Passing bull 170 – Religion and politics


At least two prime ministers have said that they would not allow their religion, or faith, to interfere with their politics.  What nonsense.  Politics is about how we get on with each other.  So are morals.  It would be absurd to say your morals are irrelevant to your politics.

But people who are religious commonly draw heavily on their religion for their moral views.   Indeed, some people of religion have been heard to say that is difficult to envisage a biding moral code without the backing of a religion (putting to one side the difficulty of settling on which one?)  If a person’s religion is vital to their morals, it is equally vital to their politics.  Next time you hear some people say that their faith does not affect their politics, ask them whether that means that they can put to one side the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.  It is pure bullshit.

Although, to be frank, some people worry that some politicians ignore the demands of their faith far too much.  Some take that view about the way we deal with refugees.  They say, for example, that everything we do on Nauru violates almost every part of the Sermon on the Mount.  That position is gaining support – from at least 6000 doctors who have their own moral position to advance. For them, there is nothing new about finding a position adopted by both major parties to be immoral.

Now, it is suggested that our current prime minister is considering getting us to join Guatemala in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the moral lightweight championship of the world.  He will abandon principle to seek a vote.  How much lower do we have to sink before something snaps?

Then there is the reaction of President Trump to the apparent murder of a journalist by Saudi Arabia.  He says that any sanction will not include limiting the sale arms (that are used for the butchery in Yemen).  He says that such a sanction would cost the U S too much in money and jobs.  The Great Republic, it seems, cannot afford to be decent.  How is Trump’s position different to that of a bank robber who tells the judge that he needed the money to feed and clothe his children?

There may then be something to be said for the proposition that politicians do not give full faith and credit to their religion.  But, then you look at the Kavanagh catastrophe, and you call for the bucket.


Readers must be in turn fascinated, confused and astounded by the increasingly lurid fiasco surrounding the US Supreme Court confirmation hearing of judge Brett Kavanaugh. When I read that this 53-year-old man with a seemingly unblemished character and all the right credentials in jurisprudence had suddenly been accused by a woman of molestation when he was 17 and she 15, and that despite years “recovering” her memory of the incident, she still couldn’t remember any concrete facts about it, and what’s more, no one else could confirm her accusation, I laughed. Not the standard feminist response but this episode had turned into the theatre of the absurd.

Angela Shanahan, The Australian, 29 September.

Well, at least the contributors to that paper never claim that their faith does not affect their politics.  But it is sad when someone claiming adherence to the Beatitudes laughs off attempted rape.  That is worse than bullshit.  It is cruel.

Passing Bull 166 –Nothing at the top


There is real concern at the revolving door of federal politics.  The people in Canberra are not up to it – morally or intellectually.  But has it occurred to you that there may be nothing there at all?

Do you know that we have a federal Minister for Energy?  The federal Constitution says nothing about energy – but that doesn’t stop the Commonwealth having a ministry.  How does the Minister see his function?  To keep down prices.

There will be no ideology in what I do.  My goal, the goal of my department and the goal of the electricity sector, must be simple and unambiguous – get prices down while keeping the lights on.

Well, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia may not have the power to make laws about energy, but as a minister advising Her Majesty the Queen of Australia, the Minister believes that he can do something to keep prices down.  What can he do?  And what can he decently do as a member of a government that likes to call itself conservative, and to believe in the invisible hand of the free market?

If electricity is supplied by corporations, won’t their directors be managing their business to return profits to shareholders (including super funds), and might not this obvious fact of life lead them to increase rather than lower the price of their product?  In truth, asking a minister of this government to do anything sane about the environment or energy is like asking the Grand Chief Wizard of the Lodge to conduct Mass.

The National Party claims to represent farmers.  Desperate drought affected farmers have now joined with a conservation group to put on an ad:

We need to stick to the Paris agreement, we need to stop burning coal and we need to commit to more renewable energy.

Each of those propositions is anathema to those in power federally.

Well, the Commonwealth has power to make laws about corporations.  It has legislated about them – at mind-crippling length.  It has also appointed a body to enforce those laws.  The scandalous ineptitude of that body is just one of the unsettling revelations of the Royal Commission that this government was so keen to avoid.

You get the impression that some members of the government think that the buck stops with the regulator.  That is wrong.  The government cannot shed its responsibility for enforcing its laws by appointing a regulator any more than a board of directors can do so by appointing a CEO.  This government remains responsible for its failure to enforce its own laws.

The Treasurer appears to favour giving the regulator power to order a corporation to pay compensation ‘within a set timeframe, thus avoiding ASIC needing to take legal action.’  On its face, that looks like giving the executive of the government the power to deprive people of their property without intervention by the judiciary – that is to say, without due process.  That will be an interesting exercise – especially for a government claiming the character referred to above.  But whatever else is involved, we will get masses of regulation – and highly remunerative work for lawyers, accountants, and other advisers.

What then is the major aim of the Treasurer?

The big focus for me is going to be on the productivity agenda and…cutting regulation.

If you put all this with the blooper below, it is hard to imagine any body of people more completely losing their way.  Is there anyone home at all?


Brown is a fourth-generation grazier whose family property has been affected by drought.

In the clip, she calls for ‘politicians to stop dancing around the issue and help us to do something about this’.

‘We need to stick to the Paris agreement, we need to stop burning coal and we need to commit to more renewable energy,’ she says.

The campaign comes after the prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the drought as his highest priority but said the conversation about the connection between drought and climate change should be ‘left  to another day.’

The Guardian, 16 September, 2018

This might remind you of the standard response of Donald Trump or the NRL to the latest mass murder in the U S.  ‘This is not the time to talk about the answer to the problem – our rotten gun laws.  In the meantime’ – as David Rowe remarked some time ago in the AFR –‘take a few boxes of thoughts and prayers – on the house.’

Here and there – An unsurprising Royal Commission


The most surprising thing about the Royal Commission into banking is the amount of surprise people feel.  What did they expect?

In 1983, a very old and respectable trustee company – Trustees Executors and Agency – failed and went into liquidation.  A very un-trustee like general manager had flirted with property development and short term money.  This collapse was a huge shock.  The Victorian Premier wanted the directors to surrender their passports.  (A few years later there were worse crashes.  Do you recall Tricontinental and Pyramid?)  ANZ acquired the business of the trustee by act of parliament.  One of the older trustee managers was heard to groan that bankers ‘don’t understand trusts – they only know debits and credits.’

