That proclamation was called ‘the Charter of Liberties’. And while it may not have altogether achieved its goal, it was a major step in the right direction.
Indeed, it was the precursor of the Magna Carta, which was introduced 115 years later, and which has been described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times-the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.
The Magna Carta provided for the establishment of a committee of 25 barons who could at any time overrule the king if he defied any part of it.
But progress was slow. And it was another 400 plus years before the Petition of Rights came into existence in 1628, followed by the Habeas Corpus Act in 1679, the Bill of Rights in 1689, and the Act of Settlement in 1701, all of which collectively, along with the Magna Carta, provided the underpinnings of constitutional rights and freedoms and the rule of law generally in England.
However, there were two other events in 17th century England that are worthy of attention, namely: the Civil War from 1642-1651 between the Parliament and Royalists, which the Parliament won; and the ‘the Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 (also called ‘the Bloodless Revolution’ because there was, happily, very little violence involved), which led to the overthrow of the king, the end of absolute power for English monarchs, the Bill of Rights, and, some people say, the actual beginning of parliamentary democracy in England.
Of course, little of this was reaching the ordinary folks of England. At least, not yet, and many of them went off to the New World and elsewhere to escape the hellish existence in England, and to look for a better life.
But the process of change would eventually, imperfectly as it did, reach the ordinary folks, and with it came increased hope, personal independence, real estate and intellectual property rights and the protection of those rights under law, confidence, intellectual and social agitation, public debate and commentary, etc.
And all of this helped to pave the way for economic change, as land, finance and greater educational opportunity became available to more people. This encouraged entrepreneurship and brought empowerment on a broad front.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that by 1750, the Industrial Revolution was born in England, transforming that country’s economy, and many other economies, into greater productivity and wealth.
Again, the process was by no means perfect, and the eradication of poverty, the setting up of a level playing field, and the marrying of increased productivity with improved environmental care, are yet to be satisfactorily achieved, even now, over 260 years later.
Which is a shame.
Yet the institutional and cultural anchoring of the ship of state and the society in constitutional rights and freedoms, in the rule of law, in protection from arbitrary, despotic, unfit, incompetent, over-the-top and corrupt leaders, and also in the spirit of free intellectual, social and entrepreneurial pursuits, was a massive step forward for the English people, and for mankind generally.
The Industrial Revolution couldn’t have taken place in the absence of those political and constitutional events and developments, including ‘the Glorious Revolution’.
And, of course, that first Industrial Revolution led to others, over time, with the invention of the internal combustion engine, electricity, the gas turbine, the telephone, the automobile, wireless communications, the internet, etc., and with the discovery of steel, fossil fuels, etc., as societies evolved towards greater freedom, democracy and prosperity.
While all of this was happening, England, much of Europe, North America and some other parts of the world enjoyed great social and economic progress.
But the ordinary folks of St. Kitts & Nevis, then a colony, didn’t. They couldn’t own land, vote, serve on juries, get a proper education or health care, form unions or political parties, or reach the top of the food chain.
Clearly, the empowerment that came to the King’s subjects in England was not to be available to his loyal subjects in St. Kitts & Nevis, or at least, not the poor ones.
Because under the slavery and colonialism arrangements, what was good for ordinary Englishmen was considered too good for ordinary Kittitians and Nevisians.
So the people of this land had to have their own ‘Glorious Revolution’.
And this happened over time, in a series of events, culminating in the Buckleys Riot of 1935 which, along with similar events elsewhere in the region, forced the hand of the British Government, and led to the legalization of workers’ unions and political parties, to adult suffrage, to better health, education and general living standards, to internal self-rule, and finally, in 1983, to independence.
But, in retrospect, there seems to be a fundamental difference between the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of England and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of St. Kitts & Nevis, in that whereas the former secured and institutionalized better governance and greater protection for citizens, the latter seemed simply to change the face of power.
I say this because, despite the existence of a Constitution, and the availability of applicable models to follow and adapt, we’ve failed miserably to build out the institutional, attitudinal and cultural infrastructure upon which to launch ourselves as a modern, vibrant democracy and economy.
And we are totally ill-positioned to capitalize on the latest, unfolding Industrial Revolution, which is the Post-Carbon Era, in which renewable sources will overtake fossil fuels in the supply of energy, having already failed to make much of the last Industrial Revolution, which was, and is, the Internet Era.
The political reforms in England unleashed an intellectual, social and economic energy that rocketed that country upwards. What have the political reforms brought to St. Kitts & Nevis, up to this 28th day of June, 2012? What are our people prepared for? To whom and to what are we significantly relevant?
In terms of consciousness and commitment to nation, we appear to be more backward than we were 40 years ago.
And we have a leader who is not much different from his English counterpart just prior to the Charter of Liberties, 900 years ago.
We’re a people reeling under corruption, arrogance, abuse of power and taxation, just like our 12th century English counterparts. A people who have allowed our leader too much slack, and who, to a frightening extent, have been brainwashed into believing that this is the best that we can get, so we praise, honour and fear the man at whose hands we’re fed a daily diet of deception, ignominy and indignity.
We’re a people who seem willing to tolerate the very thing that generations past fought and died to end: our own diminishment; we’re a people among whom intellectual, social and economic enterprise seems, sadly, to have little currency.
And our barons of today, that is to say, the people in the Chamber of Industry & Commerce, aren’t like their English counterparts of the 12th and 17th centuries. The gut check has shown this to be the case, and while the gut check was in progress, it was discovered that the Chamber’s tongue, which had wagged so loudly in 1994, has also been cut out.
Meanwhile, those other barons, the clergy, with some encouraging exceptions, are also tongue-less. The greatest revolutionary of all, Jesus Himself, must be wondering which part of His message they’re preaching.
Maybe they’re unaware of the fact that the clergy has always been a relentless and fearless defender of justice and righteousness in society.
Sadly and shamefully, we seem to be a people, both the barons and the ordinary folks, who are most unlikely to bring about the things that we need most: a fresh, unwritten ‘Magna Carta’, a ‘Glorious (bloodless) Revolution’, a new leader, and a new dispensation.
So here we are, the St. Kitts & Nevis of 2012, looking, not just like the England of 1100 A.D., but worse.