Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Memories

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prospects for Paul

Congressman Ron Paul has been the most continuous and consistent advocate for Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.

He has been the most continuous advocate of these views since at least the 1980s, long before the meltdown of 2008. He even broke for a time from the Republican Party over its lack of fiscal discipline during the Reagan administration.

 He has been the most consistent because he has based his views on constitutional principles rather than pragmatic or utilitarian consequences. Paul argues that the problem with spending derives from a government operating outside its constitutional bounds.  In contrast, many conservatives argue for reigning in spending because we can no longer afford it. This seems to imply that they would have no objections to such spending if we COULD afford it. They joined the calls for limited government  and reduced spending only after 2008. In addition, Paul remains one of the few candidates drawing attention to the role of the Federal Reserve in manipulating the economy.

Paul also advocates limited constitutional government in international affairs. Just as government intervention at home has disrupted our market economy, so government intervention abroad  has disrupted our relations with other nations. Two undeclared wars in Iraq and an invasion-turned-nation-building in Afghanistan, he argues, have discredited us abroad. Do we really need 600 bases in 135 countries?  Moreover, the financial cost is bankrupting us.

Here are some highlight from the last Republican debate:

Unfortunately, Paul sometimes sails of the edge of the earth. It  is one thing to to audit the Federal Reserve and reign in its influence; it is another thing to abolish it and return to the gold standard. One of the first acts of the Washington administration under the new Constitution of 1787 was to create the Bank of the United States, a precursor to today's Federal Reserve. Even those who politically opposed the intuition like James Madison rechartered it fifteen years later. All modern commercial republics have maintained a central banking system.

In addition, he needs to articulate his foreign policy positions with a little more nuance. Warnings that American intervention abroad can make enemies too often comes across as "blaming America first."

And his healthy skepticism of government and it's lack of transparency has sometimes lent support to conspiracy theorists. Paul's support for an independent investigation in the 9/11 attacks has been embraced by "Truthers" behind the most obscene claim imaginable: that the attacks came as an "inside job." As historian Richard Hofstadter once suggested, for some of us history HAS conspiracies; for others, history IS a conspiracy. That is the problem with the "Truthers." Paul needs to disassociate himself from the "Truthers."

One of Paul's biggest challenges, however, remains his, shall we call it, "presence." He lacks the rhetorical skills of Obama and of the other Republicans. Paul awkward speaking style, unusual gesticulations, and sometimes ill-fitting suits reduce the strength of his message.

Paul has never been accused of putting style over substance.

And in our contemporary media era, this might be a fatal flaw.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on Jon Huntsman

In the continuing series of brief observations on our current crop of Republican challengers to President Obama, some thoughts on Jon Huntsman:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Newt Gringrich: Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Newt Gingrich, former college instructor and Speaker of the House, has emerged as the front runner among Republicans for our party's nominee for President.This trend is both surprising and alarming.

It is surprising given Gingrich's situation as the campaign began. He had served a Speaker of the House between 1994-1998 and had helped win the first Republican majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. The Republican majority promoted a number of necessary reforms suggested by the Heritage Foundation and spelled out it the Contract with America. He quickly fell from grace, however, and was deposed by his own party. He's haunted the halls of power ever since, but never  in an official government capacity. When the campaign began, many considered him a "washed up" politician with little chance of winning the nomination.

It is alarming, too, because no one knows what to make of him. Critics (and supporters) has labeled him mercurial, undisciplined, erratic, and most recently, zany.  Many people concluded that this temperament doomed his candidacy  when he decided to go on a cruise at the beginning of the campaign, prompting many staff members to quit. Moreover, he has proposed a number of unusual ideas . Finally, he has reversed himself on a number of core issues. Perhaps the most interesting primary debate would involve Newt Gingrich vs. Newt Gingrich:

Republicans cannot be certain which Newt we are going to get.

There may be more to Gingrich's gyrations than mere lack of discipline. It may be deliberate.

In the 16th century, a Florentine diplomat named Niccolo Machiavelli wrote of couple of books spelling out his theories about republican government and advising prospective leaders on how to maintain their states. The main goal for leaders, he wrote, was to achieve glory, fame, and honor for their states. (This sounds like the vision of  "big government" conservatives, including Reagan, who did not reduce the size of government but merely turned it to conservative ends). He also noted that people are easily deceived. “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” A leader, therefore, should be more concerned with appearances than reality. If a leader does not possess religion and virtue, according to Machiavelli, then it must appear that he does. "Appear as you wish to be." In addition, a leader must to willing to change.  “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” And Gingrich himself has admitted that "I do change things when conditions change."

Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Maybe both.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Mitts Come Off

Mitt Romney's caution and even aloofness  in debate has come under withering attack.

He has approached the debates as a front runner who only has to avoid losing. Although he has espoused liberal positions in the past--probably partly a  reflection of the political realities of serving as governor of a liberal state as much as personal conviction--Romney appears to enjoy the support of the Republican Party establishment. He has described himself as a progressive and moderate Republican:

Romney has nimbly avoided severe missteps in his efforts to reconcile a liberal history with conservative candidacy. There is nothing inherently contradictory about serving as a liberal chief  executive of a state and serving as a conservative chief executive for the nation. Our federal system permits that. He can consistently assert his belief in limited, enumerated powers for the federal government while as the same time advocating  an energetic state government. This is essentially how he has finessed conservative objections to "Romney Care" in Massachusetts.

He acknowledged changing his views on on some issues. Cloning apparently brought about a reconsideration of his positions on abortion and the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. And on other issues he simply flip flopped. He was for the bailouts except when he wasn't. He remains primarily a fiscal conservative, concerned about the federal budget and the economy. His  personal character seems impeccable. Many conservatives see in his polling numbers the only candidate that can defeat Obama.  Even conservative bomb-thrower Ann Coulter came out in support. Other conservatives, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party movement, keep waiting for the "Not-Romney" candidate with more convincing conservative credentials.

Rich Perry emerged as the first. He proved the most aggressive challenger to Romney, but he quickly imploded.

Now Newt Gingrich of all people has emerged as the new "Not-Romney" and favorite of many in the Tea Party movement. Like Romney, during most of the debates he has tried to remain above the fray. But now that Newt has replaced Perry as Romney's chief obstacle to the nomination, the gloves have come off as Romney tried to appeal the Tea Party conservatives with pejorative remarks about career politicians.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, noting the similarities of their views, announced the candidacy of  Newt Romney. She turned Romney into a  newt.

The next debate could be very interesting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Give Em Hell Michele"

In the continuing assessment of  Republican conservative hopefuls . . .

Michele Bachmann remains one of the most consistently conservative candidates. Calling herself a "Constitutional conservative," she opposed the bailouts, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the stimulous packages. She has called for an audit of the Federal Reserve, encouraged a reduction in both spending and taxation,  and advocated repealing  regulations on business, particularly in the energy sector.

