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Is it folly to ignore art?

PoliticsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 29, 2015 12:43:45

Is it folly to ignore art?

In Sean Gabb’s latest talk to the LA he seemed to have embraced a completely bogus thesis viz. that art aids society in general, especially the morale of the ruling class.

Sean also feels that the progress of the LA has been very disappointing and he expressed the rather odd idea that this was because there is not enough libertarian art. Some libertarians on Sean’s LA blog agreed with Sean on both art and on the more realistic looking idea of a lack of liberal progress since 1979, especially on the futility of LA activity, but, despite appearance on that latter idea if we have different ideas from the LA on the progress rate of the spread of ideas, if the LA was right in 1981 then that is a similarly unrealistic outlook on expectations of progress from libertarian propaganda and some of those who agreed with Sean even expressed that it was not clear to them of whom the enemy of liberalism is, or of what progress of the pristine liberal idea would amount to.

I will begin with a short re-statement of what I take to be the main content of the 1981 purpose and strategy of the LA.

The main idea is that ideas change slowly. We cannot realistically ever expect rapid progress. We can witness instant conversion, of course, in the odd individual case, but customs change way more slowly, for most people are conservative with a small “c” and so tradition is often against change, but customs do change nevertheless. It simply takes time. It takes decades, or even centuries, rather than days or weeks.

There is short run propaganda and long run propaganda that manifests in society in two forms of politics, that we might call 1) practical politics and 2) theoretical politics. Harold Wilson, a career politician, rightly said that “a week is a long time in politics” and this was, and is still, clearly true for his sort of politics.

Theoretical politics, or ideological politics, would haply be better off with the statement that a decade is not very long in the aim of changing society. But slow change does take place.

The LA was never thought to be a pressure group to get practical politicians to do just one thing, such as the Anti-Corn Law League, or recently, the UKIP [though they decided to go into a party before their pristine aim of getting out of the slowly emerging super-state was achieved] but rather it was a long run ideology group. The aim of the LA was to muster propagandists or “intellectuals” or extraverts who habitually tend to foster or change public opinion. They may not be bright people but they are usually outspoken.

It usually takes about fifty years to make noticeable headway in this quest to change fundamental ideas. Such propagandists will be few in number yet they matter way more that the general public in this quest to change fundamental customs, here the aim is to roll back the state.

The foremost violator of social liberty is the state; so our enemy is the state. Getting that rolled back, or reduced to zero, is the aim of the LA, and recruiting the propagandists is the peaceful means to that long run aim; but tax cuts are fine in the short run. But no results can be soon attained and facile pessimism and disappointment in the LA needs to be carefully dodged. Pessimism is not realism. A rise in membership to a thousand or two thousand in five to ten years would be success for the LA. That is what we thought in 1981.

How do things stand now? We had a bad upset in 1982, of course. Before then we seemed to be growing quite well.

The Internet shows support for ideological groups and below is the statistics for meet-up groups.

50 Socialism meetups:

5,377 members

238 Feminism meetups:

42,389 members

442 Conservative meetups:

73,728 members

487 Libertarian meetups:

74,410 members

Now I will give an account of Sean’s talk then criticise it, as well as a few comments made by others on the blog. Sean, more or less, said the following: that at the end of the 1980s many thought that libertarianism was doing well. We had seen off socialism. Most were optimistic but one young man was not: Sean Gabb.

What have we achieved in 25 years? One LA puts on monthly meetings. My LA collects money but apart from keeping the movement in being, it seems not much has been done.

It might be different in the USA, but I doubt it.

Since the 1980s it has been stagnation or decline for libertarianism. We are all intellectuals and that is the problem.

I always thought it was stupid to get people talking at bus-stops but nowadays we do not even seem to be doing that but only talking to ourselves. This is not the way to win debates or to influence the world.

How did the left come to dominate things? They were not concerned with mere ideas. They won because they focused on culture.

Films made by John Ford starring Henry Fonda spread leftist ideas by a narrative and a world view that rendered them acceptable. J.B. Priestley in the play, later a film An Inspector Calls (1954) with Alastair Sim delegitimises the past. We all have duties, not just rights. I read the play at school.

It is the likes of J.B. Priestley and George Orwell that count, and even G.B. Shaw, though I always thought he was a bit of a windbag, but they all three won the day, but not Laski. Laski and Marx are not all that important.

All this culture established Political Correctness [PC] but The New Statesman and The New Society, Marcuse, and the like, are not so important but art succeeds brilliantly.

The LA go on about von Mises and so not surprisingly we are ignored. We ought to produce novels and plays or ballet rather than books on economics. No one reads books by Eamonn Butler.

The left have took over as they focus on what is important. We need a counter narrative in the UK. It is a bit better in the USA, as there is more of a culture for libertarianism there. They have novels, music, film-makers there and similar are needed here.

We need libertarian poetry, ballet, novels for we need to give up going on and on about the economic calculation argument [eca] and defence problems. We have had 40 years but there are no libertarian film-makers yet.

Hayek’s Road To Serfdom (1944) had no particular influence but Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Darkness At Noon (1940) Arthur Koestler did influence have a great impact and those books destroyed communism in the UK. I was converted by 1984 but I was not much affected by The Road to Serfdom.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks won out owing to art. Eisenstein, Shostakovich and general Socialist Realism culture made the late USSR look glamorous. On recent visits, I look up at the tops of the buildings of the tower blocks and I see excellent art. It was not Marx or the theory of the Bolsheviks that maintained the USSR for so long but the art.

Do you associate art and libertarianism? I don’t.

There Sean handed it over for discussion.

I think that art plays no part at all in politics. That we have zero allows us to be exact about its actual role.

Sean has his own theories about the ruling class but my own view on class can be prefaced by what Marx said on class for he said we can classify people as we wish but objective economic interests is what matters and I would say that Marx got nowhere near discovering such objective class interests, for there never were any to be found. In fact, there are none. So, far from history being full of class struggle there are no classes like the ones Marx imagined, none at all, in history. The Marxist meme of class is pure Romance. There is a ruling class [i.e. a group in government and in the administration of the various states] but no objective economic class interests.

