Home » Posts tagged 'faith'
Tag Archives: faith
I would like to begin this essay by reciting a poem by the English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850):
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need for thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
The poem, entitled London 1802, is Wordsworth’s ode to an older, nobler time. In it he attempts to conjure up the spirit of John Milton (1608 – 1674), the writer and civil servant immortalised for all time as the writer of Paradise Lost.
Milton acts as the embodiment for a nobler form of humanity. He symbolises a time when honour and duty played far greater a role in the human soul than it did in Wordsworth’s time, or even today. It is these themes of honour, duty, and nobility that will provide the spiritual basis for constitutional monarchy.
It is a subject that I will return to much later in this essay. But, to begin, it would perhaps be more prudent to begin this essay in earnest by examining those aspects of English history that allowed both constitutional monarchy and English liberty to be borne.
The English monarchy has existed for over eleven-hundred years. Stretching from King Alfred the Great in the 9th century to Elizabeth II in the 21st, the English people have seen more than their fair share of heroes and villains, wise kings and despotic tyrants. Through their historical and political evolution, the British have developed, and championed, ideals of liberty, justice, and good governance. The English have gifted these ideals to most of the Western World through the importation of their culture to most of the former colonies.
It is a sad reality that there are many people, particularly left-wing intellectuals, who need to reminded of the contributions the English have made to world culture. The journalist, Peter Hitchens (1951 – ) noted in his book, The Abolition of Britain that abhorrence for one’s own country was a unique trait of the English intellectual. Similarly, George Orwell (1903 – 1950) once observed, an English intellectual would sooner be seen stealing from the poor box than standing for “God Save the King.”
However, these intellectuals fail to notice, in their arrogance, that “God save the King” is actually a celebration of constitutional monarchy and not symbolic reverence to an archaic and rather powerless royal family. It is intended to celebrate the nation as embodied in the form of a single person or family and the fact that the common man and woman can live in freedom because there are constitutional restraints placed on the monarch’s power.
If one’s understanding of history has come from films like Braveheart, it is easy to believe that all people in all times have yearned to be free. A real understanding of history, one that comes from books, however, reveals that this has not always been the case. For most of history, people lived under the subjugation of one ruler or another. They lived as feudal serfs, subjects of a king or emperor, or in some other such arrangement. They had little reason to expect such arrangements to change and little motivation to try and change them.
At the turn of the 17th century, the monarchs of Europe began establishing absolute rule by undermining the traditional feudal institutions that had been in place for centuries. These monarchs became all-powerful wielding their jurisdiction over all forms of authority: political, social, economic, and so forth.
To justify their mad dash for power, Europe’s monarchs required a philosophical argument that vindicated their actions. They found it in a political doctrine known as ‘the divine rights of kings.’ This doctrine, formulated by the Catholic Bishop, Jacques Bossuet (1627 – 1704) in his book, Politics Derived from Sacred Scripture, argued that monarchs were ordained by God and therefore represented His will. It was the duty of the people to obey that individual without question. As such, no limitations could be put on a monarch’s power.
What Bossuet was suggesting was hardly a new, but it did provide the justification many monarchs needed to centralise power in themselves. King James I (1566 – 1625) of England and Scotland saw monarchs as God’s lieutenants and believed that their actions should be tempered by the fear of God since they would be called to account at the Last Judgement. On the basis of this belief, King James felt perfectly justified in proclaiming laws without the consent of parliament and involving himself in cases being tried before the court.
When King James died in 1625, he was succeeded by his second-eldest son, Charles (1600 – 1649). King Charles I assumed the throne during a time of political change. He was an ardent believer in the divine rights of kings, a belief that caused friction between the monarch and parliament from whom he had to get approval to raise funds.
In 1629, Charles outraged much of the population, as well as many nobles, when he elected to raise funds for his rule using outdated taxes and fines, and stopped calling parliament altogether. Charles had been frustrated by Parliament’s constant attacks on him and their refusal to furnish him with money. The ensuing period would become known as the eleven years tyranny.
By November 1640, Charles had become so bereft of funds that he was forced to recall Parliament. The newly assembled Parliament immediately began clamouring for change. They asserted the need for a regular parliament and sought changes that would make it illegal for the King to dissolve the political body without the consent of its members. In addition, the Parliament ordered the king to execute his friend and advisor, Thomas Wentworth (1593 – 1641), the 1st Earl of Stafford, for treason.
The result was a succession of civil wars that pitted King Charles against the forces of Parliament, led by the country gentlemen, Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658). Hailing from Huntingdon, Cromwell was a descendant of Henry VIII’s (1491 – 1547) chief minister, Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1550). In the end, it would decimate the English population and forever alter England’s political character.
The English Civil War began in January 1642 when King Charles marched on Parliament with a force of four-hundred-thousand men. He withdrew to Oxford after being denied entry. Trouble was brewing. Throughout the summer, people aligned themselves with either the monarchists or the Parliamentarians.
The forces of King Charles and the forces of Parliament would meet at the Battle of Edgehill in October. What would follow is several years of bitter and bloody conflict.
Ultimately, it was Parliament that prevailed. Charles was captured, tried for treason, and beheaded on January 30th, 1642. England was transformed into a republic or “commonwealth.” The English Civil War had claimed the lives of two-hundred-thousand peoples, divided families, and facilitated enormous social and political change. Most importantly, however, it set the precedent that a monarch could not rule without the consent of parliament.
The powers of parliament had been steadily increasing since the conclusion of the English Civil War. However, total Parliamentary supremacy had proven unpopular. The Commonwealth created in the wake of the Civil War had collapsed shortly after Oliver Cromwell’s death. When this happened, it was decided to restore the Stuart dynasty.
The exiled Prince Charles returned to France and was crowned King Charles II (1630 – 1685). Like his father and grandfather, Charles was an ardent believer in the divine rights of kings. This view put him at odds with those of the Enlightenment which challenged the validity of absolute monarchy, questioned traditional authority, and idealised liberty.
By the third quarter of the 17th century, Protestantism had triumphed in both England and Scotland. Ninety-percent of the British population was Protestant. The Catholic minority was seen as odd, sinister, and, in extreme cases, outright dangerous. People equated Catholicism with tyranny linking French-Style autocracy with popery.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Catholics became the target of persecution. Parliament barred them from holding offices of state and banned Catholic forms of worship. Catholics were barred from becoming members of Parliament, justices of the peace, officers in the army, or hold any other position in Parliament unless they were granted a special dispensation by the King.
It is believed that Charles II may have been a closet Catholic. He was known for pardoning Catholics for crimes (controversial considering Great Britain was a protestant country) and ignoring Parliament.
However, Charles’ brother and successor, James (1633 – 1701) was a Catholic beyond any shadow of a doubt. He had secretly converted in 1669 and was forthright in his faith. After his first wife, Anne Hyde (1637 – 1671) died, James had even married the Italian Catholic, Mary of Modena (1658 – 1718). A decision that hardly endeared him to the populace.
