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Thou shalt not slay a tyrant! The so-called theory of John of Salisbury

  • Jan van Laarhoven (a1)

Extract

It is a commonplace in the history of political theory to mark John of Salisbury as the first medieval defender of the so-called theory of tyrannicide according to which it is allowed and properly rightful to kill a tyrant. Yet commonplaces run the risk of platitudes: they need control and regular revision; from time to time the foundations of a platform have to be revisited in order to inspect their bearing-power. That is the intention of this communication, the first section of which will investigate some traditional arguments for the existence of such a theory; the second section will replace the problematic issue in the context of John’s works, especially of his main work, the Policraticus.

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1 See for instance: Kern, Fritz, Cottesgnadentum und Widerstandsrecht im früheren Mittelaller. Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Monarchic (Mittehlterliche Sludien 1. 2: Leipzig 1914 ; revised by Rudolf Buchner, Darmstadt 1980); Dickinson, John, ‘The medieval conception of kingship and some of its limitations, as developed in the Policraticus of John of Salisbury’, Speculum 1 (1926) pp 30837 ; for the most part resumed in his Introduction (pp XVII-LXXX11) to The Statesman’s book of John of Salisbury (Political Science Classics 4: New York 1927; reprint New York 1963); Berges, Wilhelm, Die Fürstenspiegel des hohen und späten Mittelalters (MGH, Schriften 2: Leipzig 1938 ; reprint Stuttgart 1952); Schoenstedt, Friedrich, Sludien zum Begriff des Tyrannen und zum Problem des Tyrannenmordes im Spätmittelalter insbesondere in Frankreich (Würzburg 1938 ; also in Neue Deutsche Forschungen 198, Berlin 1938); Bride, André, ‘Tyrannieet tyrannicide’, DThC. 15 (1950) 19482016 ; Spörl, Johannes, ‘Gedanken um Widerstandsrecht und Tyrannenmord im Mittelalter’, Widerstandsrecht und Crenzen der Staatsgewalt (ed Pfister, Bernhard and Hildmann, Gerhard: Berlin 1956) pp 1132 ; also now in Widerstandsrecht (ed Arthur Kaufmann and Leonhard Backmann, Wege der Forschung 173: Darmstadt 1972) pp 87-113; Brack, Harrow, ‘TyrannenmordStaatslexikon 7 (1962) 11014 ; Laqueur, Walter, ‘Revolution’, Int. Enc. of Soc. Sciences 13 (1968) 5017 ; Ullmann, Walter, ‘Schranken der Königsgewalt im ittelalter’, Hist. Jahrb. 91 (1971) pp 121 ; now also in The Church and the Law in the Earlier Middle Ages: Selected Essays (London 1975) Art. VIII; Richard, and Rouse, Mary, ‘John of Salisbury and the doctrine of tyrannicide’, Speculum 42 (1967) pp 693709 ; Smalley, Beryl, The Becket Conflict and the Schools: A Study of Intellectuals in Politics (Oxford 1973); Türk, Egbert, Nugae curialium: Le règne d’Henri II Plantegenêt et l’éthique politique (Centre de rech. d’hist. et de philol. V.28: Geneva 1977); Kerner, Max, Johannes von Salisbury und die logische Struktur seines Policraticus (Wiesbaden 1977); Laarhoven, Jan van, ‘Dietirannie verdrijven …John of Salisbury als revolutionair?’, Celoof en revolutie: Kerkhistorische kanttekeningen bij een actueel vraagstuk aangeboden aan prof. dr. W. F. Dankbaar (Amsterdam 1977) pp 2150.

2 Policraticus iii. 15:’… in saecularibus litteris cautum est quia aliter cum amico, aliter vivendum est cum tiranno. Amico utique adulari non licet, sed aures tiranni mulcere licitum est. Ei namque licet adulari, quern licet occidere. Porro tirannum occidere non modo licitum est sed aequum et iustum. Qui enim gladium accipit, gladio dignus est interire’ (232, 14-20/512c).

NB. the first reference is always to page and lines of Webb (London-Oxford 1909; reprint Frankfurt 1965), the second to column and section of Migne, PL. 199.

