Posts Tagged ‘John Stuart Mill’

Callousness and Class Cruelty: The Real Reason the Tory Euro Vote Hasn’t Dropped

May 4, 2014

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A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, in which he wondered why the Tory vote hadn’t also been significantly affected by their ruthless austerity policies. The Lib Dems have effectively been wiped out due to their participation in the Coalition. After Clegg’s debate with Farage about the EU, the number of people stating they will vote for the Lib Dems has fallen to 2 per cent. Other polls place them vying for fifth place in national elections with the Greens. In one local election, as reported by Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge, they came behind Bus-Pass Elvis. This incarnation of the King stood on a platform of legalised brothels with a 30 per cent reduction for OAPs. Such decadence and immorality was clearly much more palatable to the local electors than the lies, hypocrisy and vicious attacks on the poor and underprivileged of the Lib Dems support for their Tories austerity programme. They are looking at political extinction. They deserve it.

The question remains, though. Why weren’t the Tories similarly affected?

The Lib Dems are, after all, only accomplices. Mike acknowledges that they may even be right in their assertion that they have held the Tories back from even more extreme policies. And the Tories are worse liars and hypocrites, and even more cruel, vicious and persecutory towards the working and lower middle classes. Before the 2010 election, they were posing as even more Left-wing than Labour. They went up and down the country engaging in stunts community activism, like trying to get funding for children’s play areas from the local Labour authority. They announced that they were ring-fencing money for the NHS. Osborne declared at one point that he was going to get rid of the PFI. Cameron’s mentor, Philip Blond, promoted an image of the party that he was extremely friendly to the organised working class, even citing the great anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, in his book, Red Tory. All this has been thoroughly discarded as the Tories push through the privatisation of the NHS, even more punitive policies towards the poor and working- and lower-middle class. And the PFI is still going strong under Osborne.

So why haven’t the electorate punished them, as they have the Lib Dems?

I think the answer lies in the type of people, who form the core Tory vote. The Tories have a reputation for being, in general, much more politically committed than Labour supporters. One of the Labour Prime Ministers, for example, was afraid of the effect the scheduling of a general election may have had on the number of people voting for the party, because it clashed with a popular TV programme. The fear was that the working class voters would stay home and watch that, rather than cast their vote at the polls. The turn-out for Euro elections is much lower than for British, and so only the most determined and committed parts of the electorate vote in them.

And in the case of the Tories, it seems those core voters are utter b****rds. Peter Snowden, in his book, Back from the Brink, discussing how the Tories managed to revive their electoral fortunes from the nadir of the Blair years, makes the point that Cameron’s attempt to position the Tories as more ‘Left-wing’ and competitors to Labour as social activists, met with only an indifferent response, if not outright hostility. The Tories simply don’t like community activism. And when Cameron stated at a publicity meeting that he was the heir to Blair, he was criticised by the editor of the Telegraph.

The number of people voting in general elections has declined considerably. Many are turning away from politics because of the apparent lack of any interest or appreciation of the hardships on ordinary working people that have been inflicted by the Neoliberal agendas now shared by all the main parties. Disgust at the greed, self-interest and hypocrisy of the political class has also had a highly corrosive effect on public confidence in them. The result is that membership of these parties has fallen to a rump of a few, very committed supporters, many of whom are tribal voters. In the case of the Tories, these voters appear to be arch-Thatcherites, motivated by a desire to return to a strongly hierarchical class system, and with a bitter hatred of state assistance for the poor and unfortunate.

The Lib Dems’ supporters, on the other hand clearly included many, who saw their party as far more moderate than the extreme Neoliberal organisation into which it has been moulded by Clegg. The ideological heritage of the Liberal party is that of John Stuart Mill – democracy, social justice and in the classic Liberal formulation, the achievement of individual liberty through collective action. In many areas where Labour is weak they are the opposition to the Tories. As a result, their followers feel the Coalition’s betrayal of their initial promises far more than the Tories, who seem largely content. And so they have abandoned the party in their droves. The Tores, however, propped up by class interest and Thatcherite greed, carry on as before.

And so Britain continues to suffer. It’s about time the Tories came to the same fate as the Lib Dems.

