Posts Tagged ‘Anarcho-Capitalism’

T.H. Green’s Criticism of Utilitarian Laissez-Faire Individualism

December 24, 2018

T.H. Green was a 19th century British philosopher, who with others provided the philosophical justification for the change in Liberal politics away from complete laissez-faire economics to active state intervention. A week or so ago I put up another passage from D.G. Ritchie, another Liberal philosopher, who similarly argued for greater state intervention. Ritchie considered that the state was entitled to purchase and manage private enterprises on behalf of society, which Green totally rejected. However, Green was in favour of passing legislation to improve conditions for working people, and attacked the Utilitarians for their stance that Liberals such try to repeal laws in order to expand individual freedom. He believed the real reasons to objecting for laws affecting religious observances were that they interfered with the basis of morality in religion, and similarly believed that the real objection to the erection of the workhouses was that they took away the need for parental foresight, children’s respect for their parents and neighbourly kindness. He criticized the Utilitarians for demanding the removal of this laws on the grounds of pure individualism. Green wrote

Laws of this kind have often been objected to on the strength of a one-sided view of the function of laws; the view, viz. that their only business is to prevent interference with the liberty of the individual. And this view has gained undue favour on account of the real reforms to which it has led. The laws which it has helped to get rid of were really mischievous, but mischievous for further reasons than those conceived of by the supporters of this theory. Having done its work, the theory now tends to beco0me obstructive, because in fact advancing civilization brings with it more and more interference with the liberty of the individual to do as he likes, and this theory affords a reason for resisting all positive reforms, all reforms which involve an action of the state in the way of promoting conditions favourable to moral life. It is one thing to say that the state in promoting these conditions must take care not to defeat its true end by narrowing the region within which the spontaneity and disinterestness of true morality can have play; another thing to say that it has no moral end to serve at all, and that it goes beyond its province when it seeks to do more than save the individual from violent interference from other individuals. The true ground of objection to ‘paternal government’ is not that it violates the ‘laissez-faire’ principle and conceives that its office is to make people good, to promote morality, but that it rests on a misconception of morality. The real function of government being to maintain conditions of life in which morality shall be possible, and ‘paternal government’ does its best to make it impossible by narrowing the room for the self-imposition of duties and the play of disinterested motives.

T.H.Green, Political Obligations, cited in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought vol. 3, Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959) 212.

Lancaster comments on this passage on the following page, stating

Green here approves the central idea of laissez-faire since he believes that the individual should be allowed to make his own choices, and he concedes that early liberal legislation had been on the whole directed to that end. He does not believe, however, that the general good of society could be served in the altered conditions of English life by leaving people alone. This is the case, he thinks, because real freedom implies a choice of actions, and actual choices may not exist when, for example, the alternative to terms set by landlord or employer is destitution or dispossession. His criticism amounts to the charge that laissez-faire is only the defence of class interests, and as such ignores the general welfare. (p. 213).

It’s a good point. Clearly Green is far from promoting that the state should run the economy, but, like the passage I put up by Ritchie, it’s an effective demolition of some of the arguments behind Libertarianism. This is sometimes defined as ‘Classical Liberalism’, and is the doctrine that the state should interfere as little as possible. But as Green and Ritchie pointed out, that was no longer possible due to the changed circumstances of the 19th century. Green is also right when he makes the point the choice between that offered by a landlord or employer and being thrown out of work or on the street is absolutely no choice at all, and that in this instance laissez-faire individualism is simply a defence of class interests. This is very much the case. Libertarianism and later anarcho-capitalism was formulated by a group of big businessmen, who objected to F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The members of this group include the Koch brothers, the multi-millionaire heads of the American oil industry. It became one of the ideological strands in the Republican party after Reagan’s victory in 1980, and also in Thatcherism, such as the Tories idea that instead of using the state police, householders could instead employ private security firms.

Green and Ritchie together show that the Classical Liberalism to which Libertarianism harks back was refuted long ago, and that Libertarianism itself is similarly a philosophy that has been utterly demolished both in theory and in practice.

