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]

Brian Micklethwait interviewed on the subject of the history of libertarianism in London

I have updated the Brian Micklethwait Archive with a recording of an interview kindly given to me by Mal McDermott.

On 25th January 2020 Mal interviewed Brian on the subject of the history of the libertarian movement in Britain.

The interview of course contains much insight into libertarianism in London. From Brian finding a copy of The Machinery of Freedom in a bookshop in Staines, to the Alternative Bookshop and the Libertarian Alliance, to Samizdata and Libertarian Home.

Being a conversation with Brian, there is much digression. Discussed are the USSR, the NHS, the importance of being understood, the influence of getting people to give talks, the left wing pivoting from the working class to the environment, the creation of wealth, optimism and the freedom of children. There is much Micklethwaitian wisdom to enjoy.

The interview can be listened to on YouTube.

On the left, once you’re persuaded, you’re also persuaded of a political model for how to do it … we must elect a socialist government or topple the government and replace it with a socialist regime, and then we will make everyone socialist. … By its nature it’s a highly cooperative enterprise … A perfectly reasonable reaction to becoming a libertarian is to do what I’ve done for the last fifteen years … which is to write lots of blog postings about kittens. Because I like it. … One of my reactions to believing in freedom is that I’m free to go off and do that.

1:42:26

Rights – true and false

There is a problem, so it is said, with hundreds of thousands of people leaving the workforce in their early 50s. Many of them are, I suspect, affluent and think they can afford to do this, although I suspect a number of them will need to return to work not just because their financial projections are mistaken but because they become bored and miss the sense of purpose that comes with productive work. The rising tax burden under the current “Conservative” government, increasing the marginal rate on top earners to around 60 per cent, is also arguably encouraging many to give up on work and do a “John Galt”. (UK GPs, for example.)

In its own response to the issue of a shrinking workforce, the opposition Labour Party has come up with the idea of making working from home a “right” for those in their fifties.

The “right” to work from home does not exist if you drive a lorry, put up scaffolding, mend radiators and air conditioning units, service cars, fly aircraft, tend to the sick and dying, coach football teams, weld oil rig installations, grow wheat, or serve in the armed forces. Interestingly, the vast majority of those who are able to work from home, such as those being targeted by the Labour Party in these cases, are the white collar middle class, and specifically, many of those working in big banks, civil service jobs, and the like. This is very much a play for the metropolitan, service sector middle class, and unlikely to mean much to the sort of folk I mentioned above.

It also, as an aside, is an inversion of what the term “rights” means. A right, properly understood in my view, is a ultimately a demand for non-interference with my liberty as an autonomous human being; it is not about forcing others to give me things. Or, to put it in the words of the late, great P J O’Rourke, Labour is championing “gimme rights”, when what is needed is more respect for “get outa here” rights. To claim the “right” to work from home assumes that an employer or other party should be forced to accommodate themselves to this claim, even by coercive force. Now I have no quibble with those who negotiate a work-from-home arrangement by contract in a free market (I work from home for part of the week); what I do have an issue with is making this an entitlement, a claim that others must enable by having to transfer resources of some kind. Such “rights” aren’t compossible – they cannot exist without conflicts, claims and counter-claims. These are different from the “negative” rights of classical liberalism. My “right” to be left alone doesn’t require anyone to do anything or pay for anything; my “right” to healthcare, on the other hand, does.

See this item on Classical Liberalism: A Primer, from the Institute of Economic Affairs.

A young Frenchwoman says “I don’t like America that much”

Allowing for the fact that she is speaking a language foreign to her, I think she has a point.

God rest ye Merry Gentlemen

If anything, our modern puritans are worse. At least the stiff folk of the 17th century believed reducing bodily pleasure would help expand the spirit, get one closer to God. The new puritans offer no such spiritual transcendence in return for our curbing of our blowouts – only the bovine payback of a slightly smaller waistline.

