Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

HISTORY COMES ALIVE!....The latest news from Bizarro World:

On September 10 1956, Guy Mollet, the then French prime minister, came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two countries with his British counterpart, Sir Anthony Eden, according to declassified papers from the National Archives, uncovered by the BBC.

....When Mr Mollet's request for a union failed, he quickly responded with another plan -- that France be allowed to join the British commonwealth -- which was said to have been met more warmly by Sir Anthony.

Apparently Eden really did go ahead and recommend that France be admitted to the British Commonwealth. Mollet, for his part, Mollet told Eden that France would have no trouble accepting the Queen as titular head of state and would welcome common citizenship "on the Irish basis." Astonishing.

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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Comments

But why?

Posted by: Neil B. on January 15, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK


sacre bleu!

Posted by: mr. irony on January 15, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

No wonder that Republic fell. Jeesh. I can only imagine what DeGaulle would have thought about that idea.

Posted by: attaturk on January 15, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Why is this such a shock? I am pretty certain that there was a proposal for a Franco-English union in the dark days of 1940.

Posted by: I never post on January 15, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

1956, eh? Sounds like all that heroin from French Indo-China was having an impact.

"If ya gonna ride,
Ride the white horse"

Posted by: Keith G on January 15, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

I fart in your general direction.

Posted by: jerry on January 15, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

"..take me by the hand, and say, Harry of England, I am thine; which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal, but I will tell thee aloud, England is thine, Ireland is thine, France is thine, and Henry Plantagenet is thine..."

Another day, another play. Henry V, Act V in this case.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 15, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Fetchez la vache.

Posted by: French Guard on January 15, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, haw haw haw haw! Haw! Haw haw heh...

Posted by: Guy Mollet on January 15, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

The french are bunch of cheese eating surrendur monkeys.

Posted by: egbert on January 15, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it wasn't until some time around 1800 that the official style of the Kings of England wasn't also "King of France."

That date isn't very precise, but it was a very long time after they booted Henry VI.

I think the Union should have been called The Royal Union of Joan of Arc Spinning in Her Grave.


Anyway, ironic, isn't it? Because Eurosceptics in the UK and in my ancestral homeland, Norway, see the EU as a German/French domineering thing.

Posted by: Jon-Erik on January 15, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Mollet was one of least effective political leaders in modern French history. Not as bad as Petain, but an all-around non-entity. Nonetheless, this is surprising.

Posted by: Marshall on January 15, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Jon-Erik: I think the Union should have been called The Royal Union of Joan of Arc Spinning in Her Grave.

It could also have been nicknamed "we should have fragged de Gaulle".

Anyway, ironic, isn't it? Because Eurosceptics in the UK and in my ancestral homeland, Norway, see the EU as a German/French domineering thing.

Perhaps because to a large extent it is. Gotta love de Gaulle. The Germans he could forgive for twice invading his country in 26 years (three times in 70 years) but was bound and determined not to fall under the thumb of those untrustworthy limeys!

Posted by: alex on January 15, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, I got a better idea -- or rather, Bernard Shaw did: he wrote a play "The Apple Cart", in which a King of England is actually a politically savvy guy, far more of a statesman than the lowlifes who win elections. This was during the latter days of the intact Empire, and the idea of the play was that the King understood what was worth saving and how to do it, while the ministers who had real power were really clueless.

So along come the Americans, who WANT the British Empire with all its global economic and military power, and they have a scheme to get it: by reversing the Declaration of Independence, and returning to the United Kingdom as... well, as the folks who run the joint: the Golden Rule, them as have the gold make the rules. Britain becomes a kind of wholly owned subsidiary of the United States.

Which, come to think on it, is pretty much what happened after WW2, anyway.

Posted by: theAmericanist on January 15, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Could they have vetoed any attempt to reduce their two seats on the UN security council to one?

Posted by: B on January 15, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

The British Postal Museum & Archive - Anglo-French Union
http://postalheritage.org.uk/exhibitions/ww2stamps/anglofrench

World War 2 in Stamps:Anglo-French Union
http://postalheritage.org.uk/exhibitions/ww2stamps/images/Anglo-French-essay-blue.jpg
This remarkable stamp trial, or essay, dates from 1940. It was produced as part of efforts to create a political union between France and the United Kingdom.

The stamp essay was inspired by the practical co-operation already taking place during the 'phoney war' of late 1939 and early 1940. The head of the French Government Information Bureau, Jean Giraudoux, gave a radio broadcast at the end of 1939 which reaffirmed that the wartime bonds of necessity should not be loosened when peace finally came. Giraudoux's speech specifically proposed a 'design for future postage stamp use, the two figures representing France and great britain, with their leopard and cock'.

This proposal caught the interest of Dr Ernest Barker, who wrote to the Times suggesting a simple design, with the head of the king balanced by an equivalent French symbol. Excited correspondence in the Times lent weight to the matter, and by the end of January 1940 the Postmaster General, Major Tryon, was in correspondence with the French Minister of Posts, M. Jules Julien.

Things moved relatively fast, despite the inevitable worries over the combining of two postage systems. By April, artist Edmund Dulac had produced a reworking of a design by Henry Cheffer. This design received some tweaks by the printers Harrisons', but was apparently accepted by the French President Lebrun on 8 June.

In the meantime, the phoney war was coming to an end. Winston Churchill was now Prime Minister, and on 16 June Marshall Petain formed his first French government. Parliamentary records from June 16 1940 give Churchill’s offer of Union:
‘The two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union… Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain, every British subject will become a citizen of France...

The two Parliaments will be formally associated… The Union will concentrate its whole energy against the power of the enemy no matter where the battle may be. And thus we shall conquer.’
The very next day, Petain sued for an armistice with Germany, ending any plans for union with Britain. The production of the stamp was cancelled.

Posted by: sysprog on January 15, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Yep the French were trying to become part of Great Britain just before they became part of the Third Reich in 1940. I learned that tidbit in Charlie Peter's great book "Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Wilkie!" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World".

Posted by: markg8 on January 15, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Probably evolved form this,

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-1506-2535456-1506,00.html

SENIOR politicians discussed a plan to surrender British sovereignty to a federal government of western democracies to combat the Nazis at the outbreak of the second world war.

Newly declassified documents held in Scottish archives reveal that a group of prominent statesmen, including Anthony Eden,Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Sir Archibald Sinclair, considered the establishment of a putative global state with its own federal government, currency, armed forces, trade bloc and even a common postal service.

SENIOR politicians discussed a plan to surrender British sovereignty to a federal government of western democracies to combat the Nazis at the outbreak of the second world war.

Newly declassified documents held in Scottish archives reveal that a group of prominent statesmen, including Anthony Eden,Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Sir Archibald Sinclair, considered the establishment of a putative global state with its own federal government, currency, armed forces, trade bloc and even a common postal service. . . .

SENIOR politicians discussed a plan to surrender British sovereignty to a federal government of western democracies to combat the Nazis at the outbreak of the second world war.

Newly declassified documents held in Scottish archives reveal that a group of prominent statesmen, including Anthony Eden,Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Sir Archibald Sinclair, considered the establishment of a putative global state with its own federal government, currency, armed forces, trade bloc and even a common postal service.

Posted by: cld on January 15, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

The article continues,

On October 31 1939, Dulles, named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1954, wrote to Lothian stating: “The fundamental fact is that the nationalist system of wholly independent, fully sovereign states is completing its cycle of usefulness.

“It is imperative that there be transition to a new order.” Lothian died in December 1940.

