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Confronting reality

The stunt pulled by pro-hunting protestors of intruding into the inner sanctum of the House of Commons has produced a large number of very predictable responses. MPs and other establishment figures harrumphed that “Parliament’s privileges have been infringed!” and “This is an attack on democracy itself!” and “We must protect this most important of our institutions!” and “The protestors must not alienate people by acting so despicably!”…

Well I have a suggestion for the pro-hunt protestors: ignore all those remarks because the only way to win is to fight your battles on ground of your choosing. As David Carr pointed out earlier with regard to when one of the protestors in the Commons shouted “This isn’t democracy. You are overturning democracy.” – Wrong. This is democracy in action and you are on the receiving end of it.

What they really, really need to understand is that the majority of people in Britain are urban folk who are at best utterly indifferent to the protestor’s concerns and frequently somewhat hostile to them. The hunters and their supporters cannot hope to convince a majority that hunting is something that is either important or even needs to be tolerated.

Do not waste your time making arguments about ‘country livelihood’ or ‘managing pests’ because not only do most people not believe you (such as me, for example), most simply do not care because they feel no particular affinity with you. It is preposterous to argue that the only effective way to put down vermin is to chase them on horseback with hounds.

It is simply not a matter for highly questionable utilitarian arguments but rather for arguing for free association to do what you will on private property. That is the only coherent and more importantly resonant argument to make.

If gay men can congregate together in clubs to do things the majority of people find deeply distasteful, without having to worry about being raided by the fuzz, why cannot foxhunters congregate together to do things the majority find distasteful without worrying about the Boys in Blue showing up? Successfully point out to gay rights activists that making the prejudices of the majority the law of the land is not something they should be comfortable with… and suddenly the class warriors behind the hunting ban might find it much harder to ‘bash the toffs’ as the implications of where this is clearly heading starts to dawn on altogether different groups.

In short, stop making invocations to the graven idol called ‘Democracy’ because it will not hear your prayers. Accept that you are a heretic and raise up an idol of your own. Call it, say, ‘Liberty’ and then challenge your enemies to denounce it.

If you want to defend your liberty to do things in free association with likeminded folk on private property, you will have to come to some very sobering realisations. Firstly, realise that you will always be a minority and may never be a match for the political machine arrayed against you. However that does not mean are alone. There are millions of people who support your views with far more intensity than the many million more who oppose them.

Secondly, accept that The System which the Barbour jacket, flat cap and green wellington set always assumed was, when push comes to shove, there to protect them, is in fact run by people with whom in many instances you have about as much in common culturally as Osama Bin Laden. Moreover, a great many of those people who are oiling the machine under which your aspirations are being crushed are actually members of the Tory party and some of your friends are in fact members of the Labour party. That said it is true that most of the people behind what is happening are indeed Labour and LibDem drones… so just stop thinking it terms of party politics because political parties, any political parties, are just components of the system you are going to have to confront. If you think a mere change of government can make your problems go away forever, you are sadly mistaken.

Thirdly, democratic politics is not the only way to cause political change. Cast your mind back to the days of the Poll Tax and also try to take a dispassionate look at the political realities in Ulster. It is not really violence that is the issue but the fact substantial activist minorities simply refused to accept the verdict of the democratically sanctified political process and yet ended up with at least a significant part of what they were after.

What you need to understand is that you cannot trust to democratic politics: in fact you must confront democracy and be prepared to say that your liberties are not something that the political process can legitimately abridge in this manner, regardless of how many people vote for it. It is the system which allows this to happen that you must confront, not just whatever party happens to be running it right now.

If there are some liberties you are simply not prepared to surrender, then you must be prepared to refuse to accept the authority of the state to impose its institutional will on you and accept the possible consequences of that… I say ‘possible consequences’ because Sinn Fein/IRA, the Animal Liberation Front, various ‘Traveller’ groups and all manner of other people have demonstrated that consistently and collectively refusing to obey the law is by no means a guaranteed road to ruin. I am certainly not urging activists to blow anyone up, invade anyone’s property or terrorise anyone’s family like the groups I have mentioned are prone to do, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that working well and truly outside the democratic system of politics in various ways is both less dangerous and considerably more effective than the Establishment would like you to think.

However regardless of what the pro-hunting protestors and activists decide to do, it seems that Britain may be about to undergo a dramatic and quite possibly earthshaking change, which most people will of course remain oblivious to just so long as it does not interrupt the flow of reality TV shows and sporting events – If the government does indeed use the Parliament Act to impose certain laws when there is clearly no state of emergency, then we must accept that Blair has shattered Britain’s constitution (with scant opposition) and we are in a situation a thousand times graver than I would have ever dreamed possible just a few weeks ago.

Moreover I suspect even this will not rouse the Tory party from its torpor and induce them to actually make a coherent civil liberties based argument and promise a policy of non-cooperation. This is vastly more serious than the issue of red jacketed country folks galloping around the fields in pursuit of small mangy quadrupeds. If the Parliament Act is used, we are suddenly living in a country with no checks and balances on the ruling party’s power other than the one on Election Day. That is not alarming, it is terrifying.

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77 comments to Confronting reality

  • 300 392

    Yes – Thank you Perry for writing the most intelligent article I have read on this subject so far.

    Sadly however I fear some of the steps you have outlined will be to much for the hunt protesters many of whom seem to inhabit a bygone age and are really just lambs to the slaughter. As for protests they should be looking at the stunts of the petrol tax protesters of a few years back. Their tactics of bugger the media go for the jugular came the closest to toppling the dear leader. Incidentally am I the only one who still remembers the petrol tax protests as they appear to have been removed from history by certain elements of the media.

  • ian

    I agree (which you may find surprising) with your analysis but not with your conclusions. Rather than try to argue I have instead two questions, which are intended seriously, as a way to get to the root of the argument (although on past experience will no doubt generate lots of abuse too).

    If the right to hunt foxes is one of individual liberty and not to do with cruelty, how do libertarians respond to cases of dog fighting, bear baiting etc?

