Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Charles Taylor doesn’t get it

Charles Taylor is one of Canada’s most eminent philosophers, a Roman Catholic, a three time candidate for the NDP, and well decorated for his accomplishments. I heard him back in 1967 lecturing at McGill University on political science, where he demonstrated to me a complete misunderstanding of philosophers prior to the French Revolution. I mean howlingly wrong.

charles-taylor

 

 

Thirty years later, or thereabouts, I heard Taylor again after a conference on communitarianism in Ottawa in the 1990s. Communitarianism is a view of society promoted by Amitai Etzioni, an Israeli immigrant to the United States.The founding idea of communitarianism is that  the community has rights; and it may reduce to something as simple as: where your neighbours mow their lawns, mow yours too. It is vain and socially detrimental to assert your “right” to turn your lawn into a weed-infested wild prairie in a carefully maintained garden suburb.

Wikipedia says:

His writings emphasize the importance for all societies to have a carefully crafted balance between rights and responsibilities and between autonomy and order.

 

Etzioni said to me that one of the most important aspects of Canada is its very strong sense of community order, which is stronger than that sense in the United States.

The meeting was held in the same building as the old Ottawa Press Club, and thus Charles Taylor, who had been one of the speakers, was interviewed by the CBC right after the conference. We were sitting in the bar of the old Press Club and we saw Taylor being interviewed live on CBC, saying something utterly wrong about Etzioni and what the conference had been about, rhetoric that communitarianism was a left-wing phenomenon about greater social spending rather than what Amitai Etzioni says it is, which is a call for the legitimacy of higher senses of community order.

Glendronach and I sped to the elevator, and to the CBC floor, whereupon the door opened and there appeared all six feet three of Charles Taylor, whom we greeted with a loud collective spontaneous cry of

“No it isn’t!”

And that pretty well sums up my view of Charles Taylor. I do not have the specialized knowledge of the subject to dispute him in his specialist domains, but wherever his views intersected what I already know about (politics, philosophers pre-French Revolution, and now the niqab issue) his rubber does not hit the road.

 

Today’s report in Huffington Post says:

Taylor said Harper is fueling anti-Muslim sentiment and that, in turn, makes alienated Muslim Canadians easier targets for recruitment by radical Islamist terrorists.

“Ask yourself what are the recruiters for Islamic State saying? They’re saying (to Muslims), ‘Look, they despise you, they think that you’re foreign, you’re dangerous, you’re not accepted here, so why don’t you come with us?'” Taylor said following a speech to the annual summit of the Broadbent Institute, a social democratic think-thank.

“The more you make it sound like that (is true), the more you’re helping them. And it’s strange that people don’t see this.”

Let us try to dissect this for a moment.

  • we despise those aspects of Islam which suppress the freedom of women to be present in society, and this is not a modern trend. Christianity has always allowed women to be socially present since its inception. Pagan societies too. Consider the existence of Byzantine Empress Theodora, AD500-548, co-ruler with the Emperor Justinian. Or how about Boudicca, the Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who led the rebellion against Roman rule in Britain in AD 60-61? Women have been in power a long time on this side of the religious fence;
  • we do think many Muslims are foreign, in consequence;
  • they are dangerous, as has been amply demonstrated;
  • their practices are not accepted here;
  • so why do they not return to Islamic countries and practce their barbarous religion and social system where they came from, rather than try to colonize us?

Professor Taylor, what would you have us say to them? That we approve their social exclusion of women, their jihad, their violent intolerance of religious freedom, their attempts t o colonize us for Islam?

Who would believe it if it were ever said?

Taylor continued:

“We’re in a context where Islamaphobia is very powerful in the West,” he said.

“It’s perfectly understandable emotionally. We have to get over it and the worst and the last thing we need is for our political leaders to surf on it and encourage it.”

 

The fear of Islam is actually one of the few indicators that western society is healthy, and has a sense of itself as a community, despite the endless articulation and elaboration of “rights” of the individual against the community, so constantly promoted by our out of control legal culture. Islamo-phobia is healthy, same as Nazi-phobia, or Commie-phobia. Totalitarian political ideologies should be resisted by liberal society, and not, as Charles Taylor would have it, embraced as just another part of life’s rich tapestry. You do not let weevils ruin the tapestry.

 

 

You are allowed to teach Christianity as if it might be true

A very welcome decision of the Supreme Court this morning in the Loyola High School  case: you are allowed to teach Catholicism in a Catholic school as if it might be true.
The case concerned the rights of a Catholic private school in Montreal, Quebec to teach a religion and ethics course without being forced to teach the view that all religions, being worthy of respect, were actually equally true.

