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Archive for March 2009

The Purposes of Government

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George Bernard Shaw is famously supposed to have described Britain and the USA as “two countries separated by a common language” except nobody can find the reference. However Oscar Wilde did say something similar. In The Canterville Ghost (1887), he wrote, ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’.

And this seems to be exacerbated by an almost complete ignoring of the Greats of American literature, such as Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, James Fenimore Cooper, or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And yet they are as much part of our literary heritage as Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Cowper Powys, W. H. Davies, or Dylan Thomas, for example, are of theirs.

And so it is with political theory, or political philosophy as people are happier calling it. The thinking that led to the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution didn’t appear out of the blue – the architects of these documents were steeped in British political culture and history. In many respects, the events that led to the American Revolution began some half a century before 1776.

The issues that had produced the British Civil War had, everybody thought, been sorted out and the Act of Settlement 1689 and the Act of Union 1707 more or less neatly tied it all off. Except in 1710 the Parliament in Westminster decided that it was more than simply “the High Court of Parliament” where the Common Law was declared and expanded, and began to enact new legislation outside the Common Law. This didn’t go down too well in the British Isles, let alone in British North America.

So, in treating of modern British politics and government it is sensible and germane to look at the products of the American Revolution and its contemporary Scottish Enlightenment, as well as the English theorists like Burke, Locke, and the Mills. Which is what I should have done, but didn’t, with the latest question that has been bugging me.

It is harder than you might think to discover what the Purposes of Government are.

You’d think that a quick recourse to an ‘A’ Level textbook of yesteryear, when students were actually asked the sort of questions that would stretch the faculties a bit, would throw up the answer in easily digested form.

No such luck. Nobody seems to know what they are, or are too shy to admit their ignorance. Well, I’ll make a start: I don’t know.

I’m working on something that requires some words on government – or rather on these purposes of government.

I’ve read through David Hume’s “Of the First Principles of Government” and “Of the Origin of Government”; Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society – well, I skimmed through a lot of it that didn’t seem relevant; and John Millar on “The Powers of the Sovereign”.

I must admit that there’s a lot of information in these pillars of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the underlying Presbyterianism is actually notable. But it all seems to start by assuming the ‘why?’ that I want to know. So I went to the previous century.

I suppose I should have looked at the Great Montrose’s essay “On Sovereign Power” and Richard Hooker’s Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie – well, I will get round to them – but I actually headed for Thomas Hobbes and Leviathan.

Again, the problem I had was one of the author apparently assuming what I wanted to know.

It wasn’t until a friend suggested reading through the letters of Thomas Jefferson that I got the eye-opening steer that I needed.

The American Revolution was, in many respects, Round Three of the British Civil War and some of the intellectual and legal issues that had driven the Bishops’ War and the War between Parliament and the Crown were still very much alive – both in Great Britain and in British North America.

And these were part of the intellectual heritage of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress on 4 July, 1776, as they were of the “American Party” in London.

So, it’s hardly any wonder that Russell Kirk took Edmund Burke as the start-point for his opus The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot which is a very American take on conservatism. Burke is usually marked as the leader of the American Party that seems to have been made up, surprisingly, of Tories seeing as in American terms the word Tory is applied to the Loyalists who resisted the Revolution.

But those labels were remarkably slippery things in those days – it’s quite hard to fix a particular one on any political personalities of the time. Burke – and Pitt – are usually said to be Tories, but Burke was politically affiliated with the Rockingham Whigs. John Locke and the Mills were liberals, but there’s quite a tory angle to their views, too

Thomas Jefferson, the Adamses, George Washington, James Madison and others are claimed as Whigs, but their political philosophies would tend to place them with the Tories. At this distance in time, it’s hard to draw too fine a distinction between the political views of the Whigs and the Tories. But it exists, and is formative of our present governmental world.

So, as well as reading through the liberals of the American Revolution, I’ll be re-reading Richard Hooker and those who came after him like the English Romantics.

