Thursday, September 29, 2011

China, Brooklyn, and the Carolinas via England

I have decided to give you three or so thoughts a day, each thought relating to a different location, for four days.

CHINA: I know this wouldn’t go over well with my neocon friends, but if we’re strapped for cash and China is ostensibly looking more amenable to expansionism, how about we just bug out and let them try keeping order in all those unstable Islamic places?  Keep ’em all busy on both sides, we go back to building things and designing stuff, with any luck have cheap fusion by the time China’s running all the oil wells.  Just a thought.

BROOKLYN: Speaking of dubious science, there wasn’t too much talk at the Story Collider science readings I attended on Tuesday about the claims this month that scientists may have detected neutrinos going faster than the speed of light (instead, there was some misrepresentation of evolutionary psychology by a feminist, but we’ll save that for another time).  But my science sources tell me that (A) the neutrino scientists admit it was likely experimental error of some sort and (B) going to the press and saying that this changes everything unless someone can figure out where we went wrong is a great way to pressure lots of people into cleaning up your mess. 

Which is science as usual, really (most initial claims turn out later to be wrong, which I think my fellow skeptics sometimes fail to take to heart), but here accelerated by public pressure and interest, at least from that small portion of the public that understands this would completely rewrite time and space.  (Speaking of hip events in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Forum events I’ll be hosting haven’t started quite yet, but I’ll let the world know before they do.)

ENGLAND/THE CAROLINAS: We should probably consider ourselves lucky that some moments in history that weren’t so libertarian tend to be retroactively interpreted as if they were.  (So, for example, the Founders had no problem with individual states having established religions, but that’s been largely forgotten.  And Magna Carta was a limit on the king but only for the sake of a handful of nobles, etc.)

In one of my favorite weird forgotten examples, John Locke wrote the original Carolinas constitution, revealing that his theorizing probably did less to foster freedom than did the simple experiencing of living and trading in the New World.  He framed an almost utopian (yet traditionalistic) system of rigid class structures and pseudo-aristocracies...that the Colonists simply ignored.

And the key event for which he’s sometimes seen as the chief theoretician, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (as I’m reminded with some disappointment by Macaulay’s history of it, written two centuries later, and written about by me a couple weeks ago), had only a little to do with protecting the English constitution against monarchical tyranny and a lot to do with getting rid of a Catholic monarch and bringing in non-Catholic ones before the Catholic one could foist tolerance of Catholics on the populace.  And it really was a tolerance bill, not an imposition of mandatory Catholicism on everyone, that made Parliament and its allies (who admittedly were being ignored in the legal process) freak out and say: We gotta get rid of this guy.

James II was even going to toss tolerance of Protestants and Puritans into the bargain, not just his own fellow Catholics.  But that didn’t sweeten the deal for an Anglican-filled Parliament and the associated establishment.  In later centuries, everyone – including Macaulay – celebrated it as if it were the birth of freedom and the defeat of the tyrannical papists and Jacobites (which may in turn explain the longstanding resentment that crops up against Catholics even in polite British society and otherwise progressive humor).


Jacob T. Levy said...

That conventional counter-conventional-wisdom about James II is basically wrong-- as evidenced by the fact that the decidedly non-Anglican Locke and the Puritan-dominated Whigs were on the same side as the Anglican Tories. The Pope opposed James; his support came from the tyrannical absolutist Louis XIV. James had been pursuing highly absolutist policies.

See Steven Pincus _1688_, Yale University Press. Doesn't mean the Glorious Revolution was libertarian. But it was liberalizing, compared with James.

Todd Seavey said...

I should have said I wasn't questioning the liberalizing effects so much as the motivation of some of the participants -- which may have been completely misrepresented by Macaulay but sure sounded rooted in fear of having Catholics in their churches in many minds (an essentially anti-discrimination law to that effect seeming to be the last straw). Not that the commoners need to be motivated by the same things as the lawyers, of course (as with some religious homeschoolers and school choice advocates). But if it was indeed more Lockean than Anglican, I'm pleased to hear it.

Will said...

If you think 1688 was a triumph for liberty, ask any Irishman about the "penal laws". If you have a week free.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Well, to have Catholics *in their churches* is an odd thing, since they were Anglican churches. There's a big difference between allowing Catholics religious freedom and insisting that they be accepted within the CoE.

James' attempts to stack the institutions of English society (including the previously self-governing universities and towns, and the officer corps of his new standing army) with his own Catholic cronies went along with an attempt to remake the CoE so as to suppress its Protestantism. He gradually extended regulations of what doctrines could be preached from CoE pulpits so as to forbid talking about the differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism; and he was moving toward remaking Anglican doctrine, appointing Catholic bishops of the CoE, and turning it into a Gallican-style Catholic church by degrees. The toleration for dissenting protestants was something he sometimes picked up and sometimes put down as useful cover-- when he was relatively strong he advocating *increasing* the restrictions on Presbyterians, but when he was weaker he tried to divide his opposition by promising relief. It didn't really work, though-- as I said, the dissenting Protestants clearly preferred William of Orange, leader of the famously religiously tolerant Netherlands and the leader of the alliance against Louis XIV. (Locke himself spent most of the 1680s in exile in the Netherlands.)

As for the Penal Laws, they were much older, with the worst of them dating to Cromwell. In the post-1688 wars, relief from them was granted to Catholics who swore allegiance to William & Mary. But most Irish Catholics sided with James (which, mind you, meant siding against Pope Innocent) and wouldn't swear the loyalty oath. What followed was ugly, but it was more like a post-civil war punishment of the losing side than it was like religious persecution.