Front Page Titles (by Subject) 97.: Cromwell - Judgments on History and Historians
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97.: Cromwell - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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(I) How would things have happened after 1645 without Cromwell? To be sure, the Presbyterians and the classes of the people who needed peace would have sought to make a peace with Charles I. However, the question is whether they would have had a chance to do this (instead of the Independents, would not others have seized the power?), because with the exhaustion of the “good people,” the revolutionaries, the “Jacobins,” who had got the floor through these same good people, would have seized control. Because of the fact that Cromwell represented them and at the same time controlled them he is a sauveur [deliverer], after all.
(II) In 1648 Cromwell becomes a sauveur against anarchy which, to be sure, would not have become dangerous without his actions. (? I have my doubts again; with the exhaustion of Presbyterianism a destructive kind of radicalism would have had a chance if Cromwell and the army had not been there.) He presently brings the Levelers to their senses with his sabers, and soon he thunders the loquacious Presbyterians to the ground through his enthusiasts.
(III) Why did Cromwell and the Independents alone hit it off so well together?
This anarchic sort of people inconvenienced him the least. They were communities which rise like water bubbles from a boiling pot and can vanish again, too. In that way he got rid of the entire previous personnel of the Revolution, those Puritan and Presbyterian notables who had been thinking that things would not work without them.
Only in the Independents did he find that mixture of fanatics whom he could take in and scoundrels whom he could make use of. Only with the Independents was he able to be the religious leader as well; only here was he able to appeal to inspiration at all times and to choose his own texts for his sermons before battles and other great moments. The arrogance of the Independents toward all other people and the army was enormous. Of course, this could not go on forever, and it had to be Cromwell’s further task to make out of the Independent army one loyal to him personally.
(IV) It is in England’s urgent interest to think of him as great, mythical, portentous, for it is too humiliating when the real Cromwell is recognized, a man who spoils for the other English parties their politico-liberal attitude and their ephemeral sectarian nuances of creed, and who with his army simply puts the English Revolution in his pocket as he goes. Thereupon they make out of him not only one of the most gifted Englishmen (for he was that), but a genius of the highest rank and a national hero.
There are people who are born rulers, and he was one. But it is a nice question whether a nation that has produced such a man should abandon itself to a special feeling of exultation. His authority consists of two elements, his greatness and the baseness of the vast majority of those who obeyed him.
The modern appraisers of Cromwell can be classified as follows: There are those who believe that they serve the English view, and even the nation, best if they elevate the whole phenomenon to unmeasured heights; then it is easy for them to proscribe as pedantry the mention of, or emphasis on, “individual shortcomings.” Once this kind of opinion gets in full stride and, through the press and other media, takes hold of large semi-educated and ignorant parts of the population, blind jubilation can take possession of the people, as with Victor Hugo’s corpse.
There are those who regard Cromwell as a basically pious spirit, albeit one afflicted with great weaknesses, and all in all a religious, or at least pietistic, tool of God.
There are those who have at certain moments clearly recognized in him the hypocrite and crown hunter and have taken a general dislike to him. They consider him an out-and-out dissembler. But since they do not deny his great talents and actual lordship, in their accounting the English nation of the time must appear all the more stupid and cowardly.
Then there are those who explain him analogously to the way Mohammed is explained: From an earlier, more or less fanatical period and accustomed reverence a general style is left. In the meantime, the profession of ruler has highly developed all the specific endowments required for it, primarily a lucid intellect which necessarily and inevitably fights pious narrowness. In the course of successes there then develops a kind of secondary piety and honesty which, to be sure, deems the most horrible blows at the heads of others permissible. Then, too, Mohammed’s devotional character is less offensive than that of Cromwell the dictator in whose mouth the Puritan expressions sound truly scandalous and yet seem comical. Caesar did not have to preach to his soldiers, although he at least was Pontifex Maximus.
But at bottom it is true that Cromwell is terrible, in this respect: he destroys what is in his way or could some day stand in his way, from Charles I to the Irishmen of Drogheda and Wexford.
(V) The difficulty in our evaluation of Cromwell is this: Though in theory we have a very high opinion of power politicians (of whom Cromwell was one), in fact they often seem to us inadequate. For we do not see the many individual elements of power as well as of resistance which they have to take into account, but give rein to our armchair politician’s views, composed of imagination and impatience.
Cromwell, who, above all, wanted to rule and had to rule, tried to make this clear to the nation in a great variety of ways.
His real weak point was that everything inevitably had to stand and fall on his personality and that he could never seriously think of being succeeded by his family. He was aware of all who were waiting for his death, and death by assassination could occur at any moment. In such a mood he continued to rule at home and abroad, powerfully and often magnificently. The English state under him was more powerful than ever before and for a long time afterwards.
One of the strongest ideas in people’s minds at that time was that valid taxes could be voted only by a parliament.
But Cromwell’s basis still was his army which he seems to have maintained at full numerical strength despite all periods of peace. And between this army and any kind of parliament there was an inevitable antagonism.
Had he lived longer he would probably have been obliged to use this army for foreign wars, presumably in the spirit of a Protestant- Independent crusade. For to dismiss it or to keep fattening an inactive army in England was equally dangerous. They would probably have set out against the “idolators,” i.e., gone to war and committed depredations and all sorts of acts of violence against Catholic peoples. At any rate, Cromwell’s threat concerning the pope betrays a thought of this kind.
It is questionable whether Cromwell, as Protector with the civil power, would have waged such wars in person or have left them to admirals or generals. Toward the Catholics still in England he was and remained cruel and would not tolerate any of them in the country. His was a regime which, to be sure, for long years dealt daily and deadly insult to the convictions and especially the tastes of innumerable people, but a regime under which people were able to live and engage in business.