A Tradition of Gospel Government

The uninterrupted democracies that I can think of are Britain, the US, Australia and Canada. The most striking thing these countries have in common is England and an Anglo-Saxon-protestant heritage. From the Instrument of Government, penned in 1653 by Cromwell and his council of officers after the Glorious Revolution, sprang an English constitutional heritage that was the source of the charge against King George in the Declaration of Independence; “taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments” (American Historical Documents. 152. Harvard Classics, 1969). The American colonists and revolutionaries all speak in their writings of the rights and constitution of Englishmen that had been established for generations. “But the Americans were a high-spirited people who claimed all the rights for which Englishmen had fought since the Magna Charta, and would settle for nothing less. Make no mistake; the American Revolution was not fought to obtain freedom, but to preserve the freedom that the colonies already had” (A concise History of the American Republic. 62. Oxford, 1983. Morison, Commager, Leuchtenburg) There was not an official written British Constitution. So to what were they referring?

The mental framework from which sprang the United States was developed after centuries of political thought: a republic born out of  Lex Rex by Samuel Rurherford, A Defense Against Tyranny by Junios Brutus (believed to be Calvin), Cicero, Plato’s Republic, Augustine’s City of God, Politica by Althusius, the Right of Magistrates by Theodore Beza and the english/puritan compacts/charters that established the colonies, as much as by Locke and Hobbes. These ideas are long standing traditions which construct a cultural understanding of the purpose and forms of government that were deemed right and proper by trial. These trials have established modern democratic republics. This heritage cannot be taught overnight or even in a few years to peoples or cultures without the centuries of background.

The study of Comparative politics is crucial to this point; creating democracy for its own sake is not safe and has not proven to be lasting or stable. To teach democracy to countries without saturating them in the necessary epistemology that accompanies the complexity of it is to deem it to failure. Even if modern Americans, Brits, Aussies or Canadians have not heard of any of these philosophers; they have been distilled and injected into the very fibers of modern constitutional, democratic republicanism. Other cultures cannot suddenly convert to these political systems without a lot of painful loss and almost certain failure. The American Revolution was really a conservative revolt against British revolutionary ideas, in order to reestablish the traditions of their fathers.  The modern revolutionary spirit found in the French and Russian revolutions cannot convert a society to new political ideology quickly, as proven by history. Too often this modern revolutionary spirit has been applied with democracy to countries that could not sustain or reconcile the ideology with their own political science heritage.  The reason that democracy appears to be fragile or unsafe is because the countries that have had democracy foisted upon them have historically not responded well. However, where democracy has developed as a natural progression of experience and thought, it has flourished, and not completely, but mostly avoided upheaval.

 

 

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