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]

Filleting Fukuyama

Lowell Ponte over on Front Page has written a superb retort to Frances Fukuyama’s latest collectivist cri de coeur ‘Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution’. Although critiquing Fukuyama is sometimes a bit like shooting fish in a barrel (Instapundit frequently makes sport of him on slow news days), Ponte does a very good job at pointing out the horrendous implications of Fukuyama’s line of thought

Who owns your body? In Fukuyama’s implicit view, the government does because “you” are merely a cog transmitting your DNA on to the collective of future generations whose rights are superior to yours. You should have no right to tamper with your own mind or body via drugs or with your heredity by cloning yourself or altering your own DNA.
Fukuyama likes big government, especially when it grabs people by the short-and-curlies and prohibits them from using science to alter reproductive DNA. “Libertarian advocates of genetic choice want the freedom to improve their children,” wrote Fukuyama, “But do we really know what it means to improve a child?” (“I am guessing,” riposted Libertarian David Dieteman, “that Johns Hopkins, where Fukuyama is a professor, does not include this query with its tuition bills to parents.”)

This is terrific stuff and I strongly commend the whole article to anyone who holds to quaint notions of self-ownership as I do. Fukuyama and his ilk are not just misguided, they are the intellectual cheerleaders for a totalitarianism of the most profound kind… they would have the state lay claim to the very molecular structure of your body.

As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. Well not if Frances Fukuyama has his way.

Prams, UK Transport and the Monarchy (All Human Life Is Here.)

  • Prams versus pushchairs. I know I was meant to dispense my maternal wisdom earlier, Brian, but I was caught up in dispensing a few maternal whacks round the head. (Only joking M’lud.) There is a fixed quantity of attention available to children or indeed adults. 1,440 minutes per day, less sleep time. That’s why someone-or-other called attention the final currency. It’s like land. They aren’t making any more. That said, we are all using so little of the potentially available attention supply that depriving a kiddie of seeing mama’s face for the time spent in the pushchair is insignificant, and may as you say be outweighed by the benefits of seeing the world. Pity one has to strap them in though. Gets ’em entirely too accepting of safety belts.

    This goes the same way as arguments about population and productivity. The Club of Rome deserve our mockery for saying that space / food / oil whatever will run out by 1980. Of course there’s loads more good stuff being created by busy capitalist hands all the time. Eventually, however, the limits to growth doomsayers have a point. And relying on the invention of interstellar travel sometime in the late 2200s does not fully satisfy me as an insurance policy.

  • UK Transport. With this Illuminated blog, it’s not how many readers, it’s who reads. Real journalists will go there to research stories, if they are wise.
  • A plug if I may, for my own take on His Majesty King Brendan over at my blog.

Hot under the collar in Europe

It was bound to happen. Writers in Europe have woken up to the fact that Americans do not regard the European chattering classes with particular fondness and respect. Paul Gottfried in a singularly bad-tempered article in this week’s edition of The Spectator magazine, broadly tries to argue that there is a right-wing smear campaign in American intellectual and political circles to discredit Europe and to portray Europeans as anti-Semitic, cowardly, cynical, socialistic idiots.

Well, Gottfried makes a few decent points, and it is undoubtedly true that there has been a strain of hostility towards Europe in some of the commentary emanating from Jefferson’s Republic (den Beste at USS Clueless and some of the Weekly Standard writers are particular offenders). But Gottfried does not pause to consider why this hostility has arisen. It is not because Americans are jealous of Europe, why should they be? It is not fear of us…that’d be the day! It is a lack of patience with the sneering, dishonest rubbish coming out of the lips of the likes of Chris Patten and the rest. From what I read, I get the impression that all but the most bigoted paleo-conservative commentators appreciate that most European folk like and are sympathetic to the U.S., want it to beat terror, and will help in that cause.

God Save the Queen and God Bless America.

Big Browser and democracy – two sides of the same coin

The Council of the European Union is pushing to introduce measures that would force internet service providers and phone companies to keep records of all communications for many years. The Internet bill is supposed to aim at protecting the confidentiality of electronic communication to boost confidence in e-commerce. But it also contains provisions to allow police access to phone, fax and email records, something that governments view as a useful tool to fight crime and terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks in the United States.The information recorded and archived would consists of URLs of web pages visited, news groups and numbers dialled. It would then be made available for the police and other security agencies in gathering criminal intelligence.

Despite strong opposition from civil liberty groups and the industry, the bill is likely to include the data retention rules because of support from the European Socialist Party and the European People’s Party, the assembly’s main political groups. Also, documents leaked to civil liberties groups, reveal that powerful lobbying is taking place on behalf of power-grabbing thugs law enforcement agencies to try to destroy existing data protection and privacy laws in member states.

