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

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types – the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.

– G.K. Chesterton

Within a modern context, this is perhaps the most perfect description of the utterly Blairite “Conservative” Party in Britain as one might contrive.

60 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • John B

    I would say the modern World has divided itself into Progressives and Me Too.

  • Ferox

    In the US the conservatives are the biggest bunch of chin-trembling bed-wetters in the history of politics. If Chamberlain were alive today he would scoff and sneer at their haste to abase themselves before their enemies. Vichy France looks like Leonidas at Thermopylae next to modern US rightist politicos.

    Slander us, take away our rights, silence us, abuse us, even kill or imprison us … just please please please don’t call us racists or sexists!

  • Cesare

    The ‘progressives’ have distiled their belief system down to ‘Comply!’, while each and every conservative has an evolving definition for every imaginable aspect of their cause.

  • Paul Marks

    The Chesterton quote is a bit grim – even by my standards.

    For example, President Warren Harding did not just sit there and allow the expansion of government by Woodrow Wilson to continue – he actively worked to reverse it, releasing political prisoners from jail and dramatically cutting taxation and government spending (these are the real reasons that Progressives have hated Harding for a 100 years – not the “Teapot Dome” stuff which had nothing to do with him anyway).

    And the Republican Congress that was elected in November 1946 did not “do nothing” (as the Collectivist books claim) – it actively worked to reduce the size and scope of government. America became again a freer society because of their efforts.

    Even in Britain the Conservative government elected in 1951 did role back many aspects of statism – although more timidly than had been done in Italy, Germany and Japan after World War II.

    Italy, Germany and Japan were much freer societies in the 1950s than they had been in the 1930s – not so much Britain, but Britain in the 1950s and early 1960s was certainly a freer place than it had been under Atlee in the late 1940s.

    The record of the government led by Margaret Thatcher elected in 1979 is very mixed – but I would argue that Britain was, in many respects (not all respects), a freer and better place in 1990 than it had been in 1979.

    As for British history since the betrayal of Margaret Thatcher – well YES the history of this country since then has been an almost unmixed story of the decline of liberty.

    The one bright spot was the vote for independence in 2016 – but when asked which (of the endless thousands) of E.U. edicts they intend to repeal (now they have the legal power to do so) the government has been rather quiet. This is indeed not good.

  • Paul Marks

    Given their record in State Government I can honestly say that if such Republican State Governors as the Governor of South Dakota or the Governor of Florida (but many others also) were President of the United States, policy would be vastly different (and vastly BETTER) than policy under Mr Joseph Biden.

    It is when I am asked for modern examples from this country, the United Kingdom, that my heart falters – and I fall silent.

  • Paul Marks

    Ferox – the Progressives tried to “cancel” Ron DeSantis back in 2018, they pretended that him saying “we must not monkey this up” (referring the election for Governor) was calling his black opponent a monkey.

    In the United Kingdom the, entirely innocent, Ron DeSantis would have been at once expelled from the Party and would have been lucky to not be sent to prison – in the United States he hung on (just).

    So there is, or at least was in 2018, still a difference.

    The tidal wave of lies from the media over Covid policy (implying that Florida has a worse death rate than such lockdown States as New York and New Jersey – when the opposite is the case) has also FAILED.

    The message is now clear – if you support lockdowns and other restrictions (soon to be Climate Change Emergencies) vote Democrat, if you oppose them – vote Republican.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    I’ve long believed the contemporary Conservative Party should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling itself that.

  • Paul: Let me borrow from you
    The message is now clear – if you support expanded lockdowns and other restrictions (soon to be Climate Change Emergencies) vote Democrat, if you want to keep the ones we’ve got – vote Republican.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Given their record in State Government I can honestly say that if such Republican State Governors as the Governor of South Dakota or the Governor of Florida (but many others also) were President of the United States, policy would be vastly different (and vastly BETTER) than policy under Mr Joseph Biden.

    I’m afraid that that is not saying much for said Governors.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Billl:

    Paul: Let me borrow from you
    The message is now clear – if you support expanded lockdowns and other restrictions (soon to be Climate Change Emergencies) vote Democrat, if you want to keep the ones we’ve got – vote Republican.

    That’s a good way to apply Chesterton’s quote to the present situation.

    Too pessimistic in my opinion, but it illustrates what Chesterton meant with a specific example.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul writes:

    The record of the government led by Margaret Thatcher elected in 1979 is very mixed – but I would argue that Britain was, in many respects (not all respects), a freer and better place in 1990 than it had been in 1979.

    I would argue the same.
    One personal experience stands out for me: the difference between the sort of place that a visitor to London (say, a student on a budget) would go to get some sustenance, nothing fancy. 1979 vs 1991.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It does not seem too far off topic to point out a remarkable book that i found on the Online Library of Liberty, and have started to read.

    The argument in the book that i find most interesting, is that David Hume was the true founding figure of Anglo-conservatism, due to his critique of the Puritan Revolution (in his History of England) anticipating Burke’s critique of the French Revolution.

    (In fact, a remark in Burke’s Reflections suggests that he, too, took a dim view of the Puritan Revolution and a positive view of the Glorious Revolution.)

