The “left”, for want of a better word, have historically tried to replace Civil Society (families, churches, clubs, business enterprises, and so on) with the State.
This is not a new thing – for example Hillary M. (the BBC darling of “Wolf Hall”) does not like Thomas Cromwell because she shares his theology of justification by faith alone (although Thomas C. ratted on that when he faced execution – trying to please Henry VIII and get a reprieve), the lady does not really care about theology – what she cares about is “social reform”, i.e. ever bigger government.
It is not actually true that there was a “revolution” in government under Thomas Cromwell in the 16th century (the historian Eldon over egged the pudding a bit), but there almost was. Had not the Duke of Norfolk and others intervened it is perfectly possible that Thomas Cromwell would have created government departments covering every major aspects of human life (as Jeremy Bentham wanted to do in the early 19th century) – he does seem to have believed that the State should, to some extent, replace the Church, and other Civil Society groups.
What has gradually changed from the 19th century onwards is that some Civil Society groups have joined the left in wanting the state to replace them – at least to some extent.
This is especially true of the Churches – including the largest Church, the Roman Catholic Church.
From a modest opening to statism under Pope Leo XIII, under the influence of Cardinal Manning and others, the Roman Catholic Church position has evolved to fully fledged “Social Justice” collectivism – with the traditional Christian position that justice and mercy (charity) are two separate virtues, being replaced with the idea that everything (all aspects of morality) come under “justice” – for example that for a rich person to give money to a poor person is a matter of “justice” and that a rich person has committed a crime (an injustice) if they do not. Thus everything, all of morality, comes under THE STATE – and, logically, non state institutions (such as the Church itself) have no real role in education, healthcare, old age provision, income support and so on. Of course this conclusion is resisted – but it is the logical end point of the “Social Justice” doctrine. The doctrine that everything is a matter of “justice” of crime and punishment – and thus the province of the state.
It is true that some writers, such as Brian Tierney of “The Idea of Natural Rights”, argue that Christian teaching has always been this. That “natural rights” include “positive rights” (to goods and services at the FORCED expense of others) and that not being charitable has always been considered a CRIME – a matter of “justice”, of crime and punishment. However, I believe he takes a few documents, rips them from their historical context – and pretends that they represent the general view, when they did not.
Surely, if writers such as Brian Tierney were correct, the West would have always been a totalitarian nightmare – with government utterly unlimited and no person (and no organisation – no “body corporate”) having any safety at all in its property – after all it is always possible to find a poor person. I am poor myself – so if I have a RIGHT as a matter of JUSTICE to your stuff – then…….
It is all rather like the old Russian saying “first they smash your face in” (make government unlimited) “then they say you were always ugly” (say it was always unlimited and that everybody agreed that government should be unlimited).
In reality things were far more complicated with both pro and anti unlimited government thought, both in the Churches (not just the Roman Catholic Church) and outside them.
Yes there were Church taxes, such as tithes (traditionally a tenth of production). But the mainstream view was that Church taxes should be limited – and that above this the Churches should be financed by voluntary means, not force and fear (not by taxation).
As for the state – the “Sword of State” was supposed to be limited in its use, not unlimited. And taking from the rich and giving to the poor was NOT seen as a the role of the State in the Middle Ages – it is just not true that this was generally seen as the role of the State.
Today it is seen as the role of the state – education, housing, health care, old age provision, income support….. are all seen as the responsibility of the state. Not just by secular Civil Society groups (although such things as universities are now financed by the state, directly or indirectly, so they can not really be considered part of Civil Society) , but by many of the Churches also.
Well perhaps the West was always doomed. After all the great contrast between Aristotle and Plato pointed to by a legion of writers (most recently Arthur Herman in his “The Cave And The Light”) is, in politics, not really a contrast at all. As one can tell from reading the “Politics” – Aristotle never really freed himself from the totalitarianism of Plato, for Aristotle (as for Plato) the state is a positive good (not a necessary evil), and everything (marriage, education – everything) should be a matter for the state. Rereading “The Politics” recently reminded me why I called myself “Lycrophon” when I originally wrote on the internet (back in the early 1990s), the person Aristotle attacks for having a limited view of law and the state.
“The Politics” is a work from a declining civilisation – where the educated have come to look for the state to plan everything, and come to see law as the commands of the state to make people “just and good”. For the changing views of law and the state among the Greeks see the references given by F.A. Hayek in “The Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”.
The Roman Republic, where people still had a limited view of the state and law, overwhelmed the Greeks (who had declined so badly), only to be corrupted in its turn. It is noteworthy that neither Plato or Aristotle had any practical experience of governing – someone like Cicero would have smiled at the idea that politics tends to moral virtue, and at the idea that the state can make people just and good (can create the “happy life”). In reality in politics, in the use of force and fear, people are shown at their worse – and the more they try to use the means of force and fear (no matter how high minded their intention) the worse they, and everything else, becomes. Even under the Empire the “Meditations” of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius show the old Roman spirit – or some ghost of it.
“From my brother Severus, to love my kin, and to love truth, and to love justice [Roman Law justice - as to each their own, not "Social Justice"]; and through him I learned to know Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dion, Brutus; and from him I received the idea of a polity administered with regard with equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of governed”
That was written in Greek – but only a Roman could have written it, not a Greek of the age of Plato and Aristotle (although, perhaps, previous generations of Greeks could). To start with one’s own family (the first of Edmund Burke’s “Little Platoons”) and work out to the rights of everyone, even against one’s own family (if honour is on their side), is the good side of the Republic – centuries after the Republic fell. Although Marcus Aurelius might have said the Republic had not fallen – not while a single man believed in it. With the Greeks, at least of the generation of Plato and Aristotle it is all the opposite – top down, not outward from the honourable individual and their family. The Lawgiver, of Aristotle not just Plato, telling everyone how to live “for their own happiness”, who should have what and what they should do with it – basically the modern world as it slides towards totalitarianism and then collapse.
