Friday, July 05, 2013

Egypt: democracy is not always the answer

From Brother Ivo:

Few things make the case for English conservative gradualism better than events such those unfolding in Egypt today.

It is hardly unprecedented.

From the French Revolution, with its radical re-drawing of the calendar and the abolition of marriage, through the Russian Revolution, with its collectivisations and consequent pogroms, to the Chinese famines created by 'rationalists' who could logically order economic society better than the 'chaos of the markets', we have seen it all before.

Somehow our outdated constitutional Monarchy seems to provide a model of stability and prosperity even in the comparably worst of times, and perhaps those who came together for the 'People's Assembly' might care to reflect on how this country has managed to get so much right before it plans to follow the path of radical reform.

Ours is an old democracy. It has evolved slowly and by incremental adjustment. It has addressed many challenges, and some of those past problems have contemporary resonance.

Egypt has its tensions between those of strict religious adherence and the large minorities of Christians and liberal secularists. But England has already ridden that storm, first through the resolution of church/state rights in the times of Henry II and Thomas Beckett, and then through the events which began at the Reformation but re-appeared with the Union of Anglican/Catholic England with Calvinist Scotland. The atheism of Charles Bradlaugh posed a new challenge, but it too was accommodated, as were votes for women, and, more recently, the aspirations for self-government of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are probably not finished yet in that particular regard.

Our non-conformists know what it is to be treated as civic outsiders, yet within the bias towards tolerance that is the hallmark of the English speaking peoples, they gradually came in from the cold after applying themselves diligently and intelligently to making a success of those areas of life - principally commerce - that were available to them. They knew that peace and liberty were important to them as foundational steps towards fuller integration within the society, and so, in time, that followed naturally.

In similar ways, successive waves of immigrants came, embraced the opportunities which the English settlements afforded to them and brought prosperity to themselves, their families and the host community which received them. They did this by embracing and celebrating that which made their acceptance possible - a tolerant acceptance of difference within a culture and a set of institutions that placed loyalty to those institutions at the heart of what it meant to be British.

Religious difference and immigration are potentially inflammable ingredients when carelessly managed, yet we have hitherto coped with both, relatively successfully, though not without incident, tensions or victims. But we have managed these complexities and it has not been by accident.

We are often mocked by outsiders and 'radicals' for being too wedded to our traditions, our unwritten constitution and the oddity of doctrine expressed as the 'Queen in Parliament', yet it is that culture and those quirky institutions which we may thank for being a safe place to anchor ourselves firmly when social turbulence strikes.

Brother Ivo has returned from the USA where he had occasion to debate these matters with friends as we chewed the fat over current problems on either side of the Atlantic. It is when challenged over our quaint institutions that one sharpens an appreciation of their strength and utility.

Egypt and the USA may seem poles apart, yet both are currently thoroughly polarised; both are engaged, to greater or lesser degree, in 'culture wars'.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood used its democratic success to begin to establish an Islamic state; it did not become immediately Iranian in its fervor, but there is little doubt as to the intended direction of travel. In the USA, there has been a similar drive to change the culture swiftly and decisively, this time in a secular liberal direction. And we can see huge intransigence on both sides, with the tensions over abortion, gay marriage, immigration reform, public health care, and the restriction of gun rights.

Within both movements, there has been a blind eye turned to constitutional propriety and cultural peacemaking by those who see a short-term advantage to be gained for some temporary project. Within both movements we see within the dominant force a degree of tolerance of the abuse of power in pursuit of short-term perceived advances.

Within both movements, there is a sense of urgency, disrespect for opposition and, above all, an acceptance that 50% +1 is all you need to undertake transformational societal change.

In the USA that single vote is not even that of an ordinary voter, but rather the vote of a single Supreme Court justice appointed through a sharply political process tipping a finely balanced court.

The founding fathers attempted to model their balancing provisions on those of the old country, replacing the counterbalance to the power of the elected Commons moderated by a conservative House of Lords and Royal Prerogative, with a Senate and a requirement of a two-thirds majority for constitutional change.

Alas, radical impatience has intervened.