Bachmann has performed satisfactorally in the debates, including the most recent one where she attacked the two front runners and clearly distinguished herself from them as a "Constitutional conservative:"

To which Romney, who clearly detests Gingrich, could only be thinking, well, who didn't see this coming:

These policy positions have won her support from members of the Tea Party movment.

Bachmann's core support however, like that of Rick Perry, lies in the evangelical community. She is one of the many politicians who attempt to incorporate traditional religious concerns into the Tea Party movement. This "strange brew" has only limited culinary appeal.  Her positions on "social issues" trumps all others when is comes to her "Constitutional conservatism." Bachmann believes in a strong federal government when it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bachmann's positions on "social issues" animates her strongest supporters. But these positions also restrict her appeal not only among some conservatives, but also among the independents needed to capture the White House.

Although she has avoided  debate gaffes, she has committed plenty of these, some important some not,  while on the campaign trail. When combined with her undistinguished career in the House of Representatives and her persona or lack of gravitas or whatever it is, she remains far behind in polling both  among Republicans and against President Obama.

While most conservatives ultimately would embrace her as the "Not-Obama," she cannot even establish herself as the "Not-Romney."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rick Perry 2.0

Leaving aside for now the "Curious History of Republicanism," let's assess the current status of our conservative potential Presidential candidates.

As the Iowa Caucus date of January 3, 2012 draws near, Rick Perry has attempted to reboot his Presidential campaign with a media blitz.

When he first announced his campaign, he jumped to the head of the Republican slate of candidates. As a successful governor of a large state, Perry seemed to possess the skills, experience, and the record that other candidates lacked. The only reservations voiced by skeptics was how his so-called "Texas swagger" would play outside the South. (I do not recall anyone asking how Mitt Romney's "New England Prissiness" would play outside the Northeast).

Dismal debate performances and a series of  "shoot-from-the-hip" (Texas swagger?) comments, however, sent him plummeting in the polls. Whether he is a bad debater or simply uninformed about national and international issues, voters quickly lost confidence in him.

Perry first attempts to revitalize his Christian core support with this ad:

This ad will play well among his core evangelical supporters, but among few others. It is difficult to discern the alleged war on Christianity after last week's lighting of the White House Christmas tree and Christmas greetings from the first family .  Perhaps Obama's incompetence as a chief executive is exceeded only by his incompetence as the commander-in-chief of the war on Christianity.

Then Perry adopts the strategy that has worked so well for Newt Gingrich--attack Obama.

Whether or not  well-crafted commercials can overcome the debate failures and  the conviction of voters that Perry lacks preparedness for the Presidency, time will tell. Right now other Republican candidates can safely ignore him. This might be enough for his continued  marginalization. If he does begin to surge in the polls, those debate clips will no doubt receive extensive replay.

Probably only strong debate performances in the future can insure his reemergence as the "Not-Romney."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is Herman a "Sugah" Cain?

Well, few can say with certainty.

If Herman Cain is innocent of the accusations of sexual harassment and marital infidelity, only he knows. If he is guilty, then only he and the women involved know

At any rate, he "suspended" his presidential campaign owing to the "distractions" caused by the accusations and the pain caused to his wife, family, and supporters.

When Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaan first issued their accusations, two very predictable reactions occurred.

First, the mainstream media played it to the hilt. It accepted the charges at face value without the slightest bit of skepticism. Consequently, it made no serious attempt to investigate the background or possible motives of the accusers. It offered brief reports about the Rick Perry campaign as the source of the original "leak" that eventually brought out the accusers, but not much else.

Second, conservative supporters rallied around Cain without the slightest concern that the accusations might be true. For example, Ann Coulter wrote columns  here, here,  and  here.  Supporters of Cain and conservatives in general have exhibited the skepticism about the claims missing from the mainstream media. In addition, conservative defenders of Cain rightly note the disparity between the media's response to Cains accusers and its response to Clinton's accusers back in 1996 and it total obliviousness to the John Edwards.

While no doubt the media regularly exhibits a double standard, until recently the cases differed. Cain was accused a sexual harassment, something that violated most private companies standards of acceptable conduct and in some cases is illegal. Clinton was  accused of marital infidelity, which, at least in the eyes of liberals, seems far less offensive.

Of course, marital infidelity presents its own problems and is not just a harmless private indiscretion. Although everyone knew Clinton was a serial adulterer, voters put him in the White House anyway. They assumed he would not dare continue his behavior in the Oval Office. Well, we eventually were treated to that horrible spectacle involving Monica Lewinsky. Of course, to Clinton supporters the problem was not Clinton's moral viciousness, but Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky, the Devil with the Blue Dress  on . . .  and off.

Now the accusations leveled by Ginger White that she had a thirteen year affair with Cain simply complicates the candidacy even more.  Rumors of marital infidelity will sit less well with core supporters than accusations of sexual harassment. And when added together with the sexual harassment accusations, White's charges create doubts about the man's personal character that are at odds with the image projected by his presidential campaign.

He made the right decision to "suspend" his campaign, right for his family, and right for his country.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Supercommittee Fails

When Congress and its regular committee system proved unable to reach a concensus on how to reduce the growing United States debt, it appointed a 12 member super committee to make the politically unpopular decisions that Congressmen in their regular capacity does not have the courage to make.

Was it too big to fail? Apparently not.

Maybe the answer is a super subcommittee.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is OWS Racist?

Its a dumb question.

But liberal political activists and their mainstream media enablers incessantly throw this question about conservatives in general and of the  the Tea Party Movement in particular. Although the Tea Party Movement has delivered  a consistent message about limited government and lower taxes, liberal groups such as the NAACP and many liberal opinion writers have accused the movement as racist at its core or at heavily populated by racist fringe members.

Few black Americans have participated in the OWS Movement. In fact, black Americans constitute  less than two percent of OWS protesters. Moreover, the most prominent veteran of the black civil rights struggle, John Lewis, got the brush off a couple of months back when he tried to visit a OWS rally. Maybe they did not know who he was. Maybe they thought he was simply a Congressman.

Finally,  a writer for the Washington Post finally took note of this demographic fact. Now the writer does not overtly accuse the OWS Movement of racism. The piece consists of a "black America told you so" about economic inequality and social injustice, etc. But at least the writer mustered up the courage to acknowledge the predominantly white participation in OWS.

So will the mainstream media now pick up on this and begin to ask the OWS movement if it is racism since it seem unable to reach out to black Americans who suffer disproportionately from the current financial and economic crisis.

Don't count on it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Milton Resists the Restoration

In Search of the Republic--20

After a turbulent 20 year experiment with republican government, England slowly staggered its way back to monarchy. Republican polemicist John Milton, now blind, wrote a last defense of the republic and warned against the return to monarchy. In The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1659), he  described his vision of the ideal republic. Moreover, he introduced a model for virtue that differed from the classical aristocratic notions of virtue. This other concept of virtue gradually supplanted the older classical virtue as republics supplanted monarchies.

