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

“Liberal, democratic” is something that we’re all in favour of. It’s the definition of those words which is the difficulty. The older and correct meaning of liberal would have us all doing whatever the hell we want as long as our doing so doesn’t impact upon the rights of others to do the same. A regulatory system which bans large motors on vacuum cleaners for our own good is not liberal in this sense. We also can’t throw the bastards out so it’s not democratic.

Tim Worstall

15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed – but, sadly, even in the 19th century “liberal” SOMETIMES meant (in practice) higher taxes and more government spending and regulations – not lower taxes and spending and regulations. For example, the liberals of Manchester promised lower taxes if their local government reform (replacing the old Tory Closed Corporations with elected councils) was enacted – but when the local government Act of 1835 was actually passed, the new Liberal Party dominated Manchester led the way in more government spending and the council take over of utilities (water, gas…..) – and in “annexing” areas to Manchester (the sort of local government imperialism that was only recently put a stop to in Texas – basically “the taxpayers are fleeing – let us CHASE THEM by moving the city boundaries”).

    It was worse in the much of the Latin world (outside France where “liberal” really did mean SMALLER government) where “liberalism” nearly always meant the plundering of Church property, higher government spending (new departments covering X,Y,Z) and higher general taxation.

    As for democracy – well the liberty of “the people” is a rather different thing from the liberty of individuals. But I AGREE that the majority of voters should be able to peacefully get rid of a government they can not stand (so I am a small “d” democrat) – which makes it even odder that British and other “Liberals” were behind the creation of a Central Civil Service and Local Government Officers who the people can not remove by vote – and neither can elected politicians hire and fire these powerful administrators. Thus making elections, to some extent, a farce – the late Cambridge historian Maurice Cowling had his own cynical theory of why the Liberals supported the creation of a professional bureaucracy in Britain, the United States and so on. His theory being that it was partly to give jobs to the Liberals and their pals – and partly to make sure that Liberal policies were followed,regardless of who won the elections.

    As Professor A.C. Grayling says (without a hint of irony) democracy is “supposed to manage” various “Populist” forces – i.e. supposed to PREVENT most people getting the policies they want. This is the purpose of the “institutions” (such as the Civil Service, the “independent” leftist media supported by taxpayer money and regulations against real ideological competition, and the unelected judges sitting without juries) that Liberals (such as the Economist magazine) so support. The rule of the “educated” – regardless of the election result, who will (for example) ignore the actual words in written Constitutions, and substitute a “living Constitution” of “liberal” whims instead.

    Of course there were good 19th century liberals as well – who really did stand for lower taxes, less government spending and deregulation. But it is the bad elements within 19th century liberalism that have become dominant in the 20th and 21st centuries – for example in Britain the struggle (between smaller government liberalism and bigger government liberalism) was over when Prime Minister Gladstone was deposed in 1894 (if my memory serves correctly on the date). I doubt we will be getting the word “liberal” back from the Social Reformers – i.e. the supporters of ever bigger and more interventionist government.

    As the Liberal Party Chancellor Harcourt said in the early 1890s – “we are all socialists now”, and so they are. Especially in the United States – where the once Classical Liberal magazine the “Nation” (once the arch enemy of the Progressive “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) had become socialist in all but name by the 1920s.

    Modern “liberals” believe in ever bigger government (they believe in “compassionate” government, in “Social Reform”) and they believe in the form of democracy but NOT the content – i.e. they believe their policies should be followed REGARDLESS OF HOW THE PEOPLE VOTE (that is certainly the case with the Economist magazine crowd – and that is the house journal of the international liberal elite), which reduces democracy to a hollow sham.

  • pete

    Language evolves. Words gain new meanings.

    I managed to cope when the word ‘gay’ gained a new definition, when ‘mouse’ became a computer gadget as well as a rodent and when teenagers started using ‘wicked’ to mean wonderful.

    ‘Liberal’ can now mean censorious, authoritarian and intolerant.

    It is easy to tell the meaning indicated by the context and by the person using the word.

  • MadRocketSci

    So … what word do we use when we want to actually refer to liberal ideas? (Libertarian? But the left has been moving in on that word also. Liberliberlibertarian? Do we just keep inventing new words to refer to necessary ideas while totalitarian bastards colonize and lay waste to our language like locusts?) I’d like progress, history, science, and technology back too. Hadoop is not a “technology”, science isn’t an apocalyptic political-religion. History is a record of past events, not a narrative with arcs and a direction. Etc.