    –Added in proof: for me, Anglo-conservatism is basically a corollary of skepticism: it is skepticism about untested ideas about governance.
    That is why i should think Hume to be the founder of Anglo-conservatism even if he did not write the History of England.

  • Paul Marks

    Billl – what you are saying is simply NOT TRUE.

    Many Republican Governors have got rid of many Covid regulations. The do not want to keep the restrictions – they are getting of them.

    Do not get more depressive than me – it is not a good thing to be more mentally troubled than me, I am quite bad enough.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – David Hume was good on economics, although not as good as Richard Cantillon who came before him, but he was awful on politics.

    David Hume did not care about Constitutional liberties – he really did not. You can not get a theory of resistance from the philosophy of Hume (any more than you can from Hobbes) he was no more an Old Whig than he was elephant.

    You can not get to political philosophy of the Bill of Rights (British or American) from David Hume – it is from his opponents (such as Thomas Reid) that these come.

    Did Edmund Burke agree with the political philosophy, or the general philosophy of David Hume? No he did not.

    Would David Hume have drawn his sword against Cromwell? No he would not – because he would not have resisted any regime.

    A charming man socially (everyone liked him) – but a waste of skin in any serious situation.

  • Paul Marks

    Did Edmund Burke take a dim view of the military dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell? Yes he did.

    Did Edmund Burke think that the Restoration of 1660 was, on balance, a good thing? Yes he did.

    Was Edmund Burke a philosophical sceptic? No he was not – he was, essentially, firmly in the Aristotelian tradition of the West.

    If “Anglo Conservativism” is about scepticism (and it hard to think of people such as Calvin Coolidge or Barry Goldwater in this way – read their speeches) then it will always LOSE.

    In the end people who believe (who believe strongly – strongly enough to die or to kill, for their beliefs) win – and people who are of the “well, I do not know….” type always, in the end, lose. Because they deserve to lose – they do not really believe in anything.

    You can not win a war with “I do not know”.

    The war between good and evil is fought within all of us every day – I should know, as there is a lot of evil in me (a fact I am only too well aware of).

    Politics is an extension of this internal war – to the external world.

    You win – or you lose. “I do not know what I believe – I am not sure I believe in anything, even whether I exist” is the way to LOSE.

  • bobby b

    Billll
    May 1, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    “The message is now clear – if you support expanded lockdowns and other restrictions (soon to be Climate Change Emergencies) vote Democrat, if you want to keep the ones we’ve got – vote Republican.”

    Don’t shotgun your (understandable) disgust with certain Republicans at all Republicans. There are many who do not fit what you’re saying. If we refuse to work with what strength we still have and insist on starting over, we’re screwed for a lot longer.

  • Flubber

    Who are these Republicans?

    The leadership are irrevocably shitty, be they Andy Mccarthy in the House, McConnell in the Senate, or McDaniel at the RNC.

    Im not the only one to think so

    https://mobile.twitter.com/johncardillo/status/1388473447022481409

    Even people that talk a good game, like Kristi Noem fold under pressure.

    And then you have all the facilitators of the vote steal like Rafsenberger.

    On the other hand when you get someone with some balls like Marjorie Taylor Greene the RNC betray them.

    The RNC are 99% scum. Irredeemable compromised and corrupt.

  • Flubber

    Further to my mistaken double comment here’s a bit of light relief; Mitt Romney getting thoroughly booed at the Utah GOP convention.

    https://youtu.be/Vx6hhH2s_8g

  • bobby b

    Flubber, as a sort of first-pass approximation of a response, let me ask:

    Who are all of those who are booing?

    (They’re Republicans.)

  • Summarising Paul Marks (May 1, 2021 at 8:25 pm), if

    the best lack all conviction, while the worst
    are filled with passionate intensity

    then the worst win.

    As bobby b (May 2, 2021 at 3:17 am) implies, those booing Mitt Romney are booing him because he either lacks all conviction or else holds convictions other than the ones he once pretended and still, to a degree, pretends. Whether he was always this way, or got there in stages, could be debated.

    – Maybe he went the Edward Heath route. Heath (UK PM 1970 – 74) never forgave Margaret Thatcher for demonstrating by contrasting example what a mess he made of his time in power. Maybe it was an intolerable affront to his pride for Trump to run so different a campaign and yet win.

    – Maybe elitism prompted him to indulge TDS loudly and early in Trump’s candidacy. As events fail to flatter this TDS, ego forces dishonesty in his own mind increasingly to fill the void. Dishonesty towards his voters inevitably followed.

    As those who study and remember my every comment with that great attention they each and every one so deserve ( 🙂 ) know, I began taking Trump seriously (albeit in very cautious, intermittent and in-two-minds manner) in January 2016. In November 2016, I was aware these initially very hesitant and much qualified thoughts gave my ego an out, where I might otherwise have had to say “Well, I was wrong”. For some people, “I was wrong (and it was loud and in public)”, is just too painful. They would rather lie to themselves than face it.

  • Flubber

    If they’re represented by Mitt Romney, they may as well be Democrats.

