Religion has evidently been a persuasive influence in civilization and government, particularly the historical monarchs. Speculation to this day leads to a debate about whether biblical law ought to be the standard of governments judicial system with doctrines such as Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction. Highly sophisticated arguments have been developed from proponents and advocates of biblical law in government. One negative aspect; although not the only throughout history may be currently observed through sharia law, which part of its doctrines have become responsible for an ideology justifying war and terror. The influence of religion on government has been notably used for evil and righteous means, but perhaps the most relevant to western enlightenment were the monarch proponents of divine right. Kings such as; King James VI of Scotland, King James I of England and King Louis the XIV of France were strong advocates for divine right theory and biblical passages may or may not have been manipulated to justify their means; nevertheless, whether or not Kings used the doctrine intentionally as an instrument to control power, it served the enlightenment thinkers such as; John Locke, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as reflections on how to develop a legitimate form of government by way of objectivity. A government where the people have a right of claim in the development of laws, as opposed to one individual ruling over all where the king is law and above all.
The divine right of kings (DROK) is a political and religious doctrine which uses biblical passages to justify its legitimacy. It declares that a monarch is subject to the authority of God alone and not subject to earthly authority. The doctrine declares that the king derives his right to rule directly in accordance with the will of God. The king is therefore not a subordinate to the will of his own subjects, political parties, states, or the church. The king himself cannot come under any condemnation from the people and only God alone can judge the injustice of the king. The DROK doctrine suggests that any attempt to overthrow the king or to manipulate his powers in any way is equal to resisting the will of God itself. The Satirical 18th-century song, The Vicar of Bray gives testimony to the doctrinal influence of their time, “In good King Charle’s golden time, when loyalty no harm meant, A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment. To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed. And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord’s anointed!” (Ross).
In the 17th century, Sir Robert Filmer, an English Royalist Squire proclaimed the state was a family and the king was its father. He used an interpretation of Scripture to convey that Adam was the first king and that King Charles I of England was Adam’s oldest heir, (Britannica). Scriptural support for this view is perhaps derived from Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, (KJV). Filmer’s interpretation is reaching to justify DROK doctrine and claim King Charles as an heir of Adam. Contextually, there is nothing in the first three chapters of Genesis declaring any form of kingship or monarchy. The dominion given to Adam is over the creatures and the earth created by God. God had not created any other humans besides Adam and Eve, so there is no one for Adam to rule at this point. The offspring of Adam and Eve came after their removal from the Garden of Eden at the end of chapter three, but it does not make sense to say Adam was to become a king of his children and establish a monarchy. Furthermore, after nearly a millennium of life on earth, there is no indication to infer that Adam at any point of his life attempted to develop a monarchy or to rule or have dominion over people. This is not to specify that DROK doctrine is not justifiable through scriptural passages, but to use scripture referencing as far back to Adam seems fallacious and adding to the text something the author did not mean to communicate to his audience.
The DROK theorists also used the texts of 1Samual to prove its legitimacy. They reference the choosing and anointing of Saul from God through the Prophet Samual, but they make no mention of the Kings of other nations which already existed before a king was chosen for Israel. This is perhaps because according to the texts in 1Samual 12:19, it was an evil thing to request a king to rule over God’s people. “And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king, (KJV). Even after a warning was given to the people of the atrocities the king would commit over his subjects, the people still preferred an earthly king over God. This perhaps was not developed in depth by leading advocates such as Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, who was a leading advocate of divine right theory. If the passages were taught in context, perhaps the subjects of the king would not submit in fear of going against the will of God. There can be no legitimacy following an organization which God primary considered evil. What may possibly be inferred from these passages is not legitimacy to establish a line of monarchs, but instead God authorizing a king over Israel in order to give the people the judgment they preferred from their own selfish desires.
The original passages used to justify the doctrine of divine right seems illegitimate; nevertheless, beyond that point, scriptural passages reveal that what was not intended was permitted by God. Understanding the paradox allows for the continual usage of further passages such as Daniel 2:21 “And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings,” (KJV). Here is a passage divine right theorists can claim without conflict. Not only does this passage attribute to the amount of control God has over the affairs of the world by raising and destroying kings and kingdoms, but the divine right theorist can make a sound claim that it was God who appointed the king to his office, and the day the king falls from his place will also be divinely appointed.
The divine right of kings doctrine does not merely apply to past monarchs who were affiliated with a church-state. There are a few New Testament passages which may be considered for modern times. Consider just one; Romans 13:1-4,
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil,” (KJV).
This passage is the one stop for all that says it all. All are to submit to the political powers for they are established by the power of God Himself. Anyone that resists the established powers resists the will of God as He has appointed the rulers over His creation; however, the established governments are supposed to maintain law and order, to punish evil and reward the good. Governments and kings are never supposed to provoke fear on the law abiding subjects, but instead, they are a minister, in other words, they are servants of those that obey the law. For those that disobey the law, or resist the powers with an unjust cause, the powers are a servant to them as well, but a servant with the sword to deliver God’s wrath on those that do evil.