Unlike the United Kingdom (and the title tells you something), abortion rights and gay marriage were not secured through the ballot box or constitutional amendment to Federal law needing a two-thirds majority, but via litigation. Gun rights may be limited in the same way and, whatever the rights or wrongs of any of these issues, it takes little imagination to see what a stark contrast this it to the way these things have been managed in the UK.

Brother Ivo is a clear campaigner for redrawing the laws on abortion and is opposed the re-definition of marriage not least because David Cameron did not place the issue with the prominence it merited in his election manifesto. Brother Ivo intends to punish him appropriately at the next opportunity.

That said, he cannot, in conscience, deny that these and other laws with which he profoundly disagrees were passed within our constitutional framework and the Queen, whatever her individual views may be, was able to signify Royal Assent to these and other controversial enactments.

Such is the long appreciation of history in this country that we know that the overall value of our tolerant, subtle and balanced constitutional Settlement is so important that its continued existence is more crucial to our public welfare than any individual grievance.

Perhaps what should have been written, however, is that we ought to know that this is so valuable and so important that its continued existence is more important to our public welfare than any individual grievance.

Within our country today we have movements similar to both the USA and Egypt, dedicated to securing the earliest confrontation with both the polar opposite in worldview and the benign constitutional Settlement that somehow has kept this country as free, prosperous, open and peaceful as any in the world, despite its increasingly diverse populace.

Left to itself, that populace might easily find ways to disagree. Between militant secular republicans desperate to drive out of the public space all trace of God, Monarchy and history, to militant Islamists seeking shariah law and 'no-go areas' in parts of our major cities where there is a Muslim majority, we can see that within this Kingdom there may well be times of conflict ahead between those who are sure that theirs is absolutely the right road to travel, and time must not be lost in implementing change.

Between the USA and Egypt we have distant warnings of how such conflict might easily come to express itself on these shores. Between those two extremes we in the UK have a set of institutions that have evolved and stand with a proven record of success in holding together peoples of disparate views; foremost amongst these is a Monarchy which values and honours people of all cultures and religions, and so has secured the trust loyalty and affection of the vast majority of the public.

It is remarkable that the only times we see the Army on our streets is nominally to hold back the crowds who come to celebrate their point of unity under the Crown.

During the same-sex marriage debate, Brother Ivo lamented that the Prime Minister appeared to have not only forgotten the value of marriage, but also to have forgotten the value of institutions. Institutions sometimes need an element of privilege to work their unifying magic in a world where rationalist reforms have so often created chaos.

We certainly have a Deputy Prime Minister so keen to make his radical mark that we may easily lose elements of the delicate edifice with little benefit to real outcomes, and with the potential to break the balances that have grown on a pragmatic basis over many years of trial and error. As Edmund Burke observed: 'By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.'

So, as we look abroad and watch the tensions mounting in both old and new democracies, we need a sense of our history, and we need a degree of sophistication frequently lacking in our more radical democratisers. We need better to understand and defend our tried and trusted institutions, and we need to make a concerted effort to do so.

Two centuries ago, Burke identified and defended the value of institutions which work and protect our culture and our liberties better than the more fickle vagaries of popular democratic whim. He had seen the chaos of revolutionary populism in France, and we can now see what is happening in Egypt where a democratic mandate has drifted similarly off course. He warned that minorities (like the Coptic Christians and street preachers) can be oppressed through democracy. He foretold the whipping-up of mob violence by demagogues, and he was alert to the tyranny of the majority.

It is in times such as these that we need to remember our past and its heroes, and none deserves recollection more than Burke.

Brother Ivo is in the middle of reading Jesse Norman’s biography of the man, and it would be very suitable reading for our Prime Minister and his Coalition colleagues who might be well instructed by it. Perhaps a primer for Owen Jones and his People's Assembly might be Mr Norman’s next project.

Above all, as we watch political zealots - both secular and religious - abusing their democratic mandates. we should recall Burke’s advice: 'All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.'


Blogger David Hussell said...

Insightful post, Brother Ivo, so thank you for that indeed.

But if the Conservative Party will not defend conservatism, marriage, the true bedrock of society, then to what chaos must we forced to descend ?