  • Paul Marks

    My old friends (sarcasm alert) the Economist magazine came out in support of the Republicans in Utah this week – not their pro family policies or their, relatively, low taxes and government spending. No, their supposed commitment to unlimited immigration and “diversity” – that sounds more like “Mitt” Romney than it does his fellow Mormon Senator Lee. Utah is actually a lot less “diverse” than Florida is – but the Economist magazine does not go around praising Governor DeSantis.

    Remember to the left (and make no mistake – the Corporations who the Economist magazine serves are on the left) being “diverse” has nothing really to do with being black or Hispanic, it is about supporting certain POLITICAL doctrines.

    You can be black and not “diverse” if you do not support “Social Justice” and the rest of the Collectivist agenda.

    You can tell where these people (the Economist magazine and the “liberal” elite generally) stand when you look at Latin America.

    The President of Guatemala and the President of Honduras are just as brown skinned as their socialist opponents (if anything – rather more brown), but which side do the “liberals” support? They support the socialists – the United Nations backed “NGOs”, the Marxist judges and-so-on.

    None of this is really about race – it is all about POLITICS.

    The “liberals” and “moderates” do not want Utah to end up like Florida – they want it to end up like Venezuela.

  • Paul Marks

    The banks and the pet Corporations live off disguised government and Central Bank subsidies – they are not Milton Friedman style honest traders. They are like Warren Buffet, as straight as a Seven Dollar Note.

    That is one of the reasons they support the “Social Justice” agenda – if they live off subsidies (and they do), why should not EVERYONE live off subsidies? Hence their support for the handing out of welfare to everyone that “Lula” did in Brazil, and their support for unlimited “income support” in Western countries (using “Covid” as an excuse for what they want to do anyway).

    And when everyone lives off subsidies who is to pay for all this?

    SHUT UP! That is a forbidden question.

  • Paul Marks

    As for David Hume – his indifference is shown by such works as the “Euthanasia of the Constitution”. Why should a man who did not even believe that human persons exist (no more than Hobbes did) care about political freedom? And Mr Hume did not care about political freedom.

    “Ah, but he supported good economic policies” – and if the ruler or rulers had rejected his advice, he would have just said “Yes Boss”. Ditto if the ruler or rulers had decided to burn alive everyone with blond hair or brown eyes. After all humans are not really persons (because there is no such thing as a person – the “I” does not really exist) – so they do not really matter.

    A political theory that boils down to “Yes Boss” is not good.

    No he would not have resisted Oliver Cromwell – he would not have resisted anyone. No more than Thomas Hobbes would have.

  • eris23

    Ambrose Bierce said it best:

    Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

  • pete

    Chesterton might have had to revise his quote a bit if he lived today.

    Now we have progressives who want preserve the big state and its outdated 20th century institutions like the NHS and the BBC.

    And conservatives who want to change them.

    Today’s progressives can be very conservative indeed when their financial interests require it.

  • Flubber

    And the great Reset, the supposed transformation of society is designed to entrench the powerful.

    While the ordinary man or women get impoverished and trampled.

    So conservatism for the rich and powerful, and bloody revolution for the ordinary.

    The irony harvest is rich indeed.

  • Snorri Godhi

    In response to Paul Marks, i start by fisking his latest comment:

    As for David Hume – his indifference is shown by such works as the “Euthanasia of the Constitution”.

    I used DuckDuckGo for “Hume” and “euthanasia of the constitution” and did not find anything.
    I used Google and found a few links, mostly about the German Basic Law.
    Also, an older rant by Paul.
    I have no idea how any of that is relevant.

    Why should a man who did not even believe that human persons exist (no more than Hobbes did) care about political freedom? And Mr Hume did not care about political freedom.

    This is Paul’s trademark bullshit.

    Not bullshit sensu Harry Frankfurt: Paul is not aware that he does not know what he is talking about.
    It is bullshit sensu Snorri Godhi: Paul does not worry about the possibility that he does not know what he is talking about.

    “Ah, but he supported good economic policies” – and if the ruler or rulers had rejected his advice, he would have just said “Yes Boss”. Ditto if the ruler or rulers had decided to burn alive everyone with blond hair or brown eyes. […]

    A political theory that boils down to “Yes Boss” is not good.

    No he would not have resisted Oliver Cromwell – he would not have resisted anyone. No more than Thomas Hobbes would have.

    This is more bullshit, but of a different kind.

    Looking at what an author actually did in real life, might help to understand his* works, or it might not.
    But speculating about what an author _would have done_ in real life is just bullshit.
    And it stinks even more when the speculation is presented as an established fact.

    * pronouns can be changed where appropriate.

  • Carnivorous Bookworm

    Chesterton might have had to revise his quote a bit if he lived today. Now we have progressives who want preserve the big state and its outdated 20th century institutions like the NHS and the BBC. And conservatives who want to change them.

    Not really. The big state and its outdated 20th century institutions like the NHS and the BBC are “progressive” victories, one’s the completely useless Tories have no intention of getting rid of, even if they adjust them at the margins, which is exactly the point Chesterton was making. The Tories make correcting the errors of the Progressives impossible.

