Friday, April 29, 2011

This Royal Wedding is an act of faith in a world of doubt


Today we celebrate the joyous occasion of the marriage of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales K.G. with Miss Catherine Middleton. His Grace wishes them many long and happy years together.

The occasion brings to mind that on 28th May 1533, His Grace declared the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to be good and valid. As a consequence, both His Majesty and His Grace were abruptly excommunicated by the Pope. The Church of England then split from Rome more for political than theological reasons, and through centuries of controversy, social upheaval and cultural change, we are where we are today: another royal wedding in Westminster Abbey in accordance with the distinctly Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the asymmetrical fusion of Scripture with reason and tradition. Two billion people – a third of the planet – will today witness and experience something of the Reformed Catholic faith which asserts that Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: the Bible is open, the priesthood is pastoral and worship is common.

God willing, this royal couple will one day be King William V and Queen Catherine of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At that same moment, King William will also become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, just as every monarch has been since Henry VIII. He will be the guardian of the Church’s authoritative formularies, its polity and its confessional identity of affirmation and restraint.

In the postmodern relativist and secular context in which marriage appears increasingly to mean whatever one wants it to mean, today we celebrate what Christians have done for 2000 years and man has done for millennia: the union of a man and a woman. Not just any man, of course: Prince William’s royal lineage can be traced all the way back to King Alfred the Great. When he kneels at the 1000-year-old altar of Westminster Abbey, he does so as the representative of a British institution as ancient as the Church itself, under whose aegis he is joined in holy matrimony. This is not a fairytale: Prince William and Catherine Middleton do not enter the institution of marriage unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

Marriage is not an exclusively Judaeo-Christian institution; it is a union observed in all cultures, and seems, according to Aristotle, to exist by nature. Marriage in the Bible is essential for the functioning of society, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where God says: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.

There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of this: the procreation of children, companionship, and sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before God which Jesus confirms with the phrase ‘God hath joined together’ (Mt 19:6). When that marriage is royal, the joining is all the more important because in its symbolism it embodies something of the hopes of the nation. We do not care much for our drab politicians and we care even less for our pompous prelates. But our Monarch is loved, admired and respected the world over: the institution is worthy of our support and loyalty. One perceives in Prince William an understanding of and commitment to his duty, but it is increasingly apparent that he also possesses something of the common, modernising and even rebellious touch of his mother: he is immanent and tangible, if a little unknowable.

There will be some misanthropic negativity today, expressed even in the chat thread below. People will moan about the excess and cost; some will mutter about it being time for a republic; some will remind us of spurned former Labour prime ministers; others will scoff at the circumstance and hasten to remind us of Prince Charles’ infidelity and the fact that a third of all marriages end in divorce. Such is Britain.

But His Grace exhorts his readers and communicants to revel in the pomp and majesty and celebrate joyously all day long, because this ceremony represents stability and continuity in an age of insecurity and uncertainty: it is an act of faith in a world of doubt; it is hope in despair.

God bless Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales.

O merciful Lord and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; bestow, we beseech thee, upon these two persons the heritage and gift of children; and grant that they may see their children christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

93 Comments:

Blogger OldSouth said...

As His Grace predicted, the snarking has begun! Some people just can't seem to help themselves, sadly...

Sending all greetings and good wishes to the happy couple and their wonderful nation. Ya'll deserve some good news, and have so much to celebrate in your great tradition.

Never apologize for being right, stand tall for your obviously successful approaches to both faith and governance. With all their flaws, both are far better than most of the alternatives that present themselves in this dark age.

29 April 2011 at 03:54  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I agree with your grace. He and his soon to be wife are in general conscientious members of our sacred house, even if there is a little bit of that modernist edge to him. My best wishes are with them.

God Save the Queen!

29 April 2011 at 04:21  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Nevermind all that religious stuff, what sort of dress will she be wearing?!

*squeals with excitement*

29 April 2011 at 07:22  
Anonymous William said...

"God bless Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales."

Amen

29 April 2011 at 08:58  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

I just seen the play she did as a child, finding her prince charming, called William.

Forget the dress, the weave of time and space has already adorned and blessed this union.

I cast three coins in the fountain, that this fortunate portent holds wonderous things for our darling precious Isles.

29 April 2011 at 09:15  
Blogger The Gray Monk said...

I have come to the conclusion that modern Britain, the creation of the Atheists, Fabians and the National Secular Society, is incapable of seeing anything good in anything that is good or provides a good example for the nation.

I join with you in wishing this young couple a long and happy union and will raise a glass to the confounding of the houses of all the snarkers and the continued success of the House of Windsor and the Reformed Catholic Church of England.

29 April 2011 at 09:24  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"But His Grace exhorts his readers and communicants to revel in the pomp and majesty and celebrate joyously all day long, because this ceremony represents stability and continuity in an age of insecurity and uncertainty: it is an act of faith in a world of doubt; it is hope in despair."

No despair over here. We live in a beautiful world full of amazing things, and we live in a country which despite what the gloomy and despairing say, is actually a great place as it is now. There's a huge amount to celebrate irrespective of the current theatre taking place in London.

29 April 2011 at 09:43  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Saw a bit this moring on TV - vanity writ large - Victoria Beckham - what a Moose!

29 April 2011 at 09:44  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I've just tuned in. There's certainly some impressive hats on display. Some of those would have seamlessly fitted in on the original series of Star Trek. :)

29 April 2011 at 09:49  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Agreed DJ - especially the scene in the space-lounge - chortle :-)

29 April 2011 at 09:56  
Blogger English Viking said...

May God be pleased to bless this couple, their marriage, the house of Windsor and the lands they reign over. Amen.

29 April 2011 at 10:26  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

Seems like I'm watching it after all despite not having a telly.

MrsRebelSaint has made a little party buffet for all the mini-RebelSaints and YouTube is streaming it live. And just said a family prayer for the happy couple.

Got to say, I like to see that we can sill do a bloody good show - pomp & ceremony - when we need to despite all those who'd like us to debase everything.

Something we can be proud of ... not many opportunities for that any more.

29 April 2011 at 10:51  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

Mini-RebelSaint #3 ... "Who is that in the white dress?"!!! :o)

29 April 2011 at 10:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just watching it on telly now and Elton John has just arrived at the abbey looking strikingly like Ena Sharples!

29 April 2011 at 10:58  
Anonymous Bede said...

The low rumbling noise you hear, like distant thunder, is the sound of Guardian and Independent readers grinding their teeth.

29 April 2011 at 11:06  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Prince Hot Ginge is looking very handsome. :)

29 April 2011 at 11:36  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr Bede, indeed.

One also wonders if His Grace would be able to help those communicants who are members of the Cambridge Secular Society in drafting an appropriate letter of Fealty to their newly created Duke.

29 April 2011 at 12:01  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Great spectacle and wonderful music - truly impressive - all happiness them.

29 April 2011 at 12:04  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Grace is to be congratulated for his timeless liturgy. The words are as fresh and relevant today as they have always been. Let no man put them asunder!

29 April 2011 at 12:19  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Fealty? The Windsors are public servants. They know their place ... and if they think to forget it then they can look towards Nepal as a reminder of what can happen even when 'subjects' like to think of the monarch as a god.

29 April 2011 at 12:36  
Blogger English Viking said...

DJ,

'They know their place...'

Shame you don't yours.

29 April 2011 at 12:46  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Tight lines, Mr DanJO.

29 April 2011 at 12:49  
Blogger English Viking said...

bluedog,

It'll take more than his lightweight line to land me.

