issues: Milton, Hobbes, and Bacon

Monday, November 10th, 2003

I wanted to schedule a couple of posts reserved for Bacon and Hobbes. I wonder at the ability to tie three authors together–Milton, Hobbes, and Bacon–into a coherent whole, but the only way to do this is to talk about history and to try and organize things focus, say the English Civil Wars of the mid 17th century and King Lear (whose subject has a lot to do with the coming to power of James the Scot and the death of the massive Elizabeth Tudor and James son Charles and the rise of Oliver Cromwell). Lets claim that the fears that people had in England around the problem of succession didnt really come into being. James turns out not to be so bad, although this makes the incredible tensions between England and Scotland seem trivial, which I dont mean to imply. Nevertheless James is a compromiser, loves sport, dance, and disputation, and, importantly, the idea of royal absolutism. Heres the sonnet/argument that begins his Basilikon Doran

GOD giues not Kings the stile of Gods in vaine,
For on his Throne his Scepter doe they swey:
And as their subjects ought them to obey,
So Kings should feare and serue their God againe
If then ye would enjoy a happie raigne,
Obserue the Statutes of your heauenly King,
And from his Law, make all your Lawes to spring:
Since his Lieutenant here ye should remain,
Reward the iust, be stedfast, true, and plaine+,
Represse the proud, maintayning aye the right,
Walke alwayes so, as euer in his sight,
Who guardes the godly, plaguing the prophane:
And so ye shall in Princely vertues shine,
Resembling right your mightie King Diuine.

This is a great look at James interpretation of a kind of chain of being. But the idea is that in absolutism the king is responsible for his people as god is responsible for Man as a whole. God acts through the king, in other words. Such an idea, however, especially given the English Parliament, isnt going to fly very well. Charles himself is going to take things a little farther than his father and will, in his attempts to spread Episcopal style church governance onto Scotland, fail miserably.

The ideas go like this: can a king manifest this much mediating (remember weve talked a lot about divine mediation in class and the reaction of the Protestant Reformation against Catholicism) authority surrounded by Catholics and Protestants, neither of whom can really swallow a kings absolutist stance, especially in a Parliamentary arrangement. The Protestant plurality (majority) in England and Scotland is itself split between factions, such as the Puritans (of which Presbyterians, Congregationalists are a denomination), who advocated a different style of church governance (ministers and separate convocations) and those who supported a national Episcopal-style church, formed by bishops and priests and who held to the Book of Common Prayer, parts of which were slammed by critics as placing too much emphasis on sacraments rather than on preaching.

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