Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria (British History in Perspective)Historical Biographies & Memoirs)

Is it too astonishing for us to think that Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire for 64 years? The young 18 year old princess became Queen Victoria in 1837 upon the death of her uncle. No other British or English monarch has served 60 years, let alone even approached the Queen’s historic mark. Henry III, George III and Elizabeth II are the only other rules of the British people to eclipse 50 years on the throne of St. James. The events of Queen Victoria’s life range from the British Industrial age to the Crimean War to the Prime Ministerships of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

Queen Victoria by Walter Arnstein is an excellent read for those who are interested in learning more about the queen. And as Queen Elizabeth II approaches her Diamond Jubilee on the British throne, it is even more important to understand the immense changes the isles of Great Britain went through in the 64 years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

The Declaration: A Review

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What does the Declaration of Independence mean? We are clouded by over 200 years of historical and political interpretation that we can’t even make out what our founding document actually has to say.  In a class of students, if the question is asked, “how many self evident truths are present in the Declaration of Independence?” almost none can actually answer the question.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there are certain truths that are self evident and immutable. Since the time of Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, most Americans only see one self evident truth: that all men are created equal. Yet, what of the word “truths”? If Jefferson only wrote one truth, that all are created equal, then why did he write that there are “truths”; an implication that there is more than just the one truth to be found. The idea of self evident truths is connected with the belief in the Natural Law, which St. Thomas said is inscribed on the hearts of all men. John Locke, one of the many names attached to the Law of Nature, believed that there are certain precepts or truths that can be known but that most must be acquired through knowledge. Jefferson, a Lockean thinker, acknowledges that there are self evident truths and proceeds to name them.

That all men are created equal” is the first of Jefferson’s self evident truths. It might seem a bit wrong for those of us living today for a known slave holder to suggest that all men are created equal. It would seem even stranger for us to find that it was a well accepted truth that all men are created equal by the time Jefferson wrote his famous Declaration. First, Jefferson does not say that we are all created equally, but rather simply as equal. The word equally is an adverb, whereas the word equal can be a verb, adjective, or noun. If we were all created equally, then we’d be identical in manner or equal to a certain extent. However, we’re not created equally but rather equal. The word equal has a number of separate meanings, however, the one Jefferson is aiming towards is, “having adequate powers, ability, or means.” It is only if this basic truth is accepted that the others can be called self evident. It is because we are equal in power, ability and mean that we are able to say the other three truths.

It was because we are all created equal, a truth widely accepted by this point in history, that Jefferson was able to posit a modified version of Locke’s famous “life, liberty and property.”  Jefferson says, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Because we are all created equal, we have the same unalienable Rights. Even in absolute monarchies like France, Spain or Russia it would be accepted that the Sovereign cannot deprive someone of their life or their liberty without just cause. Again, it might seem odd to suggest that they believed that liberty is an unalienable right when there still existed slavery and serfdom in the western world. However, is slavery or serfdom opposed to liberty? Remember, the individual slave owners thought they were doing right by their slaves. It was assumed that the slaves couldn’t fully enjoy their natural rights unless they were enslaved. And remember, neither the Declaration nor the Constitution and its amendments say that all are to be treated equally; because we are only equal. Once again, it is because we are created equal and because we have unalienable rights that we can identify the third self evident truth.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Our ability to form governments is based upon two self evident truths: all men are created equal and we are endowed with certain unalienable rights. One cannot consent to be governed if they are inferior and lack certain unalienable rights. And while there were more monarchies than democracies in the world in 1776, the idea that the King was chosen by God to rule (Divine Right Monarchy) was not as widely accepted as it had been less than 100 years prior. The writings of Hobbes, Locke and Sidney had already permeated into the world and while Louis was King of France he ruled largely because the nobles allowed it. In England, the King ruled only with the consent of the people. The Declaration of Independence came less than a century after the Glorious Revolution and the English Interregnum. Kings Charles I and II both were overthrown by the people or parliament and ruled with their consent.

This leads to the final self evident truth as laid out by Thomas Jefferson:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 The idea that a people could overthrow their legitimate sovereign had always been a point of contention. When Europe was still Catholic, the Papacy held that it could alone severe the ties between Prince and his subjects. As was seen in England, the right to revolution was already well established in the aftermath of the Interregnum and the Glorious Revolution. However, the idea that a colony could revolt and establish itself as an independent nation was still a new idea. It is this self evident truth that Jefferson made central to his Declaration of Independence. The Right to Revolution is based entirely on the acceptance of the other self evident truths. As such, the fact that we were all created equal is both the least significant self evident truth and the most important since from it stems our understanding of the other truths.

Of the Mayflower Compact

Upon dropping anchor off Cape Cod in 1620, the men on board the Mayflower convened to draft a compact that would be bound by law and create a government. The immediate cause of the compact was the fear of non Separatists (called Strangers) on board the ship. These individuals were financial backers of the new colonial experiment, and it was feared that they would defy the Separatists if they landed in an area other than what had been given to them by the London Company. The Mayflower Compact is more vital than some may wish to admit. Unlike their Puritan neighbors in Boston Harbor, the Pilgrims were separatists. The Pilgrims wanted a complete separate between the English Church and the Roman Church; the Church of England still held very many vestiges of the Roman Church until well after the separation took place. And because the Church of England was lead by the King, the Pilgrims not only viewed the Church to be utterly corrupt but also the state.   Upon examining the Mayflower Compact, we may better understand the American Revolution a century later.

