Sunday, December 18, 2011

It is a curious fact that the most important debate in English political history took place not in the House of Commons but in the fifteenth-century parish church of St. Mary in Putney. There, on the 28th October 1647, and for the next two weeks, a group of about forty men met in informal conclave, and proceeded to invent modern politics - to invent, in fact, the public framework of the world in which nearly 3,000 million people now live [1972]. There was no significance in the choice of the church; it was simply convenient. The men sat or stood around the bare communion table and kept their hats on, as Englishmen had learned to do in the House of Commons. The meeting was officially styled the General Council of the New Model Army, the force which had recently annihilated the armies of King Charles and was now the effective master of the whole country. Some of those present were distinguished generals. Some were gallant regimental commanders, men of humble birth who had risen to field-rank in battle. Some were junior officers. Some were ordinary soldiers. There were three civilians, political radicals, or Levellers, who had come to help the soldiers put their case. It was a very representative gathering of Englishmen, covering all classes, except the highest, and a wide variety of peace-time trades and callings. The verbatim record is occasionally garbled and, alas, incomplete; it remained unread, buried in the archives of Worcester College, Oxford, for more than 250 years, until it was examined at the end of the nineteenth century, edited and published. But the ideas flung across that communion table had, in the meantime, travelled round the world, hurled down thrones and subverted empires, and had become the common, everyday currency of political exchange. They are still with us. Every major political concept known to us today, all the assumptions which underlie the thoughts of men in the White House, or the Kremlin, or Downing Street, or in presidential mansions or senates or parliaments through five continents, were expressed or adumbrated in that little church of St. Mary.

It is important to understand why these debates took place in England and why they could only have taken place in England. They might never have occurred at all, and if so the world would now be a radically different place than we find it. But certain peculiar developments in English history - developments rooted many centuries back, and ultimately resting on the geography of England, and the composition of its people - allowed this thing to happen; and so the world is as it is.

- Taken from Paul Johnson's A History of the English People. From the first page of Part Four, to be exact. Which covers the period 1603 to 1780 and is entitled The Chosen Race.


moscow said...

Hi Colin,

With this paragraph by PJ I agree fully and without reservations. Cromwell and the revolution that cost Charles II his head is where it all really started.

moscow said...

Upps....Charles I....err....I meant

Perry said...

Johnson wrote:

"the geography of England, and the composition of its people."

Does Johnson suggest that being on an island meant the Englishmen could keep maleficent foreign genetic codes from polluting fair English roses?

Close the airports, blockade the ports, destroy the Chunnel, bugger ---- too late. The Englishmen of Cromwell's time are no more.

Parliament now consists of the House of Common Purpose & the House of Shards. Politicians plotted to surrender this Sceptre'd Isle for a mess of pottage.