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Liberty and hierarchy in Milton’s revolutionary prose

Foxley, R. (2022) Liberty and hierarchy in Milton’s revolutionary prose. In: Dawson, H. and De Dijn, A. (eds.) Rethinking Liberty before Liberalism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 79-99. ISBN 9781108844567

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Quentin Skinner’s elegant exposition of the republican or neo-Roman theory of liberty in Liberty Before Liberalism suggested that early modern thinkers made a systematic link between the liberty of individuals and that of the polity: individuals could only be free in a free state. This required a system of collective self-government premised on political equality. However, consideration of John Milton's revolutionary prose suggest that this key theorist of neo-Roman liberty often accentuated its rhetorical power by situating it in contexts of inequality, deploring the particularly pernicious slavery which resulted not just from subjection to the will of another, but from subjection to the will of an inferior. Conversely, such hierarchies could ground the rightful rule of a superior over an inferior. While an appeal for neo-Roman liberty might be grounded on a claim of equality, or equality in original freedom if not in other characteristics, it was not clear that an inferior individual could object to being ruled by the ‘will of another’ if that was not an ‘arbitrary’ will but the virtuous will of a superior individual. What is more, the metaphorical languages of gender and status through which these questions were discussed imported the issue of inequality into the male citizen body itself. Rather than the black-and-white contrast between slavery and liberty which the neo-Roman theory had seemed to offer, these texts were in danger of instating a hierarchy of slaveries, not all of which were repudiated by their republican authors.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Language Text and Power
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:73018
Publisher:Cambridge University Press

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