Little Ice Age, Protestant Reformation, Louis XIV, Enlightenment, Seven Years’ War, American Revolution and French Revolution

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 28th, 2013

Politics 101

(Originally published August 30th, 2012)

King Louis XIV remained Catholic as Protestantism was Breaking Out in Europe and Britain

It’s been awhile since the last ice age.  In fact the last time we had a real ice age predated the first civilizations.  We still wore animal skins and hunted and gathered our food.  Long before we first farmed.  But it would get cool again.  Shortly after the Black Death (during the 1300s) it did get unseasonably cool.  So cool that we now call it the Little Ice Age (from 1350 to 1850 or thereabouts).  The glaciers didn’t cover Europe.  But it was cold.  And wet.  The spring took forever to change into summer.  While summer was quick to turn into fall.  Which led to short growing seasons.  Poor harvests.  Hunger.  And famine.

Martin Luther was no fan of the Pope.  Especially because of the indulgences he was selling.  A shortcut to heaven.  For those with money.  Which is what the Pope wanted.  Money.  For he was doing some costly renovations in Rome.  So in 1517 Martin Luther nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door demanding reform.  And kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  Well, the Catholic Church wasn’t interested in reform.  So Luther set up a new church.  With a new religion.  Protestantism.  A more plain religion.  With masses in the common language of the people.  Instead of Latin.  And no fancy things in the church.  No altars.  No stain glass.  No icons.  Just the word of God.  With over a thousand years of Catholicism already under their belt, though, a lot of people took offense to this.  And their offense offended the new Protestants.  So they went to war with each other for a few centuries or so over their religious differences.

King Louis XIV was one of the great French monarchs.  Under his rule France was the dominant European power.  The Sun King believed in the divine right of kings.  Absolute monarchism.  Doing pretty much as he pleased.  Which included a few wars.  And growing an empire with oversea colonies.  It cost a pretty penny.  And a lot of lives.  Louis remained Catholic as Protestantism was breaking out in Europe.  And in England.  For a couple hundred years or so England and France were bitter enemies.  Contesting colonial lands throughout the globe.  And defending the true faith.  Catholicism.  Or Protestantism.  The Catholic-Protestant battle lines stretched across Europe.  And to distant lands across the globe.  Including the New World.  Where they would both spend fortunes in waging war.

For the French the American War of Independence had nothing to do with the Americans

The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, gave the French Voltaire.  One of the great Enlightenment philosophers.  When Benjamin Franklin was in France the French were eager to bring two of the world’s greatest Enlightenment philosophers together.  And did.  The French also gave us the great Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.  The greatest influence on the Founding Fathers as they drafted our Constitution.  So there was some great thinking percolating in France.  Thoughts that focused on science and reason.  Not tradition and faith.  Even questioning some long-held beliefs about the Catholic Church, the aristocracy and the absolute monarchy.

Louis XIV built a great French empire.  The French seemed invincible.  Until Louis XV took over.  Who lost the Seven Years’ War to the British.  And saw French North America become British.  (And the Louisiana Territory go to Spain.)  That was tough having their eternal foe humiliate them.  The Protestant British.  It was a blow to French pride.  French commerce.  And French finances.  The near-perpetual state of war that had existed between Britain and France had cost both nations a lot of money.  The British decided to recoup some of that money by taxing their American colonies.  Which didn’t go over well with the Americans.  For unlike France the British had a constitutional monarchy.  Where the Parliament restricted the king’s powers.  That great institute of the people.  Which the Americans had no representation in.  Leading to their rebellion.  Because they didn’t like being treated like second-class subjects of the British Empire.  Which brought about the American Revolutionary War.

After the Americans defeated a British army at the Battle of Saratoga the French joined the Americans in their fight for independence from the oppression of a constitutional monarchy.  Which seemed rather odd being that the French at this time was still an absolute monarchy (though now ruled by Louis XVI).  Which was far more oppressive than the constitutional variety.  But for the French the American War of Independence had nothing to do with the Americans.  It had to do with French interests.  It was a chance to strike back at their eternal enemy.  The Protestant British.  And more importantly, when they won they could get back all their colonies they lost in the Seven Years’ War.

The French were Intoxicated with all of those Enlightenment Ideals and the American Win over an Oppressive Monarchy

The Americans won their independence.  But the French didn’t get anything they wanted.  All they got was a lot of debt.  To add to the enormous pile of debt they already had.  One of the French conditions for their alliance was that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British.  Which is what the Americans did.  Why?  Because the French and the Spanish were conspiring against the Americans during the peace talks.  So they could expand their holdings in North America at the expense of the British and the Americans.  The French were even willing to trade American Independence away.  The British, who would rather have Americans on their former lands than the French or Spanish, made a separate peace with the Americans.

This act of diplomacy stunned the French.  For they had assurances from the American Congress that they would take the lead in the peace talks.  The Americans double-crossed them before they could double-cross the Americans.  This wasn’t supposed to happen in the world of European diplomacy.  Especially with rubes like the Americans.  But it did.  And the French were now in a world of hurt.  Broke.  And facing bankruptcy.  Desperately needing new tax revenue King Louis XVI called an Assembly of Notables.  The nobility and clergy.  But they didn’t want to pay any more taxes.  So the king called the Estates-General of 1789.  Which included the clergy, the nobility and everyone else (i.e., the Third Estate).

