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Paul Marks on the influence of Germany on British and American political thought

Last Thursday, exactly a week ago, there were two speaker meetings occurring in London, both of which I wanted to go to, both addressed by Samizdatistas.

I picked the one at Christian Michel’s home, addressed by Philip Chaston, who talked about various efforts by English science fiction writers to talk up apocalyptic threats to mankind, such as climate threats and invasion threats of various kinds, by writing stories about such things actually happening. It was a very good talk. But because of attending that talk, I missed the talk given by Paul Marks to Libertarian Home that same evening, about the influence of Germanic thought upon the English speaking world.

My journey through tube-strike-deranged London to Philip’s talk looked like being – and in fact was – easier than the journey to Paul’s talk might have been, but I do confess that the biggest reason I chose Philip’s talk was my guess that Paul’s would soon be viewable on video. That guess has now been proved right. The talk only lasted a little over twenty minutes, and I highly recommend it. For those allergic even to that much video, Simon Gibbs has also appended some admirably detailed notes on what Paul said.

The big thing I want to add to what Paul Marks said is to emphasise the extreme importance of the subject he chose to talk about. Because of how the Germanic version of state-worship eventually turned out in the twentieth century, the Anglo-Saxon world has ever since been understandably embarrassed by how huge had been Germany’s intellectual and political influence upon it. The entire episode is well on the way to being forgotten by all but a few libertarians, of the Paul Marks variety. Yet for several decades, the military prowess of Prussia and then of the greater Germany that was assembled around Prussia, seemed to many like a crushingly effective argument for statism and against liberty. Even Germany’s World War One war effort, eventually an utter failure, was still a mightily impressive effort while it lasted. Both those who admired Germany’s intellectual and political notions and those who hated them believed such things to be necessary for national success. To put it another way, even those who hated Germanic political culture also feared it, and regarded it as something that simply had to be copied, rather as there was a similarly misguided little spurt of enthusiasm in the West for the methods of the Sputnik-era version of the USSR. But the urge to copy Germany went on for far longer and was far more strongly felt and defended and argued for. Germanic thought became dug into Anglo-American academia, for example, and the consequent intellectual poison has yet to be purged.

While most others prefer to forgot this story, we libertarians have everything to gain from keeping the memory of all this very much alive. We should all pay attention to the tale Paul told last Thursday, and be passing it on to everyone we argue with about both the attractiveness and the effectiveness of the freedom idea, in contrast to the kinds of ideas that deranged nineteenth and twentieth century Germany, and which are still deranging the world because of Germany’s earlier example.

49 comments to Paul Marks on the influence of Germany on British and American political thought

  • Paul Marks

    I should have spoken more on the politicians who tried to put Germanic ideas into practice in the English speaking world (sometimes even more than they were, at first, taken in the German speaking world).

    People such as “Radical Joe” Chamberlain and David Lloyd George in Britain. And “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (both followers of Richard Ely – see J. Goldberg “Liberal Fascism”) in the United States.

    However, I am always wary of the danger of “overload” (too much information on too many aspects – a vice of mine)- and wanted to leave things for Q&A.

  • Paul Marks

    Some examples of ideas that German thinkers thought up – but were held up by the nature of the old (pre 1914) German political structure (all those aristocrats, with their code of honour, that Richard Ely hated – his new Prussia, the United States, would not have these “reactionary elements”), were put into practice in the English speaking world.

    Eugenics laws – brought into practice in various American States (“not in Texas” – no, but only because the Texas State Legislature only sits for a few days) before they were actually put through in the land of their birth.

    And (oddly enough) unemployment benefit – put into practice by David Lloyd George (imitating German thought – but not German practice, not till the 1920s).

    Also German may be less (yes less) difficult to convince that statism should be reversed

    The German tends to expect RESULTS – if results (the product of actual work) are not good, he (or she) can be made to reconsider (at least sometimes).

    The British or American person tends to expect statism to fail (even when they are statists themselves – yes there is a paradox there, the “Orwell Paradox” someone who sees where socialism leads, is horrified, and REMAINS A SOCIALIST).

    “This is not working” is a good argument to a typical German – it is not in British and American circles.

    So the regulation is not working – add more regulations. Will that work? No, of course it will not – but let us do it anyway.

    Ditto with government spending.

    One can even see this in architecture.

    When Coventry (and other British cities) were being rebuilt after World War II some suggested that they be rebuilt as they had been – this was rejected (even in cities where the damage was fairly light as in Bath) because it would be a “against the spirit of the age”.

    To an British or American “against the spirit of the age” sounds as smart as paint – really intellectual and so on.

    But a German may simply reply…….

    “Why are you quoting Hegel at me? I do not agree with Hegel – and I do not think (if he was alive) Hegel would like the concrete boxes you are proposing either”.

    So Nuremberg was rebuilt as it had been.

    “Magic” “intellectual language” is sometimes less powerful to people who know what the source of it.

    Including the language of Frankfurt School Marxism.

    To Americans it may sound like intellectual magic – “Critical Theory”.

    But a German might (just might) remember it is just German Marxism – and that it (like all forms of Marxism) is bunk.

  • I have the impression that Thomas Carlyle—notable for his hostility to economics, which seemingly grew out of the involvement of political economists in the antislavery movement (see the book How the Dismal Science Got Its Name)—was a big admirer of German militarism and heroic myths of an age earlier than Bismarck’s. That is, the contamination may have come in through intellectual and literary culture as well as through the political apparatus.

  • Mr Ed

    As a matter of urgency, we should invest in developing Red Dwarf-style holograms of Paul Marks, providing the opportunity to have multiple ‘probable’ Pauls which could be placed at strategic locations to provide instant insight and rebuttals to error in all manner of contexts, and giving him a well-earned break after that very fine talk.

