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News shocker – Rory Bremner isn’t remotely funny

Via the glorious Devil’s Kitchen blog – it’s not for the squeamish or easily offended – I cam across this collection of comments made in the weekend press by various supposedly eminent people on how they would improve Britain. Some are quite good. But our Devil reserves his sulphur for Rory Bremner, an impressionist whom I used to rather like (his impersonation of Tony Blair is brilliant), but who has become boring. Bremner’s pet idea is to force teenagers to serve in “community projects”, a sort of civilian version of an army. Whenever the issue of youth delinquency comes up, as it has recently due to the problems of youth crime in our major cities, you can always count on parts of the right and left to join ideological hands over the idea of making youth “serve” their nation in some way. The objections to this are, however, considerable:

Young people are not the property of the state. This may come as a shocking revelation to anyone straying on to this blog for the first time in their lives, but there it is. You own your own life, and no-one else. The idea that after having been forced, on pain of legal penalty, to endure education until the age of 18, that one should continue to be forced to devote X hours of your time to “serving” the nation in some ill-defined way is monstrous. The issue is about inculcating the virtue of self-responsibility; state-run schemes are not exactly famed for doing that.

It is unlikely to provide a solution to things like crime. It might encourage some kids to become mildly less unruly than before, but the substance of the problem is that far too many youngsters are borne to single-parent families with no male role models. (Yes I am aware of the many children in these circumstances that turn out fine, but the general trend cannot be denied). I am not sure that coercing people into some form of state-run scheme is really going to reverse any problems, although I suppose some people might enjoy it, like the bureaucrats who will be employed to run whatever schemes get thought up.

It says something about the quality of TV “satire” that an advocate of collectively forcing the “nation’s youth” into some form of national service scheme can be voiced by a man who no doubt thinks he is a radical lefty. But then it is not really so strange at all, when you think about it.

69 comments to News shocker – Rory Bremner isn’t remotely funny

  • Ian B

    but the substance of the problem is that far too many youngsters are borne to single-parent families with no male role models. (Yes I am aware of the many children in these circumstances that turn out fine, but the general trend cannot be denied)

    “I am certain of what I believe, because correlation==causation.”

    I was just by chance reading up about the gin craze that swep’ our sceptic isle in the 18th century. The rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of today’s moral panic, with grandees ranting about the unruliness of the Inferior Classes. Strangely all that unruliness occurred in the heyday of the two parent family.

  • I complained about Bremner misrepresenting himself as funny to Ofcom. That was satire.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian B, if you are trying to claim that the rapid increase in the number of kids from broken homes has had no appreciable impact on the crime rate, then you are on your own (is that the point you are making?) Of course all manner of variables come into play; I’d be a bit careful in comparing this situation with what happened in the 18th century, with its savage punishments for relatively minor offences, transportation of criminals to Oz, etc.

  • Kevyn Bodman

    You’re right in what you say about young people not being the property of the State.
    But I can’t understand why you think the Devil’s blog is ‘glorious’.
    Entertaining if you’re in the right mood, I suppose. But I’d be surprised if those foul-mouthed rantings have changed anyone’s mind on any subject.He’s conceded the battleground of ideas and chosen to entertain those of like-mind to him.
    Try: Cranmer, Tom Paine or The Ranting Kraut (he doesn’t post so frequently.)
    And visit Nanny Knows Best every day.

  • Recovering Catholic

    If I may quote Blackadder, these days Rory Bremner is about as funny as getting an arrow through the neck and then finding there’s a large gas bill attached to it.

    He used to be very entertaining (and, to be fair, the 2 Johns are still brilliant), but since the war he has become obsessed with the evil neocon-neoliberal-Zionist-Bushite world domination conspiracy to an unbelievably tedious extent. He now falls into the same category as those other left-wing comedians (sic) Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy: so busy trying to blame all the woes of the world on the Atlantic alliance, Israel and capitalism, that he forgets to actually be funny.

  • Ian B

    Johnathan, the point I’m making is that there are many variables and my general point is that sociology is an inherently failed paradigm. Society is simply too complex to analyse, let alone engineer. The idea that we can reductively blame all of apparent effect X on cause Y, even if we can somehow gain godlike powers sufficient to define an effect X is a conceit that leads to statism and its inevitably disastrous attempt to fix effect X with action Z.

    There are simply too many variables. It’s impossible to really define what is a variable, what is a cause and what is an effect. The machine is beyond our comprehension. I objected to your statement because you picked out one cause, which is also anyway an effect of other causes, and then declared that to be The Cause. I think that’s naive and not much help.

    For instance. Let’s presume your assumption of the usefulness of male role models is correct. Well. Nowadays male teachers are rarer, and in primary schools extremely rare. Males are heavily discouraged from interacting with youngsters for fear of being accused of kiddie fiddling. If a man today sees a youngster being naughty, he won’t intervene whereas a few decades ago he would have done. Kids have no fear of adults as an “open conspiracy” against them. When I was a kid the threat “I’ll tell your parents” by adults was a genuine one. Nowadays that doesn’t happen. “Communal” social control by the adult hegemony over children has broken down. Is that a cause of youth unruliness?

    Here’s another. We now strictly infantilise young teenagers as children. They’re not allowed out of school and into the workplace shortly after puberty as they once were. No. Now we lock them in. The young man who once would have left school, become a junior worker/apprentice and thus be in The Company Of Men during his formative years is now forced to be a schoolchild. Impelled by his hormones to “grow up” but unable to usefully do so, he emulates adulthood with drinking, violence and aggressive behaviour. Unable to join real society, he forms his own, a gang. Is this a factor? There’s probably a good reason that rites of manhood (e.g. barmitzvah) were set at ages younger than 16, or 18.

