The English Revolution and the Genesis of Modernity

by E. John Winner

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This is first of two essays, concerning the events of the English Revolution of the 17th century.  Why should these events concern an audience primarily interested in philosophy and philosophy’s concrete relations with contemporary culture and politics?  The immediate answer to this is quite easily pronounced in two names: Hobbes and Locke.  We should all know that the contemporary Western mode of national republic, including representative democratic institutions, derived largely and most directly from the so-called ‘social contract’ theory expounded by several philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries, and among anglophones the two principle contractarians are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  Put simply, contractarianism is simply the theory that a state forms by general agreement of those acquiring citizenship within it: for Hobbes this is largely a matter of preventing mutually assured destruction in “a war of all against all,” while for Locke it is a matter of achieving the mutual benefits derived from respecting the natural rights of rationally self-interested individuals.  Like many others, I prefer Hobbes’ analysis of the motivations behind the modern state, but can’t really go along with the authoritarian conclusions he derives from it.  The more charitable Lockean implications of a constitutional, representatively elected government are not contradictory to the Hobbesian analysis, which in itself says something about the flexibility of Locke’s thesis.

Discussions of Hobbes and Locke are often phrased in the general terms that they used to elucidate their theories.  In other words, there is logic at work in their writings, and so the texts are open to analysis and can be applied logically to individual cases, to see how well the theories they express, taken as such, hold up.  But while interesting and productive, this is somewhat wrongheaded.  Both Hobbes and Locke wrote in response to the concrete reality of the events of the English Revolution — Hobbes while the events were still unfolding, Locke in the years immediately following.  Social Contract theory begins, at least for the English, as a meditation on what went wrong with the English Revolution.  If nothing had gone wrong, England would be a republic today, and if everything had gone wrong, it would not be the parliamentary monarchy that it actually is.

But the English Revolution is interesting for more reasons than the political philosophy to which it gave birth.  It resonates across history: in the many revolutions that followed; in the military dictatorships we’ve suffered; and in the representative democracies that still remain our best hope for a civilized society of free men and women. The English Revolution foreshadowed many things, some obvious, as those I’ve mentioned, some subtle and enduring, as we see from the Religious Right, or in the rise of autocratic businessmen to political power.  So it must be remembered, if we are to understand these developments and more.

  1. Follow the Money

The Thirty Years War began as a conflict between Protestant and Catholic principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, over the right of religious self-determination against the Empire’s sudden turn toward (Catholic) uniformity.  By the end of it, however, it was clear that the dynastic families of Europe, despite their own religious preferences, were really simply engaged in their age-old struggle for supremacy over the continent. Nothing made this clearer than the shifting alliances of France, occasionally fighting for Catholic allies, sometimes for Protestant ones.  The War also saw the ascendancy of mercenary armies, and whatever their religious profession, mercenaries fight primarily for pay. The real importance of religion in the war was that it could be used to motivate mass involvement, demonstrated by the occasional conversion, from one religion to the other, of various princes, strictly for political purposes.

England, under the reign of the Stuarts, James I and Charles I (committed through marital ties to the Protestant Palatinate of the Rhine), did not fare very well during the Thirty Years War.  The English policy was poorly guided by the Duke of Buckingham (rumored to be James’ last lover), a favorite adviser to Charles. By the time England withdrew from the War, exhausted, the King was broke, the Kingdom in a growing state of instability, with soldiers returning from the Continent defeated. (Buckingham evaded a Parliamentary trial with the King’s assistance, but was assassinated by a disappointed soldier named Felton, who was hanged for murder, but whose name was celebrated throughout the Kingdom.)  Even as Charles faced disappointment on the Continent and growing disaffection at home, problems began brewing with the Scots to the north: they had developed a strong commitment to Presbyterianism, which was in the process of reconfiguring Scotland politically.  Charles was committed to the Church of England, and to the principle of the “divine right” of a king to rule absolutely. Were the process of succession to result in a bad monarch, he or she would be punished by God, leading to replacement by a virtuous monarch.  Of course, this was all nonsense: it would be a whimsical, vicious God who would use assassination, bloody civil wars between monarchial factions, the slaughter of children, and near incestuous marriages – all of which occurred during the War of the Roses – as a procedure to arrive at a single monarch capable of ruling wisely.

At any rate, even as England gradually withdrew from the Thirty Years War, the difficulties with the Scots – and then with the Catholic Irish – proved more tenacious.  The need for military action continued, and military action requires men and supplies and therefore, money.