“These proposals would allow fishing expeditions into the only activity, browsing habits, and internet associations of every citizen in the EU for up to seven years. They could do this without any warrant or court order.”

Civil liberties groups such as Statewatch and the Foundation for Information Policy Research warn that this would give police and other security forces the powers normally expected of an oppressive regime:

“Authoritarian and totalitarian states would be condemned for violating human rights and civil liberties if they initiated such practices. The fact that it is being proposed in the ‘democratic’ EU does not make it any less authoritarian.”

This is all rather standard and predictable given what we know about the EU and its practices. However, there is a rather worrying twist to the story. Instead of the usual heavy-handed, freedom-quashing bill drafting by the EU, the latest version of the bill has been made more oppressive at the request of none other than the good HM Government! Originally, the EU Parliament had drafted the law to limit access to electronic data by public authorities to the strict minimum. But this move was criticised by member states, notably Britain, which wanted greater power to monitor the Internet. US officials also criticised the bill, fearing that the request to erase data would hinder prosecution of criminals. Fearing that this legislative clash would ultimately kill the bill, the two biggest parliamentary groups have now aligned themselves with the member states.

What is going on here?!

Well, nothing much, actually, just the usual state stuff. The fact that the system of government in the member states is democratic does nothing to stop them from abusing an undemocratic institution such as the EU. In fact, they are being democratic, using the powers of the EU to reduce the liberties of their citizens, just like the majority of their citizens use domestic institutions to do the same to individuals.

So predictably, for me, democracy – the rule of the majority – has negative connotations as it has for Perry de Havilland. Democracy is far from the political and social panacea it is made out to be. It does not bring about the kind of fluffy bunny utopia socialists would like us believe in. Although the un-democratic EU together with its democratic member states are doing their best to have the bunnies stuffed… And just like Mr Franklin, I do want to see the bunny (or the lamb) well armed.

Bono’s Mysterious Ways

As everyone knows by now, US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and U2 frontman Paul “Bono” Hewson just completed a week-long tour of Africa. While the unlikely pair seem to play off each each other well on stage, and seem to be getting along well offstage, it is not entirely clear how Mr. Bono has suddenly emerged as a power-broker. Several news sources attributed this quote to the man with the wraparound shades:

“[O’Neill] is the man in charge of America’s wallet … and it’s true, I want to open that wallet.”

None of the news sources I saw chose to elaborate on this comment’s obvious falseness. The treasury cannot release any funds until the proper appropriation and authorization bills have made their way through Congress. (I will cut Mr. Hewson some slack because he is not an American; but if certain members of the press need a refresher course in this area, I would recommend that they review their Schoolhouse Rock.) At any rate, it makes you wonder why we should take anything else the guy says seriously.

Bono’s cause is third-world debt relief. He argues that the heavy external debts of foreign governments are the principal obstacle to their emergence from poverty. We shall examine those claims briefly. How effective are official debt-relief programs in improving economic performance? Well, we can let history be the judge, since we have tried this before. In the late 1980s, the US treasury department began a debt-relief program called the Brady Plan, in which creditor banks were encouraged (through the stick / carrot of the federal tax code) to refinance debt at subsidized rates and reduce principal levels by allowing banks to replace severely discounted loans with new debt at levels closer to par value.

Was the Brady Plan a success? It depends on how you define success. If the objective was debt reduction as an end in itself, then the Brady Plan looked good — more than $60 billion in foreign debt was forgiven, by one estimate. But did the Brady Plan succeed on a larger scale, i.e. did it promote economic growth and encourage more responsible borrowing by third world governments? Sorry, Bono, but the track record there is not so good.

In his book International Debt Reexamined (unfortunately no longer in print, though I have a copy from my grad-school days), economist William R. Cline demonstrates that the economies of Brady Plan participants did not outperform those of nonparticipants with similar debt levels in the 1990s. So much for the argument that debt relief is a sine qua non of future economic growth.

Moreover, there is evidence that the Brady Plan (and other official debt relief programs) merely crowded out private debt relief efforts such as debt-for-equity and debt-for-nature swaps, which had commendably been on the rise throughout the mid to late 1980s. The announcement of the Plan itself had the effect of encouraging further profligacy — if your mortgage banker announced that it might be forgiving or substantially reducing your mortgage debt in the near future, wouldn’t you think twice before mailing in your next payment?

Bono’s line of reasoning on third-world debt would have found a favorable audience with economists a generation ago, but has long since fallen out of respectability. The new generation of development economists, spearheaded by the Peruvian economist and think-tank chairman Hernando de Soto, argues that the people of the third world already hold the solution to their poverty. This makes things difficult for would-be celebrity messiahs like Bono. Sorry, pal, but the world is ready to move on, with or without you.

