Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Conscience’

Good Friday Greetings

April 19, 2019

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians across the world remember Christ’s trial by Pontius Pilate, His crucifixion and death, and look forward to His glorious resurrection three days later on Easter Sunday. St. Paul calls Christ ‘the Firstborn of the dead’, as Christians since the earliest days of the church have seen His resurrection as the precursor of what will happen to everyone at the end of time. And this belief in a general resurrection came to Christianity from Judaism, where, I believe, it is called the Olam Ha-Ba, or the World To Come. And as another Abrahamic faith, this belief in the ultimate resurrection of all humanity by the Almighty is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam.

I also feel at this time we should remember prisoners of conscience across the world, regardless of the political or religious views we hold. Like the crackdown on various dissenting religious groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Putin’s Russia, and atheists and the other non-Wahhabi religions and philosophies in Saudi Arabia. It’s grotesque that people belonging to either of these groups should be called ‘terrorists’ simply for holding the views they do, without harming anyone.

On a more positive note, I just wish all the readers of this blog a great and happy Easter weekend, whether they are religious or otherwise.

Best wishes to you all.

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Vox Political on the Difference Between May and Corbyn over Apartheid

May 7, 2017

Mike has also put up a post asking Tory voters where Theresa May was during the 1980s, when Jeremy Corbyn was actively protesting against apartheid. He has a picture of the leader of the Labour party from back then, showing him being marched off by the rozzers. He has a placard around his neck urging people to join a picket against it.

Mike goes on to point out that May was nowhere to be seen. She was busy earning great wads of cash for herself at the Bank of England.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/07/tory-voters-where-was-theresa-may-when-jeremy-corbyn-was-protesting-against-apartheid/

This doesn’t surprise me. Many people at the time were entirely uninterested in the issue, and there was a sizable section of the Tory party that actively supported it and the South African government. When David Cameron was PM and making noises of support for Nelson Mandela, Mike put up an article reminding everyone how ‘Dodgy Dave’ was a member of the Tory party’s youth branch at the time when many of its members did openly support apartheid South Africa, and were only too keen to have Mandela jailed, along with everyone else in the ANC.

Now we are expected to believe that May and her party are convinced anti-racists, who can be trusted as guardians of our civil liberties post-Brexit. Because they want to remove all that nasty foreign legislation guaranteeing our civil rights put out by the EU, and replace it with a thoroughly British Bill of Rights. Despite the fact that the EU legislation was formulated with considerable input from British lawyers.

This goes beyond just May’s disinterest in the issue of apartheid. It affects basic British freedoms. The Conservatives and their Lib Dem enablers have passed legislation providing for secret courts, and repealing Habeas Corpus. Under these courts, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security, the defendant may be tried in secret, using witnesses, whose identity he is not given, and where the evidence against him may be withheld from his lawyers. As Mike and so many other left-wing bloggers, including myself, have said before, this is precisely the grotesque travesty of justice Kafka describes in his book, The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And in South Africa under apartheid, the system of repression was so great that people risked arrest simply for talking about Nelson Mandela. I can remember listening to a programme on Radio 4 in which the speaker, a Black South African, described how he first came to hear about the country’s national hero. It was in school, and by a teacher, who risked her job and liberty. He described how she moved around the room, carefully closing the curtains, saying, ‘His name is Mandela’.

Is this the kind of state terror we can expect from May’s party following Brexit? Our genuine constitutional protections for the ancient liberties of freedom of speech, conscience and assembly stripped away and replaced with a constitutional fig leaf to disguise the real absence of any freedom in this country? And all done by a party who were not only indifferent to monstrous injustice perpetrated by right-wing regimes around the world, from South Africa to the death squads of Chile, and who, if they read Kafka, thought it all sounded like a good idea?

Roger Williams’ Arguments against Religious Persecution

November 22, 2016

This weekend I put up a piece about the arguments for religious toleration advanced by William Penn, the great Quaker apologist and founder of Pennsylvania. Penn believed passionately in religious toleration, and was himself, along with one of his fellow Quakers, imprisoned and tried for his religious beliefs. His trial, and the way it violated the natural liberties of the English people, were the subject of one of the three pamphlets he wrote attacking religious persecution.

