The late Christopher Hitchens is a source of almost endless hatred on the religious right, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. But lest the socialist left should be too elated with the polemicist’s condemnation of religion, Hitchens had some choice words for the politically correct thought police of the left, especially pertinent for the eco-fascist “consensus.”
My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.
The video above is from his speech given at the University of Toronto in 2006 entitled, “Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate.”
And what could inspire Hitchens’ own hatred more than religion? Alas, there are even pearls of wisdom for the religious right to contemplate, even in the desolate ashes of their most cherished shibboleths.
“So call me a neoconservative if you must; anything is preferable to the rotten, unprincipled alliance between the former fans of the one-party state and the hysterical zealots of the one-god one.”
Supporter of the Iraq War, unrepentant former socialist, and literary enigma. His vicious and remorseless pen will be missed.
The Deadly Double Game of Using Religion for Political Expediency: How Mainstream Media Have Gone Medieval
Reading through world history, it is fascinating to find precedents for the manipulation of public opinion. One of the most effective techniques has been the employment of religious sentiment to sway not only the public, but the kings and nobility. Such tactics bear striking resemblance to the mainstream media’s attacks on American political candidates who claim the religious mantle for purposes of political expediency.
The use of religion to bolster the political legitimacy of the ruling class is as old as the first ancient civilizations, such as Sumer, Akkad, and Egypt. But the relationship between the ecclesiastical caste and the kings has always been tenuous: the king-makers could become the king-breakers. What kings required from religion was two-fold: to instill widespread fear and mortification in the masses, either by the king claiming that he ruled on behalf of god or actually was god, and to give the slaves and helots something to look forward to in the afterlife, after they had been used up by the king and the nobility.
Delving deeper into English history, it is clear that there is a necessity to contextualize the significance of the American revolution within the institutional innovations of past peoples. In this way, we can appreciate the tumultuous heritage that gave birth to many of the Founders’ ideas and more fully comprehend the historical difficulties the Constitution was intended to allay.
One institutional innovator was the ninth century English king Alfred the Great. Being an anomaly that one of my two middle names is Alfred, I long considered it a bit of baggage that one of my namesakes had such a disconsonant appendage. It turns out that Alfred is a great figure in English lore, and bearing such a horrible sounding name was not distinctly uncommon in his place and era.
The principle texts utilized in my survey exploration of English history have been David Hume’s The History of England, and Lord Maculay’s The History of England from the Accession of James II. Though I trust the judgment of Macaulay a bit more, both are skeptical and astute narrators.
The following sections on Alfred the Great are pulled from Hume’s work. Hume’s comment on the relevance of Saxon institutions appears to be influenced by Tacitus, whose glowing appraisal of the democratic inclination of the Germanic tribes appears to be grossly overstated. The Germanic peoples in the main were barbaric, uncouth savages whose nods to the formal procedures of democracy say as much about the system of government as it does them. Alfred the Great shows more shrewdness by dividing powers among the civil and military institutions, and integrating the body of the jury into the civil administration of justice.
First a brief biography:
Alfred 871. This prince gave very early marks of those great virtues and shining talents, by which, during the most difficult times, he saved his country from utter ruin and subversion. […] His genius was first roused by the recital of Saxon poems, in which the queen took delight; and this species of erudition, which is sometimes able to make a considerable progress even among barbarians, expanded those noble and elevated sentiments which he had received from nature. Encouraged by the queen, and stimulated by his own ardent inclination, he soon learned to read those compositions; and proceeded thence to acquire the knowledge of the Latin tongue, in which he met with authors that better prompted his heroic spirit, and directed his generous views. Absorbed in these elegant pursuits, he regarded his accession to royalty rather as an object of regret than of triumph; but being called to the throne, in preference to his brothers children, as well by the will of his father, a circumstance which had great authority with the Anglo-Saxons, as by the vows of the whole nation, and the urgency of public affairs, he shook off his literary indolence, and exerted himself in the defence of his people. He had scarcely buried his brother, when he was obliged to take the field in order to oppose the Danes, who…were exercising their usual ravages on the countries around.
The Danes were the unquestioned scourge of northern Europe in Alfred’s day. Successfully opposing the invading hordes would require scrapping together the ruins of the island, the dilapidated fortifications, the demoralized people, and the crumbling infrastructure. Internecine wars between the rulers of the “Heptarchy,” the seven kingdoms of medieval England, had not prepared the inhabitants for the Danish invaders; it had rather exhausted them and led them to a series of treacherous revenges and outrages against one another. Such was the case that when the Danish invaded, each kingdom’s ruler was loathe to provide assistance to the other, for fear he would be exposed to future ravages from the piratical menaces.
Through studied and even deceptive practices of warfare, Alfred was able to personally lead the English to victories against the Danish, who were unused to shrewd and vigorous opposition. The king thus combined in his person the man of intelligence and action so necessary to attaining political victory. In the course of fifty-six land and sea battles, Alfred was able to give the English some peace, in which time he was able to reorganize the island for more organized civil and military defense.
Among the institutions Alfred implemented or modified:
The king employed this interval of tranquillity in restoring order to the state, which had been shaken by so many violent convulsions; in establishing civil and military institutions; in composing the minds of men to industry and justice; and in providing against the return of like calamities. He was, more properly than his grandfather, Egbert, the sole monarch of the English, (for so the Saxons were now universally called,) because the kingdom of Mercia was at last incorporated in his state, and was governed by Ethelbert, his brother- in-law, who bore the title of Earl: and though the Danes, who peopled East Anglia and Northumberland, were for some time ruled immediately by their own princes, they all acknowledged a subordination to Alfred, and submitted to his superior authority. As equality among subjects is the great source of concord, Alfred gave the same laws [note] to the Danes and English, and put them entirely on a like footing in the administration both of civil and criminal justice. The fine for the murder of a Dane was the same with that for the murder of an Englishman; the great symbol of equality in those ages.