Meanwhile there was widespread hunger and malnutrition.  Poor grain harvests (in part due to the Little Ice Age) pushed the price of bread out of reach for many.  People were cold, hungry and poor.  In the Third Estate, that is.  For though they may have been suffering they saw that the nobility and the Catholic clergy were not.  In fact, they were living rather well.  Which inflamed the masses.  Who became intoxicated with all of those Enlightenment ideals.  And that American victory over an oppressive monarchy.  It got the people thinking.  That they didn’t need a nobility any more.  The Catholic Church.  Or a king.  And the people would get rid of these things.  For awhile, at least.  With something called the French Revolution.

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Political Right, Left and Center

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 22nd, 2012

(Originally published December 8th, 2011)

The French Left wanted Radical Change and Launched the French Revolution

The terms Right, Left and Center go back to the French Revolution.  To the National Assembly.  Where people sat according to their political preferences.  Those who wanted to kill the king, the queen, the nobility, the clergy and pretty much anyone rich sat to the left of the president.  Those who wanted to maintain the monarchy and the established institutions sat to the president’s right.  Those who fell between these views sat in the center.

Why did the French Revolution erupt?  The people were starving.  Taxes were high.  And the government was trying to raise taxes again.  Because the government was drowning in debt.  From decades of war with their archenemy.  Great Britain.  And their financing of the American Revolution.  Where the British Americans were rebelling against the French’s archenemy.  Great Britain.

So France was a tinderbox.  To make matters worse for the monarchy was all that liberty talk of the Americans.  It was like a disease.  And it infected the French.  Who looked at the wealthy few.  The king.  The queen.  The nobility.  The clergy.  And then listened to their empty tummies rumbling.  The French Left wanted radical change.  And revolution.  The French Right said whoa now, let’s not act hasty here.  Yes we have some problems but our glorious French institutions have been around for centuries.  It’s in large part to them that France is great.

The Revolution to Topple a King ended with the Coronation of an Emperor – Napoleon

Well despite France’s great and glorious past the radicals got their way.  And blood ran in the streets of Paris.  Starting with the Storming of the Bastille.  The great medieval fortress housing prisoners of the realm.  The revolutionaries threw open the gates.  And freed all seven prisoners.  Being more a symbolic act than one of substance.  But this led eventually to a number of legislative assemblies.  A lot of blood.  Carnage.  And the beheading of King Louis XVI.  And his queen.  Marie Antoinette.  Eventually the seats on the right side of the National Assembly emptied.  As everyone moved to the president’s left.  Lest they be killed, too.

The revolutionaries aimed their wrath at anyone who was not supportive of the Revolution.  And even those whose support was only lukewarm.  They killed these enemies of the Revolution.  Or any other enemies that they conveniently identified as enemies of the Revolution.  Leaders rose.  And leaders fell.  Jean-Paul Marat.  Georges-Jacques Danton.  And Maximillien Robespierre.  All three were killed.  Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the Right, stabbed Marat in his bath tub.  Danton and Robespierre were guillotined.  Leaders of violence.  Victims of violence.  These members of the French Left.  Who killed and terrorized the people unlike the king they killed.  King Louis XVI.  Or the queen they killed.  Marie Antoinette.

Ultimately the French Revolution gave the world Napoleon.  And world war.  And the Revolution to topple a king ended with the coronation of an emperor.  For this opportunist ultimately had the biggest army.  Napoleon could consolidate his power.  Unlike Marat.  Danton.  Or Robespierre.  But Napoleon could.  And did.  Then he set out to create an empire.  Much like the kings that came before him did.

Those on the Right are Distrustful of those on the Left when they Talk about Egalitarianism and Fairness

Today the meaning of Left, Right and Center vary.  But, in general, those on the Right prefer the way things are.  Proven by time to work.  And those on the Left are never happy with how things are and want to change them to some new theoretical ideal that time hasn’t proven as a viable workable system.  Such as socialism.  And communism.  Generally referred to as ‘leftist’ systems.  And both are systems that have never worked.

Fascist Italy, Communist Russia and Nazi Germany were all new experimental systems to right all the wrongs of past governments.  And all three governments made their citizens’ lives worse with harsh police states.  With the state summarily executing enemies of the state.  Much like Marat, Danton and Robespierre did in France.  Many refer to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as right-wing states.  But both were fascist states.  Which was nothing more than a national socialism.  Which was a combination of socialism.  And nationalism.  These were people who wanted radical change.  Control over the masses.  And empire.  If these governments sat in the French National Legislation they all would have taken seats to the left of the president.

Leftists hate the rich and successful.  And want to confiscate their wealth for themselves.  Instead of trying to achieve wealth on their own merit.  Those on the Right are distrustful of those on the Left when they talk about egalitarianism and fairness.  Because they know what that means.  They are going to take their wealth via the power of government.  By a progressive tax system.  Inheritance tax.  Capital gains tax.  Surtaxes to punish success.  Regulatory laws and fees that increase the cost of doing business.  (As well as increases the prices of goods and services.)  Etc.

