Bishops lead themselves into error

A joint letter from five Archbishops should be a thunderous moral pronouncement, but instead it was a string of worn clichés and basic errors, factual and political, which exposed them all to ridicule. This does not assist the mission of the Church.

Led into a new Babylonish Captivity of the Church, a profound reformation may be needed to rescue the Body of Christ from its misled leaders. It is not the ill-considered letter itself which provokes such consideration, but what it demonstrates about the mindset which has come to captivate those entrusted with authority, when seen along with the actual moral questions which year by year they refuse to address.

It was not to The Times that they wrote but to a formerly respected publication, the Pink ‘Un. There the respected Archbishops of the Church of England, Church of Ireland and Church in Wales, and the president of the formerly Christian episcopal church in Scotland, all thundered like mice.

There is a difficulty of where to start. It is appropriate for a prelate to prate on moral matters and on political issues where morality or theology is concerned, or to expound from his wisdom on subjects which lesser intellects may find too hard to grasp in the round. He is always prone to error, as are we all, which is why a collective letter by five minds is so solemn an undertaking, and such an step must always be undertaken with solemn consideration of all facts and arguments in a balanced manner; in failing to do so, all parties are discredited. It should not have been done.

We can leave assign the grating reference to “the four nations of the United Kingdom”, when for three hundred years we have surely been one nation. That is a common modern crassness. It is the substance that concerns me. They state boldly:

“The bill represents a profound shift in how trading relationships within the UK will be regulated and governed. This will not be a return to a trade regime that existed before UK joined the EU; it will be an entirely novel system, replacing one that evolved slowly and by careful negotiation over decades.”

This is plain falsehood. Over centuries there has been complete freedom of trade across the nation, and what is this “careful negotiation over decades”? Can they point to a single one affecting domestic trade within the nation? Surely this alone, as an allegation of fact, should have borne some examination?

For years we have been lectured by bishops on the moral necessity of unity and the avoidance of all division. Now it seems that they are demanding divisions in the nation. This is disquieting.

The answer to the mysterious mispronouncements may be hidden in plain sight: they have taken in the observations of the politicians in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, and not subjected these to critical analysis. It affects they say “the principles and the effect of devolved policymaking”, but in no place does it withdraw power from these devolved bodies, as the powers in question hitherto resided in Brussels. Had they but read the material, this would have been clear, but by listening to the rhetoric of dishonest politicians they are willingly misled.

Then again, what business is it of the Archbishops to determine the exact powers given to different limbs of the state? If Westminster were to abolish the devolved assemblies and provide complete equality between all citizens, that is for Westminster to choose, and there is no moral position either way that concerns the clergy. Yet the politicking of local politicians has held them, but no representation from the government has. Why not, I do not know and would have to ask a bishop, if he will tell me.

There is a technical word for this behaviour: “prejudice”, which is to say in its proper sense prejudging an issue without balanced consideration. It is exactly what a senior clergyman should not do, and it is exactly what the modern spirit of confrontation encourages.

There are reasons this blog has recently carried articles quoting Hobbes on ‘Madnesse’. His analysis is not clinical but perhaps more insightful than that, as going to the heart of the causes, and finding those same causes to produce folly in those who are on the surface wise. The next section of his discourse in Leviathan is very much to the point here:

This opinion of Inspiration, called commonly, Private Spirit, begins very often, from some lucky finding of an Errour generally held by others; and not knowing, or not remembring, by what conduct of reason, they came to so singular a truth, (as they think it, though it be many times an untruth they light on,) they presently admire themselves; as being in the speciall grace of God Almighty, who hath revealed the same to them supernaturally, by his Spirit.

Leviathan

I fear that much the same has gripped our senior prelates. In those circumstances the judgment of the learned Primates is no better than that of certain other primates I could mention.

In the grip of this Private Spirit, and prejudice, it no wonder that the letter then ranges over accusations unsupported by the text before them about departing from the Good Friday Agreement or the European Convention on Human Rights: indeed it has been observed that the Bill they have recently rejected supports the Good Friday Agreement against attack from the European Union, but in the grip of fixed prejudice there is no reasoning.

The final observation of the Archbishops’ letter is one which would have Hobbes guffawing at it follow:

“If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be “legally” broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?”

The humblest workman in his parlour knows what democracy is. Democracy entrusts the making and unmaking of laws, and the supervision of government, to elected representatives. That is a plain definition. Its foundation stands on free voting and acceptance of the system. It has nothing whatsoever with international treaties, and those treaties are not law, as I have observed before, nor can they be, as Hobbes observes. A treaty, however solemnly negotiated and signed, is a thing made without the involvement of the House of Commons – it is in effect then a negation of democracy, and if democracy had its hands tied by a treaty signed by the government or its ambassador, then democracy is castrated.

Invoking the name of “democracy” to support a political proposition is a form of idolatry. There may be a moral element to keeping to treaties, as there may be a moral cause for departing from an ill-starred treaty, and there may be a word for it that the bishops can choose – it may be ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus’, but it is not ‘democracy’.