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Libertarian Sexism – Just Fascist Misogyny Mixed Up with Rothbard and Rand

July 20, 2017

About a week ago I put up a post commenting on a video from Reichwing Watch, a YouTuber who creates videos and documentaries about the rise of the extreme Right. That particularly video remarked on the way contemporary Libertarian was becoming a front for Fascism. The two ideologies share the same hatred of democracy, Socialism, minority rights, and organized labour, and exalt instead authoritarianism, private property and industry. The video included clips of comments from Rand and Ron Paul, Hoppe, Ayn Rand and other Libertarian ideologues laying out their highly elitist views, along with similar comments from Adolf Hitler. Libertarians have often described themselves as Anarcho-Individualists or Anarcho-Capitalists. Now, however, a number of them, of whom the most prominent appears to be the internet blogger, That Guy T, have begun to describe themselves and their ideology as Anarcho-Fascism.

And one of the attitudes they share with traditional Fascism is sexism and a deep distrust of women. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists believed that women were inferior to men, and that, rather than seeking equality and careers, they should properly confine their activity to the home. In Nazi Germany girls were explicitly educated to be home-makers under the official Nazi slogan ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – ‘Children, Kitchen, Church’. This education culminated in a useless qualification derided as the ‘pudding matric’. The Italian Fascists held the same opinions, and also equated masculinity with aggressive militarism. One of Mussolini’s slogans was ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman.’ Incidentally, it’s quite ironic that a female screenwriter, interviewed in the Radio Times this week about her forthcoming detective series about the organized abuse of women in international prostitution, is quoted as saying, ‘motherhood is the equivalent of when men go to war.’ I’ve no doubt many mothers, and fathers, for that matter, see it differently. Though it might appear to be so after they’ve been up all night with a crying baby.

Some of the clearest statements of Fascist misogyny came from the Futurists, the modern art movement launched in 1909 by the Italian poet, Marinetti. This glorified youth, speed, the new machine age, violence, dynamism and virility. Mussolini in his manifesto baldly stated ‘We advocate scorn for woman.’ In his manifesto Contro L’Amore ed il Parlamentarismo – ‘Against Love and the Parliamentary Process’, Marinetti declared ‘the war between the sexes has been unquestioningly prepared by the great agglomerations of the capital cities, by nocturnal habits, and by the regular salaries given to female workers.’ The Futurists were impressed by the militant dynamism of the suffragettes and early feminist movements, but later became violently opposed to any kind of demands for equality or female liberation. Marinetti declared that “Women hasten to give, with lightning speed, a great proof of the total animalization of politics… the victory of feminism, and especially the influence of women on politics will in the end succeed in destroying the principle of the family”.
(‘Love and Sexuality’ in Pontus Hulton, ed. Futurismo: Futurism and Futurisms (Thames and Hudson 1986) 503.

The same attitudes have returned with the rise of the anti-feminist Conservatives following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Much of this is a reaction to the gradual decline of the nuclear family and massive increase in divorce following the emergence of more liberal attitudes to sexuality in the ‘permissive society’. Thus, Conservatives like the American Anne Coulter, Libertarians like Vox Day, and their British counterparts, many of whom seem to be in UKIP, stated very openly that they were in favour of removing women’s right to vote. This was partly because they feel that women favour the Left, and so reject economic individualism and property rights for collectivism and a welfare state. The denizens of the Men’s Rights Movements, who are regularly critiqued and pilloried by the male internet feminist, Kevin Logan, are also vehemently opposed to female sexual liberation. Far and Alt Right vloggers like Avis Aurini sneer at modern women as promiscuous, whose selfish hedonism is a threat to marriage and the family. One of the individuals even hysterically declared that women were responsible for the fall of all civilisations. This would no doubt surprise historians, who have actually studied the reasons for their fall. The forces responsible can include climate change and desertification, foreign invasion, social and political stagnation and economic decline. Rome fell, for example, because from the third century AD onwards it was suffering massive inflation, a growing tax burden that the aristocratic rich evaded, and put instead on the shoulders of the poor, a growing gulf between rich and poor that saw the free Roman plebs decline in legal rights and status to the same level as the slaves, along with the massive expansion of aristocratic estates worked by slaves, urban decline as the population fled to the countryside, a decline in genuine democratic institutions and the rise of feudalism, and, of course, the barbarian invasions. Women don’t feature as a cause, except in the writings of some of the Roman historians commenting on sexual depravity of various emperors, and the general moral decline of Roman society. O tempora! O mores!

