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]

Thoughts about possible Scottish independence

I might as well add my two penny-worth on this issue (or whatever currency the Scots might end up using, Ed). Scottish independence is now a very real prospect, not just a distant one. There is a flurry of commentary in the media at the moment about how any divorce could be painful and bitter: rows about how to divide up responsibility for the National Debt; relocation of defence forces from Scotland; North Sea oil rights; EU and Nato membership (Scotland could arguably be kicked out of both and might not be able to reapply soon), etc. Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, has a bit of a weepie on the subject.

The classical liberal in me says that so long as Scottish people who want to be fully self-governining do so for broadly pro-freedom reasons, that is not at my expense and I wish the new, separate nation luck. I will, however, take a far less benign view if there is any nonsense from Edinburgh about how the evil South must pay it off, by shouldering all accumulated debts, or demanding continued financial disbursements from the rest of the UK, or controls over matters not in its purview any more. I feel no very great emotional attachment to Scotland these days (I am about one-fifth Scottish through my mother’s family), although I certainly do respect and admire the great contributions to human civilisation from Scotland, as demonstrated in this excellent book published a few years ago by Arthur Herman.

It is perhaps naive to think that an independent Scotland would take its cue from the pro-market traditions most gloriously established by the likes of Adam Smith and other figures in the Scottish Enlightenment. (The Adam Smith Institute has had smart things to say about an independent Scotland, by the way.)  There is no reason in principle why that cannot happen, of course, but looking at the sort of political figures who are prominent in Scotland these days, the picture is not encouraging. Perhaps the Scots, free of the ability to blame London for their ills and forced to rely on their own resources, might experience independence as a bracing learning experience and an understanding of the need to be pre-enterprise will take hold. As long as SNP leader Alex Salmond is around, the prospects don’t look good. He comes across as a bit of a thug and a bit too pleased with himself.

A final thought: if the Scots do break free (will that mean lots of visa queues at the border? Ed) it could galvanise separatist movements in other parts of the world, such as in EU member states such as Italy (Lombardy) and Spain (Catalonia). And even in the US, Scottish-influenced parts of the country will take a closer look. When countries break up, it raises possibilities. The Scottish independence vote is not just a private matter for these islands.


Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

I strongly agree with Dan Klein and Kevin Frei that “liberal” and “liberalism” are words that should never be relinquished to those who don’t believe in liberty. They have started something called Liberalism Unrelinquished. Good for them.

We the undersigned affirm the original arc of liberalism, and the intention not to relinquish the term liberal to the trends, semantic and institutional, toward the governmentalization of social affairs.

Way back in 2010, I did a posting here entitled They are not liberals and they are not progressives, so I strongly agree about the “liberal” bit of what Klein and Frei are saying.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman recently talked with Klein (Bowman’s posting being how I heard about LU), and Klein also had this to say:

The left gains enormously by getting away with calling itself “liberal,” so getting them to give up the goods is not even a prayer. Partly, I just want to self-declare, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” An Adam Smith liberal; a lovely little subculture. Next, I’d love to see the center-left, in the US, the Democratic Party people, be called by others something other than “liberal” simpliciter.

An important distinction. We can’t change how they talk, but we can change how we talk. (Bowman’s italics are emboldened.)

But then comes this:

Progressive, Democratic, social democratic, leftist, or left-liberal – all good.

No, not “all good”. “Progressive”?

Here’s what I said about that in 2010:

… the word “progressive” is just as wrong as the word “liberal”. The statists who argue for the destruction of the dollar and for bank bail-outs (again) and for nationalised derangement of medical care and for green-inspired economic sabotage aren’t “liberals”. They do not believe in liberty; they believe in curtailing liberty. But neither do they believe in anything which it makes sense to anybody except them to call “progress”. Progress is the exact thing these statists are now trying and have always tried to destroy, and just lately have been doing a pretty damn good job of destroying. Progress means things getting better. These self styled “progressives” are only making things worse.

