LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Wed, April 25, 2018 14:06:49
The Libertarian Alliance [LA].
This is an alliance between classical liberals and anarcho-liberals. It uses the longer word of "libertarian" in its title as the word, "liberal", has been largely taken over by statists, ironically the very opposite of the free traders they replaced, as the statists are protectionists, ipso facto.
The new statist liberals arose within the UK Liberal Party, from about 1870 onwards and by the 1930s they were, by far, the great majority in the Liberal Party. The statists, who want more state activity, as they feel there is not enough politicians or enough politics in society but the traditional, or the pristine, liberals always felt was way too many politicians and far too much state activity and that it was actually dysfunctional for both individual and for social welfare.
So today's Liberal Democrats, whom are nearly all statists, seek yet more state control but the LA members seek far less; or even none at all if they happen to be anarcho-liberals.
This is because the LA members find the state to be both uneconomic and anti-social too, as politics both wastes the money it taxes off the public and it also fosters a dependency culture that tends to sap all individual responsibility. This personal responsibility, that arises from liberty, is held by LA members to be vital to the good society.
So the main aim of the LA is social liberty; i.e. the full individual liberty that also respects, and fits in with the liberty of one and all. The means to this is both by reducing taxation and whatever the state provides, replacing it with free, or freer, institutions, to be achieved by persuading the general public, of the value of social liberty though free discussion with anyone who wants to discuss those matters with LA members but maybe more so with keen intellectuals or with outgoing extroverts who will be keen to freely discuss those matters. Thus the LA aims at repealing most of the current statutory law. It expects social liberty to allow most people, if not one and all, to flourish to the extent that they can do so as a result a freer society, if not immediately of a completely a free one. The more liberty we have the better for all people.
The LA holds public meetings, that are recorded and then placed on YouTube and the LA members take part in its own and in other Internet discussion groups to that end.
Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Mon, August 24, 2015 20:40:09
July 2015 in The New Statesman John
Gray wrote about “The Friedrich Hayek I knew and what he got right.” He has
written many books since he publically announced that he was no longer a
libertarian when he got to rather like New Labour in the 1990s. He has since
become an admirer of James Lovelock, and so become keen on Green ideas. None of
the books he has so far seem to be first rate. Many of them even seem
incoherent and rather like rushed hack writing, but the author seemed to find
his changes of mind rather productive.
criticise a recent New Statesman
article of his where he, once more, has attempted to assess the liberal idea
and why it was so inadequate. What seems to be truly inadequate is the account
that Gray has given in his articles and books on pristine or classical
liberalism. His latest account reviewed below is no better than what he said on
the topic in his many books but seems, nevertheless, to be worthy of comment,
as do Gray’s books.
sees Hayek to be of the “New Right” of the 1980s but he called it classical
liberalism at the time of his enthusiasm and that was the historic old left.
Gray had been a Labourite earlier, which sprung from a tradition that owed a
lot to the statist sea-change that began to emerge in the Liberal Party in the
1860s and had almost totally taken over
by 1900, before which we might refer to that Party as still largely classical
liberal as opposed to statist modern liberalism that was dominant amongst the
leadership, as well as amongst the younger members, by the great free trade
election victory in 1906, making it something of a swan-song for free trade;
though the actual leader, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was still mainly a pristine
liberal. What revived in the 1970s was the pristine classical liberalism.
says that many of those libertarians, called such to distinguish themselves
from the statist modern liberals, said that Hayek only valued the state for
three things: national defence, law and order and opera. So Hayek was an
economist and philosopher that stood for a freer market, if not quite complete
free; where freedom was simply freedom from the state. But he was not an
anarchist, so Hayek did not see the state as an unnecessary evil. Like the
early Tom Paine, Hayek saw it as a necessary evil. Most classical liberals were
like that. With Locke, they realised that we could have civil society without
the state but they thought that because of crime, the state could be a boon. So
reluctantly, they thought that the state was a good thing but only owing to the
problem of criminal activity being almost certain to emerge. Since the liberl
revival that Gray joined, many have thought that the state is not so good at
countering crime. The anarchist contingent is a significant part of the
Gray feels that this pristine liberal paradigm
came to power in 1979 but the reality is that it was the Conservative Party
that came to power at that time and about half in that organisation did not
like pristine liberalism one bit, and the people who liked it, like Mrs
Thatcher and her mentor, Keith Joseph, they were flirting with it rather than
seeing it as the main thing; but many both in the Conservative Party as well as
in the mass media and the rival political parties rather feared they did take
it as the main thing. However, pristine liberalism was a factor. It has
remained one since.