3 It is curious to note that Dickinson in his introduction, p LXXIII, quotes this passage without the major (‘ei licet adulari quern’) and without the conclusion (‘aures tiranni mulcere licitum est’); that Joseph Pike in his translation Frivolities of courtiers and footprints of philosophers (Minneapolis 1938), p 211, leaves out the proper thesis (from ‘Amico’ to ‘licitum est’); and that Kerner in his recapitulation, p 194, inverts the argument of the major: ‘wem man aber schmeicheln dürfe, den dürfe man auch töten’ (it is just the opposite).

4 Cicero, Deamicitia 24/89 (in a passage about veritas!) ‘aliter enim cum tyranno, aliter cum amico vivitur’ (ed L. Laurand, coll. Budé: 1961) pp 47-8.

5 Cicero, De officiis iii.6/32, ‘Nulla est enim societas nobis cum tyrannis …, nequeest contra naturam spoliare eum, si possis, quern est honeste necare’ (ed M. Testard, coll. Budé: 1970) p 86; cf also iii.4/19: ‘Num igitur se adstrinxit scelere si qui tyrannum occidit quamvis familiarem? Populo quidem Romano non videtur, qui ex omnibus praeclaris factis illud pulcherrimum exisitimat’ (79). See the thorough analysis by Karl Büchner, , ‘Der Tyrann und sein Gegenbild in Ciceros Staat’, Hermes 80 (1952) pp 34371.

6 Matt xxvi.52, ‘omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt’. Notice the restricted exegesis of the general biblical sentence. The same text returns in another context, but again in company with Cicero, in Policraticus vi.8 (22, 7-13/600b).

7 Policraticus iii. 15 (immediately following the quotation above in n. 2) ‘Sed accipere intelligitur qui eum propria temeritate usurpat, non qui utendi eo accipit a Domino potestatcm. Utique qui a Deo potestatem accipit, legibus servit et iustitiae et iuris famulus est. Qui vero earn usurpat, iura deprimit et voluntati suae leges summittit’ (232, 20-25/512c). The remarkable last sentences of iii. 15 are not intended to put the potential murderer of a tyrant at ease: ‘Do not worry, your manslaughter is not lése-majesté’; they ought to make the tyrant himself uneasy: ‘cum multa sint crimina maiestatis, nullum gravius est eo, quod adversus ipsum corpus iustitiae exercetur. Tirannis ergo non modo publicum crimen sed, si fieri posset, plus quam publicum est’ (232,27-233,3/512c-d). Cf the classical statements on crimen maiestatis in Policraticus vi.25 (73-77/626b-628d).

8 The complicated ‘Boethian’ structure of the last two books of the Policraticus has been clarified very well by Hans Liebeschütz, Mediaeval humanism in the life and writings of John of Salisbury (Studies of the Warburg Institute 17: London 1950; reprint Nendeln 1968) pp 28-33; see also his section about Tyrannus, he. cit. pp 50-5. Cf Kerner, Strukture, pp 183-8.

9 Policraticus viii. 17, under the title ‘In quo tirannus a principe differat…’ (345, l/777c), ‘Est ergo tirannus, ut eum philosophi depinxerunt, qui violenta dominatione populum premit, sicut qui legibus regit princeps est…. Princeps pugnat pro legibus et populi libertate; tirannus nil actum putat nisi leges evacuet et populum devocet in servitutem. Imago quaedam divinitatis est princeps et tirannus est adversariae fortitudinis et Luciferianae pravitatis imago [cf Is. xiv.12-14], … Imago deitatis, princeps amandus venerandus est et colendus; tirannus, pravitatis imago, plerumque etiam occidendus’ (345, 8-11. 19-23. 28-30/777d-778a).

10 Policraticus viii.17, immediately after the last quotation: ‘Origo tiranni iniquitas est et de radice toxicata mala et pestifera germinat et pullulat arbor securi qualibet succidenda [cf Luke iii.9 and 13, 7], Nisi enim iniquitas et iniustitia caritatis exterminatrix tirannidem procurasset, pax secura et quies perpetua in evum populus possedisset [cf Aug., De Civitate Dei iv.15], nemoque cogitaret de finibus producendis’ (345,30-346,5/778a-b).