The king, after rebuilding the ruined cities, particularly London, which had been destroyed by the Danes in the reign of Ethelwolf, established a regular militia for the defence of the kingdom. He ordained that all his people should be armed and registered; he assigned them a regular rotation of duty; he distributed part into the castles and fortresses which he built at proper places; he required another part to take the field on any alarm, and to assemble at stated places of rendezvous; and he left a sufficient number at home, who were employed in the cultivation of the land, and who afterwards took their turn in military service. The whole kingdom was like one great garrison; and the Danes could no sooner appear in one place, than a sufficient number was assembled to oppose them, without leaving the other quarters defenceless or disarmed.
But Alfred, sensible that the proper method of opposing an enemy who made incursions by sea, was to meet them on their own element, took care to provide himself with a naval force, which though the most natural defence of an island, had hitherto been totally neglected by the English. He increased the shipping of his kingdom both in number and strength, and trained his subjects in the practice, as well of sailing as of naval action. He distributed his armed vessels in proper stations around the island, and was sure to meet the Danish ships either before or after they had landed their troops, and to pursue them in all their incursions. Though the Danes might suddenly, by surprise, disembark on the coast, which was generally become desolate by their frequent ravages, they were encountered by the English fleet in their retreat; and escaped not, as formerly, by abandoning their booty, but paid, by their total destruction, the penalty of the disorders which they had committed.
It is important to note that historical, geographical, and martial exigencies often shape the long-term institutions and character of a people, for right or for wrong. It is not that this qualification makes political principles relative, but rather that there are varied difficulties in maintaining individual rights in sundry circumstances.
But these establishments that Alfred accomplished are not the signature institutions that the Founders inherited from his reign. They are well-understood necessities for the survival of a state in an anarchic world. More notable are his contributions to the development of English civil institutions, even as they are not always perfectly suitable to modern adaption:
After Alfred had subdued, and had settled or expelled the Danes, he found the kingdom in the most wretched condition; desolated by the ravages of those barbarians, and thrown into disorders, which were calculated to perpetuate its misery. Though the great armies of the Danes were broken, the country was full of straggling troops of that nation, who, being accustomed to live by plunder, were become incapable of industry, and who, from the natural ferocity of their manners, indulged themselves in committing violence, even beyond what was requisite to supply their necessities. The English themselves, reduced to the most extreme indigence by these continued depredations, had shaken off all bands of government; and those who had been plundered today, betook themselves next day to a like disorderly life, and, from despair, joined the robbers in pillaging and ruining their fellow-citizens. These were the evils for which it was necessary that the vigilance and activity of Alfred should provide a remedy.
That he might render the execution of justice strict and regular; he divided all England into counties; these counties he subdivided into hundreds; and, the hundreds into tithings. Every householder was answerable for the behaviour of his family and slaves, and even of his guests, if they lived above three days in his house. Ten neighbouring householders were formed into one corporation, who, under the name of a tithing, decennary, or fribourg, were answerable for each others conduct, and over whom one person, called a tithingman, headbourg, or borsholder, was appointed to preside. Every man was punished as an outlaw who did not register himself in some tithing. And no man could change his habitation, without a warrant or certificate from the borsholder of the tithing to which he formerly belonged. […]
Such a regular distribution of the people, with such a strict confinement in their habitation, may not be necessary in times when men are more inured to obedience and justice; and it might perhaps be regarded as destructive of liberty and commerce in a polished state; but it was well calculated to reduce that fierce and licentious people under the salutary restraint of law and government. But Alfred took care to temper these rigours by other institutions favourable to the freedom of the citizens; and nothing could be more popular and liberal than his plan for the administration of justice. […] Their method of decision deserves to be noted, as being the origin of juries; an institution admirable in itself, and the best calculated for the preservation of liberty and the administration of justice that ever was devised by the wit of man. Twelve freeholders were chosen, who, having sworn, together with the hundreder, or presiding magistrate of that division, to administer impartial justice, proceeded to the examination of that cause which was submitted to their jurisdiction. […] The people, in imitation of their ancestors, the ancient Germans, assembled there in arms; whence a hundred was sometimes called a wapentake, and its court served both for the support of military discipline, and for the administration of civil justice. […]
The better to guide the magistrates in the administration of justice, Alfred framed a body of laws; which, though now lost, served long as the basis of English jurisprudence, and is generally deemed the origin of what is denominated the COMMON LAW. He appointed regular meetings of the states of England twice a year in London; a city which he himself had repaired and beautified, and which he thus rendered the capital of the kingdom. The similarity of these institutions to the customs of the ancient Germans, to the practice of the other northern conquerors, and to the Saxon laws during the Heptarchy, prevents us from regarding Alfred as the sole author of this plan of government; and leads us rather to think, that, like a wise man, he contented himself with reforming, extending, and executing the institutions which he found previously established. But, on the whole, such success attended his legislation, that every thing bore suddenly a new face in England: robberies and iniquities of all kinds were repressed by the punishment or reformation of the criminals: and so exact was the general police, that Alfred, it is said, hung up, by way of bravado, golden bracelets near the highways; and no man dared to touch them. Yet, amidst these rigours of justice, this great prince preserved the most sacred regard to the liberty of his people; and it is a memorable sentiment preserved in his will, That it was just the English should for ever remain as free as their own thought.