  • llamas

    Snorri Godhi wrote:

    ‘One personal experience stands out for me: the difference between the sort of place that a visitor to London (say, a student on a budget) would go to get some sustenance, nothing fancy. 1979 vs 1991.’

    Having had that exact experience, many a time, I completely concur.

    Tribal memory may be fading as to just how cra**y a place the UK could be in the 1970s – many systems of normal life bordering on the antique, systemic lethargy the hallmark of most State-owned and -operated industries, and a complete disconnection from the basics of economics across large parts of the economy. Who remembers half-day closing, scampi-and-chips as the epitome of foreign cuisine, Watney’s Red Barrel, the Austin Allegro, the three-day week, ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’, the dead unburied, trash piled 30 feet high in Leicester Square, and I could go on. This whole s**t-show was a major reason I upped and ran to the USA as soon as I could make the opportunity to do so. And I was far form the only one.

    Unfortunately, it looks as though it has now followed me over the water.😨

    llater,

    llamas

  • lucklucky

    It goes all to one thing. Politics is the last remaining Western religion. The religious belief in Politics obviously means there are only more and more politics. So more and more problems have to be invented or created.
    What is the Church today: TV News, it is where the civilization morals are being build either by dictating them and by censoring news that go against the narrative that Politics is the mostly needed and important thing in the world.
    Who are the priests today? : journalists . Pretty much no journalist wants to read the news but most want to preach their morals.
    They build what is in practice the most dishonest profession.

    That we are against religious fanatics just remember this evidence: Politics is the only Religion that claims to be able to control Climate.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – if you do not know that David Hume wrote an essay on the “Euthanasia of the Constitution” why are you continuing to write about him?

    You brought him up – not me. And you, sadly, do not know about his political opinions. It is like me getting a name (at random) from the telephone directory – and then writing about the political opinions of this person (whose name I have picked at random) without knowing anything about them.

    I have tried to explain them to you – but you accuse me of “ranting”.

    I repeat – Mr Hume had no theory of resistance and no theory of individual rights against the state, indeed his general philosophy (what used to be called “the nature of man”) rules out any such political philosophy.

    Not a “rant” – just the facts.

    Contra Hayek – one can not get to the political philosophy of the Old Whigs from the general philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume.

    Everyone at the time knew that – everyone knew that Thomas Hobbes did not teach resistance to the state, he taught to submission to it. And if anyone had argued in the 18th century that David Hume was Whig arguing for resistance to the state – such a view would have attracted laughter.

    David Hume himself would have laughed at such a view – he never claimed to be a Whig.

    As for his Tory position – Dr Johnson accepted that David Hume adopted the Tory position of non resistance to the state, but rejected the PHILOSOPHY of David Hume.

    As someone in the Aristotelian tradition, the Tory Dr Johnson (just like the Whig Edmund Burke) rejected the philosophy of David Hume – because it (the philosophy of David Hume – like the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes before it) rejects human personhood – the “I” (what used to be called – the SOUL).

    It is, literally, a denial of the “soul” (the “I” – human personhood). Of course the flesh robots of Hobbes and Hume have no rights against the state – they are not even human, as the term “human” is traditionally understood in Western thought.

    Both Whigs and Tory people rejected this – so the idea that it is the “foundation of Anglo conservatism” is utterly false.

  • Paul Marks

    Whilst it is true that someone like Prime Minister Gladstone (or his Tory opponent Prime Minister Lord Salisbury) has nothing really to do with Thomas Hobbes or David Hume (indeed Hobbes and Hume represent REJECTION of the Western tradition that both Gladstone and Lord Salisbury were part of – in terms of their view of the “nature of man”, that humans are BEINGS), and such people as President Calvin Coolidge and Senator Barry Goldwater are the opposite of Hume and co as well – it is possible that David Hume has some connection to modern “conservatives”.

    For example, when one hears Senate Minority Leader “Mitch” McConnell begging the Democrats (i.e. begging the totalitarians who control the Democrats) to show “moderation”, this is indeed the voice of David Hume.

    David Hume was born in 1711 – so he was not really in the age of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) who died when he was a very young boy. But I can well imagine an interaction between them.

    David Hume (like Mitch McConnell) would have begged Louis XIV to show “moderation” – and Louis would have said (with a smile) “no”.

    And then David Hume (like Mitch McConnell) would not know what to do – his philosophy (political and general) giving him no where to go.

    If this is “Anglo Conservativism” – then “Anglo Conservatism” is the political philosophy of losers, indeed worse than losers – it is the political philosophy of people who are not even trying to win.

    As the saying is Ulster “let your yea be your yea – and your nay be your nay” (excuse my terrible spelling – it means when you say “yes” mean it, and when you say “no” mean it) and “be prepared to die for every word you say” – which is why an Ulsterman is careful about what they say.

    And that is not a sectarian Protestant point – a serious Roman Catholic takes the same point of view (Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic philosophers do not teach cowardice, any more than they teach the denial of the existence of the human soul).

    What would Thomas Hobbes or David Hume have been prepared to die for?

