Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon’

William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament

March 26, 2016

I’ve probably blogged about this before, but as the issue is now of major importance once again, I’ll carry on talking about it.

The debate about whether Britain should leave the EU has been raised again, with both Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith giving their support to the leave campaign. David Cameron, on the other hand, supports staying in, and has forced his cabinet to take an oath of personal loyalty to him about it. Actually, I wonder if this was the real reason IDS walked out of the cabinet, rather than any of the bunkum he spouted about working age people being hit too hard by Osborne’s benefit cuts. IDS has never voiced any opposition to cutting wages or benefits before. Indeed, he’s been frantically for them. And Tory opposition to the EU is focussed on the Social Charter, which guarantees European workers certain minimal rights. This seems far more likely as a reason for IDS choosing to walk out than him suddenly developing a social conscience. Though it might be that he was genuinely frustrated at not being able to vent his malevolence and hatred of welfare scroungers at the elderly.

Euroceptic attacks on the EU frequently argue that it’s a development of the policies of Napoleon and the Kaiser. Both of these monarchs wanted to create a free trade zone in Europe. However, the demands for a European parliament weren’t confined either to Napoleon, and can be traced back centuries earlier. Kant wrote a trace, On Perpetual Peace, arguing for a federation of states that would outlaw war, and Mazzini, the Italian patriot and revolutionary, also held the same views.

And one of the first pieces arguing for the benefits of a European parliament was written by the great Quaker writer and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1693 pamphlet An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates.
This is divided into several individual sections, such as ‘1. Of Peace, and its Advantages’, ‘2.Of the Means of Peace, Which Is Justice Rather than War’, ‘3. Government, Its Rise and End of All Models’, ‘5. Of the Causes of Difference, and Motives to Violate Peace’, ‘6. Of Titles, Upon Which Those Differences May Arise’, ‘7. Of the Composition of these Imperial States’, ‘8. Of the Regulation of the Imperial States in Session’, ‘9. of the Objections that May Be Advanced against the Design’, ’10. Of the Real Benefits that Flow from the Proposal About Peace’, and a Conclusion.

It is the section ‘4. Of a General Peace, or the Peace of Europe, and the Means of It’, that contains Penn’s basic description of the European parliament he proposes to provide the means by which the various princes and leaders of the various European states at this time could settled their differences peacefully through negotiation. He wrote:

In my first section, I showed the desirableness of peace; in my next, the truest means of it; to wit, justice, not war. And in my last, that this justice was the fruit of government, as government itself was the result of society, which first came from a reasonable design in men of peace. Now it the sovereign princes of Europe, who represent that society, or independent states of men that was previous to the obligations of society, would, for the same reason that engaged men first into society, viz. love of peace and order, agree to meet by their state deputies in a general diet, estates, or parliament, and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be styled, the sovereign or imperial diet, parliament or estate of Europe; before which sovereign assembly, should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another, that cannot be made up by private embassies, before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states, shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgement thereof, and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixed in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission: to be sure Europe would quietly obtain the so much desired and needed peace, to her harassed inhabitants; no sovereignty in Europe, having the power, and therefore cannot show the will to dispute the conclusion; and consequently peace would be procured, and continued in Europe.

The full text of Penn’s work, and his other writings, can be found in William Penn: The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. Edwin B. Bronner (London: Everyman 1993).

Penn was writing in the late 17th century, after a series of terrible religious wars had raged across the continent, of which the British civil war was just one. The French in the 16th century had suffered the Wars of the Religion, while in the German Empire a fifth of the population had died of starvation as armies had raged across the country from the borders of France to Russia. As a Quaker, Penn was committed to peace, and saw the creation of a European parliament as the correct means through which peace could be achieved, and justice and prosperity return to the suffering peoples of Europe.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU, from bureaucratic wastefulness and corruption to the massive, economic mess that’s the Euro and the Troika ruling Greece, Italy and the other countries that have suffered severely from the economic effects of the single currency. But the idea of creating a single European community of nations, in which international disputes can be resolved without violence, and nation can truly speak peace unto nation, is the dream of centuries. It should not be thrown away, and especially not because IDS, BoJo and Priti Patel want to turn Britain into an unregulated sweatshop outside EU control.