Sean seems to have overlooked how bleak establishment thought it was in 1944, when Hayek wrote that book. One man it did influence was Orwell, who wrote a review of it. He had thought, beforehand, that capitalism was doomed. The Times in the 1940s was full of the over confident E.H. Carr editorials stating that the market might not last even another week. It all looks silly today and the cited book was a factor. Hayek was a way bigger factor in ending all that gloom than Orwell or Koestler ever was.

As for ballet, has even Sean ever been to a performance of that? Girls seem to love it but I am surprised to see a man even mention it, and Sean seems to be about the only male that I have known to do so, but then I do not know a female who does not claim to have wanted to be a ballet dancer and actively aimed at it by dancing when young. Until Sean’s talk, I thought only females ever cared about it. It clearly does not influence politics very much, if at all.

I read 1984 in 1968 but I saw it as anti- Bolshevik rather than anti-socialist. It did not affect my, then, enthusiastic socialism one bit.

As I said, the media is not dominated by the left today. They feel that it is, instead, the right wing that dominates the BBC, but I would agree that that is not very realistic of them and I think they are even less realistic than Sean is, in that respect. I think the BBC is more statist than market biased, as it is state owned [though it began as a private company], but they do try to be fair.

The enemy is the state. Some socialists imagine that they, too, are against the state. Orwell was one. I used to be another.

The liberal idea is the top idea today but few see they need to get rid of illiberal ideas to be coherent on it, at least not outside the LA. So the majority of people today do not see the state, especially democracy, as illiberal. But the LA does.

Culture itself [culture qua culture] never matters much, as it is too vague and nebulous anyway, but the things that do matter will often be cultural; like the nation, love, justice to cite but three items out of many that are important for people.

One chap said that the state might decide all our entertainment. But what entertainment thrives depends on what sells, not on the rulers. Politicians often pretend they like that, but whether they do, or not, hardly matters much to the masses. When Gordon Brown pretended to like Cold Play he haply alienated more people than he successfully pandered to. In any case, the ruling class cannot determine successful entertainment.

What the LA opposes is cultural but it is also illiberal; it is the state. Liberty uses private ownership as a means but no one who thinks clearly defines liberty as mere private ownership. I do not need to own things to be free. To think so is to be confused.

Of course the shorter word, liberal is more apt than libertarian, as many on the blog rightly said, and one chap said those who are against liberty should be called puritans, but many puritans can be liberal. So statist is clearly the proper name for those who want to restrict liberty, not puritan.


Sean replied:

“I’ll begin the comments by thanking David for an accurate and fair summary of what I said last week. Beyond that, I’ll only repeat myself that we do seem to have been barking up the wrong tree – forty years devoid of measurable success.

The Great Schism of 1982 may not have helped. On the other hand, two fairly vibrant Libertarian Alliances emerged from that. The truth is that we had no impact on British politics when we were a unified movement, and none when we were spitting venom at each other, and none when we came to our senses and became friends again.

Look at it this way. Christ was crucified in 33AD. Within thirty years, there were enough Christians to be worth blaming for the Great Fire of Rome. In 1983, Peter Tatchell lost a safe Labour seat because he was outed as a poofter. Thirty years later, we had gay marriage. In the early 1960s, South African apartheid seemed unshakeable. Thirty years later, it had fallen apart. In 1985, we were talking to each other and hardly anyone else. Today, we are talking to each other and hardly anyone else.

Oh – thirty years ago, some of us were predicting a police state. Today, we live in one.

You don’t get a paradigm shift in five years. But we’ve been in this game longer than the average life expectancy of 1900. We ought by now to have some indication of success. We are so marginal, I don’t believe we are being watched even passively by the security services.”


Thank you for your reply and criticism, Sean, and for making my reply into an independent blog article.

I think we are barking up the right tree but we need to be way more active. However, even if we were as active as I wish we were and there had been no upset in 1982, so there had been a more robust LA all along, as well as a better one today, things would haply look much as they do today. It is not so easy to see the results of long run liberal propaganda in the short run but it is clear how silly the1940s The Times columns of E.H. Carr look today. I think Hayek was the main factor there but it is not at all easy to exactly measure progress.

I do not think that two active LAs emerged from the 1982 upset but rather that an active base in London was cut off from the national LA network. Things never were quite the same again. Both groups were weakened compared to the pristine LA.

It never was the aim of the LA to directly affect British politics. We were out to capture the extraverts, or propagandists, and to bias them against politics and more action by the state.

Christianity has a nominal success but a “Christian” is as ignorant of the creed as an Irishman of actual Irish history or a Marxist of the ideas of Karl Marx. But the main fact here is that versions of the creed were going a lot longer than only a few years between when Paul converted and the persecution of the creed by the Romans and Paul converted to a network that not even his energy created in the short time that you think. There never was a pristine Jesus Christ, of course, the word never was made flesh, but we pitch his death just before Paul converted to the creed, but I think the network was being built up a long time prior to then. G.A. Wells once said he thought it was around about three hundred years prior to Paul.

Do you feel that if Peter Tatchell had a heart attack on failing to win that safe Labour seat then daft David Cameron would be any the less keen on gay marriage, such that we would not have it today? You seem to be the complete Romantic, Sean!

Ever since 1962, Christianity has seemed utterly perverse to me. It is phenomenal that it ever caught on, even with brilliant and hard-working propagandists like St Paul spreading it. But so is a Conservative Prime Minister pressing for a gay marriage law that must alienate most of his natural supporters, and the fact that a Conservative party ever wants to modernise is also phenomenal. The majority are always going to be conservative. Even New Labour upset many people by modernising. Those examples certainly show the power of ideas, or of fashion, or of both. But the long march of what we now call Political Correctness [PC] was going long prior to 1900. It is, basically, the very perverse ideal of Equality.

South Africa did not look solid in 1960 to many, certainly not to me, but it had the USA on its side at that point for there was, back then, about as much apartheid in the cities of USA as there was in South Africa.