    There are, and have been, far too many scoundrels in this World, but few escape his notice. I fear that technology may not have caught up with my proposal yet.

    this was rejected… …because it would be a “against the spirit of the age”.

    I would venture to suggest that at least one of the reasons behind the post-war building policy was the destructive malevolence of the victorious Labour Party, whose baleful influence lingers to this day.

  • RRS

    Thank you very much Brian.

    The PMO fits in another piece to expand Isaiah Berlin’s critique of the rise of the Romantic Movement in reaction to the “rationalism” of the French Enlightenment.

    Whilst it may be due to impressions from a present concentration on studies on the emergences, rises, and recessions of individuality (and its variations or absences), it seems fairly clear that the experiences with individuality of the U K and U S differ greatly from those of Germany, France, Mediterranean Europe, and Poland.

    Much of what transpired beginning in the 1st quarter of the last century indicates a beginning of recession (as well as repression and suppression) of individuality and direct efforts at its diminution as seen in Eugenics and the Wars.

    Whether or not it was due to “Germanic,” influences individuality did begin to recede toward the German levels.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thank you, Brian, for publishing the notice of Paul’s talk. A ‘Do Not Miss’!

    And thank you, Paul, for giving it. Also for the additional info above, of course.

  • Rich Rostrom

    …Philip Chaston, who talked about various efforts by English science fiction writers to talk up apocalyptic threats to mankind…

    I recall that back in the 1950s and 1960s, British SF writers seemed to specialize in apocalypse stories: J. G. Ballard, The Wind From Nowhere and The Drowned World; John Christopher, No Blade of Grass; John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids.

    Was that Chaston’s topic?

  • Laird

    Add Neville Shute’s “On the Beach” to that list.

    Was that talk taped, too?

  • PeterT

    Great talk. Very nice to see Paul in person as well. I can now imagine him in a pub when I read his posts.

  • PeterT

    By in person I meant on video (I did not attend unfortunately)

  • Tedd

    I recently encountered someone who was convinced that the lesson of WWII and the holocaust was the danger of “hyper-individualism,” his rationalization being that “individuals are vulnerable to destructive forces” such that society needs to be “organized” to prevent those destructive forces. So here is a person whose intellectual filter is so powerful that he has taken the exact opposite lesson from that which history provides. Rather than seeing fascism as a consequence of denying liberty he sees liberty as the cause of fascism. I’m not sure greater familiarity with German philosophy would help such a person!

    (Not meant as a critique of Paul’s thesis, by the way. Just a comment on the hopelessness of some people’s thinking.)

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Stoddard – yes absolutely.

    Tedd – so the person believed that collectivism was caused by individualism, and that Fascist style “organisation of society” would have prevented Fascism.

    Well some people can believe anything – you have my sympathy for having met such a person.

    It does remind of the old story (which may or may not be true) of the old German seeing a young German celebrating the coming to power of Adolf Hitler.

    “Why are you celebrating?” asks the old German.

    “Because now we will be free” replies the young German.

    “But the basic point of National Socialist political philosophy is the denial of personal freedom” says the old German.

    “No you do not understand – now we will be free NOT TO BE FREE” replies the young German.

    The terrible burden of moral responsibility (of agency – of moral choice) had been taken off the shoulders of the people.

    Now they could be free to obey – to have no moral responsibility for their actions.

    Now they (the people) could be free to be happy – by obeying, with no blame for anything (not matter how terrible) they were ordered to do.

    “Freedom” in a very unlibertarian sense.

  • Mr Ed

    The terrible burden of moral responsibility (of agency – of moral choice) had been taken off the shoulders of the people.

    Is this not the essence of collectivism’s appeal? In an unspoken nutshell: You are not to blame for your being poor/stupid/fat (soon ugly), you need not worry about living an economic life, and all the stress that accompanies it, you need not worry if you are lazy, or that others are cleverer/richer/better than you, we shall level it all out and solve your problems, but only if you ‘co-operate’ and avoid selfish individualism, just follow our Shining Path.

    The belief is ultimately that the laws of economics can be dis-applied, whereas they can only be ignored briefly before consequences arise, then emerge in unavoidable ways.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – Mr Ed, but it is more than this.

    It is also (and critically) “You know all those dark things you want to do, but which you know to be wrong? You will get to do these dark things (all of them)and it will not be your fault – because we will order you to do them”.

  • Bruce

    Is it going too far to remind folk that the US “Gun Control Act, 1968” was heavily based on Hitler’s “Weapons Laws” of the 1930s.

    One of the few things that went missing in the “translation” was the prohibitions on Jews owning firearms.

    Of course, all of the provisions and restrictions in the law were oh, so “reasonable”……..

    Now, who is looking after the Zyklon B?

  • bloke in spain

    I must say, I’m completely at a loss to understand what effect Germany had on British & American thought. Maybe at the level of political intellectuals, but amongst the democratic electorates of the two countries, who’s ever given a flying f**k what political intellectuals thought? There was a brand of nationalism worked for Germans because, in a nation not more than a few decades old, there was an insecurity about the nation. Brits took their nationhood for granted. Americans were & are in an ongoing infatuation with the creation of theirs.

  • Mr Ed

    BiS isn’t it more that the political class don’t give a FF about what the voters think, but they like to take their ideas from ‘intellectuals’ and follow the political fashion, hence the dissonance between what voters think and what politicians seek to do (disregarding the impossibility of politicians’ promises), the politicians are fairly secure in their belief that the inertia of politics will allow them to carry on, and that their political ‘tribes’ will vote for them regardless. The terrifying aspect of the talk is that given the real life and self evident examples of the USA and Germany, the British political class opted to ape Germany’s policies, rather than those of the USA (or the lack of them), and the lumpen Volk seemed to follow contentedly, in some cases lead like lambs to slaughter.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite correct Bruce.

