Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Burke’

Sargon of Akkad and Nazis Join UKIP and Break It

December 8, 2018

Okay, let’s have some fun at the expense of the Kippers and the extreme right-wingers Gerard Batten has brought into the party. Right-wingers like Count Dankula, Tommy Robinson and Sargon of Akkad.

Sargon, Dankula, Tommy Robinson and UKIP

Count Dankula is the idiot, who taught his girlfriend’s dog to do the Nazi salute when he said ‘Sieg Heil!’ and ‘Gas the Jews’. He put it on YouTube, and then, unsurprisingly, got prosecuted for hate speech. I don’t think he’s actually a Nazi, just a prat, who thinks really tasteless, offensive ‘jokes’ are hilarious. Tommy Robinson is the founder of the EDL, and has been briefly involved with that other Islamophobic organization, PEGIDA UK. He used to belong to the BNP and has a string of criminal convictions behind him. These included a number for contempt of court after he was caught giving his very biased very of the proceedings outside the court building during the trial of groups of Pakistani men accused of being rape gangs. Technically, Robinson isn’t a formal member of the party. It’s constitution bars anyone, who has been a member of the racist right from joining it, which rules him out. But he has become a special advisor on Islam and prison reform to Batten.

Sargon of Akkad, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, is another YouTube personality and ‘Sceptic’. I think he used to be one of the atheist ranters on YouTube at the time when the New Atheism was on the rise with the publication of Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. Then a number of them, Sargon included, appear to have become tired of arguing for atheism and naturalism, and started talking about politics. This was from an extreme right-wing perspective, attacking feminism, Social Justice Warriors, anti-racism, immigration and socialism. Many of them appear to be Libertarians, or see themselves as ‘Classical Liberals’. This means their liberals only in the early 19th century sense of standing for absolute free trade and the total removal of the welfare state. Sargon’s one of these, although bizarrely he also describes himself as ‘centre left’. Which only makes sense to some of the equally bizarre individuals out there, who rant about how Barack Obama was a Communist.

The presence of these three characters at a recent UKIP conference was discussed in an article by the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization Hope Not Hate as proof that under Batten UKIP had very definitely moved to the Far Right. And Nigel Farage was apparently so concerned with this move a few days ago that he very publicly resigned from the party. And this naturally upset many long-time Kippers. One of them was a YouTube vlogger, whose channel is called People’s Populist Press. He posted this video four days ago on his channel bitterly attacking Sargon and the others he describes as ‘YouTube Nazi punks’ for ruining the party.

Kipper Official Tries to Dissuade Sargon from Joining

It seems, however, that some members of UKIP didn’t want Sargon to join. Not because they objected to his opinions, but because they were afraid that he and his followers wouldn’t take the party seriously. The Ralph Retort YouTube channel played a recording of a conversation between Sargon, his mate Vee, and an anonymous UKIP official arguing about whether or not Sargon should be allowed to join the party. I’m not putting this up, because I’m unsure of the Ralph Retort channel’s political orientation. Sargon’s not only upset left-wing YouTube controversialists like Kevin Logan, but also members of the extreme right, including the Nazi fanboys of Richard Spencer. The argument was also played by Oof Curator on his channel, about whom I have the same caveats.

From the conversation, it appears that the Kippers didn’t really want Benjamin in the party, because they wanted committed activists. Benjamin had said that he wanted to join the party simply to show his support and not to take a more active role. They were also concerned that his followers also weren’t taking politics seriously. The Kipper believed that most of Sargon’s followers on YouTube were people in the teens and early twenties. Sargon told him that the average age of his audience is 34. The Kipper accepted this, but stuck to his point that Benjamin’s followers don’t take it seriously. This included an incident when some of Sargon’s followers got drunk in a pub and started shouting ‘Free Kekistan’ at passing cars. Kekistan and Pepe the Frog are memes taken over by the Alt Right. They were originally the creation of a Latin American cartoonist, with absolutely no racist element. But they’ve been appropriated by the Nazi right, to the dismay of the cartoon’s creator, who now wants nothing to do with it. The Kipper contrasted the flippancy of Sargon’s followers with those of Tommy Robinson, who he believed would take UKIP seriously.

