Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 113
13th October 2003

Not Socialism, but Post-Socialism:
The Nature of the Enemy
by Sean Gabb

Preface

Around this time of year, I give much of my writing time to complaints about the Conservative Party. There is little directly on this matter I have not already published; and I see no reason for saying it all again with a present set of examples. What I will do instead is to provide a sociological analysis of why the Conservatives are doing so badly. I begin this with an abstract that summarises a longer argument.

Abstract

The problems now faced by the Conservative Party are not fundamentally a matter of policies and personalities. They are instead the effect of a set of assumptions—more or less accepted by all involved in politics—that makes the advocacy of conservative ideas almost impossible. Using the terminology and analysis of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, this set of assumptions may be called a "hegemonic discourse". Propagated by all the instruments of administration and law and education, it sets the terms of public debate—what questions may and may not be asked, and how those allowed may be answered.

The discourse is not supported by overt propaganda of the kind used by the totalitarian states of the middle and late 20th century. It is instead imposed by three primary methods. There is the control of terminology—"left" and "right", "progressive" and "outmoded", and so forth—thereby enabling arguments to be conducted in terms already biassed to one side. Periodic shifts in terminology - "gay" for homosexual", for example—also allows one side to come to any argument from an already established position of moral superiority. There is control of the news media. This does not involve actual lying. It is rather a matter of selection and emphasis of true facts: articles and news items can be constructed that in the formal sense are wholly neutral, but that create an entirely prejudicial effect on their audience. Then there is control of the entertainment media. Again, this does not involve the crude propagandising of the National and Bolshevik Socialists. It is the use of drama and comedy to normalise attitudes previously regarded as unusual or even offensive, and to associate their opposites with all that is bad.

Conservative opposition to the New Labour project is based on the assumption that it is essentially about economic policy. But it is not about economics—or is so only at the periphery. This project is one of cultural deconstruction. Socialism of the familiar kind is for the moment dead. This project is its replacement. The established order of liberal democracy is still to be overturned, but not by the traditional means of seizing the means of production. Though not socialists in the traditional sense, the directors of the project were all influenced—at university or by example—by the writings of Gramsci and Foucault and Althusser, and the various other philosophers of the "New Left".

To understand what is happening needs an understanding of these philosophers. Indeed, to understand their writings is of the greatest importance—just as understanding those of Karl Marx was in the earlier debates over socialism. The critiques of liberal democracy contained in these writings are all variously false or questionable. But the analyses of how the ruling class gains and keeps power - through the control of culture and the construction of hegemonic discourses—may be seen as a set of instructions for how the new non-economic socialists can themselves gain and keep power.

These writings are also useful to the opponents of the project. For over a generation, the enemies of liberal democracy have been complaining about "repressive tolerance" and "labelling" and "moral panics" and "hegemonic ideologies". All these terms and the analyses they express can now be used with far greater justice against these enemies of liberal democracy. They can be used to spread embarrassment and confusion, and also to recapture the moral high ground of debate.

For this to be achieved, however, it is necessary to educate conservatives in general—and Conservatives in particular—so that they can understand the nature of the present threat, and to use these captured tools of analysis and attack. Arguments based on the economic calculation debate won against the socialists from the 1920s onwards are for the moment largely useless. It is now accepted that the State cannot bake bread better or more cheaply than the private sector. It is still useful to complain about high taxes and the growing burden of regulation. But these complaints must be grounded on an understanding of the reasons why these taxes and regulations are being imposed—their purpose being to advance an agenda of cultural transformation.

How this education is to be achieved is a matter for further discussion. Briefly put, is there anyone out there who will give me the money needed to buy the time for educating the conservative movement?

I can be reached by the usual means.

Sean Gabb
13 October 2003
sean@libertarian.co.uk
07956 472 199

Introduction

For at least ten years now, the British Conservative Party has been in serious trouble. It has lost two of the past three general elections, and does not seem likely to win the next one. The reasons for this collapse of support can be divided under two headings. There are local and general reasons. The local reasons are obvious. Since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in November 1990, the Party has had three more or less ineffectual leaders. At the same time, the Blair Government has been reasonably able and very lucky. It has faced no serious challenge to its authority, and has done little immediate harm to the strong economic position inherited from the Conservatives in 1997.

If these were the only reasons for Conservative weakness, the solution would be fairly easy. It would be a matter of looking for a better leader, or waiting for the recession to hit, or both. The problem is that, behind these local reasons, there are general reasons for weakness that make it very hard for any Conservative leader to be effective, or for any but the most serious failure by Labour to bring its legitimacy as the governing party into doubt. Indeed, even given some unexpected upset that might bring them back into office, it is unlikely that the Conservatives would find themselves in power. For all they might be able to form a Conservative Government, they would not be able to pursue conservative objects in defence of liberal democracy. The great problem for the Conservatives, regardless of whoever leads them, is that they are the target of a highly effective Gramscian project, and they show not the smallest sign of understanding the nature of their enemy.

A Gramscian Project

The administration of this country should not be regarded as a neutral machine, to be directed as the elected politicians please. It is instead best seen as a web of people and institutions. There are the civil servants. There are the public sector educators. There are the semi-autonomous agencies funded by the tax payers. There are journalists and other communicators. There are certain formally private media and entertainment and legal and business interests that obtain power, status and income from the policies of government. Together, these are the true government of this country. The elected politicians are not unimportant parts of the administrative web. But they are required to work within limitations imposed by the web as a whole. These limitations are set by the ideas that hold the various parts of the web together.

These ideas may be called a hegemonic ideology. They set the agenda of debate and policy. They determine what questions exist, how they can be discussed, and what solutions may be applied. They provide a whole language of debate. Ideas outside the range of this hegemonic ideology—as especially those hostile to it—either have no words at all for their discussion, or can be discussed only in words that implicitly discredit them in advance. Once achieved within the administrative web, ideological hegemony can be spread, through education and example, to the rest of the population.

The function of ideological hegemony is to legitimise the power and status of the ruling élites in a society, and to marginalise dissent where it cannot altogether be prevented. It supplements—or can even entirely replace—the more overt forms of repression.

These functions were first analysed in systematic manner by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist imprisoned by Mussolini. By the early 20th century, it was clear, in spite of what Marx had predicted, that the industrial working classes in Western Europe and America would not rise in spontaneous revolution. Rather than conclude that the whole theory had been falsified by events, Gramsci and his followers developed the "rescue hypothesis" that the workers had been prevented from understanding their real interests by their acceptance of the dominant bourgeois ideology. Because they thought in terms of national identity and the amelioration of hardship through social reform, they could not see how exploited they were, and how no true improvement was possible within the existing mode of production.

The purpose and use of this analysis has tended to limit its reception among conservatives. However, once developed, any set of ideas can be detached from the circumstances that produced it. It makes no more sense for non-socialists to reject the concept of ideological hegemony because of its origins than it did for the German national socialists to reject the theory of relativity because it was originated by a Jew. Where ideas are concerned, all that matters is whether they are true or false.

Now, when applied to the institutions of liberal democracy, the analysis was false. These were reasonably open societies, with a high degree of toleration of dissent, and economic institutions that had raised and were raising the living standards of all social groups. Nevertheless, it does exactly apply to those people who have taken control of the administrative web and are using it to impose their own, profoundly anti-conservative hegemony in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world.

A Quasi-Marxist Ideological Hegemony

In a sense, the administrative web has been dominated for at least the past three generations by ideas hostile to conservatism. Ever since the 1940s, conservative governments in both Britain and America have found it necessary to govern mostly within the assumptions of the administrators and of their allies. However, the old anti-conservative élites—headed by people like J.M. Keynes and Paul Samuelson, and Roy Jenkins and Warren Christopher - by and large accepted the assumptions of liberal democracy. There was a commitment to open and reasonably fair debate, and to the proposition that justice should remain separate from politics. It was bound together by a belief in its superior wisdom and goodness and by a contempt for opposition. But its hegemony was rather mild and amateurish, and little attempt was made to preserve that hegemony after its claims had been falsified in the 1970s. Since the 1970s - even as conservatives were celebrating the death of socialism—a new and far more professional and ruthless hegemony has been established within the administrative web.

This hegemony proceeds from the progressive domination of the universities by radical socialists. From Sociology and the other social studies, they spread out to colonise virtually every other discipline with the exceptions of Economics, Mathematics and the natural sciences. They are particularly strong in most departments of Education and in teacher training programmes. Since the 1960s, they have been turning out generation after generation of graduates exposed to the ideas of Marxism and quasi-Marxism. Few of these graduates, of course, became committed activists. But, from early middle age downwards, there are now hundreds of thousands of intellectual workers—the key personnel of the administrative web - whose minds have been shaped within radical socialist assumptions.

How the Death of Socialism Has Strengthened Socialists

When socialism collapsed in the 1980s as an economic ideology in the West, and as the legitimisation of tyranny in the East, it seemed at first as if the world had been made safe for liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyma, for example, felt able to argue that the next century would see the progressive triumph around the world of capitalism, democracy and the rule of law. More than a decade later, though, we can see that his optimism was at least premature.

If we look at the leading personnel in the Blair and Clinton administrations—and, perhaps more importantly in the administrative webs below them—we see an almost unvaried hold on positions of importance by people whose minds have been at least shaped by the general ideas of radical socialism. They may no longer be socialists in the economic sense. But their most basic assumptions—from which their old economic analysis had proceeded—has remained intact.

The Relevance of a Gramscian Analysis

What makes the various kinds of Marxist and neo-Marxist analysis so peculiarly appropriate to their actions is that these analyses accurately describe how their minds work. Speech in the old liberal democracies was reasonably free. There was an attempt to separate news from comment. Justice was fairly impartial. But since our new rulers spent their younger years denying these truths, they are quite willing, now they are in power, to act on the belief that they are not true. Because they believe that tolerance is repressive, they are repressive. Because they do not believe that objectivity is possible, they make no attempt at objectivity. Because they do not believe that justice is other than politics by other means, they are politicising justice. Because they believe that liberal democracy is a façade behind which a ruling class hides its ruthless hold on power, they are making a sham of liberal democracy. In this scheme of things, the works of a whole line of Marxist and neo-Marxist philosophers, from Gramsci to Foucault, are to be read not as a critique of liberal democracy, but as the manifesto of their students.

What the Socialists Want

That these people cannot clearly describe the shape of their ideal society, does not at all weaken the force of their attack on the one that exists. The old socialists were notoriously vague about their final utopia, but this did not stop them from producing mountains of dead bodies wherever they took power. We may doubt if the present generation of socialists are sincere when they talk about justice, peace and good will between all people. But we can have no doubt of their immediate end. This is the destruction of the old social and political order—the overturning of its traditions and norms, its standards and laws, its history and heroes. Every autonomous institution, every set of historical associations, every pattern of loyalty that they cannot control—these they want to destroy or neutralise.

The Lack of Conservative Response

As said, this is a Gramscian project carried out by Gramscians. These people spent their younger years reading and thinking about ideological hegemony, and they are now, in their middle years, trying to achieve it. Again, as said, conservatives do not understand the nature of the attack. They understand armed terrorism, and know—at least in theory—how to deal with it. They also know about economic socialism, and are fluent in all the necessary modes of refutation. But the anti-conservatives are not really interested in armed violence—why should they be when they dominate the administrative web? Nor are they really interested in nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. No doubt, the Blair Government has raised taxes since 1997, and has imposed a mass of regulations on business. But the tax rises have not been high enough, nor the regulations heavy enough, to give serious inconvenience to the important big business interests.

The real area of conflict is cultural. That is where the engines of destruction are now most concentrated. And this is a conflict in which there is no overall strategy of defence. There are local defences, and these sometimes succeed. But there is no strategy, nor even the realisation that one might be needed. The engines of destruction may be ranged against fox hunting, or unfashionable humour, or Remembrance Day commemorations, or the Churches, or the nuclear family, or received opinions about the past, or national independence, or the Monarchy, or standard English, or private motoring, or whatever else—but the object is always to delegitimise dissent where it cannot be made impossible.

The strategy of attack is easily described. It involves controlling the language of public debate, control of the news and entertainment media, and the use of these to control perceptions of the past and thereby to shape the future. As Orwell said in Nineteen Eighty Four, "who controls the present controls the past: who controls the past controls the future".

The Control of Language

Most obvious is the control of political taxonomy. The distinction between "right" and "left" is an extraordinarily pervasive force, shaping general understanding and judgement of political concepts. Hitler was on the "extreme right". Conservatives are on the "right". Therefore, all conservatives partake of evil, the extent of evil varying with the firmness with which conservative views are held. Any conservative who wants to achieve respect in the media must first show that his conservatism is of the "moderate" kind—that intellectually he more of a social drinker than an alcoholic. Equally, libertarians and those called "neo-liberals" are on the "right". Therefore, they must be evil. The humorous accusation that someone is "to the right of Genghis Khan" serves the same function.

The use of this taxonomy allows the most contradictory views on politics and economics to be compounded, and all to be smeared without further examination as disreputable. Therefore, the "extreme right-winger" David Irving, who is a national socialist and holocaust revisionist; the "extreme right-winger" J.M. le Pen, who wants to reduce the flow of immigrants into France, but is not a national socialist and who apparently has much Jewish support in his country; and the "extreme right-winger" Enoch Powell, who was a traditional English conservative and a notable champion of liberal economics - all these are placed into the same category, and hostile judgements on one are by natural extension applied to the others.

At various times and in various ways, the trick has been played with other words—for example, "reform", progressive", "modernisation", and "outmoded". This first is among the earliest modern examples. From around the end of the 18th century, concerted efforts were made to alter the qualifications for voting in parliamentary elections. The advocates of change were arguing for the abandoning of a system that had been associated with the rise of England to wealth and national greatness, and that had allowed a reconciling of reasonably stable government with free institutions. In its place they wanted a franchise that had never before been tried —except perhaps in some of the revolutionary upheavals in Europe. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps they were proved right in the event. But their way was made easier by calling the proposed changes "reform"—a word they charged with positive associations - and leaving their conservative opponents to argue against "improvement". Modern politics are less intellectually distinguished than in the 19th century. Therefore, less effort has been needed to play the trick with "outmoded" - which allows ideas and laws to be rejected simply on the grounds that they are old.

Then there are the periodic changes of permitted terminology. Every so often, conservative newspapers report that a new word has been coined to describe an established fact, and laugh at the seeming pedantry with which use of this new word is enforced within the administrative web. For example, homosexual became "gay", which became "lesbian-and-gay", and which is now becoming "LGBT"—this being the acronym for "lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered". Words like mongol, spastic, cripple, single mother, and many others, have likewise been replaced and replaced again. In a sense, this is a misguided but well-meaning attempt to mitigate the hardship of the thing by finding new words that contain no added hurt. But its effect—and therefore part of its intention, a Granscian project being granted—is to remove conservatives from the moral high ground in any debate over policy on such people. When conservatives must think twice before opening their mouths, consulting their opponents on what language of description is now appropriate, they have conceded a very important part of the agenda of debate to their opponents. They have conceded an authority over words that must be gradually extended to a general authority. Conservatives may laugh at the clumsy acronyms and circumlocutions that are coined to replace existing words. But the intention is far from comic; and the effect is highly dangerous.

A similar effect is achieved with the frequent and often seemingly arbitrary changes of name given to ethnic groups and to places. Gypsies must now be called "Roma" or simply "Rom", and Red Indians must be called "Native Americans". Ceylon has become Sri Lanka, Dacca has become Dhaka, and Bombay has become Mumbai. Again, words are no longer the neutral means of discussion, but are charged with a political meaning, and judgements can be made on whether or not they are used as required.