One of the other great champions of religious freedom in the 17th century was Roger Williams. Williams was an English Puritan, who fled persecution in England to make his home in the new colony of Massachusetts in 1630, where he intended to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. However, his own refusal to become part of the church establishment resulted in his conflict with the authorities there, and he was expelled three years later. He went on to become one of the founders of another colony, Rhode Island. He returned to Blighty in 1643, seeking to acquire a royal charter for the new settlement. Back in England, he became heavily involved in the debate over religious toleration, writing his classic work on it, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Parliament responded by having it burnt by the public hangman in August the following year. Williams left England, but returned to the country of his birth in 1652, leaving once more two years later. During this later sojourn in England, he wrote a sequel to his book, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody. David Wootton in his comments on Williams and his works states

Williams has long been regarded as one of the first exponents of what were to become central principles of the American constitution: the sovereignty of the people and the separation of church and state.

David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 215.

Wootton’s book contains extracts from The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, including the following passage, where Williams lays out the main themes of his argument.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed, in a Conference betweene Truth and Peace

Syllabus:

First: That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Secondly: Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly: Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr Calvin, Beza, Mr Cotton, and the ministers of the New England churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly: The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly: All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly: It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s spirit, the word of God.

Seventhly: The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any6 kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly: God requires not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced on any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly: In holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jews’ conversion to Christ.

Tenthly: An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly: The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professes only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts.

Twelfthly: Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

I realise some Jews and Muslims may object to the tone of his comments about them, that they are somehow a threat to the Christian community and Christians should endeavour to convert them. Nevertheless, the points Williams is trying to make are good ones: provided that everyone in a community obeys the same laws, it doesn’t matter what their religious opinions are. In the case of the Jews, the underlying point can be stated more generally: no non-Christian will want to convert to that religion, if it offers them and their people nothing but persecution and hate.

It also needs to be pointed out, that Williams was writing at a time when the Turkish Empire did represent a militant threat against the states of Christian Europe, which Williams would have been acutely aware of. It can’t be argued against his demands for religious freedom and pluralism, that he was living in a more peaceful time.

I’ve put this up because this is one of the founding documents of the great American tradition of religious freedom and tolerance, from one of the Puritan divines who also was one of the great pioneers of American democracy. This is now threatened by Trump and his proposed registry for Muslims. As I pointed out yesterday, this violates the argument for freedom of conscience argued on Christian theological and scriptural grounds by William Penn, just as it violates Williams own arguments on the same grounds for religious toleration.

Trump’s claim to be protecting Americans through this registry not only violates due process, as George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr Sulu, made clear, it also violates the essential theological principles on which America as a tolerant, democratic, Christian nation was founded. If the religious Right are supporting his motion for this registry, then they are showing a complete ignorance and contempt for one of the cornerstones of American and British Christianity and liberal democracy.

Review: The Liberal Tradition, ed. by Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock

November 6, 2016

(Oxford: OUP 1967)

liberal-tradition-pic

I picked this up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. I am definitely not a Liberal, but so many of the foundations of modern representative democracy, and liberal political institutions, rights and freedoms were laid down by Liberals from the 17th century Whigs onward, that this book is of immense value for the historic light it sheds on the origins of modern political thought. It is also acutely relevant, for many of the issues the great liberal philosophers, thinkers and ideologues argued over, debated and discussed in the pieces collected in it are still being fought over today. These are issues like the freedom, religious liberty and equality, democracy, anti-militarism and opposition to the armaments industry, imperialism versus anti-imperialism, devolution and home rule, laissez-faire and state intervention, and the amelioration of poverty.

Alan Bullock is an historian best known for his biography of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, which remains the classic work on the Nazi dictator. In the 1990s he produced another book which compared Hitler’s life to that of his contemporary Soviet dictator and ultimate nemesis, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. The book has an introduction, tracing the development of Liberalism from its origins to the 1930s, when the authors consider that the Liberal party ceased to be an effective force in British politics. This discusses the major issues and events, with which Whig and Liberal politicians and thinkers were forced to grapple, and which in turn shaped the party and its evolving intellectual tradition.

