01 July 2007
Royce on the Speaker
The great philosopher Josiah Royce once invoked Lenthall's behavior on that fateful day in 1642 as a paradigm of morality.
In Royce's book, The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908) we can read the following:
"Now, I myself have for years used in my own classes, as an illustration of the personal worth and beauty of loyalty, an incident of English history, which has often been cited as a precedent in discussions of the constitutional privileges of the House of Commons, but which I think has not been sufficiently noticed by moralists. Let me set that incident now before your imagination. Thus, I say, do the loyal bear themselves: In January 1642, just before the outbreak of hostilities between King Charles I and the Commons, the King resolved to arrest certain leaders of the opposition party in Parliament....Then, having placed his guards at the doors, he entered, went up to the Speaker, and naming the members whom he desired to arrest, demanded, 'Mr. Speaker, do you espy these persons in the House?'"
I skip past the reply, which Royce quotes as I quoted it Thursday. I skip also past the dramatic flourishes he adds. The question my readers will want answered perhaps is: why was this moment paradigmatic for a philosophy of loyalty? Presumably if Lenthall had said, "Ah, yes, you want the four fellows cowering in the northeastern corner of this Chamber, your Majesty," that would go down in pro-monarchical books to this day as an act of loyalty too. It was a choice among loyalties. But what specifically impressed Royce? Skip along in his text a bit with me to find out.
He wrote, "I want you to view the act merely as an instance of a supremely worthy personal attitude. The beautiful union of formal humility (when the speaker fell on his knee before the King) with unconquerable self-assertion (wshen the reply rang with so clear a note of lawful defiance); the willing and complete identification of his whole self with his cause (when the Speaker declared that he had no eye or tongue except as his office gave them to him), -- these are characteristics typical of a loyal attitude. The Speaker's words were at once ingenious and obvious."
You get the idea. I'll stop now. Moving as Royce's talk of loyalty is, there are obvious objections to a moral philosophy of loyalty -- problems of which, I should say, he was aware, and which he addressed.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.