If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the one to heaven may be surfaced with bad ones.
We like to imagine otherwise. We are rational, sensible, moral creatures. If we only think scientifically and apply ourselves, we can achieve anything. Hence the recent secular historiography of the Enlightenment and modern world, which, at least according to Steven Pinker’s latest offering, can be explained straightforwardly by the emergence of science, reason and humanism.
Alas, history is not so neat, as real historians know. Good things often come from bad intentions. That is the argument of James Simpson, a medieval historian who has turned his attention to the Reformation and the question of how it was that the proto-liberalism we associate with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 — (relative) liberty, rights, equality, accountability, toleration, constitutionalism — could possibly have come from the less than glorious revolution inaugurated by Martin Luther in 1517, with its intolerance, sectarianism, political absolutism, biblical ‘fundamentalism’ and decades of grotesque violence.