My Sunday Times today has an article about the booze culture of Westminster. It's an interesting enough piece but what struck me most was the title; "Drunk in charge of the nation". Are our political leaders — drunk or sober — really in charge? Does the government "run the economy?"
The Executive and its minions in the Civil Service run the state. The Legislature determines (directly, or by delegation to Quangos or treaty organisations) the extent of that state's rôle in the affairs of the nation. The Judiciary adjudicates disputes both between citizens and between citizen and state. But the state and the nation are not the same thing.
The British state is undoubtedly too big, too costly, too intrusive, too wasteful, too stupid and generally too big for its boots but we, the more or less willingly governed, are the nation. The state and its employees are our — more or less humble — servants. The money they mostly squander comes from (or in the case of its drunken sailor borrowings is underwritten by) the private sector in the broadest sense of the term. Everyone who pays taxes from earnings *not* paid to them by taxpayers funds the state.
The state is to some extent a necessary cost to the nation. In Britain, as in the rest of the free world, political debate largely turns upon the "someness" of that extent.
In that crucial debate, confusing the ideas of "state" and "nation" helps statists. It allows them to brand as disloyal any opposition to state projects. I certainly saw that during my days in Russia where the ruling kleptocracy allows no such distinction. Though the Russian nation is as cultured, enterprising and lovable as the Russian state is vile, vulgar and putrid the fallacy that to oppose the state is unpatriotic prevents rational debate. In truth, as Edward Abbey (and not, as mistakenly suggested on the Internet, my illustrious namesake) said
We anti-statists don't help clarify this state/nation confusion by constantly focussing on the centrality of the state. Almost everything that's good about our nation; its culture, its wealth, its inventiveness, its civil society, its philanthropy, its charity, even its sport flourishes in spite, not because, of the great bloated parasite that hectors, lectures, condescends to and tyrannises us.
In our darkest moments perhaps we should remind each other that our nation may not flourish as it deserves because of our defective state, but that it still flourishes. Only a healthy beast could gambol on with such an enormous bloodsucking parasite draining its vitality. Certainly not one that was "run" or "controlled" by it.
Trigger warning: This post is full of generational generalisations.
I don't share the general pessimism of my age group about the millennial generation. The Misses Paine are millenials. They are serious intellectuals, hard-working women who want to make a contribution to the world they live in and generally fine human beings. So are all their friends that I have had the pleasure to meet. I would go so far as to say that the millennials I know (admittedly a sample limited by my daughters' excellent taste and my former profession) are more sober, hard-working and serious than I was at their age.
In the wake of 2008, many millennials are having a much tougher time than the late Mrs Paine and I did at the beginning of our working lives. We walked, debt-free, out of university straight into employment. We earned enough to leave our parents' homes and pay our frugal way. We were able to marry at 23, rent a crappy flat for a couple of years and buy our first modest home. Neither of us were unemployed until we chose to be. We worked hard, took things seriously and struggled at times, but our lives look golden in retrospect compared to the struggles of the average millennial.
Nor do I join the Daily Mail and today The Times on reviewing this report (actually about post-millennials currently at university but I suspect reflecting similar beliefs), in fearing for them ideologically. They are not a political bloc any more than our generation was. They are socially liberal but they are also sceptical of politicians' promises to fix their economic problems. Some go so far as to criticise previous generations for having voted themselves unfunded benefits, incurring massive government debts now dumped on them. They are right. They have been screwed.
To the extent that they have scarily illiberal ideas, I think the interesting question is why? Based on my daughters' experiences at British universities, I blame lecturers of my generation. We may have won the debate in 1970s student politics about "No platform for fascists and racists" on a pure free speech argument. But then most of us on the winning side went into productive work and many of the "no platform" losers went into academia. They have indoctrinated subsequent students to the point where only 27% of them (and only 22% of women) believe that "Universities should never limit free speech".
Some of this is simple confusion about the difference between good laws and good manners. Laws should only prohibit real harms, which do not include hurt feelings. I might ban from my circle of friends someone who went off on a racist or anti-Semitic rant, but I would not call the police. Universities can make their own rules, just like me at my dinner table. But the consequences are very different because they are rather more important fora for intellectual debate.
If students are not prepared to confront the ideas they dislike in the comfort and relative safety of a university lecture hall, how are they going to deal with them in the real world? And what, whisper it softly, if some of the ideas they hate turn out to be right?
Leftists have divided society into a hierarchy of victim groups entitled to dismiss the views of their supposed oppressors. But in the tradition mocked in "Life of Brian" when the Judean Peoples Front fought the Peoples Front of Judea, they have also allowed their zealotry to divide them in frankly hilarious ways.
Feminists like Germaine Greer are now banned from campuses because of remarks like her infamous "transphobic" observation that;
Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn't make you a ******* woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a ******* cocker spaniel.
