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Echoes of the Fourth Century

I was talking to a friend this evening who noted that a bank had sent him a letter promoting a loan; confounding the pessimists who think that the days of easy credit are completely dead. He observed that the letter contained the phrase “The mill that produced this paper supports sustainable forestation”.

It is hard to believe that the bank really cared that much about the source of their paper, but banks, being creatures of the market, are sensitive to their customers, and make efforts to please them. The small but noisy minority of ‘environmentally friendly’ customers that would have approved of the bank’s effort to be eco-friendly would be appeased, and the rest of the client base would care not a jot.

But we are seeing more and more of these nods to the environment being enforced with the power of national governments. It is rather like what happened to ancient Rome in the Fourth Century. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, lifted restrictions on Christianity in 312, and Christianity backed by the power of the state made slow but steady gains at the expense of the old pagan faiths before the Vestal Virgins were disbanded by Imperial order in 394.

I am not sure what will really qualify as comparable milestones in the rise of environmentalism as the official faith of the West, but for those of us of a skeptical nature, I think it does rather have a feel of being like a Pagan in 4th Century Rome.

The face of the enemy

Sometimes it is worth plagiarising yourself.

I was asked in a pre-interview chat the other day, about 30 seconds from live TV, “Why is the government doing this? ‘Terrorism’ doesn’t seem to make sense; there has to be something more to it.” It’s hard to be snappy on the point even without crazy pressure, so mumbled something about my interlocutor going to Google and typing “Transformational Government”. I do recommend it, but I have a fairly neat explanation for why Transformational Government too. Just not quite neat enough to recall and pitch in 30 seconds on a GMTV sofa at 6:30 in the morning.

I actually wrote it about 3 years ago, in the days when I had time to think, as a comment on Phil Booth’s (whatever happened to him) blog, the Infinite Ideas Machine:

My answer arises from a pub conversation a while back with the post-Marxist commentator Joe Kaplinsky. He maintains “they” don’t know what they want the information for, they are just collecting it just in case it should ever come in useful, because that’s what bureaucrats do. There is much in that, but I think there’s slightly more.

The slightly more is a glimpse of bureaucratic fundamentalism to rival the more explicit fundamentalisms of religious and political fanatics. The administrative class (“class” in the cultural not economic sense) in Britain, but also in Europe more generally – and from which New Labour is almost exclusively drawn – holds it as self evident that the life and personality of an individual is a unitary object capable of being better managed if only there is enough information collected and enough “best practice” followed.

It is a fundamentalist faith in that if the world is out of line with the model, the world is wrong; that written rules and established methods are unquestionable from outside the tradition; and that forcing people to live within the categories determined by the faith is justifiable for a general and individual good that is evident to the elect.

It’s not that control is sought for its own sake, more that they yearn for the best well-ordered and coherent society, and believe this can be determined and imposed given sufficient expertise and information. Hence joined up government. They really do believe that efficiency is achieved by connecting everything to everything else in a giant bureaucratic system. It is the Soviet illusion, dressed up in “new technology” and market-friendly initiatives that co-opt corporate bureaucracies into the dream rather than setting them up as enemies.

The same people who claimed to have absorbed Hayek’s explanation of why 5-year plans can’t work during their turn away from Old Labour are too dull (or too intoxicated by the vision of the power to make a good society) to see that replacing some of the clerks with machines and the telegraph with the internet makes no difference to the basic proposition.

How to make yourself look like a prat in one easy lesson

Will Smith has expressed his view that people are essentially good, they just do bad things as a consequence of following the logical train of thought from faulty premises.

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today’,” said Will. “I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming. I wake up every day full of hope, positive that every day is going to be better than yesterday. And I’m looking to infect people with my positivity. I think I can start an epidemic.”

And this remark has sent the Jewish Defence League into a hissyfit of rage.

Smith’s comments are ignorant, detestable and offensive. They spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis. His disgusting words stick a knife in the backs of every veteran who fought so valiantly to save the world from those aspirations of Adolf Hitler. Smith’s comments also cast the perpetrators of the Holocaust as misguided fellows rather than the repulsive villains of history they truly were. If people do not understand how idiotic and insensitive it was to make such a comment, it is like a Jew saying that James Earl Ray, the assassin of Rev. Martin Luther King, was basically a good person who did a “bad thing.”

