Freedom/liberty is defined in different ways. Some people talk of “free will” of agency, of the ability (sometimes and to some extent) to choose. Of how human beings are just that (beings) not flesh robots whose actions are either determined by a process of causes and effects going back to the start of the universe or are a matter of random chance (neither determinism or random chance being agency – being human choice).
This is not the place to debate the existence of the “I” (the reasoning, self aware, self) and to argue that agency is not an “illusion” (although if it is a illusion who is having the illusion – humans being simply being flesh robots), but I will say that if humans are not “beings” (not agents) then freedom is of no moral importance. No more than it is of moral importance whether water is allowed to “run free” or constrained behind a dam. But then, of course, if there is no agency (no freedom of choice) then there is no morality anyway. A clockwork mouse does not have moral responsibility – and neither would something that looked like a human being but was, in fact, not a “being” (an agent – a choosing “I”) at all.
As for the position that it is “compatible” that a human might have no capacity what-so-ever to choose any of their actions (including lines of thought) and yet still be morally responsible for them – well it is not compatible, basic logic does not allow us to have our cake and eat it as well.
Others talk of freedom in terms of stuff – goods and services.
Such people may or may not accept that humans have the capacity (sometimes to some extent) to make real choices – but they hold that even if humans do have the ability to make choices this does not mean they should be allowed to.
People will make the wrong choices – they will do things make the world a worse place, even for themselves.
To some extent the political libertarian actually agrees with that – after all we do not believe that people should be allowed to make the choice to rob, rape or murder other people.
Or, rather, they should be allowed to make the choice – but not to act on it (aggression should be opposed), and they should be punished if they do act upon it.
Some people have suggested that we be called “propertarians” (rather than libertarians) because of our opposition to chosen actions that aggress against the bodies and goods of people – to which my response is “if you want to call me a propertarian do so – I do not take it as a insult”.
However, the political libertarian (such as myself) tends to deny that non-aggressive choices – choices that respect the bodies and goods of other people, tend to be “wrong” in general.
We hold that most people, most of the time are more likely to get things right than the “great and the good”.
Not just “were you ten times and wise you would not have the right to impose your plans upon myself and others”, but also “even if you were ten times as wise you would still muck it all up”. Indeed it would be claimed that the clever elite are not “wise” at all – for if they were “wise” (rather than just clever) they would understand that trying to “plan society” always ends badly.
In part at this point we move from philosophy to political economy – economics… The statist claims two things, that giving the state (under the control of the “correct people” of course) control of resources (money) and people (via regulations) will make life more prosperous – and that this prosperity is “true freedom”.
In terms of economics this is just flat wrong. To prove their case (the case that collective control will produce more prosperity than allowing people to get on with things as best they can) will produce higher material living standards the statists would have to refute the most basic laws of political economy as outlined by such thinkers as Bastiat or Ludwig Von Mises. And normally the statists have not even opened their works – let alone come up with any refutation of their reasoning.
In fact more statism tends to produce less prosperity than would otherwise have been the case.The grand process of finding better ways (technologically better or organizationally better) of producing goods and services may continue for some time – but less well than it would have gone without the “help” of the state.
Also even if people were better fed (and so on) with increasing statism – this would not be freedom.
A well fed slave is not a free man (although he has the capacity for freedom – as the Stoics noted) – and a free man who is starving to death is still a free man
In short “you are wrong and it would not matter if you were right”.
More statism does not produce more prosperity, it produces less prosperity than would otherwise have been the case. And even if the opposite was true this would not be freedom – goods and services (even “happiness” – which may have very little to do with goods and services anyway) is not freedom. The supporter of “positive freedom” (in the sense of goods and services – not in the older sense of the control the passions by our reason) is caught in a category mistake.
Having given some indication that freedom is possible (i.e. that human beings are a different sort of thing from a clockwork mouse) and that the rise of the state is a “bad thing”, as it can not achieve its objective of making people better off, in the long term, than would otherwise have been the case (indeed that it makes people worse off than they otherwise would have been) and that material prosperity is not “freedom” anyway… I had better outline the actual historical events:
The key historical events in the decline of freedom in Britain – the rise of the state.
A word of warning – the reader may well note an bias towards English matters in what follows (indeed a confusion of Britain and England) this is true. I will mention other places from time to time, but my prime area of historical interest, in relation to this island or islands, is England.
