Thursday, December 27, 2007

An unfinished revolution

The discussions about libertarianism, left and right, have rumbled on. In the comments to a post here, Paulie suggested I read a post on libertarianism by Peter Ryley. So I did.

I found myself having an interesting internal struggle. While what he was saying flatly contradicted things I've been confidently declaring for years, he seemed to be absolutely right. A ten minute intermission with Google proved that. I took myself to one side for a quiet talking-to. "Listen, bud," I said. "If this were physics, you wouldn't be reacting like that."

"No," I replied. "I wouldn't."

And I wouldn't. So what on earth is it with politics that makes us (I'm extrapolating here, I admit) get so possessive about political ideas? Isn't it more important what's true?

Not to me it wasn't. That's why it was an interesting internal struggle.

Because I'd formed the idea that so-called left libertarians weren't libertarian at all. They just liked the sound of the word, in the same way as they liked the sound of the word 'Liberal' even though they weren't liberals. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the 'right libertarian' use of the word dates back just to the early 1970s, the left can claim it back to the 1850s.

Originally the word meant "one who holds the doctrine of free will". That was in 1789. But half a century later the ancestors of modern day people-with-giant-papier-mache-heads emerged, and they called themselves Libertarians (emphasis added):

Anarchists have been using the term "libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and p. 145] The use of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper Le Libertaire -- The Libertarian -- in France in 1895, for example). Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based "Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early 1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who have "stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is a contradiction in terms.
To quote Mr Plump (emphasis added):
[Marxism and Libertarianism] emerged from critical responses to early industrialism. They drew on radical liberalism, and both had a class analysis based on the division between the ‘productive and unproductive classes’ - in other words, between owners and workers. Not only that, but they both saw the relationship between workers and their employers as a servile one, a form of modern slavery. The idle lived off the produce of those who actually did the work and, as all wealth was the product of labour, this was an act of robbery with violence.

The main accomplice in this larceny was the State. The State was the agent that protected a legal ‘artificial right of property’, ownership by the ‘unproductive classes’, against the ‘natural right of property’, the right of workers to own the means and products of their own labour. But it was here that a divergence occurred. Marxists and State Socialists felt that this could be resolved through collective ownership by the State if it was, in turn, controlled by the ‘productive classes’, even if the State would eventually wither away to leave a free and property-less society. Anarchists rejected the State and so Anarchist Communists talked of the immediate revolutionary abolition of property as well as the State. However, Individualist Anarchism came to a different conclusion and the origin of Libertarianism is to be found here.

Maybe this is why the accusation of being 'ahistorical' has been levelled at the right wing 'bloggertarians'. But... but but but...

But Ron Paul is making waves as a libertarian candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. So he's the inheritor of a Marxist, anarchist, socialist tradition?

Of course not! He's an interloper, one with a stolen name. In fact, his politics of limited government, personal freedom and personal responsibility should be called...

Well? What should they be called? Liberal? Paul upholds the American Constitution, which limits the powers of government. Even with issues where he has a strong view, as with abortion, he upholds the Constitution and declines powers for the Presidency that have not been granted by the Constitution.

Paul doesn't think the President should be able to declare war, because the Constitution expressly reserves that power to Congress, and he's impatient of sophistries about police actions or emergencies - too much so, he forgets Pearl Harbor and 9/11 when he says America has never been attacked unexpectedly. And this is where his biggest appeal and biggest weakness lie. But that's another post.

This post wants to know what Paul's platform owes to anarchism or the Marxist left. And it reckons: nothing.

The first of the list of Paul's ideas is the most important. The idea that government should be limited is amazingly, bizarrely controversial. Or maybe it isn't. Rousseau was right: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Almost all human lives have been lived in conditions of servitude. I think that might be a statement behind which both left and right libertarians could rally, although there the harmony would end.

But servitude being the normal state of humanity, the idea that government might not be entitled to do some things seems distant to the point of irrelevance.

It is, after all, often an issue of principle rather than outcome. An unlimited-government person might think that the state should not make it illegal for people to have certain forms of sexual contact. A libertarian, or perhaps even liberal, view might be to agree with this, per se, but to add that in fact the state should not have the power to make such laws. Same outcome, different approaches.

[It's hard to say what a liberal, in the 'Classical Liberal' sense might have made of issues like homosexuality because such things were not at the forefront of political debate in the early and mid nineteenth century.]

