Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Other Cromwell

So I read in the LRB that Henry VIII's great minister Thomas Cromwell "created a number of 'courts' (effectively, ministries), specialized in function, which were independent of the Exchequer and ... symbolic of impersonal, institutional continuity." Why would he want to do that?

It's a more general problem one runs across reading history. How did the individuals serving and composing the various dynasties replace their own personal interests with the interests of the "impersonal, instituional continuity" of the states they served? Unquestionably they did: states in the pre-modern period pursued consistent objectives over periods well longer than a human lifetime.

Who knows? But I speculate that one important motivator was hatred. Hard to imagine why they would have wanted some future sovereign to thrive but easy to imagine that they would have wanted rivals, present and future, to go down. A purely selfish motivation that is yet impersonal and extends beyond the personal existence of the hater: and we can, if we are honest, recognize it in ourselves.

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