My current understand of Seventeenth Century Europe is fundamentally complete thanks to Neal Stephenson. What strikes me most interestingly now is the extent to which their problems with matters of succession and civil society were much more intractable than ours. Obviously they had to wait until their monarch died, or in the case of Charles I, was executed. But in the meantimes, there were large segments of society that appeared to get on in their diehard partisanships without the benefit of an electoral, or fund raising process.
I am always astonished by what I see as the credulity of middle class Westerners who expect corporate responsibility. I myself has been part of that large crowd who believed that large groups of literate people could affect change through the aggregation of will into integral institutional power. Accent on the word integral. Corporate institutions lack integrity by definition - it is because they are not truly capable of tyranny. At the same time corporate business is, in its neoliberal evolution, becoming a more group-thinky comfortable place for literate people, and a more wishy-washy gathering of marketmakers. How does this happen?
My short answer is that the nature of today's collaborative white-collar work specializes people into sublimation and takes away their ability to get the gestalt of their business. People are reduced to working within a narrow context of human experience and lose the ability to make judgments. We live in a society that increasingly says 'Dont try this at home' and among individuals who more often say 'That's above my pay grade'. I wouldn't go so far as to say we're being infantilized.. how about juvenalized?
So I am attracted to the idea of minimum rulesets and 'empowered' individuals. I use the term 'empowered' because I think a broad spectrum of people understand that it means giving people leeway to carry out decisions they heretofore were not allowed. I put it in quotes because I don't believe in 'empowerment'. 'Empowerment' is affirmative action, a staircase you are pointed to, a promotion within a fixed structure, and one can be empowered a thousand times without really gaining power. It is the removal of the rulesets and leaving people to their own devices and consequences that sets men free, not showing them how to polish their resume and get to the next level.
It is this concept of People of Quality that intrigues me because there is an implied presumption that they were free to do as they pleased. An armed gentleman was expected to take his own life into his hands, and live by his word, not so much by his pledges of allegiance to abstract laws. People of quality conducted themselves as humble and obedient servants of the wills of people to whom they gave their word. Or at least that's the flavor I get.
My atheist friends would remind me how clearly this feudal arrangement of lordship followed a hierarchy up to God, and that the sort of implicit hierarchy that people of quality maintained could not be broken - thus reducing the peasantry to immutable lowness. Tying all that to matters of birth and blood (as manipulated as that could get) put even greater restraint on those not well-born, favored or talented. Who indeed could defy those with the superior understanding of the Word of God? It is no wonder the Protestant Revolution was so bloody.
At any rate I am taken by the prospect that people of armed quality retain the same relationship to peasants and to the law as ever, and that the fear and loathing men who would have their own weapons and their own Bibles making themselves accountable to only those they want, and not some altruistic common good of the masses - this fear and loathing is nothing more than peasants have always felt towards the gentry. Now dig that you NPR slurpers.