If anything, the Minister’s decision – which was the basis of Loyola’s decision to appeal – shows that the Government of Quebec has established secular humanism as its official state religion, and that it is prepared to enforce the idea that all religions, being somehow worthy of respect, are in a sense equally unworthy of belief.

A religion need have nothing to do with a God, gods, or the metaphysical, and still be a religion. National Socialism (Naziism) and Communism were state religions, though both were anti-Christian and atheistic.  The Government of Quebec has merely transferred its state religion from an ultramontane version of Roman Catholicism to secular humanism, but it retains is collectivist and authoritarian impulses.

From the judgment:

Held: The Minister’s decision requiring that all aspects of Loyola’s proposed program be taught from a neutral perspective, including the teaching of Catholicism, limited freedom of religion more than was necessary given the statutory objectives. As a result, it did not reflect a proportionate balancing and should be set aside. The appeal is allowed and the matter remitted to the Minister for reconsideration.

 

The majority decision was written by Judge Rosalie Abella (who knew?) and for once I agree with her.

 

Freedom of religion means that no one can be forced to adhere to or refrain from a particular set of religious beliefs. This includes both the individual and collective aspects of religious belief. Religious freedom under the Charter  must therefore account for the socially embedded nature of religious belief, and the deep linkages between this belief and its manifestation through communal institutions and traditions.

The context in this case is state regulation of religious schools. This raises the question of how to balance robust protection for the values underlying religious freedom with the values of a secular state. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that students in all schools are capable, as adults, of conducting themselves with openness and respect as they confront cultural and religious differences. A vibrant, multicultural democracy depends on the capacity of its citizens to engage in thoughtful and inclusive forms of deliberation. But a secular state does not — and cannot — interfere with the beliefs or practices of a religious group unless they conflict with or harm overriding public interests. Nor can a secular state support or prefer the practices of one group over another. The pursuit of secular values means respecting the right to hold and manifest different religious beliefs. A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.

                    Loyola is a private Catholic institution. The collective aspects of religious freedom — in this case, the collective manifestation and transmission of Catholic beliefs — are a crucial part of its claim. The Minister’s decision requires Loyola to teach Catholicism, the very faith that animates its character, from a neutral perspective. Although the state’s purpose is secular, this amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about its own religion in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding. This demonstrably interferes with the manner in which the members of an institution formed for the purpose of transmitting Catholicism can teach and learn about the Catholic faith. It also undermines the liberty of the members of the community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school.

Snippets:

In a multicultural society, it is not a breach of anyone’s freedom of religion to be required to learn (or teach) about the doctrines and ethics of other world religions in a neutral and respectful way…..

Preventing a school like Loyola from teaching and discussing Catholicism, the core of its identity, in any part of the program from its own perspective, does little to further the ERC Program’s objectives while at the same time seriously interfering with the values underlying religious freedom. The Minister’s decision is, as a result, unreasonable.

Unfortunately, Madame Justice Abella sent the case back to the Minister of Education for reconsideration, rather than granting the relief sought immediately.

Per McLachlan,C.J., Moldaver and Rothstein:

The communal character of religion means that protecting the religious freedom of individuals requires protecting the religious freedom of religious organizations, including religious educational bodies such as Loyola….

The freedom of religion protected by s. 2 (a) of the Charter  is not limited to religious belief, worship and the practice of religious customs. Rather, it extends to conduct more readily characterized as the propagation of, rather than the practice of, religion.

Indeed, presenting fundamentally incompatible religious doctrines as equally legitimate and equally credible could imply that they are both equally false.  Surely this cannot be a perspective that a religious school can be compelled to adopt.

The minority differed principally in seeking to grant Loyola the relief it sought immediately, rather than sending the decision back to the Quebec Minister of Education for reconsideration

A bad move by ISIS

The beheading of two Japanese hostages by ISIS causes the following things to happen:

1) one of the world’s largest pagan societies (neither Buddhist nor Christian, but Shinto) is outraged;

2) a country that could have stood outside this Christian-Islamic conflict is forced to become involved;

3) a country whose re-militarization could have been more difficult is handed an excuse to wage war again on a silver platter.

Smart move, dudes!
With such strategic finesse will ISIS be the cause of its own extermination.

