European Journal of Political Theory 20 (3):587-592 (2021)

In The Political Philosophy of Fénelon, Ryan Hanley argues that Fénelon was a realist who aimed to elevate and educate self-love—rather than resist it—in order to avoid tyranny. This roundtable article examines two of Fenelon’s arguments for how self-love, well-directed, could circumvent a king’s absolutist and tyrannical inclinations: 1) the king’s need to be loved and to love in turn, and 2) the relationship between faith and politics / church and state. Contrasting Fénelon with Machiavelli, I question whether the ruler’s “need-love” for his people leaves him susceptible to forms of domination or at least, as Machiavelli warned, renders them politically weak. Given Hanley’s interest to recover Fénelon for the present day, I conclude by arguing that the thinker’s insights about the limiting role of well-directed self-love are inescapably tied to his critiques of absolutism. The same need-love of the people, I argue, cannot similarly check executive power under democracy. Nonetheless, Fénelon’s perspective remains valuable, as does Hanley’s project of recovery, since democracies continue to reckon with particular problems raised by self-love.
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DOI 10.1177/14748851211002016
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