How Glorious was the “Glorious Revolution”?

How Glorious was the “Glorious Revolution”?
(Adapted from an address to the 11th meeting of the Property & Freedom Society)
By Keir Martland

Historical Notes No. 54
ISBN: 1856376737
ISBN 13: 9781856376730
© 2016: Libertarian Alliance; Keir Martland


I would like to begin by thanking Professor Hoppe and Dr Imre Hoppe for their generosity in inviting me to speak on 2nd September to such an august gathering as the Property and Freedom Society – and at such a young age. The topic of the speech I gave was the so-called Glorious Revolution, although it might as easily have been titled “On Politics and Religion”, so central were these two themes to my own speech. Therefore, at the beginning of this essay I cannot help but recall an anecdote told of G.K. Chesterton. The great man was offered a column by the Illustrated London News Company and he very humbly asked on what he could possibly write for them.

They said “Oh anything – except politics and religion, of course.”

Came the reply, “There is nothing else worth writing about.”

Chesterton was still given the column and he retained it for the next thirty years. Of course, Chesterton was broadly right, although I might also insert economics alongside politics and religion. The topic presently under discussion is a pretty good validation of Chesterton’s reply. There are a number of different approaches one might take when writing about this subject, but they must all inevitably deal in some depth with politics and religion.


First of all, what was the “Glorious Revolution”? Put simply, it was the removal in December 1688 – by the threat of force – of England’s last Catholic king, James II (r. Feb 1685-Dec 1688), and his replacement by William of Orange, the Protestant ruler of the Netherlands, a man who was married to James’ eldest daughter, Mary, in 1689. This will be a heavily revisionist take on this hugely important event in English history. In a sense, I am in uncharted territory; incredibly few libertarians are willing to challenge the accepted view of the Revolution. Libertarian thinkers and organisations old and new accept the case for the removal of James II, with the recently established Beltway Libertarian organisation “Young Britons for Liberty” even cheering at the murder of King Charles I in 1649. “Whig” and “Tory” historians alike[1] have praised the Revolution of 1688, with the supposedly Tory David Hume taking a positive view of it. There is even some gentlemanly disagreement between myself and Dr Sean Gabb over this issue.

But what is the accepted view of the Revolution of 1688? The accepted view is still, although it has suffered occasional setbacks, the view put forth by Thomas Babington Macaulay[2] in the 19th century in his History of England. He believed that James II was one of the enemies of Progress who must be mowed down by it, having failed to get out of its way. He argued that James II was guilty of various wrongs, chief of which was an attempt to undermine the “ancient constitution” of England, supposedly “engraven on the hearts of Englishmen,”[3] and to replace it with Absolutism of the kind then practiced in France by his co-religionist Louis XIV. This James did through upsetting a balanced constitution, using his dispensing and suspending power of laws, packing Parliament with his supporters, and doing it by cynically exploiting the language of religious toleration, all the while actually fantasising about a Catholic-dominated England. He built up a large standing army and stationed it at Hounslow Heath, its purpose being to overawe London and scare the populace into submission. He was a slave, or rather a mercenary, of Louis XIV and therefore subordinated the interests of England to those of France, taking payments from Louis to keep him from meeting Parliament. James ruled England through a narrow clique of Catholics, including a Jesuit Confessor, Father Petre. He was unprincipled, seen in his changing of alliances, from the Anglicans and Tories until 1687 to the Dissenters and radical Whigs for much of the rest of his short three and a half year reign. He was also a particularly cruel king even for the standards of the time, seen in his murderous judicial rampage in the West Country at the beginning of his reign, known as the “Bloody Assizes.” He mistreated the Anglican State Church and also mistreated the Universities, thus demonstrating a lack of regard for private property. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings and thus ruled autocratically and tyrannically, and indeed he wanted to abolish Habeas Corpus. On these, and many other, grounds, Macaulay argued that the Glorious Revolution was an attempt to provide the English people with “security for their liberties”[4] from the despotic menace that was James II. Therefore, Seven Magnates both Whig and Tory, acting on behalf of the Nation, invited William of Orange to rescue the country’s Established Church and the Parliament from this Catholic tyranny.

So far, so libertarian, surely? However, even at this early stage as a cautionary note, when fighting against something awful, like a bad king, one must always be careful not to erect something many times worse than the old order in the process. Some libertarians will accept that this was the case after 1649. Most libertarians accept that this was the case after 1789. Yet the jury is still out on 1688 – no, the jury trial hasn’t even begun. Consider this essay as marking the beginning of that trial.

