Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism

By John M. Major | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Politics

THE THEORY OF ORDER

WE MAY suitably begin our examination of Elyot's political philosophy in its relation to Plato by considering the famous definition in the Governour of the ideal state:

A publike weale is a body lyuyng, compacte or made of sondry astates and degrees of men, whiche is disposed by the ordre of equite and gouerned by the rule and moderation of reason. 1

Here, expressed in broad terms, are the essential elements in Plato's definition of the good society as set forth in the whole of the Republic. Before taking up these elements in detail, I should like to remind the reader of one or two rather obvious truths: that the Republic is the great source-book of European political theory, and that every utopia drawn up since Plato's time reflects in some fashion the vision of the ideal state which the Greek philosopher portrayed.There is no surprise, therefore, in the fact that Elyot's model public weal bears a dose resemblance to Cicero's, as that author describes it in "The Dream of Scipio":

Now Scipio ... said [that] in a city that is governed by reason, of all the highest, middle, and lowest estates, as of sounds, there is one true concord made out of discordant natures: and that which is harmony in music is unity in a city: that this is the firmest and surest bond of safety unto the commonwealth, and that a commonwealth can never stand without equity. 2

____________________
1
Sir Thomas Elyot, The Book Named the Governour, ed. Henry Herbert Stephen Croft ( London: Kegan Paul, Trench, and Co., 1880), I, 1.
2
Cicero, De re publica,ii.42, as quoted in St. Augustine, The City of God, trans. John Healey ( London: J. M. Dent and Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1945), I, 61.

-178-

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Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism *
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • First Editions of the Works of Sir Thomas Elyot xii
  • Part I - The Plan of the Book Named the Governour *
  • Part II - The Governour: Background and Tradition *
  • Chapter 1 - Castiglione and Other Italians 39
  • Chapter 2 - Erasmus 77
  • Chapter 3 - Sir Thomas More 89
  • Chapter 4 - Classical Authors Other Than Plato 140
  • Part III - Elyot and Plato *
  • Chapter 5 - Introduction 173
  • Chapter 6 - Politics 178
  • Chapter 7 - Psychology 206
  • Chapter 8 - Ethics 241
  • Chapter 9 - Epilogue 262
  • Conclusion 271
  • Index 273
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