We can see the influence of Alfred the Great in the form of the American legal institutions of bail and the executive pardon, the division of the country into counties, and the Fifth Amendment to The Constitution.
If President Obama were an English king in Medieval Europe, he would have been ousted from power before now. Though the American Constitution provides a bloodless remedy for removing the overreaching executive from office in the form of impeachment, the fact that it takes a majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate shows that the provision is toothless if the sovereign is both despotic and popular.
A few valuable extended passages in Macaulay’s A History of England show startling parallels of the designs and depredations of the current administration with those of certain odiously remembered kings in England. And while those who believe our present Constitution is a bulwark against the medieval backwardness that plagued Europe for centuries, the ignorance of the masses can remove any value the document has for preserving a free people.
Here are the Constitutional provisions Macaulay states were designed to check the rapine of the king.
But his power, though ample, was limited by three great constitutional principles, so ancient that none can say when they began to exist, so potent that their natural development, continued through many generations, has produced the order of things under which we now live.
First, the King could not legislate without the consent of his Parliament. Secondly, he could impose no tax without the consent of his Parliament. Thirdly, he was bound to conduct the executive administration according to the laws of the land, and, if he broke those laws, his advisers and his agents were responsible.
Since it is such an important discussion, and one we Americans often take for granted through overconfidence in our Constitution, let’s trace how these prohibitions against the power of the sovereign came to be understood.
No English King has ever laid claim to the general legislative power. The most violent and imperious Plantagenet never fancied himself competent to enact, without the consent of his great council, that a jury should consist of ten persons instead of twelve, that a widow’s dower should be a fourth part instead of a third, that perjury should be a felony, or that the custom of gavelkind should be introduced into Yorkshire. But the King had the power of pardoning offenders; and there is one point at which the power of pardoning and the power of legislating seem to fade into each other, and may easily, at least in a simple age, be confounded. A penal statute is virtually annulled if the penalties which it imposes are regularly remitted as often as they are incurred. The sovereign was undoubtedly competent to remit penalties without limit. He was therefore competent to annul virtually a penal statute. It might seem that there could be no serious objection to his doing formally what he might do virtually. Thus, with the help of subtle and courtly lawyers, grew up, on the doubtful frontier which separates executive from legislative functions, that great anomaly known as the dispensing power.
That the King could not impose taxes without the consent of Parliament is admitted to have been, from time immemorial, a fundamental law of England. It was among the articles which John was compelled by the Barons to sign. Edward the First ventured to break through the rule: but, able, powerful, and popular as he was, he encountered an opposition to which he found it expedient to yield. He covenanted accordingly in express terms, for himself and his heirs, that they would never again levy any aid without the assent and goodwill of the Estates of the realm. His powerful and victorious grandson attempted to violate this solemn compact: but the attempt was strenuously withstood. At length the Plantagenets gave up the point in despair: but, though they ceased to infringe the law openly, they occasionally contrived, by evading it, to procure an extraordinary supply for a temporary purpose. They were interdicted from taxing; but they claimed the right of begging and borrowing. They therefore sometimes begged in a tone not easily to be distinguished from that of command, and sometimes borrowed with small thought of repaying. But the fact that they thought it necessary to disguise their exactions under the names of benevolences and loans sufficiently proves that the authority of the great constitutional rule was universally recognised.
The principle that the King of England was bound to conduct the administration according to law, and that, if he did anything against law, his advisers and agents were answerable, was established at a very early period, as the severe judgments pronounced and executed on many royal favourites sufficiently prove. It is, however, certain that the rights of individuals were often violated by the Plantagenets, and that the injured parties were often unable to obtain redress. According to law no Englishman could be arrested or detained in confinement merely by the mandate of the sovereign. In fact, persons obnoxious to the government were frequently imprisoned without any other authority than a royal order. According to law, torture, the disgrace of the Roman jurisprudence, could not, in any circumstances, be inflicted on an English subject. Nevertheless, during the troubles of the fifteenth century, a rack was introduced into the Tower, and was occasionally used under the plea of political necessity. But it would be a great error to infer from such irregularities that the English monarchs were, either in theory or in practice, absolute. We live in a highly civilised society, through which intelligence is so rapidly diffused by means of the press and of the post office that any gross act of oppression committed in any part of our island is, in a few hours, discussed by millions. If the sovereign were now to immure a subject in defiance of the writ of Habeas Corpus, or to put a conspirator to the torture, the whole nation would be instantly electrified by the news. In the middle ages the state of society was widely different. Rarely and with great difficulty did the wrongs of individuals come to the knowledge of the public. A man might be illegally confined during many months in the castle of Carlisle or Norwich; and no whisper of the transaction might reach London. It is highly probable that the rack had been many years in use before the great majority of the nation had the least suspicion that it was ever employed. Nor were our ancestors by any means so much alive as we are to the importance of maintaining great general rules. We have been taught by long experience that we cannot without danger suffer any breach of the constitution to pass unnoticed. It is therefore now universally held that a government which unnecessarily exceeds its powers ought to be visited with severe parliamentary censure, and that a government which, under the pressure of a great exigency, and with pure intentions, has exceeded its powers, ought without delay to apply to Parliament for an act of indemnity. But such were not the feelings of the Englishmen of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. They were little disposed to contend for a principle merely as a principle, or to cry out against an irregularity which was not also felt to be a grievance. As long as the general spirit of the administration was mild and popular, they were willing to allow some latitude to their sovereign. If, for ends generally acknowledged to be good, he exerted a vigour beyond the law, they not only forgave, but applauded him, and while they enjoyed security and prosperity under his rule, were but too ready to believe that whoever had incurred his displeasure had deserved it. But to this indulgence there was a limit; nor was that King wise who presumed far on the forbearance of the English people. They might sometimes allow him to overstep the constitutional line: but they also claimed the privilege of overstepping that line themselves, whenever his encroachments were so serious as to excite alarm. If, not content with occasionally oppressing individuals, he cared to oppress great masses, his subjects promptly appealed to the laws, and, that appeal failing, appealed as promptly to the God of battles.
