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The VOC period
[A digression is in order here. Other historians have disputed this all-embracing role of the frontier. They note that many of the ideas that sparked the American Revolution were derived from Britain and Europe, especially in the Enlightenment. In economic development too, they note that well into the second half of the 19th C, the U.S. was dependent on European (mostly British) capital and depended on trading networks that were organized and financed in Europe. Thus, they argue that many of the most important influences shaping American society and its economy were coming from the metropolitan centres of Europe to the newly created metropolitan centres in the U.S. As a result, interpretations which focus on and stress this flow from Europe and the role of urban centres are labeled metropolitan interpretations. Similar debates between frontier and metropolitan theses have taken place in Canadian historiography also.]- MacCrone is a prime example of an historian who applied the frontier thesis to explain the origin and development of trekboer ethos; by extension, he argued that the trekboer tradition was the main influence in Afrikaner nationalism in the 20th C.
[What do we make of the two approaches? Rather than seeing the frontier and metropolitan approaches as watertight alternatives, we can perhaps recognize that the two could reinforce each other. It has long been noted that much of Enlightenment humanism was rejected in South Africa. The failure of liberalism to catch on (indeed, it was generally rejected by Afrikaners) was seen as support for the frontier interpretation. However, as noted, a few ideas of the American and French Revolutions were adopted and became part of the Afrikaner republican tradition. They borrowed what was useful in their struggles against the VOC and British governments, but they rejected all other aspects implying equality of humans, human rights, etc.(2) Role of Calvinism
We should recognize that different ideas were coming from Europe, from the metropole. People in South Africa ignored or rejected those ideas that did not fit in with what they wanted and needed. On the other hand, they did adopt or adapt those ideas that did fit in and which they found useful for bolstering their position and power. Their situation on the frontier influenced what they rejected and what they adopted.]
[Predestination: This idea arose as one response of the Protestant Reformation. At the time, there was a strong reaction against some of the practices of the Catholic Church. Indulgences (in return for contributions to the Church, individuals were promised that time in purgatory could be reduced) were the most blatant and notorious practice, but Protestant reformers felt that the bigger issue was whether or not good works could assist or enable one to get into heaven. Such good works included acts of charity, gifts, frequent saying of the rosary, penances imposed by priests as part of forgiveness in confessions, etc. Protestant critics argued that these were attempts to buy or earn ones way into Heaven.- however, it seems clear that most trekboers thought that only whites could be saved; we noted already the tendency to use the terms Christian and heathen as synonymous with white and black which suggests this. The correlation of whiteblack, lightdarkness with goodnessevil goes way back in Christian tradition and is not peculiar to Calvinism. Nor is the explanation that Africans were the descendants of Ham and that black skin is part of the curse for Hams sin unique to Calvinism. This myth was very useful in justifying the subordination of Africans to be servants of whites (supposedly the descendants of Shem). But again this myth was widely used by the Christian (of all hues, not just Calvinist) defenders of the enslavement of Africans elsewhere.
The extreme reaction against this was to argue that nothing the individual could do would make any difference; salvation was completely an act of grace by God. Long before the beginning of time and before individuals were born, God decided or electedpredestinedwho would be saved. As well, almost everyone accepted the idea that God was omniscient; therefore, God knew even before a person was born whether or not they would be saved. This pre-knowledge could easily (though not necessarily) slip over into predestination. (There are many internet sites that discuss predestination and which include excerpts from Calvin on the subject.)]
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