18. Progress in Civilization

18.3 England: Biological intelligence applied in Government

The Celts, essentially the Menapians, arrived in England from Belgium in the 3rd century BC. Wales, Welsh and Belg are words with the same etymology. The Germanic Angles, Jutes and Saxons who invaded sparsely Romanized England in the 4th century AD destroyed every trace of Romanization, expelled the Celts to Wales and imposed their own Germanic order.

These Neolithic tribes were communities of free men, extremely jealous of their rights. The barons of these tribes sometimes submitted to a king, who was elected solely to protect their freedom and it was well understood that the service to the king did not mean abdication of their privileges. The king, while engaging in war or securing peace and rendering justice, had to listen to the advice of his peers. This was thus the same situation as in the Isle de France when his peers elected Capet king.

The Irish Celts christianized Germanic England. The Roman Church initiated its implantation in 597 and eliminated the Celtic Church. The Danish invasions did not jeopardize this Anglo-Saxon and Christian Order: the Vikings did not physically eliminate the Anglo-Saxons. In 879 (treaty of Wedmore), the civilizing influence of the Church began to be felt and coexistence was consecrated between the Nordic invaders and the Anglo-Saxon Order, which was a success: England remained Christian and lawfully ruled. In 1016, new Danish invasions occurred and Canute the Great built an ephemeral thalassocracy composed of Denmark, Norway and England (1017). In 1066, the “Witanagemot”, i.e. the council of the Wise, elected the Anglo-Saxon king Harold, whom the Danish opposed. The Anglo-Saxons beat the Danish, and William, Norman duke of Normandy, with the blessing of pope Gregory who needed allies in his feud against the Germanic emperor, eliminated the tired Anglo-Saxon army near Hastings on 14 October 1066, and reestablished in England the Norman rule.

Having promised to reform the English Church according to Hildebrandine ideals, William kept his word. He called on the Cistercians for the reform 1 and, in doing so, introduced in his realm a strong element of democratic government based upon an aristocracy. The newly founded rigorous monastic order of Cistercians was an aristocratic elite whose rights and duties were defined by a chart: the Carta caritatis, which was edited in 1098. Cistercians practiced a “representative regime” with regular elections and a legislative general assembly controlling the acts of the chief of the executive. They communicated in Latin: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus aprobetur” (What affects all should be approved by all).

The Normans of William were themselves a small aristocratic group speaking a foreign language, French, brutally exploiting an alien population of Angles and Saxons. When John Lackland lost a crucial battle against Philip August at Bouvines in 1214, the barons of the kingdom asked him respectfully to have “voice to the chapter”, like the monks. They demanded their own “Carta caritatis” and this was the “Magna Carta” of 1215. “Nil de nobis sine nobis” (nothing from us without us) was its leitmotiv. Bouvines was the occasion, for the barons, to restate what was, for Iron-Age warriors, a matter of course but tended to be forgotten by the leadership: a group approach can work efficiently only if all the members of the group are concerned. The whole of representative government, peculiar to some countries belonging to Western civilization, was thus here in gestation, which eventually led to “no taxation without representation”. Edward Ist (1272-1307) further stipulated that those who are protected by the state -he meant the civil servants- must share in its burden: the country therewith definitely turned its back on a socialistic approach. It is thus through the cooperation between the governors and the faithful governed that parliamentary dialogue was established. Soon, in England and Scandinavia, the cities were heard as well as the counties.

Under the rule of the Normans, torture applied to accused and witnesses was abolished in England. Edward II accepted, at the demand of the French pope Clement V, to torture the English Templars whose treasury the French king Philip the fair coveted. It has been established in 2007 that the Pope had cleared the Templars from the accusation of heresy. Their persecution was due solely to greed. This drift toward contingency accentuated with the murder of the archbishop Thomas Becket at the demand of Henry II. The fate of Thomas More, the catholic Chancellor of England executed in 1535 because he disapproved of the divorce of Henry VIII, indicates that State terror and contingency became a threat to individual conscience in England. More notes that Henry was accustomed to prompt fulfillment of all his wishes, desires and caprices. Bloody Mary, who reigned from 1553 to 1558, was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She persecuted Protestants and used torture as a method of government. The situation worsened when the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elisabeth I, acceded to the throne (queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603). Puritans were persecuted, 50,000 catholic barons were exiled and her catholic cousin Mary Stuart was decapitated in 1587. The trend appeared irreversible.

