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]

Samizdata quote of the day

Let us consider, my lords, that arbitrary power has seldom or never been introduced into any country at once. It must be introduced by slow degrees, and as it were step by step, lest the people should see its approach. The barriers and fences of the people’s liberty must be plucked up one by one, and some plausible pretences must be found for removing or hoodwinking, one after another, those sentries who are posted by the constitution of a free country, for warning the people of their danger. When these preparatory steps are once made, the people may then, indeed, with regret, see slavery and arbitrary power making long strides over their land; but it will be too late to think of preventing or avoiding the impending ruin.

– Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, to the House of Lords in 1737 (though reported rather later)

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27 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Kulibar Tree

    US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said pretty much the same thing about 200 years later –

    EXPERIENCE should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greater dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

    This ought to be compulsory reading for any government minister/official, and nailed to the wall of every newspaper editor and political correspondent in the land.

    Cheers.

  • Chris Harper

    I blame income tax. The government taking onto itself the right to know all our private finances was the first and greatest step. All else has descended from that one act.

  • And that is what is so insidious about the whole thing! Who’s going to revolt against stagnation? Who is going to stand up to fight a long, nameless, faceless, drawn-out process of decay? Very few of us, it would seem.

  • Midwesterner

    the right to know [and redistibute!] all our private finances

    Nothing so benign as decay, WEM. This is a deliberate effort to take us away from individualism and into collectivism. That, I can and do revolt against.

  • guy herbert

    I agree income tax is profoundly pernicious for that reason. As a notable example of Chesterfield’s point, in Britain it was extended to the majority of the population only after Hugh Dalton introduced PAYE (Pay as you earn) Most Britons have never in their lives had to file a tax return, and have only ever received their income nett of income tax. Calling some of it “national insurance,” as if it were buying some specific benefit, and keeping half of that off the payslip altogether also helps hoodwink the sentries.

  • guy herbert

    Brandeis was wrong: Men born to freedom are NOT naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. They may well be more inclined to trust their rulers if they are used to freedom. (“It’s a free country, init?”) That’s whats wrong with Britain now, why next to no-one has noticed the Blair Revolution.

  • Chris Harper

    Yep, I go along with Guys last comment. People are simply oblivious, and when talking about the issues even those who do see the point tend to regard any significant concern as paranoia. There simply is no general understanding of how this freedom can be lost. Even the NAZIs did it slowly, instinctively understanding that if you boil the frog slowly he will just sit there.

  • JB

    I’ve seen this in real life here in New York City. The local officials have taken it upon themselves to ban trans-fat(Link) in all food preparation in restaurants. They claim it will reduce deaths from heart disease. I’ve sent them some angry emails, but a fat lot of good it did for liberty. What’s more disappointing is how few people are actually upset by this usurpation of power. All the articles in the NY times refer to the opposition as “the restaurant industry” – as if no other person could or would have any valid reason for opposing this ban. One of my acquaintances said it was good because there were “too many fat people.” Yet there is absolutely no evidence that this ban will improve health or reduce obesity. Furthermore, everyone should have the right to be as fat as they want to be and eat as much as they want to.

  • guy herbert

    Even the NAZIs did it slowly,

    True. But it is also in the nature of revolutionary movements to accelerate the process as they go along. A revolution needs constantly to go further because otherwise it will cease to be at all. The leaders keep their fot on the gas too keep their followers engaged, because both leaders and followers are seldom good for anything else than revolution

    Blair says he doesn’t have a reverse gear. He’s right. He doesn’t even have brakes. (The first thing revolutionaries do is disable the brakes.) Just a throttle, and an increasingly useless steering wheel.

  • Paul Marks

    One of the principles that is supposed to limit power is that a regulation should be “blind” – i.e. it should be universal (directed against certain action), not just directed at a single individual or organization (without regard to anything they have done). Of course this does not guard against all abuse of power, for example there could be still an order that “without fear or favour everyone who has a right leg must have it cut off”, but it does guard against (again for example) “Mr John Smith must have has right leg cut off – because we do not like him”.

    Mr Booker in the “Sunday Telegraph” reports a recent case where this principle has been broken.

    Boland (a Lancashire cheese maker) was accused by the European Union of having a lot of antibiotic residue in the milk it used to make curd cheese. The British Food Standards Agency and the law court pointed that this simply was not true.

