Born c. 1588; wealthy landowning family in Kent; eldest son of 18 children; at Trinity College, Cambridge, at time of Gunpowder Plot (1605); saw Catholic (and Protestant) ideas of legitimate resistance as a dangerous threat to stability; married the daughter of a Bishop; knighted 1619; inherited family estates 1629; friends included LaudianPeter Heylyn.
The Necessity of the Absolute Power of All Kings (1648; wholly borrowed from Bodin).
Two sets of Observations (on Aristotle, Hobbes, Milton, and others, 1652) and Directions for Obedience, also 1652).
Patriarcha: the Naturall Power of Kinges defended against the Unnaturall Liberty of the People, 1680 (1632).
Works (re-)printed as Tory propaganda 1679-80.
Filmer: Ideological Context
Saravia and Elizabethan Puritanism; Bodin.
The Gunpowder Plot (1605); the Oath of Allegiance (1606); papal deposing power; Saint/ Cardinal Robert Bellarmine; Francisco Suárez.
Tensions between King and Parliament; 1614 Addled Parliament; 1628 Petition of Right;
Property and taxation; impositions; Forced Loan 1626-7.
Petition of Right, 1628
Filmer’s theory 01
Patriarcha and the natural power of kings; natural law; harmony of grace and nature (revelation and reason).
Family, state and church instituted by God to promote survival, prosperity, and salvation.
Wide agreement that in family, power is naturally in father;
But Protestant and Catholic resistance theorists argued that in state, power is at first in hands of people.
Filmer’s Theory 02
Suárez etc.: the first states were democracies; so present rulers (kings etc.) get power from the people; people can impose conditions on king in original contract; a king who breaks the contract can be disciplined.
Filmer responded by arguing that there was no original contract, and the people had never held power; people had never been free and equal, because they were born in subjection to their fathers; the first states were families.
Filmer on the confusions of contract theory
Filmer: the claim that God instituted democracy as the first form of government was insulting to God, as democracy was widely considered the worst form of government;
Democracies not the first kinds of government; people were from the first subject to the government of their fathers;
If the king is bound by a contract, the people effectively rule as they get to say when the king infringes the contract.
Filmer against contract theory
Who are the people? If we are born free and equal (and not in subjection to our fathers) the people must include children as well as adult men and women;
But children are likely to decide whether or not they like a government on quite silly grounds;
Moreover, if we take the idea that government rests on the consent of the people literally – all the people – we should have new elections every time someone is born or dies.
If Adam held fatherly power (including the right of life and death) over his own children, and over their descendants, then as he aged he would have had authority over a vast population, which could reasonably be called a state as well as a family.
Adam and his Relatives; Eve
Filmer said little about Eve, but did mention that in Genesis 3:16 God subjected her to Adam; another idea about Adam’s power over Eve was that it stemmed from the fact that she was made from his rib (Genesis 2:21-2);
Filmer thought the male was “the nobler and principal agent in generation”; (cf. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; 1854)
He argued that when Adam died, his power went to his descendant by primogeniture (unless he had changed the succession)