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English exceptionalism

In a previous entry thread, which unfortunately has gone in other directions since then, commentator Jeff Singer raises the interesting possibility that the key to the difference between American and French notions of democracy is religion. As Jeff says:

The French Revolution turned nasty quickly against the Church and against religion in general -- unmoored from faith the democratic mob was dangerous in France. In America a deeply pious people seemed to make better choices when in came time to choose our leaders and vote on legislation.

It is undeniably true that the French revolution was deeply and virulently anti-religious--hanging the last king in the entrails of the last priest, or vice versa, and all of that. The American revolution, whether or not there were deists among the founders, was not virulently anti-religious. That's got to be significant.

But another thing to be tossed into the mix is the British background of the American colonies and the long, long history of representative government in England. For the English, the idea of a House of Commons was old hat. The idea that Parliament should reign and the monarch be more or less a figurehead--whether one is a Tory and hates it or a Whig and lauds it--was not just an idea but a fait accompli in England by the late 18th century. Some hint of that figurehead role could be discerned when the last king to refuse to be a figurehead--Charles I--lost his head. And in 1714, when Parliament rejected the last of the Stuarts and brought in, all on its own recognizance and regardless of any ordinary laws of succession, the House of Hanover, the rule of the representatives rather than the monarch was a done deal. It would have been something of a joke to portray the Georges as devouring their people, with or without the collusion of the priests, and the American revolutionaries were able to make a villain out of George III only because, with the cooperation of Parliament, he was taxing the colonists and disfavoring them in trade to an extent they considered insupportable.

Again, one may hate all of this or love it, but in my opinion it had something to do with the fact that there was never a reign of terror in England and never any thought of one in America. Say what you will for those bourgeois merchants; at least they usually have little taste for mass murder.

And here I would like to say a word for the Father of the House of Commons, Simon de Montfort. De Montfort insisted on the notions of rule of law as applied to the barons in Magna Carta (under which both John Lackland and Henry III chafed), but he also inaugurated the idea of borough representatives in Parliament.

Men die, but their ideas live on. De Montfort was defeated by the young military genius, Prince Edward, at Evesham, and killed by Edward's forces on the field. Edward hated de Montfort and all his house and carried on that hatred to the next generation. But when Prince Edward became Edward I (ruthless conqueror of Wales and would-be conqueror of Scotland), he called a Parliament like the one de Montfort had conceived. It is known as the Model Parliament.

Such are the oddities of history.

Speaking for myself, I think there's a lot to be said for a representative form of government so old-established that it makes guillotines look pointless and silly.

Comments (28)

Descendants of native Americans and black slaves may have different thoughts whether there never was a regime of terror in the US. But Lydia offers some valuable consolation in her penultimate post:

Being of non-Caucasian lineage is not by itself sufficient to make it so highly unlikely that one will embrace these ideas and become a good citizen that all persons of non-Caucasian lineage should be debarred from coming to the United States and attempting to become citizens.

What a generous statement. It may be unlikely, but at least not highly unlikely. I am wondering why you just didn't say instead:

Being of non-Caucasian lineage by itself doesn't make you more or less prone to embrace these ideas and become a good citizen than being of Caucasian lineage. Period. (Though being of non-Caucasian lineage may contingently indicate that an immigrant grew up in an environment hostile to democratic values).

Sigh. Grobi, really. I refuse to answer anything so historically inane as the claim that slavery was an American "reign of terror." One can hate slavery with a perfect hatred (and I believe that I do) without making such sloppy categorizations. This is just, "Hey, let's find a clever-sounding way to say something negative about America in response to a post that says positive things about America." Don't waste my time.

As for the question about propositionalism, why don't you put that question in that thread?

I'd be a lot more interested in any _actual_ corrections to or disagreements with my historical claims in this post by people who actually know something about the history--preferably, more than I do. I'm sure I have readers like that. I'm pretty sure, just from what you've chosen to say here, that you're not one of them.

Being of non-Caucasian lineage by itself doesn't make you more or less prone to embrace these ideas and become a good citizen than being of Caucasian lineage. Period. (Though being of non-Caucasian lineage may contingently indicate that an immigrant grew up in an environment hostile to democratic values).

I really hate, hate, hate to agree with Grobi about anything, but I do like his formulation better (sans what I'm sure he means by "democratic values").

There was something approximating a Reign of Terror when the Roman Church was first ransacked and repressed. Nor were English Catholic monarchs above it when the tables were turned.

But these were actions of absolute monarchs. You're quite right, Lydia, that the British example of government by representative assembly, it's antiquity and demonstrated workability, is a wondrous inheritance of Americans.

Let's just not forget that most of those British assemblies were put in power by a very narrow electorate. Only in the 1830s would the franchise be opened to the people at all.

