Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought, edited by László Kontler and Mark Somos

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
Author: Christoph Haar1
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Open Access

(Leiden: Brill, 2018). Pp. 481 + xv. Hb, €159.00.

Twenty essays divided into three parts make up this volume, which includes a very helpful index. The contributions engage with the concepts of political trust and happiness in a wide array of source material ranging throughout the history of European political thought. Moreover, the editors’ introduction offers a useful historiography of the concepts involved, taking into account the scholarships of Niklas Luhmann and Ute Frevert on which many contributors draw. The prominent place of early modern political thought and the attendant discussions of Jesuit “Machiavellianism” and related hot topics of political debate in which the Jesuits feature will appear particularly interesting to the readers of this journal.

John Dunn opens up Part 1, “Trust and Happiness in Theoretical Perspective,” by lucidly engaging with a broad scale assessment of the subject and its relevance for the current challenges in political thought. In the course of considering the implications of what Kant expressed as human “unsocial sociability,” the essay commends the scholarly output of the late István Hont. To pick out one aspect, Dunn highlights the discrepancy in early modern political thought, especially in natural jurisprudence and the social contract idiom, between political power legitimated by free choice and the concept of private property in commercial society that exists in the absence of universal consent. The capitalist social order does not stand in a persuasive relation to political justice and mutual trust between members of such societies. Dunn emphasizes that political trust relies on high levels of tolerance, the origins of which are difficult to identify and are not effectively produced by political doctrines of citizen duty or well-defined institutional or legal schemes.

Bee Yun takes up the theme of nature and politics to demonstrate an emphasis in the medieval period on the unnaturalness of politics and its role as a mechanism to elevate the ecclesiastical authority over the political one. He identifies in Ptolemy of Lucca a generalizable medieval trend of a distrust in politics based on the overarching concern for salvation history and thus the notion that political institutions could not bring about (on their own) the end of happiness understood as salvation. Setting out Machiavelli’s thought as presenting an alternative conception to the Hobbesian polarity between natural distrust and political trust, Erica Benner uncovers the polemical content of Machiavelli’s familiar “Machiavellian” passages. The analysis reveals Machiavelli to have been as critical of citizens trusting without good reason as he opposed founding political trust on mutual fear (the Hobbesian motivation). Rather, the fundamental source for political trust lay in the fairness guaranteed by republican institutions moderate in outlook and strict in enforcement. Given the limitations to the benevolence of human nature, trust (or faith) was risk, to be undertaken politically only within the institutional framework of laws and government.

Emphasizing the role of classical antiquity and Roman law in Grotius’s political oeuvre, Hans Blom identifies fides as a mediating concept between self-interest and close friendships on the one hand and a cosmopolitan natural law and sociability on the other hand. For the young Grotius, trust was the trustworthiness of an autonomous agent. It represented the internal aspect of peaceful social interactions in a stable political community of which rights represented the external aspect. Hence, trust was the foundation of justice—fidem esse fundamentum iustitiae. Harking back to the comparison between Machiavelli and Hobbes introduced by Benner and the Grotian appropriation of Roman fides introduced by Blom, Peter Schröder emphasizes in his contribution on Hobbes and Locke the double meaning of fides as the keeping of faith and as coercive dependence—fidem observandam esse. While Locke aligned the natural and political conditions by seeing the people as the agents as well as the judges of trust (and hence supported the right of resistance), Hobbes shared with Machiavelli a pessimistic view of human nature. The state of nature was not the place for trust. However, Hobbes’s anti-Machiavellian move consisted in reserving a place for trust (and justice) as the foundation of civil society: political institutions provided the space for the citizens’ reasonable trust in the keeping of agreements. If Benner sees political trust in Machiavelli more than Hobbes, Schröder sees political trust in Hobbes more than Machiavelli. Taking up the double meaning of fides, Eva Odzuck stresses the relevance of trust as regards sovereignty by acquisition, besides sovereignty by institution. She goes on to determine that trust in Hobbes’s political philosophy represented a tool to advise rulers regarding the beneficial nature of appearing trustworthy.

