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

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free

– Johann von Goethe. Truly words that should resonate in this age of the democratic centrist regulatory total state in which the majority actively collaborate with their own repression.

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    “Enslaved” may be too strong a word (although I know it is meant to indicate people not being free, rather than being forced to work by a whip).

    However, it is true that people are not free. In most Western nations taxes are around 40% to 50% of G.D.P. (“but my income tax is not that” – says the person who thinks of income tax as the only tax). Even in the United States total taxation (Federal, State and local) is about a third of G.D.P. (and Americans are told constantly that “the rich do not pay enough tax”, even though “the rich” provide the Federal government with most of its revenue, and higher tax rates never bring in the huge amounts of extra revenue that the left claim they will).

    Even J. M. Keynes’ friend the Anglo-Australian economist Colin Clark held that once the government (at all levels) took more than 25% (historically even this is a very big government indeed) of the economy in taxation it was vain to talk about a “free society”. And that, in the long run, the population would become dependent on government for the basic things in their lives and the long term progress of civilization would be undermined.

    And what is left of civil society is controlled by a vast web of regulations that (at least in Britain) are worse now than they have ever been before (with the possible exception of World War II and the few years just after it).

    Only on Sunday I was reading (thanks to Mr Christopher Booker) of a Chesire farmer who had lost all his cattle (a herd that had been awarded prices in the past).

    Under E.U. inspired regulations (brought in 1998) central government officials (or in this case local government officials acting for them) can confiscate cattle (without any compensation) if they hold that regulations (remember that there are vast numbers of complex regulations, many of them very vague) have been broken.

    Which regulations had the farmer broken – the officials were not sure (at least they were unable to tell the court when the farmer took legal action), but they felt like he had not done things quite their way so they took all his cattle (i.e. his living – they broke him).

    The court ruled that the cattle would be spared (the government officials wished to destroy them all – not for health reasons, but simply because they did not have the capacity to look after them) if the farmer could provide full details on all of the cows within two days.

    As the officials had confiscated the paper work (the cattle “passports” a sort of cow I.D. card) this was not possible. So all the cattle were destroyed.

    “But this is only one case” – Mr Booker (and others) have reported thousands of cases of the use of arbitary power by officials (with their normal line of defence “our regulations are in line with E.U. policy – so we can do what we like” although they do not use those exact words). And appealing to one’s “Member of Parliament” is pointless (even if the M.P. tries to help, and most of them are just party hacks with no personal vote, they are stone walled by ministers – who act as front men for the officials). “Elections” in these conditions (whether national or local elections) are rather pointless.

    “But the the very fact that people like Mr Booker are allowed to report such things proves we are free”.

    Does it?

    How many people read such reports? Or blogs like this?

    Most people get their news from the television and radio – and the B.B.C., I.T.V. and C4. do not tend to report such things.

    And even if they did – what difference would it make?

    After all voting out the Labour party and putting in the Conservative party is not going to change things.

    There were plenty of regulations (never debated in Parliament – thanks to the concept of “delegated legislation” in this country known as “Statutory Instruments”) before Labour came in 1997 and the Conservative party will not take a single power back from the E.U.

    Certainly there were regulations giving arbitary power to government long before Britain joined the E.U. (the book “The New Despotism” by Chief Justice Hewart came out as long ago as 1929), but Parliament could repeal any of the “Enableing Acts” (the delegated legislation statutes) that allowed them.

    Today all that has to be said is the magic words “European Union” or just the magic word “Europe” and Ministers and M.P.s will not even try and do anything serious.

    And yet we are constantly told that we live in a “free society”, that we have “never been more free”, that (even) that there are all sorts of problems caused by our “excessive freedom” and so on.

    When people who say such things are questioned it turns out they mean (if they mean anything) that people have more casual sex than they used to. Even if this is true, I do not see the point as there did not use to be laws against casual sex – if people really did have less casual sex in say 1970 than they do now it was a matter of self restraint not lack of freedom. “Oh but there were laws against homosexual acts till the 1960s” – and these statutes (which I agree were quite wrong) counter balance all the regualtions that now exist and did not exist then?

