Archive Authors Civic Polity E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism

Hemmingsen on the End of Political Life

In his On the Law of Nature (from which I’ve quoted several times previously), Niels Hemmingsen identifies the end, or goal, of political life (not “politics” in the crass sense in which we use the term today, but in the sense of communal life together in a commonwealth). He finds that justice, harmony, and God as the ultimate end of human society are the important things.

To achieve this thoroughly classical goal, Hemmingsen calls on the same classical cardinal virtues he had identified as important in individual and familial life: prudence, temperance, justice, and courage, and uses Plato as his authority for how these relate to one another. Prudence, or practical wisdom, is in command, and the rest of the virtues are to obey her.

The end of political life is a calm and peaceful state of polities through political actions, all of which ought to be referred to this, that a just harmony of political order be maintained, with proportionate justice [iure analogo] preserved among men, and that God be established in human society as the ultimate end of human society. One must watch out, therefore, lest political actions wander away from this end of Goods. But since the reason of preserving the whole is the same as that of preserving the individual parts, insofar, indeed, as it pertains to the type of actions, the same virtues are required here as we said were required in individual men and then in individual families. For the preservation of polities, therefore, prudence, temperance, courage, and justice are required, and those in the following order, [namely,] that prudence alone command, but the rest, each in its own [p. 112] place and order, obey, as Plato teaches. (De lege naturae, pp. 111-12; the original includes to page numbers)1

  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.