Samizdata slogan of the day

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.
– Benjamin Franklin, 1759

The exquisite arm of the law

Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is a happy puppy. The new Miss Universe is Oxana Fedorova, a policewoman from St.Petersburg in Russia… now I am off to that historic city to see if I can get arrested.


Gawd Bless ‘er

I must admit that the terms ‘Libertarian’ and ‘Monarchist’ are not one that are effortlessly congruent but neither are they mutually exclusive. So it is without any hesitation that I declare myself to be, in my own quiet and understated way, a Monarchist, at least as far as Britain is concerned.

This being the case, I am only too happy to rise to the challenge of Brendan O’Neill

“..in fact, worst of all is a monarchist who dare not speak his name, who won’t come out in full defence of the royals. So come on then – defend the monarchy.”

I do dare to speak my name, Mr.O’Neill, and defending the monarchy is not just my burden but, I’ll have you know, my pleasure.

If one is to live within the institution called ‘nation’ then it is entirely reasonable (and maybe even essential) to have something or someone to symbolise that nation. Our monarch fulfils that role not just satisfactorily but admirably. It is an institution which is the product of our heritage, culture and history and a reminder that our constitution and civil society was painstakingly built by the craft and toil of ages and has now been largely squandered by the kind of elected representatives you seem to admire so much.

The monarch is a continuum; it is an anchor for the commonwealth of the people and stands not above politics but apart from politics. The monarch has served and continues to serve as a totem for both British sense of community and nationhood; a stubborn reminder that British civil society is not within the gift of Tony Blair or Romano Prodi and will be here long after both of them have turned to dust. Our Queen really does serve, our politicians merely feed at the table.

I might remind you, Mr.O’Neill that it is not the Queen that is bleeding us white with taxes, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen that is suffocating us with pettyfogging regulations and laws, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen who has traduced our civil liberties, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen that has delivered us, bound hand and foot, to the fat Cardinals in Brussels, it is elected politicians. Given the choice between Queen Elizabeth and the gaggle of mendacious, thieving sluts that people like you have in mind to replace her, I know for sure which one I would take up arms for.

So there you have it, Mr.O’Neill. A defence of monarchy. And since I have been bold enough to defend my position, perhaps you will allow me the indulgence of a challenge of my own? It is a challenge for you and all others who believe in ‘democratic’ virtues. Did you take a holiday last year? If so, did you canvass everybody in your constituency beforehand on their opinion as to a) whether you were entitled to a holiday and b) where you should spend it? If not, why not?

Not really pro-monarchist but rather anti-political

Brendan O’Neill has posted a reply to the various people who have commented on his anti-monarchist remarks posted earlier on his own blog. In the following paragraph he addresses my article posted yesterday called A toast to the ‘anti-democratic’ and pleasingly powerless Monarchy

Perry at Libertarian Samizdata challenges my definition of democracy, and claims that ‘the Queen steals a great deal less of my money and poses a far lesser threat to my liberty than the democratically elected thugs in Downing Street’. This is a popular argument in favour of the monarchy – that it is at least better than the politicians we end up with. But this is an inherently anti-democratic view. At least we can get rid of politicians if we don’t like what they do – there is no option to ‘unelect’ Prince Charles for talking utter nonsense about the environment, or Prince Andrew for being a useless, parasitic playboy, or Princess Margaret for being obnoxious and arrogant. We’re stuck with them, whether we like it or not.

Of course what I said was anti-democratic, what I wrote was an overt anti-democratic polemical article! It seems Brendan has completely missed my point. I don’t care what Prince Charles says about the environment because he, unlike Tony Blair, has no ability to take my money to put his views into practice. I am free to ignore him, which I do. I don’t give a damn how obnoxious Prince Andrew is… supporting his playboy lifestyle is chump change compared to what the socialist British state takes from me by force to support the ghastly National Health Service or any other of the host of other theft based ‘social’ (meaning state) programmes. I regard the monarchy as a quaint oddity and the Jubilee as a fine excuse for a party because it has no real political power and thus does not actually need to be ‘un-elected’. The Queen and that idiot Prince Charles does not decide how much of my money the British state will steal tax, the democratically sanctified state does, aided and abetted by everyone who adds bogus legitimacy to that appropriation by voting for the thieves MPs in Parliament who act as their proxies confiscating other people’s property.

To say an aspect of life is amenable to democratic politics, which is to say, to politicise it by allowing parties other than the people directly involved to decide what form some interaction must take, is to take that aspect of life out of the realm of voluntary association/dis-association and to give it a violence based mandatory nature… and to morally de-legitimise it.

