Posts Tagged ‘Edwin B. Bronner’

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.


William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament

March 26, 2016

I’ve probably blogged about this before, but as the issue is now of major importance once again, I’ll carry on talking about it.

The debate about whether Britain should leave the EU has been raised again, with both Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith giving their support to the leave campaign. David Cameron, on the other hand, supports staying in, and has forced his cabinet to take an oath of personal loyalty to him about it. Actually, I wonder if this was the real reason IDS walked out of the cabinet, rather than any of the bunkum he spouted about working age people being hit too hard by Osborne’s benefit cuts. IDS has never voiced any opposition to cutting wages or benefits before. Indeed, he’s been frantically for them. And Tory opposition to the EU is focussed on the Social Charter, which guarantees European workers certain minimal rights. This seems far more likely as a reason for IDS choosing to walk out than him suddenly developing a social conscience. Though it might be that he was genuinely frustrated at not being able to vent his malevolence and hatred of welfare scroungers at the elderly.

Euroceptic attacks on the EU frequently argue that it’s a development of the policies of Napoleon and the Kaiser. Both of these monarchs wanted to create a free trade zone in Europe. However, the demands for a European parliament weren’t confined either to Napoleon, and can be traced back centuries earlier. Kant wrote a trace, On Perpetual Peace, arguing for a federation of states that would outlaw war, and Mazzini, the Italian patriot and revolutionary, also held the same views.

And one of the first pieces arguing for the benefits of a European parliament was written by the great Quaker writer and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1693 pamphlet An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates.
This is divided into several individual sections, such as ‘1. Of Peace, and its Advantages’, ‘2.Of the Means of Peace, Which Is Justice Rather than War’, ‘3. Government, Its Rise and End of All Models’, ‘5. Of the Causes of Difference, and Motives to Violate Peace’, ‘6. Of Titles, Upon Which Those Differences May Arise’, ‘7. Of the Composition of these Imperial States’, ‘8. Of the Regulation of the Imperial States in Session’, ‘9. of the Objections that May Be Advanced against the Design’, ’10. Of the Real Benefits that Flow from the Proposal About Peace’, and a Conclusion.

It is the section ‘4. Of a General Peace, or the Peace of Europe, and the Means of It’, that contains Penn’s basic description of the European parliament he proposes to provide the means by which the various princes and leaders of the various European states at this time could settled their differences peacefully through negotiation. He wrote:

In my first section, I showed the desirableness of peace; in my next, the truest means of it; to wit, justice, not war. And in my last, that this justice was the fruit of government, as government itself was the result of society, which first came from a reasonable design in men of peace. Now it the sovereign princes of Europe, who represent that society, or independent states of men that was previous to the obligations of society, would, for the same reason that engaged men first into society, viz. love of peace and order, agree to meet by their state deputies in a general diet, estates, or parliament, and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be styled, the sovereign or imperial diet, parliament or estate of Europe; before which sovereign assembly, should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another, that cannot be made up by private embassies, before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states, shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgement thereof, and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixed in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission: to be sure Europe would quietly obtain the so much desired and needed peace, to her harassed inhabitants; no sovereignty in Europe, having the power, and therefore cannot show the will to dispute the conclusion; and consequently peace would be procured, and continued in Europe.

The full text of Penn’s work, and his other writings, can be found in William Penn: The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. Edwin B. Bronner (London: Everyman 1993).

Penn was writing in the late 17th century, after a series of terrible religious wars had raged across the continent, of which the British civil war was just one. The French in the 16th century had suffered the Wars of the Religion, while in the German Empire a fifth of the population had died of starvation as armies had raged across the country from the borders of France to Russia. As a Quaker, Penn was committed to peace, and saw the creation of a European parliament as the correct means through which peace could be achieved, and justice and prosperity return to the suffering peoples of Europe.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU, from bureaucratic wastefulness and corruption to the massive, economic mess that’s the Euro and the Troika ruling Greece, Italy and the other countries that have suffered severely from the economic effects of the single currency. But the idea of creating a single European community of nations, in which international disputes can be resolved without violence, and nation can truly speak peace unto nation, is the dream of centuries. It should not be thrown away, and especially not because IDS, BoJo and Priti Patel want to turn Britain into an unregulated sweatshop outside EU control.