Sometimes, words are imposed with a more immediate effect than forcing the deference of opponents. Take a word like "underprivileged", which has largely replaced the older word poor. This came into general use in the 1970s, and was soon used without apology or comment even by Conservative Cabinet Ministers. It carries a powerful ideological charge—the message that anyone with money in the bank or a good set of clothes has somehow received an unfair advantage, and that those who lack these things have been deliberately excluded from the distribution. Though frequent use has tended to blunt its effect and make it no more than a synonym for poor, its acceptance in any debate on social policy puts conservatives at an instant disadvantage.

Control of the News Media

Noam Chomsky, another radical socialist, is useful to an understanding of how the news media are controlled. There is no overt censorship of news—no bureau through which news must be cleared, no restrictive licensing of media outlets, no closed order of journalists, or whatever. Instead, only those journalists and media bureaucrats are ever appointed to positions of public influence who already share the hegemonic ideology. They censor themselves.

Again, the Chomsky analysis was intended to apply to the media in a liberal democracy, and was false. When liberal democracy was in its prime, there was a truly diverse media in which all strands of opinion found open expression. But, as ever, his analysis does apply to any media dominated by those he has influenced. Nobody tells BBC reporters how to cover stories. Instead, all BBC positions are advertised in The Guardian, and most are filled with graduates from the appropriate Media Studies courses.

Now, the propaganda thereby spread by this controlled media is not usually so overt and as that of the great totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century. Techniques of influence have much improved since then. News is reported, and with seeming accuracy. The propaganda lies in the selection and presentation of news. To take a notorious example, everyone knows that the overwhelming majority of interracial crime in Britain and America is black on white. Yet this is not reflected in the media coverage. When the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was killed in South London back in 1992, the story received lavish coverage in the media; and the story continued through failed trials, a public enquiry, and the official and media harassment of the unconvicted suspects. The much larger number of black on white murders—known rather than suspected murders, and containing an obvious racial motivation—are either not reported at all or covered briefly and without comment in the local media.

Then there is the presentation of news. A skilled journalist can cover a story in such a way that no fact is untrue, and dissenting views are reported in full—and still manage to produce an article so biassed that it amounts to a lie. It is a question of selecting the right adjectives, or suggesting doubts or motives, of balancing quotations, of carefully taking words and opinions accurately reported but framing them in settings that suggest the opposite. The greatest single exposure of these techniques is the 1993 article "How to Frame a Patriot" by Barry Krusch. But, to give a brief example, look at the way in which almost all coverage in The New York Times and on CNN of the Oklahoma bombings include some reference to the American militia movement. No connection has ever been proven between the bombings and any militia, yet the connection is still made in reporting of the bombings - without making any overt accusation, the association is still made out. Or look at the way in which nearly all media coverage of the British Conservative Party smuggles in some reference to the personal corruption of several Ministers in the John Major Cabinet. The exception to this rule is Kenneth Clarke, the leading Conservative supporter of British adoption of the Euro: his role in the arms to Iraq scandal is forgotten. Equally, any reporting of the far worse corruption in Tony Blair's Cabinet is usually accompanied more by pity than condemnation. Without any actual lies told, the impression conveyed is that the last Conservative government was so corrupt that the known examples may have been a fraction of the whole, while the present Labour government is a model of virtue compromised only by the Prime Minister's inability to realise that not all his colleagues reach his own standards of honesty.

Control of the Entertainment Media

Control of the entertainment media is an area almost uncovered in Britain, except for the radical socialist analyses of the 1960s and 1970s. But it is probably far more important than any control of the news media. Fewer and fewer people nowadays pay much attention to current affairs programmes on the television, or read anything in the newspapers beyond the sports pages—if they still read newspapers at all. But millions watch the entertainment programmes; and these have been recruited as part of the hegemonic apparatus.

Look at the BBC soap Eastenders. This is a programme in which almost no marriage is happy or lasts for long, in which anyone wearing a suit is likely to be a villain, and in which the few sympathetic characters are worthless but presented as victims of circumstances. While they may not have invented them, the scriptwriters have introduced at least two phrases into working class language: "It's doing my head in", and "It's all pressing in on me". These are usually screamed by one of the characters just before he commits some assault on his own property or another person. It means that the character has lost control of his emotions and can no longer be held accountable for his actions.

Then there is its almost comical political correctness. One of the characters is a taxi driver and his mother is an old working class native of the East End. Neither of them raised the obvious objection when one of his daughters decided to marry a black man—not that such a marriage would be in any sense wrong: what matters here is the deliberate absence of the obvious objection as part of a project of delegitimisation. But this is a flourish. The longer term effect of the programme is to encourage intellectual passivity, an abandoning of moral responsibility, and an almost Mediterranean lack of emotional restraint.

Or look at how the BBC treats its own archive. Every so often, black and white footage of presenters from the 1950s is shown, with parodied upper class voices talking nonsense or mild obscenity added in place of the original sound. Is this meant to be funny? Perhaps it is. But its effect—and, again, its probable intention at least in part—is to sneer at the more polished and sedate modes of communication used before the present hegemonic control was imposed.

It is possible to fill up page after page with similar examples of the use of popular entertainment as a reinforcer of the hegemonic ideology—the careful balance of races and sexes in positions of authority, the vilification of white middle class men, the undermining of traditional morals and institutions, the general attack on all that is targeted for destruction. Any one example given may seem trifling or even paranoid. But, taken together, the function of much of the entertainment media is to subvert the old order. Hardly ever are people told openly to go and vote Labour. But the overall effect is so to change perceptions of the present and past that voting Conservative or expressing conservative opinions comes to be regarded as about as normal and respectable as joining a Carmelite nunnery. And barely a word is raised in protest.

How to Win the Battle

I do have a complete strategy of opposition, but have none of the financial means needed to implement it. This analysis is offered, therefore, in the hope that someone will agree with me sufficiently to fund the strategy.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 114
2nd November 2003

Thoughtcrime and The Secret Policeman:
A Case Study in Discourse Theory
by Sean Gabb

I have just watched a recording of The Secret Policeman. This is a documentary programme first shown by the BBC on Tuesday, the 21st October 2003. In this, a reporter posed for six months as a police cadet and then as a police officer, while secretly filming his colleagues. Some of the language caught on film expresses strong dissent from the established opinions on race and immigration. One of the officers put on a white hood and discussed the merits of burying a "Paki bastard under a railway line". He also insisted that Stephen Lawrence—a black youth whose death ten years ago led to a report all about "institutional racism"—had deserved his end. He added:

Isn't it good how good memories don't fade? He fucking deserved it, and his mum and dad are a fucking pair of spongers.

Another officer said of his Asian colleagues:

Truthfully? Fuck them all off. I'll admit it—I'm a racist bastard. I don't mind blacks. I don't mind black people. Asians? No.

Another said of Asians in general:

A dog born in a barn is still a dog. A Paki born in Britain is still a fucking Paki.

As soon as the programme was shown, the chorus of disapproval swelled to full volume. The Acting Deputy Chief Constable of the North Wales Police said:

I felt physically sick as I watched The Secret Policeman.(1)

The Deputy Chief Constable of the Manchester Police said:

I was shocked, sickened, ashamed and saddened by what I saw.(2)

The newspapers and the electronic media not only reported, but joined in the expressions of outrage. Five of the officers filmed resigned the day after the showing. Another was suspended.

Even forgetting the nature of the language used, it is hard to feel sorry for these officers. They are police officers. They are "the pigs". They are the unintelligent, semi-literate dregs of their section of the working class, who have been given a supervisory power over everyone else, including their betters—and who use and abuse this power to the full. They are inefficient. They are incompetent. They are corrupt. So far, only five of these people have resigned. It would be a better country by far if they could all be persuaded to resign. We could then save on the costs of their well-padded salaries. As for crime control, we could go back to the good old days of arming ourselves and otherwise relying on the hue and cry and private prosecutions.

We need, however, to look away from the beastly nature of the people concerned, and look instead at why the programme was made and why the responses to it were so emphatic. Look at the response of that Welsh police chief—he described himself as "physically sick" at what was said. "Physically sick"? When was the last time any of us felt that about something read or heard? For myself, cat droppings, rotten meat, certain medical conditions - these can set my stomach heaving as if I were some teenage anorexic. But I really doubt if, once in the past forty years, I have read or heard anything that came near to provoking a physical response. And these were the words of a senior police officer. It has long been his professional duty to acquaint himself with matters that require a greater than average firmness of mind. "Physically sick"? I somehow doubt it.

But what those police officers said was not merely tasteless and uncharitable. Nor was it merely embarrassing to their senior officers. So far as their senior officers were concerned, and so far as the authors were concerned of virtually all media and political comment, what they said was the equivalent of heresy or treason. It was a duty not merely to deplore what they said, but to denounce it in the strongest terms that came to mind. Any faintness of utterance, it seems to have been felt, might leave one open to suspicions of agreement oneself with what had been said.

Marxist Theory Is Marxist Practice

At this point, I must beg the indulgence of my readers. In my last article for Free Life Commentary, I wrote at some length to show the usefulness of neo-Marxist sociology in analysing the nature of any social order ruled by Marxists or by those influenced by Marxism. Here, I will continue the theme, using this present case as an example of how the analysis can be made to work.

According to Marx himself, the political and cultural shape of any society is determined by ownership of the means of production. There is the economic base, and piled on top of this is the superstructure of all else. Let the base be changed, and the superstructure will be changed as surely and automatically as the appearance of a forest is changed by the varying distance of our planet from the sun. I know there are inherent ambiguities in his theory and many possibly varying interpretations of it. But this summary is accurate enough for our current purposes. As here summarised, there is a rough grandeur to his claim. It is, however, false. We have now been waiting over 150 years for the inner contradictions of liberalism to reveal themselves, and so bring on the next stage of human development. There has been no immiserisation of the proletariat, and no general overproduction crises.

Aside from dropping the whole system as a failure, two responses to this problem emerged in the early 20th century. The first was to look around for some half-convincing rescue hypothesis - see Lenin, for example, on how exploiting the colonies had replaced exploiting the workers at home. The second was to keep the messianic fervour of the original ideology while dropping its economic determinism. The three most important projectors of this change were Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), Louis Althusser (1918-91), and Michel Foucault (1926-84).

According to their reformulation of Marxism, a ruling class keeps control not by owning the means of production, but by setting the cultural agenda of the country. It formulates a "dominant" or "hegemonic" ideology, to legitimise its position, and imposes this on the rest of society through the "ideological state apparatus"—that is, through the political and legal administration, through the schools and churches, and through the underlying assumptions of popular culture. There is some reliance on the use or threat of force to silence criticism—the "repressive state apparatus"—but the main instrument of control is the systematic manufacture of consent. At times, this hegemonic ideology can amount to a "discourse", this being a set of ways of thinking and talking about issues that makes it at least hard for some things to be discussed at all.

Though much ingenuity has gone into proving the opposite, it is hard to see what value even a reformulated Marxism has for analysing the politics and culture of a liberal society. In this country, between about the end of the 17th and towards the end of the 20th centuries, there were ruling classes, and there were what can be called dominant ideologies. But the rulers legitimised their position by reference to standards which were not imposed by them, but had largely emerged spontaneously throughout society as a whole. The function of the ideological state apparatus was not to enforce values on the governed, but to reflect and thereby reinforce values that were already taken for granted. I remember once seeing a print of the Queen and Prince Consort sat with their family round a Christmas tree. This was not a creation of values, still less an imposition of them. It was instead a royal identification with ideas of family stability that were already accepted—ideas that were accepted even by those who, for whatever reason, chose not to take them up, and that had not been noticeably accepted in several earlier reigns.

There were strong disagreements—over religion and land ownership and the extent of the franchise, and the extent of state intervention in the economy, among much else—but the underlying values of society were generally shared and did not need to be imposed. The neo-Marxist analysis only becomes useful for providing a terminology to discuss what happens when a ruling class turns oppressive. Such is the present case.

The Ideology of the New Ruling Class

We have in this country a new ruling class. It is no longer the Monarchy and the network of land-owning and mercantile interests that clustered around it, or anything identifiable as the old—alleged - working class movement that competed with them. Instead, we are ruled by a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, academics, media people, and businessmen who look to an enlarged state as the source of their income or status. When it came to power is hard to say with precision. It had taken over the ideological state apparatus long before the 1997 general election that gave it formal political office; and that election result more intensified than redirected the course of events. Undoubtedly, though, it is now supreme.

The ideology this ruling class has taken up to produce internal unity and to justify itself before the ruled has nothing to do with the national past or the currently perceived interests of the majority. It is incidentally about regulating everything that moves in the interests of health and safety, and sometimes banning them, and incidentally about preventing alleged dangers to the environment, and incidentally about making us all into the subjects of a centralised European state. But these are only incidentals. They are not the core ideology. Though it has not entirely broken with the past, and though it may appeal to tradition as convenience requires, the new ruling class defines its basis of legitimacy lies in the proclaimed right and ability to bring about a transformation of the country into something entirely new. The old ethnic and cultural homogeneity are seen as evils. In their place, we are to have "a rich diversity of communities". Some of these are to be sexual, some religious. But the real passion is for ethnic diversity.

To take one instance of this, in 1998, the Government set up a Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Its purpose was

to analyse the current state of multi-ethnic Britain and propose ways of countering racial discrimination and disadvantage and making Britain a confident and vibrant multicultural society at ease with its rich diversity.(3)

Chaired by Bhikhu Parekh, an academic placed in the House of Lords by Tony Blair, the Commission was a sub-division of the Runnymede Trust, a formally private body "devoted to promoting racial justice in Britain". Its Report can be seen as a digested expression of the transformation intended for this country. Among the recommendations were a formal declaration by the State that Britain was now a "multicultural society", and a commitment that

deep-rooted antagonisms to racial and cultural differences [should be] defeated in practice, as well as symbolically written out of the national story.(4)

There was also some discussion of giving the country a new name:

[The Name Britain] has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations.... Englishness and therefore by extension, Britishness, is racially coded.(5)

No new name was suggested, though it was emphasised that the country from now on should be regarded not as a community, but as a "community of communities".

"Multiculturalism" and "Anti-Racism" As Hegemonic Discourse and Legitimation Ideology

The ruling class has yet to take full notice of Dr Parekh's recommendations. However, its behaviour and language all proceed from the same assumptions. See the endless official fussing over criminal conviction rates and examination passes, the emphasis on "diversity", the careful blending of races and sexes and appearances in all official photographic opportunities, the changed emblems and mission statements of governmental agencies. In the neo-Marxist terminology, the ruling class and its ideological state apparatus are imposing a new hegemonic ideology of multiculturalism.

The great apparent problem with this new ideology is its impossibility. It is a false ideology. It is easily possible for small alien minorities to be accepted into a country. Orthodox Jews are a good example. They live in the nation, but do not regard themselves as of it. What makes them acceptable is that they do not make nuisances of themselves and can never by their nature be other than a small minority. Even hardened anti-semites have little objection to the Orthodox, being more concerned about the alleged doings of the assimilated. It is also possible for large numbers of aliens to be accepted into a nation so long as they assimilate and embrace its culture as their own. The United States in the century to about 1970 is a good case here. During this time, settlers of British ancestry went from being the majority to a large minority, but the American nation they had created continued to exist and to prosper by just about every reasonable standard. But a large and rapid immigration in which the burden of adjustment is thrown not on the newcomers but on the natives—in which, indeed, the newcomers are positively discouraged from assimilating—that is an obvious cause of resentment and even disorder.

There cannot be one society made up of widely different communities each of which loves and respects all the others. There cannot be a society in which the ethnic composition of every group - from university vice chancellors to hairdressers, from lunatic asylum inmates to fashion models—exactly parallels that of the census returns. Instead, there will be a retreat into ethnic nationalism among all groups.

