The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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Privilege and under-privilege

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Wed, April 08, 2015 17:42:29

It is the state that is illiberal and the state is the sole source of privilege and, thereby, of under-privilege too.

Statist Political Correctness [PC; the ideologues who push it are PCers] is maybe the chief ideology against liberty today as it is for totalitarian government and for general intolerance. However, if the said current totalitarian ideologues, the PCers, ever gave up their use of the state for protection of their pet groups, if they never sought to privilege them in law and so thereby under-privilege everyone else, then PC would be reduced to mere free speech. Mere mores may set up quasi-privilege but it is the law and actual privilege that is illiberal. So without the use of the state and the law, PC would be not one whit illiberal.

Similarly with the various religions, they are free only, if they are not protected by the state, or if they do not go into politics to dominate others then they will not be against the social liberty of all others, but if ever they do resort to the state then they will be against social liberty.

This is because active politics never can quite be neutral. It always abuses others by using gratuitous coercion against them. As it is today, free speech is the about main thing the PC ideologues want to outlaw. Oddly, they often say they stand for free speech but then they clearly contradict themselves by explicitly listing a long list of exceptions.

The Economist, 28 March 2015, (p35) carried an article on “The right to be rude” on religion and free speech.

This magazine that calls itself a newspaper is mainly concerned nowadays with crass politics, but it began as a liberal journal backing up the Anti-Corn Law League, the great nineteenth century propaganda and pressure group for free trade, that was soon led by Richard Cobden and John Bright. This pressure group aided the Corn Laws to get repealed in 1846 and then it disbanded but the journal continued, largely on economics in those days but since 1945 it seems, at least to this reader of it, to be way keener on politics and it might be clearer if it changed its name to The Politician.

It reports that an “offensive preacher” has acquired some unlikely allies. A Christian street propagandist, Michael Overd, 47, had repeatedly told two male homosexuals displaying their affection in public that they were sinners who would burn in hell. He also said that Islam was sinful in the main High Street of Taunton, Somerset.

Michael Overd had repeatedly told Craig Manning and Craig Nichol that they would burn in hell on seeing them boldly walk around hand in hand on the main High Street where Overd regularly went to peach to all and sundry. They took offence at this, but they nevertheless seemed to repeatedly return to the High Street to get more readings from the Bible on how very sinful they were from Overd.

The BBC news reported from what looks like an earlier court appearance by Overd, and his two “victims”. The case seems to have been in court a number of times, two times or even more, before the session that The Economist reported in March. The BBC on-line news site reports that in his earlier evidence for the court against Overd, Craig Nichols said:

“He said 'I have already told these two sinners over here that they are going to burn in hell'.

He looked at us and pointed at us when he said it. His voice was quite loud and very clear.

I felt angry, embarrassed and ashamed. It was a really busy day and I felt that everyone was looking at us when he was saying these things to us.

I asked him who he was to judge me and he said 'It's God's words, it is in the Bible'. He said I should repent and ask God for forgiveness.”

A Muslim judge, Shamim Qureshi, ordered Overd to pay damages for using threatening and abusive language from the Bible of £250 but the more serious charge of a religiously aggravated offence was rejected. When Overd protested at paying a sodomite such a sum the judge threated him with 45 days in prison otherwise.

Afterwards Overd said: “ If I heard someone preaching the things I am accused of preaching I would talk to them about it.” But, as George Bernard Shaw rightly said, the golden rule of doing onto others exactly as we would have them do onto us can, often, fail to show other people proper personal consideration, as a boxer might have a different idea of that from hairdresser thus either might have starkly inept rules. What is fine for an enthusiastic propagandist, like Overd, need not be apt for Nichols, or vice versa, but, given that the High Street in Taunton normally allows public speaking by tradition then Nichols seems to have had plenty of space to dodge ever being offended by Overd. On the face of it, it seems to have been silly of Nichols to take offence, let alone to repeatedly go back for more. Those who do take offence all too often, thereby, seem to earn it.

Peter Tatchell, a well-known gay-rights propagandist has offered to speak in favour of free speech in court for Overd. He does not agree with the Bible on gay-rights but he feels it should be tolerated as part of traditional civil liberty and free speech. Being spared offence is not a human right. To criminalise traditional religion is a step too far, he says.