    However, the E.U. refused to back down and the vote of member governments went against the United Kingdom (indeed the U.K. government just abstained rather than voting to support Boland – not that a British vote for Boland would have blocked the ruling in a “health and safety” matter).

    This left the problem of how Boland was to be destroyed (and the people who worked for it made unemployed).

    A Statutory Instrument (the normal way the govermment passes a regulation without having to go through Parliament) could not be based on antibiotics (as the courts had already ruled that the charge against Boland was not true).

    So the S.I says that Boland (BY NAME) must stop selling cheese.

    Basically “Mr Smith must have his right leg cut off – because we do not like him”, arbitary power.

    Almost needless to say Mr Cameron chose this week to visit the H.Q. of the European Union and praise the Commission for its support of “deregulation”.

    The E.U. “Reach” set of regulations (demanding that companies must list, and do animal tests on, many of the materials they have used in products for many decades – thus ignoring the old L.E. Read’s story “I Pencil” which shows that one of the basic points of the market is that people coperate to make things out of materials and products which none of them understand as a whole) passed an important mile (or kilometre) stone this week.

  • Rone Aone

    For quite a while, Liberty has been what distinguished Western European and North American cultures from authoritarian/totalitarian nations around the globe.
    Although, we should not forget that racial segregation in the US as well as various kinds of overt discrimination against social minorities in other technologically developed countries, remained a normal reality though the first half of the 20th century.

    Today’s democratic ways and economic freedoms, so seemingly unprecedented in the human history and indomitable in the West, are often taken for granted, and as something intrinsically characteristic to North American and European mindset, by the major public.

    And yet, it has been just for a few decades, since the end of the WW2, when greater political and economic opportunities have become more available to a wider population regardless of their religious, national, racial, or sexual affiliation both in North America and in Europe.
    During the second half of the past century, as the Soviets were struggling to prove the viability of their totalitarian political system and kept experimenting with their stagnating economics, the Western democracies did their utmost to implement the ideas of Liberty and Equality in their every day lives. All with one purpose in mind – to defeat the Soviet totalitarian machine, to win over the international community and peoples in the Soviet Block countries as well, to draw them ideologically on to the side of the Free West as opposed to the nations where the notorious Communist regimes ruled.

    Thus, the major result of the Cold War era is socially and economically freer societies in the West, with democratic forms of government firmly established and tested during the show down with the Soviet Union.
    Such, it seems, is the role of the latter in the making of the Western European-North American Civilization as we know it today. Is this process irreversible?
    And how firm and unquestionable are Western democratic principles and economic freedoms?
    Now, that the Soviet Union is gone and former Soviet leaders, rather then spying for and playing on the weaknesses of the Western societies, are busy doing business by the rules of the Free Market, what is there to stop whatever government of whatever Western democratic country from curbing on the freedoms of any social or political minority group if that is in the interest of power holding party?
    How thin is the line that divides modern North American and Western European civility on the part of the ruling classes from the darker side of human nature with its primitive Machiavellian Reality?

  • I have written a slightly incoherent post (I was frothing at the mouth and things got a bit slippery) on closely related matters: here

  • Damocles

    I read all your well reasoned posts and apt quotations with interest and no arguments on the general thrust ,the descent of our civilization into a post Orwellian nightmare destruction of liberty the lot.
    But my question is this? What the FUCK do we do about it I’m sitting tapping this out on one of eight public access computers on an oil-rig in the north sea the other seven are being used to view dating sites football results or car sales, they” the proles” don’t give a toss.
    Were a minority with no friends in politics, the media, absolutely SFA in fact.Our elected dictatorship has already achieved almost total control.Sending erudite E mails between one another will not cut the mustard anymore.
    Yours from the pits of despair D

  • veryretired

    There are many good points being made here in this discussion, but I would like to add two elements in the way of perspective.

    First, the process by which the enormous growth and immense power of the state has been increased is, in many ways, a return to a pre-modern mindset.

    The tradition of millenia of human culture was that citizens belonged, along with anything else, to the all powerful lord, who was very often a combination of political and religious authority.

    In English history, the monarch as head of the Church of England is little different than the Pharoahic traditions in Egyptian culture, the divine Emperor in Roman culture, or the divinely selected monarchs in many European states. The demi-god emperors in Chinese and Japanese history are also in this vein.

