Hello KC Burke! On this general question of Anglican vs. Gallican liberty and political order, the British Glorious Revolution of 1688 (with which John Locke was closely associated) and the French Revolution of 1789 are most instructive.
Two revolutions could not be more unlike. Our own American founding was on the first model; the Framers had explicitly rejected all the premises regarding human nature and sociopolitical order that the latter would soon instantiate, in terror and blood. Yet in our present day, professors and acolytes of the spirit of the French Revolution are working overtime to make sure it will yet again dominate the culture, and more importantly, the seats of political Power.
The following passage from Edmund Burkes Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) describes one of the French Revolutions most striking innovations. The subject is the seizure of the Ecclesiastical estates, nominally to pay off the egregious national debts. Arguably, however, this business really had more to do with reducing the religious establishment (and any other politically incorrect establishment or individual for that matter) so vital a part of traditional French national life -- to impecunity and impotence. [I have a facsimile of the 1790 edition that replicates the rather odd (from our modern point of view) orthography of the time. So Ive taken the liberty of a little updating. Burke is addressing an unidentified French correspondent here.]
Few barbarous conquerors have ever made so terrible a revolution in property. None of the heads of the Roman factions in all their auctions of rapine, have ever set up to sale the goods of the conquered citizen to such an enormous amount. It must be allowed in favor of those tyrants of antiquity, that what was done by them could hardly be said to be done in cold blood. Their passions were inflamed, their tempers soured, their understandings confused, with the spirit of revenge, with the innumerable reciprocated and recent afflictions and retaliations of blood and rapine. They were driven beyond all bounds of moderation by the apprehension of the return to power with the return of property to the families of those they had injured beyond all hope of forgiveness.
These Roman conquerors, who were yet only in the elements of tyranny, and were not instructed in the rights of man to exercise all sorts of cruelties on each other without provocation, thought it necessary to spread a sort of color over their injustice. They considered the vanquished party as composed of traitors who had borne arms, or otherwise had acted with hostility against the commonwealth. They regarded them as persons who had forfeited their property by their crimes. With you, in your improved state of the human mind, there was no such formality. You seized upon five millions sterling of annual rent, and turned forty or fifty thousand human creatures out of their houses, because such was your pleasure. The tyrant Henry the Eighth of England, as he was not better enlightened than the Roman Mariuss and Sullas, and had not studied in your new schools, did not know what an effectual instrument of despotism was to be found in that grand magazine of offensive weapons, the rights of men. When he resolved to rob the abbeys, as the club of the Jacobins have robbed all the ecclesiastics, he began by setting on foot a committee to examine into the crimes and abuses which prevailed in those communities. As it might be expected, his commission reported truths, exaggerations, and falsehoods. But truly or falsely it reported abuses and offenses. However, as abuses might be corrected, as every crime of persons does not infer a forfeiture with regard to communities, and as property, in that dark age, was not discovered to be a creature of prejudice, all those abuses (and there were enough of them) were hardly thought sufficient ground to such a confiscation as it was for his purposes to make. He therefore procured the formal surrender of these estates. All these operose proceedings were adopted by one of the most decided tyrants in the rolls of history, as necessary preliminaries, before he could venture, by bribing the members of his two servile houses with a share in the spoil, and holding out to them an eternal immunity from taxation, to demand a confirmation of his iniquitous proceedings by an act of parliament. Had fate reserved him to our times, four technical terms would have done his business, and saved him all this trouble; he needed nothing more than one short form of incantation Philosophy, Light, Liberality, the Rights of Men.
I can say nothing in praise of those acts of tyranny, which no voice has hitherto ever commended under any of their false colors; yet in these false colors an homage was paid by despotism to justice. The power which was above all fear and all remorse was not set above all shame. Whilst shame keeps its watch, Virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will Moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
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Whilst shame keeps its watch, Virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will Moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants. Ah, theres the rub in our age: We humans have become increasingly shameless. It probably has to do with the increasing general contempt for God, the foundation of moral order. And our shamelessness leaves us defenseless against the seductive blandishments of the avatars of tyranny. The rhetoric of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" sounds so good and right and decent, how can it have been such a successful mask for so much Evil in the world, down to the present time?
Thanks so much for writing, KC.