The English people became alarmed when it became obvious that Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza (1638 – 1705) would not produce a Protestant heir. It meant that Charles’ Catholic brother, James was almost certainly guaranteed to succeed him on the throne. So incensed was Parliament at having a Catholic on the throne, they attempted to pass the Crown onto one of Charles’ Anglican relatives.
Their concern was understandable, too. The English people had suffered the disastrous effects of religious intolerance since Henry VIII had broken away from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. The result had been over a hundred years of religious conflict and persecution. Mary I (1516 – 1558), a devout Catholic, had earnt the moniker “bloody Mary” for burning Protestants the stake. During the reign of King James, Guy Fawkes (1570 – 1606), along with a group of Catholic terrorists, had attempted to blow up Parliament in the infamous “gunpowder plot.”
Unlike Charles II, James made his faith publicly known. He desired greater tolerance for Catholics and non-Anglican dissenters like Quakers and Baptists. The official documents he issued, designed to bring about the end of religious persecution, were met with considerable objection from both Bishops and Europe’s protestant monarchs.
Following the passing of the Test Act in 1672, James had briefly been forced to abandon his royal titles. The Act required officers and members of the nobility to take the Holy Communion as spelt out by the Church of England. It was designed to prevent Catholics from taking public office.
Now, as King, James was attempting to repeal the Test Act by placing Catholics in positions of power. His Court featured many Catholics and he became infamous for approaching hundreds of men – justices, wealthy merchants, and minor landowners – to stand as future MPs and, in a process known as ‘closeting’, attempting to persuade them to support his legal reforms. Most refused.
That was not the limits of James’ activities, either. He passed two Declarations of Indulgences to be read from every stage for two Sundays, and put those who opposed it on trial for seditious libel. Additionally, he had imprisoned seven Bishops for opposing him, made sweeping changes to the Church of England, and built an army comprising mainly of Catholics.
The people permitted James II to rule as long as his daughter, the Protestant Prince Mary (1662 – 1694) remained his heir. All this changed, however, when Mary Modena produced a Catholic heir: James Francis Edward Stuart (1688 – 1766). When James declared that the infant would be raised Catholic, it immediately became apparent that a Catholic dynasty was about to be established. Riots broke out. Conspiracy theorists posited that the child was a pawn in a Popish plot. The child, the theory went, was not the King’s son but rather a substitute who had been smuggled into the birthing chamber in a bed-warming pan.
In reality, it was the officers of the Army and Navy who were beginning to plot and scheme in their taverns and drinking clubs. They were annoyed that James had introduced Papist officers into the military. The Irish Army, for example, had seen much of its Protestant officer corps dismissed and replaced with Catholics who had little to no military experience.
James dissolved Parliament in July 1688. Around this time, a Bishop and six prominent politicians wrote to Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange (1650 – 1702) and invited them to raise an army, invade London, and seize the throne. They accepted.
William landed in Dorset on Guy Fawkes’ day accompanied by an army of fifteen-thousand Dutchmen and other Protestant Europeans. He quickly seized Exeter before marching eastward towards London. James II called for troops to confront William.
Things were not looking good for James, however. Large parts of his officer corps were defecting to the enemy and taking their soldiers with them. Without the leadership of their officers, many soldiers simply went home. English magnates started declaring for William. And his own daughter, Princess Anne (1665 – 1714) left Whitehall to join the rebels in Yorkshire. James, abandoned by everyone, fled to exile in France. He would die there twelve-years-later.
On January 22nd, 1689, William called the first ‘convention parliament.’ At this ‘convention’, Parliament passed two resolutions. First, it was decided that James’ flight into exile constituted an act of abdication. And second, it was declared a war against public policy for the throne to be occupied by a Catholic. As such, the throne was passed over James Francis Edward Stuart, and William and Mary were invited to take the Crown as co-monarchs.
They would be constrained, however, by the 1689 Bill of Rights and, later, by the 1701 Act of Settlement. The 1689 Bill of Rights made Great Britain a constitutional monarchy as opposed to an absolute one. It established Parliament, not the crown, as the supreme source of law. And it set out the most basic rights of the people.
Likewise, the 1701 Act of Settlement helped to strengthen the Parliamentary system of governance and secured a Protestant line of succession. Not only did it prevent Catholics from assuming the throne, but it also gave Parliament the ability to dictate who could ascend to the throne and who could not.
The Glorious Revolution was one of the most important events in Britain’s political evolution. It made William and Mary, and all monarchs after them, elected monarchs. It established the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty granting that political body the power to make or unmake any law it chose to. The establishment of Parliamentary sovereignty brought with it the ideas of responsible and representative government.
The British philosopher, Roger Scruton (1944 – ) described British constitutional monarchy as a “light above politics which shines down [on] the human bustle from a calmer and more exalted sphere.” A constitutional monarchy unites the people for a nation under a monarch who symbolises their shared history, culture, and traditions.
Constitutional monarchy is a compromise between autocracy and democracy. Power is shared between the monarch and the government, both of whom have their powers restricted by a written, or unwritten, constitution. This arrangement separates the theatre of power from the realities of power. The monarch is able to represent the nation whilst the politician is able to represent his constituency (or, more accurately, his party).
In the Need for Roots, the French philosopher, Simone Weils (1909 – 1943) wrote that Britain had managed to maintain a “centuries-old tradition of liberty guaranteed by the authorities.” Weils was astounded to find that chief power in the British constitution lay in the hands of a lifelong, unelected monarch. For Weils, it was this arrangement that allowed the British to retain its tradition of liberty when other countries – Russia, France, and Germany, among others – lost theirs when they abolished their monarchies.
Great Britain’s great legacy is not their once vast and now non-existent Empire, but the ideas of liberty and governance that they have gifted to most of their former colonies. Even the United States, who separated themselves from the British by means of war, inherited most of their ideas about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” from their English forebears.
The word “Commonwealth” was adopted at the Sixth Imperial Conference held between October 19th and November 26th, 1926. The Conference, which brought together the Prime Ministers of the various dominions of the British Empire, led to the formation of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee. The Committee, headed for former British Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour (1848 – 1930), was designed to look into future constitutional arrangements within the commonwealth.
“We refer to the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions. Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined. They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”
“Every self-governing member of the Empire is now the master of its destiny. In fact, if not always in form, it is subject to no compulsion whatsoever.”
Then, in 1931, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Statute of Westminster. It became one of two laws that would secure Australia’s political and legal independence from Great Britain.
The Statute of Westminster gave legal recognition to the de-facto independence of the British dominions. Under the law, Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland (which would relinquish its dominion status and be absorbed into Canada in 1949), New Zealand and South Africa were granted legal independence.
Furthermore, the law abolished the Colonial Validity Act 1865. A law which had been enacted with the intention of removing “doubts as to the validity of colonial laws.” According to the act, a Colonial Law was void when it “is or shall be in any respect repugnant to the provisions of any Act of Parliament extending to the colony to which such laws may relate, or repugnant to any order or regulation under authority of such act of Parliament or having in the colony the force and effect of such act, shall be read subject to such act, or regulation, and shall, to the extent of such repugnancy, but not otherwise, be and remain absolutely void and inoperative.”
