The Church and the Liberal Society

By Emmet John Hughes | Go to book overview

I
The Revolution of the Times

THE instruments were many with which men fashioned the Liberal Society. The pen of Voltaire, the sword of Cromwell, the telescope of Galileo; the mysticism of Luther and the logic of Calvin, the optimism of Rousseau and the realism of Machiavelli--a vast and strange congeries of factors were these, assailing the world of the past and, with the levers of the present, pushing to the surface the world of the future.

Yet more decisive may have been those forces which, by their very character, were never consciously devised or purposefully employed by men: forces that matured in eventualities no one could foresee. For the Liberal Society was the final product of the elements--all the elements---constituting the titanic social revolution that spanned the period from the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution: splintering of Christian unity--spiritual as well as territorial, decay of feudal economy, erection of national states, geographical discoveries, and scientific renaissance. All those streams were here which formed the tide bearing men into modern times.

A revolution it was which pressed its militant way into every sphere of society. The commercial and industrial class-- the "middle" class of businessmen--rose to power, and with them came urban dominion over the countryside. The national state signified at once the coalescence of myriad feudal provinces and the disintegration of the quasi-universal Christian society: the capitulation of the medieval dichotomy of jus divinum and jus naturale to the mundane and militant might of national sovereignty, in economic life, movable capital supplanted tenure of land as the supreme arbiter of economic distinction; and the static agrarianism of the me-

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