Monday, February 17, 2014

UK not in EU: Edmund Burke would have agreed

In 1790, while English radicals lost their heads in admiration for the French Revolution, Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" fought the flames that threatened to reach and engulf Britain: "Whenever our neighbor's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for the engines to play a little on our own. Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security."

Presciently - three years before the killings of the French King and Queen and the Reign of Terror - he warned that the abstract principles and powerful enthusiasms so dear to Richard Price and other progressive thinkers had to be contained and co-ordinated by institutions, lest they become highly destructive:

"When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with solidity and property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things, too; and without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men. But liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power,—and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers."

To us, that last sentence may serve equally as a warning against the (supposedly ex-) Communists and other cabalists influential in the modern European Union, as about the Robespierres and Napoleons who were then still bubbling their way to the top of the French Revolutionary froth.

Richard Price's "A Discourse on the Love of our Country" (4 November 1789), to which Burke's book was a riposte, claimed that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had established the principle that we could arbitrarily choose or depose our rulers. Burke countered that although it was true that William had not been first in the royal succession and so it appeared that we had then instituted a new Constitution, yet the link with our ancient Common Law had not been broken, and had been amended by statute only so far as was necessary ("to the peccant part only") to correct the malfunction in the British body politic caused by James II's Catholicism and its concomitant threat of ceding power to persons and entities outside the kingdom.

"Though a king may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy. By as strong, or by a stronger reason, the House of Commons cannot renounce its share of authority. The engagement and pact of society, which generally goes by the name of the Constitution, forbids such invasion and such surrender. The constituent parts of a state are obliged to hold their public faith with each other, and with all those who derive any serious interest under their engagements, as much as the whole state is bound to keep its faith with separate communities: otherwise, competence and power would soon be confounded, and no law be left but the will of a prevailing force. On this principle, the succession of the crown has always been what it now is, an hereditary succession by law: in the old line it was a succession by the Common Law; in the new by the statute law, operating on the principles of the Common Law, not changing the substance, but regulating the mode and describing the persons. Both these descriptions of law are of the same force, and are derived from an equal authority, emanating from the common agreement and original compact of the state, communi sponsione reipublicæ, and as such are equally binding on king, and people too, as long as the terms are observed, and they continue the same body politic."

The people, it should be unnecessary to remark, are an essential "constituent part of the state" and their part is an inalienable element in "the engagement and pact of society". Burke's stress on the continuity of the Common Law means that he could not possibly have approved of the surrender of national sovereignty implied in our unconstitutional (and therefore unlawful) entry into the Common Market in 1972, much less of the considered deceit and treasonable collusion by high officials whereby they usurped the immemorial social pact of the nation.

Though a Whig (progressive) himself, Burke is viewed as the founder of modern political Conservatism. (The Tories, believers in absolute authoritarian rule, supported the 1715 rising that tried to reinstate James on the throne; so to be a Conservative is to be opposed to Tories.) Today's Conservative voters and MPs, if they do indeed stand in the line of Edmund Burke, should be against EU membership to a man and woman.

"You will observe, that, from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our Constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity,—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our Constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown, an inheritable peerage, and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors."

"Though a king may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy." Nor may a Parliament, or treacherous Ministers, Prime Ministers and civil servants abdicate our sovereignty for us. Our "entailed inheritance" of national freedom and self-determination is to be "transmitted to our posterity" and cannot be sold, mortgaged or gambled away.

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1 comment:

A K Haart said...

I wonder how many MPs don't know who Burke was.