PC need not be statist, of course. Many liberals, maybe most liberals, have been exceedingly fond of the crass idea of equality. It has never been the very top idea. Liberalism is! It was in 1800. Maybe it was very much before then too. As I said above, in the now blog article, few people want to vie or mesh their ideas together for coherence. They simply do not see democracy, or even the state, as illiberal. But the LA is right that it clearly is such. But it is not obvious today. It will be in the future. This is because people are not often interested in those things, just as they are not often interested in art. If the public do not look, then they will not see even the clearest things.

That you were about the only one who looked up at the top of the buildings on your visits to the lands of the late USSR should have told you about the little effect on others was of the excellent art that you enjoyed, Sean.

Statist PC is not only illiberal but totalitarian thus the emerging police state you cite, Sean. But the ideal of PC, which is equality, the market, has served way better than the state ever can, and the free market would serve even faster and better but it would be free of totalitarian coercion.

Adam Smith saw that fact back in 1776. He felt that the workings of supply and demand tended towards price equality and he was quite right.

Now the economists have developed the theory of the price system, it is way easier today to see that he was right. There has been a long run societal movement towards equality beginning long before 1776 and it continues to happen to this day, off-set only by short run new inequalities introduced by innovation, invention, amongst other things, like new fashion, that tends to make the whole process a levelling up one. The luxuries of one generation that had to be in short supply to begin with have often become the everyday goods of the next, and this the statists call “trickle down” just as they call competition “cut throat” but both are social boons. Nothing needs to fall from a table and no throats need to be cut. That is merely the hyperbole of statist propaganda.

Indeed, profit is the hallmark of social service just as taxation is the sign of abuse towards others. The market is largely colour blind, indifferent to homosexuality, but it does not privilege groups by coercive law, as statist PC does, but then such privilege flouts the PC ideal of equality, as politics cannot be even or just, to one and all.

Politics has to oppose some group as the enemy, a Romantic ideal that is anti-liberal to its core but it is anti-equality too. So PC ought to go free. Liberalism has an institution as an enemy rather than any class of people, including the ignorant ruling class. De jure statist equality law is always de facto privilege.

When Enoch Powell said in 1968 that a constituent told him that in ten years’ time the black man would have the whip hand over the white men he might have replied that they already had the metaphorical whip hand since 1963, as the whites were under-privileged in relation to the blacks privilege owing to the racial discrimination laws of that year.

Sean, the plain fact is that we have only just begun to talk to each other theoretically. I do hope we continue a little before we decide break off. I have no idea what your ideas of class amount to. But I am an ex-smoker so not the best chap to champion the liberal right to smoke, and similarly, as an ex-Marxist, I tend to think class is sheer bosh rather as I tend to think that Christianity is, as an ex-Catholic.

But I ought to confess that I do not mind being marginal, or unnoticed, by my enemy the state. As people, I wish state employees, at any level, no harm at all. The Enlightenment outlook, which I champion against the Romantic reaction that reacted against it, has no enemies. That politics intrinsically gratuitously uses proactive coercion against at least some people is the major fault of the state and it is why politics can never be fair.

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A response to “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist moralism”

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Wed, March 18, 2015 12:57:55
A response[1] to “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist moralism”[2]

J C Lester

We are first told that

"Some of the currently most popular forms of libertarian thought are defined by a commitment to the “non-aggression principle” – a principle which holds that it is always wrong to initiate physical force against other human beings."

Although “popular”, this is a poor expression of libertarianism. “Aggression” is problematic as being what libertarians are against. For one thing, it is rarely explained exactly how non-aggression is supposed to relate to a theory of interpersonal liberty. For another, “non-aggression”, in plain English, is no more up to the task than “non-coercion” (another libertarian favourite, although less popular of late)—not without charitable interpretation, at least. As glossed in the above quotation, “aggression” clearly does not work for two main reasons. 1) Theft and fraud don’t need to involve anyone having to “initiate physical force against other human beings”: you don’t need to initiate physical force against me in order to steal my money or cheat me out of it. 2) Consequently, it will sometimes be necessary to “initiate physical force” against thieves and fraudsters: to arrest them and bring them to trial, for instance.

That said, we can try to make a little more sense of the “non-aggression principle” (NAP); partly because many libertarians use it, and partly in order to move towards something clearer. Therefore, we might, as above suggested, provide a charitable interpretation of “aggression”, e.g., ‘the proactive interference with the bodies and external property of other people (where that property is itself not acquired by proactive interference)’. And if we do that, then it begins to make sense that the absence of such “aggression” is what interpersonal liberty is (although this sets aside various precise philosophical problems with this account). For such “aggression” against us would be other people initiating constraints on us. And we can then make sense of interpersonal liberty as the absence of such initiated constraints. (However, it ought at least to be mentioned that what liberty is—as a theory and as social phenomena—is a factual matter that is completely separate from the moral issue of whether breaching such liberty is “always wrong”. Conflating the two issues, as the article does, is a major source of confusion.)

Having rectified that account of the “non-aggression principle” sufficiently for our current purposes, we can now proceed to the second major error in the article:

"The problem is that libertarianism seems to imply that environmental pollution, insofar as it constitutes or involves aggression against other human beings, is morally impermissible. Not just a bad thing, mind you, but absolutely morally impermissible in the same way that theft, assault, and murder are."

The error here is easily explained. The “non-aggression principle”—as interpreted here, at least—is best seen as being what observing liberty fully or absolutely would require. That is, full liberty is the absence of any “aggression” (i.e, proactive interference with people and their—non-proactively interfering—property). Now, it is true that pollution will be “aggressive”. But that is only half of the story. Because to prohibit the activities that are causing the pollution will also be “aggressive”. Consider a simple example. If I have a fire for warmth and cooking, then you might suffer some minor pollution as a result. But if you can force me not to have a fire, then you have deprived me of warmth and cooking. Both the allowance and the prohibition of pollution will be “aggressions” (although ‘proactive impositions’ seems to be a clearer expression). Whichever one is preferred, or however they are balanced, there will be some “aggression”. Therefore, it is impossible to implement the non-aggression principle in the event of such clashes. So what is the libertarian solution? It is surely libertarian to maximise liberty. That means adopting a minimum-aggression principle (or MAP). And that probably involves compromise and possibly compensation. How are minimum aggressions to be determined? They can often best be measured, traded, and compensated for by assigning market—or, at least, reasonable—monetary values to the gains and losses involved. In any event, the general solution to the problem is to see the NAP as referring to observing liberty when matters are one-sided. But the MAP applies when there are clashes.