The Statute of Westminster was quickly adopted by Canada, South Africa, and the Irish Free State. Australia, on the other hand, did not adopt it until 1942, and New Zealand did not adopt it until 1947.
More than forty-years-later, the Hawke Labor government passed the Australia Act 1986. This law effectively made the Australian legal system independent from Great Britain. It had three major achievements. First, it ended appeals to the Privy Council thereby establishing the High Court as the highest court in the land. Second, it ended the influence the British government had over the states of Australia. And third, it allowed Australia to update or repeal those imperial laws that applied to them by ending British legislative restrictions.
What the law did not do, however, was withdraw the Queen’s status as Australia’s Head of State:
“Her Majesty’s Representative in each State shall be the Governor.
Subject to subsections (3) and (4) below, all powers and functions of Her Majesty in respect of a State are exercisable only by the Governor of the State.
Subsection (2) above does not apply in relation to the power to appoint, and the power to terminate the appointment of, the Governor of a State.
While her Majesty is personally present in a State, Her Majesty is not precluded from exercising any of Her powers and functions in respect of the State that are the subject of subsection (2) above.
The advice of Her Majesty in relation to the exercise of powers and functions of Her Majesty in respect of a State shall be tendered by the Premier of the State.”
These two laws reveal an important miscomprehension that is often exploited by Australian Republicans. That myth is the idea that Australia does not have legal and political independence because its Head of State is the British monarch. The passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and the Australia Act in 1986 effectively ended any real political or legal power the British government had over Australia.
In Australia, the monarch (who is our head of state by law) is represented by a Governor General. This individual – who has been an Australian since 1965 – is required to take an oath of allegiance and an oath of office that is administered by a Justice (typically the Chief Justice) of the High Court. The Governor-General holds his or her position at the Crown’s pleasure with appointments typically lasting five years.
The monarch issues letters patent to appoint the Governor General based on the advice of Australian ministers. Prior to 1924, Governor Generals were appointed on the advice of both the British government and the Australian government. This is because the Governor General at that time represented both the monarch and the British government. This arrangement changed, however, at the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930. The Balfour Report produced by these conferences stated that the Governor General should only be the representative of the crown.
The Governor General’s role is almost entirely ceremonial. It has been argued that such an arrangement could work with an elected Head of State. However, such an arrangement would have the effect of politicising and thereby corrupting the Head of State. A Presidential candidate in the United States, for example, is required to raise millions of dollars for his campaign and often finds himself beholden to those donors who made his ascent possible. The beauty of having an unelected Head of State, aside from the fact that it prevents the government from assuming total power, is that they can avoid the snares that trap other political actors.
The 1975 Constitutional Crisis is a perfect example of the importance of having an independent and impartial Head of State. The crises stemmed from the Loans Affair which forced Dr. Jim Cairns (1914 – 2003), Deputy Prime Minister, Treasurer, and intellectual leader of the political left, and Rex Connor (1907 – 1977) out of the cabinet. As a consequence of the constitutional crisis, Gough Whitlam (1916 – 2014) was dismissed as Prime Minister and the 24th federal parliament was dissolved.
The Loan’s affair began when Rex Connor attempted to borrow money, up to US$4b, to fund a series of proposed national development projects. Connor deliberately flouted the rules of the Australian Constitution which required him to take such non-temporary government borrowing to the Loan Council (a ministerial council consisting of both Commonwealth and state elements which existed to coordinate public sector borrowing) for approval. Instead, on December 13th, 1974, Gough Whitlam, Attorney-General Lionel Murphy (1922 – 1986), and Dr. Jim Cairns authorised Connor to seek a loan without the council’s approval.
When news of the Loans Affair was leaked, the Liberal Party, led by Malcolm Fraser (1930 – 2015), began questioning the government. Whitlam attempted to brush the scandal aside by claiming that the loans had merely been “matters of energy” and claiming that the Loans Council would only be advised once a loan had been made. Then, on May 21st, Whitlam informed Fraser that the authority for the plan had been revoked.
Despite this, Connor continued to liaise with the Pakistani financial broker, Tirath Khemlani (1920 – 1991). Khemlani was tracked down and interviewed by Herald Journalist, Peter Game (1927 – ) in mid-to-late 1975. Khemlani claimed that Connor had asked for a twenty-year loan with an interest of 7.7% and a 2.5% commission for Khemlani. The claim threw serious doubt on Dr. Jim Cairn’s claim that the government had not offered Khemlani a commission on a loan. Game also revealed that Connor and Khemlani were still in contact, something Connor denied in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Unfortunately, Khemlani had stalled on the loan, most notably when he had been asked to go to Zurich with Australian Reserve Bank officials to prove the funds were in the Union Bank of Switzerland. When it became apparent that Khemlani would never deliver Whitlam was forced to secure the loan through a major American investment bank. As a condition of that loan, the Australian government was required to cease all other loans activities. Consequentially, Connor had his loan raising authority revoked on May 20th, 1975.
The combination of existing economic difficulties with the political impact of the Loan’s Affair severely damaged to the Whitlam government. At a special one day sitting of the Parliament held on July 9th, Whitlam attempted to defend the actions of his government and tabled evidence concerning the loan. It was an exercise in futility, however. Malcolm Fraser authorised Liberal party senators – who held the majority in the upper house at the time – to force a general election by blocking supply.
And things were only about to get worse. In October 1975, Khemlani flew to Australia and provided Peter Game with telexes and statutory declarations Connor had sent him as proof that he and Connor had been in frequent contact between December 1974 and May 1975. When a copy of this incriminating evidence found its way to Whitlam, the Prime Minister had no other choice but to dismiss Connor and Cairns (though he did briefly make Cairns Minister for the Environment).
By mid-October, every metropolitan newspaper in Australia was calling on the government to resign. Encouraged by this support, the Liberals in the Senate deferred the Whitlam budget on October 16th. Whitlam warned Fraser that the Liberal party would be “responsible for bills not being paid, for salaries not being paid, for utter financial chaos.” Whitlam was alluding to the fact that blocking supply threatened essential services, Medicare rebates, the budgets of government departments and the salaries of public servants. Fraser responded by accusing Whitlam of bringing his own government to ruin by engaging in “massive illegalities.”
On October 21st, Australian’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies (1894 – 1978) signalled his support for Fraser and the Liberals. The next day, Treasurer, Bill Hayden (1933 – ) reintroduced the budget bills and warned that further delay would increase unemployment and deepen a recession that had blighted the western world since 1973.
The crisis would come to a head on Remembrance Day 1975. Whitlam had asserted for weeks that the Senate could not force him into an election by claiming that the House of Representatives had an independence and an authority separate from the Senate.
