Sunday, July 28, 2013
Daniel Hannan: We celebrate the Royal family because it symbolises our liberty
The monarchy may reign over us, but it too is subject to the rule of ancient law
'Félicitations, monsieur!” boomed my normally morose Brussels newsagent.
Eh? What had I done? “The baby, the prince: you must be delighted!”
Oh, rather, yes, quite. Decent of you to mention it: très gentil.
He beamed at me all the way out of his shop. The birth was almost as big an event in the Belgian media as in our own and, like many Bruxellois, the newsagent believed that a little smudge of the happiness that must adhere to every Briton had rubbed off on him through our exchange.
The night before, within an hour of the prince’s arrival being announced, an American news channel had interviewed me. The universal assumption – from the studio presenter to the sound engineer who tested the volume – was that I had surely stepped away from a street party, to which I’d return, pint in hand, the moment the interview was over.
Ask a friend overseas what he or she associates with Britain and the chances are that the monarchy will come up within seconds. The Crown defines our brand, in the sense that it is thought to say something about the rest of us. Foreign coverage over the past week has been less about the baby than about the way the British are perceived: as traditional, formal, hierarchical, tied to ancient institutions.
There’s an element of truth in that caricature. The monarchy is indeed hugely popular: opinion polls show support for a republic to be low and unfluctuating, at around 18 per cent. Although our political arguments are as vigorous as any country’s, we are at least agreed on the legitimacy of the regime: we conduct our arguments, in other words, within rules that almost everyone accepts. When you think of how many different varieties of European government have risen and fallen during the reign of the present Queen alone, this is no small thing,
Only recently, though, has the monarchy become a unifying national institution. The peoples of Britain spent most of their history being ruled, in effect, by foreigners. For three-and-a-half centuries after the calamity of 1066, French was the language of the English court, and the early kings spent most of their reigns across the Channel. Under the Stuarts and the early Hanoverians, anti-monarchists tended to make their case using nationalist rhetoric. A dying echo of such sentiments can be heard in the republicanism of the BNP.
The domestication of the British monarchy can be seen in the story of Prince George’s earliest namesakes. The first two Georges, who never mastered our language, were seen as alien and contingent. “George my lawful king shall be / Except the Times shou’d alter,” says the Vicar of Bray, prepared, as always, to abandon the dynasty at the drop of a hat. Not until the final defeat of Jacobitism in 1745 was there broad agreement on who should fill the throne. Our national anthem, which we now think of as a symbol of familiarity and continuity, has, in its full version, a panicky line dating from that year: “Lord, grant that Marshal Wade / May, by thy mighty aid, / Victory bring…”
It was during the long reign of George III that the British developed something like their present attitude to the monarchy: familiar, proprietorial, half-humorous. As the historian Linda Colley showed in her great book, Britons, the gentle teasing of monarchs, far from being subversive, tended to enhance the sense that they belonged to the nation.
This aspect of British royalism is almost impossible to explain to foreigners – except those from the Dominions who, of course, are not properly foreign. Royal occasions have a play-acting, imaginative quality that my Brussels newsagent and my American interviewer simply couldn’t see. We Britons know that there is something faintly ridiculous about plucking a baby by genetic lottery and making him the exemplar and repository of our national story. Yet that doesn’t make our support for the institution any the less sincere. The philosopher Roger Scruton put it well when he likened the magic of monarchy to the enchanting light at the top of a Christmas tree, which we perfectly well remember, having climbed up to place it there ourselves.
This enchantment depends on the sovereigns being – or at least appearing to be – unflashy and unintellectual. When George V, great-great-great-grandfather of the new Prince George, toured an exhibition of French Impressionists, he boomed at his queen, “Look at this, May, this’ll make you laugh!” The idea that we like our monarchs to be blunt and simple is again, in my experience, difficult to get across to people outside the Old Commonwealth.
Hardest of all, though, is to challenge the idea that Britain is a hidebound, heritage-obsessed nation – an idea that many Britons themselves now fall for. For most of our history, we saw ourselves in precisely converse terms, as a restless, adventurous, innovative race. It is hard to think of a country that has invented and exported so many things: parliamentary democracy, the Boy Scouts, the stock exchange, the spinning jenny, golf, habeas corpus, horse racing, the internet. A single Cambridge college has produced more Nobel Prize-winners than France.
