Posts Tagged ‘T.H. Green’

The Lib Dems – So Progressive and Remainer, They’d Rather Have No-Deal Brexit than Corbyn

August 19, 2019

So much for the Lib Dems claims to be a progressive party standing for remaining in the EU. Last week Corbyn wrote to the various MPs in the House, declaring his intention of calling for a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s government in order to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31st. This would mean that the Labour leader, as the leader of the opposition, would form a caretaker government for a few months before a general election was called.

A number of politicos have indicated their support for his plan, like the Welsh Tory Guto Bebb, and the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon. There have been caveats – Sturgeon has said that she will only support Corbyn if he gets a majority in the House. A number of Lib Dems have also expressed cautious interest. But so far the official line from their oh-so-progressive, Remain leader, Jo Swinson and her buddies is flat refusal. They aren’t going to support Corbyn, because he won’t be able to command a majority, she says. Of course, the real reason is that Swinson and the Lib Dems aren’t progressive at all, no matter what they were saying at the council elections. Swinson voted for all of the policies and reforms demanded by the Tories when the Lib Dems were in Coalition with them. All of the policies cutting welfare benefits for the poor, the sick, disabled and unemployed, the tax cuts for the rich, and the privatisation of the NHS. Furthermore, she’s also run around demanding a statue be put up to Maggie Thatcher. Yes, Thatcher, the woman who ushered in this whole era of cuts, privatisation and more cuts. The woman, who took her monetarist economics from Milton Friedman, who influenced Chilean Fascist dictator General Pinochet. Who was also Maggie’s best friend. How very progressive!

Well, Swinson seems to have turned her back on the Liberal tradition, at least that part of it that came in with T.H. Greene and the other great thinkers of the ‘New Liberalism’ of the 1880s onwards. You know, the philosophers and other ideologues, who realised that state intervention was also compatible with individual freedom. Even necessary for it, as through state intervention the individual was free to do more than he or she could through their own unaided efforts. The kind of Liberalism that prepared the way for Lloyd George’s introduction of state pensions and limited state health provision through the panel system. But Swinson and her colleagues have turned their back on that, and have decided to support the absolute laissez-faire, free enterprise doctrines of the Manchester School of the early 19th century. The doctrines that didn’t work, and which successive governments challenged and rejected in practice while supporting in theory when they passed acts providing for better sanitation, limiting factory hours, and establishing free primary education for children, for example. Greene and the other leaders of the New Liberalism were interested in providing an intellectual, philosophical justification for what government was doing in practice. And they succeeded.

And it’s highly questionable how traditionally Liberal they now are. Liberalism’s fundamental, definitive text is John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. This is one of the great classics of British political philosophy, in which Mill thoroughly examined and lay the basis for modern British democracy and individual freedom. But one of the particularly dangerous policies the Lib Dems supported was the Tories’ introduction of secret courts. Under their legislation, if the government deems that it is warranted because of national security, a person may be tried in secret, with the press and public barred from the courtroom. They may not know the identity of their accuser, and evidence may be withheld from them and their defence. I’ve blogged about this many times before. This isn’t remotely in keeping with anyone’s idea of freedom, and definitely not Mill’s. It the twisted justice of Kafka’s novels, The Trial and The Castle, and the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

And then there is Swinson’s whole claim that her party, and her party only, stands for ‘Remain’. That, supposedly, is why, or one of the reasons why, she won’t work with Corbyn. She has gone on to declare her support for Kenneth Clarke as the leader of an interim government, despite the fact that he’s a Brexiteer. He just doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit. And Corbyn has always said that he is willing to go back to the country if he is unable to secure a proper, beneficial Brexit, and hold a second referendum. Which means that if the country votes against Brexit, he won’t do it. But this isn’t enough for Swinson. She wishes to play kingmaker with her tiny band. They got 7 per cent of the vote, and only 10 MPs, whereas Labour got 40 per cent of the vote. She claims that she cannot work with Corbyn, and therefore he will have to go as leader of the Labour party. But this can easily be turned around. Corbyn is willing to work with Swinson, and the simple numbers say he should stay as leader, and she should go as the head of her party. After all, it’s her that’s preventing them from going into government with Corbyn, if the Labour leader should offer that opportunity to them.

