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]

Samizdata quote of the day

A disenfranchised population becomes an untrustworthy population, since it loses the habit of making its own decisions. The majority become childish in hundreds of ways, looking to the State as parent, complaining without displaying a willingness to any form of self-determination. The more liberty one has, the more indvidual responsibility is required of one to make rational, well-considered decisions in the context of one’s social and personal life. Most of us are educated to think we are not capable of this when, in fact, most of us are thoroughly capable but simply lack either the circumstances or the determination to test ourselves. An authoritarian, paternalistic State encourages us in this belief, by its actions as well as by its rhetoric. By its very nature it creates a morally enfeebled, child-like population. This population in turn ‘proves’ its inability to control its own fate and consequently ‘proves’ the need for the paternalism which created it in the first place. There is no fundamental difference between Tory and Socialist paternalism.

– Michael Moorcock, The Retreat From Liberty, 1983

28 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Hugo

    “A disenfranchised population becomes an untrustworthy population”

    An enfranchised population becomes an untrustworthy population.

  • It is nice to see a statist like Moorcock belatedly understand the consequences of an interventionist state.

    But Hugo has a point: universal franchise + democracy + a state without clear constitutional and social limits on what a state may be, makes for an untrustworthy population prone to simply vote themselves other people’s money.

  • cerebus

    Not sure there’s anything belated about this, he was a longtime leftwing anarchist. Here’s an amusing essay which breaks Godwin’s law in the second sentence (and the title).

  • For an ‘anarchist’ he was always a supporter of the state having interventionist laws when his sensibilities were involved, such as various ‘equality’ laws, so not exactly the poster boy for laissez-faire civil society.

    I have always been deeply sceptical about the intellectual coherence of the very concept of ‘left wing’ anarchism… a bit like carnivorous vegetarianism.

  • I’m deeply sceptical about the intellectual coherence of the very concept of any-wing anarchism. It attempts to solve the problem of rulesets by kicking the game board over. It doesn’t actually address the issue of liberty at all- so to me it is just useless as a philosophy, whether left or right wing.

    As to Moorcock, he is one of those writers I loved enormously in my teens but as I got older found less readable, like Tolkien. I devoured all the champion eternal stuff in my teens. In Moorcock, the cosmic balance is a struggle between law and chaos, not good and evil. I always rooted for chaos, in fact only recently I was wandering around Moorcock’s website discussion board and it dawned on me that apparently I was often supposed to be rooting for Law. But I never did. I always liked Chaos, except that bit when it turned Zarozinia into a worm. That made me sad.

    I really loved the Jerry Cornelius books, but they especially I find unreadable now.

    His singing also leaves something to be desired. Coded Languages on Church Of Hawkwind is particularly toe-curling.

  • Oops, it’s on Sonic Attack, not Church Of Hawkwind. My bad.

  • Laird

    I presume this SQOTD is an outgrowth of the tangent into which another thread was veering.

    This quote is totally irrational. The first two sentences are simply wrong, and there is no rational connection to the rest of the paragraph (which actually makes sense). It’s a complete non sequitur.

    The “childishness” of a people is directly correlated to the size and reach of the State; the franchise has nothing to do with it. Vassals, villains and serfs had no vote in the feudal era; were they “morally enfeebled”, unable to make “rational, well-considered decisions in the context of [their] social and personal life”? Of course not. It was the lack of a paternalistic State which forced their self-sufficiency; the existence or lack of voting rights had nothing to do with it.

  • Laird, in the days of vassals and villeins the primary “state” was the Manor and its Lord and the web of responsibilities and duties enforced by it, and in other matters the “state” was the Church. It bothers me a lot that sometimes libertarians tend to define the “state” far too narrowly as just that specific set of institutions and the form thereof that we currently have. Serfs and villeins lived in a state of paternalistic certainties and little liberty; the governance was much more local then, but no less real than today.