The subsequent contributions move the focus from trust to happiness and from a primarily theoretical perspective to a practical-political contextualization. Thus, Gábor Gángó compares Leibniz’s systematic jurisprudence with contemporary Polish politics. He shows that the practical moment of the Polish royal election impacted Leibniz’s theory to the extent that Leibniz was led to identify security as the foundation of happiness in a political context. In a similar methodical vein, Adriana Luna-Fabritius considers Italian political thought during the first half of the eighteenth century in relation especially to contemporary Neapolitan politics. She sets out a teleological narrative in which conceptualizations of happiness contributed to the process of the secularization of political thought and subsequently the rise of the commercial era. Hence, in the face of the interests of the Spanish monarch, the pope, and the Jesuit Scholastics, and on account of developments in the natural sciences, thinkers such as Di Capua and Vico detached the political nature of man and the content of political happiness from Scholastic conceptions as well as from church authority, thereby producing a political emphasis on rights and the defense of property.

Moving to the early nineteenth-century and Russian political thought, Vladimir Rhyzhkov highlights the connection of trust and happiness in the work of Karamzin. Karamzin constructed a defense of absolute rule by arguing that the happiness or tranquility of the ruler coincided with that of the citizenry—more precisely, the educated nobility—because to lead a peaceful life the two sides were dependent on each other. As a corollary of this perspective, resistance to the established order was inherently unreasonable; still, the public sphere was to be protected rather than suppressed. Moreover, Karamzin’s thought involved a religiously inspired trust between government and society in that divine providence used government as a tool to improve society. By regarding trust and happiness as psychological more than political terms, Niall Bond identifies a contrast between the two concepts in the work of Tönnies. As part of a critique of utilitarian ideas and influenced by Nietzsche, Tönnies regards happiness or Glück as an undesirable end of politics and a modern phenomenon because it leads to self-imposed servitude and in the capitalist configuration ultimately opposes virtue, freedom, and human individuality.

Moving the discussion to the early twentieth century and the notion of parliamentary trust in government, Kálmán Pócza considers the exchange between the Hungarian politicians Gyula Andrássy the Younger and István Tisza (and the legal scholars Gyózó Concha and Albert Deák) on legal and conventional interpretations of trust and royal prerogative in the British and Hungarian political crises during the first two decades of the century. Their misconstruction and instrumentalization of the matter demonstrates how trust based on convention was unable to respond to constitutional crises because these are times when the political acceptance of the convention is disputed. In effect, the attitudes and actions of the British and Hungarian monarchs regarding their own royal prerogatives were more determinative of the outcome of constitutional crises than the institutional framework they acted in.

Part 1 thus concludes with a contribution that in a smooth transition leads to Part 2, “Trust as a Function of Political Negotiation,” which consists of five essays. In his analysis of the reception of Machiavelli in the sixteenth-century Dutch revolt, Alberto Clerici examines a range of authors who participated in the discussion whether fides was owed to the Dutch as iusti hostes or “just enemies,” seeing that they were considered to be both rebels and heretics, criminals and sinners. Thus, as part of a critique of Machiavelli and in response to Balthasar Ayala’s assertion of the rebels’ illegitimacy as iniusti hostes, Molanus defended trust in his De fide of 1582, that is, the keeping of promises with rebels, based on his pragmatic interest in peace in the uncertain political and religious climate of his own time. Complementing Clerici’s examination of the Dutch revolt, Hannes Ziegler argues that political actors in the Holy Roman Empire transformed the legal question of fides towards heretics into a polemical confessional issue, e.g. by deliberately misconstruing the Jesuit position to be able to claim Catholic unfaithfulness, and into a tool that could be used for a number of political projects such as demands for the further safeguarding of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 or the formation of the Protestant Union in 1608. Ralf-Peter Fuchs surveys the reception of the debate among political practitioners during the Thirty Years’ War. These practitioners, among them the elector of Saxony John George I, sought to ensure political trust and thus peaceful coexistence in the fraught situation of confessional divide. The lack of legal trust (towards heretics) thus diverged from the political trust in the empire as a political system. The empire produced trust by setting 1624 as a restitution date for territorial jurisdictions that the Catholic and Protestant partners had negotiated themselves.