Remember: the correct term is “climate change”

The Left – the bananarama sort anyway – are nominalists. Things are according to what they are named. A rose to them, by any other name, might be a sign of moral turpitude. Or it might be the new name we call those things formerly known as roses, but which are now called “pink exfoliated flower ovaries” on pain of apology and social exclusion.

I shall never forget a Canadian woman of this sort who corrected an American for calling them “Eskimos”. She said, with great kindness: “the preferred name we use in Canada is Inuit”. A smile of gladness spread across the face of the American leftie as she received the communion wafer of political correctness: she had a new stick with which to beat the politically incorrect back home.

So it is with the transition from  “global warming” into “climate change”. Say “global warming” and you are actually referring to a real thing (or not); say  “climate change” and , as well as showing yourself to be one of the enlightened, you have also escaped any pretence of holding a disprovable proposition. Heating up – climate change; cooling off- climate change. Floods, drought: it is all change we have caused.

The difference between weather and climate is whatever the Left says it is.

Thus this weekend’s comic pages had this gem from the usually astute Wiley Miller:

 

nq150131

“First of all,” says dad from the armchair, “the correct term is climate change, and the increasing severity of storms is all indicative of….”

“No preachy science junk on a Saturday, okay?”

Dad asks the well-behaved daughter: :How long is his anti-knowledge trend going to last?”

-“As long as there’s an Internet”.

The obvious implication, for the politically minded, is to regulate the Internet so that no facts contradictory to the dominant  man-made global warming narrative are allowed.

Just you wait my friends, this is coming to us, and its backers will not be confined to the political Left, or the Muslims, though they will lead the way in being offended.

It will not be justified on the basis of science, or knowledge, because the proponents of this sort of repression are ignorant of science and lacking in knowledge. It will be justified on the basis that some narratives are just too insensitive to be tolerated.

Remember, the correct term is climate change. Correct as in 2+2-4? Ah no! Correct as in “in conformity with the latest emanation of the anti-church of political correctness”.

The one thing I will say in favour of Islam is that, in Islam,  what is correct and incorrect does not shift weekly. It is ordained by God from the time of Mohammed’s revelations for evermore. That is why the cultural Left and Islam are on the same course, and will eventually converge. People of that sort, having developed no internal morality, and believing no internal morality is legitimate or possible,  will seek certainty and permanence in Islam’s arbitrary rules about what is correct – or incorrect (haram).

In Islam they are neither Eskimos nor Inuit; they are only kuffar, and may be treated accordingly. Islam claims to be a simple and practical guide to all of life’s problems, and its unflinching, unyielding rules are intended to avoid precisely the moral confusion which freedom allows.

With Islam, the labels are attached by the culture/religion/society rather than by personal inclination, and they never change.

So when Islamic Dad says “the correct term” for this is that, he is backed up by an entire culture, society and legal system, by force of death, if necessary, administered by one’s male relatives to general applause.

It is a Leftist’s dream come true. Stay tuned folks, this is where we are heading.

 

Christianity and Islam: A comparison of axioms and effects

All religions are ultimately propositions about the nature of reality. They are axioms – unproved and unprovable assumptions – about God, man and law. From these axioms civilizations and cultures proceed and develop.

Second, people who are used to treating Islam as a “religion” and only a religion, have a great deal of trouble understanding how its axioms could be so different from ours. Their axioms are fundamentally different, and they produce the effects we see.

Hence Muslim apologists attempt to suppress discussion of the scale and scope of its differences from Christianity and modern political institutions evolved from Christian precepts. If we actually saw what it proposed, we would laugh it to scorn.

A. Love

Christianity

God loves His creation, and especially our souls, which are his direct creation.
Effects:
Ch. -Man is obliged to express the love he has been given by God with love towards all.

Islam

God is infinitely remote, all-powerful, and does not love his human subjects.
Effects:
Obedience to God’s Laws is his supreme command; human love is just another source of distraction from that obedience. Human love should never stand in the way of God’s Laws.

Life is subjected to a comprehensive and minute regulation of mechanical (behavioural) obedience to laws. Fathers and brothers may kill daughters and wives  rather than have them bring disgrace upon the family for disobedience to God’s laws. Honour is more important than love.

B. Intelligibility of the Universe

Christianity

The Universe, being created by God, is governed by laws and is intelligible to human reason. God has no power to make 2+2=5, substantially, and because he cannot deceive us, we can know accurately.
Effects:
1. Science is possible. The discovery of physical processes and laws is part of the work of man.

