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24 November 2017


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David Habakkuk


Thanks for that response. In an earlier discussion I mentioned an historian called Patrick Wormald. More years ago than I care to remember, in the course of an irreverent and undistinguished student career, I heard his father, Brian Wormald, lecture on the Commonwealth and Protectorate.

Ironically, the Cambridge college of which he was a fellow – Peterhouse – was also home to a very different historian, Maurice Cowling, whose disciples have played a key role in creating the ‘Henry Jackson Society’, a central institution of the British version of ‘neoconservatism.’ I thought he was a Gollum dreaming of being a Grima Wormtongue – an ambition in which he has been, vicariously, extraordinarily successful.

Although both men could have been classed as ‘High Tories’, Wormald was quite different from Cowling. While his own instinctive sympathies were clearly royalist, what he set out to show were the ways in an unfolding chain of events were perceived by the different protagonists. In particular, he argued that, to understand the key role of millenarian ideas in the 1650s, you had to, as it were, dismantle a lot of intellectual baggage about the Civil War.

In particular, you had to get rid of the notion that there was anything predetermined about the Parliamentary victory. It was in substantial measure because Cromwell had not thought this that he was so convinced that he could see the hand of God in what was happening.

As to the notion that the Civil War was in some way inevitable, Wormald argued that this was simply wrong. When Charles was forced to recall Parliament, there was actually a very large element of consensus in the ‘political nation’ that he had violated the unwritten understandings on which the political system depended.

What changed the situation was that the radicals in the Parliamentary leadership had got themselves into negotiations with the Scots which could have been deemed treasonable – so they were pushed into radicalising their demands. At that point, enough of the ‘political nation’ rallied to Charles to make it possible for him to mount a military challenge.

On Filmer, incidentally, an interesting American perspective came in an essay by a famous historian of the South, C. Vann Woodward, on the maverick Confederate political theorist George Fitzhugh. As he notes, the society of the Kent gentry, in which Filmer’s ‘patriarchalism’ was rooted, was in essence reproduced in the area of the James River in Virginia.

(See http://www.ditext.com/woodward/fitzhugh.html .)

What interested Fitzhugh in Filmer was not the ‘absolutist’ element – and indeed, seen in a broader context, it may distract attention from more interesting issues raised by his thought. As regards a basic premise of the ‘social contract’ tradition – that people were born as individuals, and government was formed by some kind of contractual agreement – it is far from clear that Locke’s polemic against him can be defended.

Whether one can provide good grounds why people should obey political authorities on this basis remains a moot point, and as regards history Filmer’s instincts have turned out closer to the mark than those of his critics.

It is here important that ‘absolutism’ is a resurrection of classical ideas in the context of the dilemmas of the Renaissance and Reformation periods. In her study of ‘Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300’, the revised edition of which was published in 1997, the Oxford medievalist Susan Reynolds pointed to the contrast between the generally accepted hierarchical conceptions of society in the period she was studying, and ‘absolutism.’

Also, she pointed to the origins of later ‘nationalisms’ in notions of ‘regnal solidarity’ in medieval Europe, linked to myths of common descent. In concluding remarks summarising where her comparative studies of different nations had led, she argued that, up until 1300, what is striking is how similar patterns in different parts of Europe were:

‘What happened thereafter is another story, but in so far as it starts from the beginning of the fourteenth century it must start from the values and ideas that were then current. In most of Western Europe lay people then believed that government depended on consultation and consent, and that the object was to achieve a harmonious consensus in accordance with the custom and law of the whole community.’

Against this background, it is unsurprising that, in the Civil War, divisions were not simply between people but within them. So Sir Thomas Fairfax, who became Lord General of the New Model Army, had learnt soldiering under Sir Horace Vere, a noted commander on the Protestant side in the Netherlands and Palatinate, and married Vere’s daughter Anne.

It was she who, when the court called to try the King called the her husband, is said to have exclaimed that ‘he had more wit than to be there; and when the court said they were acting for ‘all the good people of England’, shouted ‘No, nor the hundredth part of them!’

After Fairfax retired to his Yorkshire estates, his and Anne’s daughter Mary would be tutored by the poet Andrew Marvell who, shortly before taking up the post, had written ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.’ (This was after the successful ‘COIN’ operation against the Irish, and prior to the ‘preventive war’ against the Scots.)

It is a deeply ambivalent poem, in that the portrayal of Cromwell is in the shadow of Horace’s portrait of Augustus – bringer of civil peace at home and the defeat of foreign enemies, but also in that of the portrait of Julius Caesar in the great ‘republican’ poem, Lucan’s ‘Pharsalia’.

