In January 1649 the House of Commons’ High Court of Justice convicted the nation’s King, Charles I of High Treason and sentenced him to death. Around forty years later Charles’ son, James II was chased out of Britain and replaced by a new King, Willliam of Orange. These two different revolutions speak volumes about what works in terms of political reform and what makes matters worse.
The excesses of Charles I were to be supplanted by the far-worse sanctimonious-oppression that was the Commonwealth. A judgemental, puritanical view had been taken of the real world and found it wanting. Its solution was to tear down institutions and attempt to replace them. The experiment did not work because it failed to follow the grain of human nature and relied on ideology.
This nation’s second revolution four decades later was pragmatic and worked with the grain of human nature. It maintained the institutions of state, but reformed them and rearranged them to be more in balance with each other. In the first revolution of Oliver Cromwell, Parliament and the New Model Army, Monarchy and House of Lords were abolished. Anglicans and Baptists persecuted. Folk traditions were stamped out. Rather than recognise that all human institutions are maintained by flawed humans, the Roundheads seemed to believe abolition of institutions would mean human flaws could be overcome.
Parliament had learnt the second time around in 1688 that the flaws lay with the men who held these institutions on trust, not the institutions themselves. They therefore kept the monarchy but constrained the power of the individual who filled the office.
The argument of this blog is that the institutions themselves are natural, right and indeed Providential. The blogger argues further that all institutions of Western, Christian Europe that are prescriptive and longstanding are legitimate in their own right. Monarchy, Parliament, Church, nation and family are gifts handed down to us. If we attempt to straighten out Kant’s crooked timber of humanity by stripping away these institutions we will cause that timber to splinter and shatter. Because of the crookedness of the timber the answer is piecemeal not radical reform. That is the lesson of our nation’s two revolutions.
This principle can be applied to the local and the domestic too. Many families have their problems undoubtedly, but the family itself is a valuable gift to be treasured. It is completely mad to say that because some individuals are bad and ruin family life that this means family life is itself bad. No, it is our own flawed nature that can prevent us from living family life to the full.
Because some men are bad husbands to their wives or are unfaithful, it does not follow that the tradition of Man and Wife should be abolished, as some radical feminists might argue. The problems are specific to the individuals and do not lie in the institution of family itself.
The answer from government and law should be to protect the wife from being disadvantaged, but not to downgrade marriage itself. The specific mischief should be addressed not the institution attacked. In the same way our longstanding institutions such as the Monarchy should be valued not abolished. Our current constitutional set up means no individual could now abuse the office for the purposes of arbitrary government as James II did.
This is the lesson of our history: When we attempted to abolish the institutions in an attempt to create a utopia we were confronted with a dystopia, where the institutions that bind us together were no longer there to hold our society together. When we instead reformed specific parts of the mechanism of government in the Glorious Revolution we created a lasting settlement centred on the continuing institutions of constitutional monarchy and the established church. That is the tale of our two revolutions and it is unfortunate that the French copied and took to its extreme of terror our first revolution rather than our second revolution.