William Godwin on Loyalty Oaths

Shamelessly stolen from Ted:

Certainly there cannot be a method devised at once more ineffectual and iniquitous than a federal oath. What is the language that in strictness of interpretation belongs to the act of the legislature imposing this oath? To one party it says, “We know very well that you are our friends; the oath as it relates to you we acknowledge to be altogether superfluous; nevertheless you must take it, as a cover to our indirect purposes in imposing it upon persons whose views are less unequivocal than yours.” To the other party it says, “It is vehemently suspected that you are inimical to the cause in which we are engaged: this suspicion is either true or false; if false, we ought not to suspect you, and much less ought we to put you to this invidious and nugatory purgation; if true, you will either candidly confess your difference, or dishonestly prevaricate: be candid, and we will indignantly banish you; be dishonest and we will receive you as bosom friends.”

If the Government is keen to revive ideas from the late seventeenth century as part of its “citizenship agenda”, how about a new Triennial Act, which would be a great improvement on what we have at present, rather than a Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade, which wouldn’t?

6 thoughts on “William Godwin on Loyalty Oaths”

  1. I’ve been looking at chapter two this morning, on the history of citizenship law in the UK, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Goldsmith uses the word “complicated” as a synonym for “racist”.

  2. Over here, the newspapers are reporting this as a proposal to institute an “American-style ‘pledge of allegiance’,” which I guess is how some British opponents of the proposal have also characterized it — all overlooking the history of oaths of allegiance in Britain–not to mention in the United States, where in living memory we’ve had loyalty oaths much more pernicious than the rote recitation of “The Pledge” in elementary-school classrooms. I’m more sympathetic to the British writers who’ve characterized it in these terms, since I can interpret this as a strategic ploy designed to ridicule the idea by making it seem American. Here, I’m afraid, the ignorance is guileless.

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