Whitlam had decided that he would end the stalemate by seeking a half-senate election. Little did he know, however, that the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr (1914 – 1991) had been seeking legal advice from the Chief Justice of the High Court on how he could use his Constitutional Powers to end the deadlock. Kerr had come to the conclusion that should Whitlam refuse to call a general election, he would have no other alternative but to dismiss him.
And this is precisely what happened. With the necessary documents drafted, Whitlam arranged to meet Kerr during the lunch recess. When Whitlam refused to call a general election, Kerr dismissed him and, shortly after, swore in Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister. Fraser assured Kerr that he would immediately pass the supply bills and dissolve both houses in preparation for a general election.
Whitlam returned to the Lodge to eat lunch and plan his next movie. He informed his advisors that he had been dismissed. It was decided that Whitlam’s best option was to assert Labor’s legitimacy as the largest party in the House of Representatives. However, fate was already moving against Whitlam. The Senate had already passed the supply bills and Fraser was drafting documents that would dissolve the Parliament.
At 2pm, Deputy Prime Minister, Frank Crean (1916 – 2008) defended the government against a censure motion started by the opposition. “What would happen, for argument’s sake, if someone else were to come here today and say he was now the Prime Minister of this country”, Crean asked. In fact, Crean was stalling for time while Whitlam prepared his response.
At 3pm, Whitlam made a last-ditch effort to save his government by addressing the House. Removing references to the Queen, he asked that the “House expresses its want of confidence in the Prime Minister and requests, Mr. Speaker, forthwith to advice His Excellency, the Governor-General to call the member of Wannon to form a government.” Whitlam’s motion was passed with a majority of ten.
The speaker, Gordon Scholes (1931 – 2018) expressed his intention to “convey the message of the House to His Excellency at the first opportunity.” It was a race that Whitlam was not supposed to win. Scholes was unable to arrange an appointment until quarter-to-five in the afternoon.
Behind the scenes, departmental officials were working to provide Fraser with the paperwork he needed to proclaim a double dissolution. By ten-to-four, Fraser left for government house. Ten minutes later, Sir John Kerr had signed the proclamation dissolving both Houses of Parliament and set the date for the upcoming election for December 13th, 1975. Shortly after, Kerr’s official secretary, David Smith (1933) drove to Parliament House and, with Whitlam looming behind him, read the Governor General’s proclamation.
The combination of economic strife, political scandal, and Whitlam’s dismissal signed the death warrant for Whitlam’s government. At the 1975 Federal Election, the Liberal-National coalition won by a landslide, gaining a majority of ninety-one seats and obtaining a popular vote of 4,102,078. In the final analysis, it seems that the Australian people had agreed with Kerr’s decision and had voted to remove Whitlam’s failed government from power once and for all.
Most of the arguments levelled against constitutional monarchies can be described as petty, childish, and ignorant. The biggest faux pas those who oppose constitutional monarchies make is a failure to separate the royal family (who are certainly not above reproach) from the institution of monarchy itself. Dislike for the Windsor family is not a sufficient reason to disagree with constitutional monarchy. It would be as if I decided to argue for the abolition of the office of Prime Minister just because I didn’t like the person who held that office.
One accusation frequently levelled against the monarchy is that they are an undue financial burden on the British taxpaying public. This is a hollow argument, however. It is certainly true that the monarchy costs the British taxpayer £299.4 million every year. And it is certainly true that the German Presidency costs only £26 million every year. However, it is not true that all monarchies are necessarily more expensive than Presidencies. The Spanish monarchy costs only £8 million per year, less than the Presidencies of Germany, Finland, and Portugal.
Australia has always had a small but vocal republican movement. The National Director of the Republican Movement, Michael Cooney has stated: “no one thinks it ain’t broken, that we should fix it. And no one thinks we have enough say over our future, and so, no matter what people think about in the sense of the immediate of the republic everyone knows that something is not quite working.”
History, however, suggests that the Australian people do not necessarily agree with Cooney’s assessment. The Republican referendum of 1999 was designed to facilitate two constitutional changes: first, the establishment of a republic, and, second, the insertion of a preamble in the Constitution.
The Referendum was held on November 6th, 1999. Around 99.14%, or 11,683,811 people, of the Australian voting public participated. 45.13%, or 5,273,024 voted yes. However, 54.87%, or 6,410,787 voted no. The Australian people had decided to maintain Australia’s constitutional monarchy.
All things considered, it was probably a wise decision. The chaos caused by establishing a republic would pose a greater threat to our liberties than a relatively powerless old lady. Several problems would need to be addressed. How often should elections occur? How would these elections be held? What powers should a President have? Will a President be just the head of state, or will he be the head of the government as well? Australian republicans appear unwilling to answer these questions.
Margaret Tavits of Washington University in St. Louis once observed that: “monarchs can truly be above politics. They usually have no party connections and have not been involved in daily politics before assuming the post of Head of State.” It is the job of the monarch to become the human embodiment of the nation. It is the monarch who becomes the centrepiece of pageantry and spectacle. And it the monarch who symbolises a nation’s history, tradition, and values.
Countries with elected, or even unelected, Presidents can be quite monarchical in style. Americans, for example, often regard their President (who is both the Head of State and the head of the government) with an almost monarchical reverence. A constitutional monarch might be a lifelong, unelected Head of State, but unlike a President, that is generally where their power ends. It is rather ironic that the Oxford political scientists, Petra Schleiter and Edward Morgan-Jones have noted that allow governments to change without democratic input like elections than monarchs are. Furthermore, by occupying his or her position as Head of State, the monarch is able to prevent other, less desirable people from doing so.
The second great advantage of constitutional monarchies is that they provide their nation with stability and continuity. It is an effective means to bridging the past and future. A successful monarchy must evolve with the times whilst simultaneously keeping itself rooted in tradition. All three of my surviving grandparents have lived through the reign of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, and may possibly live to see the coronation of King Charles III. I know that I will live through the reigns of Charles, King William V, and possibly survive to see the coronation of King George VII (though he will certainly outlive me).
It would be easy to dismiss stability and continuity as manifestations of mere sentimentality, but such things also have a positive effect on the economy, as well. In a study entitled Symbolic Unity, Dynastic Continuity, and Countervailing Power: Monarchies, Republics and the Economy Mauro F. Guillén found that monarchies had a positive impact on economies and living standards over the long term. The study, which examined data from one-hundred-and-thirty-seven countries including different kinds of republics and dictatorships, found that individuals and businesses felt more confident that the government was not going to interfere with their property in constitutional monarchies than in republics. As a consequence, they are more willing to invest in their respective economies.
When Wordsworth wrote his ode to Milton, he was mourning the loss of chivalry he felt had pervaded English society. Today, the West is once again in serious danger of losing those two entities that is giving them a connection to the chivalry of the past: a belief in God and a submission to a higher authority.
Western culture is balanced between an adherence to reason and freedom on the one hand and a submission to God and authority on the other. It has been this delicate balance that has allowed the West to become what it is. Without it, we become like Shakespeare’s Hamlet: doomed to a life of moral and philosophical uncertainty.