Actually, there’s a suggestion that Swinson, like her predecessor Clegg, has already thrown in her lot with the Tories. According to Zelo Street, Natalie Rowe issued a tweet to Swinson demanding that she confirm that she had not been holding talks with BoJob from the 9th to the 12th of this month, August 2019.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/jo-swinson-speaks-with-forked-tongue.html

I don’t think Swinson’s issued any response, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had. Clegg, remember, claimed that he was willing to join Labour in a coalition, but wouldn’t do so if Gordon Brown was leader. In fact he was lying. He had already made a pact with Cameron. And it’s a very good question whether Swinson hasn’t done the same. Even if she hasn’t, by her refusal to support Corbyn and his vote of no confidence, she’s shown that she’s no stout defender of this country against Brexit, and least of all a no deal Brexit, after all. So much for all the Lib Dem MPs in the European parliament, who all turned up grinning in matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’.

Swinson isn’t progressive. She’s a Tory in the Lib Dems. She isn’t a defender of liberty after J.S. Mill. She’s its enemy. And she stands for Remain only when it suits her.

Lib Dem voters were fooled by their party once. Will they be fooled by them again? Remember the saying: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Candace Owens Destroys Turning Point UK with Stupid Comment about Hitler

February 16, 2019

Turning Point are an American Conservative youth group founded to promote the wretched ideology to college students. In December last year, 2018, it launched a British subsidiary, Turning Point UK. This declared that it was showing that students and young people weren’t the property of the Left, and were showing that free markets and small government equals bigger freedom. This is clearly rubbish. As the experience of the last forty years of Thatcherism/Reaganomics have shown very clearly, where you have small government and free markets, the result is considerably less freedom for ordinary working people, who are exploited and denied opportunities by the rich at the top. As the New Liberals of the late 19th century realized – philosophers like T.H. Green – you need state action and interference to expand the range of freedoms for the people at the bottom. But Turning Point is a Conservative movement, so it represents the rich, privileged and powerful once again trying to deceive the hoi polloi into voting against their interests.

Unsurprising, the group’s launch over here was endorsed by a range of right-wing Tories, including Priti Patel, Bernard Jenkin, Douglas Murray, Steve Baker and the walking anachronism that is Jacob Rees-Mogg. At their launch were Republican mouthpieces Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. Kirk caused a bit of amusement a little while ago when he exploded at a question Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had asked him at some kind of press meeting or debate. Uygur simply asked him how much he made. At which point Kirk got up screaming that he ‘LIVED AS A CAPITALIST EVERY DAY!’ and apparently challenging Uygur to fight him before he was calmed down. Owens is a young Black woman, who subsequently showed herself completely ignorant of what the Nazis stood for. Somebody asked her about nationalism. Owens and the others in their wretched organization apparently define themselves as nationalists, but are a bit confused about its relationship with Hitler and the Nazis. She declared that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist but a globalist. He would have been fine if he’d simply wanted to make things better for Germany. She said:

I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word ‘nationalism’. I think that actually, yeah, the definition gets poisoned by leaders that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want, so when you think about whenever we say ‘nationalism’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a National Socialist. But if Hitler wanted to make Germany great and run things well, then fine. Problems is that he has dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everyone to be German, he wanted everyone to be speaking German, everyone to be a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. So, I’m thinking about how we could go back down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism, I really don’t. It’s okay, it’s important to retain your nationality’s identity and make sure that what’s happening here, which is incredibly worrisome, just the decrease in the birthrate that we’re seeing in the UK is what we want to avoid. So I have no problems with nationalism. it’s globalism I try to avoid.

The good peeps on social media were already laying into and sending up Turning Point UK before she made those idiotic comments. After she made them, they really tore her and wretched organization apart. Here’s Sam Seder and his crew at Sam Seder’s Minority Report having a few very good, well observed laughs at her expense. They rightly ridicule her for apparently suggesting that Hitler’s murder of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals would have been already if it was just confined to Germany. They also point out that she could have made her point about nationalism without mentioning Hitler, but looking instead at the African and Indian independence movements. They also joke about the organization’s support for free market economics, saying in spoof German voices that the Nazis had to murder the Jews outside Germany because of supply-chain economics caused by the world flattening.

