2007 - 2022

Culture and the Common Good

scotlandbadgeIt was on Sunday 15th December 2015 that the Sunday Herald published its front page headline “Scotland’s Nuclear Secret” about the shipment of weapons-grade uranium from Dounreay to the US. Such is the symbiotic nature of the relationship between “nuclear” and “political” power that the headline might as easily have been published in 1955, the year Dounreay was commissioned. Now, as we enter 2016, that is 61 years of secrets.

The five kilograms of enriched uranium was removed from a physics research institute in Mtskheta, near the Georgian capital Tiblisi in a secretive US operation codenamed “Auburn Endeavour” in 1998, because the American military were concerned that the material was “inadequately protected” and that it could have fallen into the hands of Chechen gangs and “made into nuclear bombs”. Now the uranium is heading for the US government’s nuclear complex at Savannah River in South Carolina to be, potentially, made into nuclear bombs. If it ever gets to Savannah River it certainly won’t be made into “medical isotope targets for five million cancer treatments” which was the story spun by Tony Blair’s foreign minister Doug Henderson who at the time brokered the deal which resulted in the highly radioactive material being stored at Dounreay, after both France and Russia refused to take the toxic fuel.

Dounreay is no doubt a “secure location” and “just the warehouse for this material”, as postulated by Doug Henderson in 1998: it is also a location far away from London, which is why the five experimental reactors were all sited at Dounreay on the North coast of Caithness in the first place. It was obvious that George Osborne, who was standing in for the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, when questioned by Angus Robertson at Prime Minister’s Questions about the scary prospect of moving such highly dangerous radioactive material across the Atlantic, had no idea where Scrabster Harbour or Wick Airport (the two proposed places of departure for the uranium shipment), or indeed where Caithness or Dounreay itself actually were. What we got from George Osborne instead of information was the usual set of complacent and platitudinous generalities which pass for Tory government policy towards Scotland in general and Caithness in particular.

As David Cameron has demonstrated time and time again – and every British Prime Minister before him has demonstrated – that nuclear weapons in the form of Trident and Polaris preceding that are the ultimate power totems which must be retained no matter the cost. They are used as a political status symbol which masks Britain’s global decline despite the weapons systems increasing strategic irrelevance and allows Cameron to pass himself off as a “world leader” and to implicate the UK’s diminishing conventional military in needless and avoidable wars. Such is the dangerous Alice-in-Wonderland world of delusional Westminster politics. This how much the British desire to cling onto their seat on UN Security Council. Trident is political Viagra.

But Scotland is different, isn’t it? For the duration of the run up to the Referendum in 2014 and ever since the Unionists have been telling the Scottish people that there is essentially no difference between us and the people of England either politically or culturally. The General Election result of May 2015 proved that there is a fundamental political difference in as much as the Scottish electorate returned only three Unionist MP’s. In England, for the first time in over 20 years, the Tories formed a government, albeit with a majority of only 12. One of the significant reasons for this divergence, I would contend, is that for the past 30 years there has been a political direction of travel north of the border towards the idea of an independent Scotland not as some romantic notion but as societal necessity and that this direction is a result of a significant cultural progression – a confidence and popularity if you will – in the worth and benefits of both the political and expressive arts. This is a product of history.

The word “identity” has been used before and after the 2014 Referendum in a pejorative sense and the SNP hierarchy in particular have shied away from it as though the word signified some bogus ethnic or cultural superiority, but this is to deny both the cultural and political history of Scotland and the meaning of the word. The Oxford dictionary defines “identity” as being “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is”. No-one who is acquainted with their history and culture would dare to claim to be superior to anyone else no matter where they came from. The problem for most Scots is that we are not so well acquainted with our history and culture as we should be so therefore our claims to independent nationhood are based on such ill-defined notions as “civic nationalism” or “social democracy” or “social inclusion” and so on. They are ill-defined because we are divorced from the knowledge of where they come from and when applied to a modern democratic and independent Scotland they are dismissed by the Unionist media and politicians as “myths”: they are not myths, they are manifestations born from our political history and cultural traditions.

In December 1792 the Society of the Friends of the People in Scotland held its first General Convention in Edinburgh. A young advocate named Thomas Muir stood up and read to the Convention an Address to the Convention from the Society of United Irishmen in Dublin. The Address began:

“We take the Liberty of addressing you in the Spirit of Civic Union, in the Fellowship of a just and common Cause.”