Posted by: cld on January 15, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

This was reported on BBC radio this morning. As part of the piece, they took copies of the released docs to a historian in France for comment, and all he could so was stammer incredulously at the revelations.

According to the BBC report, the reason for the proposal had largely to do with the Suez crisis, which is only hinted at in the /Guardian/ article.

Posted by: Disputo on January 15, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

here's the source for the story from the BBC:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6261885.stm

Posted by: Disputo on January 15, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

"For his part, Mollet told Eden that France would have no trouble accepting the Queen as titular head of state . . ."

Better the Brits than the Germans, I suppose was the French line of thinking. Although you could argue that having the Bundesbank as Frannce's "titular" head of state worked out better for them in the end.

Posted by: Peter Principle on January 15, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

egbert:The french are bunch of cheese eating surrendur monkeys.

Maybe, but most of them can probably spell words in their own language!

Posted by: thersites on January 15, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! That's three reports of this right there.

Posted by: jerry on January 15, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yep the French were trying to become part of Great Britain just before they became part of the Third Reich in 1940

No, a union between two countries isn't the same as one country becoming part of the other.

Posted by: otherpaul on January 15, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

When King James VI of Scotland came to the throne of England on Elizabeth I's death, he was formally greeted as King of England, Scotland, Ireland and France when he arrived in London from Edinburgh in 1603. Ever since the Middle Ages, kings of England had claimed to be kings of France too. Henry V of England was in fact crowned king of France in Paris in 1425. Not sure when the kings of England ( or Britain after 1707 when England and Scotland were united by the Act of Union)finally ceased to style themselves sovereigns of France - it might have been Victoria, 1837 - 1901.

Posted by: mick g on January 15, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Although readers of this site would never know it, there are plans afoot for another merger of countries, this time including the one we're living in right now. Plus ca change, eh?

Posted by: TLB on January 15, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Attaturk wonders what DeGaulle would have though about it. For some reason, I find myself wondering what Monty Python would have thought about it.

Fechez la vache!

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 15, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

TLB, don't worry about the NAU.

According to the John Birch Society ...
http://www.jbs.org/node/1295
... that threat will be neutralized by none other than VIRGIL GOODE.

Posted by: sysprog on January 15, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

I'm most surprised by the fact that the Birchers would hire people with French surnames as RAs.

Posted by: Disputo on January 15, 2007 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, this would have created the Canada of Europe. Minus Molson's and ice hockey, of course.

Posted by: Vincent on January 15, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

WikiPedia :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_claims_to_the_French_throne

1797: During the peace negotiations at the Conference of Lille, the French delegates demanded that the King of Great Britain abandon the title of King of France.

1800: The [other] Act of Union [with Ireland] ... George III chose to drop his claim to the French Throne, whereupon the fleur de lis, part of the coat of arms of all claimant Kings of France since the time of Edward III, was also removed.

1802: Britain finally recognised the French Republic by the Treaty of Amiens of 1802.

1807: However it should be noted that the change was not acknowledged by then current Jacobite claimant Henry Benedict Stuart. He continued to formally style himself King of France until his death on July 13, 1807.

Posted by: sysprog on January 15, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Modern Jacobites pretend to recognize the Duke of Bavaria (Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria von Wittelsbach) as King of England and France, but he doesn't himself pretend to those titles.

See http://www.jacobite.ca/gentree.htm

Posted by: sysprog on January 15, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

I live in the U.K. -- would never happen. There would have been riots in London streets. The only reason Britain and France haven't gone to war in the last 150 years is because they couldn't find a handy excuse.

Posted by: Onomasticator on January 15, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Onomasticator: I live in the U.K. -- would never happen. There would have been riots in London streets.

Oh, come, on, are you folks still pissed about the Norman Conquest or something? Despite the last millenium of civil wars, you folks were made for each other (hey, Champagne is an English invention).

Posted by: alex on January 15, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

markg8:/b> "I learned that tidbit in Charlie Peter's great book 'Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Wilkie!" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World'."

Other little-known but salient points about the 1940 GOP nominee:

-- Wendell Wilkie was a registered Democrat until 1939, and in fact had been an FDR delegate at the 1932 and 1936 Democratic conventions;

-- Had he been elected president, Wilkie would not have survived his first term, succumbing from a rapid series of heart attacks on October 8, 1944;

-- Wilkie was in fact a liberal progressive, and his views proved woefully out-of-step with his adopted party in 1944, when he once again sought the GOP nomination, only to lose to New York Gov. Thomas Dewey;

-- Roosevelt respected and trusted Wilkie, to the point that he dispatched him as his personal emmisary to Great Britain in 1941, and in 1942 in the same capacity to both the USSR and China.

He was truly a complex and fascinating man, and the GOP would have done well to continue to look to him as a role model for finding its way, rather than continue to cater to the monied elite and "AmericaFirst!" isolationists, after the party's Depresssion-era political debacle.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 15, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

I am pretty certain that there was a proposal for a Franco-English union in the dark days of 1940.

In early June 1940. Churchhill went to whathisname Reynaud, and offered a document supporting a formal merger between France and Britain. The intent was to keep the French government from surrendering. No details were worked out, as the idea never got very far. (Would the King have become the King of France? A dual parliament? etc. etc.)

I expect in the instance above, Mollet was trying to save his ass and the ass of the Fourth Republic by getting rid of it.

m, desssperrraaaatiiioonnn is making me merge

Posted by: max on January 15, 2007 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

FOR SALE:

One WWII vintage French rifle. Never been fired and only dropped once.

Contact Joe at 867-5309

Posted by: Joe Bob Briggs on January 15, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

egbert: "The french are bunch of cheese eating surrendur monkeys."

This, from a guy who only three days ago was urging Americans to look to Napoleon and the 1812 French invasion of Russia for inspiration to stay the course in Iraq.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 15, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Donald, I have been trying to get in touch with you.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 15, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the source for the Guardian story:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/document/document.shtml

BBC web audio can be tricky if you're outside the UK. But if you can get this playing, worth half an hour of your time.

Posted by: bert on January 15, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Bob Briggs: "Contact Joe at 867-5309"

I did, but someone named Jenny answered and immediately asked me if I wanted to make her mine. It was all so confusing ...

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 15, 2007 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Red Girl, Blue State (aka Global Citizen):/b> "Donald, I have been trying to get in touch with you."

I know, darling -- but I was only calling that number about that vintage WWII rifle, honest I was ...

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 15, 2007 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

To be perfectly honest, Blue Girl, Red State, I've been swamped with work and have been very neglectful of my e-mail of late. What's up? Drop me another line, and I promise to check it when I get back tonight. I'm going out to see Letters from iwo Jima.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 15, 2007 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Cool. Will do. Enjoy the movie.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 15, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Donald and Global Citizen, sitting in a tree..."

Oh, damn. How does that go again?

Posted by: Zeno on January 15, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

That's "Norman and Global Citizen sitting in a tree..."

Posted by: cld on January 15, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm looking forward to the day when the president of Iraq goes to Iran to propose the unification of those two countries. A single, mighty Shi'ite nation.

Posted by: gsdrgnn on January 16, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Don't you kids know that when a lady is very polite and butter wouldn't melt in her mouth you'd better hold onto your wallet and independence ? Look at what BGRS is using for an address.

Posted by: opit on January 16, 2007 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

"Modern Jacobites"? What are they? Real Extreme Wingnuts?

Jacobites reject the idea that the king has his authority delegated to him by Parliament. Many hold that the king's authority comes directly from Almighty God.

Wow.

Posted by: la liberte on January 16, 2007 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

Eh ! There's a reason why Mollet and friends and the entire 4th republic were pounded in oblivion barely two years later ...

