Scientific Explanations of “Nature” replace Theological Explanations of Creation
Materialistic science, sponsored by the businessmen and secular rulers developed rapidly in Anglican England and Protestant Holland. In France the Enlightenment philosophers attacked religion as oppressive superstition. Rousseau in particular was influenced by the reductionist scientists to see society as made up of independent, “atomic” individuals devoid of any truly independent will whose collective votes, after suitable demagoguery or “spin” from the intellectual elite, could produce a kind of super-human machine which he called “The General Will”. Today it more commonly called the People’s Mandate, replacing God’s Mandate claimed by the Papacy and Divine Right monarchs.
The Peoples’ Mandate and the First National Socialists
This new secular ideology swept through Europe. Mob psychology erupted in the big cities in France in the late Eighteenth Century, the traditional leaders of society were guillotined and, inspired by the contemporary American revolutionaries, lawyers established a “Committee for Public Safety” which ruled in the name of the “People”. The religious houses were looted and burned and the Directorate under Robespierre established a new religion worshipping the Goddess Reason. Predictably the government fell apart and a military coup put a charismatic Corsican general in charge who quickly restored order, crowned himself Emperor and set about conquering and looting Europe with an army made up of nationalist fanatics.
Not surprisingly once Napoleon was defeated by an alliance of the Christian monarchies, especially the industrialised British, efforts were made to put the clock back and the French Monarchy was restored but was much tarnished by needing foreign support and with much of its base eroded or destroyed during the extremist republican and imperial periods. Since this time France, once the leading nation in Europe, has had two Empires, five Republics and a narrow escape from dictatorship by the national socialist extremist, General Boulanger. There is still a kind of cold civil war going on between intolerant left wing secularists and intolerant right wing Catholics.
In Britain the lesson was well learned and the rationalist intellectual Whigs who had dominated government for over a century lost ground to the Tories. The Church of England and the Monarchy were revitalised during the Romantic movement and the Gothic Revival aided by the remarkable talents of new men like Prince Albert who encouraged industry, the arts, education, religion and welfare. Belief in the existence and nature of the immortal soul although stronger than in the Enlightenment was more honoured in the breach. In “Erewhon” Samuel Butler’s Musical Banks strike to the heart of the hypocrisy.