Here this you kings! Listen, you rulers!: Thomas Aquinas and his Regimes


An important part of any political philosophy seems to be the question of Constitution. Plato and Aristotle both spend time in their seminal works on politics to understand the forms of government. For Plato those regimes are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny.[1] Aristotle expands on those regimes by excluding Timocracy and adding Kingship, and Polity.[2] The Neo Platonic and Aristotelian thinkers of the Middle Ages took a similar view on the forms of government. St. Thomas Aquinas is no different than his fellow Middle Age thinkers and devotes time to understanding the various forms of government. In the First Part of the Second Part of his Summa Theologiae Aquinas lays out his Treatise on Law. Within that treatise, in question 95 article 4, Aquinas argues for five forms of government.  Within his discussion of the forms of government a series of important questions are brought forth including, the relationship between law and regime, the place of the ecclesiastical within the civil society, and what can be determined as Aquinas’ best regime despite what he explicitly states.

First it is necessary to examine the regimes laid out by Aquinas and also their corresponding form of law. By understanding the type of law associated with each regime and what Aquinas believes to be the best regime as a result we may gain a better understanding of their relationship. From there it seems proper to discuss the place of the ecclesiastical authority within the civil society and in particular whether or not Aquinas gives any authority to the ecclesiastical. Finally, based on his three statements found in questions 95, 105 of the Summa and On Kingship we may come to some understanding of what Aquinas understands as the best regime.

Aquinas explicitly discusses his regimes and their relationship to human law in question 95 article 4. The first regime Aquinas mentions is monarchy, and the form of law associated with this regime are “royal ordinances.”[3] Aristocracy is the second regime and is associated with “authoritative legal opinions and senatorial decrees.”[4] Oligarchy is associated with “praetorian law” or what Aquinas also calls, “honorary.”[5] Democracy is the final regime associated with law, as tyranny is lawless, and democracy has, “acts of plebian assemblies.”[6] It is curious that Aquinas does not place the distinction of human law in particular on any of the regimes. The closest are Aristocracy and Oligarchy yet even those are only “opinions” and “honorary” laws. And considering the regimes and the form of law associated with them, Aquinas declares that none are the best government. This is unique given that in question 105, and in his work On Kingship where Aquinas declares that Kingship is the best form of government.[7] Yet in light of the relationship between regime and law none seem to have authoritative human law associated with them. This may be because Aquinas states that the best is a mixed regime with Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy.  However, if, none of the political regimes have law proper, then where does one receive law? Can authoritative human law be achieved through the temporal, or must one look towards someplace else? Aquinas exhibits four kinds of law: Eternal, Natural, Divine and Human law. The Human law is a reflection of the Natural and Divine laws. The Natural law is the Eternal Law’s participation in human reason. Therefore, it would appear as though only the ecclesiastical can make authoritative human law.

While Aquinas does not, in these sections, directly reference the relationship between the temporal and the ecclesiastical. However, using what Aquinas states in questions 95 and 105 of the Summa and On Kingship it nonetheless appears important to discuss that relationship. The polity is declared in question 95 to be the best regime. In question 95 of the Summa, polity, a mix of Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy, is declared the best regime; this polity could be likened to the regime found in England. However, does Aquinas mean by polity a mix of temporal and ecclesiastical authority with the Papacy at its head as king, and local aristocratic and democratic assemblies to deal with the day to day operations of the civil society? At the time the Papacy was only beginning to take the traditional title of Kings, “Vicar of Christ” for itself. However, based on Aquinas’ view of the Human law, it would appear that the ecclesiastical authority is necessary in the creation of human law. And so looking at this possible relationship between the two spheres, temporal and ecclesiastical, then one may see in Aquinas his willingness to give to the Papacy political authority in connection with the Papacy’s emerging claim to the title of Vicar of Christ.  Authoritative Human law could be possible under Papal rule, if one assumes that Human law is a reflection of the Natural and Divine laws and that they can only be decreed by members of the clergy. If this in fact is true, then a starker contrast can be seen between Aquinas and the moderns, even a starker contrast between Aquinas and a fellow medieval like Dante. The alternative to seeing Kingship as filled by a temporal, civil leader rather than by the Papacy would call into question Aquinas’ belief that the ecclesiastical has any authority within civil society at all.

And so having examined what Aquinas defines as the political regimes, and what he explicitly states as the best regime and the place of the ecclesiastical within civil society we can now turn our attention to be better understand what exactly Aquinas’ view of the best regime is. Within the Treatise on Law and On Kingship Aquinas states his view on the best regime three times. In question 95-4 the best regime, as already stated, is a polity with Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy. Yet ten questions later Aquinas contradicts himself by stating the best regime is Kingship. And then again in On Kingship the best regime is seen as Kingship. Looking at On Kingship we may dismiss the account of the best regime on one major premise, the treatise is written to the King of Cyprus. The seriousness of Aquinas’ claim in On Kingship, therefore, can only be taken in light of question 105-1 from the Treatise on Law. Yet, an understanding here may be taken in light of question 95-4 where he indicates polity will include kingship. However, in his On Kingship Aquinas states, “Man therefore needs something to guide him towards his end.”[8] This guide is a ruler, whether it is a King, aristocrat, oligarch, or democrat and the end appears to be, “man may devote his reason to some particular branch of learning.” The best guide or form of government, in On Kingship is Kingship. He further defends his argument for Kingship as the best regime on the grounds that government of many is more likely to become unjust than the government by one.[9] The question of government by many is explained by Aquinas as, “For there is no beauty in a body unless all its members are properly disposed, and ugliness arises when even one member is improperly so”[10] In each instance throughout On Kingship Aquinas appeals to what might be called the energy and efficiency of the one over the many. In addition, Aquinas considers that if there are three rulers and one is corrupt than the whole is corrupt. Both of these reasons are why Aquinas suggests that Kingship is the best possible regime.

However, in his Treatise on Law it appears that the best government, polity, corresponds to that government with the most authoritative law. Throughout the whole of the Treatise on Law it appears that law is the ultimate good given to man by God as it allows man to know and participate in the Divine As such, it appears that the best regime must have the best human law associated with it. As Aquinas says in questions 90 and 92 in his Treatise on law, “A law, properly speaking, regards first and foremost the order to the common good,”[11] indicating that the best regime should be the one that best orders the common good. He goes on to say, “Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is “that which makes its subject good,” it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect.”[12] And as before, it would appear that the best regime would be the one that best makes its subject good. And since Aquinas argues that the best regime in relation to law is polity, it would follow that the best regime simply for Aquinas would be polity.

Therefore, in looking at his description in the Treatise on Law and On Kingship of the best regime, the argument from the Treatise on Law that the best regime is the one with the best law seems to be stronger than the one in On Kingship. Because the argument in the Treatise on Law appears stronger, we may assume that Aquinas believes polity is the best government albeit with the proper form of kingship. This appears true because the role of law is so important in human affairs for Aquinas throughout the Treatise on Law.

Aquinas’ description of the regimes calls into question three key things, the relationship between regimes and law, the role of the ecclesiastical in civil society, and what appears to be Aquinas’ view of the best regime based on the relationship of regimes and law. Some may question the necessity of addressing the role of the ecclesiastical in society because Aquinas himself does not address this. However, because of the historic role of the Church at the time of Aquinas and the centuries immediately following his life one cannot exclude the possible implications of ecclesiastical in society. And because Aquinas states in various locations differing views of what can be called the best regime it is necessary to attempt to better understand Aquinas’ view based on what he says but not necessarily what he says is the best regime; i.e. the role of the regime in human life, and the role of law.


[1] Plato’s Republic book VIII. Plato also states that Aristocracy degrades into Timocracy, which degrades into Oligarchy and then into Democracy and finally into Tyranny.