Posted by: Fifi on January 16, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

It's 1066 in reverse, when the Normans invaded England. The two are linked.

Hey, if it was good enough in 1066, then it should have been good enough in 1956.

Whats 490 years anyway?

I say go for it!

The colors of the flags are the same anyway.

Posted by: James on January 16, 2007 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

Apparently, Churchill offered an Anglo-Franco union to the French government as a way to keep the French in the second world war. The French capitulated shortly afterwards. The cynical amongst us might wonder whether it was from their inability in fighting the massed might of the German army or whether they were just disgusted at the idea of a unification with the UK.

Posted by: Kav on January 16, 2007 at 4:10 AM | PERMALINK

Kav: the latter, I'm afraid. "Union with the British Empire would be like fusion with a corpse", Petain said. But it is worth noting that de Gaulle (then undersecretary for war) was "enthusiastic" about the plan; unfortunately French PM Reynaud resigned the next day, to be replaced by Petain. Churchill's main motive in proposing the union was to save the powerful French fleet from the Germans.

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-0094(197407)9%3A3%3C27%3APTDTBO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-I

Posted by: ajay on January 16, 2007 at 5:42 AM | PERMALINK

Arf. Great story.

Mind you, here in Scotland we've always liked the French more than we liked the English anyway....

Posted by: Al on January 16, 2007 at 6:06 AM | PERMALINK

In a sense, this wasn't such a wild suggestion. At the time, the UK and France were military allies (as they still are) under the North Atlantic Treaty and also the bilateral Treaty of Dunkirk, were cooperating economically through the OEEC/OECD and the European Payments Union. Two years before, the proposed European Defence Community had narrowly failed to pass ratification in the French National Assembly, which would have meant a single European defence force. The UK was taking part in the Messina conference that prepared the Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community.

Of course, we didn't choose to sign it in the end, but in September 1956 that was still in the future.

Posted by: Alex on January 16, 2007 at 6:08 AM | PERMALINK

The French reaction to this revelation is apparently one of utter gaul.

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 16, 2007 at 6:14 AM | PERMALINK

They frankly find it hard to believe. (my apologies all round)

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 16, 2007 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

FOR SALE: One WWII vintage French rifle. Never been fired and only dropped once. Contact Joe at 867-5309

FOR SALE:

One WWII vintage American rifle. In pristine condition from sitting untouched on a shelf for over two years from September 1939 to December 1941.

Posted by: Arminius on January 16, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose the combined flag would have been known as the Union Jacques....

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Notice: Britain called. It would like the royalties on the jet engine, radar, and the electronic computer from 1940 to the present day. Thanks.

Posted by: Alex on January 16, 2007 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose the combined flag would have been known as the Union Jacques....

and the citizens would be known colloquially as either 'logs' or 'frimeys'

but how to combine the English 'French tickler' and the French 'capot anglais'?

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 16, 2007 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's extremely ironic today, of course, considering that the axis of Euroskepticism runs through Britain and Scandanavia vs France and Germany.

Just as Blair was sucking like a Hoover on Bush's foreign policy (and emulating our economic policies -- like the wannabe Anglo Berlusconi), France/Germany were pushing the "hyperpower" critique and attempting to be a bloc of counterbalance to the "Anglo-Saxon" free trade leanings of Britain and Denmark ...

So it's back to the conventional centuries-old rivalry of France and England -- only with the new twist of Germany (sacre bleu!) being for the most part on France's side ...

Poor Blair, hitched himself to an Edsel, having to go the way of ol' Silvio -- the European cross between Jack Abramoff and Rupert Murdoch ...

Now all we need is rdw to tell me how fulla shit I am :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Thank goodness calmer heads prevailed.

French cooking would have been set back 200 years. There is no French equivalent to "mushy peas," nor should there be. Ever.

The Brits real motivation was likely a desire for cheap access to French wine so they could try adding those sweet, icky syrups to wine that they put in their room-temperature beer.

Boy, we dodged a bullet on this one.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 16, 2007 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Bobb Briggs: FOR SALE: One WWII vintage French rifle. Never been fired and only dropped once. Contact Joe at 867-5309

Arminius: FOR SALE: One WWII vintage American rifle. In pristine condition from sitting untouched on a shelf for over two years from September 1939 to December 1941.

You know, it does take a certain amount of sack to criticize the French for their performance in the war when France actually stepped up and declared war on Hitler in September 1939 and fought against and suffered under the Nazis for over two years until America finally got off its collective ass and got in the game. (Which it wouldn't even have done, FDR's efforts aside, if Hitler hadn't done us the favor of declaring war). The ordinary American was more than happy to stand aside and let the British and French (and our northern neighbors the Canadians) bear the burden of confronting Fascism.

(And, moreover, American military performance wasn't that hot either the first time they confronted the Germans' military prowess -- see, e.g., the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, when American GIs cut and ran for fifty miles --leaving behind their rifles "never fired and only dropped once" -- in a humiliating headlong retreat before the Afrika Korps).


Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Jacobites reject the idea that the king has his authority delegated to him by Parliament. Many hold that the king's authority comes directly from Almighty God.


Isn't this what Republicans are saying when they keep trying out the notion that freedom comes from god?

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

(upper case) Alex: Britain called. It would like the royalties on the jet engine

Ok, but we want our royalties on the airplane.

radar

As soon as they stop promoting that Marconi usurper and recognize that Tesla invented radio.

and the electronic computer

A wash - ironically we came up with the Turing complete model.

Posted by: (lower case) alex on January 16, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1: So it's back to the conventional centuries-old rivalry of France and England -- only with the new twist of Germany (sacre bleu!) being for the most part on France's side ...

New twist? That's not what Charlemagne said.

Posted by: alex on January 16, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

cld:

No, actually Jacobites supported the Catholic Stuart pretenders against Cromwell's Calvinist Roundheads in Parliament.

Cromwell's republican forces -- who imposed bans on theater, pubs and imposed a dress code until the Restoration of Charles II -- would be more like today's fiercely Protestant, fiercely moralizing Republicans than the Jacobites -- who were actually a force for social progress, despite rejecting Hobbes' and Locke's scathing Enlightenment critique of the Divine Right of Kings.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

alex:

Yeah well, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman nor an empire.

Discuss amongst yourselves :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1: the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman nor an empire

Early marketing ploy.

Posted by: alex on January 16, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, OT, but just saw this somewhere re. the latest idiocy from a wingnut, a respectable one at that.

In fact, since the cultural Left in America is de facto allied with the radical Muslims, we as conservatives have no choice but to ally with the traditional Muslims.. Dinesh D'Souza


I must say that the guy is very smart, inasmuch as he has made shitload of money from his anti-left books to buy himself a pad in Rancho Santa Fe!

Posted by: gregor on January 16, 2007 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

bob,

That reference was to an earlier post at 5:28 pm referring to the present Stuart pretender the Duke of Bavaria, and the quote came from a comment at 1:28 am, though now that I look back I'm not sure what la liberte was quoting.

What I meant was that the Republican notion that freedom comes from god leads to the idea of divine sanction and thereby the idea that those who are more capable of excercising personal freedom, (those with money), are closer to divine favor or, in fact, a species apart with a greater element of divine than common mortals.

Which is what many conservatives actually do believe and why the canard that 'freedom comes from god' is stupid, grotesque and pernicious.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

gregor:

Oh c'mon, Dinesh D'Souza has always been a butt-sucking wannabe, an Allan Bloom acolyte who rode the bestseller coattails of Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind by echoing those criticisms of PC from his perch as an Ivy League undergraduate (Dartmouth, if memory serves).

