Posts Tagged ‘State Intervention’

T.H. Green’s Criticism of Utilitarian Laissez-Faire Individualism

December 24, 2018

T.H. Green was a 19th century British philosopher, who with others provided the philosophical justification for the change in Liberal politics away from complete laissez-faire economics to active state intervention. A week or so ago I put up another passage from D.G. Ritchie, another Liberal philosopher, who similarly argued for greater state intervention. Ritchie considered that the state was entitled to purchase and manage private enterprises on behalf of society, which Green totally rejected. However, Green was in favour of passing legislation to improve conditions for working people, and attacked the Utilitarians for their stance that Liberals such try to repeal laws in order to expand individual freedom. He believed the real reasons to objecting for laws affecting religious observances were that they interfered with the basis of morality in religion, and similarly believed that the real objection to the erection of the workhouses was that they took away the need for parental foresight, children’s respect for their parents and neighbourly kindness. He criticized the Utilitarians for demanding the removal of this laws on the grounds of pure individualism. Green wrote

Laws of this kind have often been objected to on the strength of a one-sided view of the function of laws; the view, viz. that their only business is to prevent interference with the liberty of the individual. And this view has gained undue favour on account of the real reforms to which it has led. The laws which it has helped to get rid of were really mischievous, but mischievous for further reasons than those conceived of by the supporters of this theory. Having done its work, the theory now tends to beco0me obstructive, because in fact advancing civilization brings with it more and more interference with the liberty of the individual to do as he likes, and this theory affords a reason for resisting all positive reforms, all reforms which involve an action of the state in the way of promoting conditions favourable to moral life. It is one thing to say that the state in promoting these conditions must take care not to defeat its true end by narrowing the region within which the spontaneity and disinterestness of true morality can have play; another thing to say that it has no moral end to serve at all, and that it goes beyond its province when it seeks to do more than save the individual from violent interference from other individuals. The true ground of objection to ‘paternal government’ is not that it violates the ‘laissez-faire’ principle and conceives that its office is to make people good, to promote morality, but that it rests on a misconception of morality. The real function of government being to maintain conditions of life in which morality shall be possible, and ‘paternal government’ does its best to make it impossible by narrowing the room for the self-imposition of duties and the play of disinterested motives.

T.H.Green, Political Obligations, cited in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought vol. 3, Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959) 212.

Lancaster comments on this passage on the following page, stating

Green here approves the central idea of laissez-faire since he believes that the individual should be allowed to make his own choices, and he concedes that early liberal legislation had been on the whole directed to that end. He does not believe, however, that the general good of society could be served in the altered conditions of English life by leaving people alone. This is the case, he thinks, because real freedom implies a choice of actions, and actual choices may not exist when, for example, the alternative to terms set by landlord or employer is destitution or dispossession. His criticism amounts to the charge that laissez-faire is only the defence of class interests, and as such ignores the general welfare. (p. 213).

It’s a good point. Clearly Green is far from promoting that the state should run the economy, but, like the passage I put up by Ritchie, it’s an effective demolition of some of the arguments behind Libertarianism. This is sometimes defined as ‘Classical Liberalism’, and is the doctrine that the state should interfere as little as possible. But as Green and Ritchie pointed out, that was no longer possible due to the changed circumstances of the 19th century. Green is also right when he makes the point the choice between that offered by a landlord or employer and being thrown out of work or on the street is absolutely no choice at all, and that in this instance laissez-faire individualism is simply a defence of class interests. This is very much the case. Libertarianism and later anarcho-capitalism was formulated by a group of big businessmen, who objected to F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The members of this group include the Koch brothers, the multi-millionaire heads of the American oil industry. It became one of the ideological strands in the Republican party after Reagan’s victory in 1980, and also in Thatcherism, such as the Tories idea that instead of using the state police, householders could instead employ private security firms.

Green and Ritchie together show that the Classical Liberalism to which Libertarianism harks back was refuted long ago, and that Libertarianism itself is similarly a philosophy that has been utterly demolished both in theory and in practice.

