GOVERNING GOVERNMENT


GOVERNING GOVERNMENT


Cicero
“I find that it has been the opinion of the wisest men, that Law is not a product of Human thought, nor is it any enactment of peoples, but something eternal which rules the whole Universe by its wisdom. Reason has always existed, derived from the Nature of the Universe, urging men to right conduct and diverting them from wrong-doing; and this Reason did not first become Law when it was written down, but when it first came into existence; and it came into existence simultaneously with the Divine Mind.” Cicero: The Republic.While this general principle of government – that authority is justified only on moral grounds – can be traced yet further back to the early Greek political philosophers, it was under the Romans and Cicero in particular that it became universally accepted in Roman Law, and thence into English Common Law and the beginnings of  Constitutionalism.

In 1215 Britain was ruled by an autocratic, costly and ineffectual monarch.
In January of that year a deputation of Barons placed a list of their demands before the King. King John’s response was clear: “Their demands are vain, foolish, and utterly unreasonable.” This was taken as a declaration of war. On May 17 the Barons’ army took up their position in London, while the King took refuge in Windsor castle, now a virtual prisoner. John sent emissaries to the Barons, this time with the message that he was willing to grant the Charter of Liberties they demanded.With the formal signing of the Charter, the now-celebrated Magna Carta, the Monarch had confirmed the essential principles of Constitutional discipline: the obligation to rule responsibly, to rule in consultation with his peers, and to conduct himself within the bounds of established law and custom.

The Royal Seal on Magna Carta

The 18th century saw the gradual adoption of Written Constitutions, of which the American is perhaps the most celebrated.The Convention assembled in Philadelphia in May 1787 had been called for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, but the delegates quickly decided to construct an entirely new constitution incorporating a new government that could deal successfully with the critical issues of finance, commerce and security – a government that, in the words of James Madison, would achieve a balance between power and liberty.

Completion of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 was followed shortly after by James Madison’s proposed ten additions or Amendments, these first ten Amendments becoming collectively known as the Bill of Rights.

Central to all of the Framers of the Bill of Rights was the idea that since Government, particularly the national government newly created, is a powerful institution, its officials – all of them – must be compelled to exercise their powers within strictly defined boundaries. As Madison told Congress, the Bill of Rights’ limitations pointsometimes against the abuse of the Executive power, sometimes against the Legislative, and in some cases against the community itself; or, in other words, against the majority in favor of the minority.

How “Constitutional” are our Western governments today?
Today throughout the developed world we have autocratic, costly and largely ineffectual government. Indeed, when one compares the modern Western Government, with its unlimited rights of taxation, its total lack of financial discipline, and the tenuous relationship between elected Members and their voters, one may reasonably wonder how far real and effective constitutional discipline over those wielding political power has progressed since the Great Charter of 1215.The need for constitutional discipline over Government today is every bit as great as was the need for constitutional discipline over the Monarchy in 1215. But how, if ever and if at all, could this come about?

Self-discipline is not a natural human characteristic.
In the legendary British 50s comedy series following the exploits of St Trinian’s School for Ladies, sex, smoking, drinking and especially gambling aren’t on the official curriculum, but they’re not exactly frowned upon. In fact understanding the odds on horses teaches the girls plenty about economics. The Fourth Form consists of ink-stained, ungovernable pranksters, while the Sixth Form girls use their “talents” to pacify any visiting school inspectors within the delights of the summer house. The chemistry lab manufactures hooch which is spread through the black market by Flash Harry, and for St T, a sports contest with any other team is considered a victory when all of the opposition have been carried off on stretchers. “In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared”.

Clearly, St Trinians is surely in need of discipline. But would this ever be achieved by asking the Sixth Form girls to write and enforce a new School Rule Book? Probably not. And in the same way, we can hardly expect government to discipline itself. We should bear in mind that Magna Carta was no expression of the King’s voluntary limitation of his powers: it was drawn up by the barons and clergy. It was “consumer-driven”.The moral may be that only popular pressure can assure the elusive “Citizens’ Liberties”.

The Constitution in its basic form is a framework of rules telling Government in all its departments and all its functions what it must do, what it must not do, and how it should and should not do it. The detail of Constitutional provisions falls into three categories: the obligations which citizens may expect Government to fulfill; the limitations on the scope of Law; and the rules of procedure within which Government is required to operate.

When Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves had dispatched the wicked Caliph and vanquished his oppressive forces, they set about assigning positions in the new government of the city.Placing a hand on the shoulder of the Lovable Rogue, Ali said “You my friend, will be the Keeper of the Treasury.” Gasps of horror all round.

Then, turning to the group’s most trusted member, he said “And you will be the Keeper – of the Keeper of the Treasury.”

Keeping the Keeper, Governing Government. This is the essence of Constitution.

No Government, President or Monarch, no institution of Law or Enforcement, should be created or be allowed to exist and to function without a Constitution. No one should have power over others, unless and until that power and the conditions of its use have been fully, clearly and strictly defined.

 

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