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]

From the “yes, but…” files

Perhaps it is merely a case of grabbing whoever is conveniently to hand. Or perhaps not:

A group calling itself The Islamic Army in Iraq says it is holding the two men – Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro….

Arab TV station al-Jazeera showed a video on Monday in which both men, speaking in English, called for the law banning headscarves to be overturned – and for French people to demonstrate for its repeal.

A group calling itself The Islamic Army in Iraq says it is holding the two men – Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro.

Arab TV station al-Jazeera showed a video on Monday in which both men, speaking in English, called for the law banning headscarves to be overturned – and for French people to demonstrate for its repeal.

Of course, the only way to prevent this kind of thing happening again is for the French to change their misguided and interventionist domestic policies.

[P.S. Why were they speaking in English, I wonder?]

Bonus Samizdata quote o’ the day

War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
– John Stuart Mill

Samizdata slogan of the day

If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side.
– Orson Scott Card

The true cost of the political class

In the most recent edition of the Sunday Times1, there was an interesting article by Ferdinand Mount called Uppers and Downers which had the tagline:

Ferdinand Mount believes a ‘classless’ delusion grips Britain. Not only is the class divide wider than ever, but in a compelling new book he explores how the rich are treating the poor with an unprecedented contempt

I must confess that this intro led me to read this article with a predisposition for contempt for that premise myself. And indeed, I found much of what Mount had to say about class attitudes in Britain debatable to put it mildly. However the central thesis, something not hinted at in the introduction, was indeed compelling: that many social problems today in the UK are a direct consequence of the destruction of working class culture, and this was caused by, as Mount puts it:

Worse than all of this is the fact that in the past I have worked for a Conservative government, and not just any government but the administration led by Margaret Thatcher, which its passionate opponents still believe did more to deepen class divisions than any other government since the war. I was, for a time, the head of her policy unit. How can someone like me pretend to know what life was and is like for the worst-off of my fellow countrymen?

My answer is that it is People Like Us who are largely responsible for the present state of the lower classes in Britain. It is our misunderstandings, meddlings and manipulations that have transformed a British working class that was the envy and amazement of foreign observers in the 19th century into a so-called underclass that is often the subject of baffled despair today, both at home and abroad. We did the damage, or most of it. It is the least we can do to try to understand what we have done and help to undo it where we can.

For me this is truly the key but it is not a consequence of the ‘Conservative’ or ‘Labour’ varient of intrusive regulatory statism (for in 2004, who really thinks there is a huge material difference between them?) but of regulatory interventionist statism in all its progressive democratic forms. I shall certainly read Mount’s new book Mind the Gap, though if the pre-release blurb is true that the book asks…

[T]he author pursues an oft-times illusive answer to the fundamental question: How can oppressive inequality in Britain be wiped out once and for all?

…which begs the question does ‘oppressive inequality’ (a) actually exist in Britain, and (b) it is anyone’s business to ‘wipe it out’. If that is in fact what the book is about then I expect I shall be putting a pretty nasty book review up here on Samizdata.net in the not too distant future.

For me the core issue here however is that as Mount indicates, it was indeed the political class, people like him, who bear the responsibility for destroying a significant section of civil society and replacing it with a state-centred dependency and entitlement culture of de-socialised barbarians.

Thus the question that really needs answering it not how do ‘we’ solve this problem but rather how to dis-aggrandise the entire class of people from left to right who caused the problem in the first place. I cannot tell without first reading Ferdinand Mount’s book but perhaps he has realised that there is indeed what Sean Gabb calls an ‘enemy class’… and much to his chagrin, the term ‘People Like Us’ indicates Mount has realised that he is a member of it.

1 Due to the benighted archiving policy of The Times making articles unreadable to viewers overseas, we do not generally link to Times articles

Believe it or not

Does anyone believe that Michael Moore actually had this conversation?

I mean, with an actual live human being, and not just in his own head.

Now this is funny!

Alice Cooper, that paragon of conservative values and restraint is… backing George Bush! Methinks the more wingnut elements of the Republican Party will probably have rather mixed feeling about that particular endorsement.

Well at least his reasons are hard to fault. Why? Because so many musicians are backing Kerry and…

If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we’re morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal. Besides, when I read the list of people who are supporting Kerry, if I wasn’t already a Bush supporter, I would have immediately switched. Linda Ronstadt? Don Henley? Geez, that’s a good reason right there to vote for Bush.

Not quite enough to get me swooning for Dubya, but damn, one can find strangely compelling wisdom in the most unlikely places.