    People who say we are more free now do not mean freedom of speech (there are all sorts of things it is now illegal to say, that used to be quite lawful to say), and they certainly do not mean freedom to keep one’s own money or to conduct a peaceful and honest enterprise as one sees fit.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mind you, if anyone had the misfortune to click on the Adam Curtis TV show “The Trap” last night, in which he claims that the liberties of the market are an illusion, it is fair to point out that the “we are in chains but think we are free” meme is often used by collectivists to justify other forms of coercion. Take the Marxian sneer quotes around the word “freedoms” when it comes to their discussing things like freedom of contract, etc.

    I think the more significant problem today is the lack of public anger over the impertinence of things like ID cards, taxes, regulations, bans on this and that. But I detect an upswelling of anger and discontent. Not all of it is very coherent or particularly libertararian in its direction, but it is noticeable nonetheless.

  • I think I know what you mean, you know, but like, these ID card thingies, man do we really have to have them? One of my lads had his fingers printed last week too, just for being out wiv his mates! And they wanna put a little black box thingy in me micra too!

    I’ll have to ask Curly when he gets back into the shop.

    Madge (Oh I will be in trouble.)

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Adam Curtis follows the standard left line that freedom is not “really” freedom – statism is “true freedom”.

    However, note the other message. The implied claim that we live in a civil society (what Mr Curtis and co might call “capitalism”) where people by and large have control of their own income and can engage in civil (non violent) interaction with others.

    This (as I tried to explain in my long comment above) is not the case. Close to half the economy is taken away in taxes (and government borrowing) in most Western nations, and the rest of civil society is undermined by a vast web of regulations. Of course even the basic monetary system is a government fiat money credit bubble (rather than a system where the medium of exchange has evolved over time by civil interaction).

    The left first define civil society as “capitalism” and pretend it is based on “atomized individualism” (whereas, in reality, civil society is based on civil interaction) then pretend we live in one – so that all problems must be caused by this “false freedom”.

  • Brad

    There is an immutable law of economic scarcity. I suppose one’s perception of freedom is measured from where they stand relative to their allocation, or more correctly, where they stand and where they think they should be.

    There is another immutable law, that of production – someone has to decide how to use the various means. Given this, there are those who presume that there are few, if not singular, ways to value these means, and there are those who see that there are as many values as there are people. Definitions of freedom then spin from these a priori positions, those who think there are few proper valuations, tend to be Statists (to foster the True Way) and those, and those who think there is a multifacetedness to valuation, tend to see the market as supporting freedom.

    It all starts when people feel that Values transcend individuals versus those who believe individuals transcend Values. One definition states that freedom is only gotten once acquiescence to the proper central system of value (one only needs to hear the born- again zealot to know this), while the other relies on the individual’s system of value – the individual then can wind through, and in and out of, various groupings looking for matching values.

    The question is which belief needs coercion more to effect its “freedom”?

    I think most of us know the answer….

  • Nick M

    The story of the Cheshire cattle being destroyed for no justifiable reason was reported in Private Eye. That’s where I read it.

    The funny thing is that I wasn’t at all surprised by the grotesque mixture of malice and incompetence displayed by Defra. I used to temp for the Rural Payments Agency on the Beef Special Premium scheme and to compare them to clowns would be to invite a defamation suit from Barnum & Bailey. The place was absolute chaos. The IT system (which I partially re-jigged – for no thanks whatsoever) would have been viewed as primitive by Charley Babage. The management had zilch qualifications and lorded it over a load of temps who were mainly rather bright and capable graduates with a combination of hatred and resentment. The management had real chips on their shoulders. Human resources was run by a morbidly obese woman who couldn’t be arsed to fax the temp’s time-sheets to the agency but could be arsed to piss-off shopping to the MetroCentre while claiming overtime. Was there any point telling the boss of this? Was there hell. I assume there was a boss but I never heard mention of such a person specifically named and I just assumed any boss there was clearly so ineffectual they wouldn’t be able to get a fuck in a monkey whore-house if they had a sack full of bananas.