Desperate Tories: Grant Shapps Attacks Miliband for not being Businessman

February 16, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this story about the Tories getting testy over Ed Miliband’s plans to boost small and medium businesses, Perhaps the Tories have all caught ‘foot in mouth’ disease at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/16/perhaps-the-tories-have-all-caught-foot-in-mouth-disease/. Grant Shapps, the Tories’ chairman, has poured scorn on Ed Miliband’s ability to run the economy, because he has never run a business.

As Mike and the commenters on the BBC’s website have pointed out, this is a bit rich coming from Shapps. Shapps has indeed run his own business, but not necessarily under his own name. His trading names have included ‘Mr Green’ and ‘Mr Shepard’. This is, of course, fraud.

As George Osborne, before he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, the scion of the Baronet of Ballymoney had the exciting, dynamic post of folding towels in Harrods.

So these two senior Conservatives ain’t prime examples of successful, reputable business then.

Obama Also Not Fit for Leadership, ‘Cause Not Businessman

As for the jibe, this isn’t original either. It first emerged, like much of the Tories’ vile policies, amongst the Republicans in America. It was a sneer aimed at Obama, when he ran against Rand Paul. The Repugs despised the Senator from Chicago because he was a ‘community organiser’. Rand Paul, on the other hand, was a businessman, and therefore far superior.

Social Darwinism and Class Prejudice

This actually tells you much about the Social Darwinist assumptions of modern American – and British – politics. The Nazis also praised and supported the business elites, as they were obviously biologically superior to the rest of the German population. Far below them were the biologically inferior, who included not only those considered racially inferior like Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Poles and Russians, but also the disabled and the unemployed.

Now the British and American Social Darwinism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not recommend their extermination. It did, however, argue for the sterilisation of the disabled and mentally handicapped, as well as, at one point, the unemployed if they sought poor relief. The attitude was also used to block welfare and health and safety legislation by big businessmen, on the grounds that if workers suffered from illness or work-related sicknesses, it was down to poor heredity rather than the constitution of society.

The same attitude is very much on display here. Obama didn’t run a business – he just looked after deadbeats. Miliband can’t run the economy! He’s not a genetically superior member of the business class.

This Social Darwinist attitude to the inequalities of the British class system is very much alive. One of the most viewed pieces on this blog is a post I wrote about the weird eugenicist views of Maggie’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph. Joseph looked set to become leader of the Tories until he caused a massive storm with a Social Darwinist rant about how unmarried mothers, and other members of the underclass, were a threat to the British national stock.

It was an extraordinarily offensive rant, made all the more surprising coming Joseph, who as a Jew should have been very well aware of the dangers of this kind of reductionist, pseudo-scientific biology.

The Biological Superiority of the House of Lords

The same class prejudices re-emerged again back in the 1990s when Blair was reforming the House of Lords. One of the reforms was the proposed abolition, or reduction in the number of hereditary peers. This produced a storm of outrage from Conservatives, one of whom argued that the hereditary peers should be left alone. They were, he argued, biologically superior to the rest of us proles and tradesmen, because centuries of breeding had prepared them for position in government, to which they were also best fitted through their education.

Now clearly, the good Tory, who made that argument, probably hadn’t seen, and certainly wouldn’t have liked, the 1970s British film, The Ruling Class. This starred Peter O’Toole as a mad lord, who believes he is Jesus. Toole’s character then becomes villainous when he is cured. At one point the character has an hallucination about going into the House of Lords. The members of the august House are shown as cheering, cobwebbed corpses and skeletons. It was an image that I can remember from my childhood, when it shown on Nationwide all those decades ago, when they were similarly debating the issue of the House of Lords.

