"Following the Way Which Is Called Heresy": Milton and the Heretical Imperative

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In his prose writings, Milton produces a reinvention of the concept of heresy, and subsequently a theological reinvention of the nature of English society. He envisions a Protestant society united by practices of individual piety and by the 'heretical imperative' of autonomous choice. While Milton's account seeks to eliminate the possibilities of religious violence and state persecution, it leads finally to the same impasse as the Lockean theory: the grounding of a right to toleration on subjective piety necessarily excludes those groups who refuse to practice such piety. Nevertheless, Milton's unique depiction of a society united by practices of heresy ultimately points toward modernity in a way that is even more remarkably prescient than Locke's influential theory of toleration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-393
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the History of Ideas
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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