Social media’s corrosive effect on UK Monarchy’s legitimacy

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and...

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in comparison to the European Union and Continental Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 2008, Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has opened up a number of public inquiries into long running scandals that have been a cause of public anger. For decades, HMG resisted such calls. The official story had closed these events and rendered a verdict. Yet, the public were not satisfied. Then, starting around 2010 the government started to address these long simmering issues.

Each of these issues involves state bodies or its agents. They point directly to failures by the government or its agents. They point to abuse of power. Most importantly, they point to grave injustices.

Is the regime founded in consent or coercion?

All regimes are based on a mix of consent and coercion. No regime is based solely on consent and no regime is based solely on coercion. If they have existed, they have existed briefly for they disintegrated under the extreme ethos. The UK monarchy, is not based on consent. The Queen, who is the source of all laws, is not on the throne by consent. The public did not elect her. They will not elect her successor. In this role, she has no mandate save that which force of arms and tradition supply. So long as she acts with justice, keeps the people safe, and respects the laws she will continue to rule.

The Coronation Oath sets out her responsibilities.

Archbishop. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws[1] and customs? [emphasis added]

Queen. I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop. Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen. I Will.[2]

As such, the legitimacy of her reign, her ability to stay in power, rests on the ability to deliver justice.

The official story once unassailable is now openly challenged and changed

In the past, the official verdicts by HMG or Her Majesty’s Police were the final verdict. There was no appeal beyond it. Social media has changed that completely and irretrievably. No longer can she or her agents rely on their authority or their control of the public or official memory. Social media has allowed the public to share information, develop networks, and investigate official records to create a counter narrative. The public now can create and access a rival public memory to challenge any statement, fact, or claim proposed by the government. For example, the victims of the abuse of power by the undercover police investigated and unmasked the perpetrators. They were able to do this only with the help of social media. Without that platform, the task would have been impossible for an individual even one with extensive resources. The survivors of institutional child sex abuse were able to challenge the government because they could create a rival memory to the one created to defend Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, and even Lord Janner. Today, the balance has shifted. Individuals who work together can created a rival or alternative narrative to the official story. They have forced HMG and the Monarchy to respond when before, they would have been met with silence or denials.

The UK media patrol the public domain protecting the Crown from challenge

The government’s denials and their official history succeeded because the media helped to defend it. On occasion it did challenge that narrative. However, it was usually a local issue or one that was within the proprietor’s interest. The media rarely challenge the official narrative. They rarely created or sustained a rival memory to challenge the official memory. Although there are rare examples where a journalist or even a group of journalists did challenge the system, they were an exception. With the advent of social media, the media have been challenged directly because they no longer have a publishing monopoly. They may have the largest share but they now have to accept the rival voices across Twitter, blogs, and Facebook that challenge them even as they try to co-opt it to their ends. The old establishment relationships are fracturing. However, the issue is more than the media losing money, instead it is that the Crown is losing its legitimacy.

Social media challenges the Crown’s legitimacy by broadcasting its injustice

Social media is now challenging the Crown’s legitimacy. Social media reveals that Crown has been complicit. In these scandals it has been shown to lack justice, to abuse power, and to flout the law. The Crown has ruled by law but it has not accepted the rule of law. Social media has shown that the Crown has usurped the people’s power, popular sovereignty. The Crown’s title to rule is no longer valid. To shore up of its legitimacy, to burnish its valid title to rule, the Crown has sought to address the long running, deep seated, injustices within its system. In particular, the following investigations which challenge the Crown’s legitimacy and the legitimacy of its bodies would not have happened without social media.

  • The Hillsborough Inquiry.
  • The Goddard Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
  • The Daniel Morgan Murder Independent Panel
  • The Pitchford Inquiry in to Undercover Policing (SpyCops)

Instead of lancing the boil of popular discontent, the inquiries have shown the full scale, scope and depth of the Crown’s corruption. Instead of shoring up the Crown’s legitimacy, the inquiries, panels, and inquests have eroded it further. The outcomes have shown the Crown, its institutions, and its agents have had scant regard for the public good, the rule of law, or justice. They have shown the British public that the Monarchy is an outdated institution. Why should someone in the 21st century obey an unelected person whose claim to rule is based on a 13th century standard?

When authority is questioned can it justify itself?

Social media challenges the legitimacy of all rulers and governments. Those that can answer the public coherently and convincingly will retain their legitimacy. To answer, the rulers show that they rely on the public’s consent. Those that cannot answer show they lack the public’s consent. What social media has shown the public is that Crown does not exist by their consent. The Crown cannot explain why the UK requires an unelected monarch. The Crown cannot explain why the Parliament rules by law but will not accept the rule of law[3] The Crown cannot explain why it should be considered legitimate when it is not based on consent.

The Crown is unable to justify an unelected ruler in an age of hyper-democracy

In time, the Crown will have to reform or be replaced, yet to do either would repudiate its legitimacy. One thing is clear. The Monarchy has survived for over 1000 years because of its ability to change in response to challenge or assimilate the challengers. In doing so, it has always ensured that it ruled. Yet, social media demands an equality that invalidates the Crown’s prerogative. The question is whether the Crown can manage that change. So far, it has responded with increased surveillance, laws to punish extremist speech, and a system of institutional informers. All of these are done within the law, but none increase the Crown’s legitimacy but only go to show its increased fragility for the reflect the need for public safety without delivering justice. Despite the political reforms to lance the boils of public discontent, the Crown has been unable to justify why it is legitimate. The Crown cannot answer the question of what justify its continued existence as a regime without consent. No matter the answers its provides, the Crown cannot stop the social media revolution or divert it from the demand for equality. We have begun to see the beginning of its end.



[1] That a monarch agrees to rule according to the laws separates them from a tyranny. A king has been able to transform their usurpation of power, the public’s power or what is known as popular sovereignty, and transform it into a valid title to rule. The validity of that rule is enhanced by the Monarchy’s willingness to rule according to the community’s laws.  As Leo Strauss explains in On Tyranny, a tyrant is differentiated from a king on the basis of ruling over willing or unwilling subjects and whether it is according to the community’s laws or the ruler’s will.

“Tyranny is defined in contradistinction to kingship: kingship is such rule as is exercised over willing subjects and is in accordance with the laws of the cities; tyranny is such rule as is exercised over unwilling subjects and accords, not with laws but with the will of the ruler.” OT p. 68


[3] Lord Neuberger recognized this point when he quoted Lord Justice Laws,

“It may be that my perceptive and far-thinking colleague, Lord Justice Laws, will one day turn out to be right when he argued that, through judicial development of the common law, ‘a gradual reordering of our constitutional priorities [may] bring alive the nascent idea that a democratic legislature cannot be above the law.61 ’ But we are not there yet.” (the footnote is from: Laws, Illegality and the Problem of Jurisdiction, in Supperstone & Goudie (eds), Judicial Review, (Butterworths) (1997) 4.17 cited in Goldworthy, The Myth of the Common Law Constitution in Edlin (ed), Common Law Theory (CUP) (2007) at 204)

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Hillsborough and the cognitive dissonance of UK police response

In psychology there is a term called “cognitive dissonance”. The term refers to the symptoms a person faces when their behaviour does not match their thoughts, attitude, or beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.

This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.

For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).[1] [emphasis in the original]

When we look at the senior officer statements on Hillsborough and the “lessons learned” see this dissonance, a dissonance that borders on schizophrenia. The cognitive overload created by the gap between public rhetoric and internal attitudes, beliefs and acts. One could go so far as to suggest this is the leading cause of stress within the police. They are told to think one way and they have to behave another way.

“Uphold the law, but cover for your colleagues”

“Tell the truth, but make sure your statements match.”

“Treat people fairly, but the [insert local minority] are a problem.

To deal with such cognitive dissonance, a person will seek to focus on that which creates the most harmony. They will focus on what they can control and is easier to reconcile. The person may become focused on a specific part of their behaviour such as great attention to personal grooming even though their house is in disarray. The police are no different.

When we consider the response to Hillsborough verdicts earlier this week, we see cognitive dissonance at work.  On the Police Professional web site, we see an article quoting a number of senior officials involved in the South Yorkshire Police and nationally. The statements help us to understand some of the reasons why the public have less trust in police to reform. The following remarks are based on the article that is found at this link.[2]

Hillsborough as a health and safety case study.

The comments focus exclusively on the police response to the way events are managed. They explain that they have learned lessons from Hillsborough. One would expect nothing less. Their professional role is to manage these events safely. No one disputes their success as large public events are safer. Indeed, from the litany of comments, one would believe that health and safety was the sole issue to Hillsborough.

Except that is not the issue The survivors did not have to wait 27 years for a health and safety ruling. Health and safety for events was not at issue. We know that was not the issue because the health and safety lessons were applied immediately and continually after the disaster. No one waited 27 years to start to admit health and safety changes were needed or to implement them. Yet, this is what the police statement would have us believe if we did not know anything about the issue. Here are the statements.

“The Hillsborough disaster changed the way in which major sporting events are policed and very many lessons have been learned.” But he added: “Today, with improvements in training, communications and technology, it is almost impossible to consider how the same set of circumstances could arise again.” David Crompton Chief Constable South Yorkshire Police

“Officers would not be in the same position of commanding a football match without being trained by their professional body, the College of Policing.”  Chief Constable Alex Marshall, College of Policing CEO

Hillsborough “shaped how we police football matches”, adding: “Sadly the changes we have made since then can never take away from the seriousness of the police failures at Hillsborough.” Sara Thornton, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Chair, Chief Constable

“Today’s policing standards — such as strict procedures, improved equipment and health and safety standards — were simply not in place 27 years ago, nor indeed the current ability and frameworks for junior officers to question senior officers’ decisions.  Neil Bowles, Chair of South Yorkshire Police Federation

What is the elephant in the room?

The public distrust the police because they appear institutionally unable to talk about the elephant in the room. They cannot talk about systemic corruption, a culture that is simply unable to hold itself to account except in a superficial way. No matter how grave a police officer acts, the first response is always “They are a rogue officer” as if they emerge spontaneously without anyone noticing or intervening until it becomes unavoidably obvious. There has never been a police force or a Chief Constable that has stood up and said “We have a toxic culture and we are going to change it.” The failure to be honest with themselves and therefore with the public is what creates the crisis of legitimacy. It is what is at the heart of Hillsborough except the police appear unable or unwilling to talk about it.

Two issues are at Hillsborough’s heart. First, the police unlawfully killed 96 people. Second, the police covered it up, denied it, and lied about it for 27 years. These are the issues that matter to the public, yet no senior police officer has publicly condemned either of these behaviours. None have said “There but for the grace of God goes our police force.” They may have said that quietly in the dark to themselves, but they will not discuss that openly within their force or publicly. No senior police officer has publicly condemned the institutional lies that were sustained for 27 years. A culture that ensured the truth would be covered up.

How have the police responded?