Samizdata quote of the day

Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health, no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.
– Thomas Jefferson

Che Guevara… just another dead thug

Yet another attempt is underway to portray Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara as someone who was actually admirable, rather than someone who should be remembered, if at all, as an inept communist thug and mass murderer who deserves to be buried under the scrapheap of history.

Fortunately not everyone is fooled.


Election time Down Under

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has called an election for October 9. So we get to choose once again between a fuzzy right-wing statism, or a ‘Blair wannabe’ statism. You will excuse me if I do not get ferociously excited about this choice.

One of the worst things about Australian elections is the placards that political parties insist on hanging on street poles. At no other time of the year are any other organisation permitted to do this, but political parties do like their perks; inflicting an eyesore I call it.

I am not going to vote – I will defy the State, and not vote. That is an offence which will cost me a parking ticket fine. It is actually also illegal for me to advocate not voting to other people as well.

As to who will win, I think the ‘Blair Wannabe’ Party will win; I wrote about this back in June and nothing has happened since to make me change my mind. In the great scheme of things, this is a small matter but it will consume the local media and blogs here for the next six weeks.

The greatest work of prose ever written?

Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible
Adam Nicolson
HarperCollins Publishers 2003

A claim on the dust jacket states:”The King James Bible is the greatest work of prose ever written,” and the message of the book, while not repeating it, is an elaboration of this claim; Nicolson, though not quite a believer or an unbeliever, is obviously besotted with the King James Bible, often called The Authorised Version, though it was never officially authorised by King or Parliament. It is now rarely to be found in the pews and on the lecterns of most churches, and hardly ever heard in public worship, where its language, already deliberately archaic even in its predecessors, has also been discarded and God, just like everyone else, is addressed as ‘you’. If Christians are a minority in the English- speaking world, then KJB readers and users are a minority within a minority. Does this matter? The Centenary of its publication in 1611 is approaching and is unlikely to be celebrated, or commemorated by as much as a postage stamp, the excuse being that this would be ‘controversial’ or ‘divisive’, in the way that 1588, 1688, 1603, 1605, and 1707 were or will be. Adam Nicolson has written a fine book, of interest to all of us brought up on the King James Bible, quotations from which resonate in the memory, even when not at once identifiable, while those from all other subsequent translations set the teeth on edge. Here we are told part of the story – for most of it is lost – of how this seminal work was produced.

Why lost? The Translators (then and now capitalised), organized into six ‘companies’ of nine men, left few clues as to their working methods, their deliberations, discussions or disagreements and the manuscript sent to the printers has disappeared, possibly burnt in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (p. 225). Just as the whole scaffolding to build a great edifice is taken down and dispersed, so notes and drafts of the great translation ended up in the wastepaper basket, with some intriguing exceptions, and the fifty workers (four short of what there should have been) got on with their lives afterwards, leaving no memoirs, let alone diaries, of what it was like to have been on the project and not dreaming they had written the world’s bestseller, the Bible to dominate the English-speaking world for four centuries and help shape the English language. Only a few, fascinating scraps remain. Like the copy of the Bishops’ Bible (the text the Translators were supposed to revise) which the Bodleian bought from one of them (or someone) for 13/4 (pre-decimal for 2/3 of a pound), with his suggested emendations for the new translation marked in it. Or John Bois, the rather humble, impoverished but very learned Translator, who took notes of the revisers-translators’ discussions of the complete work and whose notebook has somehow survived – everything in it written in Latin, bar Greek, of course. This leads Nicolson to speculate whether the discussions were carried out in Latin. → Continue reading: The greatest work of prose ever written?

Making the world a better place?

The problem I see with the libertarian pro-war position is that libertarians don’t have recourse to the most powerful argument for the war: that it made the world a better place. Non-libertarians can yammer on about freeing poor Iraqis who were crushed under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, and that’s definitely a benefit. But Libertarians don’t believe it is OK to steal money via taxes and spend it on other people. Hence they can’t use this argument.
Patri Friedman

There has been a lively discussion in the comments section of Johnathan Pearce’s article here on Samizdata.net When libertarians disagree. It has thrown up so many interesting points that I felt a new article on the issues might be a good idea. It is pleasure to see so much intelligent discussion of strongly held views without the acrimony and name-calling that so often characterises debate on the internet.