Now that is a very dubious interpretation of Smith’s remarks, to put it mildly. I am not sure I agree with Smith that all people are essentially good, although I do think most people are capable of good. I think that absent a biological defect, we develop towards goodness or evil or, more usually, somewhere in the middle, through the exercise of our free will in accord or in conflict with our genetic predispositions, but all people are capable of both good and evil. Some are more predisposed to good, others to evil (and a disproportionate number of evil people are drawn to politics as a career as it offers such rich possibilities for doing just that), but I do not think we are inexorably forced down either path… and thus find it hard to entirely disagree with Smith.

However the theory that Will Smith is presenting is an entirely reasonable one to argue and using the example of a man not unjustly held to be the very epitome of evil seems a fair and relevant way to express his view of human nature. Without a doubt Smith is in excellent philosophical company on the issue of innate goodness and his position is a deeply Christian one.

When Hitler looked in the mirror, I am sure he did not see an evil man gazing back at him. Of course he did what he thought was ‘right’ within his world view, his meta-context, which was framed by the axioms of a collectivist racist drawing on a long history of collectivist and racist thought. To Hitler ‘right’ was whatever was good for the ‘herrenvolk’ which he perceived as being in perpetual conflict with other racial groups. As a consequence his concept of ‘right’ was always going to be monstrous (i.e. the “twisted, backwards logic” of which Smith speaks).

What Smith seems to be saying is that if someone had the chance to sit Hitler down and ‘unpick’ his ‘twisted, backwards logic’, then perhaps they might have been able to ‘reach’ his deeply buried innate goodness. Although I have serious doubts on that score, it is a far from unsupportable argument and in no way speaks to Hitler’s actual manifested goodness but rather the notion of an innate goodness being intrinsic in us all as a species. If you take that charitable view of humanity then of course Hitler (and Pol Pot, Stalin, Genghis Khan and Caligula) had an innate goodness buried somewhere in the deepest basement of their dark souls.

That the JDL feels that is an intolerable position to take rather than just an incorrect one, makes me deduce they are probably not worth the effort of debating, particularly given their preposterous characterisation of Smith’s remarks. And although as I have said, I do not entirely agree with Smith’s theory of innate goodness, if I was him my response to the JDL would be something along the lines of “Screw you, buddy” whilst proffering the Mighty Forks in their direction.

I do not know a great deal about the JDL but a brief trawl of the internet suggests to me that anyone not following certain ritual forms of abomination when discussing anything whatsoever relating to Hitler, is immediately branded as The Enemy Beyond The Pale. What an excellent way to make yourself look like a complete prat, not to mention wrapping yourself in the same psychological cloth as certain Islamofascist crazies who become unhinged at the sight of irreverent cartoons.

The mechanism by which the Total State is being built

I have argued in the past that violent repression, gulags and mass murder are not in fact the defining characteristics for a state to be ‘totalitarian’. The defining characteristic is, as the word itself suggests, that control over people be pervasive and total… mass murderousness, goose-stepping troops, waving red (or whatever) flags are merely an incidental consequence and which can be better described in other ways (such as ‘tyrannical, murderous, dictatorial, brutal, national socialist, communist, islamo-fascist etc.).

As a result my view is that we in the west are already well on the way to a new form of post-modern totalitarian state (what Guy Herbert calls ‘soft fascism’) in which behaviour and opinions which are disapproved of by the political class are pathologised and then regulated by violence backed laws “for your own good” or “for the children” or “for the environment”.

And so we have force backed regulations setting out the minutia of a parent’s interactions with their own children, vast reams on what sort of speech or expression is and is not permitted in a workplace, rules forbidding a property owner allowing consenting adults from smoking in a place of business, what sorts of insults are permitted, rules covering almost every significant aspect of how you can or cannot build or modify your own house on your own property, moves to restrict what sort of foods can be sold, what kind of light bulbs are allowed, and the latest one, a move to require smokers to have a ‘licence to smoke‘. Every aspect of self-ownership is being removed and non-compliance criminalised and/or pathologised.

The person suggesting this latest delightfully totalitarian brick-in-the-wall, Professor Julian le Grand, says some very telling things:

“There is nothing evil about smoking as long as you are just hurting yourself. We have to try to help people stop smoking without encroaching on people’s liberties.” […] But he said requiring them to fill in forms, have photographs taken in order to apply for a permit would prove a more effective deterrent.