It is here that the special relationship between freedom and authority that constitutional monarchy implies becomes so important. It satisfies the desire for personal autonomy and the need for submission simultaneously.
The Christian apologist and novelist, C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1964) once argued that most people no more deserved a share in governing a hen-roost than they do in governing a nation:
“I am a democrat because I believe in the fall of man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the idea of people like Rousseau who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true and whenever their weakness is exposed the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure.”
The necessity for limited government, much like the necessity for authority, comes from our fallen nature. Democracy did not arise because people are so naturally good (which they are not) that they ought to be given unchecked power over their fellows. Aristotle (384BC – 322BC) may have been right when he stated that some people are only fit to be slaves, but unlimited power is wrong because there is no one person who is perfect enough to be a master.
Legal and economic equality are necessary bulwarks against corruption and cruelty. (Economic equality, of course, refers to the freedom to engage in lawful economic activity, not to socialist policies of redistributing wealth that inevitably lead to tyranny). Legal and economic equality, however, does not provide spiritual sustenance. The ability to vote, buy a mobile phone, or work a job without being discriminated against may increase the joy in your life, but it is not a pathway to genuine meaning in life.
Equality serves the same purpose that clothing does. We are required to wear clothing because we are no longer innocent. The necessity of clothes, however, does not mean that we do not sometimes desire the naked body. Likewise, just because we adhere to the idea that God made all people equal does not mean that there is not a part of us that does not wish for inequality to present itself in certain situations.
Chivalry symbolises the best human beings can be. It helps us realise the best in ourselves by reconciling fealty and command, inferiority and superiority. However, the ideal of chivalry is a paradox. When the veil of innocence has been lifted from our eyes, we are forced to reconcile ourselves to the fact that bullies are not always cowards and heroes are not always modest. Chivalry, then, is not a natural state, but an ideal to be aimed for.
The chivalric ideal marries the virtues of humility and meekness with those of valour, bravery, and firmness. “Thou wert the meekest man who ever ate in hall among ladies”, said Sir Ector to the dead Lancelot. “And thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever-put spear in the rest.”
Constitutional monarchy, like chivalry, makes a two-fold demand on the human spirit. Its democratic element, which upholds liberty, demands civil participation from all its citizens. And its monarchical element, which champions tradition and authority, demands that the individual subjugate himself to that tradition.
It has been my aim in this essay to provide a historical, practical, and spiritual justification for constitutional monarchy. I have demonstrated that the British have developed ideals of liberty, justice, and good governance. The two revolutions of the 17th century – the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution – established Great Britain as a constitutional monarchy. It meant that the monarch could not rule without the consent of parliament, established parliament as the supreme source of law, and allowed them to determine the line of succession. I have demonstrated that constitutional monarchs are more likely to uphold democratic principles and that the stability they produce encourages robust economies. And I have demonstrated that monarchies enrich our souls because it awakens in us the need for both freedom and obedience.
Our world has become so very vulgar. We have turned our backs on God, truth, beauty, and virtue. Perhaps we, like Wordsworth before us, should seek virtue, manners, freedom, and power. We can begin to do this by retaining the monarchy.
Priests and Ministers of Religion in South Australia will be required to report child abuse confessed to them under new laws that come into effect in October.
The Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 has replaced the Children’s Protection Act 1993. The Attorney General’s Department has claimed that these changes will “better protect children from potential harm, and align with the recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.”
These new laws represent a disturbing phenomenon. Namely, the use of a highly emotive issue as a means for undermining the rights and freedoms of others. This law, and others around Australia (the ACT Parliament has passed similar laws with almost universal support), blatantly violates both religious liberty and the right to privacy.
Confession is one of the most important aspects of the Catholic Faith. Comprising one of the seven sacraments (the others being Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, the anointing of the sick, and Holy Orders), Catholics believe that an individual who confesses his sins is speaking directly with God. Whatever is confessed remains between that individual and God.
The privacy of the Confessional is known as “the Seal.” The Vatican has had strict rules on the privacy of the confessional since 1215 and Priests are bound by a sacred vow not to break the seal. A Priest who breaks the seal, even after the penitent has died, faces excommunication.
Some critics have accused the supporters of these new laws of undermining religious liberty and of targeting the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, criticised the law, say: “The Government threatens religion freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement on the safety of children.”
Some priests have even claimed that they would rather go to prison than break the seal of the confessional.
At some point, people are going to have to realise that children are not the centre of the universe. They are going to have realise that their safety is not so important that it trumps the rights and freedoms of everybody else. The laws passed by the Parliament of South Australia are an absolute violation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Countries like Australia have had a great tradition of separating politics from religion. Now it seems that this distinction only goes one way. It is seen as totally unacceptable for the Church to use its power and influence to affect politics, but for some reason it is seen as perfectly acceptable for the state to interfere in religion.
One cannot help but cynically suspect that politicians in South Australia are using children as a backdoor method for allowing the all-seeing eye of the state into relationships that were once deemed absolutely private. That which is confessed to a Priest ought to remain absolutely private. The contents of my conscience (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are none of the state’s business.
Those who support this blatant attack on the rights and liberties of others should ask themselves what their opinion would be if the law violated their private relationship with their doctor, lawyer, or psychiatrist.
Our society appears to be suffering a terminal decline. At least that’s the conclusion traditionalists and devout Christian believers like myself have been forced to conclude. As the old-world withers and vanishes, a culture of selfishness, moral relativism, and general immorality has been allowed to grow in its place. The culture that produced Vivaldi, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aristotle has been replaced with one that has as its major ambassadors the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
The first clue that a monumental change had taken place came in the guise of Princess Diana’s farce of a funeral in 1997. An event that was cynically exploited by politicians and celebrities and recorded for public consumption by round-the-clock news coverage (her funeral would be watched by two-and-a-half-billion people). As Gerry Penny of The Conversation noted, Diana’s death marked the beginning of the ‘mediated death.’ A death that is covered by the mass media in such a way that it attracts as much public attention, and therefore revenue, as possible.
Compared to Princess Diana, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 was a spectacle of old world pomp and ceremony. After lying in state for three days, Churchill’s small coffin was carried by horse-drawn carriage along the historic streets of London to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. His procession was accompanied by Battle of Britain aircrews, royal marines, lifeguards, three chiefs of staff, Lord Mountbatten, and his own family. The silence that filled the air was broken only by a funerary march and the occasional honorary gunshot.
Much like Diana’s funeral, tens of thousands of people came to witness Churchill’s funeral. But unlike Diana’s mourners, who did everything they could to draw attention to themselves, Churchill’s mourners were silent and respectful. They realised, unlike Diana’s mourners, that the best way to commemorate a great man was to afford him the respect that his legacy deserved.
Cynics would dismiss Churchill’s funeral as nothing more than a ridiculous display of pomp and ceremony. However, these events serve an important cultural purpose by connecting the individual with his community, his culture, and his heritage. In doing so, they bring about order and harmony.