We eat around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day, disgusted experts say. We can do better than that. Start with a Buck’s Fizz breakfast; don’t scrimp on the Christmas-tree chocs; make brunch a sozzled, carb-heavy mix of your first beer and some Christmas panettone; everything for dinner should be cooked in turkey fat; follow that with a 1,174-cal slice of Christmas pudding; end with more booze and a selection box you don’t pick at but consume entirely. We can beat 6,000 calories. We owe it to old England and the original spirit of Christmas.

Brendan O’Neill (£)

I’m up for embracing your admonition, Brendan, going to give it a serious try. Have a Merry Christmas all.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The West is stagnating because it has grown neglectful of freedom.”

Sherelle Jacobs

When the outside world intrudes into the repressive narrative

I read the following article about the civil unrest in mainland China, caused by anger and frustration over the endless cycle of lockdowns and repression:

The sight of thousands of international football fans celebrating in stadiums in Qatar, without a face mask or testing station in sight, has broken the spell of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda.

My first thought was that maybe the Qatar World Cup has something to recommend it after all (beyond watching the outstanding Brazil football team, which I hope wins it). Maybe the thugs running the CCP and China hadn’t realised that the sight of thousands of fans not wearing masks and having a jolly time (even if beer is not being sold in the grounds – ye gods!) would be seen by the Chinese public. Just as Ron DeSantis’s relatively sane approach to lockdown in the US, or those of Sweden on the same issue, have been impossible for the “sensibles” to ignore, so has the very existence of un-masked folk in Qatar.

A further irony is that in the United Arab Emirates, that jurisdiction (not a democracy) managed the pandemic relatively sanely, with strict restrictions for a few weeks, then mask mandates, then vaccines, but normality was restored fairly fast, and done in a way that made sense. I went there on business last November, and colleagues went there in November 2020 when many other places such as Singapore and Hong Kong were completely shut. Hong Kong has suffered immense financial damage and people have left.

Public events can have a power beyond the imaginations of those who put them on. I doubt if the crooks and characters who have made the Qatar World Cup possible ever wondered that one result of the jamboree would be to inspire Chinese people to say that “enough is enough” over zero-covid.

Elon the Leveller

In 1647 Colonel Thomas Rainborowe famously said, “The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he … I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.”

Rainborowe was speaking during the Putney Debates, which as Wikipedia says, “…were a series of discussions over the political settlement that should follow Parliament’s victory over Charles I in the First English Civil War. The main participants were senior officers of the New Model Army who favoured retaining Charles within the framework of a Constitutional monarchy, and radicals such as the Levellers who sought more sweeping changes, including One man, one vote and Freedom of thought, particularly in religion.”

Time was when the Left would have proudly claimed to be the political descendants of the Levellers, although as these posts by Brian Micklethwait point out, at least as good a case can be made that they were proto-libertarians. Nonetheless, I miss the days when the Left wanted to be seen as the ones who sought to give “the poorest he” an equal voice with “the greatest he”.

They do so no longer.

“So basically Elon thinks Bubba’s opinion is just as valid as a credentialed journalist,” tweets Chris D. Jackson who describes himself as “Dad, Husband, Local Elected Official, Fmr. State Director @YEOnetwork, Fmr. Dem. Party Chair, Animal Enthusiast, Higher Education Advocate, OG #TeamJoe member”

I have a grudge against Elon Musk for reasons I described in this post. And though I certainly think that Bubba’s opinions and the journalists’ opinions are equally valid in the sense of having an equal right to be said, I do not claim to know whether Bubba or the journalist is more often right. But if Musk brings about a situation whereby Bubba can speak on the same terms – a fee of $8 – as the highest paid graduate of the most prestigious school of journalism in the United States, then he, too, is a Leveller.