Milton opens by reminding his readers of the struggles of the 1640s, when the people threw off monarchy. "The Parliament of England," he writes,

"assisted by a great number of the people who appeared and stuck to them faithfullest in defence of religion and their civil liberties, judging kingship by long experience a government burdensome, expensive, useless, and  dangerous, justly and magnanimously abolished it."

After the overthrow of Charles I, the Parliament disregarded tradition and the ancient constitution. Instead, bound by "the law of nature only, which is the only law of laws truly and properly to all mankind fundamental," established the commonwealth.

He warns his readers that if England returns to monarch, they will "soon repent" of it when they gradually see "the old encroachments" on their religious consciences which "necessarily proceed from the king and bishop united inseparably in one interest."

He reminds them of the "haughty court" that will emerge with a restoration, the "vast expense and luxury" that will burden the people, and the claim of "hereditary right over them as their Lord" that will soon be asserted.

Instead of depending on a monarchy and an aristocratic court with its classical pretended virtues of leisure, wealth, and refinement, Milton asserts that his readers that they "need depend on none but God and our own counsels, our own active virtue and industry. He quotes the Biblical Solomon:

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard, saith Solomon, and consider her ways and be wise, which having no prince, ruler, or lord, provides her meat in the summer, and gathers here food in the harvest."

According to Milton, this passage uphold the ant as an example of

"frugal and self-governing democratic or commonwealth, safer and more thriving in the joint providence and counsel of may industrious equals, than under the single domination of one imperious Lord."

This important passage contrasts the virtue of equal, hardworking citizens with the classical  virtue of a  hierarchy of well-born and  leisured aristocrats who disdained work.

Milton then describes his vision for the ideal republic. He deviates from the traditional republican ideal of a mixed government in which some kind of aristocracy is represented in one lawmaking assembly and the people are represented in another. Milton argues for a single legislative body, not filled with a hereditary aristocracy, but with representatives elected by the people. Echoing James Harrington's notion of a "natural aristocracy"  of merit, Milton asserts that this body should contain the "ablest men." A natural aristocracy of merit is to be preferred to a hereditary aristocracy based upon birth. But in contrast to Harrington's position on rotation in office, Milton suggested that these legislators serve for life. Milton obviously disapproved of what he called the "successive and transitory parliaments" that plague the English commonwealth.

He judged that such a Senate of principled men would better protect the liberty of the people than an "licentious and unbridled democracy." He divided liberties into two types: civil and spiritual.

Civil liberties consists

 "in the civil rights and advancements of every person according to his merit; the enjoyment of those never more certain and the access to these never more open, than in a free Commonwealth."

Spiritual liberty consists

"in the liberty to serve God and to save his own soul, according to the best light which God hath planted in him to that purpose, by the reading of his revealed will and the guidance of his holy spirit."

Consequently, Milton supported freedom of conscience in matters of faith.

Both civil freedom and religious freedom are threatened by monarchy, a hereditary aristocracy, and a state supported episcopacy.

Milton's warning went unheeded, however, and in 1660. England restored the Stuart dynasty to the throne.

Only a free commonwealth insured a government of laws and not of men.

John Milton

Monday, November 21, 2011

Harrington Defends the Republic

In Search of the Republic--19

The most well-known and influential defender of republicanism during England's commonwealth period was James Harrington. When the commonwealth came under attack by absolutist Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan, Harrington crafted a defense he entitled The Commonwealth of Oceana.(1656) In this work, Harrington wrote a fictionalized account of England (Oceana) and theorized about the elements of an ideal republic.

The bulk of the work to too detailed in its presentation and too stilted in its prose to thoroughly analyze here. But his “preliminaries,” as he calls them, identify the main contours of his thought.

First, Harrington appeals to classical ideas about the foundation of republican government, largely derived from his reading of Niccolo Machiavelli's writings on ancient republics. He contrasts the classical view of government favorably with the modern view on the grounds of how they protect the liberty of the people:

Government (to define it de jure, or according to ancient prudence) is an art whereby a civil society of men is instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common right or interest; or, to follow Aristotle and Livy, it is the empire of laws, and not of men.”

An empire of laws, and not of men, is one in which people are not subject to the arbitrary will of rulers.

In contrast:

Government (to define it de facto, or according to modern prudence) is an art whereby some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or of some few families, may be said to be the empire of men, and not of laws.”

Second, Harrington approves of the classical republican model of mixed government. He writes that just governments rule according to reason for the common good. All governments, however, grow corrupt because of the passions for private interest. Monarchy degenerates into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into anarchy.

To prevent this, the ancients

“invented another, consisting of a mixture of them all, which only is good. This is the doctrine of the ancients.”

So how should government be mixed? Harrington presents a model resembling that of Rome.

First, he proposes a Senate that, like the Roman Senate, does not make laws but only deliberates and makes suggestions for the people.

Wherefore the office of the senate is not to be commanders, but counsellors, of the people; and that which is proper to counsellors is first to debate, and afterward to give advice in the business whereupon they have debated, whence the decrees of the senate are never laws, nor so called; and these being maturely framed, it is their duty to propose in the case to the people.”

Harrington's Senate, however, differs in one important from the Roman and from the English House of Lords. He argues that its members should be elected. In a observation that influenced the founders of our own republic, Harrington posits the existence of a “natural aristocracy” that is “diffused throughout the whole body of mankind.” The people will recognize this "natural aristocracy" for their virtue and talents, not for their wealth or noble birth. These will make the best Senators.

Second, Harrington proposes a legislature to choose from the alternatives deliberated upon and forwarded to it from the Senate. Although the Senate is the wisdom of the commonwealth, the people's assembly is its interest in the common good.

The wisdom of the few may be the light of mankind; but the interest of the few is not the profit of mankind nor of a commonwealth. Wherefore, seeing we have granted interest to be reason, they must not choose lest it put out their light. But as the council dividing consists of the wisdom of the commonwealth, so the assembly or council choosing should consist of the interest of the commonwealth: as the wisdom of the commonwealth is in the aristocracy, so the interest of the commonwealth is in the whole body of the people.”

Finally, he proposes a magistrate to carry out the decisions of the assembly. But, in accordance to “an empire of laws and not of men,” the magistrate carry out his duties according to law and must remain accountable to the people.

Nevertheless there is one condition of it that must be the same in every one, or it dissolves the commonwealth where it is wanting. And this is no less than that, as the hand of the magistrate is the executive power of the law, so the head of the magistrate is answerable to the people, that his execution be according to the law.”

This is the basic structure of Harrington's republic.

He adds some other principles as well. He, like Aristotle, analyzes government economically. He feared that too much wealth concentrated in few hands could allow a faction of the extremely wealthy to overpower the balance in the government of a republic and overthrow it.  Consequently, he proposed agrarian laws governing the accumulation of land in order to prevent the growth of a landed aristocracy. He also urged rotation in office. This, too, helps preserve some semblance of equality to preserve a balanced government. Finally, he argued for liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

A government pretending to liberty, and yet suppressing liberty of conscience must be a contradiction.”

