Thursday, April 19, 2007

... destructive of those ends...

The quotation at the top of this blog comes from the American Declaration of Independence, a superb distillation of British Enlightenment thinking that defines the proper relationship between the citizens of a country and their government.

Sitting on this side of the Atlantic, we find ourselves faced with almost daily reminders that our ancestors were on the losing side in that British civil war; supporters of the republicans were to be found on both sides of the water, and so were supporters of the monarchy.

We now find ourselves trying to manage our daily lives in a state in which the powers of an absolute monarch are wielded and abused by elected representatives, and increasingly by appointed supra-national committees.

No authority is entitled to the power of an absolute monarch. Through centuries of conflict with kings, our ancestors forced limitations onto monarchical authority, famously beginning with Magna Carta. These limitations came to be embodied in Parliament, through which the powers of the crown were exercised and by which they were limited.

But, more than a century ago, the gradual process was completed whereby these powers were transferred entirely to Parliament, upon which there are no limitations or restraints.

Parliament, of course, has for the past thirty-odd years been transferring these powers to appointees within the structures of the European Union. We now find ourselves largely governed by an appointed, and in part hereditary, class of European grandees, who wield the same unlimited powers their hereditary monarchical predecessors enjoyed before the centuries of revolution and reform.

For the moment, though, we have the consolation of at least being able to say such things. This basic right, without which no democratic process can operate, is now being challenged. The European Union proposes to make free speech illegal.

The Devil's Kitchen has an excellent roundup of responses to the Proposal for a Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia [PDF]. This seeks to criminalise inconvenient or distasteful political discussion, and even thought, but its proponents have the indecency to hide this tyrannical intention beneath the corpses of six million Jews. They talk about holocaust denial and hate crime, but with flaccid and wide-ranging definitions and the provision that no complainant or victim need exist.

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. To secure such rights we institute governments. And...

... whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government.

I think we have reached that point today.

I never expected to find myself facing this sort of crisis, and I don't think the reality of the erosions of rights and of democracy has sunk into the population in general. We have seen dilutions of protections like the right to jury trial and of habeas corpus which mediaeval kings established and repeatedly confirmed, and which were defended when absolutist monarchs tried to claim absolute powers.

Unfortunately, it falls on us to defend these rights and protections all over again, and we're not making a very good job of it at the moment.

The only honourable course must be to pledge not to be bound by this legislation, should it come into effect, whatever the consequences might be.

I make that pledge. My freedom of speech is not negotiable.


David B. Wildgoose said...

And I will join you on that.

Minor nit-pick though. Magna Carta was an English achievement, and the colonists who gained their independence were primarily English colonists in "New England" fighting against Hanoverian troops.

The Scots for example settled elsewhere, e.g. Nova Scotia and further South (hence the Confederate Flag being modelled on the Saltire).

Eric Jacobson said...

Magnificent post, John. I join you.


If I may, here are a few more quotes from the Declaration:

"But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them [the People] under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security."

Reasons for independence adduced in the Declaration:

"HE [George III] has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance."


"HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws..."


"FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent..."


"FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury..."


"FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments..."

And perhaps most important:

"And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour."


Those colonial rebels were very perceptive folk; perhaps the Declaration's core principles could be used to good effect once more?

Peter Risdon said...

Thanks very much for joining with me on this.

David, I hadn't realised the Confederate flag was based on the Saltire, thanks for that.

Eric, it's all alarmingly relevant.

fido said...

Maybe we need another Col. Pride to clear the house?

Anonymous said...


To find out, Yahoo "The Earliest 'Hate' Criminals." (It is still legal in America to read it.) Marge