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Mare Clausum, Leviathan, and Oceana: Bible Criticism, Secularisation and Imperialism in Seventeenth-Century English Political and Legal Thought

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Chapter Summary

From the fourth to the seventeenth century Christian theology underpinned all aspects of thought in the West, from the natural sciences to international law. A reaffirmation of the old orthodoxy, the victory of a new one, or the co-existence of several exclusivist theologico-political ideologies were unsustainable options. This chapter models secularisation as a cumulative and incomplete historical process, contingent to the West, and often the unintended consequence of limited politique designs for stability and peace. It shows the presence and importance of systematic exegetical attempts to neutralise the Bible in seventeenth-century English political and legal writings. The striking idiosyncrasies of Bible interpretations in Selden's account of the origin of private property in Mare clausum, Hobbes' unum necessarium in Leviathan, and popular sovereignty, church-state relations and imperialism in Harrington's Oceana, were explained in terms of the authors' secularising and irenicist intentions, and connections between these works' secularising exegeses were noted.

Keywords: Christian theology; Harrington's Oceana; Hobbes' unum necessarium; international law; Leviathan; Mare clausum; secularising exegeses; seventeenth-century English legal writing; seventeenth-century English political writing; theologico-political ideologies



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