Despite this being posted under my name, it's actually a collaborative post with Meredith. We're posting from a Starbucks in Cardiff where I have just finished emailing back my papers while listening to Welsh natives Future of the Left - review-/-myspace)
Using the phrase “august institution” is rather trite unless you’re actually talking about an organization founded and intended for the late summer month, but it seems entirely appropriate when discussing the Oxford Union. With its grand libraries and imposing chambers, I’ll leave it to Wikipedia to fill you in on the organization’s history, but we’ll tell you a little bit about it’s recent goings-on.
We arrived in Oxford by train to find ourselves at Malmaison, a prison converted into a boutique hotel which was, by far, the swankest accommodation we have yet come across. Meredith paid more attention to the details of it all and filled you in her last post – Darryl was too busy napping on the fantastically comfy pillows.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in our new digs forever: we were on the guest list for that afternoon’s event at the Union. The famous and powerful Alex Just had kindly accepted the arduous task of looking after Team America. Antonin Scalia, Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America and distinguished advocate of Originalism, was speaking. Regardless of your opinions on the legal philosophy, it was fantastic to hear his defense of it. While we both still wholeheartedly disagree with him, it was nice to hear the arguments put forward as something other than the caricatured treatment that it often receives (though perhaps deserved). He was an engaging and interesting speaker, but we had actually put most of that part of the afternoon out of mind until writing this post. Not through any fault of his, but because we found out before the start of his speech that our night was going to be a very, very interesting one indeed. After watching him speak, Meredith would be seated next to the Justice at dinner before that evening’s debate. Meredith (indeed I am now officially writing about myself in the third person) would be happy to share any of the intimate, juicy details she learned about him at dinner on an individual basis. Having the honor of sitting next to a Supreme Court Justice, and across from a famous former Oxford Union President was quite a thrill.
That debate was an event in itself. 75 years ago, the Union debated the motion “This house would under no circumstances fight for King and Country.” It was 1933, and the passage of the motion caused a massive commotion. In a hearing even better attended than the debate, Randolph Churchill and his supporters, who felt that the passage of the motion presented the country as weak in the face of Hitler, attempted to expunge the motion. 75 years on, in the midst of the Iraq war, the motion was to be debated again. Speaking for the proposition was a former Labor MP who was removed from the party conference by force, despite being in his 80’s, and tried under the Prevention of Terror Act. Alongside him was a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Niwona Peace Prize winner, and noted author as well as a pro-peace activist who has been living on Parliament Square across from Westminster since 2001 in opposition to military action. On the other side was the Shadow Home Secretary Neil Harvey, an MP from the Liberal Democratic party, and a British Military officer who was to have flown back from Iraq to participate. Was to have flown back. Unfortunately, he could not make it, and thus, Darryl was to stand in his stead. We should actually say Professor Darryl, because somehow he became an expert on moral philosophy. Ironically, we had a discussion two days prior regarding Darryl’s lack of qualifications in that field. Nonetheless, Darryl made America proud and many believe won the debate for side opposition.
The rest of the evening was a blur – Meredith chatted with Scalia, Darryl helped rally the Union to vote in opposition to the motion, and then we followed up a with a few hours of socializing in the Gladstone room and then with Scrabble ‘til five in the morning with our gracious host as always, Alex. In the interim, plenty happened, but I’ll leave it to another post to talk about my debates with the former MP over the history of Kosovo and to Meredith to recount her evening with Justice Scalia.
Our day in Oxford, which started comfortably late the next day, featured a fantastic tour and plenty of coffee. The city is, to err on the side of understatement, absolutely gorgeous. When one imagines academia, we guessed it would be shadows of Oxford. We didn’t imagine how right we would be. Before we began out tour, Alex directed us to a cafe serving traditional English breakfasts in the central market area. We walked through the central market and then toured the many different Colleges of Oxford University. Alex explained to us the university system and any other bits of history he knew off hand. We saw the original “ivory towers” at All Souls College (we believe), the posh Christ Church College, and one of the first libraries built in Oxford. We climbed to the top of the University Church of St. Mary tower for an excellent view of the entire city. After wandering separately for a few hours longer in Oxford, we met up with Joe (a member of the Oxford debate team) so that we could navigate our way to Cardiff. He was an excellent guide, and made sure we arrived at our B&B safely. Patrick, again, chose a wonderful person to make sure we didn’t end up drunk in a gutter.