Excerpt from God and Gold by Walter R. Mead, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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God and Gold

Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World

by Walter R. Mead

God and Gold
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 464 pages
    Oct 2008, 464 pages

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Paul Hughes

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Chapter One: With God on Our Side

On September 17, 1656, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, addressed the English Parliament to lay out his foreign policy, and he began by asking the most basic political questions: Who are our enemies, and why do they hate us?

There was, he then asserted, an axis of evil abroad in the world. England's enemies, he said, "are all the wicked men of the world, whether abroad or at home . . ."[1]

And, in the language of the seventeenth century, he said that they hate us because they hate God and all that is good. They hate us "from that very enmity that is in them against whatsoever should serve the glory of God and the interest of his people; which they see to be more eminently, yea most eminently patronized and professed in this nation—we will speak it not with vanity—above all the nations in the world."[2]

Cromwell went on to spell out for the Roundheads, as the partisans of Parliament had been known in the English Civil War, that the axis of evil had a leader: a great power which had put itself in the service of evil.

"Truly," said Cromwell, "your great enemy is the Spaniard . . . through that enmity that is in him against all that is of God that is in you." That enmity came from the origin of the Catholic religion in the primordial revolt against God, embodied by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "I will put an enmity between thy seed and her seed," Cromwell said, citing God's curse on the serpent and the enmity He would fix between the Children of Darkness and the Children of Light.[3]

Cromwell's approach to world politics would resonate more than three hundred years later and three thousand miles away, when on March 8, 1983, U.S. president Ronald Reagan addressed the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida. The Soviet Union, he said, is "the focus of evil in the modern world."[4] And America was engaged in a test of faith against an adversary that had set itself against God. Citing Whittaker Chambers, the Communist-turned-informer, Reagan asserted that Marxism-Leninism is "the second oldest religious faith," first proclaimed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.[5] And like Cromwell, Reagan saw history as a struggle between spiritual forces. "I've always maintained," the president told the preachers, "that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might."[6]

Since the enmity between the Free World and the Empire of Evil was existential—the battle between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness—it was also eternal, just like Cromwell's call for unrelenting war with Spain. One cannot make a covenant with the Father of Lies.

Catholic teaching, Cromwell warned Parliament, held that the pope has the power to forgive all sins. If Catholic princes made a peace treaty with England, the pope could absolve them from the sin of breaking their oaths whenever they pleased. As Cromwell summarized the matter, "The plain truth of it is, make any peace with any State that is Popish and subjected to the determination of Rome and the Pope himself, you are bound and they are loose . . . That Peace is but to be kept for so long as the Pope saith Amen to it."[7]

Reagan felt just the same way about Communists: they had a philosophical stance that expressly made it impossible to assume their good faith. The United States could not deal openly and honestly with the Communists, Reagan said, because "the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause."[8] Their materialistic philosophy placed no absolute value on right action or truth and could absolve them of any crime because the end justified the means.

The similarities between the Cromwellian and the Reaganite arguments run deeper. Both leaders called their countrymen to a consensus foreign policy that would unify the nation. The arch-Republican Reagan offended some of his Democratic listeners by claiming to stand in the tradition of Democrat Harry Truman. Bipartisanship was an even more difficult concept for Cromwell's audience than for modern Americans. The "bipartisan foreign policy" of the Cold War was a staple of American political rhetoric in the last generation. In Cromwell's England, the concept of legitimate political parties was still struggling to be born; dissent and disloyalty were still seen as one and the same. Cromwell, who had recently led the parliamentary forces to triumph in a civil war that was concluded by the execution of the king, nevertheless wanted to make the point that all true Englishmen, royalist and republican, agreed on the evils of the Catholic threat. Queen Elizabeth, Cromwell pointed out, had supported the anti-Spanish policy, and in a phrase that must have shaken some of the rounder heads in the room, he praised the "famous memory" of the queen and—just as Reagan did with Truman—asserted a claim to stand in her tradition.

Excerpted from God and Gold by Walter Russell Mead Copyright © 2007 by Walter Russell Mead. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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