Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Adolf Glasbrenner’s ‘Constitushun’

February 23, 2014

Looking through the anthology of German literature from the Vormarz, the period of social and industrial discontent in Germany in the early 19th century that produced the 1848 revolutions, I came across Adolf Glasbrenner’s Konschtitution. Glasbrenner (1810-1876) was a radical Berlin journalist and writer. He trained as a merchant, but from 1830 turned to writing as a Liberal. He published the newspaper, the Berliner Don Quixote, which was banned in 1833. In 1835 he moved to Switzerland, where he published a number of works anonymously. In 1848 his Freien Blatter (Free Pages) was banned in Berlin, and he took part in the revolution that March. He became the leader of the Democratic Party of Neustrelitz in the German state of Mecklenburg. He was forced to move to Hamburg in 1850. His newspapers the Deutschen Sonntagszeitung and Phosphor were banned in 1856 and 1858. He had a constant battle with the censor as the manager of the Berliner Montagszeitung. In his works Glasbrenner wrote in the Berlin dialect, using typical figures from Berlin society, such as the casual labourer Nante and the petty-bourgeois rentier, Buffey, to satirise the contemporary political situation, in order to strengthen the popular masses’ trust in themselves, and so help prepare the way for the 1848 revolution.

Konschtitution is written in the Berlin dialect as a father attempting to explain the Prussian constitution to his son. While it’s like the 13 demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee in that both are of their time and place, it also struck me as being relevant to today’s Britain. Both Britain and Wilhelmine Germany are constitutional monarchies, and the same basic concepts of government are common to each, even if there are many differences. The judiciary in Britain still are independent, for example, whether they will continue to be so under this increasingly illiberal and authoritarian government is a good question. Here’s my attempt at a translation:


Today I ‘splained to my son, Willyum, what the constitushun is, dat is, in what you call the ‘high style’, and I fink dat I’ve ‘spressed it quite statesmanlike. I said to ‘im namely. The constitushun, dat’s the separashun of power. The king does, what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants. The ministers are therefore responsible, that nothing happens. The king rules quite irresponsibly. The government choose by means of an electoral law the people’s representatives. It’s necessary dat every law is realized. Every law only then has validity, when it’s realized.

The people’s representatives come together in two chambers and hold speeches. The first chamber consists of rich servants and the second of nightwatchmen. The chambers must be listen to in every case. Should the chamber not be listen to in every case, the crown has the right to dissolve it, but only ever for three months, in case it shouldn’t last longer. In the case that there is continual disunity between Crown and chamber, the old state diet is convoked, which steps through it in the chamber’s complete duties.

The chamber can also grant new taxes. The penalty for refusing tax established by law, should not be under ten years penitentiary. About the people’s monies (finances), everyone must be passed three months in an account, in which receipts and expenses tally. Should several millions be missing annually, these are to be viewed as spent. Should the citizens come to beggary or starve, the king is liable, to explain in a proclamation, that he’s sorry.

Justice is quite independent, but the judges can be transferred or removed. Everyone is equal before the law. Every subject has right to have his opinion about himself, and to assemble under the same conditions. The military do not swear to the state, because you don’t know what expires. The form of the state is monarchic-pulcinelle [a figure from the Italian Commedia del’Arte]. Without junkers [Prussian aristocrats], police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible.

The stupid boy stood there with his gob open, as I ‘splained the Constitushun to him. “Now do you know?” I asked him. “Nah, not quite yet”, he said, howling. That so annoyed me, that in anger I gave him a hard box on the ear., in which I expressed, ‘You prat, now know what the Constitushun is!’

I thought of translating the term ‘Junkers’ in the sentence ‘Without junkers, police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible’ as ‘toffs’ or ‘aristos’, to make it really contemporary, now that we have a government dominated by them, but I thought that would be stretching things a bit too much.


More on the European Round Table of Industrialists: The Free-Trade Corporate Interest at the Heart of the EU

January 30, 2014

I’ve blogged before about the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) in connection with the TTIP trade agreement, which would complete the privatisation of Britain’s NHS and leave national governments at the mercy of the multinationals. Lobster has reviewed two books critical of the strong corporate interests in the European Union, which were the subject of my previous blog posts about the ERT. Lobster 50 for Winter 2005/6 also carried an article on them, A Rough Guide to the European Round Table of Industrialists by Noel Currid. Lobster is on-line, so the article should be available. However, I thought I’d summarise some of Currid’s findings about the ERT here.