2. Interpretation is a legitimate activity of the human mind.

3. That error is possible or even likely, does not invalidate the capacity of human reason to try to know the truth.

Islam

The universe is held together moment to moment, by God’s will alone. God may choose to deceive us. 2+2 may well equal 5, if that is God’s will. Our only surety is a revelation once offered which is complete, unalterable, and beyond judgment.
Effects:
1. Science is impossible, and essentially a blasphemous activity.

2. There is no cause other than God’s will; intermediate causes are without significance. Absence of curiosity about cause and effect.

3. Absence of science in the Islamic world, after the last Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and pagans were driven out.

 

C. Free Will

Christianity

The soul, that part of us most like God , is free. There is free choice to do both good and evil; to sin and err, and to repent and recover, and to discover truth even by a passage through error.

Effects:

There is a standpoint outside history by which to judge what happens in the world of human doing. There is a morality by which to judge history. Truth may speak to power. Progress in understanding is possible,and we are called upon to make it.

Islam

All that happens is God’s will. There is only one choice, to submit to God’s laws as propagated one time, in one place, in one revelation. There is no standpoint from which to judge the world because, by definition, everything that happens is God’s will.

Effects:

In practice, total absence of a moral judgment save insofar as an action conforms or not to Islamic practice. Vast amounts of historical events cannot be judged, save only as they advance Islam, or not.

If I rob a bank, and shoot the guard, then the issue for Islam may well be limited to whether I may show up to prayers sweating from the activity, not the robbing of the bank and not the shooting of the guard. If the guard shoots me, insh’allah. If I shoot the guard, insh’allah. If the car stalls and I cannot get to the robbery, insh’allah. No cause for anything but Allah.

The morality of robbing banks may or may not be relevant, unless specifically covered in the Koran and Hadiths, and may turn only on whether the bank is Islamic owned or owned by Kuffar. There is no tendency to a universal morality independent of Islam (see mechanical obedience, above).

D. The legitimacy of human institutions

Christianity

There is a division between the realm of God and the realm of Caesar.
Effects:
Ultimately, a justification for a regime of action independent of, though influenced by, beliefs. Likewise a zone of belief in which the state has no or very limited jurisdiction. God is not especially concerned with the composition of the next government, save only insofar as human arrangements conduce to godly citizens.

Islam

There is no division between the realms of Caesar and of God. In the well-run Islamic state, God acts as Caesar (a theocracy).
All political struggle is religious, and all religious struggle, political.
Establishment of any other system is a blasphemy and idolatry. Shut down parliaments and non-Islamic courts.

The Prophet speaks! Reason and Revelation, State and Faith

After some digging, I have come across a picture of the Prophet Mohammad, whose visage is haram, lest it be worshiped, but which is familiar to us, and I hope by what you will read below that what I portray Him as, is an accurate description, in terms of political theology.

Adolf Hitler

 Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future.

- The Prophet

You may recall our Saviour said:

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s” – Jesus of Nazareth

Few people seem to realize how much our civilization has been shaped by that division and injunction. In fact it shapes everything about us, even if it took 1500 years since Christ’s time to figure out the practical implications of the distinction.

Once you abolish the Christian distinction between the realms of Caesar and of God, you proclaim either their indivisibility, or the dominance of one over the other.

In Islam, God is Caesar – a theocracy. All things are religious, and all politics is theological. No distinction is made between issues of state and issues of faith, or between religion and, for that matter, pubic sanitation.

If God and Caesar are equal and coordinate, then you get western Civilization: Church is distinct from State.

If God is Caesar’s junior partner, then you have Russian Orthodox civilization.

If Caesar is God, then you have Sinic civilization.

Thus, Islam is not compatible with western civilization because the answers it proposes to the relationship of revelation to reason, and of State to Faith, are utterly different.

Faith and State constitute a different division of the world than reason and revelation. The faith can be informed by reason and the state can be informed by faith. But operationally the organizations have different well-springs of authority.

Here is Peter and upon this rock will I build my Church – Jesus of Nazareth

which if we translated, Jesus was saying here is ‘Rock’ and upon this rock will I build my Church. Even our Lord could not pass up an inevitable Greek pun. Note that He did not found his Church on the nearest Roman Legion commander. That would come four centuries later with the Emperor Constantine, for reasons of state. Disentangling State from Church took western civilization another thousand years to achieve, and was still being fought over between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor in the 1000s. See Canossa, for example.

Thus when I or Geert Wilders refers to Islam as a totalitarian political ideology, I am not being inaccurate. I am using a term of art.