Economy and Society Has Sectors, That Cannot Be Run for Profit

In fact, the argument about business leadership providing the best people for the government of the country falls down on simple facts that Adam Smith, the founder of modern laissez-faire capitalism, himself recognised. States provide services that are absolutely necessary, but don’t in themselves generate a profit. Like the judicial system and the transport network. You can’t run the courts like a business, no matter what bonkers Anarcho-individualists like Rothbard and the Libertarians believe. Nevertheless, you need judges, lawyers and courts to provide the security of property that makes business, and indeed civil society, possible.

It’s the same with roads. Roads were run for a profit at the time Smith was writing through the turnpike system. Nevertheless, Smith argued that roads could be a problem to run as a business, and therefore could be best left to the central government as the organisation best suited to maintain them. While they would be a drain on the nation’s resources, good roads were absolutely vital, and so the economy, and therefore British society as a whole, benefited.

Welfare Spending and Unemployment Relief Stimulate the Economy

Similarly, Obama may not have been a businessman, but his work as a community organiser clearly benefited his constituents, who had not been as well served by private enterprise as they needed. And by improving their material conditions through political action, the economy also benefits. This was one of the reasons FDR in the 1930s adopted the minimal provision of unemployment relief in America. If workers actually have enough money to help through unemployment, the amount they spend stimulates the economy still further and actually helps beat the recession.

The Nation of Shopkeepers, sacrificed to Big Business

Finally, you could also argue that Ed’s background outside of business actually makes him more, not less suitable to run the economy. It was Napoleon, who sneered at Britain as ‘the nation of shopkeepers’, and the retail sector is still one of the largest areas of the British economy. Thousands, if not millions, of Brits would love to run their own business. Maggie’s whole image as somehow ‘working class’, spurious as it was, was based on her being the daughter of a shopkeeper.

In sharp contrast to this, Tory policy has consistently favoured big business over the small businessman, making the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people, who aspire to be the next Arkwrights and Granvilles unrealisable.

Modern Big Business Practices Destructive

And the models the Tories have also adopted for big business have resulted in the destruction of much of the economy. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, Private Eye ran a series about the multi-millionaires brought with much pomp to manage successful, blue chip companies, who then failed spectacularly. These superstar managers ran their businesses into the ground. In some cases, almost literally. Yet after decimating the companies and their share price, the managers were then given a golden handshake and sent packing. Only to be given a similar directorship at another company, and begin the whole process all over again.

As for privatised companies like the railways, they are now in receipt of vastly more public subsidies than British rail, and provide a worse service. The amount of rolling stock has been reduced and ticket prices increased, all so that a set of super-managers can enjoy a life-style of luxury, all while providing a service that is barely acceptable.

The scandals of the privately run care homes, which have been found guilty of appalling low standards of care, and the neglect and abuse of their elderly or handicapped residents, are also partly a product of the same commercial culture. Many were acquired by hedge fund companies, who have deliberately run up millions of pounds worth of debts for them as part of a tax dodge. The result has been a very parlous financial situation for the homes, resulting in little investment and bankruptcy.

Compared to this business culture, it could be said that Ed Miliband’s background outside it is a positive advantage, and gives him excellent credentials to run the economy.

Swedish Church Threatened for Supporting Muslims

February 13, 2015

Religious Freedom Card

French Revolutionary Card celebrating religious freedom.

There’s been a lot of alarm recently about the massive growth of the German anti-Islamic organisation, Pegida. The group’s name is an acronym for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’, in German, Patriotische Europeaer Gegen der Islamisierung des Abendlandes. In Germany the groups boasts tens of thousands of members, and has staged mass demonstrations and marches across the country. These have provoked in their turn large counterdemonstrations from liberal Germans fearing a return of the xenophobia that plunged their country in the Third Reich and culminated in the genocide of the Jews and the projected extermination of other groups judged genetically or racially inferior, like the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe, Gypsies and the disabled. Angela Merkel herself has denounced Pegida and its bigotry. Pegida is not content to confine itself to Germany, however. It is expanding across Europe and plans to stage a rally in Newcastle on this side of the North Sea.

