The history of political theory

Temple typically seeks a synthesis of the merits of rival political theories (CS 43-90). He detects two broad types. The first, which he backs, treats political society as a natural growth. As Aristotle saw, human beings are social creatures, and the state arises naturally, first to preserve life and then to promote the good life. The theorists of this type, for example Montesquieu and Vico, tend to avoid abstractions and reflect on the histories of actual societies and states. Temple criticizes Burke for an almost absurd conservatism on some issues, for his mystical view of the state, and indeed for identifying society and state. But Burke did have a vivid sense of history and its continuity, eloquently expressed in his denunciation of revolutionaries who treated society like a machine.

As for the Hegelians, Temple agrees with T. H. Green that law is not only a means whereby I restrain the liberty of others to injure me (as the utilitarians believed), but also a means by which I secure my own liberty to live as a good citizen against my own occasional desires to act otherwise. Green also rightly insisted, following Mazzini, that true social progress had to be founded not on rights but on duties. However, Hegel was wrong to treat the national state as an incarnation of the Absolute. Moreover, Temple refuses to say that society is an "organism"; for its components are persons, independent in judgment and self-directing in purpose.

The other type is social contract theory, referring to the initiation either of society or of government or of both simultaneously. In Plato's Republic Glauco gives classic expression to the first. Theories in Christian times were concerned more with government. St. Paul's "The powers that be are ordained of God" committed the church to some form of divine right. The problem was how it was conferred and under what conditions. Both Jesuits and Calvinists developed ideas of popular sovereignty. They did not believe in liberty, but at least they undermined the theory of absolute sovereignty. It is no surprise that Temple rejected Thomas Hobbes.

For Temple, social contract theories do contain partial truths. Glauco's and Hobbes's gloomy view of human nature is grossly defective, but true so far as society is expressed by the police and the penal system. Moreover, social contract theories can well illustrate dissatisfaction with the organization of society: the power of government so easily corrupts those who hold it, and political institutions adapt too slowly to changed circumstances. The importance of contract theory is that sovereignty is an organ of society with its own proper function, which can be transgressed. It can reflect a commendable desire to combine efficient administration, obedience to the law, and freedom. It also bears witness to the belief that the state rests in the last resort on consent and not on force.

Temple declares that the upshot of this survey can be put in terms of the Social Gospel.

By common consent the two first principles in the Gospel as applied to social order are the Sanctity of Personality and the Fact of Fellowship ... By God's appointment we are free spirits; by his appointment also we are "members one of another". The whole problem of politics, the whole art of statesmanship, is to do full justice to both those principles without the sacrifice of either in the varying circumstances of successive ages. (CS 89)

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