ROBERT HARRIS’S LATEST NOVEL, “Act of Oblivion” is a welcome reminder of fanaticism’s terrifying aptitude for extinguishing human happiness. By recalling that period in English history when God was taken seriously enough to die and kill for, it also serves as a timely check upon our readiness to condemn the excesses of contemporary religious bigotry.
The plot of “Act of Oblivion” concerns the relentless pursuit of the “regicides” Edward Whalley and William Goffe – two of the fifty-nine signatories to King Charles I’s death warrant. As with his many other works of historical fiction, Harris’s novel brings to life a period that is at once starkly alien but also curiously familiar to our own.
Whalley and Goffe were colonels in Oliver Cromwell’s “New Model Army” – a fearsome body of righteous killers that might best be thought of as the Taliban in breastplates. Both men were what their contemporaries called “Puritans” – standard-bearers for a radical Protestantism that sought to strip away from Christian practice all oppressive hierarchies and unnecessary rituals, until only the purified encounter between God and the sinner remained.
Fanaticism was more-or-less built into Puritanism. So much religious falsity was said to have been interposed between the simple Christian seeker and his Bible, and for such base and nefarious purposes, that clearing the path to glory struck the Puritan-in-arms as an inescapable duty. Not the Church of England, not the Roman Catholic Church (whose doctrines and practices were thought to skulk beneath the Anglican Bishops’ surplices) not even the King of England, after years of civil war, could be permitted to go on corrupting and obstructing the path to salvation. Not if these New Model Puritans had any say in the matter.
And for the eleven years of the English republic – dubbed the “Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland” by Cromwell, its “Lord Protector” – they did have a say. In their zeal, the Puritans shut down the brothels and the theatres, and cut down the “pagan” maypoles standing erect over a multitude of English village greens. Not even Christmas – similarly denounced as an excuse for pagan revelry – escaped the attentions of the Puritan Parliament’s censorious legislators. Under the Commonwealth, celebrating Christmas became a crime.
Today, those evincing such unyielding determination to do good would be described as “Woke”. The comparison is far from original. No less a luminary than the English historian, David Starkey, has noted the rather ominous similarities between the Sixteenth Century’s Protestant Reformation (of which Puritanism was but one radical evolution) and the “Woke Revolution” of the Twenty-First.
Both movements were born out of game-changing technological innovation. The Protestants’ progenitor was the printing-press, the Woke communicate via the Internet. If the Reformation was the inevitable corollary to the emancipatory impulses of the Renaissance, then Wokeism is the heir of the counter-cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.
In both cases, the movements’ intellectual trajectories trace a course from moderation to extremism; liberation to forced conversion. Once accepted as righteous and true by its followers, any system of religious, moral and/or political thought will be refined and intensified to the point where the idea of the rest of humanity continuing to languish in moral and political ignorance becomes intolerable. Those dwelling in darkness must be made to see the light. Those who wilfully reject the enlightenment of the righteous deserve only punishment.
The danger arises when religious and political fanaticism acquires arms. Christianity found the Emperor Constantine and his legions. The Puritans did not so much find as construct their New Model Army. The Bolsheviks enrolled the armed deserters fleeing the Russian Czar’s broken armies.
The Woke have yet to find their army – but they are close.
Like the English Puritans of the 1630s and 40s, the Woke of the 2020s are to be found embedded in the nation’s most powerful political, legal, commercial and intellectual institutions. They are determined and ingenious promoters of their cause, and a significant fraction of the means of communication is under their control. All they need is an antagonist to match the folly of Charles I – someone to deliver them the key to the arsenal.
But, as Robert Harris’s latest novel makes clear, fanaticism burns too brightly to long endure. It also conjures up its own nemesis. For every fanatical action, there is an equal and opposite fanatical reaction.
Extremism consumes itself.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 January 2023.
I can't understand this obsession with "wokeness". For one thing it's ill-defined, and when I say ill-defined I mean nobody actually bothers to define it. It seems to be a substitute for "People who I disagree with."