Let's just not forget that most of those British assemblies were put in power by a very narrow electorate. Only in the 1830s would the franchise be opened to the people at all.

Now that's a _very_ interesting observation.

Jeff, I may find time later to recopy your and Grobi's questions into a comment in the other thread. That's where I'd prefer to discuss it, if it must be discussed at all. Suffice it to say that my wording is broad enough that it could include the position expressed by Grobi's wording. It's just not so strong as to require it.

More interesting food for thought (I'm on a tear tonight -- I think it's the cheap Chilean red wine -- thank God for free trade):

1) Concerning Paul's point about the narrow electorate; this idea brings to mind Gregory Clark's magisterial economic history A Farewell to Alms in which he tries to explain the industrial revolution arising in Great Britian when it did. He argues that it was a quirk of British genetics, specifically the ability of the wealthy in Britain to have more surviving kids than other social classes that eventually enabled a critical mass of Britons to form the basis of the capitalist economy. I wonder if something similar was going on with respect to politics?

2) Concerning Americans and religion, although I don't agree with everything he has to say in his book, I do think David Gelernter made a lot of good points about how religion drenched the ideas of the early founders in his book Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. Here are a couple of sections of his essay on the same subject in Commentary that launched the idea for the book:

G. K. Chesterton called America “the nation with the soul of a church.” But Americanism is not (contrary to the views of many people who use these terms loosely) a “secular” or a “civil” religion. No mere secular ideology, no mere philosophical belief, could possibly have inspired the intensities of hatred and devotion that Americanism has. Americanism is in fact a Judeo-Christian religion; a millenarian religion; a biblical religion. Unlike England’s “official” religion, embodied in the Anglican church, America’s has been incorporated into all the Judeo-Christian religions in the nation.

If Americanism is the end-stage of political Puritanism, which in turn was the yearning to live in contact with God as a citizen of God’s new Israel, what is its creed?

The idea of an “American creed” has been around for a long time. Huntington lists its elements as “liberty, equality, democracy, individualism, human rights, the rule of law, and private property.” I prefer a different formulation: a conceptual triangle in which one fundamental fact creates two premises that create three conclusions.

The fundamental fact: the Bible is God’s word. Two premises: first, every member of the American community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community has a divine mission to all mankind. Three conclusions: every human being everywhere is entitled to freedom, equality, and democracy.

How are the creed’s three conclusions derived from the Bible? Freedom is the message of the Exodus, one of the Hebrew Bible’s great underlying themes. Bible readers believed that the Exodus story predicted the fate of nations. The literary scholar David Jeffrey names three major works that “illustrate the power of the Exodus story in the formation of American national identity”: Samuel Mather’s Figures and Types of the Old Testament (1673), Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (a history of 17th-century New England, 1702), and Jeremiah Romayne’s The American Israel (1795).

In 1777 Nicholas Street preached in East Haven, Connecticut:
The British tyrant is only acting over the same wicked and cruel part, that Pharaoh king of Egypt acted toward the children of Israel some 3,000 years ago.

The same day the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were appointed as a committee to propose a seal for the brand-new United States. Given what we know about Americanism, it is hardly surprising that they suggested an image of Israel crossing the Red Sea and Moses lit by the pillar of fire, with the motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” (The seal was never adopted, but a copy of the recommendation survives in the papers of the Continental Congress.)

Next, equality. Equality was connected with Genesis—every man is created in God’s image—and also with the powerful anti-monarchy message delivered by the prophet Samuel. Abraham Lincoln took the largest and most important step in American history toward putting this part of the creed into effect, and also gave the clearest exposition of its biblical roots. Citing the words of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln said:

"This was [the Founding Fathers’] lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity."

A near-relative of Lincoln’s argument appears in one of the first documents of colonial American history, Alexander Whitaker’s Good Newes From Virginia of 1613. Whitaker urges that the Indians be well treated; after all, “One God created us, they have reasonable soules and intellectuall faculties as well as wee; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one.”

There is also a remarkable similarity between Lincoln’s thought and a rabbinic midrash according to which a phrase in Genesis—“these are the archives of Adam’s descendants”—is the single greatest statement in the Torah. Why? Because it teaches that all men, being descended from the same ancestors, are equal in dignity.

Of the creed’s three elements, democracy might seem the least likely to be traced back to biblical sources—but Americans of past ages knew the Bible much better than we do. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, often called the “first written constitution of modern democracy,” were inspired not by democratic Athens or republican Rome or Enlightenment philosophy but by a Puritan preacher’s interpretation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible. They were drafted in May 1638, in response to a sermon by Thomas Hooker before the general assembly in Hartford.

