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Discussion Point XXX

“The British haven’t lost their fondness for liberty. We never had it.”

(Taken from this comment by Ian B)

20 comments to Discussion Point XXX

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Or as I put it: “Britons never were free, they just had permission.”

  • I might be inclined to agree. In which case, we should be wondering why we managed to have liberty (and still have a measure of it) while not actively loving it. An enlightened elite? Or just a set of institutions we fell upon by accident in various group interest struggles for power and happened not to set aside?

  • John W

    Tyranny minus 5% is close enough for me.

    [Only the Americans have come closer.]

  • Ostralion

    Enlightened Elite? Or fractious feudalists? If the Aristocracy hadn’t taken to infighting, Britain might have a ruling upper class still, but there has rarely been an outside threat that united them all.
    Besides which, the loss of liberty is now gradual. If you slowly heat the water in which lobsters live, they don’t notice the change, and then they die. If you tried it quickly, the reaction is different! They’re slowly eroding liberty. ‘They’ are those ordinary people who are trusted with government- what we might be if people gave us lots of opportunities to enjoy power.

  • veryretired

    I would not presume to judge the British people, whom I greatly admire, but I do question the premise of the statement.

    In human history, freedom is the anomaly.

    Living in a condition of generalized liberty,

    able to move about with few restrictions,

    able to speak freely, read books and view a wide range of videos, both fictional and documentary,

    stand at an intersection with a different house of worship on each corner and decide for oneself which one to attend,

    open a little shop and try to make a living,

    attend a world renowned university, even though your father and mother were farmers or factory workers,

    live in a little cottage that belongs to you and your family, and which the highest magistrate in the land has said even the monarch cannot enter without your permission.

    In defense of these utterly pedestrian (to us) aspects of your lives, the British people and their allies have stood against some of the most ferocious and deadly threats to the future well-being of humanity since Attilla, or the Saracens at Tours, or, indeed, the Black Death.

    You may find yourselves dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in your society, as I and others are with conditions here ocross the Atlantic, but that is not a cause for despair.

    If it were not so ingrained in you, as Britons, to expect to live as free men and women, as it is in those of us who have derived our system of rights and liberties from your example, this question would never even arise.

    All across the world, in socieities ancient and modern, on all the continents that your own explorers first contacted centuries ago, the concept that each human being is unique, sovereign, and possesses natural rights that cannot be abridged at the whim of another, has resonated and reverberated.

    Of course there have been setbacks. Of course there are enormous and complex challenges to overcome to maintain and expand this extraordinary birthright.

    Those born as British citizens have been bequeathed the pearl of great price, paid for with blood and anguish, courage and fortitude, beyond anything most of us are ever asked to demonstrate.

    Our task is to gather the courage and determination to fight and win the myriad lesser battles, in the local school committees, local elections, the classroom debates, the neighborhood meetings, up to the great national policy debates that may steer a nation onto the rocks, or back on a true course.

    The letter says that of the great virtues, that of faith, hope and charity, the greatest is charity. It is wrong.

    Hope, hope, and endless, indefatigable hope is the bedrock upon which all else is built.

    For free men and women to lose heart, surrender, concede the field to the collective, secular or religious, is to condemn future generations of people all across the globe to a life of darkness and bitter despair, denied the very essence of that which makes them human.

    For millenia, humans survived from day to day, living in an uncertain world in which violence was the only arbiter.

    For a short time, in these last few centuries, we have been priviledged to participate in a radically different vision of humanity, based on values which recognized an innate dignity in each human life, something that should not be trampled upon by church or state.

    We are now challenged by both of those ancient enemies. One believes in the sword, the other in magic.

    Both fear the only true human weapon—the rational mind which will not surrender its committment to its own integrity and rational purpose.

    The needed response to the many difficulties and challenges we face, in your society and mine, is an implacable determination to pass the greatest of all treasures on to our children, and their children in turn:

    The knowledge that to be truly human is to be free in mind and spirit, and that nothing else is more worthy of our devotion, and our lives.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am not sure I agree with Ian B’s rather sweeping statement. I think there has been quite a strong strain of pro-liberty, pro-privacy culture in the UK. The problem is that this tradition has been a bit overblown, but that is not to say it has not existed.

  • very retired: The most inspiring thing I have read today In fact its no exaggeration to say it made my day.

    Thank you.

  • Nothing Left


    I was going to give a flipant response to our Person From Portlock along the lines that “Britons didn’t have permission either, just that their superiors (The Normans) didn’t consider them”.

    Until I read very retired.

    A great piece, and one of many that you have written on this blog. Who cares about the past, I’ll go down fighting on very-retired’s view.


