Cromwell, the English Hitler
The Meaning of the Puritan Episode
REFERENCE was made in the last article of this series to the preference which most readers of Paradise Lost feel for Satan as cornpared with the Poet's conception of Deity. And from that was deduced a certain view as to the relation between Good and Evil. Since that article was written there has appeared a book which expounds. in relation to Milton's work and the present conflict, the same philosophy of history. Chariot of Wrath, by G. Wilson Knight, is much more than a piece of literary criticism. Its sub-title is "The Message of John Milton to Democracy at War." Fulfilling the promise of this sub-title, the author says much which is not only valuable in itself but which throws light on the working of Milton's mind and incidentally relates the problems which he set himself to solve to those confronting us to-day. As an instance of the way in which his interpretation of the Poet endorses our own standpoint, take this concluding passage: " Good and evil. says Milton (Areopagilira. Bo. 11, 67-8). ' grow up together almost inseparably,' and are so 'interwoven ' that Adam's ' doom ' of 'knowing good and evil ' may almost be called the doom of knowing good by evil.' Therefore Satan has his place in the great newness. and we must beware of too rashly setting limits to the divine plan." The way in which this is related to the twentieth century world drama will be seen by a further quotation.
THE " MESSIANIC" NATION
IN what follows it will be well to note the parti
cular character of the mission which the author assigns to this country and, by implication, to the English-speaking peoples generally. " Briefly." he says, " I see Great Britain in the Renaissance era (in which we Ilite) as having assumed the powercontent of the medieval Christian Church. One system broke, and with church authority swiftly falling to a purely spiritual and personal level, political energies were henceforth undisciplined. International affairs are to-day mainly pagan. Now Great Britain, without any conscious recognition (outside her greater poets) of this destiny, has, on the whole, laboured to curb lust for power and iyrannic ambition; she has, on the whole, maintained in the secular order that respect both for law and for the gentler, more chivalrous, values which sconstitute the traditions of Christendom. There has been continual tension, as Tennyson so profoundly realised, between the British conscience andMachiavellian Europe. Britain and her Empire are therefore uniquely placed as the bearers of a great and civilising mission. This trust has rarely been openly acknowledged by her official spokesmen; its responsibilities have been continually feared and shirked; and even to-day, so great is the split between energies and religion, that the claiming of a religious sanction for any action of far-reaching human importance appears variously blasphemous or ridiculous. That divine blessing was never officially asked by the League of Nations was logical enough: the demand, if made, would have rung hollow and false. . Revolution against an existing order requires energy. That energy was in Cromwell's army, and most eminently characterises Satan too. Now to twentieth-century Germany it has seemed, whether rightly or wrongly. that a world-order existed, or was in process of becoming, in which Great Britain dominated, both in wealth and power; which was probably a truer reading of the world-situation than most British thinkers would have admitted. Germany has also tended, more generally, to revolt from that mind-structure of medieval Christianity which Britain has, on the whole, main tained. Mystical philosophers from Luther to Nietzsche have reacted violently and with a superb energy away from the static and conceptualised culture of the European tradition; in them burn the Renaissance fires from which the upspring of German militarism and will to domination is not to be finally dissociated."
PURITANISM'S FAILURE As we have seen, Milton's God is a pallid crea lion beside his Satan. Though nominally the victory lies with the former, the reader does not find that victory convincing. To some extent that may be attributed to the Poet's Arian theology. He could not invoke against the full embodiment of evil a correspondingly complete incarnation of God. His own sympathies with rebellion and its fierce energy triumphed over his loyalty to the
Order esablished by God. That weakness has
haunted the descendants of the Puritans. As champions of the oppressed. as courageous critics of worldly power and worldly success, they have played a great part. Their consistent advocacy of freedom for oppressed classes and peoples constitute a fine record. But their refusal to submit to the discipline of a traditional theology and ecclesiastical order has had a weakening effect. In consequence they have tended to emphasise liberty as an end in itself, and while they have issued resounding Declarations of Independence there has come from them no correspondingly
bold Declaration of Dependence, which is, after
all, the essence of the religious attitude. The merely humanitarian conception of Christianity to which they have been reduced has been insufficient to sustain enthusiasm, and the spirit df revolt, of which they were the guardians, has passed increasingly to a materialistic and secularised social movement culminating in Communism.
