Sunday, July 15, 2018

Old and New Tyrannies

From Crisis:
Assaulting age-old truths, norms, legal and constitutional principles, political practices and structures, and even religious beliefs, and forcing people to conform for the sake of justifying sexual immorality is nothing new. Consider the Protestant Reformation in England. As one writer has stated, it happened because of King Henry VIII’s lusts. To get his divorce and to give an aura of legitimacy to his taking up with Anne Boleyn, Henry not only severed England from the Catholic Church and ushered in the long period of persecution against Catholic believers, but began a sweeping and destructive transformation of the country’s politics and law. As Professor Richard O’Sullivan wrote, at Henry’s behest, and to carry out his aims, Parliament assumed absolute power—when in fact, it was the king who had the absolute power—which went against the country’s entire previous tradition. This new governmental absolutism shredded the country’s common law tradition—and the liberty of subjects that it guaranteed—and discarded the natural law behind it.

This is why, O’Sullivan says, at St. Thomas More’s trumped up trial for treason—which at bottom, as the dramatic moment in the movie A Man for All Seasons makes clear, was because he would not accept Henry’s illicit marriage—his appealing to the common law rule that a defendant’s silence could not be used to convict him was just brushed aside. After the guilty verdict, O’Sullivan says that More castigated the law he was accused of violating, which required Henry’s subjects to take an oath acknowledging him as the head of the Church, as “contrary to the law of God, the law of reason, and the law of the land.” As O’Sullivan noted, this was a “major disruption” to the “common law thought pattern” that made all of these, in this order, the basis of English legal, political, and social life. (Read more.)

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