Just Above Sunset
March 28, 2004 - George Bush as sort of, kind of Oliver Cromwell? That is a stretch.
From a senior fellow with
the Davenport Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University, just up the coast from where I’m sitting. What's his take on the state of American politics today? What
we’re facing is really Charles I and his Cavaliers versus Oliver Cromwell his Roundheads. Say what?
Ideological and theological divisions
running deep. Opposing factions so far apart they no longer seem to respect one
another. A breakdown in communication.
The elites of each side, neither able to appeal to the other, poised like opposing armies ready to do battle.
Is this a fair comparison?
Some describe the conflict as one between the "red" and the "blue" states, the right and the left, conservatives and liberals. But even though no one is about to behead our ruler and overthrow the government, as Cromwell's forces did when they captured Parliament in 1649, I find the parallel of the Cavaliers and the Roundheads to be the most apt. They grew to hate each other so much that they could no longer accommodate a common national vision. "I have heard foul language and desperate quarrelings even between old and entire friends," wrote one Englishman on the eve of conflict. Much the same could be said of us today.
Ah, that’s his argument. We are so split on fundamental issues, or moral views, that we cannot, ever, reconcile
As in 17th-century England, where the Roundheads disdained the Cavaliers' embrace of what John Milton called "new-vomited Paganisme," the most obvious divisions between the two groups are contrasting views of moral and religious issues. Our Cavaliers are the secular nation, whose spiritual home is in those places that yearn to join San Francisco at the same-sex-marriage altar. Contemporary Roundheads, like Cromwell's Shakespeare-hating Puritans, possess a fundamentalist sensibility; they seek to stop gay marriage and abortion, and bemoan other manifestations of our secular culture.
And I have to admit, that
works out nicely.
Ah, but then I got a note from Joel. He replied to my comments:
Actually there was a sentence saying bush is hardly Cromwell… but the sociology is right on the target. And I do not see the situation as hopeless at all, but the current polarization in the media, etc. has to wane.
My reply to him?
Agreed. You did say Bush is not a Cromwell. My gripe, really, was with your rosy assessment of the Glorious Revolution. The arrival of William and Mary and the House of Orange did provide some transient stability, but my goodness, not everyone was very happy with them, Queen Ann or the Hanoverian kings. Irish-Anglo matters never recovered. Things have been a mess on that front since those days. In the early eighties I worked down at Northrop Aircraft in Hawthorne, in the South Bay, and there was at the time a cadre of aeronautical engineers from Northern Ireland - and they wore Orange every March 17 - without fail. They remember the Battle of the Boyne - and they’ll never forget it. Yipes! And as I see it, not until Culloden were things settled with the Catholic pretender. As for the results of the Glorious Revolution in the immediate following generations, but for Robert Walpole things would have been in a fine pickle at the start of the eighteenth century - well, actually, he did botch the Woods Coinage issue. And Swift didn’t have much use for him - see “A Modest Proposal.” Ah, but what does it matter? And I am one of those contrarians. And I’m not even Irish.
As for political discourse, yes, you are hopeful. I am not. Disclosure? My PhD work was on using semiotic theory to explain what Swift was up to, particularly in the “Digression on Madness” from A Tale of a Tub (1710). My advisor back in those days at Duke thought I was a bit mad myself. Little did I know such analysis would be useful listening to the words Karl Rove puts in George Bush’s mouth. But no one really cares very much about syntactic analysis of the underlying psychological manipulations of such language. Too arcane. Too silly.
Will this present nastiness wane? Maybe. Maybe not.
You hope this will end. How can it? Who will take the first step? Just what is the basis for your hope?
I think Hobbes was onto something - 1660, the year Charles II returned to the throne, saw the publication of “The Leviathan.” And the present discourse that troubles you is also nasty, mean, brutish, but unfortunately, not short. The natural state of things? Perhaps so. Hobbes would say "deal with it."
Perhaps this dialog will continue.
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