  • Laird

    “Paternalistic certainties”? What might those have been? Yes, the lord had an obligation to protect his serfs from outside invaders, but that’s about the limit of his duties to them (and even that was really just protecting his own lands and interests, not about protecting “his” people qua people). No welfare, no social services, no “public” education; the people were pretty much left to their own devices as to mundane matters such as, oh, survival. Which they did. And that’s my point: the lack of sufferage was irrelevant. People don’t need a huge suffocating State to protect their interests; they’ll do that on their own if permitted to. But neither do they need a vote for the selection of their overlords. The two are unrelated.

  • So basically Laird you’re saying you prefer a system in which the poor are required to pay taxes, and do forced labour, and fight in wars when required, and pay tithes to the Church, and so on, but they’re better off because they don’t get anything in return other than not getting kicked off the paltry strip of land they were assigned by their noble Lord? Gave them a backbone did it? Made ’em tough and independent did it?

    I’m at a loss, really. Can’t answer that.

    Slavery. It’ll make a man of you! That would be a good slogan, oh yes.

  • I mean, you do realise that when Hayek called his book, “The Road To Serfdom” it was on the basis that serfdom actually isn’t a very good state to be in? Or have I misunderstood, and it wasn’t a warning, but an instruction manual?

  • will

    Ian b – far be it for me etc etc but I urge yourself and anyone and everyone else to reconsider the case for anarchism. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before.
    Anarchy is not the absence of ‘rulesets’ merely the absence of the coercion that usually enforces and also corrupts political and legal systems. Think of anarchism as voluntarism and I’m sure you’ll find it more convincing and also explain countless other problems.
    Anarchism/voluntarism allows free market economics. It opens up the possibility of Polycentric law, freemarket legal systems, dispute resolution organisations. There is no need for different wings of anarchism – anarchy is the only philosophy that permits a plurality of systems.
    For me, Anarchism explains human history and promises a future for humanity better than any other philosophy.
    I really want to hear your thoughts on anarchy. It’s rare to find anyone like the samizdata commenters and I’ve never seen the idea mentioned in my time on here.

  • Will: Ian B. and others here have been over this at least once, until everyone involved in that discussion threw their hands in the air. I shudder at the mere thought of reliving that experience. But if you insist, I’m sure Ian would be willing to oblige…

  • will

    Thanks Alisa, ill hunt it out. I should have done so first thing – apologies for taking the lazy route first.

  • Laird

    Ian B, I enjoy your amusing writing style, and more often than not find myself in agreement with you. But you’re still missing my point. You seem to have gotten yourself fixated on the comparison I was using to make a point, and somehow inferred that I approved of the feudal system. So let’s try again: I am not saying that serfdom was a preferable lifestyle. I’m simply saying that the serfs weren’t “morally enfeebled” (Mr. Moorcock’s phrase) despite their lack of the franchise. That having or not having a vote as to who your overlord is doesn’t really matter; it’s the size of the state which matters, not the manner of its selection. Didn’t you yourself recently post something about voting providing a “figleaf of respectability” to an overreaching state? Same point. That’s all. Don’t read more into it than is there.

    Go back to the original SQOTD and my first post and try again.

  • Will, I think the problem with anarchism (at least, right-anarchism or anarcho-capitalismism) can be succinctly reduced to the following statement; the phrase “voluntary law” is an oxymoron.

    Law is by definition not voluntary since it only applies to those who do not wish to be subject to it. If each man can choose his own law, then the very people who we wish to obey laws will choose not to be subject to those laws. What then do we do?

    I am not subject to the laws against murder, assault, rape or theft because I have no desire to murder, rape, assault or thieve. The reason I desire those laws in my society is so that they will be applied to other people who may wish to murder, rape, assault and thieve. The normal description of anarcho-capitalism one encounters describes how people will purchase laws and law enforcement from private agencies. But when I as an individual purchase such an arrangement by making a contract with a private enforcer, I am attempting to impose my legal requirements on everybody else in society, who have not signed any contract with myself or the agency or even know particularly of our existence.

