Guy Crouchback: The pivotal Glorious Revolution

31 Dec 2008

By The Record

We should be thankful for the founding of the world’s first constitutional monarchy.
We have just passed the 320th Anniversary of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. This has been thought – far more than Magna Carta, which did not, after all, prevent the rise of tyrants like Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell – to have set the seal on British liberty.
The British Bill of Rights was passed the following year.
The Glorious Revolution began when certain English leaders decided King James II was behaving unconstitutionally.
The new rulers, the Dutch Prince William and his Queen, Mary (who preserved some continuity by being James’ daughter) began by calling together a Convention Parliament.
This established the world’s first Constitutional Monarchy.
Although one charge against James was along the lines that he was preparing a restoration of Catholicism, in the tangled politico-religious international politics of the day this seems to have meant relatively little: the Pope was actually supporting William, and the subsequent victory of William’s forces (part-Catholic anyway) over those of James (part-Protestant) at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690 was celebrated in the Vatican.
William’s elite Blue Guards fought under the Papal Banner. Limitation of powers by separation, not religion, was the overarching issue.
Constitutional expert Professor David Flint, writing in the magazine Quadrant has called the Glorious Revolution “arguably the most significant single provision in the advance of good government that the world has ever seen.”
Flint argues compellingly that while the French Revolution led to the Reign of Terror, the Napoleonic Wars and the Bolshevik Revolution, products of “near-crazed men designing schemes to save the world that came close to ruining it,” the Glorious Revolution, making ancient rights and liberties an essential part of English-speaking culture, led to the completely different spirit of the American Revolution with its emphasis in individual rights, representative democracy and the limitation of government powers.
It is because of that spirit that Jacobinism, Communism and Fascism never attracted significant support in any English-speaking country. It was in the spirit of the Glorious Revolution that William Blackstone published the Fundamental Laws of England in 1760, which spoke of the “absolute rights of Englishmen” and which were taken up by the American Founding Fathers a few years later.
It also led to the peaceful maturing into independence as Parliamentary democracies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“It established,” Flint says, “those fundamental principles of good government which best allow man to achieve and exercise his fundamental rights … This was recognised eloquently by the founding Fathers of the United States.”
Indeed, Flint points out further, according to the United Nations index of Human Development, measured by the life-expectancy, wealth and education of their populations, the form of government of all the leading nations but Switzerland derives from the principles established by the Glorious Revolution.
The English-speaking countries, by no co-incidence, account for more than a third of global GDP with only 7.5% of the world’s population.
It is also worth remembering that, at the time of the American Declaration of Independence, there was another, potentially seductive model of modern and progressive government: the Absolutism of the France of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
But America had a better example and escaped going that way. The Declaration of Independence was closely modelled on the Declaration of Rights.