“Knowledge is power”

He might not be a young-Earther, but he’s not at all happy with the modern age. Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical – “‘SPE SALVI facti sumus’ – in hope we were saved” – earns him a front page report in today’s Irish Times. The report identifies the key theme in the encyclical, which ploughs a familiar furrow, “Man cannot be redeemed by science”.

Benedict points the finger of blame for, among other things, the French Revolution, Marxism and the Russian Revolution at “the foundations of the modern age” which “appear with particular clarity in the thoughts of Francis Bacon [added link]” – and, in particular, Bacon’s ‘New Instrument for Rational Thinking’ – Novum Organum, published in 1620.

As a supernaturalist it isn’t a surprise that Benedict seeks redemption in terms of the “salvation of the soul” but, I’d suggest, it is the threat to those supernatural beliefs, through the use of Bacon’s New Instrument for Rational Thinking which leads him to argue that

“In order to find an answer to this we must take a look at the foundations of the modern age. These appear with particular clarity in the thought of Francis Bacon. That a new era emerged—through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that had made this development possible—is undeniable.

But what is the basis of this new era? It is the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve “the triumph of art over nature” (victoria cursus artis super naturam).

The novelty—according to Bacon’s vision—lies in a new correlation between science and praxis. This is also given a theological application: the new correlation between science and praxis would mean that the dominion over creation —given to man by God and lost through original sin—would be reestablished.

Anyone who reads and reflects on these statements attentively will recognize that a disturbing step has been taken: up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay “redemption”.

Now, this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis.”

And, as highlighted in the Irish Times, he goes on to argue

“Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.”

However, Francis Bacon himself had a view on such thinking, from Novum Organum

“Finally, if anyone objects that the sciences and the arts have been perverted to evil and luxury and such like, the objection should convince no one. The same may be said of all earthly goods, intelligence, courage, strength, beauty, wealth, the light itself and all the rest.”

And Bacon also added an argument which, if Benedict did not seek to criticise that which followed – The Enlightenment – could have seen him call for a return to Bacon’s original ideas.

“Just let man recover the right over nature which belongs to him by God’s gift, and give it scope; right reason and sound religion will govern its use.”

But perhaps the criticism of Bacon is also down to some of his other thoughts.. and their clarity.

Idols of the cave have their origin in the individual nature of each man’s mind and body; and also his education, way of life and chance events. This category is varied and complex, and we shall enumerate the cases in which there is the greatest danger and which do most to spoil the calrity of the understanding.

Men fall in love with particular pieces of knowledge and thoughts: either because they believe themselves to be their authors and inventors; or because they have put a great deal of labour into them, and have got very used to them. If such men betake themselves to philosophy and universal speculation, they distort and corrupt them to suit their prior fancies.”

  • Mrs Doyle

    Does anybody really care?

  • Bemused

    Second that Mrs. Doyle.

  • pith

    Mrs. Doyle,

    You obviously do.

  • Ronald Binge

    Does the Pope then really believe that the French [i]Ancien Régime[/i] and the governance of the Papal States was the epitome of ordered societies?

    When you are in a hole stop digging.

  • ulster fan

    Is he trying to turn the clock back 500 years and if so this is frightening.
    I am sure Bacon is very pleased to learn of his belated fame within the Vatican and he can pass this on to Copernicus and Galileo who may have to fight for their own reputations all over again.
    Such progress to understand the role of science and religion is lacking on the part of Benedict.
    This is very sad.
    Hankering after the good old days when the Pope claimed ownership of Christendom and those with independent thoughts were put in their place.

  • The Dubliner

    Ulster Fan, perhaps you’d be better served by reading what the Pope actually said rather than going along with Pete Baker’s agenda-driven depiction of it as an attack on science a la the Flat-earthers?

    He as speaking about hollow scientific, political, economic, technological, etc ‘structures’ that men place their faith in as susbtitute to religious faith and the ethical and humanitarian values that religion places at the core dynamic of human activity. He wasn’t arguing, conversely, that religion is a susbtitute for science or any of the other ‘structures’ that he referred to.

    The Pope is with Einstein and atheists like Bertrand Russell and CND when he argues that ethics need to be a greater part of technological progress, and he is with those who are against the Neo-Cons and the Marxists. And he is with the poets when he says:

    [i]It was why the moral wellbeing of the world could “never be guaranteed simply through structures alone”, he said. Man is not redeemed by science, “man is redeemed by love”, he says.[/i]

  • Pete Baker


    You forgot to mention that he [Benedict] mis-characterises Francis Bacon’s argument by neglecting to quote the parts of Novum Organum that do not fit with his agenda of attacking the Enlightenment.

    As I said, “Idols of the cave..”

  • Harry Flashman

    *Does the Pope then really believe that the French Ancien Régime and the governance of the Papal States was the epitome of ordered societies?*

    I very much doubt he does and straw men rarely win arguments. The French Ancien Regime was simply a badly balanced society in which the pampered aristocracy maintained a disproportionate control of resources. It would have eventually reformed in the way that all societies eventually do.

    What the Pope is pointing out, correctly, is that the horrors unleashed by the fanatical “rationalists” of the French Revolution led inexorably to the Russian Revolution and all the terrors and inhumanities associated with the modern age. The killing fields, the reeducation camps, the gas chambers, the gulags, the whole panoply of Godless hatred of our fellow man that have stained the annals of humanity during the past two hundred years can be laid squarely at the door of the French Revolutionaries.

    It’s a simple enough point and one that is fairly self evident.

  • lapsedmethodist

    Men will never be free till the last King is throttled with the guts of the last Priest. True 200 years ago, true today.

