POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY - A PRIMER
5, 890 words @ 080808
Bowle, John: Western
Political Thought, from the origins to Rousseau,
Richard; Sixteenth Century
Oberman, Heiko A.:
Luther, Man Between God and the Devil,
Sabine, G.H. & Thorsen, T.L. – History of Political Theory – 4th edn. Holt, Reinhart & Winston/Dryden Press 1973. 0-03-
The Foundations of Modern Thought, Vol Two; The Age of Reformation,
Thomson, David (ed): Political Ideas, Penguin 1986. 0 14 021054 7.
The Reformation: an attempt to restore the spiritual purity of Christianity, which led to a radical split in Western Christianity between Protestantism and Catholicism.
1. General Introduction: Why look at religious beliefs at all? What connections are there between:
1.2 religious and political thought?
1.2 religious and political conflict?
1.3 social conditions and religious beliefs?
2. The Protestant Reformation:
Origins and ideas of Protestantism: against the corruption of the Church; for the individual conscience (against external authority) - for “faith” rather than “deeds”; the democratisation of the church; spiritual purity and the “inner policeman”.
3. The Reformation, Renaissance, and Humanism (see also notes on Thomas More)
Some mediaeval aspects together with modernisation (Luther believed he was fighting the Devil), because marked end of an era of Christian domination; a violent age: peasant uprisings, mutual persecution of Catholics and Protestants; science, printing, exploration, the universities; trade and new social classes, economic and political freedom; anthropocentric, humanistic; growth of monarchy, as against power of the Pope, bourgeoisie supports monarchy; national conflict and religious conflict; consequences of decline in papal power.
4. Luther and Calvin
Luther: “justification by faith” – “95 theses” – “priesthood of all believers” - obedience to the state – hostility to peasant uprisings (anabaptists) – aimed to free the individual Christian, but Lutheranism became a state church.
Calvin: theocracy (
5. More detail on effects of the Reformation.
Religious toleration (eventually); problematised relation between church and state - and nation-state strengthened; social contract theory (state answerable to the people); secularism, individualism, and thereby liberalism; growth of science; the "right to resist" and, in opposition, the "divine right of kings"; radical non-conformism and early forms of communism/socialism; the Protestant work ethic, and thereby support for capitalism.
1. Why look at religious beliefs at all?
1.1 religions/cosmologies influence politics/political thought (Marxism – by rejection; Confucianism - through its moral code; Islam today etc) - especially as religions and politics define values, ethics, right behaviour, the purpose of life… in other words the same questions as are addressed by philosophy - and by comparing the two sets of ideas we can try to find links between them
1.2 but usually there is no logical sequence from a particular religion to a particular political view… And not only does a
religion such as Christianity not lead to one political view, in practice different theological points were selected by
different (Protestant and Catholic) parties to support political doctrines they needed (Sabine). Often religious
differences are used as a pretext in what is really a political conflict
1.3 it is possible that social/political conditions affect not only political beliefs, but religious beliefs also (not a
view that all would accept, since religion is often seen as about absolute truths)
2. Overview of the Protestant Reformation:
2.1 The Catholic Church had become corrupt (power à corruption?). There was – especially as seen by Luther – a lack of sincerity, seriousness (Luther was shocked by the bad behaviour, bad language and licentiousness of priests in Rome). More seriously, Luther and others protested against the buying of indulgences: these brought finances into the church, but seemed a cynical way of trying to promote repentance of ones sins!
2.2 The “protesters”, who came to be known as Protestants, hence stressed: the internal authority of the individual conscience, rather than the external authority of the Church. That is, they stood for faith (internal) rather than deeds (external).
2.3 Since they believed that the individual conscience determines the truth, there was less emphasis on the need for a church hierarchy as an intermediary between the individual and God - i.e. democratisation took place within the church.
2.4 There was also less concern with rituals - more direct contact individual and god (Quakers, Shakers) - though this was a fearful experience…
2.5 Finally, the stress on "right thoughts and right deeds" led to feelings of guilt: the conscience became an “internal policeman”.
