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  • Janet Coleman


What, if anything, do historians and theorists of international relations owe to the theories and practices of the Middle Ages? This paper traces a number of themes that were intensely debated by theologians during the fourteenth century, tracking especially two different approaches to ‘the political’ on the part of neo-Augustinian voluntarists on the one hand and neo-Aristotelian intellectualists on the other. In the scholastic attempts to answer the question: ‘What are we presumed to be? And, in consequence, what is the scope of politics?’, their different views concerning the consequences of what Christians call ‘Original Sin’ and ‘the Fall’ are highlighted. Especially, the position of the voluntarists is shown to have been taken up not least by the Master of the Modern: Hobbes. The neo-Augustinian voluntarists can thereafter be seen to have provided some of the same arguments that have recently been rehearsed by contemporary ‘realist’ critics of modern liberalism who, it is argued, are negotiating the medieval in the modern.



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1 Workshop in the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, Wales, organised by Dr William Bain: ‘Will and Reason: Negotiating the Medieval in Modern International Relations’, 1–2 Sep. 2010.

2 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker (1944/59), 23.

3 Fasolt, C., ‘Hegel's Ghost: Europe, the Reformation and the Middle Ages’, Viator, 10 (2007), 345–86; Coleman, J., ‘Medieval Political Theory c. 1000–1500’, in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy, ed. Klosko, G. (Oxford, 2011), 180205 .

4 Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, ed. R. Benson, G. Constable and C. Lanham (Oxford, 1982).

5 Forerunners of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought, ed. H. Oberman (Edinburgh, 1986), is only one example of many.

6 Pocock, J. G. A., The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1957).

7 Coleman, J., ‘Citizenship and the Language of Statecraft’, in Finding Europe: Discourses on Margins, Communities, Images ca. 13th – ca. 18th Centuries, ed. Molho, A., Curto, D. and Koniordos, N. (Oxford, 2007), 223–52.

8 Coleman, J., Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past (Cambridge, 1992); Coleman, J., A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Oxford, 2000), esp. 203–7.

9 Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories, 558–99, on the medieval and Renaissance sense of the past; on current historians’ views on a Renaissance sense of the past, and on modern discourse concerning senses of the past: Coleman, J., ‘The Uses of the Past (14th – 16th Centuries): The Invention of a Collective History and Its Implications for Cultural Participation’, in Cultural Participation: Trends since the Middle Ages, ed. Rigney, Ann and Fokkema, Douwe, Utrecht Publications in General and Comparative Literature, 31 (Amsterdam, 1993), 2137 ; Koselleck, R., Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA, 1985), trans. Tribe, K., from Vergangene Zukunft. Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten (Frankfurt, 1979), esp. ‘Historia Magistra Vitae: The Dissolution of the Topos into the Perspective of a Modernized Historical Process’, 21–38; Hegel, G. W. F., Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction: Reason in History, trans. Nisbet, H. B. (Cambridge, 1975), 21 : ‘Rulers, statesmen and nations are often advised to learn the lesson of historical experience. But what experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it. Each age and each nation finds itself in such peculiar circumstances, in such a unique situation, that it can and must make decisions with reference to itself alone.’

10 J. S. Mill, On Liberty, in J. S. Mill's On Liberty in Focus, ed. John Gray and G. W. Smith (1991), 20: ‘Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is admitted with tacit reserves’; Coleman, J., Ancient Greek, Modern and Post-Modern Agonisms: The Possibilities for Democratic Toleration, the C.Th. Dimaras annual lecture, 2007, Institute for Neo-Hellenic Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation (Athens, 2008).

11 Those familiar with the writings of Hobbes will recognise this scenario, although it is a truncated version. Indeed, the logical genesis of founding and legislating for commonwealths is not, for him, a ‘modern’ project, but, rather, is one that has universally been true, everywhere. Its logic does not dictate a type of constitution and can be monarchy (preferred by Hobbes) or a representative assembly of men, so long as the sovereign speaks with a single speech act. Hobbes, Leviathan, i.ix, observed that History is not what he calls (Civil) Philosophy. He says that there are two kinds of Knowledge: (1) knowledge of fact and (2) knowledge of consequences of one affirmation to another. Knowledge of consequences he calls ‘science’ and is conditional, being the kind of knowledge required in a philosopher who reasons. The register of science are such books as contain demonstrations of consequences of one affirmation to another: either consequences from accidents of natural bodies (natural philosophy); or consequences from the accidents of politic bodies, which is called politics and civil philosophy, i.e. the consequences from the institutions of commonwealths to the rights and duties of the body politic or sovereign; and the consequences from the institution of commonwealths to the duty and rights of subjects. Unlike ‘modern’ theorists who use Hobbes as a paradigm for the modern sovereign state, Hobbes himself is demonstrating that every first founder and legislator of bodies politic – those of the Gentiles, Jews and early Christians, Greeks Romans – were engaged in understanding the causes from which all men draw universal principles, everywhere, these being the natural fear of the future and ignorance of the causes of such future fears, Leviathan, i.xii. On persons natural and artificial, Hobbes, Leviathan, i.xvi; on a multitude comprised of individual men made one person, i.e. union, where the unity is in the representative artificial person, Leviathan, i.xvi; on the difference between Prudence and Reason, where Reason is reckoning, adding and subtracting of the consequences of general names agreed on for the marking and signifying of our thoughts, Leviathan, i.v. The use and end purpose of Reason is to begin with definitions and settled (not subjective) significations of names and proceed from one consequence to another. On Hobbes's view, man is unique in being able to reduce the consequences to general rules or theorems. Further, men reason alike if they have good principles. Note, however, that Reason is not born with us but is learned, through ‘industry’, i.e. being taught logical syllogisms; Reason is not got by experience as Prudence is. More will be said on Hobbes below.