  • Garibaldy


    Gobbels announced that “the year 1789 is hereby expunged from history”. So it would seem that if we want to attribute blame for the gas chambers at this period, we’d be better off starting with, say, Burke, Pitt, George III, the Tsar, the counter-revolutionaries in the Vendée, the Prussians etc, not at the door of the Revolutionaries. So I suggest that what is self-evident is that the Pope is talking nonsense. For a change. He of all people should have a clear understanding of Nazi ideology and its origins in the rejection of the French Revolution after all. 🙂

  • Harry Flashman

    *So it would seem that if we want to attribute blame for the gas chambers at this period, we’d be better off starting with, say, Burke, Pitt, George III, the Tsar, the counter-revolutionaries in the Vendée, the Prussians etc, not at the door of the Revolutionaries.*

    Absolute bollocks on stilts from start to finish!

    How in Christ’s name do you get from Burke to the gas chambers?

    The Nazis were the logical extension of the French Revolution; the dismissal of God, the ending of love for humanity, the subjugation of self in favour of the creation of an all powerful and pervasive state, mass military mobilisation, the mawkish reverence of “nature” and the promulgation of terror, the mass execution of ‘enemies of the people’, the extirpation of tradition in favour of modernism all this flowed directly from the Revolution.

    If you can find me any of that in the writings of Burke please point it out to me.

  • The Dubliner

    Pete, it’s arguable that we’d all be stuck in the dark ages if organised religion didn’t indoctrinate moral values into the masses under pain of eternal damnation. So I’m quite happy for religions to perpetuate fantastic tales as long as they serve the purpose of brainwashing moral behaviour into the masses via beautiful stories that would otherwise not absorb moral codes. So, while it may be a fiction, it’s a very useful fiction.

    The Pope states in lines immediately prior to the paragraph you quoted: [i]”How could the idea have developed that Jesus’ message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the “salvation of the soul” as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?”[/i]

    I have no problem with that at all because it is advocating a “Christian project” that seeks to restore a collective concern for salvation rather than a selfish one. Who can really argue against a senior religious figure who is arguing in favour of “serving others” on the grounds that the exhortation is not of value to society? Isn’t that the purpose of science, too? At any rate, that is the shared moral purpose that scientists are happy to attribute to their enterprise beyond being merely a search for verifiable facts. Do good onto others, and all that – moral code that all the majors religions have in common. “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law: all the rest is commentary,” as the Talmud says.

    It’s pretty obvious what the Pope’s beef with Bacon is (sorry if that sounds like a butcher’s counter): he feels that Bacon and the beginning of scientific method gives man dominion over creation and thereby puts those religions who proffer the concept of original sin (and the denial of such dominion) out of business, ushering in the shift from faith in g-d to “faith in progress” and “the kingdom of man”.

    He hasn’t shown any of the alleged paradigms he laments being actual, of course, but he is limited by his accepted premises. He simply warned against placing too much ‘faith’ in systems if it is done as a displacement of religious faith into “worldly affairs”. I can live with that knowing the limits of it, especially when he writes messages like this with it:

    [i]Let us return to our topic. We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.[/i]

    Ah yes… now what was that about a Truth Commission?

  • Dewi

    Hell – are we having a religious / creationist weekend ? …I think I’ll come back after the flood.

  • Dewi
  • McKelvey

    For what its worth, I think that Fascism and Nazism stem from ideas which began in the Counter-Enlightenment. Communism for its part stems from the Enlightenment. I know that this is a touch simplistic, but, I think that it is nevertheless essentially true.

  • joeCanuck

    Capitalism is the domination of the majority by a few.
    Communism is the opposite.
    Organized religion is somewhere in the middle.

  • joeCanuck

    Communism is the opposite same.

  • Dave

    “The Truth will set you free” so it has been said.

    I don’t think I could have any faith in what the Pope has to say, afterall it is only his opinion.

    The Pope a man deemed to be infallible by some. If a person can believe this, then Catholism is at it work again. ( I am not going to debate this, you read your bible instead for having it read to you)

    This is the ranting of a man, just a man.

    It is a God given right to think for yourself.

    See Keynes Newton

    Newton’s Arian beliefs

    Newton became an Arian around 1672. First let us explain the Arian doctrine. It is a Christian heresy first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian Arius which, based on a study of the Bible, stated the belief that Jesus was more than man, but less than God. In other words Arians do not believe in the identification of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, so they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Newton came to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was misguided in its interpretation of Christianity, and had returned to idolatry. Although he partly approved of the Protestant Reformation, he felt it had not gone nearly far enough to return Christianity to its original state. Now if Newton did not believe in the Trinity, he had to consider the First Epistle of John Chapter 2, verse 7, which reads (in the King James version):-

    For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

    Now Newton, who felt that his mission was more to study religion than science, certainly did not stop at reading the King James version of the Bible, but rather read all original versions he could, learning the necessary ancient languages. He discovered that the final phrase ‘and these three are one’ was not present in any Greek version that he studied. Newton came to the conclusion that it was a deliberate addition to the text to provide justification for the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote down a list of twelve reasons why he was an Arian. Now of course it was not acceptable for people to hold views considered heresy by the Church, so after Newton’s death this list, and his other theological writings, were marked “Not fit to be printed”. They were stored and were not read by anyone until Keynes acquired them in 1936.

    see. Keynes, newton

    Here is Newton’s list:-

    The word God is nowhere in the scriptures used to signify more than one of the three persons at once.

    The word God put absolutely without restriction to the Son or Holy Ghost doth always signify the Father from one end of the scriptures to the other.

    Whenever it is said in the scriptures that there is but one God, it is meant the Father.

    When, after some heretics had taken Christ for a mere man and others for the supreme God, St John in his Gospel endeavoured to state his nature so that men might have from thence a right apprehension of him and avoid those heresies and to that end calls him the word or logos: we must suppose that he intended that term in the sense that it was taken in the world before he used it when in like manner applied to an intelligent being. For if the Apostles had not used words as they found them how could they expect to have been rightly understood. Now the term logos before St John wrote, was generally used in the sense of the Platonists, when applied to an intelligent being and the Arians understood it in the same sense, and therefore theirs is the true sense of St John.