Whatever intellectual guise the contemporary Conservative and Libertarian right might want to give such ideas, such misogyny really is just Fascism, or an element of Fascism. It’s just been given another name, and mixed up with the economic individualism of Ayn Rand, von Hayek and von Mises, rather than Hitler, Mussolini and Marinetti. It is, however, rapidly approaching and assimilating them as well. If female freedom and, more widely, a genuinely democratic society are to be preserved, the Fascist nature of such misogyny needs to be recognized, and very firmly rejected.

Theresa May and the Faux-Feminism of the Tories

July 10, 2016

Okay, it appears from the latest developments in the Tory leadership contest that their next leader will not only be a woman, but probably Theresa May. May’s currently, I think, the Home Office Minister. Another Tory authoritarian, she’d like the spooks to have access to all our telecoms information to stop us joining ISIS and abusing children. Or at least, that’s what she says. Either way, she represents the continuing expansion of the secret state and its determination to pry into every aspect of our lives. Just in case we’re doing something illegal. In the polls Thursday night or so she won something like 144 votes compared to Andrea Leadsom’s 86 and Michael Gove’s 43. There was a shot of her at one of the party rallies, which showed Ian Duncan Smith, the former Minister in Charge of the Murder of the Disabled looking up at her with the same kind of rapture you see in pictures of Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg as he introduces Adolf Hitler.

May as the Modern Thatcher

The papers on Friday were full of the news of her probable victory. The Torygraph ran the headline, ‘If you want something said, go to a man. If you want something done, go to a woman’. Presumably this was a quote from May herself, trying to position herself as a go-getting woman of action, ready to sort out the mess the men have left. It’s also intended to get her support from Britain’s women. Look, she and her PR gurus are saying, I represent all the women in Britain, and their drives and frustrations in trying to get the top job. And I’ve done it, and, so vicariously, have Britain’s women through me. Vote for me, and we’ll sort Britain out again. The Mirror summed up her probable victory with the headline ‘Another Thatcher’.

That’s true, and it looks very much like the Tory party is trying to hark back to Margaret Thatcher’s victory way back in 1979, and the thirteen years of flag-waving, prole-bashing that unleashed. Thatcher was Britain’s first, and so far, only female Prime Minister. Her election was instrumental in getting the Tories female support, and presenting their agenda of poverty, welfare cuts, joblessness and general immiseration as somehow empowering and progressive. It presented a faux-feminist veneer to what was an acutely traditionalist party. Thatcher did not see herself as a feminist, but nevertheless, her lackeys in the press ran features on her deliberately aimed at women and gaining their support. When she was ousted, Germaine Greer, who had been bitterly critical of her time in No. 10, wrote a piece in the Groan ‘A Sad Day for Every Woman’. And this propaganda line continued with other female Tories afterwards. I can remember a piece in the Mail on Sunday discussing what politics would be like in a female dominated House of Commons about the time Virginia Bottomley joined Major’s cabinet. It imagined Britain as an anarcho-capitalist utopia, where everything was privatised, and instead of the police neighbourhoods hired private security guards. And it ran the notorious factoid that’s been repeated and debunked ever since: that managing the country’s economy was like running a household. Women, so the article claimed, automatically had a better understanding of how the economy should be run through their role controlling the household budget. It’s actually rubbish, as the Angry Yorkshireman, Mike over at Vox Political and a number of left-wing economists and bloggers have repeatedly pointed out. For example, when budgeting for a household, you try to avoid debt, or pay it off as quickly as possible. But no-one has wanted to pay off the national debt since at least the late 18th century, and governments contract debts all the time with the deliberate intention of stimulating growth, as well as having the ability to manipulate circumstances in ways that the average householder can’t. They can, for example, affect the economy by setting the value of their currencies in order to promote exports, for example. The Japanese have deliberately kept the Yen weak in order to make their exports less expensive and so more competitive on foreign markets. They can also alter, or affect exchange rates to control public expenditure outside of immediate state spending. Ordinary people can’t do any of this. But nevertheless, the lie is repeated, and as we’ve seen, believed. A little while ago a man in the audience at Question Time challenged one of the politicos there with not running the country properly. He claimed it should have been obvious to anyone who’s had to run a household. Or possibly their own business.

