We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Ignorance of the law is now a defence

I put this up as a Samizdata quote of the day, before realising that there already was one. Sorry. But, it’s good and deserves plentiful copying and pasting, so here is that posting rehashed, with the quote in question as its starting point:

So, yet again, the courts are faced with a sample of the deeply confusing provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and the satellite Statutory Instruments to which it is giving stuttering birth. The most inviting course for this Court to follow, would be for its members, having shaken their heads in despair to hold up their hands and say: “the Holy Grail of rational interpretation is impossible to find”. But it is not for us to desert our judicial duty, however lamentably others have legislated. But, we find little comfort or assistance in the historic canons of construction for determining the will of Parliament which were fashioned in a more leisurely age and at a time when elegance and clarity of thought and language were to be found in legislation as a matter of course rather than exception.

That is the Court of Appeal struggling to make sense of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Found here by him (who has recently resolved to blog approximately every day and whom I recommend) via a comment on this, which is about, among other foolishnesses, the recent fashion among Them for stopping us taking photos of Them.

My dad was a Big Cheese lawyer, and I can remember him telling me stuff like this several decades ago. I vaguely recall him saying that until about nineteen sixty something or thenabouts, there was this bloke who lived in a den in Whitehall and who spent his time rewriting laws so that (a) they didn’t contradict themselves, and (b) they didn’t contradict each other, but (c) so far as he could contrive it, they managed to maintain the original will of the legislators, insofar as he could divine it. If he could not divine it, he made it up, as intelligently as he could. But then, catastrophe. He retired. Ever since then, the laws have got more and more incoherent and incomprehensible. And of course now, you would need about a hundred of such non-existent paragons of legal non-incontinence just to keep up.

As Rob, the above mentioned blogger quotes another commenter saying:

We are told that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ but how can it not be an excuse when even the courts are unsure of what the law is?

In practice, I think I notice that, recently (i.e. during the time since that old bloke my dad talked about retired), They have evolved a relatively sensible way of enforcing Their laws (senseless though the laws themselves frequently are), which is based on distinguishing between real laws and arbitrary laws. The real ones, against things like murder, assault, robbery and so on, still get you arrested at once, provided They catch you at it. But the vast mountain range of arbitrary laws and rules and regulations, often in the form of policy directives from On High about what various Acts of Parliament actually mean (given that as originally written they are quite often gibberish) according to On High, are enforced by you first being given a warning. You may not park on that purple line. You must have a permit to hand out leaflets here. You can’t wear that hat or that suntan lotion or eat that sticky bun or drink that drink in that sized glass or call that an artichoke. You are obliged to fill in this form. You must send it to us (i.e. Them) within one month. Etcetera, etcetera, et something angry cetera. Which means that, in practice, ignorance of the law has become the obviously reasonable defence that it obviously now is, with regard to almost all recently concocted laws. If They were to insist otherwise, They would get repeatedly involved in huge fights with people who don’t want to break the law, but who don’t know what it is. I.e. with everybody.

I now live my life certain that I am constantly breaking laws of this or that recently invented sort, and as far as I am concerned it is up to Them to tell me about which laws actually matter to Them. I will then, if I think that Their particular commands or demands make some sense, or if They are sufficiently menacing about them, obey them. Or, I will carry on breaking whatever idiot law it is or that They have just made up without troubling Parliament with the petty details, but a bit more carefully. I still take photos of policemen, for instance. I am just a bit more careful about letting them know I’m doing it, and am careful while doing it not to Look At Them In A Funny Way.

Decade after decade, to mention another example, I have failed to register to vote. Occasionally I read somewhere or see something telling me that this is illegal. Is it? I don’t know and I don’t care. Nobody menacing actually tells me that I must register and threatens me with actual trouble if I don’t. So from where I stand, the mere law of the matter can go jump into the Serpentine.

If They want me to be more respectful of “the law” (which is how They typically now describe Their laws), They should reduce the number of – and reduce the incoherence and arbitrariness of – Their laws, to the point where the laws that remain mostly make sense.

The Laffer Curve, ctd

A great article on why the opposition Tories need to have the cojones to take on the flat-earth economics of confiscatory tax.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Democracy is nowadays a greatly over-hyped blessing, particularly by Americans, who have no pre-democratic history to provide a perspective. It is clearly less important than freedom, the rule of law and constitutional government, which ideally it should entrench, but may well not do so.”

- Nigel Lawson, former UK finance minister, journalist and more recently, a fine debunker of global warming alarmism. His children such as Dominic and Nigella seem to have done okay as well.

After hubris, comes…..

The One comes out with some jaw-dropping remarks at times.