I would ask – who are the woke and what the hell harm are they doing, because I can't really see any. I would assume it's implied that they are perhaps people searching for social justice for Maori and other minorities, but nobody really comes out and says it. There are people trying to get social justice for all sorts of minorities all over the world, are they all woke?
Is social justice for minorities a bad thing? The original meaning of the word before it became a conservative snarl word, meant someone who was alert to social injustice. Personally I can't see anything wrong with people like this. Oh well don't mind me, I'm just woking around 😁
If the only issue was the absurd fantasies and fulminations of the woke Taliban we could all just laugh it off. Unfortunately they are causing serious harm, the trans gender ideologues among the worst:
"Bryson – real name Adam Graham – was found guilty of raping two women this week. The High Court in Glasgow heard that Bryson raped one woman in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, and another in Drumchapel, Glasgow. Prosecutors say he ‘preyed’ on the two ‘vulnerable’ women, who he met online. The judge said he should expect a ‘significant sentence’.
The coverage, as is so often the way with cases like this, has been downright insane. This male rapist has been routinely referred to as ‘her’. That most maddening phrase, ‘her penis’, has been ubiquitous, even in the more conservative outlets. That rape is a crime that can only be committed by a man apparently has no bearing on these newspapers’ oh-so-inclusive style guides.
Such credulity isn’t limited to the media. The justice system, as case after case has shown, is also inclined to prioritise rapists’ hurt feelings over common decency. Bryson is reportedly being held in a women’s prison. There are fears he could be housed in one permanently, despite the obvious threat he poses to female inmates."
"Chloe was indoctrinated, affirmed, and set on an irreparable path at the age of 15, and now finds herself abandoned by the community and the doctors that lead her over the edge.
Chloe Cole is an 18-year-old de-transitioner from The Central Valley of California. She started her transition at 12 years old, puberty blockers and testosterone at 13, and had a double mastectomy at 15 years old. She is now a strong advocate against gender ideology."
Full discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O3MzPeomqs&t=4692s
Cartoon crittercal theory anyone?
Furries vs feminists: a new nadir for the trans lobby
Why are men who identify as cartoon animals planning to protest against a women’s rights rally? https://www.spiked-online.com/2023/01/25/furries-vs-feminists-a-new-nadir-for-the-trans-lobby/
“On January 3,” Thau observes in his Bulwark reporting, “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spent nearly an eighth of his inaugural address — a full 198 words — trying to define the word ‘woke’ — just so he could spend the next 35 words condemning it. There’s no doubt these 35 words were powerful, direct and unambiguous…. But is DeSantis’ message truly getting through when it takes six times as long to explain wokeness as it does to reject it? Would someone who heard only these 35 words in a news report have any idea what he’s attacking?” 😇
David, I think with all the problems in the world we have today, particularly those from the extreme right, people's pronouns are probably the least of our worries.
There is an expression for what you do so often David – nut picking I believe it's called.
Guerilla Surgeon said... I can't understand this obsession with "wokeness". For one thing it's ill-defined, and when I say ill-defined I mean nobody actually bothers to define it. It seems to be a substitute for "People who I disagree with."
Saw this the other day that explains it rather well for this 64 yr old pakeha
Some people use the word "woke" as if it's supposed to be some kind of insult
But mostly they use it because they can't spell "empathetic", "educated" or "enlightened"
It's hardly surprising people struggle with, or have different understandings of, the meaning of "woke" when even it's adherents regularly fail to articulate a coherent definition. Conveniently any imprecision in the use of the term can be turned into a weapon - see GS and Andrew N above.
Like any religious movement it has convinced itself that it's on the side of the angels, beyond reproach, any questioning or criticism a sacrilege that justifies blessed hate and violence.
Well said Andrew.
David, wasn't it conservative who said " “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Perhaps a little consistency might be in order? 😇
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