Has Bombing Been “Vindicated”?

Has Bombing Been “Vindicated”?

Laurence Ticehurst

Picture of crowds celebrating the fall of Mumar Gadaffi

And what of the cheering crowds in Tripoli as they celebrate the fall of the tyrant?

Well obviously it is good riddance to the Colonel- which is self evidently good news for the people of Libya. They now have the chance to start rebuilding the physical wreckage of their country. I hope none of them underestimates the scale of the damage; or the self interested nature of much of the aid they will be offered.

Picture of Mumar Gadaffi
Picture of cheesecake

They will undoubtedly also be offered one of the off the shelf constitutions I was shown when I visited The State Department ( I recommend the cheese cake in the dining room). I do not doubt also that they will be provided with advice about how to start creating the intricate moral and institutional infrastructure on which a free society depends. But here, if not elsewhere they must ask themselves whether those offering the advice can do so without hypocrisy.

In short for the Libyans the fall of Gadaffi is merely getting the engine to turn over on the start of a long drive. They may make it; they may not; but at least there are maps which describe the journey they have now at last been able to start. And of course we must all wish them will as their car pulls out of the drive- “Safe home” as we say in Ireland- “drive safely.”

Picture of air strike

But we too must take our own advice. We too must drive safely without taking unnecessary risks. They may not realise it but those responsible for bombing the former Libyan regime to destruction have embarked on a journey far more perilous than that of the Libyans.

The blogger Cranmer– who is usually to be ranked among the Archangels of the Internet- believes that the events in Libya have justified the principles of liberal interventionism in general and the judgement of David Cameron and William Hague in particular. But surely it is precisely in this supposed “vindication” – to use the word employed by His Grace- that the danger lies.

Picture of war plane

Like the Marxist of old the neo conservatives of today are on a mission to reconstruct the world. Just as in the twenties and thirties the Marxist believed that every difficulty experienced by capitalism, and every victory of fascism was a sign that their Utopia was about to dawn, so today our friends at The National Review and The American Enterprise Institute believe that every successful intervention- however special the circumstances- justifies further activity of the same kind.

Victims

And it is true that some intervention in Libya was justified if only to prevent the colonel from murdering his own citizens in eastern Libya. But Libya is not a proxy for everywhere. They operations concerned were cheap- and could therefore be sustained- something which is not true of more ambitious projects. Moreover in Libya the operations could be conducted largely from the air and by special forces which meant that British casualties were certain to be low.

Nevertheless President Obama and Chancellor Merkel were right to be hesitant. The one certainty is that force engenders unpredictable consequence, and while the operations in Libya have been apparently successful we have not yet paid the price for them. Conservatives should not forget the paradox that the less literate the society the longer the memory.

There is then the grave danger- that His Grace does not seem to understand- that the bravery, the devotion, the sacrifices, and patriotism of those who freed Libya will be used by the neo conservative theoreticians ( for who interventionism is very far from being a last resort) to justify other more expansive schemes in the near east and elsewhere.

Cranmer Blog

So Yes- I’ll drink to the new Libya- but unlike His Grace- I am more than a little nervous of how it was brought about. Mr Cameron and Mr. Hague may on balance have done the right thing- time will certainly tell us- but they should not imagine that they have discovered a new- or should that be “neo”- foreign policy. Conservatives- and certainly Burkeans- should be doubtful about schemes – as Cranmer puts it- to “usher in an era of justice, righteousness and peace.” I don’t know what version of the bible His Grace is using, but in mine it compares the coming of the Kingdom to the growth of a mustard seed. I had previously missed the bit about tactical air strikes!

Drug Wars, Futile Fight

Drug Wars, Futile Fight

Michael Dwyer

The Card Picture

My Milanese friends could never get the fact that I had no Irish identity card. What happened they would ask if a policeman stopped me? Why would a policeman stop me I would reply? To check your identity….and so forth.

You see in Italy by law you must carry an identity card or other proof of identity. The police have the right to stop any person to check that they are carrying their card. The card was made for the law and the law made for the card but all of it is just an excuse to give the police the power to stop anyone they want without a reason. We are fighting a drugs war on much the same basis

That is to say, why are drugs illegal?

It is only in the last century that we have thought to regulate the sale of narcotics. During the Great War it was possible to buy a gift box in Harrods for the boys at the front which contained amongst other things, syringes, cocaine solution and heroin. The first attempt to restrict marijuana in the United States at a federal level was through taxation. Many cultures used naturally occurring mind altering substances in their rituals.

Marijuana under cultivation Picture

As Prof Eileen Kane observed in all cultures at all times in human history only three things are constant; marriage, alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs. Yet today we ban the sale of a wide array of drugs natural and artificial. Opiates, cannabinoids, MDME, psychedelics fungal and mass produced are the most popular of our forbidden fruits.

Why do we make the sale of these substances illegal?

Why do we wage war?

Why has this subject become a touchstone of conservative values across the world?

It is one of the great shibboleths of modern political life; one can never be soft on drugs. I am stringing this out and repeating myself for a reason. I really want you to think, why do we ban drugs? Until we have cleared up the reasons for our behaviour we cannot advance the discussion. We must first understand what it is we wish to achieve by making the sale of some drugs illegal. Process is fine but only by measuring outcomes can we see if a policy is a success. So why do we ban heroin or hash? What is the desired outcome.

We control these substances because they are bad for us. Yet we do not ban cigarettes or beer. And we know for a certain fact that many many more die from fags than opium. We know that every year more people die from prescription medications than all the illicit substances put together. Heroin is bad for one, but not that bad. Cocaine is worse, and crack is worse again. But ironically crack came about as a market response to the higher cost of cocaine in the mid eighties, in Miami and New York, for sale in the poorer parts of the city. Ecstasy is not dangerous, nor is cannabis or peyote or magic mushrooms; at least not dangerous when compared to legal recreational drugs.

So it is clear that we do not control these drugs simply because they are bad for our health. Rather we ban them because they are not the drugs that we use and feel safe with, the drugs we understand. And then we are deeply suspicious of those who try to evangelise for liberalisation or legalisation.

Whether the advocate is Howard Marks, Ming Flanagan or some hippy musician we suspect the reason they seek change is personal not principled. They just want to be allowed to spark up a doobie without fear of arrest.

They have an agenda.

Addict picture

Then there is the aesthetic of addiction which surely informs the visceral rejection most have to the idea of liberalisation. Most of us have grown up far from intravenous drug use. My education about the subject started and ended with Starsky and Hutch, and Kojak. From these sources I learned that Junkies would get hooked from one hit of Horse and it would eventually kill them. Addiction to heroin was essentially a death sentence and kicking the drug was virtually impossible. Junkies would steal, prostitute themselves and kill in order to feed the need. Almost all of this was untrue. However the aesthetics of heroin addiction are horrible. When I used to regularly pass through Central Station in Milan in the 1990s it was a haven for heroin addicts. Those who had been using longest were frankly repulsive, their clothes rank their hair filthy, their bodies emaciated they would walk with the weaving uncertainty of a toddler. It was horrid. It was also heartbreaking. No sane person would want this to happen to their child, so we ban it.