[2] Aristotles’s Politics book III and IV. Aristotle claims that Kingship is the most desired regime and this differs from Aquinas’s view in On Kingship where he calls it the best regime. Aristotle calls polity the best possible regime and it is here in Question 95 of the Treatise on Law that Aquinas agrees with Aristotle’s account.

[3] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae IaIIae 95-4 in  Aquinas: Political Writings edited by R.W. Dyson, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008) pg. 135

[4] Summa Theologiae I, II, 95-4 pg. 136

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “A kingdom is the best form of government of the people” Summa Theologiae I, II, 105-1. And, “The rule of the King is best.” On Kingship, pg. 11.  One must call into question Aquinas’s declaration of kingship in On Kingship as it is a letter written to the King of Cyprus. As such, one may argue that Aquinas is simply appeasing the king in declaring kingship to be the best regime. His seemingly contradictory statements in the Treatise on Law may be rectified by demonstrating that Kingship is one of the regimes in the Polity and that Polity should be in the form of a kingship, albeit with Aristocracy and Democracy elements.

[8] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 5

[9] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 17, “If, however, one man rules…” and “For when dissension arises.”

[10] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 13.

[11] Summa Theologiae, 1.1.90-3

[12] Summa Theologiae 1.1.92-1

Evil men do not understand justice


What recourse does one have when a King, who rules by Divine Right, is deposed and usurped by another? The Heavens who have chosen the now usurped King cannot be thought to sit idly by while an illegitimate sovereign now reigns. Shakespeare’s second installment of his Second Tetralogy explores how the Heavens resolve the problem of the illegitimate sovereign. In particular the First Part of Henry IV explores how the Heavens attempted to solve the question of the illegitimate King. The first act of the play demonstrates that an uprising of supporters of the slain King Richard II is underway and both Prince Hal and his friend Falstaff discuss the relation of the Moon’s power to govern the affairs of men. It appears that the Law, which governs the Heavenly Bodies and men, is personified by Shakespeare in the First Part of Henry IV as a means of gaining satisfaction against King Henry IV for his usurpation of God’s chosen King, Richard II.

Some have seen Henry IV, Part One[1] as a play about the creation of a Prince and King in the character of Prince Hal; however, the play focuses on the career of a usurper.[2] Falstaff and Prince Hal discuss the new situation that they find themselves in. Falstaff says to Hal, “let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 28-31.) The moon has the power to make the ocean rise and fall at will and that same power governs men according to Falstaff. The moon is governed by God, and therefore the moon appears with water, the prominent literary image of redemption and a new beginning.  The moon will be used by God to cleanse the Kingdom of England by stirring the passions of the people into a outright rebellion.   The rebellion of the Welsh seems to be caused by stirrings of the moon in accordance with Falstaff’s belief of the moon’s power over mankind. The Prince responds to Falstaff by saying, “Thou sayest well, and it holds well too, for the fortune of us that are moon’s men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 32-35) The question that Prince Hal now must face is how to protect stability in England despite the wrath of Heaven against his father. Yet, to demonstrate to the Heavens that he, Prince Hal, is deserving of the throne his father stole, Hal acknowledges, “And pay the debt I never promised” (Act 1 scene 2, 216) This prophetic statement by Hal indicates that his father will in fact be saved from Divine justice, instead the Prince and the English people will be forced to pay for the sins of Henry IV.

Having disposed the King, Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke is prepared to turn his attention to the restoration of time and the kingdom of England; he proposes a crusade to the Holy Land. However, as King Henry IV, Bolingbroke faces his first threat from the Welsh, who as supporters of the late King Richard II are prepared to revolt against the usurper King.[3] Because of threats to his throne the crusade must be put on hold.  The play of the First Part of Henry IV focuses around the hostilities the new king faces in the aftermath of his execution and disposition of the previous king. In particular, a theme of the play is posed by the King’s son Hal; he will be forced to pay for the actions of his father in taking the thrown. The play looks to the relationship of the Heavenly Bodies and political affairs; England’s political affairs throughout the play are chaotic. Something seems to be seeking retribution for the deposing of God’s chosen monarch. The Law appears in various forms throughout the play, each seeking retribution against the King. The threat of a Welsh uprising is also an indication that Shakespeare plans for Part 1 of Henry IV how the Heavens handle usurpers.  Henry’s rule has ushered in a period of lawlessness in England that will last until the last of the Lancaster Monarchs has reigned. As Falstaff states, “I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company.”(2, 2, 10) The only way to restore the rule of law and order in England is restore the monarchy to a King who represents lawfulness rather than lawlessness. Henry’s choice to overthrow his cousin Richard plays out in the play to show the consequences of his choice: England and his family will suffer Divine justice.

The final element of the story of Divine Justice against King Henry IV is the war against the Welsh.[4] Falstaff says, “Rebellion lay in his way….” (5.1.29.)  The rebellion, a result of the moon’s power over the passions of men, symbolizes the Divine Justice against King Henry and as Falstaff indicates the rebellion was predestined when Henry usurped Richard. Rebellion by the Welsh calls into question the English Constitution under Henry IV and even his successors; primarily the weakness and irresponsibility of the King. Prince Hal comes into his own during the war as his plan expressed in his soliloquy in the first act. He draws others to himself, much like a jeweler places a diamond against a black background. And by executing his plan, and taking part in the war, Hal has made himself the object Divine Justice will aim toward.[5] This is evident by the action of Part II of Henry IV as Henry IV is terminally ill rather than dying from an external condition. Prince Hal kills the rebel leader Hotspur at the end of the play; and if the rebellion is the heavens seeking Divine Justice upon Henry then Hotspur must be the chief sword for that Divine Justice. This action places Hal, and not Henry, in the sights of the heavens as they seek retribution for the death of their legitimate, Divine Right King Richard.  As the Kingdom is taking account of what has happened in the rebellion, the King observes, “Thus did rebellion find rebuke…”(5.5.1) The divinely ordained rebellion was rebuked by the son of the man who disobeyed the Lord’s command that Richard be King of England. The theme at the beginning of the play, the restoration of time and the Kingdom, alludes to the words of Henry after the rebellion has been put down. Time represents a temporal order, indicating that Henry has restored a temporal monarchy after a period of Divine monarchs.

Many Shakespearean critics claim that the story of the play Part I of Henry IV is the story of Prince Hal and his career on the path to becoming king of England. Yet, the story of the play focuses on the Divine Justice planned out by the heavens against the usurper King Henry IV. The Prince interferes with this plan of the heavens by intersecting himself in the rebellion and killing the leader of the rebel army. The movement of the play does involve the establishment of Hal as the true and proper heir of Henry IV but in the sense that Hal becomes the focus of Divine Justice throughout Part II of Henry IV and Henry V where Hal becomes King Henry V. The rebellion is the main object of the play whereby Prince Hal reveals himself as the proper heir to the lawless, usurper King Henry IV. Rather than being good, this event actually shows the inevitable downfall of one of Shakespeare’s most important characters.


[1] All quotes from the play taken from Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994.

[2] David Berkeley and Donald Eidson, “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter, 1968), pp. 25-31 accessed from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2867838 on 5/1/10. The authors argue in “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” that one of the themes in Henry IV, part One is the education of a prince. However, they ignore that the play also demonstrates Divine justice on usurpers. More importantly they fail to notice that Prince Hal, while “learning” to become King models himself on his father who is a lawless usurper in the eyes of the heavens. Thus, the Prince’s education is complete when he kills the leader of the divinely ordained rebel army, Hotspur.

[3] Trafton, Dain A. “Shakespeare’s Henry IV, A New Prince in a New Principality” in Shakespeare as a Political Thinker edited by John E. Alvis & Thomas G. West, (ISI Books: Wilmington, DE. 2000) pg. 94-104. This article is similar in the argument that I make in that the story of Henry IV is about Henry IV despite other underlying storylines. In addition, Trafton argues that Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 demonstrate the consequences of Henry’s decision to overthrow the Divine Right King Richard II.