No doubt Julian le Grand thinks that makes him seem reasonable and sensible, because he does not want people to have their civil liberties encroached upon… and he then proceeds to describe how he would like to do precisely that in order to ‘deter’ you from doing what you really wanted to do.

The reason for this seemingly strange approach is simple to understand because to the totalitarian, something does not have to be ‘evil’ to warrant the use of force to discourage it, you merely have to have (a) coercive power (b) disapprove of another person’s choices regarding their own life. That is all the justification you need, simply the fact other people are not living the way you think they should, in your presumably infinite wisdom.

Notice how coercive actions imposed by state power are described as ‘helping’. We will force you to pay more, force you to go to a doctor…but we will throw your arse in gaol if you dare try to circumvent our unasked for ‘help’.

The ‘paleo-totalitarian’ simply uses force if you disobey, no messing about… however the post-modern totalitarian prefers to add a morally insulating intermediate step that allows his kind to talk about ‘civil liberties’: first he gives you a nice regulation to obey and only if you dare not comply with that do the Boys in Blue get sent to show you the error of your ways.

I can think of quite a few ways I would rather like to ‘help’ Julian le Grand and his ilk in order to mitigate their pathological need to interfere with other people’s lives. All for the greater good of society, you understand.

What does ‘totalitarian’ actually mean?

to·tal·i·tar·i·an
–adjective
1. of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
2. exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

–noun.
3. an adherent of totalitarianism.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary

But are those really the best definitions of totalitarian?

When someone uses the term ‘totalitarian’, we think of Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany or Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Mao’s China. Those were indisputably totalitarian states. We think of gulags and killing fields. We think of secret police and surveillance.

Yet I would argue that all those things can just as satisfactorily described as ‘tyranny’ of whatever political completion. The thing that makes a place ‘totalitarian’ is not the nastiness of it or even the repressiveness of it, but the totality of state control. The real defining characteristic of totalitarian seems obvious from the word itself.

And what is a total state? It is a state in which there is no civil society, just politically derived rules by which people may interact. And I would argue the key to that is removing the right to free association, usually on grounds of ‘fairness’ or ‘diversity’ and by declaring private property to be ‘public’.

Britain has no gulags, no killing fields, it has a relatively free press (though less so than it was), it has no internal passports (though they are working on that with ID cards and panoptic surveillance)… but every year we take more and more steps towards the destruction of a voluntary civil society of free interaction and its replacement with a state in which no aspect of life is not politically regulated. This is often described as making things ‘more democratic’… and in that the supporters of the total state are not being disingenuous, for democracy is just a type of politics after all.

We are headed for a different kind of totalitarianism than that of Stalin or Hitler or Mao, but a total state really is what a great many people have in mind for us all. They seek a sort of ‘smiley face fascism’ in which all interactions are regulated in the name of preventing sexism, promoting health, and defending the environment. The excuses will not invoke the Glory of the Nation or the Proletariat or the Volk or the King or the Flag or any of those old fashioned tools for tyrants, but rather it will be “for our own good”, “for the Planet”, “for the whales”, “for the children”, “for the disabled” or “for equality”.

But if they get their way it will be quite, quite totalitarian.

A critical misunderstanding

A mailing from the Royal United Services Institute invites me to a conference in April:

The Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is both the backbone and the lifeblood of the country. It comprises the assets, services and systems that support the economic, political and social life of the UK. Any disruption, damage or destruction to all or part of the CNI could result in grave consequences for the functioning of government, the economy and society. Clearly the CNI is vital to the country’s well-being but the planning and implementation of its security is a Byzantine process; the CNI is a complex and uneven environment with ownership and responsibility spread across the public and private sector.

The threats it confronts are myriad including terrorist attack, industrial accidents and natural disasters. As demonstrated during the July 7 bombings, the Buncefield Disaster, and the foot and mouth outbreak, the CNI is a labyrinthine web of interdependent vulnerabilities that requires a coordinated and coherent response across its entirety to ensure its effective security and resilience in the face of such threats.

