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

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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.

Democracy, the State and Libertarianism

Democracy, the State and Libertarianism :: A Very British Dude.

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!

He and I could agree, for example, on moving to the model of state-funded health care he proposes - essentially that currently used in France. He might regard that as his final objective. I would regard it as a step on the road to freedom. His only problem with being allied with me is that the defenders of the lethally-Soviet NHS might accuse him of being secretly on the same road as me. Frankly they have already proved that they will lie, cheat and desecrate graves in its defence, so I can't see that's a huge problem.

Our state is so powerful and invasive at present that an alliance could easily be built across the whole political spectrum - including more reasonable members of the Left. Jackart is certainly right that there's no point in purists fantasising about a libertarian utopia. Our freedoms have been lost yard by yard. We will be lucky to win them back inch by inch.

Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 #LLFF13

Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 Tickets Now Available! |

First Panel
Introducing the keynote panel featuring philosopher Anders Sandberg, politician Douglas Carswell and university vice-principal Terence Kealey, chaired by Dominique Lazanski
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at this event. Realising it was meant for students, I decided to keep uncharacteristically quiet. In consequence, I had a charming time listening to bright young people and was both edified and encouraged. 

The day kicked off with a keynote panel featuring philosopher Anders Sandberg, politician Douglas Carswell and university vice-principal Terence Kealey.

Sandberg sounded the darkest note of the day. He spoke of government's weakness for "policy theatre" (like the security theatre at airports, it does you no good but shows that they care). He countered the general optimism about the impact of technology on government, showing a scary graph that suggested that a mere 0.01% of GDP will buy the state "total surveillance" by 2030. He was also interesting on the subject of "social antibodies". These are nerds who pay attention to details of institutional behaviour and draw them angrily to the attention of citizens with lives. They might not be much fun at a picnic, but they help a free society to function. I think this group might include quite a few political bloggers.

Douglas Carswell was very optimistic, despite opening with the confession that - having gone into politics to reduce the size of government - he must consider his career a failure. He believes that Western social democracies have "reached their limits" and that this is the cause of the West's crisis. He reported happily that MPs, even in "safe" seats, now live in fear of internet activism and predicted that technology, by making it easy for the people to organise, will destroy the claim of political elites to speak for the collective. His most optimistic observation was to deny the dispiriting notion that big government is driven by voter demand. His analysis of history suggests that elites, not voters, drive the growth of the state. In consequence, he believes that new technologies that allow "the collective to speak for itself" will lead to more phenomena like Beppo Grillo's "Five Star Movement." This will steadily undermine elites already struggling to perpetuate themselves as the failure of the big state model becomes clear.

Professor Kealey was bullish about the future of freedom too. In an era in which voters can, via Google, be as well informed as their leaders, the sort of "rubbish" routinely spouted by politicians to justify their hijacking of private resources can be challenged. He gave the example of President Obama's "nonsensical" claims in his recent "state of the Union" address of a 14,000% return on public capital invested in the human genome project. Not only is that a vast overstatement of the return on investment, most of the cash was anyway provided by private institutions such as Britain's Wellcome Trust. He said that we had lived in an "extraordinarily benign" economic environment for more than 200 years and that there was no reason to expect that to end. He advocated more direct democracy, such as in Switzerland, pointing out that it typically resulted in government consuming at least 10% less of GDP. He even commented that the Swiss model forced all political parties into permanent coalition against their one true enemy; the people. Without that coalition they would never be able to resist further downward pressure on public spending.

Sam Bowman in full flow
The two other sessions I attended also provided much food for thought. Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute suggested that the standard libertarian approach to presenting our ideas appealed only to ourselves. If we wanted to win hearts and minds, we needed to reason from public benefit - even (shock, horror!) "social justice", in order to justify ourselves. He had no personal problem with this, as he was a libertarian only because he believed it would lead to the greater good of the greatest number and would benefit the poor. I found it disturbing that he kept arriving at the "right" conclusions from the "wrong" direction but could see a lot of sense in what he said. Besides, there's no point in being right if you can't convince your fellow men to act on it.

I discovered from this session that my own views are rooted in the morality of "natural law." I would defend them as ethically correct even if they resulted in social costs. His "thought experiment" to shock me out of this (apparently) Rothbardian stance did not work. I simply don't believe it's justified to take others' assets by force, even if failure to do so could be proved, for example, to increase poverty. This stance is easier for me to hold because I simply don't believe such violence ever does a better job of reducing poverty than would charity and philanthropy.

The most disturbing moment of the day was in Bowman's session when he mentioned in passing the "standard" justification for welfarism; one that I had never heard before. If, he said, a baby was drowning in a puddle not only would a passing stranger have a moral duty to rescue it, but he would also have a moral right if, perhaps because of disability, he couldn't do it himself to force someone else to do so at gunpoint. This utilitarian remark passed without comment or challenge, but left me distinctly chilled. I don't dispute a moral duty to save the child and I would shun forever someone else who failed to do so. But the idea that I would be justified in pulling a gun on the shunworthy one - or even killing him - if he failed to do his duty struck me as obscene.