Also I am not going to consider ancient history.
Perhaps the person in a hunter gatherer band was more free than someone today, or perhaps the leader of the band horribly persecuted weaker members (I do not know – I would guess it varied).
Perhaps fields in the bronze age were worked by slaves at the mercy of their lords, or perhaps they were not (again I do not know – although I rather doubt it).
Perhaps with the collapse of the Roman Empire (and its vast taxation) in the 5th century AD there was a period of great freedom for farmers in some parts of the island of Britain (at least before the Germanic warbands reached them), or perhaps there was not. Again I do not know.
Basically I am going to deal with recent centuries – and leave the ancient past to people who know something about it.
First it should be noted that is some ways freedom has not declined.
For example acts of sodomy were punished for centuries and since the 1960s they have not been punished – this is advance for freedom. Whatever one may think of sodomy in moral terms – it should not be a matter for the criminal law.
Also, at least since the Norman Conquest, women were denied their property rights upon marriage – up till the late 19th century. And marriage itself (whilst in Christian theory a free choice) was often decided upon by the parent or guardian.
Also in Ireland in the 18th century (a century that was perhaps the golden age of freedom in England) Roman Catholics had very little property rights (till the late 18th century) and both they and Protestant Dissenters (the latter group often ignored by historians and others) were persecuted in other ways also. The economy of Ireland was so distorted by the “Penal Laws” that even after they were repealed Ireland was left (mostly) a land of peasant plots, a “catastrophe waiting to happen”, and it did happen – in the horror of the 1840s.
Indeed religious freedom was not fully established in these islands till the 19th century. Although I am not one to agree that there was widespread religious persecution in England in the 18th century (although there was intense fear and distrust of Roman Catholics – partly for political reasons, the claims of the Pope and the rivalry between England and Catholic France and Spain) – sorry but Dissenters not being allowed to take degrees from Oxford and Cambridge does not rank as “persecution”.
Regulations are hard to measure.
Which regulations should be ranked as important (in regards to reducing freedom) and which less important?
With the size of the state (the proportion of civil society it takes) things are hardly easy (for example virtually every writer assumed that taxes in Ireland in the 18th century were lower than in Britain – till Edmund Burke pointed out that as proportion of economic output they were much higher in Ireland than in Britain).
Also many of the (essentially 16th century Tudor) regulations that existed in 18th century England were not enforced (there was not formal civil service structure to deal with such matters) indeed they had never been fully enforced – certainly not in northern England (where such things as complex economic regulations passed under Elizabeth the first were basically a dead letter in places like Lancashire).
However, it is the case that many of these regulations (restricting not just freedom of trade, but even freedom of movement) were not formally repealed till the early 19th century (this is the argument against considering the 18th century the golden age of liberty – even in England).
Nevertheless, it tends to be the case that as the state increases as a proportion of civil society (as government spending goes up faster than economic growth) so regulations also tend to increase. And as the state declines as a proportion of civil society – so regulations tend to decrease.
For example, the deregulation of the early 19th century happened at a time when the state was declining in relative size (in relation to civil society) with the end of the French wars.
And the “set the people free” deregulation under the Churchill and Eden in the early 1950s happened also at a time when the state was declining as a proportion of civil society.
In any case this is the judgement must be made – and I am going to now concentrate on government spending and taxation, not regulations.
At the start of the 19th century taxation was very high by historical standards – not as high as it now, or (perhaps) as high as it was during the last period of the Roman Empire, but still very high.
Perhaps as high as a quarter of all of economic activity went to the state at the start of the 19th century. One reason who people were so eager to leave for the United States (not just from Ireland, but from England, Scotland and Wales also) where after Jefferson’s reforms there were no internal Federal taxes at all – i.e. America was the land where the income tax collector and the excise (taxes on internal goods not just imports) man were unknown.
This high taxation was for three reasons:
Firstly the very high cost of the French wars of the early 1800’s is the first (and obvious reason), Britain was fighting for its life (just as England had done against Philip II of Spain and Britain was to do against Germany in the 20th century) so no expense could be spared.
But there were two other reasons…
The policy of financing wars by vast borrowing (rather than just by taxation) that had been followed for a century. Those people (including historians) who boast that the Bank of England (created in 1694) allowed England to finance its wars are essentially talking out of their backsides.
