The Call of Ellan Vannin

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Freedom
isn't some fanciful creature of the imagination, like Bigfoot. It
actually exists, and I've seen it. For in the year of our Lord,
2006, I had the marvellous privilege of fulfilling a lifelong personal
dream: the dream of travelling to an enchanted place I'd always
wished to visit. Well, perhaps I'd not held the dream that long.
For you see, it was roughly 6 or 7 years ago that I was reading
some smashing stuff from fellow liberty lover, Ron Holland, when
I happened upon a trivia question of his that gave me pause:

"What
country has the world's oldest, continuously functioning parliament?"

Wow,
talk about being intrigued…and flummoxed. Imagine my dilemma.
Here I was, an honor student who recently graduated with a major
in history/political-science, and I couldn't even tell you what
the world's oldest parliament was. So, after sitting at my desk,
hopelessly straining for an answer for what seemed like hours (probably
4 or 5 minutes), I swallowed my pride, and clicked on the answer.
Thus began a love affair I've had with this special land ever since.

Where
is this place? Ah, a fair enough question. One man, my cabbie, who
drove me to my hotel there, laughingly said that some folk abroad
derided his homeland as nothing more than "a rock in the middle
of the Irish sea, that 80,000 people desperately cling to."
Ah, but rest assured…those detractors are wrong, for the Isle
of Man is ever so much more than that.

On
the contrary, it is a place of timeless tradition, whose proud people
nourish a culture of freedom and peace that defies any effort to
stamp it out or subjugate it. Take for instance its motto: "Quocunque
Jeceris Stabit." Roughly translated, it means, "Whithersoever
you throw it, it will stand." That is aptly put. For ever
since the days when Julius Caesar himself referred to it as "Mona,"
the tiny isle has been under periodic threat of invasion. Though
the Manx people have fiercely resisted numerous invasions of their
homeland, sadly the Isle of Man has never been able to maintain
its total autonomy and independence for very long. It finally was
occupied by the Vikings first, followed by the Scotch, and then,
lastly, the English. Many occupiers have come and gone, but this
all-important fact remains, with a lesson for all would-be empires
of our time: those armies are all gone, yet the people of Man are
still there. Aptly put indeed, though violently tossed about through
the storms of time, the island has stood.


The Promenade
in Douglas, Man's capital city

What
Freedom Looks Like

I
can remember arriving in Douglas, the capital city of Man, and walking
out the hotel doors to behold the beautiful promenade stretch down
the coastline for a full two miles. Breathing the salty sea air,
I was awestruck to see scarcely a spot which a beautiful Victorian
villa or structure didn't grace. Elegance was all around, and yet
it was all so understated, so humble and unassuming. I couldn't
help but smile, thinking of the great prosperity that their Christian
faith and their desire for liberty had brought them. Looking back,
I can definitely say that one of the main reasons I've come to love
the Isle of Man, and wanted to visit it in the first place, is that
it's a place of great liberty. Now, at the risk of sounding like
a man who slices liberty up into little areas of life (which we
know is defunct, since liberty is all-encompassing), I couldn't
help but notice the prosperity that a liberty-minded tax policy
brought the people of Man. This place is a living testament to the
fact that lower taxes mean more prosperity. Consider a few examples
of the Manx peoples' attitude to taxes:

  • They
    impose no capital gains tax.
  • They
    impose no wealth tax.
  • They
    impose no inheritance tax.
  • They
    impose no corporate tax (except for banks, which is at 10%).
  • Their
    income tax caps off at 18%, and stops after an individual has
    paid a maximum of 100,000 Pounds in one year (200,000 if filing
    jointly).

Now,
at this point, I'll just bet that most people reading this might
wonder how such prosperity is tolerated in the E.U.

"Wouldn't
they immediately stamp this poor little economy into the mud with
mountains of u2018wondrous and progressive' regulations, taxes, and
fees? This place just smacks of a target for the envious, power-hungry
bureaucrats of Brussels and London to sink their fiscal fangs into.
Why hasn't the E.U. taxed them into an economic stone age paradise
like the rest of Europe?"

