 86. Hamilton, “To Gouvernor Morris” I: 255. 87. Hamilton, Federalist 68, 352. 88. U.S. Constitution, Article III. 89. Hamilton, Federalist 78, 402. 90. Ibid. 91. Hamilton, Federalist 70, 365. 92. James Madison, Federalist 39, 194. 93. Madison, Notes, 136. 94. Hamilton, Federalist 78, 403. 95. Ibid., 404. 96. Ibid. 97. Hamilton, Federalist 70, 362. 98. Ibid. 99. Ibid. 100. Ibid. 101. Ibid., 362–363. 102. Hamilton, “To James Duane” 3 September 1780 in Papers 2: 404. 103. Ibid., 405. 104. Hamilton, Federalist 70, 363. 105. Hamilton, Federalist 72, 374. 106. Ibid., 376. 107. Ibid. 108. Hamilton, “Ratifying Convention Speech” [June 21], 5: 38. 109. Hamilton, Federalist 70, 363. 110. Hamilton, New York Ratifying Convention June 21, 5: 39. 111. Ibid., 40. 112. Ibid., 41. 113. Hamilton, Federalist 77, 400. 114. Hamilton, “Catallus III” Papers 12: 505.


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REFERENCES A Farmer [Samuel Seabury]. Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Congress at Philadelphia. New York, 1775. The American Museum, or Universal Magazine, V. 12. Philadelphia: The Press of M. Carey, 1792. Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. Ferling, John. Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014. Hamilton, Alexander. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton Digital Edition. 27 vols. Edited by Harold C. Syrett. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011. Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay and James Madison. The Federalist, Gideon Edition. Edited by George W. Carey and James McClellan. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001. Madison, James. Notes on Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987. McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1979. Roosevelt, Franklin D. Great Speeches. Edited by John Grafton. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999.

Chapter 19

On Reading James Madison Constitutional Republican or Democratic Theorist? Jerome C. Foss

Some ancient regimes were founded by a lone Lawgiver, but the case is different with America where several important players helped lay the foundations of the constitutional order. Consequently, American politics is highly complex and replete with tensions, and it is this complexity that solicits our appreciation and makes it fascinating to study. Scholars are occasionally tempted, however, to simplify matters by associating our origins with a single Founder. The reason for the temptation is plain: unlocking the mind of a single person could be a shortcut to understanding the ideas and principles at the heart of the regime. It is like Plato’s Republic in reverse—rather than looking at a city to understand the human soul, we might turn to a particular soul to understand the essence of the nation. For those so tempted, three names stand out as potential contenders for the American Founder. The first is Thomas Jefferson because of his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and, more generally, because of his democratic instincts. But Jefferson’s absence from the Constitutional Convention and his general lack of detailed interpretations of the Constitution’s text make it difficult if not impossible to select him as the nation’s Lawgiver. The second choice, Alexander Hamilton wrote extensively on the Constitution, but his insistence upon republican forms that parallel the British system has long made him a less attractive Lycurgus-figure (Broadway musicals notwithstanding) for those in search of the American soul. The third choice, James Madison, attracts many because he appears to offer the best of both worlds. Like Hamilton, he can be turned to for detailed explications of constitutional clauses; and his political partnership with Jefferson indicates sympathy for democratic sensibilities. His prominent position at the Constitutional Convention, his memorable contributions to the ratification debates, and his various roles in the early republic have led many citizens to think of him as the father of the Constitution and many scholars to equate the study of the American Founding with the study of James Madison.1 But turning to a single person, Madison or anyone else, to understand America is highly problematic for at least two reasons. First, none of the Founders, however great, can bear the burden of explaining the origins of American constitutional government. 299


