When the English decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1688, they went ahead and did it, and they justified it with a theory later. It was a great success – it was largely peaceful, and it continues to form the basis of our constitutional settlement. When the French decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1789, they first developed a theory, and then they sought to implement it. The result was a cruel failure from which France still suffers – they are lethally rioting against government as I write.
The difference between these two world views is as deep as the English Channel. It lies behind the famous observation of Oliver Wendell Holmes that ‘the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.’
The young republic of the United States sought to bridge those two outlooks. The English Bill of Rights was the end product of centuries of development of the common law by judges and of the conflict between the Crown and Parliament. It is still on the books and part of our mindset, but it gives us no grief. We could repeal it tomorrow.
The Americans went further and wrote it into their Constitution. That means it can only be altered legislatively by referendum. But it can be altered – de facto or de iure – by judicial decision, in the form of a judgment of the Supreme Court. What is the upshot of that excursus into locking in high principles and theory? One is the frightful consequence of the right to bear arms as that right is currently interpreted by the judges. Another is that those judges are now more than ever seen to be part of a political process and the outcome of pitched partisan battles.
We find either result to be equally repellent. The law of abortion in the U S is for the most part written by unelected judges. The current president was in some part elected by people voting in an election for the executive so that he can appoint to the judiciary people whose declared positions suggest that they can be relied on to rewrite the law to conform to the platform of one political party. We abhor that mongrel process.
Australians have for the most part followed their English ancestors in preferring results to theory, and in preferring experience to logic. ‘Just get on with it and do it – and preferably, shut about it.’ We don’t like or trust ‘ideology’ and what people call ‘culture wars’ are irrelevant distractions from people who did not have enough intellectual toys in their youth. Most of us think that the phrase ‘political science’ is a contradiction in terms, and that therefore the most dangerous siren is likely to be blown by someone who confesses to a Ph D in that part of the domain of the arcane – and who of course has never held down a real job, or run a political campaign.
Now, all that stuff is very general, and open to the suggestion that it is unwarranted abstraction or empiricism without the benefit of evidence, but it also looks to me to be true.
And that is the simplest way to look at the way we voted in Victoria on Saturday. We thought that one party had been too infected and divided by theory. We preferred the crowd who said ‘Bugger the theory – let’s just get on with it.’
The consensus is that this truth will be ignored by those in the media who profit from banging on about theory. That’s because that’s how they derive their livelihood. It follows that the leaders of the federal opposition will each night fall on their knees and pray that their opponents continue to listen to and be guided by Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt. They can be relied on to lead the Liberals into temptation and deliver them to evil – and an almighty thrashing from a vengeful public that justly feels betrayed by people who act more like mice than men.
There is after all a matter of tone. I don’t want my Prime Minister pandering to shock jocks. Mr Turnbull didn’t do that and that’s one reason I voted for him. My estimation of Mr Andrews went up when I read that he refuses to talk to our resident shock jock in Melbourne.
May I go back to England? It is in a frightful and humiliating mess. They forgot their mode of operation. They settled on some ideological objective and then sought to implement it. They can’t. Their high theories have collapsed in a heap against the facts of life. They, like we, should remember what got us here.
Abbott calls for Liberal voter unity.
The Weekend Australian, 27 October, 2018.
Leading headline page one. Marked Exclusive. Who else would be silly enough to print that?
‘We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today, and it was a gesture genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country,’ he said.
‘Over the coming months, we will be working consultatively with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward.’
‘If this consultative process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.’
The Guardian, Melbourne Cup Day, 2018
We blew it.