    Now I’m not presenting either of those arguments as “The Answer”, just as other hypotheses we may consider when wondering about the social effects we’re discussing. There’s a very strong argument that children are influenced far less by parents than we like to believe. They pick up their social values from their peer groups and the society in which they operate. Picking an example, it’s easy to note how many good, religiously devout, stern West Indian parents have found themselves with offspring who are irreligious, unruly, drug dealing gangsters.

    You can’t just declare one simple cause as certain and that’s it. This is complicated stuff.

  • He can be funny on Mock the Week…then again even that arse Mark Steel manages to be funny on MtW.

  • Ian B

    Or to put another spin on it, we might say that traditionally societies have said to teenaged males; “Congratulations! You’re now a (junior) man! You now have to start acting like one.”

    In a society which derides and negates the very concept of responsible masculinity- “manhood”- as being silly macho and antedeluvian sexism, it shouldn’t surprise us that responsible masculinity collapses, and parents are largely powerless to do anything about that.

    So there you go, there’s my Big Idea, my One Cause. But really it’s just one of many causes. But I think it’s as good as yours :)

  • Otto

    He wouldn’t be given air time to be a TV comedian in Britain , if he didn’t have “progressive” views. He is far from being the only one of these once but no longer funny comedians that continue to appear on the box.

    The one thing that I don’t understand is why so many progressives like Bremner and Blair, for instance, turn out the way they do after a private education.

  • Ian B

    The one thing that I don’t understand is why so many progressives like Bremner and Blair, for instance, turn out the way they do after a private education.

    This is one reason I’m not so optimistic regarding the idea that private education will save us from leftyism. The drivers of the left have generally been privately educated. The Progressive Left** is predominantly a creature of the Middle Class. It is after all basically a belief that wise, well educated people should run things on behalf of lesser mortals.

    **Distinct from the working class/trades union type left.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Society is simply too complex to analyse, let alone engineer.

    No to the first part of that sentence, yes to the latter. Of course you can analyse human behaviours; how else can one arrive at meaningful arguments about the way to reduce violent crime, for instance?:

  • Lascaille

    Jonathan: We can arrive at meaningful _arguments_ regarding methods of reducing violent crime, but do any of those arguments actually transition into methods which work well when applied?

  • Ian B

    No to the first part of that sentence, yes to the latter

    No to both. If a thing can successfully be analysed, clearly it follows that it can be engineered.

    We can attempt to break it down and analyse parts of it, but then we must throw away information. Unlike a machine which can usually be described usefully in parts, in the field of social interactions everything really does affect everything else. It’s a (mathematically) chaotic system. Nothing is inconsequential. As such, the dream of understanding any part is fundamentally utopian. We can never gain a complete enough picture to approach certainty. We cannot adjust one part without affecting all other parts. We can make observations which may or may not be useful, but we can never fully understand why they occur.

  • Millie Woods

    It would be senseless to deny that many young adults with their raging hormone rebelliousness have problems finding their way in society but the answer is not to impose solutions from above.
    Eventually most of them will sort things out but the problem today seems to be that the sorting process takes a decade or so longer than it did in my youth. To my way of thinking a lot of the blame rests on the shoulders of the media with its pushing of the dismal celeb culture.
    The hapless lives of useless types like Amy, Kate, Britney, and this Rory chappy are salivated over endlessly leaving the impression that their doings are important in the grand scheme of things. They’re not!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No to both. If a thing can successfully be analysed, clearly it follows that it can be engineered

    .

    Nope. It is one thing to analyse X, like a disease, quite another to have the means or the skills to deal with X, or to even believe it is ethically right and proper to do so.

  • Ian B

    It is one thing to analyse X, like a disease, quite another to have the means or the skills to deal with X, or to even believe it is ethically right and proper to do so.

    True, but not the same thing in this situation. We can’t treat a particular disease because we’re lacking in specific scientific knowledge and ability. With society, all the “levers” are available to us. If we only knew which ones to pull, we could indeed engineer utopia by creating a perfect set of incentives, disincentives, institutions and so on. The certain failure is because we not only don’t know which levers to pull, we don’t know what they do and intrinsically cannot even form an objective view of what problems exist or what outcome should be desired.

    Not only do we not know how to cure the disease, we don’t know what the disease is, or even if the patient is actually ill.

  • Nick M

    I read DK frequently and I’m fairly sure I picked him up originally from the Samizdata Blogroll. I noticed a couple of weeks ago he ain’t there no more. I take this opportunity to suggest Perry et al remedy this situation.

    What precisely does Mr Bremner suggest doing with his “children’s crusade”? I know he gives some vague examples but all I can see is spectacular corruption, graft and nothing especially useful getting done like all the crappy courses run by the dole office over the years. Yeah, great idea, Bremner, let’s take 18 year olds and really disaffect them with a crappy non-placement.

  • J

    “but the substance of the problem is that far too many youngsters are borne to single-parent families with no male role models.”

    One doesn’t follow from the other. A male role model doesn’t have to be a father, or even a man. Stern aunts, scoutmasters, older brothers, teachers, football coaches can all fit the bill. Equally, it is positively harmful to have different role models every 6 months.