29 April 2011 at 13:02  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Are they not public servants? That's not to say they don't do a great job of course. I like them and I've no wish for a change provided they behave themselves.

I know my place, Mr Viking: a citizen in a constitutional monarchy i.e. a form of democracy where the people are sovereign.

29 April 2011 at 13:02  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I particularly like Prince Harry. :)

29 April 2011 at 13:04  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

It depends how one uses the term public servants.They are not public servants as civil servants are and certainly cannot be spoken of, constitutionally, in the non-deferential way you do. The monarch is the fountainhead of our constitution and law, alongside the Church and the fundamental laws and customs of the realm. They represent us, and by us I mean the English and British nations considered historically and as a sacred, corporate body, certainly but not as mere employees. They are our masters as well as our servants and our moral guides and sacred examples; they represent not England as Blair or Cameron may speak of it but Albion or England as Blake talked of it or Shakespeare or Burke or Disraeli.

You are not a citizen but a subject and we are a constitutional monarchy because all governments but the basest despotisms are constitutional. But we are not a democracy, indeed as John Adams wisely put it no democracy ever did or can exist. The word is vague and takes on many meanings but the sense you use it implies the popular usage which is nonsensical.

Unless one wants to use the word as the great Disraeli did, to mean the historical customs, institutions and traditions of a nation and its people, its associations and institutions represented as associations and institutions, as well as individuals as a mass, then except for, perhaps, ancient Athens or some Swiss Cantons or New England town meetings, the word democracy means little.

The mass of men do not and cannot rule in the sense you mean. Their passions may more or less direct, half-blindly exciting and sending thrills and shocks through the body politic, but they cannot truly rule. Again to paraphrase John Adams, if you collect a hundred men of the street and form them into a parliament, you will soon find that 25 will be able to command their own votes and one or more other votes.

29 April 2011 at 13:23  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

So Westcountryman, do you think we cannot simply remove the monarchy by an act of will by the people? Do you think the monarch would resist other than to ensure a stable handover? The monarchy is essentially there on sufferance and the Royal Family know it.

Of course we are a democracy as the people are sovereign. This is shown by the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We ought to be a republic in theory but this arrangement does well enough for most people.

29 April 2011 at 13:44  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Who is this we? Who are the people? Are they the mass individually? Are they the individuals represented by the natural, historical and voluntary associations, institutions and regions in which they must perforce live most of their lives, find most of their comfort and support and get a lot of their identity? Are they various individuals who in some way claim to represent 'the nation'.

We, as in me and you, could not remove the monarchy. All the subjects of Britain could turn up in London and do it theoretically but in practice they would not and could not. No it would be certain individuals, certain leaders. To what extent they are 'we' is very much in debate. Indeed to what extend they are more 'we' than the monarch is, is just as debatable.

Constitutionally 'we' have no right to remove the monarchy. To do so would be a revolution. Of course 'we' may still do it if heaven suffers us to and we are willing to take upon us the consequences of things.

A republic just means a res publica, a thing of the people. It may apply to governments often described as monarchies or democracies or oligarchies. We have long, indeed I would say have usually enjoyed something of such a government in England. The monarch has threaten our republic no more than the nobility or the rest of the nation.

The house of commons is not constitutionally superior to the house of lords and both are inferior tom the monarch, the Church of England and the fundamental laws and customs of the realm. Blair committed an act of revolution, or perhaps an unconstitutional blot if it is overturned, to change the make up of the lords but this does not change the constitutional balance between the two houses(it is was an unconstitutional act and like other suchs actions like our relationship with the EU and various attacks on the Church and the fundamental laws sits in limbo.) of parliaments or their respective estates of the realm.

29 April 2011 at 14:03  
Blogger English Viking said...

DJ,

You are a subject, not a citizen.

Big difference.

29 April 2011 at 14:21  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

*shrug*

Think of yourself as some sort of feudal subject if you like. Nowt to me, really. I'm a British citizen and I owe no special deference the Windsors. I voluntarily bend at the knee for no man or woman. I didn't when I got my degree certificate and I still have my head.

29 April 2011 at 14:29  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Viking: "You are a subject, not a citizen."

What's the actual difference or differences as far as the UK is concerned? Isn't it just essentially trivial detail when it comes down to it? That is, we're citizens in a parliamentary democracy but just called subjects because we're a constitutional monarchy as far as our head of state function is concerned.

29 April 2011 at 14:33  
Anonymous Indigo said...

I despair of the BBC. Did anyone else hear the R4 1.00pm newsreader say that Prince William and Kate Middleton had been "pronounced man and wife". As in pronounced dead.

Perhaps someone complained. Later bulletins reported that Prince William and Kate Middleton had "exchanged vows".

What a lovely day. I am going to draw a veil over what Fergie's daughters wore.

My word verification was "kinge". I was so impressed by the synchronicity that I hit publish without typing it in, so now I have something else.

29 April 2011 at 17:18  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Cranmer said

But His Grace exhorts his readers and communicants to revel in the pomp and majesty and celebrate joyously all day long, because this ceremony represents stability and continuity in an age of insecurity and uncertainty: it is an act of faith in a world of doubt; it is hope in despair.

That comment encapsulates the attitude of many who post here.

Stability, security and certainty do not exist and never have done; they are mirages that simply mask reality. We are all afloat in a turbulent ocean, afloat but not adrift, as more than ever before we now have the means to control our personal destiny and collectively to forge a brave new world using the understanding that science has given us, of our past, our present and our ability to predict our future with some degree of accuracy.

We achieve this using reason, not superstition. The tradition that you so admire is the enemy of that progress and continuity an ally of those who hanker for the past. It conjures up a vision; the pomp, the majesty, the ceremony that may make you feel good but that makes me cringe. Is this now all that defines this nation “they know how to put on a good show”? Well I am more ambitious than that, we have much talent here, in science and engineering, in the arts and creative industries, in our universities, in our legal system and civil administration. So let’s leave the majesty and pomp to Gilbert and Sullivan.

29 April 2011 at 17:59  
Anonymous William said...

GD

You are a very sad man.

What a wonderful day. Food for the soul. :)

29 April 2011 at 19:26  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr Graham Davis, a toast to the happy couple and may God bless them!

May I pour you a bitter lemon?

29 April 2011 at 21:54  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'Think of yourself as some sort of feudal subject if you like. Nowt to me, really. I'm a British citizen and I owe no special deference the Windsors. I voluntarily bend at the knee for no man or woman. I didn't when I got my degree certificate and I still have my head.'

Constitutionally you are still a subject, no matter what you call yourself.

."

'What's the actual difference or differences as far as the UK is concerned? Isn't it just essentially trivial detail when it comes down to it? That is, we're citizens in a parliamentary democracy but just called subjects because we're a constitutional monarchy as far as our head of state function is concerned.'

Parliamentary democracy is a contradiction in terms, if you mean anything like the direct, popular, traditional idea of democracy, at least. The link between the people as a mass, and even within their natural and voluntary institutions, and the members of parliament is quite strained and must always be. The parliament aims to represent something of the true spirit of the nation, this is all such a body could do in the sense of being a democracy. It could probably do it a lot better than it does now, particularly if you place the institutions, associations and groupings of everyday life, from which the people, their lives and identities are almost inseparable, as being as important as the people as a mass.

Not of course that the house o0f commons was set up to represent the people. It was set up to represent the commons who were a combination of burghers from cities and towns and the minor gentry.

The difference is not trivial, it reflects the fundamental constitutional arrangement of our nation.

30 April 2011 at 01:07  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Westcountryman: "The difference is not trivial, it reflects the fundamental constitutional arrangement of our nation."

