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

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The morality of public “service”

I was brought up to respect policemen. I still do. Even a libertarian state would ask good people to put themselves in harm’s way to enforce its few laws. The harm they do is rarely the fault of the (mostly) good policemen enforcing our current monstrous state’s thousands of bad laws. 

The same can be said for judges. They have an honest, important and necessary job to do that is foundational for civilisation but also apply and interpret thousands of laws that should simply not be. Their hands are dirty but it’s not their fault. Our soldiers too and perhaps (though here it gets murkier) even some of our civil servants.  

Though my conscience might still (just) handle being a judge (and relish the chance to lean hard toward Liberty in interpreting our laws) I couldn’t be a civil servant, soldier or policeman in modern Britain any more than I could be a politician for a mainstream statist party. I could not serve a gangster state that interfered with the citizenry’s freedom while violently extorting from it the money to pay me and hope to sleep at nights. 

Which raises the awkward question, who can? Being a judge, a soldier or a policeman is noble enough (and a civil servant harmless enough) in principle but to choose such a career serving the states we have now is morally questionable at least. Watch the French police currently beating up the gilets jaunes, for example. You’ll need to scour YouTube as the MSM is oddly reticent on the subject. These thugs are not conscripts. Each studied, applied, trained and freely signed a contract. Why would a decent human choose to do that job?

We have been watching Kiefer Sutherland’s Netflix show “Designated Survivor” and enjoying it well enough. I view it as the entertaining  tosh it is intended to be but wince at its po-faced portrayal of its heroes. They are cynical foes of Liberty and (literally) murderous enemies of the Rule of Law but we are expected to see them as paragons of selfless virtue. Given the boundless power of modern Western states, and the extent of their control over our personal lives, just who else would we expect to work for them but narcissists and sociopaths?

A children’s home (or church trusted by parents with their children) needs to be particularly alert to the possibility of child abusers wanting to work there. A powerful state should be similarly so about sociopaths. Neither our children’s homes, churches nor governments seem to have shown any such concern. I fear the abusers are now in charge of recruitment. 

This at least partly accounts for the relentless “mission creep” of the modern state. It certainly accounts for “Conservative” ministers, surfing smug tides of Liberty-minded rhetoric, interfering in the minutiae of our lives indistinguishably from openly authoritarian Labourites. There was a time when a moral man like this would become a civil servant but the people who staff our state now lack — almost by definition — any moral scruples about its rôle.

Please tell me I am wrong in this pessimistic analysis. If not, how can we hope peacefully and democratically to roll back the power of the state? If we can’t, then how does the story of our civilisation end?


Living peacefully under a hostile regime

Back in the ‘90s, when I lived with my family in Warsaw, we had a lovely young babysitter who took care of the then very young Misses Paine. We got to know her well as she also came on family holidays with us. One evening when she came over she had clearly been crying and we asked what was the matter. Her history teacher had that day been reviewing recent history under the new curriculum mandated by the country’s first democratic government since the fall of the Communist Party. When she got home from school she had asked her father, a lecturer at Warsaw University, if he had been a member of the Party and had rebuked him when he admitted he had. 

Her tears were not of disappointment but of remorse. Her dad had patiently explained to her the realities of life under a regime he had never dared to hope would change as it did. As far as he could tell, Poland would be Communist forever. He had to take care of his family as best he could in the actual circumstances in which they lived and advancement in his career required he be a party member. To refuse the invitation to join might have worse consequences than not being promoted. He had wept at the earnest teenage contempt of someone he had been trying to protect and — to her eternal credit — she had been distressed at having hurt him  

Were it not for the happy coincidence of Reagan and Thatcher’s terms in office overlapping as they did, he would have been right in his assessment of democracy’s chances in the East. For all its pomposity about its values, the West had mostly appeased the Soviets. Its academics were traitors almost to a man and its leftist politicians yearned for their comrades to get it right and prove socialism actually worked. I am told by one who researched there for a Masters thesis on Politics that the joint archives of the British Communist and Labour Parties in Manchester document the role of “Moscow Gold” in our politics. 

