THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "History" Feed

238 Years of Common Sense

CommonSenseTitlePage-lgOn January 10, 1776 the great man whose name I misuse on this blog published his famous pamphlet, Common Sense.

It had a powerful effect. General Washington had it distributed to his soldiers. I can imagine them reading it to themselves and to each other. George Trevelyan in his History of the American Revolution wrote

"It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting"

That pamphlet is the real inspiration for this blog and the reason I so hubristically use Tom's name. If the internet had existed then, he would probably have blogged it without the aid of Mr R Bell of Philadelphia, especially as being his publisher put Mr Bell at such risk. Tom himself remained safely anonymous at that point.

Common Sense was the pre-digital equivalent of the most successful blog post imaginable. I would be content to have one-millionth part of the good influence on the minds of men it did.

Happy anniversary, Tom.


Remembering 9/11

There are no more words to say. This image - by Ira Block, the lead tutor at the photographic course I attended in NYC earlier this year - says it all for me today.

Here's to the memory of those who fell and to the families who still suffer the consequences. And here's to finally understanding that sacrificing liberty in pursuit of security is just to hand freedom's enemies their victory. God bless America and guide her leaders from their wrong-headededness.


'Never go through life saying you should have'

 

This is what we have lost in Britain; I fear forever. The Welfare State has convinced many of us that we are not the answer to each other's problems. Yet in America, as I saw in Moore OK on my recent tour, the first instinctive reaction to a crisis is still 'what can I do?'

The men in this video are ordinary blokes. Working stiffs. The kind of people my condescending metropolitan friends believe unable to run their own lives without constant government 'help'. The call went out for boats and they turned up in their hundreds. At their own expense. At the risk of their own lives.

They didn't ask if it was their problem or what the governement was going to do. They didn't ask what approved group the people they helped belonged to, or what approved thoughts they might have. They acted on their best instincts, and their only reward is that - as they say in the video - they had the best day of their lives; the day of which they can most be proud.

Not for them, existential angst. They know what their lives are for.

Nearly five hundred thousand people were evacuated by boat in less than nine hours. I had no idea that it happened until I was sent this film today. Yet it was the greatest seaborne evacuation in history; bigger even than Dunkirk. Like Dunkirk, it wasn't ordered by anyone. It wasn't funded by force. People needed help and other people responded, at their own willing risk. It's utterly magnificent.

Never let anyone tell you that humanity is so defective that 'kindness' must be enforced. When someone says that, it says nothing about humanity and everything about them.

H/T an American friend.


Limiting the power of government - money [Guest post by Mark]

Since the 17th/18th century capitalist seizure of government power, and specifically following from the 1694 creation of the Bank of England, the government's debt has been the basis of our monetary system. This combination of government power and capitalist credit money made possible a broader based integration between government and the economy - contributing directly to the explosion of British economic, industrial and military power which later gave birth to the British Empire.

This system has obvious advantages with respect to the coordination of a mass economy but from the perspective of individual freedom it is deleterious.

Some argue that the private creation of government money is a separation of powers which itself limits government. In reality, the opposite is true. Finance is government and government is finance - and at the same time, if we wish to do business, we cannot help but be drawn into this government-private hybrid money nexus. The power of government is surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) extended to every aspect of economic life.

Not only is it nearly impossible to escape this system but also, if the government relies upon and controls the private money system, we face the twin dangers that (1) control of government/finance becomes the most profitable activity in society and (2) the temptation to raise revenue for government takes precedence over real economic considerations.

The Fred Goodwins of the world, or the trend for physicists to become bankers are a result of (1) while the austerity/ higher tax campaigns are a result of number (2).

Libertarians would generally seek to solve these problems by eliminating the government from money creation. There are a number of problems with this approach. Firstly, credit networks without government support tend to be either small and personal, or entirely unstable. Secondly, there is no evidence that pure "commodity money" has ever existed or that barter can be used to run a large scale economy. Thirdly, almost everyone agrees that there must be some role for government and if government must use private money we again run into problems (2) + (1) - because government relies upon private money it cannot be separated from private business.