That “common Cause” was an independent Ireland and Scotland. The Address ended with a dramatic flourish,

“We rejoice that you do not consider yourselves as merged and melted down into another Country, but that in this great national Question you are still Scotland – the Land where Buchanan wrote, and Fletcher spoke and Wallace fought.”

Thomas Muir sat down. The Convention grew nervous. Outside in the Edinburgh streets the beginnings of Prime Minister William Pitt’s governmental crackdown on and suppression of “domestic Jacobins” such as the Society of the Friends of the People in Scotland was under way. The delegates in the Edinburgh Convention debated the Irish Address and flattered as they must have been by the endorsement by their fellow Celts to past Scottish achievements many of them dreaded provoking the highly reactionary, aristocratic and nervous Tory government in London so they declined to answer and Thomas Muir had to withdraw the document he had just read out.

What the Irish Address of 1792 did achieve was to highlight the nature of the radical cultural tradition active in eighteenth century Scotland. The United Irishmen cited George Buchanan, the political theorist of the Scottish Reformation and the author of “De Jure Regni Apud Scotus” or “The Art and Science of Government among the Scots” (1579); Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, the great Scottish statesman and arch-opponent of the Treaty of Union in 1707; and of course the ubiquitous William Wallace, the people’s champion during the Wars of Independence against England: they cited these figures because they wanted to draw out the deep historic roots and diverse nature of Scottish radicalism. One figure the United Irishmen did not cite, but who would have been simpatico with the “common Cause” was Robert Burns who in 1792 still had four years to live.

Other than independence for Ireland and Scotland the common denominator for the all the heroes of the past and both the Friends of the Scottish People and the Society of United Irishmen was their attitude and resistance to power: the arrogant, self-assuming hegemonic power of the British State whether it was dispensed by Edward Longshanks in the distant past, by William Pitt and his government in in 1792 or now by David Cameron in 2016.

The influence of George Buchanan on Robert Burns, as it was on all Scottish radicals in the eighteenth century, was profound. In magazine articles and essays Buchanan was hailed as a “herald of civil and religious liberty”, “an advocate of the rights of man” and even “an unsurpassed theorist of popular politics, and the maxims of a free government”. According to Liam McIlvanney in his magnificent book Burns The Radical,

“Buchanan’s immediate purpose in the ‘De Jure’ is to vindicate the Scots’ deposition of Mary Stuart in 1567, an act which had alarmed and horrified the rulers of Europe. In attempting to exonerate the Scots, Buchanan adopts two main strategies. On the one hand, he appeals to historical precedent, citing various Scottish rulers who had been justly deposed, and claiming right to resist tyrants as an accepted feature of Scottish constitutional tradition. More importantly, however, Buchanan undertakes a more general theoretical discussion of political society, in which he attempts to deduce the scope and limits of legitimate authority and to determine the distinction between kingship and tyranny.”

Buchanan was quite emphatic in his political origins in as much as they were anthropological: humankind is a naturally a social animal, gregarious in nature and by expediency social in instinct. As a result humanity constructs a “society” as its natural state in which to associate and for George Buchanan this was both a spiritual and natural phenomenon as was evidenced by the Bible where it is taught that “we should love the Lord or God and our neighbours as ourselves”. So it must be that “society is a good in itself” and it then follows that the political arrangements which humanity agrees to establish in order to regulate society must therefore be geared to the good of society as a whole and that there should be a “covenant” between the people and the government.

If Buchanan’s politics are that of a civic humanism they are also self-consciously republican in as much as it is assumed that the true end of government is taken to be the good of the people, what historians have called the “common wealth”. An active citizenry is vital for this “common wealth” to function and that a concern for the public good is the only source of legitimate authority. A young Robert Burns would have lapped up these radical ideas. Buchanan had articulated them specifically so that the Scots could understand that “virtue” lay with a concern for the common good and that the traditional notions – Anglican, Lutheran notions – that social leadership resided in the powerful prince or mighty king were to be no more but was now the social property of the virtuous, public spirited citizen of whatever station – they alone could be “truly noble”: a man’s a man for a’ that. This virtuous social readjustment is a major part of our political and cultural identity as Scots, no matter where we were born and no matter what the Unionists say to the contrary.