If our institutions seem old, it’s because they work. The United Kingdom was the only European country to have fought in the Second World War and not, at one time or another, lost. In consequence, we did not have to start afresh in 1945. Our political system had not failed us.
What we sometimes think of as our character is bound up intimately with our political system. A national culture is not something that hangs numinously alongside institutions; rather, it is a product of those institutions. Ours was the country that came up with the idea that rulers were subject to the law rather than the other way around, and that we should be governed through MPs whom we could hire and fire. Royal rituals that strike so many as medieval flummery – the State Opening of Parliament, for example – are there to exalt that idea.
British identity subsists in the countless bodies that are too old to be claimed as property by our political leaders: counties, Army regiments, ancient universities, churchwardens, jury trials. These institutions remind us that our government has been kept in check. A monarchy that we simultaneously chuckle at and respect underlines that relationship.
In the European Parliament, I am often struck by how many of my colleagues grew up under dictatorships. Not just those from the former Comecon states, but the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Greeks and a few of the older Germans and French. Liberty under the rule of law is not the natural state of an advanced society, nor even of an advanced Western society. It is a very specific product of English-speaking civilisation. As late as 1943, democratic freedom was more or less confined to the Anglosphere.
And that, deep down, is what we’re cheering when we cheer the birth of a new royal baby. Over many centuries, as we have watched our neighbours traumatised by dictators and revolutions, we have been able to feel as you might feel when, warm in your house, you hear the storm shake your windows. We developed and exported the sublime idea that taxes ought not to be raised, nor laws passed, save by our own representatives. That idea was not dreamt up, as in most European constitutions, by a recent convention of bigwigs: it is a birthright inherent in each of us, which the new prince happens to symbolise. That, surely, is something worth cheering.
LGBT Groups Object to New Chairman of Int'l Religious Freedom Watchdog
Princeton University Jurisprudence Professor Robert George, the newly-elected chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, is a leading Catholic thinker and ethicist, but homosexuality advocacy groups are unhappy about the position going to an opponent of same-sex marriage.
The USCIRF is an independent, statutory body established to promote and defend religious freedom abroad. Its remit does not include marriage – or any other domestic issue – in the United States.
Still, George’s election this week to chair the nine-member bipartisan commission for the next year has not pleased some same-sex marriage proponents.
Reporting on the development Thursday, LGBTQ Nation, which describes itself as “America’s most followed LGBTQ news source,” observed that the USCIRF, in its announcement of George's election, failed to mention George’s role in founding “the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM).”
LGBTQ Nation – the acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer/questioning – was also unhappy that the USCIRF had not mentioned George’s association with the Manhattan Declaration.
George co-authored the 2009 document, initially signed by more than 150 Christian leaders – and many more subsequently – who said that civil disobedience may be needed to defend life, marriage and religious freedom in the United States.
After noting that George was also a co-author of the original Federal Marriage Amendment – a bid to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, introduced in Congress numerous times since 2002, without success – LGBTQ Nation added pointedly that “[t]he USCIRF is funded entirely by the federal government on an annual basis and its staff members are government employees.”
In the comments section below the news story, several dozen LGBTQ Nation readers made clear their strong views on the matter overnight.
Created under the 1999 International Religious Freedom Act (IDFA), the USCIRF is tasked with making recommendations to the executive and legislative branches about promoting religious freedom abroad.
Its commissioner are unpaid private sector figures, and are appointed in line with a set-down formula – two by the president, two by congressional leaders of the president’s party, and four by congressional leaders of the party not in the White House.
When George was first appointed in March 2012 – by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) – the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group protested.
“For the Speaker to appoint someone who embodies NOM’s deep seated anti-gay animus is the wrong thing to do,” Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said at the time. “This appointment is counter to the commission’s stated mission because George represents a narrow and exclusionary ideology.”
George, who has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, will succeed as chairman Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation (named for her father, the late Rep. Tom Lantos), and a teacher of human rights and foreign policy at Tufts University.
Swett, who was appointed to the USCIRF by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and has chaired the commission for the past year, will now serve as one of two vice-chairs.
