A Look at a Previous Regime Change
the same but different
We live in a moment when the US regime is weaponizing the justice system against its political opponents. It seems shocking and unprecedented. But of course, it is not. When a regime is feeling the heat, anything can happen.
And The American Spectator brings us “The Trial of King Charles I has Much to Teach Us.” It was Oliver Cromwell that did it, he that went on to become Lord Protector and ravish Ireland. As Shmuel Klatzkin writes:
As today, it was a struggle between an empowered elite and other people feeling ill-used by that elite and ready to assert themselves against it. As today, it got nasty and it got complex, as the struggle would bring about different alignments of the various groups of people struggling to secure their own interests.
King Charles wanted more taxes, and Parliament figured he had to ask their permission. It was the age of “absolute monarchs” taking over from the old feudal monarchs that were just top dogs in the feudal nobility. Only the rising bourgeoisie reckoned that nobody had asked them.
Opposing the king at the start was an influential group of Parliament men who united over the idea of ancient liberties enshrined in the unwritten constitution of England.
Yeah! Whatabout our liberties!
[King Charles] ignored the precedent that new taxes had to be approved by Parliament, and imposed unauthorized levies on the people. Parliament fought back and after years of growing frustration, it finally came to war.
And it wasn’t just Parliament and “ancient liberties.” There was the religious factor.
Religious interests got involved, the King being supported by the episcopal Church of England, and Parliament by an uneasy alliance of Presbyterians and congregationalist Puritans.
Of course, the Presbyterians and Puritans were the rising middle class, the ones left after the Puritans headed out west to New England. Cromwell put himself at the head of a Puritan army and won the civil war.
So Cromwell brought King Charles up to trial and bent the rules so Charles couldn’t defend himself. But the people didn’t like it. They were loyal to the idea of English law, and they were loyal to the king. So Cromwell’s abuse of the law hurt him.
Cromwell transformed the King into a martyr. As Fairfax had told prophetically, the law decreed that Charles’ exiled son should succeed him. And shortly after Cromwell’s death, Charles II was welcomed home joyously — but under constitutional limitations that established forever a balance of power.
So, all the war and the regicide ended up with a monarchy with limited powers.
What interested me was not so much the parallel with our own time but the inchoate feelings below the radar.
Charles I, like all monarchs, wanted what he wanted and didn’t like to bow to the lower orders in Parliament. We have an educated ruling class north of Richmond that doesn’t like to acknowledge the interests and the culture of the bitter clingers and deplorables.
Yeah, I get it. No ruler or ruling class likes to have to lower itself to the level of the plebs.
Cromwell made a mockery of law when he tried Charles, for there was nothing in English law to cover the trial of a king. And the people instinctively felt that using the law to get rid of the king was wrong.
I wonder if they still think that…
So, the law is not just a plaything of lawyers. It clearly is part of the culture. People understand, instinctively, that when the government ignores the law, or bends it to its political interests, that’s wrong, and we the people don’t like it.
The next monarch, King James II, actually was a Catholic, and that was a step too far. So when he had a Catholic son, it would exclude “his Anglican daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William III, Prince of Orange, who was also his nephew, from the line of succession.”
Pretty soon, the Brits cranked up the Glorious Revolution that invited the Dutch William of Orange to invade England and put a stop to James and Catholicism. That’s all regarded as good and normal today. Really? Inviting a head of state from a neighboring country to take over? Hey Justin! Why not come over here and de-bank all our truckers!
In America today we have the conflict between traditional Americanism and “wokism,” which like James II’s Catholicism, is an import from France. And of course we have the escalation of civil rights into the naked racist politics of DEI and Black Lives Matter, that cruelly discriminates against ordinary middle-class white and Asian people.
We educated people ave been taught to think that politics is everything, and that an evolved educated ruling class can roll over everything. But I think that the story of the English Civil War and its aftermath including the Glorious Revolution shows that there are all kinds of things going on under the radar — religion culture, law, you name it — and there is a limit to the power of the ruling class to change things.
And, at the end of it all, you never know.