Several centuries earlier, in the feudal era, monarchs confronting similar challenges could defer the expenditure of royal wealth through demands on the landed aristocracy, pledged to them to expend the wealth to supply men and materials.  For England, this had begun to change with the confrontation between King John and his Barons in the 1200’s, resulting in the Magna Carta. Almost immediately nullified, then re-ratified, revised, amended, expanded, retracted, and occasionally even forgotten over the centuries since, the Magna Carta established the principle that the King was answerable to a collective of those most immediately effected by his policies. Initially this meant the aristocracy, but eventually – especially following the redistribution of formerly clerical lands during the reign of Henry VIII – this included the gentry with large land-holdings. It was thus that non-aristocrats found themselves with real political influence.

Although the language of Magna Carta has the King, as appointed by God, “granting” the right of council to the social elite, it does so in perpetuity. Thereafter, once Magna Carta had been validated through the actions of those concerned, the rights and liberties therein were accepted as established. Various Kings attempted to abrogate them on occasion, as did Charles I. But there was a problem. Despite Magna Carta’s language, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it had been drawn up at the proverbial point of a sword, during an ongoing, ugly conflict between the King and the Barons, and reinforced through similar conflicts throughout the years.  In other words, it was already established by the 17th century that the real power behind Magna Carta and its patchwork appendages was the willingness of the elite to assert their rights by force of arms.

Popular resistance to monarchial policy grew ever more overt during the eleven-year period that Charles attempted to govern the realm without Parliament.  Charles had accepted, begrudgingly, a Petition of Right from Parliament that reinforced and expanded the basic principles of Magna Carta; but soon dismissed Parliament. The principle right that had emerged from the council of Barons was control over the raising of funds by systematic and agreed-upon taxation.  Ruling without Parliament, Charles attempted to expand existing taxes and resurrect antiquated ones; to raise funds without Parliamentary agreement. When this failed, he established martial law and demanded “forced loans” from the gentry.  It didn’t work. Martial law was poorly enforced and not well-received.  More and more of the gentry simply ignored the demand for taxes or openly resisted it.  Finally, Charles realized that personal rule without some agreement with the ruled was ineffectual and recalled Parliament twice.  The second time, the so-called “Long Parliament” (because never properly dissolved until the Restoration), proceeded to issue the Grand Remonstrance, a listing of complaints against the King (it tactfully attributed the failure of his rule to his ministers, but no one was fooled), and passed a bill denying the King the right to dissolve Parliament without Parliamentary agreement.  Although the Civil War is generally held to have started with Charles calling for troops to gather at Nottingham, the revolution had already begun.

  1. Will of the People

What we’ve seen so far is the way events unfolding toward revolution revealed new social conditions that were either undoing the expectations of the participants or continuing old tensions, but in new formations. The transition to a monied economy, wherein the standard of wealth was realized as a portable, easily exchanged symbolic representation, distributed power to non-aristocratic sectors of society while imposing new demands for wealth production and distribution. Technically, the English were enjoying an unprecedented era of affluence, but the fluidity of this new economy meant that large numbers of people were either coming up short, or on the verge of it, including the King. And though no one doubted that legitimacy and justification for political action needed somehow to derive from the Christian faith, the multiplication of competing sects with differing perspectives on precisely what such justification consisted of, combined with the somewhat casual way religion was used politically among the aristocracy, washed out as incoherence and laid the foundation for the development of secular government.

Most of this simply unfolded of its own accord. That is, most of the innovations enacted during this period, and in the revolutionary era that followed, were accomplished in reaction to arising conditions, guided by people’s faith and their trust in inherited customs, as they interpreted them. The Revolution produced only one truly proactive innovator worthy of note: the former gentleman farmer from the Fen, driven by religious conversion to throw himself into the politics of his day, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was to experiment and innovate throughout his career: as Parliamentarian; as military commander; as leader of a coup d’état; and as Lord Protector. Many of these experiments were notable failures: some oppressive, even cruel; some simply misguided. But some left legacies that were useful to the reconstruction of English politics over the next two hundred years.

To my mind, the most important and interesting of these innovations came in the early years of Cromwell’s Revolutionary career: The New Model Army. Cromwell began forming the New Model after the Battle of Edgehill, a defeat for Parliamentary forces that lacked discipline, leadership, and tactical guidance. Partly supported by donations from the faithful of surrounding parishes, Cromwell went home to raise a horse regiment that would be disciplined and well-trained. Cromwell would ride with them, proving an accessible leader with whom formalities were easily forgone, and in the battles that followed, he would demonstrate tactical brilliance. The troops were uniformed (the exception rather than the rule in English armies of the day), marched in close formation, and were prohibited from engaging in plunder. More importantly, the stratification of rank was not dependent on social status but on perceived merit.  A baker could rise to commissioned rank as easily as a large land-holder, much to the ridicule of the Royalist aristocrats and the gentry in Parliament. Cromwell also introduced an equally significant religious toleration into the culture of his regiment.  Although the hated Catholics were excluded and Cromwell eventually had difficulties with Presbyterian officers, his regiment included representatives from most of the Protestant sects of the time, including such radicals as those precursors of modern democratic theory, the Levelers and the Fifth Monarchists (“Christ, not man, is king”). Cromwell famously wrote: “I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.” England finally had a military that was concerned with a collective effort for a shared cause, rather than stratified militias reflecting particular interests.