John Stuart Mill on the Right to Free Speech, vs. IDS and the Coalition

February 1, 2014

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John Stuart Mill is one of the great founders of the modern concepts of political liberty, democracy and equality for women. His book, On Liberty, became the classic statement of Liberal ideology to the point where it was given to the leader of the Liberal party on his accession. He saw parliament as supremely important as the organ of government in which every opinion present in the country should be expressed and debated, so that politicians should form and adjust their policies accordingly. He wrote

‘In addition to this [i.e., the function of control], the Parliament has an office, no inferior … in importance; to be at once the nation’s Committee of Grievances, and its Congress of Opinions; an arena in which not only the general opinion of the nation, but that of every section of it, and as far as possible of every eminent individual whom it contains, can produce itself in full light and challenge discussion; where every person in the country may count upon finding somebody who speaks him mind well or better than he could speak it himself – not to friends and partisans exclusively, but in the face of opponents, to be tested by adverse controversy; where those whose opinion is overruled, feel satisfied that it is heard, and set aside not by a mere act of will, but for what are thought superior reasons, and commend themselves as much to the representatives of the majority of the nation; wh4ere every party or opinion in the country can muster in strength, and be cured of any illusion concerning the number or power of its adherents; where the opinion which prevails in the nation makes itself manifest as prevailing, and marshals its hosts in the presence of the government, which is thus enabled and compelled to give way to it on the mere manifestation, without the actual employment, of its strength; where statesmen can assure themselves far more certainly than by any signs, what elements of opinion and power are growing, and what declining, and are enabled to shape their measures with some regard not solely to present exigencies, but to tendencies in progress. Representative assemblies are often taunted by their enemies with being places of mere talk and bavardage. There has seldom been more misplaced derision. I know not how a representative assembly can more usefully employ itself than in talk, when the subject of talk is the great public interests of the country, and every sentence of it represents the opinion either of some important body of persons in the nation, or of an individual in whom some such body have reposed their confidence. A place where every interest and shade of opinion in the country can have its cause even passionately pleaded in the face of government and of all other interests and opinions, can compel them to listen, and either comply, or state clearly why they do not, is in itself, if it answered no other purpose, one of the most important political institutions that can exist anywhere, and one of the foremost benefits of free government. Such “talking” would never be looked upon with disparagement if it were not allowed to “doing”; which it never would, if assemblies knew and acknowledged that talking and discussion are their proper business, while doing, as the result of discussion, is the task not of a miscellaneous body, but of individuals specially trained to it; that the fit office of an assembly is to see that those individuals are honestly and intelligently chosen, and to interfere no further with them, except by unlimited latitude of suggestion and criticism, and by applying or withholding the final seal of national assent … Nothing but the restriction of the function of representative bodies within these rational limits will enable the benefits of popular control to be enjoyed in conjunction with the no less important requisites (growing ever more important as human affairs increase in scale and complexity) of skilled legislation and administration.’

He also made it very clear that he had some sympathy with Socialist aspirations for the improvement of humanity and the destruction of the class system. He stated

‘In short, I was a democrat, but not the least of a Socialist. We [i.e., he and his wife] were now [i.e., in the early 1850’s] much less democrats than I had been, because as long as education continues to be so wretchedly imperfect, we dreaded the ignorance and especially the selfishness and brutality of the mass; but our ideal of ultimate improvement went far beyond Democracy, and would class us decidedly under the general designation of Socialists. While we repudiated with the greatest energy that tyranny of society over the individual which most Socialistic systems are supposed to involve, we yet looked forward to a time when society will no longer be divided into the idle and the industrious; when the rule that they who do not work shall not eat, will be applied not to paupers only, but impartially to all; when the division of the produce of labour, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by concert on an acknowledged principle of justice; and when it will no longer either be, or be thought to be, impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared with the society they belong to. The social problem of the future we considered to be, how to untie the greatest individual liberty of action with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour …

… and we welcomed with the greatest pleasure and interest all socialistic experiments by select individuals (such as the Cooperative Societies) which, whether they succeeded or not, could not but operate as a most useful education of those who took part in them, by cultivating their capacity of acting upon motives pointing directly to the general good, or making them aware of the defects which render them and others incapable of doing so’.

So how does the Coalition measure up to these ideals? Not very well at all. Indeed, there is more than a little of a ‘democratic deficit’ at the heart of their conception of the value of parliament. The Coalition has just passed the gagging law, which means that unless you are an approved corporate lobbyist, you may not approach parliament to voice your opinions and concerns. Unless you’re a prospective Corporate sponsor, and there’s money and directorships in it, Cameron and Clegg really don’t want to hear what you think or have to say. They also don’t want to see you, either. Legitimate, democratic displays of protest can now be banned as a nuisance to the people down whose road you are marching. It’s particularly dangerous in London, as BoJo has decided that, while he can’t find the money to pay the firemen to stop your house or business burning down, he can afford to buy watercannon to train on protesters. It’s a German watercannon, so perhaps its a bit too repressive for them. Back in the 1960s and 1970s their use in the Bundesrepublik was extremely controversial, after a protester was killed by one during demonstrations by the ‘extraparliamentary opposition’. I’ve got a feeling that incident fuelled the conviction that all too many Nazis had escaped justice at Nuremberg, and were still holding lucrative posts in the police, armed forces and civil service. BoJo likes to present himself as man of the people against Cameron, but his instincts are definitely with their oppressors and the watercannons are just two more weapons in his armoury.