    A greater problem with single parent families is instability – new men around the house every 6-12 months, the child having no idea which will stay around, or what relationship to have with them. That would be less of a problem if men had any chance of getting custody… but really the deeper issue is that we live in an increasingly inconstant society where people move towns, move jobs, move partners, all the time.

  • Ian B

    Anyway, Bremner’s tired old new idea isn’t about youf delinquency anyway. It’s just the usual Proggie idea of education- indoctrination with the Proggie value system. You go off to Bangladesh, and learn how important it is for wise proggies to run things for the darkies, or you go somewhere in England that is vulgar and smelly, and learn how important it is for wise proggies to run things for the rabble. Then you go and vote for higher taxes and more proggie quangos, and give your support and money to proggie NGOs.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A greater problem with single parent families is instability – new men around the house every 6-12 months, the child having no idea which will stay around, or what relationship to have with them.

    J, you put the point in a more nuanced way. I agree with that.

  • Try the Singapore solution: You make the males enter the armed forces. They get to hold a gun, and maybe learn real discipline for once in their lives, because fouling up might mean somebody else dies. Hopefully, that lesson sticks.

    Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Maybe the economic cost of taking away those 1 or 2 years of their lives is too great. Maybe, maybe…

    Rather than clamp down on aggressive hormones at that age, channel it.

    My two cents worth, anyway.

  • Alice

    How should we react when a broken clock happens to be telling the right time?

    One could argue that a lot of the problems of modern governance stem from bestowing citizenship (and the vote) based solely on the accident of birth. This is far out of line with everyday experience — the person who gets a new job knows he has to prove himself in fairly short order to win the respect of his co-workers; the ned who wants to join a gang knows that he first has to commit some distasteful/illegal act to become a full fledged member.

    In contrast, that same ned gets his way paid through school by the taxpayer, can go straight onto some form of dole from the ever-generous taxpayer, and then is encouraged to vote on taking still more from the taxpayer.

    What would the wrong with the concept of requiring some kind of “service” from young people before accepting them as citizens?

  • Ian B

    Other than it being slavery you mean, Alice?

  • nostalgic

    Wobbly Guy –
    Your solution worked in my day when our armed forces were far larger than today. Today’s modern professional army is very much smaller and could in no way cope with training 100.000s of young men (most of whom would have no wish to be trained anyway).

  • Sam Duncan

    Funny you should mention Singapore, Wobbly. I remember reading just before the 1997 election that it was the country Tony Blair “most admired”. It was at that very moment the scales fell from my eyes (not that there had ever been very many in the first place), and I saw that the Tories had him to a “T” with that “demon eyes” campaign.

    When you look at the last 11 years, you can see quite clearly that NewLabour has been remaking Britain in Singapore’s image. The transformation is slow, and far from complete, but there is no doubt that the countries are more similar today than they were then. In 1997, for example, Singapore had the most CCTV cameras per head of population in the world. Guess who does now…

    I used to like Bremner when he did sports commentators and cricketers.

  • I tend to agree with Ian, Jonathan. Collectivist solutions may seem the most damaging, but collectivist analysis can, and eventually will, lead to collectivist solutions.

    Wobbly: your solution also worked well in Israel up until…well, I am not sure when, but I do know that it no longer works as well as it used to. Some people here are beginning to talk about a professional volunteers’ military, and I tend to agree with them.

  • Gabriel

    The scheme is a stupid waste of money (duh!), but there’s nothing “collectivist” about it. It seems like something Cicero might come up with (if Cicero were a halfwit).
    One really shouldn’t throw the term about, not least because it’s ineffective. One must know the true nature of the threat one fights and therefore it’s important to realise that New Labour et al. aren’t collectivists

  • Nick M

    Alice,
    Put away your copy of Starship Troopers! Most of us here do do a service for the state. Every month, every day (through VAT) we hand over our cash to the state.

    TWG,
    National Military Service is a complete non-starter. I very much doubt the UK’s professional military would relish the prospect of the likes of me next to them in the foxhole!

    Ian B nails the subtext of leftie gits like Bremner in his 2:07PM. As I said earlier, it’s a wet dream for Quangos, NGOs and all the other assorted parasites.

    I wonder what proportion of the population they ultimately expect to actually make or do things.

  • Ian B

    Gabriel-

    New Labour et al. aren’t collectivists

    What would you define them as?

  • Gabriel: despite the fact that from afar New Labor walks like a collectivist and quacks like a collectivist, as someone who resides outside the UK I’ll reserve judgment. However, a scheme that is set to force a group (collective) of people into a service for the state (collective) seems like a collective solution to a (collective) problem of delinquency.

  • titty the slag

    The real objection to Bremner’s idea is not that it is somehow “immoral” (not leastways in the current clime), but that it is gutless. Does he imagine that these civilian units will have milieus significantly different to the ones youths spend most of their time in anyway? Why? Why would taking a bunch of teenagers off a high street, calling them a “civilian unit”, and giving them some menial, petty (and probably unperformed) task change a damn thing?

    National service, on the other hand, would not only acquaint them with a set of circumstances (i.e. the military life) that might be truly life changing. It would also be a handy way to enforce our borders – because as we all know we just have too many soldiers posted god knows where to do that currently.

  • Sunfish

    From my own corner of public employment, so-called national service is stupid and wrong.

    1) There’s that little Constitutional provision referring to slavery, or has that been repealed?

    2) In my department, it takes six months to a year to hire someone and another year before they’re even minimally competent. I know that CO POST only requires 400-odd contact hours from a basic skills academy, but the academy is just kindergarten. Hell, with roughly a decade in I can finally find my ass with both hands without help.