    Nothing – they would not have been prepared to die for anything.

    That is why their philosophy is that of losers – i.e. people who deserve to lose, deserve to be enslaved.

    This is Mitch McConnell and the other “Republican leaders” in Washington D.C. – and perhaps rather closer to home (here in the United Kingdom) as well.

    One does not need to be a religious believer to be disgusted by many modern “conservatives” – the Emperor Marcus Aurelius would have been appalled by them (read the early pages of his “Mediations” and you will see), as would Cato the Younger long before.

    As Cato the Younger taught (and showed in his own life) – you fight for liberty till you can not fight any more, and then you turn your blade on yourself. You do NOT beg for mercy from the enemies of liberty. The play “Cato” was beloved by both Whigs and Tories in the 18th century – it was Addison showing what a man should be like.

    It is nothing to do with being a Protestant or a Catholic, a Muslim, or a Jew, or an atheist, – it is about being a man, a human being.

  • Paul Marks

    When I was young much of this was still remembered – if only in a mocking, 1960s, way.

    In a comic skit a badly wounded man would turn to a friend and say “do not let them take me alive” – this was a memory of real incidents like this (and stories when it was told straight – not for laughs), it is indeed futile (and worse than futile) to beg for mercy from the merciless.

    “When you lay wounded on Afghan plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains – just roll on your side and blow out your brains, and go to your God like a soldier” – Kipling.

    As for FAKE conservativism – it was on display on the front page of the Daily Telegraph today.

    It turns out that Mr Steele (the ex MI6 person who was employed by the Clinton Campaign and the FBI – but I repeat myself) remained a source for the FBI during the Administration of President Trump.

    Rather than saying the obvious (that this shows that the FBI is a political force that serves the Democratic Party – and the “Progressive” cause in general) – the Daily Telegraph stated that this “added credibility” to the original “Steele Dossier” used against then candidate Donald John Trump in 2016 and the following Mueller investigation which had convicted various people (convicted them of procedural “crimes” that had nothing to do with the “Steele Dossier” – but the Daily Telegraph does not mention this).

    What is one to make of this – the “Steele Dossier” was shown to be pack of lies years ago, but the Daily Telegraph is reporting it (in May 2021) as true, and is still smearing such people as Roger Stone – who DID NOTHING WRONG (he was convicted of a lot of utter rubbish – by the Kangaroo Court American “Justice” system).

    Christopher Steele was head of the MI6 station in Moscow (perhaps the most important station) – and he is a sack of excrement, which should tell anyone all they need to know about developments in M16 and the rest of the intelligence and security services.

    An MI6 officer of the old school retires (if they survive their service – and a good officer may well NOT survive, getting real intelligence involves taking risks and risks taking catches up with you eventually) to a country cottage – and tends roses. They do not create an intelligence “company” to help Hillary Clinton and other clients. Indeed much of the “intelligence” of Christopher Steele turned out to be disinformation from the Putin people themselves (whether he knew that or not).

    After all they did not want someone who was going to deregulate the American oil and gas industry to be President of the United States – that would hurt Russian market share (pretend to want Mr Trump as President – whilst providing anti Trump disinformation to Mr Steele, who wants whatever his clients want).

    And the FBI are revealed to be totally partisan (which they have been for decades – indeed going all the way back to the Administration of Bill Clinton, if not before) – although the Daily Telegraph seems unable to see the obvious.

    Fake conservatives (such as Hegel) put their trust in “institutions” (such as MI6 and the FBI) – real conservatives understand that “institutions” (bureaucracies) are just collections of people – often despicable people. They should be guarded against.

    Do not let the bureaucracy have power – especially not the intelligence and security bureaucracy. They are not conservatives – not in the real sense.

  • Paul Marks

    There are good intelligence officers – they are often killed (as they do not just accept disinformation and pass it on – they seek out the truth, and the price for that is often your life). No country cottage with roses round the door for them – well sometimes, but there is no guarantee.

    There was even one shown in a James Bond film – of course NOT the absurd Mr Bond himself.

    It is at the start of the film “Octopussy” – the Clown.

    You are in an absurd situation, in this case an actual clown in a circus, you die getting the job done (delivering REAL intelligence) and no one remembers your name.

    Yes – that is, perhaps, the only truthful bit of any “Bond” film ever made.

    Yes I know even if someone sacrifices their life to deliver something, it can still be fake (without their knowing that). But it is worth considering – if it has their life’s blood upon it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks must forgive me for addressing him in the 3rd person. I expect most of the people reading my comments to be other than Paul Marks, and anyway addressing people in the 3rd person makes me less snarky.

    The first thing to say is that Hume did not write any essay on the euthanasia of the constitution.

    He did write an essay that mentioned the “euthanasia of the British constitution”.
    I read that essay back in 2010.
    (I keep a record of most of what i read, including detective stories.)

    I re-read that essay today, and i feel that Hume was a prophet wrt the current situation in the US.