Not only does the Coalition not want to have to discuss any nasty, disturbing and possibly liberal ideas in parliament, or see them on the streets, they also don’t want to have to answer to parliament or keep the people informed of the consequences of their policies either. IDS dragged his feet until the very last minute before attending the Work and Pensions Committee. When he did, ‘RTU’ appeared surrounded by bodyguards and armed police officers, just in case the members of the public in attendance said something unpleasant about him. Or cause a serious, life-changing injury to his dignity by throwing a custard pie at him, like someone did to Murdoch. As for non-interference by parliament in the way the officials charged with executing their public policies perform their duty, well, once again IDS fails to make the grade. He tried to get one of his subordinates to take the blame for his own mistakes.

It’s not just RTU that hasn’t read his Mill. The Information Commissioner hasn’t either. FOI requests for information on the number of people, who’ve died after being judged fit for work by ATOS have been repeatedly turned down. Why? They’re vexatious. IDS’ DWP has also refused to release information about this and similar issues on the grounds that it would cause opposition to their policies, and prevent those policies from being implemented. So much for believing that political ideas need to be discussed in parliament, and held up for criticism. Or as someone once said, ‘Arguments are upsetting and sometimes cause you to change your mind’. Or words to that effect.

As for Socialism, the Tories have been an enemy of this ever since Maggie Thatcher declared it was a nasty, foreign import that she was going to destroy. At first Cameron’s localism agenda looks like it might be approved by Mill, for the way he wanted public institutions like libraries and so on to be staffed by volunteers. Mill also lamented the way modern society left increasingly few posts without pay, where they individual would have the honour for working for the public good without material reward. However, under the Coalition, as under Blair, politicians have been all too keen to enjoy material benefits – increased pay, and lucrative posts with industry. It’s only those, who can’t afford to that are expected to work for nothing, like the increasing ranks of the unemployed on workfare. As for the destruction of the class system, and the division of the world into the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, that had already increased under Labour and the gap is even wider under the Coalition.

So, despite their talk about democracy and accountability, the Coalition has consistently acted against some of the most fundamental principles of democracy articulated by Mill, perhaps its greatest British exponent. In some ways this isn’t surprising coming from the Conservatives, who traditionally stood for the privileges of the ruling classes. Clegg, however, must take his credit for the way he and the others supporters of the free-market ‘Orange Book’ have done so much to destroy Mill’s political legacy and the enduring Liberal traditions in which they were raised, and which they have betrayed.

On the Road to Serfdom with Von Hayek

August 8, 2013

The ideology of the modern Conservative Party is partly based on the Libertarian ideas of Von Hayek. Von Hayek was a refugee to America Austria after the Nazis’ Anschluss. In his books, such as The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty Von Hayek defended ‘the freedom in economic affairs without which personal and economic freedom have never existed’. He was a bitter opponent of the extension of state interference in the economy. He argued that the extension of the welfare state would inevitably lead to the loss of freedom if it permitted no choice. The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944, and reinforced Churchill’s own doubts about post-War reconstruction. His ideas became the major force in Conservative ideology under Margaret Thatcher, who was introduced to them through her mentor, Sir Keith Joseph.

There was a piece on Thatcher’s adoption of Von Hayek about a decade ago in the Financial Times. The article repeated a story about Thatcher’s official promotion of it at a Conservative party meeting. She went to it with the book in her hand. She arrived just when a young man was on the floor making a speech supporting the middle of the road economic consensus. According to the article, it was Thatcher’s turn to speak after him. She slammed the book down on the table with the words ‘This is what we all believe in now’. Or words to that effect. The article then went on to discuss the various ways in which she actually misunderstood von Hayek, such as on the importance of central institutions, such as the monarchy and parliament in Britain. The article suggested that elements of von Hayek’s views could be adopted by a Labour government without crossing the floor.

Well, maybe, though with retrospect the article seems like a subtle piece of propaganda aimed at getting New Labour to continue von Hayek’s Liberalism but under a less extreme, slightly more socialistic guise after public discontent with the Tories increased.