Come
on, admit it, you were thinking that, weren't you?

Ah,
but therein lies the Isle of Man's great secret to their success:
they are neither part of the E.U., nor are they part of the United
Kingdom. Allow me to explain.


The Villa
Marina, along the Promenade in Douglas, which together with the
Gaiety Theatre, are the national theatre of the Manx nation

For
a while, during the late Middle Ages, the island was under English
feudal governance, yet since 1764 when it was revested to the Queen
of England, the Isle of Man has belonged to the British Crown. To
this very day, the Queen is considered "the Lord of Man."
It is a unique governance arrangement that only a few other lands
share with the British Royalty. This peculiar arrangement is called
a "Crown Dependency," and though the Queen still technically
owns Man, the land itself remains independent in that it is not
part of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, no law that is passed in
the U.K. applies to Man unless the island is specifically named
in the legislation. They have their own tax system, their
own version of the British Pound (used exclusively on their island),
their own postal system, and their own parliament. To make the situation
even more deliciously sweet, under the Treaty of Rome, the Manx
people can ship goods to and from Europe free from any tariffs.
Bottom line: they still play "God Save the Queen" when
Her Majesty is on the island, but in matters of actual governance,
the Manx people call the shots. Glorious.

Now, things
aren't always as they should be in Man though, due to the few laws
that do end up being applied to them from Westminster. For instance,
the infamous 1997 Firearms Act, which greatly restricts gun
ownership rights, also applies on the Isle of Man. In addition,
the Manx are also required to participate in the awful VAT system.
The VAT, or “value added tax,” which is similar to our sales tax,
has just been raised in many parts of Britain from 15% to 17.5%,
proving to be a deadweight on the local economies. By the way, is
it just me, or can anyone think of a worse name for a tax than this
one? I know it's meant to tax a good when value has been added,
but a person casually reading it might subconsciously think that
the tax adds actual value. Since when has a tax ever added anything
to a good or service other than undesirability?

All in all
though, if compared with the rest of Europe, the Crown Dependency
arrangement, however imperfect, has been largely beneficial for
the Manx people. One has to wonder why this remarkably successful
home-rule experiment isn't tried more often in other parts of the
world (Tibet, maybe? Come on China, whaddaya have to lose?). True,
by libertarian standards it would be a baby step toward real freedom,
but maybe, just maybe in an age defined by clarion calls for progressive
totalitarianism, it just might be the slow working antidote we need
to counter decades of legislative poison.


The picturesque
town of Peel

A
Land that Nurtures Ritual

Another precious
virtue that sets the Isle of Man apart is that it is a land of enduring
tradition. It was my keen desire to observe those traditions, particularly
their civic traditions, in action. Their parliament, for example,
as noted earlier, is the world's oldest continuously functioning
one. Now, a good-natured citizen from Iceland might argue that perhaps
their parliament (based on many of the same Norse models) might
be older, but theirs has had a few blips in its governance along
the way. However, the Manx parliament, called Tynwald, dates as
far back as A.D. 979, and is not just a government for the Manx;
it's a way of life.

The key thing
which makes Tynwald so different than other parliaments is the ceremony
their parliament presides over annually on Tynwald Day or National
Manx Day, as it is sometimes called. It is best described by a conversation
I happened to overhear between the President of Tynwald, Mr. Noel
Quayle Cringle, and a news reporter. When asked to describe the
Tynwald ceremony, Mr. Cringle responded venerably thus: "tis
an ancient civic ceremony, equal parts spectacle and ritual."

Held in the
normally sleepy little town of St. John's, the Tynwald ceremony
makes the whole community come alive every July 5th.
I watched as the people at St. John's gaily celebrated with folk
dancing, games, and eating. There was such a festive, happy mood
in the air that day, that I found myself whisked up in its energy
like leaves in the wind.

