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Is there an Act of Parliament for Table Manners?

I don’t normally respond publicly to comments, but I will make an exception. Peter Cutbertson has a blog called Conservative Commentary, it is certainly better than the Conservative Party’s website. He thinks that this conclusion I made makes me insane:

“The problem for British libertarians is that they aren’t really used to the idea that the state really is our enemy. This is one reason why I don’t think that the UK withdrawing from the European Union is an automatic recipe for joy.”

In the exchange which follows he appears to believe that “without law or government” society cannot function, and those who disagree with him are “insane” or follow “an incoherent, warped political philosophy”.

I am very tempted to ask our Mr Cuthbertson to define Conservative political philosophy, in plain coherent terms, with the agreement of those current and former leaders of the Conservative Party who are still alive: Heath, Thatcher, Major, Hague and Duncan Smith. But I don’t hate the man, so I won’t.

However, it amazes me that Mr Cuthbertson cannot see that law doesn’t necessarily derive from government. For a start, any conservative who believes in God ought to consider the possibility that there is a higher authority than the State. Assuming atheism (which isn’t very conservative, but hey, who’s being coherent?), I should have hoped that a conservative might believe in the organic, spontaneous order of common law. Assuming God doesn’t exist, and the common law is a fiction (sounds more like a French Jacobin!), what has Mr Cuthbertson done with civil society? Is it true that members of the Carlton Club only behave because of the fear of being arrested by the police? Does the members’ code of conduct depend on the State for its existence and enforcement? Is there an Act of Parliament for table manners?

If the cream of the Conservative movement believe that regulation of human behaviour is only possible by State intervention, then it is no wonder the Conservative Parliamentary Party is an unelectable shambles comprised largely of cretins, petty crooks, pompous buffoons and in-bred yahoos. I will take no lessons in morality or “coherent political philosophy” from a Tory.

14 comments to Is there an Act of Parliament for Table Manners?

  • Even for those who believe in the “Social Contract” between a state and a citizen, and I am not one, it should be patently obvious by now that even by that invalid rationale the state has broken its side of the bargain.

    Sometimes a system is so broken that to reform / mend it is akin to moving deckchairs on the sinking Titanic, we need radical ideas, radical solutions otherwise we will continue to have a system that rewards increased statism with re-election and plundering of the citizenry to pay for it.

    Perhaps the death of the Conservative Party would be a good thing. It has too much baggage, too many personality clashes, and too incoherent a policy.

    New Labour is virtually a one party state due to the lack of an efficient opposition, that being the case it provides an ample opportunity for a new party to begin – there is a vacuum to be filled and the process should start now.

    An argument could be made that there is no democracy in the UK, the people are no longer represented by government.

    Its time for solutions, not more navel gazing and tinkering with the heath robinson contraption that is Britain today.

  • Either you misunderstood me completely or you found what I actually said so difficult to answer that you changed it beyond recognition to provide an easy straw man argument. Considering how twisted a presentation of my argument you have given – and that I already told you when you emailed me about it that my claim that “no sane person” believes there should be no form of government was merely a dig at anarchism, not a serious mental diagnosis – I lean towards the latter explanation. I am disappointed.

    Obviously the state is not the only thing that encourages orderly, moral behaviour. Of course God, morality, shame, guilt, fear of the neighbours’ judgements and table manners all prevent chaos and wrong-doing. Indeed, I have in the past argued at great length precisely that it is basic notions of shame and morality that make freedom workable and that their decline is what makes the state’s intervention in these matters – to the detriment of liberty – seem reasonable. My point was simply that without authority or a state of any kind, there would be no force that could punish the wrong-doer and jail the criminal in accordance with any objective standards of law. Without an elected government, who would decide what is criminal, and where would their authority come from? Who would give the police their powers and by what right would they gain them? What would be the limits? How would the innocent be protected?

    I paraphrased Margaret Thatcher in saying that government was strongest when it got its tentacles out of the places it had no business intruding. Strong government and acceptable authority mean a small state. But I don’t think seeing all government – no matter if it only ever provides a police force, courts and army – as the enemy is as rational. The only real liberty is liberty under the rule of law, not the mob rule liberty to kill and steal under anarchism. I don’t want to steal from anyone, and if I had that liberty, and everyone else did, I would be less free, not more. We need government and authority to stop such crimes. That is why anarchism is an “incoherent, warped political philosophy”, even while sane people of course believe in it, however mistakenly.

  • Julian Morrison

    “objective law” and law courts backed with government force are not necessary. Customary law and consensual arbitration backed by private force are sufficient, and they do not require any initiated force at all, not even that of a coercive minarchy.

    Customary law probably approaches closer to “objective” than anything a politicized parliament can make – it must be seen to be just by all parties in order not to be rejected and ignored, and that is pretty much the *definition* of objective law.

    By contrast politics and political law is less about “what will they accept and trust?” and more about “what’s the worst we can get away with, and not be thrown out in favor of the other lot?”.

  • I wouldn’t rule out private force automatically (indeed, in self-defence I support it), and I am intrigued by the idea of a private police force and so on. But I fail to see how they could work without (central or local) government at least contracting out the right to police in the first place. I think a system where people who didn’t pay the fee did not get police protection would make any sense. After all, it is in everyone’s interests that a killer who murders a poor person be prevented and deterred from doing so, and punished.