What seems yet even more unacceptable to many organisations concerned with civil liberties and free speech is the Politically Correct courts and current totalitarian PC law in the UK. The National Secular Society [NSS] seems to hold that free speech is in danger, and they too have aided Overd in support of the general cause of free speech as a result. They say the PC legislation is too sloppy. Overd was prosecuted under the Public Order Act and it can lead to up to seven years in gaol if the threatening, insulting or abusive language that the law outlaws is deemed to be racially or religiously motivated.

The NSS, and other civil liberty groups, have recently got the law amended such that it is not only up to the police to judge if what is said potentially offensive. It needs, now, to be shown that the language was aimed at a particular person or group and that offence was taken by the targeted person or group. But many want further reform of the law to remove the privilege that religion still has in law, despite the abolition of the common law against blasphemy since 8 March 2008. They hold that the idea of religious aggravation revives this abolished blasphemy law to protect religion from criticism, according to the executive director of the NSS: Keith Porteous Wood.

Prior to this abolition, the law had long been allowed to fall into abeyance, or neglect, until Mrs Mary Whitehouse attempted to revive it in the 1970s, actually being successful in 1977; in the case of Whitehouse versus Lemon.

During the Rushdie affair, many Muslims sought also to revive the blasphemy laws, so that they could be used to imprison Salmon Rushdie, and any others who might write similar books to his Satanic Verses (1988), that seemed to them to set out to deliberately mock Islam.

But they overlooked, in this entire rumpus that the Rushdie affair gave rise to, that the British common law blasphemy laws were quite indifferent to Rushdie’s books but not at all to the Koran, that did indeed flout them in the way it basically rejects the Christian creed. So the Muslims, ironically, sought to revive a law that would effectively outlaw their own religion rather than protect it. When some of them realised that, they sought to change the old common law so it would protect Islam as well as Christianity.

On 5 March 2008, an amendment was passed to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales. The Act received royal assent on 8 May 2008, and the relevant section came into force on 8 July 2008. It was haply thought by the establishment that it would be better to abolish this law altogether rather than to too openly privilege Islam in the UK. The resulting need of the natives to kow-tow to Islam might have been too clearly an under-privilege to impose on the population, even for the increasingly eager UK totalitarian establishment of today.

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The Police and the Rule of Law

HistoryPosted by Nico Metten Mon, April 06, 2015 12:40:36
Apparently, one of the major responsibilities of the state is to protect our rights against criminals. It is this responsibility that even a lot of libertarians think we cannot get rid of completely. To fulfill this responsibility, we are told, the state needs to have a monopoly on using violence. The institution of the executive, which carries out this violence domestically is the police. To make sure that this monopoly in and of itself does not become a problem, the advocates of this system have implemented democratic controls. That way, the police can function as an efficient security service provider for the people. That is at least the idea. But does it all work as the architects of this system imagine it?

On first sight, this system does not seem to be a bad idea. For a society to function, we certainly need to have a rule of law. That means we indeed need to make sure that if it comes to a stand off between a criminal who is violating the rights of someone and the enforcers of the law, the law will ideally always win. And if you want to win battles it seems very useful, if not inevitable to have the majority of force on your side. If this line of thought is correct, does this automatically mean that we need to have an institution that at all times has a monopoly on force? Is there even a possible alternative to this approach?

To answer these questions let us start by having a deeper look at the basic idea. It seems to me that there are several flaws in it that need to be addressed. The most obvious one is, who is controlling the monopoly? The major assumption behind having a monopoly is that not all humans are of good character. Some are more than willing to violate other people's rights for their own advantage. If that is true, how do we make sure that these people are not taking over the monopoly? For that is what these bad guys are most likely planning to do.

There are various ways with which criminals could do that. The most successful one would be to take over the control of the whole state. This could come in various shapes and forms. One example might be a very primitive military dictatorship, in which everyone is aware that a group of people are controlling the system in their own interest. However, it could also come in more subtle forms. The state could still have the appearance of a rule of law, while a group of powerful people pull the strings in the background. The latter approach is probably more successful in securing the control of power in the long run. In whatever form it might come, the process of criminals taking over the whole state seems to have been completed in most states that we observe around the world.

