British Empire Falls to Human Will
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Perhaps this will be but a minor note in the annals of history, but on January 22, 2004, a man completed a naked hike from the southern tip of Great Britain to its northern end.
Stephen Gough, age 44, began his nude hike at Land's End in southwest England in June 2003 and walked 847 miles (1,450 kilometres) to John O'Groats in Scotland. It took him seven months, five of them spent in prison. Government operatives repeatedly sought to block his journey by arresting him, putting him on trail, and jailing him, but he persevered and stuck to his naked principle. His victorious arrival at John O'Groats was celebrated by a group of local folk who cheered and welcomed him. The media was also there to record this triumph of the human will against the forces of the state.
The "naked rambler," as he came to be called, was not completely bare, as he wore socks, boots, and a hat, and carried a backpack. Nudists like him do not completely reject clothing, but accept what is needed for health and safety. The hat offered protection from solar radiation, and the socks and boots prevented injury to his feet. He saw no need for other textile coverings, so he wore none. This was all quite rational, as far as he was concerned. Gough sought to promote the idea that the human body is not an evil thing, and that human beings have a natural right to be their pure selves. "My body," he said, "is who I am."
But the British Empire struck back at Gough. Some British subjects were offended. They complained to the authorities. But if it is properly a crime to offend others, then there is no free speech, no freedom of religion, no liberty to express one's culture. This effectively gives those who control government the authority to impose their particular values on all others. This is not liberty but supremacism. The proper way to avoid being visually offended in a free society is to be in a community of property owners who do not allow such sights on their own property. But instead, these British subjects sought to harness the might of the Kingdom to impose their values everywhere.
Sixteen times, British officials arrested this man, even though there is no law specifically prohibiting public nakedness in Great Britain. The United Kingdom's law prohibiting indecent exposure applies not to mere nudity but to sexual exposure or the intent to harass others. Gough was convicted of behaving in a "disorderly manner" and "committing a breach of the peace." He had to appear in court several times, and was put in prison twice.
Gough refused to cover himself with clothes when he appeared in court before their royal honors, the judges of Great Britain. The court authorities would wrap him in a prison blanket.
As he climbed the Scottish highlands in the winter, the temperature became cold Had he been allowed to walk unhindered from the beginning, it would still have been summer when he took the high road. The Great British Empire, with all its majestic laws and royal officials and prison dungeons, was powerful enough to delay him, but the Empire of law and government force could not defeat this one single human being who had no weapons except his naked body and his will power. Having been forced to trek the Scottish highlands during winter, if he had surrendered to circumstances and donned clothing, the Empire would have won. He stuck to naked principle and refused to dress. The human will of one man thus triumphed over all the forces of the mighty Kingdom.
This is not merely the story of one man's perhaps odd ambition to hike naked from one end of Great Britain to the other. Steve Gough symbolically represents the bare human being with just his body and will. The royal British authorities represent all the forces of the state, with all their kingly laws, weapons, prisons, and cultural prejudices. By refusing to yield, this single man was victorious against the regal power of the state.
To be sure, in a more vicious state, the authorities would have simply killed him. That Gough was not just shot and dumped in the ocean demonstrates the underlying rule of law rather than whim in the U.K. Nevertheless, the Empire tried to stop him, and the Empire lost that battle. So in his perhaps odd way, Steve Gough showed that peaceful civil disobedience, even by one single naked man, can triumph over governmental force. Had Gough resorted to violence, his goal would have been discredited and defeated. The lesson here for those who seek to change society and government policy is that taught by Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., that determined, persistent civil disobedience works.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
Also see our collection of
Victories Without Violence
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinion with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?