Participation, Democracy, And the Split in Revolutionary Calvinism, 1641-1646 (Report‪)‬

Nebula 2010, Dec, 7, 4

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Descripción editorial

The years 1641 to 1646 saw "a transformation of the political nation, the beginning of mass politics, and a rapid and revolutionary expansion of what is sometimes called the 'public sphere' [which] brought "men that do not rule" (and sometimes women too) into active engagement with public affairs" (Cressy 2003: 68). In particular there were a great number of books and pamphlets written by the leading Calvinists and these reveal a surprising amount of interest in democracy. A modern consensus that democracy did not come into fashion as an idea until the mid-nineteenth century is questioned by the prominence given to democracy in the controversy over the reconstruction of the church between the Presbyterians and the Independents in the 1640s. We know that "democracy" survived from ancient times within the "mixed constitution," where it was blended with monarchy and aristocracy. We ask whether the strains of conflict, especially the attitudes and practises of the Independents, loosened the internal bonds of the mixed constitution, undermining claims of kingship and challenging elites. We propose the subdivision of Calvinist political theory according to a simple bipartite model derived by analysing the pamphlet wars which took place in Britain and New England roughly from 1641 to 1646. Specifically, these groups were known to each other and to subsequent history as the Independents and the Presbyterians. We therefore name our variants of Calvinist political thought "Independent," "Presbyterian," representing the ideas typically found in writings clustering around the "Grand Debate" of the Westminster Assembly (Paul, 1985). It is important to stress that these are typologies--abstractions of the principal features of the ideas of the two groups. We acknowledge the limitations of such abstractions, yet seek to impose some order on the political orientation of Cavinists out of the "jungle growth of opinions" in this period (James 1999: 39). These categories do not necessarily apply perfectly to the political thought of every Independent or Presbyterian writer. The most distinctive differences among the types are in their approaches to the idea of democracy, and the position within the Reformed tradition from Luther to Calvin the synthesizer, and later Reformed writers like Theodore Beza, William Perkins, and William Ames. Independents emphasised the New Testament and Ames and Perkins, whereas the Presbyterians, while still focused on the Bible (Old Testament), placed particular stress on the later theologians of "High" Calvinism. Combined with this theological divergence we find a variation in political trust, leading the Independents to a more positive view of participation than the more elitist and sin-obsessed Presbyterians. These fractions had much common ground, for example the belief in the right and duty to resist tyranny, a distinguishing feature of later Calvinism (McNeill 1949; Eales 1996; Coffey 1997: 177; McLaren 2006: 23), and the characteristic protestant idea, from Luther's priesthood of all believers, that the individual conscience is supreme, and that the personal spark of divinity can only be restrained by God, itself a democratic notion (Maddox 1996: 149, 262 n. 40; Perry 1964: 107).

1 de diciembre
Samar Habib

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