12 Bernard of Clairvaux, Five Books on Consideration: Advice to a Pope, trans. J. D. Anderson and E. T. Kennan, Cistercian Fathers Series, 37 (Kalamazoo, 1976), esp. Book Three, 82.

13 Nietzsche, F. W., Human, All too Human, trans. Hollingdale, R. J. (Cambridge, 1996), 16. But see Nietzsche, F. W., Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ, trans. Hollingdale, R. J. (Harmondsworth, 1968), 48 : ‘Change, mutation, becoming in general were formerly taken as proof of appearance, as the sign of something which led us astray. Today, on the contrary, we see ourselves as it were entangled in error, necessitated to error, to precisely the extent that our prejudice in favor of reason compels us to posit unity, identity, duration, substance, cause, materiality, being; however sure we may be, on the basis of a strict reckoning, that error is to be found here . . . I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar.’

14 William of Ockham, Summae logicae, ed. G. Gal (St Bonaventure, New York, 1974), De suppositione impropria, Pt i c. 77, 237: ‘Et ideo multum est considerandum quanto terminus et propositio accipitur de virtute sermonis et quando secundum usum loquentium vel secundum intentionem auctorem et hoc quia vix invenitur aliquod vocabulum quin in diversis locis librorum philosophorum et Sanctorum et auctorum aequivoce accipiatur, et hoc penes aliquem modum aequivocationis. Et ideo volentes accipere semper vocabulum univoce et uno modo frequenter errant circa intentiones auctorum et inquisitionem veritatis, cum fere omnia vocabula aequivoce accipiantur.’ Ockham was arguing even in this school textbook on logic that an author's intentions in his text could only be secured by not thinking that every term had one single, timeless and univocal meaning. Coleman, J., ‘Using, not Owning – Duties, not Rights: The Consequences of Some Franciscan Perspectives on Politics’, in Defenders and Critics of Franciscan Life: Essays in Honor of John V. Fleming, ed. Cusato, M. F. and Geltner, G. (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2009), 6584, at 74.

15 Coleman, J., ‘Pre-Modern Property and Self-Ownership Before and After Locke: Or, When Did Common Decency Become a Private rather than a Public Virtue?’, European Journal of Political Theory, 4 (2005), 125–45.

16 Coleman, J., ‘Are There Any Individual Rights or Only Duties? On the Limits of Obedience in the Avoidance of Sin According to Late Medieval and Early Modern Scholars’, in Transformations in Medieval and Early-Modern Rights Discourse, ed. Makinen, V. and Korkman, P. (Dordrecht, 2006), 336 ; Kempshall, M., The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought (Oxford, 1999).

17 Henry of Ghent, Quodlibeta magistra Henrici Goethals a Gandavo (2 vols., Paris,1518; repr. Leuven, 1961); Henrici de Gandavo Opera omnia, ed. R. Macken (Leuven, 1979); Kempshall, Common Good, 161, 171–3; James of Viterbo, De regimine christiano, in James of Viterbo: On Christian Government, trans. R. Dyson (Woodbridge, 1995), 151; The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts, ii: Ethics and political philosophy, ed. A. S. McGrade, J. Kilcullen and M. Kempshall (Cambridge, 2001) (Kempshall trans.), 297; for specific quodlibet and other full references see Coleman, ‘Are There Any Individual Rights’, 13–24.

18 Coleman, ‘Are There Any Individual Rights’, 11; Aquinas, Thomas, Summa theologiae, ed. Leonina (Rome, 1888–1906), vols. ivxii, at Ia 2ae, Q.90, a.4; Ia 2ae Q.94, a.5, ad 3; Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories, ch. 19, on Albert the Great, 416–21; and ch. 20 on Thomas Aquinas, 422–60; Coleman, A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, ch. 2 on Thomas Aquinas, 81–117.

19 Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories, on Scotus, 465–99.

20 Ibid., on Ockham, 500–37; Coleman, A History of Political Thought, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, on Ockham, 169–98.

21 This post-lapsarian suspension of natural law meant that the once self-evident and immutable principle, de iure naturae, that of the communion of goods for common use, was revoked. Scotus, Ordinatio, iv d.15 q.2 n.3: ‘istud praeceptum legis naturae de habendo omnia communia revocatum est post lapsum’. For a fuller discussion with citations and texts, see Coleman, ‘Using, not Owning – Duties, not Rights’, 65–84.

