And hold their manhoods cheap

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;

This day, St Crispin’s day, the 606th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, is as good a time as any to look at who we are, or at least at half of the nation.

Henry V, Shakespeare’s version, knew what he was doing. He knew how to get the best from his men, by encouraging the best of manliness. If anyone had told him there is such a thing as ‘toxic masculinity’, they would be out like the plague they are. Unflinching solidity in duty is part of ones essence, and cowardice is despicable. Injury is not to be wept over but is a badge of honour.

He is perhaps Shakespeare’s favourite character: Henry as a prince, unexpectedly elevated after his father seized the throne (in Richard II), grows from an impetuous young man, the despair of his father, throughout Henry IV Parts I & II to become a mighty king in his own play. Here he consistently, artfully blames others for all his actions: he ensures the French king brings war upon himself, he leads Cambridge, Scroop and Masham to declare that treason must receive no mercy and thus putting their own heads in the noose. This consistent habit of his, which must have annoyed his court, is not an abdication of responsibility but puts his deliberate actions beyond question.  It is not all self-serving either: after victory he does not claim glory but says ‘God, thy hand was here’.

To his court, Henry may have been an enigma, but to his men, he was master of their self-worth. What other king would say:

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

So with one speech he comes down to the philosophy of all the men of Britain gathered there as much for Fluellen, MacMorris and Jamy as for Bardolph and Pistol. By inviting men to leave, expenses paid, looks like separating his men but instead it unites them in one manner and purpose:

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

Did any leave? No, for no man of Britain worthy of the name would do so, for this is the measure of a man.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Those who hide from themselves in glass apartments pretending that they can rise above nature by the modernity of culture and technology will flee from the implications of the speech the Bard puts in King Henry’s mouth, and be ashamed of what it stirs in their hearts, but it is all vanity. Man is man. We understand; we understand.

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Books

The shadow of John Wilkes

The Commons did not want John Wilkes amongst them, but the people had a disreputable habit of electing him. In 1769, the Commons expelled Wilkes three times, and he was re-elected. Never since has the House of Commons tried to pick and choose its own members, until recent years.

The ‘recall’ of members is a recently innovation, and it has generally had public support. It is a limited remedy, unlike its equivalents in America: in places with a ‘recall’ system, no elected official can feel safe to get on with the job when any disgruntled group of residents can call for a vote to remove them, and cause all the personal expense of a new, untimely election campaign. No reason need be given over there.  Here, it is applied only where a Member has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a year or more in prison, or of a false expenses claim, or if he or she has been suspended from sitting for 10 days upon a judgment of the Orwellian-sounding Committee on Standards.

This is a constitutional problem. A crime, judged by due process of law, by rules of evidence and procedure and heard by an impartial judge and jury is cut and dried. It is understandable that a lawmaker should not be a proven lawbreaker in a serious degree. However just breaking an internal rule, made by politicians, judged by politicians, and with a miniscule sanction; that allows the Commons to pick and choose its own members.

John Wilkes may be stirring in his grave.

The recall procedure, it may be objected, is not so simple: after the Speaker certifies that the condition is met, it still needs a petition by 10% of the constituency electorate to trigger a by-election, and the cast-out MP can stand again, as Wilkes did. That is form though, not reality. Any party organisation worth its salt can arrange a 10% petition against their opponent, stopping people in the street with lurid tales if necessary, so the by-election should be considered a foregone conclusion. Then if the recalled MP stands again, he or she is damaged goods, trailing accusations and a proven conviction. The initial trigger then is as good as expelling the MP.

The pettiness of what can topple an MP is astounding, in constitutional terms: a year in prison is fair enough, but misclaiming expenses?  This came from the manufactured scandal current at the time, and should pass away as that enthusiasm has. I have never been in the happy position of having an expense account to  play with, but it begs one to push it to the limit and beyond. Judging right and wrong and convicting by so much as a hair’s breadth should not topple an MP. If it is theft, then let him or her be tried and meet the barrier of one-year of imprisonment, and if the judge will not judge it so harshly, let the accused resume his constituency duties.

