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SOME NOTE'S ON A RECENT INTERPRETATION OF WILLIAM OF OCKHAM'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY I 3? 1926 M. Georges de Lagarde published a work, Récherches sur l'esprit politique de la Réforme, which attracted considerable attention both for the thoroughness of its scholarship and the brilliance of its style. The author made no attempt to hide his main object; it was to question the traditional "liberal " assumption that the 16th century Reformers were the protagonists of the autonomy of the individual as against the hierarchical and corporatist conceptions of the Catholic Middle Ages. M. de Lagarde argues convincingly that the real effect of the Reformation was to replace the Church as mistress of the situation , not by the individual, but by the. State, which was now provided with its own imprescriptable religious sanction. The researches necessary in the preparation of his book had convinced M. de Lagrade that the origins of "l'état laïque", which he saw as the real power behind the Reformation upheaval , could not be explained by a study of the 16th century alone. The roots of the movement towards laïcisation were to be traced back to the 13th and 14th centuries; it was there that would be found "Ia naissance de l'esprit laïque". So began the extensive researches into later medieval thought and action which have been embodied in M. de Lagarde's still uncompleted work, La Naissance de l'esprit laïque au déclin du Moyen Age.1 It is as a part (the most important part) of his study of this huge problem that M. de Lagarde has embarked on the only fullscale examination of Ockham's political thought so far to be undertaken. The historical public has cause to be grateful for the presentation in so readable a form of the issues raised by (it has to be confessed) one of the most unreadable of thinkers. In ability to present a complex theme with the clarity and acumen so characteristic of French scholarship M. de Lagrade has lost none of his cunning; no discerning reader can fail to 1. Vol. I fBilan du XIlI""' siècle) and II (Marsile de Padoue), 1934; Vol. ?? (Secteur Social de la Scolastique) and IV (Ockham et Son Temps), 1942; Vol. V (Ockham; Bases du Depart) and VI (Ockham;- La Morale et le Droit), 1946. 335 336OCKHAM'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY be impressed with the resulting synthesis. Oddly' enough, it is perhaps this very impressiveness which gives rise to our first doubts of the validity of M. de Lagarde's interpretation. Can so complex a system of thought as that of the English Franciscan be patient of quite so clear - an explanation, however competent? How far are we justified in believing that M. de Lagarde's synthesis was Ockham's own? These are the important questions which we wish to discuss here. Ockham and Marsiglio have been cast by M. de Lagarde for the roles of principal initiators of the modern secular State, and in this work it is Ockham who, contrary to the usual opinion, plays the larger part. This is because, says Lagarde, Ockham's intellect is better able to make use of the tendencies in fourteenth-century ecclesiastical and secular society which might promote the triumph of the radical individualism which was the logical social comolement to his philosophy.2 Despite his surface moderation, the English Franciscan is the more dangerous man., for he is beaucoup plus séducteur. II enveloppe si bien toutes choses de sa dialectique savante que l'on se sent d'avance vaincu par un savoir aussi étendu, par une subtilité aussi dissolvante...Et les institutions mêmes qu'Ockham prétend respecter sont plus ébranlés par son obséquieuse insolence que par les coups de béliers francs d'un Marsile de Padoue.3 The chief vehicle of Ockham's undermining process is the régime of "corps" or "estates", "qui est la véritable réalité politique du XIVe siècle".4 This statement immediately raises doubts in our mind. Why should it be assumed that the regime of "estates" was so adapted for the spread of individualism and the downfall of...


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