This story comes from Christian Today, a Christian news website, from the 10th a few days ago. The pastor at St. Petri’s church in Malmo was so alarmed at a Pegida demonstration in his city, that he staged a service the previous night (the 9th) supporting the city’s diverse population and its Muslim citizens in particular. Andres Ekhem, the Pastor, stated that he wanted to express solidarity with them and also “express joy for our city and our Muslim friends”.

“There is strong support for diverse cultures in Malmö and it is important that the church is there to support that,” he said.

“You can choose to stay silent and let them give a voice to something you don’t accept. Or, we can choose to show what we believe in, which is a multi-religious society where everyone is given the freedom to preach their own religions.” Pastor Ekhem received some criticism for his service, including ‘more or less clear threats’, according to an interview he gave with Sydsvenkan.

Pegida’s Cant about Kant

One of Pegida’s slogans is Kant Statt Koran: ‘Kant instead of Qu’ran’, referring to the great 18th century German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant is one of the most brilliant European philosophers, and his ideas are still very influential today. He was one of the first to suggest that the Earth and the solar system were formed by condensing out of a primordial gas, an idea that has been confirmed by contemporary science and the study of the evolution of stars. He also believed that the human conscience pointed to the existence of God. The pangs of conscience one felt, he argued, were like someone knocking at your door. The implication is that in the case of the human soul, that someone is the Almighty.

You wonder what Kant, a man of the Enlightenment, would think of Pegida. Many of Enlightenment philosophers were religious sceptics, either Deists, like Voltaire, or outright atheists, like Mably and Diderot. The philosophes were revolted by the horrors committed by the Wars of the Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, which pitched Protestant against Roman Catholic, and the adherents of Protestant sects and denominations against each other. They strongly argued for religious freedom and toleration.

The philosophes’ hostility to revealed religion eventually led in turn to the abolition of Christianity and its vicious persecution in the name of the Goddess of Pure Reason during the French Revolution. When the Revolution broke out, however, its supporters believed it would usher in a new age of complete freedom of conscience. The new rights, liberties and virtues inaugurated by the Revolution was celebrated in a series of playing cards. These included the card right at the head of this article. It says ‘Liberty of Cults’, and includes some of the holy books of the great Abrahamic faiths. Along with the Christian Gospels, there is the Talmud for Judaism, and the Qu’ran for Islam.

This pack of cards was also way ahead of its time in celebrating racial equality. Both rationalist philosophes and evangelical and reforming Christians, like the Quakers, Methodists, and the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, were revolted by the cruelty inflicted on Africans by the slave trade. The French Revolutionaries initially freed the slaves in their colonies, only for it to be put back by Napoleon. This card is entitled ‘Egalite des Couleurs’ – Equality of the Colours, and shows a Black man with a gun. Alongside is the word ‘Courage’. The message is clear. Far from being degraded savages, who deserved their enslavement, Black people were every bit as courageous and deserving of freedom as Whites.

Race Equality Card

These cards together show the new ideas of racial and religious liberty and equality, which were part of the intellectual ferment of Kant’s age. Looking at them, I doubt whether Kant would have had much time for the bigotry and xenophobia of groups like Pegida.

Radical Balladry: A Dream of Napoleon

May 16, 2014

Napoleon Pic

The Napoleonic Wars are one of the quintessential episodes of the British patriotic interpretation of history, when Britain and her allies faced down and defeated Napoleon. And long before Hitler, Napoleon was – and to a certain extent, still remains – the archetypal foreign dictator intent on world domination. Yet in his early days Napoleon was a hero to many British radicals, the champion of democracy and freedom against a corrupt, aristocratic order. It can come as a surprise that there were ballads written in Britain celebrating ‘Boney’ and his exploits. One of them, A Dream of Napoleon, was collected by Vaughn Williams. It appears to have been first printed in the late 1830s, though it may have been composed perhaps thirty years earlier, as the only battle it mentions is that of Marengo in Italy in 1800. It runs

One night sad and languid I went to my bed, but I
Scarce had reclined on my pillow, when a vision surprising came
into my head; methought I was traversing the
Billow, one night as my vessel dashed over the deep I
beheld a rude rock that was craggy and steep, The rock [where]
the willows now seemed to weep o’er the grave of the once famed Napoleon.

