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Tudor Protestant political thought, 1547-1603 /
by Stephen A. Chavura.
imprint
Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2011.
description
xiv, 252 p. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
9004206329 (hardback : alk. paper), 9789004206328 (hardback : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2011.
isbn
9004206329 (hardback : alk. paper)
9789004206328 (hardback : alk. paper)
catalogue key
7623999
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [229]-244) and index.
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Introduction or Preface
PrefaceThe West is faced with political theology, from within and without. It has never left Islam – there was never a secular Enlightenment that swept through the Islamic world – and, in some ways, it has always been with the West. Take, for example, Carl Schmitt’s famous contention in his Political Theology, “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts&.” This may seem a bit far fetched, but take a minute to consider Schmitt’s idea. Can we understand the origins of democratic theory apart from the development of the concept of legitimacy by consent within religious movements such as medieval Conciliarism, early-modern Puritans and Separatists, and the experience of New Englanders in congregational-operated churches? Can we appreciate, given the general acceptance of ontological naturalism or scientism, adherence to the idea of human equality and human rights without accepting the fact that it is not based on observation or science, but almost certainly derives from the Christian idea of God’s image universally distributed throughout humankind? Even Kant’s best commentators see fit to mention the Lutheran pietism that runs throughout his moral philosophy. As Brian Trainor says, the conviction shared by Kant and much liberalism that people should be seen as ends in themselves ‘is a presupposition which is shared by the Christian-religious consciousness’. To what extent, for better of for worse, has this consciousness informed modern politics? More than a few commentators consider Marxism a secular Christianity. Can we understand the much spoken of idea of American exceptionalism without considering the experience of English Separatists, who wished to establish their own pure form of devotion and considered themselves God’s chosen ones, an example of true piety? When Hobbes sketched the blueprint of the modern state, a sovereign, unrivalled, and omnipotent monster, the closest analogy he could think of was in describing it as a “mortall God”. Indeed, when Weber defines the state he defines it as the only sphere where power is intrinsically legitimate. The state can coerce because it is the state. Whether we like it or not, as a matter of historical fact, our thought is to a great degree shaped by a collective theological subconscious. In many ways the story of modern political thought is of a quest to find non-theological justifications for political and social givens, which previously had their justifications in Christian visions of God, humankind, and the good. Whole shelves are filled with weighty tomes by the twentieth-century’s most gifted philosophers seeking to demonstrate that we should on occasion set our power to the side and accommodate the needs of the weak. This is so much liberalism, but prior to the Enlightenment most philosophers only needed to read the Sermon on the Mount to be convicted of obligations that have only tenuous rational foundation, or duties that are destroyed when based on theories of enlightened self-interest. If the liberal state is like a hotel, as it has been likened to, where people live and dwell together but participate in no collective goal or endevour, then it is a hotel haunted by whispers of a religious past, whispers which may be mistaken by the guests as moral intuitions.This study offers an account of the political ideas of Tudor Protestant ecclesiastics, thus it is an account of early-modern political theology. It is the suspicion of many historians that modern politics arises out of the Reformation, for it was there that the medieval ideal of the church dominating the state was overcome, that the state found itself without any earthly rival, that the individual was roused with a duty to work out his own salvation directly before God, and that individual conscience became the centre of the moral universe for so many. The central argument of this book is that the social, political, and religious upheavals of the time were having their toll on political ideas, which bore the impression of an age in which traditional institutions and modes of thought were being redefined and replaced. If political ideas bear the impression of the institutions and ideas of the society from which they spring, then the tumultuous nature of sixteenth-century Europe must account for the tensions, ambivalences, ambiguities, and incoherence of much Tudor Protestant political thought.There have been many excellent studies of Tudor political thought published over the last few years and I hope I have made good use of the best of them. This is certainly not meant to be a definitive history of English Reformation thought, indeed, the thought of Protestants under Henry VIII is barely dealt