    Oh, God. Then there was the farrago of “Diversity Training”. This was kicked off because apparently a new temp was apparently going to show up with “multiple facial piercings”. Well, we all had to attend this utter fiasco during which a very conservative middle-aged woman explained to a bunch of 20-somethings that we shouldn’t mock him because he was different. She seemed so embarrassed because, unlike the temps, she’d clearly never met anyone with “multiple facial piercings” unlike all of us who had and didn’t give a toss. The new temp very wisely never turned up so it was all utter bollocks.

    And the spectacular awfulness of the Personnel Dept. We were in data-entry and I recall them sacking a guy who could touch-type yet keeping a girl who was a one-finger hunt and pecker. They liked her because she was a girl and disliked him because he was a high-falutin’ History grad who had a degree from Durham. But then what do you expect from a Personnel Dept. that relies on biscuits (and the possibility of more biscuits to come) as a form of encouragement. This was considered sophisticated management and was invented before Homer Simpson did the same with donuts. It also allowed the pig-ignorant sponging cow an excuse to get out of the office and spend up to three hours at a go “hunting for biscuits” – this was in central Newcastle.

    Oh, and a bloke I worked with was sacked for refusing to sleep with a superior. He already had a girlfriend and his superior had a very prominent completely black tooth.

    In the end I was sacked and re-hired on the same day! Then I quit. Shortly afterwards I moved to Manchester and haven’t worked for UK Gov since. Did any good come out of this? Oddly enough, yes. I very much doubt I was the only one of those temps who decided never to take MHG’s shilling ever again. Oh, and there were two Pakistani lads in the office who taught me to swear in Urdu. They never did any work and just followed the cricket on the internet. The lucky bastards got away with this because I think the management were terrified of being seen to “discriminate”.

    So, I learned two valuable lessons and though I have never actually needed to call an Urdu speaker a “mother-fucker” you never know when that might come in handy.

    The great tragedy is that all of this was going on at the former site of Lord Armstrong’s Elswick works – one of the greatest crucibles of C19th engineering. William Armstrong must be developing high angular momentum in his grave.

    But wait, there’s more… Link

    Now I never saw any of those antics but I am scarcely surprised.

  • Midwesterner

    But I detect an upswelling of anger and discontent. Not all of it is very coherent or particularly libertararian in its direction, but it is noticeable nonetheless.

    Definitely. Here too.

    I think since the powers that be have so thoroughly jiggered things to keep themselves in power, there is enough resentment in place that when they start to lose their grip, it will be very fast and not pretty. My guess is that the economic house of cards (empty promises) collapsing will be the trigger.

  • Damn it Nick, this was almost like reading Catch 22: hilarious in a sad kind of way. Quite depressing, really.

    Mid: I don’t know if it (the state losing its grip, the resentment swelling and eventually exploding, etc.) happens any time soon, but once it does somewhere, it will spread like wildfire throughout the West.

    Only slightly OT, and in the same vein:


  • mike

    Nick M: Christ almighty! Your story was appalling enough, but that times article… that’s real toilet dirt.

  • Nick M

    But what will be the result? One of the reasons I’m not especially keen on revolutions is that the results are frequently so unpredictable. How many Frenchmen who took to the streets in 1789 really foresaw The Terror and the wars of Napolean? Most of the Russians who revolted in 1905 and 1917 wanted some form of democratic socialism and look what they ended up with? I suspect the US revolution was in many ways an anomaly but particularly in the fact that it’s supporters pretty much got roughly what they were initially looking for.

    If there is an economic collapse which triggers a complete re-jigging of society. Isn’t it possible that a lot of people will make free-market capitalism carry the can for it? I mean there is a widespread belief that Tony Blair is actually very right-wing and that “capitalism” is out of control. Of course there is a chance that a Washington could rise from the mess and take over, but there could also be a Lenin or Chavez or Pol-Pot.