Decades before, this terrifying figure had been transmuted into English literature in the portrayals of ‘overreachers’ like Tamburlaine in the plays of Christopher Marlowe – and has frequently been seen as a kind of prototype of the ‘totalitarian’ ruler. In the event’, of course, the English ‘republican’ experiment petered out, and Fairfax would collaborate with another estwhile pupil of his father-in-law’s George Monck, in facilitating the Restoration.

The arguments however echo onwards, on both sides of the Atlantic. For one thing, precisely because Soshana Bryen has patently not followed recent discussions about British and European history, she cannot grasp that there was no need whatsoever to defend the American Revolution on the basis of the abstract universalism that Jefferson introduced into the Declaration of Independence. It could perfectly well be justified in terms of a specific English tradition of the mutual obligations of ruler and ruled.

Unsurprisingly, one now finds a revival of ‘Southern’ traditions which were shaped by the concern that the abstract universalism introduced by Jefferson could very easily justify both a radical assault on their whole way of life – and also reckless adventures abroad.

So if you look at the ‘Occidental Dissent’ site, you see Hunter Wallace discussing Fitzhugh – and also one ‘Palmetto Patriot’ quoting from an 1852 address by William Porcher Miles, whose design became part of the basis for the Confederate flag:

‘Miles stressed that “Political Liberty… is not an Inalienable Right, but an Acquired Privilege” and condemned Thomas Jefferson’s assertion to the contrary as a “monstrous and dangerous fallacy” that “has, even among us, by thinking men been long detected and abandoned.”’

(See http://www.occidentaldissent.com/tag/george-fitzhugh/ ; http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/03/19/alt-south-what-is-conservative-government/

Ironically, this is very close to fundamental tenets of the Russian ‘liberal conservative’ tradition with which Putin has identified himself. Contrary to what imbeciles like David Brooks contend, figures like Berdyaev and Ivan Ilyin were not ‘messianic nationalists’ – they were anti-universalists.

Moreover, the very visible turn in parts of the ‘alt right’ towards anti-semitism, very visible on ‘Occidental Dissent’, simply cannot be dismissed as no more than the revival of some kind of irrational atavistic prejudice, or scapegoating. It is quite clearly related to the way that Jewish identity has been tied to Zionism, and, increasingly, to the ‘invade the world, invite the world’ agenda.

The simple historical fact that, prior to the Holocaust, Jews never constituted any kind of ‘people’ has been consigned to a kind of ‘memory hole.’

It then becomes bitterly ironic to recall that a key text of Russian ‘liberal conservatism’, the 1909 symposium ‘Vekhi’, was the brainchild of the Jewish literary scholar Mikhail Gershenzohn – who accurately predicted that an attempt to introduce ‘political liberty’ overnight into Russia would be a catastrophe.

Back in 2014, on his ‘Mondoweiss’ site, Philip Weiss discussed a letter from the historian Trevor-Roper – whose election as Master of Peterhouse Cowling, in a characteristically Grima-Wormtongue style intrigue – had helped engineer, to the distinguished scientist Max Perutz, a Jewish refugee from Vienna (baptised a Catholic.)

In it, Trevor-Roper said that he thought that similar circumstances were leading Israeli nationalism to assume some of the least desirable features of Prussian. In a comment, Stephen Shenfield – who I recall as the conduit through which the ideas which became Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ were first publicised in Britain – noted that Gershenzon had anticipated that this would be the case.

(See http://mondoweiss.net/2014/02/israel-germany-trevor/ .)

Reverting to American complexities, the Secretary of War and then Secretary of State of the Confederacy was the lawyer Judah Benjamin.

There is a vivid portrayal of him close to the start of the first volume of Colonel Lang’s civil war trilogy, which deals with the Confederate secret service, which he supervised. Unfortunately, Benjamin burnt all the records before escaping to London – perhaps if someone looked, they would find revealing material in British records. Over here, he resurrected his legal career, and wrote a classic text, ‘Benjamin on Sales’, which, having been successively amended over the years, is still a basic reference text for the case law and legislation relating sale of goods in the UK and globally.


David Habakkuk

Benjamin was indeed supervisor of the civilian Confederate secret service but General Samuel Cooper, the Adjutant General, ran a parallel military service centered on the Signal Corps. Cooper surrendered the War Department records at the end of the war but evidently kept the intelligence records. His family told me twenty years ago that the head of the family in the 1920s burned two leather bound trunks of papers in the back garden of Cooper's home on Quaker Lane here in Alexandria and would not discuss the contents. pl

Balint Somkuti, PhD

Not for long.

The new ships' engines cannot stand the heat. ;-)

Keith Harbaugh

Philip Giraldi has written an article which cites Colonel Lang's post:

"Fighting Israel's Wars"
How the United States military has become Zionized
by Philip Giraldi, 2017-11-28

Last Monday, Colonel Pat Lang, former special ops officer and head of the Defense Humint Service, considered Bryen’s assertion, writing ...

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