Fortunately there are elements of true conservatism remaining elsewhere in society, theologically and politically, in old churches and new political parties, under different guises and banners, and those banners are being waved and shall never be stilled.
Let us all pray that the pendulum will swing and that once again those in influential positions will revert to valuing the established truths which have hitherto served us well.

By coincidence I too am about to start reading Jesse Norman's book on Burke, after finishing my present one on Richard Hooker, beloved of many classical Anglicans like myself.

5 July 2013 at 08:18  
Blogger DanJ0 said...

For sure, there's been significant changes in the last 50 years but there have always been periods of significany change. 100 years ago, it was change around gender and class issues. 150 years ago, it was issues of liberty and freedom. People seem to assume that freedom of speech (as a topical example) is a core part of our national identity but it's a relatively new thing. Certainly it wasn't around much at the time of our religious wars where freedom of thought was deliberately suppressed by limiting freedom of speech. Where we differ from Egypt now is the acceptance of, perhaps even the recognition of the value of, diversity. Liberals like me don't want to drive religion out of the public sphere, just remove its privilege from the State. People exercising the right to manifest their religion in their private lives in our shared public space is fine. That's diversity in action.

5 July 2013 at 09:12  
Blogger Martin Sewell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5 July 2013 at 10:03  
Blogger bluedog said...

Brother Ivo says 'Egypt and the USA may seem poles apart, yet both are currently thoroughly polarised; both are engaged, to greater or lesser degree, in 'culture wars'.'

And the UK isn't?

Where to start? There are three separate but inter-related conflicts raging in the UK that this communicant can identify. Firstly there is the sovereignty war which relates to the EU and pits the Europhiles against the Europhobes, to use a degree of over-simplification. Then there is the values war in which an old-established societal model is being destroyed by the progressives to the dismay of the social conservatives. Finally there is a territorial war in which Islamic demographic claimants are trying to carve out emirates under the aegis of their own customs and law within the UK. Foreign powers are involved in each one of these conflicts to a significant degree.

No cause for smugness, they may be cultural but these conflicts are nothing short of existential. In every case the resistance is essentially the same demographic - Middle England.

Now fighting on two fronts at once is famously difficult. May one suggest that fighting on three fronts simultaneously is a recipe for defeat? Alas Middle England has no option but to fight on, and will do so until death or glory.

5 July 2013 at 10:04  
Blogger IanCad said...

Superb post Bro Ivo,

And from it, may I infer? A rejection of both the populist UKIP'ers and any form of referenda?

At least, I hope that is the case.

5 July 2013 at 10:48  
Blogger John Wrake said...

Brother Ivo,

Please include my last blog, which is NOT anonymous and contains a factual refutation of some things which you have written.

John Wrake

5 July 2013 at 12:03  
Blogger LEN said...

The basic problem with Democracy is not the system but the fallen nature of man running the system.
Judeo/ Christian principles gave us the bedrock on which to build a strong fair Society.

The secular' no absolutes' in morality also Darwinian survival of the fittest morality/philosophy have brought a sense of disorder and hopelessness to the political/social/ and economic/system.

When the foundations are destroyed everyone will do what is 'right' in their own eyes.

5 July 2013 at 12:12  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Religious difference and immigration are potentially inflammable ingredients when carelessly managed, yet we have hitherto coped with both, relatively successfully, though not without incident, tensions or victims. But we have managed these complexities and it has not been by accident

The state, having opened our borders to the Third World and to Islam without the consent of the people, managed the complexities by inventing the cardinal sin of racism to close down debate on immigration. The people have so far managed the complexities by keeping their mouths shut for fear of obloquy and loss of livelihood and by means of white flight.

Any relative success we may have had in coping with the invasion of alien peoples and religions is thanks to the social cohesion the English have built up over centuries of nationhood. With England now no longer a nation, no longer the exclusive home of the English, we are drawing on our reserves of cohesion—our folk memories of nationhood—but not replacing them.