Hooker cited the biblical passage, “Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13). This he interpreted to mean “that the choice of public magistrate belongs unto the people, by God’s own allowance. . . . The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”

Hooker’s interpretation was hardly novel or eccentric. Many preachers knew and believed the same thing. In 1780, roughly a century and a half after Hooker’s epoch-making sermon, with the Revolutionary War under way, Pastor Simeon Howard of Boston was pondering the new nation’s government. He too decided—on the basis of this same passage, and of the classical Jewish historian Josephus—that America should be a democratic republic.

Howard’s advice was as radical as it was straightforward, as avant-garde as it was Puritan, Bible-centered, and godly. “In compliance with the advice of Jethro,” he preached,

Moses chose able men, and made them rulers [over the Israelites in the desert]; but it is generally supposed that they were chosen by the people [emphasis added]. This is asserted by Josephus, and plainly intimated by Moses in his recapitulary discourse, recorded in the first chapter of Deuteronomy.

Historians have pointed out that the clergy wielded far more influence over the colonial public than a Tom Paine or John Locke did. In 1776, three-quarters of American citizens were Puritan. Puritans have long been classified as strait-laced, dour, and joyless, far from passionate revolutionaries or radical democrats. Like nearly all stereotypes, these are partly true—but they are a long way from the whole truth.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that not even a third of American journalists have “a great deal of confidence” that the American electorate makes correct choices at the polls. The Puritans thought otherwise, and so did Abraham Lincoln. The historian William Wolf cites Lincoln’s belief “that God’s will is ultimately to be known through the people.” Lincoln said: “I must trust in that Supreme Being who has never forsaken this favored land, through the instrumentality of this great and intelligent people.” What chance is there that American journalists or professors or school-teachers would describe Americans today as “this great and intelligent people”?

Not too long ago I reread Robert Heinlein's book "Starship Troopers", which holds an idea that represented a common theme for Heinlein: full citizenship, including the franchise, was neither a matter of whose parents you were born to, nor how much wealth or land you have - you have to earn the right to full citizenship. In the book the simplest method of doing so is to serve in the armed forces, but he implies there are other ways, he just does not explore them. But it appears that less-than-full citizenship did not entail any kind of slavery, it just meant that you lacked certain privileges like the franchise.

Now, I don't think that this is as simple as Heinlein makes out in the story, but then it's just a story. He can ignore the fact that a small group having the vote tends to lead to an accumulation of governmentally granted preferences and wealth in that small group. Most people like to think that their "special" group makes it right for them to have "special" privileges, but it isn't always so.

But it is interesting because in a certain sense Heinlein created a model that had some similarity with the medieval knighthood: if you submit yourself first to the training necessary, and then to the code of conduct to protect the weak and innocent, then you earned special rights. Of course it lacks another feature - that the shot at knighthood was almost completely reserved to those born to the right parents - which I am sure was intentional with Heinlein. Does anyone know why the opportunity for knighthood was reserved by birth and blood in medieval England?

In any case, the 800 year trend in England of ever-expanding the rolls of those to whom the franchise belongs is interesting. First it was just the barons, then added in the burgesses of boroughs, etc. There is an obvious benefit of including more rather than less: if you have a shot at being on the winning side of the vote, you are more likely to go along when the vote is against you. English sense of fairness comes into play, improving the ability of the government to obtain obedience from the wider community than just the winning side. But there are trade-offs as well, of course. People voting without having a least clue how a given vote does, or does not, tend to achieve their own goals, for example. I would relish a discussion of whether the franchise should be viewed as privilege to be earned, or a right due merely on account of being an adult (unless they are criminals, I suppose), and if it should be earned, should the hurdle be primarily one of knowledge or one of character or one of service (I presume it should not be based on mere wealth, but if someone wants to make that argument, I would listen.) Is the British and American trend of ever expanding the franchise one of a fundamentally directed change (i.e. a form of growth and maturation) out of necessity, or is it merely a historical accident and/or a gradual giving in to forces of chaos?


The question you seem to be asking here is: Why have the English been so tolerant toward religion, as opposed to the French, who started killing all their priests in 1789?

Unfortunately, you seem to assume that the Whig interpretation of history is correct. For instance, you assume that there is a real connection between Magna Carta in 1215 and Edward's Model Parliament of 1295, on the one hand, and a bourgeois Parliament after 1688. The connection is doubtful. There were similar representative institutions all over Europe in the Middle Ages and the early modern period: the Cortes in Spain, the Etats-Généraux in France, the Reichstag in the Holy Roman Empire, the Sejm in Poland, etc. These institutions did not always lead directly to modern parliamentary democracy or to religious toleration; the intervening history must be examined in the case of each country.

Unfortunately, you also seem to assume that England has been extraordinarily tolerant at all. The answer to your question--at least as I formulated it above--is that England's later tolerance in the 18th century, after the Revolution of 1688, rests upon an initial act of intolerance (actually, initial acts of intolerance) in the Tudor period.

