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Lord Moulton: "Those who have come into much larger powers “have not yet learned that power has its duties as well as its rights"

Lord Moulton graduated from Cambridge as Senior Wranger, taking first-class honours in mathematics, before becoming a noted English judge and a member of Parliament. He performed more than competently as head of munitions during the First World War. We wish he had refused orders to manufacture poisonous gasses, whose use he deplored. Nevertheless you may find his description of the three great domains of Human Action, as described by Peter Wehner, extremely insightful:

Lord Moulton sketches out what he calls the “three great domains of Human Action.” They include the domain of positive law, where our actions are prescribed by laws which must be obeyed. The second domain is of free choice, which includes all those actions to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom. But between these two there is a third large and important domain, which Moulton calls “Obedience to the Unenforceable.” This is “the obedience of a man to that which he cannot be forced to obey. He is the enforcer of the law upon himself.” The true test of a nation, its proof of greatness, is “the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law.”

Lord Moulton illustrates his point by mentioning freedom of debate in the House of Commons. For centuries the members had unrestricted freedom of debate and no inconvenience was felt. But “in recent times,” he said, “some members of this House have said to themselves: ‘We have unrestricted freedom of debate. We will use it so as to destroy debate. The absence of imposed restriction enables us to do it.’ This obstruction was developed, and it has destroyed freedom of debate, and, indeed, all useful debate in practically every legislature.”

Those in possession of freedom delinked it from a sense of duty that they were bound to respect; as a result, “clumsy and even mischievous regulations have necessarily been introduced which fetter debate but prevent its being absolutely stifled.”

“The old freedom cannot now be entrusted to the members,” Moulton went on, “because when they possessed it they did not respond to it by the exercise of that moral sense which would have led them to treat it as a trust, and not as an absolute possession, unburdened by obligations which they should compel themselves to regard.”

. . .Moulton connects the dots in his speech by pointing out that “If I were asked to define tyranny, I would say it was yielding to the lust of governing.” The tendency of modern legislation, he warned in the early part of the 20th century, was to extend the area ruled by positive law and to diminish the area of action which is determined by the decision of the individual himself. The danger he warned about is that. . . those who have newly come into much larger powers “have not yet learned that power has its duties as well as its rights. . .”

It's worth reading Peter's and Lord Moulton's whole piece. Link thanks to Instapundit.

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