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A Leviathan With Two Heads: The Problem With Hybrid Monarchies From Cicero to England and France

Abraham Bosse's famous cover of Hobbes' Leviathan, depicting the monarch as the head of the body, the collective body being the commonwealth.

The Issue of the Leviathan With Two Heads

Within Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes adopts an anatomical approach in describing the commonwealth. Together, the people, ruler, and institutions comprise an aritificial person he refers to as a "leviathan." The sovereign is the head of the leviathan as it controls the body—enforcers such as governors are limbs as they extend and enact the sovereign's will, social institutions are systems in the body, and so on.

It is within this approach that Hobbes situates his advocacy for monarchy rather than a republic or democracy. The latter two, according to him, are akin to having multiple heads on a leviathan. Because multiple parties are ruling—each with different interests—he argues that they will bicker and split the leviathan. Furthermore, each will prioritize the interests of their party before that of the entire populace. Hobbes proposes monarchy as a solution to this. As the monarch has no party save for the population itself, its interests lie with them. Furthermore, as there is only one ruling entity, indecision and factious conflict will not occur.

A hybrid monarchy involving a monarch and a legislative body with equal or comparative power, however, still encounters this power struggle between the two "heads."

A bust of Cicero.

Hobbes' Warning Seen From Cicero to England and France

Having been a firsthand witness to the ascension of Julius Caesar, the transition from a republic to a dictatorship provoked a power struggle between the senate and Caesar—one emblematic of the later struggles between monarchs and parliament. Now a senator, Cicero saw Caesar’s initial ascension via his alliance—the First Triumvirate—as a threat to Roman democracy, declining to join in spite of Caesar’s invitation. From that point on, Cicero endeavored to alienate Caesar’s allies from one another and criticized Caesar, but did so to little avail. Eventually, facing pressure to do so, Cicero succumbed and joined the alliance. Following the civil war that established Caesar’s dictatorship (with Cicero opposing Caesar), Cicero reluctantly returned to the senate under pardon from Caesar. To Cicero, Caesar’s unlimited jurisdiction undermined the power of the senate and thus democracy. To Caesar, the senate was often an antagonist to exacting his will.

Though not directly involved in Caesar’s later assassination, Cicero expressed his support, which in turn deteriorated his relationship with Mark Antony, Julius’ successor. Like his relationship with Julius, Cicero continued his history of antagonization. He would often deliver scathing critiques of Antony to the public, eventually convincing the senate to declare Antony an enemy of the state. Finally, Antony responded by listing Cicero as an enemy of the Triumvirate, resulting in Cicero’s assassination (Balsdon and Ferguson).

Over a millennium later, the struggles between monarch and legislative body experienced by Cicero had become a recurring theme in the hybrid governments of Early Modern Europe (discussed in week six of HIST 139). Most notably, the antagonistic relationship between the monarchs of France and parlement resembled that of Cicero and Caesar/Antony. Throughout the reign of Louis XIV, parlement and the monarch were at odds due to competing policy interests, resulting in conflicts such as the Fronde, a violent revolt. Exhausting France’s finances via continuous war like his predecessors, King Louis XV turned to increased taxation as a means of replenishment. Parlement, however, opposed every single attempt made by the king to do so. Following a series of hostile exchanges, Louis XV dissolved parlement, resulting in a sharp rise in anonymous criticisms against him (Wiesner-Hanks, p. 329-32).

Similarly, the relationship between Parliament and monarch in the reigns of England’s James VI and Charles I was fraught with discord. As with the French monarchs, James VI spent much of his country’s finances. Additionally, to raise funds, he would often attempt to circumvent Parliament, angering them. His career was marred with opposition to the Parliament, at one point illegitimately removing a page from Parliament’s Book of Commons to nullify their decision. His successor, Charles I, went as far as to attempt the arrest of five members of Parliament, with his career ending in civil war.