Winston Churchill was the great Briton of the 20th century. Like Horatio Lord Nelson in the early 19th century, it was Churchill’s leadership that saved Britain from Nazi invasion and it was his strength and resolve that gave ordinary Britons that courage to endure the worst periods of the War.
And understandably, many Britons felt something approximating a kind of personal gratitude towards him. A gratitude deep enough that when he died many felt it to be their duty to file reverently pass his body lying in state or stand in respectful silence as his funeral procession passed. What Churchill’s state funeral did was give the ordinary person the opportunity to pay their own respects and feel that they had played a part, if only in a minute way, in the celebration of his life.
Winston Churchill’s funeral and Princess Diana’s funeral represent eras that are as foreign to one another as Scotland is to Nepal. While Churchill’s funeral represented heritage and tradition, Princess Diana’s funeral symbolised mass nihilism and self-centredness.
But why has this happened? I believe the answer lies in the dual decline of Western culture and Christianity.
The French philosopher, Chantal Delsol described modern Western culture as being akin to Icarus had he survived the fall. (Icarus, of course, being the figure in Greek mythology whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun). Where once it had been strong, resolute, and proud, it has now become weak, dejected, disappointed, and disillusioned. We have lost confidence in our own traditions and ideals.
Of course, the decline of Western culture has a direct correlation with the more consequential decline of Christianity. It is faith that informs culture and creates civilisation, and the faith that has informed the West has been Christianity. It is the moral ideals rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition – that I love my neighbour, that my behaviour in this life will determine my fate in the next, that I should forgive my enemies – that form the axiomatic principles that undergird Western civilisation.
This faith has been replaced by an almost reverent belief in globalism, feminism, environmentalism, diversity, equality, and human rights. Our secularism has made us believe that those who came before us were ignorant, superstitious, and conformist. And what has the result of this loss of mass religiosity been? Mass nihilism and a decline in moral values.
But when faith falls so too does culture and civilisation. If we are to revive our civilisation, we must be prepared to acknowledge that tradition, heritage, and religion are not only integral, but vital.
In 2017, the online video subscription service, Hulu, embarked on the production of Margaret Atwood’s (1939 – ) 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is set in the fictional, totalitarian state of Gilead: a society run by fundamentalist Christians who overthrew the previous secular state and set up a theocracy in its wake. For years, influential thought leaders and other arbiters of popular opinion have espoused the opinion that broader society would greatly benefit from the abolition of Christianity. It is my belief that such an occurrence would have precisely the opposite effect.
No group has criticised Christianity more than the New Atheists. Frequently deriding it as nothing more than “science for stupid people”, prominent New Atheists have ridiculed Christianity and dismissed its positive effects. Atheists and anti-Christians turn Christianity into a straw man by reducing it down to his most basic elements (they are helped, unfortunately, by those fundamentalist Christians who still assert that the earth is literally six-thousand years old). They then use this straw man to discredit the idea of faith. The philosopher, Sam Harris (1967 – ) argued in his book, The End of Faith that religious belief constituted a mental illness. More alarmingly, the British Scientist, Richard Dawkins (1941 – ) took things one step further by claiming that religious instruction constituted a form of child abuse.
The basis for much of Christianity’s negative portrayal finds its roots in the philosophies of the political left. A central tenet of the left-wing worldview is an adherence to secularism, which appears set to replace Christianity as the prevailing cultural belief system. (This is not to be confused with atheism, which denies the existence of a creator). On the one hand, secularism promotes both religious liberty and the separation of church and state (both of which are good things). On the other hand, however, proponents of secularism reject the knowledge and wisdom religious institutions can impart on the world. In a secular society, God can be believed to exist, but not in any sort of a productive way. God is something to be confined the private home or the sanctuary of one’s local Church. God is something to be worshipped behind closed doors where no one can see you.
Of course, anti-Christian rhetoric has been a facet of popular culture since the 1960s. Today, finding a positively-portrayed devout Christian family is about as likely as finding a virgin in the maternity ward. Christians are routinely depicted as stupid, backwards, hateful, and extreme. By contrast, atheists are routinely depicted as witty, intelligent, and tolerant. In short, Atheism is deemed as good and Christianity is deemed as bad. And, of course, this attitude has filled some with a kind of arrogant grandiosity. During an interview in 1966, John Lennon (1940 – 1980) opined: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”
The mainstream media rarely discusses the persecution of Christians. Indeed, prejudice and discrimination against Christianity is treated with a type of permissiveness that prejudice and discrimination against other religions, Islam being a primary example, is not.
Christians are estimated to be the victims of four out of five discriminatory acts around the world, and face persecutions in one-hundred-and-thirty-nine countries. Churches have been firebombed in Nigeria. North Koreans caught with Bibles are summarily shot. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced mob violence, forced removals, and, in the wake of the Arab spring, the abduction of their females who are forced to marry Muslim men.
In China, Christian villagers were instructed to remove pictures of Christ, the Crucifix, and Gospel passages by Communist Party officials who wished to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.” According to the South China Morning Post, the purpose behind the drive was the alleviation of poverty. The Chinese Communist Party believed that it was religious faith that was responsible for poverty in the region and wanted the villagers to look to their political leaders for help, rather than a saviour. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Chinese Communist Party looked at their own evil and ineffective political ideology as the true cause of poverty in their country rather than blaming it on religion?). As a result, around six-hundred people in China’s Yugan county – where about ten percent of the population is Christian – removed Christian symbology from their living rooms.
Popular culture and thought in the West has attempted, with a great deal of success, to paint Christianity as stupid, backwards, dogmatic, and immoral. It is the presence religion that is to blame for holding the human race back. It is religion that is to blame for racism, sexism, and all manner of social injustices. It is religion that is the cause of all wars. So, on and so forth.
I strongly disagree with this argument. Indeed, it is my belief that the abolishment of Christianity from public life would have the effect of increasing intolerance and immorality. Christianity’s abolishment will have precisely this effect because it will abolish those metaphysical doctrines – divine judgement, universal and absolute morality, and the divinity of the human soul – that has made those things possible.
Christianity and Western Civilisation are inextricably linked. In the field of philosophy, virtually all Western thinkers have grappled with the concepts of God, faith, morality, and more. As the writer, Dinesh D’Souza (1961 – ) wrote in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity:
“Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organised and for the way we currently live. So extensive is Christian contribution to our laws, our economics, our politics, our art, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities that J.M. Robers writes in Triumph of the West: ‘We could none one of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, died, and buried, and then rise again’.”
The primary contribution of Christianity to Western civilisation has been to act as a stabilising force, providing society with an overarching metaphysical structure as well as rules and guidelines that act as a moral foundation. This shared metaphysical structure and moral foundation, combined with traditions and cultural customs, has the effect of bringing a country, a township, even a school or parish, together.