feels it is important that Hayek was an Austrian, despite him becoming a
naturalised British subject. Hayek was born in Vienna, where opera was
all-important, in 1899. His father was a medical doctor and his mother came
from a wealthy family. Gray seems not to know that liberalism was in decline
from about 1860, and that, thereafter, statism was the new fashion. The
inter-war years would become nationalistic as a result, for, in practice,
socialism was mere statism thus usually more nationalistic. Socialists do not
always agree and protest quite the contrary but in 1914 quite a few such
socialists, including Prince Peter Kropotkin, largely shed socialism to support
the nation state they denied they had owed loyalty to for decades. This was a big shock to those who remained
anti-nationalist but they were a minority.
says that Hayek saw the civilisation he grew up in collapse, but it was the war
that removed the form of state, and liberalism had been ebbing for over fifty
years before 1918. Hayek’s homeland was on the losing side of the war but that
is a bit different from a collapse, as Gray imagines, or at least says, as it
was not owing to the sort of imaginary perennial fragility that he refers to;
which is a major Tory idea and one that looks clearly false to me. I think the Whigs were right that society is
far sturdier than the Tory meme has it, such that a great war, like the 1914
war, could cause it to collapse. War does change society but it is not likely
to end it.
was right to hold that civil society was almost perennial being in place long
before the rise of the state even if he errs, as David Hume made clear, on
social contract theory. The usual respect we show others in society, that we
peacefully pass them in the street, do not bother them if they do not bother us,
form what the sociologist might call the norms of civil society, and those
basic norms are not far off the liberal norms as well as being those of civil
society. As Adam Smith said, there is a lot of ruining in a great society. It
is not fragile.
says he first became interested in Hayek in the early 1970s. It was owing to
his interest in pre-1914 Vienna as much as in the rising paradigm of pristine
liberalism in the 1970s UK, he says. He met Hayek at the end of the 1970s and
asked him if he knew Karl Kraus, a famous journalist of Vienna before 1914. He
was told that Hayek had seen him but that he did not really know Kraus.
says that Hayek had independence of mind and this allowed him to face up to a
lot of opposition and criticism including big changes of fashion. Gray feels
the paradigm of Woodrow Wilson’s national self-determination imposed by the USA
after the war on Europe was one that posed problems for Hayek for the rest of
his life. He died in 1992. But he never could see how liberal values got on
with tribalism, says Gray.
fall of Wilson, the USA, wisely, went back to political isolationism [with free
trade, the liberal meme on international relations].
ideas on evolution and on the ideal liberal constitution were not germane to
that main problem, Gray says. Hayek had dropped his early socialist ideas owing
to the economic calculation argument [eca] put to him by Mises. This seemed to
Hayek and many others to be an effective refutation of socialism so he ceased to
be a socialist. He afterwards adopted liberalism, and Gray said he made it into
a sort of scientism; this is most ironic as Hayek was a major critic of
scientism, Gray openly admits. It was held by Hayek to be the inept attempt to
apply science to the human world. It was an example of Hayek often called a
mere pretence of knowledge when he was looking at the socialists. However, Gray’s
account looks weak there, as it so often does elsewhere.
sense did Hayek lose the debate with Keynes? Did Keynes win it? Keynes rejected
equilibrium but, as he was a coward, he did it by picking on Say’s Law, which
few had heard of, and he gave an inadequate account of it, and Keynes also gave
an inadequate account of the orthodox economists in general, calling them “the
John Hicks, who thought he was going over from Hayek to Keynes and who won the
debate by a de facto rejection of
both of them, had found fault with the fact that Hayek scotched the meme of a
self-adjusting economy by ignoring it with an hypothetical lag owing to
malinvestment that Hicks held was unrealistic. The Hicks version of Keynes,
adopted by all the textbooks, had the meme that Keynes was out to dump at its
heart viz. equilibrium. The equilibrium so obvious to Hicks that he never seems
to have realised that Keynes was out to reject it, was, of course, just an account
of self-adjustment by the market.
