Friday, September 18, 2009

European Enlightenment - not a Primary Influence

In 1688, the political changes that occurred in England were bloodless. I do not discount earlier civil wars in England; but the decisive change that occurred in England in 1688 was bloodless. Secular historians have recorded this era as the “Bloodless Revolution of 1688”

William III and Mary became the monarchs of England during the “bloodless revolution.” It became clearly evident that Parliament was not merely a junior partner but an equal partner with the Crown. The “bloodless revolution” brought about deliberate control of the monarchy within specific legal bounds.

The French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) was known as the “Father of the Enlightenment.” Voltaire was profoundly influenced by the results of the “bloodless revolution” while he was exiled to England (1726 – 1729).

Voltaire publically expressed the ensuing freedom of public expression and the impact of the Bloodless Revolution. In his “Letters Concerning the English Nation” (1733) he wrote:

“The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of Kings by resisting them, and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established…that wise government where the prince is all powerful to do good, and at the same time is restrained from committing evil…and where the people share in the government without confusion.”

Voltaire’s remarks were flattering but contrast the impact of the Bloodless Revolution with the terrible conditions in France. When the French attempted to reproduce English conditions, which Voltaire admired, without the Reformation base, the results of Voltaire’s Enlightenment base produced a bloodbath! A rapid breakdown of society eventually led to the authoritarian rule of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821). These five words sum up the Utopian dream of the Enlightenment: reason, nature, happiness, progress, and liberty.

Please understand that when I speak of “humanism;” I am neither referring to being humanitarian nor the study of the “humanities.” I use the term “humanism” as the Greek philosopher Protagoras declared: “Man is the measure of all things.”

The humanistic elements which rose during the Renaissance came to high tide during the Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment; Man started from himself absolutely. The humanist elements which were present in the Renaissance stand in astute contrast to the Reformation.

The Enlightenment was the total antithesis of the Reformation. The Enlightenment and the Reformation stood for and upon absolutely different things in an absolute way.

The Reformation and the Enlightenment produced different results.

Men of the Enlightenment believed that society and mankind were perfectible. Even during the height of the “Reign of Terror” men of the Enlightenment continued to believe in this romanticism. Voltaire sketched out four epochs of history; believing that the era in which he lived was the zenith.

Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) mathematician and member of Voltaire’s circle of philosophers wrote "Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind" (1793 – 1794). He hid in a garret in Paris and spoke of nine stages of progress while hiding from Robespierre’s secret police.

Marquis de Condorcet declared: “We have witnessed the development of a new doctrine which is to deliver the final blow to the already tottering structure of prejudice. It is the idea of the limitless perfectibility of the human species…”

He escaped from Paris but was recognized, arrested, and imprisoned; dying in custody as he waited for death on the guillotine.

If the men of the Enlightenment were religious men; they were deists. Deists believe in a god who created the world but had no further contact with the world at the moment. Their god did not reveal truth to men and if he existed the Deist believed that he was silent.

Voltaire demanded no speech from God except after the earthquake which occurred in Lisbon in 1755. Illogically, he complained of his non-intervention. The deists of the Enlightenment, particularly in France, had no foundation but their own finiteness.

England, profoundly influenced by the Reformation, had a Christian base. The French men of the Enlightenment looked across the English Channel trying to reproduce English conditions but without the Reformation base.

The consequences of their position ended with a massacre and the authoritarian rule of Napoleon.

The first phase of the liberal bourgeois plan of the French Revolution was at its zenith in June of 1789.

The liberal bourgeois plan was depicted by Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) in his painting "The Oath of the Tennis Court". The members of the national assembly swore to establish a new constitution. A pure humanist theory of rights was the foundation which they consciously embraced. On August 26, 1789, the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" was issued by the national assemble.

It had nothing on which to rest, no sufficient foundation but their limited finiteness.

The “Supreme Being” referred to in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, was actually “the sovereignty of the nation.” This “sovereignty of the nation” was the general will of the people.

There was not only a sharp contrast between the French Revolution and the English “Bloodless Revolution.” There was an astute difference with what the Declaration of Independence produced in thirteen colonies that became the United States.

The American Revolution had a Reformation base; the French Revolution did not.

The National Constituent Assembly took two years to draft a constitution (1789 – 1791). Within a year it was DEAD. The Second French Revolution was now in motion which led to the “Reign of Terror.” During the Second French Revolution; the revolutionary leaders themselves were hunted down and killed.

The French revolutionaries made their position apparent. They changed the calendar calling the year 1792 the year “one.” They destroyed several things of the past; even suggesting the destruction of the Cathedral of Chartres. In Notre Dame of Paris, the Cathedral of Chartres and other churches throughout the nation; the French revolutionaries proclaimed the goddess of Reason. In Paris, the actress Demoiselle Candeille, personifying the goddess, was carried shoulder high into the cathedral by men dressed as Romans.

The men of the Enlightenment in France threw aside the Christian base and heritage which produced the English conditions they admired. They looked back to the old pre-Christian era of history.

Voltaire hung a picture on the wall at the foot of his bed in his home at Ferney. The picture was hung on the wall so it was the first thing he saw each day. The painting was of the goddess Diana wearing a new crescent moon on her head and beneath her feet was a larger moon. The goddess Diana is reaching down to help mankind.

