The Church and the Liberal Society

By Emmet John Hughes | Go to book overview

VII
Men in Arms: The New World of Facts

IN THE sixteenth century, one of Martin Luther's most famous pamphlets had summoned men to rise and destroy the "walls" of the Catholic Church. The "walls" were those devices, doctrinal and institutional, by which the Church had maintained its dominion, spiritual and temporal. Those walls were breached.

Men forging the Liberal Society, however, had soon been confronted with new walls--those of the secular-mercantilist state. Although its ideals and institutions were fundamentally divorced from the faith and the society of the medieval era, yet the new state inherited from that period the habit of institutional regulation of the affairs of men, especially those affairs which were conducted in the market place. In time, the insurgent forces of the new economy found the Walls of this state to be as constrictive as had been the walls of the Church.

Unwilling to be checked by a second line of institutional defense after the first had successfully been passed, the masters of the new economy resolved to seek peacefully to lower the walls of mercantilism or to reconstruct them according to their own design. Where and when this could not be done and the state remained stolidly entrenched in its authoritarian ways, there and then they stormed the walls in force. The bourgeoisie, determined to translate theory into fact, took up arms.

Experience of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries anticipated much of what was to come. As the center of the economic gravity of the Western world swung in its arc from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, the Netherlands were in the front ranks of the advancing economy. With an industry rarely equalled, the Dutch converted their small

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