Women Suffering the Most from Tory Misrule

In power, Thatcher – and the Tories’ policies in general – have hit women the hardest. Women tend to work in the poorest paid jobs, those least unionised, and so with the fewest protections. They are also more likely than men to be active as carers, with the immense responsibilities and pressures that entails. The Tories’ austerity policies have seen more women laid off, and more suffering cuts to hours and pay, with worsening conditions. These have been inflicted on male workers and carers as well, of course. I personally know blokes as well as women, who’ve been put on zero hours contracts, of have had to fight battles with the DWP to get disability benefits for their partners. Women haven’t been solely hit by any means, but they have been especially hit.

Tory Feminism only for the Rich

But I’ve no doubt that the Tories will try to hide all that, and positively divert attention away from it, by pointing to the success of May in finally getting to No. 10. It’ll be presented as another crack in glass ceiling preventing women from getting the top jobs. I’ve also no doubt that there will be some noises about making sure that business, industry and parliament becomes more representative of the country. There will be loud announcements about getting more women into parliament, on the boards of business, and in male-dominated areas such as science and engineering.

But this will all be done to give power and jobs to women from May’s background: well-heeled, well-educated middle class public school gels from Roedean and the like. Rich, corporate types like Hillary Clinton in the US. It isn’t going to be for women from council estates and comprehensive schools, ordinary women working back-breaking jobs in factories, as care home staff, nurses, cleaners, shop assistants, office workers and the like, all of whom are increasingly under pressure from the government’s austerity programme. They, and the men alongside whom they work, doing the same jobs, aren’t going to be helped by the Tories one little bit.

The Thin Veneer of Tory Liberalism

May’s faux-feminism is part of a general thin façade of progressivism, which the Tory party occasionally adopts to promote itself. Cameron came to power pretending to be more left-wing than Tony Blair. When he took over the Tory party, he made much about shedding the party’s image of racism and homophobia. He cut links with the Monday Club, went around promoting Black Tory candidates. Gay MPs were encouraged to come forward and be open about their sexuality. In power, he ostentatiously supported gay marriage, presenting it as Tory victory, even though it had practically already been introduced by Tony Blair in the guise of civil partnerships. Cameron and IDS wanted to be seen as liberal modernisers. But all their reforms are extremely shallow, designed to disguise the rigidly authoritarian and hierarchical party underneath. A party determined to make the poor as poor as possible for the corporate rich.

Generational Differences in Voting

Looking through the stats with friends on Friday, it seems that there’s a marked divergence in political attitudes between young women, and those over 55. The majority of women over 55 tend to vote Conservative, according to the stats. I know plenty who don’t, and so this can be challenged. My guess is that, if this is accurate, it’s probably due to the fact that women generally haven’t worked in the kind of manual trades occupied by men, which require considerable solidarity and so have produced strong union bonds, like mining, metal work and so on. It’s also possibly partly due to the prevailing social ideology when they were born. There was a marked lull in feminist activity between women finally gaining the vote in 1928 or so and the rise of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s. During those forty years, the dominant social attitude was that women should concentrate on their roles of wife and mother. Many firms in this period would not hire married women, a practice which caused immense hardship to women, and families generally that needed two incomes to make ends meet. Also, generally speaking, support for the Tories is higher amongst pensioners.

Younger women are more likely to be left-wing and socialist. If correct, this generally follows the trend of the younger generation being more idealistic and progressive than their elders.

I hope that despite all the pseudo-feminist verbiage and lies the Tories will spout from now onwards, trying to make themselves more presentable to the nation’s female voters, women will recognise them for what they are, and vote them out. As soon as possible.

Vox Political: Tories Slash Police Funding until No Longer Able to Fight Crime

November 4, 2015

This is another story from Vox Political, based on a report from the Mirror. Six regional police and crime commissioners, for Devon and Cornwall, Thames Valley Forces, Merseyside, Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire, as well as Stephen Greenhalgh, London Deputy Mayor for policing, have written a letter to Tory policing minister, Mike Penning, complaining of cuts to their budget. They fear that the cuts will seriously prevent them from doing their job of solving and protecting the public from and crime. The group has stated that the cuts have meant that Lancashire will lose “almost all of its proactive crime fighting and crime prevention capacity by 2020.”

In response, Penning has come out with the usual Tory rubbish that their policies are working, and crime is falling. It’s what they always say. And I’m always sceptical, as the government is nearly always manipulating the figures when it says this. The Tories attacked New Labour when they were in power, for allegedly altering the statistics so that certain crimes weren’t counted or reported, and this practice has gone on since they got into power.