Lefties "de-facto aligned" with "radical Muslims?" GMAFB. What we lefties do is advocate *understanding* radical Muslims as they understand themselves. Obviously our social beliefs are mutually exclusive. D'Souza wants to try to draw "moderate Muslims" into solidarity with American conservatives? On uhh ... what issues? Family values? Hehe, look where that got Karen Hughes :)

Bottom line, Islam is a religion which is all about submission. It is alien to Western -- especially American -- concepts of personal autonomy. There's not really all that much common ground to find, from any side of the political spectrum ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Lowercase: I mean, we actually sent over copies, drawings and full documentation of the radars, the Enigma bombes, COLOSSUS, and the jet engines, including the patents Frank Whittle signed over to the Crown...free. And the staff and data from our own pre-Manhattan Project nuclear project.

Posted by: Alex on January 16, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1: So it's back to the conventional centuries-old rivalry of France and England -- only with the new twist of Germany (sacre bleu!) being for the most part on France's side ...

alex: New twist? That's not what Charlemagne said.

Or Napoleon. While the back and forth of alliances during the Napleonic era was positively dizzying, remember that Napoleon had many German allies during his wars with Britain.

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Bottom line, Islam is a religion which is all about submission. It is alien to Western -- especially American -- concepts of personal autonomy. There's not really all that much common ground to find, from any side of the political spectrum ...

Umm, Western Christianity -- especially Roman Catholicism and some strains of Protestant fundamentalism -- is not that much of a stranger to the concept of submission either. There's nothing inherent about Islam qua Islam that makes it more about submission -- rather it's the case that most religions, Islam being only one of many, emphasize submission to a higher power and de-emphasize the ability of the individual to have a meaningful impact on his own destiny.

(After all, it's that emphasis on submission and the particular psychic effects it produces that makes dating Catholic girls either not fun at all -- or else really really really fun....)

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

You know, it does take a certain amount of sack to criticize the French for their performance in the war when France actually stepped up and declared war on Hitler in September 1939 and fought against and suffered under the Nazis for over two years

Some useful statistics:

French military casualties in the Second World War: 212,000 (from a population of 40m)
US military casualties: 407,000 (from a population of 131m)
French civilian casualties: 267,000
US civilian casualties: 11,000

So in fact France took more dead than the US, from a population less than a third of the size, and proportionately more military dead. French troops, of course, also fought for longer - 1939-45.

Alex: at least we've finally managed (after 50 years) to pay off all the interest on the money the US lent us so we could fight the Nazis. "We must become the Loan Shark of the Free World", as FDR didn't say.


Posted by: ajay on January 16, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Well, what I find stupid, grotesque and pernicious is Bush's blithe assumption that within every Iraqi is a Jeffersonian democrat just bursting to get out. That's ahistorical and culturally clueless -- and supremely arrogant because the path to democracy is most often an extremely bloody and aruduous one, and we really have no business foisting it on a country if they don't choose it themselves. But we do cuz, you know, God would have wanted it that way ...

Beyond that, though, the entire natural rights tradition upon which all modern ethics rests came irreducibly out of religion -- in our culture, specifically, the Judeo/Christian tradition. Once the ancient Hebrews elevate God into an abstract principle, once Christianity universalizes God into One God, instead of just another sky-god competing for recruits in the desert a la the Old Testament Jehovah -- then you're on the way to the incommensurable worth of the individual, and out of that flows "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal."

Today, of course, we can put this all on a secular footing, but when you're talking about the history of ideas, it's important to keep the evolution of these ideas in mind. To say that the Jacobites are like modern Republicans because they believed in the Divine Right of Kings over Parliament it to actually miss some big points in the history of the English civil wars. Parliamentarian republicans weren't really all that progressive -- they simply represented the rising class of artisans and merchants (the nascent capitalist class) against the powers of the monarchy and aristocracy. And say what you will about the latter -- at least they had a concept of noblesse oblige. The Locke-influenced Roundheads were fierce Calvinists who embraced a kind of religious proto-Social Darwinism. If you were poor, it was a sign of God's disfavor.

Since we veritably deify John Locke as the progenitor of our political values (supremely ironic since he singlehandedly wrote the South Carolina colonial constitution -- a codification of neo-feudalism with 2% sufferage), it's easy to miss just how self-interested and self-righteous the early parliamentarians truly were. The Jacobites covered all sorts of bases with all sorts of motives, but among them they also represented the voice of the disenfranchised.

Are you familiar with a type of play known as a Restoration farce? When Charles II took the throne, he rescinded the Roundheads' Shariah codes and theater blossomed again. Restoration farces are bedroom comedies, bawdy and silly and full of life on stage for the first time since Shakespeare ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

And let's also not forget that France was still recovering from the ravages of WWI, which had decimated the country and an entire generation of young men, and which they had only managed to "win" by the skin of their teeth. It was somewhat understandable that they weren't particularly enthusiastic about another World War so soon....

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Beyond that, though, the entire natural rights tradition upon which all modern ethics rests came irreducibly out of religion -- in our culture, specifically, the Judeo/Christian tradition. Once the ancient Hebrews elevate God into an abstract principle, once Christianity universalizes God into One God, instead of just another sky-god competing for recruits in the desert a la the Old Testament Jehovah -- then you're on the way to the incommensurable worth of the individual, and out of that flows "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal."

Really? I don't think so. The pagan Greeks and Romans, not the Hebrews, were the first Westerners to create an idea of the individual, and in fact once Christianity took hold the entire concept of individual rights took roughly a 1,000 year vacation from Western thought. I'd say our modern concept of personal liberty developed in large part in spite rather than because of the Judeo/Christian tradition.

After all, I see nothing inherent in the concept of one god rather than multiple gods that would produce a concept of the "incommensurable worth of the individual" -- in fact, it could be quite the opposite, in that an individual could be seen to have more autonomy, more choice about whom and how to worship and live, in a series of competing beliefs rather than in one overarching overweening power. If paganism can be analogized to democracy, a marketplace of ideas with many competing and overlapping interests and ideals, then monotheism with its omnipotent god can be analogized to a totalitarian dictatorship -- and we know which of those produces the most freedom....

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan:

Well, "new" since the Franco-Prussian war, anyway :)

As for Islam -- I'm afaid I'm going to have to disagree with you. You should really read the Koran -- while all religions (even abstract and quietistic flavors of Buddhism) require a degree of submission to a larger will (it wouldn't, after all, be "religion" otherwise), no religiou extant makes this more explicit than Islam. The very name "Islam" means submission to God.

There is consequently a much different tradition of clerical scholarship than is found in Western religions; this, indeed, was Pope Benedict's point in the controversial address he gave several months go. In the Western tradition, reason can lead one to God -- this is the essence of Thomistic scholasticism. In Islam, reason is much more circumscribed, and religious study contains a tremendous amount of rote memorization.

There's no point in trying to relativize this; it is what it is. It doesn't mean that Muslims are necessarily more rigid-minded or prone to violence than Westerners. It *does*, however, make the notion of an Islamic Reformation much more problematic than for Christianity.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Alex: I mean, we actually sent over copies, drawings and full documentation of the radars, the Enigma bombes, COLOSSUS, and the jet engines, including the patents Frank Whittle signed over to the Crown...free.

Ok, thanks. And we're happy to have helped save Airstrip One.