Scotland’s political tradition is radical because from its very beginning it has continually advocated the right of the sovereign people to resist a tyrannical government. Scottish literary tradition has a similarly rich dissenting pedigree in three languages. The Scottish cultural attitude as displayed by her bards and poets has never been one of the concilitarist and the only convention held in common was one of resistance to a wayward chief or haughty monarch. The levelling wit and Celtic panache of Scottish culture from the flytings of Dunbar and Kennedy (1507) to the Thrie Estates of Sir David Lyndsay (1552) and on to the work of Burns himself has always been an aesthetic constant. It has always been an outward looking and popular poetic, as keen to celebrate its native form as it is to embrace influences from outside. This cultural eclecticism is also a feature of Scottish theatre. The required collectivism of theatre making suits the “common wealth” tradition of the Scots and if an individual is to shine then it is as a result of the combined efforts and support of the company. Scottish cultural tradition demands that those who participate in it – the artists – give back to those who facilitate it – the people – a life affirming experience. That is the cultural “covenant” between the artist and the audience. I have always thought it a great pity – and a hindrance to artistic development – that those directors and managers of our national and revenue funded arts organisation do not display any sympathy with or knowledge of this deep tradition. But then, as has been stated already: an ignorance of history and culture is normal in Scotland.

The less we know the better the state like it. Because of The Official Secrets Act  and the complicity of the mainstream media we know little of what goes on at Dounreay. The industrial-military complex some 8 miles west of Thurso was not built for the common good or to benefit the “common wealth” but to bolster British nuclear and political power during the Cold War. What the recent uranium transportation scandal has yet again proved is that the US assumes that it owns by manifest destiny all the resources of the world, including any nuclear material it declares to be “insecure” and that the British government, of whatever political hue, will always comply in that assumption.

As the Scottish elections draw closer it would be historically fitting if the current SNP government undertook now to enact radical and far reaching policies in such areas as land ownership, taxation and banking and its relationship with Westminster and not to wait for some more favourable or opportune time in the future. It is after all what the people who voted them into power in Holyrood and into opposition at Westminster desire. Caution is not always wisdom and some bravery in action now will reap benefits – even if they are unknown – in the future.

George Buchanan summed up his central argument in the following terms,

“I have sought for nothing in this whole discussion, as you will have observed, other than that Cicero’s dictum should be revered and held inviolable: ‘Let the safety of the people be the supreme law’.”

It is obvious that the US and British Governments and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority at Dounreay do not revere “the safety of the people”.

In a future Scotland political practitioners must shed powers addiction to secrecy. As our radical tradition informs and as we must constantly remember real sovereign power lies with the people, not the rulers. After all our nation is waiting to be formed and it is the people, the “common wealth” who will produce it, not for their individual gain but for the common good. Let us heed then what the United Irishmen declared in 1792, and as read out in Edinburgh by brave Thomas Muir,

“We rejoice that you do not consider yourselves as merged and melted down into another Country, but that in this great national Question you are still Scotland.”

Comments (27)

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  1. kate says:

    curious to know why mary stuart had a particularly tyrannical rule
    shoring up scotland’s strong tradition of anti catholic bigotry and misogyny to restate this as if it were an obvious truth i think

  2. kate says:

    possibly MQS was an accomplice in the murder of her 2nd husband, who murdered a servant in her presence and threatened her while armed & drunk when she was pregnant, for which a non aristocrat would presumably have been executed anyway. she did not persecute protestants – or anyone – as a group, as far as i know. there is no claim to tyranny except from the viewpoint of protestant bigotry & misogyny in a leading witch burning nation.

  3. John Fullerton says:

    Excellent piece – refreshing and invigorating, a timely reminder of Scottish values.

  4. Gordon Bickerton says:

    I echo John Fullertons comment.

  5. Fay Kennedy says:

    Thanks for reminding us how ignorant of our history most Scots are and who has benefited from that.

  6. duncan says:

    George, the genie is out the bottle, unfortunately, and nuclear is now on every country’s Santa list. Denying this is Alice in Wonderland stuff. You are right, however, that we could all do with being acquainted with history better, and, as a Scot, this means both locally and internationally. It could also mean the role of the Royal Scots grays in defeating the Franco Bavarian army at Blenheim to defend the Habsberg monarchy or the massacre and exploitation of the Wurridjuri people by Scottish regiments and settlers in declaring Australia Terra Nillus, as well as many other things. The one lesson history teaches is weakness makes culture and people vulnerable to other more potent ones, and, it is folly to believe you can adapt your foreign policy to that of a cheery Scotland fan and expect the whole world to smile and sing along. Also, the English tradition has a rich dissenting pedigree in radical writers:Shelley, Thomas Paine need I go on, and it would be literary genocide to deny this has no symbiotic relationship with the Scottish tradition. It’s the concepts, George.