In this context, the words of that police officer quoted above - "A dog born in a barn is still a dog. A Paki born in Britain is still a fucking Paki"—take on a grim significance. The words show a hardening of spiritual boundaries more typical of Eastern Europe or the Balkans or Africa than of the Britain we have known for many centuries—a nation of which membership has been more defined by allegiance to the Crown and adherence to certain norms than by race or colour. Given such attitudes, most of our constitutional arrangements must tend to become unworkable. What is the point of democracy—national or local—or trial by jury, or any public service, when decisions are made not on their merits but on differential group voting power?

Dual Consciousness and the Coming Crisis of Multiculturalism

The ideological state apparatus can be set to work on proclaiming the joys of diversity. But the result is at best what Gramsci calls a "dual consciousness"—a situation in which values are imposed but only partially accepted. Multiculturalism is a discourse, so far as many now cannot find neutral terms to oppose it: see more of the words quoted above—"I'm a racist bastard" - where the immorality of an opinion is conceded even as it is expressed; but the discourse cannot secure plain consent.

The inevitable result is a sharper use of the repressive state apparatus. We cannot be made to love and respect each other. But we can be made to act as if we did. Therefore we have a frequently absurd but always searching inquisition into matters regarded until just recently as private. There are laws to censor speech and publication, laws to regulate hiring and promotion policies, and to regulate the selection of tenants and membership of private bodies, and increasingly stiff criminal penalties for breach of these laws(6). Every few days, the media gives space to some official expression of rapture at the benefits we have gained from multiculturalism. Its most notable fruit, however, has been the creation of a police state.

In a sense, though, the falsehood of the ideology is not so much a disadvantage as a great benefit to the ruling class. Because it is false, it can only be accepted on faith; and faith can give rise to more passionate attachments than any sober acceptance of the truth. And with passionate attachment goes passionate rejection of the opposite. In the word "racism", the ruling class has acquired a term of venomous abuse that can silence most criticism. That the word has no fixed meaning makes it all the better as a weapon of ideological control. It can mean a dislike of people because of their race or colour. It can mean a belief in differences between people of different races. It can mean a propensity to violence. It can mean no more than a preference for one's own people and values—even a belief that one has a "people". As "institutional racism", it can exist in the structures and assumptions of corporate bodies without the intent or knowledge of those employed within.(7) Or it can arise when every effort is being made to avoid it.(8) It can mean a mental disorder(9) or a sin.(10) It can mean any of these things or all of them(11). Whatever it means in any particular context, it soils and discredits all who are labelled with it, placing them outside any claim to respect or tolerance or fair dealing. Modern English contains no greater instance of the power of words to terrify and subdue.

As for the police state laws, these are welcomed. At the very least, the various inquisitions set up provide jobs and status that would not otherwise exist. They are also enjoyed for their own sake. Governments by their nature like to oppress, and the degree of their oppression is limited only by the prospect of resistance and their own beliefs about what is seemly. As an article of faith, multiculturalism obliterates regard for old conventions. Just look at the self-proclaimed "civil libertarians" of the past behave now they are in positions of authority. In the 1970s, they could be trusted to demand every refinement of due process when some picketer was in the dock, or someone accused of revealing official secrets. Now they have incorporated "racial aggravation" clauses into the law which in effect make opinions into crimes. They are calling for the abolition of the double jeopardy rule because it prevents their vendetta against the alleged killers of Stephen Lawrence(12). Multiculturalism also undercuts the old grounds of peaceful opposition to misgovernment. Arguments from ancestral right can be delegitimised by a mere raising of eyebrows and a polite question about whose ancestors are being invoked. Everyone knows the next response will be an accusation of "racism". Therefore, the argument is dropped more often than not, while those who dared raise it must go about protesting their belief in the official ideology.(13)

Nor is the destruction of accountability unwelcome. Democracy has always been something of a fraud in this country—and perhaps with good reason. But rulers were vaguely answerable to the ruled, and could, given the right provocation, be removed. Multiculturalism turns us from a nation to which ultimately the rulers had to defer into a gathering of mutually hostile groups—all with different ambitions and complaints, all capable of being turned against each other in the manner that imperial ruling classes throughout history have used to nullify opposition. In the words of Margaret Thatcher,

Thus the utopia of multiculturalism involves a bureaucratic class presiding over a nation divided into a variety of ethnic nationalities. That, of course, looks awfully like the old Soviet Union.(14)

Thought Crime and the Police State

And so we find ourselves living in a country where conformity to the dominant ideology is imposed by threats of force accompanied by an increasingly hysterical propaganda. It is as if the ruling class were waving a stick and turning up the volume on a television set - so it can stop others from talking about something else and give them no choice but to watch the programme. And it is still not enough. Dissent has been driven out of the establishment media and out of respectable politics, but it continues to flourish in private and on the Internet. We live in a country where almost no one would describe himself openly as a "racist", but where the British National Party seems to stand on the edge of an electoral breakthrough.

That explains the chorus of outrage when those police officers were exposed: there could be no public expressions of sympathy for them—indeed, the knowledge that there was much private agreement with at least the sentiments expressed, if not with their manner of expression, required the public denunciations to be all the more unsparing. It also explains the demand for still greater supervision of speech and action. As in some gentle parody of Stalin's Russia, it is accepted as necessary for conformity of speech and action to be so generally compelled that even the slightest expression of dissent stands out like a black swan among white.

This is the wider significance of the undercover filming of those police officers. It is worth asking why only white officers were filmed, when black and brown officers might not in private be oozing love and respect for their white colleagues. It is also worth asking in what context the words were uttered, and to what extent the reporter had made of himself an agent of provocation. And it can be asked whether the opinions expressed could be shown to have had any effect on actions. But, while it would be useful to have some on the record, the answers are obvious. Witch hunts need witches. When none can be found in public, they must be searched out in private. When none can be found at all, they must be invented.

However obtained, such dissent from the multicultural ideology can be used to justify its more intrusive imposition. Therefore, these words from the Home Secretary:

What's been revealed is horrendous. The issue is... what we can do to ensure police services across the country adopt the new training programmes on diversity to root out racists before they can get through the training programme.(15)

In other words, he promised to make it impossible for dissidents to be employed as police officers.(16) His theme was immediately taken up by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police:

[h]is force intends to plant informers in its classrooms to root out racist recruits. It will also allow community representatives to sit on recruitment panels to prevent racist applicants entering the force. At the Met's training school in Hendon, which trains 3,500 new officers a year, one recruit in a class will be secretly selected to inform on colleagues. Their identities will remain secret for the rest of their careers and they will act as intelligence gatherers. If racism is discovered by undercover officers, it may be used to provide evidence for a criminal prosecution for incitement to racial hatred.(17)

Police officers are already bad enough. But the known presence among them of informers—and perhaps also agents of provocation - can only tend to remove them still further from the rest of the population. They will become a sort of Janissaries, quite separate in outlook and perhaps in nationality from those they are employed to coerce into obedience.

Nor will these undercover means of gathering information be confined to the police. Once they are established as normal, they will be used against other targets. One of the recommendations of the Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence was

[t]hat consideration should be given to amendment of the law to allow prosecution of offences involving racist language or behaviour, and of offences involving the possession of offensive weapons, where such conduct can be proved to have taken place otherwise than in a public place.(18)

This was rejected as unworkable. However, the use of undercover filming to gather evidence makes it workable. The informers and agents of provocation will spread into every area of private life. New friends or partners taken to dinner parties will constrain discussion even when no one intends to discuss the forbidden issues. We shall have to start learning the rules of private conduct that East European have been forgetting since 1989. Life will become grimmer and more oppressive.

How will all this end? Not, we can be sure, in Dr Parekh's "confident and vibrant multicultural society at ease with its rich diversity". I see one of two outcomes. The first is that the ruling class will keep control until it has finished remodelling the population. According to the 2001 returns—and these probably understate the truth—the non-white population of England rose by 40 per cent in the 1990s.(19)

According to an anonymous demographer cited three years ago in The Observer,

Whites will be an ethnic minority in Britain by the end of the century. Analysis of official figures indicate that, at current fertility rates and levels of immigration, there will be more non-whites than whites by 2100.(20)

With a small and credible adjustment to the extrapolated trends, minority status could be reached as soon as 2040. Long before either date, though, national life would have been wholly transformed. For this would not be accompanied by an assimilation in which white Englishmen were joined by black and brown Englishmen, and the nation went on much as before. Ethnic change would bring with it cultural displacement. Whole areas of the country would become alien; and within them, the physical appearances, place names, festivals, rituals and general customs of the past would be effaced—in much the same way as happened when, from the 5th century, the northern barbarians displaced the Romanised Celts who had inhabited this country before them. Then, the ruling class could be safe. It would be presiding over an empire, not a nation, and would be safe from effective challenge.

The second outcome is that the English—or British—will turn nasty while still the majority. I do not think this would be an original nastiness. The French would probably turn first, or the Israelis. But there may come a time when the harsh ethnic nationalism of that police officer becomes the consensus. Then there will be a spiritual casting out of "strangers" from the nation, followed by ethnic cleansing of the strangers, and severe legal and social disabilities for those allowed to remain. And among these strangers will be many who are now unambiguously accepted as of the nation and who regard themselves as of the nation. It is worth recalling that, until the National Socialists redrew the spiritual boundaries of the nation, many Jews were German nationalists. I suppose I should add here that I do not want our own spiritual boundaries redrawn, nor will I lift a finger to help redraw them. But I can easily see their being redrawn if present trends are allowed to continue.

There is a third possible outcome. This is that present trends will not be allowed to continue, that the multicultural discourse will be overthrown before it is too late, that freedom of speech and action will be restored, and that private and public arrangements will be made to encourage assimilation of all British citizens to the cultural values of the majority. This will not bring us to Dr Parekh's land of harmonious diversity. But it is the only basis on which people of widely different appearances are ever likely to live at peace with each other.

Sadly, I need only close my eyes to see the lips of my readers curling at these words. It may already be too late.

A Brief Reading List for the Interested

Althusser, Louis, For Marx, Allen Lane, London, 1969
Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Tavistock, London, 1974
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Tavistock, London, 1979
Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, New Left Books, London, 1971
Meek, Nigel, Modern Left Multiculturalism: A Libertarian Conservative Analysis, Political Notes No.175, The Libertarian Alliance, London, 2001
Parekh, Bhikhu, The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, Profile Books, London, 2000

Notes

1. Jaya Narain and Adam Powell, "Five racist policemen quit force in disgrace", The Daily Mail, London, 23rd October 2003.

2. Ibid. One police officer claims it took him over a week to recover from the shock of watching the programme. See Bryn Lewis, "Police racism is a challenge to the ethnic minorities", letter published in The Independent, London, 30th October 2003.

3. Report of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, published in 2000 by the Runnymede Trust—Introduction available at

www.runnymedetrust.org/projects/meb/reportIntroduction.html

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. See, for example, this from 1998:

"A couple of weeks ago, the Commission for Racial Equality recognized what black actors have known for a long time; namely the 'unjustifiable under-representation of ethnic minorities in theatre, opera, cinema, television drama, etc.' The Commission announced that it will press for legislation to close a loophole in the Race Relations Act which allows directors to use 'authenticity' as an excuse for all-white casting. A black Nelson Mandela or a white Winston Churchill will be acceptable; but an all-white production of Hamlet will be in contravention of the act. In this, Britain is merely catching up with the USA, which has had a quota system long enough to ensure that black faces are now run of the mill across the media."

(Lesley Downer, "Theatre: Wanted: a brand new caste", The Independent, London, 2nd September 1998)

7. On this point, see The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William MacPherson of Cluny, HMSO, London, 1999, CM 4262-I&II:

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people." (6.34)

8. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry:

"Such failures can occur simply because police officers may mistakenly believe that it is legitimate to be "colour blind" in both individual and team response to the management and investigation of racist crimes, and in their relationship generally with people from minority ethnic communities. Such an approach is flawed. A colour blind approach fails to take account of the nature and needs of the person or the people involved, and of the special features which such crimes and their investigation possess." (6.18)

9. See this from America:

"Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School professor and perhaps the nation's most prominent African-American psychiatrist... urged the American Psychiatric Association [in 1999] to 'designate extreme racism as a mental health problem' by including it in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.....

"Poussaint gets support from Dr. Walter Shervington, president of the National Medical Association, an organization of more than 20,000 black physicians. When he took over leadership of the NMA last year, Shervington, a New Orleans psychiatrist, called for a discussion of adding racism to the APA's list of mental disorders.

"'When (racism) becomes so severe in its expression, should it not come to the attention of a psychiatrist or someone working in the mental health field in relationship to identifying what some of the core struggles are around it?' Shervington asks....

"Sabina Widner, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Augusta State University, is blunt about the human rights implications of classifying racism as a mental illness.

"'When I hear these types of things, I think about Russia,' she says, 'where people who are dissidents, people who don't hold majority views, are subjected to psychiatric treatment.'"

(Extracted from John Head, "Can racists be called mentally ill? Debate strikes a nerve", The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Atlanta, 23rd January 2000)

10. See:

"The [Roman Catholic] church has come close to acknowledging the problem. Earlier this year, guidelines for parishes to review their practices described institutional racism as 'a form of structural sin and primarily a sin of omission'.

(Stephen Bates, "Racism in Catholic Church 'driving minorities away'", The Guardian, London, 16th October 2000)

"The Pope, clad in purple as a sign of penitence, said sorry on behalf of his flock for all past wrongdoings, from treatment of the Jews to forced conversions, the Crusades and Inquisition, and more contemporary sins such as discrimination against women and racism."

(Frances Kennedy, "Pope confesses 2,000 years of Church sins", The Independent, London, 13th March 2000)

"The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday apologised for wars, racism and other sins committed in the name of Christianity."

(Laura Clark, "Christian leaders say sorry for wars", The Daily Mail, London, 30th December 1999)

11. In conversation, Dr Chris R. Tame says this about racism:

Anti-racism is a useful ideological tool since the contemporary concept of racism is a portmanteau one, that combines a large—and apparently ceaselessly growing—number of quite distinct ideas. "Racism" is used to describe or mean, amongst other things:

  • • the scientific view that important aspects of human intelligence and/or emotional disposition vary according to racial group and are transmitted genetically;
  • • the attribution to anyone holding such views that their belief is held on the basis of prejudice or blind hatred;
  • • that believing that there are average/general differences in IQ/emotional disposition between racial groups means that one hates other races, or seeks to deny them equal rights or just treatment;
  • • the denial of just, fair and meritocratic treatment to individuals on the basis of their race, ignoring their individual character, IQ or achievement;
  • • the practice of violence against, or denial of individual rights to, individuals of different races.

As soon as we look critically at the varied meanings associated with the word "racism" it is clear that one is dealing with what Ayn Rand calls an "anti-concept", a word designed to actually confuse distinct meanings and ideas, and to smuggle all sorts of unjustified assumptions into political discourse.

12. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Chapter 49, Recommendation 38:

"That consideration should be given to the Court of Appeal being given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented."

13. For an interesting case of bold heresy, followed by immediate recantation, see:

"A village bonfire society has been accused of racism and divided a community after burning an effigy of gypsies during a Guy Fawkes celebration night.

"The Firle Bonfire Society in East Sussex put to the torch a caravan with images of children at the windows just days after gypsies were evicted from fields near the village.

"The caravan was paraded through the streets as part of a procession before it was set alight. It had the registration number P1 KEY painted on the side. 'Pikey' is a term of abuse for gypsies.

"According to local people who saw the parade, the organisers encouraged bystanders to shout 'burn it, burn it'.

"The society was last night facing calls for those responsible to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred -an offence that can lead to a jail term of up to seven years.

