Rembrandt - Abraham & Isaac (1634)
|During the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth
centuries, Sir Robert Filmer was regarded almost as a joke -
remembered only because John Locke's First Treatise was
written against his views.
|Filmer pointed out the inconsistency of Natural Law theorists who accepted the father's power over his children and the husband's over his wife, and yet declared that all people were born free and equal.|
Filmer's political ideas were rooted in the patriarchal attitudes of early-modern England, but as social mores shifted, his ideas grew less fashionable
||Sir Robert Filmer was born in 1588, the eldest
son of Sir Edward Filmer of East Sutton, Kent. Robert was the
eldest of eighteen children, and inherited his father's estates
[Read a poem in praise of Filmer's sister].
He studied at Trinity College Cambridge at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. His friends included the High Church cleric, Peter Heylyn (1600-62), a great supporter of Archbishop William Laud.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Filmer was too old to fight, but was a staunch Royalist, briefly imprisoned by Parliament.
|In the late 1640's, Filmer published a number of books. One was The Freeholder's Grand Inquest, arguing that Parliament sat at the king's will. Another was The anarchy of a limited or mixed monarchy, a tract directed against the ideas of Philip Hunton. The necessity of the absolute power of all kings preached Bodin's ideas to an English audience.|
|Sir Robert Filmer's most important work was Patriarcha. This was written not long aftert 1628 and left in manuscript; it was finally published in 1680 as Tory propaganda.|
Containing the deposing of a king
And cracking the strong warrant of an oath,
Mark'd with a blot, damn'd in the book of heaven"
(Richard II, 4.1)
|Much of Filmer's Patriarcha was directed against Cardinal Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez. Suárez and Bellarmine had launched attacks on the Oath of Allegiance - a loyalty oath demanded of English Catholics in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot.|
|Many of Filmer's arguments from the power of fathers had been anticipated by other opponents of the monarchomachs, such as Hadrian Saravia.|
|Patriarcha was forged also in the disputes between king and parliament about taxation, foreign and ecclesiastical policy, and the Petition of Right.|
|Filmer was a private citizen - not an official spokesman for royal policy - and so he was less cautious in expressing his views than official propagandists.|
Adrian Van de Velde, Family Portrait in a Landscape (1655)
|Filmer's theories in Patriarcha were rooted in Natural Law thinking. He believed that the institutions of the family and the state were established to fulfill the purposes of human nature. Unlike contract theorists, Filmer equated familial and political power. The king held the ultimate power of the father over all the families of his realm.|
|Filmer saw political power as no more consensual than paternal power, and he claimed that subjects had no more right to disobey, resist, or bully their king than children did their father.|
"Memorable is the example of Cassius, who threw his son headlong out of the Consistory [for] publishing the law Agraria for the division of lands in the behoof [on behalf] of the people, and afterwards, by his own private judgment, put him to death by throwing him down from the Tarpeian Rock, the magistrates and people standing thereat amazed and not daring to resist his fatherly authority, although they would with all their hearts have had that law for the division of land — by which it appears it was lawful for the father to dispose of the life of his child contrary to the will of the magistrates or people".
|"And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread".|
|Filmer accepted that divine providence could alter the
succession of kingdoms, but later developments - in particular the
defeat of the king in the English Civil War - made this notion unpopular with patriarchalist
|These ill-considered shifts in response to political circumstance did weaken Filmer's theory.The Adamite implications were relentlessly mocked by John Locke.|
|Filmer argued that if the power of husbands and fathers was political, as he contended, then the assertion of contract theorists that all people were born free and equal was false. If, on the other hand, this power was not political, then women and children were entitled to a say in government.|
|Some modern commentators (especially feminists) have echoed Filmer's assertion that contract theorists were simply inconsistent, (and quite possibly hypocritical).|
|Locke and his contemporaries certainly did not see their theories as internally contradictory. They believed that reasonable beings (though born free and equal) would allow the most intelligent and competent to direct affairs. Women, children, and inferior males would all willingly accept the guidance of the strong, able, intelligent property owners who sat in Parliament; or, if they would not in fact accept it, they ought rationally to do so - and that was what counted.|