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  • Oh for a Cromwell

    Posted by Helen on May 15th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Someone sent me an e-mail with the text of Oliver Cromwell’s speech to the pesky House of Commons in 1653. This was the Rump Parliament, the remnant of that inordinately long Long Parliament and Cromwell decided that they had outsat their welcome. He marched in with some troops, seized the Mace and said:

    “…It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

    “Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

    “Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God’s help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

    “I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”

    And they went. One can’t help feeling that there is place for a Cromwellian action now for all sorts of reasons, not just the highly entertaining saga of MPs getting caught with their hands in the till. I hope that he will reappear in time to ban huge Christmas celebrations as well.

     

    25 Responses to “Oh for a Cromwell”

    1. Steph Says:

      The last time those words were used on the floor of the house it was a member adressing chamberlin during the debate on the invasion of norway.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      There is a place for a Cromwell in other political systems as well. Were he to appear in the USA I suspect it would be at a Tea Party.

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      I fell compelled to point out that Cromwell replaced the rump parliament with his own military dictatorship.

      Dumping legislators in mass is all well and good but you have to be careful of what system you have lined up to replace them.

    4. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      Jonathan beat me to it. Our government is the offspring of the Mother of Parliaments, and may be corrupted in the same way as Westminster has in the past and currently. And yes, Shannon Love has a point. But people have to judge situations as they stand, and without the benefit of either hindsight or prescience. Is the risk of what gives every appearance of a lawless totalitarian state being born now, greater than the risk of an American Cromwell? Who do you trust more to adhere to or restore the Constitution; either of the current political parties, or the military? The answers to those define much about the nature of what our country has become.

      Subotai Bahadur

    5. Tatyana Says:

      Was just going to say: he sounded like Robespierre – and who came after him? … then read Shannon’s comment.

    6. Mitch Says:

      Latin America has often looked for a man on a white horse. Sadly, he has appeared from time to time. Better a government of 535 thieves than of one hero.

    7. Helen Says:

      Who came after him? Cromwell, that’s who, then his son, who lasted next to no time – Tumbledown Dick – and then it was back to the Stuarts until the next revolution. So pull me no rank, guys. We have a seriously corrupt political class as I have tried to explain in some of my postings and this is merely the icing on the cake. Who knows, we might get another Bill of Rights and, perhaps, a written constitution this time. But we do have to get rid of them all, root and branch, to quote the Long Parliament in its early days.

      Norway? That was Churchill’s idea. A complete failure but it was Chamberlain who went. Actually, the man was seriously ill, anyway.

    8. Helen Says:

      Oh one more thing: it is England that is the Mother of Parliaments, not Westminster.

    9. veryretired Says:

      I would not presume to assert what the British people should or shouldn’t do about their political situation, other than to hope they will stand for their rights as courageously now as they did in their finest hour.

      As to the US, the American people will enjoy the rewards of their rational political choices, and suffer the slings and arrows brought upon them by any irrational choices. Just as reality has a habit of kicking the foolish individual in the rear on a regular basis, so too does any society which continually selects the irrational tempt a collective judgement from the impersonal forces which punish according to a very strict set of laws which are not tempered by any empathy for human feelings or suffering.

      If you are confronting the Black Plague, and the village shaman recommends adopting a pet rat to appease the gods, don’t be too surprised if no one in your house feels very well a week later.

      The solution to an overbearing state is not the appearence of an authoritarian savior, but the individual and collective rejection of the legitimacy claimed by those bent on expanding state power, no matter how praise worthy their alleged intentions appear to be.

      We all know which road is paved with good intentions…

    10. Tatyana Says:

      Nope, after Robespierre called for eternal cleansing of the stables came Reign of Terror that culminated in Termidor and execution of Robespierre himself.

      [here should be an illustration: Goya. Saturn devouring his children]

    11. Helen Says:

      Yes, Tatyana, but we are talking about Cromwell. You know, the man who was responsible for allowing Jews back into England; whose Latin Secretary wrote what must still be the best defence of religious tolerance in the English language.

    12. Mrs. Davis Says:

      The man whose all to human failings led to the greatest leader the western world has known, George Washington. As our nation’s conception of greatness has moved from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt so have its fortunes declined. Let us search for a Washington who retires to Mount Vernon when his or her selfless service is done.

    13. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I agree with Michael Barone who suggested that our American system is actually descended from the Revolution of 1688, in which the hereditary monarchy was replaced with the elected (however accomplished) ruler. Cromwell was, I think, a temporary aberration in the story.