    Given that cats cause much more damage than foxes, if groups of urban dwellers took to setting packs of dogs on local feral cats, chasing them throught the streets before catching and killing them in the local supermarket car park before smearing the blood on their children’s foreheads, what would be the libertarian position?

  • Verity

    Perry – ZOWIE!!! BINGO! Bang on the button!!

    Plse send this to the editor of The Telegraph or The Times IMMEDIATELY!! This is the best, most intelligent, most lucid, most realistic piece I have read on hunting and the dictatorship that has taken over Britain I have read.

  • Ian: My position regarding bear baiting and cock fighting (the later of which I have watched on several occasions in Ghana. I found it quite interesting) is that captive chickens and bears are property… and if people want to hunt feral cats in Milton Keynes, catching and killing them in the local supermarket car park before smearing the blood on their children’s foreheads… as long as the local supermarket does not mind, I have no problem with that either. It is entirely up to the owners of the property on which the hunting occurs. Don’t like hunting? Fine, feel free to forbid hunting on your property, I have no problem with that either.

    I would personally find bear baiting intolerable, but that is a purely subjective reaction on my part… I guess I just like bears more than chickens. However I do not think I have the right to ban bear baiting on other people’s property just because I find it repugnant

  • Julian Morrison

    The Telegraph already has a rather similar opinion piece over here http://tinyurl.com/5u2rk

  • Indeed. Ham-fisted statism makes subversion, disobedience and aggressive opposition more likely. And each victory, even relative ones, invites more of it. The Laffer Curve does not apply only to tax revenue. Too much government kills government. So maybe there is a silver lining over the long term. But it probably is going to get worse before it gets better.

  • Pete_London

    Verity – I agree absolutely, this is clearly the most lucid and accurate summation of the fox hunting ban that I have read. I spent last night boring my friends rigid trying to drum it into their heads that supposed toffs in red jackets chasing a fox is simply not the issue.

    One question regarding the Parliament Act – if a bill is passed (shoved) through Parliament by the use of the Parliament Act is the monarch’s signature still required to make that bill law?

    If so and Her Maj refused to sign I’d laugh till my balls dropped off.

  • ian

    Perry – so absolutely anything done to animals with the consent of the landowner on which it happens is fine by you?

  • Tim

    Perry:

    “… and if people want to hunt feral cats in Milton Keynes, catching and killing them in the local supermarket car park before smearing the blood on their children’s foreheads… as long as the local supermarket does not mind, I have no problem with that either.”

    This is a quibble: I know you say later that you find bear-baiting distasteful and that what you probably meant in your response was that you don’t have a problem, from a legal point of view, with supermarkets permitting feline-slaughter on their private property. I agree completely with this. But by saying you ‘don’t have a problem’ with this, you’re conflating the legal and the moral aspects. If I saw a group of people decapitating a cat in the parking lot of my local Sainsbury’s, my first reaction would be that they were a bunch of yobs and that this was yet another example proving Britain’s slide into the abyss. (If the people involved were on horseback and in uniform, I’d either worry that my food had been spiked or assume that a 35th-anniversary Monty Python series was being filmed.) And I don’t even like cats.

    I accept that your response is on a blog which is read by like-minded people like myself and so misinterpretation is unlikely. My point is that we libertarians have a strategically unfortunate habit of focusing on the political while eschewing moral judgement during discourse with other (non-libertarian) people. A casual visitor to this site might read your response and conclude that libertarians (or conservatives, or classical liberals) are sadists. That conclusion would be wrong, as all generalisations are; nonetheless, a potential convert would be lost.

  • ian

    Tim’s comment gets to the point of my original question, which boils down to I suppose ‘liberty’ vs ‘morality’. Is the only morality accepted by libertarians based on protection of private property rights? If not, then on what is it based and how is it ‘enforced’ against those who infringe?

  • Dalmaster

    Great article, please send it to those who need to read it!

    Toffs stick up for toffs, they can’t be trusted in this matter, it is in the interest of the people. That’ll be the excuse for invoking the Parliament Act.

  • Tim: If I saw my local supermarket tolerating the slaughter of feral cats in their parking lot I would let them know in no uncertain terms that I would be taking my business elsewhere. In other words, I would try to prevent it by externing pressure on the property owner. However just because I do not like something does not mean I think the force of law should be used to prevent it.

    Just because I do not think something should be illegal does not mean I think it is a good idea. I do not think Islamic women should wear burquas because I despise what they represent…but I do not think any woman seen wandering down Thurrock High Steet in one should be arrested and have her burqua removed by force.

    Ian: I do not think it should be illegal, which is not the same thing as saying whatever the property owner countenances being done to an animal is automatically fine by me.

    If my neighbour purchases dogs and slowly tortures them to death with a blowtorch, just for the hell of it, I will let him know I think he is a psychotic nutter. Moreover I will let everyone else know what he is doing and perhaps even urge the local pet store to stop selling the guy more dogs… in other words I will try to use social pressure to discourage behaviour I disapprove of. What I will not do is use force to prevent his behaviour or try to get a law passed (which is the same as using force) to do likewise, unless his behaviour is actually a genuine threat to me or some other human being.

  • ian

    On a separate point, why should it be OK to affect me – to the point of financial loss – by the petrol tax protests?

  • snide

    On a separate point, why should it be OK to affect me – to the point of financial loss – by the petrol tax protests?

    Why should it be OK to effect me – to the point of financial loss – by the government increasing petrol tax?

  • Rick

    Do not waste your time making arguments about ‘country livelyhood’ or ‘managing pests’ because not only do most people not believe you (such as me, for example), most simply do not care because they feel no particular affinity with you. It is preposterous to argue that the only effective way to put down vermin is to chase them on horseback with hounds.

    It is simply not a matter for highly questionable utilitarian arguments but rather for arguing for free association to do what you will on private property. That is the only coherent and more importantly resonant argument to make.