It is time we stopped giving to Islam the status of a religion as we understand the term. It is no more a religion that National Socialism, and no less. It just talks about the Prophet in the way a dedicated Nazi speaks of the Fuhrer, and about Allah the way a National Socialist envisages the Force of History.

We need to get clear on the concept of what Islam is.

 

The Jesuit Relations and other accounts

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in North America (1690-1791)  is a marvelous collection of letters written by the Jesuit missionaries in New France to their patrons and religious superiors in France. The writing is clear, vivid and simple.

One is entranced by the absolute gulf in comprehension between the European Catholic intellectuals and their would be converts, who are called Savages, Hurons, Iroquois, Abenaki, and so forth, but never as Indians.

The Hurons tell them of their idea of sun and moon and comets, to the sly amusement of the know-it all European. They tell the Jesuits of their idea of the afterlife, where the souls of the hunters hunt and trap the souls of the elk, deer and beavers in the happy hunting grounds. “What happens to the souls of the dead animals,” asks the Jesuit, “do they go to a further heaven.?” The Indian has no answer for this and like questions. He has never thought about it. The Indian has never thought about it because systematic inquiry into nature is not what he does or can do. If Father Sun and Mother Moon beget a child, which is dark, there is no contradiction between the luminous nature of the parents and the and the darkness of the child. It just is. Everything is a “just so” story (rather like evolution – but nevermind).

The depictions of Indian warfare and cruelty never vary: they are in constant warfare, and their behaviour is cruel in the extreme. Here is a short story from 1649. A war band of Tobacco Indians had left a village around Chambly, Quebec to seek out a war party of Iroquois, who were thought to be outnumbered and on the run. Consequently their own village was defenceless.

It was on the seventh day of the month of last December, in the year 1649, toward three o’clock in the afternoon, that this band of Iroquois appeared at the gates of the village, spreading immediate dismay, and striking terror into the poor people, – bereft of their strength and finding themselves vanquished; when they thought themselves to be conquerors. Some took to flight; others were slain on the spot. To many, the flames, which were already consuming their cabins, gave the first intelligence of the disaster. Many were taken prisoner, but the victorious enemy, fearing the return of the warriors who had gone to meet them, hastened their retreat so precipitately, that they put to death all the old men and children, and all whom they deemed unable to keep up with them in their flight.

It was a scene of incredible cruelty. The enemy snatched from a Mother her infants, that they might be thrown into the fire; other children  beheld their Mothers beaten to death at their feet, or groaning in the flames, – permission in either case denied them to show the least compassion. It was a crime to shed a tear, these barbarians demanding that their prisoners go into capacity as if they were marching to their triumph. A poor Christian Mother, who wept for the death of her infant, was killed on the spot, because she still loved, and could not stifle soon enough her Natural feelings”.

-Father Paul Ragueneau

You can talk all you like about European settlement of North America, its depredations upon the native people both deliberate and inadvertent, such as smallpox and other “childhood” diseases which reduced their numbers by 95%. It was a catastrophic disaster for them, and they still have not recovered. But would any rational person hold that the endemic, cruel and mutual exterminations – and the psychological damage it did to both perpetrators and victims alike – constitute a model for how a society should be run?

In Christianity, only one person was crucified, in order that cruelty be abolished. The religion founded on the crucifixion of its founder has not completely triumphed, as we all observe. Can anyone doubt, however,  that Christianity marks a permanent and irreversible improvement in human behaviour, when compared to the universal and compulsory group savagery of what came before?

“Love is the only engine of survival” – Leonard Cohen

Male unemployment, and what it means

The New York Times discusses male unemployment in the United States.
I am glad they have noticed, finally.

After decades of celebrating “diversity” and affirmative action [code for anti-white discrimination], deploring the glass ceiling and favouring female empowerment [code for anti-male discrimination], mass immigration of low paid Central American peasants and off-shoring [producing downward pressure on working class wages], the elites may be waking up to the crisis they have engendered. I accuse the Republicans as much as the Democrats for fostering many of these conditions.

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. More recently, since the turn of the century, the share of women without paying jobs has been rising, too. The United States, which had one of the highest employment rates among developed nations as recently as 2000, has fallen toward the bottom of the list….

Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.

 

It seems that the people in the New York Times may have read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012). They are describing what Murray has been worried about for decades.

Murray’s thesis is both simple and well demonstrated. Society is becoming increasingly stratified around intelligence. The more intelligent are marrying and breeding within their cognitive class. The zip codes of the elites are home to the top half of the ninety-ninth centile of wealth. Geographic separation of the cognitive elites is well developed.

