The Salisbury Review, still brilliant

The Salisbury Review may be the most intelligent quarterly review there is. The founding editor was Sir Roger Scruton no less, and he served unpaid for 18 years.  Though he retired from the editorship in 2006, the Review has continued, with its insightful look at society and the world.  It is a courageous look too, as most magazines would fear to publish what the Salisbury Review will.

All those of influence should subscribe to the Salisbury Review, even if they do not agree with even half the articles contained.

The magazine is named after the Third Marquess of Salisbury, one of the greatest of Conservative Prime Ministers, whose picture used to grace the cover of every edition. It helps too that the Sixth Marquess was one of the founders. (I sometimes wonder if the title misleads those who might otherwise stock it into thinking it is a local mag for Wiltshire.)

If you read a magazine only to have your existing knowledge and thoughts confirmed, you are missing the point. An intellectual magazine should challenge you, and show you new fields, new ideas and new ways of approaching topics. I frequently get up in arms about some of the articles, but that is rather the point. This is not the bland sap in the large publications. Larger magazines are unable to define their own ‘Overton window’ and are too easily swayed by an apparent tide of opinion, to suppress ideas which may cause a fuss and just churn out the usual, with perhaps a new artist or author featured or a new country to wander in, but new ways of thinking might cause a fuss and shed a reader or two. The Salisbury Review on the other hand had its greatest boost in publication when it caused a major scandal that reached the national news.

The scandal was the Ray Honeyford article, describing his experience as a teacher encountering cultural attitudes from some Asian parents at his school. The magazine republished the article on later occasions, and I recall the first time I thought it true but inflammatory, the second time mild, and the third time I could not see what the fuss was about. Sir Roger himself wrote an article about the article and what the resultant storm tells us about the race-industry:

The magazine has had many stellar contributors: Roger Scruton of course, but also Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Margaret Thatcher, Václav Havel, Hugh Trevor-Roper and many more. In such company, we cannot fail to be enriched.

The magazine features each quarter an eclectic selection of articles which may range from the personal to international politics. Academics and journalists at the conservative end regularly appear, some under a pseudonym for reasons we well understand, or individual one-off contributors, but being high-brow is not enough: one of their recent regular contributors is a tattooist, who gives a moving insight into a part of society with which many readers may be unfamiliar but would be better to understand. Theodore Dalrymple regularly contributes, telling of the those who pass through a doctor’s surgery or a prison infirmary. With the fall of the Red Wall we must look beyond the cosy circle of our own dinner party guests.

Perhaps as enlightening are the regular book and television reviews, both positive and negative – there are many eye-opening books with which I would have been unfamiliar otherwise, and other I now know to avoid. It reintroduced also many ‘conservative classics’. (As a result, Dostoyevsky is now back on my reading list.)

It is a shame that public libraries are not stocking the Salisbury Review. Libraries do carry magazines with political themes, but never this one, for some reason. Maybe the title confuses them. If readers can break that wall, do.

The magazine has never tried to be fashionable: its contributors were elucidating the reason and necessity of Brexit long before it became popular, and exploding fashionable nostrums for the nonsense they is I every issue, and not just by rants but by cold logic and data.

It is uplifting to find a magazine which actually writes what I am thinking and speaks those truths which those of us with jobs to keep quiet about. If it were just a confirmation of existing prejudices though it would be of little use, and instead the Salisbury Review every time takes me outside my comfortable circle to new, unfamiliar areas or new ways to see those I thought I knew, and for that I cannot but praise it and urge others to subscribe.

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Scruton’s Anglosphere

One theme coming strongly out of Sir Roger Scruton’s work is the particular brilliance of the English-speaking world, characterised also in his work as the Anglosphere.

The closeness of the Anglosphere is something I have discussed before:

The point which Scruton has made, as I read it, derives from the particular cultural norms of these islands which was inherited by the nation’s colonies and from that the United States and the ‘Old Commonwealth’. It is a bottom-up conception of society, law and state; where foreign countries have a top-down structure of state, law, and society. We can look for lifetimes for whence comes the particular genius of the English-speaking peoples, but more important is its reality.