"Richard Gravett, chairman of the Firle Bonfire Society, defended its actions yesterday, claiming that they were not racist. 'There was no racist slant towards any of the travelling community. If anything, it's actually completely the other way,' he said.

"'It was done to try to make people realise that these people obviously, as we all do, need somewhere to live.'

(Thair Shaikh, "Villagers burn an effigy of gypsies", The Times, London, 30th October 2003)

14. Margaret Thatcher, "Resisting the utopian impulse", American Outlook, Spring 1999; quoted in "Culture, et cetera", The Washington Times, Washington DC, 22nd June 1999.

15. Jaya Narain and Adam Powell, "Five racist policemen quit force in disgrace", The Daily Mail, London, 23rd October 2003.

16. A friend to whom I showed the draft of this article took exception to my use of the word "dissident" to describe racists. My answer is that these are the real dissidents in this country. What other ideology or set of opinions or prejudices make someone dangerous to know? What else can get him the sack from his job, and prevent him from booking rooms to hold meetings?

17. Helen Carter, "Informers will be planted at training colleges", The Guardian, London, 23rd October 2003.

18. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Chapter 49, Recommendation 39.

19. Paul Brown, "Minorities up 40%, census reveals", The Guardian, London, 4th September 2003. The official figures are:

England by Ethnic Group (000s)

  1981 1991 2001
White 44,682 44,848 44,925
Black 707 917 1,286
Asian 1,031 1,487 2,102
Orientals 414 626 825

20. Anthony Browne, "UK whites will be minority by 2100", The Observer, London, 3rd September 2000. The demographer "wished to remain anonymous for fear of accusations of racism".

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 140
29th September 2005

Reflections on the Case of Subhaan Younis
by Sean Gabb

While having coffee with Dr Tame yesterday [28th September 2005], I did a brief telephone interview with BBC Radio Oxford. The issue I was called on to discuss was whether it was right for a certain Subhaan Younis to be sent to prison for 60 days for having shown someone a video clip on his mobile telephone of a beheading in Iraq.

My answer to the question was no. I agreed that to seek out and take pleasure in such images showed a singular depravity of mind. I also agreed that to show such images to someone who had not agreed in advance to look at them was at least in bad taste. But I disagreed with the man’s being sent to prison. By all means, I said, let him be named. Let others know the depravity of his mind, and let him be shunned by the respectable on account of that. But no one should be punished for merely looking at or even publishing things that others might find offensive. 

Of course, there is the matter of procurement. If this man had commissioned the beheading so that he might look at pictures of it, it would be right to prosecute him as an accessory to murder. However, so long as no such connection could be shown, he should not be sent to prison.

Then there is the matter of showing the images to someone who had not consented to look at them. According to the newspaper reports, the person to whom they were shown was shocked and upset. Here, though, while there might be some question of an action for the tort of nervous shock, I fail to see anything that ought to be regarded as a criminal matter. Mr Younis should not be in prison. He should be released now he is there.

And that was the whole of my radio discussion. I spoke clearly and firmly, and no one asked me any hard questions. In any event, the whole item took up only about five minutes, and there was no room to develop a full argument or to answer full objections. All I managed in the time was to outline the distinction, on which libertarians mostly insist, between doing and looking. But there is more to be said – as I realised afterwards in a long dissection of the issues with Dr Tame. Indeed, the Younis case is of little importance compared with the larger issues into which its discussion leads.

What Criminal Act?

Let us begin with the question of whether Mr Younis had committed any act that could be regarded as criminal. There is an exception as regards acts against the whole community. But where common crimes are concerned, it is fair to insist that when no individual victim can be identified, there can be no crime. I have no idea what motivated Mr Younis to show that image. He might have been trying to illustrate the horrors of Moslem terrorism. Or he might have believed in the accurate presentation of reality – as opposed to the sanitised, or censored, imagery provided on British television. But his name is Asiatic, and he could be one of those citizens of convenience – that is, someone who values his British passport purely for the material comforts to which it entitles him, who does not share our national ways, and who knows enough about us only to hate us. If so – and I say at once I have no evidence to believe it really is – he would fall into that large class of persons whose presence among us is becoming a problem that needs at least to be honestly discussed.

However, this being raised, let us put it aside and concentrate on whether he can be regarded as a common criminal. Here, we need to identify a victim. It was not Mr Younis himself. His possible moral corruption is not so much effect of the video clip as cause of the faults that led him to seek it out in the first place. So how about the woman to whom he showed the image? Can she be called the victim of an assault?

I do not think so. Mr Younis showed her something that she found upsetting. But let us be reasonable. What he showed her was most likely a jerky, pixellated video clip, and it must have been displayed on a screen of no more than one inch by one and a half. Any person of reasonably firm mind should have been more upset by a good newspaper report. Even applying the civil burden of proof, in making out the tort of nervous shock, I do not think it reasonable for him to have anticipated so extreme a reaction. Unless the accounts I have read of the incident have left out something important, I fail to see how showing that video clip could have been taken as an assault – or even the breach of the peace for which he was punished.

Procurement and Agency

The publisher and viewer of the clip being excluded as victims, let us turn instead to the unfortunate subject of the clip. Can we say that Mr Younis had in any sense procured his beheading? As said, there is no doubt that the direct procurement of images that show illegal acts should in itself be a crime. If I have a man killed for the sake of having his death filmed, I ought rightly to be charged as an accessory to murder. But how about what may be called indirect procurement – that is to say, how about acts that fall short of commissioning a criminal act, but which still contribute by a possible chain of inference to the committing of similar acts in the future?

This is an argument that frequently arises when people are found guilty of collecting pornographic images of children. We are told that while they may not have commissioned the specific images found in their possession, they have provided through their act of purchasing an incentive for the creation of similar images in the future. Does that argument apply in this case?

I do not think so – and that is granting its validity as an argument. There is nothing in the newspaper reports to show that Mr Younis had paid to obtain his video clip. Nor is there any reasonable chance that the Iraqi resistance group had beheaded someone with a view to selling the video footage. Nevertheless, while there is no reason to assume any financial incentive, the footage was released in order to attract approval and support outside the resistance group.

Motivation

Does Mr Younis support the Iraqi resistance? Did he approve of the beheading? The newspaper reports I have seen give no answer to these questions, and I have no evidence for thinking greater ill of him than I do for simply possessing and showing the video clip. But let us for the sake of argument suppose that he does support the Iraqi resistance, and that his support was quickened by sight of the beheading. Does this change matters? Could it be argued that the intention of the beheaders to gain approval and his granting of public approval did create a sufficient nexus to justify an accusation of indirect procurement?

I do not think so. It may be wrong to support the various groups resisting the American and British occupation of Iraq, and to glorify their acts. But this must be regarded as fair comment on events of public importance. To magnify any such comment with video clips of an atrocity is irrelevant. I know that the British Government is trying to create a new offence that will cover expressions of support for irregular political violence. But this is political censorship. It is the modern equivalent of the seditious libel laws that were used in the 1790s to stifle the support of some English radicals for the French Revolution. If applied consistently, the proposed law – indeed, the breach of the peace law used to punish Mr Younis – could be used to punish my own view that the Iraqi resistance groups stand in a tradition that leads through the Guerillas of the Peninsula War and the French Resistance of living memory. To answer yes to the above question is to sanction as close a censorship of the media as we have known in this country since the expiry of the Licensing Act.

Should Possession Ever be a Crime?

But while I think I have answered the specific question of whether Mr Younis should have been sent to prison for showing that video clip, I have done so in a way that avoids what Dr Tame and I take as the wider and much more interesting question – of whether any possession or publication should in themselves be treated as crimes. What happened yesterday to Mr Younis was an act of disguised censorship, and I can join with the media class in deploring this. But I am drawn to discuss it by the general principle that some are using to justify his punishment. Should possession or publication be treated as crimes in themselves?

The Case of Child Pornography

Let us turn back to the issue – raised above – of child pornography. This is presently seen as the most revolting and indefensible kind of publication. As such, it is the perfect example for answering my question. I do not accept the standard English mumble about “not carrying arguments to an extreme”. It is precisely in its extreme applications that an argument is most effectively tested. If it fails that test – if it collapses into absurdity at the extreme – the argument is to be rejected. If it holds up, it is at least internally consistent. So, should it be a crime to possess or publish child pornography?

Dealing first with the issue of possession, my answer is no – this should never in itself be a crime. Possession should be acceptable as evidence of direct procurement of children for sexual acts. But without that nexus, possession should not be a crime. If the possessor of sexual images involving children cannot be shown to have had contact with those involved in the creation of the images, there has been no act that can be reasonably described as criminal. After all, where no aggression can be identified, no crime can be imputed.

There is also the argument of procedural honesty – that to make a crime of possession is to give the police even greater scope for corrupt and oppressive behaviour than they otherwise enjoy. To prove an offence of publishing usually requires objective evidence that is difficult to fabricate. To prove an offence of possession requires the unsupported word of a police officer or some agent of provocation. I do not think, at this late stage in our national decline, I need to bother with arguing that the police are corrupt and oppressive. It is notorious that the police in this country have a long history of “stitching up” individuals by planting whatever items may currently be demonised. Anyone who believes they are uniformed civilians, paid to do the job that we might, if so inclined, do for ourselves of protecting life and property, has never read a newspaper – or, for that matter, much history. On this ground alone, the crime of possessing “indecent” images of persons believed to be under the age of sixteen – first introduced, I think, in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 – erodes the safeguards against unjust prosecutions far more than it protects the rights of children.

But there is a more fundamental objection. We can grant that products should be made illegal so far as their creation involves illegality. This would then justify criminalising the mere possession of child pornography. But it would also justify criminalising the possession of clothes made with child labour, or the consumption of electricity made with coal dug out of the ground by workers who are effectively slaves. The principle is the same in all cases. Possession proves purchase. Purchase rewards creation. Creation involves what by our laws is illegality. Thus we have a connection of sorts linking creator to possessor. Yet almost no one suggests that buying clothes made in Bangladesh should be a crime, or the burning of coal imported from Colombia. We have here an argument that does collapse at its extremes, and that ought therefore to be rejected. If its principle is applied selectively, it is because those pressing it object more to the pleasure that some adults get from child pornography than to the alleged harm to children involved in creating it. For all the talk about protecting the young, the real object is to police the imagination.

I turn now to publication. And here, for the avoidance of doubt, I will say that I do believe there should be some age of consent, and that those below it should be protected from sexual use by adults. That is the only ground I can see on which laws against child pornography can reasonably stand. But this does not justify the laws against publication in itself that we now have. If a publisher can be shown to have procured the creation of images that involve criminal acts, he is to be regarded as an accessory to those criminal acts. But what if he has not procured them? Suppose I find a magazine lying in the road one day, and this contains child pornography; and suppose I then pass this to you. In the technical sense I shall have published child pornography. But does this mean I should be treated as a criminal?

I do not think so. As I said yesterday about Mr Younis, where no connection can be shown to its original creation, there should be no crime in publication. Or, as I have just said above – where no aggression can be identified, no crime can be imputed. The argument that buying what is already in being encourages the creation of more is invalid, so far as it muddles the necessary distinction between identifiable and prospective victims.

Moreover, my understanding is that child pornography is created for the market mostly in places like Russia and Latin America and the Far East. These are outside the traditional jurisdiction of our courts. And I think it highly dangerous to go any further than we so far have in the granting of extraterritorial jurisdiction. We have gone too far already. Unless we are to consent to the growth of an unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical body of international criminal law, we should insist on principle that acts committed elsewhere in the world ought not to be the business of our own criminal courts. For the same reason we should insist that those accused of criminal acts in this country should not be extradited to face trial elsewhere in the world – and that therefore our Government should refuse to implement the European Arrest Warrant, and should denounce the treaty signed a few years back with the United States of America.

National Sovereignty and Law

I suspect most of my readers will agree with these two last points. But there are problems with the refusal to countenance any extra-territorial jurisdiction. Does this mean that, if a man living in this country should directly procure the filming of a rape and murder in France, he should not be subject to prosecution in this country? Does it mean that Egyptian nationals living in this country should be able with impunity to procure the assassination of the Egyptian President in their own country?

With regard to the second question, I can argue that, as a matter of policy, we should not allow foreigners into this country who are likely to complicate our foreign relations. And any who are found plotting here should be expelled at once – regardless of what punishment they can expect in their own countries. But answering the first question is difficult. Before the law was changed in 1858, in response to the Orsini bomb plot, there was no crime of conspiring to break the laws of another country. Nor, until the Fugitive Offenders Act of later in the century, was there any means of sending suspects from this country to face trial in another country.

I sympathise with the old concept of an absolutely separate territorial jurisdiction. On the other hand, the concept was applied in a world where, having regard to the state of communications, France was more distant from England than China is today. Paris is now within a three hour railway journey from Waterloo Station, and the price of telephone calls to anywhere in the world is heading toward zero. Perhaps the concept is no longer applicable in its strict sense. Perhaps, then, there is a case for laws to punish the direct procurement of crimes in another country. This would cover publishers who commission pornography from anywhere in the world. It would also cover people – such as Mr Younis is almost certainly not – whose approval of terrorist acts abroad amounts to commissioning. As said, such laws might not cover Mr Younis. But they would cover those hyphenated Americans who have spent the past 30 years contributing financially to the Fenian insurrection in Ulster.

But this takes me further from the case of Mr Younis than I intended to go. I will conclude by repeating that he should not have been sent to prison on the basis of the facts reported in the newspapers. Nor should he have been sent there on the basis of any argument I have seen made or can imagine being made. I do not know Mr Younis. I have no sympathy for him. But this is irrelevant to the question of his punishment. What is relevant is to recall the words of John Lilburne as he was led out to punishment: “What they do to me today, they may do to any man tomorrow.”

Mr Younis should be released.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 197
23rd September 2010

David Miliband and the Labour Party:
A Suicide Pact Made in Heaven?
by Sean Gabb

I have written very little this year on politics. This is not a product of idleness. Nor does it show any fading of interest. The reason is that I have been hard at work on two other projects. These will, I hope, advance the cultural agenda of our Movement. I hope they will also help save my daughter from the trouble of having to work for a living. But they are now finished. Next week, or the week after, I must begin another, and this will again take me partly out of immediate circulation. For the moment, though, I have both time and inclination to write about politics.

Who Should Lead the Labour Party?

I will begin by looking at the election of a new leader for the Labour Party. The voting came to an end late yesterday afternoon, the 22nd September 2010. The result will be declared on Saturday the 25th. I am too late, therefore, to try influencing the outcome – not, of course, that my recommendations would have had any influence on those able to vote. What I can do is to explain which of the five candidates is most likely to serve the interests of England. To be specific, which of the five is most likely to diminish the chance that Labour will ever win another general election?

I will dismiss Ed Balls and Andy Burham out of hand. There is no point in denouncing them as sordid apparatchiks – as principals and as willing accomplices in treason and tyranny. All five are that. No one who has sat steaming for any length of time on the dung heap that is New Labour can be regarded as other than a beast in human form. Their disqualification from our point of view is that they are both white and English. This means that, with careful presentation, they can be dressed up as champions of the common man. Since, even with a better government than we currently have, the next few years will be difficult, we cannot afford a credible Labour response to the inflation and unemployment that are the results of the artificial boom engineered by Gordon Brown.

I will also dismiss Diane Abbott. Many people tell me that a black woman cannot become Prime Minister in England. I am not too sure of this. There is, I have no doubt, much more colour prejudice in this country than fear of the law and fear of informal penalties will allow to be expressed. At the same time, I doubt if there is enough colour prejudice to stop her from being an effective party leader. We must consider that, unlike all the other candidates, she does look like a normal human being. Her opinions may be both stupid and malevolent. But she always manages to look good on television. At the same time, she could count on the undivided support of non-white voters that Mr Obama found so useful in America. And there are just as many middle class fools in this country as in America who would think that supporting a black politician was atonement for the past five billion years of white racism. We cannot afford Diane Abbott. She may be less dangerous than Messrs Balls and Burnham. Still, she is, in terms of her own abilities, and in terms of the coalition of forces that would gather round her, too dangerous to consider.

