Sunday, 23 January 2011

Some Small Thoughts on Guizot’s Why the English Revolution was Successful.

Guizot was a bourgeois politician turned writer/historian. He starts his small book on the English revolution with an admission that he thought the whole thing was a “mysterious experiment’s therefore makes up front that he has no intention of uncovering the underlying socio-economic causes of the English revolution. He portrays the revolution as a religious matter.

According to Marx “the fact that the English Revolution developed more successfully than the French can be attributed, according to M. Guizot, to two factors: first, that the English Revolution had a thoroughly religious character, and hence in no way broke with all past traditions; and second, that from the very beginning it was not destructive but constructive, Parliament defending the old existing laws against encroachment by the crown”.

He refuses also to make a connection between the rise of protestant religion and its connection with the rise of a new capitalist class. When he waxes lyrically about the “spirit of revolution” he exhibits a close similarity with Hegel’s writing contained in his Philosophy of History. Guizot's writing contains a very idealist way of seeing historical events.

On page two Guizot shows the somewhat limited nature of his thought when he makes the point that he thought that he did not think that the revolution was underpinned by the pursuit of “ infinite, but yet unknown of human thought”.

He says nothing of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, or the poetry of Milton and Marvel. The writings of the Levellers are not touched. The English revolution took place in a cauldron of ideas about democracy social inequality, freedom of conscience. Where did these all come from? It cannot be that they were all just an expression of religious differences which seems to be Guizot’s main argument.

According to Karl Marx in regard to the first point, "M. Guizot seems to have forgotten that the free-thinking philosophy which makes him shudder so terribly when he sees it in the French Revolution was imported to France from no other country than England.

Its father was Locke, and in Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke it had already achieved that ingenious form which later found such a brilliant development in France, We thus arrive at the strange conclusion that the same free-thinking philosophy which, according to M. Guizot, wrecked the French Revolution, was one of the most essential products of the religious English Revolution”.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

More Correspondence

From Christopher Thompson :

But Harrington's argument was not "the product of an analysis of the contemporary distribution of land, because it does not claim to be" such: it was an investigation of the decline of feudal tenures and the development of freehold tenure, which made possible a state in which a Classical Republic of the kind described by Livy and advocated by Machiavelli. Scholars like J.G.A.Pocock and Judith Schklar showed as long ago as the 1950s that Tawney's view of Harrington was erroneous.

Reply thehistorywoman (

I'm not saying that Harrington's thesis is based on an exact or even correct 'analysis of the contemporary distribution of land'. But he did perceive significant changes which - as you rightly say - were caused by 'the decline of feudal tenures'. And this decline of feudal tenures gave rise to a new type of landownership and at the same time a new type of society characterised increasingly by merit rather than birth. The senators who replace the old lords in Harrington's ideal state hold their office because they are 'wiser than the rest', not by the virtue of their birth. That is what matters. Changes in property ownership produce changes in a country's power structures. In the long term freehold tenure facilitates popular participation in politics.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Correspondence on The historywomans article Property and Power: On James Harrington’s 400th Birthday

Christopher Thompson

I am afraid that these assertions about the transfer of land between the nobility and gentry. The peerage in 1601 may have held less land than in 1558 but it still held more than in 1534. By 1641, the much enlarged peerage had far more land in its hands than in 1601. This is true even using Lawrence Stone's highly improbable figures. The English Civil War or Revolution was preceded by a notable shift in landed possessions towards the peerage and by the rise of "aristocratic constitutionalism".

thehistorywoman (

That's an interesting point. The 'rise of the gentry' hypothesis has long been contested. However, I find it significant that Harrington still perceived a shift of property and power towards the gentry and yeomanry. Of course one might wonder how far this perception was influenced by a political agenda.

Simon Schama Predicts Growing Social Unrest Again But This Time in the US

While it is natural to wonder what 2011 holds. It has become for the British historian Simon Schama something bordering of an obsession to warn of impending doom for capitalism.

Earlier in 2010 Schema made similar comments regarding the social and Political crisis in Europe when he said “we face a tinderbox moment: a test of the strength of democratic institutions in a time of extreme fiscal stress. On the one hand, we should be glad that the mobilisation of public energy in elections can channel mass unhappiness into change. That is what we must believe could yet happen in Britain. Elsewhere the outlook is more forbidding. In the sinkhole that is the Euro zone, animus is directed at unelected bodies - the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - and is bound to build on itself. Those on the receiving end of punitive corrections - in public sector wages or retrenched social institutions - will lash out at their remote masters. Those in the richer north obliged to subsidise what they take to be the fecklessness of the Latin’s, will come to see not just the single currency, but the European project as an historic error and will pine for the mark or franc. Chauvinist movements will be reborn, directed at immigrants and Brussels dictats, with more destructive fury than we have seen since the war”.

While Schama is correct to point out the dangers from this crisis is a move to the right by sections of the population on the other hand he rules out directly that a revolutionary movement from the left could emerge and succeed. He has instead following in the footsteps of Dr Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide Schama has warned US capitalism faces peril unless it changes course and starts to implement a more right wing agenda.

Schama has warned of civil unrest in America, and that the situation could even take on revolutionary proportions. He calls on Barrack Obama to get rid of “misplaced obligations of civility” in order to head off this revolution.Schama remarks come in the wake of a growing global unrest at austerity measures which have placed the burden of the economic crisis firmly on the backs of working people.