    When the Shah fell in 1979 the Ayatollah took over primarily not because of rampant Islamic fervour in the country but because he promised a highly socialistic model with “free” everything paid for by the oil-wealth that the Shah had misapropriated. This of course hasn’t happened but that’s all the fault of the Zionist-Crusaders isn’t it? Why do you think they do all that “Death to America!” stuff? It’s pretty much entirely for domestic consumption. It’s prolefeed and the oldest trick in the book. Attaching socio-economic-political grievances to theology is the second oldest trick in the book. That way you can associate your assorted reasons for being malcontent to a pre-existing and deeply engrained meta-context amongst the populace and raise some pretty mundane issues to the level of a cosmic battle of good vs. evil.

    I seriously believe that the rolling back of the state has to be done gradually. People do have to “get” the new meta-context and that can only happen gradually. A Libertarian PM in the UK who attempted to “do” an entirely Libertarian program in his/her first term would be lucky to last that term and could only keep power by being very un-Libertarian.

    Meta-context is everything. It might sound pretentious but Perry is (annoyingly) right on this one. I’ve said that revolutions tend to have unexpected consequences but if I were a gambling man then I would suggest that the best bet is to assume the force most likely to rise out of the ensuing chaos is the one which chimes the most with the meta-context of the majority and also the one which pushes itself most aggresively. In early C21st Britain that would not be Libertarianism.

    I recently had a (friendly) exchange with Chris Harper here about Islam. He posted a very vivid (some might say lurid) fisking of some of the barbarities that religion condones or encourages. I suggested that my major arguments contra-Islam were more philosophical (for instance I think the concept of the Umma is profoundly anti-individualist). Chris came back at me by saying that explaining the details of Islamic theology just doesn’t work with a bloke down the pub after a couple of beers. Well, there was nowt I could say against that. And herein lies the problem. A Libertarian usually doesn’t get past explaining what a meta-context even is before he’s shouted down by a demogogue who is promising the skies and claiming it’s all the fault of some fat bastards eating too much of the national pie.

  • RobtE

    Nick M –

    Well, I can vouch for every word of your anecdotage about the Rural Payments Agency. Its recent troubles were very much in the local press.

    As you say, it’s on the site of Lord Armstrong’s former Elswick plant, which is at the bottom of my road. He is a personal hero of mine, and I make it a point on my fortnightly visits to the Lit & Phil to pat his marble bust and remind him that he’s not entirely forgotten. How ironic that his works site should become the place of so much statist shite.

    If there were to be a revolution today in Britain then I am firmaly convinced that it would not be sympathetic to libertarianism. Our country seems to be getting weird in very many ways – almost scarily so – not the least of which being that we seem to be moving to the Left at a rate of knots.

    Let’s face it – the Enlightenment in dead in Britain. I first noticed this a decade ago, when I went into a bookstore in Cambridge and saw the amount of shelf space devoted to ‘New Age Spirituality.’ We are increasingly anti-rational, anti-intellectual, anti-science, and, most worryingly of all, anti-business.

    How the feckin’ hell do we fight that?

    Disclaimer clause: this comment is written after a fairly long and boozy lunch…

  • Midwesterner

    Nick M and RobtE,

    I agree and share all of your worries and concerns with the possible exception that I still hold some optimism for Britain.

    I have entirely different prognostications for Continental Europe than for North America.

    In the US our biggest, most insoluble problems are all, almost without any exceptions, in the national government. But our state governments stand intact and fully capable of functioning in their original form. I believe that a collapse of the national government in the US will result in either the legal or at least defacto withdrawel of states from the unified government, followed almost immediately by the formation of a new network of federations regionally that will quickly allign into something or things strongly resembling our continent in earlier times. It is quite likely that some provinces of Canada may join nearby alliances. I do not fear a cultural collapse in extreme form.