Advertisements

Review: The Liberal Tradition, ed. by Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock

November 6, 2016

(Oxford: OUP 1967)

liberal-tradition-pic

I picked this up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. I am definitely not a Liberal, but so many of the foundations of modern representative democracy, and liberal political institutions, rights and freedoms were laid down by Liberals from the 17th century Whigs onward, that this book is of immense value for the historic light it sheds on the origins of modern political thought. It is also acutely relevant, for many of the issues the great liberal philosophers, thinkers and ideologues argued over, debated and discussed in the pieces collected in it are still being fought over today. These are issues like the freedom, religious liberty and equality, democracy, anti-militarism and opposition to the armaments industry, imperialism versus anti-imperialism, devolution and home rule, laissez-faire and state intervention, and the amelioration of poverty.

Alan Bullock is an historian best known for his biography of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, which remains the classic work on the Nazi dictator. In the 1990s he produced another book which compared Hitler’s life to that of his contemporary Soviet dictator and ultimate nemesis, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. The book has an introduction, tracing the development of Liberalism from its origins to the 1930s, when the authors consider that the Liberal party ceased to be an effective force in British politics. This discusses the major issues and events, with which Whig and Liberal politicians and thinkers were forced to grapple, and which in turn shaped the party and its evolving intellectual tradition.

The main part of the book consists of the major historical speeches and writings, which are treated in sections according to theme and period. These comprise

Part. Fox and the Whig Tradition

1. Civil Liberties.

Two speeches by Charles James Fox in parliament, from 1792 and 1794;
Parliamentary speech by R.B. Sheridan, 1810.
Parliamentary speech by Earl Grey, 1819.
Lord John Russell, An Essay on the History of the English Government and Constitution, 1821.
Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1828.

2. Opposition to the War against Revolutionary France

Speeches by Charles James Fox, from 1793, 1794 and 1800.

3. Foreign Policy and the Struggle for Freedom Abroad

Earl Grey, parliamentary speech, 1821;
Marquis of Lansdowne, parliamentary speech, 1821.
Extracts from Byron’s poems Sonnet on Chillon, 1816, Childe Harold, Canto IV, 1817, and Marino Faliero, 1821.

4. Parliamentary Reform

Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1822.
Lord Melbourne, parliamentary speech, 1831.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1831.

Part II. The Benthamites and the Political Economists, 1776-1830.

1. Individualism and Laissez-faire

Two extracts from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Jeremy Bentham, A Manual of Political Economy, 1798.

2. Natural Laws and the Impossibility of Interference

T.R. Malthus, Essay on Population, 1798.
David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1819.

3. Free Trade

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations,
David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy,
Petition of the London Merchants, 1820.

4. Colonies

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

5. Reform

Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, 1817.
David Ricardo, Observations on Parliamentary Reform, 1824.
Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code, 1830.
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography.

Part III. The Age of Cobden and Bright.

1. Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Petition of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to the House of Commons, 20 December 1838.
Richard Cobden, two speeches in London, 1844.
Cobden, speech in Manchester, 1846,
Lord John Russell, Letter to the Electors of the City of London (The ‘Edinburgh Letter’) 1845.

2. Laissez-Faire

Richard Cobden, Russia, 1836.
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1846.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1846.
Joseph Hume, parliamentary speech, 1847.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848.

Education

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech 1847.
John Bright, parliamentary speech 1847.

4. Religious Liberty

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833.
John Bright, two parliamentary speeches, 1851 and 1853.

5. Foreign Policy

Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1849;
Viscount Palmerston, speech at Tiverton, 1847;
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1850; speech at Birmingham, 1858; speech in Glasgow, 1858;
John Bright, letter to Absalom Watkins, 1854;
W.E. Gladstone, parliamentary speech, 1857;

6. India and Ireland

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833;
John Bright, four speeches in parliament, 1848, 1849,1858, 1859;
Richard Cobden, speech at Rochdale, 1863.

Part IV. The Age of Gladstone

1. The Philosophy of Liberty

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859;
John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861;
Lord Acton, A Review of Goldwin smith’s ‘Irish History’, 1862;
Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.
Lord Acton, A Review of Sir Erskine May’s ‘Democracy in Europe’, 1878.
Lord Acton, letter to Bishop Creighton, 1887.
Lord Acton, letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881;
John Morley, On Compromise, 1874.

2. Parliamentary Reform

Richard Cobden, two speeches at Rochdale, 1859 and 1863;
John Bright, speech at Rochdale, 1863; speech at Birmingham, 1865; speech at Glasgow, 1866; speech at London, 1866;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Chester, 1865; speech at Manchester, 1865; parliamentary speech, 1866;

3. Foreign Policy

W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1877 and 1878; speech at Dalkeith, 1879; speech at Penicuik, 1880, speech at Loanhead, 1880; article in The Nineteenth Century, 1878.

4. Ireland

John Bright, speech at Dublin, 1866 and parliamentary speech, 1868.
W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1886 and 1888.

Part V. The New Liberalism

1. The Philosophy of State Interference

T.H. Green, Liberal Legislation or Freedom of Contract, 1881;
Herbert Spencer, The Coming Slavery, 1884;
D.G. Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, 1891;
J.A. Hobson, The Crisis of Liberalism, 1909;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;

2. The Extension of Democracy

Herbert Samuel, Liberalism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Plymouth, 1907;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Newcastle, 1909;
H.H. Asquith, speech at the Albert Hall, 1909.
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

3. Social Reform

Joseph Chamberlain, speech at Hull, 1885, and Warrington, 1885;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Saltney, 1889;
Lord Rosebery, speech at Chesterfield, 1901;
Winston S. Churchill, speech at Glasgow, 1906;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Swansea, 1908;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 8th July 1912;

4. The Government and the National Economy

H.H. Asquith, speech at Cinderford, 1903;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Bolton, 1903;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Bedford, 1913, and speech at Middlesbrough, 1913;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

5. Imperialism and the Boer War

Sir William Harcourt, speech in West Monmouthshire, 1899;
J.L. Hammond, ‘Colonial and Foreign Policy’ in Liberalism and the Empire, 1900;
J.A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Stirling, 1901.

6. Armaments

Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at London, 1905;
William Byles, parliamentary speech, 1907;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches from 1909 and 1911;
Sir J. Brunner, speech at the 35th Annual Meeting of the National Liberal Federation, 1913.

7. Foreign Policy

House of Commons debate 22nd July 1909, featuring J.M. Robertson and Arthur Ponsonby;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches, 1911 and 1914;
House of Commons debate, 14th December 1911, featuring Josiah Wedgwood and J.G. Swift MacNeill;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 1 August 1914;

Part VI. Liberalism after 1918

1. The End of Laissez-faire

J.M. Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926;
Britain’s Industrial Future, the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry, 1928;
J.M. Keynes and H.D. Henderson, Can Lloyd George Do It? 1929,
Sir William Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

2. The League and the Peace

Viscount Grey of Fallodon, The League of Nations, 1918;
Gilbert Murray, The League of Nations and the Democratic Idea, 1918;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 24th June 1919;
J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919;
D. Lloyd George, speech at London, 1927;
Philip Kerr, The Outlawry of War, paper read to the R.I.I.A., 13 November 1928;
The Liberal Way, A survey of Liberal policy, published by the National Liberal Federation, 1934.

Epilogue

J.M. Keynes, Am I a Liberal? Address to the Liberal summer school at Cambridge, 1925.

In their conclusion, Bullock and Shock state that Liberal ideology is incoherent – a jumble – unless seen as an historical development, and that the Liberal party itself lasted only about seventy years from the time Gladstone joined Palmerstone’s government in 1859 to 1931, after which it was represented only by a handful of members in parliament. The Liberal tradition, by contrast, has been taken over by all political parties, is embodied in the Constitution, and has profoundly affected education – especially in the universities, the law, and the philosophy of government in the civil service. It has also inspired the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth. It has also profoundly affected the British character at the instinctive level, which has been given expression in the notion of ‘fair play’.

They also write about the immense importance in the Liberal tradition of freedom, and principle. They write

In the pages which follow two ideas recur again and again. The first is a belief in the value of freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of minorities, freedom of peoples. The scope of freedom has required continual and sometimes drastic re-defining, as in the abandonment of laissez-faire or in the extension of self-government to the peoples of Asia and Africa. But each re-definition has represented a deepening and strengthening, not an attenuation, of the original faith in freedom.

The second is the belief that principle ought to count far more than power or expediency, that moral issues cannot be excluded from politics. Liberal attempts to translate moral principles into political action have rarely been successful and neglect of the factor of power is one of the most obvious criticisms of Liberal thinking about politics, especially international relations. But neglect of the factor of conscience, which is a much more likely error, is equally disastrous in the long run. The historical role of Liberalism in British history has been to prevent this, and again and again to modify policies and the exercise of power by protests in the name of conscience. (p. liv).

They finish with

We end it by pointing to the belief in freedom and the belief in conscience as the twin foundations of Liberal philosophy and the element of continuity in its historical development. Politics can never be conducted by the light of these two principles alone, but without them human society is reduced to servitude and the naked rule of force. This is the truth which the Liberal tradition has maintained from Fox to Keynes – and which still needs to be maintained in our own time. (pp. liv-lv).

It should be said that the participation of the Lib Dems was all too clearly a rejection of any enlightened concern for principle and conscience, as this was jettisoned by Clegg in order to join a highly illiberal parliament, which passed, and is still passing under its Conservative successor, Theresa May, legislation which is deliberately aimed at destroying the lives and livelihood of the very poorest in society – the working class, the disabled and the unemployed, and destroying the very foundations of British constitutional freedom in the creation of a network of universal surveillance and secret courts.

These alone are what makes the book’s contents so relevant, if only to remind us of the intense relevance of the very institutions that are under attack from today’s vile and corrupt Tory party.

Blair Wants Troops in Syria, Despite al-Qaeda Leader Stating this Will Unite Jihadis

May 24, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece today reporting that Tony Bliar has finally crawled out of whatever hole he’s been hiding in for the past few months or years, and has made a speech demanding that the West launch a ground war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Not content with his role in destroying an entire nation and turning the region into the mass charnel house it is now, Blair wants to increase the violence and mayhem.

Mike also reminds people about the cycle of commercialised violence he put up earlier to describe the current situation in the Middle East. We launch an attack on the peoples of these countries. Many of the survivors become radicalised. We then sell them arms so that they can launch further attacks on us, for which we retaliate, and the cycle begins again.

Mike cynically – and accurately – concludes that either Bliar doesn’t think we’ve sold enough arms to the Islamist butchers, or he just wants to kill more people in the Middle East. Either way, this won’t defeat ISIS.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/24/tony-blair-return-of-the-warmonger/

Mike’s analysis about the central importance of war and the arms trade, at least to the British and American economies, is actually correct. A few years ago Lobster ran a piece on the importance of arms sales as a deliberate government stimulus to the economy. After the Second World War, Washington and various corporate thinktanks realised that in order to maintain production and stimulate the economy, state intervention was necessary. However, the stimulus provided by Keynsianism and the welfare state in European economies was politically unacceptable in the Land of Free Enterprise. The only alternative was to go on with what the American state had done during the Second World War, and continue creating wars and promoting arms sales around the world in order to boost corporate profits and create jobs. And the result has been the blood stained history of the post-War American Empire.

Blair’s comments also contradict what Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, has said in a recent message that b*stard released to his legions of fanatics and butchers. In it, al-Zawahiri denounced ISIS as ‘extremists and renegades’, and frankly admitted that keeping the jihadis united against the West was ‘a matter of life and death for you’. In the video from Secular Talk below, Kyle Kulinski states that al-Zawahiri has just admitted that the Jihadis need the threat of the West to keep them united. If the West isn’t there, that unity collapses and the different jihadist factions start killing each other. So it should be clear, as other journos like Bill Marr have done in his show, that to defeat al-Qaeda and the rest of the nutters we should simply get out of their way. Kulinski recommends we continue giving humanitarian aid to the Kurds and other groups, but otherwise the West should leave the area alone, let al-Qaeda, ISIS and the rest of the thugs and butchers wipe each other off the face of the Earth. The last thing we should do is take the advice of General Petraeus, who wants the US to fund al-Qaeda in Syria as a block on ISIS. As Kulinski said, it’s not as though al-Qaeda haven’t launched an attack on America, is it? (Sarcasm).

Kulinski also makes a good point by asking how really sick and depraved a jihadist group has to be when even the leader of al-Qaeda thinks they’re too extreme.

Here’s the video:

Despite the fact that it’s come from the horse’s mouth, the head of al-Qaeda himself, that if they don’t fight Western troops, they’ll fall to fighting each other, Bliar still thinks the opposite, that sending in troops won’t produce a radical backlash against us, and will have the opposite effect of strengthening the jihadis. Either he’s still locked in the Neocon attitude that if we just bomb somebody long and hard enough, they’ll cave in, or arms sales are slack this quarter and he needs another war to give his shares a boost.