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«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»

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Yet, as Julie Stone Peters has demonstrated, Grotius’ framework for international law is complicated by a foundational dualism that Mather tries to suppress (as we will see below, this suppression brings Mather closer to a Hobbesian concept of the state of nature than a Grotian one). On the one hand, Grotius regards international space as a lawless chaos of violence; on the other, it is a space “where there is an absolute right to free commerce[, which, it turns out, is one of the basic laws of nature [because i]t is essential to a human sociability founded in the fundamental law of collective self-protection” (Peters 285; see also Grotius 199-200).121 Seen in this light, Dustan’s actions may well be just, but they are hardly to be regarded (as they are by Mather) as normative, let alone ideal. Indeed, in the introduction to The Law of War and Peace, Grotius states that the object of his work is to provide a “remedy” for the unfortunately prevalent view that “either … nothing is allowable, or that everything is” (20). This “remedy” depends, however, on the mutual recognition of shared humanity, something which neither Mather nor Rowlandson proves willing to grant the Native Americans.

Strikingly, however, family and kin turn out to be equally central to the commercial vision of international relations, as I show in my examination of Mather and Rowlandson’s New French counterpart, Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Radisson was held captive by the Iroquois for upwards of a year during his youth, but where Rowlandson refuses relations with her captors, Radisson accepts them. In Radisson’s account of this captivity, and those of his later trading expeditions, we see the consequences of this Peters’ article, “A ‘Bridge over Chaos,’” provides an excellent account of Grotius’ position vis-à-vis his contemporaries, particularly John Milton, and his role in formulating many of the basic tenets of modern political theory.

acceptance: a concept of kinship radically extended to include transnational relations, even as this extension forces a painful and often violent reckoning with the limits that distinct customs place on the possibility for such associations. This extension is based not merely on the metaphorical, or “fictive,” kinship that enabled earlier settler-explorers such as Samuel de Champlain and John Smith to negotiate their relationships with various native groups; instead, it draws upon Radisson’s quite literal acceptance of his role in his adoptive families.122 Indeed, Radisson, by using his ability to adopt different ritual practices to successful international commercial alliances, makes the fact that “custom” can also refer to “business patronage or support” seem like something more than a mere etymological accident (Oxford English Dictionary Online, definition 5).

Ultimately, Radisson shows the Hobbesian state of nature to be the intellectual construct that it is, rather than the historical truth it sometimes purports to be, and develops an international ethics based upon the recognition and negotiation of distinct cultural practices. Radisson, then, is a living embodiment of all that his Anglo-Puritan counterparts fear, and yet he, too, participates in the shift to a literal conception of the family, abstracting basic principles from his frankly commercial understanding of family that foreshadow the cosmopolitan universalism of later authors of the French and Scottish Enlightenment.

The notion of “fictive kinship” as a basis for intercultural economic exchange is fundamental to contemporary ethnographic accounts of pre-capitalist societies. As David Gaunt notes, however, such kinship is better understood as “voluntary” rather than “fictive,” since “[w]hat one culture experiences as artificial can be experienced as totally natural in another” (283).


Most conceptions of kinship, as David Gaunt notes, “stress … inequality” by “mark[ing] out a small group of persons [as] isolated from the rest of humankind” and “emphasiz[ing] the uniqueness and single origin of the[se] groups” (272). This collective identification goes hand-in-hand with a system of shared social obligations, the performance of which serves to ratify one’s position within a given kin group. As such, kinship would seem to be naturally and fundamentally opposed to the state of nature, which Hobbes—who likewise drew upon Grotius’ work in his development of this concept—tells us is a condition “consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man” and thus “there is no place for Industry; … no Culture of the Earth;

… no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society” (89). Captivity, Edward Griffin implies, is a perfect example of such a state, since “in captivity there is no security because the captor is bound by no law, no agreed upon principle of behavior” (46). By portraying the captivity of a European-American as the subjection of a member of a modern state to the state of nature Mather and Rowlandson are able to present Puritan society as a bulwark of order against the irrational and unchristian Native Americans, thereby obscuring the reciprocal threat their society presented to Native American ones.

Yet, Mather himself posits a radically different relationship between family and the state of nature than does Hobbes—unsurprisingly, given his radically differing aims.123 For his part, Hobbes admits that, while “[i]t may peradventure be [that] there was never such Hobbes’ project is a fundamentally secular one, producing, as Angelo Campodonico notes, “a ‘lowering’ of man’s position in the cosmos” that would be totally unacceptable to Mather (115).

a time, nor condition of warre as [in the state of nature,] there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all” (89). He thus distinguishes between “the government of small Families,” which is part of the state of nature, and all other forms of socio-political association. This directly opposes Mather’s insistence on “Family Government” as the key to resisting a rising tide of “Indianization” (Decennium luctuousum 212). As Teresa Toulouse notes, it is from “Family Government” that “[a]ll other [Puritan] social institutions follow” (“Sovereignty” 936), a conception that flips Hobbes’ notion of family on its head.