The Bank of England financed nothing – it was just a way of borrowing money, and the people you borrow money from have to be paid back one can stress how the Bank of England meant lower interest rates – but really this misses the point.
The point is that wars cost money (lots of money) England was a richer country than France (per person) because it was (already) a more free country (see above for the economics of that) so it was able to finance more military spending (per person) than France was. Thus England was normally able to win its wars with France – even though England was greatly outnumbered…. but only at a terrible cost.
By the late 18th century half of all government spending went simply on servicing the National Debt – and this was still true in the 1820s.
For every Pound raised in taxation ten shillings just vanished into what William Cobbett called “The Thing” (the money dealers of the City of London and their political friends). This led to endless taxes – as was noted in Scotland after Union with England in 1707. Taxes on the poor had been almost unknown in Scotland, taxes were for well off people – the taxes on the well off continued, but after unification the poor got taxed as well. Union may have been unavoidable (due to Scotland bankrupting itself with the insane scheme to set up a colony in the Americas) but anyone who says the poor in Scotland were not hit by it is wrong. And the burden of excise taxes and so on did not go away – more imposts and duties came over time.
But there was a also a third reason for the very high level of taxation at the start of the 19th century – less important than the first two, but still interesting.
Contrary to certain BBC historians (Michael Woods) government poor taxes (rates – as opposed to charity) were not the invention of the 1834 Act (in fact this Act was a desperate effort to reduce the poor rate, not to introduce it). In fact they go back to Acts under the Tudors in the 16th century.
However, in the 18th century the burden of the Poor Rate (although often complained about) was not vast, if someone in the parish really could not work (very young, very old, hopelessly crippled) the Justices of the Peace had the legal task of making sure that they did not starve to death (in Scotland and Ireland the law was different than it was in England and Wales) and they had the power to levy a local tax to get them the money to prevent this happening. If someone could work but did not – then the J.P.s could take action against them (if they were a burden on the parish) a punishment or a threat of being sent to a workhouse (not an invention of the Act of 1834 – it existed in the Act of 1723) normally inspired the able bodied poor to find work (in Ireland they most likely would not be punished for having no work – but the local taxpayer would not be feeding them either).
However, in 1782 a Act of Parliament was passed that might have come from the brain of Gordon Brown – it allowed the magistrates to levy a poor rate to subsidize the wages of those people who were actually in work.
Starting in the village of Speenhamland in 1795 (under the pressure of the French wars) this system spread like a plague in England and south Wales.
Of course people in work liked having their wages “topped up” (as it were), the ratepayers did not like it (at least most of them did not – see later) but the magistrates were unelected so there was not much they could to about it.
The largest farmers (with a lot of hired labour) might get by with this system (the Parish was basically paying a lot of their wage bill), but small farmers (who had few hired hands, other than their own family) faced a heavy burden.
And it was a burden that got worse.
In the 18th century when peace came so the bills for govenrment spending got less – and so it proved after the end of the French wars in 1815, but the bills for the Poor Law did not get less.
At first it was thought to be the deflation (the return to sound money after the fiat money inflation of the French wars) – but the burden carried on into the 1820s and 1830s.
Hence the Poor Law Reform (Workhouse) Act of 1834. No more would the able bodied be paid not to work – or have their wages topped up.
True those who were judged to be incapable of work would still be paid (and it is often forgotten that there were twice as many people on “out relief” as in Workhouses – even under the new system), but if you were capable of work and presented yourself as a burden on the parish – into the Workhouse with you.
For all the bad reputation of this Act it was a clear success in rural areas of England and Wales – people who had insisted they could not possibly manage without tax money suddenly found they could when told “so you are able bodied and can not manage your own life – well is it the Workhouse for you then”. The Poor Rate fell – and fell dramatically over time. And yet the poor were NOT starving to death – in fact the mid 19th century is a time of dramatic increases in real wages, although there were setbacks (the coming of the Irish in the 1840s, the war of the 1850s, and the effects of American Civil War in the early 1860s) in spite of all these setbacks wages were dramatically higher in 1870 than they had been in 1834.
The story in the big cities is more mixed – few people actually had their wages topped up when they were in work (because, contrary to the myth, factory work was better paid than farm work), but the old Poor Law was useful during bad period for trade (when there were fewer factory jobs to be had). Under the New Poor Law for those capable of work it was the Workhouse or (perhaps) nothing so there were riots and so on. Partly motivated by one of the Jeremy Bentham elements of the Act – they belief that people could be taken to the Workhouses or kept their against their will (to a utilitarian of Bentham’s type “happiness” not freedom was what was important – and he believed that even forced work made people “happy”).