My piece got linked to by Instapundit, and I like to think it may have set some brain cells in motion on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it even contributed in a tiny way to the founding of LU. If so, it’s a pity that Klein didn’t register the Progressive bit of my argument. I hope he registers it now.

Klein’s answer might be that when campaigning, you do one thing at a time. Quite so. Klein and Frei are right to concentrate on “liberalism”. This word deserves all the focus that they will be bestowing upon it.

But, if they succeed in stopping us opponents of these anti-liberal but self-declared “liberals” from calling them Liberals, it won’t be nearly such a victory if instead these anti-progressive self-declared “progressives” are merely described by us, their truly progressive opponents, as Progressives.

This is no mere quibble. If we say that “liberals” aren’t liberals but are “progressives”, we are conceding to these … whatever-we-call-these-people, a horrible falsehood as being a truth, namely the falsehood that human liberty and human progress are antithetical ideas and that the only way to accomplish human progress is to diminish human freedom. This is a disastrously wrong idea. What these people unleash upon the world is not progress. It is sterility, stagnation, and often far, far worse.

I, and Klein and Frei, are all liberals, and we are all progressives by any sane meaning of the word “progress”.

So, to quote Instapundit: What do we call them?

The Klein/Frei Liberalism Unrelinquished project is positive. They want to keep that word for their side, and mine. Good.

This posting of mine is mostly negative, just as my 2010 posting was mostly negative. Both are about how not to use certain words. Don’t call them liberals, and don’t call them progressives. But two positives are implied. We are liberals. And yes, although I am not for one moment suggesting that Liberalism Unrelinquished should be given a more unwieldy and less focussed name, we are progressives.

→ Continue reading: Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

Paul Marks on the influence of Germany on British and American political thought

Last Thursday, exactly a week ago, there were two speaker meetings occurring in London, both of which I wanted to go to, both addressed by Samizdatistas.

I picked the one at Christian Michel’s home, addressed by Philip Chaston, who talked about various efforts by English science fiction writers to talk up apocalyptic threats to mankind, such as climate threats and invasion threats of various kinds, by writing stories about such things actually happening. It was a very good talk. But because of attending that talk, I missed the talk given by Paul Marks to Libertarian Home that same evening, about the influence of Germanic thought upon the English speaking world.

My journey through tube-strike-deranged London to Philip’s talk looked like being – and in fact was – easier than the journey to Paul’s talk might have been, but I do confess that the biggest reason I chose Philip’s talk was my guess that Paul’s would soon be viewable on video. That guess has now been proved right. The talk only lasted a little over twenty minutes, and I highly recommend it. For those allergic even to that much video, Simon Gibbs has also appended some admirably detailed notes on what Paul said.

The big thing I want to add to what Paul Marks said is to emphasise the extreme importance of the subject he chose to talk about. Because of how the Germanic version of state-worship eventually turned out in the twentieth century, the Anglo-Saxon world has ever since been understandably embarrassed by how huge had been Germany’s intellectual and political influence upon it. The entire episode is well on the way to being forgotten by all but a few libertarians, of the Paul Marks variety. Yet for several decades, the military prowess of Prussia and then of the greater Germany that was assembled around Prussia, seemed to many like a crushingly effective argument for statism and against liberty. Even Germany’s World War One war effort, eventually an utter failure, was still a mightily impressive effort while it lasted. Both those who admired Germany’s intellectual and political notions and those who hated them believed such things to be necessary for national success. To put it another way, even those who hated Germanic political culture also feared it, and regarded it as something that simply had to be copied, rather as there was a similarly misguided little spurt of enthusiasm in the West for the methods of the Sputnik-era version of the USSR. But the urge to copy Germany went on for far longer and was far more strongly felt and defended and argued for. Germanic thought became dug into Anglo-American academia, for example, and the consequent intellectual poison has yet to be purged.