The Left champions the poor and downtrodden as they ascend to power.  But rarely have they helped the poor and downtrodden.  Only a select few in the party upper echelons ever live a better life.   For example, the Democrat Party launched a war on poverty in the Sixties and yet there is still poverty.  Despite a myriad of government programs that has exploded the size of government.  All headed by rich bureaucrats living better lives.  While the poor and downtrodden are still wallowing in poverty.  And we know this because the Left is constantly telling us this.  In their never ending quest to expand the size of government.

The center is somewhere between the Left and the Right.  It’s not really a group with core political beliefs.  But more of a group that that likes a little from column ‘A’.  And a little from column ‘B’.

Politics is a Procession – We tend to Start on the Left, Work our Way through the Center and End on the Right

Perhaps another way to look at this is those on the right being parents in a family.  Children of these parents who are now raising their own families are in the center.  And the young children who are still in college are on the left.

The young know little and have even less responsibility.  They like to stay out late, party, do drugs and have consequence-free sex.  They don’t like anything that restricts their good times.  Hence they are always hostile to authority.  Church.  Or state.  And their vote tends to lean towards anarchy.  Where anything goes.

The children starting their own families are slowly giving up the ways of their youth.  They are becoming established in their careers.  Raising children.  Which leaves little time for fun.  But they are hesitant to admit that they have become their parents.  So they hang on to some of their idealistic ways of their youth.  While starting to save for their kids’ college education.  And their retirement.  They even start going to church.  To get their kids started on the right foot.  And to try and keep their kids from doing everything they did when they were young.

The parents have worked long and hard.  They have a family.  And grandchildren.  They want the best for their family.  And a happy and secure retirement.  After playing by the rules all of their lives they don’t want to rock the boat now that they are so close to retirement.  So they are very pleased to stay with the proven ways of the past.  And prefer to help others at their church.  Rather than giving money to a leviathan government.

Politics is a procession.  We tend to start on the Left.  Work our way through the Center.  And end on the Right.  For we tend to grow less radical with age.  Because as we age we accumulate wealth and have far more to lose with radical change.

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American Revolution, French Revolution, King Louis XVI, National Assembly, Tennis Court Oath, Bastille, Guillotine and Reign of Terror

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 6th, 2012

Politics 101

France was Staring at Bankruptcy while her People were Suffering Poverty and Hunger

Shortly after the American Revolution came the French Revolution.  Inspired in part by the American Revolution.  Whose spirit of liberty was infectious.  Some French even joined the Americans in their fight for liberty.  Such as Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette.  Who was a general in George Washington’s army.  And who Washington looked on as a son.  America’s war was an expensive war.  And only through the generosity of Louis XVI, King of the French, did the Americans win their war.  Ironic, really, that an absolute monarch like Louis XVI would help the Americans break free from a monarchy.  But he did.  And saddled France with a tremendous war debt.

These are two things you don’t want to do if you’re a king.  Showing your people that you support the end of monarchy while denying it to your own people.  And making the French people pay for another people’s independence.  Through higher taxes.  And greater privations.  Things that tend to piss off a people.  It was a gamble for Louis.  For he didn’t believe in the American cause.  It was just a calculated bet.  The British had just recently defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War.  And the British took France’s North American territories.  Territories the French wanted back.  The American Revolution was their chance to rebalance the balance of power.  And get back at their hated enemy.  Great Britain.

Well that was the plan.  But it did not go as planned.  The Americans got wind of what the French monarchy was doing behind the scenes.  Which was even in discussions with the British to secure a peace that left the Americans subjects of the British Crown.  With a much smaller territory in the New World.  Leaving room for the French.  And their ally.  Spain.  An outcome that benefited neither the British nor the Americans.  So the British and the Americans made a separate peace.  One that favored their interests.  Not the French or the Spanish.  So Louis gambled.  He lost.  And he lost big.  The nation was staring at bankruptcy.  While her people were suffering poverty and hunger.  And what did these poor and hungry people see?  A very comfortable and well fed king, nobility and clergy.  This was the kindling just waiting for a match to light.

Montesquieu influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as well as the U.S. Founding Documents

That match came in 1789.  And the lighting of that match began with Jacques Necker.  Comptroller-General of Finance for Louis XVI.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  And proposed restricting the power of the parlements.  The nobility and the clergy paid little taxes due to their tax exemptions.  While the poor were too poor to help with the financial mess France was in.  So the only hope of raising new revenue was the nobility and clergy.  Alas, the monarchy did not like his recommendations and fired him.  Enter Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  Facing opposition from the parlements for proposing unpopular policy Calonne got the king to summon the Assembly of Notables.  A group of notables (like Lafayette) who advised the king.  But the notables did not endorse Calonne’s plan.  So the king called the Estates-General to the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles.