It should also be noted that for the first few years the Poor Rate in the northern industrial cities actually went up under the new system – hardly what was intended.
But was any of it needed anyway?
Scotland was a poorer country than England – the soil was not so good, wages were lower, the country was more damaged by civil strife (such as the revolt of 1745) and economic collapse (it is often forgotten that the “Highland Clearances” were motivated by landowners facing bankruptcy – great landowners in England did not fact that in the early 19th century). Yet most of Scotland managed to get by without a compulsory Poor Rate – right till the Act of 1845 (by the way Scotland learned by the English mistake – people might complain about the Workhouses, but they were their strictly by their own free will, their own choice).
Even in Glasgow (during the darkest days of French wars and the deflation after them) the Rev. Chalmers managed to look after the poor with voluntary donations alone. And even Chalmers’ worse enemies (and he had many – for religious and other reasons) did not claim that people were starving to death.
Perhaps the English “voluntarists” (such as those associated with the Leeds Mercury newspaper) could have done such a job in England – a richer country anyway. Without any need for the state.
After all government has no money of its own – just resources it takes. The Scottish example casts doubt on whether people really need the threat of government punishment to pay money to avoid other people starving to death on the streets of their town.
However the fact remains that neither the 1834 Act in England and Wales or the 1845 Act in Scotland led to any massive burden in Poor Rate (they were designed not to – it is possible to do that). And the locally elected Board of Guardians in England and Wales (elected by the ratepayers – not by those who got the welfare money as is partly the case with modern governments) neither allowed people to starve to death on the streets (more than happens in any time or place anyway – there will always be a few people who slip though any net) nor made living on welfare a comfortable “life style choice” (no sane person would want to live in a 19th century Workhouse).
As for Ireland…
A Poor Law was introduced there after unification with Britain. It was a failure – an utter failure.
Almost one third of the entire population of Ireland either died or left the country in the 1840s – a horror that most British people seem unable to grasp (then as well as now).
I do not know if things would have been much better even without government poor relief – but it did concentrate the poor together (for example on the “roads to nowhere” the public works projects the British government financed in Ireland) and it was sickness (not starvation) that tended to kill people. However, the basic structure of the Irish economy was a mess – it was not useless peasant plots in all parts of Ireland, but it was in most of Ireland. And that was a economic system that could only end one way – in horror.
And it was a structure the Penal Laws had created in Ireland.
The principle of taxes to fund poor relief in England and Wales (although not in Ireland and Scotland), as we have seen, goes back centuries. But that does not mean an out of control Welfare State as we have today.
And it is worth remembering what the causal words “out of control” actually mean. To give some sense of proportion…
In 1904 there was a terrible panic over a vast increase in the number of people dependent on the state – eight hundred thousand people were on poor relief in England and Wales (250,000 in workhouses). There is a trade recession (perhaps partly due to the costs of the Boer war, the costs of war normally being seen after it is over, although the human costs alone were about one hundred thousand lives).
Terrible – it led to (or was used as excuse for) demands that a Royal Commission be set up on the Poor Law (the Majority Report was bad enough, but it was demented “Minority Report” that the Liberal party government decided to follow). But look how small a percentage of the population it was – about two per cent of the people were dependent on government support even in a supposed time of crises.
Today well over 40% of total income is from state benefits.
Not those working for the government (which is also a vast amount of money), but just benefits.
In the United States (in the “Age of Obama”) it has reached a third of all income – here it is heading for half of all income (again even excluding the people who actually work for the governmental. Cloward and Piven must be pleased (well Piven is pleased – I believe her husband is uncomfortably warm at the moment).
And people wonder why my writings seem like a suicide note (and I do not deny that they do) why they basically boil down to “we are DOOMED (TM).
Think of the Roman Empire – but not with just the city of Rome (and a few other cities) with a large mob dependent on govenrment handouts, but rather about half the population of the entire Empire dependent on government benefits.
That would not have taken centuries to “decline and fall” it would have fallen within a few years.
Yes technology has changed – but the laws of mathematics have not changed.