Dangerous rubbish. This is an epitome of the statist miscomprehension of complex systems, of economies and ecologies. ‘It is messy; we must coordinate it,’ they say. There are vital things that can be identified in advance as such, and other things not necessary to the ‘backbone of the country’, they think.

But the connections in a natural web are flexible, or they don’t get established in the first place. “Interdependent vulnerabilities” are what make systems adapt, the source of resilience. In unmanaged, open, systems everything is important and everything is unimportant: all things contribute their part to everything else (and you can’t directly measure their contribution), but competition ensures they are all redundant and replaceable.

The response to 7 July was a demonstration of improvisation by thousands of separate actors – millions if you count all those who took simple decisions to get out and walk, rather than passively waiting to be evacuated by the authorities, which would have been the orderly, planned, way to do it. London was functioning again in a day, despite, not because of, the “strategic interventions” that restricted the recovery of traffic flow, and filled the streets with police.

Livestock farming in Britain almost didn’t survive the Deprtment for Rural Affairs’ “coordinated” response to the last “foot and mouth” outbreak. Fortunately at the time DEFRA lacked the powers to coordinate more farmers out of business. The department didn’t see it like that: Its plans were frustrated, and that’s why things were as bad as they were. The ‘defect’ has been eliminated by the Animal Health Act 2002 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

Nobody in government had to tell Tesco’s dealers to buy up more petroleum in Rotterdam when the Buncefield depot caught fire. The state way is a ‘strategic reserve’ of petrol under armed guard somewhere, distributed eventually by rationing according to who is important enough to get it, after declaration of a suitable emergency. As it was, loss of 20% of the country’s stocks overnight caused scarcely a single car journey to be cancelled – apart from those of the people no longer commuting to the flattened industrial estate.

Those ex-commuters would not be comforted by the thought that distributing tiles or soft drinks is not “critical” and not to be guarded by the state. What they do matters to them and their customers. When I want petrol, petrol matters; when I want tiles, they matter. We are all equally made poorer by the unavailablilty of either, because we can’t predict what we will want. Nor can the state.

How dare the planners decide for me what it is I want, as they do implicitly when they define some workers, some structures, as “key”? Well there’s a confirmation bias at work. What the state can best monitor is important (invisible, uncontrollable processes couldn’t be); so those who work for it are. Chaos is bad. State plans are designed to control chaos; therefore they do, and any unfortunate or unforseen consequences are just the remnants of chaos uncontrolled. Bad things are not in the plan, so not of the plan. They are part of the failure to squeeze out doubt, never caused or exacerbated by wrong or unnecessary decisions by the authorities.

The misunderstanding at the heart of planning is a fundamentalist belief that order and simplicity are public goods. They aren’t. It may be good to have them in your own life – if you want them. It is probably necessary to have them in managing a task, running a business, playing a game; to make any well-defined single goal attainable. Clarity in shared procedural rules is highly desirable. But if we want to live in a world where the goals and threat aren’t well defined, where we have a choice, and where how we live is not vulnerable to simple shocks from unexpected angles, then universal order and simplicity are bad. Conflict and competition, difference and redundancy are good. The more disorder, uneveness, and complexity our society has, the richer our lives, and the better equipped we are collectively to meet disaster by routing around damage.

Dancing with Sister Morphine

I came out of hospital yesterday. La Belle Dame is in America making money (one of us has to) so Dave picked me up and steered me home. I live quite close to the Chelsea & Westminster and needed some air to clear my head so we walked back. I felt surprisingly well considering I have been under a general anaesthetic and had quite a few squishy bits from inside lopped off me. In fact I felt amazingly well.

The journey back home was interesting. The colours were so very bright and someone seems to have turned up the contrast. Sometimes when I looked closely as the things written on the back of people’s tee-shirts whilst walking down King’s Road, the words seemed to suddenly zoom away from me towards some vanishing point.

Getting home and having a nice shower was a transcendent experience but the thing that really kept me captivated was the way the water fell down, coming from hundreds of feet above my head and travelling downwards towards the gleaming ceramic floor perhaps three yards below. I could feel the vibration of the water spiralling down the plughole and the strange flute-like sound it made.

I looked forward to getting some good food as being chopped up had not dented my appetite and the hospital food was moderately dreadful. When it came time to eat, for some reason Dave would not let me near the hot stove. The smell of bacon was almost erotic.