The 1980s were not a decade of failure – quite the reverse

“As bad as things are at the moment, it seems a mite premature to write off policies in the 1980s as an abject failure. We have not lost 30 years of wealth, and living standards have increased for billions of people since the 1980s. Income inequality has increased, and that can be undesirable, but the welfare of many low-income people has dramatically improved.”

The Economist.

The 1980s were only an “abject failure” in the eyes of those whose political ideas never developed beyond a sort of bastardised Marxism. They were not a failure for those who enjoyed, say, the ability to get a phoneline installed in 24 hours rather than six months, or not be forced to join a trade union, or no longer pay cripplingly high taxes, or be banned from taking more than a paltry sum of money abroad on holiday. The 1980s were a good decade in my view across a number of fronts with two main, glaring exceptions here in Britain: the-then Thatcher government did not truly uproot the Welfare State and the “enemy class” that ran it, and she did preside over what was later to become a relentless assault on the checks and balances of the English Common Law. But generally speaking, that decade goes down in my book as a good one.

Talking of Mrs T, it is now 30 years since she came to power.

In a break from our normal schedule

Well, in a change from my usual ruminations on current affairs, I thought I would mention that I am planning to take a scuba diving course. I am off to my regular haunt of Malta/Gozo this late-summer to do a PADI course, as well as relax down there. Yes, you have guessed it, people blog about scuba diving as well as many other pastimes these days. As a keen amateur sailor, I have always wanted to have a go at exploring what lies under the waves and the blue seas surrounding Gozo, in particular, look just too damn inviting. If any readers have any tips or suggestions on how to avoid rip-offs or other problems, I’d be very pleased to hear them.

The island of Gozo seems to be packed with diving school firms, such as these guys. The PADI courses, which are internationally recognised, are a good example of how a benchmark for a particular activity can arise without any central government agency decreeing it.

Samizdata quote of the day

“There is no doubting that materialism can be a cause of spiritual emptiness and no doubt there are a lot of people who “starve for want of luxuries.” But it is always easy to regard another man’s things as superficial and another man’s pursuits as greedy, while one’s own belongings have sentimental value and one’s own pursuits are profound (or at least harmless indulgences). It is even easier for self-righteous 30 year olds to regard older men with families as leading lives of desperation, while impressing themselves with the depth of their spiritual access.”

- Timothy Sandefur. He subjects Henry Thoreau, darling of the back-to-nature types, to a ferocious take-down. Read the whole thing.

Harry Palmer is shrugging, Ayn Rand style

Michael Caine, one of the UK’s best-known actors, is thinking of emigrating due to the UK government’s recent decision to impose a new, top-rate income tax of 50 per cent, which once other changes are taken into account, will be nearer 65 per cent. Iain Martin, writing in the Daily Telegraph story that I linked to, points out how Caine is just one of the more recognisable examples of the sort of person looking to hit the exits. It is often useful, if one’s constitution is strong enough, to read the Daily Telegraph comments sections these days, which are sometimes even worse than those of the Guardian. Several people moan about Iain Martin’s article that the 76-year-old actor has made his fortune so he should shut up and be grateful, etc. How lovely. The fact is that Caine, while he may not employ philosophical abstractions to denounce the looting intent of such a tax rise, is at root repelled not by the economic stupidity of such a tax hike, but its essential injustice. What a top-rate tax like this says, in effect, is that no-one should be allowed to rise above a certain level of wealth because it might make others envious. It makes a mockery of all that progressive-leftist talk about removing “glass ceilings” to advancement, etc.

Funnily enough, it was Caine, along with his UK film star buddy and working-class-boy-made-good pal, Sean Connery, who first legged it out of the UK back in the 1970s when the-then governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan introduced tax rates of more than 80 per cent on the “super rich”. He’s done it before, and he is quite prepared to leave again. Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal FC, has warned that many foreign footballers will think twice about playing in the English Premier League. No doubt football fans of a nationalistic bent may applaud this trend if it gives local players more of a chance to play for their clubs, but it arguably will roll back one of the benefits to domestic sport in having talented overseas players strut their stuff here in the UK.

It will be interesting to see whether the acting profession’s traditional love affair with the Left shows the strain. I remember reading that Ray Winstone, another English East End boy to have cracked Hollywood, is running out of patience with the tax situation in the UK. And a few years ago, I watched a chat show when David McCallum, who used to star in the 1960s Man From Uncle TV series, vowed that he would only return to the UK when it spurned socialism. And for whatever reason Peter Sellers or Richard Burton chose to live in the Switzerland, it was not for the cuckoo clocks.

Europe’s lost generation?

