Robert Filmer and the Divine Right of Kings

Sir Robert Filmer (c. 1588 – 26 May 1653) was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings. His most influential work, “Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings,” published posthumously in 1680, was a direct rebuttal to early-modern works of contractarian theory, like those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

Filmer’s argument in “Patriarcha” was that the state is like a large family, over which the king (as a father figure) has absolute authority. He believed this patriarchal power was derived directly from God, not from the consent of the governed.

His justification for absolute monarchy was rooted in the biblical figures Adam and Noah. Filmer argued that Adam was granted dominion over his family, and this patriarchal power was passed down through generations to present-day kings. He contended that this line of authority is unbroken and that therefore, the divine right of kings is undeniable and absolute.

Filmer’s views were controversial, and his works were vehemently criticized by political theorists like John Locke. Locke’s “First Treatise of Government” is almost entirely dedicated to refuting Filmer’s arguments for the divine right of kings and patriarchal government.

While Filmer’s political philosophy isn’t broadly accepted today, his work did influence discussions about sovereignty and monarchy during his lifetime and beyond, making a significant impact on political theory in the 17th century.

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