Posted by: alex on January 16, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan:

I'm afraid you're just dead-wrong on this. Paganism is decidedly not about the incommensurability of the individual, as there is no basis for ontological equality in ancient Greek or Roman society. Aristotle would have dismissed the notion out of hand. Infanticide, slavery, concubinage, the strong over the weak were the rules in pagan societies. Only Athenian democracy was a contrast to this -- a democracy for only one class of elite males, supported by slavery -- and it was a relatively short-lived aberration -- though thank god it occured and records were left.

The Judeo-Christian tradition contains the seedbed of modern ethics. The Kantian Categorical Imperative (form 2) is a re-statement of the Golden Rule. Kant himself -- agnostic though he was -- believed that one had to act *as if* god existed, else the idea of a transcendent ethics would be meaningless.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

bob,

I'm hardly defending the Puritains! I just said George and his species of Republicans are ego-maniacs with delusions of divine right.


I would echo Stefan.

I would have said the western tradition of individual liberty evolves from the Greek while the Judeo-Christian tradition as it evolved evolved in reference to that.

I think the Greek development was initially suggested by the thousand islands of the Aegean, and the geographic defensibility of the independent city-states, but the islands particularly. The commerce and interaction between them sets in train an interest in the external definition of things and describing things by their limits and boundaries, rather than functions or uses, and thereby exact definition and numbers. And what is more individual than a number?

And why the West externalizes everything and writes it down while memory and internalizing are more important in the far east.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: And let's also not forget that France was still recovering from the ravages of WWI, which had decimated the country and an entire generation of young men ...

Excuses, excuses. It's still their fault - they're the ones that were dumb enough to put their country right next to Germany.

Posted by: alex on January 16, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

bob,

As to the modern development of humanist tradition I think we are on the same page.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Oh, I'd never try to deny that the ancient Greeks were extremely important for the foundation of the Western intellectual tradition -- science, instrumental control of the environment, the conceptualization of abstract universal forms -- all these are critical to the development of the West.

Bear in mind that some of the sillier notions of Christianity came out of early Christianity's contact with Hellenic (post-Athenian) culture. The notion of the immortal soul (not strictly speaking Biblical -- ask the Jehovah's Witnesses), the flesh/spirit duality, are neo-platonic ideas -- and one could argue deeply corrupting to the self-image of human beings.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm afraid you're just dead-wrong on this. Paganism is decidedly not about the incommensurability of the individual, as there is no basis for ontological equality in ancient Greek or Roman society. Aristotle would have dismissed the notion out of hand.

While paganism isn't about individuality, neither is it as a belief system necessarily in conflict with it.

Infanticide, slavery, concubinage, the strong over the weak were the rules in pagan societies.

As they were also the rule in monotheistic (including Christian) socities for most of recorded history. Again, there's no real distinction to be made among pagan and monotheistic societies as to how they treat the weak in practice (not in theory).

The Judeo-Christian tradition contains the seedbed of modern ethics.

As does the pagan Greco-Roman tradition as developed by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. Let's not forget that the pagan philosophers and the ethical system they developed came first in the West, and that the later development of Christian thought was superimposed and overlaid on the work that had already been done by the Greeks. As cld above wrote, Christian ethical thought developed in large part in reference and not merely in opposition to Greco-Roman ethical precepts.

The Kantian Categorical Imperative (form 2) is a re-statement of the Golden Rule. Kant himself -- agnostic though he was -- believed that one had to act *as if* god existed, else the idea of a transcendent ethics would be meaningless.

Stupid kant.

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

josh marshall, After this interview with Dinesh D'Souza was pointed out to me, I went over to the official TPM book shelf and noticed that we'd received a review copy of The Enemy at Home. So I leafed through the introduction. And D'Souza really does see bin Laden and his sundry cohorts as freedom fighters against abortion, homosexuals and free love in general.


Brains of a feather.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

The Kantian Categorical Imperative (form 2) is a re-statement of the Golden Rule

First of all, the ethic of reciprocity nos known as the "Golden Rule" existed in heathen cultures prior to both Christianity and Judaism. Secondly, the statement of the Golden Rule found in the Torah was not a universal categorical imperative; it applied only to one's kith and kin and at best to Hebrews in general. And thirdly, while Christianity preached the equality of the individual in soteriological terms -- everyone has an equal opportunity to be saved -- it left the social order untouched, allowing for classes that included kings with tremendous liberty and slaves and serfs with none.

The birth of individual liberty in the modern world came out of an Enlightenment restatement of principles deriving from classical pagan and heathen sources and out of a specific rejection of the Christian mode. That is not to say that some pagan cultures were less free or enlightened, but in general the monotheistic religions were worse, and suppressed individual liberties rigorously and systematically to the point where the penalties for resisting this were of course all manner of horrible torture, imprisonment and death.

The truth is that the religions of the Book have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world by the forces of the Enlightenment, their whips and chains and chastity belts dropping from their white robes along the way.

Posted by: Windhorse on January 16, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

their whips and chains and chastity belts dropping from their white robes along the way.

That reminds me, I owe my ex-girlfriend a call....

Sorry to drop out of what looks to be an interesting discussion, but I'm in a time zone far ahead at the moment. Enjoy, all.

Posted by: Stefan on January 16, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

'Evening, Stefan ... nice chewing the fat on this stuff with you.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Between Hesiod and Virgil, and the body of literature between them, you can find precedents for almost everything in Christianity.

And if you read the Gospels the most striking thing is the way Jesus is intentionally trying to inculcate a cult of personality with complete and unquestioning submission to himself among his followers.

If you read the Gospels looking for history Jesus comes off as a first rate nut, exactly the kind of guerilla political leader we associate with the middle east. Mohammed is the most successful such personality.

And nothing has changed much since then. Nasrallah fits the mold perfectly.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

There are some religions that accept that there are multiple ways to salvation, whatever that state may be.

It appears to me that the fundmentalism of both the Islamic radicals and the Bushistas derives from a strain of religion(s) which is adament in its refusal to accept the possibility of the existence of more than one path to attainment of such a state.

Posted by: gregor on January 16, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Windhorse:

You're going to have to source your contention that the notion of individual liberty came out of "classical pagan and heathen sources," since it's a new one on me -- and you know I'm not one of these "America was founded as a Christian nation" dudes.

There's a severe problem with attempting to compare the so-called heathen world with European civilization during the time of the Enlightenment -- and that's, since the time of Constantine's conversion -- there were no comparable "heathen cultures" in Europe. Obviously, the ideas of the Athenians were very important in formulating the principle of democracy -- but they were hardly read uncritically. In terms of self-evident political equality -- it's just not there in either Plato or Aristotle. Natural rights came out of natural law, and natural law was first condified by Aquinas.

It's a false comparison to bring up *Christian civilization* in 15th and 16th century Europe -- obviously the Enlightenment was a reaction against the illiberalism of ecclesiastical authority -- just as the Reformation was a reaction against the Church of Rome. But criticism is a dialectic; the ideas which form the basis of criticism are ideals within the traditions themselves -- they hardly appeared out of nowhere. Thus you have Martin Luther bashing the Pope on behalf of Jesus -- just as you had Enlightenment thinkers extrapolating ideas of incommensurate human value from ... where?

Again, certainly not from ancient Greece, Rome, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Gauls or any other European "heathen" civilization.

The initial ideas came out of Scholastic metaphysics -- which then became purified by an even more vigorous application of reason.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan:

I'll certainly agree with you that "the Judeo/Christian tradition" didn't just pop out of Palestine and take over Europe. It became heavily admixed with the cultures of the time, especially ideas in the Hellenic world (as I mentioned to cld, the immortal soul and the flesh/spirit duality are neoplatonist ideas which don't appear in the Old Testament). Greek culture absolutely influenced early Christianity in an important way, so it's hard to say which fundamental ideas came from precisely where, in the traslations from the early Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts into the Greek Septagint, etc. ...