is lost on John Gray. It was enough for him that Keynes rather than Hayek or
Hicks was the nominal victor. Gray has most likely not read Keynes’ 1936 book
anyway. More oddly, it would seem that
Hicks never did either.
was rejected as an economist after leaving the LSE [owing to irrelevant personal
reasons, rather than to economics] as a result. At Chicago, he was allowed in
only as a moral philosopher. A version of Keynesianism had won, Hicks version,
but it was not anywhere near what Keynes had wanted. He wanted to reject market
adjustment but Hicks largely retained that. Keynes had wanted it to be the rule
that the market did not clear, as had Malthus tries to defend against Ricardo
in the first decade of the nineteenth century but Hicks innovated a version
that suggested that Keynes should have called his book The Special or
Particular Theory rather than his actual title of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).
I see no
sign that Hayek ever believed that he had lost a debate, intellectually, to
either Keynes or to Hicks. Hayek saw the LSE go over to what was called
Keynesianism, of course.
did go somewhat statist owing to emotional pressure, I suppose, but not ever
did he become Hicksian or, still less, Keynesian. Keynes truly remained out on
a limb as regards his hated equilibrium, that remained as strong as ever, even
if a version of Keynes was adopted, and what was called Keynesianism was
granted lots of rather incoherent lip service based on supposed rejection of the
still largely unknown Say’s Law. Indeed, Keynes caricature of that was accepted
completely by the 1950s.
Hayek did recommend a safety net and it was the state’s safety net that alone
caused the mass unemployment of the 1930s, not the supposed lag that malinvestment
caused that somehow suspended Keynes hated equilibrium, as Hayek had held. The
unemployed adjusted to the dole rather than to the market. We might say they
joined the sinecure section of the state sector, only they did not, as in the late
USSR, pretend to work. Indeed, the few who took a black market job pretended
they were not working.
took the economic calculation argument [eca] from Mises but later found it in a
few nineteenth century authors like Baggage, so Hayek made no pretensions to
being “most original” in the knowledge finding function of the price system, as
Gray has it. But Gray knows the eca, if not all its implications. However, he
nevertheless is still silly enough to say it also applies to the free market.
“The trouble is that it also applies to unfettered market capitalism. No
doubt markets transmit information in the way that Hayek claimed. But what
reason is there to believe that – unlike any other social institution – they
have a built-in capacity to correct their mistakes?”
applies to unfettered market, says Gray, yet they do find viable prices as Hayek
said too. That is “no” yet also “yes” too; or P&-P too. Gray is being quite
then asks how can the market self-adjust, unlike any other institution [is
there a tacit “except the state” assumption there?] overlooking that the answer
is by the ever adjusting price system. The market is dynamic as it is always
adjusting by the price system.
History itself supports no supposition or
obfuscates prices? How? Gray has adopted mere bluff from backward Keynes. There
never was any irrational exuberance but there has been exuberance but it has
not stopped the market from clearing. Why should it?
is content to say, to the backward readers of The New Statesman, founded by backward Keynes himself, that:
hardly supports the supposition. Moods of irrational exuberance and panic can,
and often do, swamp the price-discovery functions of markets.
considering how to overcome the Great Depression, Hayek opposed Keynes-style
fiscal stimulus for the same reason he opposed monetary expansion of the sort
later advocated by his friend the American economist Milton Friedman
(1912-2006). In attempting to generate recovery by macroeconomic
engineering, both monetarism and Keynesianism required a knowledge of the
economy that no one could possess. Unlike monetarism – with which it has sometimes
been confused – the Austrian school of economics that Hayek promoted insists
that the quantity of money cannot be measured precisely, and that
expanding the money supply cannot reflate the economy in a sustainable way.”
adopt aspects of Keynes, as did Hicks, but they did not reject what Keynes
detested: equilibrium. Gray continues:
“For Hayek, the causes of the Depression lay
in earlier central bank policies of cheap money, which resulted in large-scale
misallocation of capital. Because no central authority could grasp the shifting
pattern of relative scarcities and prices, only the market could determine the
right allocation. Accordingly, believing that misguided investments had to be
liquidated, Hayek argued in the 1930s for policies that were more
contractionary than those that were actually pursued. The task of government
was to get out of the way and let the process of adjustment run its course.”
was right there but he thought a lag might be created but he erred there as the
market is a non-stop process of adjustment; Gray says it yet he also wants to
deny it too; again P&-P too.
to see how the market adjusts but he still perversely wants, or he writes as if
he wants, the state to stop it. Then he, rather stupidly, denies that the
market even can adjust.
