William of Occam has fittingly been called the “most subtle doctor of the Middle Ages.” Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, the vast political writings of this famous fourteenth-century scholastic have been surprisingly neglected by modern students, particularly in England and the United States. It is commonly agreed that among general philosophers of the Middle Ages this “second founder of nominalism” is surpassed by St. Thomas Aquinas alone. Surely, therefore, the presumption is reasonable that the encyclopedic mass of Occam's political writings conceals many “diamonds in the rough,” only awaiting discovery. The present writer hopes that he may throw some light on certain important problems discussed by Occam, especially that most significant one of a “higher” or fundamental law.
An impression seems prevalent in many quarters that Occam obtained most of his political ideas from his famous contemporary, Marsiglio of Padua, who has established himself among modern students as the really great political genius of his times. Without detracting from Marsiglio's well-deserved fame, we are quite unable to accept this view. On the contrary, Occam, as might be expected of such a great general philosopher, can stand upon his own feet, and his political theory in many respects exhibits characteristics entirely independent of any Marsiglian influence.