3. The Reformation, Renaissance, and Humanism (see also notes on Thomas More)
The period (roughly, the 16th century) is important because it marked a significant step in the transition from the traditional to the modern world. However, such changes take a long time… (Skinner)
In other words, such ‘modern’ ideas as: individualism, democracy, rationalism, secularism, science, the nation-state, kings as answerable to the people, the right to resist – all have their beginnings in this period (though some can be traced to earlier times, e.g. the ‘appointment’ of kings).
The Reformation occurred at same time as the Renaissance and Humanism, and the different changes were closely interwoven.
The period marked the end of an era: viz. unity of Christian empire, which had held for nearly 1,000 years! However, this change took around 100 years, and bitter wars, before it was generally acknowledged. Bowle (1961) argues that Christian thinking had become static, and it couldn't handle the changing reality of the world. Natural law theory – and therefore Christian theory - looks for laws of social order etc that are as reliable, fixed and unchanging, as physical (scientific) laws. (Blackstone, Political Philosophy, 1973). The mediaeval period was also “indifferent to practical knowledge”, and fatalistic about famine, disease etc – so until thinking changed, science and medicine could not progress (Bowle). And yet the world was changing, with the growth of exploration, science, production etc, and so thinking about the world also had to change. When splits occurred in the church, the repression of heresy was not enough – in fact it was a dead end. (Pun intended – sorry!).
As an indicator of the slowness of change, note that some medieval elements remain in the thinking and practices of this time: Luther believed the devil was a real force (he saw himself as ‘between the Devil and God…‘ (Oberman) There was widespread superstition, alongside the growth of scientific rationalism (see below) – for example the persecution of ‘witches’.
Moreover, (see below) some key political ideas were derived from the middle ages – and it is important not to look on the middle ages as a primitive, ‘dark’ period (the building of the great cathedrals of Europe for example).
However, Christian political theory did not match the political reality: Pope was fighting Emperor, and both had their proponents. Bowle’s view is that both were asking for the impossible: “This ideal of hierarchy under God, in which clerical and lay power harmoniously pursued their proper ends, implied no definition of sovereignty [supreme power] in the modern sense. Yet the exigencies of politics demanded an ultimate authority; Pope and Emperor both claimed such authority, and neither achieved it. In the end the defined sovereignty of lesser rulers proved the second best rallying point in the resulting breakdown.” And cf. Sabine, quoted elsewhere already: “whoever lost, the kings won.”
This was also a violent age (the historian Huizinga talks of ‘the violent tenor of life’) – there was widespread war, famine, the plague, and on a more domestic level, executions for what we would now see as small crimes such as theft (see the notes on Thomas More).
The condition of the peasantry was very difficult, and peasant uprisings were common (Luther took a hostile stance towards these). Mackenney writes of the persecution of the stateless.
As the split between them grew, both Protestants and Catholics persecuted and killed each other (religious wars in France lasted from 1562 – 1598).
An agricultural revolution had led to better-fed peoples, and freed some to go to live in the towns. Thus there was a new workforce for the factories that were designed during the industrial revolution: this involved mechanisation to turn the newly-imported cotton etc into finished products.
Despite the superstition, there was a tremendous growth in knowledge: the invention of printing (by 1500 there were printing presses in 200 towns) which led to the ability to publish translations of texts – including the Bible - in the vernacular (previously religious texts were only available in Latin).
Above all, the development of science can be traced to both the Renaissance – through re-examination of classic Greek authorities who had written on astronomy (the earth was no longer seen as the centre of the universe as the church had claimed) - and to humanism, through a new freedom to examine the human body (previously disallowed by the church), and a new confidence in the powers of man. The very basis of scientific method is that the individual can test and check another individual’s experiments.
With better, scientifically designed devices for navigation, exploration led to the ‘discovery’ of India and America. In turn, this led to the examination of new ways of life, new materials and plants, better standards of living, and more knowledge.
The growth of universities was remarkable: St Andrews 1411, Glasgow 1451, Edinburgh 1582. In 1600 there were 7,000 students at Salamanca, and 3,000 at Cambridge.
The impact of the growth of trade, and consequently the new class of traders, was felt in political and economic ideas, since a new class of traders required freedom of individual movement (see more on the bourgeoisie below).