Thanks to the undoubted unifying effect of the monarchy, Britain may preserve the appearance of unity longer than other lands but that will be to our disadvantage, a bequest to future generations of an even more unstable and violent society. Better to lance the boil early than allow it to fester.

5 July 2013 at 12:21  
Blogger Owl said...

A very thoughtful article Brother Ivo.

It seems to me that british unity always revolved around enemies, real or imagined, without, i.e. external or foreign.

As Bluedog points out, we have a situation where the enemies (if that is the proper word) are within.

We have seen that LibLabCon are collectively not only unable to deal with the situation but were instrumental in creating it.

I believe "sold out" is the appropriate term.

The only question is to whom.

5 July 2013 at 12:29  
Blogger John Wrake said...

Brother Ivo,

The restraint on bad legislation, formerly provided by the House of Lords and the Royal Prerogative were emasculated by the terms of the 1912 Parliament Act, which removed the right of the Lords to reject financial bills and claimed that the Monarch's acceptance of government bills was automatic.

We now have a Parliament without restraint, acting like an absolute monarchy, arrogating to itself powers which it does not possess and subservient to foreign authority.

Until we return to the Rule of Law,
our difficulties will continue to grow.

John Wrake

5 July 2013 at 13:15  
Blogger Drastic Plastic said...

In every state there must a balance of power. Without it democracy is a joke. As Ian Smith put it, in Rhodesia, it's just "one man, one vote ... once". He was right, of course (and isn't it curious how the mass media ignore the scandal of what the Left's policies have done to Africa?)

5 July 2013 at 13:27  
Blogger bluedog said...

Mr Owl @ 12.29 says, 'We have seen that LibLabCon are collectively not only unable to deal with the situation but were instrumental in creating it.'

In short, part of the problem and therefore not part of the solution.

Playing the Middle England hand in this game, it is clearly essential to prioritise the threats and deal with the least threatening first and quickly. The Sovereignty war and the Values war can probably be placed in that order in terms of risk. It seems that not only will the EU itself implode and remove the immediate threat, but that some members of the political elite have even started to understand the problem. An encouraging development. Overall one can say that the Sovereignty war seems to be rapidly coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
The Values war is a long war and as we know has been fifty years in coming to the final battle of SSM. Currently it seems that the political elite will prevail and successfully destroy the institution of marriage. However, a defeat here for Middle England gives a competent political entrepreneur a superb opportunity to build a power base from which to rout the pagans, homosexuals and libertines. Come on down, Nigel.

Which brings us to the Islamic threat. Already we are seeing the British re-settle themselves away from immigrant dominated communities. This disaggregation of the population means that the Muslims will be handed territory by default. Consequently British voting patterns will realign on a religio-ethnic basis. At some point the British will be faced with a clear choice, unite and expel the aliens, or allow the aliens to play rival British groups off against each other and force them to submit. To Allah. In this event it is hard to envisage a non-military outcome.

5 July 2013 at 13:31  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Greetings Ivo. From Wikki

The Brotherhood's credo was and is, "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations."[

Hardly surprising then, as this man was listening to his radio, that one commentator said that having spent decades trying to rule the country as a legitimate political party and lately using Egypt’s flourishing (sic) democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood will of course turn to terrorism. Now that the door has been firmly slammed in their face. (…think that’s because of the large number of muslims in the brotherhood – we get the same in Birmingham, large number of muslims there too…)

Of course, the only way to avoid that then is to invite them back, and pretty damn quick. Let’s hope our own Lib-Dems don’t get a similar idea when they get turfed out in 2015, what !

So, anyone who has a long standing wish to visit the place had better do it now. You’ve only a few weeks of comparative safety left. Egypt, that is, not Birmingham. (How can anyone have a long standing wish to visit Birmingham ?)

Pip Pip !

5 July 2013 at 17:33  
Blogger Peter D said...

"Above all, as we watch political zealots - both secular and religious - abusing their democratic mandates, we should recall Burke’s advice: 'All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.'"

Not sure I completely agree with this comment. After all, pluralistic-democracy hasn't proven terribly effective in sustaining the very foundation of our society i.e. marriage and stable family life.

"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour."

5 July 2013 at 19:46  

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