    So in this analysis, voluntary “polycentric” law cannot by definition exist, because in order for me to enter into a “voluntary” law enforcement arrangement, I must remove the voluntarism from everybody else.

    It is certainly possible for two parties- you and me for instance- to come to a private dispute resolution arrangement. We are free to do that now. We could appoint Alisa as our “judge” and voluntarily agree to abide by whatever decision she makes. Nothing stops us doing that in the current system. But that is not the same thing. Law requires coercion. You cannot have voluntary law.

  • Laird-

    and I’m saying that serfs had negligible liberty and probably were rather “morally enfeebled” by it. A serf could make few choices in life, and basically lived the way his Lord decided he would live. He did not make educational choices for instance, because no education was available to him, private or public. Serfs did the same things, generation after generation- work their land, work their Lord’s land, work their land, work their Lord’s land and if the crops failed maybe they starved to death. They had, (until Enclosure anyway) certainty imposed upon them by the fixed relationship with their master (and church, to a degree).

    I would indeed assert that this utter lack of choice in life probably did not encourage them to be intellectual powerhouses and rugged individualists.

  • Laird

    But it also did not encourage them to look to the State (however defined) to satisfy all their wants and needs. Look, I don’t think we’re really very far apart on this, and we’re dancing on the head of a pin. I think I’ve made my point and will now retire from the lists.

  • will

    Last night I began reading through previous discussions mentioning anarchism so I don’t want to deviate this thread and make anyone repeat themselves.
    However Ian b you overlook the reciprocity both required and inherent in voluntary law. For example you don’t want to be killed but who would deal with a legal system that upheld your side of the law but allowed you to kill? Same with burglary, robbery, rape etc. Like car insurance you wouldn’t sign up to a provider who had no agreements in place with other providers. Thus you and everyone else would be bound by the same protections you desired.
    If there’s a flaw in that I want to know because I don’t want to be an ideologue to a fallacy.

  • In my view of anarchy, there is no law (insofar as ‘law’ understood to be coercive) – there are only agreements. If the agreement says ‘an eye (or money, or incarceration, or whatever) for an eye’, and you take someone’s eye, you are expected to pay in kind. If you don’t, you are an ‘outlaw’ (an ‘out-agreement’?) Same goes for people who are not party to the agreement in the first place, just like aliens (terrestrial or otherwise) are these days.

  • RRS

    May I suggest that the fixations there seem to be on the concept of “State,” particularly in the Western Experience, might be mitigated by some reading of the the more recent works of Douglas North et al., and consideration of the rather extensive Non-state social orders – particularly those that are producing radical intrusions into “Western” society.

  • RRS

    That said, it may be plausibly offered that no “populace” is ever fully “disenfranchised.”

    True, the full and open exercise of “franchise” may be frustrated (Jacquerie, e.g.). Still, even in the family, clan and tribal structures, the elements of the functions of “franchise” exist. It is a matter of how those functions are exercised that needs to be understood.

  • Will, you’re making an unstated assumption that everyone will “join in” with your “system” whereas the whole problem for criminal law is people who don’t join in. Suppose that I have committed some act which in your contract with your provided is against your personal “law”. So you come to me and say, “you have broken my law” and I say, “I don’t care, I don’t acknowledge your law. I never agreed to it, did I? I am not bound by your private agreements with others.”

    What will you do now?

