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Ideal Government and the Mixed Constitution in the Middle Ages

Ideal Government and the Mixed Constitution in the Middle Ages

James M. Blythe
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 362
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    Ideal Government and the Mixed Constitution in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    Ancient Greeks and Romans often wrote that the best form of government consists of a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Political writers in the early modern period applied this idea to government in England, Venice, and Florence, and Americans used it in designing their constitution. In this history of political thought James Blythe investigates what happened to the concept of mixed constitution during the Middle Ages, when the work of the Greek historian Polybius, the source of many of the formal elements of early modern theory, was unknown in Latin. Although it is generally argued that Renaissance and early modern theories of mixed constitution derived from the revival of classical Polybian models, Blythe demonstrates the pervasiveness of such ideas in high and late medieval thought. The author traces medieval Aristotelian theories concerning the best form of government and concludes that most endorsed a limited monarchy sharing many features with the mixed constitution. He also shows that the major early modern ideas of mixed constitutionalism stemmed from medieval and Aristotelian thought, which partially explains the enthusiastic reception of Polybius in the sixteenth century.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6260-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Part 1: The Mixed Constitution

    • Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 3-12)

      There has rarely if ever been a government absolute in practice. A ruler or ruling group has always to consider the interests and actions of the ruled, if only to repress them, and generally it must limit its own desires in order to survive for long. Yet the history of civilization has been the history of the domination of one class or another over those with no direct power. From this reality, and from the observation that allowing one group to prevail most often leads to oppression, or that every group has something to offer society or has a right...

      (pp. 13-36)

      High and late Medieval writers had really very little ancient political theory available to them. Aristotle’sPoliticswas not translated until 1260, Cicero’sDe Republicawas known mainly through its citations by Augustine, and the political works of Polybius, Plato, and others were unknown until the Renaissance. So, although I must say something of ancient and early medieval theory, I need go into detail only about Aristotle, because of his importance to the Middle Ages, and Polybius, because of his central position in Renaissance and Early Modern mixed constitutional theory. Surprisingly, I have found that some medieval writers actually come...

  6. Part 2: Thomas Aquinas and His Successors

    • Chapter 3 THOMAS AQUINAS
      (pp. 39-59)

      Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–74) is the most important philosopher and theologian of the High Middle Ages. He was born near the town of Aquino, just south of the Papal States, the son of minor but wealthy nobles. His parents sent him at the age of five as an oblate to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino for his education, with the expectation that he would eventually become abbot. Their plans were foiled when, as a student at the University of Naples, Thomas decided to join the Dominican order. His family imprisoned him for a year to prevent it, but...

    • Chapter 4 GILES OF ROME
      (pp. 60-76)

      Giles of Rome (c. 1243–1316), also known as Aegedius Romanus and Aegedius Colonna, was born in Rome of a rich family important in political and Church affairs. At the age of 14 he joined the Hermits of St. Augustine and subsequently studied at the University of Paris. Between 1269 and 1272 he evidently attended Thomas Aquinas’s lectures in theology, where he picked up some ideas, such as the limited number of angels in any one species, that were condemned in Stephen Tempier’s famous Paris Condemnations of 1277. As with that of Thomism in general, Giles’s humiliation was short-lived; though...

    • Chapter 5 PETER OF AUVERGNE
      (pp. 77-91)

      Peter of Auvergne (1240s–1304), also known as Petrus de Alvernia and Peter de Cros (or Crocq), was born in the town of Crocq in Auvergne and ended his life in Clermont less than three years after Pope Boniface VIII appointed him bishop there. He studied at the University of Paris and probably attended Thomas Aquinas’s lectures. Whether or not that is the case, he was dedicated to Thomas and his teaching, although he never joined the Dominican order. Instead, he became a secular master at the University and in 1275 the papal legate, Simon de Brie, named him rector...

    • Chapter 6 PTOLEMY OF LUCCA
      (pp. 92-117)

      Ptolemy of Lucca (c. 1236–1327), also known as Tolomeo da Lucca or Bartholomew of Lucca, grew up in a middle-class family. He joined the Dominican order and studied at the University of Paris under Thomas Aquinas in 1261–68 and subsequently traveled with him in Italy. They were together when Thomas died in 1274, and much of what we know of Thomas’s life comes to us by way of Ptolemy’sEcclesiastical History. In the 1280s and 1290s Ptolemy served as prior in several Tuscan houses, and he spent much of the first two decades of the thirteenth century at...

      (pp. 118-138)

      Engelbert of Admont (c. 1250–1331), also occasionally known as Englebert of Volkersdorf (because of his birthplace), had some of the widest interests of anyone of the time; he composed poetry and history, made translations, and wrote about science, ethics, philosophy, politics, and theology. The son of a noble and important Austrian family, he joined the Benedictine order at Admont at the age of about seventeen and studied at the Universities of Prague and Padua, where he came under the influence of Thomism. Forced to leave Prague in 1274 because of a war between Bohemia and the Empire, Engelbert wrote...