Jerome C. Foss

Any honest account of the Founding that does not wrestle with the ideas of Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Gouveneur Morris, and a handful of others in addition to Madison will be incomplete. The other problem with associating a single person with the Founding, and it is this second reason that I am mainly concerned with in this chapter, is that it is difficult to resist reading that Founder’s arguments through the prism of some preferred understanding of the American regime that is in fashion within the halls of the academy today. Thus, if one thinks—as many do—that America’s constitutional institutions inappropriately hinder democratic majorities, then one is faced with the choice of either blaming the supposed Founder for our undemocratic Constitution, or exonerating him by making the case that he was far more democratic than usually supposed and intended for the Constitution to be more accommodating of democracy. This latter move is the one made today by many of Madison’s defenders. Rather than depicting him as an advocate for constitutional institutions who is concerned with implementing “republican remed[ies] for the diseases most incident of republican government,” several recent scholars present him as an enlightened theorist making America safe for democracy.2 In fact, recent scholarship in American political thought has narrowed considerably the distance between James Madison’s and Thomas Jefferson’s interpretations of the Constitution. This approach entails downplaying or even eliminating Madison’s credentials as a bona fide champion of a constitutional republic, as opposed to a democratic republic. The Madison of Federalist 49 and Federalist 51 that defended constitutional veneration and institutional forms has been made to give way to the Madison of Federalist 37, which admitted to the imperfections of the Constitution, implying that we should be more open today to institutional changes.3 This revisionism is an attempt to save Madison from the charge of designing a frame of government with institutions that are fundamentally undemocratic—bicameralism, state equality in the Senate, the Electoral College, and life tenure for federal judges.4 Furthermore, it is an attempt to minimize the argument of Federalist 49 that the Constitution should not frequently be changed, a position that serves as a heavy counterweight to modern reformers. These recent reinterpretations of Madison that undermine his republicanism are shortsighted in at least two ways. First, the search for an overarching theme that connects all of Madison’s thought assumes that he was a political theorist rather than statesman. An approach that treats Madison’s essays separately rather than as parts of a larger whole may be the best way to grapple with his political thought, messy and complicated though it may be. We are better served trying to understand Madison’s most influential writings rather than by attempting to construct a systematic Madisonian political theory based upon biographical and psychological clues. Allowing his writings to stand or fall on their own merits also has the advantage of leaving in place the tensions between one argument and another, which paradoxically might end up getting us closer to the heart of the American constitutional republic. This is not to suggest that Madison’s and America’s complexities are equivalent, but rather to point out that tensions have to exist in Madison’s arguments because he is defending a complicated set of political institutions designed by a group of regionally diverse Americans, some of whom had sometimes failed to sacrifice private interest to the common good. Second, grappling with Madison’s texts on an individual basis

On Reading James Madison


vindicates the more traditional view of Madison as a constitutional republican without denying the valuable insights of recent scholarship that show the degree to which he also cared about democracy. Indeed, Madison’s arguments often do clarify the extent to which republican forms were intended by the Constitution’s Framers to refine and stabilize popular rule.5 Many of Madison’s writings remind us that democracy will work best when channeled through the institutions of a constitutional republic, however imperfect and complex. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN CLASSICAL AND MODERN THOUGHT The main reason so many scholars turn to Madison as the Founder of the American constitutional order is the undeniable caliber of his arguments. It is difficult not to think of him as a political thinker, perhaps even as a political philosopher. And because America is a modern regime, the tendency is to treat him as a modern theorist, with an air-tight system and well-defined doctrines. Generally, the modern approach to political thought differs from its classical predecessor by insisting that politics can be studied using the same methods used in the hard sciences, such as physics. For their part, classical philosophers, such as the ancient Greeks and medieval Christians, are more willing to accept the fact that clarity regarding political matters is often fleeting.6 Classical thinkers accept the fact that political leadership is as much an art acquired through experience as it is a science learned through study. And they are more likely to admit the unavoidable and even noble role that prudence plays in human endeavors, particularly in politics.7 To look to Madison for a system of thought is to assume that he is a modern political theorist. Such an assumption is perhaps warranted given the fact that Madison is influenced by thinkers that are usually associated with modernity. John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government is the best example of a modern theorist whose ideas were in the air Madison was breathing as a student at the College of New Jersey at Princeton in the years leading up to the American Revolution. And like other leading lights of the day, Madison was a student of Baron de Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, which defends institutional design in order to encourage moderation and support liberty. Madison himself seems to further justify the assumption in much of his own writing, when for example he speaks in terms of interests (which can be broken and controlled) rather than virtue (which must be patiently cultivated over time). Again, speaking generally, modern political philosophy intends to lend itself to practice more easily than does classical political philosophy. To enunciate a model is to offer it for use. Theory and practice are meant to be reconcilable. What good are political doctrines that do not admit of political action, or systematic theories that fail where the intellectual rubber meets the political pavement? Locke can be summarized fairly accurately at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. It is almost humorous to imagine a similar summary of Plato, Aristotle, or Aquinas in a document that justifies political action. Perhaps something of their spirit can be recalled, but classical thinkers do not typically offer us systematic works that can easily be distilled into pithy guiding doctrines.


Jerome C. Foss

This is not to suggest that the classical approach was impractical. Rather, classical thinkers recognize that the pursuit of wisdom regarding political things requires a certain