Methought that my vessel drew near to the land, I beheld clad in green this
bod figure.
With the trumpet of fame clasped firm in his hand, on his brow there was
Valour and vigour.
‘O stranger’, he cried, has thou ventured to me from the land of thy fathers
who boast they are free?
If so a tale I’ll tell unto thee concerning the once famed Napoleon.

‘Remember that year so immortal’, he cried, ‘when I crossed the rude Alps
famed in story
With the legions of France, for her sons were my pride, and I led them to
honour and glory.
On the plains of Marengo I tyranny hurled and wherever my banner the eagle
unfurled,
‘Twas the standard of freedom all over the world and the signal for fame’,
cried Napoleon.

‘Like a soldier I’ve been in the heat and the cold, as I marched to the trumpet
and cymbal,
But by dark deeds of treachery I have been sold, while monarchs before me
have trembled.
Now rules and princes their station demean, and like scorpions spit forth
their venom and spleen,
But liberty soon o’er the world shall be seen’, as I woke from dream, cried
Napoleon.

Source: Roy Palmer, ed., Bushes and Briars: Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Llanerch 1999) 100-1.

Gove and 19th Century British Education Provision

March 29, 2014

The Conservative Party Annual Conference

Michael Gove contemplating the government’s destruction of British state education

Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease,

– Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space

Earlier this week the NUT staged a one-day strike against the government’s reforms of British schools. As with the rest of Conservative policy, this essentially consists in preparing the system for further privatisation and lowering wages and conditions. They also have their sights set on lowering standards as well. Taking their cue from the assumption of ignorant bar-room bores everywhere, the Tories have the attitude that just about anyone, or almost anyone, can teach without actually needing to be taught how. They are therefore trying to pass legislation to allow graduates to teach in schools without needing to have a teaching qualification first.

I did my first degree at a teacher-training college that also took ordinary degree students. The trainee teachers I knew were conscientious and worked extremely hard, both academically on their specialist subjects, and in the class-room during teaching practice. Often they were put in front of classes that could be difficult, stopping fights between pupils and sometimes with the threat of violence from parents. While there’s a lot of debate just how much of the theory of teaching and child development is relevant – the theories of Piaget have been extensively critiqued and rejected – it is nevertheless not an easy profession by any means. Teachers certainly need good training in how to teach, as well as what. All this will be undermined by Gove’s reforms.

Modern Conservatism is based on the view that laissez-faire, private industry is always best, and so looks back with nostalgia on the 19th century, when Britain dominated the world, we had an empire and industry was expanding. It was also an age of poverty, hunger, disease and overcrowding. And rather than being great, Britain in this respect had one of the worst education systems in western Europe.

France

In France, plans had been drawn up for a national system of primary, secondary and university education as long ago as 1806 under Napoleon. In practice, the regime got only as far as founding the lycees, the boarding schools for the elite. Under the education act of !833 drawn up by the French minister, Guizot, an impressive system of primary education was established. All communes were required to set up schools, which would provide education for local boys free of charge. The communes that could not afford to do so were to be given funding from their department, or, failing, that an annual grant from the Ministry of Public Instruction. As a result, in the thirteen years from 1834 to 1847 the number of primary schools in La Patrie increased from 33,695 to 43,514. By 1849 there were 3 1/2 million children attending primary school. Girl’s schools received much less funding, but nevertheless a law 1836 extended the 1933 Act to provide for schools for girls.