with. In many ways this is not a conventional history of thought at all. It is not a seamless, chronological account of political ideas. I am more interested in a history of concepts. This has its limitations, for a history of concepts will inevitably involve repetition, as each chapter revisits familiar events and personalities to reconsider their ideas in the light of a new concept, whether natural law or government by consent. However, a conventional history of political thought will tend to anchor ideas and texts to the relentless flow of events throughout the period, leaving little time to explore aspects of thought that are fascinating in themselves but difficult to fit into an account where social and political history take priority over the ideas of the time. I hope my readers will not begrudge me offering, in many ways, several independent though related, studies of concepts in sixteenth-century England.I have focused on ecclesiastical thought because the most celebrated accounts of early-modern political thought tend to ignore it. Where are the debates between Knox and Aylmer, Whitgift, Browne, Cartwright, and Hooker in the most important surveys of early-modern political ideas written since the mid-1970s? They are largely ignored. Yet they were considered vital debates in their day and, as some historians including myself suspect, prepared the path for absolutism, consent, popular participation, and sovereignty to become political commonplaces. This is far from a definitive account of Tudor Protestant political thought and there is a great need for a modern chronological study of Protestant political ideas from Tyndale right up to the Glorious Revolution. One final note must be made. Although the thought of Richard Hooker is referred to throughout this study, references to his ideas are, however, merely cursory. This has nothing to do with this writer’s opinion regarding the worth or significance of Hooker’s contribution to political ideas, which stands as the culmination of theological and political thought in sixteenth-century England. It was Hooker who succeeded most in assimilating the learning of the day into a coherent defence of the Royal Supremacy. Hooker’s ideas on natural law and consent will be addressed as a way of pointing out inconsistencies in the ideas of the churchmen who wrote before him. Although, for Hooker, the scholastic method was his choice of approach, he was always a Reformed theologian who tried to demonstrate Reformed theology and the Royal Supremacy from the most general principles of reason and scholastic method. Given the amount of attention paid to Hooker’s political thought over the decades, it is to be hoped that historians of political ideas will be prepared to accept a study that focuses more on the lesser known ecclesiastical political writings of sixteenth-century England. Indeed, in any event, it was these writings and the spirit contained in them to which Hooker was responding.
Introduction or Preface
PrefaceThe West is faced with political theology, from within and without. It has never left Islam there was never a secular Enlightenment that swept through the Islamic world and, in some ways, it has always been with the West. Take, for example, Carl Schmitt's famous contention in his Political Theology, All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts…. This may seem a bit far fetched, but take a minute to consider Schmitt's idea. Can we understand the origins of democratic theory apart from the development of the concept of legitimacy by consent within religious movements such as medieval Conciliarism, early-modern Puritans and Separatists, and the experience of New Englanders in congregational-operated churches? Can we appreciate, given the general acceptance of ontological naturalism or scientism, adherence to the idea of human equality and human rights without accepting the fact that it is not based on observation or science, but almost certainly derives from the Christian idea of God's image universally distributed throughout humankind? Even Kant's best commentators see fit to mention the Lutheran pietism that runs throughout his moral philosophy. As Brian Trainor says, the conviction shared by Kant and much liberalism that people should be seen as ends in themselves 'is a presupposition which is shared by the Christian-religious consciousness'. To what extent, for better of for worse, has this consciousness informed modern politics? More than a few commentators consider Marxism a secular Christianity. Can we understand the much spoken of idea of American exceptionalism without considering the experience of English Separatists, who wished to establish their own pure form of devotion and considered themselves God's chosen ones, an example of true piety? When Hobbes sketched the blueprint of the modern state, a sovereign, unrivalled, and omnipotent monster, the closest analogy he could think of was in describing it as a mortall God. Indeed, when Weber defines the state he defines it as the only sphere where power is intrinsically legitimate. The state can coerce because it is the state. Whether we like it or not, as a matter of historical fact, our thought is to a great degree shaped by a collective theological subconscious.In many ways the story of modern political thought is of