I've yet to see the actual differences described here. Lots of words, no differences.

Your two sets of comments about democracy are about a separate issue. That's political philosophy 101. At least we agree that the word has a plethora of meanings but that's about it there.

Do you think the Queen could decide that she's not happy with (say) the Crime and Disorder Act and bypass 'her' Parliament to impose one she drafted herself? No. She just has some element of Royal Prerogative because we give her it as head of state in case of a constitutional emergency.

So, the actual differences between being a citizen and a subject in a parliamentary democracy / constitutional monarchy like ours please?

30 April 2011 at 07:35  
Anonymous len said...

"This Royal Wedding is an act of faith in a world of doubt."

We read in Luke 18; 8 where Jesus say’s “ When the Son of man cometh will He find any faith?”

We all have faith, the problem is where that faith lies, mostly in ourselves, in our religion, in our Denomination,in our bank account,Our Government(probably not!)
Jesus is talking about faith in Him!.
There is a continual remorseless attack on this simple faith in Christ, it comes from outside,and from inside the 'church.
When all besides Christ is stripped away we will either have Christ or we will have nothing.

30 April 2011 at 08:36  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Again you're back using the word 'we' without answering my challenge to define it. You haven't really answered the question of what can really be called a democracy or who 'we' are.

There is a difference between the actual legal rights of the monarch and what would happen if she tried to use all her rights. The important thing is that saying that our constitution would be overthrown if it was properly and fully adhered to does not mean that our constitution does not still exist.

On the difference between a subject and a citizen you have decided upon a particular definition of 'actual', which really makes your question of somewhat limited scope. The differences include implications for our constitution and our political and social makeup. You've decided such symbolic and imaginative aspects are not important or meaningful enough to constitute 'actual' differences between the terms. I disagree. Napoleon was not far wrong when he said 'Imagination rules the world'. Certainly it is important enough to not be removed completely from considerations of politics.

30 April 2011 at 13:47  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Westcountryman, the various forms of democracy that exist and could exist is a side issue. We have a representative democracy in the UK. Almost all of us have a vote for a local representative. The house of representatives form an Executive under various rules. The Executive steers the legislative process. And so on.

The important thing is that the people are sovereign. That's what democracy (demos and kratis) means: the people to rule. It's crucial to the legitimacy of the state [1]. A monarch is either a despot (benign or otherwise) without legitimacy or people have to imagine a whole framework such as Hobbes with the divine right of kings to give the monarch a right to rule.

Whether we are a democracy of one sort or another with an elected or appointed head of state, or a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy where the monarch assumes the role, it does not change the fundamental form of the thing. The monarch is not actually sovereign in any meaningful way, they're a place holder above the party politics of the democracy to tie the whole social contract together. For sure, the constitution of the UK is a historic mess with quirks and bulges and legal holes all over the place but it hangs together as long as the top people know their place.

[1] There's another side issue here with social contracts and approval but that's for another time.

30 April 2011 at 17:20  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1 May 2011 at 02:42  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

But your fudging the matter. To say that we have a vote is not to say that we are a democracy. You still haven't defined the 'people', but voters input is only indirect and only over the house of commons and local government.

The voters are not sovereign in Britain. Constitutionally the monarch is sovereign. You're simply saying that the voters could remove the monarch if they wish. Well it is unlikely they'd all turn up in London to do this, so what you really mean is that their 'representatives' could do this. This is both questionable and is a very indirect way for the voters to act. One could also make the argument the army is sovereign in Britain if you simply want to define sovereignty in terms of potential force, because if they wanted to they could take power largely unopposed(not least because of silly, anti-constitutional anti-firearms laws.) or the politicians and establishment are sovereign because they can work with the army and security services to take power if they wished.

But none of this changes the fact that constitutionally the monarch is sovereign. The constitution is not a mess, the problem is it is ignored, neglected and misunderstood.

Monarchs have just as much legitimacy as parliaments in the abstract. One only has to look to the 17th and 18th centuries when the King and the monarchical Toryism very often was the party of nation opposed to the oligarchical Whig magnates in parliament. It all depends on the constitutional and cultural-political make-up of the realm. If a government is a republic, whether monarchical, oligarchical and democratic, or is thought to be then it will have legitimacy. You have a very limited idea of social and political legitimacy and the basis of political and moral authority. A monarch may be felt to represent a nation better than a parliament, it depends on important cultural and social factors.

1 May 2011 at 03:25  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"But your fudging the matter. To say that we have a vote is not to say that we are a democracy. You still haven't defined the 'people', but voters input is only indirect and only over the house of commons and local government."

I'm really not getting your ongoing focus on a definition of the people. What is there to define there that makes any difference to the subject here? It's a technical discussion about details over and above what I've already said as far as I can see. If there's a point in there you want to make then make it.

It's not surprising that in a representative democracy we have, well, representatives. The reason for this is obvious: our society is so large and complex that we need dedicated people with the time and skills to understand the issues.

Let's not forget where this has come from: the (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) comment about fealty, and the comment about knowing my place. And I do. It's not as some sort of feudal subject doffing my cap to my betters, it's essentially as a citizen sans deference.

The people do have political force as we can see in the middle east at the moment. But that's not the meaning of being sovereign, at least as I have used it so far. Being sovereign is about where the law-making power resides. Where does that reside? In Parliament (and in particular in the House of Commons), not in Buckingham Palace. It's simply made in the name of the Crown.

The UK is a sovereign nation (despite what the anti-EU lot say here) because the power and authority to make law is based here. Yes, we're an EU country which inherits law from Brussels but our EU membership is based on inter-governmental treaty and treaties can be unilaterally revoked.

As for legitimacy, that's a topic over and above law or power. It's a philosophical discussion about the consent of the governed. That's why the inability in reality of the monarch to force law on us is important, not because force of arms counts but because we would withdraw consent. The consent of the governed is required in political thinking, which is why Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke etc spent so many words trying to define a crossed Ts and dotted Is social contract.

One of the quirks of our political system is that the Queen as an individual is not subject to the law like all other members of the people (including the Royal Family) are. But could she commit murder without consequence? No. she's extremely careful, I expect, not to break the law in any significant way because it may cause a constitutional crisis and perhaps the instigation of a formal republic.

1 May 2011 at 08:00  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'I'm really not getting your ongoing focus on a definition of the people. What is there to define there that makes any difference to the subject here? It's a technical discussion about details over and above what I've already said as far as I can see. If there's a point in there you want to make then make it.'

It is immensely important. The people exist both as a mass and within particular associations and institutions which make up their everyday lives. Both these aspects of the people can be represented in various ways, which have a large impact on the imaginative, social and cultural construction on the nation. This shows that representation is not simply representation, it shapes the nation itself. To talk simplistically of any representative regime as democracy, indeed to talk simplistically of democracy is nonsense. This is not trivial, it contains a multitude of imaginative and cultural connotations, as does the difference between the idea of subjects and citizens. Your right we are de facto much like citizens but our de jure constitution makes us subjects, I for one support our historical, monarchical constitution and wish to do what I can to comment foreign notions like citizenship.

Your still confusing de facto power with the constitution. Parliament has constitutionally very limited powers, it is only the monarch's acquiescence that constitutionally allows it make laws. You keep missing this point; whatever the 'people' or 'we' may be able to practically do if we want to remove the monarch, this does not change our technical, legal constitution.

It goes almost without saying that if the vast majority did not consider the government legitimate it would have a huge problem. But this says little about the basis of legitimacy. Indeed legitimacy need not have much to do with any general recognition of the people's sovereignty.

