Authority and Rebellion

In English political thought, from Thomas More to the American Revolution

That's the working title of my next book. The theme explored is the historical development of what constitutes legitimate political authority, and when existing authority can be overthrown. Since this is a period that began with a dynasty put on the throne in a coup, and saw a civil war and two revolutions, these questions were often at the forefront of men's minds, and they were given serious attention.

At present, my list of thinkers to address includes (updated to include recommendations from the comments):

Thomas More
William Shakespeare
Richard Hooker
George Buchanan
Charles I
John Milton
Oliver Cromwell
John Lilburne
Thomas Hobbes
Robert Filmer
Algernon Sydney
John Locke
George Berkeley
David Hume
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Paine
Edmund Burke

Who have I left off the list?


  1. I think it's an interesting topic.

    I find interesting that none of the reasons that made rebellion valid in the old days would ever be valid now. Taxes imposed on a commonly used commodity? Rising prices of bread? All of these we find happening in today's democracies, and yet none of that incites rebellion.

    I guess that we have built a particular resistance to the idea that just because authorities fail to live up to your personal standards does not mean you force a worse-off situation by undermining all authority whatsoever.

    It stands in stark contrast to the idea that we have grown more "individualistic". Our tendencies against rebellion and for submission show that we have a better understanding of the collective action problem - law and order is important for everyone, even if the current system does not satisfy everyone.

    It's also because our ancestors were shrill, impatient people, and our social evolution has allowed us to build a sense of proportion. "Imposing taxes? Arm yourselves!"

  2. "Who have I left off the list?"

    Overton and Walwyn.

    1. Overton the pamphleteer?

    2. Tom, I think I will have a Leveller chapter that includes Lilburne and these two.

  3. If you wish to expand the choice of authors to include British instead of just English political thinkers, then you might consider James VI's tutor, George Buchanan and in particular his work, "The Law of Government Among the Scots," published in 1579. According to Arthur Herman in his book, "How the Scots Invented the Modern World...," Buchanan anticipated many of Locke's ideas concerning revolution and its legitimacy. If you wish to check out what Herman said about Buchanan regarding this subject, you can do so for free at Amazon. Look at pages 18 and 19. According to Herman, Buchanan was Scotland's leading humanist. It would appear that James VI chose to not follow his tutor's teachings regarding the role of the king and revolution.


    1. Thanks! I was thinking about whether I should do "English" or British"!

  4. I would mention John of Salisbury, but he lived a few hundred years before your start date.

  5. Well, there is James VI himself who wrote, "The True Law of Free Monarchies; or, The Reciprocal and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and His Natural Subjects." It was published in 1598 and was, according to Wikipedia, supposed to be a contrasting view to the contractarian views of people like his old tutor, George Buchanan. According to Wikipedia, "It is considered remarkable for setting out the doctrine of the divine right of kings in Scotland, and latterly England, for the first time." In just James VI and George Buchanan it seems like you might have a nice summation of the theme of your new book.

  6. The post about James VI was also by Senyor. I forgot to sign it. Sorry and thank you.


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