One of the most annoying phenomena of Ireland’s political and economic crisis is how, in the absence of any concentrated popular potency, in the absence of any common language of democratic contestation, certain isolated individuals found solace and support in what is often referred to as ‘Freeman woo’.
Briefly put, because it would be too annoying to go into any great detail, this is the phenomenon of people thinking there is a form of legality –the real form of legality- that has been buried by the legal and political establishment, with the connivance of the police, and that this real legality can be uncovered and imposed via hocus pocus invocations about common law, lawfulness vs. legality, oaths, licenses, your birth certificate getting sold on the stock exchange, and god knows what else.
I remember in the early days of Occupy Dame Street overhearing someone telling someone else that he was planning on giving a talk about common law the following day. I had no idea what he was talking about, but his confident assertion, combined with the fact that we were standing in a very unusual place –there were tents going up in the middle of a city square- made me think, for a moment, that maybe he knew what he was talking about. Then it struck me that he was talking utter bollocks.
As far as I can see, the whole method behind Freeman woo is that the law, as it is currently applied, has no real legal basis. The bailiffs may come, the sheriff may take possession of your home, you may be jailed for not paying your debts, but all of this is really illegal, because there is this other law, you believe, which often has something to do with ‘our Founding Fathers’ (we are talking about Freemen after all), that prohibits all the stuff that they’re doing. Indeed, this belief can prove effective as a delaying tactic, in those moments when the forces of law and order are trying to figure out what the hell you’re talking about. But, in the end, you’re gonna get it.
The reason I bring all this up is that I feel like a Freeman this morning.
Last night, there was emergency legislation rammed through the Dáil to deal with IBRC, the entity formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank. The operation, as Andy Storey foretold, was ‘devious and undemocratic – instead of having a proper, informed debate about this hugely serious issue the government would be railroading through legislation that would see people living in Ireland take formal responsibility for debts that are not theirs to pay’. I watched some of the TV footage. I posted a couple of updates on Facebook.
The first one, at 11:25pm, read like this:
The Dáil has been colonised by the European banking lobby. Just listen to the fascist hyenas whooping it up, pissed out of their skulls, from the government benches.
The second one, at 12:41am, read like this:
Looking at the leathery grey faces of the men on the Irish government front bench it’s hard to resist feeling like all vitality is being sucked out of you. None of them really has any idea what’s going on, they just think they’ve a right to be there, a right to be in command, even when they’re not. All the information they get comes from their special advisors and hired consultants. You can see that they’re not really there at all, but thinking about the pension, and the escape, whichever comes first. Whatever happens, it won’t happen to them; they know that. But might the guillotine beg to differ?
This morning, and the reason I feel like a Freeman this morning, I read an excerpt from the legislation rammed through last night.
‘AND WHEREAS IN THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE WINDING UP OF IBRC THE COMMON GOOD MAY REQUIRE PERMANENT OR TEMPORARY INTERFERENCE WITH THE RIGHTS, INCLUDING PROPERTY RIGHTS, OF PERSONS;’
Let me shorten that:
THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE WINDING UP OF IBRC THE COMMON GOOD MAY REQUIRE PERMANENT INTERFERENCE WITH THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS;’
But look at the second bit: permanent interference with the rights of persons. And I feel like a Freeman because I was under the impression that one of the main points of having laws was to prevent interference with the rights of persons. I feel like shouting “Are you on your oath, TDs?” at those who voted for this legislation. What right do they have to decide that the law may permanently interfere with the rights of persons? They are only representatives. Did they swear some secret oath that allowed them to say, yes, we have the right to permanently interfere with the rights of the people we represent? Isn’t there a law against this? (Answer: this is the law)
We all know what ‘the common good’ means nowadays: it means the common good as articulated by the European banking lobby and the local bourgeoisie. So we can say farewell to our Freeman friends with their belief in common law.
But then I don’t feel like a Freeman, because in fact, the Freemen are in the government. They are the ones convinced they have a sovereign right –simply because they were elected- to demolish people’s rights, permanently, and to do so not only through banking legislation, but through facts on the ground: stripping away the social and material infrastructure that sustains people’s rights to health, education, welfare, labour protections, and so on.I submit that the Government Freemen feel they can vote for such things because people let them get away with it, because people continue to recognise them as their legitimate representatives, even when the reality of that representation is four score and ten drunken assholes rutting and whooping in celebration as they do the will of the European banking lobby. I submit that the only way of ridding Freemen and their legalistic hocus-pocus from government –a legalistic hocus-pocus that imposes illegitimate debts and mass misery- is to make it clear, on the streets, and via every other channel possible, in the simplest and most forthright of terms, that they do not represent us.
I submit that we should beware the Freeman belief in lawful rebellion too, which believes it can ‘instruct governments’ on pain of ‘peaceful and dignified mass protest’. As with other Freeman beliefs, this imagines that a government conducting all manner of assaults on rights is willing to do its bidding through the hocus-pocus of representation.Until that moment of rupture comes, we might as well all be eating sandwiches made out of Black’s law dictionary.