[4]Leggatt, “Henry IV, Part 1: A Modern Perspective” in Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994. Similar to the argument made by Berkely and Eidson, Alexander Leggatt in his essay “Henry IV, Part 1: A modern perspective” argues that the movement of the play is towards the establishment of Hal as the true heir to Henry. However, his focus is on the battle of Shrewsbury where Hal proves himself the heir by killing Hotspur. This point I do not disagree with, as Hal’s killing of Hotspur shows him the proper object of Divine Justice.

[5] In Hal’s soliloquy at act 1 scene 2 he hatches a plan to make himself appear as the proper heir to Henry’s thrown. He says, “I’ll so offend to make offense a skill….”(1.2.223) Indicating that he will throw off attention on his father, making himself appear as “the sun.”

Notes on The Tragedy of Caesar


When looking at Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar it is important to consider first and foremost the situation of Rome at the time the play takes place. In his unofficial Tetralogy of Roman History, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is the third installment following the “Rape of Lucrece” and Coriolanus. To consider the situation of Rome one need only look at the beginning of the play. A group of commoners are confronted by Flavius, a Patrician. The commoners are not recognized as citizens by Flavius and they are not wearing badges indicating their position. The great Roman war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great has ended and the commoners are calling for a celebration, a holiday. Yet, this call for a celebration is an indication of the fracturing of Roman politics and the dissolution of the Republic. Only victories over foreigners were traditionally celebrated by Rome, and so celebrating Caesar’s victory over a great Roman general is an important element to observe in the play.

From this point the play takes two positions, one as the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and the second as the Tragedy of Brutus.

In regards to Caesar, the commoners view Caesar as a “Super” Tribune though he held no official office. Historically speaking Caesar was a dictator at the time but there is question over whether the Senate recognized this office. If they didn’t recognize it, then Caesar was left to strive for something even more: the crown of King. This is the situation of the play, as Caesar has returned home there is discussion of naming Caesar Dictator for Life and providing him with a crown (albeit the Senate will insist it only be worn outside the city.) In addition to seeing him as “Super” Tribune, the people generally regard Caesar as a living god which some suggest is what Caesar is truly after. However Caesar suffered from epilepsy, got sick, and lost a swimming race, all of which may call into question the divine nature of Caesar.   One thing is very certain though, Julius Caesar was a very accomplished conqueror.  Caesar is also a shrewd politician who is well aware of the nature of the Roman people and so despite any desire to hold the crown he will refuse it knowing the people’s hatred of monarchy.

Throughout the play Caesar speaks of himself in the third person and refers to himself as the “unmoved mover”, which those familiar with theology and Aristotelian metaphysics will note that the unmoved mover is God. And to drive this point home further, Caesar calls himself Jupiter who was the Chief god of the Romans.  As a result of this  Shakespeare departs from his source (Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans) who suggests that Caesar struggled with his assassins and yet Shakespeare’s Caesar does not. This may indicate that Shakespeare’s Caesar desired some more than the crown of King or Dictator.

Caesar’s assassination calls the audiences attention to problems within the Roman Republic. The people’s devotion to a man who may or may not have desired to become King or at worst a god suggests that the people cannot rule themselves and are in need of a Caesar. This may be a result of the nature of the Roman Republic, which is also an Empire. One of the faults of Empire is that Republic is not possible. This is in part because you will constantly be on extended military adventures and will need a General willing to lead these exhibitions. As a result the soldiers that make up that General’s army will become devoted to their General more than to the republican government. A Republic exists so that no one person can say that anything is done according to their will, yet in an Empire such proclamations is feasible.

Caesar’s death comes early in the play and Brutus’ struggle to understand himself dominates the rest of the play. At Caesar’s death  Shakespeare reports his last words as “Even you Brutus?” However, despite Shakespeare placing Latin words into Caesar’s mouth he is reported historically to have used Greek. The translation of Caesar’s historical Greek last words are, “Even you child?” Causing the question to arise, was Brutus Caesar’s bastard? Brutus’s view of the “self” is that it is only possible to see and know oneself through others. Brutus views himself as his ancestor who helped to overthrow the Tarquin Kings. Every action he takes are with this image in mind; Brutus portrays himself as a lover of “res publica” and opposed to the private goods. The Roman Republic is his chief concern, not his private fears. His devotion to the cause of the Republic links him to the persons of Lucretia and Junus Brutus (his ancestor.) He places a strict emphasis on honor, but unlike Coriolanus who places an emphasis on honor without regard to the ancestral, Brutus sees honor very much in the light of the ancestral. Brutus, therefore, regards Rome under Caesar as not different than Rome under the Tarquins. It is at this point that Brutus chooses to take part in the assassination of Caesar.

Two important questions are to be considered in Brutus’ decision to join the conspiracy. First, what should a responsible Roman, committed to the common good, consider when deliberating joining a conspiracy against Caesar, which will end in his death? Secondly, the issue of Republic: how do you maintain Rome as a republic with Caesar’s death in particular when only a handful of people take part in the assassination?

As a result of taking part in the conspiracy Brutus objects to the attempt by the others to recruit Cicero to the cause; Shakespeare departs from Plutarch on this point. Brutus may fear that Cicero may take all the honor from the assassination, stealing Brutus’s role as savior of the Republic. In addition, Brutus is careful to make want Caesar’s death look as a sacrifice and not as a murder. Brutus is so high minded that he neglects seeing the assassination as others may see it: a crime.

In his speech following the death of Caesar, Brutus appeals to “Friends, Romans and lovers” in contrast to Antony’s “Friends, Romans and Countrymen.” For Antony the people are primarily fellow citizens and Romans but for Brutus they are less fellow citizens and more as lovers and friends. Brutus’ devotion to honor causes him to betray his Countrymen and his Friends causing him to have to exile from the city in the midst of a war. The speech is important to note as well because it is given in prose, typically Shakespeare used verse for the educated and noblemen and prose for the base.

Brutus’ suicide is a result of two factors: A. Brutus believes he can stand outside himself and view his actions and B. because he cannot be honest with himself as a result of the conflation of honor and justice. Ultimately, his suicide is a result of his persistence to see the assassination of Julius Caesar as an act of justice and because he still believes he is seen as Junus Brutus.

Roman Foreign Policy between 264 and 146 B.C: Why They Fought


From the First Punic War through the Third Punic War there was much change in the reasoning for Rome going to war.  Roman conquest of Italy in the years leading up to the First Punic War gave the Romans confidence about their military power. Their success at unifying most of Italy under the Roman banner must have given them an adrenaline rush to spur them into a war with Carthage in an attempt to take Sicily. Successive wars appear to have been encouraged by Roman desire to dominate trade throughout the Mediterranean world.

Roman involvement in the First Punic War was spurred on by ambition to add Sicily to their territory. The Second Punic War and the wars with Greece were brought on primarily through a desire to dominate trade.  The wars with Spain and the Third Punic War, however, appear to harken back to the desires which spurred on the First Punic War and the Italian wars.

According to Polybius, the First Punic War marked the first time the Romans engaged in sea warfare. Whether or not this is completely true or not does not detract from how important such an idea is to the motives of going to war. There is little doubt that the Romans probably engaged in at least some minimal trade prior to this war. Yet Polybius’ account of the construction of wartime vessels demonstrates that the Romans most likely had not yet engaged in naval battles[1]. If this account is true then the motives for going to war over Sicily were not about trade, at least not entirely. To some degree Rome must have sought to have dominion over Sicily and to remove foreign influence in Italy all together. Polybius’ account of the treaty between Rome and Carthage, which ended the First Punic War, gives further credence to the idea Rome was not fighting for the sole purpose of trade. Polybius says, “’The Carthaginians to evacuate the whole of Sicily…. The Carthaginians to give up to the Romans all prisoners without ransom. The Carthaginians to pay to the Romans by installments in twenty years 2,200 Euboen talents’’[2] Polybius also accounts that the Roman people demanded, “they reduced the time of the payment by one half, added 1,000 talents to the indemnity, and demanded the evacuation by the Carthaginians of all islands lying between Sicily and Italy.”[3] These accounts given by Polybius support the belief that Rome’s first conquest outside of Italy was spurred on by a desire to continue unifying Italy, or at least to expand the territory they possessed.

