It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.
(James Madison, writing as “Publius” in The Federalist No. 62)
The current Code of Federal Regulations in the United states is pushing 180,000 pages, far more than any human can ever hope to read. The Federal Register, which reports on changes to these regulations, is now in the vicinity of 70,000 pages per year. This does not include, of course, the size of the underlying United States Code, or the size of many rules that are not part of the CFR, or the size of local and state laws and regulatory rules, or the mass of court rulings, administrative rulings, tax court rulings, IRS opinions and the like.
Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Sing and let sing, dance and let dance
You like Offenbach, I do not
So what, so what, so what
Read and let read, write and let write
Love and let love, bite and let bite
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine
Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Drink and let drink, eat and let eat
You like bouillabaisse, I do not
So what, so what, so what
Talk and let talk, quip and let quip
Dress and let dress, strip and let strip
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine
– The lyric of one of Cole Porter’s slightly lesser known songs. Cole Porter is this week’s Radio Three Composer of the Week. Yesterday, Porter himself was to be heard singing this song.
But what’s with that “bite and let bite”?
If one gets into a discussion of evolution by means of natural selection with politically-minded people, and evolutionary mechanisms in economics and society come up, then those who consider themselves on the left, or ‘caring’, are highly likely—as surely as Godwin’s Law—to start emphasising that evolution proceeds not only by individual selection, but by group selection. The point intended by this trope is that group selection is how caring collectivity succeeds, and that market, and other pointwise-negotiated, institutions—what with their brutish know-nothing insistence on competition and individual benefit as the measure of all things—are arbitrary, unnecessarily harsh, and retard progress.
Be careful what you wish for. Consider for a moment the social mechanisms we see everywhere that are calculated to the collective advantage of one gene pool over another. They are particularistic institutions with little truck with equality of treatment: the clan; the tribe; religious exclusivity; in-marriage, family honour and sexual repression; suspicion of outsiders; vendetta; genocide.
I’ll stick with ‘the tyranny of choice’, thank-you.
As the rest of the world becomes more skeptical about mass surveillance, there is one country where it is seldom ever mentioned, except to babble about the need for more of it. The country that the romantic conservative Daniel Hannan says “invented freedom“: Britain.
The latest symptom of the “polite and commercial people” of Britain’s complacent unconcern with freedom and privacy is emergency legislation to be passed through all parliamentary stages early next week, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill or Act, as we shall have to call it almost immediately. There is little doubt this will happen. All three major parties are agreed they will drive it through.
The “emergency” is a confection. It is ostensibly because of a legal challenge to regulations under an EU directive which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice – which took place in April. So obviously it has to be dealt with by hurried legislation to be passed without scrutiny and not even adumbrated in public till Wednesday. This is the order of events:
- 8th April – ECJ declares Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC invalid – in theory telcos and ISPs no longer required to gather certain data
- …wait for it…
- 7th July – Rumours surface in the press that “something will be done”
- 9th July – The Sun in the afternoon carries a “security beat privacy” piece boosting the scheme as the only way to beat terrorists and paedophiles.
- 10th July, 8am – Emergency cabinet meeting briefs senior ministers.
- 10th July, 11.18am – Bill becomes available on gov.uk website (still not available via parliament), Home Secretary makes statement in parliament.
- 11th July (Friday), 4pm – Draft regulations to be made under the Bill as soon as it is enacted made available.
- 15th July (Tuesday) – All House of Commons Stages of the Bill (normally about 4 months).
The pretext, reinstating these regulations (which the Home Office has claimed are still subsisting in the UK anyway) is hard to accept as “vital”. Other countries manage fine without them, and they only existed at all because of some bullying by the UK of other EU states after the 7th July 2005 bombings. I covered this background in an article for City AM written on Thursday. But since then we have had a chance to read what is proposed.
Reinstating the regulations – or anchoring them against legal challenge, since they are still operating – would be simple. The new Bill need only say that parliament enacts the content of the regulations as primary Act of the UK parliament. I wouldn’t be pleased. But it would be doing what was required by the ostensible emergency. That however is not what is happening. The new Bill would broaden the regulations and the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act under which most state snooping in Britain is conducted and give the Home Secretary powers radically to expand the data required, by further regulations. It is a move in the direction of the supercharged surveillance regime set out in the Communications Data Bill, which was dropped as too controversial ante-Snowden. The clearest detailed analysis is by David Allen Green in the FT, he says:
The removals of civil liberties, and the encroachments of the state, are rarely sudden and dramatic. It is often a subtle change of legal form here, and the deft widening of legal definitions there. And before one knows it, the overall legal regime has changed to the advantage of officials and the otherwise powerful, and all we have done is nod-along as it happens.
I fear it is worse than that. Politicians and press have been so comprehensively suckered that some who would normally stand up for civil liberties are burbling about how “it offers [the] chance to bring rise of surveillance state under democratic control”. DRIP.