Some of this is explained in a summary form in an interview Sir Roger gave for the Hoover Institution, as part of its ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ series, discussing his book How To Be A Conservative:

This conception of a cultural chasm between the Anglosphere and the European states appears to be one reason for Sir Roger’s robust advocacy of leaving the European Union. It is a pity that he was not to live to see the consummation of that achievement. He did however in his time see the validation in the flesh of all the principles he stood for, not least in Central Europe.

The common law is a schooling in the genius of the British conception. Scruton did study the law, though he never took up the profession, and all those who study English law will be imbued with the spirit on which it is built. Law is, as Hobbes will insist, fundamentally an expression of sovereignty, but the way in which the actual rules of law have been derived is very particular to the Anglosphere. In Europe (for reasons of history) the basis of law is a codification carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul and so is issued from the centre and interpreted according to the will of the sovereign authority. This was in France a necessary corrective to the patchwork of local laws that had arisen from the feudal past. The laws were based on those of Rome, which itself was a top-down, codified system. England from the Dark Ages was not rooted in the Roman Empire and was not so feudal – it had, in theory a single set of law, or that was the ruling theory, and this law was a matter of custom and practicality. Codes issued by mediaeval kings recorded existing practice rather than making new rules. As a result, the doctrine of judges has been that they “discover” exiting laws and derive the rules by logic from them, based on the actual cases before them, not such hypothetical situations as a distant legislator may conceive. Many of the most important points of the civil law are not mediaeval but are points of commercial contract law laid down by Lord Mansfield in the reign of King George III, based on actual commercial practices of his time: again that is ground-up law-making, not top-down legislation.

Social organisation is of its nature built from the ground up if left to thrive on its own. A modern habit is for those with a project to beg for ratepayers’ money from the local council, which then ties them to the top-down state system, but it is not always like this. Local camera clubs, running clubs, book clubs and the whole plethora of society are wholly independent – in less happy lands the state is jealous of people gathering without licence and would seek to regulate, but not in the Anglosphere.

The early growth of democracy in England ensured a participatory example of rule, and perhaps prevented legislative activism so that the uncodified common law remained unchallenged, while society could remain gathered around local circumstances.

Whatever the reasons, and I can only skim the surface, there is a clear difference between the cultural assumptions of the Anglosphere peoples and those in Europe, notwithstanding that the latter share many of the same cultural references.

There is no suggestion of a racial superiority amongst Anglo-Saxons, which would be a nonsense, and one could not even say that our Anglosphere culture is objectively “superior”, if such a concept can even be defined – just that it is different in important respects from its neighbours, and largely coherent across the many nations of the world which share it.

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By Sir Roger Scruton:

By others:

Sir Roger Scruton – in memory of greatness

All thoughts must be put aside to mourn the passing of the greatest thinker of our age – and greater too because he acted also. Sir Roger Scruton passed away yesterday. The obituaries record levelled that he left a widow and two children, but he left a mightier his legacy, namely freedom in half of Europe.

He was a philosopher, and head and shoulders above all others of our time, but I have hesitated to use that word as ‘philosopher’ has become a degraded title in the hands of unworthy sophists. If an intellectual is a man educated beyond common sense, a philosopher has become a man so intellectual that he can construct a whole world in his mind and show its truth by logic in spite of all the evidence disproving him.  Sir Roger was not like that: he saw and described reality and from it drew conclusions which the passage of time proved true.

Born in 1944, as the allied English-speaking world was preparing to strike at the beaches of Normandy to liberate half a continent, he was in his time to play a large part to liberate the other half. He was brought up in that ferment of conflicting ideas that followed the peace.  He studied in Paris, and was there in 1968, the summer of the student uprisings, and first-hand he saw the destruction created by the students’ movement; a destruction justified in their mind by some foolish slogans.  He determined from that point that he was for preserving the good, which the radicals so hated.  This was to be a pattern for his life, and the reason the left-wing intellectual establishment shunned him.

I had the privilege to be at a dinner with Sir Roger on two notable occasions, in elevated company, and heard him speak.  He was a modest man and nothing in his bearing would tell you that you were in the presence of greatness, until he spoke.  Even then, the better indication of the man was in what others have said of him.

A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin. Somehow polite opinion in Britain shunned him. James Brokenshire appears not to have known who he was when summarily dismissing him in April last year after a hit-job from the New Statesman: that was perhaps the most shocking part of that sordid affair.