James Harrington

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Milton Defends the Republic

In Search of the Republic--18

England's  seventeenth-century experiment with republican government failed, but it yielded some innovative writings about the origins and nature of government. Although few, if any, of these writings had a lasting impact on English political thought, many much later influenced the founders of the United States, the greatest of the modern republics.

One of the earliest of these writings was Tenure of Kings and Magistrates by John Milton. Known mostly as a poet who composed Paradise Lost, Milton wrote many polemical and philosophical works. As a Puritan Independent, he supported the Parliament against King Charles I in the English Civil War. He had an uneasy relationship, however, with the Puritan led republic that emerged from that contest. In his Areopagitica (1644), Milton wrote against the censorship imposed by the new regime. In his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), he defended the overthrow and execution of the king. His manuscript was actually seized by the very republican government he supported. It was returned and Milton published it with a dedication to the chief magistrate of the republic, Oliver  Cromwell.

The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates was not only a defense of the revolution, but also an attack on the Presbyterian supporters of the revolution who began to have second thoughts. In this work, Milton introduces a novel theory of the origins of government.

In the years preceding the civil war and during the struggle itself, both the King and his supporters as well as the Parliament and its supporters based their arguments on tradition and what they called "the ancient constitution." Each party accused the others of being innovators.

Milton moved beyond these arguments. In his opening passages, he condemned those who appealed to tradition:

"If men within themselves would be govern'd by reason, and not generally give up thir understanding to a double tyrannie, of Custom from without, and blind affections within, they would discerne better, what it is to favour and uphold the Tyrant of a Nation."

He appealed to reason over custom and the passionate attachment to the existing constitution.

Instead, he based his position on the pre-political state of nature:

"No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were by privilege above all the creatures, born to command and not to obey: and that they liv'd so."

Only after the fall of man in Eden did man discover the need for organized society:

"They agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and joyntly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement. Hence came Citties, Townes and Common-wealths."

Because societies needed some authority to enforce order, they turned to those who possessed the qualities needed to insure justice. They gave up their natural right to private justice to magistrates:

"This autoritie and power of self-defence and preservation being originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all, for ease, for order, and least each man should be his own partial Judge, they communicated and deriv'd either to one, whom for the eminence of his wisdom and integritie they chose above the rest, or to more then one whom they thought of equal deserving: the first was call'd a King; the other Magistrates."

Not willing to subject themselves to arbitrary rule, the people restricted the kings exercise of authority.
They desired the classical republican idea of  "rule by law, not by men."

"Then did they who now by tryal had found the danger and inconveniences of committing arbitrary power to any, invent Laws either fram'd, or consented to by all, that should confine and limit the autority of whom they chose to govern them: that so man, of whose failing they had proof, might no more rule over them, but law and reason abstracted as much as might be from personal errors and frailties"

Consequently, powers given to the King were given only in trust and remain fundamentally in the hands of the people. The attempt to attach to Kings such titles as Lord or Sovereign amounted only to arrogance and flattery:

"It being thus manifest that the power of Kings and Magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferr'd and committed to them in trust from the People, to the Common good of them all, in whom the power yet remaines fundamentally, and cannot be tak'n from them, without a violation of thir natural birthright, and seeing that from hence Aristotle and the best of Political writers have defin'd a King, him who governs to the good and profit of his People, and not for his own ends, it follows from necessary causes, that the Titles of Sov'ran Lord, natural Lord, and the like, are either arrogancies, or flatteries."

When a king rules in the interest of himself and not the interest of the people, he is nothing less than a tyrant, unfit to serve as a ruler over free men.

Milton first appealed to the Bible to justify his argument. He qualified Paul's injunctions to obey the "powers that be." Milton argued that Paul's writing only applied to governments that fulfilled the biblical mandate to be a rewarder  of the good and a terror to evil. When a government ceased to fulfill this God ordained role and instead became a terror to the good, men have the right to overthrow it.

In addition,  Milton appealed to the classical examples of the Greeks and Romans to defend the overthrow of tyrants:

"The Greeks and Romans, as thir prime Authors witness, held it not onely lawfull, but a glorious and Heroic deed, rewarded publicly with Statues and Garlands, to kill an infamous Tyrant at any time without tryal: and but reason, that he who trod down all Law, should not be voutsaf'd the benefit of Law."

So with the examples of both Biblical and secular history, Milton defended the actions of the victors in the English Civil War.

Later, as the English deliberated about ending the republic and restoring the monarchy, the nearly blind Milton wrote another piece warning against it and advocating his ideal republic.

John Milton

Sunday, November 13, 2011

English Thoughts on Republicanism

In search of the republic--17

Before the recent tour of Occupy Wall Street, Right Detour featured  a series of posts examining the curious history of republicanism. These posts concluded with England's experiment with republican government that began with the English Civil War in 1641 and  lasted until the Restoration of 1660.

After the English Civil War and the overthrow of  King Charles I, the House of Commons declared England to be a Commonwealth, or republic.  The House of Commons abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords. In their place, it set up Oliver Cromwell as the chief magistrate with a Council of State.

 The Commonwealth era proved to be one of turmoil and disorder during which the English repeatedly modified their government in its search for order.  Presbyterian parliamentarians who maintained royalist sympathies found themselves purged from the Commons, leaving a 50 or so member Rump Parliament. Cromwell eventually dissolved the Rump and replaced them with a new one incorporating representatives from Scotland and Wales with himself as Lord Protector. This parliament, too, was abandoned. After Cromwell's death and the ascension of his son Richard as Lord Protector, the army forced a recall of the original Rump Parliament. The Rump parliament soon readmitted surviving members of the purged Presbyterians. Finally, as the Englished moved closer to abandoning their republican experiment, a Convention Parliament with a new House of Lords assembled. This Parliament effected the end of the republic and the restoration of monarchy.

Although the English Republican experiment failed, the tumultuous period generated several polemical and philosophical writings about republican government. These writings not only inspired the English in their "Glorious Revolution of 1688" against monarchical absolutism, but also influenced the thinking of British North Americans over one hundred years later, when they revolted against their mother country. These next couple of posts will look at some of those writings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Finds its "Hero" and Moves to the Burbs

Occupy Atlanta camped out in Woodruff Park for a month. Mayor Kasim Reed said their time was up. So he revoked an executive order that allowed them to camp out overnight in the park.

As the 11:00 PM curfew approached, police began clearing the park and blocking its entrances. Some occupiers remained in the part to face arrest while others reassemble for a march on downtown streets, blocking traffic.

That's whe Occupy Atlanta found its first hero.