For the errours of Definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoyd, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lyes the foundation of their errours. … in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets;

Leviathan

To mend this follies amongst senior clergy will not be easy. They are too deep, and re-enforced by the collegiate habits of office. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a profoundly intelligent man, but I venture to say is prey to the same failings as any man, and to write this I am aware of my own failings in that way too.

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Books

Last year was so last year, lads

Tension in the Commons, procedural skirmishes, the Lords ready to pounce, rebellion on the government side of the House, all over Brexit. Yet this is not 2019. That annus horribilis was meant to be over and done with when Boris rode back to Downing Street in triumph after the Winter election.

This time the voices are as shrill but it is a matter so petty that you wonder why they bother being so emotional. Last year Brexit itself was in the balance and for all the platitudes about procedure and just securing a deal (which they then voted against) it was about whether Britain would leave the European Union at all, and the entire country knew. Brexit itself was in the balance. Then the election happened, the Zombie Parliament was driven out and Britain sailed cleanly out of the European nightmare.

Compared with all that, this local difficulty is as nothing. It does not concern the grand picture but two lines or so in the Withdrawal Agreement, and with no intention to change them anyway.

The principle of keeping to treaty obligations is generally a good one, but this phase ‘international law’ is lie in a line, and always has been: there is no such thing as international law, or rather it is not actual law, just a way of getting along. The concept is there, but there is also the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and no one has been arrested for trying to break that. The word “law” is a red rag to a Twittermob and many a foolish remark has been heard on the subject. It turns the stomach to hear an adjustment to an administrative arrangement compared to murder or to the Uighur genocide.

This site has observed before the imbalance that the EU negotiators have at every step introduced into negotiations: in several places their proposed treaty provisions have provided for heavy punishment were Britain ever to depart from points in a trade agreement, but no sanction at all for their own breaches. A glance at the EU’s practice over many years shows it to be an unrepentant, serial rule-breaker, so no one should be outraged that our government should seek to prepare for when they do it to us.

Another cause of dissent, and one more comprehensible, is that the role of the House of Commons in supervising all this seems to have been minimised, and MPs want to do the job they were elected for. In fact, the Bill as presented strikes a practical balance. It is good for the government to hear strident voices from the backbenches, and even the weird voices projected from the other side of the House, but ultimately speedy action must come from the executive.

Al this said, the whole thing has been appallingly handled in public relations and diplomatic terms, unless; unless it was a smuggling exercise, but let us pass over that – BEIS knows what that is about and it has been successful if so.

The Bill last night passed in the Commons, unamended though with assurances about the use of the powers and promises of further consultation. The rebellion was small, and the DUP voted for the Bill, as well they might as the clauses fought over are for the protection of Ulster. In the Lords, we can but wait and see what more overblown rhetoric emerges. The margin in the Commons was massive: this is not 2019.

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Books

Statesmanship, a lost art

In my youth I thought that the statesmen of great nations rose by natural superiority and brilliance of mind. Then I started meeting them and was at once disabused of this. Europe has no Talleyrand, no Bismarck, no De Gaulle. They would not have reacted with petulance nor believed the press headline over the reality.  One should not beg for another Bismarck to rise in Europe, but he is needed at this hour.

The forced introduction of democracy to the benighted states of Europe has succeeded in its purpose, of introducing imbecility and thus impotence. The condition appears to have spread also to the smaller states which had previously had forms of democracy. They spit out at the top no statesmen but petty players and énarques.

Taleyrand would not have read the newspaper headline to the exclusion of the reality. (He might have written the headline, to get effect.) Bismarck would leak a faked telegram, or email in our age, but he would not have believed one, nor preferred a Guardian leader over his own analysis. He would have understood, and understood the game. De Gaulle would occasionally make a diplomatic gaffe in exercise of his own greatness (Vive le Quebec…) but his every action was for the good of France and its people.

In the sensible world, beyond Europe, progress is being made on many fronts: a new trade treaty with Japan signed yesterday, and others rolling along towards the finish. That should be a challenge to Europe, but so far they appear just as inward-looking politicians.

It was commented on this blog earlier about the unseemly behaviour we have seen, fighting by press release instead of secret, diplomatic negotiation. Maybe, we may think, it is a symptom of the modern world of open, instant communication aimed at the lowest common denominator. However it has not affected the negotiations carried out elsewhere across the world.

The French Ambassadors to King Henry VIII, those in Holbein’s picture, on whose word turned war or peace, were in their twenties. We can afford elder statesmen these days. It would helpful if we could find some.

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Have we started to win?

The new, revamped Board of Trade has a star name – Tony Abbott no less, former Prime Minister of Australia. His appointment was widely welcomed and his technical nationality was never an issue: the Old Commonwealth is a block of peoples not only not foreign to each other but seeming somewhat bewildered to be considered separate nations, and it outlines that Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders as as home here as on the shores where they grew to manhood. Mr Abbott will do well in his new role.