There is a world of difference.  If you deposit money with a bank, it becomes theirs, and they have to pay you back an equivalent amount later.  But if you ask them to hold your BHP shares on trust for you, they become subject to much more onerous obligations and you get much more generous remedies.  In the first case, they get your money; in the second, the shares remain yours.  The relationship between creditor and debtor is very different to that between a trustee and beneficiary.  A trustee may have to account to a beneficiary for a profit taken innocently in the transaction.

Some think that the law has nothing to do with morals or ethics.  They are dead wrong.  So much of our law turns on whether people have been careful, honest, or conscientious.  If someone puts their confidence in me, the law says that I have to act toward that person in good faith, and take care that I do not have an interest or become subject to a duty that conflicts with my obligation to honour the confidence put in me.  These duties are called fiduciary.  If I get sued, the court might even inquire whether my opponent’s hands are clean.  So, moral or ethical issues abound in the law.

The banks probably educate their staff about bankers’ obligations of secrecy or confidentiality (which sit uncomfortably with the aversion of bankers to being called fiduciaries).  But plain and simple moral obligations tend to get forgotten in the blizzard of government intervention. They do however remain, and these obligations that are called equitable tend to be sternly enforced by the courts.

What education do the banks give their staff who act as trustees?  What do they get taught about that mystical word ‘fiduciary’?

That is one fault line on show.  Another relates to management.  The law says that ‘the business of a company is to be managed by or under the direction of the directors.’  At the risk of sounding like the late Bud Tingwell in The Castle, what do those words mean?

Very experienced directors, managers, and lawyers answer this question very differently.  The directors of a bank are not there to act as tellers, but how much direction do they have to give to managing the bank’s business?  Those words are elastic.  Does it matter that the law describes directors’ duties as fiduciary?  What are the directors of banks told about their obligations under the law?

Can you recall a time when we actually dealt with bank managers?  I grew up living beside one.  Alf had come up the hard way.  Alf could be rough and tough, but two things were certain.  Dishonesty never entered his head; and if he thought a would-be borrower was being stupid or greedy, Alf would let them have it – right down the bloody front.

Alf was not into equitable or fiduciary obligations.  He just did his job by the bank and its customers.  Both sides were content, in a way that we don’t see much of now.  If, as I suspect, there is doubt about the management of banks at the top, there is at least as much doubt about how they manage you and me – their customers.

Here and there – Problems with politics


When Aristotle said that man is a political animal, he meant, we are told, that man is at best when he is living in a polis – a town, or a city, or small state.  Putting to one side a Greek bias, people are better off when they live together.  (If you are a hermit, you have a better chance of doing what you want, but who would want even to visit a land of hermits?)

In order to be able to live together in a community, we have to be able to get on with other people.  Everyone is different and people want different things.  It follows, as night the day, that I will not be able to have everything I want.  If, therefore, some people in a group are determined to get their own way, regardless of others, we have a problem.  They might put a spoke in our wheel.

England and Australia are governed by an elected party that is said to stand for something, but which does not appear to stand for anything.  The same goes for each of their leaders.  Both the party and the leader appear to have lost purpose and direction.  Sadly, much the same can be said of the leader of the opposition in each country; each is, at best, a disappointment.  All this fuels the loss of faith in government, and assists the downward spiral.

America is different.  Its governing party has lost its nerve and any commitment to principle.  It just refuses to do its duty to control the executive.  Its leader owes allegiance to nothing but himself.  As for the opposition, if such it may be called, it has no leader at all.  The system doesn’t allow it.

The American problem therefore looks worse than that of England or Australia.  But in each case, there is simmering discontent, a loss of faith in government if not the nation, and a readiness to confront enemies at home, either real or imagined.  We are seeing hostility, or just plain anger, and an unwillingness or inability to restrain it.  We are losing the lubricant that oils our political machine and allows it to tick over and absorb any shocks caused by faulty parts or cogs in the gears.

As I understand it, economies and reserve banks are still adjusting to the Great Financial Crisis – that started ten years ago.  (History may show that crisis to have been more consequential than the Great Depression.)  The appalling inequality of wealth and income that that crisis revealed is part of the problem.  Another is that our wealth as a nation depends on international trade that each nation has only a very limited capacity to control.

What you then get is a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness among those who have lost out.  You also get a sense of affront and outrage at the apparent inequality of treatment.  The people so offended hardly need persuasion that their case is both plain and just.  They look for politicians who will give them the plain answer they need.  When the fishwives of Les Halles got to Versailles, their demand was simple: Du pain; pas tant de long discours.  Anything resembling sophistication is of course the defence mechanism of the enemy of the chosen.

Well, the plain answer is obvious.  The people of the nation – the real people, that is – need to go back to its true self, what it was before those awful bad guys took over.  (It is of no concern that this past is almost wholly imaginary.)

And the other part of the answer is equally obvious.  You identify and go after the causes of your maltreatment.  These are obviously those who are foreign to the real people, either abroad or at home.  You go after them with gusto, especially if they are sitting ducks.  How sweet it is to be able to dish out elbows for people whose lives have been dedicated to copping them.  The historical label for these people on the receiving end is ‘scapegoats’, but our latterday avengers are not keen on that term; it too closely resembles their own condition while they were disempowered.

From that dreadful cocktail, you get misfits like Hanson, Farage, Johnson and Trump.  It does not matter that this model has been duplicitously flogged from Peisistratus to Duterte for 2500 years.  There is one born every minute.  Nor does it matter that history hardly reveals any successful people’s or peasants’ revolt or any scapegoat who has been decently pursued.  The relevant history is one of misery and injustice.  Neither the oppressed nor their champions go in for length, width or depth in their view of the world.  Their commitment is short-term, personal, and angry.  Like that between the advocate from Arras and the sans-culottes, it is a marriage entered into on the altar of social justice.  (They hardly spoke a word in common, but they developed a communal taste for an exposed neck.)  If you had to choose one word for such a union, the most polite might be ‘irrational.’