It should be pointed out that the first words of the compact are “In the name of God”, as Willmoore Kendall suggests, “The one God is called to witness the compact that is about to be made. And we may safely assume that none of the signers of this oath is taking the matter lightly. Any subsequent violation of this oath will be no mere breaking a promise but an offense against God…” The Pilgrims acknowledge God first and never exclaim the name of the King for who they make this compact. The Pilgrims have acknowledge that their right to compact is granted to them by God by their pronouncement of “In the Name of God” with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning “Let it be done” following. This is an important step because they are acknowledging that their authority does not come from the King, but rather it comes from God. As Willmoore Kendall once more explains, “In Western Civilization basic symbolizations tend to be variants of the original symbolization of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: variants, this is to say, of the tale according to which a founder, Moses, leads the people out of the realm of darkness, Egypt, into the desert…” And as we can see from this, the Pilgrims are fleeing their own Egypt for the safety of Plymouth. Like the Israelites, the Pilgrims are not acknowledging the authority to constitute government stemming not from the King, but from God.

The primary purpose of the mission is laid out in the first sentence of the compact, “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia.” This is not uncommon, all colonies whether English, French or Spanish at this point were founded for, at least in name, the Glory of God and the Faith as well as for monarch and country. The French were less shy about also seeking riches in the Americas. So it is not unusual that the Separatists, who still viewed themselves as Englishmen, to acknowledge that their colony was founded to help God, the Church, King and Country. As such, the main purposes of this document are to demonstrate that the colony wants to promote God, religion, King, and country. It is interesting to point out that the Pilgrims list Faith and Church in front of Politics and State. By omitting the King’s name at the front of the document, and now here placing him subordinate to God and the Church, have inadvertedly stripped him of his power over them. The Mayflower Compact is forced to still recognize King James as their sovereign due to the large number of Strangers on board the ship. However, it is still significant that the King is subordinated under God. Like the Declaration will do a century later, they are displacing the King’s authority by acknowledge God’s authority as their means of receiving government. Like Moses and the other ancients before them, this society and body politic will simply be a divinely ordained society. As such, because its purposes are firstly divine, the citizens cannot revolt. Like the ancient regimes who were thought to be formed in the likeness of the gods, so too is the Plymouth society.

While the Pilgrims acknowledge the sovereignty of the King they still believed him unable to fulfill their perceived end of society: salvation. The Pilgrims maintained some hope that King James, a Presbyterian, would affect the changes they believed necessary in the Church of England. However, they were prepared for a total separation if James proved to be incapable of doing what they hoped. In addition to this explanation, it cannot be forgotten that the Pilgrims were far more willing to admit a strict alliance between Church and State. The English Monarchs for some time up to that point had declared their legitimacy was a by product of Divine Right and the Pilgrims whole hardheartedly supported that belief. Therefore, the King was subordinated beneath God as a way of rebellion against the still very Catholic monarchy. There cannot be too much emphasis placed on the desired separation from England by the Pilgrims, though the Compact is clear that the Pilgrims had by some right to govern themselves.

The next sentence of the Mayflower Compact is what might be of more use for our purposes.  The passengers “covenant and combine” themselves into a “body politic.” For those less aware, a body politic is a government strictly speaking. There are some who will argue that the passengers were hoping to only erect a temporary government for themselves, but this cannot be assumed just looking at the Compact. The colonists were erecting for themselves a government and it is rarely for a short time that people do such things. These words and what follows are almost entirely the same as the words which end the Declaration of Independence. This alone helps draw the connection between the purpose of the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Because the Pilgrims were persecuted by their own king in their home country, they were forced to flee to a distant and alien land to erect a new government more suited for their ends. As a result, by erecting this government, they were acknowledge not only had the King’s government infringed on their rights, but that the King was no longer able to provide them with the essential needs government is instituted for the begin with. As was pointed out with Aristotle and John Locke, these reasons alone are cause for a revolution in the government.

Yet, if this is not enough to sway you in this favor then the next sentence should be enough, “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.” The Pilgrims were no fools, they recognized that the government of England would not be able to properly govern the colony three thousand miles away. As a result, this new government established by the Pilgrims was given the power to legislate. If nothing else, the simple power of legislation is itself the power of government. And further, had the Pilgrims not entered into a body politic they would have properly been living in a state of nature with no impartial judge to settle their quarrels. As such, the Pilgrims not only enter into a civil government, but they also give it power to erect laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers of the colony. Under English law only the King has the authority to appoint officers, and only the parliament by virtue of its power from the King has the authority to erect laws, ordinances and acts. But the Pilgrims go yet still one step further by pledging their submission and obedience to this newly established regime.

The final nail in the coffin is that after signing this document, the Pilgrim men elected John Carver the first governor of the colony of Plymouth. His authority does not stem from good King James, but rather from the authority of the citizens of the colony. Had they merely been given their government, as had Jamestown, this would not been an issue. However, the Mayflower Compact was designed and instituted by the Pilgrims themselves, not by the London Company or the King. The Pilgrims, whether purposely or not, had erected a rival government to the authority of the King. They had no right to establish for themselves a government, or to elect a governor. They had given themselves authority equal to that of the British Parliament back in London. Ultimately, the Mayflower Compact can be seen as the first movement of the American Revolution. The Pilgrims had be confronted by an unjust government and fled to establish a new government. The tradition of self government in the Massachusetts colony began at Plymouth with the signing of the Mayflower Compact. By the end of the French and Indian War when the British government began taking a better look at her colonies in America, the people of Massachusetts and other colonies had a long history of self government. While the people of Plymouth may have called themselves British subjects, they had unconsciously recognized that they were no longer subjects of the crown of Great Britain by erecting their own government in its place.

