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The Innovation of Milton’s Machiavellian Son

The Innovation of Milton’s Machiavellian Son by lassicalrepublicansareonthewholewaryofreligion.Some,like Thomas jefferson, are agnostics who want it rigorously segregatedfrompubliclife.Others,likeNiccolòMachiavelli,aresuspectedatheistswhovalueitonlyasanextensionofstatepower.Even johnMilton,therarerepublicantodissentfromthissecularperspective, seems unintentionally to confirm that republics cannot also be theocracies.When admirers of Milton's politics explore his theology, theyprefertofocusuponSatan,Eve,andChaosasreservoirsoffreedom.ForwhenscholarsattendtoMilton'sGod,thedeitythattheydiscoverseemstoorule-boundtopermittheself-determinationnecessary forrepublicanvirtue.InMilton's Good God,DennisDanielsondescribes Milton'sviewoflibertybyarguing:"givenGod'sofferofdivinegrace, manisfreeeithertorejectitandusehisowninnatepowertosin,or elsetoacceptitandusethepowerreceivedfromGodtorefrainfrom sinning....[S]o far as man is concerned, sin is by commission andmoral virtue by omission."joanBennettarrivesatasimilarviewbyaligning Foradiscussionofthisvasttradition,seeNeilForsyth,The Satanic Epic(Princeton: PrincetonUniversityPress,2003). For a good summary of scholarship on Eve, see Diane McColley, "Milton and the Sexes,"inThe Cambridge Companion to Milton,2ndedition,ed.DennisDanielson(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1999),175­92. RecentscholarsofthisapproachincludejohnRumrich("Milton'sGodandtheMatter ofChaos,"PMLA110[1995]:1035­46);johnRogers(The Matter of Revolution[Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress,1996]);andStephenFallon(Milton Among the Philosophers[Ithaca: CornellUniversityPress,1991]).TheseargumentsareattemptstorebuttheharshCalvinismthatStanleyFishlocatesinMilton.SeeRumrich(Milton Unbound[Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1996],1­23)forasummaryoftheinfluenceofFish'sargument uponMiltoncriticism. Danielson,Milton's Good God(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1982),86­87, emphasisadded. 97 ©2010TheUniversityofNorthCarolinaPress Milton'sunderstandingwithRichardHooker's"deeplyrationalChristianliberty,"claimingthatevenGodcannotviolatedivinelawwithout compromisinghisownessence.Thisrestrictedviewoflibertyasvoluntaryobedienceentailsasubstantialdeparturefromtheactivevirtue championedbyclassicalrepublicanism,leadingBarbaraRieblingtoarguerecentlythatforMilton,"neitherclassicalvirtusnorMachiavellian virtu can replace Christian virtue." Despite Milton's best efforts, his republicanismthusseemsincapableofsurvivinghisGod.Machiavelli and jefferson, it would appear, were right to believe that divine law couldnotbeaccordedanautonomouspublicplaceinarepublicwithoutdestroyingit. Overthefollowingpages,IhopetounsettlethisconsensusbyshowingthatMilton'sefforttoreconcilehisGodwithhispoliticsismoresuccessful than previous scholarship has recognized.While this scholarshiphasenforcedadistinctionbetweenthepassivefreedomsallowed by Milton's God and the active ones encouraged by republicanism, Machiavelli had a century before Milton comprehended obedience withinhisnotionofvirtue.Hedidsothroughtheidealofinnovation, which linked the republican ethos of The Discourses to the autocratic counselofThe Princebysuggestingthatrulefollowingwasantithetical to freedom only in moments where a crisis exposed the limits of existing law. Self-determination, in effect, was not a continuous processofactivelibertybutwasinsteadcharacterizedbyperiodsofobedience interrupted by the autonomous law making necessary for the preservationofthestate.Machiavellinowherearguesthatdivinelaws aresubjecttothesameprocessesasearthlyones,buthesawinnovationastheprerogativeofprophetsaswellasprinces,andhisglorificationofMosesasoneoftheinnovatoriwasknowntoMilton.Milton, ashaslongbeenrecognized,madeanextensivestudyofMachiavelli's BennettsuggeststhatMiltonsawGod'slawsnotasprescriptiveburdensthatimpinge on natural impulses but ratheras descriptions http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Studies in Philology University of North Carolina Press