In Central Europe though, he was a hero.  In the 1980s left-wing intellectuals (see definition above) had no place for a conservative thinker, but in the east, which at the time was still under the Communist jackboot, they knew all about the reality of socialism, and it was here that Roger Scruton travelled, slipping away from his minders and building, encouraging, nurturing the ‘underground universities’ which kept free thought alive. 

In 1989 the Communist world collapsed, and It was from these free thinkers, Sir Roger’s pupils, that the released states of Europe could rise to freedom and prosperity.  One such, Vaclav Havel, was a poet and so well known as the voice of liberty in the last days of tyranny in Czechoslovakia that the cry on the streets in 1989 was ‘Václav na Hrád’: ‘Vaclav to the Castle’, and to the presidential residence in Prague Castle he went.  He rewarded Sir Roger with his nation’s highest honour.

No wonder the Left hated him.  He told the truth and achieved freedom for the nations.

At home, Sir Roger was a busy academic, and wrote many books on his areas of expertise – all of them valuable and none less than brilliant. He also co-founded The Salisbury Review, named after the Third Marquess of Salisbury (and after his great-grandson, a founding patron), and he served as Editor for many years. The Salisbury Review remains the leading journal of British conservative thought and is well worth its subscription.

Another conservative philosopher, Aldous Huxley, wrote an introduction to a reprint of his great novel ‘Brave New World’ that was issued just after the Second World War, a war that come out of the rise of novel philosophies. He wrote:

I have been told by an eminent academic critic that I am a sad symptom of the failure of an intellectual class in time of crisis. The implication being, I suppose, that the professor and his colleagues are hilarious symptoms of success. The benefactors of humanity deserve due honour and commemoration. Let us build a Pantheon for professors. It should be located among the ruins of one of the gutted cities of Europe or Japan, and over the entrance to the ossuary I would inscribe, in letters six or seven feet high, the simple words: SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE WORLD’S EDUCATORS. SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE.

In the time that Sir Roger took his life in his hands, one such philosophy had become triumphant, and left the ancient lands in its grip to become wasted.  To this modest academic a monument extends across all the free countries of Central Europe.

Stand in the revived heart of Prague or Warsaw or Budapest to look for a monument to Sir Roger:

SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE.

Books

By Sir Roger Scruton:

By others:

If music be the food of love…

On Twelfth Night, the end of Christmas, naturally ones thoughts turn to the beginning of the year’s work, for we must all work hard to feed our families, but then there is always Shakespeare:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

There are no more Christmas carols for us, but there is always music. Orsino knows the intimate connection between the sound of the harp and the sound of the heart.

I once saw a production of Twelfth Night in 1920s dress, which opened with a chap in a boater dancing almost Charleston-style to a gramophone and it did not quite fit the pained opening soliloquy, but even the band-tunes of the 1920s dance hall were aimed at the heart (and it needed a lot of work to make that decade jolly, to forget all that had been before, and the resentful division between those who had served and those who had not, and those who came home whole and those who did not).

However, we misread Orsino if we read only the first lines, as we usually do. Music is the food of love, or one food for it, and we sing the lines as if they were an invitation to conjure up love. Orsino though suffers from love. He loves Olivia and it is unrequired, and he wants to be rid of his affliction, and so he will be drowned in music so he is so full of the artificial love-feelings it generates that he is sick of them and will love no more. It is a dishonest trick though – he wants those emotions washing over him, until he admits it to himself perhaps and the music calls to him to well the remembrance that he can never be loved; ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before. Is that the music, or the feelings of love?

Shakespeare knew what music could do, and his words were music in themselves. As he said elsewhere: “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;” (The bard does not say whether writing a political blog counts. I expect so.)

Great music is a powerful think to mould the soul, even to our own day. Ours is not an age without music, but the cacophony of popular singers and sickening lyrics might make you think so. Great music is still written these days, but you may not notice you are hearing it – it is written for films. There are composers today as great as there were in the classical age, writing for Hollywood not the opera. They move the soul as ever great music did.

In the play, Orsino is to be changed unwillingly. Enter Viola, who unwittingly returns to the theme as she goes to seek the Duke’s employment:

I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.
What else may hap to time I will commit;
Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.

And so the transformation begins, moving the affection from Olivia to Viola. The almost anagram of the ladies’ names is a clue to the muddles of the plot.