An interesting phenomenon in this context is the emergence of the "licensed dissident." The only people who can easily challenge illiberal views are those from the Left's pantheon of the oppressed who as Milo Yiannopoulos puts it, "go off the ideological reservation". Hence the importance of his "Dangerous Faggot Tour" of American campuses in which he systematically "triggers" the "spoilt brat rich kid social justice warriors" and exposes their idiocy by posting videos of their screaming on YouTube.
It's ideology pretending to be scholarship. It's propaganda pretending to be fact.
Milo is even more amusingly forthright on that topic and more seriously says in the course of the discussion;
The violence is coming not from the right but from the left and it is informed and justified in the minds of activists by this zealotry.
Yes, I see millennials behaving as absurdly as my leftist contemporaries but I also see them arguing against such absurdities with great verve and skill. I also hope that soon the effects of 2008 will be behind them so they can start to earn properly and pay more taxes. Nothing produces economic liberals faster than excessive tax. So, once again, and perhaps to my own surprise I am on the side of optimism.
I gave up political blogging for selfish reasons. I felt I had said my piece, that's true. I was afraid of repeating myself, that's also true. But I found it stressful, was dispirited and was seeking to avoid personal conflict with those around me (i.e. most people in my circle) who do not share my views. My career had ended. My marriage had ended with the death of my wife. The life I had known was over. Throwing my blog onto the burning longboat seemed natural.
There are important developments in the political world - some of them encouraging. In a democracy every humble voice should matter but to matter, it must first be heard. There is still no political party in Britain that wants to hear views like mine. I don't own a newspaper or a TV station but I do still have a blog. Candle, darkness, curse etc.
After giving up political blogging I attended an event at the Adam Smith Institute. A few young people inclined to a liberty-driven view of politics were kind enough to buy me a drink and tell me they had had enjoyed reading my posts here. Their own intellect and studies had led them to where they stood politically, but it was good to feel I had encouraged them a little. I have often thought about that since and smiled.
I have also enjoyed reading and watching Trevor Phillips, formerly of the National Union of Students (where I first encountered him in the 1970's) and latterly of the Equalities Commission, express Guardian-annoying views in the past couple of years. It's probably coincidence of course (or a good example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy) but these views seem to have emerged since an encounter with him at a Battle of Ideas event.
I have strong feelings (and some relevant experience) on the subject of the EU. The voice of the late Mrs Paine has been in my ear on that subject. Years ago, she asked me to stop talking about it because (a) I was becoming a bore and (b) there was no hope of change. But she would have thought it odd for me not to speak about it when there is a chance to fix what she always viewed as an historic national error.
Many drops of water, over time, can form a canyon. Perhaps I owe a duty to drip a little more?
the US, where any aforesaid nut can simply go out and buy a gun in a shop, and the rights of nuts to go and buy such guns is enshrined in the constitution
In Britain, where we hope our robbers carry nothing more than a big stick and arm our police officers accordingly, it's a potential societal revolution that none of us asked for
She reports her interviewee's point, but still manages to miss it as badly as one of his plastic home-made guns. Did she not read her own article?
Wilson believes the Liberator will undermine the power of government and radically democratise everything and transform the relationships between individuals and the state.
Yes, we want guns to shoot criminals who threaten us. Firearms are so readily available to them that we are really asking for nothing more than - in Guardian terms - equality and social justice between the criminal and non-criminal communities. We are not fussed how many criminals die, but that doesn't make us uncaring because we also believe that many people would never become criminals if it could be made as risky as, say, being a victim of crime.
But we also want to deter the heavily-armed state. To break its monopoly of force. To keep it in its place as our servant by restoring its fear of us. We don't believe there would be nearly as many smug Guardianisti telling us how to live our lives if every Englishman's castle still had guns behind the portcullis.
It seems that Guardianista brains are so thoroughly conditioned that they can't even grasp that concept for long enough to sneer at it.
H.L. Mencken said that "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." The human tendency to fall for such answers probably accounts for most religions and political ideologies. We can't accept that, while it's noble and fine to seek answers, they are almost certainly so complex and difficult that most of us must live our lives without them.
Now that libertarianism is - at least in the USA - fashionable enough to be attacked, the Left are rubbishing it as an example of a 'clear, simple and wrong' answer. Let's pass over for the moment the sheer hilarity of this 'line' from the purveyors of the most simple-minded failed idea in history.
Libertarianism is very far from an answer to everything. Indeed it's not an answer as much as a method. We say that life is too complex and people too varied for any universal solution to work. One of the hallmarks of any attempt at a 'one size fits all' solution to humanity's problems is the massive use of force. If you don't fit the only mould, you must be 're-educated' until you do or discarded as defective. Socialism/Fascism needs the idea of a 'New Man' because it doesn't work for the kind we have.
Thus the comic book portrayal of libertarians tells you more about our opponents than about us. Just as their belief in the savagery that will ensue if Mother State's power is ever weakened tells you more about their natures than ours.