Please note: Seder’s Jewish, and his co-host, Michael Brooks, is also of part German Jewish heritage. They are definitely not Nazis in any way, shape or form and are only making those joke to send up Owens for her massively crass ignorance.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Q_o2ufR1s

Owens was forced to make a clarification, in which she said, according to Zelo Street, quoting USA Today, that her comments were meant to show that Hitler was not a nationalist, he did not put the Germans first, and was putting German Jews in concentration camps and murdering them. He was a mass murderer.

Which is true. Others, like Kevin Logan, who has devoted part of a very long hang-out to Owens, Kirk and their nonsense, pointed out that Hitler killed the Jews because he was a nationalist, who didn’t see Jews as being part of the German nation. Hitler also didn’t want everyone to be German either. He wanted to create a new German empire – the Third Reich – in which Germany would rule over all the other countries and territories it had conquered. In his Table Talk he says at one point that he wants to stop the Slav peoples from speaking their languages, but he still wanted to preserve them as separate, slave peoples, who were there to provide agricultural products to their German overlords. I’ve also no doubt that Hitler would have seen himself as an anti-globalist. He identified the Jews as the secret controllers of the world through Communism and capitalism, and aimed to destroy them in order to free Germany from their supposed grip. It was absolute, poisonous nonsense which resulted in the murder of six million Jews and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews in the camps.

Mehdi Hassan and LBC’s James O’Brien both remarked on how these people were promoted by the Tories, like Douglas Murray and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Zelo Street concluded that the Nazis were indeed nationalists, and reinventing history using terms like globalism was not Owens’ finest hour, and predicted more Tories repenting at leisure for their endorsement of this bunch of right-wing nutters on the way.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/tory-mps-endorse-hitler-gaffe.html

Novara Media’s redoubtable chief, Ash Sarkar, had a few very interesting things to say about Turning Point UK in her video on ‘Why Are Young Conservatives So Weird?’ She pointed out that it didn’t take long before the organization turned into a mass of parody accounts, mutual recriminations and Hitler apologia. She reminded everyone how, 18 months ago, another Tory youth group, Activate, collapsed after two weeks when they were caught talking about gassing and experimenting on chavs on social media. This started her wondering about why young Conservatives were so weird. She described how, in the 1990s the very right-wing Union of Conservative Students considered themselves the bulwark against socialism in universities. The union, whose past heads included David Davies and John Bercow, was a vocal supporter of right-wing guerillas in Nicaragua and Latin America, and printed the notorious posters demanding that Nelson Mandela should be hanged. Norman Tebbit banned them in 1987 as their antics saw them branded as the right-wing equivalent of Labour’s Militant Tendency.

Sarkar states that it is tempting to see Turning Point UK as just another incident in a long line of right-wing youth movements taking things a bit too far, but there’s a difference. The Federation of Conservative Students had little overlap with their counterparts in America. But Turning Point UK are very tightly connected to the American Alt Right. Their meetings are swanky transatlantic affairs, like the one in which Owens made her fantastically stupid comments. They’re also supported by Trump donor, John Mappin, who has remained resolutely silent about Turning Point UK’s sources of funding.

She also notes that while the organization claims to be energizing Conservative students across the UK, their advertising is very much skewed towards the States. A single Facebook for their launch wasn’t seen by anyone in the UK, but instead was targeted at people in Texas, Ohio and ‘the London borough of California’. And Turning Point USA don’t seem to be interested in recruiting students either. None of their adverts on Facebook are directed at anyone under 24 years of age, but aimed at people 45+. All that stuff about ‘cultural Marxism’ isn’t for a millennial audience. They’re not trying to be the new Momentum. They’re trying to rile up economically secure but ‘culturally anxious’ baby-boomers, to normalize reactionary attitudes. They’re establishment astroturfers dressed up as a youth movement. And most of them graduated ages ago anyway. She makes the point that they aren’t a counterculture, but classic counterrevolutionary strategy. Only now, with memes.

This is a very effective demolition job, and tells you exactly why they aren’t to be taken seriously. As for Owens, Logan in his hangout pointed out that the Alt Right is quite content to use people from minorities and disadvantaged groups – people of colour, women, gays – but they will turn their back on them and discard them the moment they have served their purpose. They’re there to provide the Alt Right with a bit of camouflage for their reactionary views and intolerance. And they’ll treat Owens exactly the same way once they’re done with her.

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.

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.

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.