At the beginning of the first of his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke refutes the Scriptural arguments of Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha (Filmer: ‘Patriarcha’ and Other Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)). Filmer claims that political authority is grounded in paternal authority, and characterizes paternal authority as absolute and supreme, an authority even over the life and death of his children. Locke argues that Filmer’s biblical citations are one-sided, and points to the joint authority of fathers and mothers.
He offers an impressive catena of proofs (first treatise, section 61):
“the constant tenour of the Scripture” is to emphasize obedience to both father and mother: “‘Honour thy father and thy another,’ Exod. xx. ‘He that smiteth his father or mother, shall surely be put to death,’ xx. 15. ‘He that curseth his father or mother, shall surely be put to death,’ ver. 17. repeated Lev. xx 9, and by our Saviour, Matth. xv. 4. ‘Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father,’ Lev. xix. 3. ‘If any man have a rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother; then shall his father and his mother lay hold an him, and say, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice,’ Deut. xxi. 18, 19, 20, 21. ‘Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother,’ xxvii. 16. ‘My son, hear the instructions of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother,’ are the words of Solomon, a king who was not ignorant of what belonged to him as a father or a king; and yet he joins father and mother together, in all the instructions he gives children quite through his book of Proverbs. ‘Woe unto him, that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?’ Isa. xiv. 10. ‘In thee have they set light by father and mother,’ Ezeli. xxii. 7. ‘And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; and his father anti his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.’ Zech. xiii. 3. Here not the father only, but the father and mother jointly, had power in this case of life and death. Thus ran the law of the Old Testament, and in the New they are likewise joined, in the obedience of their children, Eph. vi. 1. The rule is, ‘Children, obey your parents.’”
Locke concludes, “I do not remember, that I any where read, ‘Children, obey your father,’ and no more: the Scripture joins mother too in that homage which is due from children. . . nay, the Scripture makes the authority of father and mother, in respect of those they have begot, so equal, that in some places it neglects even the priority of order, which is thought due to the father, and the mother is put first, as Lev. xix.iii.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 5:31 am
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