A policeman on a motorcycyle tried to pass through the crowd. As he slowed to a stop, an occupier grabbed his handlebars and blocked him from going any further. That is when other occupiers "intervened," as the Atlanta-Journal Constitution put it. What that means in journalese, is that the other occupiers tried to pull the officers of his bike and push the bike over.

Here are two versions of the video.

Here is a video of Occupy Atlanta spokeman Tim Franzen lying about it.

Perhaps soon Tim and his media enablers will be comparing the Atlantan who obstructed the police motorcycle to that lone Chinese man who stopped the column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. After all, the Occupiers believe that they, too, live in a police state.

Meanwhile, Occupy Atlanta moved on to the suburbs to occupy a house in foreclosure. Somehow this will stop the bank from seizing it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Media and the Message

Occupy Wall Street is now coming up on two months old.

The mainstream media still has offered up little that I have seen about the aims of  OWS. Even Occupy Wall Street and its supporters express frustration of it.

Reporters covering the movement offer up generalizations about "corporate greed" and "corporate influence in politics,"  but offer little substantive comment or analysis of actual demands. Even when they bring in analysists, the "experts" add little to enlighten the understanding of the viewers. Analysts acknowledge the" diversity" with the OWS movement and sympathize with participants "frustration," but rarely discuss their actual demands.

It might be because such a discussion will further tarnish the movement's reputation.

 Although restricting corporate political donations and re-enacting Glass-Stegall are mainstream proposals, other suggestions like paying off all student loans, allowing Americans to print their own money, and vague allusions to "restructuring our economy and political system" are not.

The increasing incidents of crimes and acts of violence present problems for the media as well. Accoring the the mainstream media, the perpetrators of the crimes and acts violence at OWS protests are not core members of the movment but only "opportunists." Diversity isn't so great afterall.

Interestingly, the  Tea Party movement in the beginning experienced the same problem getting its message out. The mainstream media reported the Tea Party's message about reducing government spending and reducing taxes. They even acknowledged the Tea Party's push, not for restructuring government, but for keeping it within  constitional bounds. But when they brought it the "experts," the real  mainstream media narrative began. They linked the Tea Party to racists, John Birchers, Christian Dominionists,and everything else under the sun.

 And, of course, they faithfully reported every nasty e-mail to Democratic politicians as "threats of violence." In constrast to their reporting about OWS, the mainstreammedia assessed any words or actions that suggested a "climate of fear" as the essence of the Tea Party movement.

If not for cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere, the Tea Party might have been force to become "Occupy Times Square" outside the headquarters of the New York Times.

New York Times

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why the Tea Party Will Outlast the Occupation

Despite superficial similarities cited in my previous post, the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street possess some fundamental differences. It is these differences that will enable the Tea Party Movement endure while Occupy Wall Street will be swept into the dustbin of history, hopefully with all the garbage they have accumulated at the various Occupy sites.

Despite some diversity within the Tea Party Movement, most members and supporters focus on one core message. As the largest and most grassroots based of the Tea Party organization, the Tea Party Patriots, succinctly identifies it: "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets." Despite the charges leveled by Social Democrats and their enablers in the "main stream media" that this constitutes a radical agenda, it is actually in the historical and  political mainstream. Perhaps that is an indication of how far liberal have degenerated when political appeals to the cornerstone ideas of our founders are labeled "radical."

The Tea Party Movement  not only has settled on a simple, core message, it also has organized to publicize the message and effect political change. The movement attracted attention with its rallies, but it sustained the message through blogs and social media. More importantly, members organized local chapters to sustain the message and coordinate political action. The results of the last election cycle evidences the movements success.

Below is an account of a Tea Party meeting in DC by Reason TV

Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street Movement still searches for a message, because it still searches for leadership. A group claiming the speak for the original Occupation in NYC, calling itself the New York City General Assembly, posted this  this list of demands. Some of the demands are moderate; others call for a fundamental transformation of our political and economic system. Meanwhile, Adbusters, the original initiators of OWS, warned supporters against a rival faction calling itself the Demands Working Group, that has created its own agenda.

It remains to be seen if OWS can organize for political action. The movement communicates through websites, blogs, and social media, but it has given no indication that it can organize itself into an effective political movement. So far, they continue to "occupy," apparently believing that their mere presence is sufficient for change.

 Perhaps this gets back to the kind of change sought by Adbusters. This group is convinced that corporations and the media have imposed a kind of "false consciousness"  called consumerism on "the people." Perhaps they are equally convinced that occupying downtown parks with signs, chants, and bongo drums will break through this "false consciousness" and enable Americans to see reality as it really is. Then Americans will act politically on behalf of the changes supported by the occupiers.

Below is a visit by Reason TV to OWS:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Insurgencies of Tea Party Movement and OWS

It was inevitable that after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests would lead to comparisons with the earlier Tea Party movement. Because  they both emerged during this current financial and economic downturn, it seems a matter of common sense to look for affinities between the two, even when they offer starkly difference solutions. Let's take a look at the general and somewhat superficial ways that the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street Movement resemble each other. The next post will examine some differences.

First, they are both populist movements against established institutional authorities. Members in both movements perceive that these established authorities--government, political parties, corporations, and financial institutions--have in some sense failed the people.

Second, they have attracted diverse followers with different interpretations and different agendas. The Tea Party began in opposition to the massive expansion of government behind the  bailouts of investment banks, government loans to automobile manufacturers, and the stimulus packages. It also sounded the alarm about the tax burden that the people will be forced to carry in order eventually pay for those bailouts. Consequently, the immediate goal of the  Tea Party Movement was to reign in government intervention and government spending.  With the introduction of "Obamacare,"  some elements in the Tea Party Movement  embraced the cause of restructuring of Medicare and Social Security. And of course, other members of the movement see our current malaise as a moral problem. More religiously minded among the Tea Party Movement see a need for moral reform and restoring honor. Others have added the problem of illegal immigration to the Tea Party agenda.

Occupy Wall Street, too, has attracted  a diverse following. Initiated by Adbusters as protest against Wall Street greed and corporate influence on politics, the OWS Movemnt has attracted debtors, students,  the unemployed, vegetarians, pacifists, open borders supporters, and anti-death penalty advocates. All these participants hoped to add their causes to the OWS message.

Third, some outside groups have embraced the two movements, perhaps in order to influence  them into alternative directions. Organizations such as Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and others have embraced the Tea Party movement. They agree with much of the Tea Party's agenda but no doubt would like to steer the movement away from those areas with which these other groups disagree.

Although the OWS Movement is much newer, it, too, has experienced the bandwagon effect. In addition to the predictable cast of  actors and actresses that try to "steal the scenes" to enhance their own egos, the Association of University Professors, MoveOn.Org and others have endorsed OWS.
Unions such the the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, and  the Teamsters among many others have officially announced their support for  OWS. Two additional unions are all the more interesting because they represent journalists who actually cover the OWS and disseminate information about it: the Communication Workers of American and the Newspaper Guild.