The main part of the book consists of the major historical speeches and writings, which are treated in sections according to theme and period. These comprise

Part. Fox and the Whig Tradition

1. Civil Liberties.

Two speeches by Charles James Fox in parliament, from 1792 and 1794;
Parliamentary speech by R.B. Sheridan, 1810.
Parliamentary speech by Earl Grey, 1819.
Lord John Russell, An Essay on the History of the English Government and Constitution, 1821.
Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1828.

2. Opposition to the War against Revolutionary France

Speeches by Charles James Fox, from 1793, 1794 and 1800.

3. Foreign Policy and the Struggle for Freedom Abroad

Earl Grey, parliamentary speech, 1821;
Marquis of Lansdowne, parliamentary speech, 1821.
Extracts from Byron’s poems Sonnet on Chillon, 1816, Childe Harold, Canto IV, 1817, and Marino Faliero, 1821.

4. Parliamentary Reform

Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1822.
Lord Melbourne, parliamentary speech, 1831.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1831.

Part II. The Benthamites and the Political Economists, 1776-1830.

1. Individualism and Laissez-faire

Two extracts from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Jeremy Bentham, A Manual of Political Economy, 1798.

2. Natural Laws and the Impossibility of Interference

T.R. Malthus, Essay on Population, 1798.
David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1819.

3. Free Trade

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations,
David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy,
Petition of the London Merchants, 1820.

4. Colonies

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

5. Reform

Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, 1817.
David Ricardo, Observations on Parliamentary Reform, 1824.
Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code, 1830.
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography.

Part III. The Age of Cobden and Bright.

1. Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Petition of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to the House of Commons, 20 December 1838.
Richard Cobden, two speeches in London, 1844.
Cobden, speech in Manchester, 1846,
Lord John Russell, Letter to the Electors of the City of London (The ‘Edinburgh Letter’) 1845.

2. Laissez-Faire

Richard Cobden, Russia, 1836.
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1846.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1846.
Joseph Hume, parliamentary speech, 1847.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848.

Education

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech 1847.
John Bright, parliamentary speech 1847.

4. Religious Liberty

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833.
John Bright, two parliamentary speeches, 1851 and 1853.

5. Foreign Policy

Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1849;
Viscount Palmerston, speech at Tiverton, 1847;
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1850; speech at Birmingham, 1858; speech in Glasgow, 1858;
John Bright, letter to Absalom Watkins, 1854;
W.E. Gladstone, parliamentary speech, 1857;

6. India and Ireland

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833;
John Bright, four speeches in parliament, 1848, 1849,1858, 1859;
Richard Cobden, speech at Rochdale, 1863.

Part IV. The Age of Gladstone

1. The Philosophy of Liberty

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859;
John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861;
Lord Acton, A Review of Goldwin smith’s ‘Irish History’, 1862;
Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.
Lord Acton, A Review of Sir Erskine May’s ‘Democracy in Europe’, 1878.
Lord Acton, letter to Bishop Creighton, 1887.
Lord Acton, letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881;
John Morley, On Compromise, 1874.

2. Parliamentary Reform

Richard Cobden, two speeches at Rochdale, 1859 and 1863;
John Bright, speech at Rochdale, 1863; speech at Birmingham, 1865; speech at Glasgow, 1866; speech at London, 1866;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Chester, 1865; speech at Manchester, 1865; parliamentary speech, 1866;

3. Foreign Policy

W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1877 and 1878; speech at Dalkeith, 1879; speech at Penicuik, 1880, speech at Loanhead, 1880; article in The Nineteenth Century, 1878.

4. Ireland

John Bright, speech at Dublin, 1866 and parliamentary speech, 1868.
W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1886 and 1888.

Part V. The New Liberalism

1. The Philosophy of State Interference

T.H. Green, Liberal Legislation or Freedom of Contract, 1881;
Herbert Spencer, The Coming Slavery, 1884;
D.G. Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, 1891;
J.A. Hobson, The Crisis of Liberalism, 1909;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;

2. The Extension of Democracy

Herbert Samuel, Liberalism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Plymouth, 1907;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Newcastle, 1909;
H.H. Asquith, speech at the Albert Hall, 1909.
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

3. Social Reform

Joseph Chamberlain, speech at Hull, 1885, and Warrington, 1885;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Saltney, 1889;
Lord Rosebery, speech at Chesterfield, 1901;
Winston S. Churchill, speech at Glasgow, 1906;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Swansea, 1908;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 8th July 1912;

4. The Government and the National Economy

H.H. Asquith, speech at Cinderford, 1903;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Bolton, 1903;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Bedford, 1913, and speech at Middlesbrough, 1913;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

5. Imperialism and the Boer War

Sir William Harcourt, speech in West Monmouthshire, 1899;
J.L. Hammond, ‘Colonial and Foreign Policy’ in Liberalism and the Empire, 1900;
J.A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Stirling, 1901.