We have seen all this before.  What is worrying now is the readiness of people to throw sand in the gear box.  In the end, our political system depends on people restraining themselves and co-operating with others.  ‘Co-operating’ with others there means little more than living or working with them.  It comes back to living in a group.  If we do want to rate ourselves above the apes, we have to control our impulse to selfishness.  If you go to legal historians, they will speak of customs; lawyers talk of precedents; constitutional lawyers speak of conventions; our commitment to the rule of law comes down to little more than a state of mind.  You will immediately see that the short-termed champion of the oppressed can so easily drive an excavator clean over the foundations of our world.  It may not take all that much to seize up our machine.

And when you think about it, people who should also have known better have been eating away at conventions that stood in their electoral path – for immediate if transient advantage, they were prepared to risk long term damage.  And, as it seems to me, the soi disant conservatives have always been the first to go out of bounds.  Just look at the determination of the Republican Congress to block an elected president, even to the point of denying him the right to appoint to the Supreme Court.  Their determination to block Obama has only been matched by their steely resolution to do nothing to stand in the way of President Trump.

On the need for cooperation, take an example from the law.  A man agreed to buy a very expensive machine.  The contract was subject to testing by the buyer.  The buyer refused to pay.  He said that he had not tested the machine.  But the court held against him.  The court found that the buyer was at fault in not inspecting the machine and that he could not rely on his own fault to defeat the claim of the buyer for payment.  The court ruled that:

…where in a … contract it appears that both parties have agreed that something shall be done, which cannot effectually be done unless both concur in doing it, the construction [legal effect] of the contract is that each agrees to do all that is necessary to be done on his part for the carrying out of that thing, though there may be no express words to that effect.

The court therefore found that where people agree to act together for a common purpose, their agreement may be subject to an implied condition of cooperation.  That ruling to my mind does little more than reflect a necessary truth of communal life.

Why are so many now ignoring this obvious fact of life?  Part of the problem comes from the self-righteousness of those who see themselves victims as the victims of injustice.  (As Gandalf remarked in The Fellowship of the Ring, ‘There is such a thing as malice and revenge!’  And every revolution known to man nearly drowned in them.)  The other part of the problem comes from the selfishness and deceit of the chosen champions of the dispossessed.  They have, after all, only come along for the ride.

Now, a lot of this is large, too large.  But none of it is novel.  Indeed, it is just the lack of novelty that is most unsettling.  Of course they love their country; of course they value their citizenship; what else have they got?  So, we will reclaim our sovereignty, whatever that means; we will glorify the Fatherland, and if necessary go to war for it, and our values; and we shall confine citizenship to those born to deserve it.  That old script is so tawdry, but it does prompt some reflections.

From any point in that compass, Trump is a vicious threat.  He is a stupid spoiled child who has never been taught any better, but what troubles us as much as the credulity of what is called his ‘base’ is the failure of an established party to do its job and check him.

They may however be part of a grand irony.  If the GFC paved Trump’s wave to power, he may be rewarding those wealthy smart Alecs responsible by policies, if such they may be called, that favour the rich over the rest.

But Australians need not feel smug about the inanity of American government.  Its main allegedly conservative party is once again tearing itself apart over a proposition as contestable as that which says that the earth is round.  Those responsible are helped by lay preachers, failed political hacks, think tank stooges, and tarts for the crowd who somehow get some attention from the downtrodden on the outlets of Rupert Murdoch.  The tribalism and bitchiness transcends anything offered in the past by the Labor Party – and that is no small statement.

There is another worry for us. Three of the most unloved people in Australia are Rudd, Latham, and Abbot.  They are now being joined by a fourth – Joyce.  The rats come from all sides; each led his party; two were Prime Minister; all four failed at their top; all four have turned on their own party with all the grace of a Taipan hit and missed by a piece of angle iron.  There is a well-founded worry about the stability of all of them.  But what they have in common is that they are bad losers whose blame on others is writ large and whose hunger for revenge is as ugly as it is unwarranted.

But we may have seen a touch of spring.  When a member of the Guards ratted on a princess, The Times said that the system had ‘flushed out an absolute shit’.  So have we.  Fraser Anning looks to be as nasty as he is inane.  I will not rehearse the terms of his maiden speech – that’s your and my taxes at work – but Mr Anning did not seek to hide his contempt for people of a different creed or colour; nor did he seek to hide his longing for the White Australia Policy.  He just stood there looking like a toddler who had just soiled his nappy in public.

In doing so, Mr Anning immediately outed all those members of parliament and the Murdoch press who have for years been transmitting signals about those very sentiments under code names like border protection, sovereignty, national values, freedom of speech, and that most glorious chestnut of them all – Western civilisation, or, if you prefer, Judaeo-Christian civilisation.  We need not pause for an historical analogy for the role Muslims in Australia in 2018 as scapegoats; if you have a problem, ask another Australian who subscribes to a faith coming out of Asia – apart from Judaism and Christianity.

Mr Anning’s embrace of those whole wavelengths of scapegoats was so brazen that both houses of parliament came together and denounced the rogue ratbag on the spot.  How dare a new boy queer the nest of the old boys?

Everyone felt better.  But do you know what?  Even the decent press called this a victory for democracy.

And about ten years after the good fishwives of Paris got their bread and killed their king, they got a little Corsican emperor with his own aristocracy and a secret police that the Bourbons could never have dreamed of.

Here and there – What is fascism?


Some years ago, I sought to identify the range of meaning of three terms or labels commonly used in political discussion as follows.

Left and right

I do not like and I try to avoid these terms, which come from the French Revolution, but I shall set out my understanding.  The ‘left’ tend to stand for the poor and the oppressed against the interests of power and property and established institutions.  The ‘right’ stand for the freedom of the individual in economic issues, and seek to preserve the current mode of distribution.  The left is hopeful of government intervention and change; the right suspects government intervention and is against change.  The left hankers after redistribution of wealth, but is not at its best creating it.  The right stoutly opposes any redistribution of wealth, and is not at its best in celebrating it.  The left is at home with tax; the right loathes it.  These are matters of degree that make either term dangerous.  Either can be authoritarian.  On the left, that may lead to communism.  On the right, you may get fascism.


What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look a bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

Madeline Albright has written a book warning against a resurgence of fascism.  Eastern Europe looks very bleak.  You can make up your own mind about the application of those criteria to Trump.  To me it looks a very close run thing.  I am sick of hearing about him.  I merely say that since Hitler died before I was born, Trump is the leading contender for the prize of the man most loathed on this earth during my lifetime.