The ERT was set up in 1983 by Pehr Gyllenhammer, the chairman of Volvo, along with Umberto Agnelli of Fiat, Philips, Wisse Dekker, and Etienne Davignon, the EEC Industry Commissioner. Their goal was to relaunch Europe in order to combat the ‘stagflation’ from which the EEC had suffered for more than a decade. They were also frustrated by the lack of progress towards European integration. Gyllenhammer stated that ‘Europe really is doing nothing. It’s time for the business leaders to enter this vacuum and seize the initiative.’ Dekker concurred, stating ‘If we wait for our governments to do anything, we will be waiting for a long time. You can’t et all tied up with politics. Industry has to take the initiative. There is no other way.’ Gyllenhammer, Dekker, Davignon and Agnelli then began to recruit other business leaders to their group.

By 2005 the ERT had fifty members, comprising leading industrialists from 18 European states as well as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey from outside the EU. It was chaired by Gerhard Cromme of ThyssenKrupp. Its vice chairmen were Jorman Ollila of Nokia and Alain Joly of Air Liquide. Other members came from DaimlerChrysler, Ericsson, Fiat, Nestle and Siemens. British members have included Paul Adams of British American Tobacco, Martin Brougton from British Airways, Tom McKillop of Astazeneca, John Rose from Rolls-Royce, Peter Sutherland of BP, Ben Verwaayen, BT, and Paul Walsh of Diageo. However, membership is individual, not corporate, and invitation only. It holds two plenary sessions twice yearly, which decide their priorities and programme of activities, as well as their publications and budget. Its decisions are made by consensus, rather than settled unilaterally by its leadership. These plenary sessions also set up the working groups, which perform much of the ERT’s work. These consisted of Accounting Standards: Competition Policy, Competitiveness, Employment/Industrial Relations and Social Policy, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy; Environment; Foreign Economic Relations; and Taxation. The Secretary General of the ERT also heads its small secretariat. This is based in Brussels, and acts as a contact point for the Round Table, co-ordinates its various projects, providing administrative support, and publishes the Round Table’s reports.

The Round Table has as its goal the implementation of European integration in order to further the interests of EU transnational corporations so that they have ‘a significant manufacturing and technological presence worldwide’. It has stated that ‘industry is entitled to … an EU which functions like an integrated econo0mic system with single centre of overall decision making’. It has particular opposed and sought to abolish the national veto held by individual EU countries, stating ‘the problem is that in the individual countries the politicians have to gather votes’. Their model is the US, of which they believe that it also ‘could do nothing if every decision had to be ratified by 52 states’. The ERT’s primary focus is economic. It is not interested in the political consequences of integration, and it also does not deal with the specific legislation, only general overall policy. it also boats of its extensive contacts with the EU leading officials and bureaucrats, both at the national and international level. Currid quotes its website as stating

‘At European level, the ERT has contacts with the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Every six months the ERT strives to meet the government that has the EU presidency to discuss priorities. At national level, each member communicates ERT’s views to its own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion-formers and the press’. By 1993 other lobby groups in the EU considered that the ERT was so successful in these aims that it had become part of the EU’s apparatus of government itself, rather than simply another lobbying group.

Jacques Delors considered that the Round Table was one of the main forces driving the establishment of the Single Market. The European Commission had advanced a series of proposals for removing the national trade barriers within the EEC in late 1984, but these had little support either from business or member governments. In January the following year, Wisse Dekker published Europe 1990: An Agenda for Action. This was part of a larger ERT publication, Changing Scales, which the Round Table sent to the heads of state of the various EEC countries. Delors’ speech three days after the publication of Europe 1990 on the subject of integration to the European parliament, according to Currid, shows a strong similarity to the proposals advanced by Dekker in the above text. The basis of the Single European Act, which forms the basis for the EU Single Market, was a white paper by Lord Cockfield, the Industry Commissioner. This postponed the Single Market’s establishment to 1992, rather than 1990. Nevertheless, its enactment marked the successful completion of Round Table’s main aim.