The nearer the Western democracy to the Iron Curtain, the more inclined it had been to kiss the Kremlin’s nether regions – as witness the shameful Östpolitik of West Germany, initiated by Socialists quietly sympathetic to the USSR. There were probably more true believers in Socialism in the West than the East. Years later my Russian teacher in Moscow would laugh at my stupidity when she learned I had been one of them.  “Didn’t you know what was happening here?” she asked. Told that I’d dismissed all reports as capitalist lies, she said scornfully “I can’t believe you actually fell for their bullshit. No one here did.”  

I am beginning to understand what it must have been like for my babysitter’s dad. Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that I am lucky to be a free born citizen of an ancient democracy. I’m also financially independent in retirement and don’t need to worry what HR or Marketing make of my utterances any more. Even when I did worry, I never checked my tongue before holding forth. I just sheltered behind my easily penetrated nom de blog when putting my views in writing. I don’t even need to do that anymore and links in the sidebar will take you to pages with my real name but there are more of you now who know me as Tom.

So I must not overstate my case. While I was horrified to find on returning to England after 20 years in the post-communist world that our police now patrolled the internet for “wrongthink” and that perfectly respectable concerns about, say, immigration and its perceived threats to local culture were often characterised as “hate speech”, the consequences of wrong speak are still (mostly) more social than criminal. I need not yet fear the deadly knock on my door in the night.

Our equivalents of the Saudi Arabian Mutaween are not the Metropolitan Police in London, but self-appointed brown shirts of the Guardian, Left-Establishment point of view; posh leftist ladies and their cuck husbands telling hostesses that they must never invite that dreadful “Nazi” again if they expect to move in polite society. Or, damn their traitorous eyes, marketing sorts at Gillette or Facebook peddling Marxian lies to set class against class, race against race, sex against sex, young against old and Muslims (God help them) against everyone  

Yet I am beginning to check my tongue — and to despise myself for it. I am ashamed of never defending that misguided but essentially decent and well meaning young chap Tommy Robinson, for example — even when he is occasionally as clearly in the right as on it. My views are more sophisticated than his and far far more liberal in the true meaning of that abused word. He has associated with bad people (though no worse than the violent totalitarian leftists of my youth) and has made (and still makes) political, legal and moral errors. But when he is wronged I should have the balls to speak up for him. And I don’t. Yes, he’s closer to being a “fascist” than I am, but not nearly as close as those leftists screeching for his blood.

He’s a wrongheaded but good natured working class bloke of the type I grew up with. He holds opinions shared by most of the men who fought real Fascism and he is trying in his often clumsy way to preserve what they fought for. He sometimes deserves help that it seems I am too afraid of the West London Mutaween to give. Goodness knows how many of my less independent fellow Brits are biting their tongues and toeing the Party line just as my babysitter’s dad once did  

I have a beautiful life and I am grateful for it. I say and do pretty much as I please and I know I am lucky. Britain is still a long way from the horrors of the USSR and Warsaw Pact days and I don’t want to be a libertarian analogue of those Corbynites screeching “Nazi” by screeching “Communist” at them. Name calling entrenches differences. It never changes minds. The sensible, decent, intelligent people from both sides of our various divides are at some point going to have to talk. While at my age I can’t expect to be at that table I would like at least not to be one of the fanatics raging outside their windows and distracting them from their dirty, but necessary, work.


Book Review: "New Private Monies: a bit part player" by Kevin Dowd

I am ideologically attracted to any alternative to fiat currency, which gives far too much power to the state. It's a power that has been ruthlessly exploited to steal (at least that's what it would be called if anyone else did it) from savers, investors and lenders by debasing currency through inflation. As Professor Philip Booth points out in the introduction to this book, the current pound coin when introduced purchased just 20% more than the "threepenny bit" from 1937 that it resembled. Under the "wise stewardship" of HM Government, the pound sterling has lost 98% of its value over the last century. The good old greenback that replaced it as the world's reserve currency has lost 85% of its value since 1971! 