  • Fred Z

    When you’re in a fight, don’t watch his mouth, watch his hands.

    Leftist, totalitarian, shits, but I’m being prolix, always talk nicey-nice to distract you while they’re raising their weapons to enslave, kill or maim you.

  • I don’t like either word now. Don’t care what they were supposed to mean- I know the results. Along with revolution. It was all crap. An excuse to take other people’s money. In earlier times things were actually more decentralized- which is why there was a possibility for real research, real innovation, etc… You have more private wealth and you could find someone to back you. Now you’ve got to figure out what the current propaganda is and mouth it just to get funding. Which really limits your ability to do anything groundbreaking.

    No, the modern state stolen from all the perfectly sustainable old estates to help established itself. We’ve also lived under constant pro-growth, whether it was pleasantly manufactured, or Stalin’s forced industrialization. We don’t get real price signals in this mess, nor does the average vote have much of a chance to figure out what is right. The best they can do is react viscerally to what is very, very wrong.

  • Fraser Orr

    FWIW, I think the words “liberal” and “democratic” are almost opposites. “Liberal” means I get to choose what I do, what to spend my time, energy and money on, what I allow or don’t. Whereas “democratic” means that the majority of the people get to decide these things for me.

    Insofar as most “democractic” systems are only limited democracies, I suppose it isn’t quite that totalitarian. But Churchill was wrong when he said democracy was the worst system except for all the others (or however the quote goes.) There is a better system — it is called freedom, both personal freedom and market freedom. It is the engine of nearly all of human wealth, and democracies are rich because they are more free, not because — in fact almost despite — their democratic character.

    I was actually just discussing this with my son yesterday. What is the source of English liberties? Who is the British Washington or Jefferson? The sources of British liberty? Magna Carta — signed under the sword to empower the barons to continue to oppress their serfs (and preven the king from extracting too high a tax), the English Bill of Rights, passed because the protestants hated and feared the catholics. The restoration of the monarchy because one tyrannt’s son wasn’t sufficiently tyrannical? Who knows. It seems to me that the “rights of an Englishman” happened almost by accident, boiled out of a cauldron of hate and war.

    It is a curious thing though, perhaps unique in history, that the American republic was actually designed explicitly by men to be a free republic. It was constructed that way to preserve the rights mentioned before, with deliberate, engineered design. Which makes Washington, Jefferson and so forth almost unique in history. The only other example I could think of was the French revolution. But it turned out that Robespierre was no Jefferson.

    It may well be argued that the key source of a large part of the liberty today, created in the fires of two world wars and nurtured in the Marshall plan, comes from the simple fact that Washington, of his own volition, put down the crown and went home.

    And the irony, the deafening, roaring cognitive dissonance? Both Washington and Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. I don’t understand how two such opposite ideas could exist in one brain.

  • Gene

    And the irony, the deafening, roaring cognitive dissonance? Both Washington and Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. I don’t understand how two such opposite ideas could exist in one brain.

    Fraser: It’s easy to understand. Humans aren’t Vulcans; they are much more slaves of their emotions than slaves of reason. Cognitive dissonance causes discomfort, but doesn’t change minds nearly as often as you would like it to.

  • Bilwick

    In other comments sections on other blogs, I always put the word “liberal” in quotes, and sometimes add the parenthetical explanation “used in its current bastardized sense as a synonym for tax-happy, coercion-addicted, power-tripping State fellator.” That’s the kind of helpful guy I am. “Liberals” always seem to appreciate it.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Fraser: And the irony, the deafening, roaring cognitive dissonance? Both Washington and Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. I don’t understand how two such opposite ideas could exist in one brain.

    It is an interesting question. It is worth remembering that slavery had been a natural part of the human condition since at least the development of agriculture. Read the Old Testament! And because slavery was normal, it could be justified in Biblical terms. It is the last 150 years which is the oddity in terms of human experience — and who knows how long that will continue? Certainly, we know (and ignore) that slavery is still practiced in the world today.

    Speculation on my part — there was no cognitive dissonance in the minds of the slave owners. Slaves were different, not quite human, not really capable of looking after themselves. A wise owner treated his slaves humanely, if for no other reason than that they were property. (Reportedly, before the US Civil War, a slave cost the same as 8 horses). But the slave-owner did not think of the slave as being on the same level as herself.

