Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The black hole of British law

Why did the western Roman empire collapse? This has always proved a great mystery to Latinists and other exponents of the imperial principle.

"Surely," they argue, "men in Europe could see the glory of the empire, so why did they abandon it to the ravening hordes from the North? Why in their turn did these ravening hordes not delight to prostrate themselves under the wonderful laws of the Eternal City?"

Well, all of this pro-imperial fondness is easy to profess in hindsight, especially as we have no idea what life was like for the ordinary "Johnnius Britannicus" on the Claphamus Omnibus. However, this fondness for Rome misses the essential point that given the alternative, most people in western Europe were much happier with the western Roman empire destroyed, otherwise it would have continued, as it did in the Eastern Mediterranean at Byzantium. Alas, all of our histories of this period are written by those who suffered most from the end of the western empire (i.e. the clergy of the Roman Catholic church), so we have nothing but this skewed view from history, which may remain impossible to unpick.

But what was it really like for Johnnius Britannicus, at home on his farm at the edge of Londinium?

Well, in the late period of the Roman Empire the emperors had introduced serfdom, the money was worthless bronze junk, there were endless wars into which your sons were unwillingly dragged, the taxes were horrendous as well as being taken "in kind" (because the money was worthless), which meant you were living at starvation levels much of the time, and the laws were virulent, copious, and unfathomable. Indeed, there were so many laws that if the local governor woke up in a bad mood on any particular morning it became virtually impossible for an ordinary man to go from sunrise to sunset without breaking some inane regulation he could be locked up for. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

What this cornucopia of Roman law produced was not the rule of the law, but the rule of man, because for everybody outside the magic circle of the ruling parasitical elite there was never any certainty in anything they did. If the rulers so chose on a whim, your life could be made an unendurable agony with your life, family, and property all held within the pinching fingers of this greedy aggressive claque of lawyerly politicians, tossed one way or another dependent on their clemency, spite, or otherwise, because of their mastery of these laws and their monopolistic control of the courts.

The end of this state of affairs, and the end of the western empire, must have been an absolute relief for everyone living under this yoke of endless law. Despite being a cod-latinist myself, and a fan of the original much simpler twelve tables of Roman law, I too would have been on the side of the barbarians to end this misery and quite prepared to burn these endless regulations to get to something much simpler such as the following natural law formulations:
  • You shall not instigate violence to directly harm or otherwise impede the lives of others
  • You shall not steal the life-giving property of others or trespass upon their property
  • You shall not break contracts freely entered into with others, upon which their lives may depend
  • You shall not be envious of the life-giving property of others
  • You shall not be envious of the life-enhancing relationships of other people
The five "laws" laid down above are probably as much law as most people need in their lives. Indeed, most of us live according to various versions of the five laws above, virtually all of the time. Obviously, anyone working for the state breaks all five of them all of the time, but it has taken 2,000 years of weasel-words and conniving graft to get back to this appalling state of affairs.

So how has this been done? In the same way that the Romans reached the same nadir, by the explosion of law-making brought about by the acceptance of democracy as an acceptable state of affairs.

Take for instance the latest publication of all British law, which is produced by a company called Halsbury. Every 20 years they codify all the laws of Britain. (In a court case, ignorance of these laws is no defence, which presumably means we all need to know all of them, just in case.)

So do we have five simple laws we can use in all cases? No, it is now 100 volumes of closely-packed text, which has more than doubled in size since the last time Halsbury published these codes 20 years ago.

Which means that the laws in Britain have become nothing more than empty meaningless gibberish, just as they were at the collapse of the western Roman empire. Nobody knows these laws any more, not even the editor at Halsbury. Even handsomely paid lawyers only know tiny fractions of them, and only in their own areas of speciality, which entails that the modern Johnnius Britannicus, on the broken down Clapham tube link, has absolutely no chance.

No, we don't really have laws any more. We just have regulators who "interpret" them, any way they fancy in whichever way is politically expedient at the time. You only have to look at the words "regal" or "rex", to see where all of these "regulations" or "regs" originate from; that is, from the edicts of royalty and bureaucratic kings. Even simpler is the link between the words "rulers" and "rules"; i.e., obey that which the rulers (and your betters) decree, or else it's into the ruler's gaol cage for you, peasant!

Nothing is pre-ordained (except that David Beckham will one day present "Match of the Day"). However, unless we stop it first by removing ourselves from the overlordship of politicians and their endless fascist laws, I predict that a second dark age is coming and probably sooner than we realise.

Are you ready for it, if it does?

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