The ERT was also behind the EU policy to construct a massive, integrated transport infrastructure across the EU, intended to allow the greater flow of goods in the new, unified EU Single Market. The Round Table was instrumental in the inclusion of the Trans-European Networks, or TENs, in the Maastricht Treaty. These networks included the Channel Tunnel, the enlargement of various airports, and the construction of 12,000 km of new motorways. It is also due to the ERT that many of these new networks were subject to road pricing and became toll roads. In their Missing Networks, published in 1991, the ERT recommended the establishment of ‘user charges to distribute the funds for improving effective transport’. So the next time your stuck in a traffic jam in a toll road somewhere in the EU, these are the technocrats to blame.

The EU also appears to have been one of the major forces responsible for the introduction of the single currency. They had argued that this was necessary to complete the process of European integration as early as 1985. The Round Table was particularly active during the international negotiations in 1990-1 in preparation for the Maastricht Treaty. Currid notes that the ERT’s timetable for the establishment of European monetary union in their Reshaping Europe report, published in 1991, is also very similar to that in the Maastricht Treaty. The ERT also wrote a formal letter to all the European heads of government in 1995 requesting that

‘When you meet at the Madrid Summit, will you please decide once and for all that monetary union will start on the day agreed at Maastricht and with the criteria agreed at Maastricht.’ They stated that the heads of government they addressed duly agreed to this.

Delors in particular worked closely with the ERT to establish European integration. In 1993 he took part in the press launch of the ERT report, Beating the Crisis. A week later the European Commission published Delors’ own report on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment, which was similar to the ERT’s earlier report. At the launch Delors thank the Round Table for their help in his report’s preparation. Among its various recommendations, Beating the Crisis suggested that an EU-wide body should be set up to promote competiveness, similar to the Competitive Council of US President Clinton. Thus in 1995 the EU established the Competitiveness Advisory Group. As I mentioned in my earlier blog piece, this group has been responsible for recommending the lowering of wages, lengthening of working hours and decline in conditions for workers across the EU to allow it to compete internationally with the Developing World. Jacques Santer was also strongly supportive of the ERT, stating that by and large their priorities and that of the European Commission were the same. The ERT also approved of the results of the Amsterdam Summit of 1997, and in particular its strengthening of the power of the President of the Commission.

The ERT has continued to demand further EU integration and for the European Commission to be given even more powers. The Round Table declared to members of the convention on the future of the EU that it consider the establishment of a stronger commission to be vital as the Commission was ‘the genuinely Europe-focused institution and the one most capable of articulating the common European interest above national and regional interests’. They are also ardent opponents of any attempt to weaken the Commission’s powers through transferring them to the EU’s member states, or adopting a system of shared responsibility. Their desires here appear to have been fulfilled through the inclusion of Article 1:26 and Article 1:7 for the proposed EU constitution. These state that the Commission has the sole right to propose new laws, and establish EU legislation as superior to that of the member states.

The ERT was deeply involved in the preparations for the March 2000 Lisbon meeting of the European Council to make the EU ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’. This was supposed to have been achieved four years ago in 2010. Also in 2000, Daniel Janssen, another member of the ERT, stated that the implementation of the proposals of the Lisbon meeting would cause a double revolution in Europe ‘reducing the power of the state and of the public sector and deregulation’. It would also transfer ‘many of the nation-states’ powers to a more modern and internationally minded structure at European level’. This ‘more modern and internationally minded structure at the European level’ would be the European Commission.

The first few years of the 21st century in fact saw the ERT’s project for European integration encountering increasing difficulties. By 2002 Morris Tabaksblat, the chairman of ReedElsevier, state that the commitment to European integration shown at Lisbon was no longer there. The ERT also stated before the March 2005 EU summit, that they were dissatisfied with the way the Lisbon plan for European Integration was being downplayed to give the EU Constitution a great chance of being approved in referendums. The Round Table was also alarmed by the French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution in the summer of 2005, but believed they should not impede the process of greater European integration. They stated

‘The results demand an immediate, constructive and determined response from the heads of government of Europe. it is time for positive leadership to engage public support, restore economic dynamism to the single European market and allow Europe to act with confidence and conviction on the world stage’.