    The Son in several places confesseth his dependence on the will of the Father.

    The Son confesseth the Father greater, then calls him his God etc.

    The Son acknowledgeth the original prescience of all future things to be in the Father only.

    There is nowhere mention of a human soul in our Saviour besides the word, by the meditation of which the word should be incarnate. But the word itself was made flesh and took upon him the form of a servant.

    It was the son of God which He sent into the world and not a human soul that suffered for us. If there had been such a human soul in our Saviour, it would have been a thing of too great consequence to have been wholly omitted by the Apostles.

    It is a proper epithet of the Father to be called almighty. For by God almighty we always understand the Father. Yet this is not to limit the power of the Son. For he doth whatsoever he seeth the Father do; but to acknowledge that all power is originally in the Father and that the Son hath power in him but what he derives fro the Father, for he professes that of himself he can do nothing.

    The Son in all things submits his will to the will of the Father, which could be unreasonable if he were equal to the Father.

    The union between him and the Father he interprets to be like that of the saints with one another. That is in agreement of will and counsel.

    Below the list of twelve points, Newton wrote 13. but did not write anything for this thirteenth point.

  • Garibaldy


    Nazism stems from the rejection of the French Revolution, and its ideas of equality and the rights of all the people to participate in government. It stands for the belief that some are better than others, and that they should rule the country, while suppressing any political agitation for democracy and equality with force. The raising of feeling or instinct above reason as well. All of which you will find in Edmund Burke. I note you ignored the point about Gobbels. He certainly seemed to see a link between Nazism and the counter-revolution of which Burke was the poster boy.

    To suggest that the Revolution abondoned the love for humanity is laughable. Particularly when you compare it to the casual and continual brutality of its enemies. The Revolutionaries sought to extend equal rights to all. Its opponents to oppress the majority in the name of a minority. Perhaps you can explain how the Tsar was motivated by love for humanity. After all, the Jacobins abolished slavery only to see it restored by Napoleon, who modelled himself on other monarchs.

    The mass mobilisation for war, the terror, sacrifice to the state (which by the way was always cast in the light of classical republicanism and was far from new) and all the other cliches stemmed from one thing – counter-revolutionary resistance. After all, while Burke was supporting the execution of common criminals, Robespierre was voting against maintaining the death penalty. Something happened to change that. And that something was the violence and resistence of those who sought to frustrate equal rights for all.

    Oh, and if the Revolution led inexorably to all the ills of the 20th century, perhaps you might explain how France became a liberal democracy due to the actions of those inspired by the Revolution in the late C19th. If you wnat to explain the Russian Revolution, and the violence it produced, you might be better off looking at the brutal and oppressive rule of the Tsars and the Russian aristocracy, the reckless imperialist war, the internal exile and mass prison camps in Siberia and elsewhere (or gulags) rather than events in another country over a century before.

    So in short, I would suggest that the idea that the liberal democratic ideals of the French Revolution produced the Nazis – who explicitly defined themselves against those ideals – rather than the sentimental vicious elitism represented by Burke and his cohorts is, as you might say, absolute bollocks on stilts.

  • Harry Flashman

    Garibaldy you can choose a select quotation by Geobells if you like and no doubt if I looked hard enough I’d find a quotation by Admiral Yamamoto saying how much he admired the Royal Navy but that would not mean that Yamamoto was a British Imperialist. The fact remains that the French Revolution paved the way for Naziism and Fascism as well as the Stalinist Terror and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

    If you wish to continue to delude yourself that the Revolution was in fact about the furtherance of equality and the pursuit of individual liberty there is little I can do to enlighten you other than to point to the facts of history and the mountains of corpses that the French Revolution produced.

    Burke predicted within six months of the outbreak of the Revolution the course it would take and he was proved absolutely correct right down to the Terror and Napoleon’s tyranny, for you then to blame him for being right takes an amount of chutzpah of almost Biblical proportions.

    The people of the Vendee did not wish to be subject to a totalitarian, terrorist state and they resisted, they were slaughtered in their tens of thousands and eventually a totalitarian terrorist state was successfully imposed upon them, so it was their fault, er, so it’s a woman’s fault when she gets raped right? She meant yes when she said no and it’s her fault for making the rapist rape her, right, I think I’ve got you.

    By the way I know you want to decouple Napoleon from the Revolution, nice try but it won’t wash, Napoleon and his empire was part and parcel and obvious next step of the Revolution as were Stalin and Mao the obvious results of their revoultions, it really won’t do to blame the people who predict the horrors of revolution when their predictions are proven to be correct.

  • For if any man shall think by view and inquiry into these sensible and material things, to attain to any light for the revealing of the nature or will of God, he shall dangerously abuse himself. It is true that the contemplation of the creatures of God hath for end (as to the natures of the creatures themselves) knowledge, but as to the nature of God, no knowledge, but wonder; which is nothing else but contemplation broken off; or losing itself. Nay further, as it was aptly said by one of Plato’s school The sense of man resembles the Sun, which openeth and revealeth the terrestrial globe. But obscureth and concealeth the celestial; so doth the sense discover natural things, but darken and shut up divine.. And this appeareth sufficiently in that there is no proceeding in invention of knowledge but by similitude; and God is only self-like, having nothing in common with any creature, otherwise than as in shadow and trope. Therefore attend his will as himself openeth it, and give unto faith that which unto faith belongeth; for more worthy it is to believe than to think or know, considering that in knowledge (as we now are capable of it) the mind suffereth from inferior natures; but in all belief it suffereth from a spirit which it holdeth superior and more authorised than itself.