“If they had
been adopted while the crash was under way, Hayek’s prescriptions would have
made the Depression even worse than it proved to be – a fact he later
He did not
admit anything like that, which I can recall. New buyers would have come in and
the readjustment would have been fairly rapid.
thought the depression would have been worse, if not for the state, why did not
Keynes win him over? Anyway, it seems that the state prevents rather than aids market
readjustment and that stagnation is alien to it. As Gray says of Hayek:
“But he never accepted Keynes’s core insight
that large-scale economic discoordination could be the result of the workings
of the market itself. For him it was always government intervention that
accounted for market disequilibrium. More sceptical as well as more radical in
his turn of mind, Keynes questioned the self-regulating powers of the market.
His work on the theory of probability disclosed insuperable gaps in our
knowledge of the future; all investment was a gamble, and markets could not be
relied on to allocate capital rightly.”
the market is fine but the price system is clear enough there as a
self-adjustment process to fresh conditions, so any serious questioning might
have led Keynes to realise that. It might also lead Gray to do so too. He
“There were booms and busts long before the
emergence of modern central banking. Left to its own devices, the free market
can easily end up in a dead end like that of the 1930s.”
market does not stagnate. The dole was needed for mass unemployment to muster
in the mass urban economy, and it is true that Hayek did go statist enough to
agree that the masses would need a safety net, the very thing that stops the
market from clearing. Freedom or liberty means we all need to be responsible
and for us all to have savings, that Keynes repeatedly made a very poor case
against, for some savings are vital to tolerate the intrinsic self-adjustment
of the market.
feels that Keynes knew more about markets than did Hayek, as Keynes was a
practical and successful investor for his college. Indeed, he claims that Keynes was one of the
most successful investors in the twentieth century! So he knew about the
uncertainty of markets in a way that Hayek did not, says Gray. He was aware of
how the misguided economic policies might upset society in a way that Hayek did
not, for Hayek ignored all those hazards. Here Gray seems to have lapsed into
imagining that it is Hayek advocating state control by political policy rather
that Hayek’s blindness on politics was all too clear when he advised Margaret
Thatcher to cut the state sector, that Gray calls public services, and to cut
inflation so that the state budget might be balanced. This was exactly as he
had advised in the 1930s, says Gray. He told Gray, in private conversation,
that Trade Union power might be broken if the state made cuts. Gray thought Hayek was indifferent to mass
unemployment that then, in the 1980s, stood at over three million. Gray does
not realise that cuts might get rid of mass unemployment, as he never seems to have
seriously thought much about such problems. Instead, Gray said that cuts would
increase unemployment. But it is only the dole, paid for by the state from taxation,
which can do that.
“Fortunately Hayek never had any influence on
Thatcher’s policies. (Her chief economic adviser in these years was Alan
Walters, a Friedman-style monetarist.) Equally, and perhaps also happily,
Thatcher had no understanding of Hayek’s ideas.”
she haply never read the stint at the end of
The Constitution of Liberty (1960), where Hayek explains “Why I
am not a Conservative” for he rejects because conservativism rejects
progress, says Gray. “Unlike Hayek, Thatcher understood and accepted the
political limits of market economics” Gray says, but Gray and Margaret Thatcher
never saw how damaging the state was to society. The main fault with Hayek is
that he too had too much tolerance for backward politics. Politics is perverse
wastage that needs rolling back, or cutting out completely, by tax cuts and
went out of fashion around 1860 but Gray imagines it actually collapsed, a very
Romantic idea that is utterly unrealistic, given the nature of civil society.
War would not have set liberalism back so much had liberalism remained the
fashion, but socialism/collectivism was, by then, the fashion. War did end the
empire that Hayek grew up in but nor was that particularly liberal in itself:
no empire ever, quite, can be. Civil society, that is the basis of liberty, is
not one whit fragile and it is very stupid indeed to imagine that it is fragile.
