In the Dark Ages, the past was the golden age, so conservatives then would be like progressives now. Thus the literature from the Dark Ages is about fighting against the barbian to hold on to civilization. “The central pillar which has sustained the storied house of our imagination ever since has been the idea of the civilized knight amid the savage enchantments; the adventures of a man still sane in a world gone mad.” Instead of fighting barbarians, they fight goblins, and the people have become magnified in the legend, but you only make someone larger than life if the were pretty impressive in life. Also, in this time period we get the beginnings of the Medievalism: there is equality at the round table.
Christianity came into a land of small areas ruled by Teutons. There were two centers of Christianity, one at Avalon in the west (where Joseph of Arimathea supposed brought the cup used at the Last Supper) and one in Canterbury that was where St. Augustine started. The Augustines won. In the process, the monks preserved civilization: they kept the diary of the world, treated the sick, taught technical arts, preserved the pagan books, and preserved the poor through charity. In Ireland, Christianity also created the Irish people. Britain was almost conquered by the Danes, one of whom ended up ruling it, but they ended up themselves being conquered by Christianity.
Feudalism, the system of paying rent by military service developed after this. In theory, the king was above everyone through divine right, but in practice, travel was difficult and you were loyal to the lord nearest you, who might be rebelling against the king. Or perhaps the king was fighting to deliver you from your lord. Government was personal, unlike France where it became absolute. Battles were pretty even, and alliances frequently shifted, especially on the battlefield.
During the early medieval years, Europe considered itself one family called “Christendom.” So when the Muslims invaded Jerusalem, the mother of the faith, there was a spontaneous volunteering of people to liberate it. Richard the Lionheart’s going on the Crusades was the Right Thing to Do (similar to volunteering for the army in WWII—you were somewhat suspicious if you didn’t volunteer). Everyone volunteered, even families and children. The interaction with the Muslims in the Crusades had several interesting results. Art reacted against the Islamic ban of images, and icons and sculpture flourished, bringing about the medieval grotesques. The honoring of women through Chivalry was a reaction against Muslim oppression of women, who viewed them as not even having souls. The Guilds grew because of the organization of the Crusades, and Europe learned from the Islamic science and technology. Finally, because of Richard the Lionhearted’s military skill and his prestige, England became viewed as the leading edge of Chivalry for the next 400 years.
“The first fact about the Church was that it created a machinery of pardon, where the State could only work with a machinery of punishment.” As a result, the Archbishop stood for the people. St. Thomas a Becket wanted to create a Christian Utopia, so he wanted the clergy to be subject only to the church, not the state. This did not sit well with King Henry, who eventually had Becket killed. He eventually did penance by wailing loudly with 80 monks beating him. His penance is quite incomprehensible to modern people, but lies in medieval thought: “The Catholics of that age were driven by two dominant thoughts: the all-importance of penitence as an answer to sin, and the all-importance of vivid and evident external acts as a proof of penitence. Extravagent humiliation after extravagant pride for them restored the balance of sanity.” Still, it put the Crown intagibly in the wrong. His successor, John concretely put the Crown in the wrong, partly due to the fact that England was in receivorship to the Pope, who needed money for the Crusades, resulting in heavy taxes. This resulted in the Magna Carta, which limited the power of the king, preventing England from become autocratic like France. It resulted in a strong value of Liberty, although not Equality or Fraternity as in France. The Magna Carta was not, however, a step towards democracy, merely a step away from despotism.
This was the height of the Medieval Era, which had been slowly created from the Roman slave-state. It was created without leaders, but by the value system of the Church. “The Catholic type of Christianity was not merely an element, it was a climate; and in that climate the slave would not grow.” As the Church gradually accumulated land, it became increasingly likely that a peasant’s lord was an abbot, whose Christian values usually resulted in a lighter burden. The fact that the peasant was tied to the land gave him security: people were not trying to out-compete him all the time. Plus, a lot of land was held in common, intentionally reserved so that people could fall back on that land if they needed to. The guilds fixed the price of goods and insisted on high quality, so even everyday items had an element of beauty to them. Collectively, the society of the Middle Ages was quite wealthy.