This is why fundamental Welfare State reform (what Americans call Entitlement Program reform) is not optional – or rather there are two options, reform or die.
This growth was not natural – the principle of government Poor Relief existed for centuries without it.
There were not dramatically more people dependent on it in 1702 then there had been in 1602, there were a lot more people dependent upon it in 1802 (and still more a few years later), but this was dramatically pushed back after 1834 – and by the early 1900s even 2% of the population (remember this includes the old) on welfare was considered a crises.
So what caused the growth?
The first cause was the “Minority Report” mentioned above – basically a bunch of Fabian Socialists (plus useful idiots) produced a let-us-copy-Germany-but-with-a-few-extra-things-added-on report and Lloyd-George and co (including a young and sadly misinformed Winston Churchill) said “fair enough”. So we have old age pensions, health “insurance”, and unemployment pay (this was one even Bismark had not introduced in Germany – think about it, it is payment for not working). All with the bland assurance that none of these government benefits would undermine self help and mutual aid – such as the “Friendly Societies” that covered 80% (and rising) of industrial workers in 1911. Of course they start to go into decline almost at once – just as the Fabians (and so on) intended.
Secondly this was all extended in the 1920s and 1930s (largely by Neville Chamberlain) when such things as forcing local councils to provide council houses (to make up for a shortage of housing for rent – caused by the government’s own World War One rent control measures).
Thirdly there is the formal Welfare State itself in the 1940s.
The Beveridge Report of 1942 (to which, in the cabinet, only Sir Kinsley Wood and Winston Churchill expressed any doubts) and then the extreme interpretation of the report made by the Labour Atlee government after they came to power in 1945.
Since that time the Welfare State has grown and grown (under governments of both major political parties) and many reorganizations of it parts of it (such as the National Health Service, and benefits) have been made. However, they have all accepted its fundamental principles – so they have not restrained (let alone reversed) its growth.
More on size and principles…
The most obvious measure of state control is the ownership of industry (the “means of production”) the old style socialist dream (before they were converted to indirect control by government regulation and unions and community activist groups – what used to be called, in the days of the Empire and then of Hitler, the “German form of socialism”).
At its hight (in about 1951) the British government owned about 20% (or a bit less) of the economy (due to old nationalizations such as the telephone industry, and the orgy of nationalizations under the Atlee government after World War II), but almost at once this dream started to fall apart.
Not just because of the few denationalizations of the Conservatives after 1951 – but also because the nationalized industries themsleves went into decline.
The railways lost money hand over fist – they were then dramatically cut back and lost even more money (cut “feeder lines” and find out what the word “feeder” meant). It was the same with steel and coal – Labour governments closed more coal mines than Mrs Thatcher did.
By the time Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister nationalized industries were about half the share of the economy they had been – and the lady (at leastO) cut it half again.
Direct state ownership has been a failure (a farcical failure) whereever in the world it has been tried, so socialists (in such places as Britain and especially the United States) are turning to the “German form of socialism” (the system mentioned above – the system of “War Socialism” during World War One, and under Adolf Hitler in the 1930s) of indirect control by the provision of easy credit money (for those who fit it), vast webs of regulations and control by activist groups. In Germany itself (partly due to a stronger tradition of family owned business enterprises and partly because of a caution drawn from history) the “German form of socialism” is actually less of a problem (even though their are trade union representatives on Boards of Directors and so on – the whole context is very different).
The other main threat to modern society is (as mentioned above) government spending.
The overall size of British government (local and national) as proportion of civil society must likely reached its low point in about 1870 – at government spending at less than 10% of national income (it is about 50% now). However, national government spending reached its low point in 1874 (the low point for income tax – most excise taxes and import duties being abolished long before).
It was in 1870 that the Forster Act was passed allowing (but not forcing) local communities to set up a School Board and levy Poor Rate – my own home town of Kettering Northamptonshire did not do this (till forced to after the Act of 1891) so the low point for statism here (unless one wishes to speculate about what things were like under the Anglo Saxons or whatever) would have been 1874 (not 1870).
However, this is to miss a vital factor – principles.
Certain principles were accepted long before 1870 that made the future growth of government much more likely.
For example remember that there were a whole web of vile economic restrictions passed by the Tudors (they not only restricted freedom of trade and freedom of movement – but a final demented Act under Elizabeth even tried to compel every ordinary person to do the same job as their parent, in a sort of throw back to the legislation of the late Roman Empire) – but that I suggested we not be obsessed with them because England lacked an administrative structure (a complex Civil Service) that could really administer them?