And yet it was Aristotle and Plato, not Marcus Aurelius who were the starry eyed theorists with no practical experience. Marcus Aurelius had lived under Hadrian when anyone could incite the murderous suspicion of the Emperor – even an architect who made the fatal mistake of disagreeing with the Emperor. As Emperor Marcus Aurelius faced the constant threats of assignation, or mutiny, or revolt from some general – he lived with a sword hanging by a thread over him every time he sat down to eat, or when he slept. Also Marcus Aurelius faced Parthian (Iranian) invasion and a terrible plague which slaughtered so much of the Roman Empire’s population. There had also been the “little” matter of the invasion of the Germanic tribes who had brought fire and death to the plains of Italy – slowly fighting them back, year after year to the forests of Germany.
Marcus Aurelius had not spent his life teaching students in Athens. He had spent it fighting savage tribes who burned their captives alive in wicker cages to the dark Gods (think “The Wicker Man”). Yet it is he who has more to say, in a few brief pages, to students of politics, about what the state is and is not, than the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle.
Of course Marcus Aurelius did not end gladiatorial fighting – although it disgusted him. Nor did he speak against slavery – although he did not write philosophical justifications of it, as Aristotle did (although Aristotle showed how hollow his own arguments were by freeing his own slaves in his will – an example where hypocrisy is actually a good thing). Roman legal thinkers admitted that slavery was against natural law – but held that state law trumped natural law, and that state law should allow slavery because “the law of all nations does”, a fancy way of saying “if everyone else is a bastard, we have to be bastards as well”.
We know now, as Marcus Aurelius feared. That the Roman Empire was doomed – that it would pass away. By the time of Diocletian the idea that the Empire stood for any form of freedom (even for non slaves) had become a sick joke – with people being assigned to the jobs (or tied to the soil) from birth and, those who met the Emperor (in his absurd robes) having to prostrate themselves on the ground as if they were in the presence of a Persian God-King – not a Roman military commander, which is what Marcus Aurelius held himself to be to his dying day – fighting to protect the Res Publica , even if only he believed in it any more. And the advent Christian rule under Constantine changed nothing – the Empire had become one of slaves of the state, not free citizens.
The words “hold on, the Eagles age coming – HOLD ON” had become meaningless, at least devoid or moral content.
But Christianity always had within it (contrary to the writings of Brian Tierney and others) the idea that government should be limited – that the rights (not the “positive” rights – i.e. the “right” to loot others) of people had some meaning AGAINST the will of government.
When Charles the Bald in the late 800s agreed to formal limits on his powers as Holy Roman Emperor and King of the Franks he was not establishing something revolutionary – there has always been those who are argued for formal limits on the powers of a Christian King.
That a Christian ruler not be allowed to take the land of one family and give it to another. That a Christian ruler not be allowed to loot the rich and then pretend to be generous (with the money of other people) throwing coin and free bread at the mob (like some Islamic Caliph – or Roman Emperor of the bad sort) with the mob mocking the corpses of the rich merchants, or whoever, who had been robbed and then murdered by their “noble” ruler.
And, yes, that a Christian ruler not be allowed to dictate to the Church.
But, of course, in our day – most of the Churches, not just the secular charities and universities and so on (all eager for taxpayer money) want an unlimited state (at least in its spending and its regulations to make people “happy”). No powerful force really stands for limited government any more.
Who reads such works as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius – a work about character more than politics. Victorians still read him – people like Kipling (the Empire of Freedom indeed). But who now?
Also the “feudal” (whatever that name really means) gentry and nobility – the powerful landholders are broken. There is indeed still a Duke of Norfolk – but not one who could drag down a Thomas Cromwell and smash his new State (before it was even really born).
In France “feudalism” (constitutional limits on government – in terms of structure) was not really defeated in 1789 – it was defeated in 1648-53, the nobility had long been painted clowns by 1789, the state centralised.
Montesquieu (echoing the good side of Aristotle) argued that the difference between a monarchy and a despotism was the rule of law – this law NOT being the will of the monarch. And to prevent a monarchy becoming a despotism (like the later Roman Emperors or the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire) it was necessary to have institutional checks, for civil society itself, upon the government.
But where is this now? Formally or informally? In America the Constitution (for example the Tenth Amendment) seems to be as dead as the Roman Republic, and in Britain the informal (but very real) limits on government died with people such as Prime Minister Lord Salisbury – neither the gentry or aristocracy have any real limiting power now, and (contrary to the Marxists and fellow travellers) the traders and manufacturers (the “capitalists”) never did have much power in Britain – and their power in the United States is wildly exaggerated, for all their campaign contributions and the like they can not prevent taxes being so high that companies have to keep their profits overseas, and regulations being so insane that people can be sent to prison for little more than clerical errors – the idea that regulations just hit new companies that that established companies benefit, net, from them is WRONG.
So here we stand, soon perhaps like Marcus Aurelius observing the flames of burning towns, and hearing the screams of the helpless. Knowing that no one – not the educated, not the wealthy, not the poor, not the priests, not even our own son – no one really believes in the principles of the old Republic, or the old Monarchy (for they are the same principles), and having only death to look forward to.