Note that this proffered solution is not, as the article suggests, restricted to “discrete interactions between identifiable individuals”. It applies just as much to “a world increasingly characterised by the complexly interrelated activities of large numbers of dispersed individuals”. But to engage in, say, class actions (as the legal term has it) over “contemporary environmental problems such as automobile pollution, acid rain, and global climate change” is not in any anti-libertarian sense to be “less individualistic in identifying perpetrators and victims”. However, there is an important equivocation here. In one sense, rules that are intended to protect the general public (rather than any individuals in particular) are thereby, ipso facto, not “individualistic”. But they can remain individualistic in the libertarian sense that is opposed to collectivism (whereby individuals cease to have claims to liberty because of the greater good of the majority). Such individualism-in-principle is not abandoned just because there are lot of indeterminate people involved. Neither is the MAP in principle “less absolutist”. This is because liberty remains the thing that must absolutely be maximised. Consequently, it is clearly possible to “keep the individualism and absolutism where it makes sense” because, as interpreted here, it makes sense everywhere.

Then we are asked this question:

"How can libertarians still maintain that it is wrong to impose a small tax on the wealthy, even if the social benefits would be enormous, while allowing that drivers are entitled to send small amounts of toxins into other people’s lungs since, after all, the social benefits of driving are enormous?"

The question is confused in two main ways. First, no libertarian need concede that it is even practical “to impose a small tax on the wealthy” such that “the social benefits would be enormous”. This mere logical possibility flies in the face of the deleterious unintended consequences of tax-transfers. In an imaginary world, the state might be a welfare boon. In reality, it is a welfare bane. There is no sound reason to suppose that “utilitarianism” must in practice “countenance violations of individual rights”. Second, it is, at best, a muddle to describe the libertarian case for allowing the “toxins” caused by driving as being because “the social benefits are enormous”. It is, again, necessary to look at both sides before applying the MAP. 1) Allowing driving despite its toxins: this will proactively impose (“aggress”) to a minuscule degree on people (probably too small to make compensation claims economic); and this has to include a deduction to the extent that any particular individuals also engage in driving, or benefit from the consequences of driving (such as the delivery of goods to their area, etc.), or chose to move into an area where driving is allowed, etc. 2) Banning driving because of its toxins: this would proactively impose huge costs, in one way or another, on almost everyone. Hence, 1 is the liberty-maximising option.

If the foregoing analysis is roughly correct, then the answer is not “waiting to be discovered by future libertarian philosophers”.[3] And it is more mere fantasy and confusion to suppose that any solution must ultimately mean “pushing libertarians back … toward the more moderate classical liberalism of Adam Smith, David Hume, and Friedrich Hayek”.

Clarificatory conclusion

Because of the way that the problem was originally framed, it is easy to misinterpret the above response. In particular, it might look as though it amounts to a moral advocacy of a sort of consequentialist libertarianism to replace deontological libertarianism. It does not. And such an interpretation would be to miss the crucial main point in a typical way. For the response is not really about libertarian morals. It is about what interpersonal liberty is (in abstract theory) and what applying it objectively entails (in normal practice). Most self-identified libertarians unwittingly have a moral muddle without a central factual theory of liberty. They cannot yet see that they first need to sort out what liberty is, and therefore entails if instantiated, and only after that can moral questions about it be coherently raised and tackled. An analogical error would be utilitarians who could not even give an account of utility.


[1] The article in question repeats a criticism of libertarianism that was one of those raised ( and briefly answered ( on The revised replies to those criticisms are now available in a book chapter (Lester 2014, Ch. 5). But as the new article is somewhat different, and the audience different, a reconsideration of these important issues seems merited.

[2] IEA Blog, 20 February 2015:

[3] It ought to be noted that any attempt to refute this overall theoretical approach that is based on criticisms in Gordon and Modugno 2003 or Frederick 2013, ought at least to be aware of the replies to those criticisms: chapters 9 and 10 in Lester 2014.


Gordon, David and Modugno, Roberta A. 2003. “Review of J.C. Lester's Escape from Leviathan: Liberty, Welfare, and Anarchy Reconciled.” Journal of Libertarian Studies 17, 4: 101–109.

Frederick, Danny. 2013. “A Critique of Lester’s Account of Liberty.” Libertarian Papers 5, 1: 45-66. Online here:

Lester, J. C. 2011. Arguments for Liberty: a Libertarian Miscellany. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

—— [2000] 2012. Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

—— 2014. Explaining Libertarianism: Some Philosophical Arguments. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

Zwolinski, Matt. 2015. “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist moralism”, Institute of Economic Affairs, Blog, 20 February. Online here:

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Adam Smith

EconomicsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 01, 2015 21:47:31

The Wealth of Nations (1776) discussed.

On Thursday, 19 February 2015, Melvyn Bragg and his guests, Richard Whatmore, Donald Winch and Helen Paul, on In Our Time, radio 4, discussed Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations (1776). I will say what each speaker approximately said then add a few comments of my own. This method hardly reproduces the programme as it was but it does report the substance of it.

Bragg said that Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory, whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Scotland was way ahead of London intellectually for this was the time of the Scottish Enlightenment and Smith was one of the major thinkers of that phenomenon.

As a boy, Adam Smith was a scholar who did well at Grammar school then later at the University of Glasgow but he found the University of Oxford way below par. However, he used his time there to do a lot of reading. He went to France and met Voltaire, amongst many others. His 1776 book was based on his careful consideration of the transformation that was wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and it looked at how the result contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in nations around the world, so the book outlined a theory of wealth, and how it is accumulated, that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other book so far. Bragg said he rather liked the fact that Adam Smith was willing to let the seat of the British Empire move from London to Philadelphia to preserve it.