The times were ripe for such innovation. In 1644, the gathered Parliamentarian militias of the Eastern Association, under the command of the Earl of Manchester, suffered a series of setbacks, revealing that they were poorly organized and poorly led.  A possible defeat at Marston Moor reversed into a victory only through the intervention of Cromwell’s horse regiment. In Parliament, there followed an acrimonious quarrel between Cromwell and Manchester, ultimately leading to the Self-Denying Ordinance that prohibited Members of Parliament from commission in the Army, thus relieving Manchester of his command. An important exception was made for Cromwell, who thus retained his Parliamentary influence as well as expanded influence over the military. Lord Fairfax would be given command of the Army, but Cromwell was recognized as its heart and mind, so to speak. The military itself was restructured along the lines Cromwell had established for his own regiment. The Parliamentarian forces no longer presented a patchwork collective of regional or privately financed militias, but a national army, among the first in modern Western history.

After the first of the Civil Wars, as it became clear that the captured King was no longer able to mount any further military campaign, there was some talk in Parliament about disbanding the army, a routine matter in any peace following major conflict. Unfortunately, the soldiers had never been properly paid, and considered themselves still under service. Furthermore, the Army now had quite a number of Protestant faithful who felt themselves invested in the final outcome of the conflict, whatever “just” settlement could be made between Parliament and the monarch. Consequently, England not only found itself with a national Army, but with a standing Army, one that would not be dispersed. Further, the Army had ceased to be the action-arm of political forces, it became itself a substantial political force in its own right, which it announced to Parliament in the “Solemn Engagement” of 1647. The soldiers, drawn from a wider demographic than Parliament, had become political activists, and in the Putney Debates of August of the same year, Cromwell and other high-ranking officers met with representatives of the more radical elements of the Army, to discuss what kind of new constitution might be desirable in any settlement with the King. These debates produced two documents, one largely composed by the officers, the “Heads of the Proposals,” and one by the more radical elements, “Agreement of the People.”   Elements of the former later resurfaced in the “Instrument of Government,” the purported constitution of the Protectorate. The latter, amended over time, contained ideas resurrected throughout various reformations of English common law from the mid-1700s on.

Charles reportedly told people that he much preferred the “Heads of the Proposals” to constitutional reform offerings from Parliament itself, but he wasn’t being honest. He recognized the tensions developing between Parliament and the Army and sought to increase them. In captivity, the King never negotiated with Parliament in good faith. Rather, he stalled for time, while negotiating secretly with Scottish, Irish and French agents, seeking someway to resurrect military and political hope for his cause.  By 1648, these negotiations and a brief escape by the King sparked a second Civil War. The Army was furious at this and done with the King. When military leaders learned that Parliament was likely to continue negotiations and preserve the monarchy, they flexed their political muscle in the only way soldiers really can, i.e. through a show of force. On December 6, 1648, General Thomas Pride led his troops into the House of Commons and physically ejected all Members known or suspected to support such further negotiations. Disregarding the House of Lords (which they would later disband), the remaining members of the House of Commons – the so-called Rump Parliament – proceeded to put the King on trial for treason.

Because the Revolutionary era became an embarrassment to the English after the Restoration, Charles I has been given much respect for his performance at the trial.  He did at least make his position quite clear: The monarch was chosen by God and thus, above any man-made law. Consequently, there was no legitimate means of holding him to account. It is hard to see why any modern person would perceive this as a brave stand leading to martyrdom, but one reads it in books, and sees it on stage, TV, film:  Charles, the “tragic figure,” worthy of a tear in remembrance.

Far more important historically and far more meaningful for the world in which we still live is the justification given by John Bradshaw, Lord President of the Court of Justice that tried Charles:

Sir, the difference has been: who shall be the expositors of this law, sir? Whether you and your party, out of courts of justice, shall take upon them to expound the law, or the courts of justice who are the expounders — nay, the sovereign and highest court of justice, the Parliament of England, that is not only the highest expounder but the sole maker of the law. Sir, for you to set yourself with your single judgment, and those that adhere unto you to set themselves against the resolution of the highest court of justice — that is not law. Sir, as the law is your superior, so truly, sir, there is something that is superior to the law and that is indeed the parent or author of the law — and that is the people of England. For, sir, as they are those that at the first (as other countries have done) did choose to themselves this form of government, even for justice’s sake, that justice might be administered, that peace might be preserved, so, sir, they gave laws to their governors, according to which they should govern. And if those laws should have proved inconvenient or prejudicial to the public, they had a power in them, a power reserved and innate to alter them as they should see cause. [1]

