Whilst Europe itself was being ravaged by war, and the world ravaged by European imperialism, it is maybe time to sit back and look at the European in terms of intellect.
Aristotle had said that the Earth was centre of the universe. As Classical texts were rediscovered in Europe, Catholicism agreed with this, so Aristotle was good. In the 15th century the scholar Copernicus noted that this disagreed with the calendar and argued the Sun was centre, with Earth orbiting it. Later, Galileo proved it with his telescope and nearly paid with his life.
This was exploited by Protestants. In 1637 the philosopher Descartes advised that faith inhibited new knowledge. He became the father of western philosophy by placing man’s ability to think as primary in his dictum: I think, therefore I am. Soon Sir Isaac Newton was looking at the universe, beginning the science revolution with his theory of universal gravitation. The importance of this went further than science. Newton showed that the universe could be understood by man’s mind and man’s laws, with his contemporary, philosopher John Locke, devising Empiricism, and the importance of experience, observation and contemplation in knowledge. And it led philosophers to look at society itself, and see if it, too, could be better understood by man, rather than regulated by God.
England became vital to what happened next. For centuries kings had allowed Witans to exist – talking shops made up of notables to advise and collect taxes. In the 13th century the Normans instigated ‘talks’, or ‘parliaments’ made up of elected ‘commoners’ from the regions, who put forward a ‘speaker’. Soon, in order to collect taxes for the king, they would submit a ‘bill’, or demand for change, those changes becoming known as ‘statutes’.
The Tudor, Henry VIII, had been part of the Reformation, and by the time of Elizabeth I, England was Protestant. Leaving no heir, the Catholic Stuarts took over, trying to degrade this growing parliamentary revolution. The English Civil War broke out in 1642, to decide who ruled – the king and God, or Parliament. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces won, but it was too early. Parliament became a dictatorship and by 1660 Monarchy was brought back.
This led Locke to look at politics. He realized that if the person who made the law administered the law, you had tyranny, so he devised the ‘separation of powers’ between legislature and executive. He also devised ‘Inalienable Rights’ to religion, association, free speech and to rebel against unjust law. It was the blueprint for American Independence.
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