The Second Punic War and the wars subsequently with Greece on the other hand were almost entirely about improving trade and Roman economic status. The Second Punic War was triggered by Carthaginian interference with a Roman ally in Spain. While the sources concerning the war do not directly demonstrate that this war was about economic gain through trade, it is clear through the terms of the treaty that the war was at least on some level about trade. Polybius once again demonstrates, “they were to surrender their ships of war, with exception of ten triremes.”[4] Without their former naval power the Carthaginians would be hard pressed to continue trading on such a scale as they once enjoyed. This left Rome as the most dominate naval power in the Western Mediterranean both militarily and trade wise. Without war ships the Carthaginians could not protect their trading vessels from pirates and other warring states.

With the Western Mediterranean locked up Rome focused her attention on the Eastern half. Rome’s attempt to subdue the Eastern Mediterranean was not so much like their attempts in the West. Unlike the West, the Romans did not seek to have dominion over the East. Instead the Romans sought to dismantle the alliances and empires throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. By doing this Rome was successful in destroying the economic power of the East. Their tactics with the East resemble in some manner their attempts in Italy to subdue the Latin tribes.

The Third Punic War and the wars with Spanish tribes appear to be more about revenge and expansion of the Empire than about acquisition of wealth. Carthage had been the nail in the Roman’s side for better part of a century. When they finally broke the Treaty of Zama the Romans found the opportunity to finally put Carthage away for good. With Carthage completely destroyed the Romans were able to take dominion over all of North Africa and eliminated the only threat to Roman dominance in the Western Mediterranean for good. If for nothing else the Roman destruction of Carthage demonstrated for her enemies that Rome could, if brought to bear, annihilate any and all foes. The Third Punic War demonstrates an almost entirely unique episode in Roman foreign policy between 264 and 146 B.C. It was not about acquisition of land, nor of furthering trade. Rather the Third Punic War was about revenge for the Romans.

In Spain however, the attempts by the Romans were almost entirely over conquest of land. Unlike Carthage and the Eastern Mediterranean, Spain was not governed by formal empires or kingdoms. With the ever expanding population in Italy, the Romans needed more space for citizens. Spain was the prime location after the Second Punic War. Unfortunately for the Romans the Spanish tribes were troublesome and required a full on assault to attempt to subdue Spain; even then, the Spanish tribes were not completely subdue until the time of Caesar Augustus. Yet Rome’s conquests in Spain were necessary in order to provide more land for her citizens. Not only was this, but Spain was rich in minerals, specifically in silver which was important to the Romans.  However, the Roman desire to conquer Spain was not primarily out of a desire to exploit Spain but rather to incorporate it.

Rome’s foreign policy from 264-146 B.C. was spurred on by two primary motives: expansion and trade. Ultimately, however, the Romans desired to create a Mediterranean wide empire. The true motive behind the Roman foreign policy was simply and purely imperialism. While their foreign policy began with an attempt to have more sovereignty, such as in the First Punic War, it ultimately landed on the need and desire for more territory as was the case in the Spanish wars.


[1] Naphatali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 1, Selected ReadingsThe Republic and the Augustan Age, 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 159-160

[2] Lewis 161.

[3] Lewis, 162.

[4] Lewis, 180

Considerations on the Religion of Numa on the Roman People


For many ancient peoples religion was a connection to the past. Above anything else, religion was supreme in the city. Everything focused on religion and the worship of the city’s gods. For the Roman people this was no different and like other ancient peoples their religion began when their founder died. Romulus was said to have been taken into the sky and deified. The Romans worshipped Romulus (named Quirinus) as the god of agriculture. However, it was not Romulus who succeeded in creating the Roman state religion; rather that honor went to Numa Pompilius (here after simply Numa). Niccolo Machiavelli states, “It will also be seen by those who pay attention to Roman history, how much religion helped in the control of armies, in encouraging plebs, in producing good men, and in shaming the bad.”[1] Certainly this importance was due to Numa rather than Romulus as the former is credited with the foundation of religion in Rome. Numa based the Roman religion on the physical world. Unlike their better known Greek counterparts, the Roman gods were based on the things of nature. It was possibly this distinct difference which led the Roman religion to dominate state affairs in such a way until the Second Punic War when Rome was invaded by Greek thought and religion. Until the Second Punic War, the Romans were dominated by a religion created by Numa with the intent to subdue a savage spirit introduced by Romulus. Numa’s importance is certainly clear as both the founder of the state religion and the law giver for the Romans; his religion would go on to play a vital role in three ways for the Roman people: the calendar, daily life and war. Even into the Second Punic War, when the traditional religion of Rome was nearly eliminated the strands of Numa’s religion still held onto the Roman people. In the Roman state during the regal and republican years, the religion introduced by Numa served as a significant influence on the affairs of the state and of the people.

Rome’s founding is hidden amongst fables, myths and legend. Whether or not there ever was a Romulus or Numa is a matter of dispute. What is not a matter of dispute, however, is that their supposed influences on the people of Rome made it the most dominate city the world has ever seen. Based on Plutarch’s account of Numa’s life, he was roughly forty years old at the time he was offered kingship of Rome[2]. Numa’s example would ultimately affect the Roman people in general. Plutarch records:

He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and while citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.[3]

His character alone was enough of an example on the Roman people; however he did more upon accepting the office of King. Before accepting the kingship, even, Numa requested that the auguries be taken to show that the gods did in fact favor his rule.[4] In his second act as King, Numa, “add[ed] two priests of Jupiter and Mars a third, in honour of Romulus, whom he called Flamen Quirinalis.” [5] Thus, having won the favor of the people, Numa began to subdue the harsh Roman spirit in favor of a more gentle nature. He introduced religion as a means of tempering the soul, as Plutarch explains, “Wherefore Numa, judging it no slight undertaking to mollify and bend to peace the presumptuous and stubborn spirits of the people, began to operate upon them with the sanctions of religion.”[6] Numa is said to have received the Roman religion from the goddess Egeria, whom he conversed with by the river.

Numa introduced a number of new offices, which were of religious significance; among these offices was Pontifex Maximus whose job it was to declare divine law and to rule over sacred ceremonies; the Pontifex Maximus was fifth in the religious hierarchy behind “the rex sacrorum and three great flamens.” [7] In like manner, Numa concerted a temple to the goddess Vesta who was the oldest of all Roman goddesses and a symbol of purity. Her priestesses, called Vestal virgins, were given the task of keeping lit the sacred flame. The virgins were to remain as such for thirty years, if they broke their vow of chastity or allowed the sacred flame to go out the offending virgin would be buried alive. This office was the most sacred of all holy offices within the Roman state. The Pontifex Maximus lead the six Vestal virgins.[8] The first ten years of a Vestal’s service were spent in training, the second ten were spent performing her duties while the final three were spent training new Vestals. The Vestal Virgins were so important that it is said when another official passed one that they would order the fasces lowered.

The second god to receive such high favor was Janus, Vesta’s counterpart. Janus was the Roman god of doors and beginnings and his priest was first in the hierarchy, the rex sacrorum. It is with Janus, in Numa’s attempt to further temper the spirits of the Romans that he established the month of January. Janus was closely related with Juno and unlike Vesta was a creator. The rex sacrorum holds a specific place of honor in the Republic as being the only office to bear the title of rex, which according to many Roman historians was loathed by the Roman people. The great gates of the city were in honor of Janus, when they were open the city was at war and while they were closed the city was at peace. During Numa’s entire reign as king the gates were never opened. Plutarch specifically mentions two other priesthoods founded by Numa, “the Salii and Fecials.” [9] Both of these other priesthoods will be discussed at a later point when it is appropriate.