The estates were representatives of the people.  There were three of them.  The clergy.  The nobility.  And everyone else.  The commoners.  That is, the Third Estate.  Who grew weary with the way things were in France and declared themselves representatives not of the Third Estate but of the people.  They called themselves the National Assembly.  A radical move.  The first of a lot of radicalism to follow.  Not liking the look of this movement Louis closed their meeting hall and posted a guard in front of the door.  So the National Assembly moved to an indoor tennis court.  And took the Tennis Court Oath.  Where they promised to write a new constitution before adjourning.  Others joined them.  From both the clergy.  And the nobility.

The weariness grew into agitation.  The people grew angry.  And everything the king did just inflamed their anger.  From the firing of Necker.  To the presence of foreign soldiers in Paris.  The people feared royal oppression.  And began rioting.  Paris was out of control.  Then the people stormed the Bastille for weapons and ammunition.  They released all seven prisoners.  And brutally murdered Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay.  The guy in charge of the Bastille.  Beheaded him.  And placed his head on a pike and paraded it through Paris.  Then they went to Paris city hall and brutally murdered the mayor.  Jacques de Flesselles.  Then the National Constituent Assembly (of the National Assembly) went to work on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).  Sort of a combination of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights.  Drawing heavily on the same great French philosopher of the Enlightenment the Americans did.  Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.

The People who Embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen unleashed the Reign of Terror

In America after the U.S. Bill of Rights was ratified by the states the nation went about its business.  With some bitter fighting between the Founding Fathers as they argued over what the new nation was going to be.  But this bitter fighting was of the verbal kind.  It wasn’t quite like that in France.  There they attacked the Catholic Church.  Seized its property.  And sold it to the highest bidder.  As France grew more radical.  Where the radicals sat to the left in the legislative hall.  And those supportive of the old ways and monarchy sat on the right.  Giving us the political terms ‘left’ and ‘right’.  Then the radicals turned against the monarchy.  Created a constitutional monarchy to restrict the king’s power.  Like they had in Britain.  As the monarchy was assaulted the royal family tried to flee France in 1791.  They were caught and returned to Versailles.  Where they were put under house arrest.

Then the violence escalated.  Food shortages continued.  Prices continued to rise.  King Louis and Marie Antoinette were guillotined in 1793.  Control of France fell to the Committee of Public Safety.  And new leaders rose up to take power.  Including the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat.  Who was murdered in a bathtub by a woman in the opposition party.  Georges Jacques Danton escalated the bloodletting by unleashing the Reign of Terror.  Where anyone who was identified as an enemy of the people or was not quite enthusiastic enough about the revolution was sent to the guillotine.  He was pretty bad.  But then there was Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre.  Who was real bad.  In all during the Reign of Terror the Committee of Public Safety guillotined some 20 to 40 thousand people.  Including Danton.  And Robespierre.  Live by the guillotine.  Die by the guillotine.

The French overthrew their king quicker than the Americans overthrew their king.  But the Americans quickly won their peace.  Without killing 20-40 thousand of their people.  Or their king.  Whereas the French descended into anarchy.  Even executed their king.  Something that appalled George Washington.  For though his motives were wrong and the Americans just rebelled against a monarch of their own, Louis provided the greatest aid to the Americans in their revolution.  Which probably made it easier to maintain a policy of neutrality in the new war between France and Great Britain during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that followed.  Even favor the British in that policy of neutrality.  For the vast majority of American trade was with the British Empire.  And all of the agreements the Americans made with France during their Revolution they made with King Louis XVI.  A man executed during the Reign of Terror.  A period where the rule of law was thrown aside.  By the same people who embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

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Little Ice Age, Protestant Reformation, Louis XIV, Enlightenment, Seven Years’ War, American Revolution and French Revolution

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 30th, 2012

Politics 101

King Louis XIV remained Catholic as Protestantism was Breaking Out in Europe and Britain

It’s been awhile since the last ice age.  In fact the last time we had a real ice age predated the first civilizations.  We still wore animal skins and hunted and gathered our food.  Long before we first farmed.  But it would get cool again.  Shortly after the Black Death (during the 1300s) it did get unseasonably cool.  So cool that we now call it the Little Ice Age (from 1350 to 1850 or thereabouts).  The glaciers didn’t cover Europe.  But it was cold.  And wet.  The spring took forever to change into summer.  While summer was quick to turn into fall.  Which led to short growing seasons.  Poor harvests.  Hunger.  And famine.

Martin Luther was no fan of the Pope.  Especially because of the indulgences he was selling.  A shortcut to heaven.  For those with money.  Which is what the Pope wanted.  Money.  For he was doing some costly renovations in Rome.  So in 1517 Martin Luther nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door demanding reform.  And kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  Well, the Catholic Church wasn’t interested in reform.  So Luther set up a new church.  With a new religion.  Protestantism.  A more plain religion.  With masses in the common language of the people.  Instead of Latin.  And no fancy things in the church.  No altars.  No stain glass.  No icons.  Just the word of God.  With over a thousand years of Catholicism already under their belt, though, a lot of people took offense to this.  And their offense offended the new Protestants.  So they went to war with each other for a few centuries or so over their religious differences.