In the Middle Ages, kings had a right to rule, even badly, just as voters have the right to vote. This meant that the aristocracy was limited in its ambitions: it could not aspire to the Throne. In 1381, the peasants revolted as a result of excessive taxes and enforcement of laws, no longer conforming to social practice, that peasants were tied to their land. They marched on London and had the government in a tight spot. King Richard II, 14 at the time, came out and promised to change the laws. The peasants left, but Parliament forced the king to renege, showing that already the aristocracy had the power. When Henry deposed Richard, it opened up the possibility that one could aspire even to the Throne. The resulting War of the Roses pitted the House of Lancaster, which viewed the king as sitting atop powerful bishops and nobles, against the House of York, which saw the king’s power arising from the common man. Lancaster eventually won.
At this same time, the nobility began to dismantle the structure of the Middle Ages. Originally the lords were not too much different from the commoners—one Lady wrote to her husband that she could not come for some time because her horses were being used for plowing, and hence unavailable for travel. The nobility gradually annexed the common lands, enriching themselves while leaving the poor nothing to fall back on. They convinced the rich monasteries that the smaller ones were unnecessary and plundered them. When the rich monasteries were isolated, the nobility plundered them as well. Mary tried to restore what had been taken from the church, but the aristocracy had grown too powerful.
On a larger scale, while Europe had once been united in a common feeling of Christendom, now localities became more important. Before, people fighting each other under different patron saints did not imagine that the saints were antagonistic towards each other. Now they started to dislike people who were farther away from them, or different, ultimately culminating in nationalism when entire countries were disliked. And so, with the securities of the poor from the monasteries and the common lands gone, and the common Christendom-feeling ended, the Middle Ages was dead.
Chesterton continues with modern history, but the theme is the same: the aristocracy continued to run the country and resist anything that brought more equality. So, the oligarchy was fairly sympathetic with the American Colonies and would have given them all their demands, except for the demand of equality. “Chatham might have compromised with Washington, because Washington was a gentleman, but Chatham could hardly have conceived a country not governed by gentlmen.” In the 19th century, voting reform was passed, but the poor were disenfranchised and since only the rich could afford to win an election, letting the middle class vote was not an effective change.
Social reform in the 19th century was modelled after Germany, which took a top-down approach. Because the aristocracy had plundered the monasteries which provided food for the needy, they had to create workhouses to deal with all the needy. Employers realized that they needed to improve working conditions, but they did so “after the manner of wages,” that is, things like pensions and insurance that workers could claim as a result of their work, but keeping a distinct difference between employer and employee. The result, in Chesterton’s opinion, was that “Under all its mask of machinery and instruction, the German regimentation of the poor was the relapse of barbarians into slavery.”
Chesterton seems to be essentially saying two things with his history. First, the aristocracy rules the country, not the people. They created a great nation that loves Liberty, but not one that has Equality or Fraternity, because they stole their way to power. Second, he seems to feel that Middle Ages represented a high point in society. There was provision for the poor, who could live on the common land. The guilds provided better protection that modern trade unions, enforced high craftsmanship, and provided for their people better. The result was that even everyday items were beautiful, society was rich, and inequality was low. As the Middle Ages progressed, even the peasant became less tied to the land in social custom, thus effectively ending the slave state of Rome.
As an American, I found this history to be helpful in understanding the British. It was a little hard to read because Chesterton does not actually refer to any events directly, but alludes to them. I often had no idea what he was alluding to and had to read about it on Wikipedia. However, the narrative that Britain is essentially an oligarchy explains many things. I had assumed that it was democratic like the U.S. because it hold elections. But in every British book I have read there seems to be this element of upper class in it somewhere. Even C.S. Lewis’ books occasionally talk about the desire to be in the right circles. It explains the stiff elegance I see in some of my British friends, as a way of seeming to take part in the aristocracy. In the U.S., the right circles help make things happen, but are ultimately not essential. If, in Britain, some things are actually impossible outside the aristocracy, who keep the door closed, then a focus on class makes a little more sense.