Unlike the majority of English libertarians, I do not buy into the Whig myth of the ancient constitution. According to this view, England has been governed since time immemorial by a kind of “balanced” or “limited” constitution, but the Whigs obviously, believing in gradual Progress, preferred later, more modern ideas of government to earlier ones. For example, Macaulay, apparently without any sense of irony, despised the 12th century for its “despotic foreign princes.”[5] For the Whigs, English history really begins to make great strides towards political Progress from around 1540 onwards. The English Reformation may have started earlier than this, but the date 1540 coincides with Henry VIII’s expropriation and subsequent sale of Church lands. Far from political Progress, I see two major negative developments spring forth from this.

First, there was the growth of perpetual religious conflict and religious intolerance. As a result, various Acts of Parliament were passed to greatly limit the freedom of all those who did not fall in line with the Anglican Church. Both Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters were persecuted in a number of ways, whether through fines for non-attendance of Anglican services, the inability of Dissenters to live or educate their children in the towns, or even the threat of execution for participation in the Mass. Even by today’s standards, the scope of regulation over the daily life of the individual in this period was astonishing, and a good deal of it was over how they worshipped God. When you consider the importance of religion in the 17th century, you realise just how much of a threat to freedom these penal laws and other laws such as the Clarendon Code or the Test Acts really were.

Second, there was the rise of the gentry. This rising class of people were moderate landowners whose landholdings were swelled by the Reformation and who therefore had an economic incentive in the maintenance and indeed the furthering of the Reformation. The concerted resistance against Queen Mary during her own brief reign (1553-1558) was largely from those who feared a Counter Reformation for personal economic reasons. This class – the gentry – continued on the up for the rest of the 16th century and through the early 17th century. They began to encroach on the commons and on the Royal Forest. They were so powerful by the time of the so-called Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 after the horrors of the Puritan Commonwealth that they insisted on the sweeping aside of the traditional feudal dues owed to the king by the more fortunate members of society. Instead, the gentry exchanged the feudal dues for an excise tax on consumption for the bulk of the population. Around the same time, the gentry also accumulated vast amounts of land through the dispossession of the yeomanry[6]. This dispossession was achieved through a complete reversal of the presumption of innocence. Rather, the entire yeomanry were suddenly assumed to be illegitimately cultivating their freehold land and were asked to provide documentary evidence for their titles. While a few politically well-connected yeomen kept their land, the vast majority did not because they simply did not know where to get the parchments. By these and other such means did the gentry become such a powerful force by the time of the Revolution of 1688, and their rise was by no means Progress of the political or economic kind.

The Whigs have two main cases to defend their Revolution as far as I can tell. First, they must argue that James II was guilty of all the crimes against his people as outlined in the Declaration of Rights in 1689[7] and elaborated on by Macaulay in the 19th century. Second, they must argue that the Revolution itself was the right way to go about improving the political situation in England. In my view, neither claim can be substantiated.

A number of defences can be made of James II simply by looking at the facts.

First of all, he was a sincere advocate of religious toleration in a profoundly intolerant – and oppressive – age. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised to a modern audience. The anti-Catholic and anti-Dissenter laws really did make life a living Hell for a large number of English subjects. The aforementioned penal laws etc. led to the death penalty in some cases and for English Catholics blackmail was a fact of life. Only a small number of the well-to-do could afford to be Catholic, so to speak, as informants paid by the State were open to bribes. James II opposed all of this. James opposed the persecution of Catholics and Dissenters and this can be seen not only in his words[8] but in his actions. Whether in Scotland, in the role of Lord High Commissioner, or in North America as a proprietor of a number of States, James’ conduct was impeccable. When James left Scotland, the Scottish bishops, obviously not of his own faith, wrote to the king and Parliament to express their gratitude. In North America, James established freedom of religion in New York, allowed apostate Puritans refuge on his lands, and worked with the Quaker William Penn to establish the religiously tolerant Pennsylvania. Indeed, were it not for the intervention of the Anglican-Tory Parliament of 1685, the first entrenched provision for freedom of religion in a Bill of Rights in North America would have happened under James.