Currid states as his conclusion that ‘Hopefully, this brief tour of the ERT’s activities over the years shows that it is an extremely important player in moves pushing us towards a de facto United States of Europe. The ERT has been able to achieve many of its aims in alliance with the European Commission, an undemocratic, bureaucratic and unaccountable body par excellence. The ERT is no friend of the rights of Europe’s peoples to democracy and self-determination. For the ERT, the bigger the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ – with the Commission plugging much of the gap – the better’. One cannot argue with this analysis.

Private Eye on the Perils of Healthcare Ownership: The Winterbourne View Hospital Scandal

July 19, 2013

I’ve blogged today about how the government has privatised the NHS blood plasma service to a private equity firm. It was a private equity firm, Lydian Capital Partners, that owned Castle Holdings, which in turn owned CB Care Ltd. CB Care Ltd was the parent company of which Castlebeck Care was a part, which ran the Winterbourne View Residential Hospital near Bristol. Winterbourne View was the subject of a massive scandal after the BBC’s documentary programme, Panorama, uncovered the horrific abuse of its residents by the staff who were supposed to be caring for them. Winterbourne View was a home for people with learning difficulties. The programme showed the brutal treatment of the patients, including physical violence. It made for difficult, unpleasant viewing. An official investigation and court case followed. This revealed that many of the staff employed at the hospital had little training in the care of such vulnerable handicapped people.

Private Eye published their own investigation of the firm in their issue for the 10th to 23rd of July 2011 in their In The Back section devoted to investigative reporting. The piece was entitled ‘Financial Jiggery Pokery: The Idolatry of False Profits’. It ran as follows:

‘Both Southern Cross and the company behind the Winterbourne View residential hospital, whose management failed to respond to concerns well before Panorama exposed them, ought to have paid more attention to care, and less to financial engineering.

Winterbourne is run by Castlebeck Care, which is part of the CB Care Ltd group. This group, accounts filed at Companies Hpouse reveal, is owned by a Jersey company called Castle Holdings Ltd, which in turn is controlled by the Jersey limited partnership, Lydian Capital Partners LP, through which the group was acquired in 2006 by the Swiss-based private equity group Lydian.

The main backers of Lydian are Irish financiers JP McManus, John Magnier and Denis Brosnan, whose son Paul chairs CB Care; and they also include Irish Billionaire Dermot Desmond, who in 2007 and 2008 donated £100,000 to the Conservaitve party through another of his firms, Venson Automotive.

Having an offshore setup is, of course standard fare for private equity owhnership, which invariably entails stripping out as much profit from businesses as possible in the form of tax-deductible interest payments. This leaves margins in the companies that are supposed to be doing things like caring for people thin (to say the least) and makes decent management a luxury.

CB Care’s most recent accounts show it saddled with £233m bank debt and £195 subordinated debt, on most of which investors earn interest at, ahem, 15 percent. The total annual interest bill of £38m a year left the group with losses in 2008 of £19m and 2009 of £10m. Naturally it hasn’t paid a bean in tax. Even a move in April last year to convert £100m of the debt to an interest-free loan – quite possibly at the behest of the taxman – is unlikely to turn the business around.

More importantly, the figures reveal the priorities of private equity-owned care businesses: taking short-term profits out, not putting long-term care in. One of the crucial questions now facing the government is whether foreign foreign equity firms are the best stewards of British social care., As men like Desmond fund the Conservative party, it may be a question it will try to avoid.

* Castlebeck issued an immediate statement after Panorama, detailing its plans to deal with the matter. Unfortunately7, even after the story broke the company’s website was still displaying a logo proudly telling visitors it was the “overall winner of the 2010 Healthcare 100 Best Employers Award”. This bit of self-aggrandising has been quietly removed.’

This is the type of firm the Coalition has decided to sell the NHS Blood Plasma Service to. Still, no doubt they’ve got utter confident in the situation.

How Committed Have the Lib-Dems Ever Been to the NHS?

