Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

400 years of John Milton (1608-1674)

...he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it.
- William Blake on Milton's Paradise Lost.

John Milton was born 400 years ago today, on December 9, 1608. If Oliver Cromwell is English history's most famous republican, John Milton must be regarded as England's most famous republican poet. Samuel Johnson called him that "acrimonious and surly republican" for his dangerous commitment to the English Revolution and his continuing unpopular attacks against Royalists right up to the time of the Restoration. Milton was very much a political, social and religious radical for his time, who fought for oligarchical government over absolute monarchy, who supported legal measures for divorce and polygamy, who rejected the Holy Trinity of the Bible and believed in mortalism over the divinity of Christ. He forthrightly hated the High Church, he hated the Lords and he hated the natural power of Kings. He was the very opposite of a Cavalier Poet.

Two weeks after the execution of Charles I in 1649, Milton committed himself to the Republican side by publishing The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates in support of the regicide. His argument (which runs in direct opposition to Hobbes' Leviathan published in 1651), was that a monarch's power is not absolute, but derived from the people he rules and held in accordance with a social contract. If a monarch breaks this contract by abusing his position, the people have the right to remove him from power. Not exactly radical stuff by the standards of today.

Milton joins hands with John Locke as an early apostle of liberalism who fought against the absolutist monarchist writings of Robert Filmer and Thomas Hobbes. His last major pamplet published in 1660 was an anti-monarchical protest in the face of the coming Restoration, which expresses a feeling of despair at seeing his countrymen so eager to run back to servitude. Milton seemed to think that it was better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, but there is also a real sense of the man as a lone but stalwart adherent to a greater truth rebelling against a false authority. "The work is an impassioned, bitter, and futile jeremiad damning the English people for backsliding from the cause of liberty and advocating the establishment of an authoritarian rule by an elitist, unelected parliament." Perhaps fearing the tyranny of the many in addition to the tyranny of the one, he favoured not a democratic solution but a perpetual Rump Parliament, a kind of governing council with a permanent ruling membership. Unfortunately the modern word Politburo comes to mind, but to Milton this was The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth.

Milton's view of monarchy and the decadence of monarchy is a theme later emphasized in Paradise Lost. Within this epic, Milton's magnus opus, Satan is directly linked to monarchical rule. The tone of the piece is to ensure that the citizenry would not backslide into their old monarchical ways. In particularly, Milton relied on predictions of the future combined with biblical analogies to ensure that people knew the dangers inherent in such a governmental system. In particular, Milton argued that it would be a sin against God to bring back the monarchy and warned against the lack of freedom and virtue that would correspond with a king.

How stunned Milton would be 400 years after his birth to learn that freedom and virtue wear a Crown.


Shaftesbury said...


Hobbes is not technically a Monarchist, as his "Leviathan" could be used to justify any ruler or ruling system that guarantees or protects man from the hypothetical "State of Nature."

Hobbes' treatise is in fact, seen as the germinination of classical liberalism with its explicit reliance on the social contract between ruler and ruled.

Richard Hooker - on the other hand - wrote the seminal treatise on English-speaking Monarchy, Church & Government in his "Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie."

Dear Beaverbrook, whilst I admire no man more than thee on the "Interwebs" (co-equal to my admiration for the "Dred Tory" ...), I do find it curious that you default to Classical Liberalism to the detriment of Toryism (Classical English Conservatism) so consistently.

Why so?

Beaverbrook said...

I am not hostile to Classical Liberalism, since I support a liberal economy and a competitive free market system. But that's as far as it goes.

I suppose I am a Tory because I am more inclined to support responsibility over freedom, tradition over progress, hierarchy over equality, and community over individualism. That is not to say I am not in favour of freedom, progress, equality and individualism, just that those values need to be tempered by the higher virtue.

At the end of the day, it is the underlying values that matter, not the overarching labels.

Lord Strathcona's Horse said...

Despite his republicanism, you are right to give this giant his due in quoting him in the right sidebar just under Shakespeare:

Lords are lordliest in their wine.
- John Milton