  • veryretired

    Thank you for your very kind comments.

  • Paul Marks

    England was traditionally dominated by landowners (both aristocrats and untitled gentry and yoemen), people who owned land (or “had the freehold of it” to be feudal – although “feudal” land “holding” was rather more secure than Roman land “ownership”)

    These landowners wanted no government interference in their lives – other than the enforcement of the nonaggression principle.

    Even going back to Henry I’s Charter of 1100 or the Great Charta of 1215 they understood that it would appear hypocritical (because it would be hypocritical) for them to demand liberty for themselves and deny it for everyone else.

    So at least “free men” (not serfs – a big part of the population in some counties before the Black Death) were covered by the various restrictions on government power the landowners demanded.

    Of course they, from time to time, used the power of government to improve their position at the expense of other people – but (oddly enough) generally speaking they did not do so very much, and laws that they did pass were not enforced (such as the wage controlling Statute of Labourers) – partly because England lacked an effective administrative structure till the 19th century.

    Indeed must regulation enforcement was left to unpaid Justices of the Peace (normally landowners or prosperious townsmen) who often could not be bothered to enforce regulations even when they were in their own interests – and had no normal armed force to call upon if they did feel like enforcing them.

    A miltary force might be sent if there was a riot – but not because “Mr Smith is violating the wage regulations”.

    There was no big regular policeforce – and a J.P. who tried to call out the army (very small in England anyway) to enforce economic restrictions would not get a friendly response.

    Of course a wealthy man could call upon his own servants – but, by and large, he could only really do what the locals let him do.

    Otherwise he would get his head smashed in.

    Remember the English (I am leaving aside the Welsh and Scots – I make no claim about them) were an armed, violent and often drunken lot.

    A magistrate calling out “that man is a thief, help me lock him up” would normally get a good response from the locals (even the poorest of them).

    But a magistrate calling out “that man is violating such and such a regulation of the Statute of Artificers of 1600” was not going to get any help in grabbing someone and carrying them off to the lockholes.

    On the contrary – such a magistrate (in the unlikely event he tried to enforce this sort of stuff) would be likely to get his kicked in by the local population.

    For, contrary to Ian B., the English were a pro liberty sort of people – as long as by “liberty” one means “leave us alone or we will hurt you”.

    And that is the libertarian defintion.

    It was only in the 19th century that the idea that the government could help most people slowly became popular.

    And it was not generally an idea of the poor – it was an idea of elite types filled with compassion for the poor.

    The English poor did not generally believe that robbing rich folk would benefit them (there were thieves among them – but they were just as likely to rob other poor people as rich people, they had not yet got an “ideology of crime”) and the idea that the government could really help them was not popular either.

    There was the Poor Law of course (in England – it did not really exist in Scotland and was a dead letter in North Wales) – but that was not wildly popular.

    Indeed even in the early 20th century poor people who applied for “relief” were considered scum by other poor people.

    There is a exception to the above – for a brief period (the 1790s to 1830s) wage subidies became widespread in England and South Wales.

    This was popular – indeed it led to widespread welfare dependancy, breaking it (with the 1834 Act) caused a lot of anger.

    However, I repeat, this wage subsidy idea (“tax credits” it would be called now) was not ancient – it came in the village of Speenhamland in 1795 (supposedly allowed by the Gilbert Act of 1782) and spread like a plague over much of England and Wales – till broken by the Act of 1834 (which had its own downside – but that is another story).

    Before that the Poor Law was for people who could not work (and not many of them either – as to have a relative “on relief” was a disgrace even for the poorest families) – not for people who could work (indeed were working) but supposedly did not earn a “fair wage”.

  • Paul Marks

    On the Norman Yoke point:

    Battle of Hastings 1066 – Normans defeat the English.

    Battle of Tinchebrai 1106 – people (Norman and English) support Henry against his older brother Robert.


    Because of his promises in the Charta of 1100 – and because he did such things as marrying a direct decendent of Alfred the Great.

    “But Norman law remained” – depends where you were.

    Kent had Anglo Saxon land law till the 1920’s.

    And what “Norman law” was changed over time also.

    Even the French language was dropped in the time of Edward III.

    Of course a military explination of English (and Welsh) freedom might point to such things as the dependance on archers.

    Hard to treat people as slaves if they are armed to the teeth and can shoot you in the face.

    And you can not take their weapons away because (even in the time of Edward III) your own power depends on them being armed to the teeth and able to shoot people in the face.

    You just want to make sure they shoot your enemies – not you.

    In France armed villagers were of little importance.