    To conclude, the prejudice hath been infinite that both divine and human knowledge hath received by the intermingling and tempering of the one with the other; as that which hath filled the one full of heresies, and the other full of speculative fictions and vanities.

    Yet, indeed, I have much more of pith to relate upon this topic.

  • Nevin

    Michael Schmaus: “The laws of national-socialism and those of the Catholic Church have the
    same aim”

    Permissable genocide

  • Garibaldy


    If you’re going to point to facts, you might want to get them right. You talk about a totalitarian, terrorist state being imposed on the Vendeans. The terror began after the Vendean revolt, and was in many respects the consequence of that revolt (you’ve got the date of Burke wrong too). And look beyond Reflections to Burke’s other writings of the 1790s and you’ll see just how hysterical and violent in his hatred towards equality he was (actually, Reflections will do just fine for that).

    I’m not blaming Burke for knowing enough Roman and English history to suggest that a revolution might end in dictatorship. I am saying that to suggest that a Revolution with a liberal and humane ideology was responsible for the horrors of the Nazis is absolutely ahistorical nonsense. And you blindly repeated that it does does not make it any more true.

    As for you rape analogy. Wrong. Let me offer another analogy. A slave breaks free. People try to recapture him, and so he uses force necessary to protect himself. Blame the slave if you wish.

    As for Napoleon, both the heir and the gravedigger of the Revolution. A contradictory figure. But one who ultimately assured the victory of the social forces benefiting most from the Revolution while destroying political liberty.


    If you’re going to claim the Nazis were the logical outcome of the French revolution, then please accept that the inquisition was the logical outcome of organised religion.
    How very typical of those favouring religion to claim all moral imperatives spring from there, whilst being completely blind to the evil that it has nurtured.
    Padeophile priests are perhaps an inevitability, given that all sections of society is inflicted with this curse, but the cover up and perpetuation of the abuses was a direct result of the church putting the organisation before the welfare of the children.

    I think we could do better in finding a source for our ethics.

  • McKelvey

    Capitalism is the domination of the majority by a few.
    Communism is the (same).

    I agree. Communism as practiced was a form of capitalism – one in which state bureaucrats performed the role which private entrepreneurs would in a more traditionally capitalist system

  • Harry Flashman

    You may be aware of an expression doing the rounds of the conservative blogosphere and talk radio ciruit in the US, it refers to “Kool-Aid drinkers”. Now I appreciate Garibaldy that you are far from a Kool-Aid drinker because I have read a lot of what you post here and I know you are not some blind follower of ideology but I think the Kool-Aid analogy is apposite to the French Revolution.

    It refers of course to the Reverend Jim Jones founder of the his own religion in the US. He preached a very liberal, attractive ideology of racial and political equality and attracted many hundreds of people who were alienated from mainstream society to his beliefs. As time wore on his religion turned into little more than a personality cult of his own creation in which he claimed himself to be the Messiah and anyone who opposed him to be heretical and therefore deserving of extreme punishment.

    Fairly rapidly Jones’ activities became clear to others outside his church and dissenting members very quickly disseminated tales of how Jones was merely a despot who was brainwashing his followers. US senators went to his colony in Guyana to investigate these claims and were murdered by several of Jones’ more paranoid followers whereupon Jones himself organised the collective suicide of his cult by means of his poisoned Kool-Aid.

    Now, whom do you blame for this appalling tragedy? Jones, the megalomaniac leader of his brainwashed cult who led his followers to their deaths in their hundreds, or the government officials and dissenters who accurately predicted how, despite Jones’ fancy egalitarian rhetoric, the whole shebang was going to end up?

    To take your own “slave” analogy, if the slave resists his recapture (as at Valmy) then I have no problem and indeed salute him, but if the former slave then goes on to rape and pillage his neighbours well I have no problem in ascribing blame to the former slave and saluting the efforts of the local constabulary in restraining him.

    However your entire thesis is flawed, the people of pre-Revolutionary France were no more slaves than any other European nation, and the emergence of liberal democracy was not conducive upon Revolutionary Terror.

    I point out the nations of Canada, New Zealand and Australia, all societies which regularly feature in the top ten nations on earth for freedom and tolerance (not to mention the Bahamas and India whose boring ‘English’ parliamentary democracies have produced far more stable societies than their neighbours China and Cuba who followed the ‘French’ model). They managed to achieve this through Burkean, evolutionary principles and without the need for five republics, two empires, a “regime”, a “directorate” and several variations of monarchist rule.

    Who knows what sort of global super-power and force for good France and so much of the rest of Europe would be today if only they had eschewed the siren call of Revolution. Benedict’s right on this one.

  • Garibaldy

    Alternatively Harry, we would have had a Europe made up of Tsarist Russias well in the 19th and possibly into the 20 centuries.

    The problem with your Jones analogy is that in the Revolution’s case, Burke and his cohorts were actively organising and promoting counter-revolution both within and without France, unlike the US government in this case. There were reasons internal to France and to the Revolution and its supporters why it ended up the way it did, but equally the reason the darker side came out was because of counter-revolutionary resistance at home and abroad.

    As for the slave analogy. Perhaps a better one would be The Matrix. Where those who are not freed from the influence of The Matrix will kill to defend it, and unfortunately have to be treated as enemies.

  • Harry Flashman

    You keep coming back to the defence of “our wee Johnnie’s a great wee fella and the reason that he slaughtered those other wee’uns with an axe was because they made him do it”.

    At what point do you accept that it wasn’t the opponents of Revolutionary terrorism but the revolutionary terrorists themselves who are to blame for the cataclysm unleashed on France and Europe in 1789?

