The Cultural Revolution in 16th-Century England

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N. Rothbard sent this memo on September 24, 1993, to several
friends, including Catholic publisher Neil McCaffrey.

is to alert you all to what the Protestant reviewer refers
to several times as a “splendid” new Catholic book. It is
Eamon Duffy, The
Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,
(Yale Univ. Press, 654 pp.). [See
New York Review of Books, Sept. 23.] I was fascinated
and greatly moved by the reviewer’s account of the book, and
you all know much more about the topic, and should like it
all the more.

The book
is a revisionist study of the purging of the Catholic religion
by the Anglican Reformation. The orthodox view has been that
the Catholic faith had been dying out among the public, e.g.
because the vernacular was not being used. Duffy shows that,
on the contrary, the masses loved the old faith and what they
lacked in language was made up for by the processions, pageants,
images etc., as well as sculpture, and also that when the
vernacular came in it supplemented the Latin. The first part
of the Duffy book examines the old religion and the public’s
devotion in detail. The second part shows how the old religion
was systematically stamped out and destroyed, by the use of
the State apparatus, with the assistance of the fanatical
Anglican reformers; the State, and its "Visitations”
from the bishops, led by fanatical reformers such as Cranmer,
Latimer, et al., managed in fifty years to destroy even the
memory of the old faith in the minds of the masses, and to
replace it with devotion to Anglicanism. Brutally, images
were destroyed, lights in front of images were outlawed, ceremonies
as creeping to the cross were outlawed, wall paintings were
whitewashed and altars stripped. The reformers were interested
in purging the “idolatry” of “image worship." State injunctions
issued the prohibitions: in 1538, the burning of lights in
front of images was prohibited, pilgrimages were condemned
and the Angelus bell silenced; in 1547, churches were ordered
stripped of all images, relics, and paintings as “monuments
of feigned miracles, idolatry and superstition,” and parish
processions outlawed.

All this
reminds me of the Cultural Revolution in the U.S., beginning
with the New Deal and continuing now with Clinton’s Health
Great Leap Forward. The sad part of course is that, all too
often, Cultural Revolutions do work and stamp out the memory
of’ the Old Religion, or the Old Republic. Fight!

of course, the English Reformation was crucial in engendering
a fanatical anti-Catholicism in England from that day on,
and in the British colony of North America. In a sense, then,
we still haven’t recovered from the first Cultural Revolution,
in 16th-century England.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
He was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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