Of course there is the nub of it. Addiction is a moral and physical disaster for the addict, their family and wider society. Addiction to anything is terribly destructive. Heroin, coke, crack or speedballs of course are the most visibly destructive and consequently we treat them most seriously. But all these drugs carry consequences that can be catastrophic in individual cases, be it long term hash use, amphetamines or ecstasy. Parents are terrified for the well being of their children and they demand that the state play its role in protection too.
It is not working.

In fact it is much more than not working. Prohibition is causing precisely those effects that make us want to ban drugs. And that folks is our problem. We need to untangle the consequences of drug use from the consequences of drug policy. Prohibition is killing our children. It is killing ten of thousands every year and it is making thousands of criminals enormously rich.

In our quiet little country we have seen a frightening growth in murderous violence over the last twenty years. In Dublin and Limerick gangs of coked up young men engage in pitched battles or carry out assassinations in Pubs and betting offices. The violence spirals ever upwards as different gangs try to get control of the drugs business across their town or city.
This business is worth hundreds of millions every year. For youngsters who may have poor prospects working as dealers, couriers or enforcers they can earn vastly more than any of their straight pals can dream. In Britain the value of the illegal drugs trade was estimated at £6.4 billion six years ago. Globally the international trade is guesstimated at over half a trillion dollars. Drugs are one of the most widely traded and valuable commodities on earth BEAUSE THEY ARE ILLEGAL.

It is a simple fact. Governments around the world in conjunction with bodies like the UN or WHO have made many many bad men very rich indeed.

And we always knew it would.

When the USA brought in Alcohol Prohibition it transformed the Mafia from a local import doing business in the Italian ghettoes to an international power. It gave the mob the resources to buy influence at local and national level. Without prohibition organised crime in America might never have got off the ground.
Drugs cause crime because the traffic in drugs is a crime.

All over the world in the less attractive streets and parks of our big cities you can see women sell their bodies to men. These women tend to fall into two camps. Those who have been kidnapped by criminals or in some way fallen into their power and are forced to sell themselves by these Mafiosi.

The others are the crack hos, famed of song and story. They prostitute themselves to pay for a drug habit which consumes them. They do this because the price of drugs is held at massively inflated rates by the dealers. The cost of illegal drugs bears no relation to their production costs and very often in cities local gangs will engage in price fixing cartels. And the competition authorities refuse to act! Making drugs illegal pushes women to prostitute themselves.

It is a direct consequence of policy.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Dundalk. Just a few of the places in the world where the activities of terrorists are funded by the government control of drugs. In Mexico the war on drugs has caused the tens of thousands of deaths. In Ciudad Juarez alone there were in one year three thousand drug murders.

Not only is the West’s conflicting desires of consumption and prohibition destroying the fabric of many producer nations it is pouring money into the hands of terrorists like the Shining path Maoists in Peru, or the Islamicist radicals across Asia. If it has not already happened, drugs money will soon topple a government and install its own friendly power.

There is an arc of crime which reaches across the globe. From the Golden triangle to Turkey, onto Sicily, North Africa and onto Colombia and Bolivia in South America. The huge profits made in the drugs trade are then used to fund a mass of other criminal activity and the chief perpatrators remain untouchable with protection bought from the proceeds of drugs.
We give them this money. Their market, their business could disappear overnight if we chose to act. We have the capability to transform the face of our inner cities and the population of our prisons.

Addict sores picture

Last year in the USA alone fifteen billion dollars were spent on the drugs war. Think in Ireland of the amount of time our police force spends dealing with drug crime and drug related crime. Think of all the people in prison today because of drug crime. Think of all the dead men, dead because the trade is so very lucrative. Think what we could do with all the resources we now plough into policing and treating drug problems.

Even the great bulk of illness related to heroin use is connected with the additives used to cut the drug not the heroin itself. The cankers, the ulcerations, the needle sharing, the over doses, all could be a thing of the past if the users were buying pure calibrated pharmaceutical heroin from their local chemist.
In 1969 Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. In the last forty two years virtually every country on the planet has followed suit. Yet in the face of such seemingly impossible odd, the drugs are winning. More to the point the drug dealers are winning big.

No one wants their child to become an addict. But prohibition is not limiting or controlling consumption. Rather it makes consumption much more hazardous than it need be. I could appeal to liberal principle and point out that the state has no right to tell me what I can or cannot put into my body. I could point out the inconsistency of celebrating Alcohol which does more damage than any other substance, while coming down heavy on a harmless spliff. I could say that legalisation would be a panacea for all our problems but that would be a lie.

No matter what laws we pass or repeal some people will get high. Some of those people will become dependent. Some people will die. If hard drugs were made legal tomorrow maybe there would be an explosion of opiate addiction. I don’t think so, but I can’t know. What I can ask is this. What would the outcome of legalisation have to be, for it to be worse that the outcome we already have from prohibition. That’s got to be some scary result!

Bovis Strikes Back!

Bovis Replies!

Bovis, the leading irish conservative blogger, logo picture
A Man For All Seasons title graphic

It has come to my attention that my taste in film has been questioned. Indeed my taste in film has been found wanting. Richard Miller of EBI fame has given quite the ticking off to one of my favourite films in the form of A Man for All Seasons and one of my favourite people in the person of St. Thomas Moore.

Sir Thomas More Picture

Now I don’t want to be mean.

Times are tough for the theologically high, liturgically low, no-popery here Anglo-Catholic. As he sits at his Sheraton escritoire, looking out from the Queen Anne rectory at the tidy lines of plantation beech, he silently laments the passing of the ancient certainties. Of course the certainties are not so ancient, going back at most to the sixteenth century when the Welsh dynasty forced the English to abandon a thousand years of traditional religion for the fancy new ideas coming out of Germany.

Bolt and Zimmerman are accused of failing to understand the dreadful dilemma of Henry. The nation had been riven and traumatised by a century of warfare. It was only now recovering from the depredations of the warring barons. His father had succeeded in building up the treasury and had allowed trade to expand and flourish. But all this was up for grabs as his wife, aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor, had failed to give him a male heir. Since the civil wars of Stephen and Maud the idea of a regnant Queen was greeted with horror in England. If the country was to be kept at peace and the dynasty to survive, he needed a wife who could give him a live male heir. Bolt portrays Henry as a deeply unsympathetic character Mr Miller asserts, denying him any real psychological insight.

Anne Bolyn Picture

Of course the real problem is that Bolt is too soft on the Tudor. Fine he didn’t die of syphilis, is that really the best we can say of him? He was a monster, who lived and died a slave to his gross appetites. He burnt Protestants with just as much élan as his elder daughter would, and only his only connection with convinced Protestantism was the one with adulterous harlot and witch he put away his wife to marry.

Henry far from being played as the monster he was, is shown as a man of ego and quick temper, full of life and passion, if dangerously unpredictable.
The film observes that there are things he will not do. He refuses to allow Moore to be put to the rack. Moore is made to tell Cromwell that If he thinks the King will perjure himself then he does not yet know the King. The King will not swear an oath on the holy Bible which he knows to be untrue. It is clear that Henry recognises goodness and honesty in Moore and that is why he so desperately desires his approval over all others.

Shaw as Henry VIII Picture

Miller accuses Moore of hypocrisy when he is shocked by Wolsey’s suggestion of putting pressure on the Church in order to get the annulment. He points out that all the characters had their lobbyists in Rome trying to spin the Vatican. Fine, but there is a difference between diplomacy and extorting with menaces.