I want to invite people to apply those criteria to Napoleon.  Again at first blush that, too, looks close.  Let me just quote some passages from a biography by the distinguished English historian J M Thompson.

Napoleon’s forays into Italy and Egypt were little more than robbery on a grand scale.  He wanted to fund the rape of Egypt by robbing the Swiss.  On the war in Italy, Napoleon said:

Discipline is improving every day, though we still have to shoot a good many men for there are some intractable characters incapable of self-restraint.

You may recall that his political career took off when he used artillery to disperse a Paris mob – Carlyle’s ‘whiff of grapeshot.’  Throughout his career, the Corsican was profligate with French life – something that scandalised his Grace, the Duke of Wellington.

Asians got it worse.

The Turks must let their conduct be ruled by extreme severity.  Here at Cairo, I have heads cut off at the rate of 5 or 6 a day.  Hitherto, we have had to treat the people tactfully, in order to destroy the reputation for terrorism which preceded our arrival.  But now we must make sure that the natives obey us; and for them obedience means fear.

Could Hitler have improved on that descant?

Each stage or coup in the rise of Napoleon in France involved a franker appeal to force.  Abroad, the urge for conquest was insatiable.  His nationalism was only matched by his egoism.  He said that he had made Italy a part of France.  Madame de Staël had his measure.  ‘The English particularly irritate him, as they have found the means of being honest as well as successful, a thing which Bonaparte would have us regard as impossible.’

In his 2014 book Napoleon the Great, Andrew Roberts said that Napoleon was great.  This to me is like the myopia that leads Oxbridge to say that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised.  He committed France to eternal war (la guerre éternelle) and then he lost that war.  He left five million dead in the process.  He left France a smoking rubble that it took France at least a century, and endless coups and revolutions, to come out of.  And, fatally to the reputation of any soldier, he walked out on his own army – twice.  And the only reason that Napoleon and his spurned soldiers found themselves in the sands of the Levant and the snows of Russia was his manic lust for la gloire.

But at least he had one clear policy.  Make France great.  And he then ruined the joint.  As they say there, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Here and there – The problem with inquisitions


On one visit to the Inquisition, Galileo got a swine of a question.  ‘Why do you think you’re here?’  I’m afraid that from time to time I could be worse.  ‘As you sit there in the witness box today, do you think what you did was right (honest, sensible, careful, conscionable, or whatever)?’

Either form of teasing dilemma summons up the Hampton Fair in the 50’s – firing an air-rifle at moving ducks.  You just waited until the head of the duck moved into your sights.  Then you pulled the trigger – and knocked over the duck.  Shooting sitting ducks was child’s play.

The banks knew they were in big trouble when the present commission began.  First, the failed efforts by their friends in government and the press to protect them from public inquiry meant that the latter-day tricoteuses could smell a cover-up and would be out for blood.  Secondly, there is hardly any presumption of innocence.  The website refers to the ‘Royal Commission into Misconduct’.  Given the banks’ confessional tone in trying to avoid any inquiry, the commission is merely stating a fact, but imagine asking the Israelis to be examined about the ‘massacres’ at their border.  Thirdly, the government petulantly locked the inquiry into a time-scale that some feared might castrate it.  That meant that some procedural niceties would have to go.

For whatever reason, witness statements were ordered.   I think that practice is pernicious, and on reasonable grounds, I suspect that this commissioner has the same view.  It is unfair to the witness – especially the honest witness – and it leads to game-playing and concoction.  Many good judges condemn this process.

What we then get is not so much cross-examination, but what normally comes at the end of cross-examination – counsel puts to the witness the substance of the allegation against their side.  This is required by common sense and ordinary decency – and therefore by the law.

But when the inquiry is at large, the result can bear an ugly resemblance to a one-sided debating bout that becomes an exercise in ritual humiliation.  Counsel has access to apparently unlimited documentation compulsorily acquired from the target – something that the accused in an ordinary criminal trial would never be exposed to.  The witness then has a choice – they either bag their mates, or they dissemble.  That’s a nasty dilemma.

And this contest, or duel, doesn’t take place before a judge who Maitland said should act like a cricket umpire, but before a representative of the executive government – who is appointed to report back to government after inquiring into that mystical thing called truth.

So, these inquisitions make common lawyers very queasy.  I rarely lost that queasiness in performing similar functions in tax and other tribunals or a public inquiry over thirty years.

But someone is feeding some in the press some dud lines on these issues.  One is that the banks are denied due process.  If the banks and their nominated witnesses do not yet know the case they have to meet, they have been living on Mars, and giving their shareholders – of whom I am one – further evidence that their executives are grossly overpaid.

Then it is said that the laws of evidence don’t apply.  Sadly, most lawyers and judges have not properly applied those laws for years.  (One reason is those accursed witness statements.)  The present commissioner knows these laws.  Most of them relate to logic, fairness, or relevance.  It is plain silly to suggest that this commission might ignore those requirements.  Each of those suggestions of unfairness is therefore groundless.

If I am wrong about that, and the unfairness is, as suggested, both harmful, and unlawful, the victims can afford to go to court for redress.  If therefore anyone pushing this line is prepared to surface – so far their number is zero – they can put up or shut up.  We know they have the money.

Anglo-American lawyers well know the perils of the inquisition.  Maitland saw the medieval difference between a procedure ‘to inquire of’ and one ‘to hear and determine’ criminal causes.  England just avoided ‘that too easy path which the church chose and which led to the everlasting bonfire.’  We also know the risks of asking judges or former judges to do dirty jobs for government.  Lord Devlin said that English governments showed their respect for judges by asking them to dig them out of political holes.

But we most agree that we need this inquiry badly.  The banks are doing it hard, partly because of their original misconduct; partly because of their ill-advised efforts to remain under cover; and partly because of the sulky and inept way that the government repented and ceased being an ostrich.

The relationship between government and banks has gone bad and will not get better.  That is not bad news.  But sometimes you have to endure misery to get better.  I know that well.  Try having surgery for piles.

And whatever you might say about banks, there is not one Galileo among them.

Here and there – The faith of Ali


The life of Muhammad Ali reminds me of the life of Miles Davis.  They both show that we here in Australia have never understood how poisonous the problem of race is in America.  In his new biography Ali, A Life, Jonathan Eig quotes an author in Ebony saying of the words ‘I am the greatest’:

Lingering behind those words is the bitter sarcasm of Dick Gregory, the shrill defiance of Miles Davis, the utter contempt of Malcolm X.  He smiles easily, but, behind it all….is a blast furnace of race pride.

