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The Problematic Role of Milton?s Virtue and His Indebtedness to Vice
Unformatted Document Text:  The Problematic Role of Milton’s Virtue: A Discussion of His Indebtedness to Vice Julianne Romanello Baylor University Among seventeenth century political thinkers, John Milton stands out as the champion of individual responsibility and personal virtue. During the time of the English Revolution, John Milton argued against government institutions whose practices limited the ability of the people to exercise their capacity for virtue. He claimed that the arbitrary rule of the king and the tyrannical rule of the Long Parliament could not be tolerated in a civilized society precisely because of their negative impact on man’s “fidelity and ripeness.” While he began as one of the leading proponents of the English Civil War, in the end he became one of its main critics. He supported the overthrow of the king and the subsequent thrust toward republicanism. However, when the “republican” leaders abandoned their commitment to virtue, Milton criticized them as well. The course of events that began in the early 1640s and lasted until the late 1660s inspired Milton to write many tracts that discussed (either directly or indirectly) the nature of a good regime. The common theme throughout these works is that the pursuit of virtue should be of utmost concern to the rulers as well as to the general citizenry. His emphasis is on a liberty founded in truth and reason; if England would embrace these principles, it could achieve the glory of the Roman Republic, which Milton so greatly admired. In fact, England could surpass that glory because it had the advantage of Christianity. Milton’s notion of the rule of virtue is very appealing for several reasons. By definition, virtue is the pursuit of worthy ends and ideals. Virtue in a person elicits rationality, truth, and intelligence. Virtue allows men to rule themselves in a free and dignified manner. A nation founded on these things is certainly preferable to all lesser alternatives. However, there is one complication. Milton’s notion of virtue is contingent upon the presence of evil. Indeed, for

Authors: Romanello, Julianne.
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The Problematic Role of Milton’s Virtue: A Discussion of His Indebtedness to Vice
Julianne Romanello
Baylor University
Among seventeenth century political thinkers, John Milton stands out as the champion of
individual responsibility and personal virtue. During the time of the English Revolution, John
Milton argued against government institutions whose practices limited the ability of the people to
exercise their capacity for virtue. He claimed that the arbitrary rule of the king and the tyrannical
rule of the Long Parliament could not be tolerated in a civilized society precisely because of their
negative impact on man’s “fidelity and ripeness.” While he began as one of the leading
proponents of the English Civil War, in the end he became one of its main critics. He supported
the overthrow of the king and the subsequent thrust toward republicanism. However, when the
“republican” leaders abandoned their commitment to virtue, Milton criticized them as well. The
course of events that began in the early 1640s and lasted until the late 1660s inspired Milton to
write many tracts that discussed (either directly or indirectly) the nature of a good regime. The
common theme throughout these works is that the pursuit of virtue should be of utmost concern
to the rulers as well as to the general citizenry. His emphasis is on a liberty founded in truth and
reason; if England would embrace these principles, it could achieve the glory of the Roman
Republic, which Milton so greatly admired. In fact, England could surpass that glory because it
had the advantage of Christianity.
Milton’s notion of the rule of virtue is very appealing for several reasons. By definition,
virtue is the pursuit of worthy ends and ideals. Virtue in a person elicits rationality, truth, and
intelligence. Virtue allows men to rule themselves in a free and dignified manner. A nation
founded on these things is certainly preferable to all lesser alternatives. However, there is one
complication. Milton’s notion of virtue is contingent upon the presence of evil. Indeed, for


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