Posts Tagged ‘‘On Liberty’’

Democrapic: A Word to Describe the Independent Group

March 4, 2019

One of the most entertaining books I’ve read on the stranger or more remarkable items of the English lexicon is simply entitled Words, by the American author Paul Dickson (London: Arrow Books 1982). It’s subtitled ‘A Connoisseur’s Collection Of Old And New, Weird and Wonderful, Useful And Outlandish’ -. And one of the most useful political terms it records, in the chapter on ‘Neologisms’, is ‘Democrapic’. The book gives its definition as ‘Garson Kanin’s word for the expression of democratic beliefs by those who cannot tolerate democracy in action.’ (p.168).

It’s particularly appropriate at this time, as we heard a lot of democrapic last week from the Independent Group. They are the breakaway politicos from Labour and the Tories, who are so passionate about democracy and parliament, that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, don’t have any real policies, except opposition to Brexit – or at least, not any they want the public to know – and have registered as a private corporation so they don’t have to do what real parties do and reveal who their sponsors and donors are. Nor do they have any infrastructure to allow a mass membership that would decide party policy.

Of course, they have serious rivals in their use of democrapic by the Blairites in the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and the Tories. The Blairites maintain that they’re the true heart of Labour and stand for genuine inclusion, equality and diversity, while all the time trying to purge the real moderate and left-wing members of the party. At the same time, Tony Greenstein has noted that there’s also a very nasty racist undertone in the anti-Semitism smears, in that they’re targeted primarily at anti-Zionist Jews and anti-racist Black activists. The Lib-Dems are very democrapic since they effectively dumped John Mills’ On Liberty as their founding text determining the pursuit of real democracy to support David Cameron’s secret courts, where in the interests of national security, you may not know who your accuser is, nor the evidence or charge against you, and the whole trial will be held in secret. Pretty much like Labour’s Compliance Unit examining charges of anti-Semitism. And when you come to the Tories, there’s a whole mountain of democrapic coming from a party that despises the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, Blacks, Asians and Muslims, but make a lot of noise about how they stand up for British ideals of tolerance and democracy when anyone challenges them on all this.

Democrapic is a very useful term to describe this type of political hypocrisy. Just as the old slang term ‘gentleman ranker’, for a ruined gentleman reduced to serving as a private in the army, aptly describes Iain Duncan Smith. Who was rumoured to have failed the office course at Sandhurst and Returned To Unit.

IDS is now out of office, but sadly, not out of parliament. But I predict that ‘democrapic’ will remain intensely relevant, especially as applied to the Independent Group, who are particularly democrapic.

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Vince Cable Shows Contempt for Democracy with Non-Aggression Pact with Independents

February 22, 2019

I caught the headline in the I today, stating that Vince Cable has decided to go into a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the so-called ‘Independents’. This means that the two parties won’t put up candidates against each other.

Apart from reminding me of the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the 1980s, it also shows Cable’s absolute contempt for democracy, and how far his party has fallen from the ideals of John Stuart Mill. Mill’s book, On Liberty, is one of the great philosophical examinations of freedom and democracy. It’s also the foundational text of political Liberalism. Until very recently, every leader of the Liberal party received a copy of it at his election to office.

However, when the Lib-Dems were part of the coalition with Dave Cameron’s Tories, they fully supported the legislation providing for secret courts. These were special courts, where cases would be tried in camera for reasons of ‘national security’. This meant that the press and public would be excluded, the identity of witnesses could be concealed, and evidence withheld from the defendant and their lawyers.

It’s the classic kangaroo court system Kafka described in his novels The Trial and The Castle, where the accused is arrested and tried without knowing what in fact he’s being charged with. It’s the judicial system every tyrant and despot has used since the days of the Roman emperors, and which returned in the 20th century with the horrors of the Nazi and Stalinist judicial systems.

And then there’s the anti-democratic nature of the Independents themselves. This is a group, who have incorporated themselves as a company rather than a political party. They have done this in order to avoid the electoral law that demands that political parties reveal who their donors are. It also allows them to evade the laws limiting expenditure on election campaigns.

Additionally, the group is determined not to call bye-elections, despite no longer being members of the parties that got them elected in the first place. Arguably, their constituents voted for them as members of the Labour or Tory parties, and should be given the choice of whether they want to re-elect them as Independents or choose someone else to represent them from their former parties instead. But despite all the sweet-sounding stuff about respecting democracy and parliament as the best method for representing the will of the British people, the Independents definitely do not want to hold bye-elections. For the simple reason that they’d lose.