    Czarist Russia had been defeated by a middle class bourgeois reformist party in 1917, had they been allowed to continue in government who knows what peace and stability Europe might have enjoyed in the coming century. Instead Lenin’s foul bacillus infected Russia with all the horrific consequences of revolutionary terror, genocide and total war and to this day the world is only just recovering from his loathsome theories.

    What is it about stable, evolutionary, peaceful, liberal, tolerant, democratic development that you find so objectionable Garibaldy?

  • Stream of consciousness time:

    Reaction 1: As per Mrs Doyle on Dec 01, 2007 @ 05:00 PM.

    Reappraisal 2 (Yesterday was a l-o-n-g and liquid day) Who’d win a fight between a shark Bacon and a polar-bear Ratzinger?

    Mature reflection 3 (the 134 bus grinds slowly through Kantish Town and Euston): Could this be developed as a game of Metaphysical Top Trumps?

    This would, obviously, award the 10 points for spirituality to Ratzinger, though William Blake (see other thread) would score strongly, too, in this category. Bacon would get the 10 for intellect.

    Where the prototype game ran into difficulty was on life-style. Obviously Ratzinger does well on accommodation (Vatican, Castel Gandolfo) and on wardrobe, while Marx has the boils-on-the-bum problem and lice. However, if we lump Marx-and-Engels together, which is philosophically logical, the combo now scores on sex-life.

    Umm. I think I need help here.

  • The late Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans @ 02:26 PM:

    Sorry: that one should be blamed on me.


  • Garibaldy

    I have no ojections to peaceful development. I’m all in favour of it. The problem though is that very few supporters of the old regimes have accepted peaceful change, and have tried to reverse it through force. The French Revolution of 1789 was itself virtually bloodless (but only because the people of Paris succeeded in arming themselves before the Royal Army could receive orders to attack). What changed that? Counter-revolutionary plotting and preparations for war abroad, followed by resistance at home. The point being there was NO revolutionary terrorism for several years, and never would have been, had it not been for the counter-revolution. Much the same could be said for Russia. There’s a book called The Furies by Arno Mayer that compares violence in the French and Russian Revolutions that you might find interesting, if infuriating.

    Chronology is important when discussing these issues – for example, the Russian Revolution was the consequence of total war, not the progenitor of it as your last post suggests.

  • willis


    Genocide is not so new.

    “2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).

    Saul’s failure to obey this command cost him his kingship. Note the commentary on this total destruction later by Samuel, when Saul summons him from the dead through a medium:

    “16 And Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.” (1 Sam 28)

  • Harry Flashman

    Any study of the great revolutions of our times will show that there was never a situation where only violent revolution was the answer.

    In almost every occasion the ancien regime was already defeated and a new liberal bourgeois alternative was in place before being hijacked by power-hungry megalomaniacs using the excuse of some minor resistance by the old guard to seize power for their own party and then going on to consolidate that power by atrocities that made anything the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ carried out seem limp wristed by comparison.

    This was true in France in 1789, it was true in Russia in 1917, it was true in Iran in 1979 and I would even suggest it was almost achieved in Northern Ireland in 1969. I simply don’t know enough about Chinese history but I’m prepared to bet that in 1949 there was a bourgeois, peaceful alternative on offer besides Mao and his Cultural Revolutionaries.

    Your approach, Garibaldy, would be like having an apartment with a cockroach infestation and deciding to pour ten gallons of petrol underneath the sink to burn them out and when your neighbours objected you decide to plant half a ton of gelegnite in the buildings foundations to blow the place to smithereens. When anyone complained you’d accuse them of being in the pay of the cockroaches, perhaps secret cockroaches themselves, and after the place was in ruins and your neighbors dolefully tried to rebuild their homes you’d always remind them of how bad it was when the cockroaches were around.

  • willis

    You missed out Ireland 1912-21

  • Garibaldy


    Perhaps you might explain how Batista would have been overthrown? Or Vietnam united, after of course the Japanese and French might have been kicked out? China? A nationalist regime that had attacked its former comrades. Not really much chance for peaceful evolution. As for Russia, the nice liberal bourgeois regime not only continued the imperialist war with the 1917 offensive but began to terrorise its opponents, arresting and suppressing them. And if you consider three counter-revolutionary armies and around 20 foreign armies some minor resistance from the old regime, then you’re working on a different scale to me, and I suggest, the rest of us. As for France. You had the monarch resisting the will of parliament, while he and his family plotted counter-revolution both at home and abroad, to the extent of asking for foreign invasion and giving war plans to Austria after the war got under way. Never mind the actions of aristos and priests up and down the country. Not minor either. Far from it.

    My approach is simply refusing to see everything as pre-ordained, but rather analyse how things came about through attention to the reasons behind people’s actions. Though I found you cockroach analogy most amusing. And briefly envisioned myself as Tony Montana screaming you’re all a bunch of cock-a-roaches at various aristos.

  • Stiofán de Buit

    It seems rather dishonest to pick the French Revolution as the starting point here. Surely it should be the American Revolution that we look to as the first successful defeat of an Ancien Régime.

  • Garibaldy

    It’s a viable argument Stiofán, but the social conditions in Europe and America were very different. Nor did the American Revolution have anything approaching the impact the French did.

  • joeCanuck

    Didn’t it inspire the French one, Garibaldy?

  • willis

    If you are looking for proper regicide and military rule surely England 1640-60 is in with a shout.

    You could argue that it is the true inspiration for all subsequent revolutions because it showed what happened when the middle class revolution Harry recommends takes place.

    Don’t forget that Charles II had the remaining signatories of his father’s death warrant executed by hanging, drawing and quartering. Madame Guillotine was humane in comparison. It did show that the counter-revolution was not to be trifled with.