    3) 18 year olds do not have the maturity to do this, on average. Half a century of infantilizing them couldn’t have helped, but either way policing is not the military. The sergeant is not watching over their shoulders to catch them before they screw up.

    The short version: we turn away 94 of 100 applicants, and one of the remaining six won’t last out his first year. Even if age were not an issue, there is no point to sending me 95 recruits who may or may not be able to drive, may or may not pass a physical, may or may not be unsuitable due to past criminal behavior, may or may not fail the whiz quiz, may or may not fail the psychological exam, may or may not be able to handle the academy, may or may not have the maturity to handle the emotionally-difficult aspects of the job and may or may not have learned how to hold their tempers.

    Remember the taser video that we were all fighting about a month back? Think hiring teenagers into the emergency services will make that better or worse?

    (Yeah, I know that UKGov will let people be cops at 18 and Blunkett’s Bobbies at 16. Remind me again why we should emulate anything that UKGov does.)

  • Sunfish

    All of my last disregards the most important (IMHO) point:

    Teenagers, bastards though they all may be, are their own bastards and not the State’s bastards. Admittedly, I can understand their parents feeling that the various arms of government have screwed them without so much as a good-night kiss afterwards, but the kids are not Gordon Brown’s or Hillary Clinton’s property to grab up at age 18 for some compulsory slave-labor scheme.

    If governments are so concerned with delinquency, then they should try effective policing and justice measures and an effective self-defense law.

  • Alice


    Other than it being slavery you mean, Alice?


    the kids are not Gordon Brown’s or Hillary Clinton’s property to grab up at age 18 for some compulsory slave-labor scheme.

    So the US Constitution now prohibits conscription? As we all know, it does not. But that is beside the point.

    Open your minds a little. Practice some creativity. What I was pointing towards was the folly of handing over the vote to people who have no interest (physical, emotional, or intellectual) in the society of which they are part. (And even the most extreme Libertarian would admit that he is indeed part of a society, however unwillingly).

    In the past, “democratic” societies have limited the franchise to the upper crust, to property owners, to males, etc. Only in recent times have we performed an experiment with unlimited franchise. That experiment is clearly failing.

    The British answer is apparently to discuss rectifying the obvious failings by extending the franchise even further, to 16 year olds. But events will eventually force us to limit the franchise once more (if they do not force us to abandon democracy altogether).

    Much better than limiting the franchise to property owners or otherwise-credentialed people, why not think about a system where people earn the right to participate in society’s decisions by performing certain acts? Serving in the military is one obvious such act, but there could be many others.

    Slavery does not come into the picture at all, since the individual who does not want to take part should not be forced to. But the individual who chooses not to take part would not have earned the privilege of being accepted as a full member of society and of having the right to vote.

    Be creative! Think!

  • Sunfish

    Alice:

    So the US Constitution now prohibits conscription? As we all know, it does not. But that is beside the point.

    Perhaps you missed the part below?

    Article. XIII.
    [Proposed 1865; Ratified 1865]

    Section. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Alice then said:

    But the individual who chooses not to take part would not have earned the privilege of being accepted as a full member of society and of having the right to
    vote.

    And where would this supposed society claim the right to make laws concerning the individual who has no say?

  • Nick M

    Sunfish,
    Welcome back. Hope the skiing was good.

    I can’t think of anything more to say here. I’m not going to argue any further against conscription of any form.

  • Nick M

    Oh, why not…

    Alice, you’re still espousing the concept that full membership of society is contingent upon upon achieving some goal set out by society (read: government). That’s fascism plain and simple. Your idea also presupposes these people would make more “sensible” democratic decisions than otherwise. You fail to explain why.

    Where is individualism in your schema? Is it only permitted after jumping through the hoops of a fascistic state? And if that’s the case then what is to stop that state spreading beyond that year or two of being a slave to it?

    This is Samizdata…

    This is not Sparta!

  • Alice


    Section. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    With deep respect, Sunfish, that says nothing about conscription — which was lawfully practised in the US as recently as the 1970s, and is still lawful today. Conscription is part of the Anglo-sphere heritage. British press-gangs rounded up sailors that way for centuries.

    But my “bad” for putting two different thoughts into one post. The real issue I brought up was not conscription, it is the workability of democracy.

    How do we avoid the democratic problem of people voting to raid the treasury, sell the future, and otherwise condemn democracy to death? And if you deny that problem exists, look around yourself.

    The answer which worked quite well from the days of Ancient Greeks up to the 20th Century was to limit the vote to those who were going to pay the bill. Not acceptable today. But what we are doing is clearly not working — just look at the unsustainable social security systems which are common to almost all democracies.

    Is there a better way? You had better hope so, because otherwise we are all heading for totalitarian government in some form or another. Be creative! If you don’t like linking voting rights to public service in some form, what is your alternative?

  • Gabriel

    What would you define them as?

    Run of the mill pragmatist authoritarians with a marked disrespect for our inherited traditions and customs as well as a pronounced penchant for spending other people’s money.

    Collectivism is a theory of man, his ethical duty and his relationship to others. It runs basically something like this:

    Freedom as traditionally understood does not exist for human beings in society. In reality, all men are bound by social forces that prevent autonomous individualism and the non-legal ones are often the most important. Therefore things like “Free Trade” probably have no effect on how free men are and may well make them less free by tying them closer to the bonds of economic necessity.
    The only way to create freedom for man as a social being is to re-structure society so as to give it a unified purpose, a purpose that is the same as that of its members and when this is achieved each member will be free in that he obeys only some form of General Will that is merely his own writ large. Individual wills will no longer collide with each other, but work together in harmony.