In chapter 4 of his book, called “How thick is your bubble?”, he tests the reader to a number of different questions, whose difficulty you will have in answering, will disabuse you of the notion that you do not live among, and are a member of, the cognitive elite.

For most of the rest of the chapters, Murray details the decline in family formation, industriousness, honesty and religiosity of the American working class.

Murray tells us why this matters.

The deterioration of social capital in the lower-class white America strips the people who live there of one of the main resources through which Americans have pursue happiness. The same may be said of the deterioration in marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. These are not aspects of life that may or may not be important, depending on personal preferences.Together, they make up the stuff of life. (p.253)

The New York Times article points out the centrality of work to self-respect.

A study published in October by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies estimated that 37 percent of the decline in male employment since 1979 could be explained by this retreat from marriage and fatherhood.

“When the legal, entry-level economy isn’t providing a wage that allows someone a convincing and realistic option to become an adult — to go out and get married and form a household — it demoralizes them and shunts them into illegal economies,” said Philippe Bourgeois, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the lives of young men in urban areas. “It’s not a choice that has made them happy. They would much rather be adults in a respectful job that pays them and promises them benefits.”

[When the New York Times cites the conservative  American Enterprise Institute, you know something important is happening.]

The decline we observe comes back to simple moral elements of society that we have done our best to disparage, to consider optional, to treat as way more mutable than they really are, or can be: work, faith, family, children, morality. Yes there are issues of production, taxation, and technology, as there ever were. But when and if the history of this time is written, it will be described as the Great Darkness, a decadent time,  from which men and women arose, and not the high tide of human existence, which some people feel it is, on grounds of our material abundance. Measuring civilization by the number of countries that contribute produce to our wine cellars is a deceptive indicator.

 

American Thanksgiving and Puritan Geopolitics in the Americas

 

Puritan Settlement

The painting “Desembarco de los Puritanos en America,” or “The Arrival of the Pilgrims in America,” by Antonio Gisbert shows Puritans landing in America in 1620. By Antonio Gisbert (1834-1902) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Summary

The first winter took many of the English at Plymouth. By fall 1621, only 53 remained of the 132 who had arrived on the Mayflower. But those who had survived brought in a harvest. And so, in keeping with tradition, the governor called the living 53 together for a three-day harvest feast, joined by more than 90 locals from the Wampanoag tribe. The meal was a moment to recognize the English plantation’s small step toward stability and, hopefully, profit. This was no small thing. A first, deadly year was common. Getting through it was an accomplishment. England’s successful colony of Virginia had had a massive death toll — of the 8,000 arrivals between 1607 and 1625, only 15 percent lived.

But still the English came to North America and still government and business leaders supported them. This was not without reason. In the 17th century, Europe was in upheaval and England’s place in it unsure. Moreover, England was going through a period of internal instability that would culminate in the unthinkable — civil war in 1642 and regicide in 1649. England’s colonies were born from this situation, and the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and the little-known colony of Providence Island in the Caribbean were part of a broader Puritan geopolitical strategy to solve England’s problems.

Analysis

Throughout the first half of the 17th century, England was wracked by internal divisions that would lead to civil war in 1642. Religion was a huge part of this. The dispute was over the direction of the Church of England. Some factions favored “high” church practices that involved elaborate ritual. The Puritans, by contrast, wanted to clear the national religion of what they considered Catholic traces. This religious crisis compounded a political crisis at the highest levels of government, pitting Parliament against the monarchy.

By the beginning of the 17th century, England had undergone centralizing reforms that gave the king and his Parliament unrestricted power to make laws. Balance was needed. The king had the power to call Parliament into session and dismiss it. Parliament had the power to grant him vital funds needed for war or to pay down debt. However, Parliament had powerful Puritan factions that sought not only to advance their sectarian cause but also to advance the power of Parliament beyond its constraints. Kings James I and his son Charles I, for their part, sought to gain an unrestrained hold on power that would enable them to make decisive strategic choices abroad. They relied, internally and externally, on Catholics, crypto-Catholics and high church advocates — exacerbating the displeasure of Parliament.

Both kings continually fought with Parliament over funding for the monarchy’s debt and for new ventures. Both dissolved Parliament several times; Charles ultimately did so for a full 11 years beginning in 1629.