Hobbes’ statement might seem to allow for such a reformulation, however, since he himself equivocates about whether or not the state of nature is an actual state in which people live or merely a theoretical construct. Such equivocation appears strange given Hobbes’ insistence elsewhere in Leviathan on the relationship between lucid writing and lucid thought (25-6), but it makes sense if we consider the spatial and temporal confusion produced by his description of the state of nature.124 Given that one of Hobbes’ principal points is that a political state is not so much a location as a system for organizing relations between people, it is unsurprising that he would produce such a vague description, which places the state of nature everywhere and nowhere all at once. Even his apparent precision in naming America as the location of the state of nature furthers Machiel Karskens’ reading of Hobbes suggests that contradiction is in fact a characteristic attribute of the state of nature, and a key element of its unattractiveness, inasmuch as “Hobbes assumes that nobody will want to tolerate the contradictions arising from the state of nature” (51).

such a reading since the lack of precise information about America available to Hobbes and his contemporaries made it fertile ground for their utopian imaginings. The temporal confusion of his statement is still more problematic: there “peradventure … was never” any state of nature, but there is “now”? Such a phrasing effectively precludes any possibility for a continuous historical narrative of the development of human political institutions, casting the state of nature as a timeless anti-ideal, capable of disrupting civil order at any given moment. But why would one want to conceive such an ahistorical, decontextualized state?

Precisely because of the fear of custom itself. Hobbes is well aware of custom’s power:

much like Michel de Montaigne, he grants that custom operates in a fashion that overtakes reason, stating that “Ignorance of the causes, and originall constitution of Right, Equity, Law, and Justice, disposeth a man to make Custome and Example the rule of his actions; in such manner, as to think that Unjust which it hath been the custome to punish” (73). As this statement makes clear, however, Hobbes, unlike Montaigne, believes it possible to distinguish reason-based laws from customs. The concept of the state of nature is, for him, part of the project of reforming European political theory by using logic and reason to counteract the pernicious effects of historical example and legal precedent; it effectively wipes the slate clean so that Hobbes can work his way back up from the basic principles of natural law to a rationalist theory of political association centered around the contract between a sovereign and his subjects.

For Mather, too, the state of nature serves as a means of evading precedent, albeit for rather different ends than Hobbes’. Mather’s account of Dustan’s captivity was published three times during his lifetime: in 1697, as part of Humiliations follow’d by Deliverances, which casts New England’s recent “humiliations” as “an hopeful symptom of our deliverance from calamity” ([a1]); in 1699, as part of his Decennium luctuosum, or “sorrowful decade,” an account of the years, 1688-1698, that encompassed King William’s War, during which New England was frequently raided by Native Americans;

and finally, in 1702, as part of Magnalia Christi Americana, his theological history of the Puritan colonies of New England. What these three works share is an erasure of any history of positive intercultural relations between the Puritans and the Native Americans and an insistence on the typological significance of the events related by Mather. Indeed, one might say that Mather doesn’t merely erase this shared history, but refuses it, much as he refuses any possibility for relations with the Native Americans.125 By grounding his defense of Dustan’s actions in a simultaneous appeal to the concept of the state of nature and to the biblical authority provided by the precedent of Jael, Mather carries out the doubly-articulated rhetorical maneuver that fuels this refusal of relations.

The first step is to deny any shared history with the natives by insisting upon the absence of laws regulating the interaction of these two groups, thereby removing any possible ground for the Native American raid on Dustan’s home. The second is to reinscribe that The title of his Epistle to the Christian Indians, giving them a short account, of what the English desire them to know and to do in order to their happiness, published in 1700, might seem to suggest that Mather was capable of a more conciliatory approach to the Native Americans. However, the condescending, even demeaning tone of this work—Mather goes so far as to compare the natives to snakes in their relation to the English—quickly removes any such illusion.

emptied out space by calling upon another order of precedent to explain and justify her actions. Nicholas Noyes’s introductory poem to Mather’s Magnalia relies on a similar logic, asserting that the history of the Native Americans “smother’d in everlasting silence lies” (1.19), while it lauds Mather’s role as the scribe of the New Englanders. To remotivate one of Montaigne’s linguistic metaphors in light of Noyes’ praise, we might say that Mather scrapes clean the parchment of history with one hand, while filling in the blanks with the other.

Mather’s usage, then, breaks with Hobbes’ intent, since he merely replaces historical and legal precedent with biblical precedent, or one kind of custom with another. Despite Hobbes’ qualms about custom, however, Mather’s use of precedent is hardly mechanical and unthinking. It is striking how in Mather’s writing—and in Puritan writing in general—biblical precedent operates like English Common Law, in which the interpretation of textualized accounts of earlier incidents serves as the central mechanism of legal reasoning.126 Ultimately, the reading of contemporary events through a typological frame serves a similar function to Common Law, offering set principles to guide one’s understanding while allowing a modicum of flexibility in responding to a changing world.

This last commonality helps to explain the insistent metonymy of Mather’s writings.

Mather’s metonymic play depends upon this constant shifting between seemingly As Lisa Gordis notes in Opening Scripture, Richard Hooker, the preeminent Elizabethan jurist, took issue with both the literalism and the textualism of the Puritans, particularly “their insistence that man was ‘bound … to deduce all his actions out of scripture’” (115, citing Hooker Laws of Ecclesiasticall Politie 2.97).

opposed frames of reference, a phenomenon that Sacvan Bercovitch identifies, in The American Jeremiad, as the “rhetoric of ambiguity” (82). One of the key features of this rhetoric, as Teresa Toulouse notes, is that it “keep[s] believers insecure about what [i]s demanded of them … on interlinked personal/social levels” (“Rhetoric” 25). Thus, the rhetoric of ambiguity serves as a form of ethical compulsion similar to legal discourse. In other words, Mather shifts between this series of frames—spiritual/temporal, biblical/secular, familial/national, etc.—precisely because it enables him to establish the global importance of seemingly local events, and to thereby establish the proper behavioral boundaries for members of his community.

As Toulouse further notes, Bercovitch’s understanding of the rhetoric of ambiguity emphasizes its “capacity … to hold apparent differences together” (“Rhetoric” 47).

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