    The theory is of course piffle, but it has managed to capture the brains of many of the finest minds of the west over the past two centuries. Usually it leads to statist political prescriptions, but not always

    Now, Gordon Brown, as an educated man, is no doubt aware of collectivism, but given that he is a big fan of neo-classical economics, it’s fairly safe to say he doesn’t believe in it. As for the rest of them, I doubt they’d know collectivism if it jumped up and shat on their face.

  • Sam Duncan

    The answer which worked quite well from the days of Ancient Greeks up to the 20th Century was to limit the vote to those who were going to pay the bill. Not acceptable today.

    It would certainly not be taken well if the vote was removed from people who currently have it. But we have an interesting situation in the UK with the unresolved reform of the House of Lords. It would make a great deal of sense – and might even be within the realm of practical politics – to restrict the vote for the Upper House to those who make a net contribution to the Treasury. House of Taxpayers, anyone?

  • Midwesterner

    Alice,

    Our nation was not founded as a democracy. It was founded as a constitutional republic. Our constitution does not have to specifically exclude conscription, it has to specifically allow it. Does it?

    There are a great many things that our government does that are democratic, but clearly abrogate the Constitution.

    Conscription, ‘the draft’ was not used by the US government until the American Civil War. For example, when President James Madison attempted to create a National draft for the War of 1812 (the one in which the Capital was sacked and the White House burned) he was unable to do so.

    If one of the Founding Fathers was unable to create a draft at a time when the Capital itself was in enemy hands, I think that makes it pretty clear that conscription is unconstitutional. Incidentally, that predates the amendment that Sunfish gave which makes conscription even more unequivocally unconstitutional.

  • Midwesterner

    Sam,

    How about restricting it to the top 5%? That will certainly put a crimp in the ‘soak the rich’ plans. It might even flatten out the tax code substantially.

  • “But I’d be surprised if those foul-mouthed rantings have changed anyone’s mind on any subject.”

    I’m afraid that you may have to be surprised, Kevyn; not only have I changed people’s minds — or, at the very least, made them think again about their beliefs — but I have the emails to prove it. You’d be surprised how far a sweary polemic can go towards firing people up to care about something. Or anything.

    However, the other bloggers that you cite are good too (although I don’t particularly go for Cramner’s religiousity), but Tom Paine is excellent.

    Cheers for your encouraging words, Jonanthan: I remain a daily reader of the Samizdatistas, netch’relly…

    As for the various other comments, yes, broken families do have an adverse effect on our youth: demonstrably so. However, when we pay people to have children, no matter what their personal circumstances, what does one expect?

    You want fewer single parent families (when the parent is, as often as not, barely more than a child themselves)? Fine: stop paying people to have children.

    Then you will have to buy some earplugs in order to shut out the statists’ squeals of “won’t somebody think of the chiiiiiiillllldren…?”

    The Welfare State has to go: it has reduced a once-proud, self-sufficient, determined and ambitious people to pathetic, mewling, state teat-suckling libertines who feel no responsibility either to themselves or others.

    After all, why worry about the consequences of one’s careless, evil or stupid actions when there are no consequences?

    Regards,

    DK

  • Alice


    For example, when President James Madison attempted to create a National draft for the War of 1812 (the one in which the Capital was sacked and the White House burned) he was unable to do so.

    Mid, thanks for that info. This is what makes Samizdata such an interesting site — the erudition of the posters (myself excluded, unfortunately).

    The 13th Amendment, which Sunfish quoted, was adopted in 1865. Conscription was used in the US before that during the Civil War by both sides, and after the 13th Amendment in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (Sorry, I don’t know off the top of my head about WWI). In fact, it can’t have been more than a decade or so ago that Post Offices in the US displayed posters reminding young men that they had an obligation to register for Selective Service — which, if ever activated, would have led to conscription.

    With that background, it seems a little unlikely that “conscription is unconstitutional”. Difficult to get congressional approval for conscription, for sure. But I don’t ever recall hearing anything about it being ruled unconstitutional. Surely if there had been any way to make that argument credibly, the usual suspects would have fought it all the way to the Supreme Court during the Vietnam conflict?

    Anyway, as I said before, the conscription issue is no more than an interesting sidebar to this discussion. If voting was limited to those people who had voluntarily performed 12 – 24 months of certain public service (e.g., military, Peace Corps, inner city teaching, etc)., and had been paid for doing so, then where is the “involuntary servitude”? It would simply be a case that those who did not do some kind of service would not be eligible to vote. Their choice.

    So, Mid, what is your proposal for fixing the obvious deficiencies in democracy as practised today?

  • Apologies for leaping in here, Alice, but I wanted to answer some of your questions.

    If voting was limited to those people who had voluntarily performed 12 – 24 months of certain public service (e.g., military, Peace Corps, inner city teaching, etc)., and had been paid for doing so, then where is the “involuntary servitude”?

    Being paid is irrelevant. It is not the free and voluntary exchange of labour for property. If I force you into a job that you don’t want to do and pay you, that makes no difference to the fact that I am still forcing you to work for me. That is slavery.

    It would simply be a case that those who did not do some kind of service would not be eligible to vote. Their choice.

    No, it’s not. It is your choice. You have decided that people should do 12 – 24 months service or they cannot have a vote only because you think that this would be a good thing; unless they do what you have arbitrarily deemed good for them, they can gain no representation.

