The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0308 Monday, 14 February 2000.
From: John Briggs <
Date: Monday, 14 Feb 2000 12:01:52 -0000
Subject: 11.0293 Re: Intellectual Property
Comment: RE: SHK 11.0293 Re: Intellectual Property
Well, it certainly wasn't intended to be benevolent. The studiedly
neutral tone was deliberate, however. As a civil servant I am not
allowed to say what I think (and probably not think it, for that
matter...) I was simply giving a historical explanation for the
situation where a democratic government can exercise undemocratic
powers. The existence of the monarchy and the House of Lords has no
real effect on the exercise of power, but does affect (i.e. prevent, see
below) democratic and constitutional reform. British governments
probably don't lecture the world on democracy of their own volition: if
it weren't for the presence of the United States they would probably
preach the virtues of constitutional monarchy!
Terence Hawkes wrote:
> John Briggs offers an oddly benevolent view:
> "Having a democratic mandate, the House of Commons acquired ascendancy
> over both the crown and the (unelected) House of Lords. The ancient
> prerogatives of the crown were not abolished, but the exercise of them
> was transferred with the executive to the elected government."
> Another way of putting it would be to say that until last year, in
> respect of the three instruments of government in Britain (commons,
> lords, crown) access to two was determined largely by birth. From this
> year, the new 'reformed' House of Lords will contain 90 or so members
> who have inherited their positions by birth. Each year, when the
> opens parliament, she still makes formal reference to 'my government'.
> Each bill passed by parliament requires the royal 'assent' before it
> pass into law. None of this, naturally, prevents successive British
> governments from lecturing the rest of the world on the moral duty to
> embrace democracy.
The main difference is that my statement (as far as it goes) is
technically correct as a matter of historical fact, whereas yours is
technically incorrect! Where do you think that James Madison and the
other framers found the US constitution? He said Blackstone, but Locke
was also important, and probably Montesquieu. I don't know how
important the influence of Hume was. The point I was trying to make was
that the (unwritten) British constitution evolved to a
nineteenth-century form, but was unable to develop further because of
the presence of the monarchy and the (unelected) House of Lords, despite
the fact that neither had real power. The US, on the other hand, is
stuck with an eighteenth-century constitution, which it has to try and
fit to the modern world.
> Larry Weiss wrote:
> This is something like saying that a plucked chicken is a human being
> because it is a featherless biped.
> John Briggs wrote:
" the US constitution is simply a codification
> of the British constitution of the C18, with the king replaced by an
> elected president, and the House of Lords by an elected senate."