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Now that we're still here ...

The last time I looked out the window, the world was still there.Quite a nice one, actually. After a week of clouds and storms and chilly rain, the sun is out and the day is warm. I haven’t logged on anywhere to find how Harold Camping and his followers are rationalizing the failure of a rolling rapture across the time zones to occur, but I’m confident that their enterprise is in full swing.

“Aren’t all Christians millennialists?” a colleague asked me yesterday. Up to a point. The Parousia (Greek “presence” or “arrival”) is orthodox doctrine. Jesus is to return in glory, judge humanity, and wrap up history. Those of us in attendance at church repeat this regularly in the creeds.

But the text I was thinking of this morning as I woke and first looked out into the sunshine is a line from Auden’s aubade “Lay your sleeping head, my love”: “find the mortal world enough.”

This mortal world is what we have to work with. We can savor the beauty of a sweet spring day in Baltimore. We can flinch from the destructive power of earthquake and flood. We can struggle to repair the damage done to the world by human greed and carelessness. But this is what we have, and it is the proper focus of our attention.

You can speculate, if you like, on what is beyond it: oblivion, or a long sleep until the Last Day, or a succession of lives. Like Harold Camping and the other hard-shell millennialists through the ages, you can fall to your calculations in an effort to outwit the Lord. (Apart from the futility of the effort, there is something unsavory about the smugness of numbering oneself among a saved Elect while consigning family, friends, and all humanity to bloody destruction. Not, I think, quite Christian.)

But for me, the mortal world is enough, and the day is what you can make of it. My day is not Judgment Day but Preakness Day, and in a little while I will be going down to the plant, where we will make and ship many paragraphs.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:38 AM | | Comments (26)


I trust you will tuck a jaunty black-eyed susan in your button hole for this tour of duty.

After the failure of the rapture, another disenchantment:

The black-eyed Susans on Preakness Day are all painted frauds, because the state flower does not bloom until later in the summer.

There are usually some people who believe that if they don't win this nags trot this afternoon it is the end of the world.

I like to hear the Naval Academy choir sing "Maryland,My Maryland."

Christmas! Where do I know that tune from? And do people sing all those verses? And still not get locked up? Blimey!

P the T, the voices may have been pleasant, but I am not fond of some of the lyrics, since the "tyrant" they refer to is Abraham Lincoln.

No, children, they sing only one stanza. And after all these years, it's difficult for me to weep over calling Lincoln a tyrant. I still love the tune and I stand by my story. Also my taste in music.

Calling things you don't like "tyrannical" is the small change of insults, although I won't give you examples drawn from revolutionary America in case it should annoy. No, it was the stuff about "Northern scum" that seemed a bit off-colour to me. Sensible of them to elide that.

And I'm all in favour of the Tannenbaum tune. It goes especially well with the lyrics of The Red Flag.

"There is something unsavory about the smugness of numbering oneself among a saved Elect while consigning family, friends, and all humanity to bloody destruction. Not, I think, quite Christian." I disagree; in my experience that is the entire point of Christianity. (I agree that it is unsavory.) I've never heard of a proselytizer who thought he himself was going to Hell but the heathen were going to Heaven. Much of religion feeds the hope that the believers will be rewarded -- and then can't quite resist piling on with a gloating expectation that the faithless will be tormented.

I once saw a therapist who happened to be Christian. He objected when I said I was still recovering from being raised in such a judgmental religion. "Christianity isn't about judging," he said. I pointed out several examples of the wheat/chaff, sheep/goats line of thinking and noted that it's hard to shrug off a charge of judgmentalism when the focal point of all eternity is what you call Judgment Day.

I am in complete harmony with the non-parenthetical parts of this post, though. The mortal world -- also known as "the world" -- is plenty.

@Brian Not all Christians feel that way. I am pretty sure I will have a lot of company in heaven. As for the sheep & goats, I have always love the story told to me by a minister. She was wrestling with her sermon on that passage when she went to bed that night, and she had a dream. Two paths diverged, one into heavenly wonders, and one into hellfire. She noted with despair that the little goat had her face, and headed down the path toward the hellfire, when she heard the Voice - "Wait just a minute; I paid for those goats!"

Brian: There are Christians — Universalists — who believe that all humans (perhaps even fallen angels) will be saved. The term "Elect", however, refers to the Calvinist (or Hyper-Calvinist) notion that God decides in advance, based on humanly inscrutable criteria, who to save and who to damn. Most Christians don't believe that.

