History of Political Ideas: Renaissance and Reformation.by Eric Voegelin; David Morse; William Thompson

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  • History of Political Ideas: Renaissance and Reformation. by Eric Voegelin; David Morse;William ThompsonReview by: R. Ward Holder and Marc D. GuerraThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 1181-1183Published by: The Sixteenth Century JournalStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2544699 .Accessed: 17/06/2014 03:25

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  • Book Reviews 1181

    calling Priam Aeneas's father is undoubtedly one, and he ranges over Renaissance and clas- sical ideas alike with ease and assurance.) This is partly, perhaps, because the book has, by the author's own account, been a long time in the making, and it bears marks of that in other ways as well, being markedly of an older school in the bulk of its critical methods. It is by no means generally the worse for this-in particular, Tromly's wry regret that Mar- lowe's works are habitually related to virtually everything else in Elizabethan culture is very well taken-but I could sometimes have done with a little less robust common sense. Is the persistent use of the tantalization motif really best seen as entirely the product of authorial intention, or might deeper and less conscious drives be detected behind it? Moreover, in order to make his case, Tromly must play down very seriously the extent of the textual problems that bedevil Marlowe's oeuvre, which he virtually dismisses. (He also makes unduly light of the very real disagreements and difficulties about dating.) Tromnly's other great strength, which again Grande conspicuously lacks, is the ability to imagine, and tease out the meaning of, images and stage pictures which would have been created by the likely original staging of the play, and to relate these to mythological tableaux and to emblem books.

    Though Tromly shows tantalization to provide a powerful explanatory model for Dr Faustus, for Hero and Leander, which he relates very interestingly to the spread of tantaliza- tion metaphors (and the first appearance of the word "tantalize" in Elizabethan love poetry), and for the closing scene of Edward II, it is certainly true that invoking the idea of Tantalus does not offer any sort of neat, catch-all summation of the aesthetic or of the vari- eties of Marlovian drama. It is, however, greatly to Tromly's credit that he never attempts to impose the paradigm where it does not readily fit. Indeed, rather than to see what is not there, his preferred method is subtly to tease out the implications of what is there, and his remarks on the death of Barabas offer a particularly good example of his alert, sophisticated readings. In short,Tromly is able to use his idea not as a straitjacket but as a powerful inter- pretative tool for exploring and illuminating by far the greater part of the Marlovian canon. I do wonder, though, whether there was not at least something to be done with the transla- tion of the Pharsalia, which it seems a shame simply to cast into the outer darkness. Lisa Hopkins ......... Sheffield Hallam University

    History of Political Ideas: Renaissance and Reformation. Eric Voegein. Ed. David Morse and William Thompson. History of Political Ideas, vol. 4. Columbia, Mo.: Uni- versity of Missouri Press, 1998. x + 309 pp. n.p.

    The publication of the collected works of the noted political philosopher, EricVoegelin, represents a significant opportunity for the scholarly community.Voegelin is one of the most respected political philosophers of this century. This volume, however, has not stood the test of time as well as others of his works have done.The articles here, first written in the forties, have suffered from an expanding grasp of the particular issues and facts of the sixteenth century, as well as a lack of nuance in the original theses. Bluntly stated,Voegelin's grasp of history is too loose to support the work he proposes to do in his consideration of certain key texts in the Renaissance and Reformation period. Many of the problems with Voegelin's historical analysis stem from the fact that he is more concerned with "History" understood as an unfolding noetic process than in the sense of a record of human actions and intentions.

    The volume contains an introductory essay by the editors, which attempts to set out the place of these articles inVoegelin's work, and his characterization of the period; it also out-

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  • 1182 Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXX / 4 (1999)

    lines the content of the articles. Finally, and significantly, the editors found it necessary to end with a section onVoegelin's reading of Luther and Calvin, found in the volume's final article. This apparently "felt" necessity of situating these critiques is an augury of what the reader will find in that article, a completely idiosyncratic reading of Luther and Calvin that is ahistorical, and frequently factually incorrect.

    Voegelin's work consists of four essays, which make up part 4 of his History of Political Ideas, and begin part 5.The essays are "The Order of Power: Machiavelli," "The Order of Reason: Erasmus and More," "The People of God," and "The Great Confusion I: Luther and Calvin."Voegelin's reading of Machiavelli in the first essay is simultaneously both con- ventional and unorthodox. As do mainline political historians such as Pocock and Skinner, Voegelin sees Machiavelli as an Italian patriot.Voegelin eschews the simple or naive under- standing of Machiavelli as a teacher of evil. Rather, Machiavelli advocated a misguided pol- itics based on the "order of power."Voegelin's second essay juxtaposes Machiavelli's politics of power with Erasmus's and More's politics of reason. This essay balances the first; where Machiavelli's political teaching subordinated reason to power, that of Erasmus and More reestablished the primacy of ordered reason in just political life. In the third essayVoegelin sets out in great detail a theory of the existence in world history of a nucleus of ideas and sentiments that "are in revolt against the institutional superstructure of our civilization." Figures as varied as the Paulicians of the seventh centuryJohn Scotus Eriugena from the ninth century, and Thomas Collier from the seventeenth century are marshaled in support of this view, and anticipations of later manifestations in Marxism and National Socialism are stated.Voegelin finds that the phenomenon of this loose group of ideas is always existent, but that the breakdown of the spiritual-temporal order in the fourteenth century allowed it to blossom in the open, and inevitably this movement became antispiritual in its outlook. Finally, in the fourth essayVoegelin considers the impact of Luther's early theology in the process of secularization, and how Calvin's acceptance and transformation of that division became a particularly deadly political platform.