The police respond by pointing to ongoing criminal investigations. They claim they do not want to prejudice the cases. Yet, this troubles the public. In any other cases involving the public, the police have commented publicly and freely about alleged perpetrators. When it comes to their own “dirty laundry” they go quiet.

What is undeniable is that officers lied. What is undeniable is that South Yorkshire Police have a culture that tolerates cover-ups. We know from Hillsborough and Rotherham that the culture is flawed. The same abuse of power is present in both cases. In the latter, it is now apparent that police officers were involved in the abuse. Yet, no senior police officer has spoken out about 27 years of a culture in denial. Even when judgements are rendered, it is now a fact that the South Yorkshire Police force unlawfully killed 96 people, no senior police officer has condemned the force.

Here is what Sara Thornton said on the day the fact was verified in law.

“The impact of the tragedy at Hillsborough was felt across policing. It has shaped how we police football matches because we are committed to doing all we can to prevent anything like this ever happening again.  Sadly the changes we have made since then can never take away from the seriousness of the police failures at Hillsborough and what that has meant for so many people over so many years.”[3]

There is no mention that she condemns a police force that could kill 96 people. She does not condemn a culture that denied this for 27 years *even though* a senior officer admitted to the lie. Perhaps the hope is that the criminal investigations will reinforce the comforting myth of “rogue” officers or the equally comforting myth of “a string of blunders so no one is at fault.”[4] These are comforting myths because they point to only one thing that no one wants to discuss publicly—the system. The system is the culture, the way things are done, which is not discussed. What the public want to know is why? Why are the police unable to condemn or discuss publicly a corrupt culture that lasted for 27 years?

That which we cannot talk about us is what haunts us

Why is it that senior police officers cannot talk about a corrupt culture? A culture that denied the truth for 27 years? A culture that encouraged silence despite officers knowing that it was a lie? For 27 years South Yorkshire Police lived and defended a lie. The lie is known but no senior officer will talk about it. Instead, they talk about better event safety, about better event communication, about learning the lessons of event planning.

Cognitive dissonance on a national scale.

What we have is cognitive dissonance on a national scale. We have a problem that we cannot talk about so we will talk about what works.

South Yorkshire Police are not a rogue force. If this becomes the belief, you begin a journey that ends with a dangerous truth. If you scale the rogue officer defence upwards to the police force, you will arrive at a constitutional crisis. Perhaps senior police officers and Government ministers know this instinctually.

Even if that truth is not to be discussed openly, one thing is clear. There will continue to be cover-ups, lies, and corruption until the cognitive dissonance is treated. The cognitive dissonance will create more officer stress, more abuse of power, and increased public distrust. Until the police can openly discuss a cultural problem as clear-cut as Hillsborough, the police cannot regain the trust that has been lost. Their public behaviour will never match what they know privately.


[1] Cognitive Dissonance by Saul McLeod published 2008, updated 2014




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To whom is the UK government accountable?

The question seems simple and the answer seems obvious. Yes, the UK government is accountable. If we understand being accountable as fitting one of the four types that Lord Sharman recommended, then it appears accountable.[1]

  • giving an explanation
  • providing further information
  • reviewing and, if necessary, revising
  • granting redress or imposing sanctions

For the most part, this seems to be the way the UK government works. It justifies itself before Parliament and the people through a variety of methods and means. Parliament can hold it to account through select committees while citizens can use such things as judicial review. However, recent cases suggest a worrying trend to resist anything but superficial accountability.

The Crown will not explain itself when it kills its citizens.

The case is the drone strike that killed Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin[2] who were both UK citizens. The drone strike was targeted at Khan. The PM justified the killing as self-defence.[3] The UK, a nation state, had to defend itself against an individual, a citizen, by killing them with a drone strike.[4] The UK also claimed that the strike was required to defend Iraq from ISIL.[5] The citizen has no redress in this situation. They received no warning, no trial, and no appeal. The state decided to kill them without the constitutional recourse which is available in the United States.[6]

When asked, the UK government refused to publish the legal advice that justified killing a UK citizen. If the government will not publish the reasoning or the legal advice that justifies the killing, can any citizen be safe? The highest duty within a state is justice. If the state cannot provide justice, can it consider itself legitimate? The state already holds vast power over the individual, including the power of life and death, so when it uses this power it must be accountable. If a government is unwilling to justify itself to its citizens, is there a difference between it and a gang of robbers? The UK government justified itself on “self-defence” without explaining why it delayed telling the public of the killing.[7]

The UK government decided that a UK citizen was a threat to national security and killed them. The principle is that the Crown will kill people who threaten its security, the national security. In such a society, is political opposition possible? A few months later David Cameron said that the Labour party, was a “threat to national security”.

Does this mean that the government can kill them for the threat that they pose? Is it possible that Jeremy Corbyn can be killed by the Crown in self-defence? The UK took centuries to develop the practice of decent politics where political opposition to the Crown was not potentially punishable by death. Are we reverting to that earlier era?

No one is accountable, but we have learned lessons.

When a government does not account for killing its citizens, can the citizens expect justice? More to the point, can they expect someone to be accountable? It would appear not.[8]

When Jean Charles de Menezes was killed, the state denied responsibility. They argued the killing was justified by the threat they faced. They claimed the Police Officers acted in self-defence against a potential suicide attacker.[9] His family challenged the state’s claims. They brought their case to the highest court in Europe to which the UK is accountable. The judgement found there was not enough evidence to prosecute anyone for his death. He died because of the systemic errors, omissions, and missed opportunities but no individual was responsible for that outcome. The judgement means that like the 7/7 attack no one is responsible. If no one is responsible, but all parties involved were state organisations, then the state is responsible, but has it been held to account?

These two cases show the way in which the state can kill citizens and strangers without being accountable. In both cases, the state claimed self-defence. If self-defence justifies the act, does this explain enough to the public? Are the public, or the victims, able to hold the state to account. If the most you can expect is an apology, what does that do for the living? Are we to be grateful it is not us?


[1] Lord Sharman of Redlynch Holding to Account The Review of Audit and Accountability for Central Government (February 2001) p16  Lord Sharman was quoting from Barbaris P (1998) ‘The New Public Management and a New Accountability‘ in Public Administration, Autumn. Also Neale A and Anders on B (2000) ‘Performance Reporting for Accountability Purposes – Lessons, Issues, Futures’ paper at International Public Management Workshop, Wellington, Ne w Zealand


[3] “So on this occasion we ourselves took action. Today I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision air strike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.

Mr Speaker, we took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no government we can work with. We have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots. And there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home. So we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action.” [emphasis added]



[6] Ibid  “Barack Obama has since faced repeated questions about the constitutionality of such killings, with accusations that the US is engaged in extrajudicial assassinations.


The UK has no such constitution protecting individual citizens.”

[7] The attacks occurred on 21 August 2015 but the official notification was on 7 September 2015.

[8] Instead, it would appear when something does go wrong, we are told that lessons will be learned. Just as with the 7/7 attack when the government failed to protect its citizens, despite its extensive powers, it deflect accountability.  As the article notes, “The twin reports into the London bombings of 7 July 2005 are marked by the characteristically British habit in these types of inquiries of listing a long series of failures and then not blaming anyone.” It then quotes the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report with the now classic Civil Service response: “We believe that lessons have been learned.”

[9] The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did find the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had breached the Health and Safety Regulations and were fined 175,000.

The family had settled a legal claim with the MPS out of court with the MPS paying them a sum just over 100,000 and their legal fees in return for the family dropping their suit.

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Does the United Kingdom have the rule of law?

The Magna Carta from 1215 is an early English ...

The Magna Carta from 1215 is an early English form of encoded social and legal rules. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Wherever law ends, tyranny begins’. –John Locke

The question seems odd, almost quixotic. In a country that prides itself on Magna Carta with a long history of common law, it seems a question that need not be asked. this seems an odd question. The common understanding is that the United States of America, which prides itself on the rule of law, inherited its faith in the rule of law from the United Kingdom (UK). Although both countries may appear to approach it differently, the question would not be raised. America was founded in the belief that the rule of law backed by judicial review, where a written constitution would be the highest law, would be the highest authority. As Harry Jaffa explained, the social contract, America’s founding, where individuals left the state of nature and entered society was based on the practice whereby each citizen recognized the equal natural rights of all.

How can they enter society, except by a social contract—or compact—in which each recognizes the equal natural rights of all, in a society dedicated to preserving the equal natural rights of each? It is this mutual recognition which is the foundation, at once, of majority rule and minority rights, of the rule of law.[1]

The citizen could appeal to this social contract, the constitution, while the government, organised to secure to the rights of the citizens, would have to justify itself before it. The writings that defend, promote, and explain that founding, rely on the rule of law as touchstone. In the same way, the United Kingdom despite lacking a constitutional moment or a written constitution, holds the rule of law as a central tenet of its constitutional system.

Equality before the law applies more to the US than the UK.

The rule of law, as explained by is greatest modern proponent Albert Dicey, is based on three interrelated ideas. First, the supremacy of regular law over arbitrary power, equality before the law or equal subjection of all classes of person legal and natural, and the government bound by, or constituted by, the law. The definition appears to capture the way the law shapes the constitutional relationships within the regime. Yet, he appears to overlook the way in which the law in the United States derives its just authority from the ends to which it serves, the ends to which the citizens consented through their constitutional moment. In the United States, the people consent to the means by which the law are made and enforced for they are the source of the law. Curiously, Dicey tries to make the same argument for the United Kingdom to argue that the people decide the laws and are sovereign as expressed through Parliament. Yet, this fails to consider the Crown’s prerogative power and Parliament’s legislative supremacy. The people do not constrain Parliament’s will. Only Parliament can restrain its will. Thus, consent is an important difference between the United Kingdom and the United States of America regarding the rule of law as consent or its absence shapes the laws, as well as the understanding of the rule of law.

The feudal inequality remains in the UK.

From that consent, the idea of political and legal equality emerges. A citizen participates equally in the public domain when they consent to and obey the law which expresses and recognizes their mutual political equality derived from their equal natural rights. In this approach, America is marked by the idea of and belief in political equality defined through a constitutional moment. Through political equality, America broke with the European imperial tradition, which was based on a natural and positive inequality derived from the absolutist view of the divine right of kings. Thomas Jefferson noted this difference in his defence of the American political system.

“That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. 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 favoured few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”[2]

The rule of law through a constitution tells Americans that no one was “booted and spurred” ready to ride them by their divine right. In particular, Americans believe and know, that no one is above the law, all are equal before the law, and all have to answer to the law when required.

Rule of law and respect for the law are mutually reinforcing

The rule of law was tested by a great civil war. In that war, America had to decide whether it would retain its constitution, the rule of law, or the Union would be destroyed so a slave state could emerge. The war and its outcome settled that question. Through it, Lincoln re-founded America on a different basis, which expressed the reverence for the laws needed to sustain America’s political institutions.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.[3]

Founded in a revolution and re founded in a brutal civil war, America’s great experiment in self-government based on the rule of law would flourish. The constitution, the highest law, survived. However, it has continued to be tested. Two cases in particular show that the rule of law, with the belief that no one is above or beyond the law, is a core political institution for America that expresses, defends, and sustains the common good.