In September of 1792, the massacre began with some 1,300 prisoners who were murdered. Before the blood bath was over, the government and its agents murdered 40,000 people. Tragically, many of those murdered were peasants.

The revolutionary leader Maximilian Robespierre (1758 – 1794) was executed in July 1794. As in the Russian revolution, the French revolutionaries had two options, anarchy or repression. The “Terror” did not come from outside the system but from within. The Terror was produced by the system.

Lenin wrote in a book titled “The Lessons of the Paris Commune;” before the Leninists took control of the Russian revolution. He thoughtfully analyzed why the Paris Commune was defeated in 1871. His fundamental conclusion was that the French revolutionaries didn’t kill enough of their enemies. When he eventually came to power; he acted according to his personal analysis of the French Revolution.

The parallels between the French Revolution and the Russian revolution shared the same foundation. Both rested on the same philosophical base. Our universities likened the French revolution with the earlier American Revolution. Although there were crosscurrents between American and France; the similarities are actually between the English “Bloodless Revolution” and the American Revolution.

In sharp contrast to this fact are the similarities between the French Revolution and the Russian revolution. In 1799 Napoleon arrived in France to establish an authoritarian regime. Lenin arrived as an authoritarian elite who usurped control and rule in Russia.

A different dynamic was involved in the political destiny of regions of Europe structurally influenced by the 16th Century restoration of Biblical Christianity of the Reformation. There is a sharp contrast between the East and South and Northern Europe. There were local influences, but the inspiration for most revolutionary changes in the south of Europe was a copy of freedoms gained in Northern Europe.

In Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807- 1882) gleaned his ideas from Northern Europe but brought them into the Italian peninsula by force. In Spain the Inquisition continued in into the eighteenth century. Persecution and lack of freedom there continue up unto our own day.

The American Revolution was not created by the political, social, and theological philosophies of the Enlightenment. Historically, the American Revolution was the antithesis of the French Revolution.


Mikewind Dale said...

Excellent article

The slave who loves his master and does not wish to go free, the Torah says to bore his ear. The Talmud comments, "The man whose ear heard at Sinai, 'I am the Lord your God', but who has nevertheless chosen a new master instead, his ear is to be bored."

When the Jews asked Samuel for a king, God said that they were rejecting not Samuel, but God Himself. To choose a king is to reject God.

Obviously, if one makes very sure and certain to obey his human master only when his command does not conflict with G-d's, then much of the opprobrium is negated. (The Talmud has a principal of ein shaliah b'davar `averah, that there is no proxy in the case of sin, meaning that one cannot claim innocence by saying "I was only following orders". As the Talmud explains, if your master has a Master, then, in case of conflicting orders, it is obvious that your master's Master should take precedence over your master.)

In the sixth chapter of Avot (a tractate of the Mishnah), we find a homiletic wordplay: the Torah says that words were inscribed (harut) on the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the Mishnah says to read this not as harut (inscribed) but instead as herut, "freedom / liberty". The Mishnah then explains that there is no free man on earth except he who keeps the Torah. As Moses said to Pharaoh, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me". One cannot serve God properly is one has a slavemaster or a king or any other lord besides the Lord.

I think the idea of all these teachings is the same: to select any master over oneself is, in some way, to reject G-d. Liberty and freedom is a necessary condition to being able to serve God. Conversely, only serving God can truly result in liberty and freedom.

If one worships man and his intellect, in place of God, then he has little hope of achieving anything permanent or worthwhile. Perhaps his society will be able to maintain itself for a few generations even, but sooner or later, a secularist ethos running on inheritance from its religious past will run out of funds. One can operate on borrowed morality for only so long. When man uses himself to measure himself, then the moral relativism and subjectivity, in absence of any objective measuring apparatus, then the result is at first uncertainty and doubt, and eventually, nihilism.

It is no secret why tyrannical government is compared to idolatry; both are the usurpation of God's role and its replacement with man as the measure of himself. If man does not worship God, then he'll worship something else, probably himself.

Mikewind Dale said...

I just saw that this week's newsletter for Moshe Feiglin and Manhigut Yehudit (a faction of the Likud party in Israel) has this to say:

"When we crown the Master of the World over ourselves and His world, we open the door to true liberty. A person who has no G-d is not a truly free person. He is necessarily a servant to human beings. True to form, countries that are atheistic by declaration have become the most sophisticated slave organizations in human history. It took only a few decades for Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and other Communist regimes to murder more victims than all the other murderous regimes in the history of mankind. A person who firmly believes in G-d will not obey His human impersonators. He is a free person, responsible for his decisions and actions and for their consequences. He answers to the King, the Creator of the world."

(End quote)

There is a story that even during the times of antisemitic pogroms in Europe, a Jew was counseled that if he ever took a ride with a non-Jewish coach driver, that if they passed a church and the driver failed to cross himself, that the Jew should disembark immediately.

Mikewind Dale said...

I believe I also saw something asking Holocaust survivors whether they trusted religious or non-religious gentiles more, and the Holocaust survivors almost unanimously answered that they preferred religious gentiles. Many of these Holocaust survivors had lived through plenty of antisemitic pogroms, but knew that non-religious individuals were even more dangerous.