    In a sense, it is no different than the behavior of today’s Leftists towards anyone who does not enthusiastically subscribe to that day’s Political Correctness. The Leftist does not see a Samizdatista simply as being wrong and in need of guidance, but as a less than fully human “other”.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Most “modern progressive” liberals are just that, however, they are selfish in the way libertarians are (ironically) often portrayed, they are liberal to the point where their liberty only affects them, so they support illiberal cultural ideologies on the same “liberal” cause simply because those ideologies do not cross into their sphere of influence, they don’t care if someone else has their liberties curtailed, just as long as their’s aren’t. They’ll support the “liberty” of a religious conservative over the liberty of those individuals the religion oppresses – because they are not one of those individuals.

    In short, what defines a modern liberal from a libertarian or classical liberal is the latter is willing to fight for everyone’s liberty not just their own.

    I think “democracy” is a redundant term, if you have liberty then it follows, unfortunately most people think it is the other way around.

  • Democracy can’t be liberty because democracy is how the mob votes to take away my stuff.

  • Paul Marks

    August Hurtel.

    In the new “democracy” even if most people vote to NOT take your stuff, it will be taken anyway – witness various American (not just European) court judgements, where the judges (the unelected judges) have declared that more money must be spent on education (or whatever) even if the people have voted AGAINST this. When, for example, the taxpayers of California voted to limit the amount of money spent on ILLEGAL immigrants – the judges (not really “elected” as judicial elections are a farce in California – not open contested elections) just overruled the people. And the written Constitution of California? The judges could not give a tinker’s curse about what is actually written in the Constitution of the State of California – any more than most Federal judges care about what is actually written in the Constitution of the United States. They care only about “liberal” whims.

    That is modern “liberalism” – ever bigger government, whether most people vote for it or vote against it. With “rights” not being limits on state power (that idea was denounced as “nonsense” by Mr Jeremy Bentham), but as goods and services from government.

  • Democracy can’t be liberty because democracy is how the mob votes to take away my stuff.

    It is indeed not liberty, that is a category error.

    But as Guy Herbert is wont to say: Democracy makes a fine brake but a terrible steering wheel.

  • Steve Borodin

    Democracy has a fighting chance of not deteriorating into a totalitarian mess, or as we now term it, a state run by liberals.

    ps. progressive is the new regressive.

    pps. I am glad I didn’t study politics.

  • Paul Marks

    Steve Borodin – the test is not whether the people are allowed to vote against “liberal” (i.e. Progressive – Collectivist) policies, but whether these votes are actually enforced in practice.

    If the latter is true then “democracy” is not compatible with liberty – but then it is not a democracy at all. “You can vote for X – but we (the establishment elite) will make sure X does not happen in practice” is not a democracy – not at all.

    The British system is an interesting example. And yesterday’s vote for the third runway at Heathrow is an interesting case study of this political system. The majority of Members of the House of Commons voted for the third runway at Heathrow even though they knew (they knew) the project involved the stealing and destruction of private homes, and they knew the project makes no financial or other sense. Why did they vote the way they did? Because the establishment (the Civil Service and various other public and “official private” bodies) told the government that it must do X. So the Members of Parliament voted for it – even though they know it makes no sense, that the establishment (as usual) are talking nonsense.

    Why do national and local elected politicians vote for things the establishment “suggest” even though they (we – for I am a local politician) make no sense? “You have to vote for this councillor – it is established policy” or “you have to vote for this, or the inspectors will just pass it on appeal and you will hit with legal costs” and on and on…….

    The elected politicians end up “lobby fodder”. Find me a Member of Parliament who really (really) thinks that, say, “HS2” is a good idea – they know this railway project is madness. Yet most Members of Parliament will vote for it – and ministers will rubber stamp the stuff the Civil Service put in front of them. It is “established policy” you see.

    “There is a terrible housing shortage – what is left of rural south east England must be sacrificed to yet more housing estates”.

    “It does not matter about the destruction of houses that the third runway at Heathrow and the HS2 project will mean – after all there is no real shortage of houses in the south east of England”.

    “Doublethink” – politicians learn not just to say things we know make no sense, but we also learn to contradict ourselves without blushing.