    And, with the fatal regime of Louis XIV (the man who really doomed his great great… Louis XIV) even great aristocrats became toys- no more private armies or anything like that.

    Look at a English gentleman’s sword of the 18th century (even of a townsman), it is designed to kill people.

    Look at a common French “court sword” of the same period – it is a toy, designed for people who would call out “police” if attacked.

    Calling out for the police in 18th century London would have been a bit pointless.

    In the French Revolutionary period John Reeves created what was basically (in some ways) a private army.

    “The Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property”.

    They were not revolutiioanries you see – they were “reactionaries”.

    Modern historians ignore them – but there were TENS OF THOUSANDS OF THEM.

    And they were armed to the teeth – they even had their own artillery.

    Such a thing would have been impossible in France – the King’s officials would have banned it (and enforced the ban) even if the movement had been set up to defend him. Indeed (given the nature of most of those officials) especially if an armed movement had been created to defend the King.

    In France the state was all-in-all and the King lived in a splendid palace.

    In England the state was a bit of a mess really – and George III (even before he went barmy) lived in a small house in London.

    But it was the French King who ended up murdered – not by an anti statist movement, but by a movement that had captured control of the state administrative structure (and armed forces).

    For that is the dirty little secret of the French Revolution – it was a Revolution of “functionaries”, lawyers who worked in government offices and other such.

  • wow! Thanks Paul, that’s all news to me. So Blackadder is historically accurate then?
    And thanks veryretired too: excellent stuff.

  • The English / Welsh archers of the likes of Henry V were rather well paid and these ordinary types could fell a great knight at 50-100 yards which just wasn’t sporting now is it?

  • Ian Bennett

    veryretired appears to be channeling Ayn Rand.

    (To be clear, I regard that as a very good thing.)

  • Ostralion

    Of course, if veryretired is channelling Ayn Rand, then Rand was wrong, and there is an afterlife, so her views would be wrong, so she is not worth channelling!

  • veryretired

    One of the more bizarre images I can imagine would be the ghost of Rand wandering through the ether, muttering to herself loud enough for me to hear any of it.

    Anyway, to clarify—while I value some of Rand’s insights as to the nature of the argument between collectivism and individuality, I am not an objectivist with either a big or little O. She lost me when she proclaimed the possibility of rational pefection. Being as flawed as a 1937 Hupmobile, I couldn’t see myself ever making it.

    To paraphrase Groucho, who is my true intellectual hero and guiding light, I wouldn’t belong to any group so disordered that it would have me as a member.

    I’ve been reading and thinking about these issues for quite some time now. I am content with the possibility that, on occasion, something I say to my children, or type in a comment here or in Chicago, might strike a chord with the listener or reader.

    I don’t have the energy, or patience, for the long, multi-post arguments that go on here sometimes, nor the computer skills to do all the fisking and citing and linking that so many of you can do so easily.

    When I took physics so long ago, we still used slide rules. Computers, smart phones, and a myriad of other gadgets, are science fiction to me.

    I appreciate the times someone mentions that they found a worthwhile nugget amongst all the tailings in the sluice. If anyone wants to argue, please don’t feel bad if I respond minimally or not at all.

    I’ve had enough strife in my life. I never expect anyone else to agree with me very much anyway.

    If I’m channelling anyone, I hope it’s my Grampa. He was the funniest, warmest, gruffest old fart I ever met, and he really knew how to have a good time.

    Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind that as an epitaph for myself either—someday in the distant future. I’m having way too much fun right now to walk toward the light.

  • kentuckyliz

    Veryretired wins the thread. Paul Marks a very close second almost a tie really. I have been educated and inspired.

  • Paul Marks

    Very retired is a better writer than me – I have as about as much sense of style as a pig.

    All I really care about is throwing in (and I mean “throwing in” – because there is no decent style) arguments and information.

    For example, all I can think of now is to remind Nick M. that if the padding (under the armour) is correctly made and put on correctly then even if the armour itself is not topnotch Milan stuff arrows, even from the top draw weight longbows, are not going to stick in you.

    Of course – then one shoots for the horse, enough arrows (or a lucky arrow) and the horse is going to go down (horse armour being more rare – and normally not so good, as one can not get the horse into all the padding needed under plate).

    A trained man can still fight on foot in full armour (indeed a trained man can do a forward roll in full armour – it is not that heavy) – but the fall is not going to do him much good.

    Pedants do not attack – I do know that mounted armour and foot armour are different things.

  • Paul Marks


    As you may well know a Rand is likely to get in the Senate soon – Rand Paul (son of Ron Paul) for the great State of Kentucky.