    OK, i do believe that Hume was too pessimistic in claiming that Britain was bound to degenerate into some form of absolutism.
    But how is that worse than Tacitus claiming that all governments are absolute, and a balance of powers is always unstable?
    At least Hume claimed that to be the case only for Britain!
    (Possibly recognizing, however subconsciously, the brain-damaging effects of the British diet.)

    –More on this tomorrow. If i feel like it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    –More on this tomorrow. If i feel like it.

    As it happens, i feel like it.
    Again, apologies to Paul Marks for referring to him in the third person.

    This comment has several headings.

    –Skepticism
    Paul says that

    In the end people who believe (who believe strongly – strongly enough to die or to kill, for their beliefs) win – and people who are of the “well, I do not know….” type always, in the end, lose. Because they deserve to lose – they do not really believe in anything.

    And yet, Paul has honestly admitted several times that he was wrong, for which i admire him.

    How can one admit he was wrong in the past, and not be skeptical about his current opinions?

    –Cicero
    Closely related to the above:
    Paul has previously expressed his admiration for Cicero.
    And yet, Cicero was first of all a skeptic, in the Academic tradition.
    The most important surviving document of Academic skepticism is Cicero’s Academica.

    –Cicero’s influence on Hume
    Paul might reasonably reply that, although a skeptic, Cicero firmly believed that we must take decisions anyway, and act on them. But so did Hume!

    Hume defined himself as an Academic skeptic, as opposed to a Pyrrhonian skeptic, exactly because he believed that we must accept uncertainty and take decisions anyway.

    In fact, i think of Cicero as the greatest influence on Hume, both on his skepticism and on his political thinking.

    From his short autobiographical essay:

    My studious disposition, my sobriety, and my industry, gave my family a notion that the law was a proper profession for me; but I found an unsurmountable aversion to every thing but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly devouring.

    (Emphasis added.)

    –More to be added tomorrow, on Burke inter alia. If I’ll feel like it.

  • Paul Marks

    Me?

    Like the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 I reject the “slavish” Tory doctrine of non resistance to the state – the doctrine of Hobbes and Hume.

    However, things change in the 19th century – at least round here.

    It was pointed out to me some years ago that had I been about in the 19th century I would be exactly what I am now – a Kettering “Tory”, as in my home town of Kettering the Liberals supported the School Board (Tory folk managed to block that in the early 1870s – it came in round here in 1891), de facto prohibition (by more and more regulations), higher land taxes (de facto nationalisation of land), and on and on.

    The gun club and so on were also Tory dominated – just as they are now.

    So me saying “I am a 19th Century Liberal” (as I sometimes used to say) is just not true – at least not in a Kettering context.

    On the religious side – I would also have been Anglican rather than more radically Protestant, and what church you went to was a bit part of what political party you supported.

    It should be remembered that the Church of England in the 19th century was NOT dominated by Marxist ideas.

  • Paul Marks

    Edmund Burke?

    He was a friend of David Hume – but he rejected both the political and the general philosophy of David Hume. Philosophically Burke was, by and large, an Aristotelian – i.e. part of the Western tradition of ethical thought (although Aristotelian doctrines had evolved and had been influenced by more than a thousand years of Christianity).

    Politically Edmund Burke was an “Old Whig” – the central political doctrine of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume (non resistance to the state – unless it goes after you personally) is not compatible with the Old Whig position – indeed it sums up what the Whigs were AGAINST.

    Many Tory folk did not accept this position either – after all Tory people admired Addison’s play “Cato” as well (it was the most popular political play of the 18th century) – whereas from the vantage point of David Hume (or Thomas Hobbes) the behaviour of Cato the Younger makes no sense.

    The general philosophy point is not the same as the political philosophy point – but it is linked to it.

    Of course Edmund Burke rejected the general philosophy of his friend David Hume (one would expect that) – but so did Hume’s fellow Tory Dr Samuel Johnson.

    Why should the author of “Taxation No Tyranny” reject the general philosophy of David Hume?

    Dr Johnson was a Christian – so he could not (consistently) support the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume (which, de facto, denies the existence of the soul – the “I” in the Aristotelian sense), but it is more than a theological point.

    To deny the existence of the “I” (human personhood – agency, the existence of the human agent) put both Thomas Hobbes and David Hume outside the Western tradition – that was understood at the time. Today textbooks call David Hume part of the Scottish Enlightenment, at the time he was understood to be the most important OPPONENT of it (with his doctrine that the human person – agency, did not exist, that a thought did NOT imply a thinker). Morality (ethics) depends on the existence of beings who can choose to do other than they do – this is not a theological point (it is a philosophical one), and it is not political philosophy (it is general philosophy – the “nature of man”), although it does have political implications – as, if human beings do not exist the enslavement (or extermination) of humans is of no real concern (because they do not exist).

    What J.S. Mill later called the “light of Hume” is actually the darkness of Hume (in reality the continuation of the darkness of Thomas Hobbes – his denial of human BEINGS and his position that humans are predetermined flesh robots), it does not “explain the mind”, it explains AWAY the mind (denies the existence of mind, of the “I”, as understood in the Western tradition).

