Principles and Prudence in Politics: The Friend (1809–10)
The extracts from The Friend1 printed in this chapter contain a number of arguments dealing with the relationship between morals and politics. They show that Coleridge had abandoned the unified approach that underlay his early political theory, but still maintained that the state is a moral entity, and that political obligation is a moral matter. He develops these arguments by way of critiques of Hobbes and Paley, and with the help of a Kantianised Rousseau. But, having established the moral basis of the state, he then argues that moral discourse can not be applied directly to the framing and justification of particular institutions. He contends that the sphere of morals is distinct from that of politics; the former rests upon men’s possession of reason and is universal, inward and egalitarian, while the latter depends upon the exercise of the understanding (which takes account of the particular and outward), and is not possessed by all men to the same degree. Reason is the source of moral personality, but it does not provide the basis for the exercise of political rights; these depend upon the fruits of human experience, and that has shown that there should be a close connection between the possession of property and the exercise of political power.
KeywordsHuman Nature Moral Discourse Pure Reason Moral Matter Political Obligation
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- 5.Sir Alexander Ball (1757–1809), Rear Admiral, British High Commissioner of Malta 1801–9 (DNB). In 1804–5 Coleridge served first as Under-Secretary to Ball and then as Acting Public Secretary in the administration of Malta; see Donald Sultana, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Sicily (1969).Google Scholar
- Sir Alexander Ball (1757–1809), Rear Admiral, British High Commissioner of Malta 1801–9 (DNB). In 1804–5 Coleridge served first as Under-Secretary to Ball and then as Acting Public Secretary in the administration of Malta; see Donald Sultana, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Sicily (1969).Google Scholar
- 6.The response to Hobbes is a gloss on a more involved statement by James Harrington in his Oceana (1656); see The Political Writings of James Harrington, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Cambridge, 1977) p. 165.Google Scholar
- 7.See also Church and State, below, pp. 154–6, where Coleridge offers a similar account of the significance of the idea of social contract. The band-of-robbers analogy is found in St Augustine’s City of God; see The City of God, ed. David Knowles (Harmondsworth, 1972) IV.iv: ‘Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale’ (p. 139).Google Scholar
- 14.J. J. Rousseau, Du contrat social (1762) I.vi.Google Scholar
- 16.Rousseau is here glossed in the language of Kant: ‘There is therefore only a single categorical imperative and it is this: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” — The Moral Law: Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. H. J. Paton (1972) p. 84.Google Scholar
- 18.From John Cartwright, The People’s Barrier againt Undue Influence (1780) p. 7. The rest of the paragraph summarises Cartwright. Major John Cartwright (1740–1824) had been involved in the Yorkshire Petitioning Movement in the 1780s, and continued to have an active interest in a reform of the parliamentary franchise. He was an advocate of annual parliaments, universal suffrage and the secret ballot. On Coleridge’s view of Cartwright as a ‘state moralist’, see above, Introduction, p. 11.Google Scholar