Picky: Check out the Declaratory Act of 1766:

Whereas several of the houses of representatives in his Majesty's colonies and plantations in America, have of late against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his majesty's subjects in the said colonies and plantations;

And have in pursuance of such claim, passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders derogatory to the legislative authority of parliament, and inconsistent with the dependency of the said colonies and plantations upon the crown of Great Britain:

May it therefore please your most excellent Majesty, that it may be declared ; and be it declared by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same,

That the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain;

And that the King's majesty [...] in parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.

Those were the same words used in the Declaratory Act of 1719 that proclaimed the subordination of Ireland to England. We English overseas thought we had the same rights as Englishmen in the realm, and if we had to (as a last resort) become no longer British to get them, we would and did.

Yes indeed, JohnC. My point was simply that “tyrant” is a word ready to hand and that rebels find it useful, often with justification but sometimes with exaggeration of the severity of the repression.

I think we are unlikely to disagree that a very real tyranny – slavery – was in place at the time of the revolution, involving far greater injustice than any grievances of the colonists, and that neither the British government nor the new republic did anything about it for many years. Liberty is indivisible, as they say, and I don’t mention slavery to belittle the revolution, but it would be bad taste to talk about freedom and democracy without making that point first.

1 To follow the simple version of the story (by which I don't mean the simple version is wrong), the British government was foolish to try to impose new taxation, be it never so well-intentioned, when the colonies had exercised de facto internal self-government; the colonists should have been willing to contribute to their own defence but were right to protest against interference with their self-government; the response from London to those protests was stupid and crass; and the resultant seizure of independence by the colonies was justified.

2 There was just enough beefy heavy-handedness from London in this process to more or less permit the use of the word “tyranny” at the time, and “tyranny” became enshrined in the Founding Myth of the republic, has lasted to this day, and is still spoken of. When it is, we all nod in agreement.

3 But without context it can be misleading, especially when the scope of “tyranny” is expanded to describe British rule as a whole. In fact, of course, it was precisely because, with dangerous lack of tyranny, the British had permitted de facto self-rule that a change of policy from London offended. And the new republic could so rapidly put in place new democratic structures precisely because they were building on the society British people had put together in North America, which was surprisingly free for colonies of its time, and up to the gunwales in local representative institutions.

4 Anyone doubting this should look at the way other European powers ran their colonies in the Americas, and how the revolutions fared there. Or they could look to the north and see how British people got on whose tyrannical oppression was not removed by revolution.

A very good synopsis, Picky. My only quibble, and it is very slight, is with this line: and “tyranny” became enshrined in the Founding Myth of the republic, has lasted to this day, and is still spoken of. When it is, we all nod in agreement. We don't nod in agreement. We nod in acknowledgement of what is now recognized as quaint hyperbole.

With all the tyrannous examples of government in the world since then and continuing to today, few who give the founding of the United States serious thought lump the hamfistedness of the British government at that time in with the likes of the truly tyrannous. In fact, if hamfistedness were all it took to be labelled a tyrant, no government would be safe from the charge.

Picky, I agree in substance with your summary, except that I think the British actions were not merely foolish, crass, hamfisted, etc. but in fact unconstitutional, and a usurpation beyond Parliament's authority as it existed in 1766. Both Americans and Irishmen made this point repeatedly: that the true relation, in their view, between the U.K. Parliament and His Majesty's realms overseas was like that subsisting between the U.K. and the Channel Islands both then and now: a personal union between the monarchies ("Here's to the Duke, God bless her!"), and a de facto right, at most, to legislate for the islands in matters of defense and external trade.

What is more, the Americans' true concern was with the bad precedent being set: taxes on tea today, arbitrary rule tomorrow. Like Hampden, who refused to pay ship-money he would never have missed for a purpose of which he entirely approved, our objection was constitutional. True enough that if the Americans had fended off Parliament in this way, the full weight of the King's prerogative might have fallen on them next! In law our colonial charters were nothing but private agreements between the King and the colony's proprietors, and if the King saw fit to modify or revoke them, we would have had no recourse at all.

Ah, but Westminster can legislate for the Channel Islands!

I suspect there's an error in what you say, JohnC, and that it's the old business of where the King ends and the Crown begins.  I'll try my hand at this, so constitutional gaffes may now abound.

Despite the nice toast, the allegiance of Jersey, for instance, isn't to the Duke of Normandy (there isn't one) but to the Queen.  Her sovereignty is exercised in matters governmental by the institution called the Crown.  In legislation, that exists as two entities (the mystery of monarchy can be as impenetrable as the mystery of the Trinity): the Queen in Council, and the Queen in Parliament.