    • Chapter 8 JOHN OF PARIS
      (pp. 139-158)

      Other than that he was born in Paris, studied at the University of Paris (but not under Thomas Aquinas), and joined the Dominican order, we know almost nothing about the early life of John of Paris (c. 1250–1304), also known as Jean Quidort before the 1280s when he wrote a controversialCommentary on the Sentences. His views on the Eucharist in that work came under attack, but he defended himself successfully in anApologyof 1287, and in the same year he wrote hisCorrection of the Correction of Brother Thomas, in which he defended 118 theses of Thomas...

  7. Part 3: The Fourteenth Century

      (pp. 161-164)

      The early to mid-fourteenth century is one of the most important periods for the development of Western political thought as a whole. William of Ockham and Marsilius of Padua were two of the most significant political philosophers of the Middle Ages and Bartolus of Sassoferrato, perhaps the greatest jurist of the later Middle Ages. The Englishman Walter Burley and the Frenchman Jean Buridan were widely read in their own day. Yet this period—except for the turn-of-the-century writers Engelbert of Admont, Ptolemy of Lucca, and John of Paris—is of somewhat lesser import for the particular theme of this study....

      (pp. 165-179)

      In the fourteenth century political relativism became commonplace. It was not new; indeed Aristotle’s approach forced honest readers to confront the possibility that contingencies such as climate, temperament, local custom, the nature and quality of a given people, and even astrological influences might determine or limit what government was best or possible. Every author that I have so far discussed accepts these factors to some extent, although many would still insist on one form or another in all or most situations. Ewart Lewis, to whom I have frequently referred, makes the case that relativism was a primary characteristic of Aristotelian...

      (pp. 180-202)

      The relativistic views that I have been outlining are typical of those expressed by many authors at this time. But it is also true that most favored, at least in some cases, a limited monarchy with some or all of the characteristics of a mixed constitution. And usually they find this form to be ideally best or best in most circumstances. This is the subject of this chapter. I begin by giving each author’s arguments for monarchy, then for popular participation and the mixed constitution.

      Like most medieval writers William of Ockham finds paternal and regal rule and nuptial and...

      (pp. 203-240)

      Nicole Oresme (c. 1320–82) wrote at the end of the century of intense study of Aristotle’sPoliticswith which I have been concerned. Around 1371–74 he produced the “earliest viable translation of thePoliticsin any modern language”:The Book of Politics of Aristotle, together with an extensive and exceptionally original commentary on it.¹ Oresme was one of the most fascinating of fourteenth-century thinkers, best known as an important scientist, mathematician, and economist, even though he studied theology at Paris and became grand master of the College of Navarre around 1356. He argued for a heliocentric theory of...

  8. Part 4: The Fifteenth Century and the Early Modern Period

    • Chapter 13 CONCILIARISM
      (pp. 243-259)

      Nicole Oresme is a natural stopping point for the medieval Aristotelian discussion of mixed constitutionalism and limited government, but he in no way represents the end of this mode of thought. The purpose of this chapter and the next two is to make connections between medieval and early modern mixed constitutionalism without dwelling on any one thinker. It will no longer be so intimately tied to close analysis of Aristotle, but it will nonetheless be present in much of the political thought of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. At the same time, especially in the sixteenth century, some writers, whom...

      (pp. 260-277)

      Critical to the late medieval development of English constitutionalism was John Fortescue (1394?–1476?), a jurist and for almost twenty years Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench under Henry VI. Fortescue was not explicitly a supporter of mixing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy as such, but his theory of regal and political power provides one of the most important bridges between medieval and early modern mixed constitutionalism. He was one of the most influential writers for the theoreticians of the Tudor and Stuart monarchies.

      Fortescue revived the distinction between regal and political rule that was so important to Thomas Aquinas...

      (pp. 278-300)

      In Italy, when the theory of the mixed constitution began to flourish in the sixteenth century, especially in Florence, it was closely tied to Polybius. Machiavelli in particular framed his ideas in classical terms and ignored his medieval predecessors; it was his presentation of the ideas that became normative for later Italian mixed constitutionalists. Yet there is no question but that such ideas developed in the Italian city-states before the translation of Polybius and particularly in regard to the so-called “myth of Venice,” which in its ultimate form attributed that city’s unique success to a mixed constitution of monarchic doge,...

  9. Chapter 16 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 301-308)

    In the introduction I outlined two goals for my book. My first goal was to show that most thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Aristotelian political thinkers came to accept a mixed constitution, usually involving a king limited by the body of citizens, as the best political arrangement and to show that even those who did not go so far incorporated elements of mixed constitutional theory, consciously or unconsciously, into their models of ideal government. Their approaches toward the question of the best government and their conclusions were inevitably conditioned by their particular experiences and political needs and problems and thus necessarily resulted...

    (pp. 309-336)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 337-343)