UKIP Factions

The argument also gave an insight into the deep divisions and delicate internal politics in UKIP. The Kipper official stated that UKIP’s made up of three different political groupings. There are Christian Social Conservatives. These are political Conservatives with traditional views on social morality, emphasizing the traditional family and condemning promiscuity and particularly homosexuality and gay rights. Then there are the Libertarians, who also free market Tories, but with liberal attitudes towards drug taking and sexuality, although some of these have moved away and become more traditional in the moral attitudes. And then there are the Social Democrats. This means Old Labour, standing for the nationalization of utilities but rejecting immigration, feminism, and gay rights. There are clearly strong divisions between the three groups, and the Kipper did not want this delicate balance disrupted by the mass influx of new members with very strong factional views. This was one of the Kipper’s concerns when Sargon tried to argue that he’d be an asset to the Kippers as when he, Dankula and another YouTuber joined, the party’s organization rose by 10,000. The Kipper responded to that by stating that raises the question of ‘brigading’, presumably meaning attempts to take over the party through the mass influx of supporters.

Sargon and Philosophical First Principles

The argument was also interesting for what it showed about the real depth of Sargon’s own political knowledge: actually quite shallow. Sargon’s despised by his opponents on both the Left and the Right for his intellectual arrogance. He’s been ridiculed for commonly responding to any of his opponent’s points by saying ‘That’s preposterous!’ and asking them if they’ve read John Locke or Immanuel Kant. The Kipper was impressed by Sargon’s support of property rights and popular sovereignty, which he had in common with the rest of the party, but was concerned about how Sargon derived his views of them. He asked him about first principles. Sargon replied that he got them from John Locke and the 18th century Swiss political theorist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, although the latter was ‘too continental’ for him. The Kipper responded by asking about the specific derivation of his support for natural rights, as argued by Locke. Sargon responded by saying that they’d been put there by the Creator. The Kipper then replied ‘Ah! You’re a theist!’ To which Sargon replied that he wasn’t, because ‘We don’t know who the Creator is.’ This is the line taken by the Intelligent Design crowd, who argue that evolution isn’t the product of Neo-Darwinian random mutation and natural selection, but the result of planned, intelligent intervention by a Creator. Sargon’s response is strange coming from an atheist, as for many Sceptics, Intelligent Design is simply another form of Creationism. ‘Creationism in a cheap tuxedo’, as one critic called it.

Sargon objected to the question about how he derived his support for natural rights on the ground that it didn’t matter. And I think he’s got a point. I’ve no doubt that the majority of people in the mass political parties probably don’t have a very deep understanding of the fundamental basis of the ideologies they hold. I doubt very many ordinary members of the Tory party, for example, have read Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France or the works of the 20th century Tory ideologue, Trevor Oakeshott. It’s probably particularly true of the Tories, as Roger Scruton, the Tory philosopher, said in his book on Conservatism in the 1980s that Tory ideology was largely silent, consisting of the unspoken emphasis on traditional views and attitudes. But clearly, the people at the top levels and some of the real activists in the political parties, including UKIP, do have a very profound understanding of the philosophical basis of their party and its views. And Sargon didn’t.

In fact, Sargon’s ignorance has become increasingly clear in recent months. There’s a notorious clip of him shouting down his opponent, Richard Carrier, in a debate on ‘SJWs’ or something like that at an atheist convention in America, Mythcon. Sargon is shown screaming at Carrier ‘No! No! Shut up! Just f***ing shut up!’ That went viral around the Net.

Racism and Views on Child Abuse

He’s also got some other, deeply offensive views. Sargon considers himself a civic, rather than ethno-nationalist. Which means he stands for his country’s independence but does not believe, contra the BNP, that only members of a specific ethnic group can really be its citizens. He appears to hold a very low view of Blacks, however. There’s a clip of him telling his extreme right-wing opponents to ‘Stop behaving like a bunch of N****rs!’ Quite.