Dave and I work together and I had been struck by some really good creative ideas whilst pacing back and forth in the ward the night before last, waiting for the frigging painkillers to actually do something. The ideas kept pouring out of me and Dave just absorbed them like the 185 IQ colossus he is. For a while at least.

But then I noticed that I was having to force the ideas out through clenched teeth and they kept bouncing off Dave’s head rather than going in. To make matters worse although the bacon surrendered to me willingly, the sausages were staring at me with ill concealed contempt. I stabbed a couple to death as punishment and gave the rest to Dave.

Today I find the internet in front of me and deep throbbing pains from within. Be prepared from some bad tempered blogging over the next few days when I can drag my fingers to the mouse. Tramadol, Co-Codamol and Diclofenac are pallid impostors. Sister Morphine is a fickle lover and she would not come home with me.

The public mood (while the public moo-ed)

I am feeling less of a lone loony than I did. After a decade of my saying the key thing wrong with the demon eyes campaign was that the slogan ought to have been: ‘New Labour: Old Danger’ because the electorate should not have the purported newness reinforced, more and more people in the chattering classes seem to be accepting that there is a danger. Even such fringe lefty agitators as Clifford Chance LLP have offered severe warnings about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Too late?

The War on Liberty may never end, but it became a general action only in the 90s – just about the time, the Wall being down, and the net routing round borders and censorship, we free-lifers had begun to feel we were winning. Now I find I am doing my bit with NO2ID and we are gearing up for a ten-year campaign. Grand constitutionalist coalitions are being proposed left, right, and centre (which I’m sure are meritorious). The differences between Peter Hitchens and Mark Thomas begin to be indistinguishable when the establishment is of the extreme centre…

What worries me is that this ferment is still superficial, a speck of mould on Mr Blair’s Horlicks. It concerns the tiny minority of the population that reads the serious press, say 10% – and of those only the avid followers of politics, maybe a quarter of that. The readers and writers of blogs are fewer still, and more introrse.

The mass of the population of Britain is nescient, complacent, and has no interest in the abstractions of liberty, or the threats from power assumed only to be threats to others, to bad people. Many people are happy to claim the status of an ‘ordinary’ person, with “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” from officialdom, while being paradoxically susceptible to fears of everything else. Passively concerned with material welfare, security against virtual risks, and gossip, they graze and are milked as the livestock of the state.

This is Foucault’s concept of governmentality in action. Not, pace his fans on the left, a neo-liberal order, but a post-liberal order in which the foundational institutions of liberalism – liberty and individuality, rule of law, the separation of private and public life, a civil society and a political sphere distinct from one another – have ceased to have a meaning for even the bulk of the middle-classes.

Where is the cattle-prod that will change the public mood?

David Cameron as Peter Sellers

The Tories could simply abolish entire government departments that the ‘man in the street’ really does not give a damn about (such as the DTI for example) and save huge amounts of money… but far from cutting pointless state expenditures, Cameron is in the process of making it politically impossible for him to do anything but ape Blair. Why? Because there has been no meaningful attempt by the Tories to even make the idea of a smaller state something that is simply a feature of normal political discourse. They have left the thinking to the other side and now have to fight every battle on ground Tony Blair has chosen for them.

The Tories have had more than a decade to put in the intellectual ground work for cutting the scope of the state and to argue their positions on the basis of several rights, and yet have done nothing of the sort because that is not what most of them believe. That is hardly surprising given the pathologies of the sort of people who are drawn to politics: they do not get involved because they want to wield less power than the previous guys who ran things. Understanding politicians and what they are likely to do is much easier once you realise that almost everyone in politics (even the ‘nice guys’ who wear sensible cardigans and remind you of Wallace and Gromit) have more in common psychologically and morally with your typical member of a street gang than with most of the people who actually vote for them.

However where does that leave people who do want a less intrusive state and cannot bring themselves to believe the Tory party does not give a damn about them? Well it leaves them trying to convince themselves that Cameron is just playing a clever game because the alternative is just too dreadful. He is the man who will save us from those who are incrementally destroying our competitiveness and strangling our civil liberties because, well, he has to be, who else is there?