No wonder they called the Tory Party “the stupid party”. This idea that society
is fragile is about as unrealistic as one can get about civil society. But Gray
simply does not see the pounding the backward state hands over to society every
single day, thus showing it to be very durable.
But Gray is
right that Hayek badly over-rated the law. It never could be the basis of civil
society as so many, with Hayek, imagine. Like the state itself, law is at the
periphery of society. Nor can it really protect liberty from the state. Gray is
right there. Indeed, statutory law is a
tool of despotism and privilege. Liberalism
is about repealing illiberal laws rather than establishing new statutory laws.
values, if fostered amongst the public, can see off war. Private property is a
problem solver. The state, by contrast, is a trouble maker. So the less we have
of the state, the better.
Why Gray imagines the political
entity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire kept politics at bay is not one iota
clear. Gray is right that the European Union is not going to aid liberalism as
it is a warmongering pact, despite the pretense it has of being for peace. The
EU is out to be top dog superstate, but it is taking its time. It is almost as slow as the progress towards
full liberalism itself. But all societies, even the backward late USSR, had the
liberal civil society in their practical everyday life. In any society most
members respect the liberty of others. But also all allow the state to scotch
liberty at will; that privilege granted to the backward wasteful state by the
people is the main problem. They give up this liberty to form state privilege by
suspending normal moral values in its favour. As Edmund Burke said: “The people never give up their
liberties but under some delusion.” The
delusion here is that the state is a boon. Even John Locke thought so.
to reproduce Popper’s attack on Hayek and Michael Oakeshott saying that Hayek’s
spontaneous order as “rubbish” is no explanation of its faults whatsoever but
Gray says it is exact!
However, Gray witnesses civil society every
day in which strangers in the mass urban society freely pass him in the street,
which is done as part of what Hayek would say is a spontaneous order. My guess
is that Gray has no case against civil society; nor any good case against
of fashion away from liberalism towards socialism after 1860 seems to have been
flimsy, though it was aided by some haziness amongst the liberals as well as some
youthful charismatic dash as well as sheer ignorance amongst the rising statist
liberals, like Joseph Chamberlain and Charles Dilke in the UK’s Liberal Party.
The pristine liberals were aging and pragmatic anyway. That there was a generational difference
greatly aided the change of fashion. Gray
makes the quip that there is nothing liberal about the mafia, and that is quite
right but that is also true of the state too, but despite Chamberlain’s talk of
public service it was more like rule than
service that the new man management and more state control of the new fashion was
Gray has the
idea that a mafia would arise spontaneously, even though he also wants to be
sceptical about that meme from Hayek, to say it was exactly rubbish in fact. .
However, the culture developed over a long process of real full privatisation,
designed to shed government and all government policy rather than as a mere new
way to further state policy by political use of the market, as that called
privatisation has been since the 1980s, would result in security services that
would have had lots of time to crowd out the mafia problem.
Spencer was right that there was a social movement towards liberalism before
1860 but he also saw the fashion change towards socialism later on too. He
argued against socialism. But he ironically had a holistic meme that the
socialists used to even a greater extent than they used Marx. Just look at
almost any Jack London novel to see a socialist in love with Spencer. William
Hurrell Mallock saw such faults in Spencer, who later admitted to Mallock that
he was too collectivist, though he never met Mallock. But pristine liberalism
lost out to the new fashion of statist liberalism; and to socialism generally.
It revived a bit in the 1970s when Gray joined it. But Gray always did love
errs left right and centre in his rather silly ideas about alternative economic
systems and choice. The USSR never was non-capitalist, for example. An increase
of the state ownership is not an alternative economic system but the
enlargement of a sort of quasi-dole or semi-dole; the rise of where, in the
late USSR, they said the workers in the state sector pretended to work and the
state pretended to pay them. Many thought that in the UK this was “mixed economy” but in reality it was just an
over-taxed market economy that supplied some job security. The mixed economy is
a mixed up idea. There is only the market economy. The state sector just means
a myth, not a real rival to the price system, and the late USSR did not even
claim to be communist but rather it claimed to be socialist, that Lenin said, a
few times, was state capitalism. It
would be clearer to just call it capitalism. But it was anti-liberal. Gorbachev
tried to reform it but Yeltsin got rid of it. No collapse in sight.