 

 

europe_circa_1600 (1)

Europe in 1600

Spain was England’s major strategic problem on the Continent. Protestant England saw itself as under constant threat from the Catholic powers in Europe. This led to problems when the people came to see their leaders, James I and his son Charles, as insufficiently hostile to Spain and insufficiently committed to the Protestant cause on the Continent. In order to stop mounting debt, shortly after taking power James made the unpopular move of ending a war with Spain that England had been waging alongside the Netherlands since 1585. In 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out in the German states — a war that, in part, pitted Protestants against Catholics and spread throughout Central Europe. James did not wish to become involved in the war. In 1620, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, a relative of Spain’s King Philip III, pushed Frederick V, the Protestant son-in-law of England’s King James, out of his lands in Bohemia, and Spain attacked Frederick in his other lands in the Rhineland. The English monarchy called for a defense of Frederick but was unwilling to commit to significant military action to aid him.

Puritan factions in Parliament, however, wanted England to strike at Spain directly by attacking Spanish shipments from the Americas, which could have paid for itself in captured goods. To make matters worse, from 1614 to 1623, James I pursued an unpopular plan to marry his son Charles to the Catholic daughter of Philip III of Spain — a plan called the “Spanish Match.” Instead, Charles I ended up marrying the Catholic daughter of the king of France in 1625. This contributed to the impression that James and Charles were too friendly with Spain and Catholicism, or even were secret Catholics. Many Puritans and other zealous promoters of the Protestant cause began to feel that they had to look outside of the English government to further their cause.

Amid this complex constellation of Continental powers and England’s own internal incoherence, a group of Puritan leaders in Parliament, who would later play a pivotal role in the English Civil War, focused on the geopolitical factors that were troubling England. Issues of finance and Spanish power were at the core. A group of them struck on the idea of establishing a set of Puritan colonial ventures in the Americas that would simultaneously serve to unseat Spain from her colonial empire and enrich England, tipping the geopolitical balance. In this they were continuing Elizabeth I’s strategy of 1585, when she started a privateer war in the Atlantic and Caribbean to capture Spanish treasure ships bound from the Americas. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were part of this early vision, but they were both far too remote to challenge the Spanish, and the group believed that the area’s climate precluded it from being a source of vast wealth from cash crops. New England, however, was safe from Spanish aggression and could serve as a suitable starting point for a colonial push into the heart of Spanish territory.

The Effects of Spanish Colonization

Spain’s 1492 voyage to the Americas and subsequent colonization had changed Europe indelibly by the 17th century. It had complicated each nation’s efforts to achieve a favorable balance of power. As the vanguard of settlement in the New World, Spain and Portugal were the clear winners. From their mines, especially the Spanish silver mine in Potosi, American precious metals began to flow into their government coffers in significant amounts beginning in 1520, with a major uptick after 1550. Traditionally a resource-poor and fragmented nation, Spain now had a reliable revenue source to pursue its global ambitions.

 

spanish-colonies
Spanish Colonies in the Carribbean

This new economic power added to Spain’s already advantageous position. At a time when England, France and the Netherlands were internally divided between opposing sectarian groups, Spain was solidly Catholic. As a result of its unity, Spain’s elites generally pursued a more coherent foreign policy. Moreover, Spain had ties across the Continent. Charles V was both king of Spain and Holy Roman emperor, making him the most powerful man of his era. He abdicated in 1556, two years before his death, and divided his territories among his heirs. His son, Philip II of Spain, and Charles’ brother, Ferdinand I, inherited the divided dominions and retained their ties to each other, giving them power throughout the Continent and territory surrounding France.

Despite having no successful colonies until the beginning of the 17th century, England did see some major benefits from the discovery of the Americas. The addition of the Western Atlantic to Europe’s map and the influx of trade goods from that direction fundamentally altered trade routes in Europe, shifting them from their previous intense focus on the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean to encompass an ocean on which England held a unique strategic position. The nearby Netherlands — recently free from Spain — enjoyed a similar position and, along with England, took a major new role in shipping. By the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch had a merchant fleet as large as all others combined in Europe and were competing for lands in the New World. Sweden, another major European naval power, also held a few possessions in North America and the Caribbean. (This led to curious events such as “New Sweden,” a colony located along the Delaware River, falling under Dutch control in the 1650s and becoming part of the “New Netherlands.”)

England’s Drive Into the New World

In spite of its gains in maritime commerce, England was still far behind Spain and Portugal in the Americas. The Iberian nations had established a strong hold on South America, Central America and the southern portions of North America, including the Caribbean. Much of North America, however, remained relatively untouched. It did not possess the proven mineral wealth of the south but it had a wealth of natural capital — fisheries, timber, furs and expanses of fertile soil.