When James became king, he almost immediately released over a thousand Protestant Dissenters from gaol, many of whom had been languishing there for 15 years, and he immediately stopped payments to those whose responsibility it was to inform the Crown of non-Anglican activity. Of course, one could do worse than simply read James’ two Declarations of Indulgence, which used the royal prerogative powers to relieve both Catholics and Dissenters from the tyranny of the Test and Corporation Acts and the penal laws. Even so, when all of this evidence – and more – is presented to the Whig, it simply does not compute. During the last three hundred years, it has been taken for granted that the very notion of religious toleration was a Protestant notion, and specifically an English classical liberal notion. However, this is simply incongruent with the facts; the first State to establish a “liberty of conscience” was Catholic Poland-Lithuania. And as for James’ supposedly harsh treatment of the Anglican Church and the Universities, this is not something which the libertarian should concern himself with, since the former was established on the basis of the expropriation of the Roman Catholic Church and then maintained by this time by 150 years of persecution of non-Anglicans, and the latter were State Church monopolies.

Was James a slave of France? The simple answer to this is no. James took just £40,000 from Louis XIV, and he took this only on the understanding that this was what was still owed to his late brother, Charles. As king, James neither asked nor begged for Louis XIV’s largesse; the allegation that he did so often came from politicians who were indeed taking money from Louis, or from William of Orange, or from both at the same time!  Really and truly, James II was as close to practicing a libertarian foreign policy as was possible in the late 17th century. James did not want dependence on either France or the Netherlands, and he acted accordingly. Unlike his brother Charles II and his Secret Treaty of Dover, James rejected close alliances, whether in public or private, and he simply wanted England to be independent. One of James’ greatest apologists, Hilaire Belloc, argued that James was actually something of a nationalist, somewhat of an outlier in an age of a cosmopolitan and interchangeable group of European ruling houses. Perhaps as a result of being forced to flee England at a young age, James Stuart became infatuated with it and scornful of anything foreign, and would go on to refuse French military assistance even when it might have saved his throne.

It is alleged that James II nevertheless wanted to establish in England a kind of French Absolutism, because of a belief in the so-called Divine Right of Kings. This view is confused on a number of levels. First, the belief that the Divine Right of Kings is a Catholic idea is false; Catholics believe in the Divine Right of the pope, but not kings. Rather, the Divine Right of Kings was a concept which grew out of the Reformation. Louis XIV was therefore in line with Reformation thinking, as his own attempts at the creation of an insular Gallican State Church were anything but Catholic.[9] Therefore, if James was a Catholic then he would have no reason to copy the French model whatsoever. Moreover, the French Absolutist model was associated with a level of centralised bureaucracy which James was not interested in and simply could not afford. Louis’ statist machine costed somewhere between 12 and 15% of GDP annually, whereas James’ was lucky to raise 4% from his own taxation, and was more concerned with paying off Charles’ debts[10] than running up any new debts. If James had been intent upon the creation of a gigantic statist behemoth, then he would have taken a rather more activist approach to raising money than he did. Instead, when we look at the real history, we see not James the Keynesian, but James the economic libertarian. In 1686, the economist Sir William Petty approached the king and told him that it would not impose on English subjects “an intolerable burden” if taxes were to rise so as to provide him with 5% of GDP. Yet even to this moderate proposal for a small increase in taxes, James replied that he would rather see taxes remain at the same level and raise more money only by allowing the economy to grow.

Another completely ahistorical assumption made by the Whigs is that Parliament was somehow better – more intelligent, more moral – than the king. However, when you look at the period objectively you simply find a Parliamentary oligarchy of rich families – of squires, merchants, and aristocrats – pursuing their own self-interest. It is alleged that James II tried to “pack” Parliament – that is, fill it with his own supporters – and this I will accept is true. But the question must be asked: when was Parliament not packed? Free elections and democracy never existed at this time, and we cannot be entirely sure that they exist today. In the 17th century, if the king did not pack Parliament, then Parliament would pack itself. For example, Charles II did not pack Parliament in 1680 and the result was a Whig-dominated Parliament united in opposition to allowing James, Duke of York, to ever become king. In 1685, however, through a use of quo warranto writs, the resulting Parliament was Anglican and Tory, and James hoped he might be able to work with it. When he found this Parliament to be uncooperative, he did what any king might have done and formed another alliance with the Dissenters and radical Whigs. The suggestion that James’ principles changed is absurd. Rather, James’ means simply changed, and there is nothing inherently bad in this. During James’ campaign to pack a libertarian Parliament in 1688 with the aim of repealing all the religious legislation, he conducted various surveys which go a long way towards elucidating the moral quality of the Parliamentarians of the day. One entry in a survey, in answer to the question of how this particular prospective Member of Parliament might vote on the question of toleration, reads, “Entirely mercenary; will vote as paid.” Since William of Orange invaded England three weeks before polling day, it is impossible to know just how successful James’ election-rigging might have been, but the hysteria with which the possibility of an election was greeted does suggest that any vote on toleration may have been close.

