Day By Day

Monday, December 28, 2009

This Day In History

As the most wonderful time of the year begins to wind down we can note that over the weekend we failed to note "National Pumpkin Pie Day" and "National Fruitcake Day" so today we can make up that deficit. Of course today is "National Card Playing Day" so while you consume tons of goodies you can play an age and company appropriate game of cards.

On this day in 1688 William of Orange triumphantly entered London to claim the British crown while James II, his father-in-law who had formerly worn the crown, fled the country. This was the culmination of the Glorious Revolution that forever changed the Anglo-American world. Traditionally historians have noted that it was at this point that Parliament finally established its ascendancy over the monarchy, creating a "constitutional monarchy" in which nobody, not even the monarch, was above the law. This revolution also generated much of the political theory that informed the founders of the United States a century later. Catholic historians have alternatively portrayed it as a prime example of Anglo-Saxon anti-Catholic bigotry.

Steven Pincus has just published a new book on the subject, 1688, The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2009) that is getting good reviews. He argues that what happened in 1688 was far more than a political revolution or religious conflict; it was the founding of modern Britain. Far from being an innocent victim of religious prejudice, he argues, James II was actively attempting to transform Britain into an absolutist monarchy, much like that ruled by his cousin Louis XIV [The "Sun King"] in France. Opposing him were Britain's rising middle classes who had a very different model in mind. They looked across the channel toward Holland where the Dutch had established a commercial republic. By inviting Dutch nobleman, William of Orange, to become their next king, the British decisively repudiated the idea of a universal absolutist monarchy in which the King could say (as Louis supposedly did) "the state, it is me", and adopted instead the principles of limited government, constitutionalism, protection of property and freedom of conscience and contract. In short, they adopted the Dutch, rather than the French model of national development and we are far better for it.

Entering the Building:

Thomas Woodrow Wilson [1856] 28th President of the United States. The intellectual elite's favorite president. He had been President of Princeton University and a leading political scientist before entering politics, being elected Governor of New Jersey, and then [in 1912] President. In office he created the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Trade Commission, signed the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Revenue Act of 1913 which established the income tax. After being re-elected in 1916 on the slogan "He kept us out of war" [WWI was raging in Europe] he then led America into the war in 1917 promising that we would be fighting "the war to end all war" and to "make the world safe for democracy". His "fourteen points" did much to shape the post-war world and he helped to establish the League of Nations, although the United States never joined the organization. For most of the Twentieth Century liberals held him up as one of their greatest heroes, and he was routinely listed as one of the top five of all time. Recently, however, he suffered in their opinion because of his virulently anti-immigrant and anti-black views. Last year Jonah Goldberg published a book Liberal Fascism naming him as America's most fascist president. I think that's a fair assessment. His reputation in foreign affairs has also suffered recently as history has shown that many of the principles he advanced led to increased conflict rather than the universal peace he promised.