That about sums it up.  People talked a lot about three things that got up their noses about Ali: his loud mouthed boasting and his cruel taunting of his opponents; his embrace of another faith, in the very unattractive Nation of Islam; and his evasion of military service and his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam.

There was one thing that got up people’s noses that they didn’t talk so much about – the incredulity and jealousy of a large part of the white population that a black man was better than any white man – and was happily sticking it right up them.  That was, I think, the biggest problem facing President Obama – as now evidenced by the horrific fruit of the white backlash and the election of a president who unashamedly believes that white people are superior to black people.  (I may have added that Ali’s hopeless promiscuity may have upset some – but that’s a relative issue in a nation that turns out presidents as unfaithful as many of those in the U S.)

The taunting was part of the circus act, and, I think, part of the way for the young man to mask his fear in confronting men who could kill him.  It was also meant to unbalance or unnerve his opponent.  Ali saw himself – correctly – as being in the entertainment industry.  He invited aggravation toward himself to sell tickets.  Who wants to see a brawl between friends?  The author freely concedes his view that Ali often went over the top – especially with Joe Frazier.  There is a record of a conversation between the two before any of their three fights.  They were joking, bragging, and singing.

Ali: We don’t wanna be seen too much together, you know.

Frazier: Yeah.  They’ll think we’re buddies.  That’ll be bad for the gate.

Ali: Yeah.  Ain’t nobody gonna pay nothing to see two buddies.

Later the relationship soured.  Both suffered lasting damage from their three bouts – Frazier spent nearly two weeks in hospital after winning the first.  Ali would apologise to Foreman for calling him an Uncle Tom.

Ali thought differently to most of us.  In many ways, he had the mind of a child.  He didn’t want to go to L A for the trials for the Rome Olympics.  He was afraid of flying.  He was persuaded to take the chance.   So he went to a disposals store to buy a parachute – which he wore on the plane.  His graduation from high school was an act of charity, and he flunked the army IQ test.  He could see some big pictures with great clarity, but logic was not his go.

Ali was therefore the perfect dupe for crooks and odd-balls like the Nation of Islam.  And they milked him for all he was worth, and then they denounced and betrayed him.  He nevertheless maintained his faith.  Mr Eig does not doubt the sincerity of that faith, and nor do I.  While most fighters sought refuge and protection from the Mob, Ali found it in a religious sect.  A lot of Americans would have been more at home if he had stuck with the Mob.

As for Vietnam – well, supporters of that war are as thinly spaced now as supporters of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria.  Ali’s position may well have affected that of Dr Martin Luther King.  He said that America could only be saved with ‘radical moral surgery’ and ‘I can’t segregate my conscience.’  Mr Eig says:

Ali’s stand against Vietnam made him a symbol of protest against a war in which black men were dying at a wildly disproportionate rate.  Black men accounted for 22% of all battle deaths when the black population in America was only 10%.  Why was America spending money and tossing away lives in the name of freedom in a distant land while resisting the cause of freedom at home?  Why, yet again, did the interests of black Americans seem to diverge from the interests of the nation as a whole?  Ali raised these troubling questions as opposition to the war rapidly spread.

Ali based his opposition to the war on his religious beliefs.

Many great men have been tested for their religious belief.  If I pass this test, I will come out stronger than ever…..All I want is justice.  Will I have to get that from history?

When he said that, Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world.  He had staggered that world by beating Sonny Liston – twice (although some thought both were fixed).  Ali was at the height of his powers, the prime of American manhood, but the white establishment was now bent on taking out this uppity nigger.

When Ali declined to accept induction, the commissioners of the most corrupt sport on earth moved to ban him.

Never mind that they had long tolerated the mafia and professional gamblers in their sport.  Never mind that Ali had not yet been convicted of a crime.  Never mind that boxing’s rules contained no requirement that its champion be a Christian or an American or a supporter of America’s wars.  None of that mattered.  Guided by anger, prejudice, or patriotism, boxing’s rulers decided that Muhammad Ali was unfit to wear the sport’s crown because he was a Muslim who refused to fight for his country.

Ali had been fortunate early in his career in being managed by a group of right minded business people from home.  They arranged very fair contracts and helped him with tax and saving for the future. But he was like a child with money.  He liked the feel of cash, and he threw it away.  Later he would come under the control of a promoter who had been convicted of murder.

Now a group of very senior black athletes met with Ali for hours to try to get him to change his mind about the army.  President Johnson had offered him the deal given to Joe Louis – he could just put on the uniform, and fight exhibition matches.  He could play down his religion in public, and remind the Nation of Islam, who had dropped him, that he was no good to them serving his term of five years – which was the maximum, that he got.  ‘Everybody had a chance to ask him all the questions they wanted to.  Eventually, everybody was satisfied that his stand was genuine based on his religion and that we should back him.’  Given what was involved, Ali must have had real faith.

More than four years later, Ali’s appeal against his conviction and sentence came on before the Supreme Court.  The government argued that Ali was not a pacifist – he had merely said he did not want to fight the Viet Cong – ‘No Viet Cong ever called me nigger’- or for a country that treated him as a second class citizen.  He was just making political statements.  That argument prevailed five: three.

Justice Harlan was to write the decision.  His clerk had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was persuaded of the sincere pacifism of this sect.  His judge then changed his mind: four: four.  The decision would stand, and Ali would do five years.

But this would not look too good.  Then another judge came up with a technical point.  The appeal board that rejected Ali’s claim had not given any basis for its finding – without knowing why his claim had been rejected, how could they have given him a fair hearing?  Well, that does look thin – there is no authority except the decision referred to in the footnotes* – but the justices thought this was better than an all-white court jailing a champion on a split vote.  And they did so unanimously.  Ali found out about his release as he was buying orange juice at a small grocery shop in Chicago.  He shouted the store.

Most of us know all about the fight against Foreman, the Rumble in the Jungle.  I saw it live in the basement of a near blood-house pub in Elizabeth Street.  I was amazed and enthralled – as was a large part of the world.  It was a massive achievement.  On reflection, both Liston and Foreman lost to Ali for similar reasons – he was able to survive and score well for seven rounds – they were used to crushing their opposition in two, and they were not equipped to go anything like the distance.

