Tuesday, April 14, 2009

History 112: Rise of Absolutism (Q&A)

1. In the text it mentions something about Louis XIV's second marriage and then bring up his marriage to Maria Teresa, the Spanish woman, so if I am not mistaken that would mean he had three wives. France was a Catholic nation, so how is it that he had three wives if Henry of England had to make England protestant before getting a divorce?

Louis XIV was married twice the first time, in 1660, to Marie Therese of Spain, who was the daughter of Philip IV. This becomes later on because Louis XIV is going to push the claim to the throne of Spain on behalf of his grandson, Philip V, which sets the War of Spanish Succession in motion. This was a marriage of convenience and, judging from the pictures we have of her, Marie was no beauty. Maria died in 1683. Louis XIV then went and married Mme de Maintenon. So there was nothing wrong with this marriage from the perspective of the Catholic Church. During the twenty three years that he was married to Marie, Louis XIV had a slew mistresses; the most famous of them being Louise de la Valliere and Mme de Montespan. This was, for all intents and purposes, viewed as perfectly acceptable. Imagine of Bill Clinton had gone on national television and told the American people: “This is Monica; she is my mistress and I am now going back to the oval office to have sex with this woman. I am the president and there are thousands of women who would gladly sleep with me. I work hard protecting this country so let me enjoy the perks of the office; as Mel Brooks might say: 'it is good to be the president.” Seventieth century France was a far less prudish society than modern America.

2. The text seems to be conflicting to some degree about Louis XIV by placing him as a great king for France on one hand while on the other listing many shortcomings of his reign. It seemed to me as if it is trying to say that he was great, but that he could have done more given better resources and more sincere conviction over the term of his reign (this referencing the fact that the text mentions several points where he initially reacted one way and years later changed his mind and did the opposite). Is this a matter of the three portions of his reign they outline being not well outlined within the text and these changes occurring in distinct stages of his reign, or was this something that was continuous throughout his rule?

In practice, when studying history there are no good or bad people. People do things for different reasons; some of them succeed at some of the things they try and others are not so successful. Louis XIV was tremendously successful at, domestically, forming a strong centralized government and curbing the power of the nobility and, in terms of foreign policy, in making France the supreme power in Europe. That being said, as it should be clear from the reading, Louis XIV was hardly some ubermensch. He had his flaws and was not as successful as he could have been.

3. I can't help but notice some similarities between Louis XIV and Bush's policy. 1. Frequent and petty wars which often have no beneficial outcome for the countries involved 2. An increasing national debt - increased spending by the nation and decreased product. Do you think that these similarities are coincidence or a result of some common political agenda? What would it imply about the future state of the United States? I thought maybe because ppl today are tending to want more unified power through government, that could be the cause of the similarity...What do you think?

Unless one is looking for analogies, one should avoid making comparisons between historical and present day figures. Remember history has no pedagogic value, there are no lessons that can be learned. Personally I suspect that Louis XIV and the people surrounding him were significantly more talented than those in the Bush administration.

4. After reading about Thomas Hobbes' philosophy in which the people "lose their individual authority, but gain stability and authority," I was wondering if any of the people had problems with this? It seems in those times, there was no real sense of individualism. Were there any common people who expressed their uniqueness?

Worrying about one’s individuality is a luxury that few people outside of modern western cultures had the chance to engage in. Most people throughout history had far more pressing concerns like what were they going to eat and how were they not going to get raped and murdered before the day is out. Hobbes is concerned with how do we solve these issues so we can actually be in a position to start concerning ourselves with such ethereal issues such as "individuality." I find Hobbes to be very useful because of how forcefully he puts forth the issue of government coercion. All governments, even our liberal democratic government, are instruments of coercion. The Federal government has the power to force you to pay taxes, they can throw you in jail, they can even hand you a gun and tell you to go die for your country. If you were really so committed to “individuality” you would be an anarchist. The fact that you are not an anarchist shows that you have compromised you “individuality” and made a Hobbesian bargain.
Hobbes actually was quite controversial. Mainly because people, during the time, thought, probably correctly, that Hobbes was an atheist. Hobbes’ very cynical worldview, that you find so distasteful, comes out of his materialism where everyone acts simply based on their material self interest.

5. Most modern philosophy requires a serious body of evidence to be considered for a theory on human nature. Hobbes just speculates and theory-crafts. How did a skeptic critique such an argument when no evidence is presented in the first place?

Hobbes was a materialist, who believed that everything was physical matter. In his defense one could argue that the burden of proof lies with anyone who would wish to argue against his materialism. Hobbes’ politics comes out of this materialist world view. If there is no supernatural than all that remains is selfish material interest. In the Hobbesian world everyone is acting based on crude self interest. The question then becomes how do we fashion a state out of this mass of people who are only interested in their material welfare and would kill their own mothers if it would benefit them. There is no God to punish me nor is there any heaven or hell awaiting me after I die. So what, besides for a Hobbesian police state, is stopping me from breaking into your house raping you and stealing your jewelry before cutting your throat and proceeding to your wife and kids?

6. What was parliament's response to Charles I's defiance? Did the church support the "divine right of kings" since its justification came from scripture? What caused the shift away from the thought that kings possessed God-given power over their kingdoms and when did it occur?

Well Charles I had William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury to support his claims. What is interesting about Charles I and his father, James I, is that even they are not simply arguing for the divine right of kings. For them it is almost a side issue in the face of tradition, natural law and the public self interest.
I would see the essential question of the revolution in sixteenth century political thought as, now that the myth of religious homogeny has been forever destroyed by the Reformation, what is the basis of government authority. Charles I is trying to rule two three countries, England, Scotland and Ireland. In these countries there are Calvinists and Catholics, who oppose the Anglican Church. Even the Anglican Church itself is divided; you have all of these Puritans who oppose how he is running the Anglican Church. So why should people not simply rebel against him and chop his head off? And they did rebel and chop his head off. Much of the Enlightenment is devoted to finding a solution to this very problem that Charles I failed to answer.

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