a quest to find non-theological justifications for political and social givens, which previously had their justifications in Christian visions of God, humankind, and the good. Whole shelves are filled with weighty tomes by the twentieth-century's most gifted philosophers seeking to demonstrate that we should on occasion set our power to the side and accommodate the needs of the weak. This is so much liberalism, but prior to the Enlightenment most philosophers only needed to read the Sermon on the Mount to be convicted of obligations that have only tenuous rational foundation, or duties that are destroyed when based on theories of enlightened self-interest. If the liberal state is like a hotel, as it has been likened to, where people live and dwell together but participate in no collective goal or endevour, then it is a hotel haunted by whispers of a religious past, whispers which may be mistaken by the guests as moral intuitions.This study offers an account of the political ideas of Tudor Protestant ecclesiastics, thus it is an account of early-modern political theology. It is the suspicion of many historians that modern politics arises out of the Reformation, for it was there that the medieval ideal of the church dominating the state was overcome, that the state found itself without any earthly rival, that the individual was roused with a duty to work out his own salvation directly before God, and that individual conscience became the centre of the moral universe for so many. The central argument of this book is that the social, political, and religious upheavals of the time were having their toll on political ideas, which bore the impression of an age in which traditional institutions and modes of thought were being redefined and replaced. If political ideas bear the impression of the institutions and ideas of the society from which they spring, then the tumultuous nature of sixteenth-century Europe must account for the tensions, ambivalences, ambiguities, and incoherence of much Tudor Protestant political thought.There have been many excellent studies of Tudor political thought published over the last few years and I hope I have made good use of the best of them. This is certainly not meant to be a definitive history of English Reformation thought, indeed, the thought of Protestants under Henry VIII is barely dealt with. In many ways this is not a conventional history of thought at all. It is not a seamless, chronological account of political ideas. I am more interested in a history of concepts. This has its limitations, for a history of concepts will inevitably involve repetition, as each chapter revisits familiar events and personalities to reconsider their ideas in the light of a new concept, whether natural law or government by consent. However, a conventional history of political thought will tend to anchor ideas and texts to the relentless flow of events throughout the period, leaving little time to explore aspects of thought that are fascinating in themselves but difficult to fit into an account where social and political history take priority over the ideas of the time. I hope my readers will not begrudge me offering, in many ways, several independent though related, studies of concepts in sixteenth-century England.I have focused on ecclesiastical thought because the most celebrated accounts of early-modern political thought tend to ignore it. Where are the debates between Knox and Aylmer, Whitgift, Browne, Cartwright, and Hooker in the most important surveys of early-modern political ideas written since the mid-1970s? They are largely ignored. Yet they were considered vital debates in their day and, as some historians including myself suspect, prepared the path for absolutism, consent, popular participation, and sovereignty to become political commonplaces. This is far from a definitive account of Tudor Protestant political thought and there is a great need for a modern chronological study of Protestant political ideas from Tyndale right up to the Glorious Revolution.One final note must be made. Although the thought of Richard Hooker is referred to throughout this study, references to his ideas are, however, merely cursory. This has nothing to do with this writer's opinion regarding the worth or significance of Hooker's contribution to political ideas, which stands as the culmination of theological and political thought in sixteenth-century England. It was Hooker who succeeded most in assimilating the learning of the day into a coherent defence of the Royal Supremacy. Hooker's ideas on natural law and consent will be addressed as a way of pointing out inconsistencies in the ideas of the churchmen who wrote before him. Although, for Hooker, the scholastic method was his choice of approach, he was always a Reformed theologian who tried to demonstrate Reformed theology and the Royal Supremacy from the most general principles of reason and scholastic method. Given the amount of attention paid to Hooker's political thought over the decades, it is to be hoped that historians of political ideas will be prepared to accept a study that focuses more on the lesser known ecclesiastical political writings of sixteenth-century England. Indeed, in any event, it was these writings and the spirit contained in them to which Hooker was responding.
