Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Police Action and Nonviolence, by Matthew Cooper

Though it should have been obvious with Ferguson, Baltimore has now proven that we – even and especially the liberal whites of the East Coast – ignore the recent spate of not exclusively but predominantly black deaths at the hands of policemen in the United States at our own peril.

We have an urgent need to restore a language of common interest and common good with the people who are even now protesting – some peacefully, some less so – in the streets of Baltimore.

This need cannot, and will not, be encompassed by a simple unilateral demand for one side to lay down its arms and submit.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in his piece for The Atlantic:

‘When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.’

He goes on to ask, rhetorically, where the calls for restraint were when the actual instances of police brutality were happening.

Coates doesn’t quote Chesterton, but indeed here he might well have been able to.

‘They preach,’ Chesterton wrote, ‘that if you see a man flogging a woman to death you must not hit him. I would much sooner let a leper come near a little boy than a man who preached such a thing.’

What so galled Chesterton about the preachers of nonviolence of his day, was precisely that their hypocritical moralising served as cover for an utter lack of sympathy for the weak when they are bullied by the strong.

That is precisely what galls Coates here and now about the preachers of nonviolence in Baltimore.

As the best representatives of the pacifist tradition will tell you, though – and this includes disciples of Chesterton such as Mohandas Gandhi – it isn’t enough simply to insist on peace as a negative ideal, let alone a self-serving one.

‘Violence is any day preferable to impotence,’ wrote the Mahatma. And here Gandhi was speaking in concert with the Church Fathers and the sainted Greek authors of the Philokalia, who interpret anger as a dog capable equally of biting wolves and sheep.

The dog needs to be trained upon vice and wickedness, and must not be led to attack the weak, the innocent and the good – ‘be angry and not sin’; or as S. Isaiah the Solitary put it, ‘without anger a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy.’

Where Coates, Chesterton, Gandhi and the Church Fathers all tend to agree, is that anger, the root of violence, must be directed against injustice; and that a pacifism that ignores the weak, that is deaf to the demands of justice, is in actuality not opposed to violence but is actually a form of impotence, a moral sloth.

It is frankly impossible to speak intelligibly about violence or the evils thereof, in Baltimore or elsewhere, without first having and using the grammar of justice.

It is impossible to read the writings of Chesterton, Gandhi or the Church Fathers as atomised individual practice; in fact, they make no sense if they do not apply equally to individuals and to societies.

But what has all this theorising to do with Baltimore?

Simply put, the state’s right purpose is justice. The ruler is the minister of God for good, and a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil – so says S. Paul.

It is the job of the Christian to uphold the law and to support the state in its capacity, as the great Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov put it, as ‘collectively organised pity’.

But what do we do when this ‘collectively organised pity’ becomes indolent, indifferent to suffering, and indeed pitiless to the weak, as here and now, in Baltimore?

What do we do when another Freddie Gray dies? What do we do when the agents of the state overstep or wilfully ignore their right purpose?

As Coates, Chesterton, Gandhi and the Church Fathers would have it, anger is not only an understandable reaction when one encounters a wrong – it is a necessary one.

But revolutionary violence and the untutored anger it enshrines always has been, and is still, a feral dog which bites wolves and sheep alike.

The right reaction to events like those in Baltimore falls somewhere in between.

Those who preach nonviolence selectively at the powerless fall directly under Chesterton’s condemnation, and rightly so.

Freddie Gray is dead, like a dozen other black men throughout the country, with no sense or reason behind his death. This must be answered somehow, and will be.

But likewise, those who use acts of injustice to undermine the authority of the state and indulge anarchistic rebellion against even the right use of authority are clearly also wrong.

There can be no excuse for rioting, arson and banditry, because even if those are directed against the powerful, the weak will still be made to suffer for it.

The residents of Baltimore themselves, in fact, are indeed struggling to channel their anger into more spiritually-useful directions, peaceably, and against the state’s injustice rather than against the state itself. But they appear to be doing so not because of the hypocritical pacifistic moralising being levelled at them but rather in spite of it.

Pretty much every Christian tradition – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant – has historically emphasised that, as a rule, we have to obey our secular civil governments.

But no Christian tradition worthy of the name will say that a blind eye must be turned to injustices when we see them, and especially not those injustices in which we ourselves are complicit.

Even those who are angry at the injustices they see, and allow their anger to escape untamed are, in fact, better off than those who have grown passive and indolent, and allowed their anger to be choked off at its root by impotence.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Regardless of the Outcome, by David Lindsay

Regardless of the outcome of this General Election, certain things are bound to happen. But certain other things need to happen alongside them, and those have not yet been considered.