    And even if the rest of society agrees with you, it is still an arbitrary decision based on a tyranny of the majority. What is to stop society making other arbitrary decisions, such as not allowing women to vote (to take an example from the Greek paradigm)?

    It is entirely wrong for you to make decisions for people in that way (or, certainly, it is if you call yourself libertarian).

    So, Mid, what is your proposal for fixing the obvious deficiencies in democracy as practised today?

    Democracy doesn’t have deficiencies as such. Sure, there are variations on the method — first past the post, proportional representation, etc. — but it works as a method for electing politicians.

    The real problem with democracy is that people now think that democracy is the aim: it is not. The aim is the maximum liberty for all; democracy merely allows the pluralism that best allows liberty to flourish (or, rather, it is, as Churchill said, “the least worst system”).

    So, the main trouble is that any system of government that we have tried becomes utterly corrupt. Dictatorships and other absolute forms of government (even those that one could argue were initially benign) tend to become corrupted faster (because there are fewer people to corrupt and because the checks and balances are less stringent) but all state systems are bound to become more intrusive over time.

    So, what would I suggest? A passionate but lazy libertarian dictatorship. For instance, I would happily tear away the entire state (barring those mechanisms for defending life, liberty and property) but I am far too lazy to want to carry on ruling: I’d set up a democratic system and we could start the whole cycle again.

    As for fixing society, which is something different, well… we could be here all night. But I set out my priority in my previous comment.

    DK

  • Alice,

    Everyone is entitled to certain basic rights, and this includes citizenship (including property rights, right to a free trial and so on).

    What Bremner is playing is the “rights and responsibilities” card. The NHS has been shown to be a disaster, as have certain elements of the welfare state. They have made people less, rather than more responsible adults.

    Instead of looking at these and rolling them back, the likes of Bremner want even more statism to try and deal with the failed effects of the statism.

    Of course, it will fail. I know 2 people who did National Service and said it was a total waste of time. People sat around idle because the military didn’t really want them, or running their own little scams while being paid on the state’s shilling.

    The best way of getting young people “serving the community” is simple. Make it more attractive to go to work rather than living on benefits.

  • slaggy the tit

    Sunfish, dearest,

    1) There’s that little Constitutional provision referring to slavery, or has that been repealed?

    Do try to read the original blog posts. Johny boy has no doubt put literally hours of work into deciding upon the optimum way of making clear that Bremner is talking about this happening in the UK. And there you go, babbling about Constitutions!

    2) In my department, it takes six months to a year to hire someone and another year before they’re even minimally competent. I know that CO POST only requires 400-odd contact hours from a basic skills academy, but the academy is just kindergarten. Hell, with roughly a decade in I can finally find my ass with both hands without help.

    Obviously, any porgramme of national service will have to start before 18, such as by making CCF compulsory in all secondary schools.

    3) 18 year olds do not have the maturity to do this, on average. Half a century of infantilizing them couldn’t have helped, but either way policing is not the military. The sergeant is not watching over their shoulders to catch them before they screw up.

    Of course, the whole point of this programme is to combat said infantilisation. No doubt many of them will screw up during training. Equally no doubt, 9 out of 10 of them will learn alot about responsibility, etc. through the responce of their superiors.

  • National ‘service’ is actually one of those issues that I think it is work killing people over. The meme to get out is if you get papers telling you you have been conscripted into the military, send them back a signed declaration that the first time they hand you a rifle and ammunition, you intend to say “thank you” to the person who hands it to you then shoot them dead.

    I am all for volunteer armies but military conscription is one of the most odious things a nation can do, particularly as there is no practical military justification for it in 98% of the world. An argument can be made for it in countries under a constant clear and present threat of being overrun (not just attacked), which means just about the only place in the world I can think of who could really justify it on military grounds is Israel.

  • Nick M

    DK,
    Churchill may have utterred that quip about democracy but I seem to remember it goes back to Aristotle!

  • Perry,

    Absolutely.

    Nick,

    Cheers. I thought the provenance was older, and was thus careful with my wording.

    DK

  • Midwesterner

    Alice,

    With that background, it seems a little unlikely that “conscription is unconstitutional”.

    Alas, I wish ‘mere’ unconstitutionality was sufficient to stop a determined statist. My personal way of looking at it is that our legal structure is (in actual function, not intent) a post 1787 common law system although it is called ‘case law’. In the panic of the Civil War, things were done that both broke the Constitution and established unconstitutional case law precedent. It is possible to overturn these bad laws, but very difficult and generally seems to require an almost overwhelming degree of public support.

    So, Mid, what is your proposal for fixing the obvious deficiencies in democracy as practised today?

    It is easy to say ‘eliminate democracy and return to enforcing the constitution’. Which leads to ‘how?’

    I have given a fair amount of thought to this over the last 20 or so years and decided that the best and most doable first step is to repeal the 17th Amendment. I think a great many of our current problems would go away. Obviously we had problems before it was passed, but it would be a huge remedial step.

    Because of the way the process of amending the Constitution works, to place the power of selecting senators back into the hands of the state legislatures would require the complicity of the state legislators. Heh! The people who have the biggest say in the matter would be returning the power to themselves! That is why I say it has the best chance of succeeding. It doesn’t require politicians to do something that is out of character. :-)

    An easy way to better understand the intended role of the Senate is to think of it as the body that was charged with aggregating the ‘Department of State’/International Relations choices of the many states’ governments into a federal body. It was never intended to represent the people. That is the House’s job. Even the selection of judges was in a different federal, rather than National meta-context than we have now. Those judges were to mediate interstate disputes, not National disputes. That is not semantics.

    When I see in our history the path that Europe is on, I do not see an accidental progression.

  • sloggy the tot

    Perry,

    The purpose of national service isn’t fundamentally military effectiveness (although sheer numbers can still be useful, e.g. in border enforcement). Its purpose is to break the Left’s stranglehold on the minds of the young.

    If you consider that school teachers are predominantly leftie and university lecturers overwhelmingly so (as are most memebers of the essentially socialist civilian bureaucracy), you might well think that keeping youngsters in their charge for the first 18+ years of their lives less than ideal. Yet simply letting them do what they will, sans guidance of any sort, from 18 onwards can only really appeal to the most doctrinaire of libertarians. This is where national service comes in, allowing them to channel their natural youthful exuberance into something more productive than rut-rut-rut.

    I can’t really take your point about compulsion seriously. This is 18 year olds we’re talking about! – who anyway pretty much have to go to university if they want to be employed in any occupation above the menial. If anything, this will give them a different venue through which to demonstrate their competence to future employers.

  • Alice


    If I force you into a job that you don’t want to do and pay you, that makes no difference to the fact that I am still forcing you to work for me. That is slavery.

    DK — accurate, but irrelevant. Note that the premise of my hypothetical was “people who had voluntarily performed 12 – 24 months of certain public service”.

    If you want a University degree, you have to go to college, find the money to pay fees, work hard for a period of about 4 years. Does this mean that getting a University degree is a badge of slavery?

    If I want something valuable — the ability to influence society through my vote — and I have to work for it, is that slavery or is that a voluntary transaction between me and society in which I trade my work for something I value?


    Everyone is entitled to certain basic rights, and this includes citizenship (including property rights, right to a free trial and so on).

    I am a little surprised at the mental rigidity of some of us of libertarian bent. Agreed that every human being is “entitled” to certain rights — which really means that every OTHER human being is obliged to meet certain responsibilities. But why should we assume this means every human being is “entitled” to cast votes which take money out of other people’s pockets and put it in their own?

    The key message of history is transience. All things must pass. Perhaps one of those things is the strange recent assumption that everyone is “entitled” by accident of birth to vote on what to do with other people’s lives, freedom, & property.

  • Alice


    I have given a fair amount of thought to this over the last 20 or so years and decided that the best and most doable first step is to repeal the 17th Amendment.

    That is a great suggestion, Mid! The “Progressive” movement of the early 20th Century (which gave us direct election of Senators, among other things) is another great blank area in my learning. If you have any background to share, it would be much appreciated.

    Going back to a Congress that met only in December each year would also be a nice goal. (That was the original situation, repealed by the 20th Amendment in 1933).

    It would also be useful to eliminate tax witholding (what the Brits used to call Pay As You Earn). If everyone had to write a check for their tax obligation every month to the government, we might soon see a rather different attitude to the size of government.

    Another change which might be useful would be to eliminate the career politician. It is disgusting to see Senators McCain & Clinton run around the country campaigning when they are already taking a salary from the taxpayer to do a job — representing their constituents. It would be morally justified to have a prohibition on incumbent politicians running for election to any position (including the one they currently hold).

  • Midwesterner

    Unfortunately, Alice, I think those ideas break the rule about getting politicians to do things that are fundamentally contrary to their nature.

    For government to be restrained, it must be by placing various bodies of government in conflict with each other as whenever they are in conflict with constituents, … well? The founders built the system on checks and balances AKA now-days as ‘gridlock’.

    Gridlock is good. Gridlock = checks and balances!

  • The purpose of national service isn’t fundamentally military effectiveness (although sheer numbers can still be useful, e.g. in border enforcement).

    I take it you are not speaking of Britain then as, what with us being an island (and when it comes to Northern Ireland, there is free movement across the border anyway), two men and a parrot could secure our ‘borders’ from marauding French day-trippers from Calais.

    Its purpose is to break the Left’s stranglehold on the minds of the young.

    So the way to break the anti-individualist collectivist group think stranglehold the left has on the minds of the young is to force them under threat of imprisonment into the state’s armed services where they will learn that if you do not obey authority, you will be thrown in gaol? Yes, I can see how that will produce a generation of self-reliant free thinkers able to resist the blandishments of the left who want to use the authority of the state to impose their views on people.

    So let me guess… you actually have no problem with the state regulating everything, you just don;’t like the way the left wants it regulated?

  • Ian B

    Alice, the problem you have here is that, taking your university example, if I choose not to study at one I am making a free choice about my path in life, including what careers I can choose from, and so on. It’s a completely free choice.

    I can’t choose not to participate in my society. I can’t choose whether the laws it enacts affect me or not.

    The only way your system could be fair would be for those who refuse the “service” also being not obligated to follow the society’s laws. Which would be a bit silly really. We have democratic systems because we recognise that we’re lumbered with the governmental structures of our nations whether we like it or not.

  • sloggy,

    Act as a bulwark against the left? Like France, that bastion of free-market thinking? (they only got rid of it in 2001).

    The best way to work against the left is easy – encourage people into work. That column on the pay packet that says “deductions” is probably the single thing that switches former idealistic lefties to become right-wing capitalists.

  • Alice, beside the question whether compulsory national service is slavery or not*, how exactly is it going to achieve your goal? At least the system under which only productive members of society can vote sounds effective, if unfair. The idea being that if I pay taxes, I’d be careful with what the government might do with that money (although what about the likes of Warren Buffet then?) I don’t see how any kind of national service will make a young person feel that they have a financial stake in the way the government spends the people’s money.