However, much of the population of the Americas was in a band in central Mexico, meaning that the vast pools of labor available to the Spanish and Portuguese were not present elsewhere in North America. Instead, England and other colonial powers would need to bring their own labor. They were at a demographic advantage in this regard. Since the 16th century, the Continent’s population had exploded. The British Isles and Northwest Europe grew the most, with England expanding from 2.6 million in 1500 to around 5.6 million by 1650. By contrast, the eastern woodlands of North America in 1600 had around 200,000 inhabitants — the population of London. Recent catastrophic epidemics brought by seasonal European fishermen and traders further decimated the population, especially that of New England. The disaster directly benefited Plymouth, which was built on the site of the deserted town of Patuxet and used native cleared and cultivated land.

After its founding in 1620, Plymouth was alone in New England for a decade and struggled to become profitable. It was the first foothold, however, for a great Puritan push into the region. In time, this push would subsume the tiny separatist colony within the larger sphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This new colony’s numbers were much higher: The first wave in 1630 brought 700 English settlers to Salem, and by 1640 there were 11,000 living in the region.

Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were different from nearby Virginia. Virginia was initially solely a business venture, and its colonists provided the manpower. New England, by contrast, was a settler society of families from the start. Both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were started by English Puritans — Christian sectarians critical of the state-run Church of England. Plymouth’s settlers were Puritan separatists who wanted no connection to England. Massachusetts Bay’s colonists were non-separatist Puritans who believed in reforming the church. For both, creating polities in North America furthered their sectarian political goals. The pilgrims wanted to establish a separate godly society to escape persecution; the Puritans of Salem wanted to establish a beacon that would serve to change England by example. Less known, however, is that the financial backers of the New England colonies had a more ambitious goal of which New England was only the initial phase.

In this plan, Massachusetts was to provide profit to its investors, but it was also to serve as a way station from which they could then send settlers to a small colony they simultaneously founded on Providence Island off the Miskito Coast of modern Nicaragua. This island, now part of Colombia, was in the heart of the Spanish Caribbean and was meant to alter the geopolitics of Central America and bring it under English control. It was in this way that they hoped to solve England’s geostrategic problems on the Continent and advance their own political agenda.

Providence was an uninhabited island in an area where the Spanish had not established deep roots. The island was a natural fortress, with a coral reef that made approach difficult and high, craggy rocks that helped in defense. It also had sheltered harbors and pockets of fertile land that could be used for production of food and cash crops.

It would serve, in their mind, as the perfect first foothold for England in the lucrative tropical regions of the Americas, from which it could trade with nearby native polities. In the short run, Providence was a base of operations, but in the long run it was to be a launchpad for an ambitious project to unseat Spain in the Americas and take Central America for England. In keeping with Puritan ideals, Providence was to be the same sort of “godly” society as Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, just a more profitable one. Providence Island would enable the English to harry Spanish ships, bring in profit to end disputes with the crown and bolster the Protestant position in the Thirty Years’ War.

 

plymouth_colony

But while Massachusetts Bay would succeed, Providence would fail utterly. Both Massachusetts Bay and Providence Island received their first shipment of Puritan settlers in 1630. Providence was expected to yield immense profits, while Massachusetts was expected to be a tougher venture. Both were difficult, but Providence’s constraints proved fatal. The island did not establish a cash crop economy and its attempts to trade with native groups on the mainland were not fruitful.

The island’s geopolitical position in Spanish military territory meant that it needed to obsessively focus on security. This proved its downfall. After numerous attacks and several successful raids on Spanish trade on the coast, the investors decided in 1641 to initiate plans to move colonists down from Massachusetts Bay to Providence. Spanish forces received intelligence of this plan and took the island with a massive force, ending England’s control.

Puritan Legacies

The 1641 invasion ended English settlement on the island, which subsequently became a Spanish military depot. The Puritans left little legacy there. New England, however, flourished. It became, in time, the nearest replica of English political life outside of the British Isles and a key regional component of the Thirteen Colonies and, later, the United States. It was the center of an agricultural order based on individual farmers and families and later of the United States’ early manufacturing power. England sorted out its internal turmoil not by altering its geopolitical position externally — a project that faced serious resource and geographical constraints — but through massive internal upheaval during the English Civil War.

The celebration of the fruits of the Plymouth Colony’s brutal first year is the byproduct of England’s struggle against Spain on the Continent and in the New World. Thus, the most celebrated meal in America comes with a side of geopolitics.

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