The story begins when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and distributed their lands to the parliamentary class. With one stroke, he put the Church under his thumb and bought off any opposition in Parliament, making them complicit in his crime and thus unwilling to question him, especially in matters of religion. Parliament did not need to be intolerant of religion since the new state church was not going to be a locus of resistance to the king or Parliament. Parliament did not need to make an enemy of the new Anglican church since it owned much of the land that was formerly held by monasteries, and because the landed gentry held many of the benefices, particularly in rural parishes, thus controlling the church's influence in their districts. In the long run, though, Henry VIII's bribe made Parliament too rich, and future kings would rue giving up that power. The dissolution of the monasteries also was the first step in the concentration of wealth among the bourgeois that, combined with the enclosure movement of subsequent centuries, would culminate in the development of capitalism in England.

Persecution continued under the remaining Tudors--the executions of heretics under Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I are well known, and numerous. The hunting down of priests, who were forced to take refuge in priest holes, is also well known. Persecution persisted under James I after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (Guy Fawkes).

All this occurred before Parliament really became supreme. Parliament became supreme when it beheaded King Charles I in 1648. Of course, the issue that drove the Parliamentary party to regicide was religion, particularly the high-church Anglicanism of Charles I and Archbishop Laud, who was also beheaded during the Civil War. The revolutionary faction of the Long Parliament consisted of Puritans. Earlier observers, such as Richard Hooker in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, saw the Puritans as a dangerous, intolerant element in English society. A later historian, Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics, thought the Puritans could be better classified as a Gnostic sect rather than a Christian denomination. The Puritans, who established the modern supremacy of Parliament in England, were very religious, but not tolerant. Perhaps they did not kill the same number of priests and noblemen as did the Jacobins during the Terror, but the symbolic effect of murdering both the king and the archbishop of Canterbury should not be underestimated either.

After the Civil War, England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell, who was not renowned for his tolerance. He is still cursed in Ireland today for his campaign "to hell or to Connacht." It is no coincidence that it was during this period that Lord Baltimore started settling Maryland, at first primarily with Catholics fleeing persecution in England.

The image of England as a tolerant parliamentary democracy, though, is primarily a legacy of the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, immortalized in John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. The aim of the Revolution, of course, was to drive out a Catholic king, and the Act of Settlement, which is still in effect today, provided that no Catholic could succeed to the throne. After 1688 no Catholic would dare raise trouble, except on occasion during the Jacobite Risings. There was, then, no need for a general persecution of the Church in England in the 18th century, when Parliament really seized the reigns from the kings (it was not too difficult since George I and George II were more interested in the continent and had to rely on ministers to navigate English politics). Moreover, during the 18th century, religion was starting to decline in political importance in Europe. This left the English free to concentrate on commerce and overseas empire. Catholic Emancipation (and the final repeal of the Penal Laws in Ireland) only came in the 19th century, when the English as a whole were less concerned with religion. Tolerance came primarily from indifference, not from a parliamentary form of government.

The English didn't kill as many priests because they found cleaner ways to deal with them, not because a parliamentary form of government civilized them.

Stephen, I'm actually well aware of all the facts you cite, though I can see how maybe my post didn't show it. I thought of saying more about the English Civil War. I certainly would never in a million years portray Oliver Cromwell as religiously tolerant! Far, far from it. And the Irish would have something to say about that matter, too. It's an interesting question as to what we should call Cromwell's victory and dictatorship. It can't exactly be called a revolution, because it's not clear (and I suspect you'd agree) that it really had a huge amount of popular support. (Churchill's sentence, "The new model army beat the lot" comes to mind.) Nor, on the other hand, does it bear much resemblance to France's reign of terror, as you yourself acknowledge. Symbolism was very important to the English, and chopping off the king's head and confiscating the lands of the cavaliers (though that, of course, was reversed at the Restoration) was more or less sufficient for Cromwell's purposes. In any event, most of the aristocratic supporters of the king had fled to France with what of their treasure they could take to join and support the young princes and Henrietta Maria. So they weren't available for killing even if Cromwell had wanted to do it.

You are quite right that the 16th century, in particular, was not noted for its religious tolerance in England, on either side. And Puritans were persecuted too precisely because, as you note, they were seen (with some justice) as a seditious element in society.

I think my question was less about religious tolerance than about revolutionary slaughters a la France's reign of terror. England has been relatively free of them. You give your own reasons for this. But however cynically you might view the matter, I think you'll have to admit that passing laws saying that Catholics can't succeed to the throne (or teach at Oxford, etc.) is a good deal preferable to large-scale killing.

