As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, and as is clear to anyone who has looked into the career of John Henry Newman, one of the main reasons for the Oxford Movement, if not the reason (understood in its broadest sense), was the concern he and others had regarding the spread of liberalism and its result on the clergy and laity of the Church of England.
|Sir Robert Filmer|
There was a problem with the mission of Newman and others, however. What, exactly, did “liberalism” mean to them? In the previous posting on this subject we examined one type of liberalism, the French or European type. European liberalism is founded on the theory that the abstraction of the collective has rights that actual human beings do not have. Any rights any human being has are a grant from the collective.
Today we will look at the second type of liberalism, the English type. This is the liberalism that, in its modern manifestation, evolved out of ancient, discredited “divine right” theory, the idea that an individual or class has a mandate from heaven to rule over others, economically, politically, religiously, or anything else. As it evolved in the seventeenth century, it reached its most extreme form in the thought of Sir Robert Filmer (cir. 1588-1653), chief theologian of James I/VI Stuart of England/Scotland as presented in Filmer’s book Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings (1680) — yes, we know Filmer died in 1653; the book was published posthumously.
|Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, S.J.|
Filmer’s argument was developed specifically to refute what he considered the bizarre notion of the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages and reiterated (with a few errors later corrected by Pius XI) by Roberto Francesco Romolo Cardinal Bellarmino, S.J. (1542-1621) — Saint Robert Bellarmine. This was the theory that actual flesh-and-blood human beings created by God, not the collective or any artificial person, have rights of life, liberty, and private property by nature.
Since the time that School-Divinity began to flourish, there hath been a common Opinion maintained, as well by Divines, as by divers other learned Men, which affirms, Mankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom from all Subjection, and at liberty to chose what Form of Government it please: And that the Power which any one Man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude. This Tenet was first hatched in the Schools, and hath been fostered by all succeeding Papists for good Divinity. (Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, opening of Chapter I.)
But if not in every individual, then where does God vest the right to rule, if at all? According to Filmer, in the king. Only the king, by virtue of his direct descent from Adam, has the legitimate right to rule. According to Filmer, God granted Adam dominion over all the Earth, including over his own children. This power descended from Adam to the Patriarchs, and from thence to modern kings.
Of course, there are a few holes in the theory. The biggest one is that if God granted dominion to Adam and his descendants . . . why only to some of his descendants? Aren’t all human beings descended from Adam and Eve? Filmer’s theory requires that only some of Adam’s descendants are fully his descendants and are thus fully human or even more than human. By some unexplained mutation or process, other descendants of Adam have become less than human, and thus subject to control by those who are fully human or more than human. This is a contradiction.
And what about the fact that a “king” is an artificial person? A king is only a king because the people accept him as such on some basis; it is not part of nature in the sense of being inherent in the king as a human being. It is only his because he is king. If all descendants of Adam have the right to rule because they are descendants of Adam, then all have an equal right to rule because they are equally natural persons. This is another contradiction.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) expanded on Filmer’s theories without correcting them. Hobbes’s idea was that all men are equal in a “state of nature” and have certain “natural rights” among which is not private property.
Instead, in Hobbes’s theory, man’s natural rights are limited to what is necessary to preserve one’s life against others. In a state of nature, therefore, people only have the natural rights of life and liberty; private property is — in Hobbes’s opinion — purely a creature of law and thus not “natural.”
Since this state of nature is “solitary and poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” however, men come together to form a commonwealth. They surrender their liberty in order to gain safety and security, thereby going against nature from the very beginning of organized society. Ordinary people retain the right of self-defense (the right to life) only insofar as it does not interfere with anyone else’s safety and security or is not contrary to reasons of state.