King Louis XIV was one of the great French monarchs.  Under his rule France was the dominant European power.  The Sun King believed in the divine right of kings.  Absolute monarchism.  Doing pretty much as he pleased.  Which included a few wars.  And growing an empire with oversea colonies.  It cost a pretty penny.  And a lot of lives.  Louis remained Catholic as Protestantism was breaking out in Europe.  And in England.  For a couple hundred years or so England and France were bitter enemies.  Contesting colonial lands throughout the globe.  And defending the true faith.  Catholicism.  Or Protestantism.  The Catholic-Protestant battle lines stretched across Europe.  And to distant lands across the globe.  Including the New World.  Where they would both spend fortunes in waging war.

For the French the American War of Independence had nothing to do with the Americans

The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, gave the French Voltaire.  One of the great Enlightenment philosophers.  When Benjamin Franklin was in France the French were eager to bring two of the world’s greatest Enlightenment philosophers together.  And did.  The French also gave us the great Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.  The greatest influence on the Founding Fathers as they drafted our Constitution.  So there was some great thinking percolating in France.  Thoughts that focused on science and reason.  Not tradition and faith.  Even questioning some long-held beliefs about the Catholic Church, the aristocracy and the absolute monarchy.

Louis XIV built a great French empire.  The French seemed invincible.  Until Louis XV took over.  Who lost the Seven Years’ War to the British.  And saw French North America become British.  (And the Louisiana Territory go to Spain.)  That was tough having their eternal foe humiliate them.  The Protestant British.  It was a blow to French pride.  French commerce.  And French finances.  The near-perpetual state of war that had existed between Britain and France had cost both nations a lot of money.  The British decided to recoup some of that money by taxing their American colonies.  Which didn’t go over well with the Americans.  For unlike France the British had a constitutional monarchy.  Where the Parliament restricted the king’s powers.  That great institute of the people.  Which the Americans had no representation in.  Leading to their rebellion.  Because they didn’t like being treated like second-class subjects of the British Empire.  Which brought about the American Revolutionary War.

After the Americans defeated a British army at the Battle of Saratoga the French joined the Americans in their fight for independence from the oppression of a constitutional monarchy.  Which seemed rather odd being that the French at this time was still an absolute monarchy (though now ruled by Louis XVI).  Which was far more oppressive than the constitutional variety.  But for the French the American War of Independence had nothing to do with the Americans.  It had to do with French interests.  It was a chance to strike back at their eternal enemy.  The Protestant British.  And more importantly, when they won they could get back all their colonies they lost in the Seven Years’ War.

The French were Intoxicated with all of those Enlightenment Ideals and the American Win over an Oppressive Monarchy

The Americans won their independence.  But the French didn’t get anything they wanted.  All they got was a lot of debt.  To add to the enormous pile of debt they already had.  One of the French conditions for their alliance was that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British.  Which is what the Americans did.  Why?  Because the French and the Spanish were conspiring against the Americans during the peace talks.  So they could expand their holdings in North America at the expense of the British and the Americans.  The French were even willing to trade American Independence away.  The British, who would rather have Americans on their former lands than the French or Spanish, made a separate peace with the Americans.

This act of diplomacy stunned the French.  For they had assurances from the American Congress that they would take the lead in the peace talks.  The Americans double-crossed them before they could double-cross the Americans.  This wasn’t supposed to happen in the world of European diplomacy.  Especially with rubes like the Americans.  But it did.  And the French were now in a world of hurt.  Broke.  And facing bankruptcy.  Desperately needing new tax revenue King Louis XVI called an Assembly of Notables.  The nobility and clergy.  But they didn’t want to pay any more taxes.  So the king called the Estates-General of 1789.  Which included the clergy, the nobility and everyone else (i.e., the Third Estate).

Meanwhile there was widespread hunger and malnutrition.  Poor grain harvests (in part due to the Little Ice Age) pushed the price of bread out of reach for many.  People were cold, hungry and poor.  In the Third Estate, that is.  For though they may have been suffering they saw that the nobility and the Catholic clergy were not.  In fact, they were living rather well.  Which inflamed the masses.  Who became intoxicated with all of those Enlightenment ideals.  And that American victory over an oppressive monarchy.  It got the people thinking.  That they didn’t need a nobility any more.  The Catholic Church.  Or a king.  And the people would get rid of these things.  For awhile, at least.  With something called the French Revolution.

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Magna Carta, Provisions of Oxford, House of Lords, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament and Constitutional Monarchy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2012

Politics 101

King John renounced, and Pope Innocent III annulled, Magna Carta

England had been more French than English following the Norman Conquest.  The ruling class spoke French.  And had stronger connections to France than they did to England.  The Kingdom of England did, after all, extend across the English Channel into France.  The English nobility, on the other hand, were more English than French.  This caused friction between the land owners (the barons) and the king.  Because even though the king had official power the barons paid the taxes.  Which meant the king could do anything he wanted with his power as long as the barons agreed to pay for it.  And provided his armies.  For the king had no standing armies.  Which proved to be a bit of a restraint on being king.