It is true that James built up a standing army and that it would be drilled on Hounslow Heath for a period each year. However, what the Whig historians neglect to mention is that during the invasions of England by the Duke of Argyll and the Duke of Monmouth at the start of James’ reign, the Militia had proved utterly ineffective. The purpose of the new army was mainly to protect the kingdom from foreign aggression, which throughout James’ reign was a distinct possibility and which happened in November 1688, but it also had other functions such as ceremonial and police functions. At its peak, the new army was just 31,000 men, and for most of the reign it was around 20,000 – well below the size of its equivalents on the Continent.

The list of facts on James’ side is endless. There is no factual evidence to support the view that James wanted to abolish Habeas Corpus, only that he wanted to suspend it just as his predecessors had done, and indeed as William of Orange did! There were very libertarian plans for Ireland made by James and the Earl of Tyrconnel during the reign, which in effect would have given Ireland back to the Irish – a very good idea while the expropriation of the Irish was still fresh in many people’s minds. As for James’ alleged judicial tyranny in the West Country, there are a couple of things to point out here. Firstly, the Bloody Assizes were carried out by Judge Jeffreys, and James did all that he could to commute many of the harsher sentences. For example, the often quoted sentence of burning to death for Alice Lisle was transmuted to a beheading on James’ orders. More fundamentally, however, the numbers of those actually executed has long been greatly exaggerated. Rather than over 400 dead, more recent research suggests that a figure of around 150 is closer to the truth.

I believe I have established, then, that James II was no tyrant. He did not idolise Louis XIV. Rather, he was fighting for what Belloc called “Popular Monarchy” – which he defined as a feudal monarchy which did not “tax” – or for what J.R.R. Tolkien called “unconstitutional monarchy.” Thus the Revolution was unnecessary even on the Whig’s own terms, since they justified their deliverance by William of Orange on account of how oppressive a king James II was. It seems that what really disturbed James’ opponents was not his “tyranny” but his ability to limit their own tyranny: his dispensing and suspending power with regard to laws; his Catholicism, since the Church of Rome has always been a great limitation on the temporal power of secular princes; and his reluctance to enter into foreign wars not in the national interest.

Thus, having dealt with the lies often told to legitimise the Revolution, let me now turn to the nature of the Revolution itself. Even leaving the lies aside, was the Revolution itself a step in a more libertarian direction, or was it even effected by libertarians?

Before I go any further, I feel I must point out that the Revolution of 1688 was really just a confirmation of the aristocratic coup of the 1660 “Restoration” of the monarchy. By 1660, the aristocrats and squires had become so powerful vis-à-vis the monarch, that they were able to abolish all feudal tenures and dues and replace them with a general tax on the bulk of the population. These men, and others such as the more politically well-connected merchants, were actually in charge of England during the reign of Charles II. To be sure, Charles had certain executive powers, but the entirety of the legislative power and much of the executive power had been colonised by the tool of the rich men of the kingdom: Parliament. This is nothing unique to 1688; a number of revolutionary periods in English history have parallels with this phenomenon. There is often a forewarning of revolutionary change long before it happens. For example, the Norman Conquest of 1066 was preceded by around 20 years of gradual Normanisation under Edward the Confessor, and the Blair Revolution in 1997 was preceded by the Thatcher Revolution of 1979. Just so with the 1688 Revolution, which was perhaps the inevitable result of the ill-defined powers of Crown and Parliament created by the Restoration Settlement. Thus, the nature of the “Glorious” Revolution was really a matter of Parliament kicking the monarchy while it was down, rather than a struggle between equals.

Furthermore, far from the Revolution being a “restoring” or “conservative” revolution, designed to secure English liberties and turn the clock back constitutionally, it was incredibly destructive and indeed highly revolutionary. The Revolution brought about regime uncertainty and conflict through the ballot box. As Steven Pincus and James Robinson argue:

“Far from making government more predictable, it instantiated one of the most polarised and unstable periods in English history. The Revolution gave birth to the rage of party.”[11]

Pincus and Robinson note that one contemporary observer wrote of the period after the Revolution thus:

“[the British were] a nation so divided into parties that no one is allowed any good quality by the opposite side.”[12]

Further to this, the question must be asked “cui bono?” Various special privileges were granted following the Revolution, such as the protection of the English textile industry by the Calico Act, various corrupt deals made with individuals over the use of farm land and who could build canals and roads. Another entirely negative consequence of the Revolution – for libertarians, that is – was that the balance of power in society soon shifted downwards as is always the case in relatively more democratic systems. John Aubrey at the time said “the balance of the government is quite altered and put into the hands of the common people.”