And there is another difference and that is between ideas of government that emerged from Scotland’s “Community of the Realm” as the fount of sovereignty (deriving ultimately from the Declaration of Arbroath 1320) and that of England’s “Crown in Parliament” that was the product of the Act of Settlement 1689. But, the political thinking of the American Revolution is a good place to start.

So, taking the famous opening words of that British political document, the Declaration, as my jumping off point, I’m now reading my way towards finding out the Purposes of Government:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Written by David Rosser Owen

March 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Walk in the Old Paths

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Walk in the Old Paths

Where are we going?

We say we want a new direction. But “new” can mean fresh as well as simply different or novel. Should we not in our new direction take a fresh look at our old way?

Behind us, and with us, stand great men and women.

In these ranks are Churchill, Salisbury, Disraeli, Palmerston (for a time), Pitt, Burke (eventually), Samuel Johnston, Clarendon, the Great Montrose, Archbishop Laud, Bishops John Jewel and Lancelot Andrewes, and even King Charles the Martyr, but especially Richard Hooker the famous Rector of Bishopsbourne.

Equally with them are George Grant, Eugene Forsey, Stephen Leacock, Donald Creighton, Milton Acorn, Mazo de la Roche, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, and Bishops John Strachan and Charles Inglis.

And we should not forget C. S. Lewis, Cardinal Newman, “Lewis Carroll”, G. K. Chesterton, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Truly “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. But can we honestly say that, looking back down those paths illumined by these Greats, we can now look forward with an equal assurance and certainty to a new, clear, Tory way, and boldly walk in it?

There used not to be a Tory unfamiliar with that verse from Jeremiah (6:16), “interrogate de semitis antiquis quae sit via bona et ambulate in ea” (ask after the old paths where is the good way and walk in it) that hints at Matthew 7:14: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (“quam angusta porta et arta via quae ducit ad vitam et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam”).

The Tory Way – that began, as both Feiling and Hearnshaw said, with the wedding of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – married the values of religion, the Common Law, and the “ancient customs and usages of the people”.

This was King Charles the Martyr’s phrase said at his show trial when he held that we must protect the people from the tyranny of Parliament: a trust that he, in effect, laid on us the heirs of his “Court Party”.

David Cameron has suggested that we need a new Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights 1689 was meant to preserve those gains of the Civil War that trammelled arbitrary rule by the Executive.

We have just lived through the most egregious decade of destruction of the “ancient customs and usages of the people” by revolutionists whose political philosophy is wholly alien to the British Way and which has been inspired by the misnamed “neoconservatism” of America. 

This is a political perspective that is neither new nor conservative.

It is a formulation by American ex-Trotskyites of their New Left’s “long march through the institutions”, and has nothing to offer to us.

Seduced by the rosy shine on these Apples of Sodom, this “neo-conservative” philosophy has been embraced by the Democratic and Republican Parties in the USA, and Mr Blair’s New Labour; and, surprisingly, by the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada. Do we really wish to repeat the destruction of the traditions of these parties, and embrace this alien philosophy? We reject the corrupt and demented teachings of Leo Strauss, and the perversities embraced by his erstwhile students.

And, anyway, American political concepts and traditions do not speak to us.

Their Whiggery derives from the French Enlightenment and the terrible Revolution that followed it, with their ideas that man and society can be improved and perfected by governments’ tinkering. Through Burke, Pitt, Carlisle, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey we rejected those at the time. We stand for older and more enduring values.

We believe in religion, religious morality, and that without them civil society cannot survive.

We believe that man is imperfect, that our political environment has evolved organically over time to accommodate our nature and the unique qualities of our culture.

We used to believe that sovereignty belongs to God, which He expresses temporally through the Monarchy and the structure of society.

And we believed that society is a living thing, an organism of the Divine Creation, which can only be harmed by parasitic constructs.

We do, indeed, need a new Bill of Rights to restore what has been destroyed in the past nine years, and to protect our Constitution from further such razzias: Mr Cameron’s idea should be taken forward to fruition.