    So a privately contracted police force still requires a democratic government to determine the laws they must follow. Anything else would be mob rule.

  • Andy Wood

    Somebody should send Mr Cuthbertson a copy of The Machinery of Freedom for Christmas.

    In particular chapter 29 is probably most relevant here.

  • Again, I must stress that I do not believe what is claimed. I said laws and the state are necessary for regulation of criminal behaviour. Nowhere did I say it is all that is necessary, or that there are no other influences on people that can lead them towards good behaviour. Quite the contrary.

  • Andy Wood

    “laws and the state are necessary for regulation of criminal behaviour”

    So, have you read _The Machinery of Freedom_ then? It gives some interesting arguments – not merely claims – that your assertion is false.

  • Julian Morrison

    When politics sets the law and police enforce it, then you get bad laws and repression and legislated plunder, and you can’t do anything about it. Democracy is the worst; the political pressure is always towards more “bread and circuses”, favors for the big voting blocs.

    By contrast when custom and common sense set the law, all laws are sane and nobody is favored. This is because the law has to persuade all concerned that obeying a non-binding settlement is preferable to lynch-law or blood-feud.

    A thief who steals an apple and is caught would be stupid to shoot it out with the store security guards, he doesn’t want to risk death for something so trivial, so he accepts the preferable course in which the store hires a judge who sets a fine. The thief can’t be forced by police to pay up, so the fine has to be small enough he doesn’t prefer to run or fight. The store can’t be forced to accept a biased judgement in the thief’s favor, so the fine has to be large enough the store feels justice was done.

    This mechanism has historical precedent, it’s the system used in old viking iceland, a system which lasted 300 years before it was corrupted back into monarchy.

  • So you favour the abolition of all democratic government?

  • Julian Morrison

    I favor the abolition of all government, period.

    Ironically this also means I’m “more democratic than the democrats” – I recognise that it’s impossible to abolish a government that the people want to keep. They’d just re-form it. So, I focus on changing minds.

  • Kian

    That chapter just gave me the shivers. In a good way. The market system proposed appeals to me intuitively because it would enforce the precept that one should only force others to give up liberties that one is willing to forgo. The same arguments for individual choice in the civil sphere apply in the legal sphere. If I wish to live in such a manner that at any time I might be shot, well, to each their own. I equally uphold the right of someone to use and abuse their bodies in any other way, including drugs, suicide, or food, or abortion decisions. Even more interesting to me is that this solution would completely eliminate the tyrrany of the majority. Good heavens. I think I’m becoming an anarcho-capitalist. Serious soul searching is required now.


  • Patrick

    Chapter 29 of the Machinery of Freedom describes a system where the principles of the free market are applied to the administration of justice. But unlike goods or services, justice is not a commodity, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Under Anarcho-Capitalism, those with more money could buy more or better justice. Those with no money would be left defenseless, which is to say, there would be no justice at all.

    We have only to look to the system of private “protection agencies” using “goons” very similar to the ones described in Chapter 29 that was tried in Chicago in the 1930’s. It didn’t have a name but we could call it Caponism—after Al Capone, it’s biggest advocate and not uncoincidentally, it’s biggest beneficiary.

    Chapter 29 also suggests that the private administration of justice would all be done logically and rationally, with an interest in cutting costs once anarcho-capitalist institutions were well established, protection agencies would anticipate such difficulties and arrange contracts in advance, before specific conflicts occurred, specifying the arbitrator who would settle them.

    History suggests otherwise. People seldom behave logically and rationally where crime is concerned. With no law to protect the rights of the accused, what is to prevent an accused criminal from being strung up by a lynch mob?

    “Anarcho capitalism” is an oxymoron. Capitalism can only flourish in a political system that is based on the rule of law. After reading “The Machinery of Freedom” I am only more conviced of this.

  • Andy Wood

    “Those with no money would be left defenseless, which is to say, there would be no justice at all.”

    Not if tort claims are treated as transferable property. Someone is assaulted and robbed. He is entitled to £10,000 compensation. It’s reckoned that there is a 50% chance of catching and convicting the criminal. He sells his claim to a law firm for up to £5000, who litigate instead. He gets justice even though he’s poor.

    “We have only to look to the system of private “protection agencies” using “goons” very similar to the ones described in Chapter 29 that was tried in Chicago in the 1930’s.”

    I’m not an expert on this, but didn’t Al Capone’s success depend, in part, on his ability to bribe the Chicago police? It doesn’t strike me as being terribly informative about how things would work under anarcho-capitalism.

    “People seldom behave logically and rationally where crime is concerned.”

    Really? That must be why I never lock my car and leave my front door open when I leave the house.

  • Julian Morrison

    On transferrable restitution: “treating it” as transferrable isn’t the best way of understanding. Restitution is return of what was removed or destroyed. Damages are restitution at one remove – return of that which had to be spent, or was lost, or was forgone as a result of harm. It’s actual property, owed back to its proper owner, not pseudo property. Which has other convenient results: restitution right should be inheritable as well as transferrable, neatly solving the problem of who is entitled to pursue a murder case.

    On thugs: they depend on the cops to protect them from the angry mob, directly but also indirectly via victim disarmament. It’s a fundamental thermodynamics-derived law that prey always massively outnumber predators. Organised, thinking prey can always outgun and destroy predators, that’s why hom sap is top of the food tree. Without cops, gangsters would be wiped out by the justified anger of the good and ordinary people.