AbstractsPolitical Science

Political Power, Government and Religion in Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World

by Katri Rosendahl

Institution: University of Helsinki
Year: 2015
Keywords: Käytännöllinen filosofia
Record ID: 1135817
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/153300


The objective of this thesis is to summarise and systematise the most relevant political views that Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673) sets forth in her utopian novel The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World (1666). To date there exists no systematic overall presentation of Cavendish’s political arguments that can be found in her utopia, even though the novel is widely considered to be the most comprehensive presentation of her political thinking as she never wrote an explicitly political treatise. In The Blazing World Cavendish describes her ideal commonwealth and the ideal monarch, and she explores forms of government, the relationship of state and religion, social hierarchy, scientific inquiry, the fundamental values of a well-governed society, war and its justification and the qualities of an ideal monarch. This thesis is a tentative reconstruction of her political theorising in The Blazing World. The reconstruction establishes that Cavendish’s political arguments, when interpreted together, form a theory of politics. The thesis is divided into four themes. This division is based on Cavendish’s description of state as one in which there is one sovereign, one language, one religion and one law. The first theme covers Cavendish’s views on absolute monarchy that she considers to be the ideal form of government, as well as suggestions of how she could justify monarchy. In this section the necessary qualities of an ideal sovereign and the rules of succession are also discussed. The second theme is formed of Cavendish’s arguments on social structures. She is in favour of strict social hierarchy, which bears on the division of labour and the organisation of scientific inquiry. Cavendish expects all citizens to hold the same beliefs and values imposed on them by the state, which leads to a strong unity even though there is physical diversity among the subjects. The connections between the unity of opinion and the physical differences of citizens are explored in order to obtain a better understanding of the nature of Cavendish’s ideal society. In the third theme, Cavendish’s notions on religion are scrutinised and it is suggested that instead of introducing Christianity into her ideal commonwealth, she constructs a cult of personality around the sovereign. To this cult are connected ceremony and symbols of power that the nobility utilises to maintain hierarchy and to govern the commonwealth. The fourth theme covers Cavendish’s views on warfare, as well as the legislation, objectives and main values of her ideal commonwealth. Cavendish combines three traditions in her thinking: politics and religion of the Roman Empire, Renaissance monarchy and the early modern theorising of state as a legal person. To establish that she draws on these traditions and utilises them in her theory of politics, her political views are compared to those of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), Robert Filmer (ca. 1588–1653) and Niccoló Machiavelli (1469–1527). As The Blazing World is a political utopia, its differences…