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Impearls: GWAC: Tectonic Movements

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Earthdate 2009-12-15

Tectonic Movements   by Hendrik Willem van Loon 3

Hendrik Willem van Loon's General George Washington (Van Loon's Lives)

f4

Van Loon's General Washington


And now a few words about General George Washington, but so much has been written about him that I can be very short.

Within the realm of geology it sometimes happens that one layer of rock will push itself across another layer, and then it takes an expert to determine exactly what has taken place.  The same holds good for history.  Not infrequently it occurs that some particular cultural or economic or social layer shifts from one part of the world to another, but as a rule this takes place so quietly and so gradually that hardly anybody notices the change.  Then the denuded soil at home develops a new civilization entirely different from the old one, but that too comes about so slowly that it attracts few people's attention.  Until the fatal day when the people wake up to a realization that, though nominally they still speak the same language, are still loyal to the same flag, and are still supposed to worship the same God, they have no longer anything in common with each other.  After that the more they try to explain themselves and their motives to their former neighbors, the less they succeed in doing so.

Take our own case.  We are only beginning to suspect what happened during the seventeenth century in regard to the old England and the new one.  The peace which had finally made an end to the great Lutheran-Catholic controversy had decreed that every prince should have the right to decide what form of religious worship his subjects must accept.  That, of course, had been one of those “compromises of desperation” which are the result of an intolerable situation.  Europe could not possibly survive if the people continued to destroy each other on account of their religious convictions.  Any kind of arrangement, guaranteeing at least a momentary respite from the everlasting slaughter, was better than a continuation of the war, and the disastrous principle of “whose rule I accept, his God I also worship” was greeted as a very clever solution, worthy of the support of all good citizens and not to be questioned or debated any longer.

But in reality, the compromise was just another Trojan horse, filled with the partisans of totalitarianism, and after they had clambered out of their uncomfortable hiding place and had stretched their arms and legs, they descended upon the peaceful denizens of every town and hamlet in Europe and put before them the choice either of accepting the tyranny of their new masters or of being hanged in their own doorways.

It was then that the old Continent was delivered over to the mercies of a dozen competing dynasties, and it was then that the last remnants of medieval self-government were threatened with complete destruction.  Here and there, in a few of the Swiss cantons and a few of the Dutch provinces, people continued to rule themselves (to a certain extent, for money, as it has always done, counted heavily in politics), and it was then that England made her noble and glorious effort to establish the supremacy of Parliament over the pretensions of the crown.

I am expressing myself perhaps a little too modernly.  The medieval belief in an omnipotent God and in an equally omnipotent source of worldly authority was still part of the spiritual and intellectual make-up of most people.  The King was still revered as the God-anointed embodiment of all terrestrial authority and therefore above criticism.  Even the Act of Abjuration, which had curtly dismissed King Philip of Spain as ruler over the Low Countries because he had been an unfaithful shepherd unto his flocks, continued to be regarded by many people as something that interfered much too boldly with the orderly progress of a universe in which it stood decreed that a few were predestined to command while the rest must obey.

However, there now were definite precedents for a different approach to this subject, and the people of England were the first to make use of them.  Hence, a prolonged struggle between the crown and its subjects.  Good Queen Bess may have been just as much of a tyrant at heart as her dear cousin, Mary of Scotland, but she was too shrewd to reveal her true feelings.  She knew how to temper her authoritative instincts with acts of good-humored bonhomie (is there a feminine equivalent for this expression?), and if occasionally she spanked her children, they accepted it good-naturedly enough.  What was the use of having such a sweet and loving mother if now and then she could not lose her temper with her brood and treat them to a few slaps and cuffs?

But after the old lady had departed this life and had been succeeded by the son of Cousin Mary, a great change came over this Merrie England.  The Stuarts now moved from Edinburgh to London, but being Scotchmen they never quite understood their English subjects, and, with their arrival in the British capital, there came a change over the land that led up to that half a century of constant friction which in turn was to lay the foundations for the free and independent United States of America.  For those elements in England's life which foresaw what was coming despaired of maintaining the liberties and prerogatives they needed in order to function properly and happily and, as there seemed to be no chance of getting rid of their imported Scots monarchs, they began to look for another place of abode where they might continue to live their own kinds of lives without being constantly exposed to a visit from the local sheriff and a polite invitation to hie themselves to the Tower, there to await His Majesty's pleasure and (most likely) his executioner.

When an exasperated nation at last grew tired of their rulers and sent for Dutch William to put their house in order, there seemed to be a chance that all would now be well.  Unfortunately, headachy William did not even live as long as Oliver Cromwell, and a dozen years after his death the British crown fell into the hands of a minor German dynasty that had to spend two centuries in its adopted country before it finally lost its guttural Teutonic accent and could express itself more or less adequately in the tongue of William Shakespeare.  From a merely political point of view, therefore, little was gained when the House of Hanover succeeded that of Stuart, and gradually there came about such a hopeless cleavage between the England of the Old World and that of the New that only a war could decide the issue.  That war became known as the American Revolution, and it gave us our own republic.




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