Now, there may well be a trade off between the ability to run a mass economy and individual liberty, in order to be free we might have to accept fewer things. I'm relatively comfortable with that - from the perspective of libertarians the destruction of the mass economy may well be a feature rather than a bug. However, I do feel that, rather than eliminating government money creation, as libertarians suggest, (or eliminating private money creation as per the positive money proposal) - we should allow both systems to operate alongside each other, but to exist, entirely and conspicuously separately - in essence, make using government money and engaging in the mass economy a choice.

Government created money could be a form of virtual commodity, (with the function of gaining respite from the taxman - essentially a tax credit). If the government did not require private money, there would be no (revenue related) reasons for it to tax these transactions. Therefore, it would be relatively easy to eliminate VAT, income tax, capital gains tax and replace it with some form of flat tax on tax credits only. In this way, the ability to do business would be separated from the need to pay tax.

Personally, I would set up the system in such a way that it would be possible to choose through lifestyle to avoid tax entirely. (For example - we distribute 100 tax credits to each citizen every year and tax on the basis of natural resource consumption- 100 tax credits for every 10 squared meters of land - by making a lifestyle choice to consume fewer natural resources you could avoid taxation and then be free to engage in whatever other business you choose - obviously many people would insist that people did "work first" before they get credits.)

You could then choose to conduct business either using surplus tax credits (which would offer the mass stability of government money), private credit agreements or barter/commodity money. These entirely independent monetary systems would provide a *real* division of economic power and be based entirely upon voluntary exchange.

As I say, I don't know if this would be more efficient from the perspective of production or "raise GDP", but I do think it would be more conducive to personal liberty.


Hope's funeral

Margaret-Thatcher-and-the-order-of-service-for-her-funeralI promised myself long ago that, just as my grandfather stood in the rainy streets of London to honour Sir Winston Churchill as his funeral procession passed, so I would for Margaret's. He loved Churchill for much the same reason that I loved her. Hope. In dark days, when our country seemed likely to fail, they both persuaded us to buckle down, do our best and look to the future. They promised us that Britain could be great again.

Both promises failed. The Second World War delivered the Poles for whom we declared it to one of only two regimes on Earth worse than Hitler's. It left the Soviet Union stronger. It saved few Jews. It crippled Britain's economy and left us in massive debt to the Americans. Those Americans gave post-war aid to the Germans on such a scale that they rapidly overtook our war-damaged industries. A German who married one of my wife's relatives visited my home town in the 1950's, while rationing and post-war austerity was still in force. "Did you people really win?" she asked. "It doesn't look like it". The war left the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and it left us in, at best, the second division of nations. And in 1946, having delivered ourselves, as we thought, of Germany's National Socialists, we elected British Socialists to run the "commanding heights" of the economy for the nation.

When the post-war consensus between the barons of the landed aristocracy and the labour aristocracy brought us to our economic knees; when the bailiffs' men of the IMF came in to dictate terms; when rubbish swamped the streets and the dead went unburied; when my wife's family burned shoes to keep warm during power cuts and when families everywhere tightened their belts because their supporting wage-earners' working days were cut to three, we lacked hope again. Managed decline seemed our destiny. We told ourselves that our past successes were only to do with the wickedness of Empire and that a slide into poverty was now inevitable - and even deserved. It was a dark hour to be alive even if, like me, you were a young, optimistic graduate setting out promisingly on his life's work.

Thatcher brought hope and promised us a new Britain of opportunity. She promised to liberate the lives and resources tied up in non-jobs and fake industries. She promised us that Britain could be something again; not the old something but a new, vibrant place. And those of us who were not on the take from a corrupt Socialist state or living as parasites on the workers as trade union officials welcomed it. We set about working hard; doing well by doing good.

And for a while it seemed real. If when Neil Kinnock dies, he goes to Hell, the demons need not raise a sweat tormenting him. All they need do is play, on an infinite loop, the moment this week when a TV interviewer asked him if Britain was better or worse after 11 years of Thatcher. His tormented face told the truth even as his twisted lips mouthed the necessary lie. Necessary because without it he would have had to confess that his whole life has been a self-serving fraud. Without that lie, his career can only be explained as duping the working class to raise his talent-free family to undeserved wealth.

