Dutch Revolution Burkean Writings and Essay

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  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
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When men, therefore, break up the original compact or agreement which gives its corporate form and capacity to a state, they are no longer a people; they have no longer a corporate existence; they have no longer a legal coactive force to bind within, nor a claim to be recognized abroad. They are a number of vague, loose, individuals, and nothing more. With them all is to begin again (Sallust, 1963).

Soon authors started to insist on the antiquity of Dutch liberty. In 1587, for example, Willem Verheyden urged the Dutch to uphold the 'exceptional freedom which we have inherited from our ancestors', as it had been retained 'since the time of Julius Caesar'. 5 The antiquity of Dutch liberty became one of the foundational ideas of the Dutch Republic. According to the Batavian myth, as it is called nowadays, (Brewer, 1975) the liberty of the United Provinces, and of Holland in particular, had been urged by the Batavians, the direct, 'classical' ancestors of the Dutch. As Hugo Grotius argued in his 1610 'Treatise on the Antiquity of the Batavian now Hollandish Republic', the Batavians had been respected as 'authors of liberty', (Brewer, 1975), as a free, self-governing people willing to do the utmost to retain their freedom. The Batavians and the leader of their revolt against the Romans, Claudius Civilis, were amongst the heroes of the 'Golden Age'. They were celebrated in literature with both Vondel and Hooft offering epic tales of Batavian history (Hampsher-Monk, 1988). On the basis of Tacitus' Histories, the moment of the Batavians committing themselves to the revolt was captured by the famous painting of Otto van Veen and the etching by Antonio Tempesta, and in 1662 by Rembrandt, whose Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis was commissioned for the New Amsterdam town hall. The latter was probably rejected because Rembrandt repudiated the humanist conventions of the Batavian myth, interpreting instead the 'barbarous ceremonies and strange oath' of the Batavians (as Tacitus had in fact put it) in what has been called a 'staggering picture' of 'brutal monumentality'. Lest the foundation of the king's exclusive legal title should pass for a mere rant of adulatory freedom, the political divine proceeds dogmatically to assert (Thelwall, 1796) that, by the principles of the Revolution, the people of England have acquired three fundamental rights, all which, with him, compose one system (Burke, 1790).

The aim of this thesis is to study, within the normative context of sixteenth century political thought, the ideological meaning and implications of the foundational idea of Dutch liberty, as developed during the Revolt, for the political rights and duties of individual citizens and its relation to the Libyan Revolt of 2011 and contemporary American politics. During the Dutch Revolt notions of civic rights obviously focused on the issues of political obedience and resistance, which were central to the political thought of the Reformation (Smith, 1977). Therefore, it is historically imperative to interpret Dutch political thought on these issues within the context of Reformation debates on Christian liberty and the foundations and limits of secular authority (Oxford, 1765-9). Although the issues of civic duty and its relation to liberty were not absent from Reformation political thought, they had been analyzed first and foremost in the Renaissance political thought of civic humanism. It is, therefore, useful to explore late sixteenth-century Dutch debates on civic duty and liberty within the context of Renaissance political thought (Oxford, 1765-9).

Dutch Revolt and Burkean arguments in American politics today

As many proponents of the Dutch Revolt emphasized in their publications, the active support of the defense of liberty, and of its essence the liberty of conscience, was the duty of every Dutch citizen. Clare vertoninge . . . (Hampsher-Monk, 1976) of 1579 was one of many treatises which urged Dutch citizens to act as true 'patriots and lovers of the liberty of the country'. Indeed, the individual citizen should, 'coming to the worst', prefer to 'die an honest death for the defense of his fatherland and preservation of his goods, wife, children and offspring instead of waiting every day and from hour to be led to death as a sheep' (Brewer, 1975).

As this sort of phrase suggests, in analyzing civic duty Dutch authors adopted Ciceronian arguments. In fact it was not uncommon for authors to present their treatises as acts of civic duty in the Ciceronian sense (Smith, 1977). In 1582, for example, Jan van den Kiele published his pamphlet Redene Exhortatyf, because, as he put it, 'as Cicero testifies in De Officiis each good subject (after the gifts conferred unto him by the Lord, and after his quality) is bound to support his fatherland and to render service'. The argument that virtuous acts of public service by the citizens were the key to the preservation of liberty, to the promotion of the common good, and indeed to individual glory and happiness was revived and revered in particular by the republican theorists of the Italian Renaissance. With Cicero, his De officiis in particular, as guide, the celebration of a life of negotium, of virtuous acts of public service, featured prominently in, for example, the works of the Florentine chancellor, Leonardo Bruni (Thelwall, 1796). In the Laudatio Florentinae Urbis, which Bruni wrote in 1403-4, the Tuscan humanist extolled Florence's greatness as the fruit of its liberty. According to Bruni, Florentine liberty was championed by an outstanding military machine and a well-balanced mixed republican constitution, which were animated by the virtue of active citizens. For civic humanists like Bruni virtue and active life were inseparable; their motto was Cicero statement in De officiis that 'the whole glory of virtue lies in action' (Burke, 1869).

In England extravagant claims were made about the essentially unchanged nature of Common Law going back to Saxon times and before. Such naive (or disingenuous) claims persisted to the end of the eighteenth century -- we find them in Edmund Burke, of whom more later, and in Blackstone's famous midcentury Commentaries on the Laws of England: 'the first ground and chief cornerstone of the laws of England . . . is general immemorial custom, or common law, from time to time declared in the decisions of the courts of justice' (Sallust, 1963). The more ancient was the more authoritative. In seventeenth-century debates, royalists and Parliamentarians alike agreed that identifying immemorial law was the key to resolving conflict: if Parliaments formed no part of it but had been created by kings, then kings could dismiss them; but if Parliament were immemorial they could not (Hampsher-Monk, 1976). But both radicals and royalists disputed the immemorial and unbroken character of parliamentary institutions (van M., 1993).

It is unlikely that there were, in eighteenth-century England, much like in Contemporary American Politics today, many true moral relativists or even convinced atheists. For most, the new moral sciences existed in an unexamined conformity with at least the core of traditional moral deontology; some, in favorable circumstances, could persuade themselves that these secular processes were simply the mechanism by which God's will was promulgated (Hampsher-Monk, 1988). But when public subjective belief swung massively away from anything that could be squared with Christian requirements, as in the French Revolution, the underlying commitment to a religious deontology was rapidly reasserted. The British eighteenth-century experiments in theorizing how individuals' subjectivity might be rationally shaped by purely secular forces and beliefs was, by the last decade of that century, only a qualified success (Thelwall, 1796). The continual mobilization of the population, brought on by the needs of both war and industrial development, required further ideological resources to render stable the relations between the State and the individual. One was a novel assertion of national identity, the other a renewed religious and moral campaign (Smith, 1977).

It is, I think, no accident that each of the detailed accounts here -- that of Natural Jurisprudence and that of Common Law and custom, has ended with Burke -- as could the account of political economy, had there been room to tell it. For the appeal of his opposition to the French lay in the crystallization of a conservative national political identity, and in his ability to synthesize, rather than implicitly oppose, religious belief with the new moral sciences which, on their own, proved such dangerous foundations.


The U.S. And Britain have called for Gaddafi's trial in the International Criminal Court, forced ruthless sanctions on him and all of his principal lieutenants and repeatedly called on him to step aside. Six British Special Forces units have been found in Libya, supposedly accompanying a diplomat to the rebels -- terrible enough of if it were accurate -- but also transporting ordinance and arms. There is clear interest in both nations in setting up a "no fly zone" in Libya, which, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated, would indicate a campaign of bombing towards Libyan military facilities with the intention of demolishing the country's anti-aircraft ability.

Libya is being sheltered in the UN Security Council…

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