The link to Daniel Hannan’s Oxford Union speech in the first of Brian Micklethwait’s posts no longer works, but a video of the speech can be seen here. The part about the Levellers starts at 10:30. Hannan paraphrased Richard Overton’s 1646 pamphlet An Arrow Against All Tyrants, which deserves to be better known. This passage might particularly resonate for Americans as they choose new legislators tomorrow:

“For the edge of your own arguments against the king in this kind may be turned upon yourselves. For if for the safety of the people he might in equity be opposed by you in his tyrannies, oppressions and cruelties, even so may you by the same rule of right reason be opposed by the people in general in the like cases of destruction and ruin by you upon them”

Samizdata quote of the day

“You couldn’t force lockdowns without laptops, Zoom, Amazon deliveries, cloud computing, Slack, QR codes or Netflix. Without them, lockdowns would have lasted two, maybe three weeks tops before the utter destruction of the economy forced everyone back to the workplace. Instead, we took the Faucian bargain of technology-enabled yearlong lockdowns because it was doable. Silicon Valley’s tools became shackles.”

Andy Kessler, WSJ ($). Tech is great, and these channels would be useful in any sense, but it is certainly true that for a segment of the population (such as those with media influence and in government), they made lockdowns far more “doable”. For a fan of tech such as me, that is an uncomfortable thought.

“Faucian bargain” – very droll.

Samizdata quote of the day

Responding to his cancellation, Gilliam said it was “very sad that a great cultural institution like the Old Vic allowed itself to be intimidated into cancelling our production”. Likening the younger members of staff who lobbied Old Vic bosses to scrap his show to “Neo-Calvinists”, he added: “They are totally closed-minded. [To them] there is only one truth and one way of looking at the world. Well, ‘fuck you!’ is my answer to them.”

– as quoted by the Free Speech Union – “Three cheers for Terry Gilliam!” – rave reviews for a musical the Old Vic tried to cancel

Force people to use electric vehicles, and then cut the power

“It was bound to happen. After skating through the summer without rolling blackouts, Californians on Wednesday were told to raise their thermostats to 78 degrees and avoid charging electric vehicles during peak hours as a heat wave grips the state. Good thing new gas-powered cars won’t be banned until 2035.”

Wall Street Journal ($).

In my view, the idea of making people rely on electric vehicles (EVs) and then curbing how much power they have, is a design feature, not a bug. Those of a Big Government cast of mind (most politicians) might rather like the idea of fitting “kill switches” into EVs so that a bureaucrat can disable them. By making cars costly and annoying, it also forces people to use public transport.

At its root, hatred of the car is hatred of individualism and freedom. It is hatred of autonomy, even the joys of owning and driving a vehicle. All that “car culture” stuff is just so vulgar. Lord (David) Frost, the former UK Cabinet Minister and all-round-good egg, wrote a recent article about how, as a teenager, he bought a Rush album containing the song Red Barchetta, which posits a dystopian future when motor cars are banned.

He wrote:

Cars should also be about beauty. They represent the society that made them. Communist East Germany produced the Trabant. Communist China produces Politburo-style boxes. Western civilisation produced the VW Beetle and the Mini, the Ferrari Testarossa and the E-type Jag – symbols of achievement, of individualism, of power.

And cars are about excitement. The Fiat 500 nipping around the streets of Florence. The elation of burning down the Autoroute du Midi with the Alps in the distance. The sense of anticipation of heading along the urban freeway, the towers of New York or Chicago before you, as the signs flash by and the off-ramps flicker past.

We’ll miss it when it is gone. And that time is closer than you think.

Polarisation, intolerance and Americanisation

Just 20 years ago when this site got rolling, many of the best ideas flowing into UK came from USA, whilst at the moment, I would say they tend to be the very worst.

Yet outside the distorting funhouse mirror of social media, we have ‘progressed’ somewhat less towards shrill intolerance and a preposterous rejection of objective truth than ‘progressive activists’ wish was the case. I contend race relations in Britain, whilst not optimal (but what is?) are much better than preposterous Brits cosplaying at American civil rights activists pretend.