This leaves us with the two Miliband brothers. And these are certainly worth considering. They have the great advantage for us of being Jewish. Now, while there are Jewish organisations that get money and support by insisting that England is two steps from our own Kristallnacht, I doubt if many English people have even noticed the shape of the Miliband noses. Of those who have noticed, I doubt if more than a few thousand think ill of it. Native anti-semitism is so rare that it has to be hunted out, where not actually fabricated. And do bear in mind that the British National Party, which is our largest white nationalist organisation, welcomes Jewish members and is vaguely pro-Israel in its foreign policy. However, the non-white population is solidly anti-semitic. Moslems, black Christians, whatever – they largely hate Jews with a ferocity not known in England since the middle ages.

It may be disagreeable that we must share a country with such people. But it would be rather funny to see Labour hoist by its own petard. After 1997, Labour Governments knowingly encouraged the immigration of between seven and ten million non-whites into this country. They did so because it accelerated the upward redistribution of wealth to which modern ruling classes are all committed. They did so because it helped break up the solidarity of the ruled that is another ruling class project. They also did so because they believed that the new arrivals, once they had been waved through the citizenship formalities, would mostly vote Labour. And they will – so long as an English or a Scotch man or a black woman is in charge. They will not vote, I think, for a Labour Party led by a Jew. And this is regardless of how seldom either Miliband goes into a synagogue, and regardless of how little public enthusiasm either has shown for Israel.

This will be still more the case if the Liberals get the electoral reform that the Conservatives may not be able to deny them. So far, the two main parties have been held together by the iron logic of the first past the post system. I, for example, voted Conservative in this year’s election not because I thought David Cameron would be a good Prime Minister – but because the Conservatives were the only force able to get Labour out of office. I normally vote for the UK Independence Party. I would, in other than general elections, and if a candidate were to stand where I live, vote for the Libertarian Party. But I voted Conservative in the general election because not to vote Conservative would have risked another Labour Government.

It is the same with non-white electors. They might swallow their prejudices and vote for a Labour Party led by a Jew if the alternative was to let in a Conservative Government. But the alternative vote system will allow them to give their first preferences to Islamic and black nationalist parties. Their second preferences might be enough for Labour. But the loss of first preferences might be enough to keep Labour from ever winning a majority of the English seats. And the accompanying redistribution of seats would make Scotch votes far less important than they have been.

And so, my prayers are with the Milibands. I should now say, though, which of the two brothers I prefer. My preference is for David. His brother, Ed, has several disadvantages from our point of view. He was not in Parliament when his Party voted to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has distanced himself from these atrocities. He has also accepted that identity cards and other police state laws were not entirely good things. Worse, he was Environment Secretary in the Brown Government, and always gave the impression of believing the drivel he was given to read out in public. He looks thick – but a visible lack of intelligence has never been a disadvantage in English politics. Apparent sincerity has always weighed more than cleverness.

David Miliband, however, is irremediably tainted with all the horrors of the Blair and Brown regime. He supported those wars. He supported every police state law that was brought forward. And he has all the commitment in his speaking manner of a Kremlin teleprinter. He looks thick. If we leave aside his ability to crawl nearly to the top of the Labour dung heap, he probably is thick. But, where his brother does not, he also manages to look like a supercilious fraud. I do hope he wins. Indeed, I am so convinced he would be the right man for the job, that I did briefly think of handing over a £1 joining fee to the Labour Party in order to vote for him. With David Miliband in charge, we might hope for a repeat at the next election of Labour’s 1983 performance.

The Worthless Conservatives

Now, here I must say, as clearly as I can, that, I do not want a melt-down of Labour support because it might give a clear run to the Conservatives. The reason I want the Labour Party to vanish up its own bottom is because this enables our own attack on the Conservative Party.

I welcomed the present Coalition Government in May because it was not Labour. I am grateful for the limited return since then to constitutional government. Of course, I was pleased when the new Home Secretary told the police that they could not stop people at random in the street for searches and questions. I am delighted that the Government has abolished identity cards and shut down the National Identity Register that was supposed ultimately to store every last details of our lives – including DNA samples – so we could never again live privately in freedom, and never again remake ourselves. I hope that the unequal extradition treaty with America will be amended, and that the European Arrest Warrants will be made harder to enforce that has so far been the case. I look forward to many other retreats from the Labour police state.

Even so, David Cameron does not preside over a government of reaction. Unlike in 1660, there will be no legislative voiding of the previous revolution. The multicultural agenda has been left untouched, and natives will continue to suffer official discrimination and censorship. The most malevolent agencies of the Labour State will not be closed down. There is no chance that we shall leave the European Union. As for the cuts in government spending we have been promised, these will not abolish the clientage to which millions of people have been reduced. I cannot be bothered to go through the numbers. I am, however, assured that, in real terms, the British State will spend more next year – after the Osborne “cuts” have begun – than it did in 2005, when Gordon Brown was bribing us with our own money to keep him and Tony Blair in office. If there are cuts, these will be felt by ordinary people, who will not get the state healthcare and pensions and education they were promised. The bureaucracies that meddle in the smallest details of our lives will be left mostly intact. Above all, perhaps, the new Ministers are at least as committed as the old to the “climate change" hoax. While enriching and legitimising the ruling class, this threatens ordinary people with impoverishment and slavery on a scale that makes the totalitarianisms of the last century almost benevolent.

Conservative Members of Parliament have told me, in private, that this is not a purely Conservative Government, and that nothing can be done without the consent of their Liberal Democrat partners. There is something in what they say. Like most other people, I had never paid much attention to our third party. Since it was never likely to get into government, there was no point investigating its stated or actual beliefs. I did think, nevertheless, that its economics were broadly mutualist, or even Georgist, with a dash of Keynes. I was wrong. I am not sure who does vote Liberal Democrat. But its Ministers are behaving in office as if they were just as much the representatives of public sector employees as the Labour Party. They are state socialists without New Labour’s stiffening of ex-Communists.

But, if there is something in what my Conservative friends tell me, it is also true that a purely Conservative Government would have been hardly any different to what we have. I never believed that a Cameron majority would result in a government of reaction. I did believe that withdrawal from the European Union would be firmly ruled out by Mr Cameron, and that he would buy off most complaints from within his party by keeping identity cards. At least this has not been necessary. It is, however, undeniable that the Government we have is committed to working within the terms set by Tony Blair before he went barking mad.

I repeat – I welcome many things that have been done, and that are yet to be done, by the Coalition. This does not make me a supporter of the Coalition. The lesser of two evils is less evil – but it is also still evil.

Do you remember the Thermidore Reaction? That was when the French Jacobins were rounded up and sent to their own guillotine or packed off somewhere nasty to die of yellow fever. Do you remember the Soviet de-Stalinisation of the 1950s? That was when the Gulag was slimmed down a little, and there were private mutterings that Stalin himself had gone a little too far. Well, to speak in these terms about England may seem hyperbolic. But we really are living through our own equivalent of these reactions. Labour’s revolutionary terror is being wound down. But the revolution itself remains the governing consensus. No one presently in or near office has the slightest inclination to return us to a situation where we can call ourselves the free citizens of an independent country.

I do not believe there is any chance in the short term or a genuine reaction. One of the commenters on the LA Blog tells me of his plan for a violent overthrow of the Establishment, to be followed by the trial and execution of perhaps ten thousand traitors and other class enemies. But I am not at all persuaded that violence is either desirable or possible. Other people tell me that we should give all assistance to some other party that may then get elected. But I am hardly more persuaded that any of the alternative parties currently on offer is up to winning a general election. If we are to get out of our present mess, it must be after a process of delegitimisation that will include destroying the Conservative Party. Only then will some other force emerge that may restore something like the old order – or create a new order that will serve something like the same purpose.

What Do We Want?

Oh – I see I have just used the phrase “new order”. I could change this to avoid the pointing of Marxoid fingers. Instead, I will make it an excuse to spell out what I actually want. I want to live in a country where everyone has freedom of speech and association, and where justly-acquired property is secure from confiscation and can be freely enjoyed. In such a country, such government as remains is limited in every exercise of power. It is limited, by a bill of rights, in the laws it can make. It is limited, by strict procedural safeguards, in its enforcement of the laws. There is a clear division between state and voluntary activity, and state activity is small in both nature and extent. In such a country, furthermore, every official is accountable, at one or two legal removes, to the people who pay his salary; and the nation as a whole is free from outside control.

We do not live in such a country. To what extent the old order – the mixed Constitution of Church and State, the hegemony of the landed interest, and so forth – secured these things is worth arguing about elsewhere. It is undeniable that the present order of things, that emerged during the twentieth century, does not. This order is one of growing administrative despotism – a despotism sometimes directed by those holding the traditional offices of state, but just as often by those whose names and even functions are unknown to the people. It is also an order, as said, where wealth is systematically redistributed upwards to those public and formally private interest groups that exist because of state privilege.

The new order that I want – and that I largely believe is wanted across our Movement – is one in which most state agencies will have been shut down, and in which the legal and administrative privileges that maintain big business, the credentialed professions, the centralised media, and all other sinister interests, in existence will have been revoked. This does involve a revolution of one kind or another – a revolution, or a counter-revolution, or just a reaction: call it what you will. But, if the people ever take to the streets to demand change, this will have been preceded by a delegitimisation of the present order of things – just as the ancient régime in France withered after the 1770s, and the traditional autocracy in Russia withered after the 1880s. Long before a visible blow can have been landed against it, this present order of things will have been made incapable of defending itself. Of course, it must - as will every order founded on a denial of human nature - perish from within. But this inevitable fall will have been hastened by our own relentless critique.

I want to live in this kind of new order. If I cannot have it for myself, I want it for my daughter. And if someone important wants to construe my definition of “new order” as evidence that I am a neo-nazi terrorist, that only shows how far we currently stand from achieving any of it

Certainly, though, no escape from the present order of things can be easily urged so long as the Labour Party remains a credible danger to what freedom we still have. I can already see the Ministers and their smug Tory boy assistants go about their business, challenging every objection by asking “You wouldn’t want Labour back – would you?” And my own answer is “No, I do not.” I do not want Labour back. Life under Khrushchev is better than life under Stalin. The jeunesse dorée are better than the sight of those hags knitting under the guillotine. Better the Stupid Party than the Evil Party.  And so, while another Labour Government remains more than an outside possibility, the work of counter-revolution cannot be pressed on. It is not to be put on hold, least of all forgotten. But it cannot reasonably claim all our effort.

That is why David Miliband must be our man. I think the worst choice the Labour Party could make – from our point of view – is Ed Balls or Andy Burnham. The best choice really is David Miliband, with his invisible moustache and jerky movements and his inability to do other than defend every monstrous act of the Blair and Brown Regime. Bearing in mind how we have shambled through the past thousand years of our history, England has been an astonishingly lucky nation. Let us hope, this coming Saturday, that our luck will hold.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 47
22nd January 2001

How to Destroy the Enemy Class:
A Manifesto for the Right
Sean Gabb

The purpose of this manifesto is to discuss how England might be taken over and indefinitely held by the political right.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 81
4th December 2002

A Record of a Debate Held by the Local Government Association
on Wednesday the 4th December 2002
on the Motion: “This House Believes Promoting Diversity Causes Discrimination”
Sean Gabb

About a month ago, David Conway telephoned me to ask if I might be interested in making a speech to the Local Government Association, which, as its name suggests, is an organisation set up to represent the interests of local government in England and Wales. I said yes, and forgot about the matter. Only yesterday did I bother looking at the papers that had been sent to me and pay attention to what the debate was to be over. I am normally a very lazy speaker. I never write my speeches, and usually give no thought to their content until I open my mouth. On this occasion, however, I was to be proposing a somewhat controversial motion to an audience of Guardian readers. Looking at the list of those invited to sit in the audience, I noticed representatives from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Runnymede Trust, the National Housing Association, the Home Office, and various other bodies with the same predictable views. And so I decided to give up on trying to be spontaneous, and wrote my speech in full.

Speaking for the motion with me was Tiffany Jenkins, who is Director of the Arts and Society Programme at the Institute of Ideas. Speaking against was Simon Woolley, who is National Co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote, and who wrote a most interesting article in The Guardian a few months ago about Winston Churchill and Black History Month. With him was Dr Richard Reiser, Director of Disability Equality in Education. Together with Councillor Laura Willoughby, who is Chairman of the Local Government Association Equalities Executive, and who was to keep order in the proceedings, we sat together at a raised table facing the invited audience. The debate was recorded, and transcripts will be published by the Local Government Association.

Ms Jenkins spoke first. She began by praising certain kinds of diversity—the sort that brought vibrancy and cosmopolitanism to a country. But followed by saying that diversity as a public ideology was a force for great evil. First, it tended to stereotype people, putting them into categories that were permanent and irreconconcilable. Second, it was reactionary, so far as it upheld the present order of things. Third, that it tended to undermine the sense of shared experience that all societies needed to survive. In its place, it put the thought police.

I spoke next, but as I will simply give the full speech that I made, I will leave this to last, in order not to unbalance the brief account that I am giving of the other speakers. I am, I must emphasise, giving bald and probably inaccurate accounts. I hope that the other speakers will publish their own accounts and circulate them at least as widely as I am circulating mine. If not, there will be the official transcript on the Local Government Association website.

Mr Woolley spoke third. He began by describing his thoughts when first invited to speak. At the beginning of this century, he said, he thought it was a waste of time to debate on whether diversity was a good thing: the real debate for him was over how it was best to be promoted. However, he had decided to come along and argue that it was a good thing and should be promoted for two main reasons. First, it was the right thing to do—an inclusive society was obviously better than one that was not. Second, it was in the direct self-interest even of people like Sean Gabb to have the promotion of diversity. People who are not included in the making of decisions drift to the margins, where they turn either to crime or to dangerous ideologies like radical Islam. Look at Bradford, he said—a place torn apart not because of its diversity but by the lack of any real diversity. Look, on the other hand, at London—a city universally admired and indeed envied for its great wealth of diversity.

Finally, Dr Reiser spoke. For him, diversity was the same as equality and therefore the same as a fairer world. Discrimination was always the fault of those in power—politicians and big business. Racism was a product of their imperialism. So were racial attacks and murder. What the world needed, he said, was the use of power to correct its past misuses. He accused the proposers of the motion of "extreme right wing prejudice" camoflaged in "neo-liberal arguments" about freedom of speech and association. He objected to Sean Gabb's use of the word "handicapped", arguing that the correct word was "disabled", and that to use any other was patronising and offensive. Of course, the Government must challenge discrimination wherever it could be shown to exist—I counted 15 uses of the word "challenge" in this sense. Therefore, we needed a new Race Relations Act, and much more vigorous promotion of diversity. In particular, we need much more promotion of diversity in schools. We needed to abolish independent education, so that all children could study together in state schools, where they could be taught to love one another. Ultimately, he concluded, it was necessary not just to change this country, but the whole world, dominated as it is by American imperialists and rapacious multi-national corporations.

Now, here is my speech. I read it slowly and exactly in my loudest and flattest voice.

I will begin by questioning the notion of diversity. What does it mean? If it means that we are all individuals with different tastes and opinions and understandings of the world, it is of course something with which no libertarian would take issue. As commonly used, however, it means that we should work for the sort of society in which every organisation, public and private, is filled with representative numbers of women, black people, homosexuals, and the handicapped. Anything with less than representative numbers of these and other groups is to be investigated on the grounds that it is probably discriminating. In describing the ideal society according to this view of diversity, the old sneer about jobs for black, one-legged lesbians is cruel but not that unfair.