The Innovation of Milton’s Machiavellian Son

Studies in Philology , Volume 107 (1) – Jan 13, 2009

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Abstract

by lassicalrepublicansareonthewholewaryofreligion.Some,like Thomas jefferson, are agnostics who want it rigorously segregatedfrompubliclife.Others,likeNiccolòMachiavelli,aresuspectedatheistswhovalueitonlyasanextensionofstatepower.Even johnMilton,therarerepublicantodissentfromthissecularperspective, seems unintentionally to confirm that republics cannot also be theocracies.When admirers of Milton's politics explore his theology, theyprefertofocusuponSatan,Eve,andChaosasreservoirsoffreedom.ForwhenscholarsattendtoMilton'sGod,thedeitythattheydiscoverseemstoorule-boundtopermittheself-determinationnecessary forrepublicanvirtue.InMilton's Good God,DennisDanielsondescribes Milton'sviewoflibertybyarguing:"givenGod'sofferofdivinegrace, manisfreeeithertorejectitandusehisowninnatepowertosin,or elsetoacceptitandusethepowerreceivedfromGodtorefrainfrom sinning....[S]o far as man is concerned, sin is by commission andmoral virtue by omission."joanBennettarrivesatasimilarviewbyaligning Foradiscussionofthisvasttradition,seeNeilForsyth,The Satanic Epic(Princeton: PrincetonUniversityPress,2003). For a good summary of scholarship on Eve, see Diane McColley, "Milton and the Sexes,"inThe Cambridge Companion to Milton,2ndedition,ed.DennisDanielson(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1999),175­92. RecentscholarsofthisapproachincludejohnRumrich("Milton'sGodandtheMatter ofChaos,"PMLA110[1995]:1035­46);johnRogers(The Matter of Revolution[Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress,1996]);andStephenFallon(Milton Among the Philosophers[Ithaca: CornellUniversityPress,1991]).TheseargumentsareattemptstorebuttheharshCalvinismthatStanleyFishlocatesinMilton.SeeRumrich(Milton Unbound[Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1996],1­23)forasummaryoftheinfluenceofFish'sargument uponMiltoncriticism. Danielson,Milton's Good God(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1982),86­87, emphasisadded. 97 ©2010TheUniversityofNorthCarolinaPress Milton'sunderstandingwithRichardHooker's"deeplyrationalChristianliberty,"claimingthatevenGodcannotviolatedivinelawwithout compromisinghisownessence.Thisrestrictedviewoflibertyasvoluntaryobedienceentailsasubstantialdeparturefromtheactivevirtue championedbyclassicalrepublicanism,leadingBarbaraRieblingtoarguerecentlythatforMilton,"neitherclassicalvirtusnorMachiavellian virtu can replace Christian virtue." Despite Milton's best efforts, his republicanismthusseemsincapableofsurvivinghisGod.Machiavelli and jefferson, it would appear, were right to believe that divine law couldnotbeaccordedanautonomouspublicplaceinarepublicwithoutdestroyingit. Overthefollowingpages,IhopetounsettlethisconsensusbyshowingthatMilton'sefforttoreconcilehisGodwithhispoliticsismoresuccessful than previous scholarship has recognized.While this scholarshiphasenforcedadistinctionbetweenthepassivefreedomsallowed by Milton's God and the active ones encouraged by republicanism, Machiavelli had a century before Milton comprehended obedience withinhisnotionofvirtue.Hedidsothroughtheidealofinnovation, which linked the republican ethos of The Discourses to the autocratic counselofThe Princebysuggestingthatrulefollowingwasantithetical to freedom only in moments where a crisis exposed the limits of existing law. Self-determination, in effect, was not a continuous processofactivelibertybutwasinsteadcharacterizedbyperiodsofobedience interrupted by the autonomous law making necessary for the preservationofthestate.Machiavellinowherearguesthatdivinelaws aresubjecttothesameprocessesasearthlyones,buthesawinnovationastheprerogativeofprophetsaswellasprinces,andhisglorificationofMosesasoneoftheinnovatoriwasknowntoMilton.Milton, ashaslongbeenrecognized,madeanextensivestudyofMachiavelli's BennettsuggeststhatMiltonsawGod'slawsnotasprescriptiveburdensthatimpinge on natural impulses but ratheras descriptions

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Studies in PhilologyUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Jan 13, 2009

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