The heart of the Moore character in the play and film is not Moore saint, scholar or family man though he is all of these. The play is about Moore the lawyer. Again and again the leit-motif of the piece is that only the law can protect us from the caprices of the powerful, sometimes the devil, sometimes the King. This is the conservative heart of the work. Over centuries we build up rules and customs and laws that lean upon each other. Individually they may be weak but woven together they are strong against the storm of state power.
Near the end he reproves Cromwell for threatening like a dock yard bully, rather than Chancellor of England.

Sir Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully.

Cromwell: How should I threaten?

Sir Thomas More: Like a minister of state. With justice.

Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you’re threatened with.

Sir Thomas More: Then I am not threatened.

Then I am not threatened. Moore persists in his belief or hope that the law can save him. It is only when it is plain that all hope is lost and the verdict and sentence have been procured that he finally unburdens himself regarding the marriage. The warning is clear, when the state for any reason or pretence puts itself above or beyond the law then the state is no longer legitimate. And of course no longer safe.

Mao Picture

In a state where the law is the tool of the party, as it was in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Mao’s China then there can be no freedom. In this state we survive or die at the whim of the petty official. Merely doing right is no longer enough to protect us and keep us safe.

Sir Thomas More: I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live.

What shocks Moore is not the notion of robust diplomacy but that the laws of England, Magna Carta and the Kings coronation oath would be trampled or ignored.
Remember Moore ,like all the characters, is of the Middle Ages. This stuff of about the Renaissance is merely a creation of French Deists and I would be disappointed to discover that Mr Miller swallowed it. The renaissance is the middle ages with better painting, worse theology and no philosophy.

Henry VII Picture

For Thomas the role of the church in the life f the nation and in society is beyond question. He may satirise nuns and priests but the institution of the Church is like oxygen in a water molecule. Also the idea of the papacy being something foreign is a wholly novel and rather odd idea to Medieval Man. The Pope is in Rome. Where the heck should he be??? Not Avignon anyway. The Pope is Pope by virtue of being Bishop of Rome, his nationality is a matter of indifference to an inhabitant of Christendom.

Latimer Picture

Then we come to the most predictable of the slings and arrows our latter day Lattimer would lose off. That the author of Utopia was a proto-commie and all round weirdo. One of the characteristics that separate us moderns from the likes of Moore and Fisher is our capacity to live with cognitive dissonance. Modern man has at any host of conflicting and contradictory idea and propositions swirling around in his head at any one time. This can cause inaction or a head ache but mostly we don’t even notice.

Utopia map Picture

However the notion that a man as famously orthodox as Thomas could have simultaneously believed in the superior morals of his No Place is not credible. Anyway, who has ever read Utopia and come away thinking, “whoa nice place, love to holiday there”? It is plainly a nasty anthill of a country. To me the most obvious way to understand the book is a critique of pure rationality.

This is the very best outcome we can expect in a world without Revelation and tradition. This is what Moore imagines a world with Christ, the Church and Scripture would be like. Moore was no commie; he was good London lad from a family of lawyers with a house in Chelsea. Tell me if that sounds like a Labour voter?

More and his wife argue in the tower Picture

The movie may have its faults but the universally wonderful acting from a terrific cast cover them up to my eyes. I have watched it so many times and still I am so moved by the last meeting with his family in the tower, especially the fight with the Lady Alice. The scenes of the trial cannot fail to thrill even the most jaded Lutheran.

As for the man himself? Well his life was not perfect, certainly to the modern eye. He persecuted and prosecuted those who were afflicted with the German enthusiasm. Some he even brought to the public hangman.

Screenshot from  the film Picture

But martyrs are so not for the life they lived but the death they endured. And maybe it is here that Bolt is at his weakest. For in the play Moore dies for his personal conscience, for his sense of himself. As he says to his daughter in the tower

‘ When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands) And if he opens his fingers then-he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.’

I have always been a little skepical of this motivation, it strikes as the courage of a modern man. But maybe that’s not harm, Bolt is an artist not a historian and whatever he may have done with the history the character he has created for us is warm, wise and tragically enchanting.

Freedom is an Odd Thing…..

Freedom is an Odd Thing…..

Michael Dwyer

Freedom is an odd thing. Hard to define, often easier understood in its absence than its presence. Yet it is the fountainhead of creativity, happiness and lives lived in human dignity. It is also one of the most misused and abused words in the moral and political lexicon.

My old prof used to say that to make a rights claim was the most powerful statement one could make in the moral world. Consequently we must be careful about such claims; we must avoid debasing the language of rights by spreading the fabric so far that it must inevitably tear. We live in an age where the reverse is happening. Governments and similar low institutions are never happier than when creating new secondary rights of which Dworkin never dreamt. The right to a job, the right not to fear, the right to indoor toilets, the right to have babies and be called Loretta. At the same time our primary rights are nibbled away, day by month by year. The right to life, the right to property and recently most clearly freedom of religion is being undermined and eroded.

The basis for all virtues is the virtue of courage, for without courage none of the other virtues could flourish. Freedom of religion has a similar position in the family of freedoms we enjoy in liberal democracies. It is not a simple or single freedom but a compendium of important freedoms gathered in to one moral space. What it is not is a mere freedom to worship and to construe it as such is a deliberate attempt to limit the liberty of religious people. Religion is not a liturgy or a prayer meeting but a way of life. The word come from the Latin for Rule, not for Sunday service. If a state wishes to pretend that it guarantees freedom of religion then it must guarantee the right of religious people to live according to their rules. Of course as long as the way they behave does not harm others.

HARM. I said harm and I meant harm. I did not mean offend, or annoy or enrage or baffle or amuse or tick off; I meant harm, real measurable harm. A tort. This vital for a free society and in no way exclusive to the freedom of religion. A society where I am not free to offend is not free. Freedom of speech without freedom to offend is no freedom. Freedom of the press must carry with a freedom to offend or it is toothless. We must refuse to allow our governments to treat us as children who need protection from bullies in the playground. We must demand that they treat us as adults, and as adults we must patiently endure the name calling and brickbats of idiots.

Other than the continued infantilisation of society the other agenda pursued by our over lords against religious freedom is the desire to attack certain kinds of conscience defences. A pharmacist in downtown Berlin was named and shamed for his refusal to stock the morning after pill. His shop was attacked and badly damaged. Sympathy for him was in short supply as he was placing lives at risk by refusing to stock what he, a Lutheran Christian, considered an abortofacient.

Since he was the only chemist in the city of Berlin to take this action it seems unlikely that the product was not very easily obtainable in a host of other outlets and he was in no way compromising anyone’s health, even if we accept this dubious premise of a threat in the first place.

In Britain and Sweden concerns have been raised that the conscience clauses of local national and European rights agreements are leading to a shortage of qualified personnel capable of performing abortions. The numbers of staff refusing to train in abortion technique has increased steadily over the last twenty years. In the region of Lazio in Italy eighty per cent of doctors and nurses refuse on grounds of conscience to assist in abortions. The response has been to suggest limiting the scope of conscience claims so that certain predetermined procedures would remain easily available to any woman who sought them.