    American (and British) political types (and academic types) think that it is O.K. to get bits of totalitarian legislation – change the language a bit (tart it up), and then shove it through as the law of the United Kingdom or the United States (assuming that no one will check the source of the ideas).

    And the people let them (the elite) get away with it.

    As Mr Ed points out.

    And it is happening now with “Agenda 21” – lots of regulations (especially at the local level) are from this “environmental” agenda, and elected politicians (let alone the voters) do not even know.

    They (we) are just told “it is policy” – we never ask “why is it policy?” “who originally suggested this?”

    Soon it will be unlawful to even speak against these things.

    As Mark Steyn is finding out.

    After all if American courts can ignore the Tenth Amendment (and they do), why not the First Amendment as well?

    When the “greater good” is at stake.

  • Paul Marks

    bloke in spain.

    Douglas Carswell (in his recent book) is the latest in a long line of people to discover that the voters had NOT asked for the various things (both “Public Services” and regulations) that governments gave them.

    The idea that the people ask for X and then the politicians provide it is wrong (flat wrong). The government says “here is X” and the people say “what is it?” and the officials and politicians say “well it is a lovely new thing – you will get to depend upon it…”

    The government gets its ideas (for lovely new things) from the intellectual elite – and they got their ideas from……..

  • bloke in spain

    Well Paul & Mr Ed. it’s a nice theory. But there’s a simpler explanation. Governments come up with much the same solutions because governments have to deal with much the same problems. The solutions are equally attractive whatever the complection of government Whether they get to implement them depends on their public. If British or American policies look like German policies, it’s because their publics have been equally supine in those areas.
    Even the most benevolent government, because they all think they are, will see just that little bit more State power will improve any situation. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Needs wise heads, not uniformed opinion. And if there’s no determined opposition, they’ll get it.

    Over at the gun control thread I see you’ve got down to witterings about whether UK law permits the possession of sticks. So I’d say my amusement was justified. It’d be very hard to introduce UK levels of gun control here. The permits; the public go through the motions if they can be bothered. Try & take their guns away, they won’t give them up. So the government wouldn’t even have the benefit of the permit system. Different public. Doesn’t mean the Spanish haven’t got their own areas they’d roll over to Madrid

  • Paul Marks

    bloke in spain – often there is no problem for the “solution”.

    Mr Ed.

    Now be fair – the Germans are doing very well in the Winter games.

  • Bruce

    “the Germans are doing very well in the Winter games.”

    Better than the time they played in the Nineteen Forties?

  • Paul Marks,

    Interesting talk. Enjoyed listening but must confess to a couple disagreements. Apologies for the length.

    1. American/British political thought has indeed been influenced by German thought historically, but the impact occurred far earlier and somewhat differently than you claim. First, the intellectual roots of statism, while found in all cultures to varying degrees, were particularly pronounced in the earliest German tribes and kingdoms – before and after the fall of the Roman Empire – for a variety of reasons. Angles, Saxons etc brought a culture of ideas and language when they settled in the British Isles (churl -> free man, ding -> thing -> assembly/folkmoot -> parliament). The ideal of equality was robust in German political culture very early on – Tacitus writes about the value placed upon women by Germanic tribes.

    The rise of political progressivism in the English-speaking world can be traced to the triumph of Roundheads over Cavaliers in English Civil War. It’s not in fact a coincidence that Celts were over-representated among the Cavaliers, while Germans were over-represented among the Roundheads. Indeed the southern and eastern region of England was both where Parliament found greatest support in its fight against King and where the Angles and Saxons originally mainly settled. Ever wonder why so many towns in Massachusetts are named after places in East Anglia? The Union was the vehicle of the Roundheads’ intellectual descendants and the USA’s Civil War was a mere continuation of the English one.

    2. While German political philosophers/writers are notably more analytical (on average) than those of most other ethnicities, there is more depth, gravitas, and… majesty found in the writings of great thinkers of other ethnicities, particularly the french. Have you ever read the St. Petersburg Dialogues by Joseph de Maistre? Anything by Bonald? Bossuet? No German, Brit or American has ever produced such sublime works, but due as much to their substance as to their style, they do not appeal to the masses.

    Anyway, by the standards you mention (and two I’ll contribute) – of analytic rigor, linguistic precision, calculating logic, and thoroughness – progressives have always and will always be generally more impressive than their opponents for several reasons that run deep – to the essence of what progressivism actually is. Progressive thought is not only communicated more easily to the masses than other thought – progressivism IS the communication itself in a very real sense, which can only be recognized by someone who understands why Plato writes that true understanding of the Forms cannot be articulated, let alone communicated and why he famously refrained from putting his most sacred idea – One – in writing. To explain this in detail would be both superfluous and counter-productive, but rest assured that Joseph de Maistre makes Ludwig von Mises look positively juvenile – and misguided.

    In any case, as the primary progenitors of progressive thought, we should be quite surprised were Germans not at the forefront of popularizing progressivism for the masses. The work ethic of German academics you mentioned is also true but what you may not see is the reason for this – for a few centuries academics have increasingly become unwitting adherents to Progressivism as a de facto religion born of the Enlightenment.

  • Paul Marks

    Well Bruce – at least they have proper winter clothing and winter fuel oil.

    The NKVD reported that the Germans could not be planning to invade Russia as they were not making proper preparations for war in Russia (s the German build up on the border must be defensive – perhaps because the Germans had found out that Stalin was planning to invade them, which he was).