Richard Whatmore, the Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews said the book was basically against the state regulation of markets. The Wealth of Nations (1776) came out of the Enlightenment in general and the Scottish Enlightenment in particular. Adam Smith was born in 1723into a Scotland full of problems, not least the divide between the Highlands and Lowlands. David Hume saw that commerce needed to be taken seriously by the state, but owing to early losses the rulers in Scotland agreed to the Act of Union with England in 1707 on the promise of compensation, or full replacement of the losses, so many thought that “Scotland was bought and sold for English gold”. But despite those fears that it might be bad for Scotland, the free trade zone that 1707 introduced seemed soon to be a success. But there was the upset of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, so all was not harmony.

Commerce was seen as the basis of society so the state needed to be concerned with it. As the basis of society commerce was new, though commerce itself was old. The new society needed to be justified. In the past commercial cities had been defeated by agricultural or shepherd states, as Rome had beaten Carthage for example.

Commerce was not so good at war, so commercial societies did not tend to last long. But in Europe, by the eighteen century, commerce had become more stable. Why? This needed to be both explained and justified and this is what Smith set out to do in his book.

Smith found that part of the explanation was that ordinary men saw that, if they saved a bit, they could soon make conditions for themselves and their families a bit better by working on the market system in some specialised job.

Adam Smith was a very historical writer and he held that an economist would need to be an historian too. He held an account was needed from the fall of Rome up to modern times and he planned a big book to show the rule of law was needed but he burnt the notes for this third book on not getting round writing them up, but he revised his two main books repeatedly till the end of his life. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was not just an early stage that he later abandoned but rather central to his life’s aims.

The invisible hand metaphor is used in The Wealth of Nations (1776) once but in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) a few times. Adam Smith saw himself as a moderate between mercantilists on the one hand and the physiocrats, or complete free traders, on the other.

Adam Smith did not expect this book to have much influence. One of his major ideas was unintended consequences. Tom Paine loved book III and IV of the 1776 book. But Edmund Burke also loved The Wealth of Nations too. But his major book on law was not begun but rather he burnt the notes for it.

Donald Winch, the Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex said that Adam Smith’s father had died early and his mother became very close to her son, who soon attended the local Grammar School, in Kirkcaldy. At the age of 14, the boy went on to the University of Glasgow and he was good at both the school and the college. At the college he had Francis Hutcheson as his teacher. Hutcheson was one of the first not to lecture in Latin but rather in English. All the teachers he had at the college were full professors.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was revised till Adam Smith’s last days. He burnt his notes and plan for his big third book. He was against the egoism of Thomas Hobbes. He favoured social rather than selfish activity.

By Smith’s time, England no longer had a peasantry, though other nations still did and they also retained other aspects of feudalism too. But in England all had become partly merchants, as Smith noted. His 1776 book was in five books. “Greed is good” but Adam Smith did not say so. But he held that each can make things somewhat better by saving for the future.

Mercantilism was the very opposite of what Adam Smith wanted, as it was the inverse of liberalism.

Smith delayed publishing The Wealth of Nations for three years to see what happened in America. He lived in London away from his beloved Kirkcaldy home owing to his concern about the fate of British Empire. He held that mercantilism was no good so the colonists were right to reject that aspect of the British Empire.

Smith was against corporatism. Beware of businessmen when gathered together as they might well be in a conspiracy against the public, he warned.

Helen Paul, a Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton said that Adam Smith was against both the mercantilists and the physiocrats. Mercantilism was old but the politicians in Smith’s still largely held to it. This old paradigm held that trade was zero-sum.

Adam Smith used the example of the pin factory where one man could not even make a single pin a day on his own but with about eighteen others with distinct tasks on the division of labour then thousands of pins might be produced.

He did work that led to the current knowledge we of the price system but he worked before that was completely achieved.

As he thought that shipping should be protected as it aided the problem of defence he was not quite fully in favour of free trade.

COMMENTS: The three experts did not do too badly. They might have said that Joseph Butler was the big influence in David Hume to get him to reject Thomas Hobbes on egoism and Butler also said there is not enough self-love too. Hume adopted both in his ethical writings and later Adam Smith did too in the 1759 book.

Clearly, Smith’s main idea of the division of labour gears all who join it to serve others as a by-product whilst doing their best for themselves and thus the metaphor of the hidden hand, as it is usually interpreted, is quite superfluous.

Richard Whatmore was right to note that trade rarely fits well with war for trade is aimed at service rather than with abusing people but the state sets out to rule the people, rather than to serve them, and its coercive governing can soon spill over into war, especially when state meets state.

Richard Cobden saw that free trade crowds out war, a thesis he found in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

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An Ethical Foreign Policy

DefencePosted by Stephen Berry Sun, February 22, 2015 19:07:13

Someone once wrote, “At the high level, the UK’s first national interest must be to promote the prosperity, peace and happiness of UK citizens.” I agree. So let’s take a scientific attitude and look at those countries whose foreign policy has been most successful in doing this for their citizens. After all, if we wanted to decide on an economic policy, we should look to emulate those countries which had been the most economically successful.

I would contend that the two most successful European countries in promoting the peace and prosperity of their citizens were Sweden and Switzerland. Over the last 100 years, when literally millions of Europeans have been slaughtered in various conflicts, I doubt if more than a handful of Swiss or Swedish citizens have lost their lives in conflict. Both these countries also enjoy a high standard of living with Switzerland probably the wealthiest country in the world.

So what is the foreign policy which performs this trick? Quite simply put, the Swiss and Swedes mind their own business as far as is humanly possible. They even managed to stay out of the two world wars. If the UK were to do this for the next 100 years, it’s a strong possibility that it and not Switzerland would be the wealthiest country in the world.

In any case, I raise a glass to 2015 as the first year for a very long time that British troops were not engaged in a conflict somewhere in the world.

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Ukrainian Resolution

Current AffairsPosted by Stephen Berry Sat, February 21, 2015 10:51:49

NATO has received a well-deserved trouncing in the Ukraine and the coup d'état organised to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Yanukovich has spectacularly backfired. This result is in line with other recent examples of Western foreign policy in the Middle East, so we can detect a certain continuity here. The wish to bring Ukraine into NATO must now be put on hold.

When the residents of the Donbass region rose in revolt because their Ukrainian government had been overthrown by force, the leaders of the Kiev putsch decided to continue the use force and brutally crush them. Thus we saw a stand-off between Kiev backed by the West and the Donbass rebels back by Russia. Why has this turned out to be such a fiasco for the West? Two main reasons can be detected.

