Monday, August 11, 2008

Britain's (England's) "greatest moment" -

While fishing around on the Obit to Common Sense, I turned up on timesonline (link in the heading there) the following -
I am surprised that pragmatic philosophy consistently scorns moral considerations - and nowadays in the Western press we read a candid declaration of the principle that moral considerations have nothing to do with politics. They do not apply, and should not, so to speak, be applied. I would remind you that in 1939 England thought differently. If moral considerations were not applicable to politics, then it would have been quite incomprehensible why on earth England went to war with Hitler's Germany.

Pragmatically, you could have got out of the situation. But England chose the moral course and experienced and demonstrated to the world perhaps the most brilliant and heroic period in its history.

Was he right? Was this the most brilliant and heroic period in British history?

Or do you have another candidate?

The opening quote (in italics) is from a Beeb interview with Solzhenitzen.

The obvious "winner" was Battle of Britain and all that entailed. I am not going to argue against that - great moment it was.

There are two points that need to be made here.

The first is that (very many) of those who left comments placed more emphasis on Churchill and the effort of war than on the point that Solzhenitzen made regarding the moral considerations of politics.

The second point, and this is the greatest disappointment for me, is that not one person mentioned the signing of the Magna Carta. Disappointment because without that document, Britain would very likely not exist in its present form, or as it did in 1939. Disappointment because the influence of that event in 1215 has been felt throughout the western world. Disappointment because that one event was seminal to the formation of modern Democracy.

Without that one event, it is most unlikely that I would be writing this; equally as unlikely that you would be able to read it...


Dave Justus said...

Nothing against the Magna Carta, but it is a spot we can point to on a historical continuum but not the continuum itself. English history, and the unique mix of cultures that created it, has always been more hostile to authoritianism and more devoted to rule of law then most of the rest of Europe.

The Magna Carta was certainly a set toward further enshrining that attitude into the culture and as such did play a remarkable role in the history of Democracy, but I'm not sure that even without it, or if it had been delayed for a while a similar evolution wouldn't have taken place. For the most part, the Magna Carta was an agreement between two competing powers, the English Barons and the Monarchy, it certainly weakened the monarchy, and that allowed other things to happen, but it wasn't any great triumph for the commoners either.

In many ways, the Magna Carta is more important for its mythic status then it is for its actual content. It has been a symbol of democracy and progress for a long time, and an inspiration to the philosophers and revolutionaries that paved the way for our society.

The probligo said...

"The Magna Carta was certainly a set toward further enshrining that attitude into the culture "

Not at all how I see it Dave. As you follow that, you are in large part on the same track as I.

It was, if you want the comparison, the first move against "eminent domain". It was the very first step toward the removal of divine powers (rights) of the English royalty.

As you point out, it did nothing toward ending the near slavery of vassal or serf.

But it did take the very first step toward limiting the despotic rule of one man.

The second step came in the time of the Tudors (was it 300 years later?) with the eventual limitation of the powers of the Church in matters of state governance. That was Henry VIII and all that. Interesting to think that the effect of his action went so much further (in the very long term) than Henry ever intended.

Actually, that would probably be my second choice for "defining moment" and the application of morality in politics...

The probligo said...

Just to add to that picture... I have a small radio beside our bed (our alarm clock :) ) and the practice is that Mrs probligo and I listen to the 10p.m. news and commentary before going to sleep.

It just happens that in the programme just before the 10p.m. news last night there was an item on tourism and the problems of "dealing with" people from other countries. Quite apart from the Tyrolean landlady jokes and strange questions about sheep, was the story of a guided tourist who, when passing through Runnymede, was told that was where the Magna Carta was signed. "When was that?", he asked. The reply, "Twelve fifteen". The tourist looks at his watch and says, "Dang!! It's twelve thirty!! We just missed it!"

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