The Glorious Revolution has been treated as tolerable by Englishmen on account of the fact that it has been presented during the last 300 years as “moderate”, “conservative”, and even in a sense organic. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Revolution was deeply unpopular at the time, with William of Orange receiving little by way of active support outside of the upper echelons of government, and the “invitation” made by the infamous Seven Magnates was a work of theatre directed by Orange and his men. William had a number of men on the ground in England working for him in various capacities, with one example being the Earl of Portland, with whom he was having a homosexual relationship.[13]

The nature of all revolutions has, in fact, very little to do with abstract ideas, and infinitely more to do with the self-interest of human beings. It is important therefore to analyse any revolution not only on the basis of the words uttered by the various characters, but to utilise the insights of the Austrian School – most notably that human action is purposeful behaviour, using scarce means to attain ends – and the Public Choice School. For example, in the domestic sphere, what you invariably find is that the opponents of James II’s agenda of religious toleration were self-interested opponents. Henry Care, one of the more radical Whigs prepared to support James, saw opposition to toleration as a cover for self-interest. As Scott Sowerby notes, describing Care’s assessment of the likely motives of James’ opponents:

“Their dislike of toleration stemmed from their self-interested desire to monopolise political power by pushing Dissenters out of lucrative public offices.”[14]

Sowerby goes on to quote Care himself. In the following, Care is mocking the opponents of toleration:

“We have got a jolly number of laws on our sides, whereby we have engrossed to our own party, all the Preferments of the Nation, the power to crush all other perswasions. We have found the sweets hereof for many years, and made the Dissenters of all sorts tremble before us.”

 Sowerby himself accepts that, for some of James II’s opponents, “anti-popery” may have been “a cover for selfish ambition.”

The selfish ambition of William of Orange must also not be ignored. Orange wanted to drag England into a costly and lengthy foreign war with France, and to reward the various bankers and Calvinist merchants who had supported him during his own political troubles. Indeed, you might see the Revolution of 1688 as a hostile foreign takeover of England by the Dutch ruler, and the war with France which seems to have been his main aim costed £40 million. Government spending accordingly went up, and to pay for it taxes went up. By the year of the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694 according to plans laid by the failed businessman William Paterson, government spending was at 15% of GDP annually, rivalling that of the supposedly statist-in-chief Louis XIV. With the government spending roughly £10 million a year – around four to five times the average of Charles II and James II’s incomes – there was the need for a National Debt, which of course grew, and grew, and grew. This more than any other innovation perhaps signposts the movement from private government to public government, that is, from government for which a monarch is personally liable, to government run by a group of individuals who have current control of the State but not ownership of it.

The Revolution of 1688 was, in effect, the emerging Political Class finishing off the king, and it is instructive here that both Whig and Tory politicians united to usher in the period of constitutional republicanism or “constitutional monarchy” – would that such a concept were seen for the nonsense that it is! Erik Ritter von Kuenhelt-Leddihn argues that “there is in all aristocracies a certain republican undercurrent” and that Britain post-1688 was a “disguised oligarchic republic” or a “camouflaged aristocratic republic.”

Even so, as with all Revolutions, there was a need to present the Nation with a set of legitimising ideologies. With no sense of irony, the new order legitimised itself on the grounds of religious toleration by passing a fake Toleration Act! I say that it was fake because toleration is only that if it tolerates all that is tolerable, whereas the post-1688 Toleration Act omitted toleration for Roman Catholics. It was therefore, in effect, a mere amendment to the old persecutions. In addition to this, a legitimising Bill of Rights was passed, with a very nice list of rights which English subjects were to be granted. It is ostensibly a good Bill of Rights, but underneath the surface it is dreadful; the right to bear arms applies only to Protestant subjects, and almost every other clause refers to the rights of Parliament. Indeed, Parliament itself, being sovereign, had the right to take away all of the rights of the new king’s subjects without any restraint. Also instructive when considering the nature of the Revolution is the fact that William and Mary were elected as co-monarchs. Thus, not only was Parliament now the superior of the institution of the monarchy, but it could – and did! – change the succession according to its own whims. Later, Parliament would go on to rule out more than fifty successors to the throne of England on account of their Roman Catholicism, and to invite Georg Ludwig of Hannover – who spoke not a word of English and preferred to spend his time on the Continent – to become king of England. So much for the Whigs not liking “foreign princes.”

