The centenary of the Curragh Incident (or Curragh Mutiny as it sometimes known) took place a couple of months ago. I had been expecting to see a fair amount of comment on what was a fairly dramatic event but so far not a dicky bird. That is not to say that there hasn’t been any comment, just that I haven’t seen it. Assuming there hasn’t been any, perhaps, belatedly, it is about time I got the ball rolling.
Since 1910 the British Government had been attempting to grant devolution, or Home Rule as it was then known, to Ireland. Ulster and the Conservative Party (or Unionists as they were then known) objected. Some 500,000 of Ulster’s British population signed a covenant stating that they would resist it. When this failed to impress the government the Ulstermen established their own army, the Ulster Volunteer Force – not to be confused with more modern creations bearing the same name – and even set up a provisional government, just in case.
The government, at first thought the Ulstermen were bluffing. But by early 1914 they had realised they weren’t and that they were going to have to call in the military. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty sailed a cruiser into Belfast Lough. At the same time orders were issued to the British garrison at the Curragh in Southern Ireland at which point the officers resigned their commissions, or to put it another way, walked out. This, incidentally, was something they were perfectly entitled to do.
The government backed down while denying that they had done any such thing. The officers returned to their posts but the Secretary of State for War did not. One assumes that this meant the end of government plans to “coerce” Ulster but seeing as the First World War broke out at the precise moment things were coming to a head, we shall never know.
The Times 14 March 1914, p9
My guess is that the mutineers were right. Indeed I suspect that had their successors taken a similar stance in 1969 we would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble. But that’s another story.
To commemorate VE Day, here is some appropriately tasteful and historically accurate humour from Mitchell and Webb: A New Führer.
It is the First of May, a date traditionally associated with Marxism. Let us therefore pause today to remember that at least 100 million people were killed by Marxist governments in the 20th century, a number that dwarfs the predations of every other organized movement in human history.
Richard Carey is a devoted student of the English Seventeenth Century and of its ideological struggles in and around the time of the Civil War. Tonight, he will be giving a talk about all this at the Rose and Crown in Southwark, and I will definitely be there.
There could hardly be a more important subject for an English libertarian. Libertarianism now has a rather American flavour. The biggest libertarian books, especially those of more recent vintage, tend to be written by Americans or at least in America. So, if it is the case (and it is) that libertarianism of the modern and self-consciously ideological sort actually has its origins in the English Seventeenth Century, then that is a fact that we English libertarians should regularly be celebrating and reflecting upon.
My own off-the-top-of-my-head take on this is that libertarianism of the sort I espouse most definitely did make its first big appearance in Seventeenth Century England, in the form of the Levellers. But the impeccably libertarian nature of this first great libertarian ideological eruption has been masked by the kinds of questions that most exercised those first English libertarians. Libertarianism now tends to be about what governments ought to do, and most especially about the many things that governments now do, but ought not to do, or at the very least to do much less. In the seventeenth century, libertarians with unswervingly libertarian views on, e.g., property rights as the correct institutional foundation of liberty, were not quite so exercised about how the government should behave, although they did have plenty to say about this. Their central concern was: Who has the right to be the government in the first place? If you do have to have some kind of government, who should choose it? The central preoccupation of those Levellers was: Where does political authority come from? If there must be government, who decides about who shall be that government?
Charles I – famously or infamously according to taste – claimed that God had chosen the government of England, in the form of … Charles I. This the Levellers, of course, challenged. But having challenged it, and the king having been executed, the question remained: If Charles I is not the legitimate ruler of England, then who is?
The Levellers were “egalitarian” in the sense that they were indeed far more egalitarian about who should be allowed to participate in that political debate, about who should govern. Political authority sprang from … everyone! When it came to deciding who the government was, everyone’s voice counted. This was the sense in which the Levellers really were, sort of, “levellers”.
But this political egalitarianism was seized upon by Seventeenth Century Royalists as evidence that the Levellers were also egalitarians in the modern sense, who believed that economic outcomes should be equalised by the government. They were accused of being socialists. There were indeed real socialists around at that time. These were the Diggers. But the Levellers had very different views to the Diggers.
Later, the Levellers were proclaimed to be socialists by another ideological tendency, namely … socialists.
The irony being that these later socialists mostly had ideas about how government should conduct itself were pretty much identical to those of Charles I. Charles I believed that the state (i.e. Charles I) had relentlessly to intervene in the market and in the workings of the wider society, in order to correct freedom’s economic and other injustices, and never mind any harmful consequences that flowed from such intervention, or “tyranny” as the Levellers called such activities. Modern socialists believe exactly the same, about themselves.
So, the Levellers, historically, have been caught in a pincer movement of lies, proclaimed by two different brands of statists. Royalist statists accused the Levellers of being socialists. Subsequent socialists claimed the Levellers as socialists. Both were wrong. But if we libertarians do not now correct these errors, nobody will.
I still recall with great pleasure the talk that Richard gave at my home last year about the ideological context within which the Levellers first arose, and the questions that they were most keen to answer. Tonight, I am hoping to learn more about the answers they gave to these questions, and, in general, about the nature of their libertarianism. Because libertarianism is most definitely what it was.