That said, on other issues our police have gone off the deep end in their rainbow painted cars. Perhaps this indicates the UK needs an explicit and un-caveated ‘First Amendment’ of some kind. That is the kind of ‘Americanisation’ we might actually need.

Also, support for Brexit, by no means confined to the lumpenproletariat of Guardian reader’s imagination, might not indicate what purveyors of the high status opinion fondly imagine. The conflation of Brexit with the ‘Trump phenomenon’ was always overblown, given the deep social and structural differences between UK and USA. Yes, we are influenced by America, but we are not the same in oh so many ways.

But western civilisation, not just Britain, is undeniably going through a very strange phase. The insane and demonstrably pointless covid lockdowns seem to have had a pressure cooker effect, with every -ism being dialled up several notches. The mainstreaming of transsexuality, a largely harmless hobby until a lunatic fringe grabbed hold of it, indicates the world is not running in well-oiled grooves. An inability to define “what is a woman?”, by sages and politicians who nevertheless expect to be treated as serious people, would have seemed implausible just a few years ago.

But the covid lockdowns, that is the ‘biggie’: an egregious abridgement of liberty & common sense that placed the global economy into repeated bouts of cardiac arrest. The worldwide end of the Nuremburg code.

The lockdowns were an even more polarising issue that Brexit or Trump or indeed anything else. Why? Because there was no opt-out, you could not just go to work, or visit granny, no ability to ignore the whole thing and just head down the pub or retire for a macha latte in some café. The effects of that will be enduring. That was the issue that taught a lot of people to fear what other people believe to be true, and people always hate what they fear.

Now just wait to see what happens when the green lunacy that stopped investment in reliable power supply and new reservoirs means we start running out of power and water. I suspect that will be what makes the cork finally blow off.

Secular political fanatics

Dr. Douglas Young, political science professor emeritus at University of North Georgia-Gainesville, has some interesting views about political fanatics: secular edition.

There are loads of obsessives today: folks fixated on their phone, TV, sports, race, sex, etc. But the only ones labelled “fanatics” by secular media are religious. And, Lord knows, they are among the last people with whom I’d ever want to get stuck in an elevator. As Deepak Chopra said, “God gave man the truth. Then the Devil came in and said, “Hey, let’s organize it and call it ‘religion’.” A bumper sticker is more blunt: “Dear Lord, save me from your followers.”

Yet there are secular/worldly fanatics too. Because they lack a religious centre, many have a spiritual/emotional hole crying to be filled. So as traditional religion declines, we see a marked rise in political activism, especially save-the-world groups concerning “climate change”, “equity”, and “social justice”.

For many, their new religion is politics, their faith is their political ideology, and their church is their political party. Like religious zealots, they fervently believe they have a monopoly on truth and are hell-bent to spread their convictions, whatever the consequences.

But history shows secular political fanatics do far more harm since they lack a Ten Commandments, Golden Rule, or fear of a judgmental God to restrain them. The godless want to create a heaven too – but right here today since they think this is all there is. So, they have a peculiarly uncompromising urgency to remake society NOW.

And what a horrific toll many political true believers have wrought. With no religious humility to reign them in, they have created the first totalitarian dictatorships in which the party-state (national secular church) prescribes every aspect of citizens’ lives. Inspired by the French Revolution’s Jacobins who sought to create “a republic of virtue”, 20th century communists fought to forge a new “revolutionary man”. So Marxists in Russia, Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba criminalized all religious, political, social, and even private personal conduct deemed “ideologically incorrect”. A Russian Bolshevik once asked dictator Joseph Stalin to execute a group because “They have no [communist] faith”. The stridently secular Nazi Adolf Hitler declared, “Anyone who interprets National Socialism merely as a political movement knows almost nothing about it. It is more than religion; it is the determination to create a new man.”

The death toll alone from such anti-religious regimes is light years worse than that of all religious wars and tyrannies combined – and in such a terribly brief span of time. Indeed, tolerance and forgiveness can be mortal sins to atheist political puritans.

→ Continue reading: Secular political fanatics