I'm still inclined to think that there is something to the view that England never considered slaughtering its aristos and its clergy because an organic system of government had gradually grown up that mitigated the extent to which the common people (does one really call them "peasants" anymore in England in the late 18th century?) could be gotten to consider themselves ground underfoot.

About the Etats-Généraux in France, was this really much like the British Parliament? My impression is that its powers were distinctly less. And, though I realize the danger of relying on Wikipedia, this sentence seems rather significant, to put it mildly: "In 1789, the States-General was summoned for the first time since 1614."

Does anyone know why the opportunity for knighthood was reserved by birth and blood in medieval England?

I don't think, Tony, that it formally was. I haven't researched it, but my impression was that if the king or prince or someone else in a position to do so tapped you formally on the shoulders under the proper circumstances, you were in. More a matter of probability: The odds of your being in those circumstances and of the king, etc., wanting to tap you were higher if you were of birth and blood. But I believe simple men-at-arms could be knighted for singular services rendered or what-not, even in the medieval period.

American slavery was not so bad. There would have been hundreds of times more slave rebellions if it had been. Also the Smithsonian sent people throughout the South in the Depression to record slave narratives from those who had been slaves and were dying out.

Of some 2000 interviews, something like 80% of the respondents said that their masters had been very or quite good to them and they had no anger or hostility towards them at all.

We have so many slave descendants today because slaves were treated humanely as valuable for their work and because most owners were paternalistic and Christian in their practice. Compare that to the West Indies, Brazil, and how Islam treated African slaves. They worked them to death, hence the need for constant replenishment.

People don't know or forget that that we had thousands of white slaves in the early colonies, too, with their children kept in slavery as were blacks. And no, that doesn't mean indentured servants, it means slaves.

"Up to one-half of all the arrivals in the American colonies were Whites slaves and they were America's first slaves. These Whites were slaves for life, long before Blacks ever were. This slavery was even hereditary. White children born to White slaves were enslaved too.

Whites were auctioned on the block with children sold and separated from their parents and wives sold and separated from their husbands. Free Black property owners strutted the streets of northern and southern American cities while White slaves were worked to death in the sugar mills of Barbados and Jamaica and the plantations of Virginia."



Here are a few scatter-shot comments in response:

1. I am not a cynic. The mere fact that I do not accept a progressive Whig view of English constitutional history does not make me a cynic. Merely pointing out obvious profit motives does not make me a cynic. Believing that greed and self-interest are the only motivating factors in history would make me a cynic, but nowhere did I indicate that I believe that. In fact, I stated that the Puritans were motivated by their religion. Moreover, in case it needed to be said, I also view the persecution of the Church as a serious wrong.

2. As a general rule, I prefer to see less bloodshed rather than more. The reason that I went into English intolerance of the Church in some detail, then, was not to suggest that the English would have been better people if they had slaughtered more innocents, but was rather to correct the impression your post gave that the English developed tolerance and parliamentary democracy at the same time, with just a minor hiccup in the Civil War when they killed their king and archbishop. My question to you, then, is: If you knew of these facts, why did you not include them in your post? Would it complicate your narrative too much?

3. When I mentioned representative bodies in other European countries, I only meant to show two things: that the existence of representative political bodies was not unique to England, and that the existence of representative political bodies did not by itself lead to democracy or to tolerance. I think the examples I gave bear me out.

4. As for representative bodies in France, while it is true that the Etats-Généraux stopped meeting regularly after 1614, they did have real power at one point, especially during the Hundred Years' War. I also should have mentioned the regional parlements in France, which retained real power until the Revolution. They were not really legislatures as we think of them, but rather more like law courts. That should not surprise us, though, since for centuries (until just the last couple years) in England the House of Lords served as the highest court in the land. What makes England unique is that, unlike other European countries where the monarchs gained power in the early modern period, in England Parliament gained power.

5. As to whether the English Civil War can be called a revolution, I certainly think it can. It does not matter at all whether a majority of the population favored the Puritans. A small vanguard is enough to carry out a revolution, as Lenin demonstrated.

The American 'revolutionaries' did receive some assistance from the French - who intervened by land and sea. Seeking allies in Europe, Franklin visited France in 1778 and received a warm welcome from the French aristocracy. The aristocrats who sympathized with American grievances were also 'students' of the political philosophy that energized the war of independence. A further consideration: There was then in French society, as there is to this day, a visceral Anglophobia.

Later, of course, the French ruling class learned by cruel instruction not to trifle with all out republicanism. What had worked out in America proved to be a calamity for the old-style European monarchies.

When I mentioned representative bodies in other European countries, I only meant to show two things: that the existence of representative political bodies was not unique to England, and that the existence of representative political bodies did not by itself lead to democracy or to tolerance. I think the examples I gave bear me out.

