The events of the past week have shown only too clearly the dire state of the UK Constitution and the danger of racism and fanaticism which lurks close to the surface of our society. So, though this post is a little overdue, I decided that the importance of both the Republic Campaign and British Humanist Association organisations made it worth pursuing. Here are my brief impressions of the BHA Conference 2016 held between 10th and 12th June (only last weekend, surely!!). This year the Conference was held in at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham and the local Republic group seized the opportunity to have a presence by means of a stand in the main hall. Along with the co-ordinator of Republic Birmingham it was a great pleasure to attend for the Saturday, commitments preventing me attending on the Sunday.
What was particularly significant is that Humanism and modern Republicanism share a common heritage in the Renaissance, inspired by the governmental writings of the classical world, especially Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero. Indeed, Classical Republicanism was a synonym for Civic Humanism. Since these beginnings in the Italian City States of the 15th and 16th Centuries Republicanism and Humanism have drift apart slightly in terms of their objectives, with modern Republicanism placing the advancement of liberty in political and constitutional terms as its central concern. This allows religious groups such as Quakers to espouse Republicanism but not Humanism.
For the BHA Conference, Republic Birmingham was sporting an upgraded stand with a higher profile vertical banner. This was just as well since the vast hall was fully packed with attendees. Lunchtime and breaks between the talks allowed many positive interactions with Conference delegates who were, as you would expect, well informed about many aspects of political thought. Predictably, the atmosphere was very different from those I encounter at more overtly political events such as Levellers Day or a Party Conference where visitors to our stand want to know how we propose changing the power relationships of government. The Humanist delegates were more interested in broader constitutional issues, the overwhelming majority of delegates being sympathetic to our cause (we signed up a number of new recruits). There were a few vocal doubters of our call for abolition which in many ways reflects the difference in emphasis between contemporary Humanism and Republicanism alluded to earlier.
Being in the main Conference hall I was able to enjoy the guest speakers including the philosopher A C Grayling and activist Peter Tatchell who gave my favourtite talk of the day on ‘No-Platforming’ in Universities. All the speeches and discussions provoked a myriad of thoughts which required a force of will to set aside for a safe drive home! Thanks, Humanists for the fine and stimulating day and I hope to see you again very soon.