While most others prefer to forgot this story, we libertarians have everything to gain from keeping the memory of all this very much alive. We should all pay attention to the tale Paul told last Thursday, and be passing it on to everyone we argue with about both the attractiveness and the effectiveness of the freedom idea, in contrast to the kinds of ideas that deranged nineteenth and twentieth century Germany, and which are still deranging the world because of Germany’s earlier example.

British relations with Washington: the old ways are best

A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph

Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.

the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?

Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:

However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”

We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.

I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):

“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”

(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)

I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:

It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.

Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.

First thoughts on America 3.0 – the Emmanuel Todd connection

A great deal longer ago than I now enjoy remembering, I rashly promised the authors of America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus, that I would, very soon, write something here about this book. But this is not a regular book review. I have an agenda of my own to plug with regard to America 3.0, which is, in two words: Emmanuel Todd.

I have greatly admired Emmanuel Todd, the French anthropologist and historian, ever since, in a 1980s remainder shop, I first encountered English translations of two of his most important books, the English titles of which are The Explanation of Ideology and The Causes of Progress, my copies of these two books being among my most treasured possessions. America 3.0 is in no small measure the book that it is because Bennett and Lotus have also acquainted themselves with Emmanuel Todd’s style of thinking, and have applied it to America. And the most interesting fact about America 3.0, from where I sit, is that its publication may prove to be some sort of breakthrough for Emmanuel Todd in the place that James Bennett himself has dubbed the Anglosphere. My hope concerning America 3.0 is not so much that what it says about America will captivate lots of Americans, although I’d be very happy if it did, but that it may, because its authors based it partly on a foundation constructed for them by Emmanuel Todd, help to spark what I think is a long overdue debate throughout the Anglosphere, a far grander debate than a merely American discussion about America. This debate will encompass the entirety of Emmanuel Todd’s grand narrative, and will concern the entire world.

The historian Alan MacFarlane, author of, among other books, one called The Origins of English Individualism, whose work is aligned with that of Emmanuel Todd, is one of the few historians writing in English to have given Todd the time of day. The authors of America 3.0 tell me that in an email to them, MacFarlane said that Todd is “roughly right” in what he says. Which sounds like rather faint praise. But when you realise that what MacFarlane reckons Todd to be “roughly right” about is one of the most confidently reductionist, yet original and interesting, and above all persuasive explanations of the entire process of political and economic modernisation that has been accomplished and is still being accomplished by our relentlessly formidable and complicated and belligerent and inventive species, everywhere on earth during the last five centuries and more, and for at least the next several decades, then you begin to see where my admiration for Emmanuel Todd is coming from. Many very capable and admirable historians score eight, nine or even ten out of ten for their life’s work. Compared to them, I would give Todd about eight hundred out of a thousand and counting. The man is operating at a different level of explanatory reach to all other historians I have ever read, or have ever read about or heard of. Yes indeed, as MacFarlane’s comment illuminates, Todd has, over the years, got quite a few of the details of his grand narrative somewhat wrong, in fact he probably gets far more things wrong than most good historians ever get right. But what he does get right … well, it is an epic story, and furthermore, a story that I now believe, with MacFarlane, to be “roughly right”.

So, what has Emmanuel Todd been saying?

→ Continue reading: First thoughts on America 3.0 – the Emmanuel Todd connection

A light has gone from my life

I did so enjoy contemplating the coming inevitable defeat of Julia Gillard and the Australian Labor Party. Unimportant in the greater scheme of things, I know, but just to contemplate the ululations of grief and ritual cries of “misogyny” that would have come from the Guardian the morning after the next Australian election was a little thing that gave me a few snatched moments of innocent pleasure in this hard world.

Now, however

Mrs Thatcher clones

An unexpected pleasure, leftists chocking at the sight of people celebrating Margaret Thatcher, has just got even better.