These losses are not caused by stupidity, but malice. Abandoning the gold standard and moving to currencies backed only by trust in the state gave untrustworthy states  (that is to say all of them) the chance to tax secretly via inflation. So I would just love there to be a private alternative.

Currency serves three purposes. It's a means of exchange, a store of value and a unit of accounting. Historically it was either made of or linked to a substance (like gold or silver) that had an intrinsic value and a limited supply. Professor Kevin Dowd does a good job in this little monograph of explaining both how private currencies, including such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, work and why governments hate them so much.

He tells the story of two alternatives to the US dollar introduced by businessmen there; 'the Liberty Dollar" and "e-Gold". The Liberty Dollar was an actual coin (technically a medallion, because it didn't meet the legal definition of coinage) that was denominated in dollars and periodically revalued against them. People could exchange them for goods, hold them as a more reliable store of value because they were made of silver or gold, but couldn't really account in them because the relevant authorities wouldn't recognise them. The inventor, one Bernard von NotHaus, was trying to make a point about the US Government's abuse of its powers by providing a private, voluntary barter currency as an alternative. Liberty Dollars were not forgeries. They didn't pretend to be dollars. Indeed the whole point of them was that they were NOT dollars. They were something not merely different, but in key respects better.

By the time the US authorities stamped out the scheme and secured a 22 years sentence (vastly reduced on appeal) for Bernard, the people who held Liberty Dollars ended up richer than if they had held the "real" ones. He had made his point –  in practical if not legal terms the authorities were the thieves – but he paid a heavy personal price to do so.

e-Gold went a stage further. Notes were issued against an actual reserve of gold held in London (to be beyond the reach of the US authorities). Doug Jackson, an American libertarian, came up with the idea – again neither to defraud nor even for personal gain – but to make a politico-economic point. Though holders of e-Gold again did better financially than if they had kept the dollars with which they bought it, he met the same fate. As Professor Dowd observes; 

If one compares this case with the Liberty Dollar, one immediately notices worrying parallels: two decent businessmen operating out in the open, operating under the rule of law but trying to offer alternative monetary systems in one form or another, and both taken down by government agencies that were arguably operating outside the law themselves and have never been held to account – in essence, the victims of arbitrary government attack.

The ferocity of the government's response in both cases can only really be explained by its fear of citizens getting too close to a dirty secret. Economics is famously dull and few can be bothered to study it. Governments have, by the introduction of fiat currency, been able to hoodwink even quite intelligent citizens. We have accepted inflation as a fact of life (even though there was none for 300 years in the UK until we came off the High Gold Standard) and have somehow failed to connect it with the immorality of government policy. A couple of clever gents had to be "taken down" not for any actual threat they posed to the US dollar, but because their educational projects might just have succeeded in revealing the ethical horror at the heart of the Fed.

Hence Bitcoin, not actually the first cryptocurrency and now only one of many, but so far the best known. The ferocious use of state power to suppress earlier private currencies made it necessary for this new one to be utterly anonymous. Again, the motives were ideologically libertarian.

the designers of cryptocurrency sought to create not just a new currency, but a new anarchist social order

In the words of Wei Dai, the inventor of a Bitcoin predecessor, 

the objective is to have a crypto-anarchy in which the government is not temporarily destroyed but permanently forbidden and permanently unnecessary. It's a community where the threat of violence is impotent because violence is impossible, and violence is impossible because its participants cannot be linked to their true names or physical locations.

Bitcoin has succeeded so far because even its inventor is anonymous, known only by the nom de guerre "Satoshi Nakamoto." It is completely decentralised. There is no central authority or organiser whatever. The "coin" is digital and uses public key cryptography. Authorising and tracking of transactions in Bitcoin is monitored by the community collectively. Before a coin changes hands, it is checked by the network to ensure that the user hasn't already spent it. As "Nakamoto" explained on its launch in 2009;

The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that is required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust ... A generation ago, multi-user time sharing computer systems had a similar problem ... Users had to rely on password protection to to secure their files, placing trust in the system administrator to keep their information private. Then strong encryption became available to the masses, and trust was no longer required. Data could be secured in a way that was physically impossible to access, no matter for what reason, no matter how good the excuse, no matter what. 