We have a problem that the label ‘libertarian’ sometimes it does not really inform as to what a person thinks, something which September 11th 2001 brought starkly into view, and I am not just referring to the more absurd uses of the term. For example a frequent commenter here on Samizdata.net, Paul Coulam, is a prominent libertarian and anarchist, well known in pro-liberty circles in London. He is also a friend of mine and has been known to get plastered at Samizdata.net blogger bashes. I too am fairly well known in the same circles and describe myself as a ‘minarchist’, or social individualist or ‘classical liberal’ or a… libertarian. I see Paul as a ‘fellow traveller’ of mine but clearly we have fairly major disagreements of where we would like to end up. We just agree on the direction we need to move from where we are now. I regard the state as probably indispensable, albeit a vastly smaller state than we have now, whereas Paul sees no state as the final destination.

In my view the minarchist ‘classical liberal’ view to which I subscribe means the only legitimate state functions which can be funded via some form of coercive taxation are those which can only realistically be carried out by a state, and which are essential to the survival of several liberty. The military seems a fairly clear cut example of that to me (with the proviso I would like to see the state military as only ‘first amongst many’) and possibly a very limited number of other roles, such as (maybe) a centre for disease control function to prevent plagues, and some form of superior court function.

So once you get over that core issue of small state or no state (no small feat), the rest is arguing over magnitude (also not a trivial issue), rather that whether or not you even have a military funded by some form of coercive action: that also means ‘how you use that miltary’ is an argument over degree rather than existence. In short I see the difference between a ‘libertarian’ (or whatever) of my non-anarchist ilk, and sundry types of non-libertarian statist as being one of the degree to which the state is allowed to accumulate coercive power. → Continue reading: Making the world a better place?

The friend of my enemy is my enemy

I recall, shortly after I first got myself on-line, frequently seeing the phrase ‘ROFLMAO’ appear on various chat rooms and fora. I had not a clue what this term meant but, after a little judicious detective work, I discovered that is was an acronym for the phrase ‘Rolling On the Floor Laughing My Arse Off’.

Well, I was ROFLMAO when I read this:

TORY leader Michael Howard has been barred from the White House and told he will never meet President George Bush, it emerged last night.

The bombshell ban was slapped on Mr Howard after he called for Tony Blair to quit over the Iraq War….

What particularly upset the White House was Mr Howard’s comment: “If I were Prime Minister I would seriously be considering my position.”

They were also angered when the Tory leader accused the PM of “serious dereliction of duty”.

Mr Rove, who speaks with the President’s full authority, said: “You can forget about meeting the President full stop. Don’t bother coming, you are not meeting him….”

And it has deeply damaged the decades-long alliance between the Republicans and the Conservative Party.

Senior US Right-wingers blame Mr Howard for undermining the coalition in Iraq and say they are privately rooting for a Labour victory in the next election.

A Tory source said: “They see Tony Blair as a true ally against terror and the Tories as a bunch of w*****s.”

Wherever would they get that idea??!!

Although the cause of this spat is laid at the door of Mr Howard’s apparent equivocation over Iraq, I get the feeling that the real friction lies elsewhere. Strange as it may sound, I have been reading what sound like reasonably reliable reports in the UK press about squadrons of young British Conservative activists hot-footing it off to the USA to work in the Presidential election campaign…for the Democrats!.

In the interests of accuracy, I think it ought to be said that this is far more about the Tories trying to pull some sort of rug from under ‘Teflon Tony’ than establishing any sort of link with either the US Democrat Party or Mr Kerry. But in any event, it is still a deeply ill-judged political blunder. The article alludes to an ‘alliance’ between US Republicans and British Conservatives and while I think that ‘alliance’ is too strong a term, there certainly has been a traditional affinity between these two centre-right Anglo-Saxon political tribes.

That being the case, one wonders what these jet-setting young Tories were hoping to achieve by throwing their lot in with Mr Kerry? There is nothing to suggest that a President Kerry would somehow undermine Tony Blair. If the Tories cannot make a dent in him at home, then how are they going to land any meaningful punches on him via Washington? And if they imagine that they are going to be the subject of any outreach by either the US Democrats of the Guardian-reading classes at home then all I can say is that they are even stupider than they look (and they look fairly stupid).

In short, the British Tories have managed to alienate one of their few powerful friends for no gain whatsoever and, since I assume that the leadership either gave their blessing to these transatlantic jaunts or, at the very least, turned a blind eye, then it merely reinforces my view that the British Conservatve Party is in the hands of buffoons and political pygmies.

I understand that the streets of New York will be plagues this week by throngs of the Great American Unwashed wearing ‘George Bush=Hitler’ T-shirts. I do not imagine that any such items of radical apparel will be making an appearance at the next Tory Party convention. However, I do wonder if would get any sales with a ‘Michael Howard = Chief Wiggum’ version?