Turmoil in their sovereignty

Richard’s authority and business in town being thus at an end, he retired into the country; where within a few days, upon promise of the payment of his debts, which his father’s funeral had made great, he signed a resignation of his Protectorship.

B.

To whom?

A.

To nobody. But after ten days’ cessation of the sovereign power, some of the Rumpers that were in town, together with the old Speaker Mr. William Lenthal, resolved amongst themselves, and with Lambert, Hazlerig, and other officers, who were also Rumpers, in all forty-two, to go into the House; which they did, and were by the army declared to be the Parliament.

There were also in Westminster Hall at that time, about their private business, some few of those whom the army had secluded in 1648, and were called the secluded members. These knowing themselves to have been elected by the same authority, and to have the same right to sit, attempted to get into the House, but were kept out by the soldiers. The first vote of the Rump reseated was, that such persons as, heretofore members of this Parliament, have not sitten in this Parliament since the year 1648, shall not sit in this House till further order of the Parliament. And thus the Rump recovered their authority May the 7th 1659, which they lost in April 1653.

B.

Seeing there had been so many shiftings of the supreme authority, I pray you, for memory’s sake, repeat them briefly in times and order.

A.

  • First, from 1640 to 1648, when the King was murdered, the sovereignty was disputed between King Charles I and the Presbyterian Parliament.
  • Secondly, from 1648 to 1653, the power was in that part of the Parliament which voted the trial of the King, and declared themselves, without King or House of Lords, to have the supreme authority of England and Ireland. For there were in the Long Parliament two factions, the Presbyterian and Independent; the former whereof sought only the subjection of the King, not his destruction directly; the latter sought directly his destruction; and this part is it, which was called the Rump.
  • Thirdly, from April the 20th to July the 4th, the supreme power was in the hands of a council of state constituted by Cromwell.
  • Fourthly, from July the 4th to December the 12th of the same year, it was in the hands of men called unto it by Cromwell, whom he termed men of fidelity and integrity, and made them a Parliament; which was called, in contempt of one of the members, Barebone’s Parliament.
  • Fifthly, from December the 12th 1653 to September the 3rd 1658, it was in the hands of Oliver Cromwell, with the title of Protector.
  • Sixthly, from September the 3rd 1658 to April the 25th 1659, Richard Cromwell had it as successor to his father.
  • Seventhly, from April the 25th 1659 to May the 7th of the same year, it was nowhere.
  • Eighthly, from May the 7th 1659, the Rump, which was turned out of doors in 1653, recovered it again; and shall lose it again to a committee of safety, and again recover it, and again lose it to the right owner.

See also

Books

Deathly rights

Weird, deadly American politics. Democrats believe children should be murdered in the womb; Republicans they should be murdered in the classroom.

It is incomprehensible to those of us in the old country. Two political parties have monopolised all, and come to assert in absolute terms positions their members would not naturally believe.

The latest confected outrage across the pond is about a rule not found anywhere in their Constitution, but once imposed by judges anyway. The energy expended on this suggests more symbolism than substance, and its suggests to the rest of us a fatal decay amongst Americans in the very concepts of law and of democratic rule, which perhaps is now being put right. Of more immediate substance is something which is in their Constitution as a principle of freedom but the effect of which is to eliminate freedom: the right to bear arms.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I would not be seen as an enemy of guns as such – I happen to be an accomplished shot. It is the flooding of society with the means for murder at one remove, conscienceless murder, which is impossible to bear. In Britain and in Europe, guns are heavily restricted and we can walk free with little fear: the United States are awash with them and in many places fear is the natural state.

There are long debates about what the framers of the Constitution meant, seeing the war-begot historical background and asking how to pair the first half of the sentence, concerning the need for a militia, with the second. The plain words remain though that “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed”.