A good way of describing the period is to say there was an anthropocentric view of world: writers and thinkers stressed the dignity of humans - Rabelais, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian.... But humanistic artists such as da Vinci and Albrecht Durer nevertheless expressed pessimistic views about the future of mankind (Mackenney p 121). And we can see similar ideas in Shakespeare, when he advises us to “gather rosebuds while ye may” – for life is short... Mackenney suggests that the enthusiasm for the infinite diversity of man consoles for the finite nature of life itself.
(In 1564 Shakespeare was born, and in the same year Michelangelo died. In 1558, Elizabeth I had become queen of England).
The monarchy gained more power, as the struggle between rival barons resulted in the rise of the nation-state. The decline of the Holy Roman Empire contributed to this new world outlook on political organisation, but also the cities lost their autonomy.
Later, as the bourgeoisie grew in strength it supported and strengthened the monarchy (especially against radical peasant movements - see Luther on anabaptists).
Whilst the power of the Papacy declined, it consolidated territorial power in Italy. This undermined its universalist claims and contributed to nationalist reactions (Mackenney). As Bowle outs it: the theory of Papal/Imperial power didn't correspond to reality any longer:
"This ideal of hierarchy under God, in which clerical and lay power harmoniously pursued their ends, implied no definition of sovereignty in the modern sense. Yet the exigencies of politics demanded an ultimate authority: pope and emperor both claimed such authority, and neither achieved it. In the end the defined authority of lesser rulers provided the second best rallying point in the resulting breakdown."
So, the transition involved much conflict: both religious and secular authorities were in crisis and were taking on new forms: the church was fragmenting, there were conflicts of nation against nation, and nation against Empire or Pope - and all used religious difference as a pretext in their struggles.
Thus, new religious movements needed a monarch, or similar powerful figure, to protect them (Luther and Saxony, Henry VIII); whilst in other places the old religion used the monarchy to stamp out a new religious minority (Protestants in France and Spain). (Sabine). An important treaty was the Peace of Augsburg, 1555, which determined that territorial sovereign should determine whether subjects would be Lutheran or Catholic.
As Sabine puts it: "Whoever lost, the kings won". The monarch was the only force strong enough to hold society together.
4. LUTHER AND CALVIN
Martin Luther(1483 - 1546)
His Early Life:
In 1505, at age 22, he was, whilst a student, literally (!) struck by lightning on his way back from school (in Erfurt). In terror he prayed to St Anne (the patron saint of his father's trade, mining) and vowed he would become a monk if he survived.
Two weeks later he joined the Augustinians, and stayed with them for 15 years. As a novitiate he swept the floors, and then he was set the task of learning the Scriptures by heart (because he showed an interest). Soon he came across St Paul’s words: "The just shall live by faith".
At his Ordination he felt (he recalled later) a sense of fear: "I, ashes...speak with the living God. This cannot but cause one to tremble."
Luther’s Beliefs and his conflict with the church:
These were similar view to St Augustine, who stressed the sinfulness of man (QS p 6), and the helplessness of man in face of God who created an order we cannot understand, and who has predestined us. Predestination was a harsh view – roughly, that God must by definition know all about us, and must know therefore who will deserve to be saved. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
The psychological stress resulting from this belief led to a crisis for Luther, which was solved by his realisation of the mercifulness of God (at least he forgives some!!). This thought then led to the belief in ‘Justification by Faith’ - i.e. the individual must admit to their helplessness before God and put their faith God's willingness to save them. Faith is the essential starting-point, not deeds, not outward ritual, not Church authority. "Who knows if it is true?" (i.e. it involves a relegation of reason...). Augustine himself said ‘nisi crederis noli intelligeris’ [see below: vs. Aristotle]
This stance soon led to Luther’s confrontation with the Church over the sale of indulgences: these promised to shorten the soul's stay in purgatory... they were a fund-raising device for the church.
At a deeper level, Luther did not want to allow the church any role in directing or regulating Christian life (QS) "it would be a good thing if canon law were completely blotted out". He rejected the doctrine of “transubstantiation” (the wafer and wine in the communion service become the body and blood of Christ); hence he rejected the role of the Church in forgiving sin, and the Mass itself. (book-burning he supervised)
He is perhaps best know for his "95 theses" – a series of commentaries and attacks on established practice that he nailed to the door of the church at Wittenburg in 1517 – the Wittenburg Theses. The Pope is alleged to have said "Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober."