And further, we must restore Civil Liberties and the Common Law to what they were before 1997 – that is true conservatism. We must not connive in the abolition of those measures protecting the liberties of Britons that have been painfully achieved over 900 years of our forebears’ work and sacrifice, simply because the previous Administration did it – and so it can’t be undone. Who says so?

The first Writ of Habeas Corpus was served in 1305 – 701 years ago: by what arrogance are we allowed to dispense with it, when it was meant to protect against just the sort of arbitrary arrest and detention that finds its existence so inconvenient now? The Earl of Mansfield CJ used it in 1771 to procure the freedom of James Somersett, and his subsequent judgment in R v Knowles ex parte Somersett on 22 June 1772 effectively set in train the abolition of slavery through citing that serfdom had been abolished centuries before. Somersett’s counsel, Francis Hargrave, quoting a case from 1569, made the ringing statement “…that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in”. Will we now countenance the restoration of servitude in the name of a specious “War on Terrorism”? As the Monty Python star Terry Jones asked rhetorically of George Walker Bush, “How do you bomb an abstract noun?”.

Double Jeopardy was outlawed nearly 800 years ago (if it is now to be amended, why not with the established Scottish usage of “Not Proven”?).

Who gave us the right to tear up Magna Carta?

The use of Star Chamber courts and arbitrary arrest and detention in government oubliettes was abolished by the Civil War in the 17th Century and enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Who gave us the right to restore them?

Are we really at such a threat from putative and unproved “Islamic terrorism” that we must destroy our ancient liberties to ensure our safety?

There is no absolute safety. To believe so is an unbelief in the Divine Majesty and Power that our forebears never countenanced. They knew that there is no refuge from death: when your time comes, you go.

Is our social environment so much more dangerous now than in Jack the Ripper’s, or Dickens’, or Mayhew’s time; or in the days of Dick Turpin and the Highwaymen; or, more recently, during the 32 years of actual Irish terrorism, so that we need a raft of unusual and anti-liberal legislation to demonise communities of the Queen’s subjects on almost wholly specious grounds?

Have we lost the Faith our forbears held to, to replace it with the parvenu heresy of Dispensationalism?

We are getting ready to put behind us the disillusionment that led to the electoral defeats of 1997, 2001, and 2005. In these opening years of the 21st Century, is it not opportune to consider where the country should be going, and what the role of government is: and especially the next Tory Government?

What did we do with Disraeli’s “One Nation” that derives from his political novel, Sybil, or the Two Nations? Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was deeply influenced by the ideals of the One Nation movement. In The Globe and Mail, on Saturday, 8 May 1982, George Grant stated that, “One cannot understand the Conservatism of Canada without thinking of Disraeli”. This is equally true of the United Kingdom.

In his 2000 Macmillan Lecture, Damian Green MP stated,

 “My answer to the question posed tonight, ‘Who needs One Nation Conservatism?’ is first the Conservative Party, and secondly the British people. The current public debate on this topic is most peculiar. Many of those who for years have led the forces of One Nation Conservatism are now excoriated as dinosaurs by certain commentators. At the same time the One Nation label has never been so much in demand…”.

Lady Thatcher once famously stated that the core of Conservative principles was to be found in two things: belief in God and upholding the sanctity of the family.

Certainly around these two elements of Conservatism, even if there were none other, Her Majesty’s Muslim subjects would be, potentially, Tories. And, in fact, until recent events happened many were gravitating to our Party after a long and largely fruitless infatuation with socialism – or, rather, with the Labour Party.

Anthony Charles Linton Blair, it would seem to me, has missed few opportunities to cast himself in a conservative light to the electorate.

Yet in recent years he has appeared to me to have been a most flagrant presenter of a public religiosity, a most aggressive destroyer of the family, a most active divider of the nation, a most avid embracer of foreign adventures for the benefit, not of Her Majesty’s realms and their interests, but those of alien powers (would not this constitute, prima facie, treason?), and a most assertive promoter of the notion that Her Majesty’s Muslim subjects are not to be trusted because they are would-be terrorists.