After that, you may wish to skim read.  It’s mostly downhill.  Dirty fights; whoring (he was in bed with two whores on the afternoon of a big fight); brain damage; corruption; theft; waste; and an uneasy peace.  We were moved by the lighting of the flame at Atlanta, by the film Once Were Kings, and by the funeral.

Ali was fortunate to die when the U S still had a literate and honourable man in the White House.  This is what President Obama said.

‘I am America’, he once declared.  ‘I am the part that you won’t recognise.  But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own.  Get used to me.’  That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic, as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right.  A man who fought for us.  He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.  His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and public standing.  It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail.  And his victory helped us to get used to the America we recognise today… Muhammad Ali shook up the world.  And the world is better for it.  We are all better for it.

What a giant!  Muhammad Ali had the clout and the gifts of Babe Ruth; he had the courage and the devotion to his people of Jackie Robinson; he may have lacked that aura of saintliness that we see in Mandela, Ghandi, and, yes, Lincoln; but because of Muhammad Ali, his nation, however defined, has changed forever, and for the better.

The book had another message for me.  We should ban professional boxing.  It is a cruel and unusual punishment, and we should not pay men to beat up other man and shorten their lives.  This is a denial of civilisation.

*According to Wikipedia, the likely source was the book The Brethren by Woodward and Armstrong.  In 2013, A TV film was released, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.  Christopher Plummer played Justice Harlan.

Here and there – Two leaders – to whom do I refer?


He views the world as revolving around himself.  He has no interest in anything that does not concern him personally.

He thrives on conflict.

He is better at tearing down than building up.

He is immensely vain.

But he is also very insecure.  There was a flaw in his upbringing, and his education was at best suspect.

He cannot stand any slight on his character or upbringing.  He is likely to react irrationally and violently.  People doubt whether once he has got to the top he will be able to restrain himself.

He therefore hates the press, and sadly for him, his nation has plenty of quality press.

He adores being adored.  He thinks that it is only natural that he should be adored.

He is therefore at his best before an adoring crowd.  You can see him drawing support and relief from the adoration.

He loves rallies, parades, and ceremonies – anything to do with the military is terrific.  He likes dressing up as a member of the military, and mixing with them – although deep down, he does not like or trust them.

He prefers being adored to governing.

His government program is driven by a need for revenge.  One is less coy than the other about what is being avenged.

He is barely literate.  His written utterances would ill become a ten year old boy.  But for those who want to see, those utterances show a very bent and nasty man who could do you a lot of harm.  Some people see him as being so unhinged as to be mad.  The written communications of both are scarcely literate, but one unloaded one long endless tirades, while the other issues short bitchy pouts after dawn.

He knows nothing about trade, economics, international diplomacy or the law.  He is the most undiplomatic person ever born.  He had had little or no experience in government before getting the top job.  And it shows; and just before dawn, he knows that it shows.  This feeds his insecurity and anger.  And it makes him worse at governing.

But his supporters say that his very inexperience is a blessing.  He is untainted by the old regime that it is his mission to destroy.

Notwithstanding his ignorance of government, he occasionally indulges in micro-management when in the mood.  The results are awful.

He loves to proclaim his love for his country – in part in the hope that this will fuel his country’s love for him.

But in truth his love of himself is so great that there is little room left for love of country, and none for love of God.

One relies on others wanting to appease him; the other is keen to appease his strongest opponent.

He lies all the time.  That is to say, he is fundamentally dishonest.  ‘Conscience’ is a word that could not be applied to him.  Such a thing could only get in the way of his ego.

He therefore has no understanding or respect for the principles of decency that underlie his position.

He is therefore open to fraud and corruption, although one of them, for family reasons, is far more into nepotism than the other.

In truth, he has little respect for decency and no time or room for truth.

His propaganda team therefore has carte blanche.  They may or may not accept that their dealings with people reveal that they hold other people in contempt.

He pursues scapegoats relentlessly.  One premise of that pursuit is that he can do no wrong.  Another premise is his capacity to lump people together and regard them as inferior – and therefore ripe for target practice.

One is more reticent than the other about identifying his scapegoats but their cadres pursue them relentlessly – and smile while they do so.  This only unsettles a small number of their followers, and any dissent is brushed aside.

There is another term that could never be applied to him – tolerance.  If you think that tolerance is the fine fruit and the vital root of western civilisation, he is therefore a threat of the kind that some are wont to call existential.

Another term that could never be applied to him is contemplation.  He looks like he might have a nervous breakdown if he was locked in a room on his own in order to meditate.

Because of his character flaws, he has no friends, and his relations with women are fraught.  Each of the three women who got close to one committed suicide, or tried to, and for one of the suicides, it was her second attempt.  The other has not been able to keep his hands off women, and his third marriage is obviously stressed – his third wife stalks about like a startled POW.  (Perhaps she is.)

He doesn’t drink but his taste for food is very odd.

They have different views on military service.  Although one was knocked back for officer training – twice – he was rightly decorated for bravery in battle.  The other evaded military service with the same dedication with which he would later evade paying tax.  Another word you could never apply to him is patriot – at least if being a patriot means doing the right thing by your country where you could evade such service by a mix of cowardice and deceit.

He would like life tenure – but only one gets it.

Because of those defects in his make-up, he is the worst possible person to lead his country.  But he manages – just – to persuade enough people to support him to enable him to get the top job.  On one view, neither of them ever got a majority vote, and the same people who supported each of them must know that when the end comes, he will turn on them – viciously.

Here and there – Going Green with a Tory Intellectual


We have seen before that Roger Scruton, the Conservative English philosopher, is like a refreshing breeze in a foetid room.  He is an English rarity – an intellectual.  What we badly need in Australia is someone who can stand up for Conservatism in a manner that is intellectually responsible – and, for that matter, honest.  I am not aware of any valid claimant to that role in this country.

In his 2012 book Green Philosophy, how to think seriously about the planet, Scruton seeks to make the case that conservatives are better placed to deal with problems of the environment, like climate change, than those on the other side of politics.  God only knows what he thinks about those who call themselves conservatives here who are still reluctant to acknowledge the problem, and whose peeved retardation has left us up the proverbial creek.

