Dissolution Of Commonwealths: Want Of Absolute Power

Amongst the Infirmities therefore of a Common-wealth, I will reckon in the first place, those that arise from an Imperfect Institution, and resemble the diseases of a naturall body, which proceed from a Defectuous Procreation.

Of which, this is one, “That a man to obtain a Kingdome, is sometimes content with lesse Power, than to the Peace, and defence of the Common-wealth is necessarily required.” From whence it commeth to passe, that when the exercise of the Power layd by, is for the publique safety to be resumed, it hath the resemblance of as unjust act; which disposeth great numbers of men (when occasion is presented) to rebell; In the same manner as the bodies of children, gotten by diseased parents, are subject either to untimely death, or to purge the ill quality, derived from their vicious conception, by breaking out into biles and scabbs.

And when Kings deny themselves some such necessary Power, it is not alwayes (though sometimes) out of ignorance of what is necessary to the office they undertake; but many times out of a hope to recover the same again at their pleasure: Wherein they reason not well; because such as will hold them to their promises, shall be maintained against them by forraign Common-wealths; who in order to the good of their own Subjects let slip few occasions to Weaken the estate of their Neighbours.

So was Thomas Beckett Archbishop of Canterbury, supported against Henry the Second, by the Pope; the subjection of Ecclesiastiques to the Common-wealth, having been dispensed with by William the Conqueror at his reception, when he took an Oath, not to infringe the liberty of the Church. And so were the Barons, whose power was by William Rufus (to have their help in transferring the Succession from his Elder brother, to himselfe,) encreased to a degree, inconsistent with the Soveraign Power, maintained in their Rebellion against King John, by the French. Nor does this happen in Monarchy onely. For whereas the stile of the antient Roman Common-wealth, was, The Senate, and People of Rome; neither Senate, nor People pretended to the whole Power; which first caused the seditions, of Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Lucius Saturnius, and others; and afterwards the warres between the Senate and the People, under Marius and Sylla; and again under Pompey and Caesar, to the Extinction of their Democraty, and the setting up of Monarchy.

The people of Athens bound themselves but from one onely Action; which was, that no man on pain of death should propound the renewing of the warre for the Island of Salamis; And yet thereby, if Solon had not caused to be given out he was mad, and afterwards in gesture and habit of a mad-man, and in verse, propounded it to the People that flocked about him, they had had an enemy perpetually in readinesse, even at the gates of their Citie; such dammage, or shifts, are all Common-wealths forced to, that have their Power never so little limited.

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Dissolution Of Common-wealths Proceedeth From Imperfect Institution

Though nothing can be immortall, which mortals make; yet, if men had the use of reason they pretend to, their Commowealths might be secured, at least, from perishing by internall diseases. For by the nature of their Institution, they are designed to live, as long as Man-kind, or as the Lawes of Nature, or as Justice it selfe, which gives them life.

Therefore when they come to be dissolved, not by externall violence, but intestine disorder, the fault is not in men, as they are the Matter; but as they are the Makers, and orderers of them. For men, as they become at last weary of irregular justling, and hewing one another, and desire with all their hearts, to conforme themselves into one firme and lasting edifice; so for want, both of the art of making fit Laws, to square their actions by, and also of humility, and patience, to suffer the rude and combersome points of their present greatnesse to be taken off, they cannot without the help of a very able Architect, be compiled, into any other than a crasie building, such as hardly lasting out their own time, must assuredly fall upon the heads of their posterity.

Amongst the Infirmities therefore of a Common-wealth, I will reckon in the first place, those that arise from an Imperfect Institution, and resemble the diseases of a naturall body, which proceed from a Defectuous Procreation.

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Rage and Melacholy Madnesse

Pride, subjecteth a man to Anger, the excesse whereof, is the Madnesse called RAGE, and FURY. And thus it comes to passe that excessive desire of Revenge, when it becomes habituall, hurteth the organs, and becomes Rage: That excessive love, with jealousie, becomes also Rage: Excessive opinion of a mans own selfe, for divine inspiration, for wisdome, learning, forme, and the like, becomes Distraction, and Giddinesse: the same, joyned with Envy, Rage: Vehement opinion of the truth of any thing, contradicted by others, Rage.

