Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Quotables: The Roots of American Order

    April 25, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    The Roots of American Order
    by Russell Kirk

    It was to the precedent of the Petition of Right, among other constitutional precedents, that American Patriots would look in the 1760s and 1770s, and many of the grievances listed in the Petition would reappear in the American Declaration of Independence. {p. 261}

    [N]ow that the Independents had destroyed the old order, on what basis could Britain be governed? In the month when the king was put to death, the more extreme Independents proposed to the House of Commons an “Agreement of the People,” a written constitution purporting to be the common will of Englishmen, establishing a democratic republic with universal suffrage, religious toleration {at least of Christians who did not differ fundamentally from the Independents and their allies}, and the rights of liberty and safety that could not be impaired by Parliament. Here was one of the forerunners of the Constitution of the United States. {p. 263}

    Violent revolutions commonly follow a discernible patter–though in part the American Revolution would not conform to that patter. A revolution begins with relatively moderate objectives, led by men not altogether radical; but at blood is shed and hatred increases, the early leaders of the struggle give way to men more extreme and violent. The old order dissolves in anarchy, but no tolerable new order emerges. Presently confusion becomes to terrible that the recovery of peace matter more to the people than does anything else. And then there appears a “man on horseback,” a talented military commander often, who restores order at the price of freedom. {P. 264}

    Dictatorships have the disadvantage that when a strong master dies, only rarely is a competent successor to be found. {p. 266}

    The Royalists believed in a community of souls, owing loyalty to God and loyalty to a Christian king; but Hobbes believed that only individuals really exist, and that the individual’s motives in society are not love and loyalty, but self-interest and fear. {p. 270}

    [T]he individualistic teachings of Hobbes worked upon the colonial mind… {p. 270}

    Hobbes’ system offered freedom from Church, town, guild, and local authorities–but in exchange for servitude to Leviathan. {p. 270}

    He substituted for the principle of honor, or Aristotle’s “magnanimity,” the principle of “commodious living”: thus, according to Hobbes, the aim of politics is not the elevation of a nation, but instead material aggrandizement for the individual. {p. 271}

    [S]eeking safety and creature-comforts, men submit themselves absolutely to the power of the state. {p. 271}

    Hobbes’ system…appeals to no loyalties of the heart. {p. 272}

    For Bramhall and the other Anglican divines, the purpose of human existence is to know God and enjoy Him forever; for Hobbes, that purpose is only material success and safety, and the enjoyment of fleshly rewards. {p. 274}

    [Browne] foresaw that in future, the real danger to order would come not from the differences among Christian sects, but from atheism: human reason would try to take total control of the soul… {p. 277}

    Being brought up on Bunyan was some protection against being swallowed by Hobbes’ Leviathan. {p. 278}

    Bunyan’s allegory worked more strongly than did Paradise Lost upon men’s minds and consciences–even upon the minds and consciences of philosophers. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, early in the nineteenth century, would find that The Pilgrim’s Progress was incomparably the best work of evangelical theology “ever produced by a writer not miraculously inspired.” {p. 278}

    John Bunyan knew scarcely any English literature besides the Scriptures and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, but his moral imagination created out of simple experiences and inner tribulations one of the seminal books of modern times. {p. 281}

    Imagination, not dialectic, rules the world. For every American who read Oceana once, ten thousand Americans read The Pilgrim’s Progress. {p. 281}

    Locke was not an original thinker, but rather a synthesizer or popularizer. {p. 285}

    Locke, as much as Hobbes, was a philosopher of individualism. He had no deep affection for the Christian concept of a “community of souls.” {p. 286}

    Locke has nothing to say about the Christian view of society as a bond between God and man, and among the dead, the living, and those yet unborn. {p. 287}

    John Henry Newman, in the nineteenth century, would call Toryism “loyalty to persons.” He meant that the Tories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thought of society of a network of personal attachments–rather than as a concern stuck together by what Thomas Carlyle called “the nexus of cash payment.” {p. 294}

    [I]n the Whigs’ eyes, James II had been the real revolutionary, what with his attempts to increase royal prerogatives. By preventing the intended revolution of James II, the Whigs believed, they had fulfilled the English constitution: they had upheld that chartered rights of Englishmen against a monarch who would have reduced those rights. {p. 296}

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit

    No Comments

    Leave a Reply