    If one is planning to win a war before winter sets in – one does not kick off in late June. One attacks in April.

    However, that would have meant not mucking about in the Balkans, Greece (and even North Africa) in 1941.

    If one wishes to destroy a target the size of Russia one must concentrate on Russia – not try and do lots of other things at the same time.

    Also having an actual plan for destroying the political centre of operations of the enemy would have been useful – astonishingly there was no such plan. !941 is not 1812 – the Soviet Union of 1941 was a totalitarian police state (which it had not been in, for example, 1914 – let alone 1812). So destroying the political centre was vital – yet treated by the Germans as an after thought.

    Tactical genius – but strategic void.

    Intelligence – but not wisdom.

  • bloke in spain

    Oh Paul! Really! Governments don’t have to wait to stumble over problems if they’ve a really good solution hanging about. They create them. Haven’t you followed the Climate Change debate?

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so bloke in spain – and it is the “intellectuals” who create the phony “problems” for which they provide the collectivist “solutions”. There are real problems (terrible problems) – but collectivism makes the real problems worse, and it is meant to make them worse (see “Cloward and Piven”).

    The late Andrew Breitbart could never get over the fact (and it is a fact) that when the Frankfurt School intellectuals arrived in California in the late 1940s their response was as follows…..

    “What a wonderful place – let us destroy it”.

    For that was the reaction of Herbert Marcuse and co.

    And their followers now dominate the universities, the schools – and so much else.

    It is all so astonishing (and so evil) that it is difficult not to become hysterical.

    But screaming like the man at the end of the first “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” film (crying out at passing motorists who, not unreasonably, think he is either drunk or insane) does no good.

    Somehow one has to remain calm – and, if possible, good humoured.

  • bloke in spain

    “and it is the “intellectuals” who create the phony “problems” for which they provide the collectivist “solutions”. ”

    Sounds very intellectual to me. Politicians like solutions, benefit politicians. So if there’s a solution too good a chance to miss, they find a problem for it.

    “when the Frankfurt School intellectuals arrived in California in the late 1940s their response was as follows…..

    “What a wonderful place – let us destroy it”.

    Yeah well… The appalling danger of intellectuals is they want to make the world a better place & think they have the solution for doing so. It’s the raison d’etre of the trade. So we’ll take that with a pinch of salt.

    Where did the input of intellectual communism or fascism get to in interwar UK? Blackshirts were a mildly amusing bunch of thugs & the Reds a larger & less amusing one. Brit socialism of Brits has never got much past a bemused belief the “state” is somehow symbolic of the “we’re all in it together” of the WW11 years. It will look after us. Somehow. Someday. Few bars of Jerusalem. Occasionally, some ‘intellectual socialists’ rose to the top & promptly got laughed at. Michael Foot.

    Where I would agree with you is currently, now, our governing classes are being taken over by intellectuals. Frightening people who aren’t content to simply manage chaos but wish to attempt to order it. Unfortunately it’s getting harder & harder to laugh at them.

  • bloke in spain

    It’s why I find so much of the piffle gets trotted out here so bemusing. If libertarians want a libertarian society, why don’t they spend more time working out practical ways to bring one about & less time worrying about German intellectuals from a couple generations ago? One thing I will give the left, they know what they want & they put a lot of effort into trying to achieve it.

  • Paul Marks

    bloke in spain.

    If one wishes to roll back the state it is good to know how it got to be so big in the first place.

    As for “practical” stuff.

    Today I went to see the head of Network Rail (representing my local council)- a hardworking and honest man (that is part of the problem).

    Some nine billion Pounds were spent on the upgrading of the West Coast Mainline – but it is no good (why? – lots of good reasons…….).

    And the central problem of British railways (the following was a admitted by Sir……) is the lack of East-West connections (especially since the end of the link between Oxford and Cambridge some decades ago).

    So the solution is yet another north-south line (?).

    Which will cost a tens of billions of Pounds and cover the same basic route (without stopping at the interesting places) that the existing line (the one that had nine billion Pounds spent on upgrading) does. This will somehow restore the north (even though Birmingham is not “north” – and HS2 will never reach Manchester) and lead to business enterprises relocating out of London (?).

    How does such an intelligent, hard working and totally honest person get to a position where he is in control of many tens of billions of Pounds – which will be spent for no good purpose. The basic problems of the rail system (such as a lack of east-west links linking the systems that connect the Cambridge network to the Oxford network) will remain (and will be worse) after the money has been spent (wreaking yet more private property to build another north-south line). The cost of rail travel will still be absurdly high (indeed will go higher) and the rest of the network will continue to decay (apart from prestige projects).

    It is not the person (I am not being sarcastic when I say he is honest, intelligent and hard working) it is this STRUCTURE of government that does not work.

    So it is very “practical” indeed to study how and why it was created.

    For example the Germanic idea that “the state” (as long as it is honest and run by highly educated and dedicated people) should have influence over the railways.

    An idea (of the positive state) that even influenced Gladstone.

    Reform plans tend to concentrate on making government more honest, more educated, more intelligent and more hardworking.

    All of which misses the bleeping point.

    The point being that government should be involved in such things as railways.

  • Paul Marks

    Gladstone used language (pushing his railway regulation Act – a very modest measure by today’s standards) about the moral and economic duties of the state that would have been laughed at in 1744.

    Indeed the term “the State” would not even have been used till the very late 18th century (when British people started to copy the language of Frederick the Great and co) – the term used would have been “the King” or “the Crown”.

    And that people (even liberal minded people such as Gladstone) started to use language such as “the state” (and in a positive way) is bleep, bleep, bleeping important.

    “King George should tell people want to do with their canals”.

    Does not work – sounds silly, no one would say it. Even King George would have laughed at it.