The book is I think twice as long as it needs to be, and there is a fetish for footnotes that borders on the North American.  (And what’s the point of a footnote that says ‘See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1832’, or ‘See F W Maitland, Equity, Cambridge, 1909’?  They are both very big books and very dangerous in the hands of the amateur.)

Scruton was heavily and publicly involved in the fight over fox hunting in England.  His side lost, and you can see some scars.  In talking about a fund for animal welfare, Scruton says:

…the Political Animal Lobby gave £1 million pound to the Labour Party in exchange for a promise to instigate the ban.  It is worth noting that this kind of corruption of the political process elicits no cries of outrage when donor and recipient, are both ‘on the left’.

Dear me – it is not corrupt for a lobby or ginger group to advance money to a political party in return for a promise that the party will support the objectives of the group.  And the suggestion that those ‘on the left’ might get better treatment suggests that the author might be afflicted with some of the resentment that so disfigures so much commentary in a paper like The Australian.  And he should be aware of the problem, since he spends a lot of time speaking of the resentment of those ‘on the left.’  He even quotes Nietzsche on ressentiment.

Two pages later we get:

Shareholders rarely ask questions, and certainly not about the environmental consequences of actions that are bringing them a return on their investment.

Well, things have changed since 2012.  Shareholders do ask questions.  Rio Tinto has just sold all its coal holdings.  At least some analysts say that one motive was not to upset conscientious fundholders.  But then Scruton makes amends.

It is one of the weaknesses of the conservative position, as this has expressed itself in America, that its reasonable enthusiasm for free enterprise is seldom tempered by any recognition that free enterprise among citizens of a single nation state is very different from free enterprise conducted by a multinational company, in places to which the company and its shareholders have no civic tie.

The author argues that the problems can best be met by local action, rather than grand international schemes, and by people, including those in the markets, coming together voluntarily for that purpose, rather than by being driven there by government.

The premises of the argument may be ideological, but their justification is empirical.  I will not rehearse the argument, which trips into many meadows, but I will comment on a few items.  I merely say here that after the Great Financial Crisis, anyone arguing that the great currents in our lives might best be left to the markets is standing at the foot of a very high mountain that is plagued by lethal avalanches.

There is a related problem with the phrase ‘people who pursue politics of top-down control’.  The phrase ‘top-down control’ is favoured by those who get uneasy about the reach of government.  But the essence of any government is precisely to achieve top-down control.  That’s what ‘ruling’ entails.  The name for the alternative is anarchy.  You don’t alter the nature of an apple by calling it a pear.

As we remarked previously, we in Australia are committed to what is called the Welfare State.  It is suicide for any politician of any colour to suggest the contrary.  It will therefore be difficult to argue about the role or reach of government a priori. 

Take the way we try to look after the role of the poor.  We do so through bodies known as charities and through government agencies.  The law relating to charities was founded, and still is in some part, on laws made during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – before the U S or Australia were ever thought of.  The English government then intervened on behalf of the poor in ways that really surprise us – and would revolt many Republicans in the U S.  The Elizabethans prefigured, by three centuries, the famous statement by Lloyd George in 1908:

These problems of the sick, the infirm, of the men who cannot find a means of earning a livelihood … are problems with which it is the business of the State to deal. They are problems which the State has neglected for too long.  

The role of charities today is the subject of heated argument.  They don’t pay tax, and to that extent they lean on us.  But their role in the system is fundamental.  Scruton is I think on very thin ice in trying to put charities and NGOs in different boxes.  He cannot sustain the proposition that ‘many of the best-known NGOs steer clear of politics.’  Their mere existence is the subject of political contention.  It’s the same with charities.  When speaking of charities, the author says:

English law has acknowledged their social significance and granted exemption from taxes that might otherwise have impeded their work.  Indeed, we rarely use the ‘NGO’ label in describing this kind of institution, for the very reason that we do not see them as competing with government or as pressing for political results.  They are active but not activists.

To repeat, an apple does not cease to be an apple just because you change its epithet, or label.  And that last proposition is a shocker.  (An ‘activist’ is a person whose being ‘active’ irritates the person bestowing the epithet.  If you turn on Sky News any one night you will hear one load of activists complaining about the activities of other loads of activists.  We could expect more from the Professor.)  And if you think that a charity like Red Cross has nothing to do with politics, have a look at their website; or suggest that they pay tax.

The field of inquiry is so wide, that the author is constantly at risk either of going in above his head, or revealing that he has taken his opinions on matters in which he has no expertise from very loaded sources.  One example is his treatment of class actions in the U S.  I am not qualified as an American lawyer, but I have considered the main issues at many ABA Conferences in the U S and at a summer school at Harvard.  I think I know enough to say that on this issue, Scruton has hitched his horses to a wagon that was only ever headed in one direction.

Such problems have become abundantly apparent in America, where the English law of tort [a civil wrong like an action for negligence] has encountered a formidable accumulation of greed and vindictiveness, and lost out in the fight.  In the American courts, tort cases are decided by a jury – a right guaranteed by the seventh amendment of the U S Constitution – and the jury also assesses damages.  Predatory lawyers, taking advantage of ‘class-action suits’, and of the procedure whereby jury members can be challenged and removed prior to the trial, have been able to ensure that the one who can pay is the one who does pay, regardless of fault.

There’s a lot there that is misleading, but it is at best unprofessional of the author to suggest that a significant branch of the jurisprudence of America has been distorted by greedy, vindictive and predatory lawyers – and, presumably, by juries of the same temper.  That is the kind of abuse or invective that we have some to expect from our soi disant conservatives – and which we go to people like Professor Scruton to avoid.

Unlike me, Scruton does see some meaning in the terms ‘left’ and ‘right.’  We are apparently talking about a state of mind.  Elsewhere I said:

Left and right

I do not like and I try to avoid these terms, which come from the French Revolution, but I shall set out my understanding.  The ‘left’ tend to stand for the poor and the oppressed against the interests of power and property and established institutions.  The ‘right’ stand for the freedom of the individual in economic issues, and seek to preserve the current mode of distribution.  The left is hopeful of government intervention and change; the right suspects government intervention and is against change.  The left hankers after redistribution of wealth, but is not at its best creating it.  The right stoutly opposes any redistribution of wealth, and is not at its best in celebrating it.  The left is at home with tax; the right loathes it.  These are matters of degree that make either term dangerous.  Either can be authoritarian.  On the left, that may lead to communism.  On the right, you may get fascism.