Luther then took part in a debate with the cathedral authorities at Heidelberg – he had support of prince Frederick of Saxony and two other academics.
He visited Rome and was shocked by the lack of seriousness and what he felt was blasphemy there. Luther clearly sought perfection, and this can perhaps be traced to his monastic background - though he also attacked the errors (as he saw it) of monastic life, i.e. the belief that deeds could bring salvation.
On the other hand perhaps strangely, he defended the institution of marriage.
Secular and Religious Authorities:
Another indication of his opposition to the institution of the church is in his view that the church has no authority over temporal affairs. There are for Luther "two kingdoms", and by this he meant a spiritual kingdom and a temporal one. Nevertheless, temporal authority must be obeyed, as all power comes from God.
In 1518 the Church ordered Frederick to banish him, but Frederick refused. After more challenges, and with more support, Luther had to appear before the Emperor (Charles V) [at Diet of Worms] 1521, (Quotes)*. As the authorities were so hostile to him, he had to be taken into hiding by Frederick in Wartburg castle – there he suffered constipation, piles, and insomnia! But he also developed his ideas. He distanced himself from upheaval or rebellion. He did however lean on Frederick’s arguments, and called on others to accept them. In doing this he implicitly recognised the right of secular authority to speak on religious matters... though he stressed Frederick could only be voluntarily accepted. (See the Extracts).
NB – there are two (complementary?) sides to Luther in these quotes: (a) his own position – he couldn't envisage rebellion; and (b) when faced with rebellious others, he then felt they should be crushed. At a later date, he was able to argue that Catholic persecutors of Lutherans were "rebels" and should be resisted.
From all this, the state gained in power, especially when he accepted that princes had a right to banish unbelievers. Lutheranism is now a state church in e.g. Finland.
Luther on Rebellion; the Beginnings of Protestantism:
Another aspect of his view about secular power, and ordinary people is expressed in: (**) "the princes of this world are gods, the common people are Satan, through whom God sometimes does what at other times he does directly through Satan, that is, make rebellion as a punishment for the peoples' sins.” And: “I would rather suffer a prince doing wrong than a people doing right." (Sabine) (Thomson)
His view does not always seem consistent, since at first he believed so strongly in the power of the "word" that he said: [see below vs. Aristotle]
(***) "Heresy cannot be kept off by force. For that another tool is needed, and it is another quarrel and conflict than that of the sword. God's word must contend here. If that avail nothing, temporal power will never settle the matter, though it fill the world with blood."
[Is this inconsistent with the view that secular powers have the right to punish heresy etc? After all, as we know
(perhaps!) from the failure of torture to ‘convert’ terrorists, human belief cannot be forced by outside pressure.
In 1529, at the Diet of Speyer, the Emperor withdrew all concessions to the would-be reformers, and this led to a break-away group of six princes and 14 cities "Protesting" this. Hence Protestants. "Though the term is identified with a set of religious beliefs, it derives from a refusal voiced by secular rulers in a secular assembly against their secular superior - in the matter of religion" (Mackenney).
(In 1534, Henry VIII was to make himself head of the English Church. Thomas More was executed in 1535).
The Force and Impact of Luther's ideas:
There is a strong anti-clericalism in Luther: (Quotes) - the "priesthood of all believers" - note how he verges on saying that the social order should be dissolved, but backs away from this. (See also above, on abolishing all laws).
He attacked the Pope, but as an institution, not as an individual (Quotes from preface to Freedom of a Christian pp 45 -6).
Note the power of his language!
He believed (as with early Christians) that the "end of the world is nigh" - something in common with those who in the 13th century believed the end of the world would come imminently, because Revelations the day of Judgement will come "when 1,000 years are expired" (that is, 1,000 years after the time of the early Church). Hence "millenarian"/"chiliastic". BUT Luther did not believe in the possibility of establishing God's City on earth - all that could be done was to try to ensure the world survives long enough to reach Judgement Day: it is so evil!
