Patriarcha: The Naturall Power of Kings Defended Against the Unnatural Liberty of the People

Robert Filmer
(written @ 1640, but not published until 1680)

In the last hundred years many of the schoolmen and other divines have published and maintained an opinion that mankind is naturally endowed and born with freedom from all subjection, and at liberty to choose what form of govemment it please, and that the power which any one man hath over others was at the first by human right bestowed according to the discretion of the multitude. This tenet was first hatched in the schools for good divinity, and hath been fostered by succeeding papists. The divines of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people everywhere tenderly embrace it as being most plausible to flesh and blood, for that it prodigally distributes a portion of liberty to the meanest of the multitude, who magnify liberty as if the height of human felicity were only to be found in it, never remembering that the desire of liberty was the cause of the fall of Adam. But howsoever this opinion hath of late obtained great reputation, yet it is not to be found in the ancient fathers and doctors of the primitive church; it contradicts the doctrine and history of the Holy Scriptures, the constant practice of all ancient monarchies, and the very principles of the law of nature. It is hard to say whether it be more erroneous in divinity or dangerous in policy.

Upon the grounds of this doctrine both Jesuits and some zealous favourers of the Geneva discipline have built a perilous conclusion, which is that the people or multitude have power to punish or deprive the prince if he transgress the laws of the kingdom. This desperate assertion, whereby kings are made subject to the censures and deprivations of their subjects, follows (as the authors of it conceive) as a necessary consequence of that former position of the supposed natural equality and freedom of mankind, and liberty to choose what form of government it please.... The rebellious consequence which follows this prime article of the natural freedom of mankind may be my sufficient warrant for a modest examination of the original truth of it. Much hath been said, and by many, for the affirmative. Equity requires that an ear be reserved a little for the negative....

I come now to examine that argument which is used by Bellarmine, and is the one and only argument I can find produced by any author for the proof of the natural liberty of the people. It is thus framed. That God hath given or ordained power is evident by Scripture; but God hath given it to no particular man, because by nature all men are equal: therefore he hath given power to the people or multitude. To answer this reason, drawn from the equality of mankind by nature, I will first use the help of Bellarmine himself, whose words are these, "If many men had been created out of the earth, all they ought to have been princes over their posterity." In these words we have an evident confession that creation made man prince of his postenty. And indeed not only Adam but the succeeding patriarchs had by right of fatherhood royal authority over their children.... For as Adam was lord of his children, so his children under him had a command over their own children, but still with subordination to the first parent, who is lord paramount over his children's children to all generations, as being the grandfather of his people.

In all kingdoms or commonwealths in the world, whether the prince be the supreme father of the people or but the true heir of such a father, or whether he come to the crown by usurpation, or by election of the nobles or of the people, or by any other way whatsoever, or whether some few or a multitude govern the commonwealth, yet still the authority that is in any one, or in many, or in all of these, is the only right and natural authority of a supreme father. There is, and always shall be continued to the end of the world, a natural right of a supreme father over every multitude, although, by the secret will of God, many at first do most unjustly obtain the exercise of it.

To confirm this natural right of regal power, we find in the decalogue that the law which enjoins obedience to kings is delivered in the terms of "honour thy father" [Exodus, xx, 12] as if all power were originally in the father. If obedience to parents be immediately due by a natural law, and subjection to princes but by the mediation of an human ordinance, what reason is there that the law of nature should give place to the laws of men, as we see the power of the father over his child gives place and is subordinate to the power of the magistrate?

If we compare the natural duties of a father with those of a king, we find them to be all one, without any difference at all but only in the latitude or extent of them. As the father over one family, so the king, as father over many families, extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole commonwealth. His wars, his peace, his courts, of justice and all his acts of sovereignty tend only to preserve and distribute to every subordinate and inferior father, and to their children, their rights and privileges, so that all the duties of a king are summed up in an universal fatherly care of his people.

I see not then how the children of Adam, or of any man else, can be free from subjection to their parents. And this subordination of children is the fountain of all regal authority by the ordination of God himself. From whence it follows that civil power not only in general is by divine in titution, but even the assigning of it specificauy to the eldest parent; which quite takes away that new and common distinction which refers only power universal or absolute to God, but power respective in regard of the special form of government to the choice of the people. Nor leaves it any place for such imaginary pactions between kings and their people as many dream of.

This lordship which Adam by creation had over the whole world, and by right descending from him the patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the absolutest dominion of any monarch which hath been since the creation....

It may seem absurd to maintain that kings now are the fathers of their people, since experience shows the contrary. It is true all kings be not the natural parents of their subjects; yet they all either are, or are to be reputed, the next heirs of those progenitors who were at first the natural parents of the whole people, and in their right succeed to the exercise of supreme jurisdiction. And such heirs are not only lords of their own children, but also of their brethren and all others that were subject to their fathers.... As long as the first fathers of families lived, the name of patriarchs did aptly belong to them. But after few descents, when the true fatherhood itself was extinct, and only the right of the father descended to the true heir, then the title of prince or king was more significant to express the power of him who succeeds only to the right of that fatherhood which his ancestors did naturally enjoy. By this means it comes to pass that many a child, by succeeding a king, hath the right of a father over many a grey-headed multitude...

Hitherto I have endeavoured to show the natural institution of regal authority and to free it from subjection to an arbitrary election of the people. It is necessary also to inquire whether human laws have a superiority over princes, because those that maintain the acquisition of royal jurisdiction from the people do subject the exercise of it to human positive laws. But in this also they err. For as kingly power is by the law of God, so it hath no inferior law to limit it. The father of a family governs by no other law than by his own will, not by the laws or wills of his sons or servants. There is no nation that allows children any action or remedy for being unjustly governed. And yet for all this every father is bound by the law of nature to do his best for the preservation of his family.
But much more is a king always tied by the same law of nature to keep this general ground, that the safety of his kingdom be his chief law. He must remember that the profit of every man in particular, and of all together in general, is not always one and the same, that the public is to be preferred before the private, and that the force of laws must not be so great as natural equity itself. Which cannot fully be comprised in any laws, but is to be left to the religious arbitrament of those who know how to manage the affairs of state, and wisely to balance the particular profit with the counterpoise of the public, according to the infinite variety of times, places, persons.
A proof unanswerable for the superiority of princes above laws is this, that there were kings long before there were any laws. For a long time the word of the king was the only law....

A proof unanswerable for the superiority of princes above laws is this, that there were kings long before there were any laws. For a long time the word of the king was the only law. "And if practice," as saith Sir Walter Raleigh, "declare the greatness of authority, even the best kings of Judah and Israel were not tied to any law, but they did whatsoever they pleased in the greatest matters."

There can be no laws without a supreme power to command or make them. In all aristocracies the nobles are above the laws, and in all democracies the people.  By the like reason in a monarchy the king must of necessity be above the laws.  There can be no sovereign majesty in him that is under them. That which giveth the very being to a king is the power to give laws. Without this power he is but an equivocal king....