Charles the fifth divided the Habsburg Empire into an Austrian branch (the Holy Germanic Empire, that went to Ferdinand I) and a Mediterranean branch headed by Philip II. Philip II reigned over Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries, the Roussillon, the Franche-Comté, the kingdom of Naples, the duchies of Parma and of Milan, Sardaigne and Sicily, the Philippines, the Antilles and the Americas from Florida and California down to the southern tip of Argentine. Philip II, to avenge the murder of Mary and also to put an end to English filibustering, commissioned the Invincible Armada to invade England. Instead of building the ships in the Low Countries, he deforested Spain and bled his subjects white with taxes to build it. The 125 vessels composing the armada were huge and slow. Their sails were of an archaic type and not easily maneuverable. Their guns, too huge for the width of the ships, needed 5 minutes of servicing before firing, versus 2.5 minutes for the newly developed guns arming the English vessels. The diversity of the guns and the simultaneous use of Italian and Spanish measures for the calibration of the bullets led to such a confusion that the Spanish guns fired all in all only 3 shots each during the naval battle that opposed them to Francis Drake in the channel (1588). The competent Spanish admiralty saved all but one of the ships for the true purpose of the expedition: the escort from Flanders to England of the small flat-bottomed vessels that would transport the 36,000 troops of the duke of Parma. However, the armada could not join the land forces. The Spanish vessels were too big to find shelter in any of the shallow harbors along the Channel, and adverse southern winds forced the unwieldy ships to circumnavigate the British Isles. These vessels, meant for the Mediterranean Sea, were ill prepared to confront the oceanic conditions and 60 were lost during a tempest on the Irish coast. The 20,000 survivors who did not drown were not molested by the Irishmen but executed by the English Army that occupied catholic Ireland in those days.

Philip II ordered an indemnification of those families whose father, husband or son did not return from the expedition but most of the money went to the corrupt civil servants who handled the cases. The Spanish State fought at that time on four fronts: the English, the Protestants in the Low Countries, Islam in North Africa, the Moriscos and Jews at home. In addition, it had to administer an Empire of immense proportions. Excess taxes had produced the emigration of the working class to the colonies, while the nobility proved utterly inept in the creation of wealth. The loss of the armada was financially unbearable. The State went repeatedly bankrupt, in 1557, 1560, 1575 and in 1597.

The preoccupation with personal gains was callously displayed by Drake and shared by the English Crown. Drake abandoned the command of the fleet on the first day of confrontation, to capture a stray Spanish vessel for his own benefit and he did not return to battle thereafter. After the destruction of the armada by the tempest, the government of Her Majesty Elisabeth I maintained the English ships at sea without provision of fresh supplies in food, water and medicines, until about half of the crew had died from hunger or disease. This allowed the Crown considerable savings on their pay. It well appeared that the same spurious path was taken in England as was taken by Spain and France.

About thirty years later, in 1629, Charles I aimed to reign without a parliament, as Richelieu governed in France, and was asked by Parliament to refrain to do so in 1628 (Petition of Rights). The puritan Republic of Cromwell ended this drive to absolutism on the 30th of January 1649, with the beheading of Charles I while, on the other hand, Cromwell himself recognized that, considering human nature, the socialist dream was unwarranted. Charles II was called to the English throne by the Parliament on the 8th of May 1660: the ruler of the country regained legitimacy by consensus, without violence. Charles II was presented with the Acts of the Habeas Corpus in 1679.

Humans do not have rights “as of right”, rather they engage in a contract whereby they agree to behave in a particular way so that they may enjoy certain privileges. Chartered rights began with the Magna Carta of 1215 and were pursued with the Bill of Rights of 1689, which was a contract imparting mutual benefit to the incoming royals, William and Mary, and the English parliament. Contrary to the French management of human affairs, relying on a corps of irremovable and hence irresponsible civil servants and on a primitive logic that work in synergy to nurture xenophobia, cronyism, corruption and ideology, a slow assimilation of Reason with Tradition occurred in the British Isles. Hobbes and Locke (1689) introduced Reason to English politics in “Treatises of civil government” but it was tempered with realism.

