Posts Tagged ‘Slum Clearance’

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.

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D-Day and the Creation of the NHS

June 7, 2014

NHS D-Day pic

Earlier today I reblogged Mike’s article attacking the censorship of one of the posters to the Labour Forum. This person, agewait, had had their posts repeatedly removed from the Forum and been told that they were ‘very offensive’. They had created the image reproduced here at the top of this very post, showing the courageous D-Day servicemen about to do battle, and linked it to Harry Leslie Smith’s attack on the government’s reform of the NHS. The Forum immediately deleted the posts, and responded to agewait’s inquiry why they were doing this with the statement:

“D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”

Agewait himself gave his account of what happened in a comment to Mike’s article:

Thank you for highlighting this issue. I am the creator and apparent antagonist by posting this and another related post on the so called ‘Labour Forum’. I was angered by their actions and told them so (without swearing) – I asked for them to be reinstated, but I was threatened with a ban – So I told the jumped-up, swaggering b*****d just what I thought about him and his tin-pot political correctness, knowing full well I would be banned. I was extremely angry with them for initially removing the posts and angered more by the explanation which was not only inaccurate but extremely patronising. I am not anti-labour, but it does appear to be anti-working class… It is time it realised the people didn’t leave them, they left us…. disengaged chatterers…. and out of touch with the passion people have for the injustices against so many people who have witnessed a blitzkrieg attack upon their NHS and their Social Security system with so many, too many so called labour MPs standing by whilst others cash in on their financial interest in the Private Health sector…. Thanks again – Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere. I feel they should apologise for removing the posts – I don’t expect or wish for a personal apology not after sharing a small section of my anger and disgust with their outrageous tactics. Adrian Wait.

The Labour Forum’s censorship is wrong and completely ahistorical. Mike has already pointed out in his article that the Beveridge Report setting up the NHS was in response to concerns about the victories of the German army at the start of the War, which drove us out of France and back to Britain. The Germans were better nourished and healthier, with the support of old age pensions, unemployment and sickness insurance brought in by Bismarck in the 1870s. When the Liberals first introduced these measures shortly before the First World War, the Germans boasted that the Reich had already had them for over forty years.

Richard Titmuss in his 1950 Problems of Social Policy, which linked the creation of the welfare state very firmly to the experience and necessities of providing for the civilian population during the War. G.C. Peden in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher, states

Titumuss argued that the hazards of war were universal and that prewar principles of selectivity could no longer be applied. Bomb victims could not be treated like recipients of poor relief. The Unemployment Assistance Board, which became simply the Assistance Board, was used to pay out hardship allowances, rather than leave these to local Public Assistance Committees, which were associated in the public mind with the Poor Law. When inflation reduced the value of old age pensions, the Assistance Board was empowered to pay supplementary pensions based on need, and by 1941 the Board was dealing with ten times as many pensioners as unemployed men. As Minister of Labour, Bevin insisted on abolishing the household means test, and the Determination of Needs Act of 1941 substituted an assumed contribution from non-dependent members of a family. Titmuss stressed cross-party support for welfare policies. According to him (pp. 506-17), the condition of inner city children evacuated to more prosperous areas shocked public opinion and moved the Government to take ‘positive steps’. Cheap or free school meals and milk were made available to all children and not, as hitherto, only to the ‘necessitous’. Free milk, orange juice and cod liver oil were provided for all expectant mothers and for children under five years. In all these ways, Titmuss argued, the ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’ created favourable conditions for planning ‘social reconstruction’ after the war. (pp. 135-6).

Titmuss’ view has now been criticised, as Titmuss was excluded studying plans for post-War policy, and so his view did not necessarily correspond to the government’s actual intentions. Peden notes that the outbreak of the War halted slum clearance, house building, and may have delayed the extension of national insurance to workers’ families and dependence and the introduction of family allowances. The Tories own Research Department had been worried about their own chances of winning elections before the War, and so had suggested including the above measures in their manifesto. On the other hand, the TUC had opposed Family Allowances, as they feared this would allow employers to pay low wages, and there was little support for them from the government. (p. 135).

Peden does state that the War brought a massive expansion of state hospital provision, and that the government agreed with the Beveridge Report’s recommendation that there should be a free health service, while acknowledging that the Tories and the British Medical Association also wished to preserve private practice and the charity hospitals:

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly was had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war causaulties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health service in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnston successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (CMd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.

Peden then goes on to state that there is little evidence that the War created a lasting consensus in favour of the Welfare State. He does, however, agree that the experience of the war created a more universalist approach to social problems, and that it led to the main political parties meeting on a ‘Butskellite’ centre. (pp. 142-3). He considers instead that the solutions recommended by the Wartime government were merely attempts to deal with temporary insecurity caused by the War.

Nevertheless, the War had led to the demand for the creation of the NHS, and the massive expansion in state hospital provision. And the Labour party played on the desire to create a better society for the servicemen and women, who had fought so hard against Fascism and the Nazi menace, as shown in the poster below.

War Labour Poster

The Tories too, have had absolutely no qualms about using images from WW2 in their election propaganda. I can remember their 1987 election broadcast being awash with images of dog-fighting Spitfires, ending with an excited voice exclaiming ‘It’s great to be great again’. All while Thatcher was doing her level best to destroy real wages and smash Britain as a manufacturing nation in the interests of the financial sector. The satirist Alan Coren drily remarked that the broadcast showed that the War was won by ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’, and stated that it was highly ironic that in reality all the servicemen went off and voted Labour.

All this seems to have been lost on Labour Forum, which suggests that the mods in charge actually don’t know much about Socialism or the creation of the NHS. You could even wonder if they were actually Labour at all. If they were, then it certainly looks like a Blairite group, afraid that linking D-Day and the origins of the NHS will disrupt its part privatisation introduced by Blair. Many of the firms involved in this were American, and there is certainly massive hostility to any inclusion of the NHS as one of the great achievements of British history by the transatlantic extreme Right. They were fuming, for example, at Danny Boyle’s inclusion of the NHS in the historical tableaux at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. The censors over at Labour Forum seem to reflect this mentality, rather than anything genuinely and historically Labour. It’s time the Right-wing censors over at Labour Forum were finally shown the door, and a proper historical perspective and pride taken in the NHS, one of the great legacies left by the people, who fought so bravely to keep Europe free.