Stephen, I think it was pretty clear that by "representative bodies" I meant those with real power and also that if the peasants have so little political power as to be rightly called "peasants" and have the dickens taxed out of them while the other estates don't, this might be a problem.

We were, after all, talking about 1789, at which time none of this was true in England, and it had _something_ to do with their sociopolitical set-up. One interesting result was that a priest would have been safer in Protestant England during the French Revolution than in previously Catholic France. Nobody was tolerant in the late 1500's, but by the late 1700's England had come a long way even as regards its treatment of the Catholics.

My own actual position isn't that England developed parliamentary representation and religious tolerance at the same time. The parliamentary representation was a lot older than the religious tolerance. This is probably not surprising, since representation concerns (speaking very roughly) the power of majorities while religious tolerance is more often a matter of the treatment of minorities. What appears to be the case, however, is that after the English Civil War increasing gains in the actual power of parliament were co-extensive with gradual gains in religious tolerance. I'm not even saying that one caused the other, though I think some of the people pushing the "Whig view of history" were in favor of both. I think it's undeniable, though, that by the late 18th century, England's level of social stability (which I think _was_ a political matter) meant that everybody there, including priests, was safe from being slaughtered, while France's more old-fashioned set-up came down with a crash horrific to behold and exceedingly dangerous for, inter alia, the clergy who got caught up in it.

As a side note, an interesting exercise in alternative history is to wonder what would have happened if Hampden had lived and had led the Parliamentary forces to victory in the English Civil War instead of his cousin Cromwell. I think he would have had a hard time knowing what to do with the king once he got him into his hands--a very interesting parallel to de Montfort himself, who didn't know what to do with Henry III as a captive either and would never have killed him (and in fact didn't). I'm not sure what thesis this supports; perhaps just that advocates of governmental reform and limitation of monarchical power are not always as cold-blooded as Cromwell.

Alex brings up an interesting question, though he doesn't put it this way: Why is it fair for me or anyone else to connect America in its early days with the stability and history of England considering that America in its early days was far more in alliance with France, considered and treated as a friend, than with England? The question has an even sharper point to it when one moves into the early 1800's. There was England and all of Europe standing against Napoleon while we aided him by the Louisiana Purchase and increased England's troubles by declaring war against England rather than France in 1812. It even got a bit ridiculous when it came to our troubles with the various Muslim pirate states in the early 1800's. In the end we more or less needed the help of the British navy to bring all of that to a successful conclusion. Perhaps we would have done so sooner if we could have gotten over our enmity towards England sooner.

And about the only thing I can say in response to this is that, despite America's foreign affairs alliances and the silly admiration of _some_ among our founders for the French Revolution, the thought and spirit that seem to have gone into our actual set-up and governance of our own country seem a great deal more British than French. Our very enmity against England was a result of the fact that we were descended from England. All of which, I suppose, Burke has said much better and with more evidence.

Stephen/Don Colacho,

I think Lydia answers you well without my help but just as a broad point I think her post was designed to do something much simpler than present a Whig version of English/American history. Instead, I think she was trying to show the deep roots democratic ideas had in England and how those ideas were then transmitted via the colonists to America. At the end of the day, as we open up the paper and read the news from around the world, it is remarkable that the West in general, and the English-speaking Anglo world in particular, has been able to settle our political differences via politics rather than war (most of the time). Or as Lydia said in her post, "there's a lot to be said for a representative form of government so old-established that it makes guillotines look pointless and silly."

I also have one big nit to pick with your history -- this statement is just wrong:

The dissolution of the monasteries also was the first step in the concentration of wealth among the bourgeois that, combined with the enclosure movement of subsequent centuries, would culminate in the development of capitalism in England.

That was the old Marxist economic history story which has since been thrown into the garbage by careful historians who actually know a thing or two about economics. In short, there is no evidence that either church wealth or the infamous enclosures (which both were concentrated in the south and east) had much to do with the rise of the merchants and industrialists of Manchester, Liverpool, etc. They were entrepreneurs who relied on their smarts and technological innovation to power the industrial revolution -- see pages 16-18 of this paper for more:



My name is Stephen. As for the comment on the initial accumulation of capital, you may be right (I haven't had a chance to read that paper yet). I suspect, though, that the enclosures at least had an effect in forcing the rural population into industrial occupations, starting with cottage industry and then moving into factories (just an idea that would have to be researched).

In any event, my comment was really extraneous to my main argument, which is that Parliament, starting with the Reformation and certainly by the end of the Civil War, had already attained a secure enough superiority over the Church and the monarchy that it had no need to indiscriminately slaughter priests and aristocrats, as the French did. In 1789, the French Church and aristocracy was relatively well established, and so the revolutionaries needed to slaughter more people to establish their supremacy. The Jacobins ravished the whole body, while the Puritans were smarter--they just cut off the head and had done with it in one stroke.

