Friday, December 07, 2012

Justus Lipsius

When I presented my paper "Beyond Patience" in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, and audience member (Susan Purviance, Toledo) recommended that I look into Justus Lipsius' On Constancy. A modernized version of a classic translation of this "neostoic" classic has recently been released. I haven't yet gotten into the text, but was perusing the introductory material, and learned this of Lipsius' political philosophy (bear in mind that Lipsius lived in Europe in the late 16th Century):

"In his Politica....he argued that no State should permit more than one religion within its borders and that all dissent should be punished without mercy. Experience had taught him that civil conflict enflamed by religious intolerance was far more dangerous and destructive than despotism." (4)

Not exactly an enticement to read On Constancy (which, from the introduction, sounds in some ways similar to Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy in the kinds of theodicies it offers--one of Lipsius' aims is to show Stoicism to be compatible with Christianity).

But as I reflected on this, it struck me (and compare to Hobbes and even Rousseau's "On Civil Religion" in The Social Contract) that this attitude makes sense in the historical context. If all you've seen is violent conflict between religions, then it will not seem possible that we can all just be Rodney Kings and get along. (This reminds me also of remarks T.M. Scanlon made in a recent interview about why some people see tolerance as an impossible ideal. See Part III of the interview.) But it still seems a little odd coming from someone attracted to Stoic ideas. Anyhow, more to come. (Notice that Lipsius appears to be sporting a faux hawk in the picture above, for whatever that is worth...)