July 16, 2013

Looking at the way the Lib-Dems have given their full support to Conservative attempts to dismantle the Health Service, I wonder how committed they have ever been to it. I raise that question because I can remember the statement made about it by the Two Davids in their campaign during the 1987 elections. at the time the Conservatives were considering its privatisation. Lord North wanted the welfare state to be dismantled, and the NHS sold off. Messers Steel and Owen, marching about the country in their woolly sweaters, declared that it shouldn’t matter whether the Health Service was public or private. What should matter was that treatment was free. Looking back at it, it seems their support for the NHS in the face of demands for its privatisation by New Right was tepid.

I also wonder how far Clegg is influenced by other European health services. A Swiss friend once told me that in Switzerland, health care is partly paid for through insurance contributions. The Swiss government will pay for the health care of the very poor. The rich pay for their medical treatment through insurance, as in America. Most people pay for their treatment through a mixture of private and government insurance cover. Clegg’s wife is Spanish, and I wonder if that’s the case in Spain. It’s also the case in some high-spending American states. This might make it attractive to that part of the British establishment that wishes to import the American system, without going as far as the more extreme states that have attempted to leave it as much as possible to private insurance.

Albrecht von Haller: 18th Century Scientist, Poet, Novelist and Church Planter

June 11, 2013

I’ve mentioned the great s18th century Swiss scientist and anatomist, Albrech von Haller, several times on this blog. Von Haller came from Berne in Switzerland, and was a pupil of the great Dutch scientist and doctor, Boerhaave. He was a student at the universities of Tubingen and Leyden. After graduating, he moved to London and Paris before finally accepting a post of Gottingen University, which had only recently been founded. He simulataneously occupied the chairs of anatomy, botany and medicine there for 17 years. It was under his management that Gottingen university managed to become one of the leading centres for medical research and teaching in Germany, so that it was compared to Leyden in the Netherlands. While at Gottingen he wrote 13,000 scientific papers. He also established botanical gardens, wrote a flora of Switzerland, and the first textbook solely devoted to physiology. This was in turn greatly expanded into the eight-volume edition published in 1757. This has led some historians of medicine to see von Haller as the founder of modern physiology. He also wrote novels and poetry. He was a man of deep religious faith. He founded churches, and his best-known poem, Die Alpen (The Alps) of 1729, considers God’s glory in the grandeur of the Swiss mountains. He was an evangelical Protestant with inclinations towards Pietism, but could also be strongly rationalist, so that he has been described as ‘thinking like a rationalist, and believing like a sincere Christian’. Clearly von Haller was a man of deep faith and a scientific and literary genius, who managed to combine literature, science and a deep commitment to Christianity in his career.

Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – the Sixteenth Century: Part 4

August 13, 2008

View of John Knox that Princes and the People themselves have a Right and Duty to Depose an Unjust Monarch Preventing the Establishment of True Religion

In his view of the relationship between the king and his subjects, Calvin allowed that unjust rulers could be deposed by the inferior magistrates, but stressed the subject’s duty to obey established authority, even when it was corrupt. John Knox, however, believed that the aristocracy and the estates also had their authority granted by God, and so had the right and duty to defend the innocent, punish criminals and establish proper religion. If the monarch refused to allow religion to be reformed, and the true faith to be established, then it was the duty of the aristocracy and the estates to depose them. If the aristocracy and estates refused to do this, then it was the duty of the people themselves to reform the church, a view he addressed directly to the people themselves in his Letter to the Commonalty. This view, that the people themselves had the right and duty to rebel against their social superiors when they were unjust and prevented the proper establishment of true religion, was immensely radical in an age when government and politics was viewed as the exclusive activity of princes and aristocrats, to whom the masses of ordinary people should be loyal and obey, but who were otherwise excluded from government and their political participation was viewed with suspicion and distrust.

View of Goodman that Kings Owed their Power to the People, and so can Depose Unjust Monarchs

Knox was not alone in his views, however. The English Calvinist, Christopher Goodman, stated in his book, How Superior Powers ought to be obeyed of their subjects; wherein they may lawfully by God’s word be disobeyed and resisted, published in Geneva in 1558 that kings owed their power and their authority to their acceptance as kings by their people, and that ordinarily they should be respected. Like Knox, he also believed that the aristocracy was ordained by God to defend their nation’s true religion, laws and prosperity and to act to limit and restrain the king’s power. Kings were also God’s subjects, and like everyone else they were obliged to work to the best of their ability in their vocation. If they abused their position, they could be deposed and punished. This was not just the duty of the aristocracy, but also of ordinary people, who are required to reform the church if the king and aristocracy refuse to do so.

