Renewal to destruction

Renewal and reform, in the promise of a new year when all things seem possible. If they were, then wonders could be performed, but the Conservative knows that some things are impossible, most things maybe, and whatever  revolutionary change may be achieved to the good, it is achieved by private entrepreneurs serving their customers’ needs, not by lumpen-footed government.

Enthusiasm for overturning the whole structure of the state has always had keen hearers, and when achieved, it has led to a trail of widows and orphans and starving families. The overthrow of tyrannical governments East of Suez was met with hope, and found the same reality, as destruction did not automatically mean the acceptance by all of a new ruler and a new social contract.

Thomas Hobbes wrote of what the ruler of any Commonwealth should teach his subjects to ensure stability, and the first was against revolutionary change.

And (to descend to particulars) the People are to be taught, First, that they ought not to be in love with any forme of Government they see in their neighbour Nations, more than with their own, nor (whatsoever present prosperity they behold in Nations that are otherwise governed than they,) to desire change. For the prosperity of a People ruled by an Aristocraticall, or Democraticall assembly, commeth not from Aristocracy, nor from Democracy, but from the Obedience, and Concord of the Subjects; nor do the people flourish in a Monarchy, because one man has the right to rule them, but because they obey him. Take away in any kind of State, the Obedience, (and consequently the Concord of the People,) and they shall not onely not flourish, but in short time be dissolved.

And they that go about by disobedience, to doe no more than reforme the Common-wealth, shall find they do thereby destroy it; like the foolish daughters of Peleus (in the fable;) which desiring to renew the youth of their decrepit Father, did by the Counsell of Medea, cut him in pieces, and boyle him, together with strange herbs, but made not of him a new man. This desire of change, is like the breach of the first of Gods Commandements: For there God says, Non Habebis Deos Alienos; Thou shalt not have the Gods of other Nations; and in another place concerning Kings, that they are Gods.

This is not to say that all change is shunned:  the state repeatedly becomes corrupted and needs to be cleaned out. It was needed in Hobbes’s day, it was needed in ancien régime France  and it is needed in Whitehall now.

In the days of King Charles I, tax money was paying endless retainers, favourites receiving unearned pensions, monopolies were granted for favours and bribes, officials were shunning their duties by farming their work out underlings as deputies, who in turn appointed their own deputies; lavish gifts were made to individuals, and government contracts too; power and position were openly bought and sold. Taxes were too high to be borne and the state sunk in impossible debt, just to pay for this corruption. All this needed to be swept away, and perhaps if the King had read the Grand Remonstrance in humility and accepted its judgments then much blood would have been saved.

Westminster today looks prim and proper and rule-bound, but all of the corruptions of King Charles’s day are there; heavier now than then and all the worse for being approved by self-serving laws.

Reform is necessary. The danger comes with assuming things are so bad that the whole system needs overturning.  That just invites to the throne a chancer, one who can flatter the vanities of the rebel long enough to gather all power into his hands. That sounds like the normal operation of democracy, which is why it can never be taken for granted.

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Author: AlexanderTheHog

A humble scribbler who out of my lean and low ability will lend something to Master Hobbes

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