Yet Thatcher's promise too was like VE day. It was briefly, gloriously real, but then a sadder reality kicked in. The post-war consensus resumed. The British State moved steadily back to its pre-1979 position as the most important force in the country and the British people resumed their willing dependence. For all practical purposes, democracy is suspended because three out of four families in this still-rich nation are in receipt of money taken by force by that state from their fellow-citizens. David Cameron is far more like Macmillan or Hume than he is like Heath, let alone Thatcher. Ed Milliband, for all the contentious talk, is essentially as in favour of a "mixed economy" (and buttering up corrupt and destructive union leaders) as any post-war leader of his party.

So Margaret's career, in the end, was a waste of her talents and our time. Were it not for her, we might have hit bottom by now and be rebuilding a civilisation on the ruins of our decadence.

Yet I respect her because like Winston, she was sincere. She believed, probably to her death, that she had led us towards a better future. She certainly tried. No Prime Minister ever worked so hard or took so much flak in the process. That she failed is not her fault. It is ours. And that is why I will stand, head bowed, as her gun carriage rolls by tomorrow. She was the best of us and, all-too-briefly, gave us hope. I am grateful for the memory of that.


Doctors out of their boxes

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: The dictatorship of public health.

I am not quite sure how I missed the linked article back in September but I am glad I found it via Chris Snowdon's review of the year at his excellent blog, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist. The authoritarians of the medical establishment are in many ways our best hope for liberty. This may seem paradoxical, but bear with me.

The greater the State becomes, the more authoritarians it attracts. Wormtongue types are drawn, as so many of them already have been, by the chance to subvert legitimate authority to their own ends while living on the state's plunder. The more they succeed, the more arrogant they become. They see no legitimate boundaries to their control of their fellow men. Our corrupt political class will offer no defence against these parasites unless and until popular resistance threatens their own power. We cannot count on their principles, if indeed they have any. We can rely entirely, however, on their self-interest.

 Where, however, is this resistance to come from? State education, state broadcasting and the generally emasculating effect of the Welfare State have much weakened the yeoman spirit that made England, for most of its history, delightfully ungovernable. The unthinking majority of voters will never rebel - until it's far too late - against threats to freedom of thought. Attacks on their lifestyle however are another matter. Cromwell fell not because the Monarchy won a rematch of its debate with republicanism, but because, having weakened his appeal by forbidding dancing, aleing and Christmas, his hypocrisy in having his son succeed him (just like a King) tipped the scales of popular feeling.

The state can beat up as many anti-statist intellectuals as it likes and no-one will protest. Let it beat up the smokers, drinkers and pie-fans however and popular resistance can be expected - even from those usually too idle to move further than to the nearest Greggs. Doctors with God complexes may therefore be our best hope. Perhaps as we enter the final phase of end-of-year excess, we should be campaigning for votes to be proportionate to BMI, units of alcohol per week or fags per day?


Shrewsbury pickets seek to edit history the Hobsbawn way

BBC News - Shrewsbury 24 pickets' plea over 1973 convictions.

I thank the reader who drew this story to my attention. Some of you may recall I have personal experience of the conduct of the Shrewsbury Pickets and blogged about it here.

Coincidentally, I was driving a member of my family past the housing development where the incident happened last week. I mentioned the story to him and this led later to a discussion with my father. He confirmed, as I carefully did not in my original post (as I did not know him from Adam at the time) that it was Ricky Tomlinson who led the "pickets" that day.

This campaign is a dishonest disgrace. It is a slur on the jury that convicted Tomlinson on specimen charges involving conduct on other building sites such as my father and I witnessed on his. I therefore confidently expect the Labour Party to support it. After all, as its warm eulogies for Hobsbawn demonstrate, it values the Marxist perspective much more than mere truth.

Off for a chat at Tom Paine's old "local"

The White Hart Hotel.

Though many leftists who focus selectively on his ideas on social security and land tax object to my using his name to blog, I am a genuine admirer of the original, best and only important Tom Paine. He was a man who - by use only of his untutored writing skills - earned a reputation as "...the most dangerous man alive..." and was instrumental in creating two of my favourite republics. His thinking still energises a wide spectrum of opinions today.

White_Hart_Paine_plaque
I also love that, like my other heroes; Shakespeare, John Harrison and Margaret Thatcher, he was from an ordinary background and attracted hostilty almost as much for his impertinence in having talent as for the nature of his activity. Snobs can't bear it when the peoples' voice is heard - and there are no greater snobs than those who believe patronisingly in their right to tell the people how to live, whatever class background or other "qualification" they base that "right" upon.