I would say that this is not one of Chesterton’s best works. It is interesting, and it presents a unusual style of history. It gives a view of medieval culture that I have never seen before. However, it assumes a thorough understanding of British history. At least a brief explanation of the actual events would be helpful. Also, Chesterton’s trademark contrasts get kind of old. Everywhere he demeans modern values (modern being the early 19th century when he wrote the book) in contrasts. Often I find the contrasts witty and insightful (and I even have a similar view of modern values), but it gets rather monotonous. Still, I like his narrative of history as the motives behind the history.
Well-written, but jumps around a lot, and requires a very solid knowledge of British history. I’m sure that the allusions are very witty and literary if you know the events, but difficult to follow otherwise. It also feels very strongly like a polemic against the aristocracy and for the Christian values expressed in the Middle Ages. While I am sympathetic to that view as a Christian, I dislike polemics, even ones that advocate my views. Persuasive arguments, yes, but argument by witty contrast is not really very compelling.
- The Province of Britain
- Britain was basically the end of the world (there isn’t much beyond them), particularly to the Romans.
- Britain was Roman for 400 years, longer than it has been Protestant
- “The importaint thing about France and England is not that they have Roman remains. They are Roman remains. ... A row of poplars is a more Roman relic than a row of pillars.” (4%)
- Being Roman didn’t mean being enslaved; Britons were proud of being Roman
- Slavery in Rome was basically using men as a tool. Over time, the Church tended to make people more equal.
- As the empire fell apart, things became more local, and the slaves became attached to the land. To a slave you can say “do this” but to a serf you can only say “stay here.”
- “When once he belonged to the land, it could not be long before the land belonged to him.” (7%)
- The decline caused decivilization, especially at the borders. Barbarians were paid to stay out or sometimes to come in; once they were paid to fight, then they basically fought everyone.
- The Age of Legends
- In the modern age we look forward to the future bringing progress and something better. However, in the Dark Ages, the past was the golden age. So being conservative would be like a progressive now: overcoming the barbarianism and holding on to civilization.
- Hence, after a very rational age, the literature from the Dark Ages is more mythological.
- Instead of fighting barbarians they fight goblins.
- “The central pillar which has sustained the storied house of our imagination ever since has been the idea of the civilized knight amid the savage enchantments; the adventures of a man still sane in a world gone mad.” (9%)
- The hero is never the barbarian, he is anti-barbaric. (Arthur has a name; the barbarians he fights do not.)
- The people that have legends about them are most likely to have been real (you only make someone larger than life if they were pretty impressive in life)
- Legend has it that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought the cup of the Last Supper to Avalon (a warm place in Western England: Glasonbury).
- Whether knighthood invented the table or imitated it, it is important to the psychology of knighthood. There is equality at the round table. And, the Holy Grail was seen in heaven by a very young knight, inverting the normal hierarchy.
- Defeat of the Barbarians
- When St. Augustine came to Briton, he found a bunch of non-Christian kings of small areas with Teutonic names. (Apparently on the Continent, the Teutons were pretty much limited to the rulers, so the case could very well be the same in Briton.)
- Christianity grew from the east (starting from Canterbury, the center of the Augustinian mission) and from the west (from Avalon); they differed in customs, but the Augustinians won.
- There was also the Irish, who had not been a kingdom until Christianity basically created them into a people.
- The monks preserved civilization. They kept the diary of the world, the treated people with illnesses, they taught the technical arts, they preserved the pagan books, they preserved the poor through charity.
- “We still find it necessary to have a reserve of philanthropists [in this modern age], but we trust it to men who have made themselves rich, not to men who have made themselves poor.” (15%)
- The monasteries also introduced representative democracy: the abbots were elected.
- In the 800s the Danes came and almost swept everything away.
- “All this time, it must be remembered, the actual central mechanism of Roman government had been running down like a clock. It was really a race between the driving energy of the missionaries on the edges of the Empire and the galloping paralysis of the city at the centre.” (16%)
- Guthrum the Dane conquered pretty much all the quarreling Saxon kingdoms, but after Ashdown, Alfred lurked like an outlaw and collected men; in 878 he suddenly attacked Guthrum, and after a seige, won. They forced a compromise (the Treaty of Wedmore), but the important part was that they were baptized.