The Daily Mail informs us that the “Thatcher haircut” is the rage in central London, with one salon claiming to be overwhelmed by demand.

Italian-born Christina Bellucci, 37, a digital consultant, said she felt the look reflected a modern attitude.

‘This is a strong style and gives me authority,’ she said.

‘When I walk out the door I feel a few inches taller, it gives me power without sacrificing any of my femininity.’

On this day in 1775

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave . . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

– Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775, at the second of the Virginia Conventions.

The full speech is available here It’s not long so, as Glenn Reynolds would say, “read the whole thing.”

The Anglosphere is not doomed

“The world financial crisis has provoked a stark feeling of decline among many in the West, particularly citizens of what some call the Anglosphere: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. In the United States, for example, roughly 73 percent see the country as on the wrong track, according to an Ipsos MORI poll—a level of dissatisfaction unseen for a generation.”

So write Joel Kotkin and Shashi Parulekar. And as they go on to point out, the idea that the English-speaking nations are in imminent danger of being crushed by some sort of Asian/other menace is – with all due respect to the likes of Mark Steyn and Co, wildly overblown. And of course, given that trade is not a zero-sum game, there is nothing to lose from the hopefully long-term enrichment of countries such as Brazil or India.

R, Facebook, Anglosphere?

R is a programming language for statistical analysis and visualisation that I’m taking an interest in for a work project. It’s another open source tool that makes us richer. One way it does that is by being used by Steve McIntyre to plot climate data and replicate (or not) the hockey team’s research.

While researching R, I found R-bloggers, and in particular a post about the use of an R-generated image in Facebook’s IPO filing. The image was originally created a couple of years ago by Facebook intern Paul Butler.

But when Paul switched from plotting every friend pair to instead plotting every city pair with a great-circle line whose transparency was determined by the number of friend-pairs in those cities, something beautiful emerges: a clear image of the world, with friendship bonds flowing between the continents

Paul posted a Facebook page about it and also linked to a high resolution version of the image.

The Anglosphere should be discernable in the image, or at least the original data. Lines from Britain to the USA do look brighter than those from Europe. Many of the lines obscure each other, unfortunately. A 3D version might help.

More map porn can be found on Reddit.

Back to the Anglosphere future?

It’s been pretty quiet here today, and all the things I’m am personally working on need more working on before they’re ready. But, if it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, well, here are a thousand words:


I found this at the top of a piece by Daniel Hannan about how Britain might just be being pushed out of EUrope and back into the Anglosphere.

I won’t be holding my breath, but I have long thought this to be an attractive idea.

A good old Ashes wallow

My fellow Samizdatista and cricket fan (but Aussie) Michael Jennings has been accusing me of not celebrating enough when England have done well in the recently concluded Ashes cricket series. My message throughout the series, to anyone who would listen, has indeed been: wait for it, wait for it. Both to England fans exulting and to Aussies wanting to pitch straight into their speculations about why Australia is now a failed state, I have been saying throughout, needed to wait until the crushing England win that looked ever more likely as the series proceeded was actually achieved. Or not, as the case might have been.

But now that England have indeed achieved their 3-1 (away) victory (there first away win at five-day cricket against Australia for nearly a quarter of a century, which included three innings victories which trust me is crushing), I am now celebrating, with a long posting last night at my personal blog. Well, really it’s about ten blog postings – with handily placed asterisks to enable you to skip to the next one, should you be inclined to.

Topics include: Jimmy Anderson’s girlie-man wicket celebrations, Alastair Cook sounding like Noel Fielding, the role of and nature of luck in sport (and in life generally), the inverse relationships between good individual bowling figures and team success (well, that’s mostly in the first and only comment so far, also by me) and between national economic and national sporting success. Plus, the fascinating contribution made to cricket folklore by the Radio Four shipping forecast, which, amazingly, caused Radio Four listeners to miss the final moments of all three England wins.

If you’re the sort that enjoys that kind of thing, enjoy.