Finally, the Tea Party Movement and OWS both challenged our two main political parties while at the same time are subject to being co-opted by them. The relationship between the two populist movements and the main two political parties have generated the more typical comparisons.   The basic paradigm is that "the OWS movement is to  the  Democratic Party what  the Tea Party Movement is  to the Republican Party. Establishment Republicansearly on  criticised the Tea Party, its positions, and its candidates. After witnessing its impact in recent elections, however, they have come around to embracing it. The Democratic establishment kept its distance in the early days of the OWS Movment. They seemed to have recognized that the movement was almost as much about them as about Wall Street. Now President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all have welcomed OWS. They, too, hope to co-opt the movement in the interests of the Social Democratic Party.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Ideological Origins of OWS

The Wall Street investment banking crisis of 2008 has spawned two populist movements devoted to changing the way business is done in Washington D.C. and on Wall Street.

The most recent is the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan's financial district and has spread to dozens of other cities around the United States. Although essentially a populist movement energized  through email and social media, Occupy Wall Street  began as an initiative of an established left-wing organization called Adbusters Media Foundation.  Their website describes itself as:

"as global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators, and entrepreneurs  who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century."

The organization characterizes our current way of living as a debilitating "consumerism" that is not only bad for people, but also bad for the natural environment that sustains it.

In their traditional Marxist view, the organization sees establishment power structures  such as governments, corporations, and the media as the source of an ideology behind consumerism. This ideology blinds citizens to the truth about  reality and substitutes a false consciousness. Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci described this as "cultural hegemony."

Adbusters does not use traditional political techniques for effecting change. Instead, they try to make people conscious of the ideology behind consumerism and free them from it in order to see social reality the way they say it really is, that is, the Marxist way.  Consequently, they have promoted such social marketing campaigns as  Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week to create a new consumer consciousness following the model of Marx's desire to create a new "working class consciousness" to free themselves for the ideology established by capitalists.

During the summer of 2011, Adbusters came up with the idea of rallying on Wall Stret to protest corporate influence in government and politics and the growing disparity in wealth. They suggested September 17, Constitution Day, as the day to begin the protests. And savvy media foundation that they are, they acquired domain rights to domain names OccupyWallstreet.Org and OccupyWS.Org.

A thousand protesters gathered in New York that first day. Over the next several days the crowd swelled. In addition, several occupation movements gathered in other American cities. Uncertainty remains about just what specific goals it seeks and how long it will last.

In general, the public has been divided over the movement just as they were divided over the Tea Party Movement. In fact, one of the most frequent generalizations made about the OWS movement is that it is a leftwing or Democratic Party version of the Tea Party.

The next post will examine that generalization.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can Obama Prorogue the Congress?

A short intermission from our search for the republic for look at current events.

One episode captured at the Daily Caller ties in nicely to some recent posts at Right Detour.

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. offers some interesting policy advice to President Obama:

The most obvious flaws in the plan are economic—a $100 billion bailout of the states, a $100 billion dollar bailout of the cities, and a $600 billion bailout of the unemployed. This latter program would hired 15 million unemployed Americans at an annual salary of $40,000. Of course, no consideration is given to any education or skills that might warrant such a salary. In addition, he said it could be a five year program. Let's see—now we are talking about a $3 trillion program.

The less obvious, but more dangerous aspect of his policy advice, is that the President should rule cast aside the Congress and rule as a wartime President. He likened our current circumstances to those faced by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Just like the states were in rebellion then, the Congress is in rebellion now. It is difficult to imagine a more ignorant and clumsy historical analogy.

Of course, the Congress cannot be in rebellion against the government. It IS the government. In a republic, the lawmaking branch is the essence of the government.

If one is seeking an historical analogy, maybe it should be found in the attempts of King Charles I to rule England without Parliament. He issued new taxation without the consent of Parliament. He arrested wealthy Parliamentarians to extract forced loans from them. And he dissolved Parliament when it tried to investigate government misconduct.

And he lost his head.

King Charles I

President Barack Obama

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Restoration

In Search of the Republic--16

After Oliver Cromwell's death, his son Richard assumed the position of Lord Protector. Unlike his father the soldier and country gentleman, Richard could not hold together the uneasy alliance of the army and the republican gentry that established the republic.

When his first Parliament met in1659, the majority desire to continued the Protectorate. They attempted, however, to assume control over the army. When it enacted legislation forbidding any general meetings of the army during sessions of Parliament, Cromwell's brother-in-law and military commander Charles Fleetwood demanded the dissolution of Parliament. Cromwell complied, effectively ending the Protectorate.

Without any government in place, The Council of Officers called for the convening of the  the so-called Rump Parliament that functioned under the original republic. It, too, sought to reassert Parliamentary control over the army. It revoked the commission of Lambert and several other officers. Instead, forces under the command of John Lambert surrounded Westminster and dispersed the Parliament.

By then, however, the army found itself divided. General George Monk in Scotland cross the border with his army to confront Lambert, whose forces dispersed. The rump Parliament reassembled and named Monk commander. Monk called upon the rump Parliament to readmit the excluded Presbyterians and royalists and called for elections of a new free Parliament. The new Long Parliament subsequently called for free election of a new Parliament and dissolved itself.

A new  Parliament met in April 1660. In the election, many of the republicans and army officers had been swept from power. Advocates of  the restoration of monarchy dominated the Parliament.

Meanwhile Charles II, in exile since the execution of his father, issued the Declaration of Breda stating his terms for restoration. The document had been drafted with the help of George Monk and the king's closest advisers. The Declaration was submitted to Parliament and on May 1, 1660, both houses unanimously voted for the restoration of England's monarchy.

George Monk

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Protectorate

In Search of the Republic--15

After Cromwell dismissed the Nominated Assembly, the government reorganized under England's first written constitution, drafted by an army commission led by John Lambert, the Instrument of Government.

The document established  a parliament of 400 members from England, 30 from Scotland, and 30 from Ireland. It retained the form of a one house legislature that had been established.  It met in its first session in 1654 only to be dissolved by Cromwell  the following year.

Cromwell continued to rule through the army the next couple of years.

In 1657,  the English attempted another revision of the legislature of the republic. Under a second written constitution called the Humble Petition and Advice, England abandoned the one house legislature in favor of the traditional English two house legislature, but one in which the House of Lords would be elected rather than hereditary. The Petition called for a lower house elected by the voters. A separate upper house would be elected by the lower house. This would re-introduce an aristocratic element at the expense of the Council of State and perhaps stunt the opposition of disaffected royalists and aristocrats. Despite his loyalties to his republican and Puritan supporters, he accepted the terms of the Humble Petition.

The new parliament, however, only institutionalized the conflict between royalists and republicans. Cromwell soon dissolved this parliament as well.

He died the following year. Parliament began serious entertaining the idea of the restoration of monarchy.

John Lambert

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Collapse of the English Republic

In Search of the Republic--14

The English experiment with republic government turned out to be a short and unhappy affair.