    “The state has a duty to make sure the public benefit is followed in the railways. Expert opinion should be sought out and applied in honest and dutiful work”.

    Nod, nod – everyone agrees.

    And thus we get cities such a Milton Keynes – which is where I was today (before I came back to Kettering for a meeting on housing policy – where everyone seemed astonished that as rents go up there is less demand for leases….. oh bleep bleep).

  • Paul Marks

    s.m. (if I may call you that).

    I would not say that respect for the property rights of women and a degree of political equality (the 12 man village councils) among the Saxons were a bad thing – or statist. My dislike is for certain strains of German political thought – not for Germans as a race.

    As for the English Civil War – do not just think of Puritan nasties when thinking of the Parliamentary forces, they contained men such as Hampden and Ralph Cudworth also (so it is wrong to say that those who believed in freedom were all on the side of the King – and those who favoured statism were all on the side of Parliament, it is much more complicated than that).

    As for French Royalist (and other) writers. Yes they read wonderfully – even in translation (which is the only way I can read them).

    But there is no feeling of a science of administering society there.

    And that is a point in their favour.

    Whether a French writer is praising the King and the Church,or praising socialism, or praising libertarianism – there is a common element.

    This common element is painting a picture – producing a vision.

    That is exactly what German political writers do not tend to do.

    They produce “scientific” works instead.

    Sadly far more dangerous in a Civil Service setting.

    France may have invented the “science of public administration” – but (and please do not be offended) to an English ear, when a Frenchman talks about government efficiency it sound silly (it sounds silly when we English talk of it ourselves) – but when it is German sounding language (even if all the words are actually English – a western Germanic dialect mixed with some French) then it sounds really “scientific” and “objective” as well as “down to Earth” and “practical”.

  • John K

    Over at the gun control thread I see you’ve got down to witterings about whether UK law permits the possession of sticks. So I’d say my amusement was justified. It’d be very hard to introduce UK levels of gun control here. The permits; the public go through the motions if they can be bothered. Try & take their guns away, they won’t give them up. So the government wouldn’t even have the benefit of the permit system. Different public. Doesn’t mean the Spanish haven’t got their own areas they’d roll over to Madrid

    If the Spanish government wished to introduce British style gun controls, they would. Providing there is no gun registration, many guns would not be declared. But this is exactly what happened in Britain too. When the 1920 Firearms Act was passed, only a very small percentage of pistol owners bothered to register their guns, which turned up in amnesties for the rest of the 20th century. Those that are left would now be considered antiques by the law, so the problem has righted itself in a way. When pump action and semi auto shotguns had to be registered in 1988, only about 50,000 out of 250,000 sold since 1968 (from the Proof House records) were declared. The other 200,000 presumably exist, but, like the pre 1920 pistols, are never used. The state may not have been able to deprive owners of their property, but it has deprived them of the honest use of their property. All legally owned guns in the UK are now registered, so there is no scope to escape any future mass confiscations, and that is the reason behind gun registration, as any honest person knows.

  • Paul Marks,

    Thank you for the response.

    I agree about how German talk of efficiency sounds impressive, precise, robust and simply better than French talk of such. I likewise concur that German is perhaps the most fitting language in which to (first invent and then ) analyze and discuss the science of running the state.

    To clarify, I do not claim that gender equality is a bad thing and to the (I would argue in most cases limited) extent that it can be cultivated organically in society without the state enforcing laws then it’s also surely not statist.

    The origins of statism in the English speaking world nonetheless to a large extent came from the institutions and culture of mostly Germanic tribes and kingdoms. I suspect our different views on this stem from my understanding that statism is more or less an inevitable consequence of democracy and that modern democracy at least in the English speaking world was primarily shaped by the values of representation, “free men” danegold, and equality of (mostly Germanic) tribes that travelled to British Isles. We see this also in the linguistic history of English words pertaining to democracy and statism.

    This does not make Germans bad people (I am part German if that matters) but is still an observation of history.

    Were the Roundheads explicit statists? Mostly they were not. Did their victory lead to more statism? I would argue yes. Statist monarchies are mostly very rare in history and pale in comparison to the extraordinary magnitude of statism that has been sweeping the western world ever since its embrace of democracy.

    And for the record Puritan nasties as you call them were vastly over represented among Roundheads vis a vis the cavaliers and the union as well vis and vis the American south (as they mainly settled in Boston).

    I mean no offense by this but as a former libertarian myself (and before that a “recovering GOP neoconservative”) I tend to find the general aversion of libertarians to monarchy a most tragic case of inadvertent and misguided progressivism. The simple truth is that the insights of libertarianism (and austrian economics) are roughly the most valuable critiques of modern western democracies as anyone can muster without taking the real red pill by recognizing the disaster the enlightenment was for the west spiritually, financially and politically.

    Paul – Darth Vader, the Grand Inquisitor (Dostoevsky) and I are here to welcome you with open arms if you ever want to reconsider!

  • Paul Marks

    John K. – yes liberty is seldom lost all at once (it is indeed step by step).

    Shlomo Maistre.

    A lot to think about.

    I do not think I mentioned “gender equality” – my words were respect for the property rights of women.

    As for armed free men refusing to be the absolute slaves of an overlord – before the rise of the Empire, that was a much a think of the Classical Greek and Roman City States in the Classical Period as it was of the Germanic tribes.

    As for monarchy – if you mean a limited Constitutional monarchy as defended by the author of “The Spirit of the Laws” in France, or Edmund Burke in this country – then I agree with you it can have a good role in a Constitution (Liechtenstein is the example of a limited monarchy – the United Kingdom and so on are not really monarchies at all).