Dejection, subjects a man to causelesse fears; which is a Madnesse commonly called MELANCHOLY, apparent also in divers manners; as in haunting of solitudes, and graves; in superstitious behaviour; and in fearing some one, some another particular thing. In summe, all Passions that produce strange and unusuall behaviour, are called by the generall name of Madnesse. But of the severall kinds of Madnesse, he that would take the paines, might enrowle a legion. And if the Excesses be madnesse, there is no doubt but the Passions themselves, when they tend to Evill, are degrees of the same.

(For example,) Though the effect of folly, in them that are possessed of an opinion of being inspired, be not visible alwayes in one man, by any very extravagant action, that proceedeth from such Passion; yet when many of them conspire together, the Rage of the whole multitude is visible enough. For what argument of Madnesse can there be greater, than to clamour, strike, and throw stones at our best friends? Yet this is somewhat lesse than such a multitude will do. For they will clamour, fight against, and destroy those, by whom all their lifetime before, they have been protected, and secured from injury. And if this be Madnesse in the multitude, it is the same in every particular man. For as in the middest of the sea, though a man perceive no sound of that part of the water next him; yet he is well assured, that part contributes as much, to the Roaring of the Sea, as any other part, of the same quantity: so also, thought wee perceive no great unquietnesse, in one, or two men; yet we may be well assured, that their singular Passions, are parts of the Seditious roaring of a troubled Nation. And if there were nothing else that bewrayed their madnesse; yet that very arrogating such inspiration to themselves, is argument enough. If some man in Bedlam should entertaine you with sober discourse; and you desire in taking leave, to know what he were, that you might another time requite his civility; and he should tell you, he were God the Father; I think you need expect no extravagant action for argument of his Madnesse.

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Art in the word

The most beautiful script in the world is Arabic, without any doubt. It is a piece of art, and has been woven into works of great beauty for a thousand years and more. Personally I cannot make head nor tail of it, though goodness I have tried. I can at least appreciate the effect as art.

One might consider a script in pure historical terms, in this case a right-to-left Semitic script of the same root as Hebrew, or even derived from it, the forms of which are mirrored in shadow in the lines and names of the Arabic letters, but that is missing the essence on the page. Those swoops and loops (which frankly I have never been able to tell apart) can be a canvas on which a skilled calligrapher may play. Our own script, the Latin alphabet, is as regular as the Roman conception, letter by letter separate, written on the line, lines kept apart – all these things we take for granted. Greek and Hebrew keep regular too. The Arabic calligraphers though make the letters loop around each other, stack, merge, overlap, play together, weave in and out – how they can still be read I do not know, but it is beyond my cultural norms.

I must pause before an objection arrives and say that there is art also in traditional Chinese characters (if not in the modern, simplified forms) and it is used to some effect, but even these are not a patch on what has been done in Arabic.

There is beautiful calligraphy in our own script, and it likewise lifts the soul and imprints the personal into what might otherwise tend to dull regularity. It is never though used as part of artworks; we treat the two as wholly different domains. Where Arabic is different is a necessity forced upon that culture.

The cultural substrate of the Arab world in lapped in Islam (which itself in its local form is shaped by Arabian culture) and the precepts of the religion take strictly what is to us the Second Commandment, not to make any representation of a thing in heaven or on Earth. For us that is a command not to make anything that would be the subject of worship, and my Puritan instincts give me a distinct revulsion at icons and Romanist religious art which tend towards idolatry, but secular representative art is not forbidden (and reached its greatest flourishing in Protestant Europe). In the Muslim world the command has been taken as an absolute bar on representative art. That strict injunction cannot stop art from being made because the making of art is fundamental to humanity – instead it has cause a flowering of decorate art, and in this the swirling script of Arabia is a form.

This art is commonly connected with Islam and the most prominent examples are of Koranic verses and themes, but there are also Christian and even secular calligraphers, as beauty is universal. The combination indeed between the craft of the text and the beauty of a Christian message makes it a very appropriate medium within the culture. The words are the starting point and the pallet; the work of the calligrapher is to draw the viewer in, and there is a mystery in there, in all those interlaced swirls there is meaning even if not immediately apparent, and that in itself draws you in. That is a universal thing.