The barons, though, felt the king was abusing them.  The king was spending a lot of money on many losing military campaigns and stepping on the barons’ privileges.   They presented Magna Carta to King John.  Which put in writing limitations on the king’s powers.  And the requirement that the king shall consult Parliament (common counsel of the realm including the clergy higher-ups and the more powerful barons) before raising new taxes.  Something no king would willingly submit to.  Unless it was a way to stall for time.  So King John applied his Great Seal to Magna Carta.  Making it the law of the land.  But with his fingers crossed behind his back.  Figuratively, of course.

Well, King John renounced the Great Charter once the barons had left London.  And Pope Innocent III annulled it.  Because of that divine rights of kings thing.  Kings could do whatever they wanted because God gave them that right.  While the Church made sure he didn’t abuse this power.  Anyway, long story short, the king refused to honor his agreement.  Which resulted in the First Barons’ War.  It lasted a couple of years.  The barons invited Prince Louis, son and heir apparent of the French king, to join them in their fight against King John.  Something any French Royal would be glad to do.  Then King John died and the barons became worried about Prince Louis.  Some fighting and sieges later, Louis got some money and went back to France.  King John’s son Henry was then crowned King Henry III.  He was 9 years old.  Until he came of age his royal keepers ruled in his stead.  And brought back Magna Carta.  With some changes.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons formed the Houses of Parliament

Well, all’s well that ends well, yes?  No.  For when the new king came of age he wanted to restore absolute monarchy.  Like they had (and he admired) in France.  He married a French woman.  And brought a lot of his French relatives into high positions in his realm.  Highly religious, he supported the papal invasion of Sicily.  Which was a disaster.  Well, you can guess where this led to.  More fighting with the barons over Magna Carta.  To remind him there were limits on his powers.  Which the barons hammered home in the Provisions of Oxford.

The Provisions of Oxford is considered England’s first written constitution.  The barons wrote it.  In English.  The new language of the ruling class.  No more of that French nonsense.  And presented it to King Henry III.  Placing power into the hands of a council.  Not the king.  There would be 24 members in this council.  Half chosen by the king.  Half chosen by the barons.  Parliament would oversee the council.  And meet 3 times a year.  Power was now with Parliament.  Not the king.  Which was huge for its day.

The king summoned the nobility and senior clergy to advise him.  When he needed money he summoned knights and burgesses, too.  Representatives of the common people.  These common people met alone in 1341.  And the upper and lower houses of Parliament were born.  The House of Lords (nobility and clergy).  And the House of Commons (knights and burgesses).  Together they were the Houses of Parliament.

The Many, the Few and the One

Governing by the consent of the governed was here.  But the journey wasn’t over yet.  There would be many more bumps in the road ahead.  Including the English Civil War.  With lots of English-French issues to resolve.  And a lot of Catholic-Protestant issues, too.  Not to mention the Welsh, Scottish and Irish issues.  But the general shape of things to come was here.  For England.  Great Britain.  And the United Kingdom.  Absolute monarchy was out.  Constitutional monarchy was in.  Representative government.  Where all had a say.  The commons.  The nobility.  And the king.  The many, the few and the one.

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Political Right, Left and Center

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 8th, 2011

Politics 101

The French Left wanted Radical Change and Launched the French Revolution

The terms Right, Left and Center go back to the French Revolution.  To the National Assembly.  Where people sat according to their political preferences.  Those who wanted to kill the king, the queen, the nobility, the clergy and pretty much anyone rich sat to the left of the president.  Those who wanted to maintain the monarchy and the established institutions sat to the president’s right.  Those who fell between these views sat in the center.

Why did the French Revolution erupt?  The people were starving.  Taxes were high.  And the government was trying to raise taxes again.  Because the government was drowning in debt.  From decades of war with their archenemy.  Great Britain.  And their financing of the American Revolution.  Where the British Americans were rebelling against the French’s archenemy.  Great Britain.

So France was a tinderbox.  To make matters worse for the monarchy was all that liberty talk of the Americans.  It was like a disease.  And it infected the French.  Who looked at the wealthy few.  The king.  The queen.  The nobility.  The clergy.  And then listened to their empty tummies rumbling.  The French Left wanted radical change.  And revolution.  The French Right said whoa now, let’s not act hasty here.  Yes we have some problems but our glorious French institutions have been around for centuries.  It’s in large part to them that France is great.

The Revolution to Topple a King ended with the Coronation of an Emperor – Napoleon

Well despite France’s great and glorious past the radicals got their way.  And blood ran in the streets of Paris.  Starting with the Storming of the Bastille.  The great medieval fortress housing prisoners of the realm.  The revolutionaries threw open the gates.  And freed all seven prisoners.  Being more a symbolic act than one of substance.  But this led eventually to a number of legislative assemblies.  A lot of blood.  Carnage.  And the beheading of King Louis XVI.  And his queen.  Marie Antoinette.  Eventually the seats on the right side of the National Assembly emptied.  As everyone moved to the president’s left.  Lest they be killed, too.

The revolutionaries aimed their wrath at anyone who was not supportive of the Revolution.  And even those whose support was only lukewarm.  They killed these enemies of the Revolution.  Or any other enemies that they conveniently identified as enemies of the Revolution.  Leaders rose.  And leaders fell.  Jean-Paul Marat.  Georges-Jacques Danton.  And Maximillien Robespierre.  All three were killed.  Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the Right, stabbed Marat in his bath tub.  Danton and Robespierre were guillotined.  Leaders of violence.  Victims of violence.  These members of the French Left.  Who killed and terrorized the people unlike the king they killed.  King Louis XVI.  Or the queen they killed.  Marie Antoinette.