- “But though [a Dane (Canute) eventually ended up ruling England, he could not remove the cross]. It was precisely Alfred’s religious exaction that remained unalterable. And Canute himself is actually now only remembered by men as a witness to the futility of merely pagan power; as the king who put his own crown upon the image of Christ, and solemnly surrendered to heaven the Scandanavian empire of the sea.” (16%)
- St. Edward and the Norman Kings
- the Norman William asserted that Edward the Confessor (an invalid) had promised him the crown during a visit to Normandy. It could be true, but we will never know. Anyway, it was the pretext for invading.
- the Bayeux Tapestry goes into great detail about a trivial raid so that Harold and William can be presented as brothers in arms. However, the real Norman Conquest occurs after William returns.
- Feudalism is paying rent by military service, and it already existed in England before the Conquest
- English feudalism grew up with people fighting the barbarians invading. It was a system of loyalties, each person to someone higher.
- Since travel was difficult, locality was important and you
were loyal to the lord near you. Battles were also fairly even,
which made for lots constantly shifting alliances
- In theory, the king was the top with the divine right to rule, but in practice, the person being loyal to his lord might be a rebel to the king; likewise, the king could be delivering him from his lord.
- The government was fairly personal, so it never became absolute, like it did in France where it was impersonal.
- Hence, lots of betrayal, and betrayal on the battlefield.
- The Age of the Crusades
- In some ways, Islam is sort of the Hebraic-value reaction against Christianity. The primary value is no idols (the Incarnation was idolatry). “The two things it persecuted were the idea of God being made flesh and of His being afterwards made wood or stone.” (24%) This is similar to the Christian heresies that were trying to deliver Jesus from his body.
- The medieval attitude was that everyone is part of the same Christendom, and receives things from outside. England from Europe, Europe from Rome, and Rome from Jerusalem (since the very faith came from there).
- So when they saw Jerusalem occupied by infidels, there was a spontaneous eruption of desire to protect it. Entire families left; children even organized crusades.
- Richard the Lionhearted’s leaving for the Crusades was quite the right thing to do, just as joining the army was the thing you did in WWII.
- The Crusades ended up with several interesting results
- Europe artistically reacted against the Islamic art. So images began appearing everywhere and sculpture flourished. This is where the grotesques of Gothic art came from.
- They also learned from the much more scientifically advanced Muslims.
- “The accident of [Richard the Lionhearted’s] military genius and prestige gave England something which it kept for four hundred years, and without which it is incomprehensible throught that period—the reputation of being in the very vanguard of chivalry.” (26%)
- Chivalry, or honoring women, was in part a reaction against Islam, which held that women didn’t even have souls.
- The Guilds became powerful partly because of their organized fighting against the Muslim.
- The Problem of the Plantagenets
- Relatively late manuscripts describing events can be trusted if we have some way of evaluating the author (which is easier when they are more modern) “If we reallly want to know what was strongest in the twelfth century, it is no bad way to ask what remained of it in the fourteenth.” (28%)
- St. Thomas Becket was of large importance, and Chaucer’s pilgrims thought about him frequently and believed him to have curative powers.
- The reconquering of England with Henry I and then the laws of Henry II brought the Roman Law idea of the law as above persons, impersonal yet universal.
- St. Thomas wanted to build a Christian utopia (hence the need for the Church to judge its clerks, not the State).
- “It is always the first fact that escapes notice; and the first fact about the Church was that it created a machinery of pardon, where the State could only work with a machinery of punishment.” (30%)
- “Our world, then, cannot understand St. Thomas, any more than St. Francis, without accepting very simply a flaming and even fantastic charity, by which the great Archbishop undoubtedly stands for the victims of this world, where the wheel of fortune grinds the faces of the poor.” (30%)
- Henry’s pentitence (loudly wailing and letting himself be beaten by the 80 monks), is quite incomprehensible to modern people, but lies in medieval thought: “The Catholics of that age were driven by two dominant thoughts: the all-importance of penitence as an answer to sin, and the all-importance of vivid and evident external acts as a proof of penitence. Extravagent humiliation after extravagant pride for them restored the balance of sanity.” (31%)
- The result of the murder of St. Thomas was that the Crown lost
the support of the people in an intangible way. Henry’s successor
John really put the Crown in the wrong. Part of this was that
England was given into receivorship to the Pope, who needed money for
wars in Germany, and squeezed all the money out.