The first case is that of President Richard Nixon. He refused, for a full day, to respond to a subpoena by the House Committee investigating him for Watergate break-in. They asked that he turn over documents required for their investigation. For several hours, he refused. Then, at the last minute, he complied. Barbara Jordan, on the panel, that would later vote to impeach Nixon, captured the constitutional tension quite eloquently. She said

“The fact is that on yesterday, the American people waited with great anxiety for eight hours, not knowing whether their President would obey an order of the Supreme Court of the United States.”[4]

Nixon complied with the court’s order. He respected the rule of law. However, Nixon resigned before he had to answer the law’s questions.


The second case refers to President Bill Clinton. Unlike Nixon, Clinton would answer the law’s questions. After extended legal negotiations, he agreed to testify in the investigation into the Monica Lewinsky case. The public saw a sitting president sworn under oath to answer specific questions about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky. He was called before the law to given an account of his behaviour. He could not avoid answering the investigator’s questions. Clinton answered the law’s questions.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman Monica Lewinsky.

He could not opt out of them. Neither President said “I will decide what questions are appropriate or that I will answer?” Neither President attempted to tell the court what they would or would not answer. Despite their great political and institutional power, both presidents bowed before the law. They saw the Constitution above their status. They served the Constitution. The rule of law would be respected. They would answer the law’s questions.

What happens in the UK?

One would expect that the same would happen in the UK where the rule of law is supposed to have been born. For the most part, it does. We are encouraged to believe that the executive, the powerful, the privileged bow before the law so that anyone appearing before the court, under the rule of law, would answer its questions. They would not be entitled, allowed, or empowered to decide what questions they would answer or were appropriate.

If the Queen is above the law, how can we have rule of law?

In the UK the rule of law does not exist to the same extent, if at all, as it does in the US. For a start, the Queen is above the law.[5]

“Given the historical development of the Sovereign as the ‘Fount of Justice’, civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law. Acts of Parliament do not apply to The Queen in her personal capacity unless they are expressly stated to do so.” [6]

She is only covered by laws that directly apply to her otherwise she obeys the laws voluntarily. As she is above the law, a key tenet of the rule of law—equality before the law is missing. Her example suggests that obedience of to the law is a function of proximity to the Crown. Consider the following case.

If the Queen (and Parliament) are above the law, are their servants above the law?

During the Phone Hacking trial, where former News International employees Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks faced charges relating to phone hacking, one of the witnesses called to testify was Sir Michael Peat, Private Secretary to Prince Charles from 2002 to 2012. At the trial, the Crown’s QC asked whether an entry in the journal indicated whether he had an affair. He refused to answer the question. He argued that he did not see the relevance of the questions. Here is how Peter Jukes described the scene.

“Justice Saunders tried to placate him: “Your evidence is relevant to this case,” he told Peat. “However much you were nagged by the police, we would be grateful if you would spend a few minutes of your time to answer questions.” But Peat wasn’t having it. He said he’d be the judge of what he would answer: “As long as I feel it is relevant,” he said.” [emphasis added]

It was one of the rare moments the hacking trial judge showed the steel beneath the charm, a flash of the ceremonial sword on the wall, usually obscured by his silk robes. “It is not your decision if it is relevant or not,” Justice Saunders said: “It is not your decision. It is my decision – because I am the judge in this court. Let’s have the jury back in….”

As the jury returned, Justice Saunders explained the reason for the hiatus: “We have done our utmost not to require people to answer questions about their personal life. Sir Michael does not want to answer the question. We will carry on without the question being asked.” He indicated the Crown barrister should continue. Bryant-Heron said flatly: “I have no further questions. Thank you my lord,” and sat down.” [7] [Emphasis added]

The judge and the QC appear to collude in not applying the rule of law. The judge does not require him to answer the question nor does the QC revisit the question. Sir Michael does not want to answer the question, as he does not see the relevant, so the QC and Judge allow him to avoid it. He does not have to obey the law because he does not believe it is relevant. He will decide what is relevant not the court, nor the judge, nor the QC. No one responsible for the rule of law, the judge or the QC challenged him. They simply accepted that the question was not relevant because Sir Michael had said so.

In the UK, the behaviour passes with barely a comment. I can find only one reference and it does not focus on Sir Michael’s refusal to obey the law. It suggests that the judge ruled he did not have to answer the question, which reverses the exchange. The judge is doing Sir Michael’s bidding as he was not asking the judge for permission.[8] The judge may have reminded Sir Michael of the law and the court, but he did not make him obey either. Moreover, the QC did not repeat the question and enforce the law and the court’s authority. Perhaps discretion is the better part of valour when the law defers to power. Can we think why this is acceptable?

Are inappropriate questions a sign the law rules?

The behaviour might be excusable if we accept that questions are inappropriate, which is for the witness to decide. If we do, which seems doubtful, is this approach open to less powerful witnesses? We have seen a rape victim, a vulnerable person, on the stand being forced by the judge to answer excruciatingly sensitive questions. If we compare this to the case of Abby, a 13-year-old girl who was questioned aggressively by seven consecutive barristers every day over three weeks, we have to wonder why Sir Michael was granted such discretion.[9] If they fail to answer the question their character and evidence are called into question. The court never hesitates to require an answer. The witness does not get to say “I do not think that the question is relevant.” The situation became so problematic with vulnerable witnesses being traumatized or even driven to suicide by the approach that the government had to issue guidance to restrain the behaviour.[10] However, the event appears to suggest that the weak seem to have a different status before the law and the court. The key difference appears to be the status of the witness and their attitude to the rule of law. The weak and vulnerable are not educated to view the law as an inconvenience. They are educated to obey the law.

Would anyone get away with this in the US?

In the United States, the political and legal cultures are different from the United Kingdom. The arrogance before the law would not be accepted for the law is king.[11] Even the President of the United States respects the law and the court. In the UK, the powerful do not respect the law in the same way. The Queen, as we note, is above the law and the Royal Household[12] is equally exempt to the extent that they, not the court, the judge or the QC, will decide what questions are relevant.[13] Instead, it is the law that bows before the powerful. It would appear that the UK’s courts are imperious to the weak and courteous to the powerful.[14]

One wonders if any other witnesses would be allowed to act as imperiously before the court. Then again, the Judge swears an oath of obedience to the Crown not to the law or to the people. If the Crown’s representative can display such contempt of the rule of law, the court’s authority, it makes us understand what Thucydides said 2500 years ago. “The strong do as they will, the weak do as they must. Only between equals is there justice.” The law creates equality, an equality that exists superficially, if at all, in the United Kingdom.

The strong do as they want, is what the law tell us in the UK?

The Royal family is not the only group beyond the rule of law. Parliament also exists beyond the law.[15] On an individual level, though, other Crown officials show a similar attitude and behaviour toward the rule of law. Consider the way Crown officials react to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We know from the article “Most powerful person you have never heard of” that the law is flouted regularly, repeatedly without any concern of censure.[16] There is no desire to meet the letter or the spirit of the law when it constrains the political imperative. The approach reflects an attitude which becomes a common practice regarding the rule of law. Why is it a surprise that a civil servant would flout the FOIA when their ministers hold the law in similar disdain? Their behaviour suggests that the law only applies to those who lack the power to avoid it. The powerful do as they want while the weak do as they must.

Does repetition make a reality?

Despite their behavior, the UK’s legal establishment talks avidly of the rule of law as if repetition makes it a reality. They talk of a pious fraud. The rule of law exists by a fiction as it preserves the regime. The law serves to protect the powerful to maintain the public order without overt coercion. What supports this vision is the illusion that the Crown exists by consent and not force or fraud. The Crown exists by force even though it rules according to the law[17] especially when measured against the standard of the Declaration of Independence.

Is the rule of law mask for the arcana imperii?

The hollowness of the rule of law is arcana imperii, the secret knowledge, that drives the regime as the powerful know they are not beholden to the law. The laws constrain the weak as they serve powerful. The contrast with the United States could not be greater. In a land of a written constitution that is the highest law in the land no one would dare to act imperiously toward the law. In the UK where the Queen is the source of the laws so she obeys the laws voluntarily or by choice, the imperious relationship to the law remains.

When the law apologizes to power can we say that we have the rule of law? Is it that the law serves privilege for it rules by law?[18] Perhaps it is time the UK had the rule of law or is that too revolutionary of idea?

(Magna Carta is often suggested in the popular imagination that it embodies the rule of law. The illusion proves useful on occasions such as this.)

[1] (accessed 5 February 2016)



The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois January 27, 1838

[4] Barbara Charlene Jordan Statement on the Articles of Impeachment delivered 25 July 1974, House Judiciary Committee




[7] See Peter Jukes Beyond Contempt p101-102).


“Another note was also found at the address with Peat’s name and “affair?” written above, the court heard.

Mark Bryant-Heron, counsel for the prosecution, asked Peat whether he was “engaged in an affair” in January 2003.

“Could you just explain the relevance of this question?” he replied.

The jury, which was briefly sent out of the courtroom, was told by the judge Peat had argued the question was not relevant and did not have be answered.”



[10] One has to note that the situation lead to the Crown reviewing the way vulnerable and young victims were handled. one wonders if such guidance will be issued for powerful, well-connected witnesses.

[11] Tom Paine made this argument in Common Sense.

“But where, say some, is the King of America? I’ll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Great Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honours, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the Charter; let it be brought forth placed on the Divine Law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king.” [emphasis added]

[12] The Royal Household is covered by the Crown’s prerogative to provide assent or consent to legislation. The Crown has refused consent to some legislation that would have limited its power or authority. In particular, the case in 1999. “In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.”

[13] The Queen and her Royall Household are exempt from most laws. They have the power to withhold consent to the laws, which means Parliament cannot pass them. The most recent example, is when Parliament considered a bill that would transfer the war making authority from the Queen to Parliament. The Queen and the Prince (her heir) can withhold their consent to any law. For more on this power see this guidance note:

[14]One only note the severity and alacrity with which the Crown dispense justice against those who were caught participating in the London Riots 2011. Some praised it declare that it helped defuse the riots. yet even that contained a note of caution that proportionality was being lost.

[15] Lord Neuberger recognized this point when he quoted Lord Justice Laws,

“It may be that my perceptive and far-thinking colleague, Lord Justice Laws, will one day turn out to be right when he argued that, through judicial development of the common law, ‘a gradual reordering of our constitutional priorities [may] bring alive the nascent idea that a democratic legislature cannot be above the law.61’ But we are not there yet.” (the footnote is from: Laws, Illegality and the Problem of Jurisdiction, in Supperstone & Goudie (eds), Judicial Review, (Butterworths) (1997) 4.17 cited in Goldworthy, The Myth of the Common Law Constitution in Edlin (ed), Common Law Theory (CUP) (2007) at 204)


[17] The UK regime is not founded with a constitutional moment. The Crown constituted itself through its natural right prerogative that the strong rule the weak. Even the revolution of 1689 which did much to constrain the Crown only served to place it on a surer foundation to give it a greater validity to rule.  See for example, Vernon Bogdanor The Crisis of the Constitution see also

[18] For a brief overview of the difference between “rule by law” and “rule of law” see


Posted in corruption, Government, justice, public opinion, republicanism | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sir John Grieve and the Arcana Imperii: private accountability made public

English: Metropolitan Police officers on patro...