We Tories know this last to be an outrageous calumny. But are we to remain silent? Are we to endorse the perverse view that Islam, which helped form in a seminal and fundamental manner the Western Tradition from which the Tory Way sprang, is an inimical and alien civilization?

Many of Britain’s Muslims come from the former British India in the Indian sub-continent, from Cyprus, from Malaysia, and from South, East and West Africa.

Have we Tories forgotten the sacrifices their forebears made on behalf of the Empire at Dolgorodoc in the Keren; in Burma, and at Imphal and Kohima; in Malaya and Singapore; in Java; in Indo-China; in Mesopotamia; in north Africa; in Italy; in France?

They, too, are included in the fine lines written by Lt Col John McCrae of the CEF in May 1915, “to you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high”.

Corporal, 69th Punjab Regiment, France 1915 - sketched by LCpl Joseph Lee 1/4BW
Corporal, 69th Punjab Regiment, France 1915 – sketched by LCpl Joseph Lee 1/4BW

Will we forswear this duty, will we break faith with them, and defile their memory now by spitting in the faces of their angry youth, who only seem to want what has been promised to all Britons, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, namely, to be heard by their democratic representatives and for them to speak up on their behalf in public forums? Remember the late the Right Hon J. Enoch Powell MBE held that the duty of the Member was to articulate in Parliament what his (or her) inarticulate constituents could not?

Traditionally we have believed that government is necessary for the furtherance of the Common Weal, to constrain and trammel overmighty barons, for the maintenance of the Queen’s Peace at home, and the defence of Her realms from foreign threats. It is a public service; it is a duty; it is a vocation; it is not a profession, nor a vehicle for personal aggrandisement and enrichment.

We Tories have always recognised, and continue to do so, that in the United Kingdom Allegiance is to the Queen in person and not to any transitory government-of-the-day, nor to the amour propre of politicians, nor to any ephemeral constructs of “what it means to be British”. Such an Allegiance cannot be divided, cannot be sold, cannot be prostituted to the interests of alien powers without ceasing to be. We cannot claim to owe Allegiance to the Queen and at the same time give loyalty to a foreign entity outside her realms. We must be British subjects of the Queen pure and simple. And we Tories have always believed that we will be called to account for this on a day when there will be no prevarication and no dissembling.

We have embraced ideas of the Welfare State as being a means to promote the common weal, and agreed to levels of taxation as a means to effect Churchill’s safety net designed to catch those who fall and his ladder back up. But we have always recognised that taxation is not to become an excuse for depredations into the pockets of the populace: the Exchequer has no lien on the property of the subject, and no justification for driving him or her into beggary. This was another matter corrected by the Civil War which socialist governments seem to believe can simply be brushed aside and ignored.

We had local police constabularies to administer the Common Law on our behalf and, eventually, the Law as a whole with our consent. But the Police is not to be a national Standing Army occupying the kingdom and at war with the Queen’s subjects. It is not an instrument of government repression. It is not the tool of ambitious politicians to cow a dissenting populace.

Magna Carta held that it was the right of the freeborn subject to go about his lawful occasions without let or hindrance. In what way is the United Kingdom in 2006 a more lawless and dangerous place than England in 1215?

And what of our foreign policy and the role of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces?

We finally divested ourselves of our Empire, which I’m proud to have served, by the end of the 1960s. It is an anachronism still to be following an imperial profile in our foreign and defence policies over forty years later, especially with the end of the threat in Europe from the Warsaw Treaty Organisation.

Lord Palmerston, once a Tory, when Foreign Secretary held that “England has no friends, only interests”. Her Majesty’s forces are for the defence of the Queen’s realms, and, by extension, British interests abroad where real British interests are really threatened. It has been accepted as a modern duty to add to this disaster and humanitarian relief.

But it is no business of ours to involve ourselves in others’ wars. And others’ illegal wars of aggression should be anathema to us. Although we were related by blood and history to France, Spain and Portugal, and Germany, we were never overawed by them nor considered it an imperative to throw in our lot with any of them if our real best interests were not served thereby. So it should be with the USA, with which we are also related by blood and history, and the European Union which is our neighbour and with which we trade.