Orsino cast music aside, but not for long. He seeks the thing it engenders in his heart and he looks for it again:

Give me some music. Now, good morrow, friends.
Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song,
That old and antique song we heard last night:
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times:
Come, but one verse.

The old and antique song is what we all seek. Though it seems a cultureless age, there is something eternal in music worthy of the name that ensures it cannot disappear.

Wednesbury reform will not reverse the Cherry / Miller decision

Team Boris has turned to reform of judicial review, as I have argued they should several times over the last few months.  However a simple change to reassert the Wednesbury rules will not fix the system on its own. It will not overturn Lady Hale’s decision on the prorogation case (Cherry/Miller).

There is no avoiding going over old ground to some extent, but to avoid repeating everything I will refer to previous articles:

Few judicial reviews actually succeed (about 1%, plus some out-of-court settlements) and this has kept the procedure out of the headlines until the recent Gina Miller cases, which are the reason for the sudden interest in reform. There have been troubling decisions in past years though (as other articles outline), and it is just that their political impact was limited.

Even amongst the claims brought by ‘Remainiacs’, it is only the last decision, the prorogation case, which stands out as a wildcard decision, and one wrongly decided in the opinion of much of the legal profession.

The Wednesbury rules are the main focus of comment and are widely cited with approval. These are a good, principled set of rules for judging the propriety of administrative decisions where the authority is granted by statute and that statute intends that the powers be used for a particular purpose. Therefore a power of compulsory purchase granted to enable infrastructure projects should not be used instead to acquire land for property speculation, and a power to impose planning conditions should not be used to get the developer to provide a new, unrelated civic facility (which are both genuine examples).

However, the Wednesbury rules were invented by judges out of necessity for lack of any guidance from Parliament. As a result, the rules can be stretched by a judge who wants a particular result. Leading judgments emphasise that decision-makers make decisions by their own discernment and judges may not substitute their own ideas, but in other judgments a judge has found a perception of a flaw through which he may crawl to strike down a decision he does not like. All this is because Parliament has hitherto failed to do its duty in defining rules for the interpretation of the powers it has granted. It is for the authority granting a power, namely Parliament, to define what power it is granting.

Once the rules can be defined on the original, Wednesbury principles and Dicey’s concept of the rule of law, then mission-creep can be restrained. That still does not affect the Cherry/Miller case though.

A change in the law will not always change the judgments. Statute law is black and white, but it is interpreted by each judge. There are several examples of judges deciding that an Act passed to overturn a judgment has only really restated the existing law so no change is needed: in this you might think of the attempt to liberalise contempt of court after the Thalidomide case – the words “serious harm” are easy to read as “anything more than negligible harm”.

A point well made in the commentaries concerns interference with prerogative powers. This is not about making governments powerful but about the fundamental rule of law, which is a very Conservative concern. The Wednesbury Rules of reasonableness and purpose apply to delegated decisions because delegated authority is always limited authority, but the Royal Prerogative is primary power, not delegated, and so it should not judged by those limits, only by the actual extent of the power. Some judges have trespassed there, and each precedent invites a new trespass. That must be slapped down. It still does not affect the Cherry/Miller case though.

The Prorogation case of Cherry/Miller is unaffected by any Wednesbury reform.  Lady Hale was careful to word her decision not as a Wednesbury case nor as turning on reasonableness or proper purpose or what was said to The Queen, but as turning on a primary constitutional rule. This rule was hitherto completely unknown – or to put it plainly, she made up.

The Prorogation case is in a line of dangerous decisions treading on the common law constitutional understanding. It will be hard to ensure that no Hale-type usurpation takes place in the future, if judges are prepared to invent new rules, but curbing the tendency must help. This particular case would need a discrete rule, that “no common law rule limits Her Majesty’s authority to prorogue or dissolve Parliament nor the length of the prorogation or dissolution”. (No ifs; no buts: add any condition and you bring the whole Wednesbury apparatus into it.)

It is worrying if Parliament now has to think of constitutional fundamentals which some wild judge might think of overturning. It would be unthinkable for a court to invent a new condition to prevent Royal Assent to a Bill, for example, but an invented rule about prorogation that contradicts every textbook written in the last 500 years would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

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