The French educational system was further reformed in 1863 under Napoleon’s minister for public instruction, Victor Duruy. Duruy was the Republican son of a worker in the Gobelins tapestry factory. He proposed to Napoleon III a system for the effective abolition of illiteracy, funding increases for secondary education, and increases in teachers’ salaries. Primary education was made compulsory, and a broader curriculum introduced for secondary schools. In 1866 nearly 66,000 pupils attended secondary school. The state also spent large sums on teachers’ salaries and in establishing good school libraries. In Matthew Arnold’s words, the French education system after Guizot had

given to the lower classes, to the body of the common people, a self-respect, an enlargement of spirit, a consciousness of counting for something in their country’s action, which has raised them in the scale of humanity.

Germany

Prussia had a ministry of public instruction and a system of local school boards from 1817 onwards. By the mid-19th century throughout all the German states primary education was compulsory. In Saxony, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Baden and Prussia after 1857 parents had to send their children to the local state school. The age when children started school varied from state to state from five to eight years. In some parts of Germany school attendance was compulsory for a further eight years, so that the school leaving age was the same a century later. Unfortunately, education suffered through the use of child labour and widespread poverty, which took children out of the class room.

By 1837 Prussia already had a system of 50 gymnasia, set up to teach the children of the elite from 16 to 19. The curriculum was broader than that in France, and included philosophy, history, geography, arithmetic and geometry, as well as drawing and playing a musical instrument.

Austria

Under the liberal prime minister Auersperg in 1869 education became compulsory for all children from six to fourteen years of age. It has been seen by Harry Hearder, in his Europe in the 19th Century, 1830-1880, as more advanced than the British educational system introduced a year later. (p. 386). The parts of Italy under Austrian rule also benefited from this increase in education. In 1856 Lombardy possessed 4, 427 primary schools.

Switzerland and the Netherlands

The best schools in Europe were those in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Primary education had been made compulsory in most Swiss cantons in the 1830s, and Matthew Arnold considered Swiss schools superior to the French, with the schools in Aargau the very best in Europe.

In the Netherlands a system of state supervision of education had been established in 1806. Dutch schools were hygienic, with well-trained teachers, industrious and happy children, complete religious toleration and no corporal punishment.

Britain

There were a number of schools giving some form of education. These included the Dame Schools, in which an old woman kept a class of children quiet while their parents worked and the charity and Sunday schools. These were essentially religious in nature, and although there were 1 1/2 million pupils in Sunday schools in the 1830s, their pupils were not taught to write or do sums. There result was that there were high rates of illiteracy. By 1851 the literacy rate for men was about 69.3 per cent, and for women 51 per cent.

Under Dr James Kay-Shuttleworth in 1840 schools receiving state grants were obliged to adhere to certain standards, and in 1856 the Department of Education was set up. Nevertheless, a national system of education did not exist until the education act of 1870.

The children of the upper classes attended the grammar and public schools. There was, however, no national system of universal secondary education until 1880, or really, before the 20th century.

University Attendance in England, France, Germany and German Austria

The English universities were intended to produce a small, educated elite, unlike those in France, Italy, German Austria and Germany, which aimed at producing a larger cultured or professional class. As a result, in the 19th century far fewer people in England had the benefit of a university education. In France 1 in 1,900 citizens attended uni. In Italy, this was 1 in 2,200. In Germany and German-speaking Austria, it was 1 in 2,600. In Britain less than half as many had a university education one in 5,800 men.

British Education Dominated by Conservative Aristocratic Bias

Hearder therefore says of the British education system that it suffered from a narrowly aristocratic attitude. If the English upper class was as well educated as that of any other in Europe, the rest of the population remained wretchedly ignorant and neglected. (p. 388).

This attitude still persists in contemporary Tory attitude to education. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are Toffs, who seem intent on pricing higher education out of the grasp of the lower middle and working classes with their raising of tuition fees. The educational reforms seem designed to wreck state education, leaving it purely run for the profit of private companies and unable to compete with the private schools. This seems partly intended to allow the wealthy to continue to the enjoy their educational and social privileges without having to worry about competition from the poorer children of the state sector.