What is happening here is that one kind of conscience is being privileged over another. One kind of belief is being place above another. If interrogated about this the answer is that one is scientific knowledge whereas the other is merely religious belief. This is a staggeringly naive and arrogant position. It confuses a non religious morality with a scientific one. There is of course no such thing. One could read every obstetrics text book there is, deriving the ought you desire from the is of science will remain a statement of belief. Beyond that is of course the fact that many people who oppose abortion do so for reasons which they regard as grounded in science and have no religious faith. There is no justification for the current process of distinguishing one kind of conscientious objector over another simply because we like that to which they object. In fact if you don’t understand that you have utterly failed to understand the notion of conscientious objection.

Liberals have never liked the masses. For the most part of the second half of the Nineteenth century tiny liberal elites ruled over France, Italy, Germany and occasionally Britain. They feared the religiosity of the demos as much as did the revolution of Mr Marx. The Whig enjoys his own company, his own jokes, his patron’s money and most of all his personal sense of superiority. To the extent they ever agitated for freedom of religion it was because with that freedom is freedom of belief, and disbelief. Now that disbelief is de rigueur and no longer in need of religion’s protection the elites seek out those vulgar religiosities to remove. The Crib in the hospital, the Cross in the school, the Angelus on the radio are all valid targets. These are offensive to others in our now multi cultural society.

The odd thing is when asked the Chief Rabbi said he oppose the removal of these offensive things, The Mufti was of the same opinion. So, who is offended? Bearing in mind offence is in itself not a reason to do something anyway. Yet again the liberals are using minorities as a Trojan horse to smuggle through their personal agenda.

When we start to attack and unpick a freedom like freedom of religion we are set on a dangerous path indeed. These core freedoms we have evolved and defended for a few centuries now are not simple atomic freedoms. They are not attached to or based on one simple primary right. This is a moral Matryoshka Doll where right hides within right, and one freedom protects and uncovers another. Or it is a carpet of rights and obligations woven together, strands over and under, in and out. The work has taken generations to slowly assemble. Sometimes additions were tried and discarded, while others approved of were worked into the fabric.

Contemplating the American revolutionaries Dr Johnson noted thast the loudest yelps for liberty came from the drivers of slaves1. There is undoubtedly a rich and savoury irony to enjoy in the spectacle of certain uber-Catholics today crying out for understanding and demanding toleration. These self same bods were far from embracing the values of pluralism back in the 80s. It would be perfectly human to indulge the temptation to see how they might enjoy a dose of repression: human but wrong. Freedom is not something we deserve nor are rights merited. We possess our rights even if we chose to with hold them from others. They are universal and inalienable. To put it more crudely it behoves us all to remember that the best reason to defend the nasty offensive practices of others is that the day may come when we are the nasty offensive minority hoping against hope that freedom is alive and well and not just a folk memory.

Miller shoots from the lip!

“A Man For All Seasons”, Again!

Richard Miller

Painting of the  Death of Elizabeth I

It is now more than four hundred years since the death of Queen Elizabeth the last reigning Tudor. And yet the Tudors continue to fascinate, and infuriate. We admire them. We deplore them. But we are never bored by them. And we sense ( I think) that had they done things differently, that our world would not have been quite the same. No one doubts the significance of the changes to religion in England that they made and importance that this had for Ireland.

Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall"

No wonder then they and their servants are so frequently discussed- the most recent example being a play that depicts Anne Boleyn as a pioneer Euro- sceptic. And then of course there was been the success of Hilary Mantel’s novel about Thomas Cromwell “Wolf Hall”. ( which I haven’t read), as well as the two Cate Blanchet films- “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth, The Golden Age.”

Antonia Fraser, in the 60s

This is no recent phenomena. In the forties and early fifties Margaret Irwin ( 1889-1969) produced a trilogy of novels about Queen Elizabeth the first of which was filmed. At about the same time Hester Chapman (1899-1976) made a literary career by writing about the Tudors1. In the seventies Lady Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots was compulsory reading.

The big one was Robert Bolt’s “A Man For All Seasons.” The history of this has been astonishing. It started on the radio in 1954, from whence it migrated to the television in 1957. Bolt ( 1924-1995) then turned it into a stage play and it was produced in London in 1960. The following year it went to Broadway- where it was a “huge hit.” It was then filmed in 1966, and filmed again in 1988. And incredibly it was performed again on the BBC radio in 2006!

Praise for it has been almost universal. Indeed had I realised the extent of this enthusiasm- and that mine was to be an almost lone critical voice- I should have written my first piece differently. While I would not have changed the gist of what I wrote about the film; I would have narrowed my focus. I was- I now see- mistaken to include in what I wrote criticisms More’s Utopia-2 as these deflected attention from what I really wanted to say about the film.

Consequently I welcome this opportunity of responding to Bovis not merely because it gives me another bite at the cherry, but because it allows me to say how much I welcome intervention the intervention by Bovis- as this is the just the sort of exchange between conservatives of slightly different kinds, which this web site is meant to provoke.

Fred Zinnemann

So what then my objection to the film3 of “A Man For All Seasons?” Lets start with the point that I made about the cause of Henry’s death. At the end of the film an apparently authoritative “voice over” announces that Henry died of syphilis when in fact he didn’t. This is a point which would surely have been easy enough to correct. My point here was not to suggest that I imagined that Henry was anything other than the sexual monster he was. My point was that the Bolt /Zinneman production cannot be trusted when it comes to the facts.4

And “A Man For all Seasons” is a film is which claims to be about history- and it has certainly succeeded in persuading many of its admirers that it is a “true story.” 5Although Bovis seems to take a different view when in his final sentence he says “Bolt is an artist not an historian and whatever he has done with the history the character [More] he has created for us is warm, wise and tragically enchanting.”

Here (I think) Bovis has gone wrong. The real question is not whether the More Bolt has created is enchanting or otherwise? The questions that we should be asking are whether the More that Bolt has created is the real More? Whether the Henry Bolt has shown us is the real Henry VIII? And above whether the film properly reflects what one historian has called the “ the astonishing continent wide scale of the business”6 – as if it does not then it must in my view be misleading. Of course some simplifications are necessary. For example in the French version of “A Man For All Seasons”, the meeting of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury is described as being that of the whole of the Church of England. This is a perfectly proper change because to tell the facts as they were would confuse a French audience. But the errors I am complaining of both of commission and more especially of omission in the film are not of this technical nature. They go to the heart of Bolt’s presentation of the facts, and in my view they deeply undermine the credibility of the film.

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I

I now regret not having somewhat extended my discussion f the film “Elizabeth The Golden Age” in my original piece because I believe it illuminates the failures of the Bolt Zinneman production on which Bovis and others are so keen.

“Elizabeth, the Golden Age”, deals with events- the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the defeat of the Spanish Armada – which as on the leading historians of the period has written, took place “within a broader European context.”7 In this respect “Elizabeth the Golden Age” is similar to “A Man for All Seasons”, which deals with events which took place on- as we have seen- an “astonishing continent wide scale” but unlike the Bolt Zinneman production “Elizabeth the Golden Age” opens up a true window into the realities of the period of history it seeks to describe.

Shot of the Armada from "Elizabeth, The Golden Age"

In making this comparison I’m not suggestion of course that “Elizabeth the Golden Age” is a perfect film. It too contains silly mistakes. There is, for example, the richly absurd moment in which it attributes words in fact spoken by Marshall Petain to Elizabeth.