Alienation in Post World War America

World War II ended with the surrender of the Japanese Empire in August 1945 leaving a wake of destruction on almost every continent. America was elated, not only had they defeated the Nazis but the Japanese were defeated as well. Yet, America’s place in the world changed as a result of the war in a way very few people would have thought possible. Only an up and coming nation in the last World War, the United States emerged from World War II as the preeminent world power. Amidst the jubilation of victory in both theaters of war, Americans had to come to grips not only with America’s new place in the world, but with what had happened in the war to America. The story of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye demonstrates the alienation some particular Americans felt in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The beginning of The Catcher in the Rye takes the reader to a boarding school and a character named Holden Caulfield. Holden is arguably one of the most controversial characters in literature, but his story is an important one as it is the story of America after World War II. Holden’s alienation from the rest of the world is central in his story. Throughout most of the story Holden is unable to find the good in the world and insists that everyone he knows or meets is a phony. Holden is a confused young man who is attempting to reconcile the world of his childhood with the world of his young adulthood. At sixteen when the story takes place, Holden was born two years after the stock market crashed and was still too young when the United States entered the Second World War in December, 1941. America, in a lot of ways, has grown up rapidly in the span of Holden’s short life.

The main antagonists in Holden’s life are his roommate Stradlater, his neighbor Ackley, a friend from home Sally, and a pimp and a prostitute he meets while staying in New York. In each case, the antagonists choose to ignore the realities of life by distracting themselves with sex, money or theater. Holden faults each character for being a phony, and considers his dead brother Allie, and his younger sister Phoebe as two of the only real people he has ever met. Holden has been affected by the war and its aftermath and maintains a child-like opinion of the world. In fact, he states, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”[1] Holden is alienated from those who are his age, or close because of his own inability to grow up. The various encounters Holden ha leave him more alienated than before. In the case of Sally, Holden contacts her and makes a date only to alienate himself from her by saying:  “You give me a royal pain in the ass…”[2] Holden is completely unable to maintain friendships and continues to draw further and further away from the world.

As Holden is unable to maintain friendships with anyone he meets, he is also a contradiction. At the beginning of the book he states, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.”[3] And yet he goes to see a movie at Radio City after his date with Sally. He goes into the bar at his hotel and has a low opinion of everything about it from where they seat him, to the band, to the patrons.[4] Holden constantly belittles people, places and things only to turn around and immerse himself in them. This further alienates him from the world and people around him as they view him as an immature person.[5] His sense of superiority, which results in his alienation, prevents Holden from having any meaningful relationships with anyone aside from his sister and dead brother Allie.

Holden is so disillusioned with the world around him that the only thing he can think to do is protect those who he views as innocent. Holden’s depression is lifted whenever he is around kids. The first instance the reader sees this is in the streets of New York. On his way to find a record store open on Sundays, Holden follows a family of three. The parents are on the sidewalk and immediately gain the disapproval of Holden when he says, “They looked sort of poor, which implies that Holden views the family, at least the parents, as beneath him. The child, however, entertains Holden as he is walking behind the family. The child is in the street singing, “‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’” The child and song make Holden, “feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.”[6] Holden is not alienated from children the way he is from those closer in age to him because he is able to find a truth in children that doesn’t exist for him in his contemporaries.

Holden’s alienation goes even further, to a desire to remove himself completely from society. At first, Holden pleads with Sally to, “drive up to Massachusetts or Vermont….We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out…I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all….I could chop wood in the wintertime and all.”[7] His feeling of superiority has alienated him not only from any meaningful relationships but also a desire to quit society almost all together. Later on he says, “Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone. They’d let me put gas and oil in their stupid cars, and they’d pay me a salary and all for it, and I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there the rest of my life.”[8] Both times, Holden suggests leaving society to live away from a world he doesn’t fully believe he belongs to.

Holden’s alienation also drives him to attempt to save those he believes he cares most about. In his first desire to leave society, he invites Sally to go with him only to alienate himself from her when she refuses to go with him. Holden also feels a need to assist a roommate at a previous school before he ultimately rejects him. His roommate Dick Slagle is poorer than Holden and doesn’t have as fancy of luggage as he has. As Holden describes the situation: “The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs…”[9] But he goes on to clarify, “You think if they’re intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don’t give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do.”[10] Holden both creates his own alienation, as in the case of Sally, and is a victim of society’s mandated alienation as was the case with the former roommate. Yet in both cases, Holden attempts to save that person from the phony world as Holden perceives it.

Finally, Holden’s struggle not to care about what others think or do and his desire to save people from their phoniness comes to a head. His sister Phoebe questions whether or not Holden actually likes anything, or if he simply hates everything.[11] As he avoids Phoebe’s questions, she finally prompts him, “All right, name something else. Name something you’d like to be.”[12] And it is here that Holden admits to his desire to protect children and to allow them to maintain their innocence when he tells Phoebe, “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”[13] Holden’s alienation from friends closer in age; his hatred of cars and movies all stem from his own desire to return and protect the innocence of childhood.

Yet, it takes Holden until he has nearly broken down psychologically that he realizes he can’t protect everyone from everything. While on the way to  deliver a note to Phoebe at her school, Holden notices writing on the walls outside the school. He desires to protect the innocence of the children from the writing  and dreams of killing the person responsible for writing obscenities on the school’s walls. The second time he finds the obscenities, however, he realizes that it has been craved into the wall.[14] It is at this point that Holden comes to the realization, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.”[15] He finally realizes that things won’t return to how they were when he was a child and life was simpler. Holden recognizes that the world is full of things he hates and wants to protect others from but it is a fool’s mission to try to protect the world from all the bad.