The idea that the Afghan war brought it down
is an example of Gray’s inability to judge actual events. There is no choice of
economic systems. It is either capitalism or capitalism. But we can always have
a bit more of the wasteful state.
Hayek and Spencer had a lot in common as Gray said. They were both liberals.
was capitalist, if statist too, under Mao. Deng Xiaoping simply freed it up a
bit. Pristine liberalism will free it up yet more.
banks go under would not have been all that bad from liberal point of view. The
fresh banks that would have emerged to replace them would have most likely be
in better shape today had the state allowed that to happen back in 2007, as Hayek might well have recommended.
on the fairness of the market. He thought it was wise to say it is unfair, but
few people in the larger society have ever thought that. Most people think it
is fair enough, but no end of fools in colleges think they know better; so do
schoolteachers but not most students in the colleges or most pupils in the schools,
even though they may be usually a silent majority. Hayek thought that the idea
that the market was unfair had something to it, but it looks to be merely a perverse
all his silly cynicism and pessimism still has not realised how unpopular the
college/mass media sacred cow or ideal of democracy has always been, and always
will be. The “anarchic energies of
global markets” clearly serve the public way better than democracy ever
Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Mon, June 22, 2015 18:04:47
weekend of Politically Correct [PC] controversy
What PC controversy the weekend of the third week of
We have the continuing reaction of some scientists
to the PC anti-sexism against Tim Hunt, for they seem to be attempting to have
tolerance instead of strict Politically Correct [PC] equality rules in science,
the pro-PC report in the top science journal, Science, on no hiatus in global warming, as they say that, all
along the eighteen or so years, there has been a lot of error in the way the
data was collected, and this report is just in time to aid the new Green
campaign of the current Pope.
Then we have the asking of whether Rachel Dolezal
has the right to call herself black, then, later in the week, the very odd
question of whether the terrorist who shot the nine people in a church in an
attempt to start a race hate war in Charleston USA was truly a terrorist, or
Then there is the BBC licence fee coming up for the
“left” leaning BBC, though the free access, or price free, London Evening Standard makes it look moderate, but then it could
be catering to London, where the Labourites actually won in last May’s General
Election, together with the supposed voices appearing in the head of Jeremy
Clarkson on being offered his job back, though the BBC aired advertisements all
week for his due grand new series, despite its claims never to ever advertise.
Tony Hall, the Chief Executive Officer or Director General of the BBC said on
Sunday, 21 June 2015 on The Andrew Marr
Show that he had not changed his mind since he regretfully parted with
Clarkson, but he confessed that he did not know that others might have reopened
the offer, and he said nothing about those advertisements, or programme
trailers, nor did Marr.
David Cameron’s speech on extremism, that Muslims
feel is the position of The Daily Mail but against them, the
week-long repeated media of press articles, TV and radio programmes enquiry as
to why so many Muslims liked jihad, and why they often liked ISIS too.
Thousands were said to be marching in London, against
what they call “austerity”, where Jeremy Corbyn MP, the new star, or so some Labour
MPs imagine, says he is due to tell them that austerity obfuscates inequality.
Corbyn is said by many to have emerged as a star in the staged Labour
Leadership campaign that began earlier this week at Nuneaton, shown on BBC2 at
7pm on Wednesday 17 June and discussed at 10:30pm and in the press the next
day. It was the first of many meetings in constituencies that Labour needed and were expected
to win in May 2015. On Saturday, the meeting was held in Stevenage, where the
Tories increased their share of the vote instead of falling to Labour. At the
first meeting, all the reporters credited Liz Kendall as replying to Andy
Burnham, who had said that the Party matters most of all, that the country
mattered far more than the party. But most of the applause was for Jeremy
Corbyn at that, and also at subsequent meetings, like that of the following
Saturday in Stevenage, so he has, now, emerged as a star, with younger Labour MPs
thinking he might even be the next leader and saying so on The Sunday Politics, such as Clive Lewis, as well as older ones
like Diane Abbott.
Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Fri, May 15, 2015 21:12:24
Are the prospects
of the Labour Party to ever rule again now dead?
In Spike, Mick Hume says the election
destroyed Labour! Hyperbole? Yes, for it still is the second largest party in
the House of Commons. But can it ever win power again? The loss of Scotland
makes this question way more pertinent than at any time in the Labour Party’s
history. It now looks as if Labour has locked itself out of Scotland and if
that is the case then it truly might mean that Labour never wins a UK election
the way that Labour got thrown out of Scotland that makes a comeback difficult.