View of Ponet that God Established Government for Human Welfare, but Form of the Government Left to Humanity to Decide

Another Protestant exile from the reign of Mary Tudor in England, John Ponet, also believed in and expounded the right of the subjects themselves to overthrow an oppressive monarch. Ponet had been bishop of Rochester and Winchester during the Reign of Edward VI before he sought refuge in Strasbourg after Mary’s accession, publishing his treatise on government, A Shorte Treatise of Politicke Power in 1556. Unlike Mariana and Buchanan, for example, who believed that government arose out of humanity’s natural inclination for company and co-operation, or the need for protection from aggression when in the primeval phase of human existence, Ponet believed that humanity was too corrupt to govern itself through reason. He attributed the belief that it was possible to the ancient pagans, and considered that history demonstrated that they had been wrong. Ponet believed that human actions should be guided by divine law, which is the law of nature. However, humans did not obey law unless coerced, and so God had created political power for humanity’s benefit, granting humanity the power to legislate for itself and enforce such legislation with appropriate punishment, including execution. God did not, however, specify which form of government humans were to adopt. That was left to humanity itself. God did not grant authority to only one individual, but to the community, as a co-operative association based on the reciprocal need of each individual for every other. It was the community that maintained justice and general welfare.

View that Best Form of Government Mixed Government of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy, and that Power of Monarch Limited by Constitution and God’s Law

Ponet did not believe that any people could sensibly give unlimited power to a prince, and so considered the best form of government to be a mixed constitution where sovereignty was shared between the prince and a parliamentary assembly. England, France and Germany were all ruled by this form of government. Even those monarchs who ruled without a parliamentary assembly were subject to constitutional limits to their authority. They were bound by God’s law, and so could only legislate on relatively unimportant matters. Furthermore, Ponet urged that people should not automatically accept legislation that was merely human in origin. Laws must be considered and obeyed on their own merits, and not because of the authority of the people who had passed them. While people owed kings their love and loyalty, their first loyalty was to God, then their country and only afterwards to the monarch. He regarded princes as merely members of the commonwealth, which could exist without them. He stated that princes were liable unjustly to seize their subject’s property as their own, alter the coinage and raise taxes, political conduct that Ponet declared to be mere brigandage. They did not hold of themselves their kingdom, but simply had it in stewardship. Under the law of nature, people had the right to depose and execute oppressive rulers and tyrants, and so the community had the ability to withdraw the authority it had granted to the prince. While this should be done by the community as a whole, private assassination was justified in some circumstances.

Demands for Religious Toleration for Roman Catholics and Protestants by Edwin Sandys in England

Apart from the ability of the subject or citizen to take part in the process of making political decision, one of the great pillars of modern democracy is freedom of conscience. While both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Sixteenth century generally wished to suppress each others’ religions through force, there was also a profound desire amongst many Christians for unity and toleration in Christendom. Edwin Sandys, a son of the Archbishop of York and pupil of Richard Hooker, in his A Relation of the State of Religion, criticised the intolerance of both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants were Christians, and shared the same fundamental beliefs and doctrines that were the essence of Christianity. The doctrinal points that divided them could never be decided for certain. Thus, he felt, that Roman Catholics and Protestants should respect each other, and that the unity of Christendom could be restored through the establishment of a European church based on the Christian doctrines held by both Roman Catholic and Protestant. This was to be done either by a general council, which would impose its authority on the Pope and other participants in the controversy, or by the princes, though he did not feel that they could be trusted to put this into action. In order to put an end to religious disunity and conflict, Sandys wished to prohibit the claims to superiority by the various sects and faiths in Christendom. Instead of persecuting the various Christian sects, governments should instead force them to respect each other. He did not, however, believe that anti-Christian opinions should be tolerated, and so did not advocate modern concepts of secular democracy.

