Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Some Preliminary Notes on Ideology and Politics in the Parliamentary Armies 1645-9 Mark Kishlansky

1. Kishlansky begins this chapter in very sarcastic mood. He attacks the concept that it is possible to draw wider social conclusions from the debate that took place inside the New Model Army. Ideology inside the army has been exaggerated and misconceived.

2. ‘Much has been written about the ideology of the army, but most of it misconceived. A principle reason for this has been historians have assumed that the lowly social origins of many of the officers created a commitment to radical ideology. This is false on both factual and logical grounds. There were men of low birth among the new Model’s officers, and much has been made of Pride the drayman and Hewson the cobbler more still might be made of obscure officers like Spongers and Creamer whose surnames suggest backgrounds in trades and service. The army also contained a Cecil, a Sheffield, and three colonels who were knights. Yet careful study of the armies social origin, which lends support to the view that they were more traditional in nature (of solid status in rural and urban structures) still does not meet the real objections to existing interpretation- the fallacy of social determinism’.

3. He opposes that class has any bearing on how a person thinks or behaves. He rejects ‘the conception that social being determines social consciousnesses. Kishlansky doubts the amount of radical literature available to the army. His use of the term “intellectual historians” is curious to say the least. Even historians hostile to what has commonly been the common coin of radical or Marxist writers have agreed that philosophy of some kind played a significant part in army. Kishlansky calls for a complete rethink on what ideas did motivate individual soldiers.

4. "Hill’s achievements were twofold. Firstly he identified the mid-seventeenth century crisis as a revolution, which in the case of Britain overthrew the rule of one class and brought another to power. Secondly he recognised that revolutions are made by the mass of the population and that for a revolution to take place the consciousness of that mass of people must change, since revolutions are not made by a few people at the top although the character of their leadership is crucial at certain points. These achievements were considerable at the time and are of continuing relevance today, when historians increasingly reject any serious economic or social analysis and argue that revolutions are nothing but the work of a tiny group of conspirators". Ann Talbot

5. If we were to accept Kishlanskys assertion that “From 1645 to March 1647 there is almost no evidence of political activity within the New Model Army: for fifteen months the soldiers fought; for eight they waited”. What is his point? Ideas do take time to develop and they do change under the pressure of political and economic changes. I do not believe that there is a mechanical relationship between economic changes and politics there is a dialectical one

6. “Ever since the Putney debates of 1647 the way in which economic inequality inevitably undermines political equality had remained an insoluble problem that the Levellers had never managed to resolve. Waldron sets Locke’s discussion of equality in the context of this seventeenth century debate about the relationship between political and economic equality. He concludes that Locke seems to have regarded an unequal distribution of property as inevitable in an economy based on money, but that he was critical of the English inheritance customs that tended to produce large landed estates. He favoured the division of property among heirs, a practice that, it was thought, would result in a more equitable division of land” .Quote from page 167 of reactions to the Civil War- Kishlansky says, “From disparate and inchoate ideas the army formed its self –justification, and the process by which this happened, as do so many others of similar circumstances, remain mysterious”. The dictionary definition of inchoate used for our purpose is: not organized; lacking order: an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject. While some of this is applicable to the ideas floating around in the army it is not entirely accurate. Some of the Levellers document was far from inchoate as the way  Cromwell moved against them proved.

7. For a historian of Kishlanskys statue to say this is quite an admission. The development of consciousness is really key to understanding how the civil war came about; how parliament and the army killed a king it is the whole shebang. Kishlansky seeks to mystify this process in order to cover up the dialectical relationship between politics and economics which in the end run moves men and women to carryout history.

8. It is clear the army had some form of collective ideology. The actions it took after the Putney Debates are a clear indicator of this. It does not take a great leap of imagination to understand that systematic agitation by radical ministers in the army would coincide with grievances to push the army in an extreme direction. Kishlansky says prove it. Well outside of going back in time an interviewing a few soldiers that is not possible. But history does not work like that. On the other hand the Work of Hill and Manning along with a host of others have established certain historical truths as to the nature of the radical groups inside the army.


9. Grievances over lack of pay and demands for indemnity against illegal acts coincided with a great acceptance of Leveller ideas from a growing number of agitators.
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