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The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century English Culture
The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century English Culture
Michael Wheeler
Cambridge University Press, 2006
370 pp., $124.00

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John Powell


This Ball of Liberty

Whose progress?

The promise of liberty is intoxicating. Certainly the founding generation of Americans found it so, and many saw the future writ large there. "This ball of liberty," Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1795, is "now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe, at least the enlightened part of it, for light & liberty go together." Not that sensible folk believed the ascent would be easy. Indeed, the struggle upward would, by its very nature, engender resistance from every kind of entrenched authority. But the promise of liberty was so great that the utmost sacrifices were warranted. Jefferson himself justified the spilling of innocent blood during the French Revolution "when the liberty of the whole earth" depended on it. For the next 200 years, a Jeffersonian faith in liberty informed the policies of the Western powers as they conquered tribal peoples, resisted fascist aggression, and combated the spread of communism. By 1991, the tribes were conquered, the fascists were vanquished, and the communists driven to capitalism. Then it all went wrong.

After enduring all the distasteful sacrifices required to free the world of ignorance and oppression, the West has learned that the New World Order is no utopia, and must now wonder if it is actually the dead-end of the Renaissance dream. Building on the patrimony of the Enlightenment, each country crafted its own utopia, where man was the measure and representative government, individualism, and freedom of conscience were the materials. England, France, the United States, and a host of other countries embraced some version of this early new order, and eventually exported it around the world. The distinctive national characteristics of each polity sometimes obscured what was a fundamentally similar goal: to undermine the authority of kings, oligarchies, and churches in order to gain freedom from oppression, restriction, and, ultimately, obligations of any kind. No matter how incongruous the confluence of history and film, when ...

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