No one is above the law. That may not be the will of God, but it can be the will of the people. Gottlob Frege once remarked: “’The will of the people’ can serve as an example [of an ‘ambiguous expression’ lending itself to ‘demagogic abuse’]; for it is easy to establish that there is at any rate no generally accepted reference for this expression.” [2] One can see the reason for such caution, although carrying it too far might produce a kind of unrealistic “rhetoraphobia.” It is true that “will of the people” rolls easily off the tongues of demagogues both Left and Right, with nary a pause to consider the depths sounded in the expression. Yet history shows us some of those depths, and some of the dangers in ignoring them.  On January 30, 1649, the head of Charles I was severed from his body by the blow of the executioner’s axe. Afterward, the office of King was abolished, and the Commonwealth of England declared a republic.  The Civil Wars had reached their apotheosis in Revolution.  Although monarchial apologists, both in England and on the Continent, continued to quack on about “divine right,” the age of absolute monarchy had entered its terminal phase. And the modern liberal state began its slow, painful birthing, which seems unfinished still today.

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Notes

[1] http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/17century/topic_3/trial.htm

[2] http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber/metaphysics/readings/Frege.SenseAndReference.pdf

37 Comments »

  1. ej

    Your piece provides a vivid illustration of the approach to history (rhetorical, politically engaged) which you talked about in a recent comment (on ‘Science, Knowledge and Consciousness’). I expect that sometime I will get around to fleshing out my general views in a little more detail than I have done hitherto but, not being a reader of history, there are limits to what I can plausibly say. For me history has always been “background” for reading literary works from past eras; or else more scientifically oriented (e.g. history of language, prehistory (archaeology, geology, etc.)).

    I wonder about your uncharacteristically optimistic conclusion. As I see it the ideas and institutions of liberalism seem to be failing spectacularly. No amount of rhetoric will revive them if the social and cultural conditions are (as I think they are) trending in unfavorable directions.

    Note that I am not denying the potency and continuing relevance of social and political myths, but liberal myths seem to be losing out to various forms of populism, nationalism, etc..

    Like

    • Mark,
      Well, rather an odd comment from one who has argued that certain contemporary problems derive from differences between Greco-Roman ethics and Judaeo-Christian ethics (a difference we can’t get without historical narration), or that contemporary politics seems tainted with metaphysical biases from the past – we can’t get here from there without narration; indeed your arguments in these matters are part and parcel of a narration of the events leading to the situations they address. Narration inevitably demands rhetorical devices, inevitably guided to some extent by the narrator’s political or otherwise ideological engagements. That’s just the nature of the beast.

      There are of course a variety of political views in the historical studies of the events of 17th Century England. Those more favorable to the Royalist cause frequently don’t even use the term ‘Revolution’ concerning those events, even though clearly that was what was going on. But such variety is inevitable, and to understand history is to read it critically. But that doesn’t mean we are misled – unless somehow the very documents or artifacts are suppressed somehow. Indeed, it is important, and stimulating, to read of historical events through differing, even conflicting perspectives. The only real danger here is in dishonest reconstructions of history that are simply false – like Holocaust denials, or the way the Soviets rewrote history after every purge.

      I got involved with this study because I wanted to acquire some understanding of the origins of Modernity – the slow train wreck that brought down Christendom, and the equally gradual political, social, cultural reconstruction of the West – and, thanks to colonialism, of the world – that is still ongoing, even as Modernity passes into something else which we still don’t comprehend. I don’t see how that can be done without connecting some dots and drawing a picture that makes some sense from some perspective.

      The story of the English Revolution, however told, is something more than backdrop for understanding Hobbes or Locke – or Dryden or Milton, for that matter. These writers are participants in construction of that backdrop – Milton most obviously.

      “I wonder about your uncharacteristically optimistic conclusion.” I’m afraid that might be over-reading the conclusion. To understand the formation of the modern state – primarily secular, liberal in the philosophical sense of the term implies no necessary optimism. But without this understanding, what sense do we make of the world in which we live? Do we see ourselves born whole-cloth in a world magically designed for us? the past mere jumble of unrelated data, perhaps invented to confuse us?

      And in case you may have missed those parts of the story, the populist and nationalist myths you mention find their origin in events of the 17th century as well, and have always been the shadows that have recurrently darkened and threatened the existence of the liberal state, exactly because sharing the same points of origin – The New Model Army was a *national* army, and was defended as the buttress of the *nation* of England and its *people,* at that time demanding what they believed were their rights and liberties. The documents are quite clear on these matters.