    Of course it may well be that the soul (human personhood) dies with the body and that there is no God or life after death – that in no way alters any of the above. Hat tip to Alexander of Aphrodisias for this observation – so many centuries ago.

    This both the Tory Dr Johnson and the Whig Edmund Burke understood – and Mr Hume claimed not to understand.

    On compatibilism.

    Both Kant and William James may have been wrong about many things – but they were quite correct about “compatibilism” – it is indeed a “hollow fraud”, a “squalid evasion”.

    Either humans are persons or they are not – moral responsibility is NOT “compatible” with a lack of real choice over our conduct.

    If humans are not persons (not human BEINGS) then their “enslavement” is of no moral concern – any more than the “enslavement” of water by building a dam is of moral concern.

    “Freeing” water by blowing up a dam is not a moral act – as the water has no agency (it is not a moral agent – not a person).

  • Paul Marks

    Thomas Hobbes does not say that a human (not a human being – to Hobbes humans are not beings) may not resist if the state is trying to kill them – on the contrary he expects humans (i.e. human shaped flesh robots, or brute beasts) to resist their own personal destruction.

    But what about coming to the aid of someone else who is under attack – knowing that you will be destroyed for coming to their aid?

    To Hobbes such behaviour would be utterly absurd – and, of course, he would reject the philosophical existence of “someONE” (my stress) as he rejects the subject – object distinction. To Hobbes there are just objects – not subjects (not beings).

    And David Hume? Essentially the same – just in much more polite (vaguer) language.

    If Rousseau was (politically) Thomas Hobbes dressed up in “democratic” disguise (which he was – and Burke could see through the disguise and see the tyranny that Rousseau really was) – then David Hume is Thomas Hobbes in incredibly polite (sickly sweet) language.

  • Paul Marks

    Toby Young and others have testified that Alexander “Boris” Johnson is a fine fellow – a very good companion, the life and soul of good times.

    But what of bad times? What of when all have turned against you, and you face death and humiliation?

    Then, Mr Young and others imply, Alexander Johnson is not really the person you want to be with – because you will suddenly find he is not with you (I do not know – I have never met Mr Johnson).

    Mr Burke was a friend of Mr Hume – he believed Mr Hume to be a fine fellow – a very good companion, the life and soul of good times.

    But would Mr Burke have turned to Mr Hume in bad times – when to aid Mr Burke and his family might cost Mr Hume his life? What if the scum (and they are scum) who make up the FBI are breaking down your door? Do you want someone with the philosophy of Mr Hume to be the person with you?

    Of course not.

    And politics is about bad times – not good times.

    If “Anglo Conservatism” is of no use in bad times, it is of no use politically.

    I do not believe this is true about “Anglo Conservatism” (I believe it is, not is not, of use politically) – as I define the term differently, I hold it to have nothing to do with such people as David Hume.

  • Paul Marks

    The Hungarian writer Baroness Orczy wrote stories about a fictional Anglo Conservative – “The Scarlet Pimpernel”.

    I have known a few real life examples of such men. May they rest in peace.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Unfortunately, Paul Marks has shifted the debate from skepticism to human agency.
    (Plus some more ranting of what Hume would have done under hypothetical circumstances.)

    Paul’s belief, apparently, is that, if Burke did not agree with Burke on human agency, then it is just a coincidence that they agreed on rejecting the Puritan Revolution and approving of the Glorious Revolution.

    This, in spite of Hume and Burke being friends, and having a very smart friend in common in the person of Adam Smith; and in spite of the fact that Hume was widely celebrated in France for his History of England, to the point that the future Louis XVI, when 10 years old, told Hume that he was looking forward to reading his History. (Which Paul could have discovered by reading the book at my link.)

    No doubt, the future Louis XVI was just repeating what he was told to say. But does Paul really believe that Burke was not influenced by a book with such a huge influence in France?
    A book that made Hume a rich man, by the way.

    –More on this later today.
    If i feel like it…

  • Snorri Godhi

    if Burke did not agree with Burke

    I meant, of course:
    if Burke did not agree with Hume.
    I trust that this comment was unnecessary, but i post it just to make sure.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Some more remarks on Hume and Burke.

    I am not sure what Paul means by ‘constitutional rights’, but the best guess is that he means: natural rights enshrined in a written constitution.

    To the best of my knowledge, it is true that Hume did not believe in natural rights,
    But please note: I NEVER SAID that i take Hume as the sole guide to normative political philosophy.

    Anyway, Burke did not believe in natural rights either, as should be obvious to anyone who has actually read the first part of his Reflections.

    Which is why i think that Hume/Burke should be combined with, at the very least, John Locke and Algernon Sidney, if one is to arrive at a sensible normative political philosophy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Getting back to Chesterton, who after all is the author of this SQotD.

    There is, perhaps, no better expression of what I call Anglo-conservatism, than what he wrote about fences: that you should not remove a fence before understanding why it has been put in place.

    That is the essence of skepticism in normative political philosophy.

  • Beedle

    Alexander “Boris” Johnson

    Ad hominem asides like that just makes you seem like a dick, weakens the argument and motivates not bothering to even read your endless cascade of comments, in spite of the occasional good point you make. Don’t do it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Tomorrow, I might comment further on human agency.