In addition to the politcal and religious settlements, one of few major accomplishments of the republic was an anchievement sought but never accomplished by the Stuarts: the unification of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The civil war did not end until their conquest by the New Model Army.

Despite Cromwell's hope for good laws from Parliament, it's members seemed divided among themselves. Moreover, they sensed the continuing threats from royalists on the one hand, and the radical Levelers, Diggers,  and Ranters on the other. And throughout the commonwealth period, the threat of intervention from the army loomed over the Parliament.

In 1653 it finally happened. Cromwell and the Army expelled the Parliament. In its place Cromwell establised a new Nominated Assembly of  "saints."  This, too, proved short lived. Cromwell dismissed it after five months.

The republic was replaced by the "Protectorate."

Oliver Cromwell

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The English Republic

In Search of the Republic--13

An English civil war finally brought in a republic.

After Charles I raised the royal standard declaring war, the Parliament organized the New Model Army. It dispensed with the tradition of creating an army organized around local militias. It created a truly national army. Also, officers were appointed based upon merit rather than status. They appointed Thomas Fairfax to lead it. Parliament also forged an alliance with the Scots, who had organized already in anticipation of invasion by Charles to force religious union with England.

With the help of the Scottish army, the New Model Army defeated the King and his loyalist forces. He was captured and imprisoned by the Scots. During his imprisonment, Parliament initiated several attempts at compromise and reconciliation. Because they included among other things assumption of control of the army by Parliament, the King rejected it. He also continued secret negotiations with the Scots and the French to effect his escape and restoration to power.

Meanwhile, the Army  purged the Parliament of those members, mostly Presbyterian, whom it considered sympathetic to the royalist cause and unsympathetic to Army grievances. The remaining members, mostly religious independents and republicans,  became known as the Rump Parliament.

When all negotiations failed to yield an agreement, the Scots turned Charles I  over to Parliament. King Charles was tried and executed.

Parliament then began the piecemeal creation of a republic.
The Parliament abolished the monarchy. It replaced the monarchy with a Council of State to act as executive authority.  It also abolished the traditional aristocratic institutional  base of support for monarchy, the House of Lords. A couple of months later it declared England to be a commonwealth or republic. It also passed laws requiring oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth and acknowledgment of the Parliament as the supreme sovereign power in England.

Parliament also enacted a new religious settlement.

The republican Parliament adopted the Westminster standards, the product of a conference of English and Scottish divines. It created a  Presbyterian state church structure that still permitted independents to form their own congregations.

An act of toleration was passed. It also enacted a Blasphemy Act against more radical Christian sects.It  repealed laws that required attendance to parish churches every Sunday. But it also enacted law requiring strict observance of the Sunday sabbath, ending the tradition of devoting the day to sports.

The English republic, however, proved short lived.

The next post will look at its collapse.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Power and The Parliament

In Search of the Republic--12

The English Parliament made its greatest assertions of authority in the 17th century against the Stuart dynasty. It resulted ultimately in the overthrow and execution of the king.

The conditions that gave rise to the English Civil War and the establishment of a republic can be traced to the earlier Tudor dynasty. During the last decades of the Tudor dynasty an unprecedented turnover in noble families occurred. Large numbers of noble families declined in their fortunes while new families ascended. The decline of many of these aristocratic families severed their social connection with the lesser gentry in their counties.  In addition, wealth gravitated to the middle class lesser gentry at the expense of both the aristocrats and the poor. The decline in financial status of the aristocracy was accompanied by a decline in their social status. They could not maintain the same influence that they once had enjoyed. Part of this influence included their role as a link between the Court, where some of the aristocratic political activities occurred, and the "country," where the lesser gentry leadership gained their political experience.

In addition, the Tudors unintentionally weakened the ecclesiastical support for the English monarchy. When Henry VIII assumed control over the state church and rechristened it the Church of England,  he seized and sold the lands of the Catholic Church and established in its place an impoverished state church, the Church of England,  with not enough ministers to service the parishes. The action left many aristocrats secretly loyal to the Catholic Church and disaffected with the Tudor monarchy. Many of the lesser gentry, too, found little appeal in the new Church of England. Increasing numbers of these lesser gentry affiliated with more reformed or Puritan  bodies, such as the Presbyterian Church or independent Congregationalists. Although traditionally influential only in their local counties or shires, increasing numbers of these gentry began representing their shires in the House of Commons. And many no longer enjoyed a positive connection with the Royal Court. When the Stuarts assumed the throne and began to vigorously push for a strengthened monarchy and Anglican establishment, these members of the lesser gentry coalesced into a "country party" that opposed the Court.

James I, Elizabeth's relative and sitting king of Scotland,  ascended the thrown upon her death and began the Stuart dynasty. Because of the real achievements of Elizabeth and the personality cult that formed around her, James could never attract the level of affection from the English people that Elizabeth commanded. Among courtiers, he had a reputation as unattractive man with bad manners who surrounded himself with boys.

Although he had written a treatise asserting the divine right of kings, James promised in his coronation to rule according to "the laws and customs of the realm." He also failed to accomplish his most ambitious plan: a formal union of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland accompanied with a reunion of the Church of England with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The aggressive pursuit of these aims by his son and heir, Charles I led to civil war. The two main obstacles to his aims included an independent parliament and the puritan movement. As Charles pursued his policies,  these two obstacles came to be supported by that widespread but loosely organized "country party." This "party" manifested a division that was both geographical and cultural. Its proponents emerged from the local politics of the English shires with little connection with the "court" politics surrounding the monarchy. Moreover, they defined themselves cultural as distinctive from the court. The "court party," and all that is symbolized, became a negative reference group for this "country party." As historian Lawrence Stone summarized it,

"The Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual' the Country was sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile;  the Country was healthy, the Court diseased . . .  the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administrative novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Country was solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court was deeply tainted by Popish leanings."

The first obstacle arose because of the efforts of Charles to fund foreign wars.

When Charles called together his first two Parliaments in 1925 and 1626, he ended up dissolving them.  He needed money to fund war with Spain. Parliament provided only limited funds tried to reduce the king's prerogatives. He began collecting forced loans through arrests. Seventy six prominent men were arrested, including including 27 members of the House of Commons. He also raised so called ship money, taxes on seaport towns to upgrade coastal defenses and the navy.

Revenue problems finally forced Charles I to call a Parliament in 1628, He asked for five subsidies.

Parliament replied with its “Petition of Right.” Parliament asked him to wave his prerogatives and to accede to the normal functions of law on the issue of taxation, imprisonment, and martial law. The subsidies were provided in exchange for the king's agreement on prerogatives. Charles intended, however, to disregard the provisions contained in the provisions.

These issue arose again the following year when his third Parliament began its second session.