We therefore have a party that supported anti-democratic secret courts, going into a ‘non-aggression pact’ – which sounds very much like the pact Nazi Germany signed with Stalin’s Russia before they invaded the latter – with a party that withholds the identity of its donors and refuses to hold bye-elections that would give the voters their opportunity to say whether they still want them in parliament or not.

This is an ominous warning. If these two parties are starting off together with such an open contempt for democracy, what would they be capable of doing if they were to get any kind of government?

D.G. Ritchie’s Philosophical Justification for State Interference

December 18, 2018

Okay, this is going to be a long extract, but bear with it. It all needs to be said. One of the arguments I’ve seen Libertarians use to defend their ideology of a minimal state and absolute laissez-faire free enterprise and zero state welfare, is that liberals and socialists don’t have any philosophical arguments to justify their position beyond pointing to the practical, positive effects. I’ve seen this line stated by one of the more notorious Libertarians, Vox Day. Not only is Day a supporter of the miserable and immiserating economics of vons Hayek and Mises, but he has extreme right-wing views on feminism and race. You can tell just how far right he is by the fact that he calls Donald Trump ‘the God Emperor’ and refers to Anders Breivik, the man who called 70 odd children at a Norwegian Young Socialists’ camp, a saint. He really is despicable.

In fact, the philosophers of the New Liberalism, which appeared in Britain in the 1880s, like T.H. Green, D.G. Ritchie, J.A. Hobson and L.T. Hobhouse, produced philosophical defences of state interference to justify the new change in direction taken by the Liberals. These had broken with the stance of the old Radicals, who were firmly against state legislation. Instead, these philosophers argued that state interference, rather than reducing human freedom, actually enlarged it by empowering the individual. Ritchie, in the piece below, attacks the simplistic notion of the state versus personal liberty expressed by Herbert Spencer, the founder of Social Darwinism, and provides a philosophical justification for collective ownership not just in nationalization but also municipalization. In his The Principles of State Interference of 1891 he wrote

Underlying all these traditions and prejudices there is a particular metaphysical theory-a metaphysical theory which takes hold of those persons especially who are fondest of abjuring all metaphysics; and the disease is in their case the more dangerous since they do not know when they have it. The chief symptom of this metaphysical complaint is the belief in the abstract individual. The individual is thought of, at least spoken of, as if he had a meaning and significance apart from his surroundings and apart from his relations to the community of which he is a member. It may be quite true that the significance of the individual is not exhausted by his relations to any given set of surroundings; but apart from all these he is a mere abstraction-a logical ghost, a metaphysical spectre, which haunts the habitations of those who have derided metaphysics. The individual, apart from all relations to a community, is a negation. You can say nothing about him, or rather it, except that it is not any other individual. Now, along with this negative and abstract view of the individual there goes, as counterpart, the way of looking at the State as an opposing element to the individual. The individual and the State are put over against one another. Their relation is regarded as one merely of antithesis. Of course, this is a point of view which we can take, and quite rightly for certain purposes; but it is only one point of view. It expresses only a partial truth; and a partial truth, if accepted as the whole truth, is always a falsehood. Such a conception is, in any case, quite inadequate as a basis for any profitable discussion of the duties of Government.

It is this theory of the individual which underlies Mill’s famous book, Liberty. Mill, and all those who take up his attitude towards the State, seem to assume that all power gained by the State is so much taken from the individual, and conversely, that all power gained by the individual is gained at the expense of the state. Now this is to treat the two elements, power of the State and power (or liberty) of the individual, as if they formed the debit and credit sides of an account book; it is to make them like two heaps of a fixed number of stones, to neither of which you can add without taking from the other. It is to apply a mere quantitative conception in politics, as it that were an adequate ‘category’ in such matters. the same thing is done when society is spoken of as merely ‘an aggregate of individuals.’ The citizen of a State, the member of a society of any sort, even an artificial or temporary association, does not stand in the same relation to the Whole that one number does to a series of numbers, or that one stone does to a heap of stones. Even ordinary language shows this. We feel it to be a more adequate expression to say that the citizen is a member of the body politic, than to call him merely a unit in a political aggregate…

Life Mr. Spencer defines as adaptation of the individual to his environment; but, unless the individual manages likewise to adapt his environment to himself, the definition would be more applicable to death.

It must not be supposed that we wish to blind ourselves to the many real difficulties and objections which there are in the way of remedying and preventing evils by direct State action. If assured that the end is good, we must see that the means are sufficient and necessary, and we must be prepared to count the cost. But, admitting the real difficulties, we must not allow imaginary difficulties to block the way. In the first place, as already said, State action does not necessarily imply the direct action of the central government. Many things may be undertaken by local bodies which it would be unwise to put under the control of officials at a distance. ‘Municipalisation’ is, in many cases, a much better ‘cry’ than ‘Nationalisation’. Experiments may also be more safely tried in small than in large areas, and local bodies may profit by each other’s experience. Diffusion of power may well be combined with concentration of information. ‘Power’, says J.S. Mill, ‘may be localized, but knowledge to be most useful must be centralized.’ Secondly, there are many matters which can more easily be taken in hand than others by the State as presently constituted. Thus the means of communication and locomotion can in every civilized country be easily nationalized or municipalized, where this has not been done already. With regard to productive industries, there may appear greater difficulty. But the process now going on by which the individual capitalist more and more gives place to enormous joint-stock enterprises, worked by salaried managers, this tendency of capital to become ‘impersonal,’ is making the transition to management by government (central or local) very much more simple, and very much more necessary, than in the days of small industries, before the ‘industrial revolution’ began. The State will not so much displace individual enterprise, as substitute for the irresponsible company or ‘trust’ the responsible public corporation. Thirdly, and lastly, be it observed that the arguments used against ‘government’ action, where the government is entirely or mainly in the hands of a ruling class or caste, exercising wisely or unwisely a paternal or ‘grandmotherly’ authority-such arguments lose their force just in proportion as government becomes more and more genuinely the government of the people by the people themselves. The explicit recognition of popular sovereignty tends to abolish the antithesis between ‘the Man’ and ‘the State’. The State becomes, not ‘I’ indeed, but ‘we.’ The main reason for desiring more State action is in order to give the individual a greater chance of developing all his activities in a healthy way. The State and the individual are not sides of an antithesis between which we must choose; and it is possible, though, like all great things, difficult for a democracy to construct a strong and vigorous State, and thereby to foster a strong and vigorous individuality, not selfish nor isolated, but finding its truest welfare in the welfare of the community. Mr. Spencer takes up the formula ‘from status to contract’ as a complete philosophy of history. Is there not wanting a third and higher stage in which there shall be at once order and progress, cohesion and liberty, socialistic-but, therefore, rendering possible the highest development of all such individuality as constitutes an element in well-being? Perhaps then Radicalism is not turning back to an effete Toryism, but advancing to a further and positive form, leaving to the Tories and old Whigs and to Mr. Spencer the worn-out and cast-off credd of its own immaturity.

In Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock, eds., The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes (Oxford: OUP 1956), pp. 187-90.

Libertarianism was discredited long ago, when 19th century governments first started passing legislation to clear slums and give the labouring poor proper sanitation, working hours and education. Its philosophical justification came later, but I think also effectively demolished it. The people promoting it, such as the Koch brothers in America, are big businessmen seeking to re-establish a highly exploitative order which allowed industry to profit massively at the expense of working people. It became popular through aligning itself with left-wing ideas of personal liberty that emerged in the 1960s, such as the drug culture, and in the ’90s produced the illegal rave scene. In the form of Anarcho-Capitalism, it also appealed to some of those who were attracted to anarchism, while attacking the communist elements in that philosophy. Its adherent also try to justify it by calling it Classical Liberalism.

But it’s still just the same old reactionary ideology, that should have finally gone out with end of the Nineteenth Century. I think that as more people become trapped in poverty as a result of its policies, it’ll lose whatever popularity it once had. And perhaps then we can back to proper political theories advocating state intervention to advance the real, practical liberty of working people.

Vince Cable Spread Anti-Semitism Smears to Boost Support for Lib Dems

April 6, 2018

More lies and smears, though from the Lib Dems this time, rather than the Tories. Vince Cable has declared that anti-Semitism is exceptionally severe in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. And so his party will definitely not go into coalition with a Labour government.

A Lib Dem leader saying that he won’t go into coalition with a Labour government! Well, colour me surprised! as the late, great Bill Hicks used to exclaim ironically. Like the last time the Lib Dems refused to go into coalition with the Labour party, and instead got into bed – metaphorically – with Dave Cameron and the Tories. Mike states that Cable knows that this is rubbish. In fact, under Corbyn, anti-Semitism has actually decreased in the Labour party, while outside Labour in Britain generally it has actually risen. But like the Tories, the Lib Dems are showing that they see no need to spoil a useful lie with an awkward truth.

And somehow, I really don’t think this is the real reason the Lib Dems don’t want to go into partnership with Labour. After all, they lied about their reason for going into coalition with the Tories. According to them, it was because they didn’t want Gordon Brown to be the head of the Labour party. In reality, they’d already told the Conservatives they were going to go into coalition with them long before they publicly turned Labour’s overtures down, citing Brown’s continued leadership as their excuse.

The Lib Dems have been trying to turn themselves into another far right, Thatcherite party. The Orange Book of the Lib Dem right, which supplants John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, takes its name from the colours of the 19th century Manchester school. The same Manchester school of economics that Mussolini boasted of supporting when he first took power in Italy. In other words, it’s complete laissez faire, free trade liberalism with as little state intervention as possible. The Lib Dem MP for Taunton Dean in Somerset wrote a book just before the last election making pretty much the same arguments as the noxious authors of Britain Unchained. You know the sort of thing: Brits must tighten their belts and work harder, have fewer welfare benefits and lower wages in order to compete with working people in being similarly screwed by neoliberalism in the Developing World. This came from a public schoolboy, who no doubt would have screamed blue murder had someone made the point many economists are now making, that western managers are vastly overpaid.

The simple reason is that Cable is another wretched Thatcherite neoliberal, who doesn’t want to go into coalition with a Labour party under Corbyn, because Corbyn wants to undo the Thatcherite consensus and return Britain to the social democratic arrangement which gave Britain jobs, a welfare state and prosperity from the end of the War to Thatcher’s election.

I also wonder how this will affect some of the members of his own party. A little while ago I came across a book promoting the anti-Semitism smears against Labour by Dave Rich, and leading member of the Israel lobby. This claimed that the left’s anti-Semitism began in the late ’60s with criticism of Israel, including by the left-wing of the Liberals. Which begs the question: is Cable now going to lead a purge of Lib Dems, who criticise Israel and its murderous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, just like the Blairites have done in Labour?

And if we’re talking about racist violence, Cable himself was an economist with Shell, I believe, when that western oil company was hiring mercenary squads to murder and beat tribespeople in the Niger delta in Nigeria, who were protesting about the company’s pollution of their water supplies. Cable wasn’t responsible for the policy, but he clearly didn’t let it get in the way of working for them.

And I also recall reading in a Fabian pamphlet in the 1980s how one of the brutal South American Fascist regimes was also apparently a member of the international Liberal group of parties. In Germany in the same decade there was a massive scandal when it came out that the German Liberal party, the Freie Demokraten, or Free Democrats, were absolutely nothing of the sort, and had been heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazis. Alongside Liberalism’s veneration of John Stuart Mill and democracy, there’s a side that is every bit as nasty as the Tories. And this side seems to be dominant under Cable.

The founders of the Labour party were convinced that both the Liberals and Conservatives should be treated equally as enemies of the working class. The Liberals stood for the middle classes and business, while the Tories originally stood for the Anglican Church and the aristocracy. Neither of them represented the 95 per cent of the population, who in the 19th century constituted the working class. And it was the Liberals, not the Tories, who set up the workhouses under the New Poor Law. Lloyd George and the Liberals laid the foundations of the welfare state, which the Tories have been trying since Thatcher to destroy. And under Vince Cable, it seems the Lib Dems are trying to join them.

Cable clearly is quite happy with the continuing privatisation of the NHS, and a privatised electricity grid and railways, which offer substandard service at inflated prices for the benefit of their mostly foreign company directors. At the same time, he also wants to cut wages and state benefits, to make Britain’s working people even poorer. And I’ve seen no evidence that he wants to do anything about the welfare to work tests, which have seen tens of thousands of disabled people starve to death after being wrongly judged ‘fit for work’. He hasn’t condemned benefit sanctions, which do the same to unemployed generally. And he certainly hasn’t made any noises at all at reducing the debt burden on students. Labour brought in tuition fees, but they were increased immensely by Nick Clegg. He then claimed it was Cameron’s idea, when it was the opposite. Cameron apparently was prepared to concede their removals to the Liberals. But they were advocated by Clegg.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Liberal party began to position itself as the centre ground between the Tories and Labour, and could thus appeal to both depending on circumstances. During the Lib-Lab pact in the mid-70s, they helped shore up a minority Labour government.

But those days are long gone, it seems. Now they’re doing their best to be indestinguishable from the Tories, just like New Labour tried to continue Thatcher’s policies.

There’s no reason for any working person in Britain to vote for them.
A vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories.
Ignore the lies and smears, and vote for Corbyn instead.