Demands for Toleration of Roman Catholics and Protestants in France by Politiques

The Politiques in France had expressed similar views rather earlier. They were mostly Roman Catholics, but also some Protestants, who regarded with horror the devastation, caused by the Wars of Religion, and felt that the only way to save France from further carnage and destruction was through negotiation and peace with the Huguenots. A 1574 pamphlet described the suffering inflicted on all classes in France by the War, and called for the Huguenots to join a states-general to bring about peace and save France from further destruction. Other pamphlets noted the moral damage the wars had caused, and the way they had discredited Christianity as a whole. The Huguenot writer La Noue declared that the wars had created a million libertines and Epicureans, while other writers stated that religious persecution had not suppressed heresy, but created only atheists. They argued strongly that the only way for states to survive and prosper was by tolerating two religions, and that the state should be above any specific religion. They also strongly argued that the existence of two religions in a country did not necessarily produce civil conflict or disunity, a point of view shared by Henry of Navarre himself. The Politiques were extremely sceptical about the claims of the Churches to possess the sole religious truth, but believed strongly that Roman Catholics and Protestants shared the same, basic, fundamental points of Christian doctrine. Thus the toleration of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism did not threaten the Christian nature of civil society, which was based on the fundamental Christian principles held in common by both Roman Catholic and Protestant. In 1590 the pamphlet Le Pacifique attempted to demonstrate the agreement between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism on fundamental doctrinal points in the form of a dialogue between a Roman Catholic and Protestant, who discover that the share the same basic Christian beliefs.

Demands for Religious Toleration by Sebastien Castillion

Similar views on toleration were held and strongly argued by the humanist Sebastien Castellion and Giacomo Contio, or Acontius. In his De Haereticis an sint persequandi of 1542-5, possibly written with a little assistance from Lelio Sozini, who held Unitarian views, and Martin Borrhee, and his Contra libellum Calvini, written in response to Calvin’s participation in the execution of Michael Servetus for heresy in Geneva, De Arte Dubitandi, the Four Dialogues of 1578, and the Conseil a la France desolee of 1562, Castellion argued for religious toleration. In the De Haereticis he attempted to support his arguments by quotations from some of the early Church Fathers and contemporary theologians and religious authorities such as Luther, Erasmus and Calvin himself. He considered that because there were points of doctrine that could not be decided for certain, all that could be required of people is that they attempt to understand the Word of God and follow it according to their conscience. Castellion felt that Christianity consisted in the knowledge that Christ was the Son of God and that his teachings were divine. He did not believe that religion lay in either ceremonies or beliefs that people could not understand, and firmly stated that Scripture did not support the persecution of those of different religious opinions. One defended religion not by killing for it, but by suffering death. He did, however, believe that the government had the right to punish those who denied the resurrection, the immortality of the soul and the authority of the government, though they should not be executed.

Demands for Complete Freedom of Conscience by Acontius

Acontius was a military engineer who had been employed by Pescara in Milan and Queen Elizabeth in England. In his Strategematum Satanae of 1565 he argued that most people formed their beliefs without the guidance of either reason or God, simply accepting tradition or the opinions of the mass of people around them. They are intolerant of others, partly because they cannot bear to accept that their beliefs may be wrong. He argued that religious controversy and wars were Satan’s way of causing trouble and destruction on Earth. He believed that there were a few basic beliefs necessary for salvation, but that most of Christian doctrine was simply speculation without any real value. He argued that only those doctrines that affected human conduct on Earth had any value. Magistrates had no power to punish heresy, not just because they had no power themselves to do so, but also because there was so much difference in opinion between the Churches on what was heretical that they too had little authority to make such decisions. He believed that there should be absolute freedom of religion, and that people came to the truth through doubt and free inquiry and discussion. For Acontius, those who undoubtedly possessed extremely heretical doctrines should be punished merely with excommunication, which should be a source of regret rather than anger and hatred.