Now, this is a diversity of sorts. But it is not the diversity that really exists when not as carefully managed and constrained as a bonsai tree. This is the diversity that concentrates on superficial differences between individuals. When it comes to matters of opinion, there is no diversity. Everyone is expected—in public, at least—to endorse the kind of opinions that would not be out of place in a Guardian editorial. Let there be diversity of belief—let someone say the number of black people in this country has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished; or that America is the Great Satan, and got a jolly good hiding in New York last year, and should mind its ps and qs over the Middle East in future if it wants to avoid more of the same; or that homosexuals are the spawn of Satan, and aids is only the beginning of God's punishment for their abominations—let anyone deviate from the Guardian line on any issue dear to the promoters of diversity, and there is an end of talk about diversity. The cry will go up for sackings from employment, for police and security service harassment, and of course for censorship laws with criminal sanctions attached. Promoters of diversity as the word is commonly used are inclined to tolerate only the diversity of which they approve. Where they do not approve, they will happily manufacture excuses for hate crime laws as arbitrary and soon perhaps as draconian as the religious laws of Elizabeth I.

That, I suspect, is the diversity promoted by the Local Government Association and the organisations that employ most of the rest of you. Looking around this room, I see people of every superficial difference. But anyone of you who deviates too far from the bonsai intellectual status required will pretty soon find out what the inside of a job centre looks like nowadays.

The problem is that diversity as it exists outside the bonsai grove is not some multicultural love feast. It is an extraordinarily unstable thing, always liable to collapse into violence born of ungovernable hatred. If you want to see diversity in action, look away from this room—look at Yugoslavia; look at Rwanda; look at Ulster; look at parts of India; look at the old Ottoman Empire and virtually the whole of the present Middle East. Those born into such societies know that they are unfortunate, and lament their inability to make their world different from how it is. Yet that is exactly what we, in the name of diversity or anti-discrimination or multiculturalism, are busily—if usually uncomprehendingly - manufacturing for ourselves.

Diversity does not need to collapse into naked violence to produce a nasty, uncivil society. There are many circles of hell before the lowest is reached. But how can the historic, fairly liberal institutions of this country survive, when increasing numbers of people are actively encouraged not to define themselves as individual members of one nation, but as members of groups with interests different from and often opposed to those of other groups?

Democracy requires at least belief in a fluid public opinion to which rival candidates can address themselves and hope to win over enough votes to form a government—a government that will exist so long as their majority exists, and that will in the meantime be regarded by the present minority as legitimate if regrettable. In a society Balakanised along racial, religious, sexual, or any other lines, democracy is no more than a headcount superfluous so long as the census reports are up to date—a headcount after which the majority will forever more or less tyrannise over the minority.

And if that is the case with national democracy, how much more it is with local government, with the delivery of public services like healthcare and education, with policing, and with criminal justice. How can there be trial by jury when verdicts are routinely brought in on grounds separate from the evidence presented in court?

To say that diversity as commonly promoted causes discrimination is the very mildest condemnation.

Nations are fictitious entities. Except where the smallest or most primitive are concerned, they are not composed of individuals very closely related by blood. They have normally grown over centuries by amalgamation with successive waves of migrants and invaders. What holds a nation together, then, is not shared blood, but a shared identity. Attack that identity, and the nation is attacked. Destroy that identity, and the nation is destroyed. But, as said, do not suppose the resulting diversity will be one of mutual love or even respect. It will be a diversity in which individuals are judged according not to character or ability, but to membership of a distinct and possibly hostile group.

The challenge facing this country in the next few generations is to find some minimal shared identity with which to connect the often visibly diverse individuals who live here. The facts of demography mean that this must be very largely a matter of assimilation - though with much compensating tolerance by the majority of remaining differences. How we shall manage this I do not know. But I do know we shall not manage it by promoting diversity.

The speeches over, questioning from the floor began. About half of it was directed at me, but I had run out of paper and the will to keep notes; and so anyone interested to know exactly what was said must wait for the official transcript. However, I had the chance for several long replies, the last of which went something as follows:

I repeat that I am not arguing for a monolithic society, in which all people must conform to one standard of thought and behaviour. Indeed, I am arguing against exactly that. I believe that we should do our best to get along with each other, and that we should always try to look behind superficial things like nipple rings and green hair and religion and colour of skin, and judge each other on character and ability. But I do not believe in the enforcement of niceness. As a libertarian, I believe in the right of people to do as they please with themselves. This means that people have the right to discriminate in their selection of employees and tenants on the basis of race, religion, sexuality, age, physical incapacity, or any other criterion that takes their fancy. To say otherwise is to advocate forced association. People also have the right to say anything they like about the above issues, no matter how unloving it might be. To say otherwise is to advocate censorship.

I oppose all state promotion of diversity. I therefore believe in repealing all the race relations and other anti-discrimination laws. I also believe in shutting down the Commission for Racial Equality and bodies like the Local Government Association. Please accept that there is nothing personal in this. I have no doubt that you would all do much better for yourselves if you were required to sell your services in the private sector. You would also do less harm to the wealth and happiness of all the people in this country.

I saw several mouths fall open in the audience when I said this. Of course, the motion was lost. In the vote at the beginning of the meeting, it was lost by about 30 to four, with five abstentions. In the final vote, those in favour were down to two, with five abstentions—though these were a different five. But no one shouted back at me or walked out. Indeed, I was surprised how nice most Guardian readers can be. We were all very friendly in the buffet afterwards. I was button-holed by a young woman who I think was Mr Woolley's daughter, though I neglected to ask. She began with flattery. She was a reader, she said, of Free Life Commentary on my web page and found it very interesting. the surest way to an intellectual's heart is though his ego. This young lady will doubtless go far in life. She then asked why I was spending so much of my time on the mixed bag of losers and cretins who are the modern Conservative Party? Why not turn my attentions to the Liberal Democrats? These at least were already social liberals, and they might with a fraction of the effort I had wasted on the Tories come to some agreement on economic liberalism. Good question, and I had no ready answer. Perhaps I should think of one.

Her third point, and we argued over this at some length, was that I had made no effort to win the debate. She thought the motion might have been carried had I taken the same approach as Ms Jenkins and tried to argue my case in terms more familiar to the audience.

My reply was to repeat the argument long ago agreed within the Libertarian Alliance. The purpose of taking part in such debates was not to try to win them. That might be possible by softening arguments and trying to find common ground. But it was worthless in the long term, bearing in mind the very small number of libertarian activists. The real purpose was to use every opportunity to state one's opinions as clearly and with as little compromise as possible - thereby contributing to a long term shift in the terms of debate.

Had I been less tired after a day of hard teaching—taking my students to a coffee warehouse that no longer existed, and so forth - and had my mind been less ruled as I spoke by the railway timetable, I should have used the example of Mr Woolley. His reaction to what I said was interesting. I do not doubt his honesty or good faith, but I will say that he replied to me in the debate by arguing against positions I had not taken. This was not, I think, my fault. My speech is a pretty clear statement of belief; and I can have no doubt that he caught every word: sitting next to me, he might even have benefitted from ear plugs. The problem is that he had probably never come across opinions like mine. The natural human reaction to the unfamiliar is to try and make sense of it by squeezing it into a known category, however inappropriate that may be. But this is a short term reaction. The next time Mr Woolley hears the libertarian case against diversity promotion, it will be more familiar to him. His disagreement then will not be over what it is not, but over what it is. Eventually, I hope, he will realise that disagreement is not possible. The day he resigns from Operation Black Vote, and becomes a British Thomas Sowell will be the day his daughter has my full answer to her objection.

Yes, it was a successful and enjoyable evening. Many thanks in conclusion to Councillor Willoughby for chairing the meeting so tightly and yet so fairly. Perhaps I should be more careful in future about stereotyping all Guardian readers as embittered fascists spraying staccato hatred from behind a clenched and shaking cigarette.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 82
5th December 2002

God, Margaret Thatcher,
and the Established Church of England
Sean Gabb

Sitting on the railway train to London, I have just found a copy of The Times from last Tuesday. This carries a report of the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently, he wishes to see the Church disestablished—that is, for the ancient connection between Church and State to be broken. The Monarch would no longer be Supreme Governor of the Church and Defender of the Faith, and it would lose its automatic representation in the House of Lords. Bishops would no longer be appointed by the Crown, and they would no longer officiate at coronations.

Though it might appeal to the tidy-minded bureaucrats who pass nowadays as constitutional lawyers, and give a mild satisfaction to the less reflective members of other denominations, this is a remarkably silly idea. An evolved constitution like ours is not easily altered in its fundamentals. Even when everyone acts in good faith, without intending to use one set of changes as precedent for further changes that might not otherwise be possible—and I doubt if everyone is acting here in good faith—disestablishment might easily unsettle the whole Constitution, raising questions about the status of the Monarchy, and then about the nature and functions of Parliament and the courts. In any event, Church establishment is not something attended by any measurably unpleasant consequences. The privileges are mostly theoretical. No other faith is persecuted. I have never met any Catholic or Jew or Moslem who thought it at all unfair that our Monarch must by law be a communicant of the established Church. The practical effects of establishment over the past few centuries have been to make religion in England increasingly harmless. Having 26 Bishops in the House of Lords, generally talking nonsense or fussing over their corporate wealth, has helped us avoid the situation found in most other civilised countries—where arguments between religious mystics and militant atheists have spilled over into politics and disturbed the peace of society to no good effect.

However, I will not for the moment continue my defence of Church establishment. My purpose in writing is an incidental quotation in the Times report. The new Archbishop has commissioned a report in favour of disestablishment from something called the Constitution Unit, which I think is connected with the University of London. One argument given in favour is that,

[u]ntil the Church of England can choose its own bishops, Christian ecumenicism is stymied, because no other church will amalgamate with one whose bishops might be chosen by a future Margaret Thatcher.

Let us ignore whether the word "stymied" should ever be used in English, or that it should never be used in formal prose. I want to know how anyone could regard Margaret Thatcher as an impediment to Christian unity—and regard the matter as so obvious that it required no justification. Did she rule the Church with a rod of iron? Did she ruthlessly enforce conformity to the 39 Articles on the priesthood, and bully her Ministers into taking the Host from an Anglican priest four times a year? My recollection is that she appointed Presbyterians, Catholics, Jews and atheists to office with complete indifference to their religious beliefs—and usually to their private behaviour, so long as they kept it out of the newspapers. She gave the Chief Rabbi a peerage, and apparently got on well with Sikh shopkeepers. She herself had been brought up as a Methodist and converted when she married. Though doubtless a strong believer, she took no active interest in theology. I recall she was mildly in favour of ordaining women, and she did not block the appointment of a certainly heretical and probably atheistical Bishop of Durham in 1983. If the appointment of Bishops by the Prime Minister were the problem, it might have been more appropriate for the Constitution Unit to have mentioned that John Major was an agnostic, that Tony Blair seems on the verge of converting to the Church of Rome, and that Iain Duncan Smith is already there. If Christian unity were the problem, it would have been more appropriate to ask whether unity could be possible with a Church of Rome that still maintained the doctrines of papal supremacy and infallibility, and of which the future head might be another theological conservative like John Paul II. But, no—it had to be Lady Thatcher. Why?

The answer has nothing to do with what she might have been inclined to think in private about the intercession of saints, or the sources of religious authority, or the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but everything to do with her passionate belief in fighting inflation, and in restraining the growth of government spending, and in her partiality for free markets and for lower taxation. That really outraged those who actually govern the Church of England and many other Christian figures beside. She was "hard" and "uncaring". She "ground the faces of the poor" and "celebrated greed". Those are the genuine grounds of objecting to her role and that of any other Prime Minister like her in the appointment of Bishops. She was not a heretic or a persecutor. Much worse, she did not believe in "the third way".

Is this, however, a valid ground for objection? Is it unambiguously the case that a devout Christian must believe in an enlarged welfare budget and in state ownership of the telecommunications sector? The present Archbishop of Canterbury might think so. Many of his fellow Bishops certainly think so. But is this a position derived from a recognisably theological argument, or is it just a prejudice derived from too much reading of The Guardian? To give an answer to this question, let us briefly examine what political and economic and social arrangements might be sanctioned by the God of Christianity.

Let us begin by assuming for the sake of argument that there is a just and loving God, that He created the heavens and earth, and that He desires us, his creatures, to seek salvation to life everlasting. For the avoidance of ambiguity, I will say that this is not an assumption of the Libertarian Alliance. Most other Executive Committee members are atheists. The others probably believe that if God does exist, He ought to be privatised. Probably most of my readers are atheists or just not Christians. But, for the sake of argument, let us make these assumptions, and see what reasonably follows from them.

The first consequence is that salvation comes from doing good. What is good we can discover both from the texts of the Christian revelation and from natural reason. According to Paul,

[t]hou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Romans, 13,9)

According to Thomas Aquinas,

[t]here is in man a first, innate inclination to good, which he shares with everything so far as it desires the maintenance of its existence according to its own nature. Through this, the natural law pertains to all that serves the continuation of human life and all that impedes death. Second, he is inclined to certain more specific ends according to the nature which he shares with the other animals. Those ends are termed part of the natural law `which Nature has taught all animals'—such as the attraction of the sexes, and rearing of children, and like things. Third, he is inclined to good according to his rational nature, which nature is proper to man alone. So he is inclined by nature to seek knowledge of God, and to live in society. Under the heading of natural law come all acts pertaining to this inclination—chiefly that he should avoid ignorance, and be honest in his dealings, and all other such actions. (Summa Theologiae, I-II,94,2, my translation)

This being so, a necessary further assumption is that we should be free to choose good or not to choose it. I know there are strong theological and philosophical objections to the doctrine of freedom of the will. But, as said, it is a necessary further assumption. After all, there can be no virtue in doing what one has no choice but to do. If, for example, I had been born without sexual organs, or if —like Origen—I had had them surgically removed, it would be absurd for me to expect praise for my strict continence. Praise—or at least note of the fact—can only have meaning had my course of action been freely chosen.

Now, because we are social creatures, and usually have no choice but to live in close proximity to other people, nearly all occasions for doing good or evil must involve how we treat others. For this reason, society must be seen in theological terms as a stage on which we act under the watchful eye of God.

We can say, therefore, that God wants us to live in a society that is both stable—so far as there are none of those collapses into chaos where rational choices of virtuous action are at least difficult—and in which people have the greatest freedom possible to choose their courses of action.

Here ends any purely theological argument for a Christian. Analyses of the nature of God can give no specific guidance about matters like the appropriate kinds and incidences of taxation, or about the appropriate systems of civil and criminal justice. This is not the case for religions like Islam or orthodox Judaism. These have the good or bad fortune to have been provided with elaborate codes of social and economic conduct; and most theology within these faiths is a matter of close and often brilliant exegesis of their scriptures. The Christian scriptures, however, are mostly silent or ambiguous about all but purely personal conduct. Some Christians have tried to supply the lack of guidance in the New Testament by turning for guidance to the Old Testament. But this is the wrong place to look. The function of the Old Testament for Christians is to provide background understanding for the New Testament—to show the fulfilment in one of promises or prophesies made in the other. Unless it is at least impliedly repeated in the New Testament, no positive or negative injunction found in the Old Testament is binding on Christians. Even those Christians who deny this in principle, accept it in practice, so far as they do not refrain from eating pork or wearing clothes of mixed fibre, and so far as they make a more or less arbitrary choice of which parts of the Mosaic code to follow. It may be this inadequacy of the scriptures, or it may be that the faith emerged first into a culture dominated by Greek rationalism, that Christianity is the most intellectual of all the great religions, and that its theology makes far more extensive and systematic use of arguments from natural reason. But there is a limit even to this approach. Christian theology cannot by itself provide answers to questions of social and economic organisation. All it can do is provide criteria by which answers supplied by other means can be judged. Natural reason is still the necessary tool of investigation, but this is no longer a meditation on faith, but a mediation on facts supplied to us either by introspection or by the evidence of our external senses. Any answer to the question of just what scheme of social and economic arrangements have the fullest Divine Sanction requires a detailed understanding of law, of economics, of history, of sociology, of psychology, and of every other relevant secular discipline.