But in any case, as so many others have said, Scotland was encouraged by Labour
in the past to go in for an unrealistic amount of welfare, as Greece did in
milking Germany but it was to a much lesser extent milking England by the
Barnet formula, that Joel Barnet himself has repudiated, but the SNP under a
clear pretence of independence, held the EU gave it Germany as a much better
cow to milk if ever it got free of England. But the Greeks, who, despite the wonderful
Scottish Enlightenment, courted a fondness in Germany with a far greater
cultural heritage of 2500 years back, nevertheless Greece queered the pitch
with the Germans not only for themselves but for the Scotch too, in the future,
for they ensured the Germans were bitten hard enough to make them more than merely
twice shy. But the SNP tend to overlook that.
Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867)
held that the largely tacit, or unwritten, constitution had its ornamental and
functional parts. There are two sorts of politics, ideological and practical. The
major parties are largely concerned to be practical, but ideology itself has
some practical or functional parts. If we go back to the UK of the 1960s and
1970s, the two major parties had their ideologues as well as their parties, the
Labour Party had Tony Benn as an ideologue as well as a practical Minister for
Technology where and when he took advice from the civil servants of the time,
that had little bearing on his ideological aspect, though it would need to be roughly
compatible with it, if both were to flourish.
Johnson set out to gauge the difference between the Whigs and the Tories in the
eighteenth century whilst Sir Robert Walpole was, what historians today agree was
the first Prime Minister, up to 1742. When others took over, Dr Johnson was rather
surprised that they adopted many of the same positions, apart from opposition
to war, as Walpole had taken. There was then, as since, a practical continuity
between supposedly distinct ideological administrations that tended to share
the same experts in the civil service that may not have been somewhat immune to
fashion or to ideology as they were supposed to be, but whom certainly saw
themselves as mainly practical or functional. Ideology or fashion was, for the
most part, if ever quite completely, ornamental rather than functional.
might see that quite a bit of this ideological clash that usually takes place between
the two major parties, if not all of it, is ornamental rather than functional.
However, it can become rather unrealistically tribal with some politicians and
it has tended to do so with the Labourites a bit more than with the Tories. In Scotland
it emerged that the Labourites demonised the Tories quite successfully,
especially after the rise of Mrs Thatcher, whom many in Scotland detested. They
successfully ran the Tories out of Scotland by such demonization. But when
Blair, later, adopted many of the Tories policies, as so many parties do in the
UK’s two party system, this allowed the SNP to say that the Labourites were
quasi-Tories, so they were as bad as they themselves had earlier said that the
Tories were. This allowed them to see off the Labourites on their own anti-Tory
demonization culture. But it is not going to be an easy culture for future
Labourites to counter, as the SNP have no need to adopt any earlier policy
changes from the Tories. So it looks like Labour have lost Scotland and that
some new opposition might rise there against the SNP rather than ever again
either Labour or the Tories. Will Scottish Labour do it? It failed to do so
this time, and it might never do it. It
does not look easy. It is not impossible but nor is it an ordinary setback.
The Economist holds that the Labourites have a
threefold task against the SNP in Scotland, the UKIP in the north of England
and the Tories in the south [Friday, 15 May 2015 (p30)] but though the three
clash the real problem is in Scotland with SNP. Labour has never won without
Scotland before and maybe they cannot do it.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
PoliticsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 29, 2015 12:43:45
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
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: http://socialism.meetup.com/
238 Feminism meetups: http://feminism.meetup.com/
442 Conservative meetups: http://conservative.meetup.com/
487 Libertarian meetups: http://libertarian.meetup.com/
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
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.
might be different in the USA, but I doubt it.
the 1980s it has been stagnation or decline for libertarianism. We are all
intellectuals and that is the problem.
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.
did the left come to dominate things? They were not concerned with mere ideas.
They won because they focused on culture.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
you associate art and libertarianism? I don’t.
Sean handed it over for discussion.
think that art plays no part at all in politics. That we have zero allows us to
be exact about its actual role.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
enemy is the state. Some socialists imagine that they, too, are against the
state. Orwell was one. I used to be another.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47
And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more
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
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
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
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.