We have very much more to share with our kinsmen and women in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – and, if the truth be known and admitted – in the Republic of Ireland than with either of the above nascent empires.

We have nothing to share, nothing to gain, nothing to learn from the hagiographic idolisers of things American.

There is nothing for Tories, whether in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, in the works and ambitions of the late Democratic Senator for Washington State (USA), Henry Martin ‘Scoop’ Jackson. Why should we flirt with his idolisers?

We have better and greater heroes of our own, whose works, speeches, and actions have more to teach us, more to inspire us, and that are of direct relevance to our own traditions and our own current circumstances. Why should any British Conservative or Tory wish to involve himself or herself with such alien personalities?

There is nothing for Muslim Tories in those inappropriately named Muslim organisations which appear to be yet another translocation of American neoconservatism to these shores. Why should we listen to them or give them house room? There is nothing that they can say to us that is of value that we have not already heard from our own, home-grown Muslim leaders and thinkers. And the rest of their agenda has no relevance to our environment.

As Tories in the United Kingdom there is a common crisis we share with the Tories in Canada that we should be addressing. There is an urgent imperative that we should be consulting closely with our contemporary Tory thinkers across the Atlantic – with, for example, Senator Hugh Segal, with Professor Ron Dart, with David Orchard, with Marjaleena Repo, with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.

Let us, therefore, in the words of the famous Gaelic motto “cleave closely to the renown of our forebears” (lean gu dlùth ri cliù ar sìnnsirean), and draw inspiration from it.

Let us find once again the Good Way – the true Tory Way – “and walk therein”.

I wrote this just over two years ago as an Open Letter to MPs (not just Conservative ones) and some peers. I only got a couple of responses. It was essentially a write-up of the extended outline of a book that I’m working up jointly with Abdul Rasjid Skinner.

I’m posting it ‘as is’ hoping to pick up on some of the points I made, insha Allah, in the coming weeks.

Written by David Rosser Owen

March 11, 2009 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Rights Of Woman

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Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, wrote a poem which he published in 1792 – the Year of The Terror in France.

It’s not really one of his better works, whether for scansion or metre, but it was certainly daring for its day. It appears to be something of a parody of the sloganising and pamphletting that was going on in Britain as well as Europe, concerning the “Rights of Man” (in Thomas Paine’s memorable phrase).

However, it might well be listed as perhaps the first blow for a recognition of women’s rights in the modern European world.

The year he published it, it should be noted was 19 years earlier than the publication date of the first novel (Sense and Sensibility) of that icon of true feminism, Jane Austen, in 1811.

As a gesture towards International Woman’s Day on 8 March (yesterday), I offer Rabbie Burns’s poem.

The Rights Of Woman
An Occasional Address. Spoken by Miss Fontenelle on her benefit night, November 26, 1792.

While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

First, in the Sexes’ intermix’d connection,
One sacred Right of Woman is, protection. –
The tender flower that lifts its head, elate,
Helpless, must fall before the blasts of Fate,
Sunk on the earth, defac’d its lovely form,
Unless your shelter ward th’ impending storm.

Our second Right-but needless here is caution,
To keep that right inviolate’s the fashion;
Each man of sense has it so full before him,
He’d die before he’d wrong it-’tis decorum. –
There was, indeed, in far less polish’d days,
A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a Lady’s quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men-and you are all well-bred-
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

For Right the third, our last, our best, our dearest,
That right to fluttering female hearts the nearest;
Which even the Rights of Kings, in low prostration,
Most humbly own-’tis dear, dear admiration!
In that blest sphere alone we live and move;
There taste that life of life-immortal love.
Smiles, glances, sighs, tears, fits, flirtations, airs;
‘Gainst such an host what flinty savage dares,
When awful Beauty joins with all her charms-
Who is so rash as rise in rebel arms?

But truce with kings, and truce with constitutions,
With bloody armaments and revolutions;
Let Majesty your first attention summon,
Ah! ça ira! The Majesty Of Woman!

Written by David Rosser Owen

March 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized