Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’

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

August 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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Scriptonite: Inequality of Wealth in UK Same as Nigeria

August 6, 2013

Yesterday Scriptonite published a post reporting UN statistics that the inequality in wealth between the rich and poor is now the same as Nigeria. It is the most extreme in the developed world, with the poorest in Britain living on the same incomes as those in Hungary and Korea. The piece is entitled Wealth Inequality in UK now Equal to Nigeria, UN Report. It begins

The UK has been sliding down the UN Human Development Report since 1991, and by 1996 became the most unequal nation in the developed world . The gap between rich and poor in UK society has risen sharply during the leadership of the Coalition government, yet long before these people got power, the gap between rich and poor in UK society was equal to Nigeria, with the poorest here living on roughly the same as their counterparts in Hungary and Korea.

Inequality, Inequality, Inequality

The 1996 and 2013 reports makes truly depressing reading, but should come as no surprise to those warning of exactly these results from ideological austerity policies.

Scriptonite links it to the implementation of the Tories’ Neo-Liberal policies, and suggests radical alternative systems, which people can join as a way of personally counteract government policy. Concerns about the growing gap between rich and poor in comparison with the Developing World goes back as far as Blair and Thatcher. I can remember a Fabian pamphlet during Thatcher’s administration noting that the inequality of wealth was the same as India. Since that time it’s become more extreme. Adam Curtis, the documentary film-maker, who directed the excellent The Century of the Self, discussed the increasing loss of social mobility in his The Trap: How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. He argued there that the growing division between rich and poor, and the lost of social mobility was due to Libertarian ideologies in which human behaviour was modelled on that of machines and applied to wider society in order to control the administration of goods and services after Thatcher’s privatisation. It is very well worth watching.

Scriptonite’s article is at http://scriptonitedaily.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/wealth-inequality-in-uk-now-equal-to-nigeria-un-report/.

Adam Curtis’ The Trap: How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom is shown here

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

July 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate End-Point of Privatisation: But Would the Tories Privatise the Courts?

July 17, 2013

Much of contemporary Cameronite Conservatism is based less on traditional Tory ideology, but on American Libertarianism. This entered Conservatism in the 1970s, when the Right turned to Von Hayek. Von Hayek influenced Sir Keith Joseph, who strongly influenced his protégé, the future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was from Libertarianism that the New Right took the ideas of private enterprise prisons and police forces. I can remember the idea of streets patrolled by private policies forces appealing particularly to one of the female members of John Major’s cabinet. I think it may have been Virginia Bottomley, but I can’t really remember. This particular Tory lady wrote a piece in the Daily Mail imagining what it would be like if women ran the country. This was one of the Libertarian policies this politico believed that a female-dominated administration would introduce.

Rothbard, Anarcho-Individualism and the Virtual Elimination of the State

Going much further than this are the views of some Anarcho-Individualists, such as Rothbard, who was, I believe, the leader of the American Libertarian Party. These appear to be influenced by the American political philosopher, Nozick. In his 1980s book, Anarchy, the State and Utopia, Nozick rejected the Social Contract view of the origins of political authority. He argued instead that the state should be reduced as far as possible. He considered that its only role should be the enforcement of contracts. Rothbard believed that such extreme Libertarian would create a freer, non-coercive society similar to that desired by Left-wing Anarchists and Libertarians, with obvious exception that this would be based on capitalist individualism, rather than the collective ownership of property. Rothbard thus advocated the creation of private enterprise courts. He argued that the courts should be sold off and funded by private investment. The obvious objection to this is the question how the courts would enforce their rulings in the absence of state power. Once again, market forces and competition would provide the answer. The courts would compete to provide the most justice decisions, which would be voluntarily adopted by the parties in the dispute. Even when the judgement went against them, they would recognise the value of impartial justice and that such courts could be relied on to protect their lives and property in turn, and so obey their rulings. Of course, this is a wildly unrealistically optimistic view of human nature. Nevertheless, such minarchism has influenced sections of the New Right, although I don’t know any mainstream politicians, who currently argues for such an extreme position. Nevertheless, contemporary Conservatism seems to be strongly informed by less extreme forms of Libertarianism, which need to be tackled.

It is not only Left-wingers, who object to some of the Libertarian policies that are now being adopted. Conservative traditionalists, such as Peter Hitchens, have also voiced their opposition to the privatisation of the police force and the prison service. For Hitchens only the state has the moral authority to persecute and punish crime. It’s an important point that deserves attention as the essential functions of the state are further eroded and pass into private hands. It may be too much to hope for that these traditional Conservatives will also join the Left in stopping the further destruction of the state infrastructure and the lives and livelihoods of the people relying on it.