"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The constitution - an exercise in irrelevance

The current debate on the Main List concerning the supremacy, or otherwise, of the Nova Roman constitution once more brings back into focus the actual need for such a document in Nova Roma. The main arguments in favour of a constitution are:

We need it, as the corporate status of NR requires that by-laws be established, and these by-laws should enshrine the immutable principles.

We need it, as it provides a defence against hypothetical unscrupulous officials in Nova Roma who may one day try to usurp the functions of the “state”.

We need it, as it is a temporary stop-gap until the populace of Nova Roma develop sufficient Romanitas for a resurrected mos maiorum to safely replace it, as the principles enshrined in the mos which would be part written, part oral tradition (most of us know for example it is not appropriate to urinate in the middle of a shopping mall – it is simply “not done”) would replace the constitutional protections enshrined in the current document.

We need it, because as a micronation it is appropriate that people have a clear sense of what the guiding principles are and have one clear and unambiguous source for ultimate protection of their “rights”.

There are various other variations on the above themes that I could, but won’t, list. So do we need it for one or all of the above reasons? I could construct arguments one-way or the other. I will simplify this though.

Nova Roma is a voluntary organisation. Ultimately everything exists inside of NR because the citizens (members) will it to exist. They accord it all the rights and privileges that it claims for itself and its officials, by consent. All sorts of dire circumstances could conspire to produce a rogue official, but what is the worst such a person could do? What is the extent of his power to harm a citizen of Nova Roma?

Zero is the answer. If everyone refused to acknowledge him or accord him any of those rights and privileges, then even if the entire Senate had fallen asleep and failed miserably to protect the people, and even if the people themselves in their comitia failed miserably to protect themselves, action by sufficient key citizens to ignore such a rogue would reduce him to impotence.

All power in NR derives from the people, its citizens. By all means enshrine certain key points in a set of by-laws (a very much truncated form of the current constitution) and leave the remainder as a set of guiding principles – the initial component of the restored mos maiorum Since the people can change everything, including the by-laws, in Nova Roma, it makes a constitution as a guarantor of rights and institutions pointless. If the people collectively decide to call the Senate the Klingon High Council and substitute titles from Star Trek for Roman ones, and make worship of Kahless the official religion, no constitution or law in Nova Roma will stop them. So designing an armour-plated defence against mass insanity of the populace is a pointless exercise. Designing a single document, as a defence against rogue magistrates is unnecessary – just ignore them.

Too much time, effort and angst is expended on worrying about this wretched document. It is unnecessary, un-roman and ineffective. At some point we have to trust to the common sense of the people to defend the institutions and principles of Nova Roma, and to their developing sense of Romanitas. Since we cannot prevent the people from destroying Nova Roma should they so choose, we are only left with the option of trust. If we all accepted that simple fact, life in Nova Roma would become so much more bearable and more historic to boot.