Defying the Corporate Golem
(Lafarge Redland, Corporate "Human" Rights and the British Constitution)
Published in Foundations, 3:4, Autumn/winter 2000, The William Temple Foundation, p. 27.
Take a look at any British coin in your pocket and you’ll see it carries the letters, DG and FD. These Latin initials are a double theological statement. Affirmed by the Royal Titles Act, 1953, they signify that the Crown, represented by the sovereign, rules by “divine grace” and does so as “Defender of the Faith.”
In fact, they mean that whether we like it or not, we live in a theocracy. As Walter Bagehot said in his classic 1867 essay, The English (sic) Constitution, “If you ask the immense majority of the Queen’s subjects by what right she rules … they will say she rules by ‘God’s grace’…” Similarly Charles Dickens in Our Mutual Friend: “We Englishmen are Very Proud of our Constitution, Sir. It Was Bestowed Upon Us By Providence.”
However, as Sidney Low put it in 1904, “British government is based upon a system of tacit understandings. But the understandings are not always understood.” The 1707 Treaty of Union governing all four nations of the “United Kingdom” makes it plain just why that understanding is something that many of us might prefer to leave not understood. For this cornerstone of the British constitution requires that “Her Most Sacred Majesty” shall adhere to what it calls, “the True Protestant Religion.”
As was pointed out during last year’s debate over the Act of Settlement, this is institutionalised bigotry. But maybe this is something that we no longer have to approach with an early 18th century mindset. Maybe it is more important to remember that to be a “true Protestant,” just as to be a “true Catholic” or “true Moslem” or “true Hindu,” means to live by an understanding that God is love. Indeed, maybe a simple decree from a “Defender of the Faith” could clarify in our “understood” or “conventional” constitution that in today’s understanding, “true Protestant” should mean simply to testify for all faiths that are rooted in love. After all, the word “Protestant” comes from the Latin, pro testari, meaning to testify on behalf of something.
There is, too, an important Christian precedent for such a widening of the goalposts of faith. Paul quoted “pagan” poets to the Athenians in Acts 17. And most spectacularly, Jesus widened his own ethnic horizons at the behest of the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7.
Given the constitutional context of modern Britain, the alternative to our present theocratic underpinning would probably be naked secularism. That might not seem such a bad thing. But wait. Consider a case that has just passed through Scotland’s supreme court – the Court of Session.
A multinational corporation, Lafarge Redland Aggregates, once described in the Financial Times as “a new breed of pan-European monster,” has taken the executive of the Scottish Parliament to task over their planning application for the proposed and opposed Isle of Harris superquarry. The details needn’t worry us here. What matters is that the company actually claimed that its rights, under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, had been violated. In effect, Mammon got up in court and claimed human attributes. There is now talk of tobacco companies doing likewise, claiming that any ban on advertising would curtail their “human right” of free expression! It makes instant mockery of our new human rights protection.
The legal precedent for this can be traced across the Atlantic to the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886. In a landmark ruling, the American Supreme Court ruled that corporate persons had the same constitutional rights as human persons.
Well, in America they have separation of church and state. But we don’t. This arguably makes the Lafarge Redland bid both blasphemous and idolatrous. Blasphemous because it misrepresents the nature of God by making out that a man-made entity can be deemed “human,” and idolatrous because it does this in the worship not of God, but of profit.
Did I hear that there are still Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords? Well, perhaps its time for a wee sermon. Rather they define the meaning of being human than the corporate Golem.
Alastair McIntosh is a Fellow of Edinburgh’s Centre for Human Ecology. Further writing on constitutional theology can be found at www.AlastairMcIntosh.com.
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