July 15, 2010

My friend Andrew Roberts has inherited the title of “historian of the English-speaking people” from Winston Churchill. Churchill wrote his four-volume history up to 1900. Roberts took up the story from there and has written his stupendous “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.” I commend it to you.

In the book, Roberts says that there is something about English-speaking people that encourages a certain number among them to speak ill of us. He does not think that their criticism is legitimate for the most part, and I do not, either. But it is a characteristic of certain of us. You never find that captious quality in Russia. Would Vladimir Putin say the kinds of things about Russia that, say, Barack Obama says about America? Would Hugo Chavez say such things about Venezuela, Fidel Castro about Cuba, Hu Jintao about China? Roberts’ case is made, and the Democratic Party and Labour Party offer plenty of examples to fortify his point.

Yet lay that observation aside for another day. He makes another case in his book worth mentioning. English-speaking people love liberty. I thought of this the other day when I read a piece in The Washington Post about the revival of fox hunting in Britain and the desire to legalize it once again. Ian Farquhar, an English hunter, leads the piece by saying, “I felt—we all felt—they were spitefully taking away the very essence of our liberty” when the 2004 ban on fox hunting went into effect. Now the Conservative government is back, and the law is up for repeal. What will happen I do not know, for the Conservatives are in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and only a minority of them are with the Conservatives on this one. However, that is not the issue. Rather it is the question of “the very essence of our liberty.” It is a part of British tradition. Some have it. Some do not.

“There is a robust debate in America over gun ownership, but robust as it is, it is unlikely that the gun controllers ever will outnumber the gun rights people. We are safe with our guns.”

We have the tradition here, and it is seen by many as “the very essence of our liberty.” The right to keep and bear arms is actually written into our Constitution, in the Second Amendment. Guns are seen as essential to liberty by many of us. In many communities, we can actually carry guns. There are studies that show that gun ownership and law abidingness correlate. There is a robust debate in America over gun ownership, but robust as it is, it is unlikely that the gun controllers ever will outnumber the gun rights people. We are safe with our guns.

Yet let us look at another matter, the hunt itself. Over in Britain, it is all tallyho, handsome attire, follow the pack. An occasional fox gets mauled, but that is one fewer fox for a farmer to gas or shoot, to trap or snare. If the hunt is legalized rather than restricted—as it is now—there will be a few more foxes to be mauled. But attendant with the hunt are the festivities, and there are jobs for the keepers of kennels and stables and the land managers. There is equipment to be maintained. The Countryside Alliance claims 45,000 members in some 300 clubs. During the winter months, the countryside comes alive with activity. I say good show!

On this side of the Atlantic, we do, of course, have the tallyho set. There are the hounds and horses and stylish dress. Yet there is much more. North America is a continent and a pretty raw continent when the great outdoors is at issue. Some hunt for trophies, some for the feast after the hunt. I am numbered among the latter. I freely get up before the sun is in the sky and set up for turkey, deer or even bear. But I am not a particularly avid hunter. Once when with my partner I shot a bear—or, likelier, he did—I had to follow the critter for two hours or more before it dropped. Not much fun—but when we got back to camp, we told some great stories, and there was a stupendous feast that night.

The important thing on this side of the Atlantic or the other is that English-speaking people find liberty in the air. We relish our freedoms, and one is to hunt. I hope the present ban on fox hunting is repealed over there. Possibly I even will join in the fray. Though if I do, I shall ride at the back of the hunt. I would not want to incite a dog to carnage.


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