No forced choice should ever have to be made between the authority of the State and the rights of the citizen, between local liberties and the central power. The only politically free communities are those where power is equilibrated by other powers. The archaic concept of undivided power is inapplicable to human affairs. Absolute obedience, so often taken as an excuse by employees, military and civil servants alike, to justify the unjustifiable, is not receivable. If the end justifies the means, the means justify the end. The central question in human affairs is “who obeys whom, why and by how much”. Demands that run counter to the moral imperatives of the human race must not be imposed and must and should be refused by the individual asked to fulfill the unacceptable command.

The Rise of England

Confronted with the policy of territorial expansion of France, which paid its armies with the pillage of conquered lands, the Dutch imported spices from the Fareast, which paid for the building of their formidable fleet that was the origin and the result of their economic success. In England, Henry VIII confiscated the goods of the Catholic Church and anglicanised it. With this capital and a spirituality that Henry did not abolish but used to reinforce the social cohesion, he constructed a fleet armed with bronze guns bought in Malines and paid for with the wool of sheep sold to Flemish weavers. He also build fortresses along the coast to prevent a looming French invasion and went bankrupt. With the help of his aristocracy that brilliantly followed him, he had the bronze guns made in England to eventually make them of iron, and transferred the weaving activity to England. The building of vessels and the smelting of iron (the fusion temperature of iron is much higher than that of copper, see chapter 8:6) led to deforestation, which pushed up the price of fuel to an intolerable degree. The forests gave room to immense pasturelands needed to feed the sheep. The peasants were expelled from their cottages to increase the size of the pasturelands, and they aggregated in towns for their employment in workshops, producing guns and cloth. T. More protested these practices, which were softened by the possibility of market gardening around the cities and of cottage industry, which was favored by the Crown. Cottage industry contributed to an industrial output economical in manpower and weakened the guilds.

England perpetually feared a French invasion, planned by Francis I, Louis XIV and Napoleon. A successful Dutch invasion took place in 1689 when Willem landed to claim the throne of England accompanied by 30,000 well-trained Dutch soldiers. The cultural anglo-saxon exception made of tolerance, initiative and pragmatism was strengthened by this forced union of Britain with the Low Countries, whose dowry were a mastery in the building of ships and guns, water management, intensive market-gardening and organizational capabilities, but which rapidly became the poor relative of the union. The industrial revolution was heavily dependent on waterways needed to bring the new solid combustible coal to factories, the vegetables to feed the workers around the factories and the management of the work.

Both the Netherlands and Britain believed in God and both maintained the social cohesion of the population while reinvesting immediately the surplus capital in new guns and more ships, better build than before. The effect of the union was felt 15 years later, at Blenheim on 13 August 1704. More than 150 huge iron guns forced this victory, guns that first had to be made then brought to the banks of the Danube with their ammunition. Twenty five years later, in 1729, Voltaire warned in vain of the rise of a civilization superior to the French. The French king Louis XV resumed war with England in 1756. The war lasted until 1763 (the seven years war) and France lost therewith Canada, Florida, Oriental Louisiana, India and some islands of the Antilles. A terrible lesson in realism was inflicted to France by England in 1805 (Trafalgar), by Spain in 1808, by Russia in 1812 (Beresina) and by a coalition of England, Prussia and Holland in 1815 (Waterloo). To no avail. Defeats in 1870, 1914 and 1940, and lost colonial wars, were the prize of absolutism, blind obedience, submission, cronyism, greed and stupidity. To explain the contemporary decadence of France, Pascal Bruckner wrote on page 197 of “La tyrannie de la pénitence”, published by Grasset in 2006: “There are few nations that would resist the ordeal of an invasion repeated trice in less than a century (1870, 1914, 1940): not a family that be spared, not a conscience that be not shaken. From Maupassant to Claude Simon all our literature testifies of this blemish. Whereas England, due to its geography, did not know the moral corruption of an occupation since the XIth century, France has still not recovered from this episode…”. Considering the harm France inflicted during a millenary to its neighbors, this explanation for the contemporary discomfiture of France is baffling and obscene.


1. An English bishop is buried at the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay (in Burgundy).

This entry was posted in 18. Progress in Civilization. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.