The influence of the offices of the Vestals and Janus priests dealt with the daily lives of the Roman people. Numa successfully diverted the attention of the people away from war towards religion. He demanded the utmost respect towards religion by the people, as Plutarch describes “Numa, in like manner, wished that his citizens should neither see nor hear any religious service in perfunctory and inattentive manner, but, laying aside all other occupations, should apply their minds to religion as to a most serious business…”[10] Cicero concurs with Plutarch by state, “He desired the performance of religious rituals to be difficult but the equipment for them to be very simple: he required many things to be learned and performed, but he made them inexpensive; he thus added effort to religious observances but removed the cost.”[11] There certainly were plenty of occasions for the people to turn their attention away from other occupations. He is credited with organizing the people into guilds based on their occupations. Plutarch once again describes:

So distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company, appointing everyone their proper courts, councils, and religious observances. [12]

Their placement according to their occupation created structure within the Roman state and made each guild responsible for certain aspects of their daily lives. This helped to divert their attention away from war by focusing on the daily tasks at hand.

Numa’s greatest accomplishment came in the ordering of the calendar. In order to remedy the differences between the lunar solar orbits, Numa instituted an intercalary month. This month would consist of twenty-two days and according to Plutarch was called, “Mercedinus.” Numa also changed the orders of the months: March went from being the first month to the third, January went from being the eleventh month to the first and February went from last to second. Numa added the months of January and February as Plutarch accounts “for in the beginning they had had a year of then months.”[13] The month of February comes from februa; the month was a purification month filled with offerings to the dead. Plutarch explains Numa’s decision to place January first as, “he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are preferred before those of war.”[14] In order to do so, Numa instituted festivals and games for the people, “He also began markets and games and all sorts of occasions for gatherings and festivals. By these institutions he restored to humane and gentle behavior the minds of men who had become savage and inhuman through their love of war.”[15] Among the festivals fixed to the calendar, Jupiter and Mars had the most festivals held in their honor but Mars had the most between the two gods. Jupiter had two major festivals of a political nature, Regifugium on February 24th and Poplifugium on July 5th. Mars had one festival on two separate dates connected with war, Equiria on February 27th and March 14th both of these were connected horses who were sacrificed to Mars. Quinquartrus on March 19th and Tubilustrum on March 23rd saw arms and trumpets dedicated to the god. October saw the end of the military campaign season and two feasts held in honor of Mars: equus october on October 15th and the purification of arms (Armilustrum) on October 23rd.[16] Festivals to the gods occupied much of the Roman calendar, mostly in hopes of diverting the war like nature of the Romans towards more peaceful endeavors.

As a major portion of daily life, Numa altered some aspects. As well as being the founder of the state civil religion in Rome, Numa is credited with being the law giver to the Romans. His office as law giver works closely with his duties as founder of the civil religion. For instance, Numa repealed the “law which gave power to the fathers to sell their children…”[17] Plutarch continues by explaining, “he exempted such as were married, conditionally that it had been with the liking and consent of their parents; for it seemed a hard thing that a woman who had given herself in marriage to a man whom she judged free should afterwards find herself living with a slave.” [18] These are significant changes insofar as Numa has changed pater familias, or father of the family, which gave rule over the family completely to the eldest male member. Numa also changed the governance of burials; he required the Romans to worship Libitina, who presided over all burial ceremonies. He regulated the days in which mourning could take place, Plutarch outlines, “a child of three years was not to be mourned at all; the longest time of mourning for any person whatsoever was not to exceed the term of ten months….”[19] Any woman who remarried before the end of ten month mourning period ended was required to sacrifice a pregnant cow.  The Romans were especially concerned with belief in life after death, “maintained by sacrifices and libations, and governed by strict observance of rites the neglect of which brought terrible dangers to those who failed to keep them up.”[20] The Romans also believed in a deity called Manes, who would come back for retribution if the proper rituals were not kept up by their decedents. Many feasts were held in honor of the dead, the feast of the Lemuria took place on the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May.  The pater familias was required in the middle of the night to run through each silent room barefoot snapping his fingers to ward off the spirits of the dead. He was then to wash his hands three times in running water, “and took black beans in his mouth, which he spat over his shoulder, he cried nine times: ‘I spit out these beans and with them I redeem me and mine.’” He would then purify himself once more and strike “his hands on a bronze vessel, saying nine times: ‘Manes of my fathers, begone!’”  The extent in which religion touched on the private life was significant in Rome. Numa insured that the religion would be preserved both in the private and public.

After all these great accomplishments, Numa finally perished of old age after living roughly eighty years. Numa’s reign lasted forty-three years versus Romulus impressive thirty-seven year reign. According to Livy, “When Numa died, Rome by the twin disciplines of peace and war was as eminent for self-mastery as for military power.”[21] Numa’s legacy on the Roman people lead them to become prosperous, Machiavelli writes, “All things considered, therefore, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the primary causes of Rome’s success, for this entailed good institutions; good institutions lead to good fortune; and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings.”[22] His institution of religion allowed the Romans the good fortune they experienced for the next few centuries. The people were diverted from military conquest by the religion; their belief that the gods took part in human affairs caused great alarm against breaking the law. Numa succeeded in his quest to subdue the Roman spirit. Numa became the Roman par excellence for the people. Machiavelli explains, “Marvelling, therefore, at Numa’s goodness and prudence, the Roman people accepted all his decisions.”[23] Machiavelli goes so far as to say that the Roman people were more indebted to Numa than to Romulus.

However, despite his attempts to temper the Roman spirit away from war it was inevitable that the Romans would once again take up arms. As a result of Numa’s influence, even war was regulated by the priests. The Fecials were charged as guardians of peace and would be dispatched by the Romans to receive satisfaction from injury by another city. If that city refused to provide satisfaction for the injury the Fecials declared war by calling the gods and their country as witnesses. [24] The Salii have their origin from the eight year of Numa’s reign, Plutarch elaborates:

A terrible pestilence, which traversed all Italy, ravaged likewise the city of Rome; and the citizens being in distress and despondent, a brazen target, they say, fell from the heaven into the hands of Numa, who gave them this marvelous account of it: that Egeria and the Muses had assured him it was sent from heaven for the cure and safety of the city, and that, to keep it secure, he was ordered by them to make eleven others, so like in dimensions and form to the original that no thief should be able to distinguish the true from the counterfeit….The keeping of these targets was committed to the charge of certain priests, called Salii….[25]

The Salii priests would carry the shields through the city in March. They wore “short frocks of purple, grit with a broad belt studded with brass; on their heads they wear a brass helmet, and carry in their hands short daggers…”[26] Both of these priesthoods represent the lengths that Romans went to ensure that they were always in the right, specifically the Fecials.

In her first major conquest, Rome took the city of Veii through influences of religion. Machaivelli explains,

During the year, the Alban lake had risen in an extraordinary way, and the Roman solders, tired of the long siege, were desirous of returning to Rome when it was discovered that Apollo and certain other oracles had said that the city of Veii would be taken in the year in which Lake Alba overflowed.[27]

Religion had so conquered the minds of the people that it was able to be used against them as it was in the battle for Veii. The soldiers wishing to leave were swayed to remain in the siege despite their fatigue. After a ten year siege the Romans finally took Veii when Camillus was made dictator. The civil religion demonstrated it’s usefulness in controlling the people ultimately leading to the victory.