  • …should say, “with your provider”…

  • will

    Ian B, the requirement for common acceptance of a law is a key strength of polycentric law not a weakness. The strongest and cheapest laws would be those with the most customers, those that everyone held in common. Even if provided by competing systems surely.everyone would want protection for their person and property? You’re still missing the reciprocal nature of law polycentric or otherwise. You are subject to law against burglary. It’s not something you apply to your burglar after the fact. Both he and you were subject to that law the whole time. The law protects property rights, his as much as yours.
    What are these undemocratic personal laws you would force on the unwilling? If there was some law you wanted while others did not absent coercion you would have to pursuade them to voluntarily agree to it with some form of trade. Most probably money. your provider would charge you more and anyone voluntarily subject to your law would get a discount or such. For example if you insist on using trial by jury but noone else does then you can pay more and its now on offer at a cheaper rate.
    Alisa hits the nail on the head with the idea of being outside the law. Not only is there the carrot of legal protection but in voluntary non coercive law the stick is the fact that noone would deal with an individual not signed up to some form of contract law. Which neatly leads to punishment.
    Who knows what the freemarket would throw up but I expect more people would choose restitutive rather than punitive measures. After all you are bound aswell as protected by your own laws. Punitive justice with prison overheads would be expensive for the customer. The offender would have to work to pay full restitution including all costs. This would not be coercive. It would be entirely voluntary. If he refused he would be breaking his own law, his contract with his provider. His contract rating would be zero. Noone would trade with him. Since absolutely everything is privately held and provided the offender would have nowhere to go but his own property (if freehold and fully paid off) where he would be cold starving and thirsty. If people continued to trade with him their legal insurance cover would go through the roof. Who would insure an individual that would continue T9 contract with someone proven to break contracts?
    It’s not quite a question of ‘what are you going to do now?’ As if in forced to throwup further ‘yeah but’ caveats to keep an unworkable dream alive (i may be alone in thinking that). I truly believe this is what would happen in a failed state. It already has in commercial dispute resolution where state systems have failed the market. Perhaps some power hungry group would convince the populace that authority by force was the only answer and we should all give them this power over us.

  • Will, so what you’re saying is this?

    Let’s say I run a grocery store. And some guy comes up to the counter with a basket of groceries. So I demand to know whether he has signed a private agreement with some nominal law provider, and he says no, he hasn’t, so I refuse to sell him the groceries?

    Why would I do that? I don’t care about his private arrangements with others; I have groceries to sell, he has some gold coins to pay with, that’s all I care about. Why would my insurer care who I sell groceries to? How would they even know?

  • John B

    Power/influence does not equate with truth/reality.
    They can run in parallel or on opposing tracks, but they are not integrally related and can survive, even thrive, despite each other.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Moorcock is correct in this quote – but he does not act on what he writes in this work. Indeed, as Perry points out, Moorcock is a statist in his politics (for all his anarchist pose).

    For example, I remember reading Mr Moorcock saying how much he agreed with various Texas Republicans on various matters (he was living in Texas) he specifically mentioned Ron Paul (and not just about war – but about domestic matters also), yet he went on to write that “of course” he would never vote Republican.

    Ian B.

    I did not know that we were supposed to support Law in the Moorcock books (perhaps you are right – but I just did not know that).

    Michael Moorcock set himself up as the sort of anti Tolkien – he met Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (and so on the other Inklings) and like them as people – but not their view of the world or their writing style (the writing style of Tolkien is very much that in the Western tradition – which Moorcock sets himself against in literature).

    My impression always was that both sides were supposed to be in the wrong in the “Eleric” (spelling alert) books – and that some sort of balance (or new world beyond the present one) was the Moorcock position.

    “Rooting for Chaos” – I take it that was meant to be ironic, as the Chaos forces in the book cycle mentioned are largely about rape, mutilation, destrution, murder (and so on).

    Of course Law is presented as stagnation and stasis (ENFORCED stagnation and stasis) – also wrong.

    Logically the next step should be the libertarian one of allowing change (i.e. being opposed to enforced stagnation and stasis) as long as it obeys the nonaggression principle – i.e. it is voluntary change, what people choose to do without violating the body or goods of anyone else.

    However, I do not really think Mr Moorcock ever really clearly explains this.