Ultimately the French Revolution gave the world Napoleon.  And world war.  And the Revolution to topple a king ended with the coronation of an emperor.  For this opportunist ultimately had the biggest army.  Napoleon could consolidate his power.  Unlike Marat.  Danton.  Or Robespierre.  But Napoleon could.  And did.  Then he set out to create an empire.  Much like the kings that came before him did.

Those on the Right are Distrustful of those on the Left when they Talk about Egalitarianism and Fairness

Today the meaning of Left, Right and Center vary.  But, in general, those on the Right prefer the way things are.  Proven by time to work.  And those on the Left are never happy with how things are and want to change them to some new theoretical ideal that time hasn’t proven as a viable workable system.  Such as socialism.  And communism.  Generally referred to as ‘leftist’ systems.  And both are systems that have never worked.

Fascist Italy, Communist Russia and Nazi Germany were all new experimental systems to right all the wrongs of past governments.  And all three governments made their citizens’ lives worse with harsh police states.  With the state summarily executing enemies of the state.  Much like Marat, Danton and Robespierre did in France.  Many refer to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as right-wing states.  But both were fascist states.  Which was nothing more than a national socialism.  Which was a combination of socialism.  And nationalism.  These were people who wanted radical change.  Control over the masses.  And empire.  If these governments sat in the French National Legislation they all would have taken seats to the left of the president.

Leftists hate the rich and successful.  And want to confiscate their wealth for themselves.  Instead of trying to achieve wealth on their own merit.  Those on the Right are distrustful of those on the Left when they talk about egalitarianism and fairness.  Because they know what that means.  They are going to take their wealth via the power of government.  By a progressive tax system.  Inheritance tax.  Capital gains tax.  Surtaxes to punish success.  Regulatory laws and fees that increase the cost of doing business.  (As well as increases the prices of goods and services.)  Etc.

The Left champions the poor and downtrodden as they ascend to power.  But rarely have they helped the poor and downtrodden.  Only a select few in the party upper echelons ever live a better life.   For example, the Democrat Party launched a war on poverty in the Sixties and yet there is still poverty.  Despite a myriad of government programs that has exploded the size of government.  All headed by rich bureaucrats living better lives.  While the poor and downtrodden are still wallowing in poverty.  And we know this because the Left is constantly telling us this.  In their never ending quest to expand the size of government.

The center is somewhere between the Left and the Right.  It’s not really a group with core political beliefs.  But more of a group that that likes a little from column ‘A’.  And a little from column ‘B’.

Politics is a Procession – We tend to Start on the Left, Work our Way through the Center and End on the Right

Perhaps another way to look at this is those on the right being parents in a family.  Children of these parents who are now raising their own families are in the center.  And the young children who are still in college are on the left.

The young know little and have even less responsibility.  They like to stay out late, party, do drugs and have consequence-free sex.  They don’t like anything that restricts their good times.  Hence they are always hostile to authority.  Church.  Or state.  And their vote tends to lean towards anarchy.  Where anything goes.

The children starting their own families are slowly giving up the ways of their youth.  They are becoming established in their careers.  Raising children.  Which leaves little time for fun.  But they are hesitant to admit that they have become their parents.  So they hang on to some of their idealistic ways of their youth.  While starting to save for their kids’ college education.  And their retirement.  They even start going to church.  To get their kids started on the right foot.  And to try and keep their kids from doing everything they did when they were young.

The parents have worked long and hard.  They have a family.  And grandchildren.  They want the best for their family.  And a happy and secure retirement.  After playing by the rules all of their lives they don’t want to rock the boat now that they are so close to retirement.  So they are very pleased to stay with the proven ways of the past.  And prefer to help others at their church.  Rather than giving money to a leviathan government.

Politics is a procession.  We tend to start on the Left.  Work our way through the Center.  And end on the Right.  For we tend to grow less radical with age.  Because as we age we accumulate wealth and have far more to lose with radical change.

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LESSONS LEARNED #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2010

GOD WAS HERE before the Marine Corps. So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to The Corps.

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In Roman Catholicism, this is the doctrine of the two swords.  The spiritual sword is the Church.  The temporal sword is the state.  Martin Luther had the doctrine of two kingdoms.  The religious and civil.  Going back to the source, Jesus Christ put it this way:

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s 

The original separation of church and state.  Of course, back then, this was all intended to limit the state’s interference into spiritual matters.  Today it’s reversed.  It’s the state that is trying to hold the spiritual sword at bay.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  This makes them complex.  The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason.  And guess what we did during the Age of Reason?  We thought.  Rationally.  There was a philosophical revolution going on in Europe.  Simply put, things weren’t what they were because the Church said so.  There were other explanations.  Other laws.  And the Church could be wrong.