    The enormity of the Enlightenment’s repudiation of this concept, and the audacity of the substitution of ordinary, individual citizens as the source of legitimate political power, can only be grasped when it is understood that this is a seismic shift in the cultural landscape.

    Individual rights is a 10 on the Richter scale of political, economic, and ethical philosophy.

    It is no surprise, then, that the reaction was so immediate, and so ferocious. From all sides came the relentless condemnations and anathemas against this selfish, cruel, greedy, mean, cutthroat, viscious concept.

    It is no accident of rhetorical excess that so much of the intellectual content of individualism is dismissed as “dog eat dog” and “cold-hearted survival of the fittest”.

    It is an axiom of the collectivist mentality that every individual person is a cruel, evil, cold-heated monster whose depridations upon the rest of humanity can only be prevented by the mass action of the rest of society to control and restrain him.

    Thus the bizarre obscenity of dismissing an Andrew Carnegie as a greedy monster, while embracing Fidel Castro as a champion of the people. Moral inversions of this magnitude can only occur when a concerted effort has been made to distort the very concept and meaning of morality itself.

    And so, point two—it will require an enormous committment of time, energy, and intellectual and moral coherence to first refute, and then replace, this insidious avalanche of intellectual charlatanism and moral depravity.

    Those who are committed to this task are talking about eroding Everest with an eye dropper. It will be the most herculean task in human cultural rennovation ever attempted. I will not live to see its fruition, nor will my children, or their children.

    It took a century and more of lies and usurpations to construct the monsterous cancer of the modern state. It will certainly take at least that long to dismantle.

    I am optimistic for one simple reason—the world culture we have constructed is rife with the clear evidence that collectivist ideas and structures are catastrophic failures, bringing misery and deprivation whenever and wherever thay are allowed free reign.

    Free men and women are not afraid of examining the evidence, and making a rational choice to demand freedom over slavery. Collectivists live in fear of every fact, every idea, that contradicts their assumptions and assertions about life.

    That is why free people do not censor and repress, and the PC, multi-culti colectivists must, and always try to, ban anytyhing that will damage their contentions.

    Fear is a sign of weakness, not strength; repression is a sign of weakness, not strength; the demand that everyone believe the same is a sign of weakness, not strength.

    I have lived much of my life being told that the evil commies were going to overtake us because they were the wave of the future, and we were old-fashioned, recalcitrant individualists out of touch with modern ideas. But which system buckled and collapsed, and which now plans to return to the moon?

    The future belongs to my children, not to slaves or their would be masters. Life belongs to those who truly wish to live, and only free men and women are truly alive.

  • Thank you for this quote which I have begun to share with my friends.

    Here in Australia, the land of “No worries, mate; she’ll be right”, our laid-back attitude to worldly matters may be both our most heroic quality and our most tragic flaw.

    Our conservative government is piece by piece dismantling our democracy, our justice system, our long-held values and our freedoms and yet for the most part the people are sanguine and unalarmed. We are like the frogs in the pot of water slowly approaching the boil.

    But no worries. It will all turn out right in the end, mate.

  • guy herbert

    Damocles,

    I share your despair. But I’m doing what I can. I need people willing to work and willing to fund.

    One thing to recognise is that the proles is no more an obstacle than it is an assistance. Democracy isn’t true. This is a battle to be fought among the engaged elites.

    But talking to ourselves alone is a waste and a danger. We must reach those who are potentially engaged, but not engaged – and who may well not be intellectually inclined, and need it made concrete. We need to join forces with those who disagree with us profoundly philosophically, but can agree that this is a great common danger.

  • Gabriel

    veryreited, it’s a nice little narative, but, I’m afraid, completely wrong. The enlightenment did not destroy or even detract from the principles of the large state. Enlightenment and absolutism went hand in hand. If any clear trend resulting from enlightenment political thought can be discerned it is that the duties, burdens and roles placed on governments by the apostles of the new world were so great that the ancien regimes of Europe could not possibly live up to them. Creaking oppresive monarchies were replaced by shiny hyper oppressive tyrannies. Do you really think Votalire et al. are on your side? They’re certianly not on mine.

    The traditions of individual liberty, limited government and the rule of law are, in England at least, pre-modern (although, I admit, the concept of economic growth is not). The enlighenment had some good bits, but mostly it was very silly men saying very silly things, sometimes it was very wicked men saying very wicked things; the Gulag was its ultimate expression.

    Of course, conservatism is based on a negative view of human nature. Libertarianism is not, you are correct. It shares this trait with utopian socialism.

