Tuesday, August 10, 2010

pp. 134-135 A New Birth of Freedom, Jaffa

"It is true that during four centuries, beginning at least with Magna Carta, the organism of parliamentary democracy was slowly being formed within the womb of medieval monarchy. Yet the birth of the institutions of popular government awaited the passing of the divine right of kings and the transfer of the idea of sovereignty from kings to people. It is sufficient here to note that just as one peak of divine right monarchy is reached in the reign of Henry V, so another is reached in the reign of Elizabeth. But as the earlier peak is followed by the War of the Roses, so the second peak is followed, after Shakespeare's death, by another civil war. Cromwell's victory over Charles I appears initially to be a definitive victory of popular sovereignty over the divine right of kings. But Cromwell's republicanism ended in a military dictatorship, which in turn led to a restoration of the British monarchy. It required one more revolution, the Glorious Revolution of 1689, to end once and for all the pretensions of the Stuarts to divine right. But it required the American Revolution to identify the sovereignty of the people with the rule of law, in which the will of the majority can prevail only as it comports with the equal rights of the minority. The seemingly endless series of civil wars in England came to an end only as the divine right of kings was replaced by the God-given right of the people to rule themselves. Unfortunately, one more civil war, the greatest of them all, was required to confirm this right of the people."

Personal note: Note that without "the God-given right of the people" our rights are strictly a matter of positive law--bestowed on us by the government as by Cromwell--and therefore a strictly Hegelian system of government. Had we split into two nations and never fought the Civil War, and even if the South had outlawed slavery on its own, it would have meant a capitulation to the idea that our rights only come from the government. And it would have meant that for the North as much as the South.

Personal note II: The election of 1800 was the first to witness the peaceful effects of this system of government, and the Civil War preserved not just the Union but our God-given rights.

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