English: Metropolitan Police officers on patrol in London’s Trafalgar Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Records in an archives create a public legacy to hold public official to account. As records allow powerful figures to be held to account, there can be a desire to control what is held and accessible in archives. In a crude sense, there is a danger that archives can be hollowed out. The problem is more than someone literally removing content from the archives as there are laws against such behaviour.[1] Instead the issue is how public officials will influence what is accessed and before it is accessed what is sent to the archives. What is sent to archives becomes part of the official story so that to challenge the official record or story, an individual has to access these records and publish or broadcast them to a sympathetic audience. Technology that improve access archives will consequently increase awareness of what is in the archives. What is fundamental, though, are the record which become the political facts that cannot be refuted. Without these records as facts, it is harder to hold the public official to account or to present a counter narrative to the official story. Armed with these facts, a citizen can hold power and the powerful to account. Without these facts, the average citizen is at the mercy of the official story. Thus, there is a great concern when archives lose funding, organisations lose records, and the “official record” is sanitized to avoid accountability.[2] However, the same technology that provides access can be used to limit that access and filter what is sent to the archives.

If you change what an archives holds you can influence history.

When we see a headline about changes to archival disclosure practices especially if there is a claim that more information will be withheld, we probably never give it a second thought. Even if we read the article, we may assume it is simply a question of funding. Do we stop to ask, “Does reduced funding for archives mean less accountability?” Few people will see that reduced funding can lead to reduced accountability. Even fewer will consider that reduced funding can lead to reduced accountability. Such a thought, let alone such behaviour, is rarely expressed so brutally or openly. It is rare to see something as crude and direct as the Nordlinger Affair or the Heiner Affair.[3] Instead, the changes occur through the quiet word, indirect statement, gentle request to reduce funding, change the archive’s collection criteria, or alter the public records transfer policy. The public, already uninterested in archives, will be unlikely to express much interest. The public will always have other items to attract their attention. Perhaps records managers or archivists might notice but will they connect the issues?

Access is one challenge, how a record is used is as important.

The threat is more than funding. Technology, which also enhances access, can also limit that access. With technology, it is easier to review archival and records management systems to exclude “sensitive” documents. The records can be sanitised to protect, sustain, or defend the “official record”. Yet that is the public aspect of public records held either in the archives or within the government. Another aspect is what is done “privately” with these public records. Technology has not changed the arcana imperii.[4] The term, coined by Tacitus, refers to secret knowledge, in that the public is unaware of it, that is used to rule as well as the way the knowledge is used.[5] The term, with its dual meaning, clarifies the way organisations can use private information. We can see how organisations can use records to exercise power beyond their public role. In many cases, especially if the knowledge is in the archives, the public record is being used privately rather publicly. Even though the use is justified as being for the organisational or public good or have a public effect, the use is for the private benefit of the organisation or its members. They knowledge can hold someone to account, but more in the sense to control privately than publicly.[6]

All societies rely on arcana imperii which has an effect on archives.

All organisations, and societies, in particular imperial societies, rely to some extent on arcana imperii. I do not mean as a general principle where the rulers work on the assumption that the public, the ruled, are unable to understand how government works.[7] I mean the information that allows those in power to exercise their power “privately” beyond their statutory power such as through personal favours, or knowledge of someone’s political or personal vulnerabilities that can be exploited. In turn, this use is justified as being in the public interest if only indirectly. The logic is that if it good for the leader, party, organisation, manager who serve the public then it must be good for the public. However, in most cases, such information is rarely written down yet it still relies on something that can be manifested, like a record, to enforce the memory. For example, when someone is vetted for honours such information is collected but then destroyed.[8] The work is done privately and rarely, if ever enters the public domain except perhaps through its consequences. However, some arcana imperii do find their ways to the archives. When this information becomes known, individuals and organisations will, in reaction, scour the archives to find more to protect their power associated with the information. Moreover, such an event will also encourage a greater effort to limit the access to such information in the future and it will lead to change in the way records are vetted before being sent to the archives so that arcana imperii is not disclosed.[9] When arcana imperii is disclosed it lose its value to those who would have wielded it. The danger, then, is that governments and organisations will increase the control over what is sent to the archives where it can be access and subject it to greater scrutiny to ensure little, if any, arcana imperii get to the archives.

John Grieve a case study of arcana imperii at work?

To illustrate the idea arcana imperii and archives consider the Sir John Grieve case.[10] In late 2015, Sanchia Berg confronted him with a record she had discovered in the National Archives at Kew. The record of an arrest complaint showed Sir John, and other officers, had engaged in an abuse of power against an elderly Jamaican couple. The incident exemplified the institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at that time. The officers exceeded their authority simply because of the subject’s skin colour. The story received minimal media attention. Sanchia Berg had made a historical record come to life by telling the story of its context. My concern is not the MPS racism. Instead, I want to focus on two interrelated strands. First, that such disclosures will create a response within the archives and the approach to archives as it reminds public officials to sanitize their past. Second that the information constitutes the ever present spectre of institutional or political blackmail, the issue of arcana imperii. Both of these have a direct impact on archives and the possibility of public historical accountability.

I am not a racist, but I did once …….

From the article and the related interview, we can see that Sir John was able to handle the issue adroitly. He has who served in many areas and issues where he has had to handle the media and be discrete. In general, his response shows he is adept at being held to account. Although he provided the stock answers that “Things were different then and we are now better” and “It was an isolated event many years ago” he was able to make it appear he was being disadvantaged to an extent. He was keen to stress it was just one incident without suggesting why this one incident was held or if there were other incidents. Most importantly, he gave the necessary reassurance that he welcomed accountability as part of the job. I have yet to meet a powerful person who has publicly said the opposite or enjoyed being held to account or being required to given an account except on their terms. Power bristles at the temerity that someone might challenge their account or require them to account for what they have done in a way they cannot control. For this reason, powerful people rarely willingly endure being cross examined, contradicted, or questioned closely.[11]

Why was the file retained? Perhaps Sir John does know why it was retained

With the lens of arcana imperii we have to consider why the file being retained. The article suggests it was retained because Mr. Grieve wrote to his superiors about the case. However, it is not clear why that should be the reason it was retained. When we consider that it could be used in the future to exert influence over Mr Grieve a possible reason emerges. It allows those who know the information exists, the superiors within the organisation or others, to use it. They can remind him of his past especially as Mr Grieve’s reputation is now based on his record of being a a strong anti-racism campaigner. One could suggest that the information would be used not so much to hold his reputation hostage so much as a point of leverage. However, that is harder to prove. Alternatively, the record may have been retained because he complained so that if something had emerged, if he had filed a further complaint, there would be a record of his letter. What is clear, though, it will raise the profile of archives for former MPS officers, as well as other public officials, if they have not considered it already.

Once the threat of accountability is revealed how soon before it is mitigated?

From the article, I would suggest that many people, especially former officers within the MPS[12], but across government, will want to avoid such “gotcha” moments.[13] I can see the possibility that people will want or expect greater vetting of their files before they leave. If they can, they will want to control their future accountability, which will put increased pressure on archivists and retention schedules. More to the point, they will want to consider what is held on them. If they do not know what is held on them, they will want to know if the files contain anything especially as Mr Grieve appeared to be unaware of it and was surprised that it existed.

If you have a problem with records there are ways to make it go away

To some extent, we can see this already at work in the furore around the missing child sexual abuse allegations within the Home Office. In response to that investigation, the Home Office and the National Archives reviewed their protocols for transmitting records from the Central Government departments to the National Archives.[14] No one has publicly stated that they worry about their historical accountability so as to suggest, at least not openly, a direct review of the archives.[15] They will not say “I do not want this getting out.” It will be something less direct but with the same outcome.

A curious foreshadowing on the career of John Grieve

As such reviews occur, the issue of arcana imperii emerges. As to records being used as leverage, which suggest a reason why they are collected and kept, we need to consider the case of Operational Othona. In this MPS operation, which investigated police corruption, a lorry load of documents was shredded in mysterious circumstances.

Roy Clark, who led anti-corruption at the time of Operation Othona, said: ‘I’d be shocked if it doesn’t exist. It was gold-dust stuff.’

Even though he retired in 2001 well before the records were destroyed for it was important the information was used to keep up the pressure on corrupt officers. He said: ‘How you can go to those lengths and spend all that money and it is not there, I am just amazed.’[16] [Emphasis added].

The officer admitted that the information was used for leverage or pressure against the corrupt officers. The information was held and it was used for purposes beyond the policing issue of rooting out police corruption. In that regard, Roy Clark who was one of the officers in charge of the operation was expressing the culture as well as the way the records, which would never become public, were being used. One would expect that officers involved in the operation would understand the purpose as Roy Clark did. In that it reveals, something curious about Sir John’s case.

The other officer in charge of Operation Othona? John Grieve.[17]



[1] In the United States Sandy Berger former National Security Adviser    went to the National Archives and removed classified documents and destroyed them. Readers will note that he likely only destroyed those that contained comments which he wanted to remove rather than remove the document itself from the public record.


[3] The Heiner Affair, which occurred in Australia, refers to the shredding of child abuse cases to avoid Government accountability for its failings. The Nordlinger Affair is the story of destruction of public records to avoid accountability. “If it became public, it would do neither me nor the PRO any good.  If, on the other hand, I abandoned my pursuit of the matter, I was promised that after the election the a/g head of department would personally urge an augmentation of my powers as Keeper and seek to obtain the support and resources for us to pursue such matters more effectively.”

[4] Arcana Imperii translates into secrets or mysteries of empire or of ruling. It connotes secret knowledge but also methods of ruling that are not seen by the public. They may be withheld as the public are not initiated in the ways of power and thus not competent to judge what is being done and why.

[5] “Thus the study of arcana imperii stressed not only the empirical collection of knowledge as the basis of politics, but the clever management of that knowledge.” Mining Tacitus: secrets of empire, nature and art in the reason of state Vera Keller The British Journal for the History of Science / Volume 45 / Special Issue 02 / June 2012, pp 189 – 212 DOI: 10.1017/S0007087412000076, Published online: 20 March 2012

[6] The UK Parliamentary Whips would use such private information to control politicians in Parliament.