That discussion shows how shaky such a label is in the premise of an argument that claims to be logically tight.  But Scruton refers to something known as ‘cultural theory’ on the footing that it ‘captures tendencies within social and political thinking that help to show why there is a real, lasting and rooted difference between ‘left’ and ‘right’’. This is worrying, not least because Scruton says ‘I put no trust in its scientific credentials’ and that the relevant terms ‘do not describe theories or goals, but identities, revealed in the structure of collective choice.’  Talk like that may have unhinged Wittgenstein.

Still, the author is good enough to come clean about the lack of contribution from his professional colleagues.

What I have read of ‘practical ethics’ has not persuaded me that professional philosophers today are any good at giving advice….And I doubt that there can be such a thing as a moral expert.

I have no doubt about the latter, but if the former holds good, would it be rude to ask what we might hope to gain from this discussion?

So, while we now have access to a sensible conservative response to climate change, the scars of the old wars of ideology are still sadly apparent.  For some reason it remains an issue that continues to suck in even sensible people like Roger Scruton.

Passing Bull 146 – Some bad rights


If I agree to paint your house for a fee, and after I start the work, I make it clear that I will not perform my part of the contract, then the law says that you can put an end to the contract and make other arrangements free of any further obligation to me.  If you do that, the law says I have ‘repudiated’ the contract, and that by ‘accepting’ that repudiation, you have brought the contract to an end – by the operation of the law.

In broad terms, that is what happened in the English Revolution in 1689, the American Revolution in 1776, and the French Revolution in 1789 and later.  The people said to their king, with the force of arms – ‘You have broken your word and you have not done your job.  We dismiss you and we will set up a new form of government.’  Indeed, the great French historian Marc Bloch said that the contract between a feudal lord and his vassal was a genuine contract to the same effect.  ‘If the lord failed to fulfil his engagements, he lost his rights.’  Bloch foresaw how this doctrine might be applied in the political sphere – ‘it was reinforced by the very ancient notions which held the king responsible in a mystical way for the welfare of his subjects and deserving of punishment in the event of public calamity.’

During the course of events that we label the French Revolution, the French had a go at defining what they called the rights of man.  They did it in 1789 and again in 1793.  People now generally go the 1789 model, when hope and innocence reigned.  By 1793, France and the world had seen the terrorism of the Jacobins.  They had to face the familiar problem of those who come to power by force: how do you stop others doing the same to you?

Article 25 of the 1793 French Declaration of the Rights of Man says:

When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.

This provision was not in the original version.  History suggests that it was most unwise to purport to give a legal formulation and blessing to a right of insurrection – the right to revolt.  Who will rule on the issue of whether the right has crystallized?  The answer can only be force of arms – if you win, you are the government; if you lose, you get executed for treason.

But some kind of claim to a right of insurrection was instrumental in a string of revolutions that cruelly bedevilled France for a century after 1789.  And it still works to stand in the way of reform in France.  Industrial action there is a form of insurrection.  Social positions get entrenched as matters of status to an extent that is medieval – or even feudal.  That was not what the revolution was about.  The result?   The public sector consumes 56% of GDP in France; train drivers can retire at 50; and the nation braces itself for more insurrection against the reforms of President Macron.

A century beforehand, the English had used a different tack.  Article 6 of the Declaration of Rights prohibits the raising of a standing army except with the consent of parliament.  If it is hard for a king to drive a program without money, it was even harder for the king to conduct a coup without an army.  The king had been neutralised, as history has since shown.  But the Declaration goes further than ensuring that the king would have no army.  In Magna Carta, the barons were in a position to dictate that the king would sign up for a truly life-threatening security clause that could be invoked if he were to misbehave.  The barons could in effect appoint themselves receivers to enter into and seize crown property.  Well, that would hardly do nearly five hundred years later, and William and Mary were in a much stronger negotiating position than King John.  Besides, English lords or knights from the shires would hardly have had any interest in or any capacity to take over affairs on Chesapeake Bay, or from the Begums of Oudh.  So, Article 7 provided, and still does, that ‘the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law’.  .

The incoming king was an experienced man of arms and a seasoned man of affairs. There can be no doubt that he appreciated the inevitable consequence of Articles 6 and 7 of the Declaration of Rights. ‘Your Majesty shall have no army unless we agree, but we shall remain armed whether you agree or not.  If there is a disagreement about how you discharge your obligations, and we cannot resolve that disagreement by negotiation in good faith, and our differences have to be resolved by the arbitrament of arms, we shall prevail and you shall lose.  Your best option then will be exile.’  If they had been in a mordant frame of mind, they may have given Prince William a sketch of the shed where they kept the axe.

Sir Jack Plumb said:  ‘The Bill of Rights had its sanctions clauses – there was to be no standing army and Protestant gentlemen were to be allowed arms; the right of rebellion is implicit.’   The phrase ‘right of rebellion’ may make constitutional lawyers blush, but Sir Jack may have had in mind the right of the innocent party to accept the conduct of a guilty party as the repudiation of a contract, so bringing it to an end.  Plumb had also said that:  ‘the power of the 17th century gentry was sanctioned by violence’ and that ‘by 1688, violence in politics was an Englishman’s birth-right’.

Or course, now that English political society has ceased to treat violence as its ultimate sanction, these constitutional provisions have become a dead letter, as they clearly should be so regarded in any civilised society.  This is not so across the Atlantic, where the American version of the right to bear arms serves to keep the United States in the race for the title of the murder capital of the world.  There they have, but refuse to confront, the problem facing the French after 1789.  A right simply to bear arms is useless unless the citizen can lawfully claim to use them.  Who decides that? The lethal American answer is the gun.

What is the point?  Declaring rights broadly is bloody dangerous.



‘Qantas objecting to what Folau is saying about homosexuality is beyond laughable.  I don’t agree with Israel but I’ve told him most explicitly that he must not back down.’

The Australian, 13 April 2018

Alan Jones with his characteristic humility.

Speaking later with reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Trump headed to Florida, Ms. Sanders added that ‘the president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them.’

Another White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said Mr. Trump had decided not to go forward with the sanctions. Mr. Trump concluded that they were unnecessary because Moscow’s response to the airstrike was mainly bluster, the official said.

The New York Times, 17 April, 2018.

Well, he can recognise bluster when he sees it.