Perhaps the most significant change Hobbes made in Filmer’s theory, however, was the idea that sovereignty was not exclusively in the king, but in an élite; it was not the individual who was sovereign, but a class of persons, whether royalty, the aristocracy, clergy, or capitalists. Thus, as Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) who based his political and economic theories on those of Hobbes would say a few centuries later, sovereignty had shifted away from the king to parliament when the Tudors took over from the Plantagenets. As the monied classes took over political power from the aristocracy, they also assumed sovereignty.
To Bagehot, “democracy” did not mean that every human being has equal political rights, but that the economic magnates, a “chosen people” (Bagehot’s words), were vested by God with the duty of ruling over the lives and destinies of all other people. Hobbes’s theory that started with a surrender of all rights to the collective in order to gain the benefits of living in society eventually transformed into only the élite that controls the State has rights, conferred directly by God, nature, or some other agency.
Only the very strongest or those with special abilities are able to continue to conform to the state of nature and resist surrendering to the collective. They become the élite class of rulers, whether of civil, religious, or domestic society, in the latter capacity having the power, even the duty to override the authority of parents if the élite decide something is in the best interests of the children.
The State thereby controls every aspect of daily life, social, economic, and political. Law enforcement shifts largely to trying to ensure compliance with a vast and multiplying body of regulations that attempt to substitute for the guidance of the principles of natural law. Religious doctrine becomes changeable to meet political demands, and children are transformed into “mere creatures of the State.”
|John Henry Newman|
In Hobbes’s theory the State has the right to take an innocent life or abolish liberty if it deems there is sufficient reason or just cause. It is easy to see how, e.g., abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, same sex marriage, and a multitude of other things contrary to nature fit into this version of liberalism.
All rights except those of the strongest, having been surrendered to the State to acquire safety and security, can only be granted back by the élite that controls the State, including the right to life. This holds until and unless some individual or group shows that it is strong enough to take what it wants and is able to force it on others, thereby proving that they are strong enough to have retained their rights.
Once a group has demonstrated its power, usually through violence or increasingly vocal protests and demonstrations, the élite that controls the State can determine that abortion, etc., is justified by the will of the people. By the same token, the élite that controls the State can also force other things contrary to nature on people if they (the élite) are convinced it is something that in their opinion people should want, even if ordinary folks are not sufficiently enlightened to do so at the present time.
The debate in Newman’s day was not whether an élite were the rightful rulers and masters of the world, or even whether the British were charged with the “White Man’s Burden” (of course they were), but which élite were in charge. Was it the Church or the State? And was the Church supposed to be in charge of the State, the State in charge of the Church, both in charge together, or what?
Of course, regardless of the theory, when Church and State are combined as they were in England, the State is going to take over the Church to one degree or another. As the Church loses its connection with ordinary people who are not of the élite, the Church becomes more and more identified with the élite, and ordinary people either join other sects or faiths, like the Methodists and other “dissenters” from the Church of England. More often, ordinary people simply stop practicing any faith. All of this happened in England and resulted in what John Keble (1792-1866) Newman’s friend and mentor, called “national apostasy” in the sermon that is credited with initiating the Oxford Movement.
The bottom line: in English type liberalism sovereignty resides in an élite, specially chosen in some fashion that sets them apart from ordinary people. Only a “chosen people” therefore have rights. All others, unless they demonstrate that they, too, have the special characteristic(s) that prove their membership in the élite, are not fully human.
The idea that only an élite have natural rights or the ability to exercise them is the basis for capitalism, a term with at least as many definitions as liberalism itself. While the meaning of the term has been watered down and confused with the passage of time, capitalism, strictly speaking, is a system in which ownership or control of capital is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small private sector élite. Because some vestige of the natural law remains, albeit incredibly distorted, the Catholic Church has criticized capitalism harshly, but has not gone the whole way and condemned it.
It becomes obvious why and how European type liberalism and English type liberalism so easily merged into what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State.” The bureaucratic and political élite of socialism and the financial and economic élite of capitalism meet on common ground when the object is to retain concentrated power and maintain ordinary people in a condition of dependency.