A number of reflections leap to mind from this remarkable extended passage. First, that the Constitution can be jealously guarded, but certain interests in the state will contrive to circumnavigate these safeguards, while steadily eroding the apprehension that the Constitution is being violated. Second, if a vigorous popular opposition could be found in early nineteenth century England, how much more so could that be true now! Third, the current National Defense Authorization Act would effectively repeal Habeus Corpus, a jealously guarded right whose violation was tantamount to an act of war declared by the sovereign upon the people. Fourth, the executive prerogative to detain without trial, combined with the presumption that the sovereign has the discretion to torture his adversaries, is reflective of a purely medieval mindset. Fifth, the executive is becoming further removed from the legislative bounds to be imposed on his authority. The bureaucracy, and particularly, unelected and unconfirmed czars, have become a rogue apparatus replacing law with regulations and fiat. Sixth, human nature is fairly constant throughout history, even though circumstances may change. Seventh, a historically free people will tolerate the hubris of a government only so long.
We cannot allow the leftists to continue building their precedents for tyranny, whether through executive fiat, bureaucratic decree, legalistic decisions, or other sundry outrages against the Constitution and Americans’ hard-won freedom. Every infraction, no matter how grave or fearsome, must be opposed, until the avalanche of public opposition has accumulated to such a degree it appears that it will overcome all in its way.
One of the most fascinating experiences of reading well-written histories is unearthing obscure parallels with contemporary life. Lord Macaulay‘s A History of England provides numerous insightful passages and molds a powerful lens on history that allows the reader to see current politics in an entirely new light.
According to Lord Acton, Macaulay was to be considered one of the three greatest liberals, along with Edmund Burke and William Gladstone. It is no surprise, therefore, that his political opponents condemned him as one who studied the past with reference to the present and wrote with a Whiggish one-sidedness. The man had a mind of his own and displayed explicit good judgment in his narration of history. This is the true source of his opponents’ enmity for the man – he frustrates their political agenda.
One of Macaulay’s greatest merits is the hatred of radicals for him and his writings. No less than Karl Marx, seeking to craft his own warped lens on history, must have found the British historian’s writings formidable and eminently persuasive. Eventually, Marx had to throw up his hands and merely brandish Macaulay as a “systematic falsifer of history.”
But contemporary analysis shows otherwise. Although he is often typecast as one who related history as dramatic prologue, exalting heroes and deriding villains, it has proven difficult for his adversaries to pinpoint factual inaccuracy in his works. And since he is so forthright with his reasoning, one has to conclude that those who castigate the author intend to do so because they do not desire the public to read his works and judge for themselves.
A short passage illustrates not only how sensitive Macaulay was to misrepresenting history, but yields a precedent on the practice of historical revisionism so common today.
The historical literature of England has indeed suffered grievously from a circumstance which has not a little contributed to her prosperity. The change, great as it is, which her polity has undergone during the last six centuries, has been the effect of gradual development, not of demolition and reconstruction. The present constitution of our country is, to the constitution under which she flourished five hundred years ago, what the tree is to the sapling, what the man is to the boy. The alteration has been great. Yet there never was a moment at which the chief part of what existed was not old. A polity thus formed must abound in anomalies. But for the evils arising from mere anomalies we have ample compensation. Other societies possess written constitutions more symmetrical. But no other society has yet succeeded in uniting revolution with prescription, progress with stability, the energy of youth with the majesty of immemorial antiquity.
This great blessing, however, has its drawbacks: and one of those drawbacks is that every source of information as to our early history has been poisoned by party spirit. As there is no country where statesmen have been so much under the influence of the past, so there is no country where historians have been so much under the influence of the present. Between these two things, indeed, there is a natural connection. Where history is regarded merely as a picture of life and manners, or as a collection of experiments from which general maxims of civil wisdom may be drawn, a writer lies under no very pressing temptation to misrepresent transactions of ancient date. But where history is regarded as a repository of titledeeds, on which the rights of governments and nations depend, the motive to falsification becomes almost irresistible.
Not only is today’s history being sullied by factionalism, but the same could be said our cultural media in all facets. The one-sidedness in American culture and education is nearly all leftward biased, so that the republic would return gently to the state domination of society so prevalent throughout history. For a venerable historian to take sides against ignoble oppression and misery, shows honor and good judgment, rather than self-serving distortion, ignorance, and ill-intentions. Macaulay should thus be read as one attempting to impart great truths of history to the reader with no ulterior motive; the spirit of enlightenment implies that the reader is entrusted with his own mind, and thus it is his responsibility alone to judge for himself.