- The Magna Carta, prevented autocracy from running to completion in England, unlike in France. In France the autocratic power either hurt the people (if the autocrat was kind to his associates) or helped the people (if he was not kind to his associates), but one effect was that The Few did not own all the wealth. In England, Liberty was important, but not Fraternity or Equality, which Chesterton sees as stemming from aborted autocracy (not sure why, though).
- “The Magna Carta was not a step towards democracy, but it was a step away from despotism,” (33%) and this double-truth is key to interpreting the rest of English history.
- The Meaning of Merry England
- Local government in the Middle Ages was spontaneous and created by the people, for the people.
- When Edward I organized commoners to give council, he asked
for “two burgessess” from every town: “We had only to ask what
burgesses were, and whether they grew on trees. We should
immediately have discovered that England was full of little
parliaments, out of which the great parliament was made.” (40%)
- When the Dark Ages began, people basically lived in a slave
state, but over time, that changed and by the beginning of the
Renaissance it was more a society of peasant proprietors. It
happened slowly and voluntarily, with no known leaders (except that men
of the Church were always advocating for it).
- “The Catholic type of Christianity was not merely an element, it was a climate; and in that climate the slave would not grow.” (35%)
- Part of this is likely that many of the lords were abbots. Also that judges were often elected and were often born peasants.
- Because the land owned the peasant, he had security. “The new peasant inherited [from serfdom] something like the stability of a slave. He did not come to life in a competitive scramble where everybody was trying to snatch his freedom from him. He found himself among neighbors who already regarded his presence as normal” (36%)
- Not all land was owned by the lord, much of it was common land. This was like a reserve of wealth, and people who became destitute would fall back on it.
- This shows that there was a conscious thought toward social justice, because you would not set apart productive land this way otherwise.
- The Guilds were sort of similar. They set mandatory prices, but each person was his own master and craftsman.
- The guilds insisted on a high level of craftsmanship, so much so that even ordinary household items had beauty in them.
- The common lands and the guilds both resisted inequality. It aided the weakest members and resisted the growth of large shops.
- “The Guilds were confederations of men with property, seeking to ensure each man in the possession of that property.” (39%)
- The Medieval times were actually quite rich. You could get a gallon of ale or a goose for one or two of the smallest coins.
- The collective wealth was quite large even if individual wealth was not: the Church, the Guilds, and the Monasteries.
- Nationality and the French Wars
- “Christendom” was sort of collective identity in Europe in the
early Middle Ages. As time went on, people began to feel that the
cultures in their local area were more valid than others.
- When Edward I threw the Jews out of England, he had the popular support. The Jews charged interest, which hurt the poor, but which the rulers/Church needed to amass money in the amounts necessary for the wars and Crusades, but which they said was unchristian.
- The rivals to the Crown of Scotland asked Edward I to arbitrate the dispute, which he apparently did pretty well. However, he felt that legally the King of Scotland was under his authority. Scotland resisted, and the process created the nation of Scotland.
- The rise of Nationalism is similar to that which took marriage from a contract to a covenant, and Nationalism is a group of people essentially saying “for better or worse, we are together”
- War of the Usurpers
- kings had a right to rule (like voters have a right to vote). They even had a right to govern poorly (unless very poorly).
- If kings have a divine right to rule, it limits the ambitions of the rich because they cannot become king.
- In the late 1300s, the peasant was still officially a slave although the custom was different. But the custom had not been enshrined in law.
- After the long wares with France and the Black Death, there was a shortage of labor, so the landlords tried to enforce the law. The peasants rebelled, right to the gates of London. The leader was murdered while parlaying and the peasants rose en masse. The king (Richard II, pretty much a boy) came out and said he was their leader and promised what they asked. “For one wild moment divine right was divine” (49%)
- Parliament forced the king to renege on his promise. (“Already the Parliament is not merely a governing body, but a governing class.” [49%])
- When Richard was removed, one could be aspire to be more than merely in Parliament.
- Lancaster essentially espoused the idea that the king is founded on Parliament and powerful bishops, while the House of York was more like the king acts directly with the people.