The story of Holden Caulfield could be analogous to the story of the United States after World War II. Like Holden, the United States was alienated from the rest of the world, including our allies. As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States had a responsibility not shared by her allies. Both the Soviet Union and the allies of the United States differed from the U.S.and did not seem to share many beliefs held by America. The United States, as well as Holden, had to come to grips with the reality of the world. Holden was never going to achieve living in a world where people were to be exactly as he wanted to be more ready to believe exactly what he believed. Holden is defined by his alienation from the world and weather he is finally able to reconcile himself with both the world and people around him.

[1] Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye(Boston: Little Brown and Company 1951) page 122.

[2] Ibid. 133

[3] Ibid. 2

[4] “they gave me a lousy table anyways…”, “The band was putrid”, “show-offy-looking guys with their dates.” Ibid. 69

[5] “Same old Caulfield. When are you going to grow up?” Ibid, 144

[6] Ibid. 115

[7] Ibid. 132

[8] Ibid. 199

[9] Ibid. 109

[10] Ibid.

[11] “You don’t like anything that’s happening.” Ibid. 169

[12] Ibid. 172

[13] Ibid. 173

[14] “I saw something that drove me crazy…”, “I went down by a different staircase….” Ibid. 201, 202

[15] Ibid.


Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

My friend Ashok asked that I provide a commentary on Hamlet.

As a student of Political Philosophy and American Studies I may not seem like the proper person to provide a commentary on William Shakespeare’s epic play Hamlet. However, this semester in pursuance of my Master of American Studies, I am taking a class on the playwright.

 Hamlet begins with a question; more importantly, it is a challenge by a watchman. The question is returned with yet another question, or challenge, by a second watchman. The Kingdom of Denmark is on alert after the King’s untimely demise.  Questions and challenges play an important role in Hamlet, some of the questions penetrate throughout the entire play. How did the King die? Is Claudius, the new king and the dead king’s brother, the cause of the king’s death? Is the dead king’s wife Gertrude guilty as her new husband, the new king? Is Hamlet, the son of the dead King, truly insane or is he simply putting on an antic-disposition? All of these questions riddle throughout the play, but there are even greater esoteric questions that one can ask.

In the second act of the play, Prince Hamlet is charged by the ghost of his dead father to kill his uncle. Thus presents our first question, is it right for a Christian to commit tyrannicide? Is it right for a Prince to commit tyrannicide? And if it is right, under what circumstances can a Christian or a Prince commit tyrannicide? Hamlet spends the play in contemplation, in fact he spends more time in contemplation than any other Shakespearean character. Yet he spends very little time contemplating the justice in his charge to commit tyrannicide. Instead, Hamlet spends his time contemplating the meaning of life. His time thinking causes him to delay in his charge, yet at other times (death of Polonius) Hamlet acts quickly and almost without any thought.

Before we can answer the key question of whether or not he has a right to commit tyrannicide, we have other questions that  must be asked. Hamlet has to have a justification for tyrannicide, even in Protestant thought tyrannicide is only acceptable with a just cause. As it stands in the play only two people know for a fact that Claudius killed Hamlet the elder…Claudius and Hamlet. Hamlet the younger only knows this fact through a ghost, which he doesn’t know if the Ghost is a belligerent or not. As Hamlet himself admits only, “Heaven and Hell” know whether or not the Ghost can truly be trusted. And since no other character attests to having heard the Ghost, Hamlet is left alone to defend his actions based on the information of a Ghost. As a result, Hamlet does have legitimate cause to delay in his cause so that Claudius has a chance to incriminate himself. But before Hamlet can even consider killing Claudius, he must be prepared to take the throne once the deed is done. This brings us to our first problem of committing tyrannicide. Hamlet is considered by other characters in the play a competent leader. Ophelia in her sentiments supports the theory that Hamlet is capable of being king. He also appears to be capable in foreign policy, but he doesn’t appear thrilled to become King.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas Tyrannicide is acceptable in two situations, when there is a Tyrant by Usurpation or a Tyrant by Oppression. In this instance, is Claudius a Tyrant by Usurpation? Did he usurp the legitimate king and take his throne? In Denmark the monarchy is elected, albeit for life. The first time we see Claudius we find that he had the support of the people for his reign and in this instance Hamlet cannot legitimately commit Tyrannicide. But is Claudius a Tyrant by Oppression? Again, Claudius appears to have the support of the Danish people. He also doesn’t seem to be an oppressive ruler, and only resigns to become such towards Hamlet once it becomes clear Hamlet seeks to murder him. And so at least in the Catholic understanding, Hamlet does not have just cause to commit tyrannicide.

The first question of the play then, whether or not Hamlet is entitled and justified in committing Tyrannicide, is answered in the negative at every turn. Hamlet is not prepared to take the throne, and Claudius is neither a usurper nor an oppressive ruler.

The second major question then is found throughout Hamlet’s soliloquies. Hamlet has more soliloquies than any other Shakespearean character with seven. The soliloquies are important, because throughout the play, with the exception of his first appearance, Hamlet is putting on his antic disposition. As a result, Hamlet’s true thoughts and feelings come through in his soliloquies. As such, to what extent is Hamlet’s concern with Fortune and Honor in contest with his charge to commit tyrannicide?

The first soliloquy is the most unique because it comes before Hamlet decides to put on an antic disposition and even before the Ghost appears to him. The first theme found in the soliloquies is suicide. Hamlet contemplates suicide so that the, “sullied flesh would melt away.” In this instance, flesh can mean either the actual physical human flesh that covers the body, or it could mean the passions. Flesh is another theme found throughout Hamlet’s soliloquies and it seems that it is constantly connected to the theme of Fortune. Finally, in the first soliloquy Hamlet does what he does throughout, he generalizes. In this instance, Hamlet generalizes about life through the particulars of his own. He also generalizes about women through his mother Gertrude. In his generalizations about women he comes to feel that they are weak and fragile and this is something he ultimately generalizes about Ophelia.