I wrote this posting in some haste, to be sure that what I wrote got posted in time to encourage at least some who otherwise might not have done to attend Richard Carey’s talk this evening. I am fully aware that the above is a highly schematic and simplified version of a very complicated story. I have, in particular, supplied no linkage to pertinent historical writings. Comments and corrections, especially with links to pertinent material, will be very welcome to me, and I’m sure to others also.
LATER: I see that in his piece about Richard (linked to above), Simon Gibbs includes yet again an earlier picture taken by me, of Richard sporting lots of hair like a down market Cavalier. Now he looks more like this:
Technically, that is not a good photo, but it’s the best I can do right now.
Hair matters a lot, when it comes to Seventeenth Century English ideological disputes.
I learned about white male Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang and the unearned privilege that got him where he is via Instapundit.
I decided to take their advice. I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend. I have unearthed some examples of the privilege with which my family was blessed, and now I think I better understand those who assure me that skin color allowed my family and I to flourish today.
Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.
Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.
Read the whole thing. The fact that those telling him to “check his privilege” were wrong in their assumptions is only the beginning of his argument.
- Spotted yesterday in the Times (which is behind a paywall) of the day before yesterday by 6k. “Very good” says he. Indeed.
The Times 11 April 1914 p4
It would appear that the busy-bodies of a hundred years ago have it in for child labour (or “half-time” working, as it was then known). Luckily, there are some willing to defend the practice:
I worked for nearly 20 years in the same factory. Contrary to the opinions expressed by some people, my health never suffered as a result of the half-time system, and I was never at home for more than a few days during the whole of my factory life. Again, I never had any trouble to pass the required “standard” at school, and I certainly cannot remember to have fallen asleep over my lessons, or even to have felt inclined to do so.
Love the scare quotes.
So, why do we have child labour?
To speak generally, the half-time children belong to parents of the unskilled labour class, where every shilling earned makes a difference at the week-end…
Unfortunately, our correspondent then makes a serious error:
In my estimation the half-timers employed in the factories are far better off than the unfortunate children who work in barbers’ shops, hawk newspapers in the streets, run about mornings and evenings on milk rounds, card hooks and eyes or make match-boxes.
Don’t give them ideas!
I had to laugh at this:
In these progressive days parents almost invariably allow their children to sit up until their own bed hour: the children have just what they fancy for supper, not what is most suitable…
Plus ça change…
I am reading Pride and Prejudice, annotated by David M. Stoppard. It’s the part of the novel where Elizabeth is starting to figure out that Darcy might be an all right bloke after all. Mrs Gardiner and Darcy’s housekeeper are discussing him:
“His father was an excellent man,” said Mrs Gardiner.
“Yes Ma’am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him — just as affable to the poor.” 
Note 34 reads:
Helping the poor was an important function for one in Darcy’s position. The large numbers of people in this society with meager incomes, and the fairly limited means of public support available, meant that the need for such assistance was often great, especially in years of poor harvests.
Shortly after, and related:
“He is the best landlord, and the best master,” said she, “that ever lived. Not like the wild young men now-a-days, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. 
Note 37 reads:
The tenants would be those renting land on the estate and farming it; they could have frequent reason to deal with the owner, especially since owners could help fund improvements to the land that would raise productivity and benefit both owner and tenant.
So it turns out that it is not the case that the state is the only thing standing in the way of the rich laughing as the poor starve. And poor harvests? Thanks to globalisation, the “poor” have it easy now-a-days.
Via Tim Worstall, this:
Donestk was founded in the 19th century by John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil steel worker who had landed a contract from the Tsarist government to provide steel plating for the navy.
Now residents of the city have responded to pro-Russian protests for autonomy from Kiev with an internet vote that rejects Russia’s claims in favour of a turn to the Queen and London.
It calls for the restoration of the original name Hughesovka or Yuzovka and requests London rule.
After the Bolshevik revolution, the city was renamed Stalino and finally called Donetsk in 1961.
A total of 7,000 people had voted by Sunday with 61 per cent voting to secede to Britain and a further 16 per cent voting to make the city an English-speaking autonomous region inside Ukraine.
“We demand a referendum on the return to Yuzovka to its original bosom – a part of Great Britain,” the preamble declared. “Glory to John Hughes and his town. God Save the Queen.”
I read in Colin Thomas’s book on Hughesovka / Stalino / Donetsk, Dreaming a City, that the name “Stalino” preceded the era when everything was named after Stalin, and initially was intended to identify the town with its main industry, steel.
Over the last few days (this is 1914 we’re talking about just in case anyone was in any doubt) a large number of articles have appeared in the German press on the threat posed by Russia. And still they come:
There is, if anything, an increase to-day in the Press discussion of present and future and possible and probable Russo-German relations. The Berlin Bourse, which was troubled last week by the beginning of the campaign in the Cologne Gazette, was disturbed again to-day – chiefly by the spreading of the infection to the Radical and “pacific” Berliner Tageblatt. This journal published this morning an anonymous article by somebody who is described as distinguished and experienced in all branches of international politics, which, without indeed advocating war, advocates the adoption of a very firm policy towards Russia.