    In English history, the monarch as head of the Church of England

    Needless to say, no king until 1534 was head of the Church of England. I don’t see how your historical narrative of the pre-modern semi-divine king can work in this context. Seems more a temporary blip, or rather a typically progressive (and thus evil) move on behalf of England’s first progressive: Thomas Cromwell.

  • veryretired

    I’m sorry Gabriel, but your post is such utter nonsense that no further reply is possible. Good luck to you in exploring that strange universe you live in. I’m sure you’ll need it.

  • Chem Ed

    Our (English) justice system doesn’t need to be dismantled – it has been supeceded by the European Courts. And with reference to 09.57pm above, (via Booker, Tim Worstall and Richard North) our unelected leaders have shown the contempt they show them.
    Seriously, who is to stand up for the power and independence of any European court save the libertarian ideologue? (and we all know what a dirty word ideology has become for the New political trendies). It is too remote for much love from the masses, and presently suffers from poor image or none at all. I fear this is a chill breeze heralding more – much as the noble lord put forward.

  • Gabriel

    In English history, the monarch as head of the Church of England is little different than the Pharoahic traditions in Egyptian culture

    such utter nonsense

    Well, yes.

    to you in exploring that strange universe you live in. I’m sure you’ll need it.

    The one with history books? It has its merits.

    When in doubt, turn to Oakeshott

    Professor Morgenthau, in common with many American and almost all continental writers, believes erroneously that parliamentary institutions were the offspring of rationalist politics. This is, perhaps, an excusable error, because in America and on the continent of europe parliamentary institutions were in fact coeval with the full flood of rationalist politics, and because the proper antidote to this error is a knowledge of the only history that matters in this connection, the history of England…
    The truth is that the institutions of parliamentary government sprung from the least rationalistic perioid of our politics, from the Middle Ages and (despite the cloud of false theory with which recent decades have enveloped them) were conneced not with a rationalist order of society, but (in conjunction with the common law) with the limitation of the exercise of political power and the opposition to tyranny whatever from it appeared. The root of so-called ‘democratic’ theory is not rationalist optimism about the perfectibility of human society, but scepticism about the possibility of such perfection and the determination not to allow human life to be perverted by the tyranny of a person or fixed by the tyranny of an idea

    Now I realise that it’s tough when you realise your favourite meta-narrative bears no relation to what actually happened (and the emergence of the individual from the minds – or other parts – of flouncy 18th C intellectuals does seem to be a particularly popular one), but it would still behove you better to display less petulance.

  • guy herbert

    While the mangling of intellectual and constitutional history seems rather outside the scope of my original posting, can I interject one fact?

    The Elizabethan settlement made the monarch Supreme Governor of the Church of England, in 1559. Since Elizabeth I took power in succession to her sister who denied the separation from Rome, the CofE hasn’t had a Head since Edward VI.

  • From Chris Harper:

    I blame income tax. The government taking onto itself the right to know all our private finances was the first and greatest step. All else has descended from that one act.

    And from Guy:

    … in Britain it was extended to the majority of the population only after Hugh Dalton introduced PAYE (Pay as you earn) Most Britons have never in their lives had to file a tax return, and have only ever received their income nett of income tax. Calling some of it “national insurance,” as if it were buying some specific benefit, and keeping half of that off the payslip altogether also helps hoodwink the sentries.

    Well, I disagree with Chris more than Guy, but with both.

    They identify that we have gone down a slippery slope as the bad thing, rather than the bad thing being where we are, irrespective of how we got here: that’s the history of means rather than the current and actual bad ends.

    The main problem is that, here in the UK, Government now spends too great a proportion of GDP (by doing more than they should). And that their choice of what to do with it is less good than we would each individually decide for ourselves. How they get their (grubby) hands on that much of our money is much less important.

    Thank goodness for some recognition of this from W. E. Messamore:

    And that is what is so insidious about the whole thing! Who’s going to revolt against stagnation? Who is going to stand up to fight a long, nameless, faceless, drawn-out process of decay? Very few of us, it would seem.

    and from Midwesterner:

    Nothing so benign as decay, WEM. This is a deliberate effort to take us away from individualism and into collectivism. That, I can and do revolt against.

    And a man more interested in where we are going than what route we travelled to get here. Good for you Damocles (despite your language):

    But my question is this? What the [F***] do we do about it?