The only thing I'm asserting is that the fundamental principle of our democracy, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights" is *not* a concept to be found in full flower in the ancient world.

I would submit to you that its root is in the Gospels, found in the example of the way Jesus treated the least among his followers ...

Human equality is a concept that simply didn't parse in the ancient world, and no pagan civilization has ever credited it. Christianity certainly didn't credit it *in practice* until, as Windhorse sez, the Enlightenment dragged it kicking and screaming into the modern world, and rubbed its nose in its own stated ideals ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting note at Wikipedia,

The word "democracy" combines the elements demos (which means "people") and kratos ("force, power"). Kratos is an unexpectedly brutish word. In the words "monarchy" and "oligarchy", the second element arche means rule, leading, or being first. It is possible that the term "democracy" was coined by its detractors who rejected the possibility of, so to speak, a valid "demarchy". Whatever its original tone, the term was adopted wholeheartedly by Athenian democrats.


Let us find a place for a new movement of Demarchy and Demarchists.

Posted by: cld on January 16, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: since the time of Constantine's conversion -- there were no comparable "heathen cultures" in Europe.

Vikings and various Germanic tribes, including pre-Christian. Obviously long before the Enlightenment, but also long after Constantine.

I think that the "standard model" of the development of Western political and ethical philosophy fails to take into account their contributions. The idea that it all started with the ancient Greeks and developed from there is just a bit too clean and simple.

While pre-Christian and early Christian northern Europeans were not in the habit of writing philosophical tomes, the practical effect of their customs and attitudes was immense (Common Law, anyone?).

Posted by: alex on January 16, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

In terms of self-evident political equality -- it's just not there in either Plato or Aristotle. Natural rights came out of natural law, and natural law was first condified by Aquinas.

Natural law has its origin in paganism. It was first codified in the West by Aristotle, whose writings on the matter were suppressed by the Church for over a thousand years. Aquinas merely took Aristotle's ideas and tried to give them a Christian spin. The 17th resurgence of interest in natural law was the progeny of Aristotle not Aquinas, on the one hand, and a newfound interest in scrutizing nature's work and developing the experimental method on the other -- approaches which of course the Church had squelched for seventeen centuries.

But criticism is a dialectic; the ideas which form the basis of criticism are ideals within the traditions themselves

They may be within the traditions themselves in a negative form (e.g. "don't scrutinize nature" "men are equal in the eyes of God") but that certainly doesn't mean they are necessarily contained within the traditions in a way that is positive -- and if not, how is it then germane to say so? That's like saying a good relationship between a husband and wife is only a dialectical reaction to a wife-beating relationship. Even if it were true it doesn't tell us much.

You're trying to draw a line between scholastic metaphysics and the ideas of the Enlightenment when in fact the latter was a going again to ground. "Nature will teach us" might best sum up the attitude of revolutionaries, and to that extent they looked both to what their pagan forebears had discovered with regard to the natural world and to their own devices. Their approach was antithetical to that of the religion that preceded them and there is little cause to connect the two.

In other words, while the Enlightenment may have been a reaction to clerical illiberalism as you contend, it doesn't follow that modern notions of personal liberty can be found within the history of Christian thought in a positive way.

Our argument may be to the extent that they intentionally or unintentionally sought out the wisdom of pagan cultures in defiance of the Church and to what extent the ideas of liberty were their own brainchild and did not spring from past cultures. In other words, while perhaps they believed they were retrieving ideas from the classical world they were in fact largely constructing these new ideas on their own. The fact remains, however, that there was a neo-classical rebirth in architecture, sculpture, literature, and political thinking that shows appeals to pagan and heathen sources were pervasive and endemic.

It's clear that men like Rousseau and Voltaire and Locke looked to classical (pagan and heathen) sources for their inspiration when they weren't looking directly to nature or reason. In general they believed that man had an inborn moral sense - quite in opposition to the depraved fallen nature that Christianity ascribed to man -- and that this moral sense was the source of man's nobility. And since it derived from nature or "nature's god" all men were born with it, meaning all men came into this world with the same right to liberty -- quite contrary to the monotheistic notions that supported greater liberty for persons of higher social and/or religious stature.

To argue from the other side, it's clear that perhaps the biggest problem early Christians had with their pagan counterparts was -- what?

Too much personal liberty.

And it was this very liberty that they believed contributed to man's suffering and needed to be bound back by the yoke of religion. Paul complained that the heathens were "a law unto themselves;" is there a better description of people enjoying personal liberty? Christian apologists hated the Roman pagans and heathen "barbarians" of Europe for their licentiousness and brazen individualism. In contrast to the "natural" urge toward escaping bondage he commanded slaves to obey their masters and women to submit to their husbands at a time when the heathen world was developing toward a point where thanes would throw off the yoke of unfit rulers and women in northern europe would have the right to divorce, speak at the Althing, and inherit property.

Just as an aside, both Digby and cld are both fond of pointing out that the Religious Right in this country hearken back to this very idea that aristocratic deference, social class, and religion are inextricably intertwined and in opposition to our notion of radical equality.

Posted by: Windhorse on January 16, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Windhorse,

Thanks for your post.

I have long believed that organized religion, in the form of the major churches, is an elaborate form of behavior control and, by extension, thought control.

One could interpret the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden precisely in this context. The standard explanation of Genesis Chapter 3 is that by listening to the devil and eating from "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" Adam and Eve sought to be like God and therefore had to be punished for disobeying God's command.

Advocates of natural law might argue that Adam and Eve had every right to eat any damn apple in the Garden. Biblical adherents, however, believe that there are innate constrictions on human freedom that are divinely ordained by a power beyond our comprehension. Purely human or natural motivations cannot be trusted.

All the additional religious traditions, commandments and ritualistic practices seem to spring from a fundamental mistrust of human motivations and a desire to keep people thinking in a purely religious context. Independent thinking is a threat to the control exerted by the churches.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 16, 2007 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Windhorse:

Well, as usual this has become a very interesting discussion. But I feel I have to rescue my argument from a degree of straw-man hyperbole, which is probably inevitable in broad-brush historical arguments that attempt to encapsulate the full sweep of Western intellectual history into categories like Chrisianity = bad / the pagan world = good. It's obviously a tad more complex than this.

Let's first unravel the straw men and state what it is I am *not* saying. I'm not saying the Enlightenment thinkers read their ethics out of the Bible. I am not saying that Aquinas invented the concept of natural law -- only carried Aristotelian ideas along at a time when Western philosophical thought was all but nonexistent. And I am *surely* not saying that Christian civilization through that time was some sort of bastion of human rights or critical thinking.

There's a long tradition in this culture, since at least the Industrial Revolution, to attempt to reclaim the pagan world over and above a decaying and increasingly impotent Christianity. It's called the Romantic movement. But the picture of the pagan world it presents is inevitably, umm, romanticized (ask the Germans and the Italians). The pagan world was no bastion of political equality, either, and if you're going to make claims to the contrary, you're going to need to cite some sources.

What I am saying is that there are a few signal ideas out of the Enlightenment that partake of a universalism that these thinkers themselves found difficult if not impossible to account for without a single, unifying God at the center of them. The self-evident truths in the Declaration were endowed by a Creator. Immanuel Kant, the most sophisticated ethical thinker since Aristotle, and an agnostic mind of such corruscating reasoning ability that he caused more than a few clerics in his day to commit suicide by knocking the rational props out from under their faith, said that one has to behave *as if* God exists -- otherwise the notion of a transcendent, deontological (non-consequentialist) ethics is simply not supportable.