When Christianity lost its supremacy in society it was replaced by smaller, less transcendent and more ideological, belief systems. Where people had once been unified by a common belief, they have now become more divided along ideological lines. Religious belief has not been replaced by rationalism or logic, as the New Atheists supposed. Rather, people have found outlets for their need to believe in other places: social activism, political ideologies, and so forth.
The most prevalent contribution that Christianity has made to the Western world comes under the guise of human rights. Stories like The Parable of the Good Samaritan have had a remarkable influence on its conception. Human rights stem, in part, from the belief that human beings were created in the image of God and hold a divine place in the cosmos. Christianity has played a positive role in ending numerous brutal and archaic practices, including slavery, human sacrifice, polygamy, and infanticide. Furthermore, it has condemned incest, abortion, adultery, and divorce. (Remarkably, there are some secularists who wish to bring back some of these antiquated practices).
Christianity placed an intrinsic value on human life that had not been present in pre-Christian society. As the American Pastor, Tim Keller (1950 – ) wrote in Reasons for God: “It was extremely common in the Greco-Roman world to throw out new female infants to die from exposure, because of the low status of women in society.” Roman culture was well known for its brutality and callousness. Practices of regicide, gladiatorial combat, infanticide, and crucifixion were all common. Seneca (4BC – AD65), Nero’s (AD37 – AD68) chief advisor, once stated that it was Roman practice to “drown children who, at birth, are weakly and abnormal.”
Christian morality has had a notable effect on our views on human sexuality and has helped to provide women with far greater rights and protections than its pagan predecessors. Christianity helped to end the hypocritical pagan practice of allowing men to have extra-marital affairs and keep mistresses. It formulated rules against the cohabitation of couples prior to marriage, adultery, and divorce. Unlike the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, Christians do not force widows to remarry, and even allowed widows to keep their husband’s estates.
The Christian faith has been instrumental in the enactment and promotion of public works. The instigator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) championed the idea of compulsory education and state-funded schools. Similarly, the Lutheran layman, Johann Sturm (1507 – 1589) pioneered graded education. Christianity has been the source of numerous social services including health-care, schooling, charity, and so forth. Christianity’s positive belief in charity and compassion has lead to many orphanages, old-age homes, and groups like the Sisters of Charity and Missionaries of the Poor, the YMCA and YWCA, Teen Challenge, the Red Cross, and numerous hospitals and mental health institutions being founded by the faithful.
One of the frequent criticisms levelled at the Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Church, has been that it has stymied scientific and technological development. In truth, Western science and technology have been able to flourish because of the influence of Christianity, not in spite of it. This is because the Christian belief that God created everything lends itself to the idea that everything is worth contemplating. It is certainly true that the Catholic Church has been hostile to those discoveries that do not conform to its doctrine. Galileo, for example, was forced to retract his claim of heliocentrism because it challenged the Church’s doctrine that the earth acted as the centre of the solar system. For the most part, however, Christianity has been largely supportive of scientific endeavour. Christian scientists have included Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662), Andre Ampere (1775 – 1836), James Joule (1818 – 1889), Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907), Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691), George Washington Carver (1860s – 1943), Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895), Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912), Francis Collins (1950 – ), William Phillips (1914 – 1975), and Sir John Houghton (1931 – ), and more.
The forces behind the stratospheric success of Western civilisation has not been its art or music or architecture, but the ideas it has built itself upon. It is notions like the rule of law, property rights, free markets, a preference for reason and logic, and Christian theology that are responsible for making Western society the freest and most prosperous civilisation that has ever existed. It cannot survive with one of its central tenents removed.
Modernity is in trouble. From the menace of migrant crime in Europe to the sexual transgressions rife in modern-day Hollywood, the moral argument for modernity is quickly waning. How did things go so wrong? And how do we fix it? Perhaps a return to traditional values and ideals are in order.
The modern world developed over hundreds of years. The post-medieval period has seen the advent of tolerance as a social and political virtue, the rise of the nation-state, the increased role of science and technology in daily life, the development of representative democracy, the creation of property rights, urbanisation, mass literacy, print media, industrialisation, mercantilism, colonisation, the social sciences, modern psychology, emancipation, romanticism, naturalist approaches to art and culture, and the development of existential philosophy. From the computer to the mobile phone, the motor car to the aeroplane, the marvels of the modern world are all around us.
The modern world has replaced the Aristotelean and faith-based concept of human life that was popular in the Middle Ages with a worldview based on science and reason. Modern intellectualism, therefore, follows the example set forth by Cartesian and Kantian philosophy: mistrusting tradition and finding its roots in science and rationality.
Culturally and intellectually, the 21st century represents the postmodern era. Postmodernism can be difficult to define accurately because the various cultural and social movements that use it as their central philosophy define it for their own purposes. Jean-Franҫois Lyotard (1924 – 1998), who introduced the term in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, defined postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Similarly, Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a philosophical movement in opposition to the philosophical assumptions and values of modern Western philosophy.
Postmodernism came about as a reaction, indeed a rejection, to modernity. With its roots in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976), Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), and Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), the postmodernist rejects the philosophical theory of Foundationalism – the idea that knowledge is built upon a solid foundation – in favour of large-scale scepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.
The postmodernist likes to see himself as Beowulf fighting Grendel. That is, he likes to see himself as the mythical hero fighting the historical-critical monster. Inspired by doctrines of white privilege and toxic masculinity, and driven by an anti-capitalist (except when it comes to their I-phones), anti-racist (provided the person isn’t white), anti-imperialist (but only European imperialism), and anti-transphobic (because gender is a “social construct”) rhetoric, the post-modernist inspired neo-Marxists and social justice warriors have invaded the modern university and college campus.
Modernity and post-modernism have produced a swathe of existential and moral problems that the Western world has, as of yet, proved unable (or perhaps even unwilling) to solve. To begin, the modern world has abolished the central role that God, nature, and tradition has played in providing life with purpose. In spite of all its cruelty, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920) saw the Middle Ages as a highly humanistic period. Everything was considered to have a divine purpose. Even someone as lowly as a Medieval serf, for example, could feel that he had a role in God’s greater scheme. There was a sense of, as Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) puts it, “I-thou.” Modernity swapped “I-thou” for “I-it”. The human will replaced God as the ultimate arbiter of meaning.
This problem has been further exacerbated by the alienation of the human spirit to nature. Science, for all of its positive qualities, has had the effect of rendering nature meaningless. No longer is a thunderclap the voice of an angry God, nor does a cave contain a goblin or a mountain harbour a giant. Science may be an excellent means for understanding facts, but it is not a substitute for wisdom or tradition when it comes to determining human purpose. No longer does the natural world command the sense of reverential majesty that it once did.
The answer to the problems of the modern, and, by extension, post-modern, world is a revitalisation of the traditional beliefs, values, ideas, customs, and practices that have made the Western world great in the first place. We must reject the destructive ideas espoused by the postmodernists and work to revitalise our traditions. It is high time we started taking some pride in the traditions that have made our civilisation so great.
