November 11, 2005


Who Loves Freedom More? (Michael Kinsley, November 11, 2005, Washington Post)

Two countries. One has a Constitution with a Bill of Rights. These documents limit the power of the elected branches. They cannot be repealed or easily amended. Although neither one says so explicitly, there is a rock-hard tradition that the courts, and not the legislature or the executive, have the final say over their interpretation. No elected official would claim more authority than the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution. Put it all together and an individual citizen can feel pretty secure against the tyranny of the majority or a runaway government. Or so we suppose.

The other country has what it calls a constitution, but it is a metaphysical conceit -- an ill-defined set of ideas and values floating in the ether, not an actual document. Courts do refer to it in deciding cases, but there is no certainty about what the words are, let alone what they mean. There is no established principle that the courts may declare acts of the legislature unconstitutional. The legislature, meanwhile, is sovereign and can trump this constitution by passing an ordinary law. In effect, the individual has no legal protection against the tyranny of the majority.

Or at least not until recently. The first country is the United States. The second is Britain. In recent decades Britain has ceded some of its sovereignty to what has evolved into the European Union. This includes some Europe-wide human rights, enforceable by courts even to the point of overturning acts of Parliament. But it's all pretty new. And all these constitutional arrangements, including ours in the United States, require what they call in the theater a willing suspension of disbelief. They work because we all have agreed that they should work. As Stalin allegedly said about the pope, how many divisions has the Supreme Court?

So, in which country are individual rights more secure? Legally, the clear answer is the United States. But there's something else here to be considered -- something hard to describe because it's essentially a "love of freedom," but earthier than that and more deeply rooted in the old country than in the new one (which actually broke away and declared its independence precisely over this issue of human freedom). Maybe it's because the British don't have the crutch of a real Bill of Rights. Or maybe it's because their freedom was seriously at risk in the memory of many who are still alive (i.e., in World War II). Or maybe it's tied in with the landscape and the national character in a way that Orwell was able to describe but that I cannot.

Americans love liberty so much that we defend Britain's every few decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2005 8:33 AM

Of course, Mr. Kinsley fails to point out that the UK has recently (in PM Blair's term) eliminated both double jeopardy and a great fraction of jury trials. In addition, they have suspended habeus corpus recently, in Northern Ireland.

Posted by: John Thacker at November 11, 2005 8:42 AM


True, but read the rest of Mr Kinsley's article.

'Pragmatism' is the watchword. Blair's benign dictatorship has gone far enough.

Posted by: Brit at November 11, 2005 9:30 AM

Does this twit know about the Official Secrets Act? Is there anything remotely similar in the US?

"benign dictatorship"? Brit, I don't think you know what either word means. Dictatorships are never benign. Further, Blair having democratic institutions pass laws supported by the majority of the population is hardly a dictatorship. You devalue the word by assigning it to Blair.

It was a shameful act for so called Conservatives in the UK to combine with the hard left to oppose the bill merely for political reasons. The Tories love liberty less, not more, than Blair

Posted by: Bob at November 11, 2005 10:03 AM


I accept that I'm using the word frivolously, but I can't claim originality for doing so.

It's long been said of our two-party system that we elect a dictatorship for a few years and then chuck them out and replace them with a new one.

(incidentally, I'm mostly pro-Blair, and I'm even reluctantly pro the 90-day rule, but not so pro that I don't mind him getting the occasional bloody nose)

Posted by: Brit at November 11, 2005 10:27 AM

britain is a socialist waste pit with only the illusion of democracy.

Posted by: king arthur at November 11, 2005 10:38 AM

Arthur, we are not amused by your treasonous words.

Posted by: QE II at November 11, 2005 10:44 PM

But your son is a twit.

Posted by: uther pendragon at November 13, 2005 1:39 AM