Think what Tudor ministers (such as Thomas Cromwell – with his unrealized dream of great formal department of state, rather like Jeremy Bentham’s 13 departments of state covering every aspect of human life) would have done with a structure based on the report that Charles Trevelyan and Strafford Northcote produced for a well meaning Gladstone after 1853 (you do not have to think very hard look around you, this is what men like Jeremy Bentham would have created).
This led to the Civil Service Commission of 1855 and the system by competitive examination (perhaps the worse possible system) introduced in 1870. No longer would government work be looked upon a perk for knowing a minister (or whatever) something to be done for a year or so (or whatever) or, at the lower levels, just clerking that one did because no other job was available at the moment. Now it would be a “profession” and people would devote their entire lives to this “public service” seeking the details of other people’s lives (for there own good of course). Hardly what Gladstone intended – but “the man in Whitehall knows best”.
This was a system rather like that of Mandarin dominated China – which is where we get the nickname for senior civil servant “Mandarin” from. Intellectuals as far back as the late 18th century (Voltaire springs to mind) had suggested such a system for the West – forgetting the older wisdom of such thinkers as Montesquieu that the centralized and state dominated society of China was not the “most perfect in the world” (Voltaire), but rather something to avoid.
But this was not the only bad principle to be accepted in 19th century Britain.
The principle of a govenrment police (which would have horrified most 18th century Englishmen, who even thought the Bow Street runners smacked of France or some German “police state” – oh yes the term was in German thought at the time and included what we would call a “welfare state”, see F.A. Hayek’s “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”, although the size of most German states in the 18th century made such dreams utterly impractical, Bismark was to alter that).
In Britain Sir Robert Peel introduced the London police in 1829.
And by 1856 every county in England and Wales (whether it wanted to or not) had to have its own police force.
That is a different world from 18th century England. Although the police were polite and deferential at first – and unarmed (where as the British people remained an armed people till the First World War – a “little” thing that has slipped down the memory hole).
In a free society (as Jefferson never tired of pointing out) the main body of domestic force lies with the people, in an unfree society in lies with the government. Britain slipped from one state of affairs to the other with so little fuss that most people did not even notice.
As late as 1911 it was considered normal for unarmed police (in London) chasing armed criminals, to ask for the help of armed ordinary people who happened to be walking by.
Just think about that for a little while
A false interpretation of such things as the French Revolution (presented as liberty going “too far”, rather than as Edmund Burke tried to explain, the increase of statism and tyranny) had prepared British opinion for an ever stronger state – so when such things as the gun control Acts came along there was little protest.
Just as their had been little protest about the Act of 1856 – on the contrary people of property thought that it would be a “good thing” they would no longer have to worry about protecting their own property and protecting other people, the state would do it all for them (in their hearts they were already half slaves).
The basic idea that the people must be counted, and measured whether they want to be or not (rejected by supporters of liberty – such as the Financial Secretary of Hong Kong in the 1960s “population figures – what would we want them for”) was conceded by the Census of 1801 (a return to the principles of the Roman Empire and the Doomsday Book). According to Walter Bagehot (third editor of Economist magazine and author of the vile “classic” the “English Constitution” of 1867 with its demands that “everything that it is safe to concede should be conceded” – referring to any demands for statism) this was no reduction of liberty only an “old women” objected to it, according to him (I like to think he was lying – as J.S. Mill lied in claiming that no one opposed the Labour Theory of Value of his father and David Ricardo).
No doubt only an “old women” objected to the Births, Marriages and Deaths (Registration) Act of 1835 either.
Good person this “old women” Churchill (in his young statist period) was still attacking her in the early 1900s – only this “old women” thought the new government welfare schemes and regulations were a threat to liberty.
Clearly the “old women” was Miss Marple – but I must get on.
As part of the Public Health Act of 1848, Edwin Chadwick slipped in a national Public Health Board – (straight out of the dreams of his master Jeremy Bentham) which would plan such things on a national scale. True it was abolished in 1858 – but, of course, it came back with a vengeance in the 20th century.
But where did even local statism come from?
It came from the Act of 1835 – what the Duke of Wellington called an Act for creating a little Jacobin Republic in every major town and city in England and Wales.