As for Lydia's comment about well-established representative bodies making guillotines look silly, I agree that it is nice not to resort to mass executions, but the stability of government that this presupposed in England came from Parliament's suppressing the Catholic Church and keeping the Anglican Church in its place. England's later tolerance was not so much a magnanimous gesture as a sign that Parliament was so firmly in control that it could afford the luxury of lifting the oppression a little. England's tolerance was based not on a love of religion, but of not having to worry that religion would get too uppity.

As for America's ability to deal with issues through politics rather than bloodshed, we have had one savage Civil War ourselves, preceded by decades of bickering. Let's not forget that.

and keeping the Anglican Church in its place.

I don't think most English Parliaments have had much of the Cromwellian Puritan about them. That really was an outlier. There was no sense at all in which the post-English Civil War Parliament needed to "keep the Anglican Church in its place." As far as I know, the Restoration Anglican Church and the Restoration Parliament were just fine with each other. Baptists might still find themselves in prison for preaching without a license, and Catholics still couldn't do various things and were not officially tolerated (though as far as I know not persecuted in any of the horrific ways they had been during the reign of Elizabeth), but I find it hard even to give a meaning to "get uppity" as that notion might have occurred to the mind of a Restoration or later Parliament member with reference to the Anglican Church. Laud persecuted the Puritans, and there was, temporarily, talk of making the Scottish adopt the English Book of Common Prayer. That was how poor Laud brought down the wrath of the Puritan-sympathetic Parliament before the war. There was no question of that later. In fact, if you listen to neo-Puritans themselves nowadays, you'd think Restoration England was a hotbed of high church persecution of low churchmen, which is also an exaggeration.

My point is that the image of the English Parliament sitting about for a hundred and fifty years or so grimly thinking that they have the Anglican Church tamely "in its place" is fairly ludicrous. During the Protectorate it would be a good deal more true to say that Cromwell had the English Parliament "in its place." I hardly think Winston Churchill would be considered a Whig historian (far from it), but I think he would laugh at the image you're raising, Stephen.

Paul A. Rahe, author of the massive work Republics, Ancient and Modern wrote another good work Against Throne and Altar, Machiavelli and Political Theory under the English Republic. Machiavelli was an atheist; his works had influence in the formation of English pseudo-republicansim. Another was Needham Marchmont. He is the first journalist. His writings and his prodigious production was one of the major goads in the Civil Wars. He was also an atheist. John Toland and Harrington were also major influences. Yet, they were also atheists, Toland is kind of a mystery; he was a Spinozist materialist which they called "deist", in a sense a type of atheist (no transcendency).

The English civil wars were a product of levelling radical protestants who rejected their European heritage and cultural institutions for teachings from the Old Testament and the Talmud/Midrash and Atheists who made common cause. Anglicanism was still too high church, too popish. Americanism is a product of this cocktail of anti-catholic forces.

The point being is that this all leads into a community of tolerance and diversity setting up a global community. Internationalism is the product of this. Freemasonry had its effects in the English Civil wars, the American revolution and the French revolutions. It is only that the hatred of anti-clericalism was more extreme in France. The killing of Archbiship Laud is the same as the French revolution whether it is one or 20,000. The killing spree of the Russian Revolution and the Spanish civil war are a carry-over, or the common thread, that runs from Archbishop Laud on forward. The English civil wars and the so-called "Glorious Revolution" are nothing to be proud of. The English civil wars are the precursors to the greater calamaty of WWI and WWII. They were changes in civilization. It was a "revolution within the form" where European civilization was destroyed and another civilization, Modernism/Marxism, has taken over.

Uhboy. W. Lindsay Wheeler, I'm not even going to try. I'm afraid your version of events is what I would call the "Tory-on-controlled-substances" version of history.

To clarify, though: I've never said that I was proud of the English Civil War. Not by a long shot. The "Glorious Revolution" was dubiously legal, which is a problem in itself. I have sympathy for the non-juring bishops afterwards--men who believed that their word was their bond. Something to be said for that! On the other hand, the Glorious Revolution (as it's called) did have some good effects, particularly for those of us of a lower-church inclination. The people who were in favor of it usually argued afterwards for widespread tolerance to dissenters (even more widespread than William and Mary actually granted), which I do regard as a good thing.

But I'm honestly not sure I should even try to dialogue with an ideologue on your level. You make Stephen look like a moderate.


Sorry about calling you "Don Colacho" -- it was actually a homage to your website which gets linked to and/or quoted by a lot of the reactionary websites I like to hang out at.