In essence, then, what the Revolution of 1688 ushered in was a period of republican oligarchy, legitimised in various ways, whether by anti-Catholic bigotry, words on paper, or intellectuals like John Locke. The Revolution was a move from absolute monarchy to constitutional republicanism, and it formalised and codified any increases in the powers of the State. It was anti-monarchy, anti-Catholic, republican, supported by a broad coalition of interests from the merchants to the territorial landowners to foreign interests lobbying for war, and it greatly advanced Statism.

Once again, I will repeat my observation that revolutions are very rarely about abstract ideas, but they are invariably about actions. As a word of caution to libertarians and conservatives who are contemplating matters of strategy, I would say this: you cannot achieve libertarian or conservative ends by statist means and you cannot have a “moderate” or a “restoring” revolution. Therefore, to conclude, the Whig historians are entirely wrong: the so-called Glorious Revolution was neither necessary because of a Catholic Absolutist tyranny nor was it a Good Thing in itself. The Revolution of 1688 must therefore be resented by all those who consider themselves to be on the Right, and certainly all English government since 1688 must therefore be seen as entirely illegitimate.


[1] Here it is necessary to explain some terminology. The terms Whig and Tory developed during the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81. This was an attempt by opponents of monarchy and Catholicism, nicknamed whiggamores after the extremist Scots covenanters for their crypto-republicanism, to exclude James, Duke of York, as he was then from succeeding his older brother Charles II (1660-1685) as king on the latter’s death on the grounds of his Catholicism. The Tories developed in opposition to the Whigs, and were so named after Irish bandits, the implication being that supporters of the succession to the monarchy as it stood must therefore be Catholic.

[2] Macaulay was a Whig. He therefore believed in Progress of the political, economic, moral, intellectual, physical, and scientific kind. Here we are concerned primarily with the political kind, and Macaulay’s political whiggism may be readily compared to Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man thesis. Like all Whig historians, Macaulay had a tendency to abridge, and to thereby construct grand narratives of Good and Bad, Progress and Reaction, etc.

[3] History of England, T.B. Macaulay

[4] Critical and Historical Essays Vol II, T.B. Macaulay

[5] Op. cit.

[6] A yeoman: “a commoner who cultivates his own land.”

[7] A comparison must be made between the list of charges against James II and the list of charges against George III in the Declaration of Independence; both lists are largely lists of lies.

[8] Such as in his Memoirs or in his letters or in accounts of what he said written by the likes even of Gilbert Burnet, to whom he allegedly said that persecution for conscience’s sake was against his own conscience, or others who recorded James saying that he just wanted to leave people alone regardless of their religious beliefs.

[9] Incidentally, it is often alleged that Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was a symbol of James and Louis’ intentions. The Edict of Nantes is seen as a toleration given to French Calvinists – Huguenots – and Louis’ revocation of it has been described as a foreshadowing of James’ alleged persecutions of Dissenters. For one, the Edict of Nantes was no such thing. Rather than a toleration, it was instead a peace treaty concluded by the King of France after a bloody civil war which the Catholics just about won. To keep the Huguenots happy, they were given various special privileges such as their own territory, and by 1685 had become a hostile and resented nation within a nation, rather like the homosexual lobby in most Western countries has gone from being a group of freedom fighters to a privileged and politicised group of special-pleaders. As for James’ alleged persecution of Protestant Dissenters, this is largely a myth. James worked tirelessly to release Dissenters from prison and to relieve them of the Anglican tyranny, and the only group he ever countenanced the use of force against were the Scots Covenanters, who were an aggressive political, rather than a religious, problem.

[10] This should also be a good indication of James’ general outlook and attitude. Rather than use his time on the throne of England to build up a vast and complex bureaucratic machine, he paid off somewhere in the region of £1 million of Charles II’s debt. He quite obviously did this because he felt personally liable for it. He regarded the country as his private estate. Imagine if Theresa May regarded the United Kingdom as her private estate. If Mrs May was personally liable for the £1.6 trillion of UK National Debt, it is hard to see how she would spend her days doing anything other than shutting down entire government departments.