We don't categorise our fellow men into classes, masses, races or castes. The only human unit for us is the human. We understand each will make different use of the liberty we advocate. It's possible to be a Libertarian and a Catholic, Buddhist, atheist or Jain. It's possible for a libertarian to approve or disapprove of abortion at various different stages because libertarianism doesn't give a trite answer to the difficult question of when life begins. A libertarian convinced that life begins at conception may even want abortion to be seen in law as murder. I haven't met one of those libertarians, but I would not deny his libertarianism if I did.
The only ideologies inconsistent with libertarianism are those that expect laws to shape men's minds to their aims. If you are happy to rely on persuasion to change your opponent's view, you can be a libertarian - no matter what shape your ideal society might take. If you are happy to let your God enforce His own laws, then you can be libertarian too. After all, what kind of omnipotent God would need puny men to enforce His divine will? What purpose would it serve? If you don't 'sin' only because man's laws forbid it, your omniscient God will know you for a sinner anyway.
Libertarianism is only about setting functional limits to Man's laws. It has a moral basis, to be sure, in that we view force and fraud as wrong per se and are prepared to accept the necessary evil of a modest state in order to proscribe them. But it has nothing to say about other moral issues, save that men and women should be free to find the right path as best they can.
It is a common error in modern political discourse to assume that we approve of anything we are not prepared to suppress. You don't think that 'the war on drugs' is working? You don't think it's preventing young people from hurting themselves? You think it's enriching existing criminals and driving some to crime who might never have gone there else? Then you are clearly 'pro-drugs'. I have been accused of this myself though I have never even seen a narcotic outside a hospital ward and have no desire to use one.
This is the warped psychology of the witch-hunt. If you don't cry 'Witch!!' with sufficient ferocity, then you are one yourself. It is stupid, dangerous thinking and it's now how our politics seem to work. Yes, there are libertarian drug-users. There may even be drug-users who are attracted to libertarianism because it would remove the legal constraints on their chemical recreation. But it's far too simplistic in a Menckian sense to assume that knowing someone is a libertarian tells you anything about his moral stance on drugs or, for that matter, the other two elements of the post-Sixties trinity; sex and rock 'n' roll.
I support campaigns against the smoking ban not because I favour smoking but because I disfavour bans. I don't want to smoke any more than I want to climb Mount Everest, ski or do any other crazy thing (except perhaps go into Space, or attempt the world speed record) that exposes me to greater risk of death or injury. I simply want my fellow-men to be free to choose their paths and am humble enough to know that they will often choose better than me - advancing humanity in ways I could never have foreseen.
What the anti-libertarians simply can't grasp is that - unlike theirs - our ideology is not a road map for others to follow. It's a blank sheet, a pencil and good wishes for successful exploration.
I commend this post to you. Jackart and I don't agree on everything - he's far too anti-automobile for us ever to be buddies - but he writes good, practical sense here. While I take the view that the state is such a flawed concept that its use must be kept to a minimum - his consequentialist approach is much more likely to appeal to voters afraid of the unknown. Indeed, I am not at all sure why he would label his middle-of-the-road views as "libertarian"; given how much opprobrium that word attracts!
Few men have done their fellow countrymen greater service than Dr. Ron Paul. In making his farewell speech to Congress, he articulated his vision and expressed his hope that, despite all his worst predictions having come true, the next generation will rebuild America. Apart from his repeating the common misconception that the Great Writ of habeas corpus originated with Magna Carta, I can find no fault with what he said.
You can watch the video or, if you find his oratory a little lacking (he's a gynecologist, not a lawyer), you can read his speech here. Either way, I urge you to take the time for, though he would laugh at the idea, this is an important man.
Violence, or rather the avoidance of it, is at the heart of his thinking;
The immoral use of force is the source of man’s political problems. Sadly, many religious groups, secular organizations, and psychopathic authoritarians endorse government initiated force to change the world. Even when the desired goals are well-intentioned—or especially when well-intentioned—the results are dismal. The good results sought never materialize. The new problems created require even more government force as a solution. The net result is institutionalizing government initiated violence and morally justifying it on humanitarian grounds.
This is the same fundamental reason our government uses force for invading other countries at will, central economic planning at home, and the regulation of personal liberty and habits of our citizens.
It is rather strange, that unless one has a criminal mind and no respect for other people and their property, no one claims it’s permissible to go into one’s neighbor’s house and tell them how to behave, what they can eat, smoke and drink or how to spend their money.
Yet, rarely is it asked why it is morally acceptable that a stranger with a badge and a gun can do the same thing in the name of law and order.
This is only his final speech in Congress. We shall hear more from him yet. He may even run for Governor of Texas in 2014. But it's not too soon to thank him for all the unsung work he has put in for what - for most of his life - has seemed the lost cause of liberty. I also thank the people of the great state of Texas who have given him the opportunity to defend the US Constitution to Congress (and by extension the principles of liberty it enshrines to the world) for twenty-three years out of the last thirty-six.