There reigned in this land, about 1,900 years ago, a King, whose memory of all others we most adore; not superstitiously, but as a divine instrument, though a mortal man: his name was Salomana; and we esteem him as the lawgiver of our nation. This King had a large heart, inscrutable for good; and was wholly bent to make his kingdom and people happy. He, therefore, taking into consideration how sufficient and substantive this land was, to maintain itself without any aid at all of the foreigner; being 5,000 miles in circuit, and of rare fertility of soil, in the greatest part thereof; and finding also the shipping of this country might be plentifully set on work, both by fishing and by transportations from port to port, and likewise by sailing unto some small islands that are not far from us, and are under the crown and laws of this State; and recalling into his memory the happy and flourishing estate wherein this land then was, so as it might be a thousand ways altered to the worse, but scarce any one way to the better; though nothing wanted to his noble and heroical intentions, but only (as far as human foresight might reach) to give perpetuity to that which was in his time so happily established, therefore among his other fundamental laws of this kingdom he did ordain the interdicts and prohibitions which we have touching entrance of strangers; which at that time (though it was after the calamity of America) was frequent; doubting novelties and commixture of manners.--Bacon, New Atlantis, 18-19 [emphasis added--ES]
Given our current preoccupation with the relationship between religion and science and in light of the spectacular last few pages of New Atlantis -- with its dazzling depiction and promises of human immortality and mastery of nature that captured, as is well known, the imaginations of the founders of the Royal Society --, it is easy to overlook that Bacon's "poetical and fabulous" (16)* account also has a political angle. In the quoted passage above, we are told about the legal refounding of Bensalem by the magnanimous ("large heart") King Salomana. (We had already learned about a much earlier merciful King, "Altabin, a wise man and a great warrior," (16) but whose wisdom apparently did not extend to political and legal affairs.) King Salomana's fundamental constitutional reforms are -- and there are for all the nods to Plato in Bacon's text, distinct echoes of Aristotle and Cicero -- aimed at giving "perpetuity" to the island's legal order.
But we should not automatically endorse the judgment of the "governor of this house of strangers." For, while he is personally interested in the island's history (he has looked at its "ancient records," (20)) it is by no means obvious that he has reflected on political theory and that he knows all that one needs to know about his own island, where laws of secrecy abound. For, the governor is a civil servant, tasked with administering the "house of strangers," which is a kind of richly endowed visitor center that doubles as medical hospital and informal prison/information-gathering center. Even though he is a civil servant, he also reveals that he is "a Christian priest." That the governor is a Christian priest has a two-fold significance that is not remarked upon within the text.
First, one wonders to what degree the whole political order of Bensalem is theocratic. Do all the officers of the state double as priests or is this an isolated example? Second, despite the very clear rules against newcomers and their ideas, a non-standard version of Christianity was introduced with some spectacular miracles on the island a few centuries after King Solomana's demise.+ These miracles were interpreted and approved by a member of the House of Salomon. What we don't learn is if this innovation is meant to signal the completion/perfection of Salomana's constitutional order or its demise. (Not unlike Lincoln at Gettysburg and Spinoza in the TTP, Bacon would have been able to reflect on the example of Ezra as re-founder of Israel.***)
Frustratingly, Bacon tells us very little about the political order on the island. While it is tempting to see in the House of Salomon as a kind of imperium in imperio on Bensalem, here I want to conclude by calling attention other non-trivial details that might be thought of as a conterveiling tendency. As the passage quoted at the top of this post reveals, it appears that the present King has a legally sanctioned prerogative rule over the islands surrounding Bensalem (recall "the crown and laws"). So, such royal crown lands must give the King considerable means to maintain his (her?) authority over Bensalem. And, in fact, it turns out upon closer inspection, that despite the aversion to foreign commerce and in a reversal from More's "feigned commonwealth" ((28), that is, Utopia) property plays a key role in maintaining authority and the stability in civil unions on the island such that the "reverence and obedience" the people of Bensalem are said to "give to the order of nature" (22) is aided, if not reinforced, by the legal order of the island. To explain what I mean, I'll turn to the so-called 'feast of the family' before long.
*This is how the "governor" refers to Plato's Timaeus.
** There is also textual evidence that the House of Salomon appears to think of itself as capable of manufacturing the very apparent miracles that it is supposed to vouchsafe.
***This allusion is, in fact, developed in the narrative. For, prior to the introduction of Christianity, Bensalem was a multi-ethnic society, including Jews, descending "by another son, whom they call Nachoran" from Abraham (26). These Jews have their own tradition about the political order of Bensalem, in which Moses is the "secret" legal founder of the island. (26)
+ I have partially defended the legitimacy of (mitigated) Straussian readings here.