The air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe, and so everyone who breathes it becomes free. Everyone who comes to this island is entitled to the protection of English law, whatever oppression he may have suffered and whatever may be the colour of his skin.In preparation for the mammoth task of reviewing the mammoth literary work known as "the Barock Cycle" (Neal Stephenson) I have been browsing the Quicksilver Metaweb, where I found the sublime quote above. Slavery and the history of abolition movements is one of about a dozen major themes that run through the three weighty tomes that make up the Barock Cycle. As you may know, abolition movements, the study of, is one of my areas of passionate interest, and the Stephenson novels seem to uncannily hit upon a lot of them (cryptanalysis, metaphysical debates, religious wars and slightly unusual sexual practices also feature prominently.)
I am struck by the vast philosophical gulf between the sentiments in the quote above, from an English judge in an historic case which may have sparked the British abolitionist movement, and the beliefs (or perhaps total lack of beliefs) of the current guardians of British liberty, ironically known as the Labour Party.
Several cases in point will illustrate this:
- The new anti-terror legislation
- The terrible decline in military ethics in recent decades
- Blatantly racist policies towards "asylum seekers" and other immigrants
- And all I can say about this one is: "All intolerant people shall be shot!"
- "Unless, of course, they are intolerant of 'travellers', because that sort of prejudice is just normal middle-class values."