6. Armaments

Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at London, 1905;
William Byles, parliamentary speech, 1907;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches from 1909 and 1911;
Sir J. Brunner, speech at the 35th Annual Meeting of the National Liberal Federation, 1913.

7. Foreign Policy

House of Commons debate 22nd July 1909, featuring J.M. Robertson and Arthur Ponsonby;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches, 1911 and 1914;
House of Commons debate, 14th December 1911, featuring Josiah Wedgwood and J.G. Swift MacNeill;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 1 August 1914;

Part VI. Liberalism after 1918

1. The End of Laissez-faire

J.M. Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926;
Britain’s Industrial Future, the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry, 1928;
J.M. Keynes and H.D. Henderson, Can Lloyd George Do It? 1929,
Sir William Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

2. The League and the Peace

Viscount Grey of Fallodon, The League of Nations, 1918;
Gilbert Murray, The League of Nations and the Democratic Idea, 1918;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 24th June 1919;
J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919;
D. Lloyd George, speech at London, 1927;
Philip Kerr, The Outlawry of War, paper read to the R.I.I.A., 13 November 1928;
The Liberal Way, A survey of Liberal policy, published by the National Liberal Federation, 1934.

Epilogue

J.M. Keynes, Am I a Liberal? Address to the Liberal summer school at Cambridge, 1925.

In their conclusion, Bullock and Shock state that Liberal ideology is incoherent – a jumble – unless seen as an historical development, and that the Liberal party itself lasted only about seventy years from the time Gladstone joined Palmerstone’s government in 1859 to 1931, after which it was represented only by a handful of members in parliament. The Liberal tradition, by contrast, has been taken over by all political parties, is embodied in the Constitution, and has profoundly affected education – especially in the universities, the law, and the philosophy of government in the civil service. It has also inspired the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth. It has also profoundly affected the British character at the instinctive level, which has been given expression in the notion of ‘fair play’.

They also write about the immense importance in the Liberal tradition of freedom, and principle. They write

In the pages which follow two ideas recur again and again. The first is a belief in the value of freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of minorities, freedom of peoples. The scope of freedom has required continual and sometimes drastic re-defining, as in the abandonment of laissez-faire or in the extension of self-government to the peoples of Asia and Africa. But each re-definition has represented a deepening and strengthening, not an attenuation, of the original faith in freedom.

The second is the belief that principle ought to count far more than power or expediency, that moral issues cannot be excluded from politics. Liberal attempts to translate moral principles into political action have rarely been successful and neglect of the factor of power is one of the most obvious criticisms of Liberal thinking about politics, especially international relations. But neglect of the factor of conscience, which is a much more likely error, is equally disastrous in the long run. The historical role of Liberalism in British history has been to prevent this, and again and again to modify policies and the exercise of power by protests in the name of conscience. (p. liv).

They finish with

We end it by pointing to the belief in freedom and the belief in conscience as the twin foundations of Liberal philosophy and the element of continuity in its historical development. Politics can never be conducted by the light of these two principles alone, but without them human society is reduced to servitude and the naked rule of force. This is the truth which the Liberal tradition has maintained from Fox to Keynes – and which still needs to be maintained in our own time. (pp. liv-lv).

It should be said that the participation of the Lib Dems was all too clearly a rejection of any enlightened concern for principle and conscience, as this was jettisoned by Clegg in order to join a highly illiberal parliament, which passed, and is still passing under its Conservative successor, Theresa May, legislation which is deliberately aimed at destroying the lives and livelihood of the very poorest in society – the working class, the disabled and the unemployed, and destroying the very foundations of British constitutional freedom in the creation of a network of universal surveillance and secret courts.

These alone are what makes the book’s contents so relevant, if only to remind us of the intense relevance of the very institutions that are under attack from today’s vile and corrupt Tory party.