As we watched
the procession begin, all the members of state that were present
went into the Royal Chapel of St. John the Baptist, the Manx national
chapel, for a worship service (which the entire throng outside can
participate in if they so desire, by watching it on a televised
screen as it is taped live within the chapel). After the worship
service had been conducted, all those within the chapel headed down
the pathway to Tynwald Hill.


Tynwald Hill
looking toward St. John's

The person
who proceeded out first was the national sword bearer, who carried
the Manx national sword
of state
. The sword is a symbol of the Manx nation, and though
no one is sure of its origin, it has been dated to at least the
12th century, and is believed to have belonged to the
last Viking King of Man, Olaf Godredson. Behind the sword bearer,
followed the Queen's representative, the Lieutenant Governor, as
he walked the path, and ascended Tynwald Hill, followed by the members
of the House of Keys and the Legislative Council.

The scene is
something to behold. First of all, Tynwald Hill is shaped as 4 circular
steps rising up to the final step, where the Manx flag is planted.
The flag rises up through a huge pavilion during this ceremony which
covers the entire hill. Here's where it really begins to get fascinating
though. Once all are seated atop the hill, two Deemsters (law readers),
clad in their robes and long wigs, begin to read aloud every single
law that the Tynwald parliament has passed during the previous year.
All of them. The first Deemster reads them aloud in English, and
the second reads them aloud in their native language, Manx Gaelic.

"Talk
about transparency!" I thought to myself. "Is there anything
more transparent than having to go out into the very heart of the
people and tell them every single piece of legislation you passed
for the past 12 months?"


Tynwald Hill
with all Manx heads of state

Sadly though,
while such a ceremony would be a huge improvement if conducted in
the United States, it would be logistically impossible, due to the
fact that our legislators (be they federal, state, or local) feel
as if they aren't doing their jobs if they don't pass a bajillion
laws. It is a tragic commentary on the current political climate
in America, when the Manx reading of an entire year's laws are almost
shorter than our President's state of the union address!

Before I knew
it, the reading seemed over with before it had begun, for in the
previous year of 2005, they'd only passed a whopping 7 laws. It
took less than two hours to read them all, even while reading them
in two languages!

After the formalities
were finished, the parliament left the hill to convene over any
unsettled business. Once finished, they adjourned for the summer,
not reconvening until October, nearly 4 months later. Don't you
wish our legislators did, well, a lot less legislating? Wouldn't
the world be a better place if they did? Think about it. I'd gladly
double all congressional salaries if, in return, they agreed to
vacation for 3 to 6 months a year, and just leave us alone. What
a bargain that would be!


St. Patrick's
Isle just off Peel, by oral tradition, is where St. Patrick landed
and made his HQ as he witnessed to the Manx people

After the ceremony
was over with, I wandered over to a local pub with a strange, bittersweet
feeling that kept nagging me. I couldn't figure out quite what it
was. Awhile later, while pondering it all over a pint of Okells
(the official beer of Man), I finally put my finger on what was
bothering me, and in that moment I discovered something about myself
too. It was the first time I'd been away from the U.S. on July 4th.
I wasn't merely absent though. I was away from the U.S. on its Independence
Day to specifically celebrate another country's Independence Day.
At first I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty, but then I realized
that it had been many years since I felt there was anything worth
celebrating on July 4th anyway, except memories of events
and times that happened long before I was born.

Americans,
if they're honest with themselves, will admit that most meaningful
freedoms have been gone for a long time, while the rest are disappearing
at alarming rates. Perhaps I came to this land to see what real
freedom looked like again; to see something living and present worth
celebrating, not just memories of "auld lang syne." I
yearn for a time in America, when we can do more than wistfully
remember better days which occurred hundreds of years ago, but actually
enjoy better days right now, and look forward to making better days
in the years to come. Alas, and yet, as we patiently await and labor
for our freedoms, even as we struggle for them, let it be said of
us as it is said of the Manx: "Whithersoever you throw them,
they will stand."


The Manx Triskelion,
the national flag of Man

February
2, 2010

Nathan Blevins
[send him mail] lives
in the scenic Smokey Mountains of east Tennessee with his lovely
wife Courtney, and their son James.

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