If the Queen has appointed a local privy council (as the Queen of Canada has) then that, locally, is the council the Queen is "in".  Otherwise, as with the Channel Isles, the council is the UK Privy Council.  That is the body that recommends for approval legislation from the States of Jersey, and the body through which the Royal Prerogative would be exercised.

If the British Parliament has ceded legislative sovereignty to a local parliament (as it did in Canada through the Statute of Westminster and the Canada Act), then that, locally, is the parliament the Queen is "in".  Otherwise, as with the Channel Isles, the parliament she is "in" is the Westminster one.  Thus the UK parliament has the power to legislate for the Channel Islands.  It has done in the past, and it retains the right in reserve.

And I submit, m'lud, that that was the case in the North American colonies.

Whether the U.K. Parliament, successor to the English Parliament, can in fact legislate for the Channel Islands is still a disputed point. Parliament has undoubtedly gotten away with it during the previous century, but whether they have a right to do so is historically more than questionable. The islander view, expressed in the 1853 case In the Matter of the States of Jersey, is that not even the Queen in Council has a right to impose legislation on them: such Orders in Council are merely sent to the States (of Jersey or Guernsey as the case may be), and it is their re-enactment that makes them law, and that if they are against the constitution of Jersey (or Guernsey) it is against the legislative oath to re-enact them.

The Judicial Committee's ruling in that case, which concerned modernizing judicial procedure in Jersey, said: "[A]s serious doubts exist whether the establishment of such provisions by your Majesty's prerogative without the assent of the States of Jersey is consistent with the constitutional rights of the island, their Lordships have agreed to report their opinion to your Majesty to revoke the said Orders." In a report like that, "serious doubts exist" means "it's complete bollocks". And of course if the Crown has no such right (and has not had since King John's time, or even King William I's, according to the islanders), there is no question that Parliament doesn't either.

You're right that the loyal toast (actually "La reine, notre duc") isn't really relevant — Elizabeth holds the islands as Queen, not as Duke — and that it's the Council who approves (or, technically, recommends for approval) legislation originating in the islands.

John Cowan: Those lawyers who hold that the Westminster parliament’s writ doesn’t run don’t seem to argue on the basis of the historical grounds you cite, but on the grounds either that the powers have fallen into disuse, or that they cannot be sustained in a democratic age.

As the Jersey and Guernsey Law Review noted: Some would hold, basing their view upon the 1973 Kilbrandon report on the Constitution, that ultimately the UK Parliament is sovereign and enjoys paramount powers to intervene in the affairs of the Channel Islands. Others, for example Professor Jeffrey Jowell QC, take the view that that approach is “heavily dated” and is unlikely to have survived the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the domestic law both of the UK and the Channel Islands. That, and the foundational requirements of a democracy, have “dramatically alter[ed] our constitutional landscape ”.

Westminster certainly has a right to legislate for the Channel Islands, so much so that it is specifically attested in the States of Jersey Law, for instance. The question is whether such legislation merely requires consultation with the island institutions, or whether it needs in addition their approval. The States of Jersey Law is deliberately obscure on the point.

It is hardly fair to suggest that the UK has spent the past century trying it on and getting away with it, however; rather it has worked to develop constitutional conventions which all but eliminate UK competence in purely domestic matters, and which enhance the competence of island authorities in international affairs. Westminster has not overridden an assembly in a Crown Dependency for nearly 50 years, and that was not in the Channel Islands, and the matter was not purely domestic.

In domestic matters the position is almost certainly this: de jure Westminster can, after consultation, legislate by Act of Parliament or by extending an Act through an Order in Council; de facto, by constitutional convention, the approval of the local authority is also required.

The Crown, however, as I said in my earlier comment, retains in reserve the right to intervene unilaterally in extremis. The House of Commons Justice Committee reported last year: “The independence and powers of self-determination of the Crown Dependencies are, in our view, only to be set aside in the most serious circumstances. We note that the restrictive formulation of the power of the UK Government to intervene in insular affairs on the ground of good government is accepted by both the UK and the Crown Dependency governments: namely, that it should be used only in the event of a fundamental breakdown in public order or of the rule of law, endemic corruption in the government or the judiciary or other extreme circumstance, and we see no reason or constitutional basis for changing that formulation.”

The two bailiwicks could end all this by seeking independence, of course, but they haven’t, so their dependent nature remains. In particular this gives the UK responsibilities in matters of defence and international affairs. The argument has been advanced that you cannot give the UK responsibility in these areas without giving it power as well, and the power must include the right to legislate to support its actions. I’m not sure how convincing that is.