11 Policraticus viii.17, ‘sive ecclesiastici sive mundani sint, omnia posse volunt, … Utrisque tamen hoc persuaderi vellem, divinum nondum expirasse judicium quo primigenis et semini eorum inflictum est’ (347, 16-20/778d-779a).

12 Policraticus viii.18, ‘Ministros Dei tamen tirannos esse non abnego, qui in utroque primatu, scilicet animarum et corporum, iusto suo iudicio esse voluit per quos punirentur mali et corrigerentur et exercerentur boni [cf Rom. xiii.1-6 and I Petr. ii.13-15]’ (358, 7-10/785a-b).

13 Policraticus viii.18, after the example of Saul (358,18-359,3/785b-c): ‘Amplius quidem adiciam; etiam tyranni gentium reprobati ab eterno ad mortem ministri Dei sunt et christi Domini appellantur [Is. liv.1]…. Omnis autem potestas bona [cf Rom. xiii.1], quoniam ab eo est a quo solo omnia et sola sunt bona. Utenti tamen interdum bona non est aut patienti sed mala, licet quod ad universitatem sit bona, …[Cf the black colour in a picture: ‘indecens est, et tamen in tota pictura decet.]…Ergo et tiranni potestas bona quidem est, tirannide tamen nichil est peius’ (359, 3-5. 13-23/785c-786a).

14 Policraticus viii.18, at the end: ‘Ex quibus facile liquebit quia semper tiranno licuit adulari, licuit eum decipere et honestum fuit occidere, si tamen aliter coherceri non poterat’ (364, 5-7/788d). Notice that the first ‘conclusion’ in John’s moral exposé bears upon such vices as flattery and deception, and that without restriction! Remember, again, the main tendency of iii. 15.

15 Policraticus viii. 18, last sentence: ‘Praeter rem tamen non videtur, si haec, quae dicta sunt, aliquibus astruamus exemplis’ (364, 15-16/788d).

16 Policraticus viii.20, first sentence: ‘Longum est si gentilium tirannorum ad tempora nostra seriem voluero trahere; sed unius hoc etatis non memorabitur homo…. Libellus tamen qui De Exitu Tirannorum inscriptus est quid de tirannis sentiam plenius poterit aperire, …’ (372,25-373,3/793b-c). Webb suggests here that this booklet ‘aut numquam in lucem prodiit aut omnino amissus est’. It is needless to lament its being missing: there is no reason at all to think that it would be much different from the leaflet of 67 pages we have in fact in Policraticus viii. 17-23. The title of viii. 21: ‘Omnium tirannorum finem esse miseriam’ (379,6/797a) and its first sentence: ‘Finis enim tirannorum confusio est’ (379,10/797a) are variants of Phil. 3, 19: ‘inimicos crucis Christi, quorum finis interitus, … et gloria in confusione ipsorum, qui terrena sapiunt’. Cf also viii.23, quoted below n. 23.

17 Cf the title of Policraticus viii.20 (below n. 19) and notice the formula about the tyrants in Israel and about their murderers: ‘servierunt saepenumero filii Israel sub tirannis, … saepeque sunt clamantes ad Dominum liberati. Licebatque finito tempore dispensationis nece tirannorum excutere iugum de cervicibus suis [cf Gen. xxvii.40]; nee quisquam eorum, quorum virtute penitens et humiliatus populus liberabatur, arguitur, sed iocunda posterorum memoria quasi minister Domini memoratur’ (374, ll-18/794a-b). The story of Judith in the same chapter (376,2-377,31/795a-796b).

18 Policraticus viii. 21, ‘Punitur autem malitia semper a Domino; sed interdum suo, interdum quasi hominis utitur telo in penam impiorum’ (379, 21-23/797b). Cf the title of this chapter: ‘Omnium tirannorum finem esse miseriam; et quod in eos Deus vindictam exercet, si manus cesset humana …” (379, 6-8/797a).