  7. George Gunn says:

    thanks for all your comments. I think there is a line in Burns where he says Scotland will never be free “until Johnnie comes merchin hame”. History is like Jim Morrison’s song – “nobody here gets out alive”. All monarchs kill people and for various reasons, governments as well. I think all I was trying to articulate is exactly what power is. In Scotland it resides with the people. That is what we must cultivate in our immediate future. Scotland is here to be made, re-made, call it what you like. A just and equitable society for a modern population. Is that not what we all want? It is what George Buchanan wanted and it was what Robert Burns wanted.

  8. alasdair galloway says:

    George, very interesting article. But one thing in it puzzles me – “The General Election result of May 2015 proved that there is a fundamental political difference in as much as the Scottish electorate returned only two Unionist MP’s and in both cases with tiny majorities”. I would have treated the use of “two” as a typo, but your use of “both” has me perplexed. I suppose we have to consider Fluffy as just too obvious, but who is the other – Murray, or might it be Carmichael (depending on which side of his mouth he is talking out of).

  9. Alf Baird says:

    Great article George, thanks.

    Independence is an all or nothing, priceless goal for any people; Scotland is nothing without independence. We Scots may appear to have made some ‘progress’ (however defined) these past few years, yet in actual fact we have achieved nothing until independence is secured.

  10. john young says:

    Faye one if not the the most potent weapons in the colonialists armoury is to take away deny the history of the colonised,it removes anything that could give pride or confidence to the populace.We are “brainwashed into the glory of the “British Empire” with little or no mention of the great acheivements of our countrymen.Listening to many many thousands belt out “Rule Brittania” at Ibrox makes me want to weep for our country.

    1. Bob McMahon says:

      To destroy a nation you must deprive the people of their national consciousness. Treat them as a tribe and not as a nation, dilute their national pride, do not teach their history, propagate their language as inferior, imply they have a cultural void, emphasise their customs are primitive and dismiss independence as a barbaric anomaly.

      Reinhard Heydrich, ‘Protector’ of Czechoslovakia for the Third Reich, and one of the architects of the Holocaust.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “propagate their language as inferior”

        It seems peculiar than an SNP Government should ensure Gaelic language is given equal status to English language in Scotland, yet refuses to legislate to ensure the same status for the more dominant Scots language. It is difficult not to conclude that the SNP considers “Scots language as inferior” to English, albeit the latter is merely our ‘administrative’ language. Perhaps they are waiting on independence to do the right thing by our language, and on land reform, and other reforms they could be making now, if only they weren’t quite so concerned about their image, or held back by what their unionist civil servants and quangos tell them they can and can’t do.

        1. Clive Scott says:

          Alf, I have yet to hear anyone outside of SNP conferences raise the issue of land reform. Nobody raised it when I was out campaigning during Indyref1 or GE2015. If the objective is to win over a majority of the electorate in indyref2 whenever that comes I am afraid it is a complete waste of time to make an issue of land reform. Much better to sort out the basics of currency, pensions, job security – the basics of life for most people. Leave land reform to be dealt with after independence is achieved.

          1. Hi Clive, you have never heard ‘anyone outside of SNP conferences raise the issue of land reform’? Really? Wow. Where have you been?

          2. Alf Baird says:

            “Much better to sort out the basics of currency, pensions, job security ”

            Clive, to those of us who have believed in independence most of our adult lives we have come to realise that independence is priceless, but anyway the SNP did a really ‘sterling’ job on currency last time if I recall! Land and language are fundamental to any nation, they are the very basics you talk of – if we don’t get these right there is little point in going any further. The ‘basics’ you refer to are mere baubles compared with the prize of nationhood and real self-determination. The SNP has been given the powers and majority to deal with many of these matters now, but chooses not to use them. Yet who are they going to upset if they enacted land reform properly? The 450 offshore entities who own and exploit half of Scotland’s land? Tory voters? The well off unionist elites who still run Scotland’s 200 public and quasi public institutions? The lawyers in the (UK ‘Home’) civil service advising hapless ministers? These elites are the 10% who will never vote for independence. So the people this would upset are not SNP voters. So why pander to them? And you say land is not an issue on the doorstep – if that is the case why not reform it properly, as a majority of the activists at the recent SNP conference demanded? Nothing to lose and all to gain. If the boot was on the other foot, do you think the Tories would hold back? Its all too easy in politics to say one thing and do another. We are all used to spin and many are fed up with it. Actions speak louder than words. Many are watching the SNP closely, and many of these watchers are members. By the way I suggest you read Andy Wightman’s book if you have not already done so, then you may discover the importance of land reform.