The passage indicates that fear is the property in man that ought to work both ways in the balance of powers. The people ought to respect their kings or governments not necessarily with love, but instead with fear; remembering that they ought to fear the government as they fear the Lord. This may raise credibility to Machiavelli who has claimed that fear lasts longer than love. Likewise, the established rulers ought to rule over the people with dignity as they were given the responsibility to govern by God. To govern with dignity demonstrates the fear of God in their conscience, remembering that it is God who will rightly judge the kings for how they governed God’s creation. In this sense, the divine right doctrine may rightly be applicable in modern times; not to explain its origins through Adam or that it was God’s intent to pass a kingship from Adam to Samual to King Charles, King Louis, to President Trump; but instead to understand that because of the iniquity in man, God has allowed people to rule themselves apart from God with a standard to balance powers between dignitaries and subjects.
All this doctrine may sound fascinating for those who have a belief in God. But for those who do not, this may all sound completely irrelevant. After all, there has been evil kings and rulers who pay this no mind and commit atrocities. Kings such as Bad King John of England who was considered a tyrant so bad that the Pope in Rome decreed for King John to be deposed from his throne and replaced by someone more worthy chosen by the Pope himself, notably King Phillip of France, (Tate p. 187-188). The outrage caused by King John did not go in vain and resulted in great resistance which eventually gave the world the Magna Carta, which would remove King James and future kings as being above the law. The Magna Carta was perhaps the first document which paved way for enlightenment thinkers to establish a constitutional rule or social contract where all are equal under common law, instead of one man using divine doctrine or revelation as an excuse to manipulate power and serve his own self-interest.
John Locke’s political philosophy was in sharp contrast to Sir Robert Filmer who believed that all government should be a monarch who’s right for a king to rule is derived from Adam. John Locke believed the government should be constitutional with limited powers being by way of consent from the people governed. As Filmer’s premise for political doctrine was that no man is born free, Locke’s premise was that all men are born free, (Strauss p. 476). The first treatise of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government is dedicated to the refutation of Filmer’s argument of kings right to rule is inherited from Adam. According to Bertrand Russell, Locke argues and makes fun of Filmer’s concept of monarchs being heirs of Adam in a real sense. Locke argues, that if the true heir of Adam were to ever be discovered, are all existing kings to surrender their crowns and kingdoms to Adam’s rightful hereditary heir? Furthermore, any existing king who refused, then those kings would be guilty of usurping, (p. 621).
Montesquieu authored a book titled The Spirit of the Laws. The book is generally reflecting on what may be considered as the best form of government based on enlightenment principles. Montesquieu is another enlightenment thinker who like John Locke, developed concepts used to establish the western political structure of the United States. Montesquieu political philosophy is based on an in-depth study of historical political establishments from Europe to the Far East, and how they ruled under forms of governments such as; democracy, republic, aristocracy, monarchy, and despotism.
In relation to Monarchy systems, Montesquieu believed if one man is going to rule through fixed and established laws, then it would have to require that, “there be powers intermediate between the monarch and the people, hence the nobility, church, and cities. There must also be an independent depository or guardian of the laws, such as the French Parlements,” (Strauss p.520). Unfortunately, Montesquieu realized that when monarchs combine the executive and legislative power in one man, it usually leads to despotism and degradation of honor and virtue spreads through its society. It is interesting to note that Montesquieu was reflecting on separating powers in the monarch since Montesquieu is considered one of the major influences of enlightened separation of powers of America’s form of government, as it checks and balances its power through the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a book titled The Social Contract. He was not the first philosopher to write about a social contract. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes also wrote about the social contract. The social contract is a development of ideas concerning the legitimacy of authority over the citizens of a government. In a social contract, the individual citizen of a state surrenders its will to the authority figure in return of the protection of their human rights. Rousseau’s social contract is not a social contract which reflects on the individual rights of man, the individual’s liberties, but instead, the rights and liberty as a whole, not an individual will, but a general will all have surrendered too under contract to guarantee the security of their general freedom.
What sets Rousseau’s social contract from Locke is the idea of the sovereign and the general will. “The sovereign is not the government . . . the sovereign is a more or less metaphysical entity, not fully embodied in any of the visible organs of the State,” (Russell p. 696). The general will forms a social contract as “an artificial person, the state, which has a will like the natural person; what appears necessary or desirable to that person is willed by it and what is willed by the whole is law. Law is the product of the general will,” (Strauss p.568). Rousseau’s social contract implies that all man surrender all their rights collectively to the community. As all giving all, there is nothing for anyone to war about as in the state of nature. All in the community agree on an absolute standard of law; the sovereign then becomes the legislative capacity. The sovereign cannot become a monarchy or tyranny because the legislative community would only establish laws they themselves would be willing to submit too. Whatever is voted to become an absolute law through the sovereign; then becomes the general will of the people. The will of the people becomes the general will all obey.
There are some similarities between the writings of Rousseau and the founding fathers. The idea of general welfare in the US Constitution has similarities to that of Rousseau’s idea of general will. It is possible that Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was inspired by John Locke, Montesquieu, and perhaps Jean Rousseau. Regardless of what the three have in common, what is relevant is their ambition to find an objective truth for a basis to form the legitimacy of government, authority, and religion. They obstructed the ideas of monarchy and its fallacious intent for legitimacy through divine right doctrine, and they paved the way through a dark philosophical road with enlightened ideas of man’s nature, liberty, equality, and freedom of worship. Their enlightenment ideas have been used as a footing to construct the worlds most free form of republican government in the world. John Locke’s constitutionalism, Montesquieu’s separation of powers, and Rousseau’s social contract molded together to form America’s only sovereign and general will; the product of the enlightenment that is, the United States Constitution.
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