  • Garibaldy


    There’s an argument that it did, and doubtless it inspired many among the political class, especially people like Lafayette. However, it’s the dynamic social element of the French Revolution – with mass action by the poor in both town and countryside in pursuit of their own goals – that makes it the more significant of the two. At another level, the sense of involvement Europeans felt with France and the subsequent wars, reorganisation of states and of governments meant that the French Revolution had a much more significant impact on Europe at the time than the American one did.

  • DavidD

    Although the Nazis eventually came out consciously against the ideals of the French Revolution this had more the flavour of an intellectual embellishment to their program than principle. Until the purge of 1934 there was a powerful socialist strand in party thinking. Even more socialistic was Fascist Italy. Hitler never contemplated a genuine reactionary policy such as seeking a return to monarchy and Mussolini, who had at first pragmatically accepted Victor Emmanuel, finally ditched him for a republic after 1943. Neither dictator had any great love for the church. The best example in the 1930s of a rejection of the political theories of 1789 was Franco’s Spain.

    In practice left-wing revolutionary governments have used terror and mass murder far beyond what was the required to establish a secure base and have ended up with a paranoid leader enforcing a cult of personality. The pattern has been repeated so many times that one is forced to conclude that it is inherent.

  • Stiofán de Buit

    I don’t think anyone could argue against the French Revolution’s impact on Europe being much greater than that of the American Revolution. Given the geography concerned it could hardly have been otherwise.

  • Garibaldy


    I think you’re mistaking fascist corporatist economic policies – which were based on the idea of an organic society with harmonious interests(Burke anyone?) – for socialistic thinking.

    As for the point about the amount of violence/repression used by socialist governments. Again, I point to the strength of reaction.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Harry, I know we have a kind of an agreement not to engage going, but I’m keen to explore the points you’re making so I hope we can keep it civilized :

    If you wish to continue to delude yourself that the Revolution was in fact about the furtherance of equality and the pursuit of individual liberty there is little I can do to enlighten you other than to point to the facts of history and the mountains of corpses that the French Revolution produced.

    I have a degree of sympathy for this point, as I think that pretty much all revolutions start out from the idealistic desire to spread freedom democracy everywhere, and the result is usually a disappointment to say the least.

    Remove the word “French” from the part of your comment I quoted above, and you could be talking about the revolution that occurred in the former British colonies leading to the establishment of the USA – a revolution which preceded, and which probably inspired, the one that took place in France. Where does that fit into your theory that the French were the sole inspiration for all of this ? Lots of people died then. Entire tribes and races of native Americans were utterly and systematically wiped out. Why do you think this suddenly started with the French ?

    Regarding concentration camps, didn’t the British start this idea during the Boer war ? Regarding gassing people, didn’t the British (Churchill in particular) come up with the idea of gassing uncivilized tribes to keep them in line ? Famously, Hitler didn’t want to have a war with the British. He admired the way they built their empire and did business. Couldn’t it be argued that some of the fault lies with the British, due to inspiration they provided to the Nazis ?

    On the subject of how the Nazis came to power, some may recall that the Catholic Church had a little role in that; namely, for Hitler to be installed as Chancellor he had to get the agreement of Ludwig Klass, who agreed to support his Enabling Act (creating Hitler as a dictator) in return for guarantees of rights and liberties for Catholics. There are many cases throughout history where churches, particularly the RC church, have done dirty deals with very questionable people in order to support their own interests.

    I don’t think your opinion that the removal of God by some revolutionaries in France from the equation spawned all of the evil that has occurred. Hitler’s rise to power is based on a relatively complex web of national malaise, the perception of an unfair deal at Versailles, economic problems (exacerbated to a great extent by the catastrophic failure of unregulated capitalism in the USA) and a range of other concerns. I do not see how any of these can be laid at the door of the French.

    Republicanism, which was first applied in a major way in the USA, does have some important ideals that form the root of our present-day Western society; the idea that you can’t just get an army, declare yourself appointed by God, and do whatever the hell you want. As a result we have seen dramatic advances in prosperity, rights, science (medicine is a science) and so on, none of which could have happened had religions and monarches continued to strangle everything. God is very much in the back seat these days, and we’re much better off that way.

  • DavidD

    You are of course correct about the corporatist policies of fascism but socialist elements were important. Mussolini began and ended his political career as a proclaimed socialist. As to Hitler, the name of his party contained the word socialist and many members took this sufficiently seriously that they looked forward to a ‘second revolution’ after Hitler came to power and had to be purged.

  • Garibaldy

    “Mussolini began and ended his political career as a proclaimed socialist”

    I take Mussolini’s to be a socialist about as seriously as I do Bertie’s. As for Hitler’s party’s name, the struggles with the Social Democrats and Communists suggests to me that anyone who thought he was a socialist needed their head examined.

  • Comrade Stalin

    As for Hitler’s party’s name, the struggles with the Social Democrats and Communists suggests to me that anyone who thought he was a socialist needed their head examined.

    The word “socialist” or even “socialist elements” is a bit like the word “God”, so many people use it to describe so many completely different concepts that the word is almost useless as a standalone description of one’s politics. John Hume used to say in his election leaflets “I am a socialist”, but I’m sure he didn’t mean that he intended to introduce five-year plans and burn out the kulaks of North Antrim.

  • Harry Flashman

    CS I am not claiming that Naziism was inspired by the French Revolution solely on the Revolution’s murder rate, although that is a pretty heavy weight in the balance against it, but rather on the whole panoply of brutal, paganistic modernism that the Revolution unleashed.