This is co-ordinated and there’s only one body that would be doing the co-ordination: the German government. They are preparing the population for war. The argument being used is precisely the argument being used in the corridors of power: the Russians are building up their forces and in a few years they will be too strong and it will be too late. In other words: it’s now or never.
The Times 10 March 1914 p5
It is not just the Russians the Germans are worried about. The Russians on their own would be fairly harmless (as indeed they proved to be) but they are in alliance with France. This leads to Germany’s worst nightmare: the prospect of a war on two fronts. This in turn leads to the development of the Schlieffen Plan with its aim to eliminate one of those fronts before the other one got going.
There is an alternative. Germany could return Alsace-Lorraine to France. At a stroke they would eliminate the one and only bone of contention in the Franco-German relationship and as a consequence break up the Franco-Russian alliance. But no.
There are good reasons why the German government isn’t so keen on such a move. By accepting self-determination in Alsace-Lorraine they would be accepting the principle of democracy. This is hardly the sort of thing that a monarchy can do. There would also be the element of losing face that weak regimes are very reluctant to do.
As I mentioned earlier the claim is that Germany must go to war soon or else it will be too late. The odd thing is that they were even wrong about this. The Russians were utterly incompetent in the First World War and there is no reason to think they would have fought much better even after their arms build up.
What is interesting is that even the Socialists appear to be unnerved by the Russian threat. This might explain why after the war broke out and despite the fact they had been left out of the loop, they were so willing to vote the government the funds to carry on the war.
To-day the Pan-German Press is advocating German claims of all sorts, especially in Asia Minor, “which is still to be had, but only if Germany does not shrink from the extreme test and is ready to risk war against Russia and France as well as England.”
This is fascinating. They have clearly made up their minds that if war means war with England then so be it. It is suicidal but that’s the point the German High Command has reached in 1914.
It was Fritz Fischer, writing in the 1950s who claimed that the outbreak of war in 1914 was no accident. He traced it back to what has become known as the War Council of December 1912. From there, Germany abandoned the naval arms race with Britain so that it could build up its army. Shortly afterwards it launched this campaign. Everything is ready. Now all they need is a pretext.
There is also the claim that the Russians are running riot in the Balkans:
The writer insists that “pretences” shall be dropped and that both Berlin and Vienna shall recognize that they have step by step been retreating before Russian pretensions with lamentable results.
This is absolute nonsense. The people who are winning are the Austrians. They have annexed Bosnia, created the state of Albania to deny the Serbs a port, faced the Russians down in the mobilisations of 1912 and made an ally of the Bulgarians – a country hitherto in the Russian sphere. Meanwhile, a German, Liman von Sanders, has more or less been put in charge of the Turkish army, completely putting the kibosh on (the admittedly somewhat far-fetched) Russian ambitions to control the Bosphorus.
Incidentally, it is one of the claims of Christopher Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers (p330) that the German government did not embark on a campaign to ready its people for war. This, he felt, showed that the so-called War Council was not quite as decisive as others have claimed. What this article (and others) show is that this claim is nonsense.
It is a routine complaint about modern life that “we” now have far too many gadgets for our own good, and maybe some of us do. (I just googled too many gadgets and got “about 150,000,000 results”.)
But then again, have a read of this, by blogger “6000″, who now lives in South Africa, about his last conversation with his beloved uncle Alan, who died yesterday in a hospital in the Isle of Man:
My brother had been over to see him on Saturday and while I wish that I could have been there too, I enjoyed a 20 minute conversation with him over Skype. My last memory of my Uncle Alan will be his disbelief at the technology in front of him as I showed him Cape Agulhas lighthouse and the turquoise Indian Ocean. He always loved anything to do with the sea. We even shared a joke or two. It might not have been the same as actually being there with him, but for me, it was a special moment – even more so now – and I hope that for him, it was a bit of escapism from his hospital bed.
The way to judge the value and impact of a new technology is not to look at the typical or average uses of it, but at its most meaningful and significant uses. Yes, modern toys are routinely used to exchange trivial chit-chat of no great significance. But so what? Where’s the harm in that? Even supposedly insignificant chat often means something very significant to those doing the chatting, even if some nosy eavesdropper with nothing better to do than moan about other people’s conversations might not be so diverted by it. I imagine that if you had been listening in on 6000 and his uncle last Saturday, you might not have been that amused. Like I say: so what?
And nor should “we” be badgered into looking only at the bad things that new technology can do, or help people to do. Yes, some of the newly enabled chit-chat is significant because it is malevolent. Modern toys are indeed used to do bad things, and to conspire to do other bad things. And airplanes incinerated cities. Cars have long been used to make getaways after bank robberies. Trains took innocent people to murder camps and soldiers to be slaughtered in wars. Sailing ships were used by pirates. Money gets stolen, and is then used to finance other crimes.
But are the facts in the above paragraph convincing arguments against the very existence of laptop computers, Skype, smartphones, airplanes, cars, trains, sailing ships or money? No. The good done by new technology when used by good people to do good things is by far its most significant consequence. Long may this continue to be true.
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.