There are few subjects more controversial than the role Christianity has played in American culture and in the world. Catholics, who tend to value the stable institutions of their religion, and Protestants, who value the individual freedom that eventually and painfully resulted from their reforms, argue about subjects ranging from the alleged corruption of the Christian religion under the guidance of the Pope, to the Spanish Inquisition, to the Puritan witch trials, to the influence of religion upon the United States’ founding.
Objectivists, or those who follow Ayn Rand, tend to cast an extremely critical eye on the role religion has played in human history. The ignorance and superstition of the Dark Ages in Europe overshadow any relative enlightenment that Christian monastacism might have brought to barbaric peoples. The Crusades are looked upon as unnecessarily adventurous and bloody scourges, and the torture and execution of religious heretics is rightfully seen as morally reprehensible and cruel.
Moral relativists, who tend to view cultures with unrealistically detached equanimity, are also unable to appreciate the positive and negative influences of particular religions upon peoples. By superimposing their aloof and supposedly “progressive” standards backwards in history, they distort both the relative improvements and declines in the living standards of peoples and the moral influence of various beliefs upon that process.
We live in an age of moral and cultural relativism, and the uninformed and prejudiced eye of the typical modern reader tends to unflaggingly hold imperialism and colonialism in contempt, regardless of what improvements are brought to the conquered, along with the immoral subjugation. There is a nuanced simplicity to the minds of many scholars, which comes from unmitigated rationalization in the defense of unrealistic but exalted beliefs, such as in the intrinsic value of equality and diversity, along with an unapologetic reverence for the “vigorous” state.
There is an inherent narcissism in this common prejudice. It presumes to hold aloft the mind who subscribes to such relativistic views, as if all of humanity has been equally wrong since time began. Only those detached and socially inculcated progressive values, a reflection of the glorious imaginary future, could save humankind if they are cynically, or even bloodily forced upon the people, and if need be, reality itself. It is a comfortless and arrogant disposition that leads directly to mindless radicalism.
In juxtaposition to the vain scribblings of historical revisionists is the work of a writer whose explicit reasoning and judgment informs a sensible and useful reading of history, appropriately contextualizing peoples and events within the purview of their own day. It is Lord Macaulay’s A History of England; and what it may lack in the Byzantine rigors of modern history, as it has come to be defined, it makes up with in sensibility. It provides a potent elixir for the lack of judgment so sinuously interwoven in today’s histories.
An excerpt from Macaulay’s work will both show how Christianity has been unnecessarily slighted, and what reason proper employed looks like:
At length the darkness begins to break; and the country which had been lost to view as Britain reappears as England. The conversion of the Saxon colonists to Christianity was the first of a long series of salutary revolutions. It is true that the Church had been deeply corrupted both by that superstition and by that philosophy against which she had long contended, and over which she had at last triumphed. She had given a too easy admission to doctrines borrowed from the ancient schools, and to rites borrowed from the ancient temples. Roman policy and Gothic ignorance, Grecian ingenuity and Syrian asceticism, had contributed to deprave her. Yet she retained enough of the sublime theology and benevolent morality of her earlier days to elevate many intellects, and to purify many hearts. Some things also which at a later period were justly regarded as among her chief blemishes were, in the seventh century, and long afterwards, among her chief merits. That the sacerdotal order should encroach on the functions of the civil magistrate would, in our time, be a great evil. But that which in an age of good government is an evil may, in an ago of grossly bad government, be a blessing. It is better that mankind should be governed by wise laws well administered, and by an enlightened public opinion, than by priestcraft: but it is better that men should be governed by priestcraft than by brute violence, by such a prelate as Dunstan than by such a warrior as Penda. A society sunk in ignorance, and ruled by mere physical force, has great reason to rejoice when a class, of which the influence is intellectual and moral, rises to ascendancy. Such a class will doubtless abuse its power: but mental power, even when abused, is still a nobler and better power than that which consists merely in corporeal strength. We read in our Saxon chronicles of tyrants, who, when at the height of greatness, were smitten with remorse, who abhorred the pleasures and dignities which they had purchased by guilt, who abdicated their crowns, and who sought to atone for their offences by cruel penances and incessant prayers. These stories have drawn forth bitter expressions of contempt from some writers who, while they boasted of liberality, were in truth as narrow-minded as any monk of the dark ages, and whose habit was to apply to all events in the history of the world the standard received in the Parisian society of the eighteenth century. Yet surely a system which, however deformed by superstition, introduced strong moral restraints into communities previously governed only by vigour of muscle and by audacity of spirit, a system which taught the fiercest and mightiest ruler that he was, like his meanest bondman, a responsible being, might have seemed to deserve a more respectful mention from philosophers and philanthropists.