Mike also wonders if this is a ploy to cripple publicly funded policing and encourage the hiring of private security forces instead?

His article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/04/first-doctors-now-police-tories-seem-determined-to-halt-all-public-services-by-christmas/

This is a very good question. I can remember as far back as Maggie Thatcher and John Major, the Tories were looking forward to a Britain, where policing would be done by private security firms hired by individual neighbourhoods. There was an article back then in the Mail on Sunday going on about how wonderful this, and similar Tory ideas were, and how they would be put it into practice if women had the majority of seats in parliament. It’s a Libertarian/ Anarcho-Capitalist idea which ultimately goes back to Rothbard in America. Among his ideas was that justice could be improved if the courts were privatised. This would work, he believed, as even hardened criminals would accept the need for abiding by the decisions of a recognised fair and impartial court, and so the private-enterprise court with the best judge would establish itself as the most widely accepted source of justice.

It’s such a whacky idea that not even the Tories have taken it on board, despite having adopted so much else from the Libertarian New Right. But, it seems, they still support the idea of private police forces, as used in places like South Africa.

The Mail on Sunday’s article was a cynical attempt to drum up support for Tory ideology amongst women. The Daily Mail has always positioned itself as female-friendly paper, despite the fact that Conservative reforms, going back to Maggie Thatcher herself, have always hit women the hardest. Traditionally, women have always worked at the poorest paid and most insecure jobs, quite apart from the pressures of fulfilling their traditional roles as homemakers, looking after the house and bringing up children – state aid for which has persistently and continually been cut by the Tories, along with reforms and state institutions to give women a better chance at competing successfully with men in the workplace.

This is another ‘reform’ that could leave women feeling particularly vulnerable. I think if you look at the statistics, you find that men are most likely to be the victims of crime, or violent crime. However, women in particular feel especially worried about it. One explanation, I believe, for them not suffering as much as men is that they are more careful about their personal safety because of their greater concerns about attack and violence.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Tories posed as the party of law ‘n’ order, staunchly supporting the police against the forces of crime. Especially if it was left-wing crime, done by the unemployed, trade unions, Blacks, gay people and all the other groups they didn’t like, and who Maggie decided were ‘not one of us’. Like the miners. Indeed, one very senior policeman – it may even have been the Chief Constable – declared that Maggie used them as her private army during the Miners’ Strike.

Well, no more. The Tories have decided to cut the police force, just as they have forced through swingeing cuts to the armed forces and so much of the rest of the economy. All with a view to improving efficiency, which is the usual excuse.

And the dominant idea amongst the Tories is that private enterprise is always better, even when it is not. As the armed forces have been cut back, private armies have expanded, and are being used in Iraq. When I was at school we were taught that private armies had been made illegal since the victory of Henry VII at Bosforth Field back in 1485. It was Henry VII, who laid the foundations for the modern, centralised British state by outlawing the barons’ ability to form private armies composed of their personal retainers – their affinity, as their retinues were known at the time.

This unfortunately came back under Tony Bliar. And with that precedent in mind, unfortunately it does seem all too credible that the Tories do want to see the police reduced and partly replaced by private security firms.

In the meantime, despite the rubbish spouted by Penning, people will be left at greater risk of crime by these cuts. Except for the rich, who like their counterparts in South Africa, will have the money and influence to purchase protection with private security firms.

The Appropriation of Anarchist Doctrines in Fascist Italy and Cameron’s Conservatives: Philip Blonde, Kropotkin and ‘Red Toryism’

August 10, 2013

I’ve blogged previously about the way Cameron’s Conservatives have adopted Rothbard’s Anarcho-Capitalism but without its Libertarian basis as part of their campaign to create an extremely authoritarian, Neo-Liberal state. This parallels the way Mussolini also used the anarcho-syndicalist elements in the Fascist movement and party to create a totalitarian dictatorship, which actively oppressed the workers and violently attacked any kind of socialism. A further example of Cameron’s attempts to appropriate and utilise anarchist ideas is Philip Blonde’s ‘Red Tory’ ideology. Blonde is Cameron’s political mentor. In his book, Red Tory, Blonde is very positive towards the great 19th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin was a Russian scientist, whose study of the flora and fauna in Siberia convinced him that Darwin’s idea of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (actually a term coined by Herbert Spencer), was wrong, and that co-operation between organisms was the driving factor in evolution. He was an Anarcho-Communist, who fundamentally believed in essential human goodness. One of the arguments directed against Kropotkin’s anarchism was that he was actually too optimistic about human nature. If humans really were as benign and co-operative as he believed, it was argued, then why would you need a revolution against the capitalist order. Blonde is similarly favourably inclined towards other, libertarian socialist movements in the 19th century. He also draws on the history of paternalistic Tory reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury and the Factory Acts, to try to present a kind of left-wing Conservatism. This tries to show that the Tories can and will pass legislation that will benefit and protect the working class from exploitation.