    In mainland Europe (and perhaps Sweden but probably less so in Norway and Denmark) I see a transposition of guilt from the EUrocrats to the immigrants, resulting in pograms deflected by the EUrocrats onto the immigrants. Europe has been-there, did-that before, and the last time they didn’t even have a pretense of a reason. Now they have a plausible case. I hold out hope for European populations in direct proportion to the amount of resistence they attempted to show Nazification of their countries.

  • Nick M

    How delightful to have another Geordie aboard! My understanding was that Lord Armstrong was a solicitor until he was about 40. I gleaned that from the plaque by the Tyne near the seat where I used to get out of the RPA and eat my lunch. I like that. It makes me feel hopeful. He was a late starter in the thing that made him famous. And rich. I love Cragside’s utterly bonkers Victorian high-gothic revival architecture and clutter. It’s not my style, but I’m still glad it exists.

    I remember visiting the Maritime museum in Lisbon and seeing model after model of ships built on the Tyne by Armstrong and others.

    So, do you live in Elswick/Scotswood/Westgate Road? That’s (probably) gotta be rough. I say probably because the West End into the City Centre is such a mixed bag. The Lit & Phil is great but since my move to Manchester I tend to hang out around Chetams which amongst other claims to fame was the place Marx used to hang with Engles. If you ask them really nicely they’ll show you exactly where they used to chat and read. Unfortunately it’s vastly too nice a building to spit in.

    I think Newcastle displays some of the worst and most pernicious aspects of statism. The Eldon Square monstrosity that replaced all but one of the Victorian arcades and just really looks swell next to the magnificent Grey St is probably regarded by leftists and statists as a hideous monument to capitalism (being a shopping center and all) but what they conveniently forget was the council graft and corruption which T Dan Smith and Poulsen were involved in to get it built in the first place.

  • Freeman

    An anonymous quote I recently came across:

    “Our fathers fought and died for the freedoms that our sons are surrendering so carelessly.”

  • veryretired

    Cataclysmic events, such as violent revolutions or economic/political/cultural collapses, do not generally lead to more individual freedoms, but rather bring calls for the militarization of society to face the crisis. The resulting regimentation is usually more conducive to statist/collectivist results than those of individual liberty and increased freedoms.

    Granted, there have been exceptions, but their exceptional nature underscores the general tendency.

    It is, in its own odd way, an intriguing daydream to imagine some form of calamity which will sweep away all the clutter and statist impedimantia, suddenly opening the way for the revival of a less stratified and straghtjacketed social order, but the reality would very probably be more of a nightmare than a dream come true.

    The quotation is a nice, handy little aphorism presented without context, or, indeed, much meaning, other than that which each reader inserts into it. So here is my take on the assertion—

    Who is more free?

    The bored, fragmented westerner who could read anything he wanted, but reads little or nothing?

    Or the member of the undergraound system for which this site is named, who treasured every word, every idea, every forbidden thought that she encountered and passed on?

    The western college student who can go anywhere, study anything, spend hours arguing any position under the sun, but whose mind is filled with the deconstructed mush of a modern education, bereft of any context or historical depth, raised to believe an host of assumptions and assertions of collectivist dogma, whose priciple concern is where the party is on Saturday night?

    Or the young soldier who faces the enemy directly, knowing very clearly what he has to do and why?

    The tranzi citizen of the world, enjoying all that western culture has to offer of technology, medicine, convenience, and social position, but who believes in little, and knows of nothing that is worth the risk of everything, especially if there were the possiblility of cocktail party disapproval at the next gathering of the “important people”?

    Or the opposition leader in Zimbabwe, arrested, beaten, brutalized, who can still say that nothing done to him has any effect other than to deepen his resolve to rid his country of Mugabe’s dictatorship?

    The defeat of the collectivist model will require the slow, patient work of many, many dedicated people who realize that the external reality they are trying to create is merely the reflection of the independent mind and free soul they already possess within themselves.

  • Interesting quote. So what if you actually are free?

  • Then you are free, obviously.