Now there are two ideas, both related, that I am going to submit to you did not come out of the pagan world. The first is the incommensurate worth of the individual. To Plato and Aristotle, the measure of a man's worth was his arete -- his virtue, a compendium of good qualities, empirically measured and which varied from man to man (the use of sexist language is deliberate). The second is political equality -- a counterintuitive notion in the ancient world; while a Platonic dialogue indeed asserts that even an uneducated slave boy knows the rules of geometry, the purpose there was to demonstrate the universality of the Forms, not critique slavery. Human inequality, which allowed slavery, infanticide, concubinage, slaughtering and torturing people for public entertainment, was taken for granted.

Now for you to say that the early Christian apologists and martyrs were appalled at Roman behavior, that is entirely correct. But to characterize that behavior as "individual liberty" is (to pardon the pun) tortured. The Framers never equated liberty with licentiousness. For liberty to have any meaning at all in a political context, it presupposed some sort of governing mechanism, and for the Framers of course that was Reason. Enlightened self-interest. Roman orgies were decidedly not on the agenda in those sweltering Philadelphia weeks of 1787. And Reason presupposed some universal guiding principle.

Again, this isn't to say that I believe that America was founded as "a Christian nation." It *is* to say that even the most freethinking and impious of our Founders were still Deists. *Some* transcendent, universal, unifying Principle was operating in the universe which allowed people to choose their interests yet allow those interests to work in concord. And recall that all the important writers for 16th century English republican theory spoke copiously about God -- definitely including John Locke, who was not above citing Scripture to found some of his political principles (most notoriously, the notion of Manifest Destiny -- we have the God-given right to take land from the indigenous inhabitants because we'll make better use of it).

So no, by no means was the Christian background of these thinkers some kind of unambiguous blessing. But they did nonethless plant seeds which took centuries to fully blosson -- civil rights for blacks, women, gays. All implicit in the idea of the incommensurate worth of the individual and political equality. Their blossoming is ongoing.

These ideas, of uncomparable human worth and political equality, I submit to you, came out of the universal relationship to God in monotheism. This is unlike one's patron deity, which is different than someone else's patron deity, and your struggles with that other person on earth are mirrored in the struggles of those two gods -- as above, so below. That sort of polytheism tends to ratify inequality. A universal relationship with God -- which is fundamentally the same as anyone else's relationship with God -- is the first step on the road to human equality. No other culture has woven this concept into political rights as thoroughly as has the West.

As bad a historical influence as monotheism has had in other ways -- in ratifying political hierarchy by establishing a Great Chain of Being which supports depotism and a horrific inequality of the sexes -- the personal relationship with God and the equality that necessarily implies has proven ultimately to be the more important idea, which has withstood the acid bath of reason -- even after the concept of God has fallen away like a scaffolding no longer needed.

I'm merely pointing to the origin of those ideas. I submit to you that you can't locate either one of them in classical writings or the traditions of other pagan cultures.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm merely pointing to the origin of those ideas. I submit to you that you can't locate either one of them in classical writings or the traditions of other pagan cultures.

I don't have time at the moment to address the rest of your post but I do have time to post this excerpt from Thucydides:

Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. . . . Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. . . .
Posted by: Windhorse on January 16, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Windhorse:

Ahh, the glories of classical Athens. Nice bit of boosterism, but there's nothing in there that transcends conventionalism and speaks of self-evident universal truths. Nothing in there which might eventually rattle the slavery which sustained that nation-state.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 16, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

These ideas, of uncomparable human worth and political equality, I submit to you, came out of the universal relationship to God in monotheism.

1) In practice there is no "universal relationship to God" in Christianity. The Church always held that some relationships to God were more equal than others, often just in virtue of one's state in life. Cardinals and Popes had the closest relationship, priests higher than ordinary people. In Calvinistic thought even many Christians had no real relationship to God and wouldn't be saved.

In terms of euality, that is as fractured as any system build around patron deities.

2) There certainly was no "universal relationship to God" for non-believers. The Council of Trent loudly proclaimed that there was no salvation outside of the visible Church -- period. This led of course to the Church happily blessing the enslavement of indigenous peoples and making continuous warfare on heathen nations. As the formula of the Tridentine Mass said, "Christ came so that some would be saved" -- not "all."

Again, no transcendant universal human rights here.

3) The Christian Church has historically esteemed the human being as having anything but "incomparable" worth. Quite the contrary, men were described as "worms" from Augustine onward, Pelagius was soundly rejected, Luther saw grace as affecting depraved human nature only as "snow upon the dungpile" and Calvin of course saw a significant portion of the human race as so fallen as to be unsaveable.

And like his Christian peers and forebears, he created and supported social systems to accomodate and enshrine the belief in basic human inequality.

Now there are two ideas, both related, that I am going to submit to you did not come out of the pagan world. The first is the incommensurate worth of the individual. Human inequality, which allowed slavery, infanticide, concubinage, slaughtering and torturing people for public entertainment, was taken for granted.

Human equality was not unknown in the ancient world as the quote from Thucydides above illustrates. It may not have been applied universally but neither is it applied universally today. Men who've never been convicted of crimes rot in Gitmo without trial because they aren't citizens. Men and women were kept as slaves until the 1860's. Women haven't enjoyed universal suffrage in this country for even a century yet. Experience reading commenters on this blog shows that in practice liberty-proclaiming Americans believe that foreign lives do not equal the value of American lives.

Regardless of universality of application, however, it's clear that the notions of individual liberty neither originated within orthodox Christian thought nor has it acted as some sort of carrier. There simply is no evidence to support that, the surmises of Kant notwithstanding. You're muddying the distinction between a historical religion and abstract metaphysics and claiming essentially that Kant and Descartes were saying for the Church things that it did never and could never say for itself.

Further, many of the the Deists and philosophes who fashioned our modern concept of liberty explicitly speak of the wisdom of the ancient world as the source of their inspiraction, and your painting their understanding of it as "romantic" while arguably patronizing (given the level of intellect and education of these men) is without question contradictory to their own explanations.

Voltaire opined that nothing had been written in six centuries that equaled one page of Seneca. The transcendalists looked directly to the "book of nature" as well as the pagan past for their inspiraction in shaping society. Lord Shaftesbury, himself a student of Locke, probably summed up attitude of the freethinkers best when he advised:

"If the Ancients, in their Purity, are as yet out of Reach: search the Moderns, that are nearest to them. If you cannot converse with the most Ancient, use the most Modern. For the Authors of the middle Age, and all that sort of Philosophy, as well as Divinity, will be of little advantage to you.

It's clear the Enlightenment gave birth to the modern notion of liberty, we're just arguing about what inseminated it. The philosophes themselves say it had two fathers: nature and the world of the ancients. You can argue with that, but you'd be arguing with them.

It's true that few if any ancient civilizations had an idea of liberty and equality that transcended their own culture, but it's a condescension to the past to criticize them on that point. We're talking about eras where the taxonomy of the human being hadn't developed to where it is today, and where some the differences between cultures were often so great that the people from across the sea may not even have seemed human.

Posted by: Windhorse on January 16, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

Ahh, the glories of classical Athens. Nice bit of boosterism, but there's nothing in there that transcends conventionalism and speaks of self-evident universal truths.