Suspension  from sitting should never trigger the procedure. It is to put an MP’s position at the mercy of internal rules and an internally appointed committee of politically opposing members.

When the Recall of MPs Act was passed, it was condemned as a constitutional outrage by some Members, and they showed foresight in this. There is talk of expanding its scope – that would be  real outrage.

The focus now is Rob Roberts, MP for Delyn in Flintshire.  I will not say he is a pleasant man, and in private I will say much worse. John Wilkes too was a most disreputable scoundrel. If one is not willing though to defend those who disgust, one is not willing to defend any principle, as principles are impartial.

Wilkes was a libertine, a member of the Hellfire Club, a slanderer, a writer and publisher of obscenities – and he was hailed in his time as a beacon of liberty: “Wilkes and Liberty!” was a popular cry. Sometimes it is the worst of men who are the best champions for mankind.

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Of The Beginnings And Progresse Of Philosophy

The faculty of Reasoning being consequent to the use of Speech, it was not possible, but that there should have been some generall Truthes found out by Reasoning, as ancient almost as Language it selfe.

The Savages of America, are not without some good Morall Sentences; also they have a little Arithmetick, to adde, and divide in Numbers not too great: but they are not therefore Philosophers. For as there were Plants of Corn and Wine in small quantity dispersed in the Fields and Woods, before men knew their vertue, or made use of them for their nourishment, or planted them apart in Fields, and Vineyards; in which time they fed on Akorns, and drank Water: so also there have been divers true, generall, and profitable Speculations from the beginning; as being the naturall plants of humane Reason: But they were at first but few in number; men lived upon grosse Experience; there was no Method; that is to say, no Sowing, nor Planting of Knowledge by it self, apart from the Weeds, and common Plants of Errour and Conjecture: And the cause of it being the want of leasure from procuring the necessities of life, and defending themselves against their neighbours, it was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths, it should be otherwise.

Leasure is the mother of Philosophy; and Common-wealth, the mother of Peace, and Leasure: Where first were great and flourishing Cities, there was first the study of Philosophy.

The Gymnosophists of India, the Magi of Persia, and the Priests of Chaldea and Egypt, are counted the most ancient Philosophers; and those Countreys were the most ancient of Kingdomes. Philosophy was not risen to the Graecians, and other people of the West, whose Common-wealths (no greater perhaps then Lucca, or Geneva) had never Peace, but when their fears of one another were equall; nor the Leasure to observe any thing but one another. At length, when Warre had united many of these Graecian lesser Cities, into fewer, and greater; then began Seven Men, of severall parts of Greece, to get the reputation of being Wise; some of them for Morall and Politique Sentences; and others for the learning of the Chaldeans and Egyptians, which was Astronomy, and Geometry. But we hear not yet of any Schools of Philosophy.

Books

Forgetting Tank Man

The year of the liberation of millions in Europe, 1989, was also the year millions were freshly enslaved in China. Tiananmen Square in Peking saw protests mirroring those which were opening up half a world away, but in China they were crushed, cruelly. The echo of the shots is still heard today.

Yesterday Bing’s search engine ‘lost ‘ Tank Man, the iconic image. The reason for that happening we can guess at an they will not easily admit it. It affects us today. Tank Man is an enduring symbol of something about China of which we need to keep reminding ourselves.

Thousands were slaughtered in the city. China began like Europe that year, reaching to breathe free, but as Europe stumbled into the light, China fell into deeper darkness. To some that tells that the Chinese people are radically different, unsuited to freedom. Those with a better appreciation of Chinese culture recognise the stereotype but know it to be untrue.