Many commentators have run through the historical background, which goes deeper than the mood in 1789. The Constitution and its first amendments were written by thinkers and lawyers schooled in the over-optimism of the Enlightenment, and in the afterglow of a war that seemed to them to be a war between the old world and the Enlightenment itself (though in truth the new learning was just as much a cause of the British ministers’ inability to be flexible).  In such an atmosphere the idea would be irresistible that a people who are armed will better defend liberty. A hundred years before, in 1688, King James II had been overthrown by rebellions in England and in New England, and Parliament declared in their own Bill of Rights that the Crown may not disarm the people (or in fact, may not disarm Protestants while arming those with allegiance to Rome).

If the Enlightenment idea of man’s ultimate goodness were true, then maybe there would be justification for trusting “the people” with the means to end others’ lives in a moment without effort.  That idea is not true though: Hobbes showed  this, and so has human history at every stage. Mankind’s truest reflection is seen in those who in bestial fury slew millions in their Lebensraum, in Armenia, in the camps, in the gulags, the lao gai, and in Rwanda, and in the cities of today’s America.

The American Constitution does not command the massacres it has overseen, but it is an accessory to murder.

Politics

If political debate made sense, there could be a broad spread of opinion across America’s political parties. There is no reason why one political party would across its membership have a rock-solid, extremist position on the issues, and the opposite on the other side. The two main parties are relics of the Civil War in any case, their raison d’être of each lost long since – when the Democrats stood for slavery and the Republics for abolition. That is all gone.  The politicians all live in one society and can take broader views. They all have families like everyone else. No one should have to fear whether their children will survive the school day.

The mythology of the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights has a sacred place in the American understanding underlying all their understanding of liberty. Any trespass upon those rights may be seen as sacrilege and the beginning of the end of all liberty. They are at the heart of what it is to be American, an identity artificially cultured over two and a half centuries. Having placed the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights, it is within that temple.

Those who hold to that opinion need to step back and take a deep breath.  The ‘Founding Fathers’ are the secular gods of the Republic, but they are not actual gods, and are not infallible, nor are their words holy writ.  Where a provision in the Bill of Rights actually decreases freedom, by making citizens live in fear, it is the enemy of what the Founders wanted.

Solutions

Gun control measures do not work – at least not those tried to date. There is no statistical evidence they work. Tests and cooling-off periods before purchase are useless, and have never stopped any murderer from getting his hands on a gun.  It is ownership and possession of a gun that matters, and this cannot be interfered with while the Constitution says what it does.

The Constitution is not unamendable. It is hard to amend, and requires a political consensus, but it is not impossible.  Reformers may take a lesson from the National Temperance League a century ago: it would have been unthinkable to call for the Constitution to be changed to ban alcohol across the nation, but they had the audacity and a slogan: National Constitutional Prohibition, which any politician had to declare himself for or against. They succeeded. They should not have, but they did. A measure more modest and more beneficial might too. It would first though have to undermine from beneath those solid political positions, to become the cry of the popular voice in every party.

One leading American jurist suggests amending the Second Amendment to add a rider to the right to bear arms “when on militia service”. That would do the trick.

There is an alternative.  I am not American and may be dismissed by those who are, especially lawyers, but bear with me.

When the Bill of Rights was passed, it bound only the Federal government and Congress, not the states. Even the First Amendment, the foundational injunction to freedom of speech is “Congress shall make no law…”, not the states. States and towns used to restrict the bearing of arms (it was enforcement of such an ordnance in Tombstone that led to ‘the Gunfight at the OK Corral’.) Only in the 1920s, so I read, did the Supreme Court imply its application to bind the state authorities too, using a strained interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on equal rights and due process. It is then just one judgment away from being overturned.

Not every Amendment in the Bill of Rights has been held to bind the states. An article specifically on Federal procedures would not, presumably.  Here then is an opportunity:  an Amendment could declare that the Second Amendment is not binding on the states: that way the states can make their own laws on the possession of deadly weapons. It could to be excluded in federal jurisdiction in the territories and District of Columbia too.