The struggle for Hamlet about tyrannicide is deeper than it’s proper justice. Like in his thoughts of suicide, Hamlet is concerned with saving all from the flesh and in particular Claudius. He doesn’t want to send Claudius to Hell, he wants to save him from his passions or his flesh. Flesh and passions are connected to Fortune and as a result Reason is connected with God. Passion and Fortune govern the affairs of men, and neither Reason or God can rule over them and this upsets Hamlet to the point that he wants to be released and wants to release everyone else. Hamlet’s anger over the inability to govern the Passions and Fortune are expressed in the recitation of Aeneas’s story to Dido about the Fall of Troy. Hamlet sees himself as Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles who wants to murder Priam to avenge his father. But like Hamlet, Pyrrhus is unwilling to do what he must to avenge Achilles.

Hamlet contemplates this speech in his third soliloquy, where he is aware of his father’s death but cannot bring himself to perform the murder. As a result, instead of action Hamlet decides to catch Claudius in speech. He does this in part to find if the Ghost is from heaven or hell. Hamlet authors lines to insert into the play within the play to convince Claudius to admit the murder. What is odd about the lines is that Hamlet doesn’t create the lines to bring out Claudius’s guilt, but rather to torment his mother over her disgrace. Her frailty has been a point of contention for Hamlet throughout the play.

The typical reading of Hamlet’s fourth Soliloquy, the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, is that it is about suicide. Hamlet begins the soliloquy generalizing about life itself, “being or not being.” Again fortune and flesh play a key role in Hamlet’s thoughts. The passions are always in concert with fortune, and reason can never rule over them and so it makes life unbearable for Hamlet. He sees death as a passageway to Heaven, which is our native country; but like the famous Hotel California, once you check in you may never leave. It is also in this soliloquy where Hamlet admits clearly that the passions do not submit to reason.

The problem with reason for Hamlet is that he sees it as two functions: the faculty that has the ability to understand events and actions and the faculty which governs the passions.Hamlet strives to see them both as one but cannot; the play itself is about these two functions of reason. The ability to control the passions with the ability to understand. Hamlet must be able to rise above his passion to kill Claudius to avenge his father, and use the ability to understand to do it.

The final soliloquy before the end of the play concerns itself with one basic premise of the play. Hamlet’s deliberation always resolves down tot he futility of action, in particular political action. Yet Hamlet admits that he has, “cause, and will, and strength, and means to [kill Claudius.]” The final soliloquy focuses around the concept of honor, and like the first soliloquy it stands unique. The final soliloquy centers around Hamlet recovering himself and is no ready to do what his dead father charged him to do. What prompted this change is difficult, was it the encounter with Fortenbras’s men? Or was it Ophelia who saved him? If it was Fortenbras, does Hamlet want to be like him? Fortenbras seems to be the timocratic man to a fault.

Finally, Hamlet finally resolves to kill Claudius only after he himself has become Claudius. His murder of Polonius has caused the suicide of Ophelia, and now his unwillingness to take responsibility for the destruction of Polonius’s family will bring about the destruction of Laertes.

So to conclude, the play Hamlet is about the justice of tyrannicide, and overcoming the passions.

Sovereignty by Donation: John Locke’s First Treatise of Government

Quotes taken from the New American Bible
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett

In the previous chapter John Locke discussed Sir Robert Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty over his children by creation. This next chapter, Locke discusses Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty by donation from God. There are by two methods Locke discerns from Filmer that Adam would have sovereignty: God gave Adam dominion over all the wild beasts and thereby was monarch, or that he had dominion over all creatures. Locke asserts that God did not give Adam authority over man, or his children and that he did not give him sole dominion over the beasts.

John Locke first examines the claim that Adam had sovereignty by having sole dominion over all living things. The Book of Genesis indicates in the first two chapters the order in which living things were created. On the 6th day God created what can amount to domesticated animals, and He created the wild beasts and reptiles. It is after the creation of the beasts and reptiles, and before the creation of Man, that God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Locke draws specific attention to God’s usage of the word “them” when speaking of man. In normal linguistics this can be noted to say that God was speaking of the plural, and at this point in time the word “man” could be used in reference to either a single person of the male gender or all humans. Thus Locke argues, God gave all man guardianship over the cattle, animals who crawl on the ground, and the wild beasts. Locke also wishes to draw specific attention to note that at verse 28 God does not say to subdue cattle, but rather only those living things that move on the ground. From this Locke points that the Septuagint distinguishes that the living things that move on the ground can be divided into wild beasts and reptiles. Two verses before at 26, Locke points out that God states to create man to rule over creation, in the list provided by Moses of the things man is to have rule over wild beasts are left off.

A certain interesting distinction can be pointed to here, at one point man is given control over the natural and at another only over the political. Wild beasts are the distinction between the natural and political, as according to Aristotle man is either a beast or a god outside of the city. However, the most important aspect to God’s list of what man, or in Filmer’s point of view Adam, is to have dominion over God leaves off man both times. It is clear from this that God intended for man to share in his dominion and rule over the natural life, and is to subdue nature. Of the power granted to man initially, man is not granted the authority to kill. This does not come until Noah and his Sons receive their edict from God to replenish the Earth and eat of animals. The proclamation made to Noah and his Sons can more properly described as a political edict, because at this point man is given authority to kill–something that was left off from the initial proclamation.

