Category Archives: Book V

Book V, Chapters II-IV : Hooker’s Triumphal Return To The Blogosphere

Tony Hunt

Life happens, and it has happened. Having needed some time to tend to matters domestic, I am now in a place to return to the regular upkeep of this blog, the neglect of which falls to me and not my esteemed coauthor Robb.

Chapter IV brings us to the edge of Hooker’s main engagement with critics of the Church of England’s public worship and so it seemed like a fitting place to stop. Our pace will have to be a bit brisker for Bk V, given its length.

I think if there was any doubt, a cursory read of these first chapters of V lay to rest any attempt to claim that Hooker is a political liberal – in the full modern and historical sense of that word. In point of fact, he would be deeply opposed to the kind of anthropology that lies at the base of political schemes that would come after him.

Proper religion, he tells us in chapter I, is the foundation of all good politics. There are two main forms that religion takes: An “inward reasonable” and a “solemn outward serviceable worship. Of the former kind are all manner of virutuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth. Solemn and serviceable…[are] whatsoever belongeth to the Church or public society of God by way of external adoration.” V.iv.3

If all people were properly religious, he says, then there would in fact be no need for laws in the first place, because the person governed by the Spirit has no need of other restraints from evil. Justice and right do not depend on positive laws, and what is truly just is something that is discerned, not simply applied.

There are several distortions of religion which do not lead to justice. Zeal is problematic when it is not properly ordered; without a “sober guide” zeal leads to conflict as well as destructive judgement: “through hatred of tares the corn in the field of God is plucked up.” Fear is another. Fear squeezes out wisdom and reflection. The person ruled by it distorts who God is, and so is led to “superstitions,” to frenzied attempts to appease an angry God. Undistorted religion leads to governors and people who do not do good for fear of punishment, or for personal gain and glory, but for a genuine love of justice.

But for Hooker, “The most extreme opposite to true religion is affected atheism.” But before this is taken in some triumphal manner, I think it’s important not to miss what are the fruits of “affected atheism.” By this he does not mean that “not believing in God” is the opposite of “true religion;” rather it is that “impiety which is a resolved purpose of mind to reap in this world what sensual profit or pleasure soever the world yieldeth, and not to be barred from any whatsoever means available thereunto.” Perhaps I should put that in block quotes.

Atheism is that “impiety which is a resolved purpose of mind to reap in this world what sensual profit or pleasure soever the world yieldeth, and not to be barred from any whatsoever means available thereunto.”

Here, I think, is a very clear statement underlining the fundamental disagreement between Hooker and “liberal” politics, including – obviously! – the capitalist economics that come with them.  Any political scheme that imagines social engagement is one of navigating the self-interested desires of people so as to maximize negative freedom cannot be one that Hooker would sign up for. Any economics that imagines the public good is achieved not by submission of vice to virtue but by the overflow of people acting in their own supposedly rational self-interests would thus fall short as well. Indeed, Hooker might call such a political economy an atheist one!

I’m not trying to bring Hooker into modern politics in some simple anachronistic way. In fact I think it is going to be exceedingly difficult to bring book V into the present insomuch as we don’t have the same political situation anymore. Hooker’s book is a book that is only possible in a ‘christendom society’ where one is able to talk about public polity and public worship as if they belong together (Please do not take my use of ‘christendom’ to be negative; only descriptive). Nevertheless, to the extent that capitalism and secular politics are embraced by Christians in the west, Hooker may very well end up being very useful to dispel myths and recreate Christian political imaginations.

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Hooker opens Book V with a challenge to those harboring “weak capacities” and those who would “rather seek quietly their own, and wish that the world may go well, so it be not long of them, than with pain and hazard make themselves advisers for the common good” (.1). Much easier, Hooker seems to say, to create safe and pure enclaves rather than engage the difficult questions of our nature as politic animals. It is because we are political animals that we cannot so easily dispense with the questions of right ordered polity and the common good.

Hooker is well aware that arriving at the common good, or orienting a polity in its direction, is always a matter of debate. It might even be said that one of Hooker’s main points in chapter one, however implicitly presented, is to show the difficulty of navigating the common good. Rather than the luxury of “private ease,” we are given the difficult work of referring “events to the gracious providence of Almighty God” (.1).

Concretely, the root of the common good is religion, such that politics requires good religion. “For if the course of politic affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let Polity acknowledge itself indebted to Religion; godliness being the chiefest top and wellspring of all true virtues, even as God is of all good things” (.2), writes Hooker. This notion ‘works’ for Hooker because religion is an analog of virtue. In fact, “so natural is the union of Religion with Justice, that we may boldly deem there is neither, where both are not” (.2). Like Augustine’s The City of God, Hooker holds that true politics is true doxology, the right ordered worship of the final cause. Once the object of our love is in order, all other goods will fall into place, and in the absence of the common good “is common misery” (.2).

Of course this puts Hooker in an interesting position in that he has to contend with the reality of virtuous non-Christian polities, especially those that did administer justice and created peaceful existence. That they were able to do so at all, however, points to the reality of God’s natural law for Hooker. Seeing this common thread running throughout history then, Hooker concludes, “we have reason to think that all true virtues are to honor true religion as their parent, and all well-ordered commonweals to love her as their chiefest stay” (.5).

Hooker’s vision can’t help but appear as drastically outdated. We know, for instance, that the mixing of religion and politics delivers anything but justice. But this is to misread what he means by religion. Hooker is rather pushing for a rational religion, one that rejects outright a fidesitic account of faith. Religion must work, tirelessly at times, to discern how historical events align with God’s providence (.1). This is not to say that the task is simply to read off from nature signs of God’s presence given here and there, but how the whole of nature tells us something about God’s being or Trinitarian economy. In other words, I wonder if we might see Hooker as engaging in a bit of speculative thinking, albeit tinged with a healthy dose of Neo-Platonism. How can the absolute serve to order our politics – and not as simply standing over and against us, but as mediated through history in the form of tradition – especially when we are ever tempted to retreat into a private citadel?

Finally, Hooker helpfully reminds us that some form of religion or another guides and orders all polities. Today our religion is capitalism; our common good is that there is no common good beyond individual striving. As Walter Benjamin writes, “A religion may be discerned in capitalism — that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers” (“Capitalism as Religion”).