It is a frequently held view that, in the UK at least, Republicanism is a concern of socialists and communists. ‘You’re just a bunch of ‘loony lefties’ is an occasional accusation, though I’m never sure whether the accuser is claiming that all ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’ or that only some ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’! Setting that aside, is the accusation correct?
Republicanism Predates Modern Political Notions of Left and Right
A brief look at the roots of modern Republicanism reveals that this cannot be the case. Influential early Republican thinkers such as Macchiavelli and his colleagues in Renaissance Florence lived during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries well before the concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’ were conceived. Later, during the English Civil War of the 1640s many of the Parliamentary forces which opposed the king, Charles Stuart, were led by aristocrats such as the Earls of Manchester and Essex who had no interest whatsoever in sharing either their lands or wealth very widely. Similarly, the aristocrats were joined by the wealthy traders and merchants who viewed the fact that the King possessed the rights to extensive natural resources such as minerals as an obstacle to the development of free trade. Interestingly the modern-day rivalry between the north-east cities of Newcastle and Sunderland dates to this era when miners of the Tyne were given the coal trading franchise by the King at the expense of their Wearside competitors. So at the outbreak of the Civil War, Newcastle was a Royalist stronghold and Sunderland fought for Parliament. It has been argued by CB MacPherson and others that the emergence of Britain as a modern free enterprise mercantile nation could not have occurred without a successful opposition to the monarchy. This was reinforced by the fact that the King claimed the power to raise taxes under certain circumstances independently of Parliament, such as for purposes of warfare.
Continue reading “Are all UK Republicans Lefties?” →
The grotesque 20% pay increase to £14 million per year awarded to BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley has surprised even business organizations such as the Institute of Directors (IoD) who now rightly fear that the government will take action on corporate governance. But this act of naked greed illustrates a number of problems with our broken socio-economic model. First lets look at the tired old excuse that has been trotted out once again for Dudley’s award by a BP spokesperson:
BP’s performance surpassed the board’s expectations on almost all of the measures that determine remuneration – and the [pay] outcome therefore reflects this.
In a nutshell here is the application of possessive individualism in a pure form – the arrogance of assuming that the individual at the top has achieved an organizational target solely on their own abilities without the help and co-operation of their staff. So they alone deserve the rewards of extra millions! But Dudley is not the only one, the attitude is endemic – just look at Martin Sorrell at WPP for another example.
Continue reading “BP CEO Bob Dudley Pay Increase; Flawed Ethos of Individualism” →
The brilliant and controversial British playwright John Osborne was born on 12 December 1929. Possibly his most transformative work was his 1956 play Look Back in Anger. Despite being associated in his early life with left wing politics, he claimed to hold to no firm political views. In his later life he turned towards a libertarian right wing stance, To his eternal credit, Osborne openly questioned the existence of the monarchy in his contribution to a book called Declaration. This was in 1957, a far more deferential age than 2015 and it got him into trouble! The chairiman of the English Stage Company industrialist Neville Blond was furious and a party to celebrate the publication of Declaration at the Royal Court Theatre was cancelled. Ironically, the ESC was no stranger to controversy itself. But I completely agree with Osborne:
My objection to the royal symbol is that it is dead; it is the gold filling in a mouthful of decay.
The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes died today (December 4th) in 1679. But as a civic republican I shall not be mourning him, for a number of reasons. Ironically for one of the founders of liberal and libertarian thinking (along with John Locke) a primary aim of Hobbes was a defence of sovereign power and autocratic government. Hobbes works include Leviathan, published in 1651 in which he developed his social contract theory. His work was partly aimed at opposing the radical politics which emerged during the English Civil War and the theories of the high Republicans during the Commonwealth of the early 1650s; the modern combination of which I find compelling!
So what lay behind Hobbes insistence on an absolute monarch (or ruling group)? It comes from Hobbes concept of society which viewed people atomistically, in perpetual motion trying to get economic power and influence over each other. From this a natural structure to society emerges with individuals all seeking their best interests. But if society is of this nature, what stops it falling apart in some kind of anarchic fight for ultimate power? Why, none other than a universally accepted absolute sovereign charged with passing laws to ensure the continued health of the competitive system. To keep the sovereign above the throng he or she would have the power to appoint their successor (what better than the eldest son!).
Continue reading “Thomas Hobbes, advocate for autocracy” →