Marshall Petain

Nor is its account of the Babington plot accurate, but except for the quotation from Petain, its inaccuracies and its exaggerations serve to reveal rather than hide historical realities. More importantly taken as a whole “Elizabeth the Golden Age” exemplifies how well suited the medium of film is to describing events remote from main action but which are at the same crucial to the story. It does this by cutting brilliantly from Spain, to Elizabeth’s court, to Fotheringhay Castle ( where Elizabeth’s rival Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned8), and to Spain in a way which reflects the history and advances the narrative.

Phillip II of Spain

And if “Elizabeth the Golden Age” can make Philip of Spain’s imperial ambitions clear I can see no reason why “A Man For All Seasons” should not be equally forthcoming about the activities of the Emperor Charles in Italy. In fact “A Man For All Seasons” hardly leaves London except to show us Wolsey’s death. But if the Bolt Zimmerman production could have leave London for Leicester- which is not crucial for the films action- then I can see no reason why it should not leave London for Rome where military and diplomatic action was taking place which was crucial to understanding the events with which the film deals.

It is the absolute centrality of this activity in Italy to the story which explains why I think that that Bovis is wrong to refer to such matters with the dismissive word phrase “whatever Bolt has done with history.” It may be possible to say: “Half a loaf is better than no bread” – but half a story- and especially this story- is no story- or rather it is propaganda.

Paul Schofield as Thomas More

But while I apparently disagree with Bovis about the importance of facts in a film ostensibly dealing with historical events I think he is quite right in saying that the great virtue of this film is the stress that it places on the rule of law. This struck me when I saw the play in the sixties. And it still impresses me. There are some great lines on this theme in the film. And I am glad that Bovis has quoted them. But here again the film is partial in its understanding. The rule of law is not just about laws that apply to everybody, but about having impartial tribunals to apply these laws when- as often happens- there are disputes about them.

In the film More is an eloquent spokesman for the law, and for importance of the state obeying its own rules for the interpretation of evidence and so forth. So far so good. But what the play does not even hint at so far as I can see is that Henry was being asked to submit his case- which involved the stability of the realm and his own happiness- to a court which was flagrantly biased against him for political reasons.

Pope Clement VII

The crucial point here is that the Pope Clement did not have freedom of action. In this instance one of the parties in the dispute namely Catherine enjoyed an overwhelming advantage because her nephew the emperor Charles V had the pope and his cardinals under his thumb. Froude puts it clearly:
“To ask a pope such a time to give mortal offence to the Spanish nation by agreeing to the divorce of Catherine of Aragon was to ask him to sign his death- warrant ”9
And this seems to have been no exaggeration. Sir John Russel an English diplomat travelling through Italy reported that the Imperial troops:-

The sack of Rome

“had committed horrible atrocities. They had burnt houses…with all the churches, images, and priests that fell into their hands. They had compelled the priests and monks to violate the nuns. Even when they were received without opposition they had burnt the place; they had not spared the boys, and they carried off the girls; and wherever they found the Sacrament of the church they had thrown it into a river or into the vilest place they could find.”10

And what does Bovis- this great lover of all things Italian say about this?-

“Miller accuses More of hypocrisy when he is shocked by Wolsey’s suggestion of putting pressure on the church in order to get the annulment.11 He points out that all the characters had their lobbyists in Rome trying to spin the Vatican. Fine, but there is a difference between diplomacy and extorting with menaces !” [emphasis and punctuation supplied]

Henry VIII

Well, well, I never did hear…If raping nuns and buggering choir boys is part of even the most “robust diplomacy” ( to quote another Bovis’ choice offerings on the subject) then we must be thankful that Bovis is not employed by The Department of Foreign Affairs! Seriously any threats which Wolsey made to church property in England were mild compared with those implied by the Emperor’s storm troopers in Italy. The truth is that Henry couldn’t project power into central Italy but Charles could. And guess who got what he wanted? In the absence of a suitably positioned aircraft carrier there wasn’t a lot Henry could do12. And yet for Bolt and Bovis it was only Wolsey and Henry who seem to have lifted so much as a finger to influence the Pope!13

But enough!
Just one final thought:-
Bovis gets all weak kneed about More’s final statement on the scaffold:-

“I do none harm, I say none harm14, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live.”
This may make good theatre both then and now; but it must have sounded a bit hollow to the relations of those who in another of Bovis’ lapidary phrases More had “brought to the public hangman.”

In truth though, this a fine film with lots of good things in it. But it is provides too partial an account of the events with which it deals to be included in any list of great movies.

An Irish Reading List

An Irish reading List

Michael Dwyer

As a small peripheral persistently poor country Ireland attracted more interest from anthropologists than economists. The principal question that engaged historians with an economic bent was not about the development of the Irish economy but rather its lack of development. The mystery, if one existed, was why Ireland so poor.

Then one day in the early nineties the boom began. It boomed and boomed until as is the nature of things it bust. Which brings us to today. Prof Patrick Corish enjoyed insisting that anything that happened after 1603 was not history but journalism. We are too close to the former tiger to have the necessary perspective for a proper judgement on its origins and indeed its reality. If nothing else the time needed for a thorough analysis of data yet to be fully gathered precludes a comprehensive study yet being published. Still more so are we stymied by proximity, political prejudice and personal pain when it comes to our late calamity. However as Aristotle observed all men desire knowledge and all economists desire to sell books and appear on TV so we have no lack of quickly assembled opinion and argument on the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger.

This list is mine.

It reflects my reading and my opinion only. I approached it from the perspective of someone asked by a bright foreign friend to compile a reading list which would give a decent overview of Irish history, with a nod in the direction of economics. In this regard I sought to recognise both scholarship and narrative ability.

O Grada is probably the Doyen of Irish economic historians and his statistical work on the famine has changed our understanding of 19th century Ireland but nobody has produced a narrative history of the famine to equal Woodham Smith. In my opinion. Ireland since the famine and The Making Of Modern Ireland are safe choices of great scholarship elegantly expressed. While the background music to Irish academia has tended to be some form of either Keynesian or Marxian theory this is becoming less true. Tom Garvin may not have convinced everyone it is clear and encouraging to see the influence of Mancur Olson and public choice theory in his ground breaking book Preventing the Future. Diarmaid Ferriter covers much of the same ground from a different angle and with different questions in mind.

Joe Lee couldn’t have known that when he published Politics and Society in 1989 that Irish society and politics were about to change so dramatically but it was the book that everyone had to read and it bears up twenty years and so many events later.

There is no book on the war of independence, the troubles or the peace process but I did include an introduction to early medieval Ireland. The list is limited and I wanted something that would speak to the unusual, the atypical nature of the Gaelic social construct which played its role in making us the odd crowd we are today. It was our oddity that attracted the interests of Canadian R K Carty and his book is a very neat exposition of the inability of any political theory to describe our politics.

The last choice was Kevin Whelan’s pre and post history of the 1798 rising. Not only is it a fine work of scholarship but it goes a long way to explaining why the identity politics of 1790s Ireland should go on to dominate the politics of the this Island for next two centuries. It is the aftermath of 98 and the later manipulation of the narrative of the events of the rising which built the walls, orange and green, that we are only beginning to dismantle today.

Daddy if I knew you weren’t coming home …

‘Daddy if I knew you weren’t coming home…’

Paddy Manning

The two o clock sky was a bowl of blazed out blue when the first small hints of the horror trickled through on the car radio. By the time we were back with with the load of straw the images were splotched on the TV.

