What The Past Few Days Have Shown

My philosopher friend Steve, who is also possessed of a very very good legal brain, likes to point out that the heart of the idea of political correctness is that words matter, and that changing what people say can change economic realities and thoughts. This sort of impulse is one that I am suspicious of.

The past few days, however, have revealed to me a shocking level of proof for the problems that can arise when people do not know the terms they use or their implications.

We have been subjected to ignorant lectures by public commentators about the 'unity of British law'. How many more hundreds of years of political Union on these islands have to pass before people just simply note that Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands have different legal systems>

I have heard people limning the virtues of 'Civil Law'. They have that on the continent. We have contract, trusts, tort, equity, land, probate, employment, and a half dozen other sorts of legal groupings. Under these headings are many different remedies, case principles, and procedures. They are not unified. We do not have a coherent system of 'Civil Law' subject to any detailed statements of principle and nor should we, except in the minds of junior academics with a philosophical agenda.

We have also been told again and again that the unity of this law is part of what makes us British 'citizens'. One of my passports says that I am a British Citizen. Children get classes in 'citizenship' and immigrants are subjected to citizenship tests. Civis Britannicus Sum, we should all say to the mirror if we were allowed to use Latin these days.


No one in this country is a citizen in the sense that the word has been used for hundreds of years. Everyone, regardless of background or the law that is applied to them, is a subject. This reflects the fact that there is no written constitution in this country and that what holds it together as a legal entity, and gives rise to the powers of the executive, is the Crown. The people may well be sovereign in some vague, quasi-democratic electoral sense, but I have never seen a convincing argument of how this is expressed outside of occasional elections. Republics have citizens.

The title of citizen has become a cover for a whole bunch of social-science educated political elites to impose their own somewhat anaemic agenda on the vast bulk of the people and to pretend that it represents some sort of perfected, west-wing TV vision of America. I think this sort of thing was attached to the Atlanticist agenda of the likes of Jonathan Freedland in the nineteen nineties. People who promote it frequently hide behind American names like those of Tom Paine without ever, apparently, following through any of Paine's arguments to their democratic, republican conclusion.

Equally, I keep hearing Rowan Williams being patronised by idiots for being 'an intellectual and an academic, not a leader'. He is not meant, surely, to be a sort of Pope, and as far as I can see a subtle intelligent man at the head of a bag of cats as wide and complicated as worldwide Anglicanism--and I write as a Roman Catholic--is exactly the model of leadership amongst those people. The criticisms of Dr Williams by journalists who spend their time pontificating (pardon the pun), drinking or filling out expense accounts whilst writing essentially for each other is breathtaking.

In the middle of all this, something has also revealed itself behind the words. It is the intolerance and the malicious, paranoia-fuelled agenda of people in both the Islamic and what is, broadly speaking, the 'neoconservative' community who clearly want the moral dignity of a cultural war. Such a cultural war would of course be as repressive, nasty and petty as many of those who want to fight it and depends upon attachment to an inhuman political clarity and a basically sectarian set of demons and procedures that subsist in bullying and smearing.

Meantime, any real question of what can be done about climate change--even what really causes it-- or of how debt can be paid down, or of how goodwill can be created, or of how messy the real human world is, or of the wars and brewing wars across the planet, or of the effects of abortion and euthanasia on societies, or of what the young men and women who are fighting and dying across the world are really dying for, or of what the costs of our pagan materialism are, or of whether the USA is entering a vast and dangerous decline, is swept aside.

Good grief.

How much more of this nonsense will we be allowed before the world bites back?


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