There’s another clip of Sargon going around the Net of him apparently supporting paedophile. He was talking another YouTuber, who believed that underage sex was fine, and that the age of consent should be lowered to 12 or 14. When asked about the morality of adults having sex with underage children, Sargon responded ‘It depends on the child’. Which has naturally upset and outraged very many people.

Conclusions: Robinson and Sargon Will Damage and Radicalise UKIP

There are therefore a number of very good reasons why decent, anti-racist members of UKIP wouldn’t want him in their party. Sargon’s own popularity also appears to be declining, so that it’s now a very good question of how many people he will bring with him into UKIP. Furthermore, a number of people are going to leave with the departure of Farage, though he isn’t the non-racist figure he claims to be. The association of Tommy Robinson with Batten is going to drive people away, so that the party will become even more right-wing and much nastier.

The conversation between the Kipper and Sargon also shows that the party is in a very delicate position at the moment, with a very precarious balance of power between the various factions. As the Kipper official himself said, the only thing they have uniting them is Brexit. If that balance is upset, or the unifying factor of Brexit removed, the whole thing could well collapse in a mass of splits and infighting, like the various overtly Fascist groups have imploded over the years. It also shows that while some people on the extreme right have probably a far too high opinion of themselves and their intelligence, others, like the Kipper official, are genuinely bright and very well read and informed. Even in a party like UKIP, those people shouldn’t be underestimated.

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Radical Balladry and Prose for Proles: Tom Paine on the Evils of Aristocratic Rule

May 20, 2014

Common Sense Cover

One of the pieces collected by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove in their anthology of democratic, republican, Socialist and radical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, is an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine was a committed democrat and revolutionary. He was born in Thetford, and made his living from making ladies’ stays, before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1774. IN 1776 he published Common Sense, attacking British rule in America and demanding a revolutionary, republican government. He became a firm supporter of the French Revolution when it broke out, writing the Rights of Man in 1791 to answer the criticisms of the Revolution made by Edmund Burke in his Reflections of the Revolution in France. He was arrested and imprisoned as a suspected counter-revolutionary for arguing against the execution of the king. He was eventually released, and moved back to Britain.

Rickman, Paine’s friend, described him in 1819 was

In dress and person very cleanly. He wore his hair cued with side curls and powder like a French gentleman of the old school. His eye was full brilliant and piercing and carried in it the muse of fire.

The Rights of Man is the first complete statement of republican political ideas. In the passage included by Firth and Arnove, Paine argues against aristocratic rule and a House of Lords:

Title are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character which degrades it…

Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or anyway else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.

In France, aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary legislators. it was not ‘a corporation of aristocracy’, for such I have heard M. de la Fayette describe an English house of peers. Let us then examine the grounds upon which the French constitution has resolved against having such a house in France.

Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice.

2nd, Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source. The begin life trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated to do so. With what ideas of justice or honor can that man enter a house of legislation, who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children, or metes out some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?

3rd, Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

4th, Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, o8ught not to be trusted by anybody.

5th, Because it is continuing the uncivilized principle of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.

6th, Because aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species.

(Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 108-9.)

More than 200,000 copies of the Rights of Man were sold in England, and Paine denounced by the authorities. The book was banned and its printer arrested. Nevertheless, the book continued to circulate underground, especially in Ireland and Scotland. It even inspired a hornpipe tune, a Scots version of which was included by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, in his collection of folk melodies, English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). Here it is:

Tom Paine Hornpipe

Paine’s arguments are clear very relevant today, when reform of the House of Lords is very much on the political agenda following Tony Blair, and with a cabinet of Tory and Tory Democrat aristos, like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith, who have no knowledge of and absolutely no sympathy for ordinary people. They seem to see us very much as their ancestors did: as proles, peasants and ‘rude mechanicals’, to be exploited, whilst government should be very firmly held in the hands of an aristocratic elite.

An edition of Paine’s Common Sense, edited and with an introduction by Isaac Kramnick, was published by Penguin Books in 1976.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

The British American Empire

July 17, 2009

Murray 66, one of the great commentators on this blog, asked the following question, wondering what the British Empire would have looked like if America had never separated and remained a part of it:

‘With your knowledge of history and skill for writing books on it, have you ever done historical fiction? I thought it would be interesting to do a book based on the British colonies not gaining independence. You would still have us and India and Hong Kong, etc. How different would that world be? I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.’