Contribution of Christian Humanists to Education and their Stress on Tolerance and Dialogue rather than Conflict

Another fundamental pillar of democracy is the belief in the value of education, and that a just society and good government must be based on informed, educated opinion. In this area too the Christian humanists of the 16th century made a profound contribution. Erasmus believed that humans could be assisted to become good as they possessed free will, though this free will itself had to be aided in its turn by God’s grace. The human will could be directed towards goodness through religious devotion and learning. For Erasmus, if princes were educated according to humanist principles, the result would be a good society where princes ruled justly and, following Christ, established peace instead of war. As a result, he and other humanists, such as John Colet in England, established schools and academies. Their influence on the aristocracy was profound. Although their political ideas of a just society was Utopian, their idea of an educated aristocracy informed by humanist culture nearly became reality, so that after the mid-sixteenth century even minor members of the nobility had libraries showing a wide variety of interests. 26 Moreover, Erasmus and his followers, although entirely orthodox Roman Catholics, stressed the importance of dialogue, toleration and the importance of settling matters peacefully, rather than resorting to force. Their stress on God’s love for humanity, rather than His judgement of their actions, influenced Reginald Pole, Contarini, Castellion and the Socinians, and his advocacy of a tolerant Christianity was immensely popular in Spain, especially amongst the Conversos, whose ancestors had converted to Christianity from Judaism to avoid expulsion and persecution. 27


Both View that Power of the Monarch Absolute and that Royal Power Limited by the Constitution and Sovereignty of the People existed in Sixteenth Century

Thus, although much of the political theory of the sixteenth century stressed the absolute power of the monarch and the duty of their subjects to obey them, there were also other political views, held and defended by both Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, that stressed instead the constitutional limits on monarchical power, the importance and role in government of representative assemblies and right and even duty of subjects to resist and depose unjust rulers. Political theorists, theologians and philosophers in England, Scotland, France, Geneva and Switzerland considered that governments had been established for the benefit of their peoples, not the rulers’, that societies and governments were based on contracts and covenants between their members, rulers and the Almighty, and that monarchs owed their power not to any personal virtue, but because the community delegated it to them. The power of the monarch was limited by the law of God and natural law. Princes and parliaments acted as constitutional checks to monarchs to prevent oppression, and who were also representatives of the community and so had a duty to protect their ancient rights. If kings exceeded the bounds of their authority or failed to establish true religion, they could be overthrown by the aristocracy and other leading governmental officials and institutions, or even by private citizens. These views were based on medieval political theory, contemporary interpretation of Scripture and the necessity amongst Roman Catholics and Protestants wishing to defend their religion and defeat and destroy their opponents of finding theoretical support for their resistance to persecution, oppression or the authorities’ failure to maintain the true faith.

Sixteenth Century also Period of Demonds for Religious Toleration, and Improvements in Education

Alongside these demands for political freedom were criticisms of both Roman Catholics and Protestants for their intolerance, and demands for an end to religious persecution and freedom of conscience amongst a very few individual political theorists. Furthermore, the Christian humanist belief that the human will could be formed and directed towards goodness through education led to the foundation of schools and libraries, and an attitude of tolerance and dialogue rather than violent coercion.

Influence of Demands for Constitutional Limits to Monarchy and Participation in Government of People and Representative Assemblies and Religious Toleration Limited in 16th Century, but had strong Influence in 17th Century England

The impact of these ideas was limited, however. Although princes in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere granted toleration to various Christian denominations and sects, this did not necessarily prevent them from acquiring increasing power over their tenants’ lives and properties, so that during the 16th century serfdom increased. In western Europe, in France, Germany and Spain political power became increasingly centralised in the monarch and representative institutions, such as the estates, declined in importance, eventually to produce the absolutist monarchies of the 18th century. Nevertheless, these doctrines continued to have an effect. The Vindiciae, although largely abandoned by the Huguenots shortly after its publication, influenced contemporary Dutch political ideas and considerably influenced English political theories in the 17th century. 28 Castellion’s demands for religious toleration influenced the radical theologian, Dirck Volckentzoon Coornhert. In turn, he influenced Arminius, who otherwise strongly opposed and argued against his theology. Arminius’ religious views strongly influenced British theology and political theories in the 17th century, during the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms. In England although it was not noticed at the time, claims such as Thomas Smith’s that it was parliament that really represented every individual in the country pointed towards the Civil War in the next century. 29 Thus, while Europe generally became more authoritarian following the sixteenth century, nevertheless the political theories stressing the constitutional limits on monarchical governments and the role of representative assemblies influenced the Netherlands and Britain, creating the ideas for greater religious and political freedom that were to appear in the 17th century and which found practical expression in the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms and the development of modern, political theories like John Locke’s.


  1. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, pp. 104-5.
  2. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, pp. 105-6.
  3. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 331.
  4. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 268.