He has therefore an ethics: we should work together now to preserve the world, but not fool ourselves that works will bring us salvation. Works especially serve to (i) keep the body under discipline/control (ii) "be an example to others who also need to keep their bodies under control. There is also the statement that you should “submit your will to that of others in the freedom of love." (Freedom of a Christian p 78).
In philosophical terms, he took a different view to Aristotle, since he rejected the possibility that philosophy could explain God (something mystical here).
[Luther also belongs to medieval debate: nominalists vs realists:
- realists (Aquinas, Duns Scotas) argued that universal concepts such as “man” are more real than specific experienced
phenomena i.e. individuals. Individuals only exist because "man" exists…
- nominalists (Occam) argued that universals derive from abstract thought, and abstract thought derives from
observation. Consequently, universals are names only, devoid of reality. Universals can be seen as models requiring
adjustment in the light of (sensory) experience.
Nominalism leads on to science. Luther’s ideas contributed to this, since for him religion is to be verified by
individual experience (of the Scriptures). (Though faith must come first, to open the possibility of understanding).
Luther saw "Reformation" as the work of God; Adam and Eve's work is to try for "betterment" - in practice, though, he had a strong impact on secular as well as religious life. We might even say that the changes his ideas brought about were revolutionary (not just a reform/reformation).
Luther aimed to free the individual Christian, rather than attempting to set up an alternative Church (contrast Calvin, below) - in practice, in Lutheranism, state and churched became fused. Lutheranism is now a state religion.
Puritanism and Capitalism:
Calvin was less "quietist" than Luther: he put less emphasis on inner spirituality, and more on outward observances.
One curious result of this is – Max Weber and others argue – capitalism itself: Calvin’s followers thought (roughly!) that God would not have chosen the ‘elect’ (predestined to be saved) and allow them then to lead dissolute lives; and, conversely, surely someone who wants to work hard for the good must be motivated by an inner goodness that indicates they are ‘chosen’. The notion of a ‘calling’ is very much a Protestant, and specifically Calvinist idea in its origin.
However, luxurious living is not ‘holy’, and if as a result of your hard work you earn a lot of money, it doesn’t mean that you can then spend it and excesses. Consequently, early Protestants saved their earnings. The investment that this led to helped the newly growing industry to get off the ground – as Max Weber argued, thus playing an important part in the beginnings of capitalism.
Like Luther, Calvin therefore sought spiritual purity among believers, and where his ideas gained the support of the civil powers (Geneva, Netherlands, and the Puritan community in Massachusetts) the result was a kind of theocracy, with Church elders/gentry monitoring and even spying on the citizens to ensure their morality (Sabine). Calvinist church leaders would, for example, inspect brides and grooms before marriage to ensure there was no sign of venereal disease. The power of the Calvinist church was hence strengthened. (See below for the effect on the role of temporal powers).
Geneva, which was described as a “city of glass", acted as a ‘model’ for Protestants throughout Europe: it represented, says Mackenney, a myth of stable perfection in a world of frightening uncertainty.
In 1536 Farel – who had actually initiated reforms in Geneva before Calvin - asked Calvin to stay there. Frightened by Farel's zeal, he agreed, only to be expelled two years later. Calvin returned to authority in Geneva (though reluctantly) when the council changed, in 1541.
(In 1545 the Council of Trent opened, marking the start of the Counter-Reformation).
Calvin’s Writings and Impact:
He wrote a constitution for Geneva – the Ecclestiastical Ordinances. Calvin himself insisted on obedience to secular powers, even if they were wicked. If they are wicked, God (not men) will punish them. Secular powers are an "external means" to salvation. The ruler has a duty to God:
“It is the purpose of temporal rule, so long as we live among men, to foster and support the external worship of God, to defend pure doctrine and the standing of the church, to conform our lives to human society, to mould our conduct to civil justice, to harmonise us with each other, and to preserve to common peace and tranquillity.”
Magistrates are ‘vicars of God’. But he was perhaps unclear on the separation of civil and religious powers (Quotes) (Mackenney) and, (see below) his followers interpreted his thinking on this in a radically different way.
Note that this meant for Calvin that – as for Luther - conscience is not subject to civil laws (which are “external”). This, incidentally, is contrary to what St Paul said: "ye must be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake".