19 Policraticus viii.20, title: ‘Quod auctoritate divinae paginae licitum et gloriosum est publicos tirannos occidere, si tamen fidelitate non sit tiranno obnoxius interfector aut alias iustitiam aut honestatem non amittat’ (372, 21-24/793b). The two conditions are repeated at the end of the chapter: ‘Hoc tamen cavendum docent historiae, ne quis illius moliatur interitum cui fidei aut sacramenti religione tenetur astrictus’ (377,31-378,2/796b), and explained by three biblical examples: the infidelity of Sedechias ‘etiam cum ex iusta causa cavetur tiranno’ (378, 5-6/796b-c); the patient fidelity of David who ‘causam agebat iustiorem’ (378, 22/796d); and the good counsel of the heathen Achior to Holofernes ‘quoniam Deus eorum defendet illos’ (379, 4/797a). Cf about fealty Policraticus vi.25 with the six demands of Fulbert of Chartres (also in the Decretum Gratiani XXII. v. 18, ed Friedberg 887-8) whose claims are introduced by John with the statement: ‘ex quibus quid non liceat commodissime colligi potest’ (75, 26-27/627d). In the same chapter a typical text about religio: after an attestation of loyalty, together with a biblical restriction (‘God rather than men’, Acts v.29), John concludes: ‘Sic ergo cohereant inferiora superioribus, sic universa membra se subiciant capiti ut religio servetur incolumis’ (73, 16-18/626b). Cf also below n. 34.

20 Policraticus viii.20, after the story of I Sam. xxiv: ‘Et hie quidem modus delendi tirannos utilissimus et tutissimus est, si qui premuntur ad patrocinium clementiae Dei humiliati confugiant et puras manus levantes ad Dominum devotis precibus flagellum quo affliguntur avertant. Peccata etenim delinquentium vires sunt tirannorum’ (378, 22-27/796d).

21 The whole chapter (399-411/809a-814d) bears the stamp of the painful memories of the schism of 1130 and of the political disagreements which led to the imperial schism of 1159; cf the same distaste for disruption and rebellion in the last chapter of the Metalogicon iv.42 (ed Webb 216-219/945a-946c).

22 In the warnings of John’s beloved author, Lucan, Pharsalia (13 quotations in this chapter!), in Policraticus viii.23: ‘Utinam secuti essent qui ea viderunt tempora consilium Bruti, a quo eum imminente bello civili Catonis avertit auctoritas [Phars. 2, 234-6]. Decreverat enim manus suas ab armis continere civilibus, quibus quanto quisque libentius et fortius immiscetur, tanto iniquior et immanior est. Ait ergo: Nunc neque Pompeii Brutum nee Cesaris hostem, post bellum victoris habes [Phars. 2, 283-4]’ (402, 14-21/810b).

23 Policraticus viii.23, ‘adversus camales non ego sed … apostolica intonat tuba: Quorum, inquit, finis interims, quorum Deus venter et gloria in confusione, quia terrena sapiunt [Phil. iii. 19]; si, ut suam expleant voluntatem, aliis dominantes, quod tirannicum est, eis nichil minus proveniet; tiranno siquidem nichil tutum est aut quietum’ (408, 9-14/813a).

24 Policraticus viii.23, last sentences of this treatise: ‘Quid ergo erit ei quern nulla vocat electio sed repugnante in membris Christi ambitio ceca et cruenta non sine sanguine fraterno intrudit? Hoc quidem est Romulo succedere in parricidiis, non Petro in commissi dispensatione ovilis’ (411, 14-18/814d).

25 As an historical fact, in Policraticus viii.19: ‘veneficium detestabile semper’ (366, 9/789d); or because of the lack of ‘authorization’, in viii.20: ‘nee veneni … ullo umquam iurc indultam lego licentiam’ (378, 7-9/796c); or as a matter of national pride, in viii.19: ‘Britannia venena semper exhorruit et in principes non novit sed pro suis principibus invictos gladios exercere’ (372, ll-13/783a).

26 Its function, if any, could, indeed, be to demonstrate on the one side the importance of a term and a concept occurring so often, on the other side to point out how many times a writer like John lets slip the opportunity to elaborate a so-called ‘theory’.