1 May 2011 at 08:19  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

By the way, I've already mentioned Nepal but it's quite instructive to my points. Here's what happened. The dynasty was much loved there and, being a Hindu nation, there was an element of the king having god-like [1] status. It was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament of sorts at that time and it had Hindism as its state religion.

In 2001 (I had just left the country luckily), the Crown Prince suddenly murdered most of his family in the palace and then shot himself (as the official line had it). This left the King's brother to take the throne and his son, a very unpopular man, to be Crown Prince.

As you may know, Nepal had an ongoing war with Maoists insurgents for a decade or more. The new king decided that the corruption in the country and the failure to tackle the insurgency was all too much, dissolved parliament, and took power for himself. All political parties, including the Maoists, united together and eventually removed him from power. Nepal is now a secular republic, albeit quite unstable still.

[1] This is the land of the Kumari too.

1 May 2011 at 08:19  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"You['re] right we are de facto much like citizens but our de jure constitution makes us subjects."

That has never been in doubt here at this end. I said it myself the other day: "That is, we're citizens in a parliamentary democracy but just called subjects because we're a constitutional monarchy as far as our head of state function is concerned."

"You['re] still confusing de facto power with the constitution."

No. There isn't a confusion at this end, we're just talking at cross purposes and failing to drift together. You're talking theory and I am talking form and purpose and practice. The phrase I keep using is constitutional monarchy which says what it is. I know what that means: Constitutional and Monarchy. That is how we have arranged the political form to hold our democracy.

I see our political form as a useful arrangement which doesn't need much changing as long as we are, in practice, citizens in a state which holds people equal before the law, and has a drive towards meritocracy so that people can aspire to better things. To change it would require national introspection which would result in a massive brouhaha I imagine.

All this is important because His Grace likes to talk up Anglican mysticism when he puts on his Social Conservative hat. He's hot on tradition because it provides the justification for the established church. He wants his god in our social institutions, such as marriage. There's a large whiff of social hierarchy in his latest stuff about the Royal Wedding. That is, one can read into it that his god has put the Queen there and imbued her rule with divine approval.

Obviously, as I tend towards a classical liberal political philosophy, i.e. I put on the hat of another distinct branch of the Conservatives, this turns my nose up a bit. As an atheist, I have no use for ideas of gods and they provide no justications for anything. Finally, as a gay man, I'm rather more pragmatic about the social institution of marriage.

Finally, I agree that the nature of our political system imbues a certain character to our national identity. As you say, it is very important at some level. I actually really enjoyed the Royal Wedding (though without deference to the participants) because it was a communal and integrating activity, even if I spent much of it joking on Facebook with friends about hats, and Prince Charles talking to the trees and plants on his way down the aisle.

But don't forget that day in, day out, our politicans talk about social mobility and equality and social justice. The monarchy aspect of our national identity is a background thing. In the foreground, we get arsey if someone queue jumps, and we laugh if someone dares to say: "do you know who I am?", expecting special treatment. In that, we know we're citizens.

1 May 2011 at 09:04  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I think you'll find His Grace comparatively 'modern' and 'utilitarian' compared to me. Indeed you will find Clarendon, Burke or Bolingbroke somewhat 'modern' and 'utilitarian' besides me.

We still not citizens in any legal or constitutional, the old forms are not dead, though they are much maligned. It is important not to take the BBC, the tabloid media and various other liberal, middle class or urban opinions to be anywhere near unanimous in Britain or England. So when you say 'we' are citizens, you are not just talking constitutional and legal nonsense, but, even in the de facto framework and definitions you've set up, you're making a controversial point. Like most of those comments in your last few paragraphs there are still a variety, indeed a blend, of significant opinions and presuppositions about them in England.

Many people are at willing to see others get special treatment or to pay them deference. The BBC and much of the media gives great deference to Stephen Fry or Obama for instance. We are less deferential and willing to see others get special treatment but we are not free of these by a long, long way and we will never be. Social associations are bound up with hierarchy, hierarchy with authority and authority more or less with deference in various modes and degrees. We're back with John Adams again now and his parliament.

1 May 2011 at 10:37  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"Many people are at willing to see others get special treatment or to pay them deference."

I think you're using deference differently there. We have a sense of equality or fairness now. People are willing to see (say) David Beckham honoured but that's because of his merits as a footballer. It's his due if you respect those attributes. Of course, people still get star-struck even so but that's an attraction to fame. I'm talking of deference as subjects of a monarch. That is, the idea that people should know their place and it is below that of the monarch, dukes, baronets, and so on, whether they like it or not.

Well, I know my place and it is alongside dukes, baronets, etc. Or more properly, their place is alongside me. We can pretend it is otherwise as a country for the sake of tradition and pomp but if they forget their place in reality and step out of line then things will go awry very quickly I think. As I have shown with Nepal, power is only meaningful if you can actually use it.

The Queen has very little power other than what we give her. The power and the authority to make law resides in Parliament, where the people are in the form of their representatives. Well, I say that of course but no doubt there are many here who will say that the real power lies a mile or so East of there. But hey.

1 May 2011 at 10:57  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Also, you're aware of the various Parliament Acts and the Salisbury Convention, right? These assert the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords in most cases by limiting the power of the Lords over public bills raised in the commons. The monarch gives Royal Assent to bills but she can hardly refuse in normal circumstances, can she? Let's face it, if she could then I expect she'd have stopped the hunting with dogs Act.

1 May 2011 at 11:10  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Firstly you again take the BBC or Islington or Stephen Fry as model for the nation. Your socially liberal and left-leaning perspective is far from everyone's, even if it is certainly a significant one in modern Britain. Your use of the word 'we' in recent posts may be what the Guardian thinks of as Britain(do they even think of Britain these days instead of North-West Europe province two?) but it isn't what the Monday Club does, nor the Spectator, nor the Sunday Mail, nor the Tory backbench, nor general synod of the Church of England nor even what 'Red' Ken Livingstone does.

Secondly the difference between the deference paid to monarchs and celebrities exists, but it is not quite to the degree you imply. There is a real deference paid to such figures by many(and to other figures by others.) which is not totally incomparable to the traditional deference to royalty. It may be for somewhat different reasons, be acted out in somewhat different ways and have a different place in the social and cultural fabric of the nation, but it is nonetheless a deference.

Your still fudging on both the monarch's powers and on the 'people'. The monarch is constitutionally supreme, no matter what de facto power the commons has, just as lords is constitutionally equal to the commons. Constitutionally the monarch, the fundamental laws and customs of the realm and the Church established are superior to parliament which is just an aggrandised judicial body. There is no constitutional reason that much of the expanded executive of the Tudors, that often ignored parliament, could not be revived.

To talk blandly of 'we' getting rid of the monarch, when you mean members of parliament, and of the 'people' assembling in parliament in the person of their representatives, is unhelpful until you have defined who the 'people' are and how they best represented. Your definitions may be good and wise, but they cannot count for much unless they be drawn up. You cannot rely on any de jure, constitutional definition unless you wish to give the grand sweep of the English constitution as Disraeli did.

1 May 2011 at 12:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The global elite lord it over the masses, at our expense, and we cheer. How good that makes me feel.

1 May 2011 at 13:28  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"To talk blandly of 'we' getting rid of the monarch, when you mean members of parliament, and of the 'people' assembling in parliament in the person of their representatives, is unhelpful until you have defined who the 'people' are and how they best represented."

Still not getting your focus on a definition of the people in our democracy. I'm sure you have a point in there somewhere but it's not coming out at all as far as I can see. What exactly is your issue there. Please, just say it!