New York, iconic Queen of Cities, was bleeding & we watched with a half detached horror that TV endengers, sympathetic but not involved. Watched the smoke, the falling bodies, the collapse, over & over the plane like some delicate, lost insect fly into the glassy apse of the tower to trigger the horror, watched and went on with our day.

James Michael Gray was to involve us.

James Michael Gray was one of the 343 heroes from the NY Fire Department who died that day. He was also the son of a man who emigrated from Ireland, his grandfather, Paddy Gray, worked beside my uncle as a mechanic. My mother met Paddy the next day. He asked her to pray for Michael, that he was missing.

He would stay missing.

The photographs show a handsome, serious looking young man. He had a wife & two daughters that he loved but that day he was a member of the NYFD . Michael & the men of Ladder 20, Capt. John R. Fischer, 46,John Patrick Burnside, 36

Sean S. Hanley, 35
David Laforge, 50
Robert Thomas Linnane, 33
Robert D. McMahon, 35 all died when Tower 1 (North Tower) collapsed at 10.27am.

More than a month later on October 27th, with no hope of finding Michael’s body, the family held a commeration service. Michael’s 8 year old daughter,Coleen, spoke. Her heartbreaking declaration ‘Daddy if I knew you weren’t coming home I’d let you tickle me a little harder.” has become one of the phrases that defined 9/11.

They were all sons & daughters & grandchildren, all of them who died.They were parents too. Seven thousand children including Colleen lost a parent that day.

Some died because the communications system was a mess. Emergency telephone operators -911- were swamped with calls & had no idea what was happening in the buildings1. Firemen could not communicate on their radios2 so most of those inside Tower 1 were never aware Tower 2 had collapsed or that an immediate evacuation order had been given3.Some the men of Ladder 20 were last seen on the 35 floor, unable to reach their companions by radio to tell them to evacuate. 4

All who died did so because of the actions of very evil men

Men who hated life, who hated others, the hijacker’s & planners of 9/11 saw other people merely as ciphers in thier grand plan to provoke a global war. There are no political excuses, no reasons, no causes for what they did except their own dark hearts. Unfortunately it is all to easy to find verses in the Quran to justify such attacks: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush”(Surah 9, ayah 5) just as it is perfectly possible to find verses that counsel against such action:”Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you; but do not commit aggression, for, verily, God does not love aggressors” (Surah 2:ayah 190). Man brings to religion his own darkness.

The United States found itself in an invidious position after Sepember 11. The public wanted a range of otions from justice to blood. The Taliban Leadership, already virtually pariah, had no intention of extraditing Osama Bin laden, the Saudi Waahabist mastermind of the horror. Like Austria in 1914 when faced with the obdurate refusal of Serbia to arrest the asassins of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand, the US had little option but invade Afghanistan. For that lack of options the US has paid a terrible price in blood & treasure. So to have the people of Afghanistan paid a terrible price. Why then, in the midst of the quagmire that is an Afghani Campaign, they leaders of the US chose to go to war with & invade Iraq is a question worthy of more serious investigation than I could muster.

Three quarters of those 343 who died from the NYFD were either Irish or of direct Irish descent. Largely those men can be said to have ended up on the ends of ladders & fire hoses in Manhattan that day because of Irish History, the impoverishment of the country by conquest. It is scaldingly ironic then that their faces, their Fire Company t-shirts are worn now as part of the battle dress of conquering army in two countries. Ladder 20, James Grays ladder, is very popular. If Irish history teaches us anything it is that conquerors, however well meaning in the end, are still invaders to be resisted.

War brings out the worst in the worst of men.

We had plenty of evidence that no Quranic verses were needed to give men (and women) permission to do bad things to people in their power. The revalation, just this week, that an Iraqi hotel worker was tortured to death by British soldiers with at least the complicity of a Catholic Priest chaplain & an army doctor5 teaches us again the perils we embrace when when we go to war.

Nothing is the same after this is an abused & hackneyed phrase because all horror fades. What has not faded in the aftermath of 9/11 is the busy body state. In the name of security (and who can deny the need for security when an airplane can be a weapon?) elderly pilgrims to Lourdes must empty their holy water bottles & states employ an army of jobsworths to watch us, search us & spy on us.

In a sense 9/11 is remembered because we saw it. We saw the terror , the horror, and the heroism. In time the heroism will be questioned, like all things are questioned and we will have to remember that ordinary men did the extraordinary: they went into a terrible place armed only with their courage & faith in each other. They did not want to die but much more they did not want to leave their comrades & their duty. We can remember that faith, that heroism, that horror & still avoid both Abu Ghraib & the hysteria that needs constant threat.

Freedom Threatened

Freedom is an Odd Thing…..

Michael Dwyer

Freedom is an odd thing. Hard to define, often easier understood in its absence than its presence. Yet it is the fountainhead of creativity, happiness and lives lived in human dignity. It is also one of the most misused and abused words in the moral and political lexicon.

My old prof used to say that to make a rights claim was the most powerful statement one could make in the moral world. Consequently we must be careful about such claims; we must avoid debasing the language of rights by spreading the fabric so far that it must inevitably tear. We live in an age where the reverse is happening. Governments and similar low institutions are never happier than when creating new secondary rights of which Dworkin never dreamt. The right to a job, the right not to fear, the right to indoor toilets, the right to have babies and be called Loretta. At the same time our primary rights are nibbled away, day by month by year. The right to life, the right to property and recently most clearly freedom of religion is being undermined and eroded.

The basis for all virtues is the virtue of courage, for without courage none of the other virtues could flourish. Freedom of religion has a similar position in the family of freedoms we enjoy in liberal democracies. It is not a simple or single freedom but a compendium of important freedoms gathered in to one moral space. What it is not is a mere freedom to worship and to construe it as such is a deliberate attempt to limit the liberty of religious people. Religion is not a liturgy or a prayer meeting but a way of life. The word come from the Latin for Rule, not for Sunday service. If a state wishes to pretend that it guarantees freedom of religion then it must guarantee the right of religious people to live according to their rules. Of course as long as the way they behave does not harm others.

HARM. I said harm and I meant harm. I did not mean offend, or annoy or enrage or baffle or amuse or tick off; I meant harm, real measurable harm. A tort. This vital for a free society and in no way exclusive to the freedom of religion. A society where I am not free to offend is not free. Freedom of speech without freedom to offend is no freedom. Freedom of the press must carry with a freedom to offend or it is toothless. We must refuse to allow our governments to treat us as children who need protection from bullies in the playground. We must demand that they treat us as adults, and as adults we must patiently endure the name calling and brickbats of idiots.

Other than the continued infantilisation of society the other agenda pursued by our over lords against religious freedom is the desire to attack certain kinds of conscience defences. A pharmacist in downtown Berlin was named and shamed for his refusal to stock the morning after pill. His shop was attacked and badly damaged. Sympathy for him was in short supply as he was placing lives at risk by refusing to stock what he, a Lutheran Christian, considered an abortofacient.

Since he was the only chemist in the city of Berlin to take this action it seems unlikely that the product was not very easily obtainable in a host of other outlets and he was in no way compromising anyone’s health, even if we accept this dubious premise of a threat in the first place.