27 Kern, ‘Gewissenseinschränkungen … Folgerichtigkeit ist Salisburys Sache nicht’ (Gottesgnadentum p 425; ed Buchner, p 356); Dickinson, ‘inconsistencies … the more or less confused mass of contradictory ideas’ (‘Medieval conception’, pp 335 and 337); Liebeschütz, ‘an expression of John’s feelings about the experiences of the English church …during the period of anarchy under Stephen’ (Mediaeval humanism, p 52); Rouse, ‘the doctrine of tyrannicide is purely theoretical, in the sense that John was not proposing it as a plan of action’ (‘Doctrine of tyrannicide’ p 709). Remember the sarcastic comment of Berges: ‘wir leisten uns das Kuriosum, J(ohann von Salisbury) die Klarheit abzusprechen, weil sie uns selbst fehlt’ (Fürstenspiegel p 139 n. 8).

28 According to the title of viii.21 (above n. 18).

29 See for the classical and biblical notion of justice/injustice in the Policraticus my article ‘Iustitia bij John of Salisbury. Proeve van een terminologische statistiek’, Nederlands Archie) voor Kerkgeschiedenis 58 (1977) pp 16-37, with at least one conclusion: ‘The death of justice is the birth of tyranny’ (p 36).

30 According to viii.23 (above n. 23).

31 We have tried to do so in our article, quoted above n. 1, in which the incompleteness of our Terminological Appendix (see the NB at its head) has been partly corrected by some ‘parallel’ texts, for instance from the important excursus Policraticus vi.25-30 (30-32). Generally speaking, John’s ‘tyrannology’ concludes the three main parts of his book, viz. in iii.15; in vi. 25-30; and before the two concluding chapters in viii. 17-23.

32 Despite the stimulating chapter of Heer, Friedrich, Aufgang Europas (Vienna-Zurich 1949), pp 290383 , the ‘bourgeois citoyen’ from Old Sarum is not a republican. In this sense he is not a disciple of Cicero, but of his teachers Robert Pullen and Robert of Melun (see Smalley, Becket Conflict, pp 39-58). In fact, a man like Manegold von Lautenbach was far more ‘revolutionary’ than our so-called theoretician of tyrannicide (see for instance Ad Gebehardum in MGH, Libelti de lite 1, 365).

33 John had to defend himself against the accusation of lese-majeste (cf Policraticus vii.20 (186, 19-25/689a) and the Entheticus in Policraticum 5-8 (1, 5-8/379a) and the letters during his ‘disgrace’) not, however, because of statements on tyrannicide, but because of his defence of ecclesiastical rights: see Policraticus vii.20, ‘Qui… de iure divino aliquid loquitur, … est aut invidus aut (quod capitale est) principis inimicus’ (188, 6-9/689c); and ‘Si enim ipsis creditum fuerit, tu quasi lesae maiestatis reus hostis publicus iudicaberis’ (189, 3-5/690a).

34 Notice the same ‘conditions’ as above (n. 19). After a quotation from Varro ‘Vitium coniugis aut tollendum est aut ferendum’ (Gellius, Nodes Atlicae I 17, 4) John comments, ‘Hoc tamen fidelis adicit interpretatio ut vitium intelligatur quod honeste ferri potest et religione incolumi’ (78, 3-4 and 11-13/629 a and b). John the moralist seems to be more ‘consistent’ than some authors like to allow for.

35 Policraticus vi. 17: ‘A tirannide … omnino immunis est aut nullus aut rarus. Dicitur autem quia tirannus est qui violenta dominatione populum premit; sed tamen non modo in populo sed in quantavis paucitate potest quisque suam tirannidem exercere’ (161, 28-32/765d). Cf also the expressive quotation from Macrobius (Satum. i.2) in viii. 12: ‘Domi enim nobis animos induimus tirannorum’ (308, 27/757c). Dickinson quoted the first text in order to illustrate, however, ‘the absence of any clear distinction in John’s thought between the social and the political’ (Introduction p LXVII)! But the real function of vii. 17 in John’s tyrannology is precisely its ethical foundation in the context of inhuman unnatural ambitio. Berges’ warning ‘Die Tyrannis ist also keine Verfassung!’ (Fürstenspiegel p 142 n. 5), was a better conclusion.