    2. jed says:

      well said, and I weap with you!!!

  11. Gordon Bickerton says:

    John Young,

    I’m praying their numbers are getting fewer, but every population will have its lunatic fringes 🙂

  12. john young says:

    Agree Alf time they “marined up” and faced them down,fight for our country at every turn on every issue on any issue,we suffer from total the subservience syndrome,in most countries that have been colonised there has been a portion of the populace prepared to fight their corner one way or another,SNP look as if they do not want to upset the establishment,attack them every and any way.

    1. C Rober says:

      The Snp are the establishment now , and something I dont want them anywhere near is land reform , mostly due to their idea is different from their action.

      Land protected for years in North Ayrshire , lorded farm land , somehow ended up earmarked for executive housing in an area without need , against numerous policies , under the Snp lie of affordable housing , then rubber stamped by Hollyrood , where no one has asked how it could get through the various depts that should have prevented it from the start.

      Yet Some tennis guy in Dunblane tries the same and gets denied under SNP legislation , the same legislation that should have prevented it in NAC , but then he never had a SNP politician to drive it for him into the Local Development plan…..where it would have been granted.

      This is not the only case , nor just in NAC.

      Maybe in North Ayrshire though its unique to have a husband that is the Msp , and his wife the Mp , and the provost the mother of the FM. Nepotism is hard and fast , near endemic in local politics and in council staffing.Questions were even asked recently about a politicians daughter being a coordinator between council and nhs as an uneeded private consultant for example…. nuff said.

      How about the LDP selection committee not being direced on policy by the chair during the land selection process , or ignoring the community council that the Snp say should have the first if not final word in rural development , well in promises anyway.

      But then again land reform , worked for Mugabe didnt it ? Perhaps we are looking at McGabe politics here?

      So if the people are ignored in the very communities that are promised land reform , by those making the promises , those legislating the land reform , that ignore their own legislation , then where is the difference with land reform for the communities themselves comparitively?

      Perhaps thats why the land reform talk is only verbally rolled out in rural villages during elections ? The Snp will continue to fail on indy , as long as it keeps them in jobs and importantly those family members on the periphery of politics too.

      Unless SLAB has a complete cleanse of Blairism , and change on taking on orders from the party in England , then the only electoral option for home rule will continue to be the NATS that give LR lip service , and ironically in the case of LR in North Ayrshire , they had been practicing what the SNP preached – preventing the use of farmland for unneeded and unwanted executive commuter housing when the council was a Labour majority.

  13. Alison says:

    Can anyone recommend good books on Scotland’s radical history?

    My knowledge of Scottish history in general is not great, partly due to being moved to England when I was ten so going to high school there, and I’d like to improve it. However, I’m particularly interested in the kinds of issues discussed in this article of which I know practically nothing.

    I don’t enjoy reading on a computer screen (or any screen) so I’m interested in actual paper books. Any ideas?

  14. Gordon McShean says:

    In 1979, after a 20 year exile, I made a surreptitious trip to the UK from California, obtaining a rental a car in London in order to visit family and to discover if I could avoid prosecution for my part in the Johnstone armoury raid of 1953 if I were to attempt to return to Scotland permanently (this was documented in my 2010 memoir RETIRED TERRORIST). When some of my nationalist friends learned of my ‘under cover’ plan to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh before going on to Orkney, I was asked if I’d have room in the vehicle to carry a large, heavy box, and I agreed. The subsequent misadventure – where that box was lost in the waters outside Thurso harbour – is documented in pages 360 to 372. Ever since my ‘confession’ about this I have wondered why there was never any attempt by officialdom or the press to follow up on suspicions that this box contained the real Scottish Stone of Destiny (since there have been substantial suspicions concerning the validity of the other “known” Stones). Your comment concerning the close proximity of Dounreay to Thurso awoke greater suspicions in my own mind. Now there is little chance that I will ever return to Scotland (I’ve been living in New Zealand for nearly half my life) and at nearly 80 years old I believe little of this will be of any personal concern. But I do wonder at the lack of interest in the significance of these things by my fellow Scots.

