Republicanism and Misogyny


From Dr Johnson’s life of Milton:

Milton’s republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state, and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected, that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.

It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton’s character, in domestic relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education.

(Thanks to Thomas Howard for pointing me this text).


4 thoughts on “Republicanism and Misogyny

  1. I can’t speak for Milton, but is’t the primary reason for representative government is that is less likely to be arbitrary? Because those who are directly effected do have to be listened to.

    For instance, I don’t like distributism as a good in itself, but distributism does make sense as a medicinal solution to the modern all too common arbitrary whims of owners who treat their workers as disposable chattel, because the good of the workers cannot be arbitrarily ignored.

    In other words, I’m not sure how much love of liberty has to do with a desire for representative government, but I can see how prudential desire for stability of life for the good of the family does have to do with a desire for representative government.

    Or look at it this way, when people vote, economics is typically the most important issue because economics is typically what most effects the stability of their lives.


  2. “if a people is well-ordered and serious-minded, and carefully watches over the common good, and everyone in it values private affairs less than the public interest, is it not right to enact a law that allows this people to choose their own magistrates to look after their interest?” St Augustine

    “He who is to govern all, should be chosen by all” St Leo the Great

    “The kings of the nations are the lords of slaves but the Emperor of the Republic is lord of free men” St Gregory the Great

    “all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring” St Thomas Aquinas

    “Friendship consists in a certain equality. Although therefore it is not lawful for a women to have many husbands, because this is contrary to the certainty of offspring; were it lawful for a man to have many wives: the friendship of a wife for her husband would not be freely bestowed, but servile as it were. And this argument is confirmed by experience for where the men have many wives the women are treated like slaves.” St Thomas Aquinas


  3. “Proponents of representative government” is a broad category, encompassing as it does almost everyone in the Western world, but I think the founders of the American Republic fell more or less into two groups. The first (Washington, Adams, Hamilton, to a large degree Madison) favored maintaining the general structure of existing government, while replacing the British crown with elements from antique republics. The second (Jefferson predominating) favored a wholesale reordering along Enlightenment lines.

    The quotations Aelianus gives are quite fair when talking about that first group, for whom those traditions would carry some weight. For the second group, however, any similarity is sadly superficial. The unfortunate thing about republics today is that Jeffersonian thought has largely crowded out other republican traditions, and itself become vulgarized into a view that society is made up of autonomous, rights-bearing individuals whose interactions (political and otherwise) are fundamentally contractual. The real fight now is between that view, and everything else.


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