The other difference between the Channel Islands in the 21st Century and the American colonies in the 18th, of course, is that the Channel Islands contribute towards their own defence.

Thanks for the links; I read both reports with great interest. I note that the Committee says only that the U.K. Parliament "appears to have competence to legislate" in matters of defense, citizenship, etc. That is not the phraseology of a sovereign government that is sure of its ground, any more that the words I quoted above from 1853 are. The Justice Secretary, notably, had nothing to say on the point.

When I referred to "the previous century", I actually meant the 19th rather than the 20th; sorry about that. The Committee report is clear, though, in its understated way: primary legislation by the States has been denied the Royal Assent during the 20th century on grounds not of "good government" but of U.K. policy. What is more: "It is clear is that the UK has, on occasion, leant heavily on Island governments to modify legislation at stages prior to submission for Royal Assent. This may have been on the grounds that the legislation was in some sense constitutionally defective, although we have been told about cases where intervention was clearly on policy grounds. In practice, it is informal dialogue, rather than the formal withholding of Royal Assent, which is usually the mechanism for bringing about a change in Island legislation." In the words of (the fictional) Lord Darcy, "Blackmail is perhaps too strong a word, but I will admit that no other is quite strong enough."

For myself, I would not go so far as to say that when it comes to governing dependencies, the U.K. government has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since 1766. But it does seem to me that when we look past the means employed to the ultimate ends, the general attitude of two hundred years ago is far from extinct.

As for the "contributions to [our] own defense", it suffices to reply that as John Hampden taught us all as long ago as 1635, Englishmen ought not to be taxed except by Act of the English Parliament, and if by the same token George III wished to raise sums from his American subjects, he ought (through his royal governors) to have requested supply from his American legislatures in accordance with the British constitution as it stood in 1766. And if they would vote him no supply, he should perhaps have investigated their grievances.

Getting back to the topic of the Rapture, I heard from a friend that she saw a bumper sticker on an LA freeway that said "Can I have your car after the Rapture?"

Yes, John C, twice you make an argument of the form 'A does not shout the truth of Proposition X: A must therefore be secretly convinced of Proposition Y'.  It won't wash.

The Justice Committee is a departmental committee of the House.  It's job is to scrutinise the work of the Ministry of Justice.  If its investigations come up with nothing of substance, and it finds nothing to criticise in the ministry, we'll all start wondering whether its expenses can be justified.  Such criticisms as it manages are mildness itself. Yes, the UK government, it finds, may on occasion have used its elbows in pre-legislation talks with the islands.  Well, bless my soul!  Quite wrong, of course, but no great surprise to anyone who has ever met another human being, let alone a human being in government.

And yes, perhaps this does reflect something that happened a couple of hundred years ago: a bit of clumsy heavy-handedness.

So far the tyrannised inhabitants of Jersey have thrown few shiploads of imports into the water at St Helier.

Give them time. They, like we, are not conditioned to believe they have no rights except what the Parliament of the moment sees fit not to take away -- yet.

That's strange.  I thought it was the mark of the superiority of the British model (the one we share) over the Napoleonic model (the one some of us, but notably not all, fought against) that we are free to do anything Parliament does not prohibit whereas they (we allege) are free to do only that which their equivalent of Parliament allows.  The Channel Islands are perfectly positioned to choose.

True as far as it goes, and for a long time that was enough. Americans found it was not enough when the divine right of kings was overthrown in favor of the divine right of parliaments: they wanted guarantees that they could do certain things whether parliament forbade them or not.

I think the time is coming in the U.K. when it will not be enough; many of your compatriots seem to think that time has already come. See Chesterton's dated but still interesting poem "The Secret People".

Yes, I find Chesterton dangerously attractive: it's that heady mix of nostalgia and cynicism, I suppose. But he's wrong about the Secret People of England, I think. It seems to me that the chains that enslave the Englishman to Chesterton's paper-pusher and the money-maker are, to the naked eye, identical to those attached to our "freed" brothers Joe and Sean and Jean, and actually rather looser than those that tether our "freed" cousin Ivan.

Actually what concerns me is that we Secret People may someday speak, and that you and I won't like the message. The Secret People may perhaps not turn to Madame Guillotine or Comrade Vyschinsky for leadership, but they sure as hell won't turn to GK's kindly priests.

I would prefer them just to take a little more interest in politics. We've achieved quite a bit that way. The divine right of parliaments was limited somewhat when the European Court of Human Rights was set up in 1959. The Human Rights Act 2000 was even more effective. If we could just persuade the Secret People to vote to sensibly entrench that legislation we could breathe easier.

I agree on all points.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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