I am not pro-monarchy, I am anti-political… and that includes democratic politics as well. Thus the reason I will toast the monarchy is that it is essentially a non-political figurehead with no real power over me, unlike Tony Blair or Iain Duncan Smith or Chaz Kennedy. I do not care how it is determined who gets to pull the political levers of power… I want those levers to have no one’s hands on them and the hands (and, yes, maybe heads) of anyone reaching for them cut off with an axe. I do not want the power over my life wielded by the democratic state transferred to the monarchy, I want it removed all together. Brendan, I think the ‘libertarian’ bit before Samizdata might have given you a hint where I was coming from. What matters is not democracy or monarchy, but several liberty.

Samizdata slogan of the day

Perry: “Have you read Orwell’s 1984?”
Adriana: “No, I don’t need to, I used to live in it.”

UK Transport motoring on

I just noticed that UK Transport now has a hit counter, and I pushed the little cross, expecting just a number. But as most readers of this probably know far better than I, what you actually get is a whole new page of numbers. And the news is that the UKT cup is either almost completely empty, or else starting to get definitely, detectably damp at the bottom, depending on how you look at it. VISITS: Total: 869, Average Per Day: 29, Average Visit Length: 1.10, Last Hour: 5, Today: 24, This Week: 240.

You can see how a regular journalist, looking at numbers like those, would say, forget about that. I, and I hope Patrick, with our backgrounds in unofficial paper pamphlets stuffed into envelopes and the like, are more easily impressed. I definitely am. Compare Total with This Week, or Average with Today (that was at 11.30 am today), and maybe you’d agree. Patrick seems to be excited, because (as Natalie Solent also noted) he was up at 6.43 am this morning. This is about when I go to bed.

There’s a mass of recent UKT stuff to look at, and Patrick does write beautifully, with a decent sprinkling of human being outbursts and idioms to enliven what from other keyboards would be uninterrupted number and date crunching. What I like about Patrick is: he’s honest. You always feel that he’s saying it like he’s seeing it. If he’s confused, he says so. If he deviates in his head from the libertarian orthodoxy (e.g. on Compulsory Purchase Orders being necessary to build railways) he deviates right there on UKT. Which means that when he does express a strong judgement that counts for something.

Nevertheless, of all the recent stuff on UKT, the thing that most impressed me was an email from Tim Hall, whoever he is. It’s full of insider knowledge about the sad fate of brand-new but never used railway carriages, or something, and what it means is that UKT looks like continuing its slow but steady rise to significance. Patrick doesn’t have to write the entire thing himself. He may not know as much about roads and planes and ships as he does about trains, but there are surely others out there ready to fill in, as soon as they hear of UKT’s existence. In a year or two, he could have himself an entire ideologically simpatico circus of regulars. Patrick is a one-step-at-a-time sort of person, and he’ll probably say something like: you’re very kind Brian, let’s hope you’re not too kind, wait and see, etc, etc. Which is all part of why I’m starting to get seriously optimistic about UK Transport.

Lord of the Rings quote – quest fulfilled

Yes, just as Perry said at the end of my earlier post, I now have this quote nailed, although I have to say it wasn’t just the blogosphere – more like the Internet as a whole. And it happened in less than an hour, or so it seemed. It’s like having your own personal global Tannoy system. But it also needs the good-will of humans, not just technology..

John Daragon emailed thus, with admirable terseness:

Book 3, Chapter 5, pg. 127.

Steven Galaher e-mailed that while he couldn’t give me the chapter and page number, he could give me an expanded version of the quote:

“The Enemy, of course, has long known that the Ring is abroad, and that it is borne by a hobbit. He knows now the number of our Company that set out from Rivendell, and the kind of each of us. But he does not yet perceive our purpose clearly. He supposed that we were all going to Minas Tirith; for that is what he would himself have done in our place. And according to his wisdom it would have been a heavy stroke against his power. Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.”

Neither email on its own would have been enough, but put the two together (the speciality of the Internet, after all) and it wouldn’t have taken me much longer. However, the man whose email I am publishing in the first place (and whom I had also personally e-mailed), Michael Drout of Wheaton College, Massachusetts, as well as giving almost all of the same expanded quote that Steven Galaher supplied, also settled the whole thing for me thus, and I’m going to “publish” all of this too (i.e. elsewhere and not just here) because it is informative:

Citing the Lord of the Rings is tricky because there are so many textual variants (due to multiple printings and re-printings and Tolkien’s tendency to revise each set of galleys sent to him). A “clean” text was only finally developed in the late 1980’s, so most people just cite by Volume, Book, and Chapter number. Thus the above would be: TT, Bk III, ch v. But if you want a more traditional cite, it is page 100 in the Hougton Mifflin hardback edition, the closest thing we have to a “standard” edition in Tolkien scholarship.

Hope this was helpful.

Indeed it was. Thanks also to Antoine Clarke for showing willing, and to anyone else who was half way to the answer when Perry told everyone to stop.