[7] “To the old Greek or Roman of the republic there were for free men no arcana imperii. There was no problem of government which any citizen was incompetent to discuss, and no office of state for which he could not judge of any man’s fitness, if he could not fill it himself. The idea that politics is a mystery, and politicians ” a political priesthood,” grew up in the Middle Ages, when kings became the ” Lord’s anointed.” It was still strong in England, in spite of parliamentary institutions, down to the expulsion of the Stuarts. Queen Elizabeth rebuked, through the Lord Keeper, “those audacious, arrogant, and presumptuous members who had called Her Majesty’s grants and prerogatives in question, meddling with matters neither pertaining to them nor within the capacity of their understanding.” By the time the Reform Bill was under debate, the priesthood had passed from the king to the aristocracy, and the Duke of Wellington, as his lately published letters show, was unable to conceive of government administered by anybody but the gentry. During the debates, a bishop asked in the House of Lords “” p.392

The Civil Service Reform Controversy

  1. L. Godkin The North American Review, Vol. 134, No. 305 (Apr., 1882), pp. 379-394

[8] The article reveals the most powerful person you have never heard of in UK government. Sue Gray who is Director-General, Propriety and Ethics Team has a central role in vetting people for public honours as well as other sensitive matters.

[9] See Sir Arthur Lucas’ paper on Closing Historical Public Documents where he discusses the process by which government reviews and releases public records to the National Archives.

[10] Sanchia Berg describes, in her article How a 1970s policeman changed his mind, John Grieve’s change of mind concerning race relations.

[11] From Xenophon’s Hiero, c400 BC, where a wise man (Simonides) converse with a tyrant (Hiero) to the Leveson Inquiry 2012, powerful people do not like to be challenged in conversations where their power is questions or show to be suspect in some way. To put it directly, no one likes to be shown to be a fool as Socrates learned.

[12]I do not know if Mr. Grieve would have this reaction. However, such a reaction would follow the example of powerful people across the planet such as Wikipedia edits, archives being destroyed, records being removed.

[13]I do not think the article was written or approached as “gotcha” journalism. However, to powerful people held to account when they do not expect it, such an approach can appear to be an example of “gotcha”.


[15] Peter Hennessey did worry that the demand for transparency and openness could lead to archives being hollowed out as material was either withheld or destroyed so that the archives did not contain an accurate record of what had been agreed or discussed.



Posted in corruption, justice, transparency | Tagged , , , ,

Matthew Parris burnishes Boris Johnson’s leadership credentials

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses ...

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses for a photo prior to ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ on September 14, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday Matthew Parris wrote a column attacking Boris Johnson for his behaviour and his success.[1] More importantly, he wrote about his success as a result of his behaviour. For many commentators, the column appeared devastating, cruel, well-deserved, destructive, and damaging.

We must save the conservative party and ensure my views prevail

Mr Parris claims no personal animosity for Mr Johnson as a politician. Instead, he attacks him for he fears that Mr Johnson will harm the conservative party’s chances for success in a future election. His article appears more as an opportunist attack; Mr Johnson is for leaving the EU while Mr Parris does not. More directly, Mr Parris is upset Mr Johnson had no shame in using the LBGT community to campaign for the EU exit even though he was previously opposed to them concerning Article 28.

An attack on a politician’s ethos, his soul, assumes such things matter.

The attacks would like to point to his marriage infidelity, his sexual partners one of whom bore him a child while the other had an abortion, as well as his inability to make a defining political project. Yet, none of these matter anymore in a UK political society devoid of any shame or standard. So long as Mr Johnson does not fiddle his expenses his personal behaviour seems unlikely to bar him from office or success.

Why does Mr Johnson succeed?

He embodies the Etonian ethos that has brought him success. As Dominic Lawson (who attended Eton for a year) pointed out in 2006, in quoting Nick Fraser,

“Nick Fraser, himself an old Etonian, has a different take on the matter: “Etonians are the ultimate pragmatists, totally free of ideology. Other than the means of getting and gaining power, no conspicuous motives inspire them. It’s not clear that Etonian politicians really believe in much except themselves…” ***

Mr Fraser may as well have been describing Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson has succeeded by applying what Eton has taught him. Eton’s clubs award entry by election which requires the ability to “oil” one’s peers and superiors.

“Aitken pointed out that Etonians compete for office within the school–even the Eton Scientific Society admits by election, rather than mere intellectual ability. According to Aitken, this “breeds a certain speciality of behaviour. You know how to get elected. You know how to please. You have to learn to oil. And at Eton you do learn.”” ***

Mr Johnson’s soul reflects the political regime that formed him and rewards him.[2]

The attacks will not harm Mr Johnson for they show his success as well as the public’s appetite for, if not receptivity to, his antics. They show that despite his past, he only need to please, charm, and cajole the electorate to win. He does not need a vision, he does not need a manifesto, he does not need to be moral for politics has been drained of these in part by the efforts of commentators like Mr Parris. Boris only needs to oil the public, which he does so very well. He understands the public through the media. A media, dominated by Rupert Murodoch, which has shaped the public mind to be habituated to what he offers. The public have been shaped by the media to accept the immorality of such men so long as they charm. For he understands government as public relations. He succeeds by creating the image of charming competency. The media want him to succeed for it reflects their importance for politics.



[2]Boris Johnson as an Etonian and Oxonian reflects the best training the UK political regime can provide. His behaviour, his success, and his ethos all reflect the education he has received. The Ancient Greeks approach to education, which Eton and Oxford have brought to the 21st century is based on the idea that character formation of children is reflected in their adult behaviour. Leo Strauss makes this point in his book The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws.

“Education is guidance of children through play to the things which they are to be good when they have reached manhood; the playing must include the serious study of preliminary subjects without the command of which the very playing is impossible. Education must lead the soul of the child at play to passionate desire for that in which he must be perfect when he has reached manhood, i.e., in virtue, in being a perfect citizen who knows both how to rule and how to obey in accordance with right. The Athenian will have to show that education, as he delineated it, is greatly assisted by symposia and that symposia have this effect by promoting moderation.””P. 17


Posted in Government, philosophy, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , ,

Institutional CSA, Critias and the Queen.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you live under a tyrant, it can be difficult to criticize them. Even in the current age governments tolerate criticism only so long as it does not encourage physical violence. Even democratic governments, traditionally believed to be tolerant of free speech, have limits as individual politicians will seek a variety of tools or methods to quiet if not discredit their harshest critics. To escape that fate, a critic may have to make indirect or oblique criticisms especially in the public domain. Such an approach does work, up to a point, as Socrates demonstrates.

How to criticize a ruler

Leo Strauss described how Socrates was able to criticize a tyrant and survive. In the episode, described below, Socrates makes an oblique, almost metaphorical, criticism.[1]

“When the thirty were putting to death many citizens and by no means the worst ones, and were encouraging many in crimes, Socrates said somewhere, that it seemed strange that a herdsman who lets his cattle decrease and go to the bad should not admit that he is a poor cowherd; but stranger still that a statesman when he causes the citizens to decrease and go to the bad, should feel no shame nor think himself a poor statesman. This remark was reported to Critias….” (Xenophon, Memorabilia I 2.32-33)

When we consider this quotation and what Socrates was doing, we have to reflect on our own time. The criticism can be levelled at any ruler. A ruler is responsible for their reign. Their reign is measured by the health or goodness of their citizens for the ruler shapes the regime which forms the citizen. In this role, they are indirectly accountable to their citizens even if they have no formal accountability under the law. In extreme cases, where a ruler fails to help his citizens, the citizens may use a revolution to replace the ruler. With that final sanction always in their mind, a ruler will often moderate their rule to ensure the people are satisfied or fearful enough to avoid revolution with some rulers using both in equal measure. Whatever the case, the question is how has the ruler cared for their people to ensure they do not diminish or go bad.

Sixty Years on the throne what has been done about institutional CSA?

In the UK, we live under a monarch who has reigned for 60 years. In that time, the crisis of institutional CSA has constantly recurred. In 2015 it reached a crisis point with the Goddard Inquiry convened to address the issue. Even though the Inquiry will cover all public institutions and even include the Royal Household, which was added after it was announced[2], there remains an outstanding question. The question is the one posed about Critias.  As the final authority within the country, the source of its laws,[3] has she considered the failure to address the ever present if not well publicized crisis of institutional child sexual abuse during her reign?

Did the Queen’s personal intelligence system alert her to institutional CSA?

Every week for the past 60 years, the Queen received a briefing from her prime minister. Of nearly 3000 meetings between the Queen and her prime minister, did she ever discuss institutional CSA? Even when Margaret Thatcher’s government was threatened by the allegations of CSA, did Margaret Thatcher describe this threat to explain how Her Majesty’s Government dealt with it or seek advice on how to deal with it? If Margaret Thatcher did not raise this potential threat to Her Majesty’s Government, why not? If she did, what did Her Majesty do about it? In that 60 years, did the Queen, the Royal Household[4], or her prime ministers ever raise the issue of institutional CSA? If not, why not? If they did, what was the outcome? As the Queen has the right, the prerogative, to give as well as receive advice from her ministers, did she ever exercise her prerogative to provide or receive advice about institutional CSA especially when it potentially involved one of her ministers?

What did her Lord Lieutenants tell her of institutional CSA?

The Queen, and the Crown, more generally had a wider responsibility during her reign. The Queen is supported by Lord Lieutenants, there are 98 in total, who report to her on events in their areas. When the Queen visits they will give her background information on local events or issues.[5] In the last 60 years did any of her 98 Lord Lieutenants send her information on the institutional child abuse occurring in their areas? If not, why not? If they did, what was done about the information? Were the Lord Lieutenants directed to act on the information? If the Lord Lieutenants did not pass her information, especially on children’s homes within their areas, why did not they not report on these issues to the Queen? If the Royal Household was managing this communication, what did they do about it?

Was institutional CSA ever a factor in refusing to award an honour?

When the Crown awarded honours did the honours committee, or the Royal Household, vet those receiving honours? Did they ever ask if those who were to receive an honour were involved or potentially involved in institutional CSA? If it did turn someone down for an honour, was the Queen informed of the reason especially if it involved CSA? Moreover, were the wider reports by the Lord Lieutenants included in these considerations? In the last 60 years were any of applications not supported from information given by Lord Lieutenants? As the information on these matters are destroyed, we will likely never know.[6]

Who will ask these questions?

These are questions that need to be asked and answered. If the people cannot ask these questions nor can they receive an answer, can the country claim to have the rule of law? If the Queen, or the Crown, is not accountable to the people, to whom is she accountable? If she is only accountable to God, then does she believe she has done enough in her reign to satisfy his commands to “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.”[7]

In the twilight of her reign, as God’s judgement draws closer, as her thoughts turn to her legacy, what will she answer?

[1] Jerusalem and Athens Some Preliminary Reflections


[3] “Given the historical development of the Sovereign as the ‘Fount of Justice’, civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law. Acts of Parliament do not apply to The Queen in her personal capacity unless they are expressly stated to do so.

However, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.”