This libertarian socialist strand of Conservatism was immediately contradicted by the coalitions own policies on taking power. Instead of showing themselves to have any real sympathy for the poor and working class, the Tories and Lib Dems immediately passed legislation curtailing welfare benefits, legal protection for employees, and the exploitation of the unemployed for the benefit of big business. The speed at which they put all this into practice suggests that for all the socialistic ideals presented in Red Tory, Cameron and Blonde were never serious about them. It was instead a propaganda move intended to win a section of the working class away from Tony Blair and New Labour.

Something of the kind still appears to be going on in parts of the Conservative party. Despite the Conservative’s attempts to limit and discourage union membership, one of the Conservatives, Carswell, appears to have embraced them as a potential force for Conservatism and possibly as the cornerstone of authentic working class culture. Less than half of trade unionists vote Labour, and Carswell has, apparently gone every year to various trade union events. At the same time, he is extremely hostile to state welfare provision. My guess is that he’s trying to co-opt the unions for the Tories in an attempt to further break the Labour party from divorcing them from their original base. Quite what he thinks the place of the trade unions are in a Conservative political system, I can only guess. In the early part of the last century the unions were hostile about the establishment of the welfare state because they handled part of the bureaucracy for the workers’ health insurance schemes. Carswell may well be thinking that he could sell Conservatism to the unions this way, by making them responsible for their members welfare, rather than the state. He may also wish to create a system of trade unions that were compliant with the orders of the factory masters, such as the ‘yellow’ trade unions in 19th century Germany and Austria, or the Conservative trade unions of the 1970s.

I think the unions would be extremely foolish, however, if they were taken in by his ideas. The Labour party was formed by the unions, in conjunction with the socialist societies, in order to promote legislation protecting the working class and the engagement with working class issues in parliament. The Conservatives have been consistently hostile to this with successive administrations from Edward Heath onwards passing legislation intended to break their membership and power. As regard the Conservative trade unions themselves, these were dissolved by Thatcher herself. Their leader was left embittered, and declared that the Tories were on the side of the industrial exploiters. Which is what his counterparts on the Left had been saying all that time.

Historical, Constitutional and Philosophical Observations on the Tories’ Plans to Privatise the Courts

July 28, 2013

I have to say that I’m still somewhat stunned by the Conservatives’ suggestion that the court service should be privatised. This seems to be absolutely barking mad, and attacking the most fundamental, basic duty of the state, at least as it has existed in the West since the ancient world. In the Middle Ages the basic function of the state was to provide military protection and promote justice. There were private courts on the manors of the feudal aristocracy, along with the system of royal courts that also dispensed justice at local and county levels. These were the hundred and shire courts of Anglo-Saxon England. After the Norman Conquest, Henry I introduced the ‘justices in eyre’, judges that went on regular set circuits around England hearing cases. I believe the assize system was introduced by that other ‘lion of justice’, Henry II. One of the reasons England never developed the more extreme versions of feudal serfdom that existed on the Continent was because Henry I insisted on his right as king to govern and enforce his laws over the peasantry through the royal courts, thus preventing the aristocracy having the absolute control over their tenants and villeins that their counterparts in the rest of Europe had.