    14. Helen Says:

      How do you mean Cromwell was a temporary aberration? He came before King Billy. In any case, whatever happened eventually in America, 1688 did not replace the hereditary monarchy with anything. It went on merrily with a great deal of political power attached to it for quite a while. But they could not be Roman Catholic. That’s still true. The real problem we face in this country is that there has never been a proper division between the legislative and the executive. The Monarch may have no political power but the Government, i.e. the Executive does. We do need another Revolution but first we need to get out of the EU.

    15. Ginny Says:

      I can’t remember where I read it lately, but hadn’t Cromwell decided to come to America in 1640 or so – even booked passage – and then things changed fast enough that he stayed in England?

    16. Helen Says:

      Never heard of that Ginny. I shall have to look it up. But it would figure – he and his like were looking for a new Zion. Mind you, by the 1640s things were moving exceedingly fast and Cromwell was an MP from 1640 on. Actually he was still an MP in 1653 when he sent the Rump packing. Maybe he was thinking of America, the “new found land” a little earlier?

    17. Renminbi Says:

      What comes across is the utter comptempt of the political for the public here and abroad and perhaps that is warranted to the extent thta the public tolerates them. Love what you do Helen.

    18. Renminbi Says:

      another senior moment… Political class.

    19. Tatyana Says:

      Yes, Helen, but who can guarantee that somebody who appears to be a new Cromwell will not, in fact, become a new Robespierre?
      The latter case is much more widespread in history.

    20. Helen Says:

      Tatyana, nobody can guarantee anything. The people of Britain thought that Parliament could do anything except give away its powers and they thought that was guaranteed. They were wrong. So now what? Same old, same old or something more drastic?

    21. Carl from Chicago Says:

      I would like for someone to do this speech in the Illinois legislature. Sure we’d get more crooks but it would take them a bit longer to get their tentacles into anything before it was back to business as usual

    22. Michael Kennedy Says:

      How do you mean Cromwell was a temporary aberration? He came before King Billy.

      That was my point. The system went back to Monarchy but the hereditary and absolute ruler aspects were gone. William and Mary were invited to come over and assume the throne. That’s not an election but it is a lot closer to one than they had previously had. Edward VIII learned just how voluntary things were in 1938.

    23. K.J. Webb Says:

      You have to admit that Cromwell was a great man and a rare man. He not only had superior abilities as a leader and military commander but was motivated by an ideal. He was the right man at the right time. Anyhow this is long ago and far away.

      But Cromwell is atypical of the English tradition. The man on horseback is a continental phenomenon. The English had their moment of this, but it passed. The American founders didn’t build on it. They didn’t look to Cromwell for inspiration but to the ameliorators who came afterwards – Hobbes, Locke and Burke. The Anglo-American genius fosters thinkers in a pragmatic mode – not conquerors motivated by ideas. The English-speaking peoples (as Churchill called them) abhor ideas and are at home with what actually works.

      Years ago I attended a lecture of Henry Steele Commager which was something to that effect. He said that the American Revolution brought to pass what the French had only dreamed of but that the American spirit then and afterwards was not ideological in the French sense but pragmatic in the English sense. Our founders admired the French, but their instincts were English.

    24. Helen Says:

      Cromwell and the 1688 Revolution are separate entities. There is no linear development there or even linear development with a slight kink. Mary was, of course, the heir to the throne until James II had a son with his Catholic second wife. It was odds on that the child of two Catholic parents would be that as well. So, the throne was offered to the next Protestant heir and her husband who was a wily politician and negotiated that deal. In the same way, when Queen Anne died, the throne went to the next Protestant heir. So yes, certain rules had to be obeyed in order to sit on the throne. Not quite the same as an election. Let’s face it, pre-Stuart English history is chock-a-block full of unsatisfactory kings who were got rid of in one way or another (mostly very painful – James II can count himself lucky).

      Cromwell was, indeed, a rare man – though a man on a horse, he was also a man of ideas and a politician; a rare combination anywhere and at any time. Washington was another one, though, clearly in very different circumstances. But the idea that the English-speaking people abhor ideas is tosh. You disprove it yourself, K. J. Webb, by citing three important political thinkers and philosophers. The truths is, notwithstanding Churchill’s tongue-in-cheek comment, that a vast proportion of post-Classical political philosophy was produced by English and Scottish (once they started speaking English) thinkers. The first of these was John of Salisbury in the twelfth century.

    25. K.J. Webb Says:

      Substitute “ideology” for “ideas”, Helen, which is the way I was using the latter word in this context, and is it still tosh to observe that the Anglo-American genius lies elsewhere? Thinkers in our tradition have generally sought to describe the world as they find it – which makes them empiricists and respecters of tradition – whereas across the Channel the tendency is to a priori formulations and root-and-branch solutions. The first tradition produces dull old muddling-through-it legislatures, the second one Strongmen who send legislatures packing. These are platitudes, really, and pretty dull in their own right, but platitudes – like stereotypes – are usually on to something.