Following the Constitution, the Council and the Church were to meet in a Consistory; deacons were to look after the poor, pastors to preach, doctors to teach. "Ministers should, at appointed times of year, go round all the wards of the city accompanied by an elder and a deacon to instruct the people and examine every individual briefly as to his faith" (Mackenney).
There were laws against swearing; some names were abolished because they were "not harmonious" or "absurd and stupid"; there was censorship of plays by Calvin.
There were a number of printing presses at Geneva, which helped the spread of Calvinism – many were set up by refugee printers from France (fleeing religious conflict): there were 7,000 immigrants in 12 years. John Knox (1505 – 1572, a Scottish churchman of similar ideas to Calvin) described Geneva as "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the apostles".
1559: The Institutes are a reflection on the Reformation, and demonstrate a synthesis of humanism and scholasticism:
"Unchangeable, the Word abides everlastingly one and the same with God, and is God Himself" – that is, human experience is an expression of the divine purpose.
Calvin’s ideas led to the ‘right to resist’ – how could this be?
(i) Calvinist churches developed in areas where they could not win the support of the state (France, Scotland), so his followers (e.g. John Knox) changed the line (using minor points about powers of officers of the church). Minorities of either faith were faced with a dilemma, and Calvinists – believing fervently that their ideas were correct – developed the view that they had a right to resist the monarch if the latter was hostile to their faith.
(ii) There is an ambiguous passage at end of The Institutes where Calvin says that magistrates can defend people's freedom against princes: "Let the princes hear and be afraid..." (and this was taken to mean “hear the voice of the people” – though it could mean “hear the voice of God”).
(iii) There is also a clue to this development in the constant imagery of soldiering that Calvin uses, writing of: "military service [which] ends only at death", and: [we are struggling] "against an enemy who is the embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare..." and: "hasten to rally round the banner which the Son of God holds out for us". Farel's printing emblem was the ‘sword of the true word’, so Word and sword are never far apart!
(iv) The psychology of "predestination/election" has, as noted above, some surprising effects: it is argued that God has elected who will be saved, and we do not know who these are, and the rest will be damned; but there are manifestations of election i.e. a "calling" (e.g. to preach the word) and good deeds can be seen as "justification" (an effort to escape the filth of the world). This is a call for self-discipline and self-control, and it can be taken so far as to suggest that it is a sign of God's grace if you are persecuted. This would strengthen the resolve to resist.
In fact, as noted in the points about capitalism, the psychological effect of Calvinism was to galvanise people not only to hard work, but to action (though not, of course, for the enjoyment of goods in this life). Sabine calls the set of beliefs a "cosmic system of quasi-military discipline".
5. More detail on the (long-term) effects of the reformation.
(i) religious toleration:
Protestantism grew in Germanic and Scandinavian countries (why? Some have even suggested that the cold weather and harsher life lends itself to a more pessimistic religious outlook!). Other (‘Latin’) areas stayed Catholic. However, this led to serious consequences for Protestant believers living in a Catholic country, and vice versa. After practically a century of bloody conflict, it became clear that toleration was the only answer.
NB, as noted, some medieval elements remained in Protestantism (Luther as between Devil and God) and too many (still) saw their opponents as not just wrong but wicked (including Luther...). But eventually the principle of religious tolerance, and freedom of belief, was established.
(ii) the relationship of secular to religious authorities:
In such situations, where there is a ‘dual authority’ (here, secular and religious) there is a clear problem of defining what is the sphere of authority o each. Even when there is a clear definition, how can interference of one in the other’s sphere be avoided? Who should one obey if the authorities conflict? The Middle Ages never really solved this, as we saw with the Two Cities formula.
In practice, the new relationship led to both more co-operation/involvement, and to more conflict. Thus, where the authority of the Catholic Church was undermined, the civil authorities found they had to maintain the (new) faith. More common, probably, was intense conflict between church and state. There were 8 separate wars of religion in France alone between 1582 and 1598; and a Calvinist King of France, Henry of Navarre, was assassinated by Jesuits (during the Counter-Reformation).
(In 1598 the Edict of Nantes marked the end of religious wars in France, and guaranteed liberty of worship to Protestants).