It was during the Middle Ages that the system of royal courts, such as the Court of King’s Bench, developed. In the Middle Ages and 16th and 17th centuries, kings were expected to dispense justice as they were God’s anointed through the coronation ceremony. This did have a very authoritarian aspect to it, as in the views of some constitutional theorists in the Tory party, it meant that as the king was the fountainhead of justice, he was above the law. This view was gradually altered and finally rejected with the growth of constitutional checks on the crown and the Glorious Revolution. Social Contract theory also supplied a rationale for royal government: the king was the people’s representative. Kings had been chosen and set up by their subjects at the very beginning of human society, in order to protect them, their livelihoods and property. As their representative, he had the right to rule them, preserving their freedom and protecting them from injustice and attack. Finally, in an age when all government is personal government, kings had a right to rule because the countries they ruled were literally theirs. It was their property, in the same way landowners lower down the social scale owned their estates, and administer justice over the serfs there.

Clearly the decline of feudalism has removed these circumstances as the basis of royal government, just as centuries of secularisation means that extremely few people would argue for the return of an absolute monarchy on the grounds that they had a sacred right to govern through their coronation. They did, however, act as the core of the modern state through their establishment of the central institutions of justice. Since the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, at least, the state has been recognised as a separate institution to the kings that governed it. Hence Charles I was executed for his crimes against England, an idea that was so radical that it was almost unthinkable then. Nevertheless, the execution established the fact that Crown and state were separate, and that the judicial system, as part of the state, had the power to judge the monarch. Justice and the courts thus became the core feature of the modern concept of the state.

This is threatened by the privatisation of the courts. The ancient conception of the state was t6hat it was something that belonged to the public. For the Romans it was the res publicum, the public thing. The term has survived in the modern English word ‘republic’ and similar terms in the other European languages, including the Russian respublik. 16th and 17th century political theorists, like Locke, used the term ‘commonwealth’, from the words ‘common weal’, the common benefit or wellbeing. The state is therefore something that belongs to and affects everyone, even if it is effectively governed by a very select view, as it was before the extension of the franchise in the 19th century. This is threatened by the privatisation of the courts, which places justice in the realm of the private, rather than the public.

There are important constitutional problems with this. Courts have had the right to impanel juries, and try and punish offenders because they received their legitimacy from the state, either through itself or as a crown institution. If privatised, the courts would not have this source of legitimacy. They would be a private company, acting in its own interest. They would have the administration of justice as their function, but like other companies their main role would be to provide profit to their shareholders. Essentially, the justice they dispensed would be private justice, albeit administered on behalf of the res publicum. Now I can imagine that some traditional Conservatives would object to this. Peter Hitchens on his blog for the Mail on Sunday has stated that he objects to private prisons on the grounds that only the state has the right to persecute and punish crime. This is a very good point. If the courts are privatised, it raises the question of the difference between them and, say, a protection racket run by a local gangster. Both can claim to be providing protection for the people under their rule, and both are equally acting in the interest of private individuals. A privatised judicial system might still have the claim to be providing public justice if it has a contractual relationship with the state, or some other constitutional tie that establishes it as the legitimate source of justice. Nevertheless, its constitutional legitimacy as a public institution would still be considerably weakened.

The idea that courts can be privatised is something that the Tories have taken over from American minarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism. One of the founders of modern Libertarianism, E. Nozick, believed that the functions of the state should be reduced to the barest minimum. This was to be enforcement of contracts. Rothbard, the head of the American Libertarian party, argued that the courts should be privatised and opened up for competition. They would have no power beyond the voluntary acquiescence of the parties in dispute in the courts’ decisions. It’s a small detail, but it also shows the difference between American Anarcho-Capitalism and the libertarianism now promoted by the Tories. Anarcho-Capitalism is peculiar, in that although it promotes capitalism to its fullest extent, it shares many of the same concerns and features as left-libertarianism, such as Anarcho-Communism. Both forms of Anarchism share a common belief in the absolute sovereignty of the individual. Both also view the state as inherently oppressive. The great Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, declared ‘He, who says ‘the state’, says oppression’. Both types of libertarianism also stress individual’s sexual freedom. They consider that people should be able to engage in whatever kind of sexual relationship they choose, provided that it is reciprocal and between consenting adults. Thus Right Libertarians tend to differ from other Conservatives in their acceptance of homosexuality and free love. There is also a tendency in Right Libertarianism to demand the legalisation of drugs, on the grounds that the individual should have the right to consume whatever recreational substance they choose. Again, this is in marked opposition to traditional forms of Conservatism, which tends to be far more puritanical.

