By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, July 23, 2010

John Milton and Our Human Penchant for Slavery

I recently began a biography of the great English epic poet John Milton (1608-1674), pictured at left. I have not finished it and have yet to form an opinion of  the book as a whole; but I have already found something noteworthy. The biographer introduces the mindset of Milton with these words:

Milton believed that most people are natural slaves. He got this idea from Aristotle . . . . [for whom] a slave is a person whose actions serve the purposes of somebody else: a person whose own activity is alien to him, because it belongs to another. By serving the purposes of another he ceases to belong to himself--he becomes an attribute, a "property," of the other person. Serving alien purposes is unnatural, because it is human nature to pursue one's own purposes, but many, perhaps most, people are attracted to this unnatural way of life. These people would rather be slaves than be free.

Hawkes, pp. 4-5.

Now, often, we do have to serve the purposes of another--after all, that is what being employed by another means. The deeper question is rather whether this service matches our true purposes. I think that in personal relationships we can see this "slavery" more clearly. I wrote recently a July 6th post entitled "Profoundly Irrational and Exploitive" about how many females submit to the sexual purposes of males clearly using them.  This situation is an example of Milton's view that many people are attracted to slavery.  What frequently accompanies such slavery is trying to cloak or disguise the exploitation under a euphemism such as "living together" or even, in the case of some non-Christian religious people, by calling it "temporary marriage."

We see this "unnatural way of life" any time that an individual makes this fatal bargain: I will do anything to get your approval, whether it is your money or your affection or your envy. That Faustian bargain is indeed literally self-destructive. We have idolatrously submitted to the dictates of another, another who, by the way, is certainly far from divine. 

In contrast, the Gospel asks us to submit to someone who is divine and as such all wise and all good, to someone who underwent torture and death for us without first requiring us to even like him or decide to follow him, someone who wills our true, authentic good as our creator, someone who no longer calls us servants but rather "friends" (John 15:15). The Gospel is about freedom and liberation.