1 May 2011 at 13:31  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"Your still fudging on both the monarch's powers and on the 'people'. The monarch is constitutionally supreme, no matter what de facto power the commons has, just as lords is constitutionally equal to the commons. Constitutionally the monarch, the fundamental laws and customs of the realm and the Church established are superior to parliament which is just an aggrandised judicial body."

We appear to be at an impasse if you still persist with this and frame it as my 'fudging' of the issue. I can't really speak more openly and plainly than I have.

The 1689 Bill of Rights sets out the relationship between Parliament and the monarch (who is nominally part of Parliament too) and effectively establishes Parliamentary sovereignty. I have already talked about the relationship between the Commons and the Lords within Parliament with the Parliament Acts. The monarch's relationship with the law is also part of the Coronation Oath.

Yet I say again: the actual, usable power of the monarch is the key to my argument here that despite being nominally subjects, we're essentially citizens.

1 May 2011 at 13:54  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

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1 May 2011 at 14:02  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Anyhow my interest in defining the people is twofold. Firstly your idea is vague and requires some sort of definition, so as to highlight the indirect relationship between our government and the entirety of individuals in Britain. This is because of your brash acceptance of the House of Commons as the being simply the 'people', without really even acknowledging much of a limitation. You accepted a nation like Britain needs representation for such a body but not acknowledgement that this changes the relationship our 'people' have with the government from that a directly democratic assembly might have.

Secondly I prefer a different idea of the 'people's' representation. Aside from the monarch and the Church, I'd prefer the 'people' to be represented as Disraeli would have them; both en masse as we currently do and in the associations, institutions and localities which make up their everyday lives.

1 May 2011 at 14:03  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

You misunderstand our constitution. Those acts of parliament are just that acts of parliament. They are not our fundamental law and customs, or in other words our constitution. They are acts or laws like any other. The Bill of rights as an act of parliament can be changed, the declaration of rights as a restatement of our perennial constitution cannot be changed by monarch or parliament without implicit or explicit revolution.

The declaration of rights does not grant parliamentary sovereignty. It also cannot stand in contradiction to the other fundamental laws of the realm; being a document of the Whig oligarchs it has some deficiencies in this regard.

The coronation oath is a cornerstone of our constitution and one which shows the supremacy of the Church over parliament and its power even over the sovereign. However it grants no extra rights to parliament than the rest of our constitution.

We are not essentially Citizens. legally and constitutionally we are not. some of our de facto goverance tends in the direction you have defined as citizenry, others in the opposite direction.

The comments on your 'fudging' where aimed at your reluctance to define fully what you mean by the 'people' and by 'representation'.

1 May 2011 at 14:15  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"Firstly your idea is vague and requires some sort of definition, so as to highlight the indirect relationship between our government and the entirety of individuals in Britain."

I expect most people in the UK understand how this sort of stuff works without a detailed description being necessary. I hope that most people also know how the electorate has changed over the years, reflecting class changes in society. Also, you should note that we're having a referendum on the voting system. That is, we're asking the people about their thoughts rather than the monarch deciding for us. That should tell you something important at least.

As for representing the people en masse, we're talking about who or what is sovereign. As being sovereign is about law making powers, representing the people in institutions and stuff is an unrelated issue. That is, it is you who is fudging in that case.

1 May 2011 at 14:16  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'I expect most people in the UK understand how this sort of stuff works without a detailed description being necessary. I hope that most people also know how the electorate has changed over the years, reflecting class changes in society. Also, you should note that we're having a referendum on the voting system. That is, we're asking the people about their thoughts rather than the monarch deciding for us. That should tell you something important at least.'

What I'm looking for is your defense of some sort of parameters for the 'people' and their 'representatives'. Who are the people, how should they be represented. Seeing as different definitions can grant quite large changes to the political and social makeup of our nation, this is something that needs considering.

'As for representing the people en masse, we're talking about who or what is sovereign. As being sovereign is about law making powers, representing the people in institutions and stuff is an unrelated issue. That is, it is you who is fudging in that case.'

Well who is de jure soveriegn, the monarch, is settled. However to talk of the people and their representation requires an indepth definition as the different ways of defining these can great quite large differences in governance.

1 May 2011 at 14:23  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"You misunderstand our constitution. Those acts of parliament are just that acts of parliament. They are not our fundamental law and customs, or in other words our constitution."

Whisper that quietly. His Grace has made a study of all this and makes much of the Bill of Rights, Act of Union, Oath, etc. He may take a different view to me (I haven't got a copy of his book yet) but they're not just transient things. Unless you can point to something substantive to justify your claims here then I think we have reached the end without any sort of agreement because I cannot just ignore those fundamental elements of the Constitution, and they're the core parts of our Constitution as much as it can be said to exist, just to make you happy.

1 May 2011 at 14:25  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"Well who is de jure soveriegn, the monarch, is settled."

No! This is the trouble with words. We tend to use Sovereign and monarch interchangeably but sovereign has a particular meaning in political science and it doesn't mean monarch, except perhaps in an absolute monarchy.

1 May 2011 at 14:27  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"Seeing as different definitions can grant quite large changes to the political and social makeup of our nation, this is something that needs considering."

No. Or rather, it does if one is deciding what form of democracy we have or ought to have. If you are truly claiming we do not have a democracy in the UK then you are in a fringe minority. If you accept we have a democracy here, however imperfect it might be, then the stuff you talk about up there is mere fluff. A distraction to the issue.

1 May 2011 at 14:31  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'No! This is the trouble with words. We tend to use Sovereign and monarch interchangeably but sovereign has a particular meaning in political science and it doesn't mean monarch, except perhaps in an absolute monarchy.'

The monarch and perhaps Church are constitutionally sovereign in our nation

'No. Or rather, it does if one is deciding what form of democracy we have or ought to have. If you are truly claiming we do not have a democracy in the UK then you are in a fringe minority. If you accept we have a democracy here, however imperfect it might be, then the stuff you talk about up there is mere fluff. A distraction to the issue.'

Nonsense. It doesn't matter what you call it. You must decide how the 'people' or nation are represented. There can be wide variances in how this could be done within anything recognisable in any sense as the nation or 'people'. I do not dispute that the nation or 'people' should be represented, if you want to call that democracy so be it. I think you'd agree that a form of 'democracy' that has no room for any representation of significant property holders as significant property holders is quite different to one that does have such representation.

1 May 2011 at 14:39  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'Whisper that quietly. His Grace has made a study of all this and makes much of the Bill of Rights, Act of Union, Oath, etc. He may take a different view to me (I haven't got a copy of his book yet) but they're not just transient things. Unless you can point to something substantive to justify your claims here then I think we have reached the end without any sort of agreement because I cannot just ignore those fundamental elements of the Constitution, and they're the core parts of our Constitution as much as it can be said to exist, just to make you happy.'

The history and fundamental arrangement of our constitution justifies this viewpoint. If you untangle the web of our constitutional arrangement from Alfred to today this is the only view that makes any sense and has much continuity. It is also the one championed by many of the early doctors of our constitution, more or less. It also is the only one that connects the changing history of our nation to its historical genius(at least before the 20th century.).

The fundamental laws and customs of our nation are expressed in the constitutional laws of the Saxons Kings, William the Conqueror, the charter of Liberties, the Synod of Westminister, Magna Carter 1215, the coronation oath and the declaration of right are our constitution. Parliament exists through these, it has not claimed any other right and could not without upsetting our constitutional apparatus. There is no other basis for a consistent, historical view of our constitution.