- Richard of Gloucester was the last medieval king, shown at his cry when he was betrayed: “treason.” Treachery was identical with treason for the medieval mind.
- The Rebellion of the Rich
- Farms were being united into pasture for sheep
- The medieval lord was similar to the peasants, just with a larger house. One Lady sent a letter to her husband saying that she could not come because her carraige horses were plowing.
- In the medieval period all utensils had some artistry; in this period Luxury (refined art for its decorative sake) arose.
- “It was not, as in popular Gothic craftsmanship, the almost unconcious touch of art upon all necessary things: rather it was the pouring of the whole soul of passionately conscious art especially into unnecessary things.” (53%)
- The divorce of Henry VII severed England from Europe (because of the separation from the Catholic Church) and sullied the honor of the king. Brought down Minister Wolsey (who had created the modern European balance of power) and showed that “minister” is really the same word as “servant” as he was dismissed, but he was the last who was)
- The nobles took down the monasteries by suggesting to the large rich abbots that the smaller ones were superfluous and did not resist when they were sacked. Then, one by one the large monasteries were sacked.
- The people rebelled and Thomas Cromwell established a reign of terror while trying to restore the Medieval Vision.
- The new nobility essentially looted the country: the monasteries, then the Guilds.
- Spain and the Schism of Nations
- Mary tried to restore Catholicism but could really only execute people. The power of the nobility was too great for her to restore the property of the Church that had been taken.
- The greatness of the Elizabethan Era was that England still retained a bit of medieval sense (revealed in Shakespeare). It was also that England was so small, yet was victorious over the mighty Spanish Armada.
- One could say it was the end of the Renaissance or the end of the Middle Ages, but it was the sunset, not the sunrise.
- “The conception of a patron saint had carried from the Middle Ages one very unique and as yet unreplaced idea. It was the idea of variation without antagonism.” (62%)
- People fighting who had different patron saints did not imagine that the saints hated each other
- But now people of one nationality disliked other nationalities
- The Age of the Puritans
- The Puritans were from the aristocracy (which had taken from the Church), also from the middle classes, but not from the farmers (the largest population)
- they created Literature, but not folklore: songs, rhyme, etc.
- They were essentially two things:
- Only the mind of man can deal with the mind of God. yes, no intermediary priest, but also, you can’t translate the mind of God into, e.g. the voice of Man in song.
- God in His omnipotence created some men to be saved, others to be judged. Hence “when we read ‘The Army selected persons for their godliness’ we must understand ‘The Army selected those persons who seemed most convinced that men are created to be lost and saved.’” (65%)
- The dispute about if Charles I could levy a tax for a navy was bascially Parliament attempting to claim the power. They had destroyed the monastaries and guilds earlier, forced Richard I to not give the peasants what they wanted, and would take from them the Commons and the coal fields in the future.
- The Church of England had lots of popular support, so being Popist was basically being revolutionary
- James II fled to Ireland, which fought in his favor, stopped the English/Dutch army, so that army promised complete religious freedom in exchange for the surrender of Limerick [a town], and then they promptly reneged on their promise.
- The Stuarts were sympathetic with France (and fled there); the aristocracy was not.
- “The Revolution reduced us to a country wholly goverened by gentlemen; the popular universities and schools of the Middle Ages, like their guilds and abbeys, had been seized and turned into what they are: factories of gentlmen, when they are not factories of snobs. It is hard now to realize that what we call the Public Schools were once undoubtedly public.” (73%)
- Parliament had the ethics of a traitor: while supporting James they corresponded with William and vice-versa afterwards. “It was such men who defeated Irish Jacobitism by the treason of Limerick; it was such men who defeated Scotch Jacobitism by the treason of Glencoe.” (74%)
- Bolingbroke said the positive nature of a despot is distance. “It is ‘the little tyrant of the fields’ that poisons human life.” (74%)
- Chatham’s (and the nobility’s) paganism (akin to Frederick the Great’s atheism) created the British empire.
- The aristocracy used the middle class (e.g. James Wolfe and Robert Clive) but wielded the wealthy.
- Rhetoric was important to the 1700s and was very artistically done.