Now it seems to me that the Tories here have lifted some of the ideas of Anarcho-Capitalism but have very definitely rejected the ethos behind them. Margaret Thatcher believed very strongly in ‘the strong state’, reinforcing the powers and providing more funding for the police force and the security services. In doing so, she alienated many Libertarians, who bitterly resented her authoritarianism. Robin Ramsay, the editor of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, wrote a piece on the death of one of the founders of the Libertarian Freedom Association a little while ago. Ramsay is a member of the Labour Party, although very critical of New Labour and the influence of the transatlantic Right in the Party since the Second World War. He stated in this article, however, that he had been supported in publishing Lobster by the aforementioned Libertarian. This gentleman regarded him as another Libertarian, albeit socialist, rather than capitalist, but felt that he had a common cause with him against the growth of state power. And he bitterly resented Margaret Thatcher for what he saw as her betrayal of libertarian principles. It thus seems to me that if and when the Conservatives privatise the courts, they will nevertheless retain and possibly extend their powers as the agents of state control.

And this raises a further point on the legitimacy of these courts derived from Anarchist theory. 19th century Anarchism and its predecessors denounced the state and its system of justice, particularly because of its class basis. Europe was governed by the very rich – the aristocracy and the rising middle classes – and the laws they passed protected and enforced their power. During the early 19th century, for example, the British government passed a series of punitive legislation curtailing working class dissent and protest in order to prevent a popular uprising, similar to that which had occurred just across the Channel. The governing class was composed of rich landowners, who passed laws heavily penalising poaching. At the time poaching was regarded as a traditional right held by rural labourers. It allowed them to feed themselves during times of famine and economic depression. It did, however, represent a threat to landed property, who responded by passing laws prescribing long sentences and transportation for poachers. Most of the legislation passed in 18th century England was designed to protect property, not human life. Hence the enactment of the death penalty for crimes like sheep stealing. It was in this legal environment that the Anarchists attacked state justice as aristocratic, capitalist justice, and believed that only through the destruction of the state would a truly classless society emerge.

Since the extension of the franchise in the 19th century and the gradual ascension of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, the state and its institutions have had a greater claim to be genuinely impartial. This has been especially true since the rise of the classless society in the 1960s. This would, however, be undermined by a privately-run court system. The courts would be run by their shareholders and investors, who are by definition capitalists, for their own profit. Justice would mean private justice on behalf of the rich. And almost certainly it would lead to corruption and conflicts of interests. How would a system of private courts successfully prosecute a leading shareholder or the chairman of the company that runs them? Everyone is supposed to be equal before the law, but in those cases there would be great opportunity for the accused to interfere with the judicial process in his favour. In short, he could put pressure on the judge, as a friend or employee, and gain acquittal.

The Conservatives have claimed that they are rolling back the frontiers of the state. They aren’t. They are privatising its institutions, but these still have all the authority and coercive power of the state, but are far more likely to be partial in their decisions.

The privatisation of the courts is a profoundly immoral idea, that completely undermines the idea of the state as the dispenser of impartial justice regardless of social origin. It should be rejected without hesitation.

Coalition Enters Weird World of Anarcho-Capitalism: Tories to Privatise the Courts

July 27, 2013

There is another important piece posted by my brother, Mike Sivier, over at his Vox Political blog. In ‘Court Privatisation – What Happened to the Lord Chief Justice’s Objections’ he discusses and critiques the latest Tory wheeze. This time they want to sell off the courts. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Igor Judge, had previously criticised the suggestion on the grounds that it contracted the injunction in the Magna Carta against selling justice. It now seems he supports the move.

Mike’s article on it can be read here: http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/court-privatisation-what-happened-to-the-lord-chief-justices-objections/#comments

A week or so ago I wrote a blog piece noting that the Tories seemed to have lifted an awful lot of their policies, like private police forces, from Rothbard and the American Libertarians. I asked, somewhat rhetorically at the time, whether even they would be so mad as to privatise the courts, as suggested by the great Anarcho-Capitalist. I thought that even they wouldn’t be so greedy and bonkers as to sell off the core function of the state. I was wrong.

We are rapidly entering the kind of dystopian world portrayed in 1980s SF films. (I’m thinking in particular of one directed by Paul Verhoven).

A world where crime is rampant. Where Big Business owns the police and the city they serve and protect. Where the cops are under siege, gunned down by savage gangs.

And where corruption goes all the way to the boardroom.

Only one man can protect us from this urban nightmare.

robocop