His Grace is perhaps somewhat misguided to mostly found his view of the constitution on mere acts of the supreme judicial agent known of parliament(if you are correct in his views.).

1 May 2011 at 14:52  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

For information, here's a description of the 1689 Bill of Rights from our Parliament website.

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-00293.pdf

Handily, it talks about the sovereignty of Parliament further down.

Parliamentary sovereignty is described here on our Parliament site:

http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/sovereignty/

And as almost everyone knows, the Queen has almost no power:

http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/role/parliament-crown/

The Bill of Rights even sets out who has the ultimate power:

"That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal"

and

"That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal"

In short, Parliament is sovereign.

1 May 2011 at 16:05  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

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2 May 2011 at 01:20  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Those bills are just that bills of parliament. They do not bind the monarch in our constitution. Anyone can insert any sort of preamble into an act of parliament they wish, but that does not mean the constitution is changed, particularly, as in this insistence, it contradicts much of the rest of the our constitution. I utterly reject said view of the constitution which would make acts of parliament part of our constitution. It is illogical, unhistorical and destroys the beauty of our constitution. Obviously also the lines you quote simply say the monarch cannot dispense with laws and is presumably referring mostly to the Test Act which James II had not enforced against Catholics in the government. It is also questionable what Lord Somers meant by 'law' in the lines you quote. Indeed in his vindication of the 1688-89 parliament's proceedings Somers makes it clear that his idea of the rule of law still has more to do with the older ideas of the fundamental law and customs of the nation as understood by Fortesque, Lord Coke and the great earl Clarendon and indeed as I'm laying them out than with the interpretation your giving them.


Ironically Dan your view of the constitution makes the monarch even more sovereign. Your view is that the crown-in-parliament is sovereign and therefore its prerogative is unbounded, and as the doctrine goes it cannot bind itself; hence any of those bills, who in this view any act of parliament or common or fundamental law, can be overridden by the crown-in-parliament at a later date. To seek where the crown-in-parliament would gets its existence and power you will find it was created by the monarch's prerogative, the same it now partakes in. Logically and historically as this prerogative is unbounded and cannot even bind itself, in this view, then the monarch is free to dispense with parliament at will. No matter what the Lord Somers and Lord Wharton may have attached to certain acts of parliament, which your constitutional view admits that even the crown-in-parliament can overturn at will.

Now despite what I said earlier about its illogical and unhistorical nature, your perspective on the constitution is the only other one that comes close to being sensible. I'll give you that, though it is clearly inferior to the one I laid out. However it is ironically more monarchist and grants the monarch basically absolute power which even the coronation oath in this view, in letter if not quite in spirit, does not curtail; as this view makes all our laws rescindable at the monarch's whim.

So, as almost everyone knows, the Queen has a whole lot of constitutional and technical power. She is our sovereign and the linch-pin of our constitution. The aggrandised judicial body called parliament is utterly inferior to her in the only two perspectives on our constitution that make logical and historical sense, not to mention fit into the historical character of the nation.

2 May 2011 at 03:43  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"I utterly reject said view of the constitution which would make acts of parliament part of our constitution."

*shrug*

Have you thought about buying an island and delaring your own monarchy with a Constitution that suits you more?

Our Constitution is uncodified but those Acts form part of the whole together with Conventions and other stuff. If you look into it then I think you will find that it is the common wisdom. In fact, it's stated on the Parliament website through the links I posted.

"[The 1689 Act] is one of the four great historic documents which regulate the relations between the Crown and the people, the others being: the Magna Carta (as confirmed by Edward I, 1297), the Petition of Right (1627) and the Act of Settlement (1700). To this list of fundamental constitutional documents should be added the recent Human Rights Act 1998."

I'm surprised you're actually arguing against that, it's similarly written all over the place. I'd have thought you'd have been better trying to focus on the 'king in parliament' aspect and where the authority actually comes from. You'd still be wrong of course but it's easier to fudge.

When you look at the Magna Carta and how our political system was set up at the time i.e. a pure feudal system, and then look at the Petition of Right and the system then i.e. a Parliamentary system of sorts, limiting rather than advising, and then look at the Bill of Rights and why that came about i.e. deposing a monarch and replacing him together with an agreement on what a monarch may not do, and then Reform Acts, and then the two Parliament Acts, and finally (controversally I expect) the Human Rights Act, you can see a political evolution tracking significant social change.

Yet in all cases, the monarch is claimed to be bound to a social contract. The social contract in King John's time is hugely different to the one in Queen Elizabeth II's time. In other words, our Constitution has changed over time when politically necessary and can continue to change. That's not to say change happens casually of course.

2 May 2011 at 06:53  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

The irony of your first sentence is that it is you, at least as much as me, who is taking his own particular perspective and declaring it supreme.

With just about each of the important documents of our constitutional history there has been an attempt to largely root the contents in the fundamental and ancient customs, institutions and laws of the realm. This shows a great continuity in the idea of our constitution, that goes back to before the conquest. It also ties together all the separate parts of our constitutional, legal and political framework, so that each of the key documents takes for granted the existence of this living framework.

Now I'll give you that there are two other possible formulations of our constitution. In descending order of plausibility, consistency and logic;

There is the already mentioned view that the absolute sovereignty of the crown-in-parliament comes from the prerogative which it now wields. This view is most in line with the arguments used from the 18th century onwards of the absolute sovereignty of the-crown-in-parliament over all laws, courts and other authorities which you mentioned and seemed to hold. This though historically and logically ends with the monarch's absolute sovereignty because that is the historical and logical foundation of the prerogative of the crown-in-parliament. This is the most 'monarchist' and absolutist perspective on the constitution.

The other, and weakest, possible perspective on the constitution, which you have now switched too(though you somewhat held it before no doubt.), because you were embarrassed by the consequences of the prerogative view, is the view that constitution simply evolves and has little that is constant. The problem of this viewpoint is that it is alien to all claims of historical continuity because all such changes to the constitution are founded on nothing but the current feelings of the populace or parliament. This is not only contrary to the spirit with which most of our greatest political and constitutional figures have approached the constitution, from Edward the Confessor to Winston Churchill, but makes little sense in such a customary and uncodified constitution as ours. You do not have such a constitution unless you feel there is a certain genius, a certain idea or spirit, which permeates and forms your nation and its character and is prolonged indefinitely in time.

Your use of the Human Rights Act, and I laugh at the suggestion it is a fundamental constitutional document, is an ample example of just some of the problems of this view of our constitution. The ideology behind this Act is hostile to many common law principles, to established churches, to monarchy and to many of the traditions and laws of England. You'd endow us with an inconsistent, schizophrenic constitution.

No doubt all three of these ideas blend into the current, vague mass idea of the constitution. But where you really fudge the issue is almost the same you did for the cultural and social makeup of modern Britain; you present one section, albeit a significant one, of the population's and media's view as the only one. I admit many hold your view of the constitution to a greater or lesser extent, but I also know that many hold views the same or similar to the two other views. The Guardian's idea of our constitution is not necessarily the Monday Club's.

On social contracts the only idea that makes much sense is Burke's, a contract between the dead, the living and the yet to be born. This alone takes into account the historical continuity of society. This view is far more in line with the first two views on the constitution than the last one.

2 May 2011 at 07:49  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

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2 May 2011 at 08:00  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Btw I was not arguing about the constitutional status of the declaration of rights, only the bill of rights. Just as Magna Carta 1215 and not 1297 is a fundamental constitutional document, so the declaration of rights and not the bill of rights is one too. All those four documents that the website, which is hardly Lord Coke, mentions(why doesn't it mention the other key documents like the charter of liberties?) are careful, or at least their creators were careful, to stress the historical continuity and authority of their contents.