First, what is now the inevitable lowering of the voting age to 16 needs to be accompanied by the requirement that jurors and parliamentary candidates be at least 25, and what is now the inevitable extension of the parliamentary franchise to resident EU nationals needs to be accompanied by the requirement that parliamentary candidates hold British nationality in Great Britain, or British or Irish nationality in Northern Ireland.

Indeed, with that caveat, there would be no reason to restrict the vote to British, Irish, Commonwealth and EU citizens. Let all lawful residents vote, but not stand. Neoconservative objectors would have to explain why they wanted to deny the vote to Americans, Israelis, and subjects of the Gulf monarchs. Paleoconservative objectors would have to explain why the vote ought nevertheless to be enjoyed by every resident citizen of any Commonwealth country, even Mozambique, which has no historic ties to Britain.

Secondly, the implementation of further Scottish devolution, as promised by all parties during the independence referendum campaign, needs to be accompanied by a change in the manner of electing Scotland’s MPs at Westminster.

Each of the eight areas that are used to return top-up members of the Scottish Parliament would elect six MPs, giving a total of 48. Electors would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected. Thus could the balance of power never be held by a party that existed only in a place so comprehensively devolved. The same might be said of Northern Ireland, which for this same purpose might therefore be divided into three constituencies, each of two counties, and each returning six MPs by this means.

Thirdly, even a profoundly sceptical Labour Party has now adopted the Conservatives’ 18-year policy of an elected second chamber. A House “of the constituent nations and regions” already exists. It is called the constituency-based House of Commons.

Therefore, let the members of that House elect 100 Senators, either in place of the present elected hereditary peers, or as a new revising chamber. At the start of each Parliament, 25 Labour Senators, 25 Conservative Senators, 25 Senators of other parties, and 25 Independent Senators would be elected. Each MP would have one vote in each of those four categories, with the 25 highest-scoring candidates being elected.

Fourthly, commercial schools are going to be permitted to retain their charitable status. In return for that, in each school’s case, it needs to be required to have been adjudged Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, using the same criteria as for state schools, with the report published, and with the value-added measure applied, thereby requiring that school to demonstrate how it had improved pupils’ abilities.

Fifthly, the status of the Crown Dependencies and of some British Overseas Territories as tax havens is going to be abolished, or at least addressed with some vigour. In that case, students from the Crown Dependencies and from the British Overseas Territories need to be classified as home students for fee purposes. The same ought to apply to serving and former Armed Forces personnel, and to their dependents.

Sixthly, with all parties now committed to retaining the statutory commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid, the Statute Law should specify that aid to any given country be reduced by the exact cost of any space programme, or of any nuclear weapons programme, or of any nuclear submarine programme, or of any foreign aid programme of that country’s own. The money thus saved would, however, have to remain within the budget of the Department for International Development.

Seventhly, there is the highly likely abolition of the Crown Prosecution Service. In that case, so to speak, prosecution work needs to become, as historically, something that any firm of local solicitors built into its overall workload, with at least one partner whose specialisms included it.

Eighthly, it is obvious how best to freeze and then reduce rail fares. Over the course of a Parliament, each franchise needs to be taken back into public ownership, with the provision that its fares structure would henceforth be determined by the House of Commons.

Ninthly, the legislation abolishing the so-called spousal veto in relation to the marriage of transsexuals needs to include the right of all couples to register their marriages as bound by the divorce laws in place before 1969, and of religious organisations to specify that such would apply to any marriage that they solemnised, requiring them to counsel couples accordingly.

And tenthly, there is to be legislation annulling convictions for male homosexual acts that would not be criminal offences today. That needs to extend such redress. The offences of rape, serious sexual assault and sexual assault ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the ordinary crimes against the person, with the option of increasing the sentences up to the point of doubling them.

It ought to be made a criminal offence to commit any sexual act with upon any person who was under the age of 18 and who was more than three years younger than oneself, or to incite any such person to commit any such act with or upon one or any third party anywhere in the world. The maximum sentence would be twice the numbers of years’ difference in age, or life imprisonment where that difference was greater than five years.

The question also needs to be asked whether anyone can justly be convicted of non-consensual sex who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex. If there is an age of consent, then how can anyone be a rapist below that age? An assailant, yes. But a sexual assailant? How? Nor ought anyone under 21 to be charged with offences on either side of prostitution.

Convictions under laws predating these changes must be annulled along with that of Alan Turing.