    If gay men can congregate together in clubs to do things the majority of people find deeply distasteful, without having to worry about being raided by the fuzz, why cannot foxhunters congregate together to do things the majority find distasteful without worrying about the Boys in Blue showing up? Successfully point out to gay rights activists that making the prejudices of the majority the law of the land is not something they should be comfortable with… and suddenly class warriors behind the hunting ban might it rather harder to ‘bash the toffs’ as the implications of where this is clearly heading starts to dawn on altogether different groups.

    You reject arguments about “country livelihood and pest management” because they are “highly questionable utilitarian arguments”.

    Then you suggest arguments based on “liberty” and provide, as your prime example, the right of gays to congregate in gay bars. You even go so far as to contend that this argument for “liberty” should be directed toward gay rights activists, because they will find it persuasive.

    Thus, I find it odd that you claim to reject the “country livelihood and pest management” arguments because they are utilitarian, and then fail to see that the entire appeal of your liberty argument is on its utilitarian grounds alone.

    Why do you suppose that gay rights activists will be persuaded by the argument for liberty if it is tied to gays congregating in gay bars? You see no utilitarian motive called “pleasure” in the appeal of your argument to them?

    The only reason that people believe in liberty is that they “like” it. Liberty has no value whatsoever except its utilitarian value.

    The fact that utilitarian principles are messy and unobjective does not mean that you can dispense with them. And in fact, though you do not acknowledge it, you do not dispense with them.

  • It is hard to say how much Blair has eroded the standing checks and balances that existed in the unwritten constitution. Using the Parliament is hardly his most egregious act and you could argue it is counterbalanced by his parliamentary innovation of a vote on acts of war.

    Iain Murray argues that we should separate executive and legislature. I am more inclined to promote radical decentralisation as an answer to the centralised British state. We know the problems (that Blair has profited from) but the answers are more difficult.

    Exeunt EU is a given of course.

  • Rick: you are entirely incorrect. You seem unable to differentiate between the tactical issues of fighting an ideological war and the philosophy which provides the motivation for doing so (for me at least). I urge people to do what works (use tactics which actually have real utility) to achieve aims based on critical preferences formed from theories about objectively derivable moral positions.

  • Julian Morrison

    Rick, there are two main reasons that “country livelihood and pest management” convince nobody. (1) they’re ridiculously implausible (2) they’re cowardly. The purpose of fox hunting is to get enjoyment by the process and outcome of hunting foxes. Raising side-issues as the main argument makes the case look hollow, and insults the intelligence of the listener.

    By contrast, liberty isn’t a side issue, it’s the core question: “to ban or to let be”?

  • Euan Gray

    As I wrote in another thread, the issue of a hunting ban as a gross infringement of personal freedom, although it undeniably is such, is not going to get the urban bourgeoisie tramping the streets. The government knows this perfectly well, and in all probability will have little difficulty in passing laws against the country people. This mollifies the proletarian troglodytes of the Old Labour type, thus preserving the appearance of party unity, and does so at negligible cost in votes. In fact, it is possible it might win back some “traditional” Labour voters, some of whom have no doubt by now understood that Blair is no more than Conservatism by other means.

    I do personally find it a somewhat odd set of priorities that whilst it is perfectly permissible to bugger a complete stranger in a public convenience, it is soon going to be illegal to hunt foxes. But then again, opposition to the buggery in public places laws is easily decried as atavistic homophobia, whilst fox-hunting is seen (incorrectly, but there it is) as a pursuit beloved of the anachronistic countryside gentry, a class of people incompatible with the Islington view of new Britain.

    Julian is perfectly correct, IMO, to aver that liberty is the core issue. But until the metropolitan middle classes perceive that it is *their* liberty at stake, nothing is going to happen – at least, not democratically.

    EG

  • Julian Morrison

    Euan Gray: Perry’s point in the article, is that a determined few outweigh an apathetic horde – it isn’t necessary to convince the huge metropolitan majority.

  • Tim

    Perry:

    “Tim: If I saw my local supermarket tolerating the slaughter of feral cats in their parking lot I would let them know in no uncertain terms that I would be taking my business elsewhere. In other words, I would try to prevent it by externing pressure on the property owner. However just because I do not like something does not mean I think the force of law should be used to prevent it.”

    I know you would, you would, you would, and you don’t (to take each point in turn); I’ve been reading your writings long enough, and I’m of the same mind and I agree. The problem I raised in my first response was this: although those of us who read this blog regularly know what you mean, the non-libertarian reader could easily assume that we’re a bunch of callous fascists who delight in the wanton murder of animals (yes, I know, Hitler was anti-hunt and a vegetarian, so please, nobody flame me) based on your declaration that you have ‘no problem’ with the hunting down of cats. It’s the use of language that wins people over, and while I will never stoop to using PC-speak even as a tactical measure, I think we need to pay attention to what works.

  • Tim

    “I know you would, you would, you would, and you don’t (to take each point in turn)…”

    Whoops, one too many woulds there.

  • Rich

    I urge people to do what works (use tactics which actually have real utility) to achieve aims based on critical preferences formed from theories about objectively derivable moral positions.

    Some paedophiles would argue that their moral positions are objectively derived. From their perspective.

    So where does that leave us if, as is the case, their perspective does not correspond with the perspective of the majority? And in what way is that instance different from this?

  • Albion

    issue of a hunting ban as a gross infringement of personal freedom, although it undeniably is such, is not going to get the urban bourgeoisie tramping the streets.

    Sure. That is why we need to just ignore the urban bourgeoisie and do what they have to do in order to make it clear that the violence of law will be met with petrol filled milk bottles, sand in petrol tanks and flying bricks.

  • Ah, the nihilist is revealed.

    Some paedophiles would argue that their moral positions are objectively derived. From their perspective.

    Because perpective is not the issue, truth is.
    What the paedophile thinks is of only incidental interest if his moral theory has been falsified.

    So where does that leave us if, as is the case, their perspective does not correspond with the perspective of the majority? And in what way is that instance different from this?

    If the majority favours neutering non-whites to prevent interbreeding, does that make it somehow less reprehensible? If there are no possible objective underpinnings for moral theories, then indeed, one set of values is much like any other and the paedophile can argue that as in his empirical experience his actions do not harm children, there really is no problem. That is indeed the position you seem to be holding up methodologically speaking.