But even if his conversion to ‘soft socialist’ economics is because he is going after LibDem voters who think high taxes and regulations are a good thing, it would at least require Cameron to also make a pitch based on civil liberties, the one differentiating issue where the LibDems make sense, and yet the main thrust of the inconstant Tory opposition to ID cards is based on their cost.

Those of you who think Cameron is just being clever should go watch Peter Sellers in ‘Being There’ and realise that what you are mistaking for cleverness is in fact just emptiness.

Are you a ‘citizen’ or just a ‘subject’?

My previous article seems to have sparked off a discussion amongst the commentariat on the difference between being called a ‘subject’ or a ‘citizen’. To prevent that comment section from digressing too far, I thought it might be interesting to provide an article to revisit the topic even though I have written about it before.

There are some historical reasons why the British have been ‘subjects’ (as they were subject to the laws of the Crown), whereas Americans have been ‘citizens’. The reality is that what the British are subject to are the laws of a democratically elected Parliament. As in truth the Royal Assent is nothing more than a historical curiosity, the actual differences between the way individuals truly relate to state in the United States and Britain is less than it might seem. The principle differences of significance are that as Britain is more democratic at the national level, individuals have less institutional defences against the power of the state, whereas in the United States, with its written constitution and clearer separation of powers, an individual has more structural defences against the excesses of democratic politics, at least in theory.

In my experience most people tend to think they are citizens rather than subjects of whatever nation issues their passport. However I have always though the term ‘subject’ was a far more honest word to describe the relationship between individuals and the state rather than the prouder egalitarian sounding ‘citizen’. We are subject to taxes, we are subject to laws, we are subject to conscription of various sorts (be it military, educational or judicial). Sure, we ‘citizens’ are empowered via the glories of democracy, but quite how being out-voted and then being subject to some law you oppose ’empowers’ you is unclear to me, even if it is a reasonable law. To be a subject may seem demeaning but in truth that is what we are: subjects.

As it happens, I think the term is even more appropriate for US ‘citizens’ given that at least in Britain and almost every other country, to avoid your particular state making ownership claims on the product of your labour, you just have to leave the country and live somewhere else. States generally do not claim to own you independent of your location, just the territory you live on and part of your labour within that territory in return for its ‘protection’ (capisce?).

The United States, on the other hand, claims you owe them the obeisance of taxes regardless of where you are physically located anywhere on the planet, although in practice it often makes arrangements with other nations to only impose its demands if you make more than a certain amount (double taxation treaties). Yet the obligation to report your income from overseas and to pay the IRS is still there if they wish you to do so.

So if it is not just sovereignty over a piece of land that the USA claims, it actually contends that it owns part of your labour regardless of where you live, making you subject to taxation for merely having the permission to live in America even if you choose to live elsewhere, then you sure sound like a ‘subject’ to me.

Church and state

“America’s militant agnostic minority has totally distorted the meaning of separation of church and state. It doesn’t mean banning religion and religious values from the public square. It doesn’t mean Howard Stern’s off-color (and frequently off-the-wall) ‘humor’ is protected speech, while the free _expression of religion is banned. It means the United States will establish no official religion, while remaining equally hospitable to all religions — and to those who practice none. Religious principle is not something to fear and loathe and banish from the public square; it is a code of conduct on which we can and should rely to guide our personal and civic behavior”
– singer Pat Boone, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

I know, I know – Pat Boone? But he seems to me he got this one about right (except for the implication that Howard Stern’s humor may not be protected speech).

Contrary to popular belief, “separation of church and state” is not found in the US Constitution. What is found in the Constitution is a prohibition on the establishment of a state church (which is why it is known as the Establishment Clause) reading thusly “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” The ‘separation’ meme comes from correspondence between Jefferson and Madison, but was never enacted in Constitutional language.

A nice, fairly even-handed intro can be found here.

Personally, I think that the issue of impending theocracy and separation of church and state evaporates, once you take seriously the US Constitution’s limited grant of power to the national government. If the national government is held to its enumerated powers, then it lacks the power to implement into civil law most behavioral controls that various religions might promote. Since the federal government restricted to its enumerated powers has no Constitutional basis to, for example, ban abortions, it simply cannot be used for that purpose by the purported theocrats among us.

