Portrait of Algernon Sidney

Algernon Sidney on not unquestioningly “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” before checking to see if they legitimately belong to Caesar (1689)

Found in: Discourses Concerning Government

The English radical republican Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) wants us to ask “who is this Caesar” and “what legitimately belongs to him” before we give Caesar anything:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Our author (Filmer) confines the subject’s choice to acting or suffering, that is, doing what is commanded, or lying down to have his throat cut, or to see his family and country made desolate.

This he calls giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s; whereas he ought to have considered that the question is not whether that which is Caesar’s should be rendered to him, for that is to be done to all men; but who is Caesar, and what doth of right belong to him, which he no way indicates to us: so that the question remains entire, as if he had never mentioned it, unless we do in a compendious way take his word for the whole.