    However as something can be objectively false, there can indeed be objective standards that can be used to derive moral theories.

  • Euan Gray

    a determined few outweigh an apathetic horde

    Not democratically they won’t, or at least not in this case. No sane mainstream party is going to advocate repealing this ban. It’s too easy to spin against.

    violence of law will be met with petrol filled milk bottles, sand in petrol tanks and flying bricks

    And then what? What do you do when you are vilified as plutocratic throwbacks with an inhumane desire to tear defenceless, cuddly Reynard limb from limb, not to mention a wilful disregard for the law, and get chucked in the local pokey on charges of riot and criminal damage?

    Lobbing Molotov cocktails is all very well, and will make your point, but if you want to actually change anything you need A Plan ™. One that goes beyond chucking bricks around. Protest isn’t going to change anything in this case, but revolt will – and that’s a whole different and much more dangerous thing. You need organisation, a plan and a leader. You don’t have them.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, just pointing out a couple of things that need to be considered.

    EG

  • John Ellis

    Perry, leaving aside the pros and cons of foxhunting (or cat-hunting) for a moment, I agree with your distaste about using the Parliament Act for such an end.

    But from a constitutional point of view, is the House of Lords not just a fig-leaf? The very existence of the Parliament Act proves that the power lies with the Commons. The Lords are just a (sometimes very useful) Chamber of Revision.

    A sufficiently arrogant executive (like this one, but there have been others) needs no excuse to wield this constitutional nuclear weapon. Easier than creating 100+ docile Peers, and faster in its results, too.

  • Tim

    Euan Gray:

    “Not democratically they won’t, or at least not in this case. No sane mainstream party is going to advocate repealing this ban. It’s too easy to spin against.”

    Euan, I don’t agree with you there. Even Polly Toynbee admitted this week in The Guardian that this is a non-issue. The Tories could easily overturn the ban, either as part of a manifesto commitment or as a post-victory afterthought, and it wouldn’t make much difference to their prospects. It might be easy to spin against but it’s also easy to spin in favour of, even if the proponents use utilitarian arguments like the ones Perry rightly criticises in his article.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Successfully point out to gay rights activists that making the prejudices of the majority the law of the land is not something they should be comfortable with… and suddenly class warriors behind the hunting ban might it rather harder to ‘bash the toffs’ as the implications of where this is clearly heading starts to dawn on altogether different groups.

    I think this is a very important, and generally applicable, point. I’ve belonged to numerous organizations that have fought to protect their freedom to engage in some activity, while knowing that many of those same people were fighting to deny someone else of his or her right to engage in some other activity. Because they don’t think of the situation in principled terms, they don’t see the contradiction.

    To protect our freedoms generally, I think it’s important to argue the case in principled terms, just as Perry suggested.

  • Tony H

    two main reasons that “country livelihood and pest management” convince nobody. (1) they’re ridiculously implausible (2) they’re cowardly.

    Yes, glad to see Perry raised this. I’ve always been baffled by the stubborn insistence of the CA et al on the supposed effectiveness of hunting with hounds, when any countryman knows a rifle is vastly more efficient (shot a lot of foxes myself). And it’s a perpetual irritation to hear them banging on about all those foxes supposedly wounded by badly aimed bullets slinking away to die a slow death. Apart from its being utter crap, it’s a kick in the teeth for all their fellow countryfolk who choose to shoot rather than riding to hounds. cf a shallow little interview on radio the other day with, er, Jilly Cooper…
    I don’t agree with the “cowardly” thing: an awful lot of the hunting fraternity are just not very interested in theories of political liberty, don’t think about it in those terms, and might be alarmed by comparisons with the freedom to practice homosexuality. This doesn’t mean they’re dim, just blinkered and very, very conservative. In their milieu it’s entirely natural to insist on their freedom to hunt the fox, while decrying others’ freedom to ingest recreational drugs other than booze & fags, or shag members of the same sex.
    Perhaps even more vexing is the way that people on this blog, who should know better, seem to equate the quick death of a fox caught by hounds, with the deliberate torment of a bear or badger confined then set upon by dogs. Townies, I suppose…

  • Euan Gray

    as part of a manifesto commitment

    Extremely unlikely. This is trivial to spin against. Since all parties are extremely sensitive to spin following the gradual replacement of content with presentation as the important thing, the Tories will not do this. I mean, how many votes do you gain by saying “we will change the law to allow people to pursue foxes with dogs & have them ripped apart”? That’s how it will be presented by Labour if the Tories try it. Some votes in the country you’ll win. More in the towns you’ll lose. The Tories need to win in the towns.

    a post-victory afterthought

    Slightly less unlikely, but still unlikely. They’d probably want another victory, so won’t do this because again it is too easy for Labour to make very cheap political capital out of it. Since most people who don’t live in the countryside (i.e. most voters) either don’t care or oppose hunting as barbaric/anachronistic, the political risk is high for little gain. The personal liberty argument doesn’t seem to work with the electorate on much of anything, and I doubt it would work in this case.

    Once the ban is in place, it’s unlikely it will be revoked. It could more easily be done if the Tories actually win the next election (i.e. before it comes into force), but that is by no means certain. Even if they did win, I still don’t see them doing much about it – by that time, it’s a legislative fait accompli and the fuss will almost certainly be pretty much forgotten.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Tories to decriminalise Blunkett’s 300 odd new offences, either. That’s not how politics works in this country now.

    EG

  • John Harrison

    Euan Gray:

    “Not democratically they won’t, or at least not in this case. No sane mainstream party is going to advocate repealing this ban. It’s too easy to spin against.”

    Well, Tories have promised to repeal the hunting ban.
    OK. Leaving aside the argument about whether the Conservatives are sane or mainstream, Pery’s point about right and wrong not being the same as legal and illegal is well made.

  • Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Tories to decriminalise Blunkett’s 300 odd new offences, either. That’s not how politics works in this country now.