      There, in the OP, is the statement of John Bradshaw. You can’t get around it, it’s no myth. And it’s no myth to remark that what he says has more to do with how we in representative democratic republics understand our world than any argument for the divine right of absolute monarchy. The point of reasonable disagreement is in what explanations we can make for this, and how we can move forward given this history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ej

        “… rather an odd comment from one who has argued that certain contemporary problems derive from differences between Greco-Roman ethics and Judaeo-Christian ethics (a difference we can’t get without historical narration), or that contemporary politics seems tainted with metaphysical biases from the past – we can’t get here from there without narration; indeed your arguments in these matters are part and parcel of a narration of the events leading to the situations they address. Narration inevitably demands rhetorical devices, inevitably guided to some extent by the narrator’s political or otherwise ideological engagements. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

        I accept the inevitability of some form of narrative when we talk about the past. I think I conceded this in a previous thread.

        You say that narrative necessarily involves rhetorical devices. To a point. But this sort of political narrative involving groups and individuals who are implicitly assigned black or white hats (okay, or shades of grey) according to their actions (and not just their ideas) is different from the sort of intellectual history narratives with which I have dabbled.

        Even in political history, there are degrees of rhetoric and partisanship. Sometimes the partisanship is obscured by a objective-sounding style. At least you are not guilty of this. (The “quacking” comes to mind!)

        But, as I indicated, I don’t read this kind of history. I am not condemning it. How could I? But I am saying that I am not drawn to it. It’s not my cup of tea.

        “There are of course a variety of political views in the historical studies of the events of 17th Century England. Those more favorable to the Royalist cause frequently don’t even use the term ‘Revolution’ concerning those events, even though clearly that was what was going on. But such variety is inevitable, and to understand history is to read it critically. But that doesn’t mean we are misled – unless somehow the very documents or artifacts are suppressed somehow.”

        The documents themselves are what I prefer to focus on.

        “The only real danger … is in dishonest reconstructions of history that are simply false – like Holocaust denials, or the way the Soviets rewrote history after every purge.”

        Agreed, some “history” is cynical manipulation and total fiction. (Orwell brought this point home.) A free market of ideas counters this sort of thing.

        “I got involved with this study because I wanted to acquire some understanding of the origins of Modernity – the slow train wreck that brought down Christendom, and the equally gradual political, social, cultural reconstruction of the West – and, thanks to colonialism, of the world – that is still ongoing, even as Modernity passes into something else which we still don’t comprehend. I don’t see how that can be done without connecting some dots and drawing a picture that makes some sense from some perspective.”

        There is a lot of interpretation going on here (and so the possibility of alternative interpretations).

        “The story of the English Revolution, however told, is something more than backdrop for understanding Hobbes or Locke – or Dryden or Milton, for that matter. These writers are participants in construction of that backdrop – Milton most obviously.”

        Sure. Literary works had political import. When I used the word “background” I was thinking of Basil Willey’s books.

        “And in case you may have missed those parts of the story, the populist and nationalist myths you mention find their origin in events of the 17th century as well, and have always been the shadows that have recurrently darkened and threatened the existence of the liberal state, exactly because sharing the same points of origin – The New Model Army was a *national* army, and was defended as the buttress of the *nation* of England and its *people,* at that time demanding what they believed were their rights and liberties. The documents are quite clear on these matters.”

        Yes, modern nationalism arose about this time. Populism has a longer history.

        “There, in the OP, is the statement of John Bradshaw. You can’t get around it, it’s no myth.”

        But it expresses certain myths. (I am using the term in a neutral sense.)

        “And it’s no myth to remark that what he says has more to do with how we in representative democratic republics understand our world than any argument for the divine right of absolute monarchy.”

        Yes, you hear similar rhetoric today.

        “The point of reasonable disagreement is in what explanations we can make for this, and how we can move forward given this history.”

        But I think my point is just that this history is *not* given. Individuals have their own (different) versions, involving a range of (different) interpretations.

        In one sense, the history *is* there (in contemporary documents, etc.). But these documents can be used to produce many (conflicting) narratives.

        Like

  2. Your learning is impressive. I have nothing to say because I know nothing about the English revolution. What led you to investigate this period of time in such depth?

    Like

    • s. wallerstein
      This study resulted from discussions on comment threads here at EA, between me and Mark, and me and labnut. The discussions had to do with the intellectual history of the Enlightenment, which would never have happened without the exhaustion of the wars of the Reformation, of which the English Civil War was one of the last. This end-stage of Reformation made clear, not that in their exhaustion would come peace, but rather even warfare would require secularization, involvement of the people, and some balanced political economy (the phrase, used well into the 19th century, itself remarks a necessary relationship between public and private sectors). It was only in this developing environment that modern science and technology, and the philosophies first explaining these, could thrive.