I am also interested in your insistence on your perspective of the constitution relative to the question of the Queen's sovereignty. Obviously your view must be vague in its conclusions in the current condition of British society, because of the lack of agreement. But I do wonder how you think it proves the monarch isn't technically and legally sovereign? As far as I know parliament still accepts the monarch's technical position to veto all legislation, to sack government's and as the head of state. I'm not sure how this proves how the monarch is not technically sovereign.

2 May 2011 at 08:08  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

I have nothing more to add on all of that, erm, mysticism other than to comment on this:

"which you have now switched too(though you somewhat held it before no doubt.), because you were embarrassed by the consequences of the prerogative view"

If one reads all my comments from start to finish then they are of one theme. No switching, no embarrassment, all in accord.

2 May 2011 at 08:23  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I struggle to see any mysticism. I have pro-monarchy arguments that I could forgive you for calling mystical, but I see very little mystical in my description of the different views of the constitution.

Has it come to this, that we have been so Jacobinised that any talk of historical continuity or the cultural and imaginative linkages between different parts of the fundamental laws and customs of a nation is to simply be called mystical?

Not that I'm against the mystical, but I was hardly talking on such a level. Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, describes the sinews of national character in a far more elevated, ideational way than I just did and though he is in line with, and provides a base for, a more profoundly spiritual view of the nation, as propounded for instance by Coleridge and Blake(views I largely share.), he does not himself delve into such depths. Yet he is the fountainhead of modern conservatism.

It is a shame, I had thought you of more substance than that Dan and was looking forward to continuing the discussion. It does seem to show, however, that I was right in suggesting you were fudging the issues of our cultural, society and constitution when you claimed for one significant, but not overwhelming, viewpoint an absolute dominance. Your comments on mysticism help to show the 'Jacobin-esque' and 'Bentham-esque' liberal ideological view you have. This is fine, until you forget it is historically not shared by many of our great political and constitutional figures and that it isn't necessarily supreme now, or not totally dominant at least.

By the way, Lord Somers made this comment on the parliament of 1688/89, that shows he too, despite his Whiggism, thought of his actions as in line with the ancient constitution of the realm. He says in words that could have come from Fortesque in the 15th century;

'because if they destroyed the Law they destroy at the same times themselves, by overthrowing the very foundation of their Kingly power and grandeur: So that our government not being arbitrary, but legal, not absolute, but political, our Princes can never become arbitrary. absolute or tyrants without forfeiting at the same time their royal character, by breach of the essential conditions of their regal power, which are to act according to the ancient customs and standing Laws of the nation.'.

He also notes that we are subjects;

'and though subjects ought not to lord it over their sovereigns, as masters, yet they ought not to be their slaves neither.'.

2 May 2011 at 08:55  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Actually, I do have something to add. You know that the Human Rights Act is the only thing that the emergency regulations in the Civil Contingencies Act cannot amend? The CCA has immense reach (like Henry Porter, I have significant reservations about the powers in it) but it's interesting that the HRA is the sole survivor. There's something else for you to google.

2 May 2011 at 08:58  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"It is a shame, I had thought you of more substance than that Dan and was looking forward to continuing the discussion."

What is there further to discuss? We're in a Black=White situation as far as I can see. You can assert all you wish but it gets us no further. All I can suggest is that anyone else reading this go to the primary sources and to our Parliament's website and look for themselves. Obviously Wikipedia is not definitive but there will enough on the pages too about the various Acts to show how the whole lot has evolved and how it hangs together.

2 May 2011 at 09:06  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

You mean analyze not assert. ;)

May I add that I agree those reading this should examine the primary sources, but they should certainly not take a parliamentary website, quickly drawn up by a civil servant or party hack as gospel. They should investigate all the details and perspectives surrounding these primary sources, in particular the viewpoints of their authors and the viewpoints of the great constitutional, legal and political figures of our history. The Saxon lawgivers, William the conqueror, Henry I and II, the founders of the common law, those who drew up Magna Carta 1215, the early parliaments, Fortesque, Lord Coke, Clarendon, the parliamentary debates of 1641, Lord Somers and Blackstone are a good starting point.

Dan has also given an example of the need to watch out for ideological presuppositions.

God Save the Queen, our Sovereign Lord and Mistress!

2 May 2011 at 09:25  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

This page explains things rather well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Her_Majesty%27s_Most_Honourable_Privy_Council

though it will seem rather archaic to our American friends. It shows how the reality of government is wrapped up in historic legacy and where the law-making power i.e. sovereignty actually resides now.

2 May 2011 at 09:44  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

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2 May 2011 at 10:23  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

There's also the famous Walter Bagehot whose book is actually online.

http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/bagehot/constitution.pdf

Page 75: "What authority could only be exercised by a monarch with a legislative veto. He should be able to reject bills, if not as the House of Commons rejects them, at least as the House of Peers rejects them. But the Queen has no such veto. She must sign her own death-warrant if the two Houses unanimously send it up to her. It is a fiction of the past to ascribe to her legislative power. She has long ceased to have any."

and his final parting paragraph:

"I do not count as an anomaly the existence of our double government, with all its infinite accidents, though half the superficial peculiarities that are often complained of arise out of it. The co-existence of a Queen’s seeming prerogative and a Downing Street’s real government is just suited to such a country as this, in such an age as ours."

Bagehot actually described us a 'disguised republic', which is pretty much what I have been saying all along really.

:)

2 May 2011 at 10:34  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

It is silly to talk of any historical legacy unless one has an idea of a unifying, historical spirit that links all the disparate elements of the constitution through time. Otherwise these historical elements can have little meaning for today, there just to be interpreted through today's eyes and shoved around at whim. It is rather like a loose construction of a written constitution, like we see among some liberal judges in the US. This pretty much destroys most of the historical continuity and fixed meaning of the said constitution. It is not then an historical legacy except to the extent these judges or academics allow it to be. We see in the US among the left either a contempt for most of the founders and early figures of the Republic(except a few more Jacobin-sed ones like Paine and Jefferson.) or the attempt to remake them in the image of their current ideology. This doesn't strike me of having much true regard for 'historical legacy'.

If only our old friend Lord Somers had known of wikipedia. He needn't of bothered spending so much time working on the declaration of right, he could have just deferred to its oh so brilliant wisdom. ;)

God Save the Queen, our Sovereign Lord.

2 May 2011 at 10:47  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

'Bagehot actually described us a 'disguised republic', which is pretty much what I have been saying all along really.'

We are a republic, we have always more or less been one. A republic is simply a government which acts in the interests of all its people. It is a res publica.

None of those quotes from Bagehot dispute the technical power of the monarch. It is your own inference to draw from the only technical sovereignty of the monarch that she is unimportant. It is this crude Benthamite perspective that scorns forms and symbols and imaginative functions that I most object to.

Disraeli has written brilliantly of some key points of our constitution;

On Magna Carta;

'They were great men, my Lord, that
Archbishop of Canterbury, and that Earl of
Pembroke, who, in the darkness of feodal ages,
laid this bold and broad foundation of our na-
tional liberties ; they were great men, and they
were great statesmen. They did not act upon
abstract principles, luckily for us, principles
which the next age might have rejected, and
the first schoolman, hired by the King, might
have refuted ; they acted upon positive conven-
tional right. They set up no new title : they
claimed their inheritance. They established the
liberties of Englishmen as a life estate, which
their descendants might enjoy, but could not
abuse by committing waste, or forfeit, by any
false and fraudulent conveyance....The Barons wished that the liberties they
secured for themselves should likewise descend
to their posterity ; and as therefore they were
to become a matter of inheritance, as a matter of
inheritance they claimed them. They claimed
them as an inheritance which had been too long
in abeyance; and not content with establishing
their confirmation by Henry Beauclerk, they
traced their glorious pedigree even to the Con-
fessor. '

2 May 2011 at 11:14  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"We are a republic, we have always more or less been one. A republic is simply a government which acts in the interests of all its people."