- It is not proper to despise rhetoric (art acting upon masses of men) over the other arts
- “An angry sentence by Junius is as carefully compounded as a Renascense (sic) poison, but it is because Junius is really angry—like the poisoner.” (76%)
- The aristocrats were opposed to anything leveling men. Hence, they opposed democracy, and both America and France. They would have given the colonies all they asked for, but not equality with them. They were, in fact, reasonably sympathetic.
- “The Whig oligarchs had their faults, but utter lack of sympathy with liberty, especially local liberty, with their adventurous kindred beyond the seas, was by no means one of their faults. The case for the Americans, the real reason for calling them right in the quarrel, was something much deeper than the quarrel. They were at issue, not with a dead monarchy, but with a living aristocracy; they declared war on something much finer and more formidable than poor old George.” (78%)
- “Chatham might have compromised with Washington, because Washington was a gentleman, but Chatham could hardly have conceived a country not governed by gentlmen.” (78%)
- “We did not really drive away the American colonists, nor were they driven. They were led by a light that went before.” (78%) That light was France.
- “The idea of equality of men is in substance simply the idea of the importance of man. But it was precisely the notion of importance of a mere man which seemed starling and indecent to a whole society whose whole romance and religion now consisted of the importance of a gentleman. It was as if a man had walked naked into Parliament.” (79%)
- Napolean’s lasting effects was not his military genius, but in the breaking up of the big estates.
- England opposed France for security reasons and for colonial reasons. But this led to the nurturing of the Germans, who ended up being much worse in WWI than the French.
- The aristocracy was founded on theft and was still stealing: Parliament kept letting the large landowners incorporate more of the common land.
- Cobbett stood up to them and was killed.
- The merchants were little better: “The merchant became converted to the important economic thesis of Free Trade, and accused the squire of starving the poor by dear [expensive] bread to keep up his agrarian privilege. Later the squire retorted not ineffectively by accusing the merchant of brutalizing the poor by overworking them in factories to keep up his commerical success.” (84%)
- Pitt created the U in UK, but “The Union may have been a necessity, but the Union was not a union and nobody has ever treated it as one. We have not only never succeeded in making Ireland English, as Burgandy has been made French, but we have never tried.” (85%)
- “In the carnival of the Regency a few fools got into fancy dress [top hats and trowsers], and ... we have remained in the dress though we have lost the fancy. I say this is typical of the most important thing that happend in the Victorian time. For the most important thing was that nothing happened.” (87%) Social lines stayed as they were.
- Votes were given to the middle class with the Reform Bill of 1832, but the poor were disenfranchised and it was a way of postponing democracy. A vote is unimportant if the elections are pricey to win, and it was the oligarchy that had collected the money necessary to win (by selling pearages, etc.).
- “The Party System does not consist, as some suppose, of two parties, but of one. If there were two real parties, there could be no system.” (88%)
- The oligarchy had destroyed the monasteries that provided hospitality to the indigent, so now they created the workhouses to deal with all the indigents.
- “[The Trade Union] was the English expression of the European effort to resist the tendency of Capitalism to reach its natural culmination in slavery.” (90%) But it is a shadow of the Medieval Guild in preventing that.
- Socialism was not embraced because employers didn’t want to surrender themselves to the State. “But the wiser of them were willing to pay better wages, and they were specially willing to bestow various other benefits so long as they were bestowed after the manner of wages. Thus we had a number of social reforms, which, for good or evil, all tended in the same direction; the permission to employees to claim certain advantages as employees, and as something permanently different from employers.” (91%) Ex: pensions, insurance.
- All this was modelled after Germany, which was seen as leading the way in social reform, and who was, at root, of the same stock as Germanic England, so it was all ok.
- (The Insurance Act: everyone was forced to reserve part of their wages for sickness)
- “It everywhere involved an external power having a finger in the family pie; but little attention was paid to any friction thus caused, for all prejudices against the process were supposed to be the growth of ignorance.” (92%)
- Surmises that the start was the fall of Richard II, his failings to use the kingship to server local rule.
- Medieval civilization was a result of resistance to barbarians, and to some extent, to the Muslims.
- Parliament did many good things, including creating one of the must humanitarian and liberty-loving governments.
- “Under all its mask of machinery and instruction, the German
regimentation of the poor was the relapse of barbarians into slavery.”