Sovereignty and the Sword: Harrington, Hobbes, and Mixed Government in the English Civil Wars

Sovereignty and the Sword: Harrington, Hobbes, and Mixed Government in the English Civil Wars

Sovereignty and the Sword: Harrington, Hobbes, and Mixed Government in the English Civil Wars

Sovereignty and the Sword: Harrington, Hobbes, and Mixed Government in the English Civil Wars

Synopsis

This book places the political thought of mid-seventeenth-century England within the context of the English civil wars and offers fresh insights into the principles on which two of the great figures of political thought, Thomas Hobbes and James Harrington, constructed their main arguments. Arihiro Fukuda shows Harrington to have been, no less than Hobbes, a theorist of absolute sovereignty. But where Hobbes repudiated the mixed governments of classical antiquity, Harrington was convinced that mixed government, far from being the enemy of absolute sovereignty, was its essential foundation. Fukuda shows how Harrington, in recasting Hobbes's thought, achieved an originality and profundity as striking as his rivals.

Excerpt

Thomas Hobbes stands as one of the leading writers of the seventeenth century. That reputation would have seemed fitting to James Harrington, who wrote against Hobbes but respected him. Harrington's own reputation stands less high. That would have seemed to him less fitting. He thought that his own best-known work, Oceana, had outreached Hobbes's masterpiece, Leviathan.

This book has two aims. The first is to claim a place for Harrington alongside Hobbes at the summit of seventeenth-century English political thought. Harrington maintained that Niccolò Machiavelli had been 'neglected' in the seventeenth century until he himself had rescued him. Harringtonwas largely neglected in the twentieth century until John Pocock rescued him. I believe Harrington's stature to be still higher than that which Pocock has established for him. I present Harrington as a theorist of absolute sovereignty who merged that principle with the classical idea of mixed government. Hobbes thought the ideas of mixed government and sovereignty to be antithetical. Harrington showed them to be compatible. Hobbes endorsed the Rump Parliament, which ruled England after the execution of King Charles I in 1649, as an absolute sovereign power. Harringtoncondemned the Rump because it was not a mixed one. Writing after its collapse in 1653 he tried to lay the foundations of a government that would be both absolute and mixed.

The second aim of this book is to offer a new perspective upon the political thought of the English civil wars (a term I use loosely to cover the period 1640-60, for the fact of civil war was at the centre of the political thought I examine). Within that new perspective, which I developed from Harrington's own, I place him alongside not only Hobbes but other writers of mixed government in the period. My initial concern was not with Harrington's stature. It was when I read his writings in that perspective that I began to see how he has been underestimated. I hope that our understanding of Harrington, Hobbes, and the other writers of mixed government -- of Henry Ferne, of Philip Hunton, of the authors of the Answer to the Nineteen Propositions-- gains by the perspective I offer.

This book has grown out of an Oxford M.Litt. thesis of 1992. Among . . .

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