You really like to play fast and loose with words. England used to be run under a feudal system under King John when the Magna Carta was created by his barons, for his barons, limiting his powers as part of a social contract. That is, he was not allowed to act in an arbitrary manner according to his own will ... though he still tried. England was a fixed, hierachical, class-based system with different obligations at each level. You know this. I know this. We no longer have that sort of system or anything like it. You know this. I know this.

A republic as far as this discussion is concerned is about citizens versus subjects. That is, it's about a modern republic and it says things about how the social contract works. You can fluff and mystify all you like but the weight of all this bears down on you, you cannot avoid it simply because you like the idea of a monarch who is not just a figurehead to hold the construction together.

All the links I have provided show how our government works. In reality. Today. Without fluff. At government level, people understand this and go through the motions on a day to day basis. They don't make it up as they go along. And you don't have to either! All you have to do is actually look at it. The documents exist. The websites exist. The exegesis exists all over the place. The state actually wants you know. In fact, you really ought to know.

2 May 2011 at 12:10  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

Actually it is that I know the proper meaning of words and do not simply take the modern, popular usage as the best. A Republic means res publica or the thing of the people, in the sense of not just the masses but in the sense of ruling for the all the sections of the people. It has little to do with having or not having a particular head of state, it is a comparatively modern development to restrict it to this. Our part of the nation at least will not accept your vision nor that of your friends in Brussels, Strasbourg or broadcasting house.

God Save the Queen!

I have given you an overview of the historical process of our constitution and the different viewpoints about the constitutional and technical and practical role of the different branches of it.

All your talk about websites, like wikipedia and brief comments by civil servants, and exegesis and documents boils down to you wanting to hold up the left's idea of our de facto form of contemporary government as the only view of our government allowable and your wish to banish any traditional idea of the importance of form, symbolism and imagination which like any Jacobin you refer to contemptuously. Your attempt to appeal to any historical basis for this viewpoint has been terribly weak, with little context or depth.

Your comment on Magna Carta and King John proves some of my points. Yes, the social structure was different to today, but you miss three key points. Firstly that this is irrelevant, we are talking about the most fundamental parts of our constitution and law, which has little to do with the degree of class hierarchy. Hence I have avoided talking about the reform bill or anything like that. Secondly that the constitution can be ignored at times, as undoubtedly happened with the early Norman Kings and their barons, despite their promises to uphold the ancient laws and customs, but this does not mean it is totally eclipsed. And lastly and most important these barons did strike a blow to uphold our constitution, they did claim it as an inheritance and our great political and constitutional thinkers continued to claim this inheritance. As Disraeli described Lord Coke and the framers of the Petition of right;

'I do not find, my Lord, that these wise,
and spirited, and learned personages, saw fit to
question the propriety of their great ancestors'
conduct. On the contrary, knowing that society
is neither more nor less than a compact, and that
no right can be long relied on that cannot boast
a conventional origin, they were most jealous of
our title to our liberties. They lavished all
their learning in proving its perfection and com-
pleteness. They never condescended to argue ;
they offered evidence...It is to this deference to what Lord
Coke finely styles, " reverend antiquity," that I
ascribe the duration of our commonwealth, and
it is this spirit which has prevented even our
revolutions from being destructive. !'.

I and many on the right still have some respect for this antiquity. We still think England is its own unique nation, with its own institutions and character, which are deeper than football, and its own historic liberties and privileges and we cling to these instead of a the Europeanised, uniform, rationalist and soulless alternative you hold up.

2 May 2011 at 13:26  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"I and many on the right still have some respect for this antiquity. We still think England is its own unique nation, with its own institutions and character, which are deeper than football, and its own historic liberties and privileges and we cling to these instead of a the Europeanised, uniform, rationalist and soulless alternative you hold up."

Cling all you like. The reality is, as I have said time and again, that I'm essentially a citizen rather than a subject. I don't know why you bothered arguing with that really. You're arguing for something that's been and gone hundreds of years ago, not arguing that I'm actually wrong. What's the point in denying the reality of the workings of our government when it's plastered all over the web and you can see it yourself in person in London if you wish?

2 May 2011 at 13:52  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2 May 2011 at 14:11  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I'm not denying the workings of our government. I'm denying that your left-liberal view of these workings accounts for all the constitutional, legal and cultural/imaginative context and basis of that government.

You're not essentially a citizen, if we take the entire tangle of de facto and de jure elements of our government and the entire practical, symbolic and imaginative facets then the individual Britain is a blend of citizen and subject. The idea we are subjects in a meaningful sense is at least as equally valid as the idea we are citizens, that is my point. The different major ideological sections of our community obviously have different perspectives, so that deference for the monarchy and a not totally unfounded view of being subjects is more popular among the Tory backbench than the Guardian's staff.

You still also maintain an extremely reductionist, unimaginative view of politics, society and culture, which seems to have little time for forms, symbols and imagination. To keep talking of reality with the implication that government were something like a mathematical formula, ignoring any complexities and particularisms, is silly. In such a viewpoint there is little difference between us and France or the US or Australia and yet we do have out unique national character, that is far more monarchical and has far more room for the subject perspective than they do.

2 May 2011 at 14:13  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

"I'm denying that your left-liberal view of these workings accounts for all the constitutional, legal and cultural/imaginative context and basis of that government."

At least I'm a 'left-liberal' now rather than the usual 'Marxist' or even 'Hegalian' that I get cast as here when someone doesn't agree with what I write but can't really argue against it. :)

2 May 2011 at 15:06  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I believe your viewpoint is quite widespread in Britain. I'm not denying that, simply that there are not significant alternatives. Anyway it was good to discuss with you.

Peace.

3 May 2011 at 00:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DanJO 1000-1 Westcountryman

Playing in the wrong league, Mr Countryman? (and by the way, please learn the difference between 'your' and 'you're' - it gives you away)

3 May 2011 at 09:51  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

I don't see much need to heed the insults of an anonymous(perhaps a disguised?) poster who takes no time to make the most elementary argument against me. Dan himself, whatever our differences, has acted far better than that. You do him no justice to make such a pitiable intrusion into our discussion, even as it ends.

I must apologise, though, for my punctuation and grammar. I know they are woeful. I can only plead that I'm quite young and my state schooling paid little attention to such matters. I'm also a terrible proof reader, or rather I simply do not bother to do it enough. Thank you for reminding me to take more care.

3 May 2011 at 10:28  
Blogger English Viking said...

WCM,

I hope you were not implying that I am anon @ 09:51?

I never post anon and only very rarely nit-pick spelling/grammar/typos.

A gentleman does not rise before 10.00am, besides.

3 May 2011 at 12:29  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

No, I did not think it was you. E.V.

It is probably not anyone in disguise anyhow, it is probably just someone with a left-leaning few of politics and our government or constitution who took exception to a different perspective.

3 May 2011 at 13:00  
Blogger Westcountryman said...

-view not few of course.

3 May 2011 at 13:30  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

Not me, either, of course. It was a pretty well-mannered debate too for here! :)

6 May 2011 at 20:23  

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