I’m afraid I’ve never written a historical novel, though I do know a number of people who’ve found the fictional treatment of various past events and periods actually far better history than many factual accounts. A good novelist can bring a period to life, and explain the way the people involved acted and events progressed, and the results of the actions of various historical figures, indeed, what it was like to live in the time depicted, in a more immediate way than some, more academic accounts. Generally, however, historians tend to avoid counterfactual history – speculating on what may have happened if events had turned out differently, because there are so many different factors working in history that it’s impossible to know how things would have turned out if things had been different, for example, if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo, or the Nazis the Second World War. Probably for this reason, such alternative histories have been generally left to Science Fiction. Nevertheless, some historians have speculated on what history would have been like if events had been slightly different. I’ve got a feeling that the British historian and Times columnist Niall Ferguson published just such a book of alternative history, discussing what would have happened if particular events had ended differently, a few years ago.
In the case of America, the British Empire would have been very different. Depending on how Britain managed to retain the colonies in the New World, the political and economic centre of the Empire may have been not London, but America.

Fifty years before the Revolution occurred, some British politicians considered that the immense size and growing wealth of the American colonies would mean that eventually the American colonies would become dissatisfied with their subjection to the imperial government in Britain, and would demand greater freedom and autonomy. I’ve got a feeling they were also aware that the more democratic forms of government that had developed in the British colonies in the New World meant that Americans would also increasing resent the aristocratic nature of British politics and government. Some British politicians did attempt to produce plans for constitutional change, which they hoped would satisfy the American colonists by granting them increasing participation in imperial government. Edmund Burke proposed that as the American economy and society developed and progressed, so parliament and the court should be moved gradually across the Atlantic and relocated in America. If this had occurred, then the centre of British imperial power would not be in Britain, but in America, and Britain itself would have been merely an imperial province. It’s hard to see how this plan would have been accepted by the majority of British people to be practicable. Nevertheless, it was made.

Probably a much more acceptable plan would have been for parliament to have been reformed to include MPs from the colonies, though this would have meant a massive expansion of the number of MPs, or the alteration of electoral districts to keep the number at a manageable size. Before the Great Reform Act of 1832, each British county sent two MPs to parliament, while the various British towns that had been granted a charter also sent two MPs. However, not all British towns had been granted a charter, so that by the time of the Great Reform Act in 1832 there were a number of towns sending MPs that were little more than villages, and whose MPs were nominated by the local landlord, while large, industrial centres such as Birmingham, weren’t represented at all. Moreover, very few British people themselves had the vote, though this varied considerably from borough to borough. There were boroughs that had an extremely restricted franchise, with hardly anyone possessing the necessary property qualifications to vote. There were others, however, where most of the male population had the vote. The unrepresentative nature of the British constitution was recognised, and there were a number of radical MPs during the 18th century who demanded constitutional reform in order to make it more democratic. These radical strongly sympathised with the American colonists and their demands for constitutional reform and representation. The followers of the British radical politician, Wilkes, deliberately called themselves ‘Patriots’ after the American Revolutionaries. If the British constitution and parliament had been reformed to give greater representation to the American colonies, and so succeeded in regaining their loyalty, it would probably have made Britain more democratic, and the process of reform that began in 1832 that eventually ended with most of the male population possessing the vote by 1872 would probably have begun earlier. American politics, on the other hand, may have become rather more aristocratic, as the British House of Lords would still have retained its power despite the considerable reforms to the House of Commons.

However, one of the objections of the colonists to British rule was the established position of the Anglican Church, when the majority of the people in the colonies were members of other churches. It was because of this that the American Constitution established the separation of church and state. It’s therefore possible that, if the American colonies had remained part of the British Empire through constitutional change, the privileged position of the Anglican Church would have been reduced, at least in America.