    I listed them above; the removal of God and His replacement by ‘Nature’, the mass slaughter of classes of people not as an unfortunate side result but as an avowed policy aim, the elevation of the state above individual freedom, the massive centralisation of power in the hands of state agents and the abolition of tradition and localism, the justification of any action no matter how appalling on the ground’s of “Public Safety” etc etc

    These are what the Revolution in France spawned and which were conspicuously absent from the American Revolution which entrusted freedom to its citizens from the bottom up and not from the top down, a huge and pivotal difference I think you’ll agree. The US Revolution specifically granted freedom of religious and political thought and allowed citizens to arm themselves to prevent their government getting too powerful, the French Revolution did precisely the opposite. The result of the American Revolution was the most stable form of democracy in the history of the world and the flowering of science, arts and industry unmatched anywhere in Europe, not bad for a revolution inspired by Christian and specifically protestant ideas on men’s rights and freedoms.

    Yes of course slavery is an unfortunate and appalling blight on the story of the American Revolution but not really relevant to the point – as are all the other trite, sixth form issues about Churchill gassing tribes (myth) and whether the British invented concentration camps (they didn’t, the Spanish did).

  • The Dubliner

    “How very typical of those favouring religion to claim all moral imperatives spring from there, whilst being completely blind to the evil that it has nurtured.” – TAFKABO

    The problem with an objective approach to morality is that it can’t be shown that it is not in the best interests of the individual to act justly toward others. You are left with law in place of ethics as a modifier of human behaviour; and law is deeply flawed for the purpose. The individual will calculate the reward for illegal behaviour against the risks of detection and punishment. In an ethical system that is rooted in religious faith, it is held that g-d sees all violations of the moral system even if the law does not. Ergo, you will be detected and you will be punished – and in some religions, punished eternally. That removes the calculation. Religion also preaches a moral code that operates independently of law, so it encourages behaviour that is just and not simply lawful. Plato used the example of the ring of Gyges (making the wearer invisible) and asking if the invisible person would still act justly toward others, knowing that his unjust acts would not be seen. In short, why would the individual act justly if acting unjustly was more profitable? Plato’s unsatisfactory answer was that the three elements of the soul (emotion, desire, and intelligence) would be in a state of disharmony if the person acted unjustly. Religion solves the problem perfectly.

  • Garibaldy


    The French Revolution created a state church (as Joseph II and other Catholic monarchs had being doing in the 18th century) – it did not seek to destroy religion. Some of the elements of the revolutionary movement did undertake a campaign of dechristianisation, but were halted by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. Religious toleration was central to the Reovlution, and although non-juring Catholics were persecuted, it was overwhlemingly for their connections with counter-revolution. As for the notion that the French Revolution did not grant religious freedom, I suggest you look at the issue of citizenship for the Protestant and the Jews.

    On the arming of the people, well the most revolutionary period of the Revolution was precisely when the people was armed, and defended and extended the gains of the Revolution. America has many achievements. Many built on slavery and exploitation, just like those of the ancient Greeks. Let’s throw in genocide too. Oh, and let’s not forget good luck – no serious military challenge from a modern industrialised power (compare France) and unthinkable natural resources, good climate etc.

    As for centralisation and subordination to the state. The state, especially in France, was being centralised throughout the early modern period. The early Revolution reversed this, but the demands of war and fighting counter-revolution enforced centralisation. As for subordination to the state and Public Safety, as I mentioned earlier the French were explicitly drawing on classical traditions. Salus populi suprema lex est.

    The narrative that you (and Benedict) retail is a coherent one that provides a great story. But that’s all it is, a story.

  • Harry Flashman

    You prove my point about the differences between the two Revolutions, Garibaldy, the French Revolutionaries either tried to abolish religion or impose their own state religion, the Americans decided it was no business of the government to be involved in religions and decreed that it was a matter for the conscience of individual citizens, I know which system I prefer.

    Yes, the French Revolutionaries armed the peasantry while they were useful in getting rid of the Ancien Regime, and then disarmed them when they got hold of power. Ten years earlier the American Revolutionaries anticipated this by specifically instructing the citizens to remain armed just in case their current rulers got too uppity and needed to be shown the door, again I know which system I prefer.

    In my recollection the United States faced war from the biggest serious Industrialised empire on earth, twice, at the time of its birth, they won both times as they did when they were challenged by another industrialised power a century and a half later. Slavery played no role whatsoever in the great industrialisation of the United States indeed it was a hindrnce to forming a modern dynamic economy. The climate of the United States was no more or less benign than that of Russia or China or Brazil or any other similarly sized country.

    Try harder in finding excuses other than its extremely wise and balanced political system for explaining the success of the United States you might eventually come up with something relevant.

  • The Dubliner

    Belated typo correction: “The problem with an objective approach to morality is that it can’t be shown that it is not in the best interests of the individual to act [b]un[/b]justly toward others.”

  • Garibaldy


    I see natural resources play no part in your tale of American success. This seems to me to be the most relevant thing, and shucks, I even mentioned it. Perhaps you ought to read things more closely before going into denunciation mode.

    You’re of course right about the early conflicts, but unlike France, Germany, Russia, and even Britain there was little need for it to concern itself with the possibility of war with a major power for most of the C19th, and specifically when it was really becoming the world’s leading industrial power. Allowing it to develop peaceably and get on with things. If you can’t see how the absence of any serious threat played no role in its political or economic development (such as not losing its equivalent of the Rhur or Alsace-Lorraine) then I can’t help that. On the climate thing, the US has much less regular flooding than say China, while the majority of its most heavily inhabited areas do not experience the extremes of cold of say Moscow. This stuff mattered a lot more in the past than now in terms of food production, absence of crises affecting government etc. On slavery. The wealth created by it, and by the genocide practiced on the original inhabitants in pursuit of the railways funded many of the august educational institutions that produced the flowering of science and literature etc you refer to in the last century and a half. As I said above, America has amazing achievments. But to put them all down to its political system is extremely simplistic.

    As for the French Revolution’s state religion. Yes one was created but there was also full religious toleration for other religions too. Seeing as you seem to have missed that the first time, I thought I’d repeat it.

  • Harry Flashman

    Please don’t read too much into my not mentioning natural resources, Garibaldy.