In Britain and Sweden concerns have been raised that the conscience clauses of local national and European rights agreements are leading to a shortage of qualified personnel capable of performing abortions. The numbers of staff refusing to train in abortion technique has increased steadily over the last twenty years. In the region of Lazio in Italy eighty per cent of doctors and nurses refuse on grounds of conscience to assist in abortions. The response has been to suggest limiting the scope of conscience claims so that certain predetermined procedures would remain easily available to any woman who sought them.

What is happening here is that one kind of conscience is being privileged over another. One kind of belief is being place above another. If interrogated about this the answer is that one is scientific knowledge whereas the other is merely religious belief. This is a staggeringly naive and arrogant position. It confuses a non religious morality with a scientific one. There is of course no such thing. One could read every obstetrics text book there is, deriving the ought you desire from the is of science will remain a statement of belief. Beyond that is of course the fact that many people who oppose abortion do so for reasons which they regard as grounded in science and have no religious faith. There is no justification for the current process of distinguishing one kind of conscientious objector over another simply because we like that to which they object. In fact if you don’t understand that you have utterly failed to understand the notion of conscientious objection.

Liberals have never liked the masses. For the most part of the second half of the Nineteenth century tiny liberal elites ruled over France, Italy, Germany and occasionally Britain. They feared the religiosity of the demos as much as did the revolution of Mr Marx. The Whig enjoys his own company, his own jokes, his patron’s money and most of all his personal sense of superiority. To the extent they ever agitated for freedom of religion it was because with that freedom is freedom of belief, and disbelief. Now that disbelief is de rigueur and no longer in need of religion’s protection the elites seek out those vulgar religiosities to remove. The Crib in the hospital, the Cross in the school, the Angelus on the radio are all valid targets. These are offensive to others in our now multi cultural society.

The odd thing is when asked the Chief Rabbi said he oppose the removal of these offensive things, The Mufti was of the same opinion. So, who is offended? Bearing in mind offence is in itself not a reason to do something anyway. Yet again the liberals are using minorities as a Trojan horse to smuggle through their personal agenda.

When we start to attack and unpick a freedom like freedom of religion we are set on a dangerous path indeed. These core freedoms we have evolved and defended for a few centuries now are not simple atomic freedoms. They are not attached to or based on one simple primary right. This is a moral Matryoshka Doll where right hides within right, and one freedom protects and uncovers another. Or it is a carpet of rights and obligations woven together, strands over and under, in and out. The work has taken generations to slowly assemble. Sometimes additions were tried and discarded, while others approved of were worked into the fabric.

Contemplating the American revolutionaries Dr Johnson noted thast the loudest yelps for liberty came from the drivers of slaves1. There is undoubtedly a rich and savoury irony to enjoy in the spectacle of certain uber-Catholics today crying out for understanding and demanding toleration. These self same bods were far from embracing the values of pluralism back in the 80s. It would be perfectly human to indulge the temptation to see how they might enjoy a dose of repression: human but wrong. Freedom is not something we deserve nor are rights merited. We possess our rights even if we chose to with hold them from others. They are universal and inalienable. To put it more crudely it behoves us all to remember that the best reason to defend the nasty offensive practices of others is that the day may come when we are the nasty offensive minority hoping against hope that freedom is alive and well and not just a folk memory.

A man For All Seasons Re-Visited

“A Man for All Seasons?”

Richard Miller

Peggy Noonan was writing her first speech in The White House. Her assignment was to provide the remarks that Reagan would give when he gave the teacher of the year award in the Rose Garden. But she was stuck. So she called Bill Bennett then at The National Institute for the Humanities for urgent advice. Bennett replied immediately:-

“Okay: A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More’s speech to Richard Rich. Rich is a bright young man not sure of his future More tells him, “Be a teacher.” Rich says, “And if I am a great teacher, who will know it?” More says, “You, your students, God. Not a bad audience, that”…Beautiful speech and true, Look it up, gotta go, bye”1

The underlying story (here) is well known- of how Thomas More the son of a London lawyer became one of Europe’s greatest humanists, wrote the original Utopia, became Lord Chancellor of England in succession to the cynical Cardinal Wolsey but finally gave his life for the principle ( so it is said) that no single nation could break the unity of Christendom. No wonder then that that even some one such as A J Froude ( a full on Victorian public intellectual) should have written of him, that he was “one of the most interesting men that England ever produced”2 A generation later the liberal British statesman H.A. L. Fisher wrote that More was a “soldier of light” 3 who was “one of the two greatest figures in [the] last age of Catholic England”4 And today the biographies keep coming. But More is probably now best known through the medium of Robert Bolt’s play quoted by Noonan and Reagan.5

In view of the line which Bolt puts into More’s mouth about teaching it is hardly surprising to discover that Bolt was a teacher. And certainly “A Man for all Seasons” does work well- indeed perhaps a trifle too well- in the context of a school. I can still clearly remember a performance of it put at the boarding school I then attended in England in the late sixties. The central role was played by an English master who was a talented amateur actor and producer, and even then I recall by impressed by the wonderful speech in which More defends the rule of law6– which left me receptive to Hayek’s development of the same point when I read The Road to Serfdom a little later.7

Consequently the decision to write what follows was a no-brainer when the DVD of the film version turned up in my local supermarket, and when I found out that our favourite blogger Bovis had included A Man for all seasons in his list of “cool” films. And there is a lot to enjoy in the film. There are places of “laugh out loud” humour. And there are even perhaps occasional flickers of dramatic greatness here. But Bolt seems nervous of penetrating too deeply into the underlying psychology of the matter in hand. The production itself never escapes from the origins of the script in a stage production. There is a claustrophobia here which the fine photography of the opening credits is insufficient to alleviate.

This is always the film of a play- not a film. Despite moments when he seems over rehearsed Sir Paul Scofield as More is powerful. And he is well supported especially by Orson Welles as Wolsey playing one of his signature geriatric roles. 8And there are several other solid performances. This is certainly a film that is worth watching. But how seriously should we take it?

As a dramatist Bolt cannot be criticised for taking dramatic licence with the facts. This is the stuff of drama. But while the historical dramatist can change; he may not distort without becoming a propagandist. And there is at least one outright inaccuracy here which reflects the general bias of the film. At the end of the film an apparently authoritative “voice over” intones a litany of what became of the characters. And in this we are told that Henry’s death many years later was caused by syphilis. Well this is just not the way it was. According to Maria Perry:

“Contrary to popular belief, Henry did not have syphilis. Tudor historians have shown again and again that his doctor’s prescriptions included none of the contemporary remedies for that disease.”9

This error, which would surely have been easy enough to correct, is part of the film’s tendency to make Henry’s behaviour seem even worse than it undoubtedly was. This central distortion in A man for all seasons,

becomes clear early the film in a discussion between More and Wolsey in which the former criticises the latter for daring to put pressure on the Vatican. The reality in the dispute over the divorce (which Henry so desperately wanted) was that both sides did everything possible to influence the pope. The Vatican K Street was packed. Catherine even employed her own lobbyist in Rome10– as did Henry11. For Bolt to insinuate that only one side was involved is really outrageous and twists his narrative of the whole complicated affair.