However, there seem to be a few states on the planet that still have some form of division of powers and a rule of law. Having said that, I do not know of any state that is completely free of criminal influence. Corruption comes in different forms. The most simple attempt to beat the monopoly is to try to have some influence on the people enforcing the law. In other words, criminals try to influence the police.

The UK is worldwide one of the most respected states for its rule of law. But how justified is this respect? Compared to the total corruption observed in most countries, the UK indeed appears in a positive light. But of course this island is no exception to the fact that some people are not nice guys. These bad boys, here too have long realized that it might be a good idea for their 'business' to try to get in control of the monopoly. And they have been far more successful than most people might realize. Last year The Independent reported a number of leaked documents, suggesting that the legal system in the UK is indeed infiltrated by criminals up to the highest levels.

The whole idea that a monopoly on force can be controlled to serve the rule of law, really is a contradiction in terms. Any such system relies on the assumption that humans can be trusted to not abuse this position. But if humans were all nice guys, why would we need such a system in the first place? In truth, this system logically cannot solve the problem of dealing with criminals. All it does is taking the problem to a different level.

One might object to this by saying that the system might not be 100% perfect, but at least it works most of the time. I certainly agree that we cannot come up with a perfect system. No matter which system we come up with to protect the rule of law, we will likely see cases in which it fails. So the best we can ask for is a system with a good track record. I do not believe that all police officers are crocks. In fact, the vast majority are probably decent human beings, just trying to do their jobs as good as possible. We might see police forces in certain places on the globe who are systematically trained to fight the people. But I do not see any evidence that this is what is going on in the UK. However, despite of that the idea that the current system works most of the time seems very questionable to me.

Even if we assume that we are dealing with a lot of good police men, we are still stuck with some other problems. The business model of running a monopoly service provider is the business model of a central planner. So we can expect to see the same problems from centrally planning the police that we see in any other centrally planned business.

In a centrally planned service organization, resources are not allocated by prices and therefore the needs of the people paying for the services. Instead they are allocated according to the needs of the people running the organization. The same is true for the rules put in place to run the organization. These rules will likely serve the needs of the people providing the services instead of the needs of the recipients of the services.

What does that mean for the policing services? On the one hand, we will likely see a prioritizing of activities that are easy to execute and bring in revenue for the organization. On the other hand, we are likely to see activities that are hard to execute and drain resources to get a low priority. To be more concrete, activities like fining law abiding citizens for overstepping minor laws are likely to see a relatively good enforcement. These activities bring in revenue through the fines and are easy to enforce. Law abiding citizens are likely to simply comply with demands from the police. On the other hand, chasing criminals like muggers, burglars, rapists and murders are dangerous activities that don't even bring in any revenue. These activities will likely get a low priority. They will likely be carried just as much necessary to keep people from actively rebelling.

On the rules side of things, we will likely see rules being made that serve predominantly the well being of the police officers and less so the needs of the receivers of their services. Everything that might put officers in danger or even just cause inconvenience are bad rules and everything that gives 'costumers' the power of complaining or creating alternatives to the provided police services are good rules.

Is this what we are seeing? From the data I know and my personal experience, I find this to be exactly true. I myself have been on the receiving side of fines a number of times. And this seems to be true for most people I know. These were fines for overstepping rules that are minor or outright silly. Some of them are so counter intuitive that I might not even have been aware off them. For example I recently got a fine of £130 for standing too long (more than 10s) with my car on one of those yellow striped areas you find at busy crossroads. The purpose of these areas is to stop people from driving into the middle of the crossroads on a green light and get stuck there, blocking cars from other directions during their green light interval. The problem is that it is often hard to see when exactly the cars in front of you will stop. It was Friday night at about midnight, I thought I would make it to the other side but ended up getting stuck at the very end of the yellow area. I was not blocking anyone, there was still plenty of space. But, since London is completely surveyed with cameras, someone watched the CCTV footage, actually counted the seconds I was stopping on the yellow lines and issued a fine.