    Well, I have still some faith in our parliamentary democracy. So I lay the problem at their door. Along with their laws against the cheesemaker Boland and, slightly more generalised, against Mr Brian Haw.

    And I sit here typing to the songs of Tom Paxton:

    Our leaders are the finest men, and we elect them again and again.

    So Guy, what is your replacement for democracy? Is it that NO2ID, where you more than once have criticised me for favouring rational decision-making as against winning over the ignorant masses (because the ignorant masses only understand propaganda).

    A battle of elites? Well Labour has been, classically, the elite looking after the interests of the common people. [God, I think I’m lost.]

    Back to what the f*** to do about it. Well it’s an elephant that has to be eaten mouthful by mouthful. Either that or bloody revolution, and I’d rather not thanks. Two suggestions, using the opportunities now before us:

    (i) Think hard on what revision of the House of Lords would help; then lobby for it like there is, otherwise, no tomorrow;

    (ii) Vote in every election, and encourage your friends to do likewise. Vote for the candidate of your choice; and if none is, then vote NOT (None of These);

    (iii) Get the Public Accounts Committee to examine the use of government publicity for political party ends, and move an appropriate amount of the bill to the individuals concerned (or their parties).

    These are means: the end is to restore a better balance between the people and government, and the means to keep it despite untrustworthy elites.

    Best regards

  • guy herbert

    Nigel,

    I wasn’t suggesting that NO2ID is the solution to our problems. But it is what I am doing to brake the juggernaut.

    If there’s a wish list I can join in, Quentin Letts had a very good point to add to it in the Guardian yesterday: abolish the party whip. Not perhaps possible to do entirely, but it could be weakened.

    I like your (iii) very much, though would not the National Audit Office be the appropriate body?

  • Guy writes:

    I wasn’t suggesting that NO2ID is the solution to our problems. But it is what I am doing to brake the juggernaut.

    I note BRAKE, rather than BREAK. Yes, perhaps.

    If there’s a wish list I can join in, Quentin Letts had a very good point to add to it in the Guardian yesterday: abolish the party whip. Not perhaps possible to do entirely, but it could be weakened.

    Back on 5th May, I commented at 06:13PM on this thread http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2006/05/why_the_tory_pa.html, which also has implications for weakening the awful grip of political parties.

    [Note: I was actually rather pleased to get “nice post” out of the too-absent Verity, though she did then go on to explain the inadequacy of my total vision, WRT the EU.]

    As to the NAO, I thought the PAC was their master, though I might be wrong. What is clear to me, at this current time, is that no part of our government (by which I mean more than the Executive) is going to have much luck against the political parties, if that is in opposition to the will of Parliament (and the Commons in particular). Things may be starting to stink rather badly there, but cleaning would be less painful if it came, at least largely, from inside.

    Best regards

  • Paul Marks

    A good point by Guy on the Church of England – even tenured historians sometimes confuse an established church and a state church (and they are not quite the same thing).

    I remember reading (if only I could recall the title or the author) a work that claimed that the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (created in 1790 by the French revolutionaries) made the clergy “Civil Servants, as in England” – it would take rather a lot of space to explain just how wrong that is (in relation to England) so I will just say that, for all its many faults, the Church of England is nothing like the structure the French revolutionaries (please trust me on this).

    On “allying with people who have a very different philosophical point of view”:

    On I.D. cards yes (and political campaigns of this sort are part of democracy – they do not undermine it). If (for example) a well known comic or actor opposes I.D. cards then by all means cooperate with them (even if he does support higher government spending).

    However, more generally I am very wary of this.

    The example of Murry Rothbard and Karl Hess “joining hands with the left” in the 1960’s is very much in my mind.

    “The New Left are against the government and we are against the government – so we should ally”.

    Errr no – because the “New Left” were “against the government” because they (like the “old left”, who in many cases were their biological parents – communism seems to run in familes in the United States) wanted to replace it with a totalitarian Marxist nightmare.

  • Gabriel

    England moved from state church to established church in 1689 (although it arguably had one from 1649-59 depending on how you look at it). Elizabeth’s status as governor rather than head was a cosmetic difference designed for consensus purposes, rather like referring to yourself as “first comrade” rather than “tyant”. Indeed, if we are to find veryretired’s god-kings of England’s past then Bess between 1570-90 is about as close as we’ll get – which is still not terribly close.