    *My view that it is, at least theoretically. As I mentioned above, I live in Israel where we had compulsory military service from the beginning, AFAIK. Yet here, for the most part and until very recently, it was not seen as “slavery”, that is to say there really was no real need to make it compulsory to begin with, as, it seems, most would have volunteered anyway. But Israel’s situation is unique in that regard, as Perry has pointed out above.

  • Midwesterner

    Er, oops. My comment at January 30, 2008 03:31 PM …

    “Adjudicate” not “mediate”.

  • “If you want a University degree, you have to go to college, find the money to pay fees, work hard for a period of about 4 years. Does this mean that getting a University degree is a badge of slavery?”

    This is cobblers. I don’t have a degree and I have made a pretty good living over the last decade.

    So, I haven’t done national service and I haven’t been to university, but I have paid taxes for a decade.

    Can I be allowed to vote now, please?

    DK

  • Sunfish

    Slaggy, sweetie:

    Do try to read the original blog posts. Johny boy has no doubt put literally hours of work into deciding upon the optimum way of making clear that Bremner is talking about this happening in the UK. And there you go, babbling about Constitutions!

    There I go. Someone above me mentioned securing borders, which IIRC the UK doesn’t actually have unless you’re trying to keep the Scots out. So, what country was someone named after a breast talking about when (s)he brought up borders?

    If it makes you feel any better, replace my Constitutional reference with one to the 1807 (I think) act of Parliament banning slavery. My point stands.

    Obviously, any porgramme of national service will have to start before 18, such as by making CCF compulsory in all secondary schools.

    You mean the secondary schools that already can’t educate worth a damn and aren’t so good at socializing either?

    Of course, the whole point of this programme is to combat said infantilisation. No doubt many of them will screw up during training. Equally no doubt, 9 out of 10 of them will learn alot about responsibility, etc. through the responce of their superiors.

    So, by learning to automagically submit to authority, they’ll learn how to be independently-functioning adults? How, exactly, does that work?

  • Sunfish

    Alice:

    With deep respect, Sunfish, that says nothing about conscription — which was lawfully practised in the US as recently as the 1970s, and is still lawful today. Conscription is part of the Anglo-sphere heritage. British press-gangs rounded up sailors that way for centuries.

    The mere fact that a government does something doesn’t make it lawful. Even if government passes a law to do something that violates the rights of its citizens, all that does is twist democracy such that bayonets are counted rather than noses. And the fact that another country kidnapped sailors centuries ago is an even thinner reed.

    The US Supreme Court has somehow managed to rule that a city in Connecticut can steal land from its owners and give it to Pfizer for the sake of tax revenue, the Congress can make a law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or of the right of the people to peaceable assemble during election years, etc. You’ll forgive me if I don’t take them as being perfectly credible. They’re relevant because they have 9000 US Marshals with guns to enforce their orders.

    Is there a better way? You had better hope so, because otherwise we are all heading for totalitarian government in some form or another. Be creative! If you don’t like linking voting rights to public service in some form, what is your alternative?

    I don’t have one. The difference is, I’m ready to acknowledge that neat pre-packaged answers may not actually exist. Simple and easy solutions are a product of populists, and bear only limited relation to the real world.

    That being said, Mid’s notion of repealing the 17th is a partial answer. A broader answer is to limit the actual powers of democracy: I don’t give a damn if three thousand teenagers with the notions of Ezra Pound all get elected to the state legislature if they don’t actually have any power to ruin my life.

  • Ian B

    So, what country was someone named after a breast talking about

    My garden is full of tits every morning. Great ones and blue ones especially. They cluster around my balls and nuts. My pussy gapes at them but, being lower down, can only only dribble with unassuaged hunger. I think I’d attract even more tits if my fat balls were bigger or were better hung. Tits make the world a more beautiful place.

    (I wonder if this is going to get smited?)

  • Ian B

    Apparently not. Smitebot moves in mysterious ways.

  • Nick M

    Sunfish,
    If you can find three thousand teenagers who’ve even heard of Ezra Pound there’s a Coke in it for you. I mean I’ve heard of him but that’s your lot. He had a beard and was a git, apparently.

    Ian,
    That gave me a chuckle which is good of a morning. I really ought to grow up. Somehow I doubt that would happen as a result of being pressed into Slaggy the Tit’s Light Infantry.

    Slaggy, care to explain?

  • Sunfish

    If you can find three thousand teenagers who’ve even heard of Ezra Pound there’s a Coke in it for you. I mean I’ve heard of him but that’s your lot. He had a beard and was a git, apparently.

    Teenagers have this amazing gift for adopting really bad ideas, so given enough time I probably could.

    Ian B:
    If you ever make it here, I’ll have to show you the place where I’ve seen the best breasts in Colorado.

    (Not to milk the joke or anything…)

  • Ian, you do have quite a unique anatomy, somewhat cartoonish, I’d say:-)

  • Paul Marks

    Rory Bremner is an arse.

    Which is no doubt why the television critic on the “Spectator” thought his documentry on Iraq was so wonderful. There were endless errors in this documentry – but the Spectator person did not notice them. All he cared about was that Donald Rumsfeld should “go to the lowest circle of Hell”.

    By the way, do not believe the circulation numbers of the Spectator.

    They keep sending me copies – even though I have never paid them and never will.

    Giving money to Cameron lovers is not high on my list of priorities.