Vox Political on Thicky Nikki’s Plan to Stop People Protesting Against School Sell-Offs

March 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also posted up a piece commenting on a report on the Politics.co.uk blog that the education minister, ‘Thicky’ Nikki Morgan, is introducing more legal reforms to make it difficult for parents and other interested local people to prevent their schools being taken over and transformed into academies.

I’m not surprised she’s done this. The Tories’ education reforms have never been about raising standards or empowering people, no matter how much hot air Thatcher spouted about it when she was trying to smash the control of Local Education Authorities in the 1980s. It’s always been about giving private education companies the right to make a good profit from them, regardless of quality. I can still remember how Thicky Nikki refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s questions on Breakfast TV when she was talking about Cameron’s renewed campaign to push more schools into becoming academies. Stayt asked her how many academies had had to be taken back into state management. The answer, if I recall correctly, was 25. Morgan didn’t answer, but just continued to bluster about how unfair it was that parents and pupils should continue to suffer from poor standards when their school was being blocked from becoming an academy. To his credit, Stayt carried on asking the question, and after she still didn’t answer, said, ‘You know how many.’ She does. That’s why she didn’t answer the question. And so do we.

And it’s exactly the same over in America. The equivalent of the academy system over there are the Charter schools. The Republicans hate the public school system with a passion, ostensibly because of its secularism. No religious worship or teaching is allowed in school, though I believe that the constitution also forbids the opposite: you can’t indoctrinate children with atheism either. But that’s not the whole reason they hate the public (state) school system. They hate it because it’s provided by the state, and not run for profit by a private corporation. I posted up a little while ago a video I found on Youtube reporting on how local authorities and private corporations in many American states had succeeded in privatising the local public schools in direct contravention of the wishes of the parents and community. There had been demonstrations against them by parents, teachers, and respected members of the community, including clergy. All to no avail. It’s happening in America, and Thicky Nikki wants more of it to happen over here.

Paradoxically, in this the Conservatives are far more right wing that D’Annunzio’s proto-Fascists at Fiume. Article 8 of the statelet’s constitution guaranteed citizens the right to state education, as well as range of welfare benefits, leisure activities and legal protections. It stated:

The Constitution guarantees to all citizens of both sexes: primary instruction in well-lighted and healthy schools; physical training in open-air gymnasiums, well-equipped; paid work with a fair minimum living wage; assistance in sickness, infirmity, and involuntary unemployment; old age pensions; the enjoyment of property legitimately obtained; inviolability of the home; ‘habeas corpus’; compensation for injuries in case of judicial errors or abuse of privacy.

I don’t know how seriously D’Annunzio’s government took all this. After all, the previous article, 7, began with a liberal statement promising freedom of conscience and association:

Fundamental liberties, freedom of thought and of the Press, the right to hold meetings and to form associations are guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

As this was the first to be violated when Mussolini took power, and D’Annunzio himself ended up keeping silent after Musso gave him a pension and various other privileges, I doubt that personal freedom rated very highly in his estimation either. Much of this was in any case inherited from the liberal Italian state Mussolini despised, and from Socialist doctrines of the regime’s enemies. Italy had been providing state education to its children from the early 19th century onwards, long before Britain did so, although few working class children were able to take it up due to poverty and the constraints of work. But it’s certainly an indictment of this government, that those liberties which even D’Annunzio’s storm-troopers had to recognise, are discarded by them.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen from the French Revolution

April 16, 2014

Artisan Washerwom pic

An artisan and a washerwoman toast the health of the French Revolution as members of the ignored and oppressed ‘Third Estate’.

I found this text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen made by the French Revolutionaries in 1789 in D.G. Wright’s Revolution and Teror in France 1789-1795 (Harlow: Longman 1974). Although it’s very much the view of patriotic French middle class, it is still one of the founding statements of modern democracy and political liberty. Here it is:

The representatives of the French people, sitting in the National Assembly considering that ignorance of, neglect of, and contempt for the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortune and the corruption of governments, have resolved to set out in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, constantly before all members of the civic body, will constantly remind them of their rights and duties, in order that acts of legislative and executive power can be frequently compared with the purpose of every political institution, thus making them more respected, in order that the demands of the citizens, henceforth founded on simple and irrefutable principles, will always tend towards the maintenance of the constitution and the happiness of everyone.

I Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can only be founded on communal utility.

II The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.

III The principle of all sovereignty emanates essentially from the nation. No group of men, no individual, can exercise any authority which does not specifically emanate from it.

IV Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others. Hence the exercise of the natural rights of every man is limited only by the need for other members of society to exercise the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law.

V The law only has the right to prohibit actions harmful to society. What is not prohibited by law cannot be forbidden, and nobody can be forced to do what the law does not require.

VI The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part personally, or through their representatives, in the making of the law. It should be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all honours, offices and public employment, according to their capacity and without any distinction other than those of their integrity and talents.

VII A man can only be accused, arrested or detained in cases determined by law, and according to the procedure it requires. Those who solicit, encourage, execute or cause to be executed arbitrary orders must be punished, but every citizen called up or arrested in the name of the law must obey instantly; resistance renders him culpable.

VIII The law must only require punishments that are strictly and evidently necessary and a person can only be punished according to an established law passed before the offence and legally applied.

IX Every man being presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it is necessary to arrest him, all severity beyond what is necessary to secure his arrest shall be severely punished by law.

X No man ought to be uneasy about his opinions, even his religious beliefs, provided that their manifestation does not interfere with the public order established by the law.

XI The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man: every citizen can therefore talk, write and publish freely, except that he is responsible for abuses of this liberty in cases determined by the law.

The guaranteeing of the rights of man and the citizen requires a public force: this force is therefore established for everybody’s advantage and not for the particular benefit of the persons who are entrusted with it.

XIII A common contribution is necessary for the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenses; it must be equally apportioned between all citizens, according to their means.

XIV All citizens have the right, personally or by means of their representatives, to have demonstrated to them the necessity of public taxes, so that they can consent freely to them, can check how they are used, and can determine the shares to be paid, their assessment, collection and duration.

XV The community has the right to hold accountable every public official in its administration.

XVI Every society has no assured guarantee of rights, or a separation of powers, does not possess a constitution.

XVII Property being a sacred and inviolable right, nobody can be deprived of it, except when the public interest, legally defined, evidently requires it, and then on condition there is just compensation in advance.

cameron-toff

David Cameron, whose government represents aristocratic privilege over the working classes, the poor, the disabled, and whose policies violate many of the rights the Revolution declared to be universal and inviolable.

Just reading this list shows how deeply reactionary the Tories and Tory Democrats are. They don’t believe that everyone should have equal rights before the law, nor can this government claim they represent ‘the general will’. They weren’t elected: they took power through a backdoor deal with the Tory Democrats, and were elected anyway on a severely diminished percentage of the population who legally have the right to vote.

They also do not believe in the freedom from arbitrary arrest and open public justice. There is the continuing scandal of the stop and search of Black men. The Tories and their Tory Democrat accomplices also passed a law providing for secret courts meting out a highly Kafkaesque brand of ‘justice’.

We have also seen a gradual diminution and erosion of our right to free speech and freedom of conscience and opinion, under the guise of national security.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen also provides for something like the Freedom of Information Act. As a citizen, it states that we have the right to have it explained to us how our taxes are spent, so that we can freely consent to them. Yet the Tories have consistently refused to issue the information on the number of disabled people, who have died since Atos declared them fit for work. Mike and the other bloggers, who have attempted to obtain this information, have been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for so doing. Johnny Void on his site today has also reported that the government is refusing to release a report documenting the shambolic failure of their ‘welfare-to-work’ programme. They have openly confessed before that they don’t want details of it to be released as this would make it unpopular and prevent it from operating.

And then there is the abomination of the Bedroom Tax. This is a tax, as Mike and the others have shown, and it has been levied on the very poorest to force them out of their homes.

As for the taxation being levied at the same rate so that people can pay according to their means, they have deliberately and flagrantly rejected it. They have awarded massive tax cuts to the rich, while the poor have seen the tax burden increase through indirect taxation.

There is precious little about this government which agrees with this founding document of political and civil liberty. And the Tories know it. They have always stood for privilege and the rights of the feudal and upper middle class elite. In 1789 the French Revolutionaries abolished feudalism, including the forced labour the aristocracy required their serfs to perform. The unpaid internships and workfare are its modern equivalents, and have been reintroduced under the Tories.

And so is democracy destroyed by this most undemocratic of governments.