History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England

Filmer’s Patriarcha, 1680 Filmer: Life

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Filmer’s Patriarcha, 1680

Filmer: Life

  • 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 Laudian Peter Heylyn.

Filmer (1588-1653): funeral monument

Filmer: Life and Writings

  • Filmer a royalist; imprisoned by parliament in Civil War; d. 1653.

  • Wrote a pamphlet justifying usury and another expressing doubts about witchcraft.

  • Political works: The Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy (1648; against Philip Hunton).

  • The Free-Holders Grand Inquest (1648; on English history, and parliament).

Filmer: Works

  • 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.

Filmer, the Family, and the State

  • Ancient Romans gave fathers the right to judge and punish children by death penalty;

  • Some medieval and early modern thinkers agreed (Ockham; Marsilius; Bodin);

  • But they often argued that the state arises when several families join together (perhaps by contract);

  • Filmer contended that the first families naturally developed into states, without any contract.

Filmer on the First Families/ States; Adam

  • The bible is accurate; Genesis must be taken seriously;

  • Adam and other Old Testament figures lived very long lives; Genesis 5:5 says Adam lived to be 930 years old.

  • 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)

God creating Eve from Adam’s rib (German; 1483)

Filmer: After Adam

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