It must be said that while it has become fashionable amongst writers and commentators to predict growing unrest in Europe very few outside of websites such as have predicted widespread unrest in the US. This has now changed aside from Schama Time Magazine hardly a bastion of left wing thought has warned that the prospect of civil war in the U.S. “doesn’t seem that farfetched,”

Perhaps the most important comment on the likelihood of social unrest comes from someone who is close to the Obama administration and has in the past warned that austerity measures would lead to a growing radicalisation of the population

In May last year at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting in Montreal, Zbigniew Brzezinski said that a “global political awakening,” was occurring which was threatening the global ruling elite and that “For the first time in all of human history mankind is politically awakened – that’s a total new reality – it has not been so for most of human history.”

“The whole world has become politically awakened,” adding that all over the world people were aware of what was happening politically and were “consciously aware of global inequities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation.”

Schama’s predictions of doom have been met largely with positive reviews. Also his work as a historian has also rarely been challenged. In fact he has on occasions been hyped to extreme for instance.

“He is a man steeped in historical knowledge. A history graduate from Cambridge University, he has taught at Oxford and Harvard. His first book, Patriots and Liberators, won the Wolfson History Prize, and over the past two decades his books and television programmes have covered such eclectic subjects as the French Revolution and Rembrandt. He is perhaps best known for his compelling 15-part BBC documentary series A History of Britain, which explored the emergence of "Great Britain" from an Iron Age twilight through to the first half of the 20th-century. It was a period rife with political upheaval, war and the kind of episodes even the most creative of novelists would have struggled to have made up”.

I do not challenge Schama as a competent historian but when he enters into the orbit of politics his conservative leanings tend to get very exposed. After all what is Schama actually saying? His advice to the US ruling elite is that in order to head off mass protest it must clamp down even further domestically and increase its military role abroad.

In many ways Schama has become an establishment house historian. Hence the award in 2001 of the CBE. He has opposed the diplomatic leaks by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks? While he has said the leaks “will be "a trove" for historians “he opposed the information being made public. “It’s a dangerous world and you do need confidentiality in diplomacy if people are going to trust you. I appreciate there are calls for greater transparency but at the same time does everything always need to be known?"

Schama pays lip service to the growing social crisis that is racking the United States in this comment, “Ride the train in the opposite direction and rosy scenario, even in New York, gives way to rust-bucket gloom. Upstate towns such as Poughkeepsie and Buffalo have unemployment rates not seen since the war. One in seven adults lives below the official poverty line; for children it is one in three, a truly shaming statistic. Life for millions in burgered America goes on only through food banks and food stamps. Seventy per cent of the population have a close friend or family member who has lost a job. We are still living in 3D America: desolation, devastation, destitution.

But his solution to this squalor and deprivation is not to call for income redistribution to end social inequality but he calls on Americans to still have faith in Barack Obama who has presided and in fact increased this social misery while his rich friends have increased their wealth. Schama peddles the platitude that Obama “owes the long-suffering, still-suffering, country more. He owes it the truth, delivered in such a way that Americans might yet feel that absorbing its seriousness is not the bar to but the condition of their collective reinvigoration. He has an opportunity to deliver that truth in the State of the Union speech; a moment in which he can still reboot America and re-make its politics once again. For what it’s worth, I’m ready to put money on a bet he will”.


Will It Be A Happy New Year For the Global Resistance Against the New World Order? Paul Joseph Watson Friday, December 31, 2010

The history man sees a lesson for the future from study of the past By Chris Bond 08 December 2010

An America lost in fantasy must recover its dream By Simon Schama Published: December 23 2010

Historian warns of “New Age of Rage”ATrumpet of Sedition at

Property and Power: On James Harrington’s 400th Birthday

(Kindly reprinted from the History Woman’s blog)

Power is founded on property. Few people nowadays would deny this doctrine. The political philosopher James Harrington formulated it in the mid-seventeenth century. Living in per-industrial England he still considered land, not money, the most important form of property. The social group that held most of the country’s land also held the largest amount of power. In early modern England this was the monarch and his nobility, including the bishops.

However, from the reign of Henry VII onwards, and especially through the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries and sale of Church lands, power relations began to change. Over time, the King (or Queen) and nobility lost land and power in favour of the next social group, the gentry and the commoners, represented in the lower house of Parliament. By the early Stuart period the power balance had been upset so badly that struggles between the King and the House of Commons led to a breakdown or ‘dissolution’ of the government in the English Civil War. Anyone trying to reconstruct the English government in the aftermath of the war would therefore have to create a new superstructure that took into account the changed power relations.

The most famous elaboration of Harrington’s theory can be found in his utopian Commonwealth of Oceana of 1656, in which he tried to persuade Oliver Cromwell to play the sole legislator, set up the perfect republican state and retire to the country.

‘Good laws’, Harrington believed, could give the country stability, and these laws had to be infallible, so that bad men would not be able to corrupt the state. Harrington never saw his dream come true. The Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660 meant a return of many of the old problems. But his ideas of mixed government and a balance of power remained influential in the writings of the Neo-Harringtonians of the later 17th and early 18th century. They influenced both the American and French Revolutions, while his materialist theory of political change would also strike a chord with Marxists and modern economic and political thinkers.

James Harrington would have celebrated his 400th birthday today. He was born in Upton, Northamptonshire on 3 January 1611 and died in Little Ambry on 11 September 1677.