22 Coleman, J., A History of Political Thought from Ancient Greece to Early Christianity (Oxford, 2000), ch. 6, on St Augustine, 292–340; Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories, chs. 6 and 7, on Augustine, 80–111; Coleman, J., ‘The Philosophy of Law in the Writings of Augustine’, in A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics, ed. Miller, F. D. Jr, and Biondi, C. (Dordrecht, 2007), 187218 .

23 For one of the best discussions of Ockham's positions, see Adams, M. McCord, ‘William of Ockham: Voluntarist or Naturalist’, in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Wippel, J. F. (Washington, DC, 1987), 219–48. Henry of Ghent, Peter John Olivi, Duns Scotus and Ockham all wanted to establish how the human mind, now, can arrive at truth and certain knowledge without some direct, divine illumination that some thought was the meaning of Augustine's texts, especially his De Trinitate, viii, on whether we have direct knowledge of God through a particular intervention of divine truth. In Olivi's Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum, iii, ed. B. Jansen (Quaracchi, 1926), Appendix: Quaestiones de Deo cognoscendo, 455–554, he insisted that we establish epistemologically what it is possible for us to know, and how, now, in statu isto. Ockham rejected a literal interpretation of Augustine and instead argued that while God is the principle of our knowledge, He is not the object of that knowledge, now.

24 Coleman, ‘Using, not Owning – Duties, not Rights’, 76–80; Ockham, Quodlibet, ii, q. 14, in Quodlibeta septem in Venerabilis Inceptoris Guillelmi de Ockham Opera philosophica et theologica ad fidem codicum manuscriptorum edita, ed. P. Boehner, G. Gal, S. F. Brown et al. (17 vols., St Bonaventure, New York, 1974–88), the Quodlibeta in ibid. IX, 176–8; Ockham, Opus nonaginta dierum, ch. 14, in Guillelmi de Ockham Opera politica, ed. J. G. Sikes and H. S. Offler (Manchester, 1963), ii, 435: on recta ratio, ex dictamine rationis naturalis convincitur; Ockham, Dialogus, the revised text, in H. S. Offler, ‘The Three Modes of Natural Law in Ockham: A Revision of the Text’, Franciscan Studies, 37 (1977), 207–18; Wilhelm von Ockham, Dialogus, German trans. and commentary J. Miethke (Darmstadt, 1992), iii, Dialogus 2.1.15 on natural precepts.

25 Coleman, J., ‘Scholastic Treatments of Maintaining One's Fama (Reputation/Good Name) and the Correction of Private “Passions” for the Public Good and Public Legitimacy’, Cultural and Social History, 2 (2005), 2348 .

26 Locke, J., An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Nidditch, P. H. (Oxford, 1975), 2.25 and 2.27; Coleman, ‘Pre-Modern Property and Self-Ownership’, 135–6. Hobbes's version of this ‘private conscience’ is revealed as dealing with what has not yet come under the consideration of the sovereign; otherwise, individuals must accept their own judgements as irrelevant.

27 Garcia-Alonso, M., ‘Biblical Law as the Source of Morality in Calvin’, History of Political Thought, 32 (2011), 120 .

28 Worden, B., ‘Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, sixth series, 20 (2010), 5783 .

29 Ibid ., 59.

30 Ibid ., 60.

31 Ibid ., 83.

32 T. Hobbes, The Elements of Law Natural and Politic, ed. F. Tonnies, 2nd edn (1969), ii.8.5.

33 Hobbes, T., De cive, Latin text (Paris, 1642); De cive, the Latin Version, ed. H. Warrender (Oxford, 1983).

34 Hobbes, Elements of Law, ii.8.7: ‘The error concerning mixed government hath proceeded from want of understanding of what is meant by this word body politic, and how it signifieth not the concord, but the union of many men.’ Ibid., i.12.7, 8: ‘when the wills of many concur to some one and the same action, or effect, this concourse of their wills is called consent; by which we must not understand one will of many men, for every man hath his several will; but many wills to the producing of one effect . . . many wills in one or more [is] called union’.

35 Hobbes, De cive, v.4.

36 Coleman, A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, 47, and throughout concerning the different ways of interpreting ‘corporation’ and the ‘corporate will’ on the part of authors including Aquinas, John of Paris, Marsilius of Padua, Ockham and these diverse positions compared with radical early modern constitutionalism, 166–8, 180.

37 Guillelmi de Ockham Opera politica, ed. H. S. Offler (Manchester, 1956), iii: Tractatus contra Benedictum, 189–91.

38 Ockham, iii, Dialogus, 2.2.27 and 2.1.16.

39 Coleman, A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, 190.

40 Coleman, ‘Using, not Owning – Duties, not Rights’, 76–83; Ockham, Opus nonaginta dierum, in Guillelmi de Ockham Opera politica, ii, chs. 26–8, 88, 93.

41 European Journal of Political Theory, 9.4 (2010) Special Issue: Realism and Political Theory, Richard North, Introduction, 381–4.

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