Certainly it was not sold as increasing statism – on the contrary the promoters of the Act (such as those in Manchester) claimed that having elected councils (rather than corrupt closed Tory Corporations – only one was left by the Act, the City of London “the square mile”) would lead to lower local taxes.
Even when taxes went up (not down) it was a temporary thing and taxes would come down soon – we are still waiting.
However, this is not entirely the fault of local politicians (“Paul – you are covering your backside” perhaps) as a weird principle was introduced in England and Wales.
Logically “local government” means (if it means anything) that local people (either directly or via elected representatives) get to decide what (if anything) to spend tax money on.
However, in 1875 the great “reformer” Disraeli got together most of the things that local councils could do (if they wished to – under about 40 previous Acts of Parliament) and made most of these things compulsory.
Local government (at least a logical understanding of the term) took a bit of a nock at that point – and things have got worse and worse since (especially with Neville Chamberlain’s antics during the interwar period) as for post World War II – well it best not to think about this period (unless you wish to lose your will to live).
By the way, also in 1875, Disraeli also put trade unions above the Common Law (or tried to with his Act of Parliament of that year) not just legalizing obstruction (“picketing” – a military term), but trying to put unions beyond being sued. Certain flaws in his plans delayed the destruction of the Common Law in this area (and the destruction of basic British industries such as the railways) till after the Act of 1906 (which put the matter beyond doubt – at least till Norman Tebbit, under Mrs Thatcher, tried to do something about it all).
But it should be remembered that the principle of the subsidization of local activities by the state had already been conceded as long ago as 1833 – the first annual subsidy for education in England and Wales.
In Scotland there were several education Acts (going back more than century before this) however, the system remained under local control (indeed basically Church control), contrary to what is often taught it is only after the Act of 1872 that one can talk of a national system of education in Scotland.
In England it is even later – the Act of 1833 leads to other subsidy Acts, which in turn leads to the Act of 1870 (the Forster Act), which then leads on to the Act of 1876 (if you have a School Board education must be compulsory) and then to the Act of 1891 – you must have a School Board (till they were abolished in 1902) and education must be free and compulsory. In short game over – England is now Prussia (at least in this respect).
Just to show you how far things had fallen – look at the front page of the “Daily Telegraph” for January 1st 1900 (or was it 1901).
Britain must imitate an another country – we must copy them in all things. For this country is the new top nation.
No not the United States (that just had the largest economic output in the world – so, of course, it does not even get mentioned) no it is Imperial Germany we must copy in all things.
Well the British upper classes had already started talking in a weird clipped way (no they did not speak like that in the 18th century) as if they were Frederick the Great and his Junkers. So I suppose the rest was natural enough – if one is barking mad.
Think – what would have been the reaction to a British publication in the 18th century that had seriously argued (not as a satire) that “we must copy the French in all things – they are better us, they are scientific, they are the wave of the future…….”
Under the chest thumping patriotism of the start of the 20th century – the leadership in Britain (Conservative as well as radical) had lost all belief in the principles of liberty. The ordinary people might still have been holding out (in part), but the leadership was rotten to the core.
Of course it was the same in the United States – where the self styled intellectual elite first fell in love with Imperial Germany (even when they urged war with Germany – they envied Germany as a rival, they did not hate the deeds of the German government) and then fell in love with the Soviet Union (just as so many of the British elite did).
Edward Heath going around licking the boots of the worst mass murderer of all time, Mao (responsible for the murder of some 70 million people), was following a “progressive” and “scientific” tradition that was a century old (at least).
All of a piece with his putting the nation into the EEC (now the EU), smashing up traditional counties (indeed traditional anything -from coinage to weights and measures), imposing wage and price controls, “scientific” planning, and so on.
“But Heath had a good war record” – being a soldier does not make you love the traditions of your country, and Heath’s education (the elite parts of it anyway) might as well be summed up as “down with Britain, death to Britain, Britain is always wrong” and so on.
When P.E. Moore (the American tutor of the once American T.S. Eliot) visited Oxford in the 1930s he noted that, under the ultra civilized surface, the principles of liberty were dead (utterly dead) among the elite.
Of course F.A. Hayek noted the same thing at the same time – thus he dedicated the “Road to Serfdom” to “the socialists in all parties”.
If one understands socialism in the indirect way that, for example, Adolph Hitler did – then nothing much has changed.