The Liberal Democrat politicians who have been most reliable n this topic all appear to have been bought off with a sunset clause and the ludicrous promise of “a review”, even though they have now had several years of experience of arrant avoidance of their questions by the intelligence services. DRIP
Even this cannot persuade them that the security state (sometimes called the “deep state”, though that flatters its dysfunctional smugness) is mocking them. DRIP.
Our permanent establishment in Whitehall treats ministers with condescension, and mere parliamentarians with the same contempt it reserves for ordinary citizens. But those in public life need to believe the state is their honest servant. DRIPS!
Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives – and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ – left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.
– Todd Seavey
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make too much of this. But here it is anyway.
In a report about successful pop entertainer Frank Turner meeting successful pop entertainer Josh Homme, Turner is quoted saying, about Homme, this:
“One of the other things about him which I really enjoyed was that – without going into too much discussion about it – I’ve obviously copped a fair amount of shit for being a Libertarian in the press, and he was aware of this and said ‘I’m a fucking hardcore Libertarian, stick to your guns and fuck them’. It’s not very often that people say that to me, so that was nice – I enjoyed that.”
Thanks to Turner and Gigwise, and google sending me an email about it, I get to enjoy it too.
The shit in question is referred to in this earlier posting here by me, and I wrote some more about Turner here.
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
This item, out a few days ago, from one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sandefur, ought to be part of a firestorm of debate out there over the contempt that the current occupant of the White House has shown for the First Amendment. The sad fact is, however, that a large chunk of allegedly “progressive” or “liberal” opinion (such a shame that fine word has been debauched) is unsteady on defending free speech (and quite a lot of “conservatives” are not much better).
Read the whole thing, as the saying goes. And wonder if you will why not more of a stink has been created about this. Almost a quarter of a century ago, when Salman Rushdie went into hiding in the UK after publication of his Satanic Verses book (I haven’t read it), we had an early taste from how some people were willing to make excuses for the murderous intent of fundamentalist Muslims. But to their credit, lefties such as Christopher Hitchens were willing to take a stand. In fact this was the sort of issue that I think turned Hitch away from some of his reflexive Leftism and into being a more free-ranging contrarian.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in the course of being interviewed by Sam Harris:
The reason the so-called Muslim “extremists” are so successful at recruiting, keeping, inspiring, and mobilizing people – and then finally getting them to wage jihad – is that what they’re saying is fully consistent with the teachings of Muhammad.
My thanks to the ever alert Mick Hartley to alerting me to this interview. Hartley entitles his posting “The faith has no truly moderate wing”. That is certainly how Islam seems to me when I read its scriptures.
It may of course just be wishful thinking on my part, but I predict that, some time within the next hundred years or so, there will be a mass-abandonment of this horrible religion, by all those who find themselves being raised as Muslims but who just want to be human beings, rather than in a state of perpetual war – at best mere ceasefire – with all non-Muslims, and constantly at the mercy of lunatic preachers nagging them to actually do what they still go through the motions of saying they believe. The only truly effective way of shaking free from such influences is to say that the lunatic preachers are wrong about everything – about Allah, about the obligation to submit to Allah, about the whole damn thing. It is because they fear what I hope for that devout Muslims have always threatened such mayhem if anyone now proclaims themselves in public to have abandoned Islam, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The effort to establish the right to abandon Islam unmolested is a key locus in the righteous struggle to reduce Islam to insignificance and political impotence.
Christians often complain that atheists only complain about Christianity, rather than about Islam. This criticism does not apply to Sam Harris.
Speaking in this video, Steve Baker makes a point that cannot be made too often:
It’s a crazy thing. In most price systems or most parts of the economy, people understand that it’s wrong to plan prices. So here we are, we’ve had chaos in the credit markets, and the credit markets are centrally planned by a cooperating international network of central banks, committees of planners, who deliberately alter the height of interest rates. And we don’t make the connection that central planning causes chaos. And it’s just a really simple thing, and it’s true in money and banking and it’s true in everything else.
Making our case on financial matters can get difficult, because it can quickly get bogged down in arcane detail. Talking about the interest rate as a politically imposed price works well, because the idea is so clear and so straightforward.
Baker has just been voted onto the Treasury Select Committee. I know very little of the inner workings of Britain’s Parliament, but those who know better about such things I tell me that this is a very big deal. The Guido Fawkes blog certainly thought this circumstance worth a passing mention. This man is making headway.
When I first heard the newly elected Baker talking about what he hoped to accomplish, he sometimes sounded like he thought that the Keynesian/Quantitative Easing door was so rotten that it might only need a few good kicks to be destroyed. Well, hope springs eternal and this door was and is very rotten indeed, but it is also very powerfully defended. Baker now talks like a man who is definitely in for the long fight. Good.
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.