And even if that weren't the case, so what? Does that mean that if I get tortured by a government that isn't entitled to torture me, then it's been a very naughty government? Is that supposed to help?

Well, no. The idea that government is limited is the outcome, not the starting point, of an argument, or of a line of reasoning. And we have that line of reasoning laid out for us, in reasonably modern English.

For what it's worth, I think the choice of the name 'Libertarian' by the US movement in the 1970s was unfortunate. It has created a car crash of ideas. The obvious lineage of the political term 'libertarian' is clear enough. But it doesn't follow that someone walking in the footsteps of Jefferson has anarchists, minarchists (or objectivists) in their family tree. Endless confusion has been created by attempts to reconcile entirely unrelated, even mutually exclusive, ideas because of the bogus shared history that an ill-advised choice of name gave two entirely unrelated systems of political thought.

The line of reasoning went as follows:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary[1] for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind[2] requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.[3] — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed[4], — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form[5], as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
And here is the line of reasoning:

1. People have the power of self-determination. People are autonomous.

2. There is such a thing as society, and you should explain yourself to it.

3. Autonomous individuals have rights that are beyond the reach of legitimate government.

4. Governments get their power from the consent of the people, and from no other source.

5. The people can change their form of government if they choose.

That seems right to me. Governments should not be surrogate monarchs. They work for us and they have limited powers. Or at least, they should have limited powers.

If anyone has managed to get to the foot of this post, they will, I hope, realise that I have tried to understand and engage with other people's arguments. I just ask for the same courtesy. Because in all the posts on this, nobody, not even those who have linked to me, have taken up my central argument. If you believe the government should have total power, but use it in ways you agree with, then you're a totalitarian - even if you don't like the sound of the word. If you think the powers of governments should be limited, then you're not a totalitarian, be you conservative, liberal or social democrat.

That's the issue. I think the right-libertarians are going to steal the brand, and I think the Marxist left will continue to use the stolen word 'Liberal'. Evens. We'll all have to live with it.

But the issue remains. There's an unfinished revolution. And its name, now, is Libertarianism.

Political suppleness unsuccessful

From Wikipedia:

In 1909 Alfred Deakin, the leader of the Protectionist Party merged with the Free Trade Party of George Reid to form the CLP on a shared platform of opposing the Australian Labor Party. It was defeated by Labor at its first election held in 1910.


After nearly a month of blogstipation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Great Airport Race

If you flew with Tony Fall, you'd be introduced to The Great Airport Race. He had been taught it by Raymond Baxter in the 1960s, when they travelled to drive Rally Cars in, among other places, Monte Carlo.

Playing this, he'd sit, quivering with excitement, on the edge of his seat in the terminal building waiting for the flight to be announced. The idea was to be first - everywhere: Baggage check in, passport control, boarding, disembarking, at passport control, collecting baggage. He was 67, looked 53 and behaved like a 23 year old, only with more energy. Here's a picture of him from earlier this year:

Here he is driving a Datsun:

And here he is getting disqualified from the 1967 Portugese Rally for slowing down as he approached the finish, pulling his wife into the car and driving in - in first place - with his arm round her:

Tony died this weekend, in East Africa where he was working with the organisers of the East African Safari Classic Rally. He was a friend to this blog, and will be sadly missed. His father lived to be 100. Tony should have, too.


They have restored it now, after a brief outcry, but what on earth was in the minds of the YouTube team when they cancelled the account of Egyptian anti-torture activist Wael Abbas?

Monday, December 03, 2007


One of the most striking things about To Kill A Mockingbird is the image the reader gets of completely powerless black people having their fate decided by white folks. A young black man is accused of rape by a white woman, arrested by white police, put in a white-run jail house. A white judge appoints a white lawyer to represent him against the white prosecutor. Some of these people are good-hearted and unhappy with this state of affairs, but that's what it was like.

I was reminded of this by the recent Sudanese arrest and imprisonment of a schoolteacher who allowed children to name a teddy bear 'Mohammed'. A Muslim regime imprisoned a non-Muslim and it took two Muslim peers, Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed, to negotiate her release. Why did the negotiators have to be Muslims?

