Silly, Mischievous Fools and Rogues

The following extract from Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945 by Nicholas Rankin (pp379-380) is taken from a minute to the Security Executive, made on 06 September 1940, by Sir Alexander Maxwell, Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office, in response to a proposed defence regulation making it 'an offence to attempt to subvert duly constituted authority.'

There would be widespread opposition to such a regulation as inconsistent with English liberty. Our tradition is that while orders issued by the duly constituted authority must be obeyed, every civilian is at liberty to show, if he can, that such orders are silly or mischievous and the duly constituted authorities are composed of fools or rogues [...] Accordingly we do not regard activities which are designed to bring the duly constituted authorities into contempt as necessarily subversive; they are only subversive if they are calculated to incite persons to disobey the law, or to change the Government by unconstitutional means. This doctrine gives, of course, great and indeed dangerous liberty to persons who desire revolution, or desire to impede the war effort [...] but the readiness to take this risk is the cardinal distinction between democracy and totalitarianism.

Sir Alexander Maxwell
06 September 1940

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