The same observations will apply to the contempt with which, in the last century, it was fashionable to speak of the pilgrimages, the sanctuaries, the crusades, and the monastic institutions of the middle ages. In times when men were scarcely ever induced to travel by liberal curiosity, or by the pursuit of gain, it was better that the rude inhabitant of the North should visit Italy and the East as a pilgrim, than that he should never see anything but those squalid cabins and uncleared woods amidst which he was born. In times when life and when female honour were exposed to daily risk from tyrants and marauders, it was better that the precinct of a shrine should be regarded with an irrational awe, than that there should be no refuge inaccessible to cruelty and licentiousness. In times when statesmen were incapable of forming extensive political combinations, it was better that the Christian nations should be roused and united for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, than that they should, one by one, be overwhelmed by the Mahometan power. Whatever reproach may, at a later period, have been justly thrown on the indolence and luxury of religious orders, it was surely good that, in an age of ignorance and violence, there should be quiet cloisters and gardens, in which the arts of peace could be safely cultivated, in which gentle and contemplative natures could find an asylum, in which one brother could employ himself in transcribing the Æneid of Virgil, and another in meditating the Analytics of Aristotle, in which he who had a genius for art might illuminate a martyrology or carve a crucifix, and in which he who had a turn for natural philosophy might make experiments on the properties of plants and minerals. Had not such retreats been scattered here and there, among the huts of a miserable peasantry, and the castles of a ferocious aristocracy, European society would have consisted merely of beasts of burden and beasts of prey. The Church has many times been compared by divines to the ark of which we read in the Book of Genesis: but never was the resemblance more perfect than during that evil time when she alone rode, amidst darkness and tempest, on the deluge beneath which all the great works of ancient power and wisdom lay entombed, bearing within her that feeble germ from which a Second and more glorious civilisation was to spring.
Even the spiritual supremacy arrogated by the Pope was, in the dark ages, productive of far more good than evil. Its effect was to unite the nations of Western Europe in one great commonwealth. What the Olympian chariot course and the Pythian oracle were to all the Greek cities, from Trebizond to Marseilles, Rome and her Bishop were to all Christians of the Latin communion, from Calabria to the Hebrides. Thus grew up sentiments of enlarged benevolence. Races separated from each other by seas and mountains acknowledged a fraternal tie and a common code of public law. Even in war, the cruelty of the conqueror was not seldom mitigated by the recollection that he and his vanquished enemies were all members of one great federation.
Nothing forthcoming should be alleged to be in advocacy of theocratic government, a fusion of political and social power repressive to those minds not disposed to believe in the invisible or the not easily demonstrable, and an arrangement of civil government laid to waste during The Enlightenment. But it should be noted the role religion plays in reinforcing the bases of moral authority in the state.
The following is a passage from the Scottish philosopher David Hume’s A History of England. A relatively early section on The Britons, strewn with citations from eminent first hand sources like Julius Caesar and historians of the caliber of Tacitus and the Venerable Bede, makes explicit the necessity of crushing the religion of a conquered people in order to make them obedient and useful servants of the state.
Firstly, let us consider the role of the Druids among the Britons in preserving the social and political order. In this caste resided considerable power, and its functions were varied and vital to the tribe.
The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were their priests, possessed great authority among them. Besides ministering at the altar, and directing all religious duties, they presided over the education of youth; they enjoyed an immunity from wars and taxes; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies among states as well as among private persons, and whoever refused to submit to their decree was exposed to the most severe penalties. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him: he was forbidden access to the sacrifices or public worship: he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow-citizens, even in the common affairs of life: his company was universally shunned, as profane and dangerous. He was refused the protection of law [f]; and death itself became an acceptable relief from the misery and infamy to which he was exposed. Thus, the bands of government, which were naturally loose among that rude and turbulent people, were happily corroborated by the terrors of their superstition. [FN [f] Caesar, lib. 6. Strabo, lib. 4.]
No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids. Besides the severe penalties, which it was in the power of the ecclesiastics to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls; and thereby extended their authority as far as the fears of their timorous votaries. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses [g]; and in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbad the committing of them to writing, lest they should at any time be exposed to the examination of the profane vulgar. Human sacrifices were practised among them: the spoils of war were often devoted to their divinities; and they punished with the severest tortures whoever dared to secrete any part of the consecrated offering; these treasures they kept in woods and forests, secured by no other guard than the terrors of their religion [h]; and this steady conquest over human avidity may be regarded as more signal than their prompting men to the most extraordinary and most violent efforts. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind as that of the ancient Gauls and Britons; and the Romans, after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the law and institutions of their masters, while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes; a violence which had never, in any other instance, been practised by those tolerating conquerors [i] [FN [g] Plin. lib. 12. cap. 1. [h] Caesar, lib. 6. [i] Sueton. in vita Claudii.]
It is indisputable that no present clergy of modern polities of the Western world wields such unopposed and terrible influence over their people as the Druids over the Britons; though it should be noted that the umma of the Muslim crescent presently fulfill a like role of acting as religious interpreters for the people, and indirectly, of exacting a vicious breed of justice over both social violators and apostates. The parallel is more than enough to justify continued historical analogy, whose fuller implications regarding the West’s enemies will not be fleshed out here (though it may be noted that in a recent argument with an editor of a major website, this author implied that triumphing over the inextricably political doctrine of Islam entailed a breaking of its religious authority).
Thus follows in Hume’s account the actual Roman conquest of the Britons:
The other Britons, under the command of Caractacus, still maintained an obstinate resistance, and the Romans made little progress against them, till Ostorius Scapula was sent over to command their armies. This general advanced the Roman conquests over the Britons; [MN A.D. 50.] pierced into the country of the Silures, a warlike nation who inhabited the banks of the Severn; defeated Caractacus in a great battle; took him prisoner, and sent him to Rome, where his magnanimous behaviour procured him better treatment than those conquerors usually bestowed on captive princes [l]. [FN [k] Tacit. Agr. [l] Tacit. Ann. lib. 12.]