[11] What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution? Steven C.A. Pincus, James A. Robinson

[12] Op. cit.

[13] In light of the experience of Professor Hoppe in this regard, Dr Jason Jewell has said that perhaps it is not wise to enter into a lengthy discussion of how Orange’s homosexuality may have affected his rate of time-preference.

[14] Making Toleration, Scott Sowerby


  1. I will defer to the custom with Maiden Speeches and not criticise my learned Tory Catholic opponent too harshly. We Whig-Republican-Socialist running dogs are nowadays much more polite than we used to be. [Exeunt – Now searches for his knife…]

    It’s an excellent essay, one of the best I have had the pleasure to read here – perhaps the best. It’s a sign of the quality of this that even the footnotes are of a higher standard than most of the output you would read elsewhere. (I’ve no idea what footnote 13 means either, and I’d rather that you don’t elucidate. I’ve had enough for one day with the Keith Vaz thing). One could write a lengthy critical commentary on the footnotes alone, all of them are interesting.

    Note 7 – [quote]”A comparison must be made between the list of charges against James II and the list of charges against George III in the Declaration of Independence; both lists are largely lists of lies.”[unquote]

    Of course, this is a matter of perspective, and it’s this point that I think could be seen as pointing to a flaw in Keir Martland’s thesis on James II. Keir isn’t heavy on references to support his ‘facts’, which is fine – I think referencing is overrated anyway – but that lends itself to the conclusion that this is a tendentious thesis rather than a study built on a strictly objective assessment of facts.

    That said, Keir’s thesis is compelling and suggests that this period of English history is the opposite of what most people who have read it think it is. James II was the ersatz Cromwell of his day (the Commonwealth of course would still have been within the living memory of many of the influential people alive at that time). The Restoration was in fact the sealing victory of the power and influence of those who had supported Cromwell, who continued in power notwithstanding Charles II. James II went against this grain as he was a reminder of the old ‘absolutism’, which was a dispensation opposed to statisation, thus he was painted in a certain way that supports and legitimises what came after the so-called Glorious Revolution. Unfortunately I can’t remember where, but Keir recently made a comment about the difference between statism and government, and when statism began in British history, which could be of relevance to this, but my question would be whether the notion of a continued ‘oligarchy’ is of relevance today. Are the statists of today in power due to the Glorious Revolution?

    Moving back to the main work, I was particularly interested to read this:

    [quote]”Once again, I will repeat my observation that revolutions are very rarely about abstract ideas, but they are invariably about actions.”[unquote]

    I…sort of….agree, but I wonder if ‘actions’ has been used here advertently or was just a counterpoint word that came to mind when you were crafting that little epigrammic interjection?

    Are you really talking about the relationship between idealism, on the one hand, and social conditions and material reality, on the other? Or are you just being pointedly (perhaps impudently) anti-whiggist here?

    In any event, ‘Ideas’ are not the antonym of ‘action’, and I would be interested to know what you think is the relationship between the two?

    • High praise – and many thanks.

      First, I should have been a little more rigorous with my citations, but I wrote the speech in my head and the citations are also off the top of my head.

      Second, I ought to have been clearer in my remarks about the nature of revolutions. What I mean is that, human action being purposeful behaviour, and “public servants” being self-interested like the rest of us, we should not expect a revolution to deliver “socialism” or “liberalism”, but instead to simply deliver whatever will work most in the material and political interests of the revolutionaries.

      • Of course, it was a speech – I had forgotten that, apologies.

        [quote]”….human action being purposeful behaviour, and “public servants” being self-interested like the rest of us, we should not expect a revolution to deliver “socialism” or “liberalism”, but instead to simply deliver whatever will work most in the material and political interests of the revolutionaries.”[unquote]

        If this is true, then we are not talking about purposeful behaviour because you are implying that human beings are almost mechanistically self-interested, which is anti-purposive. Actually, a Marxist might go further than you and in that last part above substitute your wording for something like this: “…whatever will work most in the material circumstances of the time.” That would all-but dismiss political idealism altogether and relegate us to beasts.

        I do think you are wrong to suggest that revolutions are not about abstract ideas. They manifestly are, and even if the abstractions are false (a point I will come to in a moment), that does not disqualify the influence of the ideas. The Bolsheviks were capitalists, not communists, but their abstract communism was an important influence on their actions and on the actions of their supporters and followers. I think the more useful question is what the relationship is between action and ideas.