    However, the despotism of Eastern Monarchies (or such Western monarchies of Louis XIV or Frederick the Great) is not something I would favour (you do well to associate it with Darth Vader – but that is not a point in its favour).

    As for “the enlightment” – sadly the same word is used or the liberal (in the old sense) thought of someone such as Edmund Burke, and the reductionist, imoralist and radically collectivist (although disguised collectivism – the freedom of “the people” rather than of individual persons) of so many of the French Revolution thinkers. The main French interpretation of John Locke was wildly one sided (see James McCosh the Scottish Philosophy 1877) embracing the bad and ignoring the good. Although this did correct itself in 19th century French philosophy (which was very different from the philosophy popular just before the Revolution. And I am talking about philosophy (not just political philosophy).

    Lastly on democracy.

    Belief in unlimited democracy is not compatible with belief in Natural Law (or the rights derived from Natural Law as expressed by such thing as the British Bill of Rights and American Bill of Rights – if one reads it carefully the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man” is a very different sort of thing).

    My own belief is that the “divine right of the 51%” is just as absurd as the tyranny of any absolute monarch.

    “Then you are not a democrat Mr Marks”.

    Did I ever say I was?

  • Paul,

    Slavery was deeply institutionalized in the Roman Empire in a way that it was not among Germanic tribes (and most other societies of the era). The Roman Empire enslaved whole populations as a matter of course in its relentless expansion outwards. This practice was integral to the empire’s economic policy, while among Germanic tribes slavery was far more limited in scale and less a consequence of centralized emphatic top-down policy.

    On monarchy. Apologies in advance if my sardonic tone or sweeping statements below cause offense.

    You seem to conflate absolute monarchy and despotic rule, which is symptomatic of the view that anything can govern people but other men (or women). Thus the inherently mistaken notion that there ever has been or can be a “nation of laws not men” which itself has wrought such silliness as “constitutional monarchy”, “separation of powers”, and the US Constitution. Since every government as such is only that collection of individuals who combined possess sovereignty over the exercise of government powers, there has only ever been absolute governments. It’s not possible to have anything else – as Mencius Moldbug once said ‘power is conserved’. In a monarchy (and I speak of real monarchies of which the UK has not been for a long, long time – where the Kings are supposed to have real power) it is often the King’s court and courtesans combined with some portion of the aristocracy who rule – through the King’s mouth of course.

    The only way to keep government effectively limited over centuries (besides in places like Victorian England for a few decades when various conditions are temporarily ideal) is when public opinion is primarily of the view that the public itself does not and should not exercise political power. Power is inherently accretive. The more people that are supposed to have it in society, the more quickly its application is expanded. Natural law is a beautiful idea, but only that – an idea. Limiting government’s effect (notice I did not say creating a limited government, which is impossible) is a worthy goal and achieved insofar as incentives are properly aligned. It’s not a problem of ethics – but of engineering. It’s not achieved by education – but by assigning ownership.

    While monarchy can be despotic, though unlike so-called constitutional republics this is more the exception than the rule, you cite Louis XIV as a despotic monarch? Suffice it to say that even Voltaire called his reign the Great Century. There was robust and prolonged social order, the arts flourished famously, the treasury was replenished, and France grew enormously in stature and prestige. And Frederick the Great modernized the backwater of Prussia, transforming its economy, developing whole regions of land so fundamentally so as to attract hundreds of thousands of eager immigrants. He cultivated a religiously tolerant society and intentionally attracted new peoples to broaden the stability of Prussia’s economy and facilitate a richly diverse culture. Old Fritz and the Sun King make any American President look pathetically weak and woefully misguided by comparison. I mean Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan vs the Sun King or Old Fritz? Embarrassing.

    The broad philosophy of the Enlightenment is primarily characterized as empiricist (as opposed to rationalist) on matters of epistemology. This is what unites mostly all Enlightenment thinkers – Burke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson, Locke, Bacon etc – and has led to the unleashing of (dare I say) demonic elements across the western world. But perhaps that’s a discussion for another time.

  • Paul Marks

    Sir I agree with you that the slavery practiced by the German tribes (and by the Norse) was less organised than that practiced by the Romans – although it is also true that only minority of the population of the Empire were slaves. Outside Italy the Roman economy certainly did NOT depend on slavery – and only in the city of Rome itself were slaves ever close to being as numerous as non slaves (one thing that made the city of Rome so unusual – even compared to other Italian cities in the Roman period).

    However, I must say that I am utterly in disagreement with your other comments – your disparagement of the very idea of the rule of law (as opposed to the arbitrary rule of men) and your specific comments concerning Louis XIV and Frederick the Great.

    Sadly you appear to have fallen for the fallacy of the “enlightened ruler” – and are thus much closer to the BAD side of “enlightened” thought than you believe yourself to be.

    See M.J. Oakeshott – “On Human Conduct”.

    Actually a real reactionary (which is what you presented yourself to be) would be horrified by the French (and later the Prussian) nobility allowing themselves to be “bought off” by tax concessions – so much so that the French (and later the Prussian and other) “Estates” (Parliament) ceased to function as a check on government (allowing the Kings to do the terrible things you describe – accept you do not think they were terrible).

    Of course the modern situation (where Parliaments no longer act as a check on government – but have become part of the government) is also terrible.

    A reactionary is no friend of the modern “divine right of the 51%” but he (or she) is no friend of absolute monarchy either. Or of an aristocracy acting as an “oligarchy” (the concepts are quite distinct in the thought of Aristotle) – allowing itself to be bought off by tax concessions (which proved to be illusions as new taxes came along) and the ability to abuse serfs (in the Prussian case – there actually being very few serfs in France, contrary to Hollywood delusions) – rejecting the path of HONOUR (the serving of higher PRINCIPLES) which is the great divide between aristocracy and oligarchy in the thought of both Aristotle and Montesquieu.

