Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chesterton on the Irish Times Letters Page

G.K. Chesterton is, of course, one of the most quotable (and quoted) writers ever to have written in the English language, and one often comes across his more famous aphorisms, but a (presumably Catholic) priest who contributed a letter on the abortion debate to today's Irish Times uses a lesser-known quotation, one I don't recognize myself. (Searching for it on the internet leads me to think that the correspondent might have taken it from Maisie Ward's biography). Here is the letter:

Sir, – The abortion Bill before the Oireachtas is a concoction of the Cabinet, embellished with a false sense of urgency.

The unbending parliamentary process applied to the Bill is causing crises in the political parties and in society; crises that could have been avoided had we a more flexible process.

In 1911 GK Chesterton pointed to the flaw in the old British process; the one the Cabinet here is now enforcing. Chesterton wrote,“Our representatives accept designs and desires almost entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people . . . If you ask me why we have thus lost democracy, I say from two causes (a) the omnipotence of an unelected body, the Cabinet; (b) the Party system, which turns all politics into a game like the Boat Race.”

The British parliament has wisely made its procedures more flexible since 1911, for instance allowing for a free vote on major issues.

The promotion of abortion by the Government, being concerned with life and death, involving the most fundamental of all human decisions, demands that the Irish people be directly consulted in a referendum. Or at least, that their representatives be given a free vote.

The Cabinet’s refusal to do either makes a mockery of its claim to be reforming the political process. – Yours, etc,


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