Political Selfhood and Novelistic Character

  • Rachel Carnell


When William and Mary replaced James II in 1688–89, the abstract subject of liberal political theory was still in the process of being articulated. Opposing versions of the domestic household—the divine-right patriarchal household and the less authoritarian household of socialcontract theory—were deployed as analogies by the political philosophers Robert Filmer, James Tyrrell, John Locke, and Algernon Sydney in treatises published with an eye toward influencing the Exclusion crises of 1679–81 and justifying the Revolution of 1688–89. The domestic situations deployed as both ideal and cautionary analogies in these treatises—including families with patriarchal fathers, oppressed wives, rebellious children, and servants—are of course familiar scenarios in eighteenth-century British novels. However, after the Revolution of 1688–89, formal political treatises began to excise potentially disruptive domestic analogies and to construct an abstracted political individual who appeared universal but was in fact a Whig (or a least an anti-Jacobite Tory), Protestant, propertied male head of household.


Eighteenth Century Political Theory Liberal Political Theory Contingent Position Late Seventeenth 
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  1. 1.
    Edmund Burke, for example, resorts to the image of the vulnerable Marie Antoinette and her children in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, especially in part 5, chapter 2, “Of the Outrage against the Royal Family, Aristocracy, and the Clergy.” See Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Thomas H. D. Mahoney (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1955), 79–85.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Peter Laslett remarks in his introduction to Filmer’s Patriarcha that while the family was at this time a solid feature of society, more so than in medieval times, it may well have been fending off decline at the moment that Filmer defends it so emphatically. See Patriarcha and Other Political Works of Sir Robert Filmer, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949), 20–29. Laslett also suggests that there was “something faintly ridiculous . . . even by the year 1679” about Filmer’s argument. See his introduction to Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 71. Richard Ashcraft emphasizes in Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986) that the Tories did not need Filmer, but were “quite content to defend the king’s authority through the citation of a few specific passages from the Bible” (187). However, Filmer’s treatise, in its painstaking proofs through his peculiar interpretation of Genesis, was readily available; it would also become a convenient target for contract theorists.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Laslett suggests that Locke and Tyrrell may have written portions of their treatises at the same time, while staying at the same country retreat, although Locke did not mention his to Tyrrell and waited until the Exclusion crisis reached its culmination before publishing it anonymously. See the introduction to Laslett’s edition of Locke’s Two Treatises, 63–66.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    James Tyrrell, Patriarcha non Monarcha, The Patriarch Unmonarched; Being Observations on a late Treatise & Divers Other Miscellanies Published Under the Name of Sir Robert Filmer Baronet (London: printed for Richard Janeway, 1681), 110–11.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    James Tyrrell, Bibliotheca Politica or an Enquiry into the Ancient Constitution of the English Government, in Thirteen Dialogues (London: printed for R. Baldwin, 1694), 13.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Jonathan Scott persuasively argues that what we understand as crises of “exclusion” were rather crises about arbitrary government and Catholicism, of which the so-called Exclusion crisis was but a symptom. See Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis, 1677–1683 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 1–80. I continue to use the term “Exclusion crisis” or “crises” to denote the various attempts to pass Exclusion bills because Scott’s proposed term “Restoration Crisis” would be less comprehensible to readers. For more on the significance of the Exclusion crises, see also Howard Nenner, The Right to Be King: The Succession to the Crown of England 1603–1714 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 95–258.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett, paragraph 38. Future references to this work are by paragraph number.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Richard Ashcraft argues in Revolutionary Politics that one of the reasons that Locke’s treatises were ultimately understood as less radical than he believes they were is that Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding led readers to picture him more as an apolitical philosopher than a political partisan, despite the distinctly radical arguments contained in his Two Treatises of Government. See Revolutionary Politics 56–74, 75–127, and 299–37. However, at a moment when gender difference was routinely invoked as a rhetorical strategy in marginalizing other excluded political groups, Locke still did not fully include women in his category of the universal political individual. Teresa Brennan and Carole Pateman, in “ ‘Mere Auxiliaries to the Commonwealth’: Women and the Origins of Liberalism,”Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Martyn P. Thompson explains that Locke’s Two Treatises “did eventually become a very successful work” although it was not read widely enough to have received any critical responses until 1703. See “The Reception of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government 1690–1705,” Political Studies 24:2 (1976): 184–91.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Idea of a Patriot King, ed. Sydney W. Jackman (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1965), 14.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Adam Potkay, in his analysis of Hume’s ambivalent attitudes toward rhetorical eloquence, suggests that “Hume’s advocacy of classical eloquence may be read as a skeptical and conservative critique of Locke’s liberalism.” See The Fate of Eloquence in the Age of Hume (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 58. Duncan Forbes clarifies that Hume’s conservatism should not be confused with the more radically conservative reaction of Jacobitism. He explains that “it was . . . a post-revolutionary, establishment political philosophy: its object was to give the established regime, the Revolution Settlement, the Hanoverian succession, the respectable intellectual foundation which, in the ‘fashionable system’ it had not got.” See Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 91.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    See for example Charles Davenant’s The True Picture of a Modern Whig Set Forth in a Dialogue between Mr. Whiglove and Mr. Double (London: n. p. 1701) and Tom Double Return’d: Or, the True Picture of a Modern Whig Set Forth in a Second Dialogue Between Mr. Whiglove & Mr. Double (London: n. p.,1702). See also J. A. Downie’s discussion of these pamphlets in Robert Harley and the Press, 49–54.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    George Logan’s laboriously repetitive A Treatise on Government; Shewing That the Right of the Kings of Scotland to the Crown was not Strictly and Absolutely Hereditary (Edinburgh: printed for the booksellers here and at Glasgow, 1746) is a paradigmatic example of this historically sound, if not philosophically profound, refutation of Jacobite claims to the throne.Google Scholar
  14. 38.
    Jill Campbell has described the misogyny of 1740s anti-Jacobite rhetoric as part of a Whig attempt to deflect attention from the potentially empowering effect their own theories of government structure might have on women. Despite the potentially empowering domestic analogies in Whig political treatises, however, it is clear that misogyny was noticeable in polemical anti-Stuart writings as early as Settle’s dramatic tragedy The Female Prelate (1680). See Campbell, Natural Masques, 145.Google Scholar
  15. 45.
    Henry Fielding, The Jacobite’s Journal and Related Writings, W. B. Coley, ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 99.Google Scholar

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© Rachel Carnell 2006

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  • Rachel Carnell

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