In Politics: Book One Aristotle himself testifies that such self-evident universal truths were commonly held in the ancient world:

Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present. For some are of opinion that the rule of a master is a science, and that the management of a household, and the mastership of slaves, and the political and royal rule, as I was saying at the outset, are all the same. Others affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust.

In Antigone we have Sophocles giving another such an example of an awareness of natural law in a popular play that reflected the conventional thinking of the time:

“Your edict, King was strong. But all your strength is weakness itself against The immortal unrecorded laws of God. They are not merely now: they were and shall be, Operative for ever, beyond man utterly.”

Later in ancient Rome we have Cicero in his "De Re Publica" articulating the commonly held and well known views of the Stoics:

There is in fact a true law--namely, right reason--which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands this law summons men to the performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing wrong. Its commands and prohibitions always influence good men, but are without effect upon the bad. To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally right, nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation, and to annul it wholly is impossible. Neither the senate nor the people can absolve us from our obligation to obey this law, and it requires no Sextus Aelius to expound and interpret it. It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it be one rule today and another tomorrow. But there will be one law, eternal and unchangeable, binding at all times upon all peoples; and there will be one common master and ruler of men, namely God, who is the author of this law, its interpreter and sponsor.

The influence of the ancients' conception of natural law in shaping the ideas of the the Enlightenment thinkers and Founders is clear. They were steeped in the writings of the Greeks and Romans having possessed classical educations. It just so happens, for instance, that Cicero was Jefferson's favorite philosopher, of whom he had dozens of his works in his possession, and Adams said that "the ages of the world" had never seen such a great statesman and philosopher combined in one man. These men looked to the Greeks and Romans for their ideas of liberty and equality and traced that lineage through the development of common law in the West, not through any addled prism of Christian metaphysics.

Posted by: Windhorse on January 17, 2007 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

Windhorse:

My goodness, does Allan Holdsworth ever play a mean SynthAxe. I'm going to have to turn this CD (Sand, 1987) off if I want to write this message. There.

First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to do something which I've never had occasion to do before; namely, defend monotheism (yuck). I'm sort of arguing myself into a corner to see if I can get out, and I enjoy exercises like this -- but I'm not being merely perverse about it, either. When you've got Enlightenment pillars like Descartes and especially Kant -- who took apart Scholastic metaphysics and rebuilt it from scratch in The Critique of Pure Reason, leaving countless theologians jibbering and dumbfounded -- not being able to dispense with a universal God-principle, I think this is highly significant. Don't dismiss the man from Konigsberg's thoughts as mere "musings" -- he veritably founded modern philosophy.

Now I am not at all saying that our Founders weren't profoundly influenced by their classical educations, or that they didn't explicitly choose classical ideas over Christian doctrine when the choices presented themselves. Obviously, they did; they looked to the Book of Nature and to the ancients, as you say, and rejected Christian dogma. But also, prior to their classical educations, they were -- as was every educated person in that age -- deeply steeped in the Bible as well. You have to intimately know what it is you react against.

Furthermore, I am not saying -- good grief -- that the *doctrines* of the early Church, from the Church Fathers certainly through Augustine, gave support to the idea of human equality. Something happens to an oppressed, charismatic sect when it becomes an established church and patron of the power structure. There's a marvelous book -- perhaps you've heard of it -- by Elaine Pagels called Adam, Eve and the Serpent which traces the a shift of meaning in the creation story from the ancient Hebrews, where it was a story of human freedom -- the freedom to choose not to sin -- to Augustine, where it became a story of human bondage to Original Sin -- a doctrine he basically pulled out of his butt based on observations (in The Confessions) of his own horndog nature. When every human being is Fallen, then the problem of the arbitrary suffering of innocents is mooted -- and you can commit lots of atrocities on your enemies, besides. Nice attribute for the official church of the Roman Empire to have.

What I am saying is that the seeds of universal human equality were -- despite later doctrine to bolster an established church -- planted by the Judeo/Christian tradition in two things. First, the ancient Hebrew abstracting of God from an anthropomorphized super-being into a universal principle. I owe my ideas here to my buddy the philosophy grad student (he just got his Masters from New School last week, yah!) from his discussions of Hegel's book on the origins of Christian ethics. I'm not a good enough student of the Bible to discuss this cogently, so I'm simply cite the different relationships to God of Nimrod vs Noah, and also Abraham's transcendent committment to God expressed in his willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac (which he was, of course, prevented from doing). You'll have to fill in the blanks here, but Hegel makes a compelling argument.

Secondly, of course, was the community of Jesus in the Gospels, which was radically egalitarian (nay, communistic) and open to all in a way that defied all social convention. What ties these ideas together and sets them apart from the examples you cite in the ancients is their explicit universalism. These are not merely examples or possibilities.

Now you said that it's patronizing to expect the ancients to have subtle understandings of other cultures or to speak of universalism as we might understand it. You are deeply wrong in this; the ancient Greeks were a trading and seafaring people, and encountered foreigners all the time. Some argue that the origin of Greek philosophy came out of this very experience; seeing people of different complexions, languages, customs, values, political systems made them begin to wonder, more and more systematically, what exactly of these differences were essential and what were merely the product of social convention. Out of this came the common notion of conventionalism, a kind of ancient equivalent of cultural relativism, that focused the Greek mind on questions of what precisely defined essential truth.

Notice that in all the examples you cited, conventionalism is embedded as an assumption. Thucydides' Chamber-of-Commerce-esque sketch of how salubrious Athens was to him didn't make the case based on "self-evident truths," only stated how nicely the Athenian state functioned for its citizens. There were Athenian virtues -- but there were also Spartan virues. When Aristotle discussed opinions on the proper view of slaves -- some say it's a matter of the proper techne of the master, some say slavery is contradictory to natural law -- he is stating prevalent opinions on the subject (a matter of convention), not drawing a conclusion. And when Cicero discusses the deontological (non-situational) ethics of the Stoics, he's describing the ideas of a philosophic community, not necessarily making a case for their universal truth. Which is not, of course, to dismiss the influence of these passages or others of similar import on the Founders.

The religious tradition these men were steeped is was, however, not descriptive; it was prescriptive. And while certainly all the fierce doctrinal squabbling going on between the Christian sects -- from the quiet egalitarianism of the Quakers to the assertive elitism of the Calvinists -- was not at all of interest to them (yuck on a stick!), the universalism of a Creator Principle, no matter how Deistically sublimated or stripped to its bare essentials as Natural Law, remained. They didn't write Cicero or Socrates holds these truths ...

And so, the Hebraic notion of God as abstract Law, and the New Testament fulfillment of that Law into a universal principle for all humanity, not merely the "chosen people," served as the ground upon which their studies of classical civilization proceeded, and conditioned the values they took from it. How could it not? Nobody at that time objected to a universalized Creator or the egalitarian social message of Jesus -- only how these things were (mis)interpreted by various worldly and self-interested churches. The universalism implicit in this tradition dovetailed with the universalism of natural law derived from Reason applied to empirical study. As anti-clerical as some of these guys were, none of them were explicitly atheist or explicitly anti-Christian. I think it's apparent why.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 17, 2007 at 6:26 AM | PERMALINK
As bad a historical influence as monotheism has had in other ways -- in ratifying political hierarchy by establishing a Great Chain of Being which supports depotism and a horrific inequality of the sexes

Er, that's not really unique to "monotheism", as reference the the Celestial Bureaucracy of traditional Chinese belief and the systems it justified will attest (or many other non-monotheistic systems of history.) Rather, I think, such social systems reflect common human tendencies which are retroactively justified in the context of whatever belief system is available.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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