First Chapter
Chapter One The Reformation and its Ideas The European Reformation William J. Bouwsma in his study of early-modern Europe describes a transitional period ‘from the rigidities of social organization and from arbitrary and oppressive government’. Surely the Reformations on the Continent and in England were central to that transition, yet the social and political effects of the Reformation of the sixteenth-century were almost certainly unanticipated by its earliest advocates. Luther’s attempts to free the laity from the authority of the priesthood (sacerdotium) would eventually lead to an egalitarianism extending far beyond the walls of the cathedral. By attacking the penitential cycle, the Reformers raised doubts in the minds of many regarding the need for the institution of the church. If the church existed as a mechanism to dispense the infinite grace stored up in heaven by the work of Christ and the saints, and now such grace could appropriated by anyone with a simple faith and a contrite heart, then wherefore the church? The new theology also introduced a novel individualism into the European consciousness. Ernst Troeltsch pointed out early in the twentieth-century that ‘the really permanent attainment of individualism was due to a religious, and not to a secular movement, to the Reformation and not to the Renaissance’. Luther’s rejection of the idea of an institutional mechanism dispensing saving grace removed the possibility of a spiritual hierarchy on earth. No Christian was in any way dependent on another for salvation. All would now fear and tremble before God, individually and directly. The awe generated by the sacerdotium was under siege. Indeed, ‘The notion of society as forming a huge pyramid, wherein the power assigned each layer was an inverse proportion to the length of the layer, was cast aside for the flattened imagery of a society where, ideally, the members were equal’. Indeed, as John Witte says, ‘The Protestant Reformation was, at its core, a fight for freedom – freedom of the individual conscience from intrusive canon laws and clerical controls, freedom of political officials from ecclesiastical power and privilege, freedom of the local clergy from central papal rule and oppressive princely controls’. This genealogy of individualism is tempting when dealing directly with Luther, who espoused as radical a gulf between the conscience and the church as Descartes was to do the following century between the soul and the body. Indeed, for the Augustinian monk, ‘where the soul is concerned, God neither can nor will allow anyone but himself to rule’. In a mood that was to be echoed by Kant’s enlightenment challenge – Sapere aude! – Luther threw out a challenge to humanity: ‘…each must decide at his own peril what he is to believe, and must see to it that he believes rightly’. Luther’s attack on the church was an attack on that institution that most epitomised organised hierarchy. Perhaps Luther’s most subtle attack on the institution of the Catholic church was his tendency to derive all his doctrines directly from the text of the Bible or from Augustine. By doing this he was ignoring the whole medieval tradition of theology and political thought. In the words of W. D. J Cargill Thompson, ‘Luther was in a sense deliberately putting the clock back a thousand years’. But if the first generation of Reformers – viz., Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer – were enthusiastic to free Christians from a stifling system of works and merits to a religion of sincerity and inward devotion, they were equally naïve in their conviction that their language and ideas would be limited to the spiritual. As Steven Ozment has said, the spiritual freedom spoken of by the Reformers appealed equally to those who wanted to escape the arbitrary authority of the state. This was most keenly seized upon by traders, who had long complained of restrictions on their mercantilism by government interference and holy days. Towns and peasants tended to see Luther more as a political than a spiritual ally. Indeed Luther’s polemic against spiritual tyranny became polemic against the tyranny of an aristocratic city council or a powerful prince or lord. In the end, the priesthood of all believers inspired, or was manipulated to bring about, egalitarian views on social rank and vocation. Such egalitarianism eventually led to a preference for republicanism when it came to political speculation. It was the ideas that emerged from the radical Reformation that led to the political radicalism in seventeenth-century England. Indeed, as one recent history of the period proclaims, ‘…the English revolution unleashed in the 1640s became the last and greatest triumph of the European radical reformation’. The first Reformers were aware of this dangerous misunderstanding of their message, being ‘painfully conscientious revolutionaries, whose grasp of the principles was usually sounder than their understanding of political realities’. Their vision of government was somewhat less idealistic than the Aristotelian vision. Because Aristotelians placed such a heavy stress on natural law, it was taught that government would have arisen even had Adam not sinned. If it arose purely out of nature it would have been directed by love, rather than wielded because of fear. Aquinas considered government to be necessitated by human nature and the tendency to form societies. This naturalistic defense of government became fairly standard among all medieval political theorists after Thomas. Typical was the view of John of Paris, who in his De Potestate Regia et Papali (c.1302/3) wrote that government was a function of the natural proclivity to form societies. Furthermore, for society to flourish there must be some