The land nevertheless is awash with guns – more guns are owned than people to own them. They cannot be abolished as criminals will continue to bear arms whatever the law says. It should be possible though to empower the police to stop the appearance of potential murder on the street, and make young men pause before taking that fatal step.

See also

Books

Unsanctioned in Moscow – 2

Secret police agents can be a hoot when they are in the right mood, and polite. Moscow is turning out to be a city of surprises.

In June, it looks nothing like the films – all snow and heavy coats – and I will admit one attraction of reporting from here was meant to be having an excuse to wear a big, white fur hat and matching muff, but the weather has been warm. While ‘Peter is a bit north of Aberdeen, Moscow is on a latitude with Berwick-upon-Tweed, without the wind that cuts across the sea there.  No hat and muff then. What it has are power and people.

This is the old capital – not airy Enlightenment palaces but the heavy walls of the mediaeval Kremlin, the spider at the heart of Muscovy, and what happens within those walls today can be just as mediaeval.

I see people in British town doing ‘Soviet nostalgia’ as a fashion kick. They really take that fashion seriously here: shortages, queues, and everyone living in fear of being killed or imprisoned for an ill-placed joke.

Interviewing local people out of the way of the police is a challenge. What we are told in the West is untrue: there are many genuine Putin supporters here, and many who hate him too, but whoever they are, they share an underlying understanding. They understand all about the war; they know that the media is controlled by the governing party and they are being lied to, but they must accept the doublethink, to believe what they are told by the screen and the newsprint even when they know it is untrue because otherwise they have nothing. The media is paid for by the government machine, access to material granted or withdrawn at the governors’ whim, leaving them corrupted and compromised,  like the CBC in Canada, or BBC Scotland.

It was not long before I spotted them – two men following me. That is not unusual. These two though looked sober, and so they stood out in the crowd. I have learnt a thing or two about ‘the craft’ and managed to give them the slip (do not ask for hints though – I learnt the techniques in confidence and will only say it is not like the films). Even so, after a few more interviews they located me again.

Now, police and FSB agents do not have large expense accounts. They might follow you to a Вкусно – и точка (which is McDonald’s whatever they call it), but then the purse runs out. So I invited them to the White Rabbit on Smolenskaya Square. When your cover is blown, it is blown, so you might as well make the most of it and they weren’t paying. (The black grouse is to be highly recommended. I would gladly eat anything on the menu apart from the raw meat dish.)

Those two made for charming dinner companions when they had had the caviar starter. Whatever their reputation, they all have families, and they were soon showing pictures of their families: wives and girlfriends (don’t ask), a son at school, a son in the army, and some very pretty daughters each was proud of: they are the future and if a nation believes in its children they will want the future to be the best it can be.

Are policemen as cynical of their own government?  Of course, and more so having worked within it, creating the myth and living the myth. When they open up, you can see how the system works.

Now RT is off the air in Britain, there is no one reporting from inside Russia with that insider insight from the depths of the Kremlin. I have done what I can.  I left my card anyway.

See also

Books

 

The Bill and the Rights

Today a reform promised some ten years ago appeared before the House of Commons: the ‘British Bill of Rights’ promised back in David Cameron’s time, a promise promptly ignored. It is a scrap of the red meat promised to the backbenches, and another rare thing to see: something the Manifesto promised us actually being done.

This is the ‘Bill of Rights Bill’ (which will become if passed not the ‘Act of Rights Act 2022’ but the ‘Bill of Rights 2022’).  It is not the first Bill of Rights: we have the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Claim of Right 1689  still in place.  They are grand but practical declarations of freedoms we now take for granted without thinking of them.  The new Bill is certainly not that, and is unworthy of the name of its forebear. It may be just what was squeezed out of a committee. That is not to criticise it: the Bill does what has been trailed, as a practical tidy-up, not a new order.

Don’t expect to get excited by the new Bill of Rights – this is not 1688 nor 1789.