Anyway, I think you make a good point about America's Civil War, in case those of us who like to argue for American exceptionalism (or in Lydia's case English exceptionalism) tend to get swollen heads. However, other than a few Anglosphere countries that by accidents of geography or history were able to avoid such calamities (e.g. Australia, Canada and New Zealand) I still think we come out "ahead" compared to most European governments.


No problem. I didn't mean to sound testy, if I came across that way--it just sounded like maybe you thought I called myself Don Colacho. (I didn't realize you were already familiar with my blog.)

I guess, this is the point I've been trying to make: The English-speaking world has generally been spared the bloodshed that other European countries have had to endure. There's no denying that. I would argue, though, that England became liberal sooner than other countries, and that Parliament, which became the primary "carrier" of liberalism in England, found ways to eliminate, or at least quiet, the opposition (read: Church and monarchy) in a much cleaner way. After their initial victory, they gradually converted the rest of the country to their liberal ideals, and tolerance was practicable.


What I meant with the "uppity" comment (but didn't really make clear) was that in the early modern period, we see the English Church, and then its successor the Anglican Church, gradually losing power as a separate entity, and simply becoming a branch of other groups within society, for instance, as a place for noble and wealthy families to send their sons, so that they could be appointed to cushy benefices. The shape of the Church was firmly within the control of the ruling classes.

That phenomenon was not unique to England, of course, and it also existed in the Middle Ages. But, it seems to me that there was a very fruitful tension between Church and State in the Middle Ages, and that each was able to preserve its rights. What distinguishes the early modern period is that the State started to get the upper hand over the Church. Another important difference was that the medieval Church was usually able to accommodate rich and poor alike, whereas the Anglican Church acquired a distinctly upper-crust feel to it pretty quickly. For instance, the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was able to accommodate a fairly radical group like the Franciscans (though not without some difficulties), whereas the Anglican Church could not really accommodate the Methodists or other evangelical movements, not just because of doctrinal differences, but also because of social differences. In the end, the English accepted the Methodists, but not by bringing them into the fold, but through "toleration." Allowing the Methodists to set up on their own simply weakened the idea of a state church, which is that there is an accepted truth in the public sphere.

Oh, I almost forgot to thank you for your back-handed compliment! I don't often get called a moderate.

Just as curiosity, Stephen: Didn't you actually call yourself Don Colacho up until last week right here at W4? I assume that Jeff S's point was to draw attention to the fact that you were that commentator.

As for your analysis, I don't see anything so bad about accommodating Methodists by tolerating them. And it's interesting that you acknowledge that the English approach (however one characterizes it) led to a lot less bloodshed than the Catholic approach. I suppose one version of French history would be that one would have been better off on the low end of the economic scale in England in the late 18th century than in France, because the low end wasn't so low. That would mean that the French Catholic Church might have had better success bringing the peasants to church than the Anglicans (I can't confirm this, but you imply it), but that the peasants themselves were materially a lot worse off in the Catholic country than in the Anglican one. I think myself I'd rather be a poor but not destitute Methodist English farm worker than a destitute Catholic French peasant!

As for English exceptionalism, J. Salwyn Schapiro lays out a good dichotomy between England and France in the rise of Industrialism and Socialism in his book Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism. (McGraw Hill, 1949) He compares and contrasts the somewhat smooth transition in England to the violent upheavals in France. Fascism, the middle road between, capitalism and socialism was forged in France. The mixture of democratic republicanism and socialism, creating Republican Socialism, was created in France.

It is clear that the American Revolution fueled the French Revolution. And the English Civil Wars, in creating Americanism, then produced the likes of Woodrow Wilson, who at the end of WWI, to further the global process of unification and socialism, ordered the dissolution of Germany's Monarchs and Principalities along with the Hapsburg Empire which had disastrous results. Something as innocuous as President Wilson's meddling in European affairs, destroyed what was left of the Old Order. Woodrow Wilson was the product of this New England Exceptionalism and Puritan Messianism.

And this is the importance of the English Civil Wars, it was about destroying the Old Order. America is busy in this program of destruction. The Regicide of King James I and the metaphysical destruction of the German monarchies/princes and the Hapsburg monarchy is on the same trajectory. "Kings as evil" is a Midrashic teaching not an European teaching. This English exceptionalism is a cover of sublimity and the use of sleight of hand to accomplish the same thing. Fabian Socialism, English style socialism is far different from Leninist Marxism, but they both have the same goals.

You mean Charles I, not James I. This "midrashic" stuff is getting creepy, Mr., Miss, or Mrs. Wheeler. If you know what I mean. Bag it on my threads.


Now I understand the source of the confusion. I have no idea who was commenting as "Don Colacho." (You could, I presume, find one of his comments and see what e-mail address he entered.) Whenever I comment anywhere, I write under my name "Stephen" and leave a link to my blog, as I am doing right now.

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