    We aren’t and we know.

  • mike

    I would also like to say I found your article excellent Perry, both on tactics and motives and I will be passing it on to some pro-hunting friends of mine – although I am tempted to pass it off as my own!! :-).

    Rick writes: “The only reason that people believe in liberty is that they “like” it. Liberty has no value whatsoever except its utilitarian value.”

    What?! So do you seriously want to claim (to put it crudely) that pleasure and pain are the ultimate values by which all else is measured at the end of the day?? If not (and maybe you just want people to show a little more respect for utilitarian arguments?), what else (apart from pleasure & pain) would you see as having an intrinsic value if not liberty?

    Rich writes: “Some paedophiles would argue that their moral positions are objectively derived…. so where does that leave us if, as is the case, their perspective does not correspond with the perspective of the majority?”

    [I’m sure Perry can speak for himself, however my take on this is…] Yes and if they accept certain of the same premises as us (e.g. children are not property), we might show that their arguments as to an ‘objectively derived’ position are false or flawed. However, an ‘objectively derived position’ can only be so relative to some accepted first premises or postulates whose validity cannot be established by mere logic alone. So we try to show people the error of their ways but where we cannot do this – because such people *fully comprehend* what they are doing with a good conscience – then as long as this situation remains, I do not think we should continue persuading… we may very well need to use force (this is intended as a somewhat abstract answer to your question, Rich).

  • mike

    Perry: ah, see I’m too late!

  • Euan Gray

    important to argue the case in principled terms

    I agree too, but this is hard in the era of emote-first-think-maybe politics, when the soundbite beats the reasoned argument and where good presentation of crap policy gets you elected.

    the supposed effectiveness of hunting with hounds

    Always wondered about that myself. As a townie, I don’t know much about country stuff, and would at a loss to explain the technicalities of planting chickens, for example.

    On the other hand, it is fairly obvious to the rational mind that fifty horses and 100 hounds tearing across the fields is a tad less efficient than a bloke with a gun when it comes to killing foxes. I presume people hunt for no better reason than that they enjoy it. I see nothing wrong with that, but I can understand why people would be a little reticent about admitting it.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    Tories have promised to repeal the hunting ban

    No they haven’t, they’ve said they will allow a free vote on a bill to reverse the existing bill. This essentially means “we’d like to overturn it, but we know that wouldn’t be popular, so we’ll have a free vote and when it becomes law anyway at least we tried.” Big deal. They’ll probably conveniently forget about the free vote too, wait and see.

    EG

  • Old Jack Tar

    They’ll probably conveniently forget about the free vote too, wait and see

    Yes, I think that was Perry’s point when he advised against automatically regarding the Tories as allies.

    Perry’s excellent article has crystalised my thoughts on several issues in a most remarkable way, for which I am quite grateful. That is not something an old cynic like me often says. Well done.

  • Julian Morrison

    Euan Gray: “Not democratically they won’t” – precisely, they can outweigh un-democratically.

    Tony H, when I said “cowardly” I’m referring to the use of obvious side issues, the refusal to defend the actual real reason (namely that they enjoy hunting). It’s plain they’re worried they’ll be equated with the sort of people who pull wings off flies.

    Yes, bear baiting is disgusting to me, the main reason being that it offends my sense of fair play. If I saw it, I would probably step in personally to defend the bear, breaking strict libertarian rules thereby, and accept liability. Likewise if i saw someone torturing their cat. But if someone were to hike into backwoods bear country with his dogs, beard the bear in his den and “bait” him there, well then that’s a fair contest, because it could quite possibly turn into human-baiting by the bear. I have nothing against that.

  • Rick

    Perry and Julian,

    You seem to miss my point. I am not arguing against Perry’s “tactic” of defending fox hunting in terms of protecting liberty. Rather, I am rejecting Perry’s claim that his “liberty” argument is not utilitarian.

    When your sole example of liberty (for the tactic of arguing a point) is to tell gay activists that fox hunting is a liberty just like congregating in gay bars, then you are obviously “selling” liberty on utilitarian grounds. Gays like having the liberty to make their life-style choices, and so do fox hunters.

    What you are really doing Perry, is using utilitarian arguments for form a democratic coalition based on the idea that most people enjoy some liberties that others might find distasteful. So you are arguing that we should all support liberty so that we can all enjoy our own liberty, even if that requires us to put up with the liberty granted to others.

    I agree with your argument, Perry. My only point is that it is utilitarian. You may claim that is only a “tactic”. Still, it is the only means you have of persuading others to defend liberty. I believe that says quite a bit about the meaning of liberty itself.

  • Julian Morrison

    Rick all arguments are “utilitarian” ultimately because they appeal to the listener’s priorities. But calling them such risks semantic confusion with “utilitarianism”, an evil philosophy in which “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one”. Perhaps that’s the problem here?

  • Rick

    Julian,

    I think we agree, except with respect to the definition of “utilitarianism”. Even the classic quote, “the greatest good for the greatest number”, does not necessarily mean the “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one”, although it could in some cases. It simply means that you must consider both the depth of each peson’s feelings (“greatest good”) and the number of people that feel that way (“greatest number”).

    I concede that any particular “method” for quantifying “good”, including Bentham’s ideas, can lead to “evil” under some circumstances. Still, in the end, we are compelled to estimate the “good” of all our choices as a means of evaluating those choices.

    When you say that

    all arguments are “utilitarian” ultimately because they appeal to the listener’s priorities

    you are agreeing that no chocie can be justified without taking utilitarian considerations into account. That is, no choice can be justified on purely objective principles, because values are involved in all choices.

  • No Rick, it is you who misunderstand. I may be ‘selling’ liberty by pointing out to gay activists “what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander”, but the reason I am selling liberty in the first place has no bearing on the fact liberty yields ‘good results’ (i.e. is a utilitarian good) because that is not actually my concern, it is just a happy side effect.

    It is generally true that more liberty does result in ‘better things’ than a less liberty but that is not the issue for me. My appeal for gay activists to support pro-hunting activists is an appeal to the self interest of gay activists, but that is a tactic, not a motivation, and certainly not a philosophy.

