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14.2.09

The democratic republican moment / 2

Bravo David Marquand! It seems that those in the Duchy calling for equality and greater people power are not alone, although it has to be said that the centralising Jacobin direction taken by the French state is nothing to be admired.

Marquand below:

During the Atlantic revolutions of the 18th century, Britain was on the wrong side. The American revolution was directed against British rule; the allegedly freedom-loving British elite sought to prevent the American colonists from enjoying the blessings of liberty. It was the same story during the French revolution. To the frightened British elite, it seemed that France had plunged into an abyss of anarchy, spoliation and atheism. The British state, backed by a wave of anti-revolutionary popular patriotism, became the lynch-pin of a Europe-wide counter-revolutionary alliance, bent on restoring the ancien régime and snuffing out the subversive dream of liberty, equality and fraternity.

In truth, the freeborn Briton is a myth. British freedoms have always rested on custom and convention, not on any fundamental law: on the transient goodwill of a mostly generous political elite, not on the sovereignty of the people. They have always been at risk from the all-powerful, inalienably sovereign Crown-in-Parliament. The charge against the surveillance state of the 21st century is not that it is eroding ancient liberties, which the British never fully possessed. It is that an over-mighty and panicky state is using a constitution which has always been essentially monarchical rather than republican to extend its reach ever-more deeply into the marrow of civil society. The task for today’s democratic republicans is not to fight a backward-looking battle in defence of the mythical freeborn Briton. It is to mobilise our fellow-citizens in a forward-looking campaign for a democratic constitution based on the principles of inalienable human rights and popular sovereignty: to make British liberty a reality instead of a comforting fiction.

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