God in Western Political Thought – An Excerpt

The inspiration for this book is a not-so-well-known essay by the great Alasdair MacIntyre in which he tinkered with the idea that there cannot be any political thought, theory or philosophy which does not take into consideration the idea of God in some sense or the other. No one could be closer to the truth than MacIntyre was. It seemed like a good point to pursue, and Machiavelli is the best starting point for that since he has been called ‘a preacher of evil’ by the philosopher Leo Strauss and this perception held true till the intervention of Quentin Skinner, who interprets Machiavelli far more charitably than anyone else did. That is another beginning that had to be pursued to see if Machiavelli has to be understood in a different light. The question is ‘Did Machiavelli abandon God in his writing?’ This book will answer that question.

Descartes and Hobbes have been added for another reason. The history of ideas and the history of political thought have been written in the mainstream by emphasizing disjunctions between the ancient and medieval periods of European history. This work does exactly the opposite. It emphasizes on the continuity of ideas between different time periods and epochs of history. The reasoning behind that thought is that continuities are as important as disjunctions, and it is only when the focus is on both that one gets a proper understanding of the history of ideas and political thought.

That is the spirit behind this book. Also, one is not just looking at the idea of God alone in this work. The book also explores sub-themes and even other themes that have a connection with the main theme. That is why this book is not just about God in Western political thought but also about other ideas that have not been established properly heretofore. It can very well be treated as a book about Western political thought in general.

This book is to the point and pithy in its depiction of the role that the concept of God plays in Western political thought. God is often erroneously believed to be absent from the political thought of the post-Renaissance period, which is unfortunately equated with secularism, or the absence of God and religion. The book sticks to this main point and does not meander into other areas of thought of the three thinkers who have been chosen to correct this commonly held misperception. Who better than Machiavelli to demonstrate this as he is seen the person who broke the link between politics and ethics in order to create an independent realm of activity called the political? The reader of this work will also realize in due course why Descartes and Hobbes also have been chosen.

Authored by: A.V. Satish Chandra, Ph.D., SEFM, is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Osmania University.

Here is an excerpt from the book

God as a concept has intrigued men of all times. There have been several efforts to develop a concrete definition of what ‘God’ is. Also, there have been attempts to end all theorizing of ‘God’. However, the spectre of ‘God’ continues to haunt political theories of all times. But the conception of ‘God’ has not been constant throughout the history of mankind. We are, of course, only interested in what happened in Europe and specifically during the Renaissance and its immediate after effects. The way the Greeks looked at the concept of ‘God’ was quite different from the Medieval Christian thinkers. They were again quite different from what followed during and after the Renaissance, in the thought of Machiavelli and Hobbes respectively. In what will follow in this work, we shall attempt to see as to what were the salient features of the political philosophies of these different times and how the concept of God came to be treated by them and what influence this concept had on their political thinking.

Was God invented to legitimize the political and social systems and the ill-gotten powers of the rulers? Or was it needed to divert the attention of the people from the ruler to some incomprehensible supernatural power or was it an opium to give solace to the disturbed and demoralized hearts? Is God a reification of man? In whichever way we interpret God, it has serious implications on the collective and political aspects of human existence. God is supposed to give us our sense of morality, justice, fairness and natural law and even rationality, which in turn act as the sources of political laws. This tradition created in ancient civilizations continued to hold sway during the medieval times. Even after the rational-secular revolution of the renaissance, the idea of God has been haunting or influencing people’s socio-political thinking in virtually all countries. Democratically elected representatives, presidents, prime ministers, judges, legislators, etc. take their oath of office in the name of God in both advanced and enlightened societies and in not so enlightened ones. In the name of God, rulers have done many noble deeds, but invoking the same name they have also indulged in extremely ugly crimes. The idea of God has inspired the great minds from Socrates to Gandhi, to guide people along the path of truth, beauty and justice. The same idea provoked many bigots in history to exterminate the nonbelievers including Jesus Christ. God has occupied a significant position in the political thinking and activities of many rulers and philosophers.

God in Western Political Thought Ideas of Machiavelli, Descartes and Hobbes_crv
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