Posts Tagged ‘Divine Right of KIngs’

Civil War Texts and the Origins of Modern Parliamentary Government

January 18, 2014

Further to my post recommending a number of books on the origins of British constitutional government and democracy, I also recommend anyone interested in the subject to read this one:

Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, edited and introduced by David Wootton (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986)

Divine Right Democracy

This is a collection of texts from the late 16th to the early 18th century stating the period’s political philosophy and the changing views of the nature of government, the state, and the rights and duties of the citizens. Most of the texts are from the period of the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms, and show intense intellectual debate about the nature of government and the people’s right to resist and depose a tyrant.

The 17th century was an immensely formative period in the history of British democracy, when constitutional theorists like John Locke laid the foundations for constitutional, representative government and the rights of the citizens against the power of the monarchy. The book includes the texts supporting the Divine Right of Kings and absolute monarchy, but also the radical texts defending constitutional government and which provided the basis for our modern political liberties. It also includes texts from radical groups like the Levellers, who wanted not only something like the NHS, with state hospitals and homes to care for the elderly and infirm, but a massive expansion of the franchise so that all the male heads of households would get the vote. Needless to say, this was too radical for Cromwell and he suppressed them. They have continued to influence left-wing British radicals, however, including the British punk band, New Model Army.

The book includes the debate on the franchise, and the Putney Debates Cromwell held with the Levellers on the nature of government. Like the other books I’ve recommended, it shows just how hard won the modern, democratic liberties we take for granted actually are, as well as showing the intellectual background from which they developed. Unfortunately, these liberties are now under attack from David Cameron and the Coalition, most recently in the way the Coalition has ignored parliament’s overwhelming call for an inquiry into the alarming rise of poverty in the UK. They must be defended, and books like this help you understand how they arose, and how vitally important they are.