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Posted on Thursday, May 19, 2005 - 04:18 am:   

I'm new to George Galloway so I've been reading up on him and came across this quote:

"I believe that sovereignty lies in the people and that the English Revolution of 1688 lies unfinished."

My understanding of British political history is lame so I'm hoping someone here can help me out. Is Galloway simply saying that the British monarchy should be done away with altogether? Or are there nuances to the phrase "English Revolution" that I'm not picking up on?

Thanks in advance!
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Josh Lukin
Posted on Sunday, May 22, 2005 - 03:11 am:   

My guess is that since Galloway's an ironist, what he's doing is something along the lines of a left-liberal invoking Adam Smith to justify the right of labor to organize. The Glorious Revolution turned England from a monarchy tout court into a republic: it assured that the Crown would no longer have the option of acting outside the law and eliminated the Divine Right of Kings. But it's not ordinarily invoked by people as radical as Galloway is reputed to be, on accounta it institutionalized the principles of John Locke's "Second Treatise of Government" ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of property," with the assurance that property was a "natural right") and replaced aristocratic government with a bourgeois ascendancy. To say that the GR "lies unfinished" rather than that it was not particularly helpful to the masses (and led to a lot of Celts dying) is heterodox for a Scottish radical but also, I think, militates toward shocking conservatives by implying that immanent within it is a tendency, which, taken to its logical conclusion, would enfranchise all the people and . . . eliminate . . . the nobility? Damn, I came to the same conclusion you did, made more verbose by my recollections of my high school British Lit class of two decades past. I guess there's no point in my having commented.
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Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 05:48 am:   

LOL! Oh not at all, Josh! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. What little I know about Britain's revolution is from the Scottish side of things, so I was wondering if there were ironic undertones in what Galloway was saying.

Thanks again.
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 09:13 am:   

I wouldn't say Galloway's an ironist as much as he's a rhetorician (rhetoricist?). I rather suspect Gorgeous George is referencing 1688 to score points more than anything else, to imply that the English (as opposed to the Scots) didn't have the balls to follow through and just ditch the monarchist bollocks altogether. He's nothing if not "in yer face", our George.

Thing is, being a champagne socialist, Gorgeous George isn't really the sort of person you expect the hardline from with regards to "redistribution of wealth" versus "pursuit of property", I'd say; in fact, there are a lot of folks who still think he's a crook who was skimming off of War On Want. My old man, for instance, (old-style Labour councillor, anti-war, not a big fan of Blair, and a bit of a champagne socialist himself -- so not the kinda New Labour party apparatchiks who've been out to get Georgey Boy recently) he just doesn't trust him one little bit. I don't know enough to judge but I certainly don't see Galloway giving up his high-living lifestyle to carry the red flag and the rifle against Buck House.

But whether he's a crook, an opportunist or a bona fide rebel, Galloway *is* a great orator, so what he will do is try and provoke a reaction. What he's appealing to here is a strong tradition of republicanism in Scottish socialism which dates back to the Declaration of Arbroath -- which had, as one of its keystones, the idea that "sovereignty lies in the people" rather than in the monarch. Not sure if that's the exact phrase used in the document but it's as good as. It's certainly a perfect rhetorical slogan, designed to push a big red button in the Scottish socialist psyche.

Truth is, as I understand, the Declaration of Arbroath was largely just another in a long series of power plays between the king and the barons which go way back in British history; similar to 1688 by the sounds of it, it wasn't as much about empowering the people as it was about disempowering the monarch. But that's not as important, when you're making a good socialist firebrand speech, as the fact that the DoA did throw that idea into the mix... so a lot of Scots take it as a mark of pride that we "invented" the political notion that was to be the bedrock of French and American republicanism. It's a mark of distinction between the "progressive" Scots (with our Enlightenment thinkers and famous inventors and suchlike) and the "reactionary" English (with all that "Land of Hope and Glory", Last Night of the Proms, flag-waving, Rule Britannia tosh and nonsense).

Similarly, invoking the English Revolution as unfinished is less about the actual aims or results of that revolution than it is a typical demagogue's call to "complete the great historical project of our forefathers", a calculated reminder to the English that they also have a republican revolutionary tradition opposed to that ermine-trimmed circus sideshow, a historical cause to rally round.

Anyhoo, I wouldn't say it's about "ironic undertones" as much as it's about rhetorical button-pushing, playing to people's sense of national political identity. Galloway's a master of that, so he's good to have in the anti-war camp when you want someone to rally the faithful (or rip some senators a new one... heh), but he is fundamentally a demagogue, I think.
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Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 09:37 am:   

Thanks for the history lesson, Al. I've been reading more about Galloway and am not as taken with him as I was initially, when he took Sen. Coleman out to the wood shed for a whuppin. Whuppin's are cool, especially for whiney lil lap dogs, but I was hoping for some deeper inspiration for the left in the US - and Galloway aint it, I doubt.

Champagne socialist. Right on the money.

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