IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 217: Nature and Political Thought

Monday 7 July 2008, 14.15-15.45

Moderator/Chair:Kirsten Bell, St Chad's College, Durham University
Paper 217-aThe Carolingian King's One Body and the Persistence of Rulership
(Language: English)
Maria Winter, Independent Scholar, Berlin
Index terms: Mentalities, Political Thought
Paper 217-bPeace as the Health of the Body Politic: The Medicalisation of Political Language in the Early 14th Century
(Language: English)
Takashi Shogimen, Department of History, University of Otago
Index terms: Medicine, Political Thought
Paper 217-cThe Law of Nature and War in 14th-Century Political Thought
(Language: English)
Rory Cox, St Peter's College, University of Oxford
Index terms: Military History, Philosophy, Political Thought

Unlike in Kantorowicz’ famous study, in Carolingian times there was no second, immortal king’s body. What are the consequences if the king’s one, natural body cannot be abstracted from his political body? How is the perception of the sovereign’s body, with its imperfections and its weaknesses? What does this mean in relation to his fitness for government? How is the persistence of rulership achieved, if not through a second, immortal body? What concepts and ideas stand behind it? I will examine historiography as well as theoretical treatises and other sources and illustrate the ‘bodily aspects’ of Carolingian political thought.
As medical science underwent a renaissance at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, political theory was inspired by new medical science in many ways. The consequent medicalisation of political discourse contributed to the independence of civil science from a teleological subjection to transcendental purposes. The idea of peace was metaphorically structured as the balance of elements in the body politic which required no religious sanctions. The paper will illustrate this secularisation of the idea of peace by examining the political writing in the Italian physician and political philosopher Marsilius of Padua.
14th-century writers devoted a great deal of attention to the examination of the ‘laws’ governing society, seeking to identify the proper ordering and government of Christian communities. However, the formulation of any set of laws was presupposed by a concept of the ‘Laws of Nature’. This somewhat ambiguous set of ‘laws’ and ‘rights’ influenced all considerations of humanity’s socio-political development. But what were these ‘laws of nature’? Moreover, how did ‘natural law’ govern the development of just war theory? Did war have a natural role to play in human society, or were there limited circumstances by which war could be justified by natural law? My paper will seek to highlight the degree to which nature and natural law were seen to influence humanity’s politico-military development by 14th-century writers.