    However I do indeed believe gays should have liberty (and thus I do not think my appeal is cynical) for the same reason I think fox hunters should have liberty… because the best moral theory I have makes allowing people liberty a leading moral imperative.

    In fact liberty is NOT an unalloyed blessing. I am well aware that given liberty, many people will make appalling choices that they would not otherwise make if the state deprived them of the ability to choose. But obtaining certain utilitarian end results is simply not the reason I want people to be free. My critical preference is that I want people to be free even if they use that freedom to kill themselves. It is a moral, not a utilitarian issue.

    I think we have exhausted that particular utilitarian vs. moral issue as the positions are now well laid out from all sides, so let us not labour the point. It is now becoming a distraction to the main thrust of the conversation.

  • Julian Morrison

    Rick:

    It simply means that you must consider both the depth of each person’s feelings (“greatest good”) and the number of people that feel that way (“greatest number”).

    It’s still evil. It mistakes the most vital point, that utility is individual. Good can only be defined as “good for” a person, according to their own priorities, and they alone can determine it. Liberty is the pragmatic approach that individuals are the only ones qualified to make decisions on their own behalf.

    Utilitarianism, any sort, is in the best case merely the imposition of ones own analysis upon others – and in practise, it makes arbitrary and hence corrupt kings of those who determine “what’s good”.

    you are agreeing that no choice can be justified without taking utilitarian considerations into account. That is, no choice can be justified on purely objective principles, because values are involved in all choices.

    Priorities are not arbitrary. Priorities serve goals, goals serve fulfilment. An individual can make objective choices for himself. Not for somebody else, though.

  • Currently I would take anything the Tories say with a grain of salt. Lord knows what exactly they will actually have as policy before the general election. Most Tories have no clue what they are right now. There are too many of the wets who are anti-hunting who will scupper any attempt by Howard & Co to take the right line on all of this.

    Nice piece Perry, spot on.

  • Rick

    It is generally true that more liberty does result in ‘better things’ than a less liberty but that is not the issue for me.

    the best moral theory I have makes allowing people liberty a leading moral imperative.

    It is a moral, not a utilitarian issue.

    Calling something “moral” without specifying what that means is not very compelling. You agree with me that “It is generally true that more liberty does result in ‘better things’ than a less liberty”. That is a compelling reason to establish liberty as a basic principle of social organization. It is the only reason that anybody has specified in this entire discussion.

  • Guy Herbert

    “Easier than creating 100+ docile Peers, and faster in its results, too.” – Not to mention they already did that, and deleted almost all the hereditaries, so that going on a quarter of the present House of Lords is of TB’s appointment–and he still can’t get his way on everything.

  • Although a libertarian, I do feel that the traditional libertarian stance on animals is problematic; since it accords no separate weight to the undoubted desires of animals to live their lives without being tortured by humans.

    But such issues have no bearing on fox hunting; because as long as industrial scale meat and fish industries exist, with animals experiencing unpleasant deaths to satisfy human wants, it is grossly hypocritical and inconsistent for politicians and others to criminalise fox hunting. The only reasonable conclusion which can be drawn is that the attack on fox hunting is politically expedient and class-based and has little or nothing to do with animal welfare.

  • Calling something “moral” without specifying what that means is not very compelling.

    Because I do not feel like writing a lengthy exegesis in this comment section laying out the philosophical basis for objectively derivable morality and epistemological basis for the conjectural nature of our ability for form theories on the nature of reality. As I keep saying without trying to sound rude, your errors in understanding the nature of reality run so deep that it is just not a topic I want to address at great length right now. I would rather see the discussion continue here without having to write about Karl Popper…

  • GCooper

    Perry de Havilland writes: “If the Parliament Act is used, we are suddenly living in a country with no checks and balances on the ruling party’s power other than the one on Election Day. That is not alarming, it is terrifying.”

    I hate to join any sort of chorus but… congratulations – that was an excellent and extremely acute analysis of the new country we find ourselves living in – and what we may usefully do about it.

    It has been clear since the 1960s that ‘direct action’ can work, but you are right to caution that it’s not inevitably successful (CND spectacularly failed to achieve anything other than to establish a permanent fashion taboo on the wearing of duffel coats). The problem is that the majority in this country have been so brainwashed with the word ‘democracy’ that trying to explain to them that this particular sacred cow ought to be sized-up for burger-meat is going to take an exceedingly long time. If it can be achieved at all.

    Meanwhile, we are living in a new and very worrying country, where we have a de facto one-party state, run by a single man with a messianic belief on his own rightness, no revising chamber and a population that, very largely, doesn’t seem to care. In the course of events, the Dear Leader will either be deposed or will die (I don’t, personally, care which) but, as Mr. de Havilland suggests, believing that any other politician will reverse these outrages would be extremely foolish.

    In so far as it is possible at all, we will have to do it ourselves.

  • John Harrison

    In the second reading of the Hunting Bill, which I believe was a free vote, this was the voting.
    Although there were some MPs who voted differently, the Conservatives overwhelmingly voted against and Labour for, the hunting ban. Given a Conservative majority and a free vote, assuming new MPs are politically similar to those already in the Commons the ban would be repealed. By no means on libertarian grounds alone, but repealed it would be.
    There is also the fact that the new intake would be, on balance more open to libertarian ideas than their colleagues already in the Commons. The Tory Party is down to its 166 safest seats after all. I think the Libertarian Alliance does itself a big disservice in believing that their efforts over the past 20 years or so have had no effect on the younger elements in the Tory Party.

  • Verity

    G Cooper – “a permanent fashion taboo on the wearing of duffel coats.” Ha ha ha! V Good! Or the other permanent fashion taboo of being caught dead anywhere in the vicinity of an Anglican bishop.

    I have bleated on about this constantly – not people wearing duffel coats or consorting with Anglican bishops – but that the British do not seem to mind that the mother of democracy has morphed, under Bliar into a one-party, single chamber state ruled with a whim of iron by a messianic fruitcake.