In March 10 1629, the King again dissolved Parliament. He ruled without Parliament for the next seven years through loans from the greater nobles. Charles received some financial relief, too,when he signed peace treaties with France and Spain. This reduced his expenses. And with the resumption of overseas trade, the treasury began to grow through customs duties.

The second main obstacle arose because of the religious policy of Charles.

Church of England Archbishop William Laud attempted to reduce the nonconformity of Puritans  and to institute a  more formal, more Catholic form of worship. Laud's efforts only served to radicalize Puritan dissenters. The pressure on Puritans drove ten of thousands to migrate to the recently established colonies in the wilderness of North America.

Moreover, Charles and Laud planned to  force a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland and bring that nation's Presbyterian Church as close as possible to uniformity with the Church of  England.

The Scots organized for armed resistance.

In need of funds to put down the Scottish rebellion, he assembled Parliament for the first time in over ten years. Instead of discussing war, however, Parliament wanted to discuss Laud's religious reforms and Charles' continued disregard for the Petition of Right to which he agreed. Parliament began forming committees to investigate the administration's conduct during the eleven years of personal rule.

Parliament again dissolved. Meeting for only three weeks, it became known as the short parliament.

He called together Parliament after six months in 1640.

When it resumed, Parliament aggressively asserted its rights: bills passed abolishing certain courts such as the star chamber, requiring Parliamentary meetings every three years, prohibiting the king from dissolving the Parliament without its own consent,  eliminating virtually all of the king's prerogative courts, and declaring any taxes illegal that were levied without the approval of Parliament

Parliament issued what is known as The Grand Remonstrance in 1641. It listed grievances of Parliament and called for the King to relinquish many of his prerogatives, especially those regarding military appointments.  Parliament was attempting to bring control of the military under Parliament.

This provoked a reaction from the King. Charles attempted to arrest some leading members of Parliament, but they escaped. Charles then gathered loyalists in the town of York, where he planned to raise an army to assert his rights.

In June 1641, Parliament sent the Nineteen Propositions which in fact was an ultimatum demanding that the kind surrender his remaining prerogatives. It demanded that privy councilors, ministers, and military officers all be placed under the authority of Parliament.

Charles replied:

We call God to witnesse, that as for Our Subjects sake these rights are vested in Us, so for their sakes, as well as for Our own, We are resolved not to quit them, nor to subvert (though in a Parliamentary way) the ancient, equall, happy, well-poised and never-enough commended Constitution of the Government of this Kingdom ... There being three kindesinconveniencies. The experience and wisdom of your Ancestors hath so moulded this out of a mixture of these, a s to give to this Kingdom (as far as humane Prudence can provide) the conveniencies of all three, without the inconveniencies of any one, as long as the Balance hangs even between the three Estates, and they run jointly on in their proper Chanell... The ill of absolute Monarchy is Tyranny, the ill of Aristocracy is Faction and Division, the ills of Democracy are Tumults, Violence and Licentiousnesse. The good of Monarchy is the uniting of a Nation under one Head to resist Invasion from abroad, and Insurrection at home: The good of Aristocracy is the Conjunction of Counsell in the ablest Persons of a State for the publike benefit: The good of Democracy is Liberty, and the Courage and Industry which Liberty begetts.

In these disputes, both Parliament and the King appealed to its rights from England's "ancient constitution" in support of their respective positions. And ultimately, in the king"s answer to the Nineteen Proposition,  Charles appealed to the idea of the balanced constitution between Crown, Lords, and Commons derived from Aristotle's philosophy on correct constitutions.

In order to preserve such a balance, Charles rejected the Nineteen Propositions. Parliament began to plans for an army to support its view. The King raised his standard and the war was on. The war would determine who had the supremacy in the English constitution and what kind of Protestant politics would the government support.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Rise of Constituent Assemblies

In Search of the Republic--11

Europe in the Middle Ages witnessed the rise of heredity monarchs. These monarchs emerged when some greater landholding lords increased their military power vis-a-vis other lords. In some cases, the lesser lords acquiesced to the shifting imbalance of power by electing a greater lord to kingship and subordinating themselves to him as his vassals.

The new monarchs used the vassals as  instruments to propagate his laws and execute his will throughout the realm. The lesser lords also established themselves as advisers to the king and attempted to set limits to his authority. Eventually all across Europe, nobles developed permanent constituent bodies representing the nobles. These bodies bore different names in different places. They were called estates in France, diets in the German provinces, cortes in Spain, and parliaments in England. The monarchs and aristocratic bodies often conflicted, however, over the limits of authority. In some countries such as France and Russia, the kings overawed the nobles to establish themselves as absolute monarchs. In England, however, the struggle resulted in a different outcome.

In England, landed nobles successfully asserted themselves against King John to limited his power. He was politically weak because he had lost most of the continental provinces that had been part of the realm. Now the English coast became directly exposed to attacks from Normandy. A costly navy had to be built. And his treasury was depleted. Much of the nation's treasury had been spent on continental wars.

John issued new taxes on property, rents, fines to raise money. Moreover, after a quarrel with the church over who possessed the power to appoint the archbishop of Canterbury, John seized the revenues of the see of Canterbury. The pope responded by ending all ordinary services and ceremonies in England and excommunicating the king. He responded by seizing more church property. He finally reconciled with the pope, acceptin  Stephen Langton as the archbishop.

The military situation improved when the English defeated a French navy near Bruges.  But as he prepared for a new counteroffensive against France, he learned that many of the Barons opposed him. He invaded France anyway and suffered defeat, confirming the loss of Normandy and other English provinces in France. He went home more weakened than ever before.

In 1215, the great Barons forced King John to accept the Magna Carta, or Great Charter of Liberties.( It  dealt for the most part with the liberties of the nobles. He later repudiated it).  Its immediate import was that the barons forced John to at least acknowledge the traditional customary relations between a monarch and the nobility. And it called for a Great Council to be summoned to decide taxation. The barons did not know that they had formed the basis for a limited constitutional monarchy. John died the following year.

John's successor, Henry III also faced a revolt from the nobles. Again, he needed money for war. When he appealed to the greater nobles for aid in1258, they instead presented him with the Provisions of Oxford. It demanded the creation of a council of 15 to advise the King and required the meeting of the Great Council--or parliament-to take place three times each year.

Henry faced a greater revolt in 1263. His brother in law, Simon de Montfort demanded strict observance of the Provisions of Oxford. He wanted a government dominated by the aristocracy rather that the king and his ministers.  A short civil war erupted in which Simon de Montfort defeated royal forces and captured the king. Simon de Montfort ruled for a year in the king's name. During that time he called a parliament that included representation of two knights elected from each shire (county) court and two citizens, or burgesses, from each of the larger towns.

A second civil war broke out in which Simon de Montfort was killed.

The Great Council continued to meet, however, and eventually included regular representation from the knights and burgesses. Later, the Great Council separated into two bodies--the House of Lords that included the great nobles, and  the House of Commons, that included the lesser gentry from the shires and the burgesses from the cities.