  15. john young says:

    Allison there are loads of good informative books on Scotlands contribution to civilisation as we know it,If I have any left I would be only too pleased to send them on to you but think that they have been lost someway,one off the top of my head was I think “The Scottish Empire” might be by Michael Fry can,t be sure.Reading this I learned of a young man from Aberdeenshire that was a big contributor to Japanese society where they revere him and have statues throughout the land in his honour,John Muir the father of national parks Yosemite etc,hardly known in his homeland until lately so much that visiting Americans years ago could find out little of him in his home town Dunbar I think.Winston Churchill no friend of ours said that Scotland had for such a small country made along with Greece the greatest impacts on civilisation,I went through school knowing next to nothing of our acheivements,Sott of the antartic actually stole the limelight from a Scot who actually achieved what the original mission was about never a mention or little anyways.James Clerk Maxwell of whom Einstein was in awe of,little of,the list goes on and on,also the project that bankrupted us “The Darien Project” how farsighted in view of the now Panama Canal was that.I hope that we do not allow our source of natural energy in wind and wave go the way of so many others.

  16. Redguantlet says:

    George, interesting as your pieces always are, but I disagree with you about identity, and the use of that term. As the poster Duncan notes above, you could perfectly say that imperialism and militarism were part of the Scottish “identity”… Or burning artworks…the Scots were one of the fundamental nations in the invention of capitalism, remember….is that part of our “identity” too….?

    The SNP were right to shy away from the term, because it is a portmanteau term which can mean just about anything to anybody, and it is a slippery slope which leads to essentialism.

    I prefer to talk about culture, which is real, concrete, analysable and largely ignored in Scotland, as you well know. In fact, the whole “identity” tag is nothing other than the linguistic recognition that the Scots don´t pride themselves on their culture, they prefer terms like “identity”. As Hugh MacDairmid once noted, “It´s true that Scotland has produced some great engineers. But most countries don´t pride themselves on their engineers, they pride themselves on their poets….”


    More culture, less identity…that´s my recipe for [email protected]

  17. yesindyref2 says:

    “to be, potentially, made into nuclear bombs”

    Bit late in the day – well, a year late!

    For a detail, the amount was 720 grams of highly enriched uranium (presumably weapons grade – minimum 50%, more like 90%) and 4 kilograms of 10% enriched uranium = nowhere near enriched enough.

    For a reference point it takes around 10-15 Kg weapons grade uranium for one single bomb. So at most a half or one-third of a bomb, after a lot of enrichment of the majority 4Kg of only 10% enriched (which is the same as Hunterston or Torness).

  18. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    It is encouraging to see attention drawn to George Buchanan (1506-1582). Buchanan became Moderator of the Church of Scotland during 1567, highlighting the fact (as indeed is clear in the article) that the term “humanist” then lacked the polarising import prevalent in today’s usage. Buchanan was a ‘Leamhnach’ (Lennoxman), hailing from Killearn (near Drymen by Loch Lomond). Almost certainly proficient in Gaelic therefore, though his polemical weapon of choice was clearly Latin:

    “Educated at the universities of Paris and St Andrews, George Buchanan became Professor of Latin at Bordeaux and of philosophy at Coimbra. In 1566, he became Principal of St Leonards College, St Andrews. As tutor to James VI, he transferred to the young king his enthusiasms for Latin and protestantism. Almost all of his works are in Latin. He was, in his own day, held by many to be the finest poet and most profound philosopher in Europe.” (footnote, The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature 1375-1707, Ed by Jack & P.A.T Rozendaal, 1997).

    Hubert Fenwick in his book “The Auld Alliance” (Roundwood Press, 1971), tells us that in 1544 Buchanan was Montaigne’s personal Latin tutor.

    It is widely recognized that Buchanan’s Latin treatise “Art and Science of Government among the Scots” had a big influence on political thought in Britain and America. John Milton in his ‘Defence of the People of England’ wrote concerning just government: “For Scotland I refer you to Buchanan”. Nonetheless, Gordon Donaldson in his ‘Scotland: James V – James VII’ (Vol 3 of The Edinburgh History of Scotland, 1965), remarks (with well-restrained adulation) that “neither Knox nor Buchanan added much to the political thought of the essentially medieval philosopher and theologian John Major”.

