Today I fend of depression by immersing myself in obscure books about the 1680s. It was a very bizarre time when Anglicans in England feared the king’s religious tolerance. After all, they were used to being the ones allowed to not tolerate others. Maybe we can see it a bit like when the Conservative Christians acted as though allowing gay marriage was going to mean forcing them all to billet gay honey-mooners in their house indefinitely. Except for the Anglicans that sort of was a possibility, whereas for Conservative Christians the worst they were being asked was to ignore the circumstances in which a cake they bake would be eaten or not judge those who rent their wedding-reception hall by any standards other than the condition they leave the hall in.
Anyway, the Anglicans thought the king’s tolerance was a farce and that they would soon be subjected to the dragoons in the same style as French Huguenots were. The dragoons were groups of soldiers billeted in Huguenot homes with instructions to make life as miserable as possible until the protestants converted. On the other hand the Quakers were in favor of toleration because the hoped that not only would Catholics and Anglicans be tolerated but perhaps they too would find some peace, but since many Anglicans thought that Quakers were secret Catholics, the Quaker support made them more distrusting of the king’s toleration, not less.
It is fascinating to read about the fears of what the leader of a relatively free nation might do, keeping in mind that this all the prelude to the Glorious Revolution and England’s introduction of a monarchy by invitation. In some ways I still think this is the border period, where the political writing from before this time still feels too medieval but this is the birth of democracy, born out of fears of what a new leader might do. Then they were struggling with the questions of whether it was right to reject a king, and would doing so put all the monarchy to the test or not? (Same question came up later again before the Georges were invited in to rule.)
No, even as I write that I think back earlier, to how the St. Bartholomew Day massacre in France helped change things. Before the massacre the French writers who objected to their leader still couched things in a belief that the king needed to be separated from his bad advisers. There was still a belief then in French political theory at least that the king was in some way still good, that he had to be good. After the St. Bartholomew Day massacre the Huguenots began to criticize the king directly. It damages the belief that somehow coming to the throne as any other king does makes a person politically legit. Henry IV managed to restore some of that belief, so much so that his child and grandchild could go for absolutism, but I wonder if any of the French writings during his reign or later still kept alive the doubt.
I think about all of this today partly because of the American electoral college meeting, and the odd mixture of posts on my facebook feed, some from Republican supporters making jokes about those who would complain about the election results and some from people fearful of how Trump might take away rights from LGBT people and from those whose who, though contributing to America’s economy and society, lack legal status. So one one hand I hear the proclaim that he won the election people should support him – long live the 4 or 8 year king, so to speak, and others fearful for the damage he could do. Does winning an election (particularly the electoral college but not the popular vote) signify that a President is a good person, or could it be that even presidents, like kings of old, can be the wrong people for the job? Does belief in democracy mean belief that the winner is inherently right, as belief in monarchy once meant about a king? Republicans said no it doesn’t after Obama was elected, but now they proclaim it does, suggesting their position is more a matter of expedience than principle. Now Democrats have to ask that same question. I hope they can do so in a way that is not just a reaction to one president they don’t like, but a discussion about political legitimacy in general.
Political legitimacy. I watch the American election and it strikes me that Americans in general sound a great deal like a child who has just discovered that their father is not always correct or honest. “But Dad said this is the best choice….” On one hand Democrats grasp at the possibility that Dad was unduly influenced by Russia and thus didn’t actually truly fail on his own. On the other hand Republicans maintain that this isn’t a failure just a different choice that Democrats might not like. In this illustration Dad is, of course, the will of the majority as represented by the American electoral system. Others murmur something about how Dad didn’t really try his best but if we could just motivate everyone to get out there and do his best, then Dad really would be able to make the right decision. Or maybe the fault is that Dad was only presented with two bad options. People want to steer away from questions about whether Dad is really the right way to make decisions.
I don’t know. If both parties say the system is flawed only when they are the minority in it, both sides get dismissed as political posturing and poor sportsmanship. Yet discussion needs to happen.