    Of course serfdom is a dishonourable thing (for both serf and serf owners) because it is not based upon voluntary loyalty. And the lack of honour in being “bought off” by some short term bribe (allowing others to be taxed without mercy) is self evident.

    As Boswell (the friend of Dr Johnson) understood (even though he lived years afterwards) – the Scots nobles who handed over their fellow countrymen to higher taxes (and other things) by abolishing their own Parliament (in return for bribes) in 1707, deserved the human excrement that was thrown at them by the common people of Edinburgh. The common people had no vote (so they had not lost it) – but they understood that the Scots nobles had behaved like shit (selling out their birth right for bribes), so they deserved to be covered in shit. After all the nobles could have a bath when they went home (they were not physically harmed) – if only they had been able to regain their lost honour with such ease.

    And the Scots nobles at least had the argument that Scots liberties would be protected by the new British Parliament (although the disarmament of the common people of the Highlands [a free person is an ARMED one] and the war on “unlicensed” whiskey makers, showed this argument was poor) – the French and Prussian nobles (and other such in the Continental Europe) had no argument at all.

    The claim that the “enlightened” absolute rulers of the new Europe were not as bad as Asiatic despots may well be true – but it also misses the point.

    As or your putting Burke and Rousseau in the same list of thinkers (as if they were akin).

    I think the conversation had better end at that point.

    Even if you do not intend to deliberately provoke me (by implying that Burke and Rousseau were akin philosophically) our minds are so different that future communication would benefit neither of us.

  • Laird

    Such communication might indeed not benefit either of you, Paul, but it might the rest of us. Personally, I’m finding your debate fascinating. Perhaps it could be continued in another thread. The older I get the less I believe that people are capable of enlightened self-rule, although I also have a problem with the idea of “enlightened despots”. And it’s far from clear that any government can be permanently constrained by a constitution (that seems to be Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s position), or for that matter whether it can morally bind the descendants of its signatories (as Randy Barnett argues).

  • I’m sorry to hear that Paul. I suppose I could have made my points with a bit more tact. Thanks for the time you put into your responses.. always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

  • Paul Marks

    I am quick to anger Laird – too quick, and I have not improved with age (perhaps because I do not have the legal release of tension that I once did).

    My problem with “traditional” French thought is that it is not traditional at all. There is a real French traditional thought – but that is a different matter.

    The devotion to the Catholic Church turns out to be false (as it was for the founder of “Action France” – who turned out to be an atheist, who regarded religion as “socially useful”, which is just enraging – if something is false it should be rejected not covered up in philosophical double talk).

    Also the conception of honour is wrong – twisted 180 degrees. So that “the honour of the army” meant that an innocent army officer should be sent to Devil’s Island whilst the real traitors continued to get their money from Bismark.

    That is not honour – that is dishonour.

    What is honour?

    Honour is the righteous (not wild – righteous) courage to stand up against the whole world – against family, friends, King, Church (everyone) in the defence of someone you have never met before.

    For example of honour see the start of the film “The Eagle Has Landed”.

    Which is why, as Tolkien pointed out, saying “my honour is loyalty” can only be said by someone who has forgotten (if they ever knew) what honour is.

    Of course honour involved loyalty – but it is loyalty to righteousness.

    If a King breaks his oaths (becomes an enemy to the liberty of his subjects) then one turns one’s back on him and walks out – as Prince E. did to Louis XIV (offering his sword to the Holy Roman Emperor – a Hapsburg who tried to keep his oaths).

    And the more powerful the ruler – the more important it is to do that.

    But should a ruler, who has kept his oaths, have no power no way of rewarding you (be helpless and in danger of his life) then one comes to his defence – for all his fair weather friends will have left him.

    Then one does indeed fight till the blue sash across one’s chest is turned red by one’s own blood.

    Also a ruler (like anyone) may sincerely repent of their misdeeds – “I have not lived well (I have not lived as I should have done), but at least I will die well”.

    And someone who has sincerely repented should not have to die alone.

    As should not even need to be said………

    It makes no difference to any of the above whether the soul dies with the body or not.

  • Laird – I am glad to hear that. Since you find the debate fascinating, I should say that the main difference between Paul and I is much like the difference between Burke and Maistre.

    Burke’s political views were insightful, important and made in a mostly eminently reasonable manner. Maistre’s were far darker, more dogmatic, and purposefully provocative. Yes, conveying such ideas as the providential nature of sovereignty may require such bombast, but more than that, whereas Burke only lightly touched upon the connections between religion and politics, Maistre’s politics were explicitely and inextricably linked to his intransigent Catholicism.

    I, a secular Jew, have found no thinker more instructive or tragically neglected.

  • Paul Marks

    Shlomo I apologise for my harshness.

    I despise “enlightened” rulers, with their disregard for the law (the fundamental law) and their desire to sweep away traditional restraints and “develop” X, Y, Z, (as if that was any task for the Sword of State – which is a sword).

    Pointing at the positive “achievements” of rulers is going to upset me – as these are exactly the things that I (as a conservative as well as a libertarian) believe that rulers should NOT do.

    But my anger (indeed rage) is better directed at myself – at various battles I am losing at the moment, not at you.

    I was unkind (indeed harsh) and, again, I apologise for it.

    I have no wish to add to my own pain at the moment (selfish – yes I admit it) – and that (not any disrespect for your good intentions and power and power of intellect) is the only reason I wished to end the discussion.

    I must confess that I have not read Maistre for many years (and I only read him in translation anyway) so had the discussion moved on to him my IGNORANCE (not yours – MINE) would have made the conversation unprofitable for us both.

