The wise old journalist

In my latest National Post column I say if the Senate can write silly patronizing children’s books for adults, I can too. Please send me money.

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Sorry, professor, we don’t tolerate diversity here

In my latest National Post column I question the coincidence of Jordan Peterson being suddenly refused a federal government grant after he questioned radical gender orthodoxy.

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We the People Surrender to You the People – It Happened Today, February 27, 2017

Here’s one I do like. On February 27, 1782, the British House of Commons voted to throw in the towel in the American Revolutionary War.

I like it partly because my sympathies are very much with the revolutionaries seeking to uphold their ancient British liberties, not with the King and his ministers trying to suppress them. And I like it partly because I can think of few greater affirmations of those liberties that, in such a difficult and embarrassing situation, it was the representatives of the British people who took the king by his frilly collar and said “Stop!” Once again, Parliament checked an expensive, oppressive hare-brained executive branch scheme which was, in large measure, the point of the British constitution essentially from Magna Carta onward.

This vote was no formality. Far from it. The King remained an important player in the British system even when he was obviously messing up badly. And despite the highly unfavourable state of the military effort in what had recently been the 13 Colonies after the crushing British defeat at Yorktown by a combined American-French force, the February 27 1782 vote was close, 234 to 215. And that narrow 19-vote margin was very important.

It set in motion a highly favourable chain of events leading to quick reconciliation between the former belligerents. Including that the American peace commissioners, the exalted trio of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay, proceeded to make a separate peace with Britain despite pledges to France, which had swooped on her old foe, not to do so.

Within an amazingly short period, and despite the stupid War of 1812, Britain and the United States were tacit allies in maintaining world order, an arrangement that persisted from the 1824 Monroe Doctrine with some bumps and bruises right down to their formal alliance in 1917. And while it took statesmanship to bring it about and maintain it, the structural basis was their shared devotion to liberty under law and to popular sovereignty. With, of course, the usual qualifications about unjust exclusion of some groups from the blessings of liberty, most spectacularly in the United States black slaves and then ex-slaves.

In the Capitol Rotunda in Washington there is a gold replica of Magna Carta that we were kindly permitted to film in 2015, given by the British Parliament in 1976 in powerful acknowledgement that two centuries earlier the greatest devotees of traditional freedom and the rights of the people had been on the west side of the Atlantic. But they were still strongly represented in Britain including in Parliament on that important date.

Liberty is often under siege. But where the roots are deep, it has enormous strength and manages to flourish despite and sometimes even during storms. Including Parliament yanking George III back to his so-called senses on behalf of ordinary Britons on February 27, 1782.

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When Simon Met Populace – It Happened Today, January 20, 2017

An event on January 20, by contrast with much of the rubbish cluttering up the pages of history, was no mere incident. On this date Simon de Montfort, leader of a baronial revolt against the hapless profligate King Henry III of England, summoned a parliament to legitimize his claim to control England. And to strengthen his position against his fellow barons as well as that of the rebels generally, he brought in the common people as full participants.

They were not, perhaps, equals in every sense early on. But they sat alongside the nobles and clerics and took part in the debates and the votes. And what is remarkable is that over the next couple of centuries instead of being squeezed out they continued to gain power and respect, including getting their own separate house within a century with control of its own affairs and primacy on money bills. And people mock the Middle Ages.

The nobles and clerics may generally have been displeased to find knights and burgesses tramping mud into the place. But as the various parliament-like entities throughout Europe succumbed to absolutist monarchs over the next three centuries, the wiser among them must have reflected that the deep roots of the English parliament among the actual people of England were a major reason it, and it alone, survived and flourished, becoming ultimately more powerful than the monarchs as the commons chamber came to dominate the lords.

There is much more to be said about it, including the possibly happy chance that early on the English parliament divided not into three estates as in France, with separate noble and clerical houses, but into two, the mucky-mucks and the ordinary Joes and eventually Janes. And that Montfort’s own motives may have been less than entirely pure, as his conduct was (not least in his vicious anti-Semitism, at once opportunistic and apparently heartfelt). But he deserves respect for what he did.

So does the political culture of the English, and the habits and actions of countless English men and women great and small, through which liberty under law went from success to success despite its challenges. Indeed, though Montfort himself perished horribly later in 1265 at the battle of Evesham where his corpse was nastily dismembered, when his conqueror Edward succeeded his father Henry III and became Edward I, he himself summoned parliaments to which he too invited commoners and to which he reluctantly but decisively surrendered power over taxation.

The history of mankind would be enormously different had representative government not taken hold in England. It is far from established universally and faces challenges even in its Anglosphere heartland. But it is a standing example, invitation and sometimes reproach to all regimes and people everywhere that lack it. And while a great many things contributed to its remarkable history, including the countless again great and small who made Magna Carta a reality and defended it down through the years, Montfort’s innovation of including the common people as full members of Parliament was an important turning point.

Without it things would almost certainly have been different and worse, then and later, there and elsewhere including of course in Canada.

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Wish I’d said that – January 5, 2017

“There are few words which are used more loosely than the word ‘Civilization.’ What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained. That is Civilization— and in its soil grow continually freedom, comfort, and culture. When Civilization reigns, in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people. The traditions of the past are cherished, and the inheritance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all.”

Winston Churchill in 1938, quoted in Daniel Hannan Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World

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Update, thanks and Merry Christmas to our documentary backers

Wrapping up 2016 and looking forward to 2017, a word of thanks to all those who made our documentary work possible in the past year.

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Wish I’d said that – December 14, 2016

“Men do not become sinless by receiving a post in a bureaucracy.”

G.K. Chesterton in “Preface to Divorce vs. Democracy” quoted in Gilbert Magazine Vol. 19 #8 (July-August 2016)

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Hail Dr. Caesar

In my latest National Post column I lament the casual way the Ontario government has breached doctor-patient confidentiality including laughing off search warrants.

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King Justin

In my latest column for the National Post I argue that Trudeau manhandling MPs was not just rudeness to colleagues. It was an assault by the executive branch on the legislature and, therefore, on Canadian citizens, who elect MPs to control the government on their behalf.

One more reason we urgently need to fix our Constitution. Please back our documentary project and help us show the way.

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