Channel Island abandoning Feudalism?

That’s what media are saying (this news link will go stale), but I don’t believe they are correct to say so.  The heart of feudalism, or manorialism if you like, is the combination of holding land from and closely regulated by, the feudal lord (in this case, the Seigneur of the Isle of Sark) … and the obligation of service to him or her by those who hold their property from him or her.  The reforms will replace a legislative body made up mostly of the 40 main “tenants” ex officio (out of a current permanent population of 600) with one of 28 totally elected councilmembers.  But land tenure will be unchanged, and apparently the 40 main tenants will still be obligated to keep “muskets” to provide the first line of defense of the Isle, not unlike Switzerland’s requirement (not “right” as claimed in the U.S.) to keep and bear arms [for civilian defense, not revolution!]

One of the lesser-known “services” also required of feudal tenants was Counsel, advice.  So whether that counsel is provided by ex officio landholders or elected representatives of *all* the landholders doesn’t change the feudal system.  (As the sources say, there are two kinds of landholdings on Sark, the 40 main original and largest ones, and a number of smaller, newer ones, with traditionally fewer rights and obligations.)  Actually, electing hereditary representatives is not unprecedented in ‘the British system’: after suborning the Irish (Protestant) Parliament to merge itself into the British Parliament in the 1800s, Irish Protestant noblemen elected “representative peers” to the House of Lords, rather than theoretically admitting all of them to that House; and since Tony Blair’s “reforms” in the 1990s *all* United Kingdom hereditary peers elect 90-some of their number to the House of Lords for the time being (though the “ruling” Labour Party anticipates abolishing a hereditary right to sit in that House before long, though allowing those who also have Life Peerages to sit there, and others to run and vote for the powerful House of Commons like they traditionally could not – because they are not Commoners).

So democracy is no more incompatible with “feudalism” as it remains on Sark, than it is with certain forms of Monarchy itself, as in many First World countries.  In fact, think of Sark as a tiny subordinate monarchy: the Seigneur holds the whole Isle on loan from the Queen, conditioned upon annual rent of something like five dollars U.S. (the rate hasn’t been inflated since Queen Elizabeth I originally made the grant over 400 years ago) and maintenance of a first-line defense arrangement – the guys with the “muskets.”  The only way Sark’s “feudalism” could be abolished under Her Majesty’s Monarchy as currently constituted there would be if the Queen revoked the Seigneur’s tenancy of the Isle, or abolished the Seigneurship as it were.

Although, remember that the Queen is considered to legally own nearly all of the land in her Realms.  *All* “landowners” merely hold their property from her; hence the Sovereign right of Eminent Domain, which of course is asserted by all sovereign States, including the American States, not only Monarchies.*  This is a worldwide remnant of feudalism, although under Rule of Law, the sovereign power should only be used according to previously-publicly-passed and written-down laws or well-known/attested custom, and property’s ostensible “owners” actually own real rights in respect of the land, which the sovereign power is considered required to honor.  So the situation on Sark is not different in genus, only in species, so to speak, from that elsewhere in the UK or even in the US.

Why do I care?  The coverage of the Sark reforms is yet another manifestation of the historical and constitutional ignorance that plagues much of the English-speaking world, within and outside the Commonwealth, imperiling not only the Monarchy there but the legal tradition itself, everywhere.  If law becomes merely what ignorant or partisan judges or politicians say it is, they will ride roughshod right over the rest of us, just like has been happening in the U.S. since 12/12/00 (PDF).  And if WE are ignorant, or successfully fed propaganda by the likes of Rupert Murdoch/Sky News/Fox News, or his Sarkese comrades the Barclay brothers, we will let them.  And the biggest threat to our freedoms will have come not from abroad, but from right here at home – right inside each of our countries.

And now for something completely different … if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve earned it. 😉

(*–In America the “sovereign” is considered to be the people of the State … though as I always say, If everybody’s sovereign, nobody’s sovereign – or the sovereignty is being usurped by one or a few, known or unknown!)

Advertisements