First, NATO’s tried and tested method of gentle persuasion, the bombing campaign, could scarcely be employed in the Ukraine. What had been used with such alacrity in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria could scarcely be ventured against Russia. True, Russia can be bombed, but it was also possible for Russia to bomb back. Russia is not a militarily ineffectual Third World country and in Putin, NATO must have known they were dealing with a man who could not be trifled with. Hence the hysterical fist waving in the Western media whenever Putin’s name is mentioned.

But the second reason is, in my opinion, the more important and interesting. There are a number of countries in the EU who want and benefit from good relations with Russia and do not share the present US obsession with weakening Russia at every opportunity. The most prominent of these is Germany which is Russia’s most significant trading partner. I doubt whether Merkel was consulted on the policy to destabilise the Ukrainian government. Certainly, she must be hopping mad as to how the Ukrainian stand-off has so badly damaged Russo-German relations. It’s clear she wanted the Ukrainian problem fixed and German differences with the US on this matter are not just ‘tactical’ as Obama recently fondly maintained. US and EU interests do not always coincide and the Ukraine crisis acts as a big red flag to both parties.

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Why the progress of liberty has been slow

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47

What is liberalism?
And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more rapid progress?

Whether pristine liberals are conservatives depends only on how much liberty there is in the current status quo. Presumably, the T.H. Green-like neo-liberals from the 1870s, and the Labourites too, are conservatives today. As liberty has been ebbing since 1860, today’s liberals will look radical, or maybe reactionary as they want to revive liberty that many might feel is to try to revive the past but the aim is liberty not trying to revive the past which is never likely to be an aim of anyone and would be futile if ever it was. Liberals today simply want more social liberty, not only the liberty lost since 1860 but much more still. Indeed, many liberals want to get rid of the state altogether. Whenever they do, then they will become conservatives. Whether we are conservatives depends on what we want to conserve.

Liberalism is clearly part, some even think the whole, of basic morality, so there is a sense that nearly everyone the last 3000 years, or more, were partly pristine liberal, and had the basic idea that they should not impose on others without consent, but they do not vie this idea with many other ideas that rival it, or even see that many of those ideas are in competition, if not logically clash, so most people do not see a need to vie our ideas for overall coherence, that many people today might even think is an odd, or an extreme thing to do, if we are not philosophers, and in this case, where we would have an extreme result of suggested anarcho-liberalism, or, at least, that we cut back the state about as much as we can, for many of the rival values held in current common sense today are not compatible with social liberty, or even with basic morals, but indeed they clash with morals. They are allowed only by tacit or unwitting licence or even with quite explicit privilege. This privilege is often thought to be realistic if not quite ideal.

The LA members basically do vie their ideas, and they throw out statism as a result, as it is based on this special licence and privilege e.g. to kill and plunder in war. The LA wants to get all people to do likewise.

Pristine liberalism is just the quest for social liberty, which is just the ideally civilised respect we all ought to have for the liberty of all rather than just our own individual liberty, that we tend to have naturally. This is basically just respect for all persons. I think we do know the basic rules best here whenever boy meets girl, for that is where the proper way we should treat others has received most attention in literature and song over the last few thousand years.

We all like our own liberty, to be free to do what we want to, and we all, more or less, tacitly know this, so being too bossy when boy meets girl will rarely be used by either side during courtship. Savage individual liberty is doing what you want regardless, but social liberty additionally incorporates a civilised respect for the liberty of all others.

If ever bossiness emerges, from one side or the other, when boy meets girl, later on, well after the honeymoon period in marriage, say, then it will usually be seen as a fault, though the side at fault might not openly admit to it, even when it is realised. We are often reluctant to admit that we are at fault. The husband who attempts to dominate too much may well admit it as a fault as may well the wife who nags too much after a time. Tolerance is needed and this tolerance of others, especially of their liberty, is pristine liberalism; tolerance is a candidate for the top liberal idea. But an important liberty is that for either side to reject the other person when we no longer want to tolerate that person, or to never to begin a relationship at all in the first place. All this is social liberty, both sides being free.

So as we all accept the liberal idea as part of our basic universal morals then a pristine liberal movement should be like going downhill, as the people are all partly liberal already. It is in our basic morals. Moreover the liberal idea is not only part of basic morality but is haply the leading, or top, value in morality. Social liberalism is merely showing consideration for the liberty or persons of others. Why, then, have the liberals not, long since, won out? And then why did it decline after 1860, [oddly, by evolving into almost its opposite of statist neo-liberalism by extending the political power of the state] instead of continuing with the steady progress with increasing social liberty up till that time? Those are two interesting questions. I will attempt to give the core answers to both below; but I suppose a whole book might be written on either or both.

The answers to both have two aspects, first of desirability and second of practicality. On desirability, liberalism may be the top idea, but is it all that we want we want? Today, most people would say not but the liberals tend to say it is.

The main answer to the first of the lack of speedy progress has already been given: most people do seriously not vie or mesh their ideas explicitly for consistency and coherence; they are rarely energetic philosophers, but they do tacitly and naturally indulge in such thought a bit. But the reason this explicit vying of ideas needs to be done is because, despite the liberal idea being the top moral idea and the fact that aware moral ideas normally trump rival non-moral value memes, or ideas, liberalism has many rivals: indeed he whole political outlook is full of them. As already said, vying for consistently is seen as extreme and current common sense holds any extreme to be error. But that is a clear fetish, as many extremes are welcome by all e.g. extreme good health is just one example.

Most of the rivals to liberalism are old, as is the state and politics. Tradition and conservativism are strong in any society as they represent what has survived trial and error. So this gives most people to settle for a common sense mix of ideas rather than rejecting the ideas that clash with the liberal idea as the LAers do.