If, however, the colonies had been retained through military force – if the British had won the War of Independence, then the situation would have been very different. Parliament in London would have been the centre of government, though some constitutional reforms may have been granted to the colonies to retain their loyalties. The immediate result, however, would have been repression. Dangerously independent or subversive members of the state legislatures would have been removed and prosecuted for treason, and local government altered to govern according to the demands of British imperial rule. If this had occurred, then I suspect that American history would have been more like that of Ireland before the creation of the Irish Free State in 1920. America would have been part of the British Empire, but there would have been widespread disaffection and demands for self-government. As time progressed, this may well have resulted in local rebellions and assassination attempts of British governors, imperial administrators and soldiers. It may also have been similar to South Africa in the 19th century, when a number of Afrikaaners, dissatisfied by British government and control, migrated inland to establish the independent Afrikaaner republics of the Orange Free State and Natal. The British then seized control of these colonies on the grounds that their inhabitants were already British citizens, resulting in conflict between the British and Afrikaaners in the Anglo-South African, or Boer War. Something similar may have happened in America, if the British had succeeded in suppressing the Revolution. It’s possible that those Americans who were resolved not to submit to British rule would have, like the Afrikaaners, trekked into the interior – in this case the Mid-West, and the British government would probably have attempted to follow them and force the new states they founded into the British Empire.

On the other hand, it’s possible that if the British had retained the American colonies, then the US would be confined to the original 13 colonies. Another of the major causes of resentment was British refusal to allow the colonies to expand into the Ohio River valley, as they wished to honour the treated they had made with the Iroquois in return for their aid against the French. Many of the senior British officers and governors in America had married into the families of Native American chiefs. If the British had managed to suppress the American Revolution, then America would probably have been confined to the eastern coast. On the other hand, if the America had remained part of the British Empire through constitutional reform, then it’s possible some expansion into Native American land would have occurred through a parliament which contained American MPs, or which represented their interests.

I also suspect that the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself in the British Empire would have occurred much later. It has been argued that Britain was able to abolish the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery in 1838, despite opposition from supporters of the slave trade and slavery in the British colonies in the Caribbean, as Britain had lost the American states whose economy depended on slavery. American abolitionists were certainly encouraged in their views that slavery could be abolished without damaging the country or the economy through the success of the British in abolishing slavery in the British Empire. It’s possible that if Britain had retained America, slavery would have been abolished much later. On the other hand, the Founding Fathers had assumed that as the American economy developed, slavery itself would gradually decline without the disruption of government intervention. Furthermore, a number of southern states had also petitioned parliament before the outbreak of the Revolution against the importation of more slaves. I believe that Georgia did so three times, but was overturned by George III. However, many of the leading anti-slavery activists during the 18th century were American, or had personal links to America and the Caribbean, and in the 19th century anti-slavery activists in Britain and America also had strong links.

Before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, parliament, under pressure from Granville Sharpe, William Wilberforce and others, had passed legislation regulating the trade and improving conditions for the slaves transported on British ships, and it did appear that parliament was prepared to abolish the slave trade itself. However, this was rejected with the outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, when the British authorities feared radical change to society and the possible disruption to the imperial economy through the loss of the slave labour on which the extremely profitable sugar industry depended. In this case, the major obstacle to the abolition of the slave trade was not the American slave states, but concern for the safety of the British imperial economy during the Napoleonic Wars. In this case, it’s possible that even if America had remained part of the British Empire, the abolition of the slave trade and then slavery itself would still have occurred when they did, or not much later. With the development of the cotton economy in the American South, however, it’s still possible that the southern states would still have been dependent on slavery and so would have rebelled against attempts to abolish it by the British. In this case, the Civil War would have been experienced not just as an American conflict, but as a war in an integral part of the British Empire, a conflict which would have caused conflict and controversy in Britain itself as politicians, industrialists, abolitionists and ordinary people debated it and the methods by which it could be brought to an end.