Notwithstanding these misfortunes, the Britons were not subdued; and this island was regarded by the ambitious Romans as a field in which military honour might still be acquired. [MN A.D. 59.] Under the reign of Nero, Suetonius Paulinus was invested with the command, and prepared to signalize his name by victories over those barbarians. Finding that the island of Mona, now Anglesey, was the chief seat of the Druids, he resolved to attack it, and to subject a place which was the centre of their superstition, and which afforded protection to all their baffled forces. The Britons endeavoured to obstruct his landing on this sacred island, both by the force of their arms and the terrors of their religion. The women and priests were intermingled with the soldiers upon the shore; and running about with flaming torches in their hands, and tossing their dishevelled hair, they struck greater terror into the astonished Romans by their howlings, cries, and execrations, than the real danger from the armed forces was able to inspire. But Suetonius, exhorting his troops to despise the menaces of a superstition which they despised, impelled them to the attack, drove the Britons off the field, burned the Druids in the same fires which those priests had prepared for their captive enemies, destroyed all the consecrated groves and altars; and, having thus triumphed over the religion of the Britons [Ed., note], he thought his future progress would be easy in reducing the people to subjection. But he was disappointed in his expectations. The Britons, taking advantage of his absence, were all in arms; and headed by Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, who had been treated in the most ignominious manner by the Roman tribunes, had already attacked with success several settlements of their insulting conquerors. Suetonius hastened to the protection of London, which was already a flourishing Roman colony; but he found, on his arrival, that it would be requisite for the general safety to abandon that place to the merciless fury of the enemy. London was reduced to ashes; such of the inhabitants as remained in it were cruelly massacred; the Romans and all strangers, to the number of 70,000, were every where put to the sword without distinction; and the Britons, by rendering the war thus bloody, seemed determined to cut off all hopes of peace or com- position with the enemy. But this cruelty was revenged by Suetonius in a great and decisive battle, where 80,000 of the Britons are said to have perished; and Boadicea herself; rather than fall into the hands of the enraged victor, put an end to her own life by poison [m]…[FN [m] Tacit. Ann. lib. 14]
As Hume points out, the religious ardor of the Britons was not yet crushed. The Roman Empire’s victory over the unruly tribe was a purely military one. What was required was a process of cultural assimilation, and that meant the suppression of the Britons’ superstition, and intensive education into the Roman way. Thus was the object of Nero’s governor Agricola, as will be shown in the cited passage below:
This great commander formed a regular plan for subduing Britain, and rendering the acquisition useful to the conquerors. He carried his victorious arms northwards, defeated the Britons in every encounter, pierced into the inaccessible forests and mountains of Caledonia, reduced every state to subjection in the southern part of the island, and chased before him all the men of fiercer and more intractable spirits, who deemed war and death itself less intolerable than servitude under the victors. He even defeated them in a decisive action, which they fought under Galgacus, their leader; and having fixed a chain of garrisons between the firths of Clyde and Forth, he thereby cut off the ruder and more barren parts of the island, and secured the Roman province from the incursions of the barbarous inhabitants [n]. [FN [n] Tacit Agr.]
During these military enterprises, he neglected not the arts of peace. He introduced laws and civility among the Britons, taught them to desire and raise all the conveniences of life, reconciled them to the Roman language and manners, instructed them in letters and science, and employed every expedient to render those chains which he had forged both easy and agreeable to them [o]. The inhabitants, having experienced how unequal their own force was to resist that of the Romans, acquiesced in the dominion of their masters, and were gradually incorporated as a part of that mighty empire. [FN [o] Ibid.]
What regret we might have for the fierce and spirited people of the Britons must be contextualized one step further, if we are to grasp the full import of the Romans’ unending campaigns of military and cultural conquest.
This was the last durable conquest made by the Romans; and Britain, once subdued, gave no farther inquietude to the victor.[…]
But the period was now come when that enormous fabric of the Roman empire, which had diffused slavery and oppression, together with peace and civility, over so considerable a part of the globe, was approaching towards it final dissolution. Italy and the centre of the empire, removed, during so many ages, from all concern in the wars, had entirely lost the military spirit, and were peopled by an enervated race, equally disposed to submit to a foreign yoke, or to the tyranny of their own rulers.
Thus we grasp that such a cynical abuse of the instrumentalities of power, used not to preserve one’s cultural and social institutions, but to engage in rapacious conquests over various peoples, leads the absorbing regime to cultural corrosion and dissipation of its moral authority. The result is a collapse of the regime due to rampant and shameless corruption, and a resulting lack of political legitimacy. When the time comes for the depraved rulers to call upon the people to save them from a foreign power or from a mass civil uprising, they find their exhortations fall upon deaf ears. Such was the case with the barbarian invasions, when the Romans, distrustful of arming the populace lest they employ them to revolt, were completely and irrevocably overrun.
Let us extrapolate a few potentially useful lessons that may be applied to the situation today. While one is loathe to blame the political left for the dissolution of religious ardor in the American republic, as we are in a scientific era that makes it difficult to believe in the unseen or to throw up one’s hands at the unknown, it is certain that the left’s socially engineered phenomenon of political correctness has made it a supposed affront to the sensibilities of the unbelievers and the nonbelievers to display the Christian faith. The current regime, like the Romans as they presided over the rebellious Britons, seeks to break the imminently conquered of their spirit by removing their moral and religious fonts of resistance, and to socially cow them into obeisance, and eventually, servitude.
But it is not just with the administrative and legal whip that the statists seek to remold the American populace into more pliable servants of the political class. It is with inducements to luxuriate in the now at the expense of the necessarily harsher future, to distract oneself with idle pleasures as the state persistently and incrementally encroaches upon civil freedoms, and to gradually and all but imperceptibly shift the public sentiment in favor of the state’s domination of society and economy.