Interestingly, in some Civil Law countries the law requires a citizen to save another in danger. English Law has never done so. When the PCSO's in this notorious case failed to try to save a drowning child because they had not been given the necessary health and safety training, not only were they not liable they were not even disciplined. In our system this moral obligation has never been made law. An armed passerby who tried to make them show some courage would have been prosecuted - not least if he had pulled the trigger. Yet on such an analogy, apparently, is the violence of the state justified.

Tim Evans
Rara avis indeed; Libertarian Sociologist, Tim Evans
The most fun of the day was had in the session led by "libertarian sociologist" (whatever next, "vegetarian slaughterman?") Tim Evans. Evans is a good, amusing speaker who is better versed in his subject than his casual style first suggests. He also gave grounds for much optimism, telling the assembled students that when he studied anarcho-capitalism decades ago, it was "interesting but not relevant". Now, he feels, it's both. Like Douglas Carswell, he feels the social democratic state has hit the ceiling and pointed out that private companies are already taking over duties once reserved to government.

There are now two private security guards for every policeman in Britain. The Royal Navy's latest warship is leased from a private consortium. He saw no reason why the private sector could not provide other services that "politicians, elite businessmen and moral-minded cretins" believe should be reserved for government. He suggested that the private "Societies for the Prosecution of Felons" that were replaced by state police forces were far more efficient in detection of crime. Indeed, he said they were not replaced because they didn't work, but because the elite of the time was annoyed that they ignored (in good libertarian style) such "victimless" crimes as buggery and prostitution.

I enjoyed listening to the speakers but even more to the earnest young libertarian students who grappled manfully and womanfully with difficult ideas. All in all, it was a fascinating day. I am here to tell you that my occasional gloom is unjustified. The future of liberty in Britain is in good hands.

Thank you, Dr. Ron Paul


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.

h/t Nourishing Obscurity

The weaponisation of politeness

Libertarians, classical liberals, whatever you choose to call us accept that others differ in their lifestyles and opinions. Whether we approve of their choices or not, we respect their right to make them. Unless that is, and until (and to the precise extent), they impede those of others. So why do so many of us come over as harsh, inflexible and rude? Why do we play into the hands of our political foes who love to depict us - with no shred of justification - as misanthropic?

Socialists and other statists are of course annoying. They accept no limits to their claim to tell others how to live. Living under the tyranny of their thought, as we do, it's not surprising that we bridle at their constant hectoring interference in every aspect of our life. But if we resort to angry condemnation, abuse or even the witty swear blogging that many have come to identify us with, perhaps we are missing a trick?

When your child is a child you embrace, protect and defend him. You shield him from all threats. It's a wonderful, satisfying time but its true goal is to get that child to the point where he no longer needs it. The true test of parental love is not the fierceness of the protection, but the trust to let it go when it's no longer needed. Statists say we do not care for our fellow man because we resist their use of state violence to protect him from himself. In fact we love him enough to let him live - and screw up - in his own way.

Reading statist newspapers and blogs every day what strikes me hardest is how very rude these people are. The sneering, carping, superior tone of The Guardian is particularly offensive and upsetting. Statists'  contempt for other views is boundless in its ferocity. They do not descend to name-calling when their patience runs out. Oh no, it is their first and often only resort. Great swathes of the country think "f******g Tory c**t" is an unanswerable political argument. The notion of dancing (or worse) on the grave of a dead opponent when a frail old lady dies is seen as "right on" humour. Firmly in the Nye Bevan tradition of regarding  those who argue peaceably for a different political view as "vermin", these are not only misguided but deeply unpleasant people. They are the political descendants of the witch-burning puritans of old.

If we fight fire with fire however we do our cause no favours. Consider affable, dishevelled Boris, for example. Hanging laughably from a stuck zip wire he is able, as the unloved boy David ruefully observed, to do well from it. Is it perhaps because he does not stand on his dignity or bemoan his plight but chats affably with his amused onlookers, even as they film the makings of numerous YouTube pisstakes? The man's invincible because he displays no obvious killer instinct. He appears to pose no threat. And when he criticises an opponent's view he is taken all the more seriously because he does not attack for attack's sake. He is every bit as posh, rich and privileged as Dave or Gideon, but he is loved. They are obviously Macchiavelli's children and are not.

More widely-read libertarian bloggers may say, with some cause, politeness is not working for you, Tom, why should we try it? But they, like me, are mostly preaching to a choir as small as it is tuneful. If we want to reach Boris's audience, maybe we should all take a leaf from his songbook? In the end, our argument is based on loving and trusting our fellow-men. We except only those who use force and fraud to deny others the fruits of their labours or their civil rights. Socialists on the other hand propound a hate and envy based ideology (National Socialists hating whole races and International Socialists hating whole classes). It shows on their clenched and angry features and in the shrill keening of their discourse. Why distract from such helpful self-condemnation? Brits instinctively distrust fanatics. Can we not let that work in our favour?

We "real liberals" judge others solely on the content of their characters as evidenced by their behaviours. We seek individual justice, not social justice. We hold people accountable for their acts and omissions, not for being part of a group they didnt choose to join or for having gone to a school they had no part in selecting. Not for us then mass condemnation by class, race or sex. So can we perhaps accentuate the unpleasant fanaticism of our statist, authoritarian opponents by differentiating ourselves - not just by our arguments - but the way we present them?