It’s also possible that the abolitionists would have urged the consumption of Indian cotton, rather than cotton from the American south, as a way of attacking slavery. In the early 19th century British abolitionists launched an ‘anti-saccharist campaign’ attacking the Caribbean sugar industry based on slavery. Rather than purchasing slave produced Caribbean sugar, they instead urged people to buy Indian sugar, which they believed had been grown and produced through free labour. India was one of the major sources for the British cotton industry in the 19th century. It’s therefore possible that if Britain had retained the American colonies, British abolitionists would have recommended that people should stop using southern American cotton, as well as Caribbean sugar, in order to encourage its cultivation by free workers, or damage the corrupt economy that kept people in chains.

After the abolition of slavery in 1838, the British turned instead to using indentured labourers from Asia for work on the plantations. This was the infamous ‘coolie trade’, as the labourers were transported and employed on the plantations in appalling conditions little different from those of the Black African slaves. The British government acted to reform the trade, and passed legislation intended to improve travelling and employment and living conditions for the immigrant workers, providing for them to send money home, and bring along their wives and families, rather than break them up. The British were also concerned about the kidnapping of Asian labourers for use as indentured labourers. To prevent this, it passed a series of acts and engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the imperial Chinese authorities and Portuguese authorities in Macao to gain their co-operation in suppressing the trade, while raiding and prosecuting suspected kidnappers in India and China. The British also negotiated with America and were in contact with American anti-slavery groups to gain their co-operation in suppressing the kidnapping of Chinese labours for work in California. If America had remained part of the British Empire, then, if America had not expanded beyond the eastern coast, California would have remained a Spanish and then a Mexican territory. In this case, Britain would have negotiated with the Spanish and Mexican authorities. If, however, America had expanded across the continent to the west coast, then the British government would have negotiated with the American authorities for California as a British colonial government, rather than as the government of an independent nation. It’s doubtful whether that would have been any easier, as the legislatures of many of the British colonies firmly refused to pass legislation abolishing slavery until forced to do so by the imperial authorities themselves through the promulgation of orders in council.

With the development of coolie trade in the 19th century, it’s possible that America would have had more citizens of Indian descent. During the 19th century many Indians attempted to find work by emigrating to Canada, and it was partly resentment at the treatment of Indian labourers in the coolie trade and attempts to restrict Indian and Asian immigration to Canada in favour of White Europeans that stimulated the development of Indian nationalism. They considered that only if India itself was an independent nation would Indians be able to insist on their better treatment across the world as labourers, and as immigrants to British territories such as Canada. If America had remained part of the British Empire, then it’s possible that Indians would also have emigrated there, as they did to Canada, in search of work and that this would also have resulted in racial friction and been a factor in the rise of the Indian independence movement.

Britain’s continuing possession of the American colonies may also have affected the French Revolution. Although radical resentment of the monarchy and feudalism had been steadily increasing throughout the 18th century, along with demands for constitutional reform, some of the generals and politicians involved in the French Revolution had served aiding the Americans during the American Revolution, and been inspired by its ideals. It could be argued that if the American Revolution had not occurred, or had been suppressed, then the French Revolution would not have broken out. On the other hand, as there were radical and revolutionary movements in France, which had developed from resentment at the French monarchy and influenced by the general Enlightenment philosophical ideas of which the American Revolution was a part, the French Revolution may have occurred anyway. Furthermore, while the French Revolutionaries respected the leaders of the American Revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson, they found their ideas too moderate. The French Revolution would have developed as it did regardless of the American Revolution. It is possible, however, that the French Revolution may have resulted in the further development and encouragement of revolutionary ideas and activity in America. In this case, the American Revolution may have broken out after the French Revolution in the 19th century, and may have taken a more extreme form.

It’s also possible that without the American Revolution, American society may have been much less religious. Historians have noted the vast increase in church membership and attendance in America during the American Revolution, a situation that undoubtedly contributed to the very religious nature of American society compared to European. If the Revolution had been prevented from occurring through constitutional change, then possibly America would have been less religious. On the other hand, if the Americans had lost the War of Independence, then Americans would have remained very religious, and religion would have formed a major part of American national identity. In this respect it may have been similar to the links between the various movements for Irish independence based in Roman Catholicism, and the Catholic democracy that developed in Irish Roman Catholic society. Unlike the Roman Catholic movements for Irish independence, it would not have been based in any single denomination.