You may say great, these CCTV cameras see everything. If they caught you breaking such a minor rule, they must have a great track record finding real criminals as well. Unfortunately, that is not really the case. For example, an ex flatmate of mine got mugged in the middle of the day on a London bus in Chelsea. They stole her smart phone. Every bus in London has 16 CCTV cameras on it. She went to the police demanding they would analyze the footage and look for the criminals. However, she found herself a little bit surprised to get the answer that “it is not worth our time to look into this”. In this case, nothing was to gain for the monopolists. They were dealing with real criminals, so looking into this case would have been potentially dangerous and drained their resources. So why do it? Why not analyze CCTV footage for how long cars are stopping on yellow lines? Much safer and much more lucrative.

Another friend of mine got jumped by a few thugs on his way home in the evening. He was less lucky. They not only robbed him but also beat him up so heavily that he almost lost an eye. So he went to the police to report it. To his surprise the police at first refused to even write the incident down. After a while of arguing with them, they finally agreed to make a note of the incident, but they were very blunt about the fact that they had no intention looking into this case any further.

In December last year and February this year, my flat got burgled twice within two month by the same guy. The burglar was after cash and computers. The first time he stole some cash from me and two computers, including a MacBook Pro that I was using for work. Knowing the bad experiences that almost everyone I ever asked had made with police in London, I was not very keen in calling the police. I did it anyway for two reasons. First, I remembered that the MacBook was covered by my business content insurance. Second, I am a skeptical person. I always like to test whether my theories work. So I was curious to see what I could get for my tax money.

Within an hour two police officers showed up, together with a Lady to secure the evidence. They were reasonably friendly and documented the case. After that they closed the case without solving it within a few days. So no success, but at least an appearance of caring. I looked into how many cases of burglary are actually being solved by the state. I didn't expect much, but was still negatively surprised to find out that the success rate was in the low single percentage digits. That is a remarkable incompetence. So protecting citizens from burglars is definitely not something that appears to work most of the time.

The burglar seemed to have been aware of this incompetence too. He did not hesitate to come back two months later. This time a desktop computer from my flatmate was stolen, and the burglar caused some severe damages to doors and some windows. My flatmate called the police, but this time only a police officer showed up. No one wanted to come along and secure the evidence that evening. They postponed that till the next day. Not very good, given that we could not leave the broken windows as they were throughout the whole cold winter night. But my flatmate, not a libertarian, still was full of respect. “They are probably very busy”.

The next day a man showed up to secure the evidence that was left. I had a very interesting conversation with him. First, I asked him whether he was indeed very busy. His answer “no, not at all. Very quite”. He did not seem to realize that the reason I might ask that was, because he showed up a day late. Then he said something very interesting. “Crime in general seems to go down. But we have no idea why that is.” Whether it is true that crime is going down or not, I don't know. But his statement that he did not know why it was going down really surprised me. Here is someone working for an organization aiming at fighting crime. He observes crime to go down, but it does not cross his mind to take the credit for it.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, being an insider at the police, the pure thought that the work of the police is reducing crime was a non-starter for him. Having put some thought into this phenomenon, the explanation he came up with was “London is probably getting too expensive to live for these criminals and they all have to move out”. Fair enough, to me too, that certainly sounded like a much more plausible explanation than 'the Met Police is doing a good job'.

Second, his answer told me that I was probably dealing with an honest man. He did not seem to be part of a conspiracy against the rest of society. He was probably really just trying to do his job as good as he can. However, he was operating within a system that just could not produce good results even if it wanted to. It is the organization that is flawed, not necessarily the people working within it.

Lastly, his honesty was a clear indication that he was under no illusion that I was something like a customer of his services. Any business man would have taken the opportunity to take credit for the lower crime rates. But he was not trying to sell me anything. At the end of the day, it was of no importance to him whether I was satisfied with his services or not. He gets paid anyway and his job is secure no matter how bad the outcome.