It's time we had the same thing for money. With e-currency based on cryptographic proof, without the need to trust a third party middleman, money can be secure and transactions complete. 

The other ingenious innovation is the way in which the money supply is limited. This it too technical for me to explain here without re-typing large parts of the book, but if you are interested (and by now I hope you are) you can read the whole thing in PDF format here.

Professor Dowd doesn't think Bitcoin will endure but he is confident that one of its competitors will and he believes it will not be possible for governments to suppress it. Paradoxically, given that the whole purpose of a crypto-currency is to evade state control, the more powerful the oppression, the more valuable it becomes!

A state can be defined as a "regional monopoly of violence" but if Wei Dai's dream of making violence impotent comes true, at least in this respect, it will no longer be of use. As Professor Dowd says;

If the state really wants to get rid of Bitcoin, it should eliminate the state controls that feed it, for example, if the state ended the wars on drugs and terror, reduced taxes, ended policies of financial repression and re-established the privacy of individuals' personal financial information.

We all know, whatever our views on the value of statism, how little any state wants to do that! In the end the value of a functioning crypto-currency beyond the reach of state violence may be to restore honest money in general. That, gentle readers, is a consummation devoutly to be wished.


Of Left and Right, Reason and Faith

 

Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.

 

I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it? 

 

On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them. 

 

I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings. 

 

A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.  

 

For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer. 

 

In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent. 

 

I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf. 

 

By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister. 


US Homicide Rate varies inversely with gun ownership

FBI: US Homicide Rate at 51-Year Low | Mises Wire.

Mass shootings like Orlando make headlines and rightly so. They are disgusting and they certainly justify state authorities using their powers to review people applying to obtain or renew gun licences as, at present, they often don't. They also justify closing loopholes in the system, for example around trade fairs. There is a lot that could be usefully done to promote public safety around firearms. No-one, least of all a responsible gun-owner, wants guns in the hands of minors, the mentally-disturbed, people with criminal records or, I would suggest, anyone who has declared public support for a terrorist group or foreign power hostile to the United States.
 
The fact is that gun ownership in the USA has risen in the past twenty years, while the homicide rate has fallen. Before we reject the Second Amendment as so much American craziness, we should bear that in mind. As someone in the UK growing older and more vulnerable to crime, I wish I could carry a weapon to defend myself. I also wish that the law in the UK was as robust as in most US states when it came to the issue of a home-owner's right to defend himself, his family and his property.
 
The law in the UK does not restrict the supply of firearms much more effectively than it restricts the supply of drugs. Everyone who wants either guns or narcotics has them. There are millions of guns in circulation; more than enough to serve the needs of active criminals. Many of those criminal gun users are also drug users and therefore less likely than a sober citizen to use them sensibly.
 
In awkward reality gun control is a state guarantee to armed criminals that their victims will be defenceless.
 
I don't want to be the guy who responds to events by using them to support long-held views. There is anyway no support for wider legal gun-ownership in the UK. So much so that merely writing this post guarantees I could never be nominated as a candidate for political office. Yet minds should be open when we discuss emotional issues and I feel that on this occasion someone needs to say what no-one wants to hear.

On not over Stating our case

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

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.

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.


Don't blame the millennials, blame their teachers

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".

Screenshot 2016-05-23 09.38.01

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.

 

My favourite of his videos is this one of a panel at UMass with Steven Crowder and Christina Hoff Sommers. I particularly enjoyed her summary of "gender studies"

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.


Second thoughts

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 fallacybut 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?


A sustained sneer in The Observer

Meet Cody Wilson, creator of the 3D-gun, anarchist, libertarian | Technology | The Observer.

I do enjoy a Guardian writer sneering at an enemy's arguments as those "you might formulate in a sixth-form debating society" and at his "19th-century taste for ideologies and theories". It's deliciously ironic when her own thinking will never rise above the level of sixth-form debate and she faithfully serves a (failed) 19th Century philosophy.
 
The only part that jarred was her sneer at
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
and her ridiculous comment that 

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.


What libertarianism isn't

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.