Political Philosophy: Aquinas and Monarchy

Thomas Aquinas is a towering figure in Christian medieval thought. In his work, On Kingship, he presents a defense of the monarchical system of government. He begins by asserting that “it is natural for man, more than for any other animal, to be a social and political animal.” Though this claim is not immediately apparent, Aquinas gives little justification for it. Hobbes and Rousseau both disagree with him, instead positing that men require a social contract in order to live in society. They both believe that society does not come about naturally. But instead of defending his claim, Aquinas merely says, “This is clearly a necessity of man’s nature.” As Aquinas frequently refers to Aristotle in his other works, it is possible that he is relying on Aristotle’s famous conclusion that “man is by nature a political animal” and does not feel that it is necessary to give his own justification. Another possibility is that he takes it as a natural conclusion to God’s statement in Genesis 1 that “It is not good for man to be alone.” After Aquinas declares that man is political by nature, he extrapolates several benefits that man receives through his political nature, such as having access to each other’s discoveries. However, these are not justifications for his claim, but rather conclusions drawn from his claim.

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Wisdom of the Moderns: A Brush with Nihilism

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, we are given a picture of two men’s experiences of life in Africa. Soon after Marlow is told that Kurtz has died, he summarizes his view of life in one long paragraph (p. 70-71). The experiences and reactions of Marlow and Mr. Kurtz that are discussed in this paragraph can be understood as being a temptation towards nihilism.

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Wisdom of the Moderns: Master Kurtz

A primary theme in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche is the duality of master and slave morality. His master morality can be summarized in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s declaration in Self-Reliance that “virtue is Height.” Nietzsche says that slave morality is essentially a psychological trick used by the lower castes of society to take revenge on the nobility for being better than they are. It can be seen that Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness is an adherent of master morality rather than slave morality.

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