The answer is simple: Islam is a fundamentally supremacist system of thought and the pattern we saw in Sudan, of a submissive and powerless non-Muslim having her fate decided by Muslims, is deeply entrenched in Islamic tradition. The word has been abused so profoundly, including by me in the past, that I have made a conscious effort to stop using it, but the schoolteacher in this case found herself in the position of a Dhimmi (emphasis added):

The term connotes an obligation of the state to protect the individual, including the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion and worship, and exclude them from the payment of zakat only paid by muslims; in exchange for "subservience and loyalty to the Muslim order", and a poll tax known as the jizya.
This apparent contract is nothing of the kind. It exchanges one tax for another (one that is to be collected in a way that is deliberately humiliating for the non-Muslim), but as for the rest the extension of the rule of law to cover non-Muslims is not a concession, it's a given for any decent and civilised society. All we're left with is the imposition, by force, on the non-Muslim of "subservience and loyalty".

It is quite conceivable that politicians including the two Muslim peers are being diplomatic until the teacher, and they, are safely out of Sudan. But somehow I doubt it. I strongly doubt anyone will publicly criticise the requirement that the negotiators be Muslim. It would have been easier for a black advocate to go to South Africa during apartheid than for a non-Muslim to sway the Islamist rulers of Sudan.

Eight and a half centuries ago the crusades brought the violent, misogynistic, priest-ridden culture of Europe into contact with the Islamic world, and the result was a renaissance. The Egyptian blogger Nah·det Masr wishes for a renaissance in Egypt today. In a recent post, he suggested a new term: Izlamist:
It's not a typo; the new term is the best description of people who are trying to impose their religious point of view, jump to power, and impose their strict interpretations and Shariy'a law on the rest of us who don't subscribe to the same ideas or even don't belong to the same religion.

The new term comes from Izlam إظلام which means loosely imposing darkness
The influence of Islam on the West today is almost wholly regressive, the opposite of renaissance. There are a number of reasons for this, and they cannot all be lain at the feet of Muslims themselves. Successive British governments followed the example of Michael Howard in recognising as representative only Izlamic extremists. Indeed, it is vital that we draw a distinction between Islam and Muslims, most of whom make the sorts of contributions everyone else does, and thereby help enrich us all. But regrettably their traditions and countries of origin are dragging us back into the darkness, even though most of them do not wish this to happen.

I recommend my Egyptian friend to you all, and commend his new term. I shall adopt it myself from now on. It even contains, in the unexpected letter 'z', an appropriate visual echo of the word 'Nazi'.

Some of the most active Izlamists in Britain today are the Deobandis of Tablighi Jamaat. A struggle in East London rages at the moment over their application to build a 'Mega Mosque' - a visible symbol of supremacism that is intended to dominate the site of the forthcoming Olympics and to send out a message of Izlamist triumphalism to the entire world.

The campaign against these disgusting and disgraceful proposals - the moral equivalent of erecting a giant burning cross on the site - has just launched a website. 2,500 mainstream Muslims in the locality have signed a petition opposing the mosque.

The organisers of this campaign have been threatened with death by extremists. They have shown great courage and deserve our support.

What's in a name?

Here's a story that deserves a wider circulation. Former spook In From The Cold picked up on a piece in the Houston Chronicle about an apparent increase in the number, and a decrease in the strength, of tropical storms that are being given names (emphasis added):

Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year's 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn "named storm" status.

"They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to," said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. "This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six."

Most of the storms in question briefly had tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph. But their central pressure — another measure of intensity — suggested they actually remained depressions or were non-tropical systems.

Any inconsistencies in the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes have significance far beyond semantics.

The number of a season's named storms forms the foundation of historical records used to determine trends in hurricane activity.
As In From The Cold notes:
hurricane forecasts for 2007 missed the mark badly; if the six "suspect" storms are excluded from the total, then there were only 8 hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic basin this year. That's below the historical average for the past 60 years (10 storms a year) and barely half the original prediction for 2007 (17 named storms).
So alleged increases in storm frequency might be the result of changes to the criteria by which storms are assessed rather than global warming, as is often alleged.

Tell me you're surprised...


I'll probably continue to post erratically until Christmas. Work is particularly hectic right now and I'm on deadline for an online application that's considered to be a project of national importance, so it will be launched by a Cabinet minister next month. As the sole developer, I'm a bit pushed.