This is accomplished foremost by slowly removing the revered and the honored from public display – whether the Bible, the cross, the creche, or the flag. Over the course of a generation, the reinforcement of these patriotic and religious images will have become rarer, their effect on the sentiment of the forthcoming youth weaker, and the resultant void in the individual’s emotional attachment to society the stimulus for implementing the state’s ready-made collectivist ideology. Ever louder, ever more radical, the cries of atheistic state worship that is socialism encapsulated will pour forth, until there can be no moral basis for the state except what the historically ignorant and ideologically indoctrinated have been conditioned to accept. The Pyrrhic victory of the triumphant state will be complete, and the moral, social, and economic decay of the polity accelerated in earnest.
Read also: Parallels between the Obama administration and the Romans in 60AD. from Boudica’s blog
The stench of excess and decay emanating from Washington is so quintessentially aristocratic in odor, one wonders if the president should declare absolutist rule, wave an effeminate hand, and be done with it. At least that way the new peasantry, the producers, would finally realize what they are up against: the restoration of a neofeudal order where the privileged few dine out at the expense of the lumpenproletariat many.
Perhaps that is the greatest irony of progressive policies – they return us right back to the state-dominated era the country was designed to escape. What the Sun King may have lacked in actual power, he made up in hubris; he languished in self-indulgence as the peasants toiled, and there seemed to be a reassuring natural order to it all. That was the way of the world, and until the voluminous exposition of the Encyclopedists, there was no reason to imagine anything different.
When market capitalism began eating into the control of the French nobility, the threatened sought solace in the decadent courts of Versailles. And when it became evident that the king was impotent to stem back the tides of history, the disillusioned found fertile ground for sowing discontent in the salons of Paris. How to co-opt capitalism and use it to vault into the seat of power became the pressing question. While the policy to allow the landed aristocracy to purchase their way into the royal ranks temporarily quelled their impetus to remove the legal and formal boundaries to market activity, enhanced profits, and political power, the effect was like putting new wine in old bottles – at some indeterminate time, bound to burst.
The minds of Turgot, Voltaire, and even bloody Robespierre spearheaded the opposition to the Ancien Regime. And when the status quo-inclined King Louis XVI feebly took the scepter in 1774, he could scarce sit upon his velvet throne waving it furiously in order to coax the cresting ocean to recede. He would be washed out into the currents and promptly engulfed in them. Terror and upheaval followed quick upon his macabre removal and that of his notoriously indifferent bride, as it took generations for the enfranchised peasantry to reap the rewards of capitalistic progress, by which time they had already soured to the ideology’s more radical implications. They were not quite peasants, not quite freemen. And so they would remain in mentality, always nestled under the wings of the paternalistic class that purported to shelter them from capitalism’s harsher realities.
But America is different, or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves. The country was colonized, or rather, settled by disgruntled religious fanatics and roguish criminals who bent nature to their will with their bare hands, while fighting off disease-carrying mosquitos and hatchet-wielding natives. Extremes of weather, blight, starvation and even self-imposed religious persecution meant no pussy-footing around when it came to preserving one’s own life and safeguarding the community. Rigorous discipline, determination, and a code of honor within a fairly small, close-knit band meant character counted for something. If you ripped someone off, people would inevitably find out about it. And the courts did not stand in the people’s way as much as they ratified their swift and just vengeance. Further heightening authority was the fact that people needed one another. Escaping into the wilderness did not seem quite the tempting proposition as it does today.
In contemporary times, our politicians hide behind the courts, along with the police apparatus that enforces its edicts, precisely in order to deviate from character, honor, and integrity. Just as the lawyers were indispensable for providing the French royalty a rationale for continued existence in an ascending Age of Reason, today our jurists fulfill the same role for the massive bureaucratic state, the impenetrable fortress where all manner of unconstitutional functions and decisions are carried out under dubious legalistic pretenses. Within this sheltered court, a new nobility has taken shape; one that seeks to live easy on the foundation of real labor. A recent New York Times article effectively admits as much:
All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.
As was elaborated upon earlier, the former are the burgeoning aristocrats and bon vivants who seek to reap the rewards of the working man’s sweat, whether here in the United States or abroad in labor-intensive countries. They enjoy fine dining, buy pristine luxury vehicles, delight in the latest innovations produced by the remnant capitalist market, right before they condemn it, even as they are assured guaranteed benefits and pensions for life, while relishing the prestige of engaging in “compassionate” occupations.
These are revolutionary conditions, my friends, and don’t think the state hasn’t taken notice. The free communication of the exploited and disenfranchised, not the trademarked minorities whose greatest enemies are themselves, but rather the producers, the innovators, and the doers is foisting immense pressure on the new nobility, whose only reaction is to lash out, smear, and seek to disenfranchise. After giving lip service to democracy for decades, they now find themselves befuddled at seeing democracy turn against them; thus the rush to import more persons of the peasant mentality, whose states they flee from are excellent evidence of their pliability to heavy-handedness and corrupt rule.
We must marshal our forces in time before the decadent state is allowed to rot us to the core; and this entails the cultural replenishment, or even regeneration, of those animating ideals that once imbued our country with a brave, noble spirit. We must be a leader on the frontier of progress, rather than a follower of the fallen and defunct regimes our nation sought remove from. We must venture to lead our countrymen, rather than follow the government into the abyss.