We Are What Came Before | William Hayes Esq.
The 17th century was arguably the most important and simultaneously tragic in English and subsequently British politics.
Although the roots of Toryism bloomed in the said century, the very fact that over the time period in question an organised conservatism was obliged by circumstances to emerge, as opposed to just being the given societal mode of thought, is, in itself, a cause of enduring sorrow.
It is arguable that many of the problems caused by the events of the 17th century had their roots a hundred years earlier – not least in the reformation (as Thomas Moore predicted) and the consequent change in the balance of power. Yet, it was not until the late 17th century that events occurred that would make the very notion of England disparaged – even prohibited (!) – by a new establishment intoxicated by corrosive, alien ideas.
In the Personal Rule of the 1630s -so despised by Whig historians due to their crude assumption that any power with a whiff of feudal order and quaint organisation is maleficent – Charles I, an unsung hero of Toryism, from whom it could be argued the organised movement finds its genesis, attempted to re-establish an England that had been under threat for the best part of the previous 100 years – an England cemented in governance by a benevolent monarchy; an England administrated by a parochial squirearchy, deeply rooted in noblesse oblige; and an England whose church put strong emphasis on Anglo-Catholicism’s insistence on uniformity in ritual, with a resultant rich iconography. In essence a form of Government that was, to a varying degree, characteristic of our country between the nation’s inception, under Alfred the Great in the 9th century, and the Reformation in the 1500s.
The reaction to the success of the King’s personal rule – the country was at peace, prosperous and ordered – found its most obvious form in the Civil War, as religious zealots collaborated with militants in an attempt to eradicate the romantic subtlety of the chivalrous English social settlement of the feudal and Caroline ages, championed by Thomas Hobbes (royalist philosopher) in Leviathan (1651).
In the end, of course, the monarchy was restored. Nonetheless the glory of old England was to face another menace which, echoing the horrors wrought by Cromwell and Pym, demoted the emphasis the crown embodied on time honoured values which cemented the virtue of obligation, to promote abstract ‘rights’. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, saw parliament controlled by those who drew on Cromwellian thought, now bolstered by new philosophies, peddled by Whigs like John Locke. They looked to usurp the politically dominant James II and his quintessential Anglo-Catholic English rule by prompting the invasion of England for the first time since the Norman Conquest. The new Dutch King was used as a rubber stamp for a process which dramatically reshaped the governance of the British Isles through the Bill of Rights in 1689. Though there is no Christian pedigree for the quasi-theological enthusiasm for the rights of individuals to pursue their interests, nor for the curious emphasis on the significance of personal will, the ‘rights culture’ assumes all of the authority of a religion.
Thus, the relationship of government and those governed was altered in a way that intrinsically undermines authority and so jeopardises order. The so called ‘Glorious Revolution’ was a cause and catalyst of the Enlightenment in England, which continues to have dire consequences, in particular for society’s most vulnerable members. In the ‘dog eat dog ‘culture so beloved by liberals, though many survive, only the fittest prosper. In a world dominated by selfish mercantile interests and an indulgent desire to succeed, regardless of communal harmony, all consideration of what came before us and what will follow is replaced by a preoccupation with here and now.
It is this ahistorical individualism which dominates so much of popular culture and infuses the distorted worldview of too many young people. The relentless advocacy of interests – dignified by being described as ‘rights’ – is combined with a Cromwellian, puritanical intolerance of contrary views. The most recent expression of this is the militancy of Black Lives Matter. The violent destructiveness of lawless thugs is justified by their apologists as a response to historical unfairness, of which, in their pitiful ignorance, they have little or no grasp – illustrated by the desecration of statues of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. God help anyone who has the temerity to even suggest that our duty to others; our debt to our forebears; or our responsibility to those born later might trump the assertion of ‘rights’. For that matter God help anyone who mentions that God might help.