Liberalism, republicanism, and John Milton's late political thought
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Many critics regard the late Milton as a republican, while others consider him a liberal. This is problematic, for prominent political historians argue that republican political thought is distinct from liberal political thought. How, then, can Milton be both a republican and a liberal? I have contributed to the answer of this question by examining Milton's late political thought in A Treatise of Civil Power (1659) and The Ready and Easy Way (second edition, April, 1660). John Locke may be legitimately regarded as having presented a definitive statement of liberal political thought. Thus, after presenting a comprehensive definition of liberalism, as it was formulated by Locke, we can see that Milton, in Of Civil Power, conforms with liberal political thought in a number of ways. Like Locke, Milton argues, on the one hand, that the state should not use force in matters of religion, but on the other hand argues that Catholics should not be tolerated by the state. Because Milton's political thought in Of Civil Power is the same in many important respects as Locke's political thought, there are strong grounds for thinking of Milton as a liberal in this tract. There are, however, no grounds for thinking of Milton as a republican in this tract. By taking the arguments of Machiavelli as their model, Skinner and Pocock provide us with a comprehensive definition of republican political thought. Milton's political thought in The Ready and Easy Way is both consistent and inconsistent in a number of ways with both republican and liberal political thought. But this tract is more liberal than republican because the liberal notion that humans have a God-given natural freedom that government must protect is more prominent in this pamphlet than the republican notion that personal freedom is a privilege that must be earned. Like Locke, Milton also defends religious freedom and emphasises its importance, and he never expresses the republican notion of religion as a mere political tool. Moreover, like Locke, Milton expresses a Christian vision of history, which contrasts with Machiavelli's cyclical view of history. Overall, then, Milton is more of a liberal than a republican in The Ready and Easy Way.