[4] One of Rolf Harris’s victims wrote to the Queen to warn her about him. There is no evidence that the letters were acted on beyond passing them to the Metropolitan Police Service

[5] “Lord-Lieutenants are also responsible for ensuring that The Queen’s Private Office is kept informed about local issues relating to their area, particularly when a Royal visit is being planned.”


[7] Psalm 82:3

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, statesmanship | Tagged ,

Donald Trump’s imperial origins: a response to Eliot Cohen

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Donald Trump is causing a stir. His success has unleashed the expected counter attack from the political establishment. In many ways he represents the final logic of the political establishment where its political immoderation is masked as effectiveness, fairness, and delivery. Each party and each successive administration have claimed they have delivered for the people; prosperity, jobs, education, safety and hope. Yet, they have succeeded to the extent they have undermined the political consensus based on political moderation.[1] They have feasted on the extremist talk shows, the politics of personal destruction as if it is a casual sport, and sought to pitch hatreds against hatreds. However, this is more than the chickens coming home to roost. The problem is much deeper.

A rot created Trump but it goes much wider than we imagine.

Eliot Cohen in his essay The Age of Trump[2] touches on what he believes to be the deeper issue. He argues there is a political rot, a cultural rot, that has allowed Trump to emerge. He blames this rot on our popular culture, the decline of academia, and the celebrity culture. Yet, he does not explain the source of this rot. He cannot explain what caused it. What is clear, though, he wants to indicate he had no part in this. It was the other guys, someone else caused this rot. The liberal permissiveness, the liberal permissiveness created by those opposed to the conservative movement, created the rot from which Trump emerged. He wants to have clean hands, he wants to say “Look, I told you so, this is what happens when sober, small government, republican and democratic conservatives are ignored.” If only that were true.

The conservative movement is in denial.

Eliot Cohen is in denial. Like other political elites, he cannot see the beam in his eye for the mote in everyone else’s eye. He and the others in the political establishment have created this rot. They have a full hand in it. That he cannot see it shows how deep the denial is. The moral blindness of the political elite is shown by the strength of their reaction to the public’s demand for something other than the nihilistic banalities both parties have peddled since 1988. That Cohen and others, like Tom Nichols, cannot explain the rot or their role in it, speaks volumes about the scale, scope, and intensity of the infection in the political establishment and the academic establishment. What we are seeing with Trump is a public trying to find a way to rise up against that rot, which has not yet infected them, as they resist the social engineering, the foreign policy adventurism, the globalisation and the Wall Street excess which benefits the wealthy, the politically connected, and their foundations or think tanks. It is the public that wants Trump not because they want him, it is because they have no one else who speaks to their concerns. They know the source of the rot even if Cohen and Nichols do not.

What is the source of the rot?

The political rot is the political immoderation at the heart of the political establishment which is now infecting the political regime. Cohen decries the domestic political extremism, the cultural rot, the liberal permissiveness. Nichols criticises the “Star-struck, low-information[3] celebrity cultists” voters who are so stupid they will vote for whomever promises the bread and circuses. What neither explains is the source of this rot nor do they accepts is *their* role in this rot.[4] They want us to believe that the conservatives are without sin, without a hand in this political rot.

Even though they are not encouraging a liberal permissive culture or Epicurean politics; they are benefitting from it. They express the same immoderation as the domestic political elite except they do it in foreign policy where conservatives excuse it as “realism” or hard-nosed strategy. Yet, conservatives have forgetten the core lesson for anyone who wishes to practice foreign policy or international relations. Foreign policy is and always will be an expression of the regime. Their foreign policy positions have accepted the American regime’s politically immoderate behaviour. In this they have accepted the same premise as the domestic political immoderation. They assume that the domestic cultural rot is unconnected to the foreign policy adventures they have supported if not championed. More importantly, they never stop to consider how the foreign policy adventures they have supported and encouraged are exacerbating the domestic cultural and political extremism. To put it philosophically, Eliot Cohen and Nichols have both championed Pericles’ Funeral Oration. Neither has ever championed Plato’s Menexenus. The foreign policy rot did not start with Reagan. Indeed, he actually tried to end it by winning the Cold War. Had his success been fully realized, the United States would not have an immoderate foreign policy establishment. Instead, despite the end of the Cold War, no one within the mainstream foreign policy community talks of a republican foreign policy. They are wedded to an imperial foreign policy even if they know they can no longer sustain it. George W Bush recognized this when he tried to find a way to balance his foreign policy and his domestic policy when he struggled to limit the response to the 9/11 attacks from an imperial adventure to remake the world. Barack Obama has tried to moderate American foreign policy with as much success.

What is the source of the immoderate ethos?

The proximate source of the immoderate foreign policy is the Vietnam War. There, in 1965, America faced the choice of republic or empire. LBJ fudged the choice and accepted an imperial domestic policy, the Great Society that expanded the Federal Government into all parts of American life, as he pulled back from an Imperial foreign policy. It took Ronald Reagan to complete the foreign policy strategy by winning the Cold War. However, Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War were only a symptom of America’s role after World War 2 when America took responsibility for a decent world order with the founding of the UN. Since that time, America has built of an imperial system even as it retained a democratic system at home. Like Athens before it, it created a league of like-minded allies to fight the greater enemy. To fight that enemy, though, America became what it sought to destroy– an imperial state in all but name. With the Cold War over and the international system uncertain, America has the wolf by the ears and cannot let go.

Trump as a harbinger of the Imperial Republic’s demise.

With Trump, we arrive at the first harbinger of the imperial republic’s reckoning. Trump will not end the Republic. He does show us how it will end and why it will end. The disorder wrought by the immoderate domestic policy and the immoderate foreign policy have come to a political head with Donald Trump. He is not a singularity; he is a harbinger. Even if he is defeated, American and the establishment have a deeper problem. America is being pulled apart between those who want a moderate regime both at home, they want jobs, security, hope against those who want either an immoderate domestic policy, the pursuit of private vices publicly accepted and funded, or a foreign policy extremism in which war becomes the norm rather than the exception. Those who want to scale back America’s imperial posture with those who see any moderating step as a sign of weakness bordering on surrender. What connects the domestic and foreign policy extremism is a disordered eros, which surged after the 9/11 attack, it is slowly but surely devouring the American common good. The foreign policy view only sees the external threats Putin, China, North Korea, ISIS without considering how America’s domestic political ethos, the distorted ethos, is driving that foreign policy or how it has to react to those threats. We have people, who I thought were serious foreign policy scholars, willing to entertain talk that ISIS poses an existential threat to the United States. When that type of talk enters the policy realm as an acceptable view, it reflects a problematic view of the United States and the threats its faces.

What Cohen and Nichols believe is that they are moderates, conservatives, without realizing they are championing the immoderate ethos, the disordered eros, within the imperial foreign policy. The same disordered eros animates the liberal progressivism, equally imperial in its ethos, in domestic politics. (***) Both men have benefitted from the opportunities that imperial ethos, the distorted eros, (Cohen was at the Naval War College, Nichols currently teaches there) and both have championed it (Cohen famously created the think tank (Project for a New American Century).[5] Both work within a foreign policy community that shares this underlying consensus. Even the disagreements within this community are still caught within the imperial framework. The community denounce those who want to scale back, and there are some silly proposals, as isolationist, irresponsible, and in some cases crazy. To even suggest a moderate foreign policy is to elicit charges of isolationism, defeatism, if not betrayal.

Recognising the problem is the first step to recovery

Until the establishment sees their own hand in this immoderation, they will never fix what ails America that creates a Trump. Electing Hillary Clinton will only make this worse as she does not seek reform or moderation. Even electing Donald Trump will not fix what ails America. Trump is the symptom of a deeper problem. Within the Republican party the problem was exemplified earlier by Mitt Romney who was touted as a conservative or even representative of the Republic party ethos. The party no longer represents its base or huge swathes of the country. The frightened, ignorant, low information votes are not getting coherent answers from the Republican party for their questions, fears or hopes. They do not hear anyone but Trump in his bombastic posturing explaining anything that will address their situation. They have no alternative to the nihilistic establishment candidates who can only project DC to them so they turn to the nearest person who seems to understand what they are feeling and appears willing to do something about it. Their fear over immigrant workers is real. It is not nativism or racism. The Trump supporters are likely to be people who are threatened by immigration labour. They know that immigrants keep their wages down. They know they are preferred as the employer can avoid taxes. What is the Republican party doing for this voting bloc that it takes for granted when it seems to side with capital and the corporate directors? The Democrats, like Obama, are not going to help them as they believe this constituency hold on to their guns and religion.[6] The public are dismayed, confused, and left adrift by a democratic elite that promotes a disordered eros where homosexuality is enshrined in law. Where identity politics, gender politics, and the gender wars are driven by a vicious political Epicureanism in which pleasure is the only standard of right. For people from communities where honour, fidelity, duty, such an approach is anathema. They want a country that once existed, one based on nature and nature’s God instead of one where the government is captured as a weapon for the war against their virtues. When chastity, honesty, and thrift are ridiculed by the elite progressives as old-fashion morality, the people will want someone who can defend them and their children. Both parties through their relentless campaigns of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, have forced the electorate to turn to a candidate like Trump.

Trump may appeal to Republicans, the next one may unite all the dispossessed.

On the other side of the aisle, not necessarily Republican voters, but still potential voters for a populist like Trump, are those who have also been abandoned by the Democrats. Consider other “low information voters” the residents of the Chicago’s West Side. They face a bleak future of high unemployment, low education, and short life expectancy. Yet, they are taken for granted by the Democrats as they are expected to vote for the party. The Chicago political machine, the Democratic party in a microcosm, has betrayed them for decades while they serviced the Oligarchic faction within the city. They are taken for granted by the Democrats who pursue cultural political policies in the name of “freedom” and “equality” that offers no benefit to these communities. Instead, they have suffered from the horrors of the liberal progressivists cultural theories as their families are distorted by welfare systems that rewarded promiscuity, a disordered family life where abortion as taken a desperate, near genocidal toll, and educational experimentations that have created illiteracy, innumeracy, intellectual decay for generations. The communities are ignored by the Republicans and dismissed by conservatives. What Republic candidate let alone President is going to reach out to them? Chicago is and has been one of the most highly segregated cities both racially and economically. Its racial policies are an insult to the legacy of Martin Luther King. The fate of the black population is bleak and it has been bleak for generations with no end in sight.[7] Forget the fate of the conservative movement, the fate of blacks in Chicago has been devastating reality for 60 years reflecting the immoderate imperialist ethos applied to the domestic realm. Yet, the conservative movement, when it does talk of their fate, it is only to ridicule their suffering as feckless, self-inflicted behaviour a just reward for voting Democrat, or to castigate the Democrats and progressives for their failures.[8] Where have the conservatives or the republicans improved the fate of the West Side of Chicago? They never stop to ask “Where are the conservatives attempts to rebuild these cities, to reach these citizens?” For a city like Chicago with several of the wealthiest families[9] in the America (if not the world) to have this degree of segregation, poverty, brutality is like something out of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Dickens Tale of Two Cities, or Hobbes Leviathan. Chicago is a city ruled by a tyrant in the guise of a mayor. It is literally a tale of two cities one rich,[10] the other poor; one white, the other black. The life in the black communities have become a Hobbesian state of nature which is lonely, nasty, brutish, short and poor, except today the poverty is as much a white issue as it is a minority issue.