      Like

  3. I think it’s not entirely correct to claim Europe had to wait until 1649 before “No one (was) above the law.” If I remember my history lessons correctly, in Navarra and Aragon law prevailed over the will of monarchs centuries before Charles I was executed. The concept wasn’t new, although it was a local concept, not claiming universality.

    I also wonder about the Dutch Republic. Was it ruled by rulers who could declare themselves by some god-given right above the law?

    Of course, the last time England was invaded was in 1688 (by the Dutch), so there is a continuity that’s absent in Navarra, Aragon and the United Provinces. But I still wonder if it’s historically correct that the age of absolute monarchy had entered its terminal phase with the execution of Charles I. Can’t we just as well say that “the modern liberal state began its slow, painful birthing” in Amsterdam in 1588?

    To conclude these boring remarks and question, a short quote from “the Low Countries” (ed. J.C.H. Blom and E. Lamberts). It’s about the golden age of the Dutch Republic.

    “Because there were so many participants in trade, a wide spectrum of the population, both the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, could make a modest profit in the country’s prosperity. (…) Inventories taken of the farmhouses and townhouses of the middle classes often included silver spoons, silver buckles, and silver locks for their family Bibles. For persons of modes income, there was no Golden Age, but there was, at least, a little bit of silver.”

    Now, there’s something I expect from a liberal state.

    Like

    • couvent2104,
      Well, this is an essay, not a book. Of course what was happening in England was somewhat microcosmic to similar events happening on the Continent, which is why I thought it important to begin in the Thirty Years War. However, the English Revolution – particularly the execution of Charles – was somewhat traumatic, felt even among monarchs and monarchists on the Continent, because England was already recognized as a major player, whereas the Dutch not yet so much.

      Further, going forward, the language developing in England would have measure influence on revolutionary aspirants for the next 200 years – Especially in America and France.

      At any rate, one has to start somewhere. Once a king is killed by a court of the people, there’s no going back – In the Restoration and beyond, the British monarchy was increasingly constrained by law and finances, until it was rendered essentially powerless.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good essay, thanks. I look forward to the successor.

    Right now there is a contest going on between “the will of the people”, as interpreted in a referendum, and “the will of the people”, as represented in the House of Commons. That, I think, has never happened before.

    Alan

    Like

    • Whatever one thinks of Brexit itself, the referendum certainly violated the principles of representative democracy. It has already come to a bad end, no matter what the final deal with the EU (if any, at this point!).

      Like

      • Referenda are a bad idea in a representative system. But once a referendum has been done, for the political class to simply overturn it is exceedingly dangerous and a mistake. Should it have been done? No. Now that it has been done, however, it must be implemented or the British democracy will not survive.

        Like

  5. > because England was already recognized as a major player, whereas the Dutch not yet so much.

    In 1649? By then, the Dutch Republic certainly was a major player in Europe.

    I really think you essay is overlooking what happened in the Low Countries in the century before Charles I was executed.

    Like

    • I don’t question the economic, cultural, political innovations and achievements of the Dutch in the period discussed; I just question whether these make them the “major player” that England had already been for centuries. I see the Dutch Golden Age, or at least its period of ascendancy, which allowed them to become a real world power (and allowed their innovations to acquire influence internationally), as beginning with the Peace of Westphalia, only a year before the story told in the OP ends. But I admit that this is a point that can be reasonably debated. And I admit that I can do more research into the history of the Netherlands than I have so far.

      Like

    • I think the Commons could have gotten away with a ‘disconfirmation vote’ reducing the referendum to non-bunding status, had they done this within a week after the referendum; they could still get away with mounting a ‘confirmation referendum,’ with the understanding that confirmation would trigger a hard brexit almost immediately. However, I don’t know that much about English politics, so I may be blowing smoke here. I suspect the most likely resolution will be a hard Brexit with continuing negotiations on customs, surcharges, etc. The top of the hard Brexit hierarchy seems likely to be assuming that England will be able to negotiate with EU states from a position of strength, while striking a free-trade agreement with Trump’s Washington and perhaps others; but I see this as a pipe dream. I am most concerned with the closure of the Irish border which I can’t see as leading to anything other than renewed violence, and the instability of Scotland which may lead to a later successful independence vote.

      One of the odd problems here is that the English seem to be debating this issue as if the EU had no say in the matter. The option of re-negotiating the deal is pretty much off the table; it’s either some variant of the deal May worked out last year with the Eu effectively granting minor concessions, or it is hard Brexist. And the Commons have made it quite clear that they can’t agree on either alternative.