    The only two differences between Bliar and Mugabe is, Bliar doesn’t hate gays and Mrs Mugabe goes shopping without the benefit of advice from Carole Caplin.

    I have constantly expressed amazement as the British electorate has watched its freedoms snuffed out one by one without interest, never mind expressing the mildest of objections.

  • John Harrison: oh sure, the ban can be overturned…maybe yes, maybe no, but unless the principle that infringing free association to do what you will on private property is established, and that the principle will be defended regardless of who has the predonderance of power in Westminster at any given time, this problem will just come back again and again and again. Electing the Tory party is no real solution (it is at best a ‘quick fix’ and at worst may in fact change nothing). In so many ways because the Tories will not challange the system that Blair has twisted into a pretzel, they are also part of the problem.

  • John Harrison

    Better a quick fix than no fix. Anyway, getting rid of a government that is going hell for leather to eliminate our freedom is a good thing. At least it would teach them a lesson, even if nothing else changed.
    The last Conservative Government did things I disagree with and if they replaced Blair’s lot , today’s Tories would doubtless do so too. But even in a worst case scenario, I can’t imagine a Tory Government rushing to push through as much bad legislation as this lot. In the meantime, while we all wait patiently for the Glorious Libertarian Revolution, Perry may be right that the only way groups such as hunters and petrol tax protestors can win any concessions is through actions not sanctioned as legitimate by the political elite. In the end, though, what makes you think that a Tory Government would be less likely to abandon illiberal measures when faced with opposition by small determined minorities than Labour is?
    Liberty has the advantage, in general of working better than the alternative, as well as being right in principle. Labour is mostly constituted of public sector-employed people with innate instincts hostile to freedom. Many Conservative politicians are pragmatists who can be persuaded by utilitarian arguments. There are very good utilitarian arguments for many of the ideas people who write for Samizdata believe in. These ideas can win through.

  • All things being equal, I agree that it would be hard for the Tories to match the Blair government for nightmarish qualities.

    However you grossly misrepresent my views. I have never suggested waiting for a ‘glorious libertarian revolution’ and to suggest that you are, to put it bluntly, talking complete arse. All I have been urging is that people not delude themselves about the Tories or put their faith in democratic results yielding anything really lasting. Voting generally just ’empowers’ you to choose who your hangman will be.

    However if you actually want the Tory Party to improve the state of civil liberties in this country, rather than just slow the rate at which they vanish down the plughole (and this is Michael ‘a touch of the night’ Howard we are talking about here!), the worst thing you could do is to reward duplicity and authoritarian impulses with a vote for the Tories for no other reason than they will put a CCTV camera in your living room in 5 years whereas it looks like Labour might do it next year.

    The only way to motivate a bunch of self-interested bastards like professional politicians (of any party) is to let it be known you might vote for them but are willing to hold your nose and either abstain or even tactically vote for a candidate you loath in order to punish broken promises. In other words do NOT always and automatically vote for the lesser evil or all you will ever get to choose between is evil. Frequently the best vote is ‘none of the above’.

    The big problem with Tory voters is that have let it be know they are cheap to buy.

  • Tony H

    I can’t imagine a Tory Government rushing to push through as much bad legislation as this lot.

    The present regime passed the 1997 Firearms Act, barely altered in form from the Bill introduced by the Major government. All the other Fireams Acts, bar Roy Jenkins’s 1967 job, were the work of Conservative governments. All of them are extremely bad legislation for all sorts of reasons. Trusting in the Tories to make everything right again is a triumph of hope over experience.

  • Christopher Price

    I agree with Julius, Perry’s analysis does not suggest a Libertarian solution to the problem of animal cruelty. I know that despite 80 odd years of campaigning the antis have not been able to show that that hunting with dogs is cruel, in the accepted legal sense of causing unnecessary suffering. The Burns report showed that. But what would we have done if he had found other wise? Or what is the Libertarian objection to bear baiting? I don’t mean this to be rhetorical. I have been thinking about this since the Foster Bill and have real difficulties in coming to a credible conclusion.

  • Rich

    Because perpective is not the issue, truth is.

    Just so that I’m clear on this point, Perry – in what way do you believe that your moral objectivity when you say people should be allowed to hunt foxes is more certain than my moral objectivity when I say they should not?

    As Mike says, I can accept that you believe yourself to be quite certain of your position when you assert it. But I can also accept that it is possible to be quite certain, and quite wrong. And since we cannot distinguish internally between the condition of being certain and right, and certain and wrong, to argue from the basis of moral objectivity is literally non-sense.

    I am expressing a preference, not a moral certainty. The unprovable axiom I select as the basis of that preference is different from yours, as is the preference derived from it. All we can say is whether our preferences are consistent with those axioms. We cannot say whether one axiom is more truthful than the other, or whether one preference is objectively more truthful than the other.

    So therefore there is no basis for differentiating between one preference expressed by a majority and another. And that is why life in a democracy is a compromise. Having expressed it, I would prefer if you would respect it. Just as I do respect your preferences in those matters in which our positions are reversed.

    (And the integrity of your thought process is no business or interest of mine. But given that most of the great philosophists more or less admitted that the nature of reality stumped them, the certainty with which you profess to understand it is breathtaking in its arrogance.)

  • John Harrison

    or even tactically vote for a candidate you loath in order to punish broken promises

    Like … the Tory candidate!

    Labour has been in power since 1997 and I think they deserve a kicking for their record on all objective counts even if you believe that the Tories were less than creditworthy in office and would be again.

    I disagree that you should vote for a candidate you loathe – assuming you are libertarian, then that would be an authoritarian of left or right. Consider candidates as individuals rather than fall into the collectivist mindset of believing they are all the same.

    I think Paul d s (above) puts the most persuasive argument for foxhunting.

