Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau

Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau

Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau

Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau


Philosophic Pride is the first full-scale look at the essential place of Stoicism in the foundations of modern political thought. Spanning the period from Justus Lipsius's Politics in 1589 to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile in 1762, and concentrating on arguments originating from England, France, and the Netherlands, the book considers how political writers of the period engaged with the ideas of the Roman and Greek Stoics that they found in works by Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Christopher Brooke examines key texts in their historical context, paying special attention to the history of classical scholarship and the historiography of philosophy.

Brooke delves into the persisting tension between Stoicism and the tradition of Augustinian anti-Stoic criticism, which held Stoicism to be a philosophy for the proud who denied their fallen condition. Concentrating on arguments in moral psychology surrounding the foundations of human sociability and self-love, Philosophic Pride details how the engagement with Roman Stoicism shaped early modern political philosophy and offers significant new interpretations of Lipsius and Rousseau together with fresh perspectives on the political thought of Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes.

Philosophic Pride shows how the legacy of the Stoics played a vital role in European intellectual life in the early modern era.


For Ernst Cassirer, writing in American exile during the Second World War, ideas drawn from Stoic philosophy played a vital role in the ‘formation of the modern mind and the modern world’. The Greek Stoics had taught that one should live in accordance with a moral law of nature, he observed, and the Roman Stoics had both championed the virtue of humanitas, absent from earlier Greek ethics, and argued for a cosmopolitanism that treated the whole world, gods and humans together, as fellow citizens of one great republic. In particular, Cassirer attributed to the Stoics the notion of the fundamental equality of all human beings. Stoic ideas persisted beyond the end of the Stoic school itself, Cassirer suggested, finding a place ‘in Roman jurisprudence, in the Fathers of the Church, in scholastic philosophy’. But it was only in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that these ideas took on ‘tremendous practical significance’. In the world of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the ‘unity and the inner harmony of medieval culture had been dissolved’, ‘the hierarchic chain of being that gave to everything its right, firm, unquestionable place in the general order of things was destroyed’, and the ‘heliocentric system deprived man of his privileged condition’. The prospects appeared bleak for ‘a really universal system of ethics or religion’, one ‘based upon such principles as could be admitted by every nation, every creed, and every sect’.

Stoicism alone seemed to be equal to this task. It became the founda
tion of a ‘natural’ religion and a system of natural laws. Stoic philoso
phy could not help man to solve the metaphysical riddles of the uni
verse. But it contained a greater and more important promise: the
promise to restore man to his ethical dignity. This dignity, it asserted,
cannot be lost; for it does not depend on a dogmatic creed or on any
outward revelation. It rests exclusively on the moral will—on the
worth that man attributes to himself.

Cassirer thus considered seventeenth-century political philosophy to be in significant measure ‘a rejuvenation of Stoic ideas’. He highlighted the importance of works by Justus Lipsius and others, as well as the rapid passage of Neostoic ideas ‘from Italy to France; from France to the Netherlands; to England, to the American colonies’. Of the stirring opening phrases of the Declaration of Independence—‘We hold these truths to be . . .

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