According to recent UK legislation imposed to enforce the new hotel quarantine rules, those who travel to red-listed countries such as Portugal, for example, and fail to report it, risk up to ten years in jail.
In a recent article, Lord Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK Supreme Court) defined Matt Hancock, the minister who’s behind the hotel quarantine rules and this new legislation, a “tyrant”. Like all tyrants, Lord Sumption argues, Mr. Hancock believes that the end justifies the means: he will stop at nothing in order to pursue this end, whatever it takes (Draghi style): i.e. without any regard to the liberties, lives, wealth and humanity which are crushed in the process.
In a previous article, Lord Sumption had already pointed out that new Covid legislation made the UK a “police state” and was the expression of a collective “hysteria”: surely, these are words which must have not been easy to write for a person who until only a few years ago was a judge of the UK Supreme Court.
However laudable are Lord Sumption conclusions, his reasoning expresses some fundamental, logical inconsistencies which are quite typical of those who would like to defend liberty but cannot make the necessary intellectual step to actually do it.
In fact, at one point Lord Sumption states that “There are no absolute principles, but only pros and cons”.
In a truly beautiful article, Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK supreme court) makes two statements.
The first is that today the UK is a police state: “What is a police state? It is a state in which individuals are answerable to the police for the most routine acts of daily life. It is a state in which the police and not the law decide what is allowed. It is a state in which people have to hide their doings from their neighbours for fear of the twitching curtain and anonymous call to the police. It is a state in which ministers denounce activities of which they disapprove and the police are their compliant instruments. … We are unfortunate to live at a time of national hysteria, when that tradition [of of rule of law] has been cast aside and every one of these classic symptoms of a police state can be seen all around us”
The second statement is that a police state is opposite to the rule of law: “If the law says that it is reasonable to go out to take exercise, it is not for a policeman to say that it isn’t. If the law does not forbid driving somewhere to take exercise, then it is not for the police to forbid it. … It is not the function [of the police] to enforce the wishes of ministers. It is not [its] function to do whatever is necessary to make government policy work. [Its] function is to apply the law. If the law is not tough enough, that is not a matter for them but for ministers and Parliament“.
While the first statement is not problematic, the second one in my opinion is.
While reading Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I was astonished by the qualities of the author. Notwithstanding his understatement, these qualities clearly emerged from the details of his story: his courage, above all. His intelligence. His computing abilities, which to me seem almost supernatural. His rectitude. His profound kindness that is revealed in every line of his book. His great humaneness.
While each one of these qualities in itself would have already been extraordinary because of its intensity, the contemporary presence of all of them in the same person at the same time made me rethink the limits of what I once considered to be humanly possible.
In this article I will not discuss these qualities. I think that the best way to appreciate them is to buy the book and read it.
I’m so much humbled by them and by Snowden’s purely heroic gesture that I’m instinctively inclined to censor my own criticism of some aspects of his thought that I believe are logically inconsistent. In fact, in relation to the choices, the capabilities, the actions and the qualities of a hero of this magnitude, these inconsistencies have such little importance that they appear to be almost negligible. However, they are about the very ideas on which his gesture was based: namely, the very concept of privacy and the difference between what is legal and what is right. Therefore, perhaps a discussion of these inconsistencies may be not entirely useless. In addition, I do not believe that self-censorship would be the best way to homage the person who, at the beginning all alone, has defied the most powerful nation in the world (and its allies) to denounce its mass surveillance programs and start a debate on these issues.
Criticizing from the comfort of one’s desk, on a theoretical level, the ideas of someone who risked his own life to defend them (and who’s living in exile for having defended them), is not usually an aesthetically beautiful thing to do, I believe. However, in this particular case, I consider this criticism a tribute to the man who has risked his own life to start a much-needed debate on privacy and on the difference between what is legal and what is right. This criticism is for me a way to acknowledge the debt that I, together with my family, have with Edward Snowden and that I know I will hardly ever manage to pay back.
(English translation of the lecture which took place at Liberi Comuni d’Italia – Siena, Italy, 4.5.2014)
Decadence manifests itself in an extremely real, concrete, tangible way: an entrepreneur committing suicide, a company closing down, a person losing a job, a family not managing to make ends meet, an olive grove being abandoned to itself. Therefore, it is instinctive and even reassuring to try to counter decadence in an equally real, concrete, action-oriented manner while, at the same time, avoiding and even making fun of philosophical chatter. However, even though the decadence we are seeing manifests itself in a very real and concrete way, its ultimate cause is purely philosophical: it consists of the abstract idea of law which, in the Italian case, has been imposed by the Constitution. Continue reading →