Another constraint is the limitation of the material – it is not random patterns but known words and phrases. This defies the idea we have that art should challenge the expectations of the view, but if it is a set text, it cannot. That said, the choice of text may challenge the expectations. In a tangle of curves your expectation (if you can read it) your expectation is drawn into it in delighted anticipation – all great art should create a dynamic relationship like this between the piece and the viewer.

Another idea we have is that art does not have a purpose but is art for its own sake: that idea is behind the decline of modern art into ugliness. Art must always have a purpose, though that purpose may be no more than to charm the eye.

These taken together are a lesson – a constraint can become a birth of new art that may exceed that which was forbidden.

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Nicola’s Muzzle – 2

Since I last wrote of Nicola Sturgeon’s Bill to ban speech, more immediate events have seized the attention, but on this bandwagon runs. In that time yet more voices have risen against it. Yet Nicola controls in a presidential manner all the levers of state, and weak MSPs ready to do her will. The threat is very real. I chose to leave writing this until I was out of Scotland and outside her reach.


The ‘Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill’ is kept relatively short. It has been promoted as a measure against ‘hate speech’, but goes far beyond even the measures Tony Blair left us with.

I previously wrote about the opening, which has been little commented upon, forcing sheriffs to act outside common sense and conscience. The meat of commentary is on Part 2: ‘Offences relating to stirring up hatred’. Now, for a such a Bill to be promoted by a political party built entirely on stirring hatred up against their fellow countrymen, this is chutzpah indeed. The provisions are beyond humour.

It will be a crime to behave in a threatening, abusive or even merely insulting manner, or to communicate insulting material to another, if with the intent to stir up hatred against a defined racial or national group or even if with no intent if it is likely that ‘hatred’ will be ‘stirred up’. It does not say that SNP branch meetings are exempt, but I would not want to be the constable to tries to arrest the unbridled tongues that do just this at every one.

The clause would ban the Daily Mail and half a dozen other papers from distribution in Scotland, as soon as someone alleges that one of their leading articles has stirred prejudice against foreigners. Stirring hatred against journalists or political opponents is not covered.

Secondly, it will be a crime to behave in a threatening or abusive manner, or to communicate abusive material to stir up hatred, or be likely to, against a number of listed identity groups. It does not here say ‘insult’ here, but that will be added later, the moment an advocacy group in receipt of taxpayers’ money claims it is a hole in the legislation. In any case, ‘abusive’ may mean exactly the same.

The groups covered include the usual suspects, including ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘transgender identity’.

It would be a defence (at least in the initial draft – this may come out) for a person charged to show that their behaviour was ‘in the particular circumstances, reasonable’: that is undefined and I pity the advocate who tries to argue it, in professional terms and also because of the hate mobs who would besiege his chambers afterwards. ‘Reasonable’ by whose standards, or to achieve what? This may be interpreted, in the spirit of the Act, that no behaviour may be adjudged a reasonable infringement of the presumptions the Act contains, leaving no defence.

The major trap hidden in the formulaic words is in the key line ‘as a result, it is likely that hatred will be stirred up against such a group’. Consider it for a moment: it does not say how much hatred is t be engendered by the actions in question: it might be one mad, tinfoil-hatted nut on Facebook who reads words and feels hatred growing in his heart, and that has stirred hatred. Had the words said ‘in a significant portion of the population’ it would be bad but not as bad as this: had it said promoting violence against members of a group that would even seem acceptable, but stirring any hatred at all, that is unavoidable in social commentary.

It is worse than the apparent aim of the wording: it can catch anyone with views someone else does not want to hear. Hatred has to be directed at a group – but the Bill does not say that the speaker had to have that group as a target: he might be a Christian preacher with nothing but love in his heart but by saying something that an angry Woke mob does not want to hear, he has stirred the hatred of the mob against him and against Christians, and so he is guilty, and looking at 12 months in Barlinnie.

So much more could be said, and will be.

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