    As for religion – basically I am a semi Pelagian heretic.

    In that I reject Augustine – both his predestination, and his belief that force should be used in religious matters.

    Someone (long ago) said that I am Church of England in the same way that I would have been a worshipper of Athena in Ancient Athens – i.e. that I believe that all human efforts to fully understand the divine are doomed to failure (in this life), and so go along with the approximation (the symbolic religious life) that is produced in my society.

    There is a grain of truth in that. Although it does leave out the importance of Revelation (not the Book of Revelation – the concept of Revelation). I believe that there has been Revelation – although that does not mean it is easy to interpret (or that all things are known – they are not).

    As for politics – I certainly do not believe that a particular theological view is required politically.

    After all the Emperor Marcus Aurelius rejected Christianity (indeed any belief in individual survival after death).

    His “Meditations” are still a good guide for political life (and non political life).

  • Thanks for the kind note Paul. Again – I could have used more tact. I’ve always been allergic to consensus, but avoiding it all costs is not always so graceful.. or becoming of me.

    With that said, would like to share a couple thoughts on religion to shed light on our preceding back-and-forth, but first brief background.

    9/11 (I was a teenager then) launched my interest in politics.. then philosophy.. and now religion. Born politically as a Bush neocon, it took Kirk, Buckley, Locke to become a Goldwater conservative; then Mises, Hayek, Bastiat to become a libertarian. Carlyle, Cortes, Bonald, Filmer and of course Maistre (the very darkest) have now taken their toll.

    I like to think I’m about as extreme a Platonist and rationalist (as opposed to empirist) on epistemology and metaphysics as one can be. I’m a hard dualist on the mind-body problem and believe in a priori knowledge and universals. I think that all true propositions are inherently analytic (not synthetic), that essence is prior to superior to, separate from existence. But most importantly I think that all these views are one and the same (belief in abstract/divine), come from intuition/faith, and lead not to the correct “politics” but to the right understanding of politics.

    One way to sum this up would be that theology is the only proper form of philosophy.

    Defending Austrian Economics at a dinner party these days is usually respectable, interesting, occasionally persuasive. Defending Papal infallibility or the Spanish Inquisition is rather less… tasteful.. and never convincing. (Ironic, I suppose, as I’m a proud Jew) It’s not so much that I believe the Pope infallible or the Spanish Inquisition “good” but rather that due to how we moderns think (not what we think) we are unable to understand arguments in favor of these propositions. I love to get at the fundamentals of thought. I’m still all ears for an argument against the Spanish Inquisition from someone alive today that Joseph de Maistre would find if not persuasive at least comprehensible.

    There aren’t many people in the world capable of being receptive to my rantings, but I suspect you and some others at Samizdata are some of the few with the wherewithal.

    And all of this, Paul, is to say: you have my sympathy for having encountered my rantings on the internet. Thanks for listening.

  • Paul Marks

    Shlomo the fact you say it is NOT convincing proves you are not producing “ravings”.

    Had you say you AGREED with the Spanish Inquisition (and so on) then that would have been a different matter.

    The same as if you said you agree with Plato’s POLITICS (not his more abstract philosophy).

    As for Maistre.

    I actually agree with what I believe his early position was.

    If I remember correctly he supported the Paris Parliament and the calling of the Estates General (divided into its traditional three houses – lords, commons and clergy) – in an effort to limit the power of the King (i.e. to return to the limited monarchy that had existed in France), but then was horrified by the Estates General turning itself into the “National Assembly” and declaring itself “France” – not a check on government, but the government itself and an absolutist government at that.

    Then (again if I remember correctly) Maistre went off ont what seemed to me a very odd path.

    However, I am (at bottom) just an Old Whig (far more so than Hayek was – as I share their philosophy not just their politics somehow divided from its philosophical foundations, as Hayek did) – and so limited in my experience of other ways of looking at the world (I do not even like looking into void too much – for fear the void will start looking back into me).

    Also I do not own any works by Maistre – I went upstairs and checked (nothing in the piles and suitcases).

    So (rather trusting my semi senile memory) I have ordered one – and I may (or may not) go on from there.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course (as an OLD Whig) I do not hold that the French Revolution took liberty “too far” – I hold it was the ENEMY of liberty (far more than Louis XVI ever was).

    As I am interested in the liberty (the property rights in their persons and possessions) of individual persons and voluntary associations – NOT “the people”.

  • Paul – to be an old Whig these days is an admirable thing. At the following link you can find English translations of large portions of several of Maistre’s works for free. Hope you enjoy… I certainly have.


    Yes I suspect you would agree with some of Maistre’s (mainly earlier) thoughts including his analysis of the French Revolution. His metaphysics, though, is not so aesthetically pleasing to modern ears – at least not at first… I like to say what Charles Baudelaire said about Maistre: he is my maître à penser (chosen teacher) and has taught me how to think. And I really do mean that.

    Thinking about it, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn might be the sort of thinker that could (to an extent) bridge the intellectual gap between us, but I could be wrong about that. And I plan to take a look at James McCosh as you suggested.

    Thanks for the your time.. it has been a pleasure chatting.

  • Paul Marks

    Shlomo – sadly I find it hard to read for a book these days (actually reading a book cover-to-cover appears to be an capacity I have lost) with electronic communications I find myself taking enough to work out what the subject is – and then just going on from there.

    That would be unfair to you.

    So I will wait till the book arrives and then have a go at physically reading it.

    I do remember the work of Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (but not well enough to comment).

  • Mr Ed

    FWIW for those able to access it, this BBC Radio 4 programme on the cultural aspects of WW1 did not hold back on the details of the horrors of the German occupation of Belgium, broadcast Saturday 8th March 2014, via the iPlayer.