Throughout Roman conquest of peninsular Italy the Romans were able to maintain their religion and culture as the Italians had similar religious and cultural views. Yet with the advent of Roman expanisionism, even within Italy itself, the Roman religion began to slowly change although the changes were not as visible as later on beginning with the First Punic War.  Along the way they adapted the gods of various other peoples into their own catalogue of gods. Their conquests lead to the evolution of their gods form primarily Etruscan to a more Greek concept of the deities. Mercury was introduced into Roman society around 494 B.C. as the god of commerce. A century later Hercules was introduced into the pantheon of Roman gods. This Hellenistic tendency of the Romans would continue until the traditional Roman religion founded by Numa was all but a shadow of her former self. This adaptation was used in all situations in order to present the best possible view point. For example, Alan Wardman explains:

The war against Hannibal shows how religious institutions were adapted or borrowed as the Romans faced the most serious invasion in their history. The civil conflicts, including the civil wars, after 113 B.C., provide evidence that the civic gods could be manipulated by both sides…[28]

Rome faced crises that resulted in the expansion of their mythology concerning their gods and in some cases the use of religion against itself as in the civil war.

While Rome added to their catalogue of gods starting with the conquests of the Veii and other Italians, they were in some ways able to maintain their religious identity as given to them by Numa. However, by the time of the First Punic War the Roman religion began to make a major fundamental shift unlike the changes which occurred during the conquest of peninsular Italy. There are two major schools of thought which attempt to describe this change, one is present by Alan Wardman and the other by Alain Hus.

By the late Republic religion had become more political than ever before. Festivals were used by politicians to demonstrate their greatness instead of supplicating the gods. Expansion in the Roman games was enormous; Alan Wardman explains why, “it is a process of adding to religious forms because the politician can make use of them to express his superiority not to the gods but to his would-be peers.” [29] Wardman’s view of the religious changes in Rome is not as serve as other writers. Wardman accounts the changes in Roman Religion with the changes of the political atmosphere of Rome beginning with the Second Punic War. Wardman views the changes in Roman religion as a result of warfare. He states, “Other gods came from towns which Rome had defeated in war….”[30] The changes that occurred around the time of the Second Punic War should be viewed with the changes in politics during the same time period. Rome’s religion was very closely related to their politics and thus any changes within their political structure were bound to have an effect on the religious aspects of the society.

The opposing view on the changes of Rome’s official religion starting during the Second Punic War is presented by Alain Hus. Hus argues that the changes did not occur so much because of Rome’s conquests but because Greek thought had invaded the Roman culture.  The changes in the religious attitude of Rome were perpetuated by the Second Punic War as Hus describes, “The change that was taking place in the religious psychology of the Romans was accelerated by the crisis of exceptional seriousness produced by the Second Punic War.” [31] Greek gods and philosophy were more wildly accepted by the Romans during the Second Punic War especially during the early years when it looked as though Hannibal might succeed in conquering Rome. As a result of the impending doom many abandoned the traditional Roman gods and religion for that of the Hellenistic Greeks. However the problem that existed with this scenario is explained by Hus, “Greek religion was officially substituted for the ancestral Roman religion, just at the time when its preservation in Greece itself was half artificial.” [32] Thus, the Roman people were abandoning their own religion for a religion on the decline in Greece. As a result, like in Greece, the Romans began to turn to cults. Hus explains once more:

The success of these cults and their doctrines, the importance of which during the Republican period should not be exaggerated, bears witness to the inability of the Roman religion, even when Hellenized, to fulfill the spiritual needs of the Romans in these strangely new times.[33]

The official religion was also being directly attacked by the Roman senate when in 181 B.C. they ordered the books of Numa to be destroyed. Religion, while still important to the Romans, had become a skeleton of itself. “Superstition”, Hus argues, “flourished.” [34] Many prominent Romans began to openly question religion and skepticism ran ramped throughout the city.  General disrespect was very prominent in the city during the Second Punic War, as Hus describes, “In the middle of the Second Punic War we find Claudius Pulcher turning up his nose at the sacred hens, and Flaminius proclaiming the futility of supplications to the gods….”[35] The Second Punic War presented a problem for the Romans that they had yet to face in their history. As a result they were more than willing to abandon the gods of the fathers for the gods of the Greeks.

And yet both of these arguments pointing towards a similar point of view; Rome’s expansion into foreign lands, customs and religions lead to a change in their own cultural customs and religion. This was partially precipitated by Rome’s need to govern her new acquisitions, allowing citizens of Rome to become free of Roman authority and develop new ideas. When these provincial governors returned to the city they introduced problems into the Roman constitution, which had been avoided for centuries. This was most evident during the Second Punic War.  Political upheaval as a result of the Second Punic War lead to fear among the Romans, which gave to the belief that their  gods were not longer looking out for them and ultimately lead them to abandon their gods for those of the Greeks. The political situation within Rome was certainly changing slowly during the Second Punic War and after the war. The political and religious aspects of the city were intentionally connected to each other by Numa as previously explored. Religion played a key role in the regal and Republican periods and it is clear by the abandonment of the traditional religion by the Romans that the Romans still viewed religion as important during crisis of the Second Punic War. If this had not been the case then for what reason would the Romans have to accept new gods rather than just simply abandoning religion all together? Certainly there were some who openly were skeptical of religion and disrespect towards the gods was rampant throughout the city. However, the fact Greek religion was imported to Rome during the Second Punic War, and widely accepted by the Roman people, demonstrates that their connection to religion was still strong and that the important role religion played in Roman daily and state life was nevertheless still very strong. Whether or not either side is truly correct is probably never going to be discovered. However, both sides of the argument can be viewed in connection with each other and not in opposition to each other. Rome at the time of the Second Punic War and after was remarkably changed from the time previous to the war. The war played a significant role in the development of both the political and religious life of the city.

Ultimately, the impact of religion on the Roman people following the reign of Romulus is clear. Numa’s foresight that without religion the Roman people would be a brutal city that favored war over peace is remarkable. His religion affected the lives of the Roman people and the city itself throughout the regal and Republican periods. Republican Rome owes much of its prosperity and relative peace to the institution of religion by Numa. The introduction of the gods themselves provided the Romans with a distraction from the earthly. Numa’s additions to the calendar and the introduction of many festivals allowed for the Romans to be preoccupied with the gods even more. Reverence to the gods went so far as to make it near impossible for the Romans to wage war unless it was clearly viewed as a defensive rather than offensive war. Laws regulating morality helped to create a much more humane and civilized people than what had existed during the time of Romulus. Even with the problems of the Second Punic War the importance of religion is still clear to see. For the average person religion was everything and the politicians clearly knew that by providing funds to build more temples or adding more days of festivals to the calendar. Daily and civil life revolved around religion. Without religion it is impossible to know how the Romans would have turned out, or if they would have merely become a footnote for another civilization on its way to historical immortality. Certainly the biggest contribution religion made to the Roman people was in making them able to govern themselves. The Roman Republic certainly survived in part because of the fear of the gods. Without the influence the gods had on the Roman people the Republic could certainly have failed or never been started to begin with. Machiavelli is right when he observes, “So that if it were a question of the ruler to whom Rome was more indebted, Romulus or Numa, Numa, I think, should easily obtain the first place.” [36] Romulus gave the world the city of Rome, but Numa gave a people an identity and soul through religion. Therefore it is Numa, not Romulus who gave us the Roman state that we are familiar with today.


[1] Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Translated  by Leslie J. Walker, S.J. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.  Book I section 11 pg. 140

[2] Plutarch. Lives: Volume 1. Translated by John Dryden. Edited by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001.  pg. 85.

Numa’s age at the time he became King is disputed. Cicero places his age at 39.

[3] Plutarch,  83

[4] Livy. The Early History of Rome. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. , 1960.