    The foregoing John Major (or Mair) was born in Gleghornie near Edinburgh in 1467 (dying in 1550). He became a highly influential professor at the University of Paris. His lectures were heard by the likes of George Buchanan, Jean Calvin, Ignatious Loyola, Francisco Vitoria, and François Rabelais. Mair, who remained a Catholic, yet sought to curb the autocratic power of the Pope within the Catholic Church. His ‘Conciliar Movement’ principles influenced the Protestant Reformation of the 16th C, and also the struggle of constitutional government against absolute monarchies in Europe of the 17th C. Given which, I was somewhat confused by the use of the term “concilitarist” in the article (see last sentence of following quote) apparently in the contrary (non-Mair) sense of “conciliatory”, or “appeasing”:

    “Scotland’s political tradition is radical because from its very beginning it has continually advocated the right of the sovereign people to resist a tyrannical government. Scottish literary tradition has a similarly rich dissenting pedigree in three languages. The Scottish cultural attitude as displayed by her bards and poets has never been one of the concilitarist and the only convention held in common was one of resistance to a wayward chief or haughty monarch.”

    Other significant anti-tyrannical documents in Scotland are of course the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, and also the important “Lex Rex”, written by presbyterian minister and St Andrews Professor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) which systematized Calvinistic political theories and influenced the democratic ideas of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

    This significant heritage of Christian contributions to democratic political thought has been profoundly expanded by the late Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (died 1977). Dooyeweerd argues that throughout the many permutations of historical states two structural prerequistes claim attention: 1) the ability to defend the given territory and 2) the pursuit of justice (ie the avoidance of tyranny).

    The following link is to an extended extract of Dooyeweerd’s investigations in this area (perhaps for those with a more philosophical turn of mind 🙂 ):

  19. George Gunn says:

    Dear Fearghas, thanks for your informed comments. I’ll educate myself on Dooyweerd and Johnn Mair. As for thr “concilitarist” thing what I was thinking of was how Calvinism was essentially different from Anglicanism, for example, in as much as it had no truck with the divinity of kings and such clart and however crude was an advocate for the demos. What it became later, of course, is the stuff of tragedy.

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      Hi George. Thanks for getting back to me.

      If military battles are often untidy and inconclusive, so of course are conflicts of ideas. It is one of the great merits of Bella Caledonia that commenters have respectful space to explore the complexities of arguments. What went wrong with Calvinism is certainly one such multi-layered conundrum. I would suggest that two deleterious blows to the Calvinist cranium were a) its mugging by ‘gnosticism’, and b) its early waylaying by an erroneous notion of what constitutes a ‘Christian nation’.

      Regarding point a) One very snowy winter in the early 1970s I had the privilege of chauffeuring Hans Rookmaaker (then Professor of History of Art at the Free University of Amsterdam) on an art-lecture tour round Scottish universities. As to the derailment of balanced Calvinist culture post 17th Century, he has written:

      “It was gnosticism that was in many ways the influence behind the mysticism of later ages… Without going into detail ar all, we can say that the gnostics made a synthesis of biblical thought with that of neo-platonism and pagan mystery religions. One of the main ideas was that the material world is wholly bad. So salvation means escape from this world, getting nearer to God who reigns above this world. And not only is the material world bad, but so are all our worldly passions […] As I have already shown, mysticism’s influence on Calvinism, expressing itself in an extreme, passive, almost fatalistic view of election, was mainly responsible for the lack of a real interest in the arts. It introduced a kind of spirituality that often kept Calvinism from realizing one of its main principles, that faith is not just a matter of ‘religion’, of the soul, with its salvation in heaven, but a salvation of the whole person, a way of life and thought affecting all aspects of life” (Hans Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, IVP, pp 33,34)

      Regarding point b), the commentator Jonathan Chaplin has an interesting short pdf online entitled “Can Nations be ‘Christian’? An English Debate” (2009). His central insistence is that “nations today do not possess religious agency”:

      Both the late Hans Rookmaaker and (the very much extant) Jonathan Chaplin were influenced by Herman Dooyeweerd. Chaplin has in fact had a book out on Dooyeweerd since 2011, which I have not read due to its cost. A paperback addition is due next month (Feb 2016), but at £30 it is still out of my range. Anyway, a pdf of the intro and first chapter is available online for free:

      “Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society”

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