So, if the Founding Fathers had lived in the 20th century, they would have probably been fans of the rock group Rush.  And Ayn Rand.  Who influenced Rush.  Thomas Jefferson probably would have an iPod filled with their songs, including Tom Sawyer:

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government

They questioned ALL authority.  And some may have been Deists.  But they were not atheists.  Even Jefferson.  He may not have believed in the Trinity or Christ’s divinity, but he still believed in God.  And he worshipped Jesus in his own way.  As the world’s greatest philosopher, with his Sermon on the Mount being the best philosophy man could ask for.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Now the other part.  The thing that makes them complex.  The gentlemen part.  What did this mean in the 18th century?  Here are some adjectives that describe a gentleman.  Honorable.  Virtuous.  Reputable.  A gentleman strived to achieve moral excellence and righteousness.  He was ethical.  His life was a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code.  And when he served in public office, it was with selfless disinterest.  He would go out of his way to NOT gain personally from his time in public office.  Some did it better than others.  But all tried.  And when they fell short, they at least put on an appearance of disinterest.  It was that important.  And expected.

In a word, restraint.  This is what a gentleman practiced.  George Washington exercised this restraint to such a degree that many found him cold and aloof.  Few saw him smile.  Few saw public displays of emotion.  What they did see was an exemplary life of virtue, honor and moral excellence.  And they would forever look at him with awe and reverence.  We do to this day.

These students of the Enlightenment, then, espoused Judeo-Christian ethics.  They questioned all authority oppressing man, whether it be Church or state.  But they did not throw out the baby with the bath water.  They remained religious.  They just wouldn’t yield to it unconditionally.  Not to the Pope.  To a bishop.  Or any other tyranny of a minority, privileged elite.  Even after their Revolution.

And they would extend this restraint to the new nation they would found.  It would be a government that would govern with the consent of the people.  But it would not be mob-rule.  Not a true democracy.  It would be representative government.  The idea was to restrain the extreme passions of the people.  They would not exchange one tyranny for another.  There would be no tyranny of the majority.

FRANCE HAD PROBLEMS in the late 18th century.  The toll of war was bankrupting the country.  Their financing of the American Revolution didn’t help either.  Food was scarce and expensive.  Famine and malnutrition were commonplace.  Among the Third Estate (the poor).  The First Estate (the Church) was doing well.  The Second Estate (the nobility), too.  Unemployed and hungry, the poor looked at the clergy and the nobility who were not. 

The Church was largely exempt from paying taxes. And the Church was the largest landholder in France.  The Church levied a 10% tax (i.e., a tithe) on the general population.  A lot of that was collected in-kind (food crops).  So the Church had more land, money and food than the starving, suffering masses.  Who became an angry mob.  That demanded democracy.

The people stormed the Bastille.  Confiscated Church property.  Overthrew the monarchy.  And sent the king and queen, and many others, to the guillotine.  Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror.  They executed political enemies, including priests, and displayed their severed heads to the angry mob.  They de-Christianized France, destroying churches and religious symbols.  They tried to do away with the Church altogether and replace it with civic and community events and organizations.  It was a revolution against Church and state.  Against law and order.  Against restraint.  They would send Robespierre himself to the guillotine at the end of his terror.  Then another terror followed to avenge the previous terror. 

There’s more to the French Revolution.  But that should suffice for now. 

FRANCE WAS IN the epicenter of the Enlightenment.  Some of the great minds of the Enlightenment were French.  But France was older than America.  And more populated.  With centuries of wrongs to right.  It was anything but a blank canvas.  Egalitarianism soon devolved into angry mob rule.  Democracy.  They went from the tyranny of a minority to the tyranny of the majority without stopping in that fertile middle ground.  As was the case in America.  Why?

It’s that blank canvas thing.  We weren’t overthrowing our history to start anew.  We had little history.  Maybe a century or two of English colonists who literally started with raw earth.  There wasn’t a rich and privileged Church.  So there wasn’t a festering resentment against the Church.  No, the early colonists escaped religious oppression and came here for religious freedom.  Which they found.  And enjoyed.

The American Revolution was more restrained.  There were no bloody reprisals after the War.  There were isolated instances of mob violence during the War, but the ‘mob’ was never in control.  The ‘gentlemen’ were always in control.  Gentlemen steeped in Judeo-Christian ethics.  From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers built a new nation upon the Rule of Law.  And at its heart were the God-given rights enumerated in those documents.  That no man, or minority, or majority, or mob, could take away.

GOD WAS HERE before the United States.  So we can give our heart to Jesus.  But our ass belongs to the Rule of Law.

Or something like that.  We are a secular nation with a de-emphasis on the religious part.  Yes, legal punishment may dissuade you from doing wrong.  If you think the cops can catch you.  But it’s our morality that will keep us from doing wrong in the first place.  And the people at our founding were moral.  And Christian.  Or deists with Judeo-Christian ethics.

And to those who fear antidisestablishmentarianism, don’t.  I doubt the Catholics and the Protestants could agree on what an established church would be, let alone the myriad other religions peacefully coexisting with each other.  No, more religion would not result in an established church.  It may, though, result in government leaders who fear God and, maybe, they would be better leaders for it.  It sure beats us living in fear of them.

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