The end was cruel, but the events which led there disprove a common idea about Chinese people: they are not automata; they can yearn to breathe free like any others. In 1989, Chinese men stood in the street demanding freedom exactly as others did in Central Europe. Tanks rolled in to crush them, and that tells you about their government, but to learn something of the people, watch the man who stood in front of them, with some faith that the men inside were men like himself, with a heart for freedom that could overcome the orders of a tyrant. Would that they had resisted as he did, as the soldiers in Eastern Europe resisted the same demands.

There is no doubt that China is a world apart, with an ancient culture that need not look to the West for lessons. Men are men though, and when Hobbes observed the motivations and actions of men in creating society and a common-wealth, he could write with equal justice of the Chinese as of the Britons.

So then we come to the disappearance of Tank Man. It is an image which is a threat to the Chinese Communist Party: it shows that bowed submission is not inevitable, that a Chinese man can stand up against authority. As such it is suppressed in Mainland China. In a democratic country, images however harmful to the standing of the government are freely circulated, and so accepted it this that it seems ridiculous that I even have to write that down.

It is a most pointed reminder because it happened in 1989, and in that same year communist parties collapsed across Eastern Europe, and in Algeria and Mongolia, the latter on China’s very borders. The Chinese Communist Party may no longer be communist, but it is a fascist tyranny feeling its fragility. There may be genuine belief that China cannot survive without the firm hand keeping it from the murderous turmoil which has regularly engulfed the Middle Kingdom in all past ages. It must be suppressed.

Bing called the disappearance a human error. I doubt that. It would take deliberate programming to exclude that term from a search engine algorithm. Neither though do I think that it was a conscious decision by the company. Any large technology company has a wide range of employees of all backgrounds, and it is no stretch to imagine that among them could be one or more who is an agent, paid or voluntary, of the Peking government, and who would inveigle himself into a position where he could control content. There is precedent for it: ‘social justice warriors’ working in publishing or in Internet companies ensure they are in a position to control output.

The challenge for the West is that this interference crosses borders: the Bing obliteration of Tank Man was effected not in a dictatorship but in America. That power invading our countries is a threat we have not faced in peacetime before.

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Books

Fall of the House of Cromwell

In the year 1658, September the 3rd, the Protector died at Whitehall; having ever since his last establishment been perplexed with fear of being killed by some desperate attempt of the royalists.

Being importuned in his sickness by his privy-council to name his successor, he named his son Richard; who, encouraged thereunto, not by his own ambition, but by Fleetwood, Desborough, Thurlow, and other of his council, was content to take it upon him; and presently, addresses were made to him from the armies in England, Scotland and Ireland. His first business was the chargeable and splendid funeral of his father.

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

B. Seeing the army approved of him, how came he so soon cast off?

A. The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

B. Could not the Protector, who kept his court at Whitehall, discover what the business of the officers was at Wallingford House, so near him?

A. Yes, he was by divers of his friends informed of it; and counselled by some of them, who would have done it, to kill the chief of them. But he had not courage enough to give them such a commission. He took, therefore, the counsel of some milder persons, which was to call a parliament. Whereupon writs were presently sent to those, that were in the last Parliament, of the other House, and other writs to the sheriffs for the election of knights and burgesses, to assemble on the 27th of January following. Elections were made according to the ancient manner, and a House of Commons now of the right English temper, and about four hundred in number, including twenty for Scotland and as many for Ireland. Being met, they take themselves, without the Protector and other House, to be a Parliament, and to have the supreme power of the three nations.

…..

the government, which by the disagreement of the Protector and army was already loose, to fall in pieces. For the officers from Wallingford House, with soldiers enough, came over to Whitehall, and brought with them a commission ready drawn, giving power to Desborough to dissolve the Parliament, for the Protector to sign; which also, his heart and his party failing him, he signed. The Parliament nevertheless continued sitting; but at the end of the week the House adjourned till the Monday after, being April the 25th. At their coming on Monday morning, they found the door of the House shut up, and the passages to it filled with soldiers, who plainly told them they must sit no longer.

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.

(from Behemoth)

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Books