Yet still, man does not receive the authority to rule over each other. In Locke’s opinion, if the reader is unable to see that Adam is not sovereign over the world, then they should see it when that same charter is claimed to be given to Noah. Noah does not have children after the flood, only his children do. When God gives His proclamation to Noah, his sons are present as well and receive the same proclamation. That being said, all men are equal after the flood with the same authority. Within this state outside of society, all men are granted dominion over the earth to subdue nature. No one man has authority over another, as Locke points that David in the 8th Psalm does not acknowledge that God granted Adam sovereign authority. By nature we are all equal in our authority.

Likewise, Eve is given the same dominion as Adam because God speaks of man in the plural sense at verse 28. At this point there were only two creatures who fell under the definition of man: Adam and Eve. Clearly, if God spoke in the plural and there were only two humans then both would have be granted the same dominion, not just the one. Eve, as man, has been created similar to Adam, “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…'” (Genesis 2:23.) Eve is an identical copy of Adam, she is fully man just as Adam is fully man. As such, Eve too is created in the Image of God and Locke states, “For wherein sover else the Image of God consisted, the intellectual Nature was certainly a part of it, and belong’d to the whole Species, and enabled them to have Dominion over the inferiour Creatures…” And therefore Adam lacks dominion over all living things, and only over those of the sea, and air and over cattle, wild beasts and reptiles.

Locke has asserted for the first time in a clear and percise manner that all men are created equal and that there is no natural government; man must consent to being ruled and is not naturally born into the precondition of being ruled. Man is not given the authority to take life until after the Flood, when God grants Noah and his children the authority to eat meat and to take the life of one who sheds the blood of man. The idea that man must consent to being governed is shown through England’s Manors. The Lord of the manor only has authority over the natural things, not over his tendents. He can order the slaughter of a calf, but not over those men who inhabit his land. The Lord of a Manor only has the authority granted to him by those who consent to his rule, no more or less. This is a strict departure from Hobbes who grants the Magistrate any authority once one consents to his rule. The only time man is able to refuse the Magistrate is when that Magistrate attempts to take the life of a subject. Locke is specifically stating here that man is given the authority to rule over another man by consent only, and that consent to be ruled is limited to what has been agreed upon.

As such, Locke has now asserted a design for his State of Nature where there is no government except the individual and that all are granted common rule over the earth. He has also demonstrated that man is given command to subdue the earth, which will become the authority to perfect nature in his Second Treatise. All men are created into a world of equal freedom and authority, only when entering into society does man consent to relinguish some of that freedom and authority but never more than what has been agreed upon.

Locke’s First Treatise: Sovereignty by Creation

Quotes taken from Locke: Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett

At this point John Locke takes to task Sir Robert’s attempt to give Adams sovereignty of the world and man by his creation. The first struggle Locke faces is Sir. Robert’s assertion that to suppose natural freedom in mankind means to deny Adam’s creation. However, this is a subtle use of words that Locke writes concerning this assertion by Sir Robert. Locke states, “For I find no difficulty to suppose the Natural Freedom of Mankind, though I have always believed the Creation of Adam…” Anyone who reads this passage cannot help but notice the use of suppose and believed and how different they make the meaning of his thought. Supposition comes from the use of one’s reason while belief does not. To suppose implies that one can logically think it through and find proofs while belief does not. Therefore, Locke is stating contrary to Filmer that Natural Freedom of Man Kind cannot be denied because reason can attain them whereas reason cannot attain the creation of Adam.

Next Locke presents the second issue,  that by Appointment Adam was made governor of the world by God. There are three instances in which Locke states this Appointment was possible: “Providence orders, or the Law of Nature directs, or positive Revelation declares…” Of these he denies that Providence could have been the appointment of Adam, which will be discussed momentarily. The Law of Nature and and positive Revelation are two interesting terms for Locke to use. We can simplify and attempt to understand this better if we change positive to it’s other meaning: law. The Law of Nature we know is a bastardization of the Natural Law and of the Natural Right, which proceeded the Law of Nature in previous epochs. The most direct ancestor of the Law of Nature is Natural Law, which St. Thomas articulates in his Treatise on Law. The Natural Law is the way in which the Eternal Law, or Providence, participates in human reason. By denying Providence, Locke has denied that God participates in the reason of man all together. Positive Revelation, or the Bible or Divine Law comes directly from the Eternal Law and informs and corrects both the Natural Law and the Human Law.  The Law of Nature removes the Eternal Law and Divine Law and supplants it with a temporal understanding.  Locke excludes a discussion of Adam’s sovereignty by Creation by denying both the Eternal and Divine laws as a source of political authority.  If Adam’s sovereignty was granted to him prior to creation through Divine Providence, then it would mean Adam would have been governor from the moment the Eternal Law came into be. It would be silly he asserts for Adam to have received his governorship over the world by Providence, because there was nothing to govern.

Locke then looks at Sir Robert’s assertion from the Law of Nature perspective. Locke argues that to assert Adam’s governorship by the Law of Nature is like saying that Man is governor over his children by right of nature. However, in this instance Locke points that Adam could neither be governor of the world, nor father when he had no government or children to make him governor of the world or father by right of nature. However, Sir Robert’s responds to this by asserting that Adam was not governor in fact but in habit. Yet, let us look at the problem of making Adam governor of the world by his creation through a different method.

Locke asserts Adam could not have been made governor of the world by his creation because he has no government; government does not come until the Fall, which is long after Adam’s creation. In fact, if one looks at the Book of Genesis they will find that government does not exist among Adam, Eve and their two sons. In fact government is not created until Adam’s son Cain slays Abel and is banished to the land of Nod by God. Cain is the founder of the city, not Adam, which makes Cain-a killer- the founder of the City according to Moses. This is why Sir Robert’s assertion that Adam gains governorship over the world by creation. Cain, not Adam, is the first governor that we encounter in the Bible. In fact, the children of Adam reject government until the Jews insist God give them a king. They are enslaved by the greatest government of the day- the Egyptians. A murderer, a betrayer to his family and his God is the founder of the City. The City is founded  upon sin according to the Bible.

