Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century

By Holwell, Robert | Mankind Quarterly, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century


Holwell, Robert, Mankind Quarterly


Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century Alexander Jacob University Press of America, 2001, 0-7618-1887-1.

This study surveys the philosophical arguments for monarchical and aristocratic government from Greek antiquity to the early twentieth century. Dr. Jacob has already several learned and thoughtful books and articles to his credit. Among his translations of philosophical or political classics are Edgar J. Jung's The Rule of the Inferior from 1930 and Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Political Ideals from 1915. Then there is his study of natural philosophy, De Naturae Natura: A Study of Idealistic Conceptions of Nature and the Unconscious, published by Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, in 1992.

In Nobilitas, first the political views of Plato and Aristotle are examined. As regards their civic duties Plato never forgets the distinction between superior and inferior. According to Plato's Republic, no cessation of troubles for our states or even for the human race can be expected before philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers. Kingship is the best form of government, provided, of course, that it is directed by law. If lawless, it turns into unbearable tyranny. The rule of the many is the weakest in every way; it is not capable of any real good or of any serious evil as compared with monarchy and aristocracy.

For Aristotle the end of politics is the good of man, but it is not sufficient to secure the good of one person only; the good of the nation is more important. Even slavery is considered natural. It is the duty of legislators to ensure the predominance of the higher and more rational aspect of the soul over the lower and irrational. War must be only for the sake of peace. i.e. for preservation of the liberty of the nation. Jacob comments, "Aristotle's political theories are in no way democratic, in the modern sense, but, on the contrary, quite ida in a Platonic manner."

The case of Rome brings Jacob to Cicero, the most eloquent representative of the Republic, a staunch opponent of the demagogical - though noble - autocrat, Julius Caesar. When reading Cicero's De republica and De legibus, we see that this fine and admirable homo novus is heavily influenced by Plato, as also by the Stoics. Cicero, too, decides on the superiority of a monarchy that is just since he perceives it as ideally representing the prevalence of reason over the passions. But it being also true that monarchy may easily deteriorate into a tyranny, Cicero suggests a remedy in a mixed form of government that includes not only the regal element but also aristocratic and democratic participation. The best political system is seen as the aristocratic Roman Senate, where government is conducted by wisdom. The worst form of government, by contrast, is identified as the democratic, because there can be nothing more horrible than the deceptive politicians who falsely assume the name of the people. The ideal law, for Cicero, is no mere invention of the human spirit, but something eternal which reigns over the entire world by virtue of the wisdom of its commandments. This law is inscribed in the minds of all enlightened men and corresponds to what we would call rationality and conscience. Reason is derived from a correct perception of the Nature of the universe, and it came into being simultaneously with the divine mind. So, in the writings of Cicero we find the continuation of the political ethic of "the divine Plato".

From Septimius Severus to Diocletian the Roman Empire gradually deteriorated to approximate oriental despotism, even though the emperors were never isolated dictators but always ruled with the support of a political elite. Later on, in spite of Christianity's insistence on the equality of men before God, the religion of Europe in the Middle Ages did not encourage the growth of democracy. Mediaeval Germanic government mostly retained an aristocratic quality. …

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