Von Hayek’s influence also explains why Thatcher banged on so much about how the Tories’ represented ‘choice’, despite the contraction of individual liberty implied by her ‘strong state’ policy.

Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe reproduce an extract from von Hayek’s 1959 work, The Constitution of Liberty, in their collection of documents, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98. This contains the following paragraph attacking the notion of the state provision of welfare:

‘In many fields persuasive arguments based on considerations of efficiency and economy can be advanced in favour of the state’s taking sole charge of a particular service; but when the state does so, the result is usually that those advantages soon appear illusory but that the character of the services becomes entirely different from that which they would have had if they had been provided by competing agencies. If, instead of administering limited resources put under its control for a specific service, government uses its coercive powers to ensure that men are given what some expert thinks they need; if people can thus no longer exercise any choice in some of the most import5ant matters of their lives, such as health, employment, housing and provision for old age, but must accept the decisions made for them by appointed authority on the basis of its evaluation of their need; if certain services become the exclusive domain of the state, and whole professions – be it medicine, education or insurance – come to exist only as unitary bureaucratic hierarchies, it will no longer be competitive experimentation but solely the decisions of authority that will determine what me shall get’.

Now this needs very careful critiquing. More specifically, how well has this argument stood up now that it has been and is continuing to be government policy?

Actually, not very well.

Von Hayek’s assumption, that economic freedom is the basis of personal and political freedom, is flawed. As critics of the Conservative party have pointed out, private property and ideologies of economic freedom existed long before most of the European population had personal or political freedom. It was the basis of late 18th and early 19th century laissez-faire economic liberalism at a time when only the aristocracy and the upper middle class in Britain, for example, had the vote.

It also does not take into account the importance of public opinion in formulating government policy. It assumes that decisions regarding health, social insurance and so on would be taken by a bureaucratic, technocratic elite deciding what it believes the public wants and needs on their behalf. Now this certainly was the case in the former Soviet Union. In England the early Fabians, including Beatrice and Sidney Webb, certainly had this authoritarian mindset and did believe that the new socialist society should be administered by an efficient bureaucracy. It does not, however, envisage the way the public actively tries to influence government policy through public meetings, bureaucratic forums in which the public can state their objections and demands, such as patients’ groups and similar organisations, or the fact that the public can and is frequently actively involved in welfare issues through the simple process of democratic debate. Von Hayek’s simplistic view of state power is only true of monolithic, single party autocracies such as Communism, Nazi Germany and the Fascist dictatorships. It does not consider the state as a means of empowering people and granting them a freedom, which they would otherwise be denied by their economic circumstances. John Steward Mill, in his class formulation of Liberalism in the 19th century, passionately defended personal liberty. However, he was also influenced by contemporary socialist experiments, such as the French Saint-Simonians. As a result, he believed that some freedoms could only be secured through the collective action of the state.

Now let’s examine the claims for freedom made on behalf of the private provision of welfare services. This seems to assume an ideal condition in which such private organisations are able to offer service comparable to those of the state. But as we’ve seen, in recent years the privatised industries such as the railways and privatised hospital administrations are now very heavily subsidised by the state to an extent which far exceeds the amounts they received when they were directly owned and operated by the state. In the case of the railways, the service they provide is actually poorer than in the last days of British Rail.

It also does not accept that private provision may result in a lack of choice. In America, for example, 1/7th of the population cannot afford medical insurance. These people have absolutely no choice regarding their health care. They are forced to use medicare. As for those, who have the benefit of private medical insurance, these are tied very much to the demands of their insurance company. The days when Americans were free to take or leave their doctor’s advice are very much a thing of the past. Not that you’d know that from the polemic coming out of the American Right.

It also does not foresee the way private companies may also close down or alter services without consulting their customers, purely for the benefit of their shareholders. An example of this was the way one of the American firms charged with running GPs’ surgeries in London closed three of them, leaving the patients with no doctor. It does not accept the fact that certain industries are natural monopolies, which can be both more efficiently and more democratically administered by the state in the public interest.

Furthermore, von Hayke ignores the possibility of the use of state coercion to enforce and support private industry at the expense of the liberty of the individual. The use of workfare to compel the unemployed to work in selected retail venues or other industries is a prime example of this.

Von Hayek also makes the statement ‘It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good’. There’s a bitter irony here. The administration of the modern state and party political machines is now highly technocratic and corporative, using experts drawn extensively from industry, to promote the interests of those industries against the public good.