Adam was made king of the world by his creation, not a king in fact, but a king in act which according to Locke means he was no king at all. This same argument, made by Sir Robert Locke will argue, means that Noah too was king of the world by his creation because it was his destiny to outlive his brethren. Belief in Adam’s creation and to suppose Natural Freedom of Mankind do not counteract each other according to Locke. Because Adam’s creation did not mean he was absolute ruler of the world as has been shown, one can still suppose the Natural Freedom of Mankind.


“The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the greatest anniversary festival. It ought to be commorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” -John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 2, 1776.

As we all know John Adams was off by two days as Congress would adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But our freedom came on the 2nd day of July. Over the next couple of days and weeks I wish and will explain the importance of not only the Declaration, but also our freedom and liberty. To begin I will focus on John Adams’ quote from one of the many letters he wrote to his wife Abigail this day in 1776.

In ancient times when a great day of celebration or day of rememberance was commorated they did so with games, feasts and prayers to the gods above. For the Greeks they often would celebrate the dead and great days with games similar to the Olympic games held annually. The Olympics themselves were a celebration in honor of the gods. It is no wonder that John Adams, a student of the ancients, would call for us to celebrate our day of Independence; the day God Almighty delivered us from the hands of the English into the arms of freedom, as the ancients would have celebrated.

In our time of hotdogs, BBQ, beer and fireworks we often forget what Independence day actually is meant to be. Our Independence was an act of Divine Providence as God had delivered the Israelites from the tyranny of the Egyptians, God delivered us from the hands of tyranny of the English. Many times we have looked back and tried to understand our history in the context of our documents and monuments. We are both the New Egypt, having inherited our empire from the English who had it passed down to them through history and we are the New Israelites, a chosen people who have been delivered from the tyranny of Egypt and delivered to the promise land. Our celebration should encompass these events and not simply the hotdog eating contests and the fireworks have. Independence Day is far more than just some childish holiday celebrated in the middle of summer. Without Indepdendence Day we are not the United States of America; it should be our most important and glorious holiday on the calendar.

And we must recall every July that we are a chosen people by God; we have been chosen to show that freedom and liberty can exist above tyranny and oppression. As John Winthrop would express a century before our Founding Fathers fixed their names to the parchment of the Declaration, “For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for Gods sake; we shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.” This still rings true today and we must look upon our Day of Deliverance with the same awe that Winthrop looked upon the settling of Massachusetts Bay with. We must remember that we are a city upon a hill and that we must live up to our committment to God and remember that our Independence is solely the working of The Almighty Himself.

Whether we celebrate July 2nd or July 4th as our day of Independence, we should still commorate it “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

Locke’s First Treatise Chapter II: Paternal and Regal Power

Quotes taken from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett.

Help from Ashok

Having completed his introduction of Sir Robert Filmer’s work Patriarcha, Locke endeavors to explore the arguments made by Filmer. The first argument made is that of Paternal and Regal power. The argument for absolute monarchy according to Locke is far above anything man can think of, so high in fact “that Promises and Oaths, which tye the infinite Deity, cannot confine it.” This is a curious way of describing the idea behind absolute monarchy but upon further inspection one might find that even God cannot be described as an absolute Monarch in the manner in which Filmer uses the words. But if Locke is able to demonstrate that the logic used for absolute monarchy is faulty, then man can start a new with government by consent; Locke ends with “using their Reason to unite together into Society.”

The first instance of Absolute Monarchy is that of the parent over the child, which means that the child is not free and that the parents possess a regal authority over that child. At first glance one might think this is an argument against Filmer, but instead is actually against Aristotle who in the Politics argues that the relationship between a father and his child is that of kingly rule. Exactly what that fatherly authority is Locke and Filmer neglect to tell, instead Locke lays out three basic foundations in the beginning of the Patriarcha:

1. En Passant, Made his Obeysance to the Arcana Imperii.

2. Made his Compliment to the Rights and Liberties of this, or any other Nation which he is going presently to null and destroy.

3. Made his Leg to those Learned Men, who did not see so far into the Matter as himself.

In sum, Locke argues that Filmer’s use of absolute monarchy thumbs its nose at the idea of rule by consent of the majority. The basis for his argument of Fatherly authority stems from the Bible: Adam was the first human, our father who possessed absolute authority over the world; Noah and his sons reestablished the monarchy of Adam until the captivity of the Israelites; God re-established the line of king over Israel. And finally Filmer uses the commandment of Honor thy Father as proof of absolute fatherly authority. Locke immediately points out that this is only a half quote from the Ten Commandments and that the full commandment reads Honor thy Father and thy Mother. The problem of stating both Locke points out is that it would be a mixed monarchy, which ultimately leads to anarchy. It is for this reason that Filmer leaves out the latter part of the quote, which Locke calls Filmer “a wary Physician,… when he would have his Patient swallow some harsh or Corrosive Liquor…” for having done. Here Locke compares Filmer to the physician, who is representative of the legislative authority within philosophic thought.

It is then that Locke goes on to say “Without this, What Good could our A——do, or pretend to do, by erecting such an unlimited Power, but flatter the Natural Vanity and Ambition of Men, too apt of if it self to grow and encrease with the Possession of any Power?” The discussion of Absolute Monarchy, by extension of this argument, is the same as talking of anarchy. Locke finishes, “And by perswading those, who, by the consent of their Fellow-Men, are advanced to great, but limited degrees of it, that by that part which is given them, they have a Right to all, that was not so; and therefore may do what they please, because they have Authority to do more then others, and so tempt them to do what is neither for their own, nor the good of those under their Care, whereby great Mischiefs cannot but follow.” Everyone has a right to security and therefore they have the power to ensure their freedom, creating an anarchical state. Further, consent exists in the wrong system creating multiple centers of power as a result of Filmer’s argument.

