A pamphlet ironically entitled The Fasts of Louis XV, for instance, described how the king’s agents regularly scoured Paris for girls to add to the royal “harem.”
The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland
Two major revolutions followed the ideas of the Enlightenment. One, the American, seemingly a mostly successful one for human liberty, offered a system which didn’t last even one hundred years – and, in reality, not even that given the founding generation’s proclivities of violating their own Constitution.
The other, French. Unlike the American, there really is nothing good to be said for this one. Of course, not that there was no cause for which to revolt. And on one level, this is what Strickland examines here. On a deeper level, which is the larger theme for Strickland in this third book of his four-part series, there is the divorce from God. But in Strickland’s case, it is deeper still – a divorce from God and Christianity as understood by the universal Church until the eleventh century.
As it has been some time since I have commented on this book, a brief but relevant comment. I have not yet found Strickland’s larger view convincing. I am not speaking of the religious context, the doctrinal and theological differences that divided the eastern and western church. I am considering the governance structures that came out of each – and how these would inform a healthy individual liberty.
In the West, and despite what many claim, there was a constant tension between Church and king. Neither had complete authority over the other. In this space, individuals who felt wronged by one could always appeal to the other.
Certainly, each side would try to assume more authority, and the balance would shift often one way or the other. But until after the Reformation, such a monopoly was never achieved. It is for this reason that I find no reason to identify as a state any governance entity prior to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 or, perhaps, even the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. There was no monopoly until these treaties, hence no “state” as we use the term.
Different in the East, where the governance idea was symphony – the emperor, a good Christian man, would govern as the ideal presented in places like Romans 13. The bishops, supporting and subordinate to the emperor, would offer Christian counsel, and the emperor would accept such counsel. Not surprisingly, it rarely worked out this way.
With this as background, I return to Strickland as his review of the French Revolution is worth considering. As indicated in the opening quote, the reputation of the French monarch and the monarchy was one of filth and debauchery. And, as if the moral issues were not enough, by the end of the eighteenth century, the finances were in crisis.
It is worth stopping to consider that in the case of the American Revolution and the situation of the colonies…the moral situation of the colonial leaders was not such – at least not in any sources I have ever read. Further, prior to the Revolution, the finances of the local colonies were not a mess (saying nothing of the mess created during and after the war).
In other words, for these reasons and others, the soil was different in America as opposed to France. And this difference helped lead to the different outcomes. Therefore, it is worth asking: what is the soil in the United States today? And what might this mean for us in our time and the coming decades?