Our inability to address the intrinsic injustice reflects the disordered eros.

You never hear the conservatives talking of the two cities, the inequality, the injustice. Even if that is excused as political reality, it is a democratic stronghold so any effort is a wasted effort, there is a deeper story which neither Nichols nor Cohen are willing to address, not them personally but the position they offer. The divide is no longer racial or economic. The common good that might have overcome this inequality is frayed as the middle class, which might have formed a moderating role, is being left behind. There is no chance for the working class kids to make it to the middle class even if they enrol in one of America’s wars or its universities for both are now battlefields one military the other cultural. The middle class is being squeezed by the same economic and political forces that the lower working class suffered. They are being left behind economically. They are being segregated and no one has stood up to speak for them. The only viable candidate not from DC in this election is Donald Trump. Is it any wonder that these voters would turn to him? In particular, when the conservative foreign policy takes their support for their military adventures for granted in the same way that the Democrats take their supporters for granted on their domestic adventures?[11]

The issue is not simply a party political one. The issue is that common good is no longer defended or even understood. The political realm is now zero sum so that any victory for the other party is a defeat for the other. It is not just a defeat; it is a catastrophic defeat in where the worst consequences possible will occur. Moderation is a weakness; compromise is treason. What we have is a democratic civil war. There is no intent to work together when one can savage an opponent’s personal life where nothing is beyond the political operatives seeking to destroy their opponents. The scenes that Thucydides described with the civil war in Corcyra with the physical violence and ideological extremis are occurring with the political domain with similar consequences.[12]

Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. [5] The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended, [6] until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.

The issue is more than just politics or the idea that faction checks faction so that a moderate compromise emerges from the interplay. To dismiss the West Side voters as getting what they deserve or the middle class as being rubes needing a cultural re-education in the gender studies, misunderstands the threat. The issue is not the democrats or republicans will win. Instead, it is that without a common good, a common standard of decent behaviour, without a publicly upheld common morality through an agreed understanding of what is good or evil, the community is ripe for tyranny. No candidate is speaking for the common good. We have an age where everyone wants the right to do as they choose and in particular choose what is good or evil and each party indulges that belief in their own way. The individuals are encouraged, if not educated, to decide what is right or wrong and the community must respect if not celebrate that choice. In a word, the domestic realm has become as immoderate are the foreign policy realm.

Who will deliver America’s funeral oration?

For conservatives like to decry the cultural rot and overlook their hand in it shows a deep disconnect from the political reality that created Donald Trump. If the conservatives continue to put their heads in the sand, they will have worse than Trump. Trump is not the answer, but he is a harbinger. However, their attacks on him have destroyed the conservative movement for they reveal that political expediency is better than speaking directly to the fears, hopes, and problems that created Trump. It shows why no other candidate could stand up to Trump. Instead of fielding a candidate who could stand up to Trump, who would have prevented Trump, the conservatives now talk of openly embracing Hillary Clinton as a viable alternative. To the conservatives infected with the imperial immoderate ethos, she now appears normal, effective, efficient when compared to Trump. The conservative’s “strategy” [sic] suggest that it is more important to sustain a seat at the DC trough, than confronting what makes Trump a success. Even if the conservatives survive Hillary, which is doubtful as the liberal progressive movement only faces a reckoning if the regime faces a military defeat, which the conservatives do so much to avoid, they will have nothing to conserve. By attacking Trump and supporting Hillary, they ensure Hillary wins.[13] The people will turn away from the conservatives in favour of more immoderate forces who will answer their questions. Until a party is able to rebuild the common good, another demagogue is a certainty at the next election. If the conservatives believe that they can remain clean by insisting that the cultural rot is a domestic political issue and they can retain the “purity” of foreign policy strategy, they will deserve the failures they have created. More bluntly, the conservatives have learned and taught the wrong lesson from Athens, Thucydides, and Pericles’ Funeral Oration.

*** One could suggest that America’s domestic politics has become a democratic tyranny. James V. Schall described this future in his essay A Reflection on the Classical Tractate on Tyranny: the Problem of Democratic Tyranny

[1] See the Pew surveys showing the increased polarity within the American polity.


[3] Low information here means stupid. The low information voter is usually moderate and focuses on issues of personal appeal or other characteristics and not policy proposals.

[4] (Disclaimer: I know Eliot Cohen and Tom Nichols. I attended one of Professor Cohen’s summer workshops and he is a decent, intelligent, patriot man. I have known Tom Nichols professionally for over 20 years and I admire his expertise, wit, writing, and intelligence. However, I have to follow intellectual probity when I disagree with both for there is a higher duty for a scholar and a citizen.)

[5] There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such work. My point is only that the work is a function of that ethos. Without that ethos, neither the NWC nor would PNAC be as robust as they are.

[6] What is sad to know is that Obama has done little to overcome the problems he saw. He simply identified their problems, to explain why they act as they do, and then continued on as he intended without addressing their jobs. We can see the Pennsylvania unemployment rate has only begun to drop in 2014.


[8] See for example and Yet, even the call to save the cities is faint in comparison to the thunder aimed at Trump. If the conservatives were fighting for the cities, would Trump have even emerged?

[9] #7 Pritzker family 13 Billion #27 Crown family 8.8 Billion and #28 Reyes family 8.6 Billion and #46 Smith Family 6.3 Billion.


[11] Which conservatives are able to explain and defend a coherent world view that sees the benefit from initiating the revolutions across the Middle East? Too many conservatives have apologised for the Iraq War in the vague belief that they can win an election.

[12] [3] Revolution thus ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. [4] Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. [5] The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended, [6] until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime. [7] The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first. [Emphasis added],0003,001:3:82

[13] Nichols’ strategy has two deep interrelated flaws. The first is that it assumes that conservatism will survive Hillary. Second, it accepts as its implicit premise the DC establishment must be defend for the only candidate who might change it is Trump.

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, philosophy, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , ,

Who believes that no one ever looks the other way when abuse occurs?

We are told that various public figures, such as Edward Heath, could not have committed any of the crimes as they were surrounded with security. The police or security forces were present so such behaviour could not occur. If the police were not there; then secretaries, assistants, and chauffeurs were always present or nearby. Their presence would have made it impossible or at least extremely difficult for such acts to occur without anyone noticing. If they had noticed, then they would have reported it, leaked it to the press, or spoken about it.

If they had seen it would they have reported it?

On the surface, the defence sounds robust, plausible, and believable. If the principals had committed these acts, then others might have known. We are confronted by four possible options.

  • They reported the abuse but no one did anything.
  • They looked the other way and never spoke of it.
  • They were complicit in the abuse.
  • They saw nothing.

If they were not complicit, then they would have had to have looked the other way. If they looked the other way, knowingly that is they were not duped, then they lacked integrity. The argument is that if you look the other way you are corrupt by the sin of omission or wilful blindness. You are looking the other way to avoid having to render judgement. The argument to support this is that if person were to see such behaviour, they would have reported it.

The powerful have private lives that are well protected by law or threats.

We know that public officials often have private lives that appear to escape scrutiny. We also know that security officers and personal employees will display a loyalty to their employer or patron at the law’s expense. We know that John F Kennedy had extramarital affairs despite having Secret Service protection. In the UK, we know that security forces intervened to thwart the potential exposure of Cyril Smith. The security services also seemed unable or unwilling to confront powerful people over allegations of child sexual behaviour. We know that Lord Armstrong justified his failure to confront Leon Brittan over the allegations of child sexual abuse as it would be “bad for the government”.[1] He put the party loyalty before the safety of a child. Thus, it seems strange to insist that people who depended on Heath for their livelihood would risk everything just to raise a concern that would not be investigated. We know from the BBC report on Savile that there was a culture of fear. One can only imagine the level of fear that politically powerful figures, ones connected to the political establishment, could generate.

Even if you raise it, who will believe you? Who do you tell in a corrupt regime?

A further point to consider is that even if the underling raised the concern, would it be believed. As the BBC report indicated, the culture was such that people looked the other way and just dismissed the possibility of abuse. Some did not even investigate. Others simply excused it almost like an entitlement. Savile was a star and he was a bit of an odd fellow. What are you going to do? He is just “mucking about.” If this is the attitude in the entertainment industry what would be the attitude in the professions that wield the state’s coercive power? A lowly employee is going to think twice if they think of reporting the incident. The lowly political person will know how vindictive politically powerful figures are. Without exception, the political powerful are also vindictive people who always seek to punish their enemies often seeking revenge for slights from decades earlier.

Caught in a shower having sex with a child and still ignored

Even without the fear, are they likely to be believed by anyone who could do something about it the possibility of raising a concern, a concern that would be unlikely to be believed? Even in the United States we know of Jerry Sandusky escaped punishment even after he was caught in the shower with a child.[2] Mr Proctor’s claim seems questionable at best and extremely naïve, if not disingenuous, at worst. It is eminently possible for Mr. Heath to act as alleged. The allegation, therefore, has to be investigated before it can be disconfirmed.

I never saw him do anything so he must be innocent…. He was only helping the kids in the shower…. No one ever said anything….. I never asked and no one told me….. It was a private party….. They were someone else’s guest….. I thought they were someone’s nephew…. They were helping someone from a disadvantaged background…..

Defer to the powerful or face the consequences.

The excuses and rationalizes just roll off the tongue. Anyone can and does rationalize any and all behaviour that they see or display. For some, it might be rationalized as better them than me. For others, it might be a secret thought that they brought it upon themselves. Another is that those in power should be granted special favours or perks. The list is endless and history has shown that the more horrific acts can and have been excused or overlooked when it suited the powerful for the public are easily cowed or trained to be deferential to their superiors especially in the UK. One only need to consider the savaging that Jeremy Corbyn has received for even daring to defer in a way that appeared less deferential.

[1] See Lord Armstrong’s statement here: He added: ‘At the present stage… the risks of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger.’

[2] Jerry Sandusky was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted for sexually abusing children. However, the incident in the shower did not immediately trigger his suspension or arrest. (It occurred in 2001, he was not arrested until 2011.) His status within the Penn State football programme and the standing of the Penn State football programme within the University and within the community protected him. Surely, an ex-PM would garner the same, if not more, deference and protection. For an overview of the case consider:

Posted in corruption, justice, philosophy, privacy, public opinion, public sector, statesmanship

Neither Apple nor Mr Graham are Spartans, a response to Mr Graham

FBI Badge & gun.

FBI Badge & gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 22 February, Robert Graham posted on his blog in response to a Tweet by Professor Orin Kerr.

If you were a crime victim and key evidence was on suspect’s phone, would you want govt to search phone w/ warrant?

Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) February 22, 2016

Mr Graham raised some points that need to be explored. I offer this commentary to clarify these points as they relate to arguments commonly found in this debate. If left unchallenged, they can distort the debate, which would undermine the potential for democratic policy making.

If the police are against you, who are they for if not the public?

Mr Graham starts with a strange situation. The FBI is against you. If the FBI is against you, then you are likely on the wrong side of the law and by extension society as the law expresses the public morality. In a decent society, the rule of law means that the public consent to the laws as they help shape. Moreover, those who shape the laws or make the laws have to live under them. Thus, they rule and are ruled in turn. No one is above the law. The FBI as the highest law enforcement body within the United States carry a special status so to be against them is to be against the most visible representation of the rule of law. Leaving that issue aside, Mr Graham moves on to a related issue.

When the FBI is equated with ISIS are we even talking to a reasonable person?

Mr Graham suggests that Apple resisting the FBI’s legal request is like responding to an ISIS kidnapping. In doing so, he conflates a number of different ideas and issues. First, responding to a legal warrant from a duly convened court, served by a legitimate law enforcement agency, in a democratically elected regime, is not the same as receiving a ransom note from ISIS. Second, kidnappings are not always or only to obtain funding. The kidnappings also serve a political purpose, to show that the loved ones can be taken. Instead of a ransom they may be part of a larger bargaining or negotiating strategy that is part of international politics. Third, a kidnapping is a crime, it is a coercive act without legitimacy. Serving a search warrant or responding to a search warrant is not coercion. The search warrant expresses a legal system, to which a citizen consents as it is both reasonable and legitimate. The law enforcement agency has to convince another agency, the judiciary, which is also accountable to the public through the democratic process. The police have to have enough reason to search the premise. Thus, the decision has to be justifiable in the court of reason and public opinion. The political system that shapes the laws and the law enforcement agency is based on consent. As the US Declaration of Independence explains a government derives its just powers from the consent of the people. The people consent to the law and the way the law is made, which is what gives its legitimacy. To equate ISIS, which is based on force and fraud, the antithesis of consent, with a lawful order from the FBI seems deeply confused at best and deeply ingenuous at worse if not downright dishonest.

Could America exist if we passed laws no one obeyed?

It appears Mr Graham does not understand the American idea, the experiment in self-government’s intrinsic greatness. He argues that he would pass laws he would not obey. Such an approach suggests he lacks the ability for self-government, which would make him a worthy slave. To be generous, we can accept he would disobey a law he felt threatened his family. Yet, if he were to accept that, then why make the laws in the first place. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, which is what Apple wants. They want the protection of the law, the rule of law, so long as it applies to their patents, their physical safety, the enforcement of their credit notes. As long as the law benefits them, they follow it. If it does not benefit them, regardless of what society needs, they will not obey it. To put it crudely, it is Epicureanism. If it feels good do it or obey it. If it does not feel good, don’t do it or disobey it. If all of society worked on that principle, what would America look like? America’s founding transcended the age old problem of one party ruling and the other being ruled, having your cake and eating it too, as we designed a system in which people ruled and were ruled in turn under the law. No one is above the law as all were equal before the law. Curiously, Mr Graham does not want to be equal before the law and neither does Apple. Why?

Apparently Spartans were wrong to sacrifice themselves to resist slavery.

Mr Graham curiously believes that no one would sacrifice their loved ones, or themselves, for the law. He believes that death is worse than dishonour or the fate of the community if the law is forsaken. If this were the case, then we would be slaves for no one would prefer to die than fight for freedom. Fortunately, American history and world history are full of examples of men and women who made the sacrifice for the law. In some cases, they had to sacrifice the ones they loved.

xein’, angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti teide
keimetha tois keinon rhemasi peithomenoi.

Go, tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.[1]

The Spartans understood there were things worse than death. They believed slavery was worse than death for they would be dishonoured. More importantly, they would have dishonoured their ancestors and shamed any descendants.

Is one personal experience a good basis for changing the law?

Mr Graham now turns to the crux of the matter, his personal experience with the FBI. He has my sympathy as it is never pleasant to deal with the power of the state. The experience can be frightening and deeply traumatic. My comments are not intended to downplay the incident or the effect it may have had on him. What I do want to discuss is whether he has drawn the correct conclusions or lessons from the experience and whether these are applicable to the Apple case.

For example, in 2007 (before iPhones became popular) the FBI showed up at my business and threatened me in order to keep something quiet. Specifically, I was to give a talk at a conference on how, contrary to what the company “TippingPoint” claimed, it was easy to decrypt their “signature” files. That company convinced the FBI that it was important to “national security” that I keep such information quiet. So the FBI came to our offices, and first asked politely, then started threatening me, in order to keep the information quiet.[2]

The key passage is that the company convinced the FBI that the issue, the talk, was a national security issue. If the company was able to convince the FBI, it would suggest that there was some evidence for such a claim. Unless, the FBI simply does whatever anyone asks whenever they asked. However, as that is not the lament anyone has ever made about the FBI, I think we can dismiss that possibility.

Instead, we have to consider the FBI are dealing with what they believe, believed, to be a national security threat. The question for Mr Graham is whether he would prefer that the FBI not investigate such claims? More to the point, when the FBI arrive at the target should the FBI simply take them at their word that it is not a threat? We would have a scene off the Simpsons.

FBI: “Excuse me Fat Tony D’Amico we understand you have been beating a man over an unpaid loan. Is that correct?”

Fat Tony D’Amico: “No. We are upstanding citizens. We have always paid our taxes and whoever told you that is lying. We are just minding our business helping someone to understand their sums.”

FBI “Thank you for clearing that up. We will be on our way. Sorry to disturb you.”

No. The scenario is far-fetched. Instead, the FBI would be acting in good faith as they have a responsibility to investigate such matters. If the target is no cooperating they will escalate. It would be strange for them to take an initial no for the final answer.

I had a bad FBI experience so authority is never to be trusted not even the law

Here though Mr Graham extends his story. Unlike the two earlier references on his blog, 2012 and 2015, he now adds an extra dimension threats of blackmail and bribery. Mr Graham raises a question, could a warrant for his phone be obtained based on an allegation of blackmail. He seems to believe that such warrants are granted instantly and without due concern. He assures us, without any evidence, that the warrant would have been easy to get. I struggle to understand how one goes from a claim of potential blackmail to an immediate warrant on a phone. He adds that the company were claiming he was trying to blackmail them. Yet, the FBI, were they to seek a warrant, would need more evidence than a claim that the company was being blackmailed. I appreciate that judges can be considered sympathetic to law enforcement yet even they insist on the rule of law so would require evidence to justify the warrant. Unless Mr Graham is suggesting that the criminal justice system and justices in particular are biased against computer companies. The reality is that we do not find such bias. If anything we find a bias to uphold the law. Perhaps it is that the FBI are visiting people who appear to be breaking the law and the law is the thread that connects these situations. The situation, as described, does not suggest that there is probable cause, which would be needed to justify the search warrant.[3]

Going dark or going light. Why not just make sure everyone obeys the laws?

Mr Graham will not part with his smart phone. He will not reduce his online activity nor will he limit the electronic devices in his home or his property. Instead of changing his habits, his property, his way of life, he wants the community, its fullest expression in the laws, to change to suit his needs. We have a strange inversion of the American idea. Instead of a people obedient to a law they consented to create, we want the law to obey our desires. Why not make laws limiting the use of such cameras? Why not limit the electronic devices? The Amish seem capable of living without technology. If privacy is so important why should we sacrifice the laws, when we can achieve the same effect by limiting our use of devices designed to capture our personal data?

Perhaps we need to look at our laws instead of encryption.

Mr Graham seems to get to this point with his next statement. The warrant upon probable causes has served us well for a long time. What has changed, though, is our expectations regarding privacy. We have willingly accepted the commercial trade off of privacy for convenience and access yet we balk at the same effect done with legal powers derived from the consent of the people. The limit is not on law enforcement. The limit is on what people want in the public domain and what type of society they want. They can forgo some convenience, as many have already, by refusing to provide personal data for access or to use systems they believe harm their privacy. However, none of this matters if the issue remains one in which privacy is seen as a higher priority than the law.

There ought to be a law about that, a political not a technological question.

Mr Graham, like many technologists, seems to be believe that technology is the answer even as he seems to show some understanding of the political element when he talks about what the government “should not be able” to do. He seems to believe that the FBI, and one would imagine by extension the NSA, would want to end encryption. Do police want houses without locks? No. What the FBI want is for the law to be complied with so they can extract the necessary information associated with a crime. What seems strange is why Mr Graham does not believe the government can conscript someone to help it. In the United States there is still the Selective Service Act as a way to draw on the public for help. If the government could not draw on specialists it would be unable to function and the rule of law would be imperilled. If the law could not be defended, then the US Constitution would be in jeopardy. Are we saying that privacy must be protected even at the price of the US Constitution?

Thomas Jefferson understood this issue clearly as he dealt with it 1803 regarding the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.

“[a] strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”[1][4]

The issue was necessity. It is rare that necessity emerges so clearly. In the Apple case, the necessity is 14 dead Americans in a terrorist attack. What necessity would Mr Graham accept for Apple to obey the law if he is unwilling to accept 14 dead Americans? Would 100 be sufficient, 1000? 10,000?

How far will Mr Graham roll back the state, what would Flint residents want?

Perhaps Mr Graham would like to roll back the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for it too infringes on the rights of companies by requiring them to take on greater regulations which limit their ability to operate effectively and turn a profit. However, I think he would agree that the people of Flint Michigan would rather the EPA were as robust, proactive, and feared as the FBI appears to be in the technology world.

If all cops are criminals, who protects us? Apple? Google?

Finally, he closes with what would be known as a “clap trap.” A suitably rousing closing to his post with a charge that would likely elicit applause from libertarians. We have to fear the police, lawful authority deriving their just powers from the consent of the people, more than we have to fear criminals who act with no authority, no legitimacy, and no restraint. Mr Graham’s sentence reminds me of the lyric in the Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil

But what’s confusing you/

Is just the nature of my game/

Just as every cop is a criminal/

And all the sinners saints/

As heads is tails/

Just call me Lucifer/

[emphasis added]

I trust that Mr Graham is a successful security expert. As a political theorist, he has a long way to go to reassure me that he understands enough of the law or the nature of political consent and obedience to exercise his rights as a citizen. The public domain already shows that it suffers from a collective miseducation in civics as the public appear to believe that the government and the laws are our enemies.


[2] The story is told different by Mr Graham in some of his earlier blogs. (Monday, January 12, 2015)

and here (Friday, September 21, 2012)



[1] Brest, Paul; Sanford Levinson; Jack M. Balkin; Akhil Reed Amar; Reva B. Seigel (2006). Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking: Cases and Materials (Print) (6th ed.). New York: Aspen. pp. 65–67. ISBN 978-0735550629. ISBN 073555062X.

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, philosophy, privacy, statesmanship, surveillance | Tagged , , , , ,