Sunday, February 25, 2007

St Thomas More: Patron Saint of "The Age"???


Imagine my surprise (or you might not need to if you read the editorial in today's Sunday Age) when I found a picture of St Thomas More staring at me from the top of the Opinion pages in today's Age. What odd company he's keeping, I thought. After reading the editorial, I found myself not a little incensed that this newspaper would have the audacity to claim St Thomas' patronage for their "Bring Hicks Home" campaign. Not that I think St Thomas' principles are irrelevant to the case, but they are certainly misused by the Sunday Age for its own purposes.

The relevant passage is this:

"This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast," playwright Robert Bolt has Sir Thomas say in A Man For All Seasons, "and if you cut them down … do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

For more than five years the Australian Government has been flaunting its willingness to sacrifice the law in the case of David Hicks. While the British and US governments refused to allow their citizens' rights to be trampled at Guantanamo Bay and by the US military commission set up to try inmates, the Australian Government has had no such scruples. The Government not only presumed Hicks was guilty, it showed an enthusiastic disregard for his human rights, too.
But if any government is willing to fell a forest of Australian law to ensure the conviction of Hicks, then we are all in serious trouble.


In this editorial, the Sunday Age confuses "THE LAW" in the sense of the Natural Law, the unchanging law, written on the hearts of every human being, which St Thomas defended and died for, and the juridical positivism that passes for law in our modern democracies, which allows laws to be created to serve the convenience of governments and interest groups regardless of whether they are inheritantly true and just. Had More really been a stickler for the "law" in this latter sense, he would have gone along with Henry VII's new "law" of ecclesiastical supremacy without a qualm.

In fact, a very good case can be made for linking St Thomas More's true understanding of law to the David Hick's case, but it is not exactly the same as the use that the editors of The Age make of it. Moreover, if they were really sincere about championing More's principles, they would find themselves having to reverse many of their own publically declared positions, especially in regard to same sex marriage, euthanasia, and embryonic research.

If you want to get a handle on what all this natural law stuff is about, then have a look at this recent address by the Pope to a conference held in Rome.

1 Comments:

At Monday, February 26, 2007 1:54:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Actually, the Age is spot on with its More quotation.

The exchange is taken from A Man for All Seasons, the play by Robert Bolt. More is definitely talking about positive, human law, and not natural or divinely ordained law, as the full exchange in the play makes clear.
ROPER Arrest him.
ALICE Yes!
MORE For what?
ALICE He's dangerous!
ROPER For libel; he's a spy.
ALICE He is! Arrest him!
MARGARET Father, that man's bad.
MORE There is no law against that.
ROPER There is! God's law!
MORE Then God can arrest him.
ROPER Sophistication upon sophistication!
MORE No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.
ROPER Then you set man's law above God's!
MORE No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God . . .
(He says this last to himself)
ALICE (Exasperated, pointing after RICH) While you talk, he's gone!
MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
ROPER So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's-and if you cut them down-and you're just the man to do it-d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake

More is not saying that every individual state-made law is right, and must be observed, as his own later career makes plain. But his is saying that law – fallible, human law – is essential as a protection against tyranny. He is, in short, advocating the rule of law, which is the foundation for all successful modern democracies - the notion that the ruler, as well as the ruled, must be required to act in accorance with (human) law. And the principle is absolutely in point when discussing Hick’s case.

 

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