Friday 23 January 2009

Britain’s currency – freedom

Britain's our home. It's a good place.

For all its faults, past and present, Britain remains one of the best countries in the world in which to live. It’s been this way for a long time.

Britain’s rulers: kings and lords; magistrates and clerics; merchants and scholars and councillors learned over hard and bloody centuries to govern with a light touch compared with their Continental counterparts; respecting the differences between the local customs of different places and the rights of the people who lived there.

Using the Common Law in England and Wales, for example, and some measure of common sense, there grew up in these islands a culture of toleration, freedom, and justice.

It was never any paradise; far from it (especially for the poor in times of famine and economic depression) but because of that light touch there was often more room for people to move – to make their lives better, to seek new homes in new towns or villages and new trades and to start new families without the permission of their ‘betters.’ Freedom to travel, to marry as you will, to seek better employment and to improve your lot in life, freedom even to rise in rank in Britain’s ever class-conscious society if you can…freedom is an unequalled treasure.

Tolerant and welcoming, (also indifferent and negligent – the two sides of the same coin ) Britain has long been a refuge for visitors who came to escape persecution and war elsewhere.

Britain’s rulers - though as capable of cruelty greed and stupidity as mortal humans can be - tended to leave such visitors to their own devices. Usually they were not helped at all by government but left free to prosper or otherwise as talent, hard work and luck would have it. It was no paradise for such people, but under less than oppressive laws Britain became richer in every sense because of such new subjects.

Freedom - unevenly distributed as many of the good things in life often are - became the hidden foundation of British life.

Freedom creates other treasures and virtues.

Freedom allows for good government.

The presumption amongst Britain’s rulers that the common people have rights, that there are things that rulers may not demand of them; that there are things that are none of government’s business, has often made for a large measure of consent and acceptance by the governed of those few duties that their rulers did place upon them. The government didn’t always ask for too much and so it was given – usually (we can be revolting when we have a mind to) – without too much resistance.

But always with a maximum of grumbling. This is Britain, after all.

Freedom encourages obedience to the law.

When laws are few in number and easily understood, and when they match the way most folk think about right and wrong, then people tend to co-operate with authority when it enforces the laws on those who break them. Knowing that you’re free to do pretty much what you want often makes it easier to accept a few obligations to authority. Not always – nothing’s ever perfect – but often. This makes for a highly law-abiding society, and it was until quite recently a feature that foreigners were wont to comment upon when visiting here from lands where the rulers and their laws were hated, resented, and disobeyed.

Freedom encourages neighbourliness.

If a person or a family knows where they are in life: what the laws are and what their obligations are to the authorities and their neighbours, and if those obligations aren’t felt to be too onerous and if they end somewhere and leave a large measure of privacy and freedom, then there is little motive or power to interfere with, and persecute, the equally free lives of their neighbours.

People are still human: bossy, nosy, snobbish and envious as may be but widespread freedom and well-enforced laws of privacy and property allow people to get along mostly unmolested by their all-too-human fellow-citizens.

Just a soon as they bring the hedge-clippers back and shut that blasted dog up…

Freedom encourages prosperity.

Left alone by the authorities, people are quite capable of and willing to, make a living. They will go to great lengths to better their lives and their families’ comfort and security. Almost all the great inventions of technology, the techniques of using them and working practices are due to the tendency of free people to find lazier, easier, cheaper ways of making a living. And when they have something to sell that is better, quicker, cheaper, more abundant or easier to use, then the whole country benefits: often immediately but sometimes a little later.

Customers are better or more cheaply provided for. New staff is recruited by innovating businesses or are recruited into new ones as new jobs are created. Working people can specialize and improve and refine their skills to make them more valuable and therefore better paid. Suppliers have more prosperous and more secure customers to provide raw materials and services to.

And in economies of freedom, the boss can only tell you how to work and when and for how much. he doesn’t tell you who to marry, what to eat or drink or believe, where to live or how to spend your leisure yours, He’s just a cash machine for your free, private choices. A berk, perhaps, but not all-powerful.

Freedom allows for reform and improvement that work.

When governments aren’t too powerful, they can allow change for the better.

If government doesn’t control all movement and association then people can see problems and gather together to suggest improvements.

If government doesn’t control all freedom of speech and publication, then people are free to recruit support and help and to devise and suggest improvements to the authorities.

If government allows changes to the law in response to complaints – via parliamentary bills, pleading in open and free courts, and in local administration, then better laws can be made.

If government is not so powerful that it can enforce bad new laws on all people all at once, regardless of consequences, then people can lead their lives not living in the fear of having their lives suddenly and arbitrarily turned upside down in unmanageable and harmful ways.

This was how the slave trade and slavery were abolished. This was how voting rights were extended to ever-wider numbers of men. This was how parliament was reformed over centuries to better balance the power of government against individual people.

Sometimes reform like this is not always quick enough for some people, or is resisted from the top, and people resort to violence. Parliament resisted government’s arbitrary powers of taxation and the Civil Wars resulted. Women achieved the vote when a formerly resistant government was persuaded that they needed women’s’ goodwill and labour in factories to fight the Germans in World War One, but I suspect despite their preceding attacks on property rather than becasue of it.

Nothing’s perfect.Nothing works all the time.

Freedom encourages morality.

When government wishes to be too powerful it seeks to control ever more of our actions thoughts and speech in order to make us lead ‘better’ lives.

Without freedom obedience to the laws is amoral subservience.

Without freedom acts of neighbourliness are the servility of people who fear being ‘reported.’

Without freedom acts of charity are taxes levied on the oppressed.

Without freedom acts of willing kindness are acts of rebellion against a despised and unworthy authority.

Without freedom acts of heroism and patriotism are the compelled self-sacrifice of resentful conscripts.

So there’s Britain and its currency – freedom.

Britain's an imperfect place where imperfect people can still live as peacefully and as happily as their talents and friends and their luck and ambition can manage.

Britain: two kingdoms, one Principality, a Province and associated islands, territories and dependencies.

A parliamentary democracy. A constitutional monarchy. A free society.

What Britain is not is the outpost of another power.

It is neither an outpost of the European Union nor the fifty-first state of America. It is not a hell-hole of oppression of starving masses whose only hope is revolution, nor a sink of sin whose every institution cries out for replacement by force of arms borne by the godly and used at Heaven’s command. It is not the breeding ground of a master race whose manifest destiny is to lead the world, nor is it a geyser of industrial poisons killing Mother Earth and slaughtering her children.

Its sea beds are littered with naval and merchant ships and its southern approaches are dotted with the sunken fuselages of Spitfires and Hurricanes, of Wellingtons and Lancasters which enclose the skeletons of people who thought that Britain was worth fighting to protect but who did not get home.

Its cemeteries, both civil and military, at home and abroad, stand as witness to the millions of men and women who have fought in wars or served in gentler struggles to make it better, safer, and freer.

Let us honour their gifts to us.

Britain is as free and as prosperous, as peaceful and as secure as a free people can make it.

It’s our home – plain and simple

Let’s keep it that way.

Can do?


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