Prime Minister Abbott’s 2015 Magna Carta lecture, Parliament House, Canberra

Often, it is in retrospect that particular events assume their greatest importance.

When the English barons gathered at Runnymede to parley with King John, they weren’t thinking of history; they were thinking of themselves.

They weren’t conscious of universal rights; they were conscious of their own grievances.

For the most part, the Magna Carta reads like a log of claims against the king.

Merely to make such claims, though, reveals a clear understanding that the king can’t do what he likes, and that a subject has rights even against a sovereign.

Even in the 13th century, this was not a novel concept.

Even then, the king’s coronation oath typically included a promise to govern according to law.

It wasn’t long, though, before the Magna Carta came to be seen as a constitutional watershed binding all future kings. Continue reading

Magna Carta and Waterloo dinner

The dinner at the Savage Club to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta on the 15th of June 1215 and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815 was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. There was a full program of toasts, readings, and discussions which resulted in the evening passing too quickly.

Edmund Burke’s Club president, Gerard Wilson, welcomed the guests in the lounge. He explained that the connection between the Battle of Waterloo and Edmund Burke was Burke’s stunning prophecy in 1790 that a military leader in France would take control of the army and become master of revolutionary France. Napoleon mounted a successful coup in 1799.  He read the passage from Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France where Burke was discussing the rising indiscipline among the army ranks.

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.

That master was of course Napoleon. Gerard Wilson spoke briefly about Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, leader of the forces that faced and overcame Napoleon in that critical battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo. He highlighted Wellington’s prime ministership in 1828-30 and in 1834 and his lasting fame as a military commander. Significant is that Prime Minister Wellington oversaw the passage of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 which was to have an influence on Governor Richard Bourke’s administration in the Australian colony. Indeed, the Catholic leadership in the colony regarded the passing of the Church Act in 1836 as the ‘Magna Carta of their religious liberty’.

Gerard Wilson remarked that most boys in the 1950s counted the Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson (Battle of Trafalgar) among their heroes, making no distinction between them and their Australian-bred heroes. This, he said, was a demonstration of the unbroken lines of cultural continuity at that time. He then proposed a toast to the Duke of Wellington and his victory over Napoleon, pointing out that the Waterloo battle resulted not only in a military victory. More importantly, it was a victory for Britain’s social and political system of which the British Commonwealth would be the beneficiary.

The attendees then removed to the private dining room upstairs for dinner which included ‘Beef Wellington’ as the main course. The first reading took place after the entrée. Passages were read from Burke’s account of the events leading up to the sealing of Magna Carta followed by a toast to Simon Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the real behind-the-scenes organizer of the document. The second reading during dessert was from the Reflections on the place of Magna Carta in the British Constitution. To end the formalities, Fr Glen Tattersall declaimed Lord Byron’s poem the ‘Eve of Waterloo’ (below). Attendees returned to the lounge for after-dinner drinks which put a seal on the pleasantest of evenings.

Special thanks are due to Fr Glen Tattersall for making the Savage Club available to Edmund Burke’s Club for their meetings and occasions such as the Magna Carta/Waterloo dinner. It is Fr Tattersall’s membership of the Savage Club that allows EBC to enjoy such unique surroundings.

THE EVE OF WATERLOO
by: Lord Byron (1788-1824)

HERE was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
But hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;
Arm! arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!

Within a windowed niche of that high hall
Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear
That sound the first amidst the festival,
And caught its tone with death’s prophetic ear;
And when they smiled because he deemed it near,
His heart more truly knew that peal too well
Which stretched his father on a bloody bier,
And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell;
He rushed into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,
And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,
Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness.
And there were sudden partings, such as press
The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
Which ne’er might be repeated; who would guess
If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

And there was mounting in hot haste; the steed,
The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;
And the deep thunder, peal on peal afar;
And near, the beat of the alarming drum
Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;
While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,
Or whispering, with white lips — “The foe! they come! they come!”

Text of the two readings will follow in separate blogs. Photos of the evening are in the Gallery.

Ten principles of freedom

by Professor David Flint AM

National Observer Australia’s independent current affairs online journal No. 83 (June – August 2010).

To be free, and to enjoy that freedom, man must live in an ordered society. We cannot live in a state of anarchy or a state of nature where, as Hobbes famously put it, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.[1]

An ordered liberal society allows mankind to lead a full life. This was recognised eloquently by the Founding Fathers of the United States when, believing that their rights as Englishmen were being denied, they declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[2] Continue reading

Magna Carta

The British Library has a website devoted to Magna Carta, explaining the document’s history, legacy and crucial influence on the formation and development of modern democracies – HERE. Below is their introduction to the document, emphasizing the principle of the rule of law to safeguard the liberty of the individual in community with others.

MAGNA CARTA: AN INTRODUCTION 

by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison

What is Magna Carta?

Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (r.1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

Continue reading

R.G. Menzies — a very ‘clubbable’ prime minister

It is perhaps not well known that Robert G. Menzies immensely enjoyed the social life of the clubs he was a member of. He had membership in three during his career: the West Brighton, the Savage, and the K.K. They provided a clean relaxing break from his busy life first in the law and then in politics. Sir John Bunting, Menzies’ Cabinet Secretary and Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, devoted several pages to Menzies’ ‘clubbability’ in his book R.G. Menzies: A Portrait. Those pages are reproduced below.

Edmund Burke’s Club is organizing a dinner to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (15th June 1215) and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (18th June 1815) at Melbourne’s Savage Club for the 16th of June 2015. As with the very enjoyable dinner on the eve of our Edmund Burke conference, the dinner will take its lead from R.G. Menzies.

MENZIES was a considerable club man. But that straight away needs an explanation, because the clubs he most used were not of the usually understood variety. There are various dictionary definitions of clubs. For what are now understood as the traditional clubs, the Concise Oxford formula seems to go closest: ‘body of persons combined for social purposes, and having premises for resort, meals, temporary residence etc.’ Clubs of this sort, modelled on British precedent, have always existed in Australia. They are social clubs obviously, but they are also clubs that people join for business and professional reasons. These were not really for Menzies. He visited them often enough, and the equivalent clubs elsewhere, and, as a guest, was perfectly at home and happy. But although he was in them, he was not of them, nor of their style. His main choices, in his home city of Melbourne, fell on three quite other clubs: the Savage, the West Brighton and the K.K. These were clubs for the inner Menzies. (I omit, which would be at my peril if he were to know, the Melbourne Scots, but it does not, I think, come into this narrative.) Continue reading

Report on Edmund Burke conference and May meeting

The meeting of 1 May reviewed the Edmund Burke Conference that took place on 28 February 2015. Members were of the opinion that the conference was well organized. and that on the day all went according to plan. The attendees found the presentations interesting and instructive, as befitted an organization devoted to the study of Edmund Burke’s thought.  The numbers were moderate, but it was noted that our means of attracting interested participants were limited. All agreed that members should work at the promotion of such an occasion well beforehand. There was also the consideration that Edmund Burke’s Club is a little more than two-years-old. The pleasing development was that the limited promotion attracted a number of members from states outside Victoria.

The pre-conference dinner at the Savage Club which included a reception and a number of readings and interventions was considered a resounding success. The Club is looking at the possibility of organizing another dinner along the same lines for later in the year.

After the review of the conference, Gerard Wilson gave a presentation on Burke’s ideas on religion and state and society. When the meeting finished, attendees repaired to the nearby RACV Club bistro for supper. It was a very enjoyable evening. Photos of the meeting and the conference will be posted shortly.

Gerard Wilson’s presentation here: Burke on religion meeting 1 May 2015

CONSTITUTING THE CONSTITUTION:

UNDERSTANDING THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION THROUGH THE BRITISH CULTURAL CONSTITUTION
by GARRETT WARD SHELDON

Garrett Headshot 8x11

Professor Sheldon provides an explanation of the differences between the concepts of a written, a codified and an unwritten constitution. An understanding of these differences is essential for students of constitutionalism. The essay is aimed at American students but is nevertheless of interest to those who have forgotten or never knew the background of their constitutional monarchy

Reference is often made to the legal, philosophical, and historical progenitors of the American Constitution in ideas derived from Great Britain, such as the writings of John Locke or William Blackstone, and familiar documents like the Magna Carta or The Petition of Right of 1628. Perhaps an even more significant constitutional heritage may be found in our inheritance of the British appreciation for the customary or cultural foundations of fundamental law. This appreciation for what is often termed the “organic” constitution, beholden philosophically to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Burke, emphasizes how a society or nation is “constituted,” and the implications of that social constitution for the written or codified document. In this respect, the example of British constitutionalism may be helpful in understanding the proper approach to American constitutional interpretation. Read on here

Conference on Edmund Burke

A DIFFERENT WAY OF POLITICAL REASONING
Conference on Edmund Burke, Melbourne, 28th February 2015

Edmund Burke’s Club (Aust) Inc is organizing a conference on the life and thought of Edmund Burke for Saturday 28th February 2015. The theme of the conference will be Edmund Burke’s concept of political reason. The sessions will cover Burke’s political career from the time he left Dublin to enter the political world in London through to his last days when he maintained his rage against revolutionary France and rightly warned that their slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité would end in subjecting France to a rigid military dictatorship. And so it happened.

The mode of Burke’s reasoning will be followed through the major issues he dealt with: the fight for Irish relief; the misuse and abuse of power, especially by the British throne; the conflict with the American colonies; the impeachment of Warren Hastings and the abuse of British rule in India; and the attack on the natural rights theory of Revolutionary France. The influence of some of the philosophers of the British Enlightenment on Burke’s thinking will also be considered.

The conference will be of keen interest to those who want to deepen their understanding of the man who is claimed to be the father of modern conservative thought. The keynote speaker will be Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon, The John Morton Beaty Professor of Political and Social Sciences, University of Virginia College at Wise. More details about the conference will be announced in the coming weeks. Any enquiries can be addressed to Gerard Wilson on 0419 002 163 or edmundburkesclub@bigpond.com

See update on conference HERE