(iii) new political theories:
McClelland suggests that the new, more questioning, attitudes to law and authority, raised questions such as: why obey this law, this ruler? In looking to justify a ruler’s power, citizens argued they were entitled to expect something in return – citizens would obey, in return for protection by the ruler. Eventually this led to the social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and others in the 18th century.
(iv) the growth of secularism:
NB the Protestant Reformation was clearly not a secular movement: the main parties came to agree that religious authority needed the backing of secular power, and that political order needed religious ‘cement’ (Sabine). Yet the Reformation did contribute to secularisation. How could that happen? There were many reasons, and among them are:
- the "specialisation" of religion: when we have a ‘choice’ between religions, are we not tempted to reject them all?
- turning to the individual’s conscience: again, if an individual is free to decide for him/herself, they might decide not to believe in God at all
- religious views are not subject to empirical testing, and so science eventually undermined belief (an ongoing conflict!!!) (Blackstone).
The modern, western view, is that individual self-determination is at the basis of liberal democracy. The origins of this clearly lie in the stress on the individual conscience in Protestantism, together with the growth of the bourgeoisie and the merchant class, and, as noted, science itself has an individualistic approach.
(vi) the "right to resist":
Luther stressed it was not the secular authorities' role to interfere in religious matters, and both Luther and Calvin advocated passive obedience to secular rulers rather than resistance (see below). This was a ‘leftover’ from the earlier ‘natural law’ theories: it is a law of nature that we should have, and obey, kings…
Their followers, and historical reality, changed the picture and raised question of passive obedience (because earthly powers established by God) vs. resistance (where conflict of religion).
This led to a split between the theories of:
- the divine right of kings (though this was not new to the 16th c., it was becoming more "specialised" (Sabine)); the idea can be derived both from the passive obedience trend in Protestantism, and from Jesuit thinking
- and: that power originates from the people, and hence resistance is seen as a religious duty. NB this idea came down from two features of the Middle Ages:
(a) the right to challenge a heretical Pope, since respect was due to the office and not to the person holding it. (A view I have heard from modern Catholics). This idea also derived from the view that Church affairs affected all, and all (ecclesia) should therefore have a say in decisions, [quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur].
and (b) feudal traditions of (local) rights and duties which applied to both ruler and subject; NB from here originates the idea of "elections": the leader of a war-band would be chosen and carried (elected = lifted up) on shields (on shoulders) - which put limitations on the power of the leader (even the Emperor was constrained by this belief, despite Roman law defining the emperor [legibus absolutus - not bound by law] as above the law [quidquid principi placuit legis habet vigorem]. (Mackenney).
Eventually the latter view (power from the people) loses all its religious undertones, and becomes an anti-monarchical position; i.e. with the growth of scientific outlook people come to expect empirical proof, testable, verifiable etc, rather than revealed/scriptural authority; similar process affected "natural law" concept: political thought shifted to be more like physical/scientific law, cf. Hobbes.
(vii) radical Protestantism:
It is important to note that whilst Luther and Calvin had the most widespread influence, there were other Protestant groups, many of whom were more radical, viz. Quakers (whose pacifism and ideals of social service have had a tremendous influence – e.g. Quaker businesses, prison reform), the Anabaptists and Doukhabors (kinds of Christian anarchist, advocating free love, nakedness, and communal property even with wives! Calvin condemned the Anabaptists as “those who live pell-mell like rats in the straw’ and see Luther’s calling on “everyone who can [to] smite, slay and stab rebels such as the Anabaptists], secretly or openly…” (see the Extracts), also Presbyterians and Independents. The latter paved the way for the Levellers and Diggers in the 17th century (they played an important role in the English Civil War, and in the growth of democracy) etc.
The most significant consequence of the Reformation, if Weber was right, is capitalism itself.
Bowle, J.: Western Political Thought: University Paperbacks 1961
McLelland chapter 10 (on social contract theory)
Mackenney, R.: Sixteenth Century Europe: Macmillan 1993
Oberman, H.: Luther, Man Between God and the Devil: Fontana 1993
Sabine and Thorson chapter 19
Skinner, Q.: The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol II, Cambridge 1978 (reprinted 1996)