    In most places you need to break a few laws to actually manage that.

  • nick g.

    You should all read a depressing book called ‘War and the rise of the state’. The central theme is that Wars start to involve more and more resources, so that war-makers need to bargain with their subjects to raise revenues, so subjects start to have a say in how their moneys are spent, as well as taxed. A major point was that major wars broadened the tax base, and the number of participants, so governments intrude more and more into everyone’s lives. A revolution would be a major war, and the side which won would be the side which used more resources- i.e. a bigger government would be the end result.
    The American War of Independence was NOT an exception to this, because they ended up with a new tier of Government, the National, or Federal, level. If they had not united, the states, needing their own militia for the Indians and foreigners, would have grown bigger.
    Let’s hope we can have a slow evolution which decentralizes, not a revolution which unites!

  • RobtE

    Nick M –

    Yes, Lord Armstrong was a little bit of a late starter – 30 when he invented the hydraulic crane, 37 when he started the Elswick works. And you’re right about Cragside being utterly bonkers. But what a techno-junkie’s dream.

    You probably already know this, but it’s still a good story: Armstrong supplied most of the ships in the Japanese Navy, while Russia bought most of theirs from Swan Hunter down the river. As a result, the Russo-Japanese War was very much a Tyneside event and was hotly debated in the riverside’s pubs.

    I’m actually a couple of miles north of Elswick. It’s quite a long road. Not a bad area. The family that deeded Fenham to the city were teetotallers, however, and one of the conditions of the deed was that there could be no pubs built in Fenham. And that’s still the case. I’ve been waiting for a relevant thread to come along here so I could raise the question of its ethicality.

    To bring this back onto the freedom topic, the most surprising thing about Armstrong is, I think, the things he was able to do/get away with:

    His original hydraulic cranes on the docks were driven by the city’s fairly new mains supply. People objected that he was getting an unfair advantage from a common good, so he built his own water company. Try getting planning permission for that these days.

    There was a sizable island in the middle of the Tyne, large enough for a race track, a pub and not a few houses. Armstrong needed more room for the launching of his ships, so he bought up the lot and dredged the island up. Can you imagine what the yoghurt knitters would say to that today?

  • The coming revolution will, as one commenter said, not be pretty. That there will be one at all is in some doubt according to others, whilst others still are pessimistic about its outcomes.
    If you don’t want some sort of socialist monster rising up out of the aftermath of social/economic/governmental collapse then damn well get off your arses and do something about it. Talk to people, print pamphlets, put up posters (illegally if need be), get air time on television (through deception if necessary). Bombard the masses with your message. Preaching about it on the internet is not going to do it. If you want to prevent the outcome which you fear the most then you have to start doing something about it now. If you wait till afterwards it will be too late.
    Freedom will not be handed to you on a plate, if you believe that then you are as deluded as the rest of the sheeple. You must be prepared to fight for it and possibly in extreme cases kill and die for it. If you are not prepared to get your hands dirty then you’ve already lost.

  • As an afterthought: There is an army of vigorous young men out there who are determined to stab and shoot each other, seemingly for kicks. I take it no-one has tried directing their destructive energies more constructively..?
    If anyone should be flying the black flag it should be them, they seem willing enough to do the wet work.

  • I’ll take the DEFRA story as a warning.
    At the moment I drive a Mercedes Junk Heap(sorry, new junk heap) on a multi-drop route in Harrogate.
    When I was doing the route three months ago, a little man who was not really a policeman started following me from drop to drop, making notes in his notebook every time I set off without my seatbelt(which we all do most of the time) and looking like the second in command of Douglas Adam’s “B-Arc” hunting an Elk.
    He was one of those weird Communisty Support Officers, and as I drive a liveried truck I’m an easy target.
    Yesterday a real policeman pulled up and completely ignored me, but by the time I got to Starbeck the little man was there, trying to be fairly secret and not let me see him spying on me.
    Apparently these tosspots get 18k a year to walk about in a yellow jacket.