      In any event the whole process has already created chaos in their politics, and will lead to economic difficulties most rank and file Brexiteers have not tried imagining until quite recently. And unfortunately, they don’t seem to have any decent leaders in any of their parties.

      I’ve enjoyed mocking the British in the past; but I actually find the whole matter rather sad.

      Like

      • As I don’t like supra-national entities very much, and don’t believe that anything larger than the nation-state is really viable, I’ve never been much of a fan of the EU.

        Like

        • Dan,
          Well, given my belief that some form of federalism bringing disparate states together is inherently a good thing, and in its optimal mode would provide legislative means of articulating and settling differences between the states, I would have to disagree.

          As the Scottish and Irish issues here should remind us, Great Britain is itself a federal entity. I was opposed to the Scottish independence vote for the same reason I was opposed to Brexit. Now that we have Brexit, the Scots should secede from the Union (and may do so); and the North Irish too. Instead, Ulster will bleed. (The truce between Ulster and Dublin was effected within an EU framework; a hard Brexit makes it worthless. It’s no surprise that the hard right DUP, part of May’s coalition government, would support a hard Brexit, allowing a resurrection of the UDL to engage in battle with an IRA which has recently resurfaced in expectation of a hard Brexit.)

          There was no easy process by which exit from the Eu could be accomplished. There never is in a federal structure, (that’s why we ended up fighting a Civil War).. Wrong or right, that was the intention. And the British simply didn’t get that.

          A federal structure is intended to survive regional differences and disagreements. One can argue that it’s not a good idea; once in place dissolution inevitably leads to suffering.

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          • EJ: i agree re: federal entities, but there is a big difference between a federal entity made up of states, like the US and Germany, and one made up of countries. The former works, but i dont think a federal entity that includes germany, greece, and bulgaria does, for what inwould think are relatively obvious reasons.

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          • Dan,
            well, I admit that the EU promised far more than it could deliver, given the economic environment and evident traditional differences. Greece certainly didn’t fare all that well under it. So it was probably more of a hope than a possibility; which is not to deny that decisions could have made it – could still make it – otherwise.

            But as I’ve noted, the English will have to live with Brexit one way or another – although saddened by it, I have no trouble with that, in the sense that it’s just another historic step, and we’ll see what happens.

            However, I am concerned with the Irish situation and the loss of the ‘Backstop’ that would have preserved an open border. For a few years (during which Dublin finally divorced itself from Rome), we could actually stop worrying about bloodshed in Belfast. A united Ireland under the aegis of the EU and without contention with England, seemed possible. Now….

            Ah, well; I confess myself something of a dreamer.

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        • As one who has worked my entire career as a water sanitation engineer for the World Health Organization I can say supra-national entities are not a big fan of your comment. I am new to this site and enjoyed some of your dialogues on BHTV but when I saw this comment my immediate reaction was what a preposterously shallow statement – John Bolton could do better. When you look at human health and economic development globally – and if you believe Pinker it is astounding – even excluding China – where it is largely a national phenomena – the story of our century probably. Supra-national entities are substantially responsible for this progress including the oft criticized UN.

          Regards, Doug

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          • No one is denying that supranational organisations can achieve a lot materially. The issue is their political viability. The problem with the EU is that people are alienated from the decision makers and the procedures by which policy is decided that thriving democracy isn’t going to happen. What is more, it weakens national democracy and its legal bureaucracy is seriously in tension with national sovereignty. This is especially significant for the case of a country like Britain which had such a long Parliamentary and Common Law tradition. There are serious issues here which can’t be brushed aside with a smug optimism about rationalistic technocracy and development statistics, and to do so is shallow.
            Your comments about Greece are obscenely flippant. The economic crisis there has resulted in societal collapse that dwarfs the American South’s opioid epidemic. The recession resulted in over half of young people being unemployed, something like a 90% rise in the suicide rate, and an openly neo Nazi party becoming the third largest party in the country. While we all know it’s fun to take cheap shots at Murica, your comment strikes me as a pretty cheap deflection from the turmoil the EU is in.
            Even it’s wealthier members are in disarray. France is on fire, and Germany is on the verge of serious economic troubles. And when we move away from the purely economic issues and look at the widespread nationalist discontent, things get even more dire. If you can’t see why someone might have reason to be sceptical of the vision of progress and efficiency through transcendence of the nation state, then I don’t know what more I can say.

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  6. Greece did not fare so well?? Compare life expectancy stats in Greece to thriving states of Alabama and Mississippi of your blessed Republic. Been to Greece recently. Certainly troubles, but prefer it in every way to vulgar America states of opioids and ammunition.