organising agent, namely, government. The same went for Dante. If the final cause of man is rational reflection then complex communities need to be formed so all the necessary conditions allowing for speculation can be met, ie. food, shelter, protection. Yet for people to live with one another productively coordination is necessary, for wills do not always coincide. Therefore a unified, directing force is a necessary condition for humans to flourish. Though the Reformers had a dim view of kings and magistrates, they retained some of the medieval esteem for the civil regiment. Even Luther, with his reluctance to praise any human institution, made it clear in his 1523 tract, On Secular Authority, which he considered to be his definitive statement of political thought, that government was part of God’s plan, not an aberration. If government is merely subordination, protection, and punishment then it is of God, for even these proceed from him as much as food and covering. For Luther, this sat perfectly well with his pious Augustinian belief that ‘if all the world were true Christians…there would be neither need nor use for princes, kings, lords, the sword or law’. Zwingli echoed Luther’s sentiments. Ideally, there should be no need for magistrates, for the church of Christ should be blameless. Nevertheless, it is those who seek the stateless society (Anabaptists) that make government necessary. This side of eternity will never witness the sinlessness that would obviate the need for magisterial coercion. Zwingli also spoke of the civil government as equal in dignity to the church. Indeed, he took the body metaphor that the Apostle Paul used to define ecclesiastical roles and applied it to civil government to prove the necessity of Christians participating in the governmental sphere. French theologian John Calvin was enough of a realist to note that talk of spiritual freedom would inevitably be twisted into talk of temporal freedom. In the 1536 edition of his Christianae Religionis Institutio Calvin declared the distinction between spiritual freedom and political freedom to be as profound as that between spirit and matter: Indeed, when those who hear that the gospel promotes a freedom, which knows no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think they are not able to have the fruit of their freedom as long as they see any power established over them. They therefore think that nothing will be safe unless the whole world is reformed anew, where there are neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrate, nor anything that in their opinion restricts their freedom. But truly, whoever knows how to discern between body and soul, this present changing life and that future eternal life will understand without difficulty Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the civil order to be things very much distinct….spiritual freedom can well exist with political bondage…. These words were kept by Calvin in all editions of his Institutio right up to the 1559 Latin edition. This should not lead us to conclude that Calvin was indifferent to political liberty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his career he showed his high esteem for liberty, both for the individual and the institutions of what we now call civil society. Indeed, Witte argues that Calvin’s great contribution to Western politics was three-fold: rule of law; democracy; and spiritual freedom. Though his profound distinction between spiritual and political freedom would be completely rejected by radical Puritan theorists the following century, Calvin’s words served to assure rulers and nobility that the new religion was perfectly compatible with existing social structures. Ralph C. Hancock holds that one of Calvin’s main aims was to generate a sort of piety towards the civil order by showing how it fitted in with God’s overall order. For Calvin, civil government was divinely approved and necessary in the same way as those elements needed to sustain organic life. Yet, in Augustinian terms, Calvin described civil government as a crutch from which the Christian can benefit while peregrinating this world: Its function among men is not insignificant, it is as great as bread, water, sun, and air, great dignity and even superiority to be sure. Indeed it does not (as is the measure of all these) look to this end, in so far as men breath, eat, drink and are nourished (although it certainly comprehends all these things, while it provides that men live together). It does not, I say, look to this end alone: but that there should be no idolatry; no sacrilege in the name of God; no blasphemies against his truth and other offenses of religion. It protects public peace; that each may be able to keep his possessions safe and unharmed; that men should conduct blameless business among themselves. In short, it provides that a public form of religion exists among Christians and that humanity among men persists. Calvin makes it clear that the civil authorities are not an end in themselves. On the contrary, like the visible church, they are an institution to set the proper conditions that make piety possible. Calvin, unlike secular republican theorists, always stressed the merely instrumental goodness of politics. Politics was always subordinate to the infinitely higher pursuit of piety. French Calvinism both succeeded and failed. It succeeded in preventing French absolutist ideas from gaining universal currency in generating feeling of distrust for political and religious institutions that sought a monopoly on the soul and on power. Yet, in the end, Calvinism failed to claim the French church. The failure of the Calvinist Reformation in France left an ancient church and social system in tension dominating over a bourgeoisie increasingly intolerant of absolutism. Here is a remote cause of the revolution of the eighteenth-century. Calvin restored the dignity of politics, but on a foundation of divine will rather than natural law. The providential vision of legitimacy would come to play an important role in the political thought of English churchmen, who began to read Calvin during the Edwardian reign. It was difficult for the Reformation not to become a popular event. If the target of the Reformers were the doctrines and moral condition of the church, it would be of immediate appeal to those subject to the church, whether they were really oppressed or not. Remember the realism of Richard Hooker writing at the end of the century: ‘He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers….’ The Reformation generated a literature aimed specifically at the uneducated. Flugenschriften – pamphlets popularising the ecclesiastical controversy – were printed and carried all around Europe for mass readers and audiences. Humanists were also beginning to see the salvation of the church as residing in the hands of the masses. If the people could read the Bible for themselves, then perhaps there would be a popular movement in favour of ecclesiastical moral reform. By 1519 the second edition of Luther’s Latin works was being published. Six hundred copies were being distributed to booksellers all around Europe. However, contrary to the warnings of many critics of the Reformation, who correctly saw the dangers of the new doctrines if misunderstood by a restless peasantry, the Reformation brought about no political revolutions. Generally speaking the Reformation ‘remained an age more fearful of anarchy than of tyranny and preoccupied more with problems of continuity and order than with ways to bring about change’. No Reformer seriously suggested the possibility of social equality – an absurdity in the sixteenth-century akin to the possibility of reviving rank and station in modern liberal democracies. All that was desired was to spread Protestantism throughout Europe. However, as Sheldon Wolin has pointed out, Luther’s apolitical theology would exercise significant influence over subsequent political thought. English Separatist preachers and writers, seized by the leveling nature of Reformation theology, would come to express political ideas with a similar egalitarian strand. The Reformation in England It did not take long for the ideas of the Continental Reformers to find fertile soil around Europe. This was owing, in part, to the fact that sixteenth-century thought was very much international. As Mesnard wrote, ‘One cannot understand Calvinism if one only sees it as a Genevan phenomenon, nor the ideological impact of French opinion without appealing to a Machiavelli or a Buchanan, nor the political shudder of Althusius without Calvinist theology and Bodinian sociology’. Soon the issue of conversion was not merely a matter for the individual conscience. It was beginning to be a matter of politics: the conversion of a commonwealth. As the English jurist and defender of Henry VIII’s Royal Supremacy, Christopher St German, wrote in his Doctor and Student (1528/31), the king would have ‘not only charge on the bodies, but also on the souls of his subjects….’ There is some debate among historians whether the Reformation in England was accompanied by any genuine commitment to Protestant principles, or whether the English split from Rome was pure expedience. In other words, was the Reformation, in the words of Diarmaid MacCulloch, more an ‘act of state’, or was it an event caused by years of dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic church. Prior to the groundbreaking work of A. G. Dickens, the English Reformation was considered purely a matter of state, a movement executed from the top down. Dickens, by examining local records for the first time, argued that the Henrician Reformation was caused by popular dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic church, or anti-clericalism. Some decades after Dickens’ work in the field there was a swing back to the traditional view of the English Reformation being a matter of political expedience, rather than a religious event. The general consensus is that the English Reformation under Henry VIII was primarily caused by ‘one man’s obses
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Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
The Reformation of the 16th-century is commonly seen as the transitional period between the medieval and the modern worlds. This study examines the political thought of England during its period of religious reform from the reign of Edward VI to the death of Elizabeth I.
Description for Reader
This book will prove crucial for those interested in the history of political thought, early-modern history, church history, and the rise of modernity.
Long Description
The Reformation of the sixteenth-century is commonly seen as the transitional period between the medieval and the modern worlds. This study examines the political thought of England during its period of religious reform from the reign of Edward VI to the death of Elizabeth I. The political thought of Tudor ecclesiastics was heavily informed by the institutional and intellectual upheavals in England and on the continent, producing tensions between traditional ways of conceptualising politics and new religious and political realities. This book offers a study of natural law, providentialism, cosmic order, political authority, and government by consent in Protestant political thought during a transitionalperiod in English history. It shows how the Reformation was central to the birth of modern political thought.

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