Standing as traditional is almost on par to successful standing up to reason, as it is often thought to contain quite a bit of actual testing by reason. This will be the tacit natural thought that most people will have given whilst being mainly interested in other things that they are doing. What ideally would be the case would be for most people to look at the main enemy of social liberty, the state, with their undivided attention to see if it is beneficial, as current common sense holds or whether it is anti-social as the doctrinaire or ideological liberals hold to be the case. The liberals say that main result of vying our ideas explicitly will be to reach liberalism, will be an anti-statist stance that clashes with the state, which has a long tradition that stands as a defence. This anti-state conclusion is a bit too radical for most people, at least at first. They are interested in doing other things.

But even the statists, or politicians, also feel there is too much apathy in society, or rather people are keen to do other things rather than look on the whole, that they tend to think neglect being keen on the good things they suppose the state can do. The local vicar thinks most are not keen enough on religion too. Why is this? One major reason is that society has long since been based on the division of labour that tends to train us to mind our own business and we tend to do this in terms of play as well as work. Only philosophers tend to look at the wood for even in science they are usually looking at mere trees. This means that most people are not often interested in other things.

But few people do vie their ideas anyway. Philosophers do tend to do so, but philosophy has ever been popular, though we all indulge in doing a bit of it; even if it is not realised to be such.

So most people settle for not being extreme liberals; but they, nevertheless, do retain the liberal idea as their top moral value. Such people accept the common sense idea that the state is basically good, so the fact that, in politics, or overall state administration, the state employees can not only do immoral things but that it might even be, given current common sense realism, their duty to do such things, as they are due to do so as part of their work for the state, and the state is accepted as needed and good, is widely accepted as merely being realistic. That politics clashes with liberalism is seen to be just the practical limits of liberalism.

Common sense therefore allows different standards for the state; the state is given license or privilege. Few think it odd that the fictional spy, James Bond, is licensed to kill, for example, despite holding that murder for the ordinary person is about the most immoral act that could be done. The ideological liberal, who does vie his ideas, will think this distinction very silly, as well as downright immoral. Why privilege the state or politics? The pristine liberal sees no reason as to why. But most people today do. They feel it is only practical to do so. It is practical politics but is it morally right? Is politics itself right? Pristine liberals tend to think not.

There are many other ideas that liberals oppose that current common sense, whilst agreeing that the liberal idea is at the top, or at least very nearly so, nevertheless, thinks the doctrinaire liberal ideology of the LA is being way too extreme to use this top idea to negate as being actually immoral. That, it is commonly thought, is to be so extreme that it is almost descending into being mad.

This is the sort of thinking, that most people hold today, is what helps to keep the pristine liberal movement at bay as being wildly extreme and so slows its progress; or even fosters opposition to it. The state is thought to be highly desirable, as tradition suggests it is so. Why? Because the state is still here; we still have the state. That is enough to get tradition on side for why did they not get rid of the state before if it is as bad as the liberals say it is. It was thought to be desirable in the past so maybe it is, on the whole, today. But only a few philosophers, or quasi-philosophers, are willing to look at the whole and to also explicitly vie their ideas.

Then there is the problem of practicality. Even the LA itself is not completely an extreme anarcho-liberal group but rather it is an alliance between anarchists and limited statists. The latter doubt if we even can dispense with the state. Most liberals in the past have been like that, indeed they have held that the state is basically good, but that the market can do some things, maybe most things, better. Many LA members are still like that, as well as nearly all the pioneers of modern liberalism since about 1500. But since about 1700, actual anti-statist liberalism first emerged that saw the state as evil rather than good, but still thought it a necessary evil. Tom Paine said it was a necessary evil in Common Sense (1776), as it was needed to deter and punish crime from those who do not respect other people. Ideally the evil of punishment would never arise but as some criminals are highly likely to offend, then this necessary evil will be needed to deter them.

In the nineteenth century, some anarchist-liberals, like Josiah Warren, emerged who greatly influenced J.S. Mill, who was a candidate at being top economist and the top philosopher, not only in the UK but even in the world, as well as being the top liberal in his heyday.

The LA has all three types of liberals but not the statist neo-liberals who emerged after 1860, though the enlightenment paradigm propagandists often welcome them still calling themselves liberals as they are critical of pristine liberalism, laissez faire but, oddly, not so often of free trade; though both terms mean the same thing, i.e. liberty from the state, but some authors, especially academic historians, have attempted to say there is a difference, as they say that free trade is between nations whereas laissez faire is liberty within the nations; they feel that means two distinct types of liberty! The neo-liberals do often think they retain the liberal idea in their democracy, and they explicitly do in their moral criticisms of others [indeed, in their basic morals] in being against rape, and the like, but their rampant statism even within their democratic ideal, shows up that they also have many delusions and inconsistencies in their statist “liberal” creed.

Anyway, the pure liberal idea is rejected by most people on the idea that its practicality is severely limited, especially in its main opposition to the state.

Despite such common sense objections, liberalism made steady progress up till the 1860s, but then, within liberalism itself, there was a reaction. The Liberal Party never had accepted the anti-statist meme within liberalism and when it formed a government, or an administration, that aspect of liberalism not only seemed extreme but also quite perverse to almost any member of the House of Commons [MP].

Many novelists and historians had earlier felt there was more to the top Tory authors like Thomas Carlyle, his epigone Charles Dickens, and his disciple John Ruskin who wrote against the commercial society and the idea of free market or its utilitarian bourgeois outlook, especially the chief utilitarian propagandist, Jeremy Bentham. This Tory outlook was part of a wider Romantic reaction was against the very idea of Enlightenment, that is associated with the liberal idea. J.J. Rousseau began this Romantic reaction against the French Philosophes but soon Edmund Burke made this movement more substantial with his attack on Richard Price and Burke soon converted many of the 54 authors that wrote against him, like the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, to Romance. One result of all this was a lot of diverse propaganda that was always effectively, if never quite explicitly, against liberty. Many in the Liberal Party tended to agree with the MPs that more politics was needed to counter this heartless laissez faire. As the pristine liberal MPs got older, or died off, the switch from classical liberalism to statist neo-liberalism was all but complete by 1900, with, maybe, the sole exception of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

A factor in this was the rise of the Fabian Society from the mid-1880s onwards, that made the idea popular that socialism was to the left of liberalism, to exploit the sense of progress that the early pristine liberals like James Mill and Francis Place won from about 1800 on for the liberal idea, and the Fabian had success with this idea to the extent that, today, the modern mass media call pristine liberal free market ideas right wing! Why? Because they oppose statism! This very successful propaganda group, the Fabian, followed up Joseph Chamberlain in his generational case against Gladstone to replace pristine liberal ideas with the newer statist ones. This was yet another clever emotional move to suggest that the future lay with statism and imperialism.