        I agree with the basic idea that human beings are not idealistic (if that’s what you mean). That is not to say idealism is false or does not exist, and I don’t entirely agree with Classical Marxists who think that material circumstances shape reality rather than ideas. I think the intellectual uniqueness of human beings suggests it that it could be more of an interactive relationship. Clearly we do sometimes adopt idealistic positions that are opposed to our own material interests, and even reality itself. I doubt any other ‘intelligent’ species we know of can do that.

        But I do see political and social ideas as a simulacrum – and sometimes, a distorted mirror. Liberalism and equalitarianism are perhaps the archetypal simulacra, projecting material reality in a way that flatters the speaker or writer. That does not make these ideas opposed to or contrary to material reality or in any way counterfactual. I am saying they are aligned with material reality, but equality advocates and left-liberals tend to express their ideas positivistically. They talk in moral and ethical terms, and I think these moral and ethical precepts are analogues.

        For instance, I might say I am a “socialist” and believe in equality, but this is likely to be a projection of my innermost needs or the expressed or unconscious needs of some group I belong to – in the case of socialists, the working class, being the people who do not own capital and must sell their labour-power for a living. The innermost need could be sex (i.e. reproduction and social acceptance) – I might be advocating left-wing ideas for social approval – or it could be a need for power and prestige which I think I might get by putting forward certain ideas. That doesn’t make the ideas false, they are just an imperfect expression of my needs.

        My verdict on this is that your epigram is correct, but your explanation is wrong. It’s not that revolutions cannot deliver ideas, it’s more than they will only deliver what they abstractly promise in so far as this is also in the material interests of people. That is the essence of what socialism is. That brings us into a discussion of why socialism is a science and so on. But I think it also raises the question of what a ‘revolution’ is. A revolution is not what you seem to purport it to be. Revolution is really evolution – they are not opposites, but are, if anything, synonyms.

  2. Keir,

    Well written! I’ve already added to the chorus of five star votes.

    However… I disagree with your case, and for different reasons than Tom Rogers.

    I’ll start by disagreeing with your Chestertonian premise, that politics and religion are the only things worth writing about. In my view, they are the two biggest banes of humanity. And the only reason to write about them is to de-fang them.

    I’ll add another. You mentioned John Locke once towards the end; in a derogatory way. If I understand Locke’s view on religious tolerance right, he had no problem with Catholic rituals. His problem was with those that looked to the pope as their world-wide ruler, rather than kow-towing to the local “authorities.” Maybe that’s why the 1689 Act didn’t extend tolerance to Roman Catholics; because they were Roman, not English. I wonder if you’d agree that a Catholic can’t be a nationalist?

    As an aside, I think the pope versus nation dichotomy isn’t a weakness of Catholicism, but a strength. When there’s a good pope and bad rulers – as in Poland in the early 1980s – there’s a good case to use religion to unite people against bad politics.

    But now back to my disagreements…

    As to Judge Jeffreys, I have a question. Did James II appoint Jeffreys Lord Chancellor before or after the Bloody Assize?

    And you say that “power was shifted downwards” by the revolution, and this was a negative. Have I read you right? Libertarianism looks to shift power as far down as possible – doesn’t it? Even to the level of the individual?

    No Keir, you haven’t convinced me. I’m still thinking of the 1688 revolution as “Glorious.”

    • Chesterton was a nationalist of sorts. It is certainly possible. The nation is not the same as the “nation-state.”

      Jeffreys was made LC after the Assizes because he was a very fine judge.

      Power was shifted downwards to the common man, but not in the sense of radical decentralisation etc. but in the sense of power through the ballot box. This was not a positive development.

      • [quote]”Power was shifted downwards to the common man, but not in the sense of radical decentralisation etc. but in the sense of power through the ballot box. This was not a positive development.”[unquote]

        I agree with this, but I also think that the mass franchise might ultimately prove to be the elite’s undoing. It can easily be turned from a tool of oppression into a tool of liberation.

    • I ought to make it clear that I am not in disagreement with Keir about the Glorious Revolution itself. To the contrary, I find his point-of-view on this very appealing, but I can’t claim any expertise on the detailed history. My disagreement, if any, is over various generic issues to do with historiography: i.e. What is a ‘Revolution’ and why do they happen? What causes social change? And so on.

    • An excellent — if somewhat slightly off-topic — piece. There is a small but growing element stateside that is coming to recognize that, in the bin of US pResidents, Lincoln was one of the more rotten, the lot being a spoiled bunch as a whole.

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