There is an interesting feature article over at Reuters about how, as a result of the financial crisis and the rigid labour market laws of much of the continent, millions of young Europeans leaving school and college face a bleak future over the next few years. Even during the relatively prosperous period of the Nineties and much of the ‘Noughties, youth unemployment in nations such as France was shockingly high, sometimes into double figures. Europe’s failure to create a large number of private sector jobs remains one of the most damning facts about the continent’s economic record over the past quarter of a century.

Memes at work

Someone tell Dissident Frogman: his meme is spreading!

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Our favorite meme hack, spotted on a New York A train.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

One of his friends had to translate, but I believe he said he bought it in Bucharest…

Samizdata quote of the day

“Even those who have never taken seriously utopias of classless societies and pure socialism have been seduced in the course of the last 100 years into falsely concluding that the critical role in society is the perogative of envious dispositions whom a single concession would supposedly placate…The time has surely come when we should stop behaving as though the envious man was the main criterion for social and economic policy.”

- Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, page 427. In the light of last week’s terrible UK budget and its levelling intent, his book repays reading. It often enrages egalitarians when they are told that much of their views are a rationalisation for envy, but that rage perhaps suggests that such a charge touches on a truth they would rather not contemplate for long.

The Emperor Valentinian: A father of the West?

Calling a Roman Emperor a possible father of the West is problematic enough, but one from the late Empire is especially problematic.

Since the time of Diocletian peasants, the great majority of Roman citizens, had not been allowed to leave their farms – as it was feared they might be trying to dodge taxes by doing so. And since the time of Constantine it was “legal” to put peasants in chains if they were suspected of planing to leave.

And, of course, anyone below the rank of Senator was open to flogging and torture if Imperial officials felt such treatment was needed to get a confession for a crime or just to inspire greater tax revenue. Technically a town councillor could not be treated in this way, but such old fashioned legal technicalities were largely a dead letter in the late Empire. And even Senators could be flogged, tortured and murdered if the Emperor felt like it – because his will was law. In a way that baffled some barbarian tribesmen – who were used to a tribal chief not being able to change the basic laws of the tribe whenever he felt like it.

Roman legal practice (both due to the arbitary will of Emperors and the degenerate thinking of scholars) had long become infested with notions like the “just price” (of which there are traces even under the Republic) – defined not as a price freely arrived at by buyer and seller (an interpretation of the “just price” that one can see in one tradition of Roman law going from Classical times up through such things as Bavarian law in the 8th century, right to our own times) but as some “correct price” for bread (and other products), laid down by the arbitrary will of the ruler – in a way such tyrants as Charles the Great of the Franks (Charlemagne) and his pet scholars would have approved of centuries later.

Nor was Valentinian himself a gentle man – for example the punishment he brought in for trying to avoid conscription was to be burnt alive. Nor did Valentinian think of removing the ban on the private ownership, and training with, weapons – which under the Republic was just as much the mark of a free man, as it was among the Saxons or other such tribes.

Valentinian is also attacked for his “old fashioned” concentration on the frontier – building forts and other such, and stationing his best troops in the frontier areas (and leading them himself till he dropped dead of the strain of command). Rather than the enlightened “defence in depth” conception favoured by Emperors like Constantine.

The attack on Valentinian military policy is, however, wrong headed. At the time when men either marched or rode on horseback to war modern “defence in depth” ideas were not really an option. The main armies had to be on the frontiers or invasions would destroy whole provinces before “strategic reserves” could come up. After all just sending message for help could take weeks.

Nor was Constantine really thinking about “defence in depth”. He created an elite army (with the best troops and equipment) and positioned them round himself in his new capital (Constantinople) to guard against frontier commanders doing what he himself had done – leading a military revolt against the Emperor. His plan was a political, not a military, one.

But just being correct on the military question would not make Valentinian a father of the West – after all the Roman Empire fell and (given the degenerate nature of the late Empire) probably had to fall for the West to be born. So Valentinian was, in the end, a failure and we should not be sad that only a few years after his death the Visigoths sacked Rome. Although this “in the long term it was for the best” thinking does leave aside the horror of the barbarian invasions themselves – and the fact that much of civilization was lost. For example Roman notions of sanitation (not a small point) only really returned to Europe in the mid 19th century.

And lastly I can not even claim that Valentinian did not add some statist ideas of his own. For example he set up a free medical service – and although it was only 12 doctors servicing the poor of the city of Rome (itself only a small percentage of the population of the Empire) this was yet another expense the Empire could have done without. And yet another betrayal of the old, pre “bread and games”, Republic of independent families and voluntary association – at least the voluntary association of citizens.

So why the claim that Valentinian may have been one of the fathers of the West?

There are two reasons… → Continue reading: The Emperor Valentinian: A father of the West?