Thursday, December 11, 2008

Consider a Liberal nation, of a quick and piercing spirit 

Considering that the ‘Wand of Office’ of our party President is a copy of Milton’s Areopagitica, it is slightly sad that we have not as a party made something more of the 400th anniversary of Milton’s birth.
This neglect alas is general across the country. Milton even got left out (as far as I could see) from the “Devil’s Whore” TV quasi-history drama even though the Areopagitica was specifically written to support John Lillburn, a central character in history as in the drama..

Lots of good stuff in all that classical and biblical argument, and burningly relevant today:

Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull,but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent,subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to......

The adversary again applauds, and waits the hour, when they have branched themselves out, saith he, small enough into parties and partitions, than will be our time. Fool! he sees not the firm root, out of which we all grow, though into branches: nor will beware until he sees our small divided maniples cutting through at every angle of his ill united and unwieldy brigade.

And our War On Terror besieged minds should reflect that things were no less frighteningly urgent in his day. But he was no Daily Mail leader writer:

First when a city shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round, defiance and battle oft rumoured to be marching up even to her walls, and suburb trenches, that then the people, or the greater part, more than at other times, wholly taken up with the study of highest and most important matters to be reformed, should be disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of…

It is good to see this tradition of Liberty upheld today by Lord Lester in his damning indictment of Labour’s civil liberties record. Here, in our Liberal tradition, is one of the firm roots out of which we all grow. Milton would surely have applauded:

I can not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

Lets not be mute and inglorious today when we need to make the spirit of Milton live amongst our own dust and heat.

Areopagitica: Full text part 1 and part 2 here, annotated

Footnote: Bridget Fox points out that Milton wrote paradise Lost in Chalfont St Giles, which happens to be the birthplace of a certain Mr Clegg …

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Good post, but I think Areopagitica was the ‘Wand of Office’ of the old Liberal Party President; in the Liberal Democrats, for the last 21 years, surely it's been Mill's and Taylor's On Liberty?

The LDYS Chairs had a copy passed on of Conrad Russell's An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism, which I assume will carry on in Liberal Youth, but I may be getting just as out of date...!
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