His position was threatened by a blast from the left which in past years has proven deadly to any candidate for office. The left-wing attack-mob did not get their scalp this time.  Once they get their hooks into you, you’re a dead pigeon, so we have been led to believe, but not this time.  Boris has proven more robust in protecting his appointments from the mob. That is an encouraging development. Theresa May threw Toby Young and even Sir Roger Scruton to the dogs at the whiff of a Twitterstorm in displays of contemptible weakness: Boris Johnson (who has himself been the focus of many such attacks) has started to turn the tide.

Interestingly, the artificial fuss over Tony Abbott distracted attention from the other appointments of advisers to the Board of Trade, from an international field, and so protected those who are less inured to such attacks.

The New Zealand government has privately expressed frustration at the inexperience of the British negotiators trying to create a free trade agreement with New Zealand, and that is no surprise as before Brexit there was no need to develop the talent and experience. Now there is now a team lined up who have that experience and they are to be unleashed upon the world. Who’s on first I cannot say, but Abbot’s name is the most prominent and the best at opening doors.

It is an impressive line-up. The Remoaners would have had a fit at Daniel Hannan being there, had they not been involved in dirty tactics against Tony Abbot, but as Mr Hannan is the founding President of the  Initiative for Free Trade, he has the contacts to bring to bear on the enemy. In fact apart from the ex officio ministers, they are all heavyweights. It would not have happened if Boris Johnson had given way.

We may be winning then, or making the first steps.

The Culture War is not about culture at heart: it is about power. As Hobbes observed, in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power. The left-wingers, cultural Marxists, Wokeists, call them what you will, have hitherto enjoyed power. Elections and Parliament mean nothing if feigned outrage and feigned offence force the government to your will, and by the time Mrs May’s ministry had run its course, they were in undisputed control, removing public servants from office at a whim. Then there was the election in December 2019, and it might not have made any difference to the structure of power, and no election for an age has done. Something changed though. The was cultural divide in the nation was made, by Brexit into a yawning chasm, and the revenge of the spurned was seen in the fall of the Red Wall. This was a mandate for change. Boris returned to Number 10 with Dominic Cummings at his side, now with the mandate and majority and manpower to make changes.

The new extremism amongst Cultural Marxists is to be expected; they are outraged that their power has been challenged. The counter-revolution against them is underway.

There has been no change in the Twittermob. People are still persecuted and sacked for transgressing the rules set by extremists. The police still make political distinctions between different groups of rioters, shops still make customers feel unwelcome with lurid rainbow flag displays, and television reporters have still not realised that “far right” does not mean what they have been telling people it does. However that all now though seems to stop at the doors of Whitehall. There is pressure on the Civil Service to align with the programme, and there is even a Tory as Director General of the BBC. There is now open talk of a push back, of fighting the Culture War. How, has not been explained. On our side, the culturally conservative side, we play with a straight bat out of principle, and to avoid accusations of tyranny – the irony is not lost. There are lessons to learn from Hobbes about all this: mankind has not changed in four hundred years, nor indeed in forty thousand.

For now, there is robustness in Whitehall. This may spread. The momentum cannot stop though, because the other side will not stop. The success in giving Tony Abbott the position he has, not as a political gesture but because he is a bonzer pick to do the job, is a good sign for the future.

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Books

As several doors open…

It has all kicked off again this week, as if it was not going to be busy enough.  The talks with the European Union are meant to be resuming but are fighting, as before, with press release. That is undignified. We do not see that misbehaviour from other countries in negotiation: the EU negotiation shows immaturity at least from the European side.

This site is updating at last the commentary on the EU proposals, incidentally.

A poorly managed leak today suggested that the British government is about to table legislation to repudiate the Withdrawal Agreement, which was never the case. This might have been an attempt to impress that idea on the public so that when the actual Bill comes before the House, to mend the gaps in implementation, Labour can portray it as ‘yet another U-turn’.  (The same tactic informs their sudden embrace of airport testing after months of opposing any liberalisation of lockdown: they know it is coming and want it seen as a climbdown to their position.)

There is a real danger of a no-deal outcome, which is completely unnecessary and in no one’s interests.  The PM sent an email out to all party members today talking it up, saying it would be “a good outcome for the UK” but he knows it would be a failure and a sub-optimal outcome. Maybe we can hope that German banks and manufacturers are hammering on the door of Ursula von der Leyen to beg her to sign something, but there is no sign.  The compromises, for both sides, are there for the taking, if they would just agree to belt up in public and talk up in private.

There was hope as the Political Declaration was signed.  It took hard work to get it revised and signed, and the EU should not be given the impression that it is not taken seriously.  The British proposal was based on that Political Declaration.  Sideline commentator will snipe that it is not binding, but politically it is, and so it should be – the Declaration is a good guide for the future relationship and both sides should simply sign off with an agreement that says no more than its terms. The problem has been that the European Union team has junked it and gone off on their own, in exactly the terms which were rejected when the Political Declaration was negotiated. That is dishonourable.

In the sensible world, beyond Europe, progress is being made on many fronts. That may not influence the European negotiators: they are notoriously inward-looking.  The Board of Trade has been revamped, after the customary outrage from a Woke mob. Let us go forth into the world.