Further there is a close resemblance between Cromwell's theocracy and German totalitarianism. The God to Whom he appealed at Dunbar was more an Ally of the State than the State was His agent. It is easy to slip from the belief that we are God's allies to the belief that He is our Ally. Even the author whom we have quoted reveals this tendency when he writes: "Therefore in the new order of Renaissance nationalism Britain remains the sole ` defender of. the Faith': and, should she prove successful in her present enterprise, the great Church of Rome may owe its continued existence to her striving under God." To make the Church, in this way. dependent on the State is a step in the direction of Hitler's deified nation.
Such are some of the reasons why the great Puritan experiment in creating a Messianic nation capable of exciting heroic and sacrificial faith failed.
NEMESIS THE failure discredited the idea of a Messianic A nation. The English-speaking peoples became shy of claiming any lofty mission, contenting themselves with the idea that they were called to extend their own commercial and mechanised civilisation to the ends of the earth. a feat in which they have been fairly successful. But this misconception of their calling and the resulting material prosperity has raised up the spirit of revolt. They now find themselves, enervated by the wealth they have accumulated. faced with the satanic fury of less fortunate peoples. The static respectability they were enjoying has been challenged with the same ruthless and dynamic forcefulness with which Cromwell, backed by his advocate, John Milton, attacked the established order of their day. The inference is clear. The struggle will continue in some form or other until we have either ceased to count among the nations of the earth or we have assumed with passionate sincerity and thoroughness the responsibilities which, as it would seem, Divine Providence has called us to carry.
It may be that before the awekening* to the purpose of our existence as a people takes place, we must suffer a period of relative weakness which will test the reality of our faith, as Israel was tested by successive humiliations but emerged to fulfil in a manner more glorious than even the prophets had anticipated its Messianic destiny. May God, in His mercy, grant us forgiveness for our misdeeds and the grace to see and respond to His high calling and become a light to the nations of the earth!
PURITANISM INTERPRETED AvE make no apologies for this literary and
historical parenthesis. The significance of Puritanism in our national story has not received its due attention.
We have taken ourselves as a good-natured race incapable of the totalitarian excesses which we are fighting to prevent. But the story of the Commonwealth and its despotism reveals a capacity for fanaticism, which though it was professedly exercised on behalf of a religious ideal was almost Hitlerian. Under given circumstances we are capable of volcanic explosions. Nor is the occasion for an exhibition of that trait in our character lacking to-day. The agnosticism of the past is giving way to something more dogmatic in its negations and more intolerant. Cromwell, as Milton unconsciously parodied him in his representation of Satan, offers us warning and bids us be chary of our judgments of other people.
On the other hand, this zeal on behalf of an unlovely creed and a tyrannous regime indicates the existence of possibilities of good with which we have scarcely credited ourselves. What, if the zeal and efficiency, the militant spirit displayed on behalf of a mistaken ideal and the dynamic energy which made the name of England respected and feared throughout Europe could he exercised in a manner truly Christian? To blend purity and power, to be militant peace-makers and to make the name of Britain not merely respected but loved throughout the world—that is the problem. And it is a problem which we cannot shirk. For, having once in our history shown the obverse side of the medal, it is vain to plead that it cannot be reversed so as to exhibit the other side.
It was exactly three hundred years ago.-1642— that Cromwell took the field with his Ironsides. And it was on September 3—the day set aside for National Prayer—on which he won his great victories at Dunbar and Worcester. He who will may find in .this the suggestion that the time has come to enlist the Cromwellian militancy in
a better cause. 0