Some answers are easily supplied. Common sense tells us that we cannot have a society in which there are no laws against murder and theft. Without legal deterrence, there would be many more of these evils—perhaps so many that society would collapse. Without legal retribution, faith in the institutions would crumble, and private retribution would take its place—thereby perhaps also making a stable extended society impossible. But, moving to questions of economic organisation, answers are not so easily supplied.

If it were possible, a loose collection of anarchist communes would be the best scheme of arrangement. This would free us from the need to work in often uncongenial occupations, and free us for the more rewarding business of choosing virtue. But there is no reason to believe that it is possible. Few anarchist communes have been set up. Those set up have never lasted long before breaking down in the face of a probably unalterable human nature. Soviet communism is a more workable scheme of arrangement. While it existed, it contributed remarkably little to the stock of human happiness, and eventually collapsed under the weight of its moral and economic bankruptcy. But it did last for three generations. Could it be shown that this was the only stable scheme of social and economic arrangement, it would undoubtedly have the sanction of God. After all, this sanction properly belongs not the most free society conceivable, but merely to the most free possible in the circumstances. But we need give no serious examination to any claims of soviet communism. It did eventually collapse, and it collapsed for reasons not accidental to it, but inherent to it.

We are therefore left with the various forms of free market capitalism. The mixed economy welfare state model of all modern countries—essentially the same everywhere, if with a few local variations—does work after a fashion. It removes many choices from individuals by way of taxes and regulations and virtual or actual state monopolies. But it is reasonably stable over time, and produces levels of well-being in which those remaining individual choices can be effectively made. There are compelling arguments for at least a much lower level of state activity. This might be even more stable over time, and might produce still greater levels of well-being - though, stability being reasonably shown, the real benefit would be the increase in the area of free choice. There are even compelling arguments in favour of having no state activity at all. I do not personally believe that free market anarchism would be much more successful over time than communist anarchism—but this belief, for all my familiarity with the arguments—does not amount to anything approaching a certainty; and I think it would be unwise to introduce religious notions of heresy into the process of argumentation. I think it much better established that a minimal state would be better than a welfare state. But this again is no kind of certainty. Undoubtedly, and regardless of what better alternatives might be available, so far as they work, any of the modern social democracies can claim a partial share of the Divine Sanction. The only argument is over how much.

This being so, what possible theological objection can there be to Margaret Thatcher? If there were any element of sin in her economic policies, it was her timidity in not removing all the barriers to free choice that her advisers urged were superfluous. But this was, at worst in the calculus of the Roman Church, a venial sin—nothing compared with the sins of a Stalin or a Mao. In any event, her religious critics are not concerned at her timidity. It is her movement in the right direction that angers them. But, to repeat, she did not move in this direction very far. She was no minimal statist, let alone a market anarchist. She simply believed that the post-war consensus over economic management was not working very well; and she re-arranged it in a manner that she believed would work rather better. The experience of the past ten years indicates that she was right, whatever arguments there might be in favour of a more radical approach.

The problem, of course, is that the various churches in this country lack not only original thinkers, but also anyone with the intellectual curiosity to know even what others have said about the nature and scope of their faith. They appear to know nothing of theology; and they know nothing about the methods or determinations of the secular disciplines. Instead, they have taken a few texts almost at random from the New Testament, and muddled these in the light of what they can read in The Guardian, and called the product Christian economics. But there is no such thing as Christian economics, any more than there is a Christian physics or mathematics. Those clergymen who still shudder at the name of Lady Thatcher might just as validly apply their complaints to the laws of physics. How hard, how uncaring, they might argue, to claim that jumping out of a high window can lead to serious injury. Surely the loving message of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ requires us to take a wider and more sympathetic view of the matter than these cold scientists, with their incomprehensible "dogma" about the mutual attraction of objects and how this varies inversely with the square of the distance between them? We can all laugh at that. So far as there is a God, and so far as the nature of reality can be accurately known, we can be sure that the laws of physics are the laws of God. But the same applies with economics. Once we have sufficiently checked the chain of reasoning from our introspection and from external fact, and once we have so far as possible tested our conclusions against experience, we have arrived at known laws of the market, which are also the laws of God. And no quavering clichés about "love" and "bias to the poor" can change this fact.

Another reason, I have no doubt, for the use of Lady Thatcher has nothing to do with the prejudices of even the most stupid or ill-educated clergyman. Ever since she was forced out of office, her secular enemies have been trying to demonise her. They wholly failed to win any arguments with her. Their revenge, and their protection against any future Prime Minister like her, is to surround her name with disreputable associations. The purpose is to turn the words "You are another Margaret Thatcher" from the high praise that it is over much of the world into a term of shocking abuse. Therefore the use of her name by the Constitution Unit. It would have been self-defeating to set out a formal argument that she stood somewhere between Judas Iscariot and the Emperor Diocletian. Far more effective, the authors of the report knew, was to imply her theological status in a sneer of 32 words—32 words that it has taken 3,200 words of even abbreviated argument to expose and refute.

It is our misfortune to live in an age of disintegration. It can be argued, I agree, that every age is one of disintegration. Conservatives in the 19th century were just as alarmed as in the 21st at the rapid and often badly thought institutional changes forced on them. The difference between then and now, though, is that the changes were forced from outside. Those in the institutions were able to make a co-ordinated and powerful defence that held off many of the attacks even into my own lifetime. Now the attacks come increasingly from within. It hardly matters what we care to defend—the Church, the Monarchy, the Lords, national independence, whatever—there are always those in high places urging on the forces of destruction, or simply inviting them by the advertised fact of their personal idiocy.

The past five years, in particular, strike me very much as a gentler, longer repeat of the collapse of the French ancien régime between 1788 and 1790. There is the same half-baked radical fervour on one side, and the same collaboration or paralysis of will on the other. I do not know how things will end. But I do know that our own ancien régime was far more defensible than the French in terms of its enabling the good life as commonly defined. For all their evident untidiness, no other set of constitutional arrangements has ever for so long combined such unwavering political stability with so wide a degree of personal freedom. If there were only one human constitution that had the Divine sanction, it was ours; and it is being systematically pulled apart. Future historians may look back at us with mingled pity and contempt. At present, we can simply fear what will come between us and that calmer future.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 83
9th December 2002

In Defence of the Monarchy
Sean Gabb

When with my family and friends I celebrated her Majesty's golden jubilee last June, I thought that republicanism had been crushed as other than a marginal force for another generation. Over a million people had gathered in the Mall to cheer her—many of them young people, and many from the ethnic minorities. For a few days, all the silly chatter about inclusiveness and diversity became about as real as it possibly could, but became real in a cause that the loudest and silliest of the chatterers regarded with shame and annoyance. Now, sadly, the republicans are back with their levelling agenda. I do not think we shall ever know the truth concerning the former servant of the Princess of Wales who started the present round of scandals. But the lurid claims of warnings from the Queen, of homosexual rape in the royal household, and of the general conduct of the royal family, are highly damaging regardless of their truth—and have been taken up by the republicans in the media and used to cause the greatest damage possible. Of course, the Monarchy will survive these scandals. They may be used, however, to justify a weakening of its institutional powers, and so will contribute to its decline over the long term.

I know that many of my readers live under republican forms of government, and that many of my British readers have no settled affection for our own monarchical constitution. But I am myself a committed monarchist, and will take this opportunity to explain why.

The first argument is from antiquity. Queen Elizabeth II is descended from the kings of the Germanic barbarians who invaded the Roman province of Britain after the year 410 AD. At first, these barbarians were divided among many tribes, each with its one king. As the centuries passed, however, what is now England was gradually brought under the rule of one royal family; and Alfred the Great (d. 901) is normally regarded as the first King of England.

With the exception of the rather strange period between 1649 and 1660, when the country was first a republic and then a military dictatorship, England has always been a Monarchy. And the monarchs have been members of one family. Her present Majesty is descended from the family of Alfred the Great, just as he in turn was descended from the chieftains who led their warriors and their families out of the great forests that once overspread northern Europe. There have been changes in the order of succession—in 1485, in 1603, in 1688, in 1714, and in 1936—but the crown has not passed outside that family during the past 1,500 years.

Antiquity, I grant, is not in itself a defence of anything. But antiquity does raise a presumption in its favour. Unless a particular thing can be shown to produce great and easily avoidable harm, its age does serve as a defence. The burden of proof, therefore, lies against the republicans. Before they can be allowed to have their way, they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that Monarchy is for us a harmful institution.

One claim I often hear is that we are in this country not citizens with inalienable rights, but subjects with revokable privileges. An argument consequent on this is that the Monarchy is a survival from the time before the middle-class revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a symbol of a traditional order in which status is possessed on the basis not of ability but of birth. It is even claimed that it is because of the social prestige of the Monarchy that this country lost its commercial lead at the end of the 19th century—that the first generations of capitalist factory owners were replaced by sons who had come to believe that high social status was best achieved through the professions and politics, and that industry was something for the lower classes to bother about.

The reply is simple. The language of obedience and the ceremonial that attends royal occasions may support this claim. However, in a constitution like ours, which was not made, but has evolved over many centuries, the dictionary meaning of words is far less important than the things they actually describe. During the past few hundred years, all of the European monarchies have been either abolished or remodelled out of ancient recognition. Are the "citizens" of those countries notably more free than English "subjects"? The obvious answer is no. We pay lower taxes than in most of these countries. We enjoy generally greater freedom of enterprise. In the writ of habeas corpus, and in trial by jury according to common law rules of justice, we enjoy greater protections of life, liberty and property. Unlike in most of Europe, I can take action against the authorities in the ordinary civil courts: where we have administrative tribunals, there is always appeal to the ordinary courts. Assuming I want to, I can read books and make statements that in much of Europe would get me into serious trouble. During the past century, there have been repeated floods of European immigrants into this country. They have come here to live in a country where they are not bled absolutely white in taxes, and where they do not need to fear a 3:00am knock on the door by the authorities. Except by those who want to live in a better climate, and who have the money to ignore local oppressions, I have not seen much movement in the opposite direction. Better to be a subject in England than a citizen in France. Just ask all those emigres who have settled here since 1789—and we can ask the 300,000 who currently have taken advantage of the European Union rules on labour mobility to come and work here. Having a Monarchy did not stop us from having the first and therefore the most important industrial revolution. It has not stopped London from remaining one of the great financial centres of the world—a financial centre where more people work than live in Frankfurt, whish is the next largest financial centre in the European Union.

If we are less free today than a century or even a generation ago, this is not because we have a Monarchy. It is because the representative elements of our constitution have decayed. It may have been Her Majesty last month, speaking to Parliament, who announced the planned abolition of the double jeopardy rule, and the lifting of the bar on similar fact evidence, and the limitation of the right to trial by jury. But she was reading words written for her by others - these others being a pack of unprincipled technocrats obsessed with meeting targets on the suppression of crime, regardless of due process, and regardless of whether the targets can be met by way of the means suggested. It is the people we are supposed to represent us who are making us less free, not the person whom the coins proclaim our monarch by the grace of God. If we have a problem, it is not too few elected politicians: it is too many bad ones.

Another claim is that the Monarchy is a visible symbol of inequality—a barrier to an ideal society in which everyone will be equal in status, and in which everyone will have the right, if not the ability, to rise to the highest position. It is a knife pointing at the heart of democracy. This may sound a persuasive claim. Historically, though, attempts to create such societies have usually gone far beyond abolishing a Monarchy—they have ended with attacks on anyone with a nice house and money in the bank, or on anyone with a good coat on his back. Those who hate the Queen for her jewels and palaces generally have no time either for the middle classes.

But all this is only a negative reply to the republicans. It demands proof of harm done by having a Monarchy, and then rejects all alleged proofs. The Monarchy is not simply an ancient institution that is harmless and that ought therefore to be left alone. There is a positive argument. Not only has the Monarchy done us no harm: it has done much good.

England is the only country in the world that has for the past three hundred years not had a revolution, a civil war, a military dictatorship, a foreign invasion, or any other serious breakdown of constitutional order. It has throughout this time maintained high levels of political and economic freedom. There is no other country in all history that has been so reliably free and stable for so long. This may have something to do with our geographical position—though this did not bring much stability before about 1700. It may have something to do with our racial characteristics—though the Americans who fought the War between the States were generally of the same stock, and still managed an awful bloodletting. There may be any number of other reasons, or combinations of reasons. But one highly probable contributing cause is our constitution. For the past few centuries, we have had a Monarchy with all the prestige of ancient legitimacy, combined with actual government by elected politicians. The character of the Monarch has therefore been fairly unimportant, but no politician has been able to scheme or shoot his way into that first position. We have a situation where the politicians have most of the power, but the Monarch has all the authority.

This is not a division of power that exists in the written constitutions of the other countries. Certainly, it was not noticed by foreign observers such as Montequieu and de Lolme in the 18th century. It is, even so, a division of powers that seem so far to have been more successful than the formal divisions of executive, legislature and judiciary with which constitutional lawyers are more familiar. It is not a defect of the Monarchy that the top position is closed to merit. It is one of the highest benefits. We cannot be certain that replacing the Monarchy with a presidential republic would preserve anything like this division. It might well be that to get rid of the Monarchy would take Britain into the kind of political instability that is currently unimaginable.

This brings us to the third line of defence—which is our ignorance of what would happen if we tried to replace the Monarchy.

Contrary to all the imaginings of the utopian philosophers, we are fundamentally not rational beings. We cannot be perfected. We cannot be made fit for a social order based wholly on light and reason. Certainly, the modes of thought and social organisation that developed chiefly in England, and have since spread in stages throughout the world, can usually be given a powerful abstract justification. But the success—indeed, the continued existence—of these modes owes nothing to rational deliberation, and everything to an often unconscious habit. To abolish, or even to try altering these habits is to risk our enjoyment of the benefits that proceed from them. Anyone who thinks otherwise falls into an error readily demonstrable from the history of the past two centuries. Anyone who proceeds from thought to action commits acts that range from the absurd to the catastrophically monstrous.

When, therefore, we come to an examine a functioning social order such as our own, our most proper attitude is one of curiosity mingled with reverence. We are not to seize on its apparent faults and reject it in favour of something else spun out of a single head. Nor, as has been most often done this century in those countries lucky enough to avoid a total reconstruction, are we to advocate sweeping reforms simply on the grounds of "modernisation" or of bringing something "into the twenty first century". We must instead try to understand the inner workings of society—to conjecture by what innumerable and infinitesimal stages the present order of things evolved to its present sophistication. This will require us to look even to those habits and institutions that rest on justifications manifestly absurd, asking whether they might not nevertheless serve a useful purpose. Then, and only then, shall we be ready to consider what deliberate changes may be necessary, and how these may best be combined with what already is. The best change is so cautious and incremental that only those directly affected notice its happening. Even the most radical, sudden change is best achieved so that within only a few years it becomes difficult to tell the old from the new.

According to this argument, then, it is wrong to look at the Monarchy as if it stood alone. It might be wrong to see the Monarchy as a direct guarantor of political stability. Nevertheless, it might contribute to that stability in some way that no one has yet discovered.