However, in 1886 Chamberlain left the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland, but, by then, nearly all the younger MPs that he left behind were statists. Joseph Chamberlain’s innovation of statist neo-liberalism was home and dry. The pristine liberal idea was in abeyance till its slow revival beginning in the 1950s, but this time mainly as a moral movement to get the public to think seriously about anti-social politics.

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BBC radio on Democracy day.

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Tue, January 27, 2015 14:52:49

At the House of Commons with Democracy Day due 20 January, the BBC yesterday got the moral and political philosopher, Professor Michael Sandel, to spur an audience to apply some critical thinking to democracy that was broadcast at 8:30am on Tuesday 20 January 2015. Michael Sandel presented this special BBC Democracy Day edition of The Public Philosopher, recorded in the Palace of Westminster with an audience of MPs, peers and the public the day before.

Sandel lead on a few issues, beginning with J.S. Mill’s rather futile idea of giving many votes to the educated, as if even a hundred votes could have anything like a hundred times the affect, or even any effect at all of note, on the result in a very large electorate.

Few people want to think about democracy. 1) The audience wanted, on principle, an equal vote, so there was a mass rejection of Mill on more votes for the educated. Each vote should count the same. Yet the consistency arrangement tended to rule that out. Many, as thoughtless as Mill, thought that some system of PR might rescue the affect that a vote might but clearly a vote or many votes in a large electorate is bound to be insignificant. This seemed not to be noticed at Westminster. 2) They also wanted accountability to the public, as if that could be had in Representative Democracy [or in Delegative Democracy either] where the experts make up long diverse manifestos that few can find time to read and where any single issue, or topic, is basically well obfuscated. It might as well not be there. 3) They wanted to do what is right [suggested by Sandel to be what is Politically Correct {PC} but soon adopted by the audience of MPs and others as obvious too] even if against the majority [they do not even notice that this PC meme is not one whit democratic, but rather sees it as a duty to go against it on capital punishment; and indeed on any PC issue, if ever it is rejected by a majority] so they reject referenda too, as it will not do the right thing i.e. be PC. They all like the PC privileges on race and sex.

Students do not like to be blamed for not registering to vote. Blame itself is nasty and against PC. PC is against judgement. Indeed, they were all far more PC than democratic. So when democracy clashes with PC it is held to be wrong but they still want to say they are not ruling in favour of PC as they feel PC is part of democracy in a way.

They conflate the two but not only does democracy clash with PC, but with liberty too. But as democracy is always an attempt at proactive coercion against others, so it is always somewhat illiberal. It is intrinsically against liberty but, again, the audience conflated democracy with liberty too; as do many in the mass media and even in political philosophy departments in the colleges.

Many in the audience held to Mill’s idea that voters needed to be educated, even if they rejected his more-vote solution. They hinted at a solution of being paid to spend time finding out instead, and many of the audience suggested special days off to be educated before each pending General Election, an getting paid for educating themselves about it from general taxation.

Some MPs feel that marginal seats are tails that wag the dog in claiming all the attention of all the political parties and that some form of PR might solve that imbalance, they said.

Democracy can be used by liberals to negate the negation, to vote for rolling back the state or for full privatisation and that is like reactive or defensive voting rather than a proactive attack on others.

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The reformation of Islam

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Thu, January 08, 2015 14:38:38

The long swansong

Satire is the chief enemy of Islam in those swan song days of its prelude before its “death” in the form it has been hitherto, but, its new life, after this “death”, a new life as a normal bourgeois religion is slowly emerging before our eyes.

This normalisation is what its adherents have long dreaded, and many Muslims still dread it today, but most of Islam’s younger members, especially the males have already been there since about 1970. It was clear that many teenaged males, and also older males, in their twenties, were drinking beer on par with the UK natives in public houses, or pubs, by the late 1960s, yet that alcohol consumption is a great departure from Islam, even though mosques were, back then in the early 1970s, springing up as though the creed was growing rather than ebbing.

Most of the many UK mosques, maybe, date from the early 1970s; a lot certainly do. But by 2070, they will most likely be closing UK mosques more rapidly than they are the forsaken Christian churches in the UK today.

This normalisation of Islam is a cultural tide that many Muslims still wish they could roll back. That is what the Rushdie affair of the 1980s was about and it is what the attack on the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, Wednesday, 7 January 2015, was about too.

Twelve people were killed in the attack on the magazine offices to get revenge for targeting Islam in their cartoons. Eight were journalists and four others, including two policemen were also killed. Eleven others were injured; a few were reported by the BBC as badly so.

The reaction will only enhance the felt need for most Muslims to conform to French normality. A few more Muslims might join the jihad to try to protect Islam as it still is, but way more will want to conform to religious normality as a result. So, ironically, the cultural tide they seek to resist will be boosted by their resistance. Such jihad resistance can only effectively score own goals, even if they do also recruit a few to aid them in the short run.

Cherif and Said Kouachi are said to be the main two attackers on the magazine yesterday. They are now on the run, but still armed. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced to three years in gaol, back in 2008, for recruiting jihadist fighters to go to Iraq from Paris. Yesterday, Hamyd Mourad, 18, on hearing his name on the news, handed himself in to a police station in Charleville-Mezieres. So he is already keen to conform. That indicates that even the very committed may soon drop out, owing to this sort of activity.

The magazine's office had been earlier firebombed in 2011. It had been a long running aim of the staff of the magazine to deliberately normalise Islam.

Bystanders yesterday reported that the gunmen shouted in the street as they made their getaway, saying "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" , "we killed Charlie Hebdo", and "God is Great" [in Arabic] too, but if they have killed off this particular magazine, many new ones are highly likely to arise to further satirise Islam. The aim of Charlie Hebdo staff to normalise Islam looks unstoppable, even if the magazine itself now folds up.

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