Elizabeth Lev on the Looping of History

One gets the sense that if Edmund Burke showed up today, he’d look around and say “meh, I’ve seen this before; know how it ends.”

This is excellent; a piece by Elizabeth Lev which takes a gander at history and finds some astonishing parallels with the present moment.

In 1790, most of the world was congratulating France for what seemed like a successfully completed revolution. The hated King had been brought to heel, and change had swept through an oppressed nation, offering hope for a brighter future under better government.

One observer however, English statesman Edmund Burke, wasn’t fooled by the triumphant images produced by revolutionary PR teams; he saw gathering clouds for the darkest storm yet. His first clue that the Revolution had yet to run its course? The sustained hostile attacks on the Catholic clergy.

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, Burke, a Protestant, asked the French, “From the general style of late publications of all sorts, one would be led to believe that your clergy in France were a sort of monsters, a horrible composition of superstition, ignorance, sloth, fraud, avarice and tyranny. But is this true?”

What would Edmund Burke make of the headlines of the past few weeks, as stories of a clerical sex abuser in Germany a quarter century ago, made front page headlines and top TV stories in US news? What would he think of the insistent attempts to tie this sex abuser to the Roman pontiff himself through the most tenuous of links?

In 1790, Burke answered his own question with these words: “It is not with much credulity I listen to any when they speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is looked for in their punishment.” As he wrote these words, the French revolutionaries were readying for the mass confiscation of Church lands.

As the present sales of church property to pay settlements swell the coffers of contingent-fee lawyers and real estate speculators, one has to credit Burke for a profound and historical sense of human nature.

You’ll want to read it all. How often do you get to read something this scholarly and provocative and see the parallels with history before your very eyes?

While no one denies the wrongdoing and the harm caused by a small minority of priests, their misconduct has been used to undermine the reputations of the overwhelming majority of clergy who live holy quiet lives in their parishes, tending to their flocks. These good men have been smeared with the same poisonous ink. …Within three years of Burke’s Reflections, his dire predictions proved accurate. The Reign of Terror descended in 1793, bringing hundreds of priests to the guillotine, and forcing the rest to swear oaths of loyalty to the State over the Church. To Burke it was clear that the anti clerical campaign of 1790 was “only to be temporary and preparatory to the utter abolition…. of the Christian religion,” by ” bringing its ministers into universal contempt.”

Yeah, read it all.

About Elizabeth Scalia

CLOSE | X

HIDE | X