  • Which bit of…

    “I do not feel like writing a lengthy exegesis in this comment section laying out the philosophical basis for objectively derivable morality and epistemological basis for the conjectural nature of our ability for form theories on the nature of reality”

    …did you not understand, Rich? Was my language not clear enough? If we were in a pub, this is the point where I start pondering if I am going to going to drink this pint of lager or throw it at you…

    In fact I do not believe in the certainty of quite literally anything as the only way to understand the nature of reality is via falsifiable theories. That does not mean reality (and consequently morality, amongst other things) are not rooted in objective truth; it is just that knowing ‘the truth’ about the nature of reality can never be achieved with 100% certainty. Some theories may be bloody good but that does mean they are more than theories. Yes, I realise how counter-intuitive that is when it comes to things like “well, I know I am sitting here reading this crap on a computer screen!” but even that is just a theory, albeit an extremely plausible and sound theory which will be rather hard to robustly falsify. But that also shows that some theories explain reality better than others and why I can be right and you can be wrong (or visa versa) and why morality is relevent to the pursuit of ends because otherwise one has no means beyond sensory stimulus to actually make a meaningful value judgement of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

    One forms a critical preference for this or that based on the best theories available at the time. However that does not mean objective facts, however imperfectly understood, are not the basis for forming theories, and that includes moral theories. THAT is what I was talking about. It is also why induction is nonsense, albeit intuitive and comfortable nonsense. And if you want to continue a discussion on this subject, which is NOT the subject matter of the fucking article to which these comments are attached, please find somewhere else to do it.

  • Consider candidates as individuals rather than fall into the collectivist mindset of believing they are all the same.

    Given the UK’s fairly rigid parties and robust system of party whips, that is not a view without real problems. Certainly if a given MP was extremely kosher on civil liberties and also has no hesitation telling the whips to go screw themselves when yet more funding for CCTV and Date Pooling comes up, sure, voting for him would indeed make sense as that is the signal we really DO want to send to the national party.

    But until I am actually presented with such a person to vote for, I have no intention of casting a vote for some well spoken regulatory statist because they are slightly less dreadful on some specific issue. That is really just a way of perpetuating the problem whilst basking in the delusion of empowerment in return for what is at best a temporary slowing of the political gangrene. Sometimes amputation really is the only way to solve some problems 🙂

  • Miles too late coming to this post, and I apologize, but it strikes me that what’s needed is a little dose of reality for the public.

    When last in the UK, I remember seeing a TV interview with a man responsible for keeping hounds on some estate, and his point was that the entire kennel would have to be destroyed because there would be nowhere else for the hounds to go — the SPCA and other shelters couldn’t begin to cope with the numbers.

    Why shouldn’t such a man videotape the proceedings whereby an entire kennel of hounds is destroyed, dog by dog, and copies of the tape handed over to Sky, the BBC and disseminated over the Internet?

    Maybe if the urban population’s faces were rubbed in the reality, they wouldn’t be so indifferent.

  • Rick

    Rich,

    Perry seems to have agreed with you, despite his use of rudeness (and even the shocking contemplation of the initiation of force!) as a ruse to disguise the concession.

  • ian

    ‘idiot’

    Another wonderful example of intellectual prowess at work.

  • Amelia

    I apologize for not having the time to follow this closely, but have some basic questions. What is the penalty for having a hunt on your property? Is it a misdemeanor?

  • Rich

    editor’s note: As asking politely does not seem to work…comment deleted.

  • Ian: as asking people to try and stay on-topic rather than just restate philosophical position that are actually not directly relevent to the article being commented on has not worked, I am not going to indulge people who both mis-represent my views and ignore please to keep the comments relevent. By continuing to engage I would be allowing others to control the tone and acceptable scope of comments here. Don’t like that? Then feel free to comment about our wickedness on your blog, not here.

  • John Harrison

    Sometimes amputation really is the only way to solve some problems 🙂

    Perry, I wouldn’t stoop to suggesting you are advocating public beheading of politicians. Could you expand on what you mean by amputation?
    Any strategy for advancing liberty should bear in mind both the size of the advance (or even the extent to which its erosion can be curtailed) and also the likelihood of success of that strategy.
    Maybe I am being infected by David Carr’s pessimism in thinking that the best, most likely chance of avoiding further rapid slide into tyranny in the short term is the election of a Tory Government. With the UK’s rigid system of parties, I don’t anticipate UKIP making any real breakthrough other than Nader-like, to undermine the opposition to the Government.

  • Christopher Price

    Amelia – In answer to your question, if the present Bill becomes law, the max penalty will be £5,000. That is the max penalty for the basic hunting offence too. The offence is not imprisonable because the Govt do not want martyrs.

    Of course the effect will be to make hunting even more of a rich man, or woman’s, sport.

  • By amputation, I was referring to ‘cutting off’ the gloss of legitimacy that comes from voting for the bastards at all… though your interpretation has its attactions 🙂

  • John Harrison

    Thanks for the clarification, Perry. I think it is slightly more effective to make clear to the politicians from whom you are witholding support exactly why you are doing so. Although it does rather take away the piquancy of “F** off and die!” to postfix it with a “because … ” 😉

  • Amelia

    Thanks I kept looking through the BBC articles and did not find it. I think that is bound to be the effect.

  • Christopher Price

    Amelia, and anyone else who wants to know what all the fuss is about, here is a link to the Hunting Bill – its only 16 pages.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200304/ldbills/112/2004112.pdf

  • Julian Morrison

    Christopher Price: thanks, that makes interesting reading. Summary: all dog hunting banned with minor exemptions. Hare coursing banned. Hunter and landowner both criminalized. Warrantless stop-and-search on suspicion. Warrantless searches of of land, vehicles, and buildings except homes. Punishment is a fine. Courts can also confiscate dogs, hunt equipment, and the hunter’s vehicle.

    So far as I can tell the bit about confiscating vehicles seems to have been added purely from spite.

  • Cobden Bright

    Perry wrote “captive chickens and bears are property”

    Even if you provided sufficient reasoning to support this claim, it doesn’t support your argument unless you assume that a living sentient being which is “property” cannot also have some rights. That seems a strange assumption, surely a libertarian should assume that everything has some rights unless there is strong evidence to the contrary?