The Corner

England, My England

Fundamental liberties are usually black-and-white propositions, and back when the architects of Anglo-American freedom had confidence in their work they had a lexicon fitting for people prepared to defend them. Tyrants and usurpers were termed “tyrants” and “usurpers.” Free men were entitled to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Not now. Now, we speak of “compromises” between liberty and propriety, and of the need for the government to make sure that the citizenry and the media are “reasonable.” We are all familiar with Canada’s march toward tyranny and I have written often of similar British violations. Now, in my country of birth the government claims to have come to a “deal” on the freedom of the press. This should raise alarm bells: Free nations, suffice it to say, do not come to “deals” on the freedom of the press.

As John O’Sullivan reports, London, once the undisputed center of the free world, has fallen to the dull charms of cheap censorship. For the first time since 1711, it seems that the state will regulate the media. Those famous words that open the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law,” written by men whose commitment to British liberty was so unshakable that they broke with the crown in order to preserve it explicitly in the republic that they had made, are the last vestige of a classical-liberal order that once looked impregnable. The Commonwealth is in a sorry state: In Canada, the Supreme Court is so happy for the government to silence the people that it has ruled that the truth constitutes no defense; Australia’s government is following the ugly trail of the Leveson inquiry, Britain’s investigation of the press; and in New Zealand the march toward outlawing all “hate speech” continues. And what of England my England? My country now imprisons people for being offensive on Twitter and arrests students who call police horses “gay,” stifles politically incorrect expression, and has found a majority of the political class willing to regulate the press. Only America retains ironclad prohibitions that remain unbroken by the vandals.

On David Letterman’s show late last year, the Eton- and Oxford-educated David Cameron claimed not to know what “Magna Carta” meant in English. At the time I suspected that this was a pretense — an attempt to remain cool in the face of learning. Now, I am not so sure. Cameron should pay a dear price for his enabling of the Leveson report and its consequences. But he will do no such thing. He is, after all, supported by the other two main parties and a majority of the public. A few have stood up, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson among them, “refusing to sign up to any of it.” They are brave, but they are eccentric. This way, slowly but surely, does liberty die.

In America, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter’s preposterous claim yesterday that speech he doesn’t like is not protected by the First Amendment — and his unlettered recital of the “fire in a crowded theater” nonsense — were treated by thinking people as just that: preposterous and unlettered. In England, such ideas now have a strong, influential, and growing constituency. The old phrase “it’s a free country” is being diminished in favor of meaningless but masturbatory talk of “multiculturalism” and “inclusiveness.” What tosh. As far as this Brit is concerned, if any of the new ideas come into conflict with the classic principles of freedom then those new ideas can shove it. Screw feelings, reasonableness, compromises, and “deals.” Screw “balance” and “moderation” and “third ways.” Give me liberty or give me death! David Cameron can go hang, for all I care. I can still write that — right?

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