The first thing is that the Bill repeat the rights set out in the European Convention de Droits de l’Homme; not every Article, as many are introductory or concern the court in Straßburg, but all the actual rights are recited.  Blair did it by just referring to the Convention as a known thing – this Bill actually sets the relevant Articles and Protocols out, which is the normal and proper way for Acts of Parliament incorporate treaty conventions.

‘Which rights do you disagree with then?’ is the usual (understandable) accusation thrown at those who rail at Strasbourg law. The answer here is ‘None: the rights are all exactly as we would have them – it is just the interpretation which is a problem.’

The issue with the rulings pumped out by the European Court of Human Rights in its ivory tower in Straßburg is that it has declared, of its own authority, that the Convention does not mean what is written plainly in the text but is a “living document” to be interpreted widely according to the changing spirit of the age, or at least the spirit of the sort of people who sit as judges. This ‘living document’ doctrine allows them to disregard the parts they do not want and to invent entirely new rights that would not have entered the heads of those who agreed it. The Bill is meant to deal with that.

It does look mean-spirited: having recited the lofty liberties, the Bill then takes aim at rulings which have prevented the expulsion of foreign criminals, in particular the ‘family life’ argument (which is a self-fulfilling argument: land on the beach, smile at a local lass, and you are immune from expulsion, or so it has been alleged). It clears up other little annoyances too: there is no claim for things the armed forces do on active service outside the British Islands (they might want to add ‘or British overseas territories’ there).  All these are in essence replies to outrage on the pages of the Daily Mail and from Priti Patel’s office.

In the same category you might place the odd Clause 4, on Freedom of Speech, that “a court must give great weight to the importance of protecting the right”. Yes, good – but will the court not be giving great weight to all Convention rights?  This needs some beef, like repealing existing laws on offensive or distressing speech, or specifically protecting against discriminatory treatment those who express dissent on political or social matters. It is not there. The clause sets out to do good, then fizzles out. Perhaps it was sent to a civil servant to do and he responded “Do I have to?” and put in a minimal job of work.

It does mention trial by jury as the way we do fair trials in this land.  It does tell courts not to demand the disclosure of journalists’ sources unless the really want to. That is thin gruel for a Bill which could have been used to bring in a newly libertarian age.

If this Bill were serious about entrenching liberties, it would not be so cowardly: if it were serious, it would go through all illiberal legislation since the Blair years and strike them down. It does not.  It fizzles out.

See also

 

Unsanctioned in Moscow

It’s ‘Здравствуйте’ from Moscow! (Or St Petersburg actually – Moscow on Tuesday.) As I have not been banned by Putin, I can report from the heart of darkness, in June when it has no darkness, from the depths of the best restaurants in ‘Peter.

The White Nights make this a city that never sleeps, because it doesn’t dare close its eyes. It is as far north as Kirkwall, which has no real night-time any more than it has a nightlife, in June – St Petersburg is in that case a bit like its close latitude companion, Aberdeen, but with gorgeous Imperial architecture and gun-toting muggers. It is also under the watchful eyes of a ruler almost up to Sturgeon levels of dictatorship.

I should have posted this yesterday, but this city is disorienting, fascinating, intoxicating – like Aberdeen. There is also the time difference, which like much of Russia is two hours ahead and three hundred years behind.

This is the city which produced Vladimir Putin. Aberdeen produced Michael Gove. I think we had the best of the bargain.

This though is a city of wonders – a city build on a swamp, like Venice without the constant smell of drains, and with more Italians. This is – and you really get this in the very atmosphere – the city celebrated by Dostoevsky.  In these streets you can live and breathe it, feeling yourself a part of the novels.

Step away from the palaces and Prospeky and look: here is the street of collapsing garrets where Rakolnikov starved, or the dripping-damp underground apartment for the Underground Man; here the rotting barge basin where Marmeladov slept in his drunkenness; here the dark lanes where Sonechka – well, never mind. St Petersburg today reeks of Dostoevsky’s world.

See also