    I simply omitted to include it along with climate and I also forgot to mention geography, Brazil, Canada, Russia and China along with many other countries had just as abundant natural resources as the United States, they still do. These countries were also populated by peoples who had taken over the lands from original settlers (as is the case in almost all pieces of inhabited land on planet earth) and slavery and serfdom were not exactly unheard of in those societies also, so how come they could not manage to emulate the US’s success?

    For your information for most of the 19th century western European nations did not have to fight major wars against rival powers, whereas the Americans were continuously battling (rightly or wrongly) the Indian tribes, Mexico as well as having a massive civil war of their own.

    I still say the successful development of the United States’ society was due hugely to the unique political settlement of their constitution, you keep throwing up factors that were commonplace in other lands, do you want to keep trying or will you concede the point?

    I did not miss your reference to tolerance of religion in Revolutionary France, it’s nonsense, the Catholic Church suffered dreadful depredations at the hands of the Revolutionaries, if you are unaware of this I suggest you read about it again.

  • Harry Flashman @ 11:17 AM:

    Brazil, Canada, Russia and China … how come they could not manage to emulate the US’s success?

    Access to European (at first, especially British) markets and technology; open sea-routes to and from the European market; a constant supply of imported skills from (pre-1775) Ulster and (later) Germany; shared language (and culture) with British and German technical development; a low-cost, high-value cash crop (tobacco, later also grain); an enterprise economy (“the Protestant work-ethic”) and a mobile and fluid one based on money and exchange; the Scottish and Scots-Irish education tradition (Princeton, Harvard, Yale …); evolving production methods to achieve low-cost, high-quality manufacture; the benefit of lacking a non-productive, high-maintenance aristocratic class; an educated class of entrepreneurs and administrators (all those bloody lawyers); the rule of law and an open political society (all those bloody lawyers, again); the frontier tradition …

    Shall I continue?

  • Harry Flashman

    A fine list Malcolm.

    Very succinctly put and all of the factors you mention prove my point that the uniquely favourable settlement of the US political system based as it was on British, evolutionary, ‘protestant’ principles of political, religious and economic liberty and tied up with constitutional democracy led to the success of the United States.

    Thank you I couldn’t have summarised it better myself.

  • Garibaldy


    On the French Catholic church. It underwent some much needed reform, with the support of the majority of the clergy. Then there were the attacks on it you mention. Then toleration was restored, then the deal with Napoleon. As a whole, the Revolution massively increased religious toleration, despite the repression of 1793-4.

    The idea that the other countries you mentioned had just as abundant resources as the US is simply not the case, and particularly not when you take into account what was needed to kickstart and sustain early and middle-term industrial development of the type that saw the US forge ahead in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fossil fuels, rivers, labour supply all within economically viable distances of major population centres. That is where climate becomes important as many of the resources in places like Canada and Russia were simply not easily accessible, never mind the fact that in Russia especially the labour supply was (almost literally) tied to the land.

    My point about the US’ geopolitical situation was that it lacked the threat that caused instability, insecurity and massive defence spending in Europe, even during the period 1815-54. The wars against the Indians were nothing like the scale of European warfare, while the Civil War, brutal though it was, was relatively short and an internal affair.

    I see you’re now moving out from just the political system to religious and economic liberty as well. So you’ve already shifted ground. I will not concede that the US’ political system made it so successful for the simple reason that it was merely one factor among many.

  • Harry Flashman

    *I will not concede that the US’ political system made it so successful for the simple reason that it was merely one factor among many.*

    Well therein lies our difference of opinion.

    The Civil War, the war with Mexico, the ongoing wars with the Indian tribes were far more serious and disruptive than any of the minor wars faced by Russia for most of the 19th century, Brazil had nothing of the kind.

    The Mississippi valley which cuts right through the US flooded every bit as much as anywhere in China.

    The wheat fields of the Ukraine were absolutely closer to the markets of western Europe than those of Kansas.

    The great rivers of Europe and Asia had been navigable for a millennium before anyone discovered North America, yet still you insist that the Yanks just got lucky with the hand that nature – or God – dealt them and their chosen method of ordering their society (and no I am most certainly not shifting ground, the way society orders its economic, religious and judicial systems are all political) was of no particular relevance.

    So if the political system which US citizens designed for themselves was not the most important factor in the success of the United States, explain to me please the situation of the Russian Jews. They for the most part had comfortable homes, farms and businesses in Russia. Unfortunately the political masters of Russia would routinely rob them of the results of their hard work such that hundreds of thousands of them decided to pull up stakes and get on boats to the United States where for decades they worked in menial tasks and squalid conditions but nevertheless managed to forge a lifestyle for themselves such that today they would not even dream of returning to live in Russia even if they were offered their own farms and businesses back.

    Why is that?

    I say it is because of the unique nature of the political/social/cultural settlement of the United States embodied in the US Constitution.

    You believe that there’s nothing special in the US Constitution and that given the right combination of mineral resources, geography and climate there’s no reason why the descendants of Russian Jews couldn’t feel perfectly safe and at ease and prosper in today’s Russia.

    I say, right, whatever.

  • Garibaldy

    And Harry I say that if you transplant the US constitution to countries without those other advantages you do not get the wealth and achievement of the US. So there you go.

  • Harry Flashman

    Well no one’s ever tried I suppose but that doesn’t take away the fact that the political ethos of the United States was the primary motivating factor of its success and not the random collection of natural phenomenon to be found in the continental United States.

    You say tom-A-to and I say tom-Ay-to there’s not much either of us is going to do to change the other’s mind but at least you have now conceded that far from being an irrelevance in fact the US political system was a major factor in the success story (I say it was far and above the biggest factor) at least that is an advance from your earlier position that the dumb Yanks just got a lucky break from God.