The other incoming vice-chair is M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the “anti-Islamist” non-profit American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and an appointee of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Swett praised George as “a true human rights champion whose compassion for victims of oppression and wisdom about international religious freedom shine through all we have accomplished this past year.”
A key function of the USCIRF is to make recommendations to the administration about designating “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for egregious violations of religious freedom. Under the IRFA, such countries may face sanctions or other measures designed to encourage improvements.
Currently designated CPCs are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The USCIRF supports those designations but has also been prodding the State Department, without success, to add Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam to the list.
Poll: 67 Percent of Americans Do Not Believe Race Should Play Any Part Whatsoever in College Admissions
Gallup’s most recent finding shows that more than two-thirds of Americans believe students applying to college should be evaluated “solely on merit” -- and that skin color should be wholly irrelevant during the admissions process (via Nick Gillespie):
I’m inclined to stand with the majority on this question. Of course this is not to belittle or ignore the nation’s long and complicated history of American race relations. For example, who among us can forget the famous photograph of Alabama Governor George Wallace standing defiantly at the University of Alabama’s auditorium in 1963 in order to prevent two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone Jones, from registering for classes solely because of the color of their skin?
Institutionalized racism existed in this country -- in one form or another -- for more than a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, and admittedly, exists to a certain extent in latent form today. At the same time, it’s my personal opinion that affirmative action and other such laws were once necessary -- namely, around the time the great Civil Rights statutes of the 1960s were signed into law. But remember, the reason the Supreme Court tossed out Section Four of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as recently as last month was because, in Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion, “our country has changed.” In other words, antiquated laws crafted with the best of intentions fifty years ago -- in order to protect blacks against discrimination and exploitation -- are no longer necessary in twenty-first century America. Isn't this a good thing?
By the way, a question worth asking is do affirmative action laws actually help minority students succeed? Perhaps. But there’s also a preponderance of evidence suggesting otherwise. Here’s Dr. Thomas Sowell writing on the subject, a brilliant and accomplished academic who spent many years of his professional life studying these kinds of issues:
"My view of affirmative action in college admissions is that it mismatches black students with colleges whose standards they do not meet, leading to unnecessary failures, when these students are perfectly qualified to go to some other colleges where they are more likely to succeed and graduate."
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously remarked that he wanted to live in a nation where his children would not be judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Racial quotas on college campuses therefore seem to be anathema to Dr. King’s vision of a more meritocratic and egalitarian society. Still, there will always be those who believe affirmative action is sacrosanct, and anyone wanting to change these entrenched laws or shake up the status quo are motivated only by racism. But isn’t it telling that nearly 70 percent of Americans already want students evaluated “solely on merit” when they apply to U.S. colleges and universities? This seems to me a huge step forward -- even if most liberals wouldn't agree.
House Refuses to Fund ‘Atheist Chaplains’ at Defense Department
House members voted Tuesday to bar the use of federal funds to hire “atheist chaplains” at the Department of Defense after Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) reminded his colleagues that the concept didn’t make any sense.
“It’s just total nonsense, the idea of having a chaplain who is an atheist,” Fleming told fellow House members. “When it comes to the idea of an atheist chaplain, which is an oxymoron – it’s self-contradictory – what you’re really doing is now saying that we’re going to replace the true chaplains with non-chaplain chaplains.”
Speaking about the current DOD rules for chaplains on the House floor, Fleming said: “Chaplains must possess appropriate education credentials, two years of religious leadership experience, and more importantly, must receive an endorsement from a qualified religious organization attesting to the tenants of the endorser’s faith…In June this body twice affirmed that the military is not permitted to appoint atheist chaplains.”
The House voted Tuesday to approve Fleming’s amendment to the 2014 DOD Appropriations Act (See H.R. 2397.pdf) which he said was an effort to “…define what a chaplain is. A chaplain is a minister of the faith -- someone who believes in a deity of a spiritual life who is assigned to a secular organization.”
The amendment passed with 227 Republicans and 26 Democrats voting in favor of passage.
Fleming introduced the amendment in response to an earlier proposal by Rep. Rob Andrews (D–NJ) that stated: “The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the appointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist.”
“Basically, the standard is to be recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service,” Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers explained.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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