Finally, depending on how America remained part of the British Empire, American attitudes towards the rest of the world may have been very different. Although America became active globally after World War II attempting to prevent the spread of Communism, fighting wars in Korea and Vietnam, throughout much of its history America was opposed to interfering in other nations’ internal politics and to imperialist attempts to conquer and subject other, sovereign nations. F.D. Roosevelt, for example, wished that Britain would gradually loosen its control of its colonies, so that they could also benefit from trade with America and eventually gain their independence. He believed that Indo-China should be granted its independence from the French. If America had remained part of the British Empire, and especially if it became the centre of British imperial government, then America would have become much less opposed to imperialism, or involvement in international affairs. On the other hand, if Britain had retained America through force, then the anti-imperial attitude in American politics would have remained, and possibly strengthened, as Americans, resenting their subjection to an imperial power, would object in turn to participating in the conquest and subjection of other peoples and countries.

Thus, it’s impossible to know how history would have progressed if Britain had managed to retain the American colonies. It is possible, however, that there were two, alternative ways in which history would have been different, according to the methods used by the British to deal with American demands for independence and representation in imperial government. If Britain had retained the colonies through constitutional reform, then America would have been a fully integral part of the British Empire. American industry and agriculture would eventually develop to become the dominant, or one of the major economic forces in the Empire. If Americans had succeeded in attacking the mercantilist system, which regulated imperial trade by limiting the goods exported by the colonies in favour of the British economy, then America would have had full access to British ports and markets across the world. American troops, along with English, Irish, Scots and West Indian soldiers would have served in India and Africa, and American politicians and soldiers served along with their British counterparts as governors and administrators of the British colonies across the globe. If Burke’s plan had been adopted, and court and parliament moved across the Atlantic to America, then the British Empire would effectively have become an American Empire, though one in which Americans still considered themselves British citizens. American expansion beyond the initial British colonies would have been limited, however, though its possible that this would have occurred through the British authorities responding to popular demand and in competition with French and Spanish attempts to colonise the continent.

If Britain had, however, succeeded in retaining the American colonies through military force, rather than reform, and had won the War of Independence, many of the constitutional freedoms Americans had developed before Independence would have been abolished or reduced. America would then have been more like Ireland or South Africa in that it formed a part of the British Empire, but there would have been widespread discontent, occasionally erupting into violence. As in South Africa, there may have been independent American republics established in the interior, outside of British rule. It’s possible that Texas would have been founded as one of these.

However, in both of these situations, the British and American political traditions would either not have diverged, or not have diverged quite so much. If America had remained part of the Empire through constitutional reform, then the debate over the American constitution and the development of American politics would have been part of general British politics and constitutional developments. If the British had defeated the Americans during the War of Independence, then America would have been very much a subordinate part of the British Empire with far more limited powers of self-government. However, there would still have been links between American and British radicals demanding constitutional reform and more representative, democratic government.

As for how the world would be today, I suspect that if Britain had retained America simply by military force, then growing pressure for independence from Britain would eventually have resulted in America, like Ireland, eventually rebelling and gaining its independence some time in the 1920s, after the First World War. If America had remained part of the Empire through constitutional reform, then I suspect that America, like Britain, would have suffered economically after the Second World War. The result would have been that many former British colonies across the world would be granted their independence, and America would probably, like Britain, have been forced to fight various nationalist movements. With the expansion of the Communist bloc after the Second World War, it’s possible that as part of the British Empire America would have attempted to prevent its further spread. The Vietnam War may still have happened. However, American politicians may have found such global engagements increasingly difficult to justify to a population that had suffered much more during the Second World War, and who may have wished to see a concentration on domestic economic growth, rather than in maintenance of America’s position as a global superpower. On the other hand, it may be that as Britain became exhausted after World War II, so America would have become the dominant force in British imperial politics through its immense economic and military resources. Eventually, the British Empire would have ended and been replaced by the modern Commonwealth, in which America would have been a major part. The world would have been different, but probably America would eventually have gained self-government and been a major force in global politics, though possibly as a member of the Commonwealth, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, rather than a separate state outside British imperial politics.