Employee Ownership Day, John Stuart Mill and the Co-operative Movement

July 7, 2013

My brother, the eminently well-informed Mike Sivier, of the Vox Political website, has a piece on the attempts by the Lib-Dems to encourage the employee ownership in industry and the effective formation of co-operatives. This was launched on the Fourth of July, which the Lib-Dems declared as Employee Ownership Day. http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/employee-ownership-has-the-government-actually-done-something-right/.Now the demands for employee ownership and representation on the board have been around for a very long time. Lady Thatcher’s privatisation of state industries in the 1980s contained the provision that a portion of the shares were to be sold to the workers in those companies. These were later bought out, so that in effect very few workers ever had shares in the firms which employed them. Employee representation on company boards is a part of German and Austrian law, to the anger of the German Communist party. The KPD hated such arrangements as they boosted capitalism by giving workers a share in it, rather than allowing the Iron Law of Wages to operate to exploit and radicalise them. Demands for workers to have shares in their companies were one of the demands of the Papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which launched modern Social Catholicism in the 1890s. This was one of the first attempts of the Roman Catholic Church to combat the miseries of modern industrial society and protect their members from the threat of atheist radical Socialism and aggressively secular or Protestant nation states, such as France or the Germany of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf.

The Lib-Dems espousal of employee ownership is also in line with the views of the founder of modern Liberalism, John Stuart Mill. Mill’s On Liberty effectively founded modern conceptions of the freedom of the individual. While Mill opposed the Communist sects and organisations of his day, he had some sympathy with the early Utopian Socialist groups, such as the Fourierists and St. Simonians, and advocated the formation of co-operatives. Mill defended both private property and competition. He believed that private ownership allowed entrepreneurs to take beneficial risks that would otherwise be rejected by more cautious, collective managements. He advocated the establishment of co-operatives, however, as he believed these combined the best of Socialism with the best of capitalism. They also acted to educate and train their workers in habits of diligent work and individual self-reliance. Mill believed that co-operatives were so efficient and beneficial to society, that they would eventually replace individual capitalist firms, in which owners and managers were separate from the workforce.

Writing in his Principles of Political Economy, Mill states

‘Under the most favourable supposition, it will be desirable, and perhaps for a considerable length of time, that individual capitalists, associating their work people in the profits, sho8uld coexist with even those co-operative societies which are faithful to the co-operative principle. Unity of authority makes many things possible, which could not or would not be undertaken subject to the chance of divided councils or changes in the management. A private capitalist, considerably more like than almost any association to run judicious risks, and originate costly improvements. Co-operative societies may be depended on for adopting improvements after they have been tested by success, but individuals are more likely to commence things previously untried. Even in ordinary business, the competition of capable persons who in the event of failure are to have all the loss, and in case of success the greater part of the gain, will be very useful in in keeping the managers of co-operative societies up to the due pitch of activity and vigilance.

‘When, however, co-operative societies shall have sufficiently multiplied, it is not probable that any but the least valuable workpeople will any longer consent to work all their lives for wages merely, bot6h private capitalists and associations will gradually find it necessary to make the entire body of labourers participants in profits. Eventually, and in perhaps a less remote future than may be supposed, we may, through the co-operative principle, see our way to a change in society, which would combine the freedom and independence of the individual, with the moral, intellectual, and economical advantages of aggregate production; and which, without violence or spoliation, or even any sudden disturbance of existing habits and expectations, would realize, at least in the industrial department, the best aspirations of the democratic spirit, by putting an end to the division of society into the industrious and the idle, and effacing all social distinctions but those fairly earned by personal services and exertions. Associations like those, which we have described, by the very process of their success, are a course of education in those moral and active qualities by which alone success can be either deserved or attained. As associations multiplied, they would tend more and more to absorb all work-people, except those who have too little understanding, or too little virtue, to be capable of learning to act on any other system than that of narrow selfishness. As this change proceeded, owners of capital would gradually find it to their advantage, instead of maintaining the struggle of the old system with work-people of only the worst description, to lend their capital to the associations; to do this at a diminishing rate of interest, and at last, perhaps, even to exchange their capital for terminable annuities. In this or some such mode, the existing accumulations of capital might honestly, and by a kind of spontaneous process, become in the end the joint property of all who participate in their productive employment: a transformation which, thus effected, (and assuming of course that both sexes participate equally in the rights and in the government of the association) would be the nearest approach to social justice, and the most beneficial ordering of industrial affairs for the universal good, which it is possible at present to foresee’.

Source
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, in Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, eds., Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1986).