[5] Plutarch. pg. 87

[6] Plutarch. 2001. pg. 87

[7] Hus, Alain. Greek and Roman Religion. Translated  by S.J. Tester. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962. pg. 103

[8] Hus, 103

[9] Plutarch,  91

[10] Plutarch,  94

[11] Cicero. On the Commonwealth and On the Laws. Edited by James E. G. Zetzel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. pg. 41

[12] Plutarch, 96

[13] Plutarch, 97

[14] Plutarch, 98

[15] Cicero, 41

[16] Hus, 109-110

[17] Plutarch,  97

[18] Plutarch,  97

[19] Plutarch, 91

[20] Hus, 100

[21] Livy, 56

[22] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[23] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[24] Plutarch, 92

[25] Plutarch, 92-93

[26] Plutarch, 93

[27]Machiavelli, 146 Book II section 13.

[28] Wardman, Alan. Religion and the Statecraft Among the Romans. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1982.  pg. 22

[29] Wardman, 24

[30] Ibid.  3

[31] Hus, 135

[32] Ibid. pg. 135

[33] Ibid. pg. 137

[34] Ibid . pg. 136

[35] Ibid. pg 137

[36] Machiavelli, Book I section 11 pg. 140.

Doctrine of Self Preservation


 

In the Summer of 1763 John Adams undertook the writing of an essay entitled “On Private Revenge.” The turmoil of the French and Indian War was only freshly over and the British Parliament in that same year adopted the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation granted control over the lands acquired through the Treaty of Paris to the British government, not the colonial governments. Within a decade the Parliament would go on to do more to seek retribution from the Colonies for the assistance England provided during the war. This enraged the passions of colonial Americans, specifically in New England in and around Boston. We must read Adams’ essay only in the light of these events. In his traditional style, Adams calls for law and order to persevere over chaos and anarchy.

The first paragraph of the essay sets up the plan Adams has laid out for his argument. In the Politics, Aristotle asserts that man outside of the city is either a beast or a god. Adams argues that man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to unite and entire into society. The natural attributes of man are not enough to make him superior to other animals, but in fact Adams believes they would make man weakest of all other animals. What makes man superior is his ability to unite with others of his kind; thus agreeing with Aristotle partly by stating man outside of society is nothing more than a beast such as, “the bear or the tiger.” Within this man, like other animals, Adams argues, “As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves him.” Locke argues that the law of nature is only known through reason, with exception of the first law which is that of self-preservation. Hobbes too argues that within society the Magistrate is capable of ordering his subjects to do whatever he wishes, except if he desires to kill them in which case the law of self-preservation requires them to defy the Magistrate.  And thus Adams has created his argument; man is superior to other animals because he is able to unite himself within society. However, like other animals man has implanted in his soul self-preservation, which calls upon man to defend his life against all threats. How does one preserve his life and at the same time allow himself to exist in society? The law of self-preservation appears to grant man the authority to execute the law of nature. Society limits this ability and grants that authority to an impartial third-party.

Adams description of a state of nature comes closer to the description provided by Rousseau. He describes that in this state man is propogated, food is found on “the banks of clams and oysters”, weapons for war are present, and animal hide become clothing. Yet this society is void of friendship, trade, and human bonding unless instinct calls for it. In essence, man is truly free and independent without any other above him or below him. Adams defines the virtues of the “savage state, courage, hardiness, activity, and strength.” Take these four virtues and compare them to the four classical virtues, “Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Many view the virtue of courage as among the basest virtues, in fact Aristotle in the Ethics describes it almost immediately, indicating that it is the most base of all virtues. The man who is in charge in this society is the one who can kill the best, or run the fastest. This is the basis for tribal leadership, and possibly the roots of how one became king in ancient England, France, or Germany. This basis for determining who is superior will also result in the usage of revenge over justice; the man who perceives himself to be stronger and is beat by another will take it as an insult and attack the other man. Adams even argues that the idea of allowing a third-party to mediate the situation is indication  the deficiencies of the savage state. It is clear that Adams views revenge as the hallmark of a savage state. New Englanders within a few years of this essay will attempt to overthrow the established system and seek revenge for the ills done to them by the British parliament. Adams, in a possible prophetic statement argues that when a horse treads over a gouty toe, our passions are so excited that we feel we must kill the horse. The horse is a symbol of Aristocracy in philosophy, which can lead one to see the prophetic nature of the comment. The horse represents the British Parliament, which does end up stepping on the gouty toe of the colonies, who never really recover from the French and Indian War. Adams finishes this section by saying:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones, lies in this,—that among the former every individual is his own judge and his own executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which savages are not, without infinite difficulty, persuaded to make, as it is of a right and privilege extremely dear and tender to an uncultivated nature.

A stark contrast between the savage state and the polite state is clear,  in the one man is his own executioner while in the other he is not. Rousseau argues in the Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remakable    change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions the moral quality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulse, and law succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had regarded only himself, sees that he is obliged to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

Rousseau’s sentiments are similar to Adams, in that when man passes into civil society he is expected to give up those habits which were present in him in nature.

This brings up the next point. If society should ever come to the point where we will give up our polite and noble nature, we will become worse than the Goths before becoming Christians. He compares the individual who believes that when offended one should draw his sword to that of the fowl, the bull, and stallion. The image of these three animals are simple, the bird can represent bloodshed, the bull destructive force, and the stallion life and death. It should be noted that he does not use horse, but rather stallion which indicates not the symbol of aristocracy specifically. Instead, the stallion represents the wild, unbridled passions of man and specifically can be seen as a symbol of life and death, which horses are known to symbolize. After initially using fowl, in his ending sentence of this paragraph Adams states, “But are cocks and bulls and horses the proper exemplars for the imitation of men, especially of men of sense, and even of the highest personages in the government!” The cock more specifically than fowl represents the underworld, passion and pride, and thus we arrive at how man is outside of nature: Prideful, passionate, destructive, and wild.

And finally Adams attacks the point that such images of gallantry have been argued from the military. Adams argument begins by stating that such images are not praised by the military, nor have they ever been. Instead, the dregs of society have idealized the Cock, Bull and Stallion as exemplars for man. He argues, “For every gentleman, every man of sense and breeding in the army, has a more delicate and manly way of thinking, and from his heart despises all such little, narrow, sordid notions.” Of these he mentions specifically Divines, Lawyers and Physicians. Divines represent religion, God; Lawyers represent the law; Physicians have a philosophic meaning behind them, in that whenever a Physician appears it represents healing of the body politic. In this instance, though it is much more likely that Adams is speaking that Physicians heal the body,  Adams suggests that they praise themselves above all others such as Divines and Lawyers do. The other set of professions he mentions include: husbandmen, manufacturers, and laborers. They lack the virtue of magnanimity and are instead short-sighted, little minded individuals believing their professions are the best in the world. It is likely then, that soldiers of lower ranks are just as likely to believe themselves superior to any other order. They are, as a result, prone to the, “principles of revenge, rusticity, barbarity, and brutality…” which Adams described earlier as the principles upheld by the savage. However, soldiers who are superior in their senses recognize the authority not only of their superiors but also of the civil society. Once again, in a similar prophetic nature as before, these soldiers recognize the superior nature of English law. Moving away from calling them soldiers, it is evident at this point that Adams is specifically referring to men in general, not just those who serve in the Army. England, being an image of the polite society, is superior to the savage society; some of his fellow New Englanders wish to rebel against English rule, thus stooping to this level. A truly polite and decent man would recognize the doctrine of self-preservation as indignant.

Adams having completed his argument has demonstrated that man who seeks the doctrine of private revenge has no regard for civil society, and therefore is only as good as a tiger or bear. Only within civil society is man able to full perfect his nature, which is where Adams demonstrates the Enlightenment principle that nature is created imperfect. It is man’s responsibility to perfect nature by building upon it, making things, and this is only possible in society. Likewise, man is only able to be fully man within society under the constrains of law and order which is characterized by justice; whereas man outside of society and in total chaos is characterized by the doctrine of self-preservation, or revenge.

