Sunday, January 10, 2010

Arbitrary power . . . .

The British historian G.M. Trevelyan, historian and nephew of the great Thomas Macaulay, wrote a great deal concerning the tyrannical, sometimes bizarre, state of the English justice system. Like many in the Whig tradition Trevelyan was an early opponent of the death penalty and was eager to demonstrate its history. 

"The haphazard list of two hundred crimes punishable by death," Trevelyan writes concerning the late 18th century, "had  not even consistent severity to recommend it. It was death to steal from a boat on a navigable river, but not a canal. To cut down trees in a garden was a capital offence, and also to slit a person's nose; but not so the most aggravated murderous assault which the victim managed to survive with nose intact." 

Trevelyan is reminding us that there was a time when, even in so-called civilized nations, the state possessed  absolute power and the ability to exercise it in  a completely arbitrary manner. In this regard the past should be a lesson to us. The would-be Tyrants that have populated the past decade in many Western Countries, like Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Blair, and our own Harper, would love to have this arbitrary power back and they make every effort to do so. Let's remember to stand against them. 

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