Friday, 30 June 2006

Helengrad, 1688.

A bit of history this morning just to remind you what the 1688 Bill of Rights is all about. Article IV of the Bill is one of the crucial legs that Bernard Darnton is relying on in his suit of Helen Clark.

One of the great, and perhaps most often overlooked, documents in political history is the 1688 Bill of Rights. It followed the all too frequently forgotten Glorious Revolution of 1688 -- when English nobles effected a peaceful revolution to eject a King who had forgotten that he ruled only through the consent of the governed -- and it followed a revolution in political thought that was intended to put the citizens in the saddle instead of the monarchs, who tended too often to ride their citizenry with whip and spurs. The revolution in thought was summed up by Thomas Jefferson:
All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.
The Bill of Rights ranks up there with the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution as one of the four foremost documents in the history of liberty, and all four derive from that same political tradition. The Glorious Revolution and the passing of the 1688 Bill of Rights (sometimes called the 1689 Bill of Rights for obscure reasons I won't bother you with) were the first events to give voice to the ideas of John Locke, so well developed in his Two Treatises of Government and developed further a century later in the American Revolution and those two historical US documents that sprang from it.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 gave effect to Locke's argument that a ruler or a government has power only by the consent of the governed, and, when a government or ruler is in revolt against a people, then the people have the right to overthrow the ruler. That argument was put into effect in England that year to eject the absolutist King James, and put in place the constitutionally limited William of Orange.

The constitutional limits were put in place by that Bill of Rights. The idea was that it was the ruler's job to protect the legimate rights of the citizens: the Bill of Rights was intended to chain him up to do that and no more. The result was a Constitutional Monarchy, somewhat imperfect it's true, but the protections of the Bill do still remain in law -- as Helen Clark is now learning.

The Bill is simple, and clear, and terse -- so unlike modern legislation in that regard as well. You can read the whole thing here in just ten minutes. Ten minutes to read; but a mountain of thought to understand its subtleties.

LINKS: Darnton Vs Clark
1688 Bill of Rights

History, Politics, Libertarianism, Darnton Vs Clark

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