And supporting this assault on state education is the popular belief, at least amongst some of the electorate, that this must raise standards because private is automatically better, as demonstrated by British imperial and industrial greatness during the 19th century. Britain, however, does not compare well in the sphere of mass education during the 19th century. The state systems of many nations, especially France, appear far better. If we genuinely care about giving a good education to our children, we should be looking to them, not back to a mythical age of imperial glory that promotes an attitude of indifference or active hostility to genuine, popular, state education.

If Only You Could Do This To The Bedroom Tax

March 16, 2014

saint-simon pic

The 19th century French Utopian Socialist, Claude-Henri Saint-Simon, admired the way the English were so devoted to their rights as free citizens, that they had no fear of resisting corrupt and domineering government officials. As an example of this attitude, he describes the way the English purchaser of the Hotel de Noialles firmly resisted the attempts of the French authorities to confiscate it. It was during Napoleon’s reign, and emigres were not allowed to hold property in France. However, the English proprietor stated that he was quite within his rights, and would continue to hold it, armed and barricaded by himself and his servants if necessary, until the government had passed legislation saying that he couldn’t. Saint-Simon describes the situation thus:

In France everyone says that the laws alone should be obeyed, but no one thinks of putting up the slightest resistance to the most insignificant representative of authority who has committed an illegal act. We have not yet acquired that spirit of independence which is characteristic of the English. To us, independence is simply a principle; to the English it is action and they carry it wherever they go; in every country they are ready to resist anything which does not emanate from the law. Among many examples which can be cited of this, we are content to recount the following anecdote which took place in France very recently:

An Englishman’s Home is his Castle, even in Napoleon’s France

‘Shortly after 20 March, an Englishman bought the Hotel de Noailles. When Bonaparte came to power, because the Englishman had only paid a deposit, the administration began to put into effect the imperial decree concerning the possession of emigres and to eject the buyer.

‘On receiving the order to vacate the premises, which was brought to him by a bailiff, the Englishman replied only that this was his home, that the civil act which gave him the right of ownership could only be annulled by another civil act; this was the law.

‘The next day another bailiff presented himself and received the same reply as the first, ending with these words:

‘”Say to those who sent you that I will not leave here except by virtue of a court hearing; that I demand a court hearing. They say that you are free in France; I shall soon know if you are. I shall do what in the same circumstances I would do in England: the home of a citizen is inviolable; my house will be barricaded, my people armed and we shall fire upon anyone who approaches, as you have done, Sir, to commit violence against me in the name of any authority which is not based upon law.

‘And, in fact, the house was barricade, the doors barred, the servants armed. The incident became known; it was brought before the Conseil d’Etat. The Englishman was left in peace in his house.

‘What Frenchman would have dared to show such resolution?’

Ghitza Ionescu, The Political Thought of Saint-Simon (Oxford: OUP 1976) 113, n.1.

The bedroom tax similarly has no, or very little, legal basis. There never was a subsidy in Housing Benefit to people in homes with more than one room, as the Tories have claimed when formulating the cut. Similarly, many of the people, who have been hit with the Bedroom Tax, including those who have died of starvation or taken their own lives as a result, have been found to be exempt under the law. Some authorities have nevertheless stated that they will continue to administer the tax, however. Unfortunately, the tax is administered through cutting the Housing Benefit, rather than collecting it from the person affected, so you can’t barricade yourself in the property with a group of stalwart friends, family or servants. And the situation also seems to have changed, so that it is the French, who resist corrupt and domineering authority following the traditions of the Revolution rather than the English. I am not recommending the use of violence or force here. I just would like there to be a bit more awareness over this side of la Manche of our rights, and that there was a way of mobilising more people against the Bedroom Tax and the other wretched welfare reforms, so that you could physically defend their victims from them as intolerable violations of our rights as freeborn Brits.