From this Locke argues for three points for the argument of fatherly regal authority: Sovereignty of Adam, Absolute Power of Adam, and Adam’s Royal Authority. The first concerns with Adam’s authority over his own family, for Filmer argues that Adam had absolute power over his family including the power over life. In this the paternal powers becomes the regal power, and by extension calls into question maybe the polis and family. If Adam was not king by virtue of his title of father, then is the fatherly authority political, for if it is not then family is not by nature political which is contrary to the teachings of Aristotle. As for the second, Absolute Power of Adam, this is based on the authority of Adams over his posterity; this dominion then makes men nothing more than herds. Locke calls for Proofs and Reasons as to how Adam has gained this absolute authority, which creates two types of rule: reasonable and unreasonable. Filmer’s argument of Adam’s absolute power is an example of the unreasonable, because there lacks any proof or reason for such an assertion. Finally there is Adam’s Royal Authority, which is to say Adam’s paternal authority: Adam is king because he is father. While Filmer continues to argue for Adam’s Royal Authority, Locke points he fails to provide a proof. Analogously, the royal authority of Adam or the rule of absolute monarchy is the power of opinion or the power over the passions.

Locke’s argument against Paternal and Regal Authority is summed in that Filmer provides no proof of Adam’s authority as both father and king other than the half quote “Honor thy father.” Which itself is purposely cut short because the introduction of “honor thy mother” would imply a mixed monarchy and thus destroying any hopes of an absolute monarch. The argument for absolute monarchy does not exist within the realm of proofs or reason but rather in the power over opinion; which makes the argument far stronger because men are inclined to follower their passions. The Sovereignty of Adam, his absolute power, and is royal authority combine to make Adam a tyrant. He contains the power over life of his own family, he rules over his posterity like they are a herd and rules by appealing to human passions. This is juxtaposed to the idea the Law of Nature, social contract, and rule by reason. The first makes man a slave while the second provides for his security and safety.

A look at Book I of John Locke’s First Treatise of Government

Quotes taken from Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett published by the Cambridge Texts in History and Political Thought.

I would like to think Ashok for reading through the First Treatise with me.

John Locke begins the first chapter, “Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of Man, and so directly opposite to the generous Temper and Courage of our Nation; that tis hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman, much less a Gentleman, should plead for’t.” Locke starts his treatise with the theme of slavery, which according to him goes against the “temper and courage” of England. He claims astonishment that an English Lord (Englishman…much less a Gentleman) would write such a work. This individual that Locke is arguing against is Sir Robert Filmer, the writer of the work Patriarcha or The Natural Power of Kings. Locke uses Filmer’s work to refute the belief in Divine Right Monarchy. He calls Filmer’s work a “Rope of Sand” and a “Chain for all Mankind” whose business it is to “raise a Dust” that would “blind the People” but cannot bind those “who have their eyes open.” This is a very interesting argument against the work, Locke has set out on the stance that Divine Right Monarchy really means slavery and that Filmer’s treatise is only meant to blind the people into bondage.

Locke makes reference that Filmer’s work was long before his own First Treatise, and the editor notes that the Patriarcha was written in 1637-8 but not published until 1680. Filmer is called the “Champion of absolute Power” and anyone who reads his treatise cannot but think himself no longer a freeman. When published, Locke argues that Filmer’s treatise removed all liberty from the world. Furthermore, it intended to make itself the model of all politics for the future. However, Locke argues that the treatise by Filmer can be summed in two lines:

1. That all Government is absolute Monarchy

2. That no Man is born Free

These are two very dangerous beliefs for Locke, the champion of consent of the governed.

Authors of the generation in which Locke is writing, and the previous generations are said by him to have “flatter[ed] princes with an Opinion” this opinion being that despite the laws which constituted their authority, and are to govern under, they have absolute power under the title of Divine Right. They are not restrained by “Oaths and Promises” because their authority does not come from those, whom they govern, or from the laws but rather from God Himself. By making such an argument, these authors have stripped man of his natural rights and freedoms and made them subject to tyranny and oppression. Even more, Locke argues that they have “unsettled the Titles and shaken the Thrones of Princes.” Why is this? Because if there is such a thing as Divine Right monarchy, than all except them monarch are slaves to the monarch. Further, as Locke will argue, if Adam was made the first monarch then only one Prince in the world living has claim to that title passed down from Adam. All persons with the exception of that single heir have been made slaves and all government has been destroyed because of these Divine Right authors. If all are slaves then there cannot be politics and if there cannot be politics there cannot be government.

Yet, Locke argues that if we have to accept this argument, that we are all born Slaves, then it does not end. “Life and Thraldom” continue together until the former ends and we are released from the latter. But this notion of Divine Right monarchy, Locke claims, is a new idea. “Scripture or Reason I am sure doe not any where say so notwithstanding the noise of divine right, as if Divine Authority hath subjected us to the unlimited Will of another.” The notion that we are all slaves to a single human, a fallible person, is not present in our own human reason or in the Divine Scripture, where one would expect to find Divine Right authority promulgated first. Natural freedom and equality are the older opinions of mankind, not absolute Authority of a single man. Locke even argues that Filmer assents to this belief, that his opinion is the junior.

At this Locke leaves the argument of the age of this argument for historians to debate, but wishes to argue the point against Filmer who he believes was allowed to carry the opinion the furthest.


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