In 2015, the then-Presidential candidate, Donald Trump (1946 – ) called for a boycott of Starbucks after the famous coffee shop chain failed to include the words “Merry Christmas” on their annual Christmas cups. “Did you read about Starbucks?”, Trump asked a rally in Springfield, Illinois. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ on Starbucks. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”
Two years later, Donald Trump, now President of the United States, doubled down on his pro-Christmas message. Speaking at a Christian Public Policy conference, the President stated:
“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct.”
“You got to department stores and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’, or they’ll say other things and it’ll be red, they’ll have it painted. But they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
The sentiment that there is a War on Christmas designed to push the religious holiday out of public consciousness carries a great deal of validity. Since 2000, the Becket Institute has listed the biggest Christmas scrooges in American public life, giving the worst offenders an ‘Ebenezer award.’
In 2000, city manager of Eugene, Oregon, Jim Johnson was given the Ebenezer Award after he issued a five-page memo banning Christmas trees from any “public space” in the city.
In 2011, the Ebenezer Award was given to the United States Post Office after they enforced a policy preventing people from singing Christmas carols on Government property. This decision stands in direct contradiction to Benjamin Franklin’s (1706 – 1790) (their founder) commandment to “always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
In 2014, the City of Sioux Falls was given the Ebenezer Award after they threatened to repaint and censor snowploughs that featured artwork celebrating the religious nature of Christmas.
In 2015, the Ebenezer Award was given to the Department of Veteran Affairs after they banned their employees at their Salem, Virginia facility from saying ‘Merry Christmas.’
The problem is not unique to the United States, either. During an interview with 2GB Radio, Peter Dutton (1970 – ), Australia’s minister for immigration and border protection, became incensed after a caller informed him that there had not been any Christmas carols in a performance at his grandchild’s school. The caller informed Dutton that the school in question, Kerdon State High School, had replaced the lyric “we wish you a Merry Christmas” with “we wish you a happy holiday.” Dutton replied: “You make my blood boil with these stories. It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”
I believe that the drive to remove the more traditional and religious aspects from holidays like Christmas and Easter is indicative of a larger attempt to abolish the influence of Christianity on society and culture.
The problem with this, needless to say, is that it is akin to chopping down a tree and still wishing to enjoy its fruits. It is not possible to enjoy the fruits of Western culture and civilisation when its ideological origins and overarching philosophical-cum-theological structures have been removed. Christianity and Western civilisation are inextricably linked. The poet, T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) wrote in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) that “to our Christian heritage we owe many things besides religious faith. Through it we trace the evolution of our arts, through it we have a conception of Roman Law which has done so much to shape the Western world, through it we have our conception of private and public morality.”
The War on Christmas is an attack on the very fabric of Western Civilisation. Christmas symbolises the central axiom our culture was built on: that the Universe was constructed to have a natural and moral order. The War on Christmas is not merely an attack of Judeo-Christian belief, nor is it merely an attack on Western culture, it is an attack upon truth itself. And the truth cannot prosper while those who believe it are unwilling to defend it.
This is our weekly theological article.
If there is any philosophical or moral principle that can be credited with the prosperity of the Western capitalist societies it would have to be the Protestant work ethic. This ethic asserts that a person’s success in this life is a visible sign of their salvation in the next. As a result, the Protestant work ethic encourages hard work, self-reliance, literacy, diligence, frugality, and the reinvestment profits.
Prior to the Reformation, not much spiritual stock was placed on labour. The Roman Catholic Church placed more value on monastic prayer than on manual labour. Much would change when the German monk, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. Luther railed against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences as a way of avoiding purgatorial punishment. Luther asserted faith over work believing that a person could be set right with God through faith alone. It was Luther’s opinion that an individual should remain in the vocation God had called them to and should work to earn an income, rather than the accumulation of wealth. This belief stood in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s philosophy that relief from eternal torment came from Godly rewards for good works. By contrast, the second great Protestant, John Calvin (1509 – 1564), believed that faith and hard work were inextricably linked. Calvin’s theory came from his revolutionary idea of predestination, which asserted that only certain people were called into grace and salvation. It is from this that the Protestant work ethic is borne.
As a consequence, many Protestants worked hard to prove to themselves that they had been preselected for a seat in heaven. A result of this extreme predilection towards hard-work was an increase in economic prosperity.
The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), believed that capitalism was built on a system that encouraged a strong work ethic and delayed gratification. Similarly, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920), argued in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that America’s success boiled down to the Protestant work ethic. It was asserted as the key idea that would encourage individuals to move up the social ladder and achieve economic independence. Weber noted that Protestants – particularly Calvinists, were largely responsible for early twentieth-century business success.
The Protest work ethic is credited with the United States’ economic and political rise in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859), wrote in Democracy in America (1835):
“I see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on its shore. They will to their descendants the most appropriate habits, ideas, and mores to make a republic.”
A study in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology found that nations with a majority Protestant population enjoyed higher rates of employment. The economist, Horst Feldman, analysed data from eighty countries and found that countries with majority Protestant populations – America, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – had employment rates six-percent higher than countries where other religious beliefs were practised. (Furthermore, the female employment rate in Protestant countries is eleven-percent higher). Feldman explained how the legacy of Protestantism led to increased prosperity:
“In the early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work among its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to this standard. Originally, an intense devotion to one’s work was meant to assure oneself that one was predestined for salvation. Although the belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two after the Reformation, the ethic of work continued.”
The Protestant work ethic is one of those Christian ideas that have helped create Western capitalist democracies in all their glory. It is yet another example of the influence that Christianity has had on the modern world.
This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.
Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.
Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.
During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.
From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).
In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.
In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.
The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”
Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.
Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.
The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.
The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.
Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”
Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.
The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.
Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.
In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.
For our cultural article this week, we will be examining Walt Whitman’s 1891 poem, O Me, O Life.
Walt Whitman is considered one of America’s most important poets. Whitman was born in Long Island, New York, on May 31st, 1819. Whitman educated himself by reading Dante, Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible. At twelve he got an apprenticeship as a printer, but lost it when a fire destroyed the printing district. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers before going independent and travelling around America. In 1870, Whitman settled in Camden, New Jersey. Walt Whitman died on March 26th, 1892, at the age of seventy-two.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
O Me, o Life appeared in Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, in 1891. Written in free verse, the poem seeks to determine what the value of life actually is. It is an answer to how one can suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and still find a reason for living.
The first stanza is essentially the same in theme as Hamlet‘s “to be, or not to be” speech. How can life, with all its suffering and hardship, be worth living? Why do we continue to hold life so dear when all the inherent suffering and malevolence can compromise our faith in God, in other people, and even in ourselves?
For Whitman, the answer was simple: Life in and of itself is valuable. That even in the darkest periods of human history, life goes on. For Whitman, the answer to life’s purpose is that you get to “contribute a verse” to the eternal story of man.
This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.
For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.
However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively. You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts. Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives. As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”
Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.
So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.
First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God. Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.