36 Policraticum viii. 16 is the last chapter before the great excursus of viii. 17-23. It repeats, in fact, the theological origin of tyranny according to vii. 17, but elaborates also the short antithesis ‘hortus deliciarum-terra oblivionis’ of that chapter (160, 15-21/675a) in a vivid description of the counterpart of the four rivers of Eden, viz, ‘de quatuor fluminibus quae de fonte libidinis oriuntur Epicureis faciuntque diluvium’ (341, 16-19/775d). One of these four streams, viz. strong ambition, ‘prosilit in odibilem tirannidis venam’ (342, 14/776ab), and is ‘tirannidis procurans ortum’ (343, 27/777a). The word of God, however, summons men ‘ad aquas oppositas’ (344, 5-6/777a) i.e. the waters of Is. lv. 1, sweetening the ‘bitter waters’ of Ex. xv.23: ‘Hae … dukes aquae … liberant et totius tirannidis incursum impediunt aut premunt aut puniunt’ (344, 16-17.20-22/777b).

37 See the predictions of his death in cap. 11 (1030a-c); the death-or murder?-itself in cap. 12(1031a-b), with the typical conclusion: ‘Et profecto quisquis hoc fecerit, Dei Ecclesiae suae calamitatibus compatientis dispositioni fideliter obedivit’ (1031b).

38 Tirannus and tirannus teutonicus in the letters of exile are the stereotyped indication for the detested German emperor ( cfBöhm, F., Das Bild Friedrich Barbarossas und seines Kaisertums in den ausländischen Quellen seiner Zeit (Hist. Studien 289: Berlin 1936); never any allusion to an attempt or assault.

39 Kerner: ‘in unserem Zusammenhang dürfte es wichtiger sein, the Auffassung des Johannes … in der Eigenart seiner Überlegungen herauszuarbeiten und dadurch vielleicht einen zusätzlichen Beleg für die moralisch-humanistische Form des Zusammenhalts im Policraticus zu erhalten’ (Logische Struktur p 193); see also his conclusion ‘Die einheitliche “ratio” des Policraticus dürfte in dessen Charakter liegen, eine moralische Lehrschrift humanistisch-christlicher Prägung darzustellen’ (P 203).

40 Cf Schoenstedt, Studien (quoted above n. 1). Cf also Ullmann, Walter, ‘The influence of John of Salisbury on medieval Italian jurists’, EHR 59 (1944) pp 38493 , now also in The Church and the Law in the Earlier Middle Ages: Selected Essays (London 1975) Art. XV.

41 See esp. Anhang XXIII: ‘Rex und Tyrannus’ (pp 396-401, ed Buchner pp 334-8); Anhang XXXI: ‘Tyrannenmord’ (pp 424-6 = 356-7); and Anhang XXXIII: ‘Lehre von der unbedingten Gehorsamspflicht im 11./12. Jahrhundert’ (pp 428-32 = pp 359-62). Buchner has made some good additions, but did not change, of course, the main tendency of Kern.

42 Berges: ‘Johanns Lehre vom Tyrannenmord, zwar ganz und gar nicht die Quintessenz seines Systems, sondern eher eine Glosse’ (Fürstenspiegel p 59); Liebeschütz: ‘John never intended the radical ancient doctrine to be applied to his own royal lord … this was indeed inconceivable to him’ (Mediaeval humanism p 53); Rouse: ‘John was not, even in hypothesis, propounding the doctrine of tyrannicide as a plan of action. The book’s discussion of tyrannicide should not distract attention from the obvious fact that the Policraticus is, after all, a prince’s manual, … The Statesman’s Book’ (‘Doctrine of tyrannicide’ p 705); Kerner: ‘Soziale und politische Konflikte werden … zu moralischen Problemen und als solche durch christlichhumanistische Mittel gelöst. Dies kann wohl kaum deutlicher als an der Tyrannenlehre des Policraticus aufgezeigt werden’ (Logische Struktur pp 192-3; and see above n. 39).

Thou shalt not slay a tyrant! The so-called theory of John of Salisbury

  • Jan van Laarhoven (a1)

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