The clash between Henry and More with which A Man for All Seasons deals was rooted in both the political history of England, and in the diplomatic realities of the time. The central issue with which Tudor statesmen (and women) were faced was that of political stability. Henry’s father had won his throne at the battle of Bosworth and his reign had been greatly disturbed by two unconvincing impostors12 had threatened his throne. It is true that the younger Henry was no saint. He was not reigning as St. Francis of Assisi13. But his need for a son and heir was no self indulgent quest for a designer baby. It was something he saw as an absolute necessity. This is, of course, mentioned in the film. But in a film- even more than in a play- verbal references by themselves are not enough. We hear of Henry’s difficulties. But because we are never shown them we never feel them14.

It is true though that in terms of Canon Law the case which Henry took to Rome against his marriage to Catherine was not good15. But it was no worse than others which had been accepted in the past16, and it needs to be remembered that he had made a (formal) protest against his first marriage to Catherine which he now wanted to have dissolved17. Henry’s point then was not an unreasonable one, and he quite naturally felt that he had the right to a fair hearing. And this he was denied because of the way in which events in England began to interact with those in Italy.

There can have been no greater exponents of the dynastic marriage that Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Not only did they marry fifth child their Catherine (b. 1485) to first Arthur and then Henry, but they also married their third child Juana ( b. 1479) to Philip of Austria18 whose son Charles became the Holy Roman Emperor, and lord of vast dominions across Europe, and in the Americas. During the course of his reign he became involved in lengthy wars against the French in Italy.

Just at the time when Henry and Wolsey were making their appeal to Rome Charles’ armies broke into Italy, and when they reached Rome forty thousand of his Imperial storm troopers went out of control, spent a week sacking the city, and massacred the Swiss Guard on the steps of St. Peter. The Pope- Clement- escaped through a tunnel, but from then on had only limited freedom of action.

From henceforth as Dr. William Robertson put it in the rotund prose of the eighteenth century:

“Charles, who espoused the protection of his aunt [Catherine] with zeal inflamed by resentment, alarmed the pope, on the one
hand, with threats which made a deep impression on his timid mind, and allured him, on the other, with those promises in favour of his family [-the Medicis] which he afterwards accomplished.”19

The whole affair then- of which More’s story is but a fragment- was seeped in power politics, in diplomacy, and in the fear of political chaos. The point here is not that Henry was right and More wrong. But that Bolt does not give us the whole picture. His narrow focus hides more than it reveals. For all its great strengths the stage- and here of course a film derived from a stage play- limits the focus not just to the “now” but also to the “here.” In this instance the “here” of the More/ Henry relationship is only a small part of the events in question, and consequently Bolt’s almost exclusive focus on it creates the impression that the dispute was between master and servant, between the powerful and the powerless, and between good and evil.

But the broader context reveals a profoundly different picture. Ultimately it was Henry who was trapped. Trapped by Anne Boleyn- and his own ill judged enthusiasm for her, trapped by his arranged marriage, trapped by the absence of a legitimate son, trapped by Catherine’s intransigence, and above all trapped by Charles’ power and Clements’ timidity. It would be silly to depict Henry as an underdog. He had the whip hand over Catherine, and he treated her disgracefully. But he was a dog in a fight. It was More’s tragedy that he too was trapped, trapped by Henry yes, but also trapped by the same diplomatic realities which so frustrated Henry. Had Clement been able to move he could have saved More. Those who watched More die on that summer morning must have wondered whether his extraordinary sacrifice was for his faith or for the first Reich?

To my mind all this raises deep doubts about Bolt’s narrative, and these are compounded by the way in which his narrow focus eclipses two further parts of More’s character which have to be taken seriously if we are to reach a sound judgement about him, and about the credibility of the picture painted by Bolt.

Bolt hardly mentions More’s classic work Utopia, this is surely unfortunate. Short of some sensational discovery we will never know exactly what More meant when he wrote it. The commentators are divided. Some like Peter Ackroyd ( and implicitly I suppose Bolt) see it as an essentially ironical exercise- meant rather to expose legitimate grievances and not to provide a model for some future society20. Others read the book more literally. Paul Turner writes that “with certain qualifications, the book means what it says and that it does [emphasis as in original] attempt to solve the problems of human society.”21

If Turner is right ( and I think he makes a good case for his position22) and Utopia was a serious “attempt to solve the problems of human society” then it was a very poor effort. If More’s vision was a blue print it was ugly. To take a couple of examples taken at random. Here is More on shopping:

“When the head of a household needs anything…he just goes to one of these shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment…And after all, why shouldn’t he? There’s enough more than enough of everything to go round. So there is no risk of his asking for more than he needs.”23

This is the economics of Bedlam. More was an advocate of what Von Mises called “planned chaos.” Notice the way in which the price system has been abolished. What More fails to understand about prices is that they prioritise preferences, and without them there can be no rational allocation of capital. Moreover in the absence of prices More’s distribution points would have been overwhelmed with demand. Either severe rationing would have had to have been introduced; or the productive capacity of the system would have become exhausted. There would not have been “enough of everything to go round” for long.

And let no one think that the economic nonsense articulated in Utopia is unimportant. This is a book that has been translated from the original Latin into every imaginable language. It has launched a whole genre of literature which has helped fuel every socialist delusion in our time. Probably no book except for The Communist Manifesto has done as much to promote economic ignorance. This then must be a matter of concern to the free market community.

And it must raise questions about a play like Bolt’s which fans More’s reputation in an uncritical way. And this concern is compounded when as in this case Utopia contains a treatment of colonisation could easily have been written by an administrator in Nazi occupied Poland24.

And alas even this is not all. Bolt’s play depicts More as kindly, decent, and essentially liberal man dedicated to education and committed to the rule of law. But this is not the whole picture. Despite the claims of the Protestant hagiographer John Fox More did not personally torture protestants in his basement in Chelsea. There was in fact no D.I.Y Lubyanka. Nevertheless “More was closely involved in the detection of heresy.”25 This involvement included writing violent anti protestant polemics26, personally searching houses for banned Lutheran literature, and undertaking interrogations. According to Ackroyd More “truly believed” Lutherans “agents of the demons who must, if necessary, be destroyed by burning.”27 Are these really the views of a “soldier of light?” Are these really the actions of “a man for all seasons?” Are they not in truth the behaviour of someone caught up in some of the darkest delusions28 of his own time? Are they unimportant? And yet anyone who relied for his information about More on Bolt’s play would have no inkling that such beliefs and such activities were central to his character.

As I can testify the play A man for all seasons makes for a good evenings entertainment. It contains some fine moments- More’s speech about the rule of law, the passage about education, and the trail scene. Moreover the intimacy of the theatre neutralises the lack of broader context which I have criticised above. On the stage we know that what we see is not the whole picture. But in the film version, the fact that we could have been made aware of the context29 and were not, means that the More that emerges is a bland construct which owes little to the complexities of history.

Here then is the core of this film’s failure. The combination of the subject matter and the medium demanded some dramatic demonstration of Henry’s dilemma. And yet the film makes no serious attempt to do this. And further it fails to explore the complexities, the richness, and let us be frank here, the obsessive and intolerant parts of More’s character. Instead it offers a culturally cleansed central character which pleases but which fails to inform its audience. In truth then the clash between More and Henry needs to be told by a dramatist with a broader knowledge, a more penetrating imagination, and perhaps even a greater facility with the English language than Bolt possessed. I think then that Bovis is wrong to rate A Man for All Seasons so highly. This is a very watchable film with some fine moments, but like its hero it is not “for All Seasons.”