    And the shallow cheap shot about Dublin divorcing itself from Rome – have you never heard of the Celtic Church and their somewhat antagonistic relationship with the Latin Church?

    I though that I might enjoy this website for ideas discussion and civil dispute. But shallowness seems to prevail.

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      • reality is that life expectancy in Greece in 4-6 years longer than States I mention. Six years!!.. These States trend toward second world standards. Now not saying that life expectancy is the be all and end all indication of social success – but it is a damn good arrow to right direction. so perhaps get off high horse and say maybe EU is doing something right and maybe US of America not doing something right. But don’t smugly say Greece has failed or is failing.

        I will shut up. This post affected me emotionally because it is something I have worked my career about – with considerable personal sacrifice and pain.

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        • Americans are notorious for having a terrible diet, so no, life expectancy is not necessarily an indication of political success relative to other countries. Cuba also has a higher life expectancy than America, but that in no way vindicates Marxist Leninist government. Besides, whatever problems America may have, that doesn’t change the fact that the EU has contributed substantially to Greece’s misery, and subverted its national democracy.

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  7. thanks for letting me continue on your forum Dan. As a newcomer, I thought that I may have over-vociferously or over-persistently expressed my thoughts. But lets look at Greece situation. Is not another way of looking at it is that the EU managed a situation arising from chronic national debt without social collapse a marvel? Rather than an indictment of the EU? When I look at UN activities on balance I say it has been a remarkable institution. The UN is not all about the Security Council and condemnation of Israel etc. etc.

    Thanks and I will finally shut up for good on the subject of the EU and UN achievement. I enjoy the forum and appreciate your efforts.

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    • You are always welcome and needn’t shut up. I publish essays i dont agree with and i publish comments i dont agree with. The only thing i insist on is basic manners. You are most welcome.

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      • TO KriptensteinMonster303:

        OK you dont like recent historical human longevity as a metric. I think you prefer the statistic “What KrimtensteinMonster303 Thinks”. That has 100% precision with no bias. The perfect metric you have invented for all humanity to marvel at.

        I can buy in to some degree the history of Common Law, Parliament etc. being subjugated as a legitimate Brexit issue, but talking nonsense that Greece is a hell hole and France is on fire is Fox News Worthy. I think Rupert Murdoch flaming populist passion for several decades has much more to do with Brexit than Parliamentarian scholars hand wringing over legislative subjugation to the EU.

        Last shot: What is the probability of being violently harmed or killed in “On Fire France” in Comparison to any State in the US? I would love to see the KrimtensteinMonster metric.

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        • I never said that human longevity is irrelevant, merely that you have to be careful. If 2 countries have significantly different cultural norms with respect to diet and exercise, then comparisons of longevity between them cannot automatically be taken to support any particular view of the relative merits of their political and economic systems. I would have thought that wasn’t a very controversial point, so I don’t get your divisive attitude towards it.
          And yes, of course Brexit was driven by populism rather than a refined appreciation of Parliamentary and Common Law tradition. I said nothing to the contrary.
          As for my comments about France and Greece, I don’t see how anyone can deny the extent to which things became hellish in Greece asa result of the EU effectively imposing austerity on the country. Now maybe you’re a monetarist and you think austerity is great, but most economists don’t see it that way, and the damage that was done by these polices was enormous even if now it has recovered a bit. And I was a bit too hyperbolicabout France, but massive protests have been going on non-stop in Paris for months which have been met with authoritarianism by the state, so I think that is a pretty big deal. And the reason it’s such a big deal is because it signifies political instability and turmoil in one of the EU’s most important member states. The same cannot be said for US gun deaths, which are a problem but not at all in the same way. And again, whoever said I was a fan of US gun laws or even of the US period? This is exactly the sort of deflection I complained about in my previous comment.
          Finally, I get that this debate is personal to you, more so than to me, so let me just say, my scepticism of supranational institutions like the EU doesn’t mean that I think nothing they do is valuable, or that everyone who works for them is wasting their time. So, please, don’t take my comments as an attack on the work you do or on you. I absolutely respect you and your work, though I would appreciate it a lot if you could adopt a less dismissive tone in future replies 🙂

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  8. To both Douglas and Kripkenstein: I want to encourage you to continue your important discussions. But I also want to ask you both to please keep the temperature cool.

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    • My apologies , Dan and Douglas. I regret some of my harsher words in earlier comments. For what it’s worth they were not written in genuine anger, but in an attempt to use Doug’s charges against other commenters against him as a rhetorical point. But that was unwise nonetheless, and I don’t mean to turn these discussion threads into online shouting matches.

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  9. Me as well. My comments were thrown out in physiological anger (flush face, fast pulse). Respect matters. Apologies if I overstepped civil norms to K303 and I look forward to further discussions with K303. Regards Doug.

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