Wouldn't it be great if there was more than one security service provider? In that case I could have told him that I was unsatisfied with his services and was going to change to be protected by XY Policing in the future. But as far as catching criminals is concerned, there is no real legal alternative to the state police at the moment. If you were to hire a private investigator, there would be no chance of rolling over the costs for that to the criminal once he is caught. Given the rules in place, this alternative is not economical. Therefore, this business model does not really exist in this country. It is not allowed to exist, competition not wanted.

Catching criminals once they have committed a crime is one thing. A real solution to the crime problem would of course involve the prevention of crimes in the first place. I wanted to hear the police officers opinion on what I could do to not being burgled again. He said “the trick is to make your house secure enough so that the burglar looks for an easier target”. Again, I was surprised how open he was to reveal how bad the system is. That is your solution? Push the problem down the road? I should not have been surprised. Pushing problems down the road seems to be the governments 'solution' for a lot of problems. This really is a remarkably bad solution. It is essentially survival of the fittest in its most brutal form. The problems are being pushed onto the weakest elements of society at the end of the road. So this is what the praised state solution for the rule of law really comes down to. It is the law of the jungle.

When it comes to preventing crime the most important thing is of course the ability of people to defend themselves. Unless you are rich enough to afford professional security services, you will always be the first who has to act when becoming a victim. The state has a couple of reasons to dislike self defense. First, it makes the police look bad, if the citizens are doing a major component in the security production. It is much better when people feel helpless. That way the state can present itself as absolutely necessary for their security. Second, if people can defend themselves, they might use that ability one day against the state itself. This makes the work of everyone within the monopoly much more difficult. Especially police work gets much more difficult and dangerous when people can fight back. Therefore, states around the world are keen to make citizens as helpless as they can get away with.

The UK is one of the most advanced states when it comes to making people helpless. One of the tips the police officer was giving me, was to put some small nails on the top of the wooden gate the burglar had to climb over to gain access. That way he would cut his hands the next time he would try to burgle me. “But pssst” he said. “You did not get this from me. The council does not like it for health and safety reasons. Technically the burglar can sue you for damage if he gets hurt.” What? The burglar can sue me for hurting himself during his criminal activities? This statement seems so bizarre it is almost hard to believe. Unfortunately, it seems true.

This it is typical for the UK. Self defense is more and more seen as a naughty thing. How dare you actually try to hurt a burglar going after his day job. Citizens in this country have been stripped of almost any tools that could help them to defend themselves. Since it is a European country, it goes without saying that it has long fallen for the totally perverse philosophy of gun control. If you publicly suggest that gun control might not be such a good thing, you are immediately categorized as either evil or stupid and probably both. But even purely defensive, and therefore harmless weapons like pepper spray are unavailable in this country. The most weird story I have heart was, when a friend from Scotland reported to have been stopped by the police in always sunny Glasgow for carrying an umbrella. He was carrying it in a way that looked like he could use it to beat someone. Therefore, they argued it could be seen as a weapon. You cannot make this stuff up.

In the UK, we are back to the stone ages where physical body strength to a great deal determines how safe you are. The only reason that it might still be a pleasant place to live in is that it still has a relatively rich and civil society. Most people have simply little interest to hurt you.

The idea that we need a monopoly of force to have a rule of law, to me looks more like a self fulfilling prophecy than a necessity. Since alternative solutions are being outlawed, it starts to look like there is no alternative to a monopoly. But we see this monopoly produce the same poor results that we would expect from any other centrally planned service provider. It is about time that we start to rethink this solution. However, most people think that allowing competition will only lead to criminals taking over. This is really a strange idea, given that this is exactly what we are seeing in the current system.

A free market solution to secure the rule of law will unlikely lead to criminals having free range and terrorize society. That is because the vast majority of people are not criminals. They have an interest in the rule of law. If the rule of law were to be left to market forces, the combined economic power of law abiding citizens would be greater than anything a crime family could come up with by orders of magnitude. To the contrary, the current solution of having a monopoly already in place is a dream for criminals. Taking over, or at least influencing this monopoly is by far cheaper than having to establish a monopoly themselves. This is amplified by the fact that this monopoly is currently helping criminals gaining revenue by enforcing victimless crimes like drug prohibitions. The police is not the last thing to go, before we abolish the state. Instead we should make it a priority to expose the police to market competition as soon as possible.

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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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