    One is always conscious of being in the presence of an incisive and perspicacious faculty of judgment when reading Voegelin. The problem comes, normally, from texts that have been torn from their historical context to serve as proof texts for wider political theorizing. One such case isVoegelin's treatment of Machiavelli's infamous teaching about the virtu of the "new Prince." On the one hand,Voegelin claims that Machiavelli's teaching was primar- ily motivated by an immediate practical concern-to restore the descendants of Rome to their former political greatness. On the other hand, he asserts that Machiavelli's new Prince is a "mythic character" not unlike Plato's philosopher-king. However, one must ask how a mythic figure can answer immediate practical concerns? Simply put,Voegelin never takes seriously the joint possibility that Machiavelli was motivated both by specifically Italian concerns, and by a self-conscious desire to revolutionize all modern political practice.

    Another instance ofVoegelin's handling of history comes in his article on Luther and Calvin.Voegelin had already noted that in his view, one of the most significant problems of the sixteenth century was antiphilosophism, and he finds ready targets for such a critique in Calvin and Luther. In considering the treatment of the doctrines of the Lord's Supper, however,Voegelin cannot maintain a consistent viewpoint on this issue. Considering the doctrine,Voegelin clearly states that it is "theoretically impermissible" to subject the mys- tery of the conversio to an explanation in terms of Aristotelian metaphysics. How can this antimetaphysical stance be corollated withVoegelin's attack on the reformers for their antiphilosophism? Further,Voegelin has the presumption to state that the discussion about this mystery had "sunk to the level of a pseudo-metaphysical squabble between intellectuals

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  • Book Reviews 1183

    who did not master the issue." His list of "intellectuals" is revealing: Durand, Ockham, d'Ailly, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli are mentioned. Evidently, no one mastered the issue except Thomas, who committed the sin of treating conversio metaphysically.

    When reflecting on Calvin,Voegelin continues his attack on the reformers.The whole of Calvin's Institutes is now rendered as an explicit political tract! The editors attempt to finesse this point by stating thatVoegelin is not analyzing Calvin for doctrinal content, but for political implications. But that is simply not the case.Voegelin writes, "The Institutes, we may say, is primarily a political tract";Voegelin may not be judging the doctrinal content too closely, but mostly because he does not believe that it is there to be judged. The Insti- tutes is the product, not of a theologian bent on forming a community of pious souls, but of a "will to power without intellectual conscience."The figure of Calvin that is found in Mil- let, or Bouwsma, or Naphy is simply unavailable here, hidden under the Calvin-myth.

    Voegelin's problem in handling theologians comes from his inability to step outside the bounds of his own discipline. He refuses to allow the reformers, or other theologians for that matter, to see their chief duty as having to do with a transcendent reality. Instead, he sees them as an arm of civilization, with a duty to uphold the fabric of"intramundane" society. Thus, when Luther boldly presents the paradox that is offered by the scripture in the matter of grace and freedom,Voegelin chastises him for destroying the balance of human existence. When Calvin sought to make a guide to reading the scripture,Voegelin could only hear sola scriptura, a possibility which the Institutes denies.Voegelin similarly does not address the individual concerns of the political philosophers "on their own terms." His metahistorical approach, and his tendency to view all theological and political works as responses to immediate practical concerns finally cannot do justice to the complexities of the thinkers he discusses, nor to the rich historical contexts in which they worked. As a result, while he is able to shed light on significant issues within each of the works he con- siders, his analyses fall short of grasping the particular concerns of their authors. R. Ward Holder ........... Stonehill College Marc D. Guerra ........... Assumption College

    The French-Speaking Reformed Community and Their Church in Southampton, 1567-c. 1620. Andrew Spicer. Southampton Records Series, vol. 39, Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s. no. 3. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1997. xi + 198 pp. /15.00.

    In 1567 William Cecil made an agreement with the governors of the Hampshire city of Southampton whereby as many as 480 Protestant "strangers" from the war-torn Nether- lands would be allowed to settle in the port, where, it was predicted, they would improve the town's flagging economy with their trade and manufacture. At the same time a Calvinist "strangers' church," with a rite and discipline distinct from those of the English Church, was established to minister to the religious needs of the immigrants. It was never a large community: in 1584 there were 186 communicants in the community's church, while in 1596 only 297 aliens were recorded in the entire city (by contrast, in 1593 over 7,000 strangers had been recorded as living in London and its suburbs). Indeed when Archbishop Laud embarked on his concentrated attack on the privileges of the "stranger churches" in England in 1633-34, it was found that only six of the scant fifteen heads of household then attending the Southampton church had even been born abroad.

    Yet, as Andrew Spicer effectively argues in this cogent work, the influence of these immigrants to the fortunes of Elizabethan Southampton far outweighed their small numer- ical presence. Spicer begins his detailed account of the economic, religious, and social activ-

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    Article Contentsp. 1181p. 1182p. 1183

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 931-1224Volume Information [pp. ]Front Matter [pp. ]The Immortal Republic: The Myth of Venice during the Italian Wars (1494- 1530) [pp. 931-944]Forging History: The Plomos of the Sacromonte of Granada in Francisco Bermdez de Pedraza's Historia Eclesistica[pp. 945-966]A French Jesuit's Lectures on Vergil, 1582-1583: Jacques Sirmond between Literature, History, and Myth [pp. 967-985]Thomas Tymme and Natural Philosophy: Prophecy, Alchemical Theology, and the Book of Nature [pp. 987-1007]Discipline, Vocation, and Patronage: Spanish Religious Women in a Tridentine Microclimate [pp. 1009-1030]Correspondence [pp. 1031-1034]Book Notices [pp. 1035-1040]Erratum: Tudor England Observed: The World of John...


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