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An Alternative Ruling Narrative An Alternative Ruling Narrative
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2012-10-05 10:43:03
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The Protestant Reformation was of the greatest importance psychologically to the formation of the ferocious attitude by some Protestant sects that constitute the first installment of European Imperialism in the modern period.  But, over time there was a second development that depended upon the revival of learning that ran from the late 16th century to the middle of the 18th.  This was the secular and universalist attitude that received its inspiration from the examples of democratic regimes in ancient Greece and Rome.

This alternative narrative has also had the greatest effect on Western history, being the inspiration for the English revolution of 1688, later the French revolution of 1789, and in a negative way, the American Revolution of 1776. 

The democratic form of government is a rare form of government, and it is usually short-lived, but the inspiration that intellectuals found in the historic examples was great nonetheless.  Marx, in one of his better short works, mentions that the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly the European-wide outbreaks of 1848, were committed by men who might as well have dressed up in togas. 

Though the democratic regimes of the ancient period were not secular, the regimes of the modern period generally were.  Though the regimes of the ancient period were city-states, the modern exemplars were nation-states.  (It is important to note that the communes of Northern Italy and the self-governing cities of Southern Germany of the late Middle Ages were not democracies, but closed commercial oligarchies.) 

Though the conditions and therefore the results of the modern revolutions resulted in varied results sometimes, they were all dedicated to the criterion of “citizenship” for all individuals who were all born into the rights of man and citizen.  This reflects the individualism of both the American and French revolutions, something that is quite different from the Roman or Greek desire for solidarity (or even faction) in politics.  This new emphasis probably reflects the emphasis on individualism generated by the Protestant Reformation.  Apologies for democracy in the writings of Locke and the fathers of the American constitution emphasized the notion of rights over every other value.  (An underlying for this displacement of natural law in favor of natural rights was modern science, whose findings in Astronomy and Physics, in the period from Galileo to Newton, had decomposed earlier “World Pictures,” which all tended to be holistic and static.)

In the end this meant that an established religion would not be tolerated by the French or the American governments, in this contrasting with the English “Glorious Revolution,” which left the established church intact.  In this the English model imitated  the results of the Protestant revolt in all the other northern European countries. 

Another interesting curiosity concerns the franchise (voting rights).  It did not at first differ from Greek and Roman practice, except with a religious test in England and black slavery in America.  All three abided by the ancient rule of “one roof, one vote.”  This meant that a son of a citizen could vote in the assemblies only if he had become “emancipated” and established a house of his own, one of which he was the head.  Progress in inclusion was indeed slow.  Universal suffrage was not completed until the end of the 20th century.

The three nation-states were also empires, empires that spanned the globe and moved through continents.  All of them had powerful navies.  Amazingly it did not tend to disturb earlier empires or empires that did not commit the “salt water test”.  But, in a rare grab at world domination, America took Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines and Guam from Spain after the war of 1898, after having taken over all the lands in the middle of the American continent from other claimants such as Mexico.  In the second case none of the three tried to restrain nations on the Eurasian continent who aggressed against one another, changing the political map from time to time.

The upshot of all this was that the Atlantic coast became the most powerful group of nation states that would determine the results of the two World Wars of the 20th century, and would also tend to be the richest countries in the world.  The Americans tended to annex some smaller holdings -- Cuba excepted -- and so Hawaii, Puerto Rico, some of the Virgin Islands and Alaska became either states of the United States, or peoples who are simply automatic citizens of the United States by birth.   In England and France the measures first brought into play by the League of Nations, i.e., that imperial powers had a duty to bring the inhabitants along politically to the point where eventual independence was practicable  --  these resolutions had a great effect, and, after the second World War raised almost all of Africa to the status of nations recognized by the world community. 

Altogether this may sound like a great achievement, but it is only partially so.  And it is a very incomplete process for a very clear reason.  For, just as the disparity between rich and poor in the rich societies made political egalitarianism more a mockery of the ideal than anything else, so too the underdevelopment of the Third World is the same exact process reflected on a wider scale. 

The progress towards actual democracy, pure democracy had made steady progress in the three nations being considered here, and had a progressive impact on much of the rest of the countries surrounding them to some degree, to the point where the Prophet of Equality, Karl Marx, an overly optimistic man if there ever was one, predicted the homogenization of all the centers of power in the flow of erasures of difference and of persecution, until there would be no nation states or colonies, or even inequality of condition for the whole human race.  He reasoned that if the greatest powers were inadvertently progressive, then in the end the entire human race would wind up in an undifferentiated condition, which would be truly human, humane, and fair. 

But of course this was never to be. 

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