Declaration of Independence part 1


“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The history of America is littered with government documents which pledge allegiance to the Monarchy of England. The oldest of these, the Mayflower Compact, argues: “Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.” This argument lays down that the colonies have the authority, in the absence of the British parliament and King, to create laws and the various other legal documents for their protection and security.

The Declaration of Independence, a trans-colonial document, asserts from the outset that unlike previous colonial documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration is not being presented to maintain peace and security in the absence of the British government. Rather, the colonies for the first time are taking leave of their British government and setting out on their own to govern themselves. Furthermore, they are announcing that not only are they setting out on their own but that they have the right under the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.

The assertion of the Laws of Nature is a slow process that has taken thousands of years since the ancient Greek philosophers announced Natural Right. In his Nicomachaean Ethics, Aristotle argues for two types of justice: that which is just everywhere, and that which is just only in the city. Furthermore, there are two specific types of justice: legal and ancestral. The latter is just or unjust based on how the ancestors viewed it while the other is just or unjust based on the positive law of the day. This was altered centuries later by St. Thomas Aquinas who introduced the Natural Law. The Natural Law is that law which is inscribed on the hearts of all mankind; it is the Divine Law. The first knowable law is Self Preservation, which argues that you have not only a right but an obligation to protect your life. By the time of the Enlightenment and modernity the Natural Law had become the Law of Nature; a law which can be derived through reason and logic based on observations of nature. Once again, the first knowable Law of Nature is Self Preservation.

By invoking the Law of Nature, Thomas Jefferson and the colonies are invoking the belief that a state is obligated and permitted to separate from a parent for the first sake of Self Preservation. In fact, the charges made against Parliament and the King strike at the heart of Self Preservation. Furthermore, the Law of Nature dictates that when the child has matured they are to split off from their parent, such as the Bible says. In this instance, it is only right for the colonies to split from Mother England to govern themselves.

Communization of Thought and Plato’s Republic


Former Associate Justice of the United States Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” Plato’s Republic presents the question of whether or not one can have private thought in the perfectly just city. This question expands itself into whether or not any regime, just or unjust, can survive without at least nominal communization of thought. It appears throughout history that communization of thought has always been attempted on some scale. Does the perfectly just city, however, require the communization of thought as every other city does?

Three central questions loom over us at the present time. Is it possible to have communization of thought, totally or at all? Can a regime survive with or without communization of thought? And finally, can the perfectly just city as Plato describes in the Republic have communization of thought and still be just?

In order to find whether it is possible to achieve communization of thought, one only need look back through history and find examples. To answer the question of whether or not communization of thought is possible I offer this argument. For 1500 years the Catholic Church was able to control the religious views of Western Europe with little resistance. For seventy years the Soviet Union was able to control the thought of most of Eastern Europe. For twelve years Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were able to indoctrinate the German people into National Socialist thought.[1]

When a class of educated American students is polled on whether communization of thought is possible each of them responds, “No. There is a right to private thought.” Thus they too demonstrate their lower education teachers have indoctrinated them well. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan he says, “it is his [the sovereign’s] duty to cause them so to be instructed; and not only his duty, but his benefit also, and security against the danger that may arrive to himself in his natural person from rebellion.”[2] This is an echo from Plato’s Republic, where Socrates asserts that the guardians must be educated so that they do not attack their own city but only their enemies.[3] Hobbes even goes on to say, “the people are to be taught, first, that they ought not to be in love with any form of government they see in their neighbor nations, more than with their own…”[4]  Once again Hobbes echo’s Socrates’ sentiments concerning the education.[5] This education has one goal in mind, to create a communization of thought among the guardian class.

We thus have three examples, out of many, of communization of thought in practice and an author who encourages the education of youth that is similar, though not the same, as that of the just city.

However, can a regime survive a communization of thought? Can it survive without communization of thought? Certainly one can view the Soviet Union and realize that what started the dissolution was the introduction of private thought into society. Socrates even asserts that communization of thought is necessary for the survival of the city.[6] In order to keep peace and order with in the city, and rebellion out of the city, Socrates proposes the introduction of the noble lie. He intends for this lie to make the citizens believe that they are all equals, and that they all have the same mother.[7] However, at the same time it is used to introduce the one person, one job theory through the analogy of the metals. This demonstrates the mixture of myth and law into the city, which allows for the communization of thought to be stronger than when it is simply done through myth or law. The founders of the city will also determine what is proper for the citizens to read, and what the proper manner they should be educated in is. Private thought will only be possible through the rose colored glasses of the regime; that is to say that the citizens may have private thought but it will reflect the beliefs of the regime as have been taught to the citizens. Certainly without some form of communization of thought, the city is unable to survive.

Finally we are asked to inquire whether the perfectly just city is able to have communization of thought, or private thought, and remain just. At the onset of the Republic, Socrates makes it appear that Athens is not a just city. In order to see what justice is Socrates suggests to Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should construct a just city in order to see where justice is at. Socrates does not suggest that they should examine Athens and determine where justice is in the city. By the beginning of book V Socrates is spurred on to discuss the communization of women and children despite not having completely formulated his position in his mind. It is from here that the reader is asked to ponder the question of communization of thought. Throughout the construction of this city, Socrates discusses the education of the citizens. This education leads to a communization of thought, but does not totally outlaw private thought as long as it reflects the regime’s beliefs.

Does this city truly have private thought? Citizens who speak against the beliefs of the regime are to be silenced. The works of Homer are not to be read by the citizens because they reflect a negative understanding of the gods by the regime.[8]  This city does not, in fact, have private thought because all thought is dependent on the beliefs of the regime. The just city will also allow for the philosopher to philosophize without being molested.  It appears that the city constructed by Socrates is not at all able to accommodate the philosopher.

In the process of discussing the city Glaucon says in response to Socrates, “I for one agree that our citizens must behave this way toward their opponents; and toward the barbarians they must behave as the Greeks do now toward one another.”[9] This city that has been constructed by Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus is a Greek city. Socrates has already alluded to the fact that the Greek cities are not just, as he seeks to construct the just city instead of examining it. Thus Socrates is asserting that the just city will not have communization of thought. He has demonstrated that it is possible to obtain communization in thought, but it is not the reflection of the perfectly just city. The just city will come into being when the philosopher is king. Freedom of thought is essential for the philosopher, who questions the conventions of the city. The philosopher questions the teachings of the city as if they are only opinion and not truth. Yet this city that has been constructed seeks to assert that their opinion is the truth. The perfectly just city will not stand when thought is communized, but will rather fall into tyranny.

The communization spoken of by Socrates is through myth and law; philosophy aims to correct myth, which is opinion. When the philosopher is king there will be no need for law. The communization of thought referenced in the Republic, and spoken of by Hobbes and implemented by various nations is not proper for the just city. In order for the just city and for communization of thought to coexist, truth must be the basis for the communization of thought.


 [1]Neither the Soviet Union, nor Nazi Germany achieved the success of Sparta, which many scholars say was the basis of the just city in the Republic. However, both nations have similar aspects to Sparta and the just city of the Republic, which makes them both important examples on this question. Neither the Soviet Union nor Nazi Germany achieved communization of thought through both myths nor law as Socrates seeks it in the Republic; instead they achieve it through law only.

 [2]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 6

 [3]“Then, it’s appropriate for the rulers…” Book III, line 389C

 [4]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 7

 [5]416 B “Mustn’t we…”; 465 B “Since they are free…”; 470 E “Now observe…”; I fully recognize that the education spoken of in Hobbes and the education discussed in the Republic are not the same, however the sentiments are similar in so far as it is necessary to educate.

 [6]“For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them, for procreation as well as for the other things, as is also the case with the other animals.” Book IV, line 424A/B

 [7]414 D-415 B

 [8]“We’ll beg Homer and the other poets not to be harsh if we strike out these and all similar things…” 387B

 [9]Plato’s Republic book V line 471b

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers