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PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:23 am    Post subject: repwblic.org (#3) Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Religion has always been an important and much contended issue in Republicanism, and despite the fact that many people have pronounced it to be dead it has time and again returned to life, or at least to haunt us. Human beings insist not only upon trying to make sense of the world, but upon getting other people to agree to their sense of the world. If your opponents will not accept the authority of your sense of the world then you might invoke the opinions of your ancestors or the gods that made them, and you can prove the authority of your gods over their gods by annihilating your opponents or more typically failing to and ending up in a chronic state of war. The ancient western world was a violent place, but from Ireland to India and from the Steppes to the Atlas mountains most people seemed to have decided that it was best to court whatever useful gods might be around to help them and not offend any who might do harm. Hence in a city like Athens the general rule involved putting up with your neighbours and their religion, even if they were annoying you. It was an argument about the Athenian’s neighbours in Piraeus, who invited a bunch of Thracian immigrants to celebrate their festival to the foreign goddess Bendis, that started off the whole republican argument with society some 2,400 years ago when Socrates went to see them for himself. You can read about it in Plato’s book the Πολιτεία or Politeía, which means ‘regime’ in the sense of a proper organisation of society, and whose root word ‘polis’ gives us the words ‘politics’ and ‘policies’, which are not strictly speaking the same thing but akin to a ‘jar’ and its ‘contents‘. It should be immediately obvious that the kind of political container required reflects the policies to be contained in it, and what happens in the Politeia is that Plato puts into Socrates’ mouth an argument for what is supposedly the best regime which will redeem Athen’s political corruption and restore it to true spiritual health. Nearly every serious republican has a totemic copy of this book somewhere in their home, usually gathering dust because it is so obnoxiously strange to modern political sensibilities - surely nobody who is sane would want to live in Plato’s republic ?

In the medieval old world monotheism was everywhere and so was bloodshed wherever the five main religious groups encountered each other : by about 1450 the modern western world had taken shape in religious terms, except that Protestantism had not yet appeared and the Ismailis, the third child of Islam, had collapsed before the bloody onslaught of the Shia and Sunni. The Orthodox had suffered at the hands of everybody but the Jews, who suffered at the hands of everybody, and finally in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. The political consequences of this for the modern world are huge because the refugees fleeing west and east took the most valuable small things that they could carry to buy safety with - books. As they plundered the city the soldiers were accompanied by scholars commanded to secure the libraries from destruction, and soon the scholars were at work translating everything that they found . As the contents of the books that discussed politics became known in both Islamic and Christian countries monarchies began to face challenges to the way that they ruled and it cannot be doubted that the Reformation and the emergence of Protestant religion was a direct result of realising that the Bible provided authority to hold both Pope and King to account. In Islam, where rulers were counted as spiritual leaders as well as secular monarchs, clerics began to use the Koran in the same way and they realised that it contained a plan for an Islamic republic. They got the word ‘republic’ most probably from a book by the Roman author Marcus Tullius Cicero, who had clearly read Plato’s Politeia and named his own book with the Latin words used to translate Plato’s title : De Re Publica. Cicero did not however write a book that aped what Socrates thought, his concern was the problem of Imperium - he was an opponent of Caesar and trying to defend the old laws of Rome that were being abandoned by a corrupt and fearful Senate who had failed to resist the overthrow of Rome’s ancient democracy. Because he was so morally upright he was not involved in Caesar’s death, but when Antony finally gained the Imperium with Octavian they insisted upon being avenged. Cicero was counted as a ‘righteous pagan’ by the Catholic church and his writings were known about by medieval scholars but not considered usable politically because they were tainted by his advocacy of pagan religious ceremonies as part of civic duty, so much of De Re Publica has been lost forever.

The ancient texts however began to spawn a whole literary industry especially in Italy after 1450 as people took to advising Princes and Popes how to rule, in the politest possible way in case they were hauled into a dungeon to retract their opinions. Somebody made a mistake when the dragged Niccolo Machiavelli into a dungeon before he had written a book, because when he got out and was able to hold pen again he wrote ‘The Prince’ which instead of aping all of the fine words and sentiments of the ancient texts gave out brutal advice as to how to get ahead in politics - get somebody else’s and stick it on a pike. Later, when he had calmed down a bit, he wrote the ‘Discourses on Livy’, which reveal him to be a committed republican who just happened to accept the realities of 16c Italy. After Machiavelli’s time everything began to get more interesting everywhere and impossible to do justice to in a piece of writing of this length ( I’ve already skipped over Cola di Rienzo because his revolution was in 1347 ).
So lets us dash home to Wales to quickly take in what was going on here. We can be fairly sure that Republicanism arrived in Wales by the early years of the 16c, we have republican writings in manuscript by the 1550’s and the first translations of passages from Cicero into Welsh were in a book printed in Italy sometime before 1600. Apart from political books in English we know that people were reading and translating passages from books published in several European languages, notably French and Dutch as well as Latin and Greek and visiting other people to copy their books or sending them copied passages was popular and overcame the lack of a publishing industry in Welsh before the 18c. The big event before 1450 was Owain Glyndwr setting up a brief regime that was recognised by the Avignon Papacy, an important alliance against HenryIV allied to the other claimant. English cleris also offered Glyndwr potential alliances. The terrible consequence of the rebellion, apart from the destruction and violence exacted by the psychopathic Prince Henry for the wound to his face, was to have virtually all normal legal rights stripped off Welsh people leaving them utterly dependant on the clergy for any intervention to protect them from the English overlords. The Welsh thus acquired their reputation for piety. The next big event was full of hope to relieve this situation - the Welsh gambled on Henry Tudor defeating Richard III in 1485 and - lost. Henry VII did not keep his promises and the Welsh did not get back their legal rights even though a sort of Welshman was on the throne. His son was not as careful with the tax money as his dad was, and had marital problems which the pope refused to exercise his ‘imperium in imperio’ to solve, so Henry VIII got talking to the educated clerics around him and these early republicans came up with the idea that they borrowed from Roman Law - the king would declare an ‘imperium’ to defeat the pope’s arguing that in Roman Law any ‘imperium‘ had definite limitations, that it was the right to rule a given territory for limited period of time. Within a very short space of time however the English imperium had become the British Imperium and there is a very strong suspicion that Wales’ republicans had a hand in it. Their plan was probably to restore the legal rights of Welsh people by bringing Wales under the direct rule of the English crown thus clearing away the Welsh / English distinction at law by establishing a unified legal system with equal rights before the law, access to English markets and also seats in parliament. In return the king got rid of complex local government issues, swept away the remnants of the laws of Hywel Dda, could finally hold the Marcher lords to account and could increase taxes to the same levels as in England. By and large it was a good deal and a later finishing touch was that Wales’ republicans, who liked to remind people that their province of Britannia Prima was the only bit of the Roman Empire unconquered by the pagan tribes, then offered this ‘Welsh’ king the idea that his should be an ‘Imperio Britannicus’...

Wales’ republicans had not anticipated probably what was going to happen next. Wales lost its ability to successfully trade since it had higher costs yet had to pay the same taxes, so merchants turned pirates. The profitable business was meat, so large landholders turned all the good ground over to grazing and drove the poor off onto marginal land and then soon the marginal land looked good for sheep. Wretched landless people followed the drovers to London and Bristol and filled their slums - the word ‘Cockney‘ may derive from the Welsh root ‘ Gog-’ and rhyming slang from an ancient bardic game. The small gentry were ruined by the taxes and yet a favoured few borrowed money to cash in on the privatisation of the monasteries, destroying a social welfare system that had taken centuries to build at exactly the moment that it was most needed. This was the age of Twm Sion Cati in the south and the Red Hats in the north, of gibbets groaning under their load as civil disorder mounted decade by decade until by the 1590’s Wales was ripe for insurrection and looked for leadership to the catholic clergy. We know that the idea of an Armada was first put to the Spanish by Morys Clynnog and Gruffydd Robert, and the latter was a republican, but locally the old role of the priest as local politician mediating between the ‘poblach’ and the ‘bonheddigion’ had been entirely destroyed where the priest was an outlaw. There was one desperate Catholic rebellion in Monmouthshire soon after arch-protestant scot James I took the throne and Raglan castle besieged in the civil war is reputed to have been the Catholics’ last military stand. The last Catholics priests martyred in Wales died in 1679. Wales persisted in being Catholic, and not only did an active Catholic priesthood persist for 150 years or more after the Refomation but they became a channel for radical ideas from Europe. Something curious is that the split between ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ republicans in 16c Wales in a way foreshadows the major 50-50 split between ‘Welsh’ and ‘British’ republicans in 21c Wales, the Protestant/British adherents of the U.K. being introvertly insular and the Catholic/Welsh adherents of independence from the U.K. usually being extrovertly continental in outlook. It seems however that behind the authorities backs republicans of all sorts were eager to talk to each other and this may be what lay behind Wales’ weird behaviour in the Civil Wars - buying off the King with money, buying off Parliament with inaction - until Parliament won when bizarrely Welsh allies of Parliament deserted and joined with Welsh allies of the king. Why? Possibly moderate Catholics of the countryside were cooperating with moderate Protestants of the boroughs to avoid the English war spreading into Wales. If the king won, then his Catholic friends would erect a regime intolerant of the non-conformity emerging in Wales, if Parliament won then the puritans would be in power and oppress not just Catholics but moderates. So the Welsh did some bizarre things such as the comedy of the Peaceable Army telling the King to his face that they would not obey his order to march because the Posse Comitatus that he had signed had to be endorsed by Parliament - but he could have some money ! The tragedy of Laugharne’s rushing to a rendezvous in West Wales and then rushing back across South Wales with a makeshift army is less so if you believe that their objective was not to fight for the King so much as to fight for Wales’ freedom.

If you see a connection between asserting that Wales is not England in Wales adhering to Catholicism for so long, it should be easy to understand why Wales didn’t simply gradually become Anglican but instead moved steadily across the religious spectrum through the pews of the established church imposed from London and out of the doors into the fields to hear non-conforming preachers delivering entertaining sermons in Welsh. What also happened along the way was that the non-conforming chapel taught people to read and argue in its ‘seiat’ and by the middle of the 18c, long before any revolutions had actually taken place, the young students of preaching were discussing republicanism. They were not just hanging on the hand-me-downs of what had happened in England in the 1650’s and barely touched Wales, they already had a sort of republic in their tiny chapels where perhaps only half a dozen families met in a broken down cow shed to hear the Word and cultivate the Seed. Theirs was a very homely vision of neighbourly help in times of need, they had no government save their traditions and a stern matriarch to remind them of what had happened before, and they had no police force, court or punishment save the public gaze, chapel elders and angry words and gestures. With such simple methods the Welsh met the full force of industrialised society head on and the place where it hit them hardest was in Merthyr Tydfil, not so much a town in the early 19c but a phenomenon that might well have become the capital city of Wales. Even today Merthyr reads like a miniature conurbation made out of villages and it was the only place in Wales marked on some early maps, important because most of Europe’s iron was being made in one place. Its reputation was full of extreme ideas because nobody had ever seen industrialisation exactly like this before, it wasn’t really the size but the filth, squalor, overcrowding and dangerous conditions of the iron workers contrasted to the river of molten wealth that thy extracted from the mountains that they made blaze with fire. In Merthyr ‘white’ republican ideas of the Christian republic seemed laughable, ‘blue’ republican ideas of the sort advocated by their non-conforming and Foxite - sympathising employers were treated with contempt as hypocrisy, ‘green’ republican ideas of those who embraced the ideals of the American republics were more interesting, but what the men of Merthyr were most attracted to were the ‘red’ republicans of France and Italy. It wasn’t a man from south Wales however but North Wales’ indefatigable son Robert Owen who clearly understood the nature of industrialised society, how it shaped people’s consciousness and how useless conventional religion was in defending or rescuing people from their plight in the factories and mines. Owen was notoriously hostile to conventional religion, yet much of what he did throughout his life conforms admirably with good religious practice as understood by postmodernists. He lived to see the beginnings of modernism take root when Marxism began to have its first popularity in Wales, but at the last he turned out to be a Victorian and turned to Spiritualism for comfort.

The advent of modernist republicanism doesn’t seem to have made much impact for a long time and is not the reason for the decline of chapels probably - people went to them for things other than belief. The availability of other forms of activity and more affluence probably accounts for it more, but the availability of newspapers and library books, radio and then television probably accounts for both the decline of the ability of people to believe in traditional religion and traditional modernism, both of which demanded the dedication of the self to some kind of bearded prophet with a revelation about some future cataclysmic event which would usher in good times for all. Now that people have wider horizons both literally and figuratively they cannot accept the validity of a single spirituality or ideology, they feel that they want to reject both religion and propaganda as the same - bad - thing. They know what happens when people believe in things - wars, terrorism, mass-suicides, and a lot of other bad things. They just don’t believe in things any more, what would be the point ? We are destroying the planet, corporations control the country and run it like a farm, the whole of society is just plugged into the internet wasting time and growing obese from junk food - who could believe in a society like that ? The answer is we do, we accept a lot of things told to us because they are told in a compelling way - much more so that any preacher or soapbox orator was in the past - our minds are conditioned by the religion or propaganda of the society we live in, and ours belongs to the British Imperium.

In Wales we are very proud of being ‘The Heretic Nation’ because we disestablished the Anglican Church, so nobody has to pay tithes to support a church that they do not attend. The parallel however with the BBC is fairly obvious - now everybody pays a tax to a broadcaster that thy may never watch but can demand money from them. The fact is that every house has a government pulpit in it maintained at our expense so that they can indoctrinate us with their viewpoint, albeit it appears moderate and acceptable but then if your norms have been set by watching the BBC you are unlikely to detect their self-censorship. It is not until you want to get a story into the media that you discover how selective all of the media in the U.K. really is. I say this as somebody who has some training in writing press releases and has on occasion wanted to tell important stories that have been ignored in favour of fluff and trivia. Marxists of course will talk of false consciousness but this does not offer respect to the other person when you are questioning their point of view, and it foolishly doesn’t try to persuade the other person that they are in error but just dismisses them. We need to be able to subsume the other’s point of view in order to understand it and offer them ways out of it - and they may well have grasped some truth that has eluded our own equally flawed view of things. Back in the days of those 18c ‘chapel republics’ and their crudely articulated ideas I suspect that the unsophisticated orthodoxy may have been balanced by a sophisticated praxis. They had a simple limited life that they had time to practice to perfection and penetrate to the reality of it, explore their sentimentality about it, decide upon something that was more ideal and embark upon some material action to achieve it. Our lives are seemingly complex and unlimited, except that we have no time to lead them and so we are very imperfect. We do not know our own sentiments about our own lives, we are thus unable to select any ideals still less choose any material actions towards any end, and we are unable to penetrate to the reality that we actually live in. Like the workers in Merthyr Tydfil in the early 19c we are in desperate need of a religion that is fit for the society that we are living in
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