The various left-wing ninnies who are running around bleating about theocracy are, in effect, hoist on their own petard. Having spent generations destroying the idea of limited government and creating an all-powerful national state, it ill becomes them to complain now that their tool is being turned to different ends. Even so, it is astonishing that virtually none of them realize that the uses to which the Republicans want to put federal power are inevitable, once you establish an all-powerful state in a country that is actually quite Christian and conservative, all told. It is sad but unsurprising that none of them are willing to attack the problem at its root by calling for limited government. No, the only solution the statists can imagine is seizing power again, themselves.

A moment of utter clarity

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that we have long regarded the Ban on Foxhunting with Dogs as having very little to do with foxhunting.

As David Carr has pointed out before, those who shout loudly that the move against hunting is ‘undemocratic’ are completely wrong: it is perfectly democratic. Welcome to the world in which there is no give and take of civil society… welcome to the world of total politics.

Mr Bradley says: ‘We ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom: it was class war.’

The MP for The Wrekin adds that it was the ‘toffs’ who declared war on Labour by resisting the ban, but agrees that both sides are battling for power, not animal welfare.

‘This was not about the politics of envy but the polities of power. Ultimately it’s about who governs Britain.’

[…]

‘Labour governments have come and gone and left little impression on the gentry. But a ban on hunting touches them. It threatens their inalienable right to do as they please on their own land. For the first time, a decision of a Parliament they don’t control has breached their wrought-iron gates.

No kidding. That is what we have been pointing out here on Samizdata.net for quite some time and why we have treated commenters who shrugged and said “why get worked up about foxhunting?” with such derision. It was never about hunting but rather things that are far, far more fundamental. It is about those who would make all things subject to democratically sanctified politics (‘Rule by Activist’) seeking to crush those who see private property and society, rather than state, as what matters.

Mr Bradley, 51, admits that he personally sees the campaign to save hunting as an assault on his right to govern as a Labour MP.

And Mr. Bradley is correct but for one thing: the battle in question is about the limits of political power and not just Labour’s political power. Until the supporter of the Countryside Alliance see that they are actually struggling against the idea of a total political state, they will not even be fighting the right war. It is not about who controls the political system but what the political system is permitted to do under anyone’s control. The United States has a system of separation of powers and constitutional governance which (at least in theory even though not in fact) places whole areas of civil society outside politics. Britain on the other hand has no such well defined system and the customary checks and balances have been all but swept away under the current regime. Britain’s ‘unwritten constitution’ has been shown to be a paper tiger.

But those who look to the Tories to save them from the class warriors of the left are missing another fundamental truth. During their time in power, the Tory Party set the very foundations upon which Blair and Blunkett are building the apparatus for totally replacing social processes with political processes, a world in which nothing cannot be compelled by law if that is what ‘The People’ want: populist authoritarianism has been here for a while but now it no longer even feels it has to hide its true face behind a mask.

Moreover it would take another blind man to look back on Michael Howard’s time as Home Secretary and see him as being less corrosive to civil liberties that the monstrous David Blunkett. Have you heard the outraged Tory opposition to the terrifying Civil Contingencies Act? Of course not, because the intellectual bankruptcy of the Tory party is now complete… for the most part they support it. If the so-called ‘Conservatives’ will not lift a finger to stop the destruction of the ancient underpinnings of British liberty, what exactly are they allegedly intending to ‘conserve’? The Tories are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem and the sooner the UKIP destroy them by making them permanently unelectable, the better, so that some sort of real opposition can fill the ideological vacuum.

Those who were marching against banning foxhunting completely miss the issues at stake here. The issue is not and never has been foxhunting but rather the acceptable limits of politics. And you cannot resolve that issue via the political system in Britain. It is only once the people who oppose the ban on foxhunting and the people who oppose the Civil Contingencies Act and the people who oppose the introduction of ID cards and data pooling all realise that these are NOT separate issues but the same issue will effective opposition be possible. And I fear that opposition will, at least until the ‘facts on the ground’ can be established, have to be via civil disobedience and other ways to make sections of this country ungovernable by whatever means prove effective. The solution does not lie in ‘democracy’ but rather by enough people across the country asserting their right to free association and non-politically mediated social interaction by refusing to obey the entirely democratic laws which come out of Westminster.

Peter Bradley is right and he has provided any who are paying attention with a moment of utter clarity: It is time to challenge his right to ‘rule’ by whatever means necessary.