Above all, Tom appealed to reason and I love him for that. He didn't claim the right of one group to rule another, whether based on class, race or creed. He fearlessly advocated his views, though they cost him all the honour he earned in his life and meant that he died neglected and unloved. The greater of the two republics he founded has only rediscovered him in relatively recent times, though I seriously don't believe a better man ever lived. I use his name not from hubris but out of respect and I don't claim to be worth of cleaning his pens for him.

So I am genuinely excited to be meeting a good friend for lunch next Tuesday at the White Hart in Lewes where Old Tom sharpened his wits in political debate before setting out to change the world with his pen. I am looking forward to it and just hoping the weather permits of as charming a drive as the inadequate roads in Britain's economic heartlands (their wealth diverted from infrastructure to corrupt redistribution) permit.

My friend is an opinionated and intelligent Australian lady with a ready wit, sharp tongue and wide vocabulary so we will do our best to uphold the debating traditions of the venue. If any readers happen to be near at hand, please look for Speranza in the car park and come in to say hello.


Lady Astor's Roller and other old stuff in my head

Rolls Royce used by Churchill restored to former glory after sitting in garage for decades (and it's now worth £250,000) | Mail Online.

Astorrolls
Nothing to do with civil liberties, I know, but this article makes me smile for a petrol-headed reason. The car belonged to my great uncle and I knew it as a child. The article doesn't explain WHY the car was so cheap when he bought it. As he told the story in my presence years ago, it was donated to the Army for war use, but its fuel consumption precluded practical use. So as not to offend the Astor family, it was converted to a truck by cutting off that rear compartment in which I later slumbered. My great uncle bought in in that state, reasoning (as all around him scoffed at his idiocy) that "No-one will have scrapped part of Lady Astor's car."

Sure enough, after years of searching, the rear end showed up in a garage somewhere and he bought it equally cheaply. Reuniting the separated parts magically increased the car's worth (in the real estate business, that's called 'marriage value') and he then made money renting her out to TV and film companies. Those included (as mentioned in the article) the makers of my then favourite show, "The Avengers."

My great uncle was my grandfather's partner in building the company that - as a reward for their war service - an ungrateful nation stole from them in 1946. Their business became part of British Road Services (the trucking equivalent of British Rail) which was eventually privatised as the National Freight Consortium. After merging with Exel, it was ultimately acquired (ironically) by another state enterprise - Deutsche Post and is now part of its subsidiary DHL. It has all come a long way from a company founded on a small loan by my great grandfather (a publican) to his sons. Were it not for a ridiculous and now discredited (everywhere except in Guardianland) political theory, who knows where it might have taken my family?

My grandad and his brothers used that small loan to buy their first of several Sentinel steam trucks. My grandfather's first of many convictions for speeding involved breaking a 5mph limit in front of Chester Castle in just such a road-going locomotive. He was arrested by a policeman on a bicycle. I remember him telling me the story and regret that I forgot to ask him if the stoker was fined too on such occasions. The example of a Sentinel in the picture once belonged to my great uncle and I remember my grandfather regarding him as hopelessly sentimental for having it painted in the confiscated company's old colours. My grandad was not a man for regrets and had little patience with nostalgics.

Sentinel
My great uncle's son was the chap who took the teenaged me out for a ride in his Dino and therefore triggered the long chain of events that led to me buying my Ferrari. We are meeting up in the North at the end of this month for me to return that favour of 40 or so years ago by taking him for a ride.

So much for my happy, if possibly imprecise, memories. I assure those readers who are (inexplicably) not petrol or steam-heads, that normal service will now be resumed.


England lives

Taking a bracing walk through a Warwickshire village yesterday, I noticed first that (it being where the Gunpowder Plotters plotted) there are several houses named after them. As they have been considered the vilest of traitors for much of our history, with small children encouraged to burn effigies on November 5th each year, this seemed rather impressively robust. Then I saw a sign beneath someone's doorbell which read:

If you have been invited here, welcome! If not, you had better have a bloody good reason to ring this bell.

Grumpy old sod? Or sturdy English yeoman? I rather think the latter. I resisted the temptation to ring the bell to tell him so.