    If i feel like it 🙂

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks wrote:

    moral responsibility is NOT “compatible” with a lack of real choice over our conduct.

    For me, there are 2 kinds of choices: real choices and random choices. Random choices are neither real nor free. For Paul, apparently only random choices are real and free.

    And this is exactly what Reid claimed!
    He wrote that people like Cato, who always make the morally correct choice (by their moral standards) do not have agency.
    For me, such people are the only fully free people. (Assuming no external constraints.)
    For Thomas Reid and Paul Marks, the only fully free people are people who decide everything by flipping a coin.

    This is why i reject the views of Reid and Marks. I have come to the conclusion that they did much more to convince me that agency is INcompatible with randomness, than Hume did to convince me that agency is compatible with determinism.

  • Snorri Godhi (May 7, 2021 at 3:46 pm), it should be obvious to you that Paul does not think that

    the only fully free people are people who decide everything by flipping a coin

    Paul writes long comments (sometimes over-long IMHO – but I am very ill-placed to be too critical of length in a comment 🙂 ), so one could easily (and sometimes understandably) miss(understand) some of his points – but not that one.

    As regards:

    I am not sure what Paul means by ‘constitutional rights’, but the best guess is that he means: natural rights enshrined in a written constitution. … it is true that Hume did not believe in natural rights … Burke did not believe in natural rights either (Snorri Godhi, May 6, 2021 at 8:27 pm)

    Burke very much believed in ‘natural rights enshrined in a written constitution‘, as you can tell from how he distinguished such ‘charter rights’ from the ‘charter’ of the East India Company, even before his later writings on the French revolution spelled it out in yet more detail. He warned against ‘calling up from the sleep of the ages’ the idea of naked ‘natural rights’ to overthrow a constitution, and explained how likely that was to end in the same way that summoning up a demon to do your will typically ends in gothic fiction.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul writes long comments […], so one could easily (and sometimes understandably) miss(understand) some of his points – but not that one.

    No, Niall. That the only free choice is a random choice, is the inescapable logical conclusion of what Reid wrote, AND of what Paul wrote.

    I assume, of course, that being a physicist (pardon me, a mathematician 🙂 ) you regard a process as random, if there is any degree of randomness, not in the measurement, but in the process itself.

  • Snorri Godhi

    …Having said that:
    i do not endorse Hume’s view of human agency anymore. I do not remember him mentioning the concept of OPTIONS in his writings on the subject. Without options, there is no choice; and without choice, there can be no agency.

    I have started to re-read what Hume wrote, just to be sure.
    But I firmly believe that the best way to understand agency is to study the Newell-Simon paradigm.
    Also S. Clarke, A. Collins, probably Thomas Aquinas, and what little hints Descartes gave on the subject.

    May i also recommend a previous comment of mine on the subject?

  • Snorri Godhi

    As for Burke’s attitude to natural rights, i still do not understand how it is different from Hume’s.

  • Snorri Godhi

    One more note, for the devout:
    Since the Christian God NECESSARILY does what is Good, then, if you think that determinism is incompatible with agency, you must conclude that God has no agency.

    You might also want to check how William of Occam tried to solve this problem.

  • bobby b

    Snorri Godhi
    May 8, 2021 at 8:09 pm

    “Since the Christian God NECESSARILY does what is Good, then, if you think that determinism is incompatible with agency, you must conclude that God has no agency.”

    Is there any difference if you phrase it as “since what the Christian God does is Necessarily Good by definition . . .”? (Leaving God to define instead of pursue Good seems to avoid the agency problem, obviously, but do I do too much violence to some unstated assumption?)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby: good to hear from you.
    You might be happy to learn that you have independently re-discovered Occam’s solution!
    He believed in Divine Command Theory, which is as you stated in different words:

    The most important thing to understand about God’s nature, in Ockham’s view, is that it is maximally free. There are no constraints, external or internal, to what God can will. All of theology stands or falls with this thesis in Ockham’s view.

    I hinted at Occam’s views because Paul has previously declared his opposition to Divine Command Theory.
    I dislike it myself. It is true that the Viking gods were rather less benevolent than the Christian God, but at least you could choose between them: if you distrust Odhin, you can sacrifice to Thor or Frey.

  • bobby b

    Dang. A person unschooled in philosophy rapidly learns that not only has every thought already been had and discussed, it has been named!

  • Snorri Godhi

    No, today is the first day that it has been called “Occam’s solution”.

    Didn’t you have to study Philosophy of Law?
    Italian lawyers do.

  • Snorri Godhi

    On second thought, by “it has been named”, obviously bobby referred to “Divine Command Theory” rather than to “Occam’s solution”. Sorry about that.

    BTW you might also want to check the Euthyphro Dilemma.

  • bobby b

    “BTW you might also want to check the Euthyphro Dilemma.”

    Yes, that seems to be on-point to what I was thinking.

    As to studying “philosophy of law”, I think American law schools take a more trade-school approach to it all. “History of law” was required, which I suspect is a more limited version of the underlying structures versus the philosophies.

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