Cesare Cuttica sets out alternatives in seventeenth-century England to Locke’s redefinition of trust as the impersonal power that the ruled offer the ruler by means of contractual consent. Besides portraying the (patriotic) ministers of parliament’s opposition to the (patriarchal) absolutist case by demanding that the king act transparently and with legal guarantees as well as citing the criticisms concerning the Jesuit allegiance to the pope and alleged support for tyrannicide, Cuttica particularly highlights that early modern English political thought emphasized trust in a monarch as the means to achieve social and political harmony, as opposed to trust in a malleable popular government. Trust is conceived in opposition to the perception of foreign rule in Sara Lagi’s examination of Adolf Fischhof and the late nineteenth-century Habsburg monarchy. Thus, Fischhof construed trust as the consequence of turning subjects into citizens by way of federal institutions and the establishment of rights and civil liberties. The multiplicity of nationalities and languages in Austria could produce a political unity by establishing trust—an alternative to the concept of the nation-state.

The four final essays of the volume make up Part 3, “Trust and the Culture of Political Behavior.” Centering on practical how-to manuals in ancient Greece rather than works of abstract political philosophy, Steve Johnstone demonstrates how trust or pistis functioned as a political concept that allowed the respective authors to characterize a problem rather than a solution, a means rather than an end. Theognis, Aineias, Thucydides, and Aristotle articulated pistis as a means for the pragmatic purpose of navigating one’s way as a citizen in whatever regime might be in place, thus constituting an implicit contrast to the concept of happiness. The presumed dominance of (pre-modern) obedience serves as Petra Schulte’s starting point for her examination of trust in fifteenth-century Burgundy. Particularly her examination of Guillaume Fillastre’s Livres de la Thoison d’or of 1472/3 leads her to deconstruct the opposition between obedience and trust in hierarchical political relationships. With reference to Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, the voluntary obedience based on experience represented the trust of the subjects and demonstrates the significance of the concept (see also figure 19.1). Taking a closer look at the invocation of fraternité in the French Revolution, Adrian O’Connor examines how the emotional bond of civic sentiment supported the fragility and conflicts in representative and participatory politics. Fraternity was a means to articulate political relations as voluntary relations in practical institutional settings. In this way, fraternity expressed the sentimental citizenship able to produce unity out of an aggregate of individuals in the “unsocial sociability” of commercial society. Trust as a stabilizing force in social life and as a mutable concept with its own history forms the basis of Alexey Tikhominov’s analysis of the Soviet Union. Representing the equivalent of religion in the pre-modern period, the personification of trust in the image of the leaders, living embodiments of the New Man, produced trust in the Soviet order. This faith was mirrored by the Soviet state’s seeking to gain the citizens’ trust. In this sense, Tikhominov’s mode of examination complements the preceding contributions in that he considers a kind of involuntary or forced trust.

The contributors provide an illuminating set of historical examinations dealing with political trust and happiness. Particularly regarding the first concept, this endeavor has proven very fruitful. The legacy of the two concepts, for this reader at least, lies in the fact that their historical mutability was in many ways founded on the pragmatic uses to which they were put. Far from inviting arbitrariness or representing merely a source for stabilizing social ties, trust was a potent instrument throughout the history of European political thought to adjudicate intellectual and practical conflict, and it represented a complement or an alternative to, or indeed a replacement for the lack of a political authority. To this extent the subdivision of the volume into three parts must not be regarded as a rigid structure, and this suggests the editors succeeded in their aim: to talk of political trust and happiness requires questioning any alleged originality and it requires engagement with the specific contexts in which the terms were and are deployed. The volume will appeal to specialists as well as a more general readership, especially those interested in the early modern period. Readers seeking to find out about the Jesuits’ role in all of this will learn much about how their political opponents across early modern Europe attacked the positions they were considered to hold, notably in Italy (Luna-Fabritius), the Holy Roman Empire (Ziegler), and England (Cuttica). However, in order to study the Jesuits’ own articulations of trust and happiness one has to look elsewhere. An excellent choice for that enterprise would be Harro Höpfl’s Jesuit Political Thought, c.1540–1630 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), mainly chapters 7 on fides, 12 on felicitas and the common good, 13 on tyrannicide, and 14 on the papal authority in politics. As a final point, it is worth mentioning that the individual contributions usefully indicate where relevant arguments in other chapters are located—a positive aspect that distinguishes this edited volume.


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