Some monarchists I have spoken to over the past year have expressed a strong dissatisfaction with the Queen. Disliking the present Government's European policy, they have petitioned Her Majesty for the redress of grievances, using the procedure laid down in the Magna Carta of 1215. So far, they have received no proper answer. From this, they have concluded that the Monarchy is as weak and indeed rotten a support as any other branch of the Constitution. This is a mistaken view. It proceeds from the same confusion of law and constitutional practice as the republicans usually make.

The legal powers of the Monarchy are theoretically immense. They have not been reduced by law since 1660, and then were not fundamentally touched. Formally, the Queen is the Head of State, Head of the Church of England, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In theory, she is also the owner of all the land in England and Wales —a survival of the feudal tenures introduced by William I in 1066. All legal acts are done in her name; and in theory, she is present in every courtroom in the country. Her head appears on every British postage stamp and on every British coin and banknote. We tend to despise those foreign countries where national flags or even pictures of "El Presidente" are everywhere. But images of our Queen are in every pocket and on every letter posted. If she so wished, she could dismiss Tony Blair tomorrow and set me in his place. She could dissolve Parliament to save me the trouble of facing it. She could declare war on France, and sign a treaty giving Gibraltar to Spain. In reality, she can do none of these things. Her inability to raise taxes in her own name would eventually force her to recall Parliament, just as Charles I was forced. But long before reaching this position, it would have been necessary for her to break through the web of custom that, during the past three centuries, has overlain the law. Her actions might be strictly legal: they would not be at all constitutional.

There might be circumstances in which she needed to use her full legal powers in defence of the whole Constitution, and she might then break various conventions without any loss of authority. But the arguments over the Treaty of Nice—bad as it might be—do not justify formal royal intervention. She would not have public opinion sufficiently on her side—and that, whatever the wording of constitutional documents might say—is the real source of power and authority.

This being said, I do believe that the Queen is aware of how dangerously bad this Government is, and that she is at war with it. But the weapons practically available to her are not those available to Queen Anne when she decided to rid herself of the Whigs. The weapons now are symbolism and ceremonial obstruction.

We saw these most obviously in use earlier this year. We have a government and a controlled media insisting that we are no longer what our ancestors were, and that our only future lies in the new country called Europe. This message received a flat contradiction when the Queen Mother was buried—an event acting as powerfully on the English imagination as a half-forgotten bugle call on an old soldier. The countless millions of unrepresented conservatives in this country were suddenly faced with the old music and words and ceremony, and the effect was often overpowering. It was like waking from a nightmare and looking at the familiar things around the bedroom. That is why New Labour and the BBC were so upset and even frightened by the public reaction. Unlike the amateurs and fools who run the Conservative Party, these people fully understand the power of symbolism, and they appreciated the strength of the reverse to their project of national deconstruction. They were equally upset by the success of the Jubilee celebrations. They could see what they had long regarded as the withered husk of the Monarchy taking on new life with every outpouring of popular support. This recovered strength would not be used to defeat them in open battle. Instead, it would be an inspiring force for others. The ancient Jews would carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them. Whether it brought the divine blessing on their arms may be doubted. Undoubtedly, though, it gave them a visible symbol of all they were fighting for. That is the real modern power of the Monarchy. And this, I suspect, is the reason why these scandals are being so emphasised in the media. They weaken the Monarchy in the place in which it needs to be strongest.

Now, what we are fighting for is obvious. We want personal freedom and national independence. Is that why Her Majesty is now at war on our side? I like to think so. But it may just be self-preservation. In the past hundred years, the Monarchy has accommodated itself to great and surprising changes. George V decided not to stand by the landed aristocracy, and so avoided its fate. George VI made no complaints about losing his imperial title. Her present Majesty managed very well in the first half of her reign as head of state in a mixed economy welfare state. But none of these changes threatened the survival of the Monarchy as an institution. The older Labour politicians—Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan—had no desire to overthrow the Constitution or even to remodel it. I am not even sure how serious were their more radical followers. The present Labour leaders, though, are republicans. They are not, of course, republicans in the tradition of Tom Paine or even of Tony Benn—who wanted what they thought a fair and rational deal for all the people of the country. Instead, they have a vision of a New World Order society in which there is no room for things like monarchy or any other pattern of habitual loyalty that they cannot themselves control. Their republic is not one of annual parliaments and village democracy: it is one in which the rulers of many countries combine to exercise absolute and unaccountable power over an atomised—and perhaps before long, a genetically modified—peasantry.

I think the Queen realises this. I believe that she takes her coronation oath seriously, and that she does regret the police state that her Minsters are building for us. But I am convinced that she sees the danger to her own position and that of her children. This puts her on our side—even if she stands on our side only "objectively", to use the old Marxist jargon.

On this last point, I would commend the Monarchy even to those of my friends who are committed republicans. Perhaps their ideal republic is a better form of government than our monarchical constitution. But this ideal republic is not presently on offer. Until it can be on offer, therefore, I would advise them to take a lesson from the Australian voters of a few years ago. Presented with a choice between a monarchy for which they had little strong affection and a republic designed wholly with the interests of the politicians in mind, they chose to keep the Monarchy.

And so, for all these reasons, and for others that I may have forgotten, I ask all my readers—monarchists and republicans, libertarians and conservatives, and even the more thoughtful socialists who want a better world than New Labour has in mind for us—to join in wishing Her Majesty a happy Christmas and a long and productive reign in the years still to come.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 107
5th June 2003

Farewell to the Lord Chancellor:
A Brief Comment on the Continuing New Labour Revolution
by Sean Gabb

Brian Micklethwait has suggested that I should comment—no matter how briefly—on the announced abolition last week of the office of Lord Chancellor. Being the resident Jeremiah at the Libertarian Alliance, I suppose I have a duty to complain. So I will.

Last Thursday, Tony Blair reshuffled his cabinet. Those Ministers who had performed badly by his standards were dismissed. One of his main loyalists resigned under circumstances that have given rise to much private speculation. Mr Blair then moved some of his remaining Ministers around, and appointed a few more to fill up the gaps.

This is normal practice for a government as old and strained as this one now is. I have lived long enough to see it happen many times before. What makes it worthy of comment is the unexpected changes to the way in which the judiciary is managed. The Lord Chancellor was dismissed, and instead of being refilled, his office has been announced for abolition, its main functions being put out to commission or being eventually regathered into a Ministry of Justice. At the same time, the senior Judges are to lose their seats in the House of Lords and will be given their own Supreme Court over which to preside. The immediate reason is a political crisis for Mr Blair. I cannot know the details, but it is obvious that he is under severe pressure; and the changes may have been meant to draw attention away from the sorry fact that he is running out of loyalists, and that those he has are not very good.

The principle of the changes, though, is not bad in itself. In standard constitutional theory, the Lord Chancellorship is an anomaly. He is a Judge. He appoints all the other Judges. He is the Speaker of the House of Lords. He also sits in the Cabinet as a creature of the Prime Minister. The modern doctrine of the separation of powers—as most notably expressed in the American Constitution - was derived in the 18th century from observation by Montesquieu and de Lolme, among others, of the British Constitution. They plainly did not observe very well.

Of course, there is no reason for correcting an anomaly simply because it is. There is no reason to suppose that any of the potential conflicts of interest for a Lord Chancellor have produced actual evils. Even Lord Irvine, the last holder of the office, was never accused of political bias in his legal functions. He appointed judges with the traditional impartiality, and defended them against attack by his colleagues in the Cabinet. He was similarly impartial in his judgments.

This being said, the potential for conflicts of interest has been greatly increased in the past few years. The steady growth of judicial review since the 1950s, plus the Human Rights Act 1998 - plus the seizure of review powers over primary legislation in the Thoburn case of last year—have transformed the judiciary. Increasingly, the Judges of the civil law are no longer mainly doing justice between subject and subject, but are ruling on the legality of executive actions and even now on the constitutional validity of Acts of Parliament. Leaving the Lord Chancellorship untouched might be dangerous. Evils that in the past were potential, and that as such gave no reason for change, might easily soon become actual. Now that the evolution of our laws is taking us towards a Supreme Court—and bearing in mind that this is an entirely welcome evolution on liberal grounds—the time may already have come for making the Lord Chancellor into something less of a constitutional hybrid. I say this, even if it seems that the present changes have not received proper consideration.

My objection is not to the principle of reform, nor even really to its attendant lack of consideration—this lack can be supplied given reasonable discussion. My objection is to the change of names. There was no good reason to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor. The most fundamental legal reforms in English history were carried though during the third quarter of the 19th century. First, there was the fusion of law and equity. Then there was the setting up of a proper system of law reporting and the movement of the civil courts from Westminster Hall to the New Courts in the Strand. Then there were the Judicature Acts of the 1870s. These abolished the jumble of competing jurisdictions inherited from the middle ages that had made justice into an expensive lottery, and replaced them with a single High Court of Justice divided in its business on rational lines and with a codified procedure. In its substance, what the Government announced last week is nothing compared with this.

Yet, for all its radicalism, the Victorian reformers did all they could to preserve the old associations. Even if the substance was entirely replaced, the names of Queen's Bench and Chancery were retained. The New Courts were built to look old. Within a generation, I doubt if anyone but a legal historian really noticed what had been done. The present set of reforms is quite different in its regard for old associations. A few years ago, writs became claim forms and plaintiffs became claimants. There are proposals to stop the Judges from wearing their horsehair wigs. Now, there is to be no Lord Chancellor. The office has existed in England for at least 800 years, and began as a sort of secretaryship to the King. It is older than Parliament. Thomas Beckett was Lord Chancellor to Henry II. Thomas More was Lord Chancellor for Henry VIII. The office was satirised in Iolanthe. It has always been around in English history, and its holders have been some of the great men of English history. Even before the proposed abolition, the cumulative effect of these reforms has been to advertise a break with the past. Let another generation go by, and only a legal historian will be able to understand the mass of obsolete words contained in law reports from before the present century. Threads of continuity will have been snapped. The past will seem more of a foreign country than is needed.

That is my objection. It may seem trifling to argue over words and appearances, but these are part of our national identity. These are part of what of what it means to be an Englishman. They help to tell us who we are and what we were. Had our history been as unfortunate as that of most other European countries in the 20th century—and usually before—it might not be bad to advertise a break with the past. Throughout the old Soviet Empire, for example, I can think of no objection to the renaming of towns and streets during the 1990s, to the pulling down of statues and to the restructuring of the functions and the names of political institutions. But, as I keep insisting, the most important protection of English liberty is the apparent continuity of our institutions. Take away our grounds for conservatism, and we are left with a set of new institutions that may have a splendid future, but which are now too evidently new to attract the unthinking loyalty that is their surest source of strength.

I could be wrong, but I believe there is a conspiracy among our political masters to destroy our national identity and with it our ancient freedoms. I say I could be wrong because I remember the absurd conspiracy theories put forward in the 1980s by the opponents of Margaret Thatcher. Socialists like Ruth Levita and Martin Jacques claimed there was a coherent project to bring about a "free market and a strong state". Except there was little actual freeing of markets, this was an accurate description of what happened in the 1980s. It was, however, an unintended consequence. Thatcherism was never a coherent ideology, but was instead a muddle of quite separate ideologies. There were the free market libertarians, the traditionalist conservatives, the middle way social democrats, the social authoritarians. These all got part of what they wanted, though in a pretty random way, and the result was the toughened big government machine that New Labour eventually inherited.

Perhaps the same reductionist analysis can be applied to all that has been done since 1997. Perhaps there is no New Labour project. Certainly, there is no unity within the Government on the main issues of the day. We have seen them fall out over the war with Iraq and the Euro.

But while I could be wrong, I do believe there is more here than just a set of unintended outcomes. This is a government above all of philosophes. For all it has put up taxes and increased the burden of regulations, this is not a socialist government. Considered in themselves, many of its acts have been rather liberal—always granting that many other have not. It passed the Human rights Act. It accepted the judicial coup announced in the Thoburn judgment. It has been no more friendly in practice to the claims of the European Union than the Conservatives were in office. It has tried to reform the public services on market principles—and if it has failed in this, it is because of a deference to vested interests and a lack of economic understanding for which it may be fairly blamed but not denounced.

The general problem is that the New Labour turn of mind is frankly contemptuous of the past. Mr Blair's "forces of conservatism" speech in 1999 was an accurate expression of how these people regard the English past. They want a New Britain, and regard all that is left of old England as an embarrassment to be cleared away as soon as possible. Some New Labour people, I accept, have the fairest intentions. I have eaten with these people. They often have more sympathy for libertarian concerns than Conservatives have ever had. But many of their seniors are malevolent. They have no liking for liberties whether ancient or modern. They want a politically correct police state and a corporatised economy. Ordinary people are to have the appearance of freedom, but little of its substance, and the world is to be made safe for an elite of politicians, big businessmen and their pet intellectuals. What joins these different factions is their contempt of the past. And this is fatal to the benevolent strain within New Labour. By ripping up every old association on which they can lay hands, our masters are turning a nation into a frightened mob. They may be doing to us what the revolutionary governments did to France after 1789. And, while the men of 1789 had some excuse for not understanding the consequences of their remodelling, their modern successors have no excuse.

I note with surprised approval that the Conservatives have rejected the abolition of the Lord Chancellorship. They have decided to leave their existing system of shadow portfolios, complete with a shadow Lord Chancellor. They seem committed to undoing the abolition once they are back in office. I am glad. Generally speaking, I have been reasonably impressed by the Conservative performance over the past few months. The strategy of revival that I thought I could see in the spring and summer of last year has re-emerged, and this time in opposition to a much weaker and more discredited Government than was the case last year.

But this is another matter.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 130
16th February 2005

What's Wrong With British Conservatism?
Text of a Speech Given By Sean Gabb
at The Royal Society of Arts,
Tuesday the 15th February 2005

On Tuesday the 15th February 2005, I spoke at a conference organised by the Royal Society of Arts in London. The subject was “What's Wrong With British Conservatism?.” According to the official notification of this debate:

While American conservatism is in such apparently rude health, its English cousin appears terminally ill. The British Conservative Party used to be the biggest political party in the West, but is now a shadow of its former self. What happened to the social base of the British Conservative party? Can the British Conservative Party learn any lessons from America?

The speakers were:

  • Boris Johnson, MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator;
  • Dr Irwin Stelzer, Director of Economic Policy Studies, The Hudson Institute, and editor of Neoconservatism;
  • Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex;
  • Dr Sean Gabb, Director of Communications at the Libertarian Alliance.  

The Chairman of the debate was Samuel Brittan, a writer for The Financial Times and author of Against The Flow

It was a most interesting debate, and I am glad that so many of my friends were able to attend. I am obtaining a recording of the event, and will place this on the Libertarian Alliance website just as soon as I can find time for the necessary conversion and html coding. In the meantime, here is a brief record of it.

Dr Irwin Stelzer spoke from an American perspective. He said that the British Conservative Party needs to learn from the Republicans. He made several good points. But since the American Republicans are not really concerned with liberty, or with any type of conservatism relevant to the English tradition, his advice was of limited use.

Boris Johnson gave his usual good and enthusiastic performance. Though I had a rather bitter dispute with him in 2001, I have come in recent years to think more highly of him. He is easily the most interesting and clever Conservative politician in the public eye. If only he were less immediately ambitious and were willing to wait another five years or so for a chance of real power, he might look forward to a very successful career. As it is, he feels too constrained to follow the existing Party line, and this diminished the impact of what he had to say.

Paul Whiteley ran through various polling statistics that showed the Conservatives to be not entirely without hope of winning the next election. While the main opinion polls put the Government ahead, this lead vanishes once the likely turnout is considered. Labour support is melting away in much of the country, while the Conservative core vote is largely holding together. While I am not sure what sort of mandate might flow from an election won on the basis of whose vote collapses the least, I do grant that Mr Blair may be in serious electoral trouble. 

Now to my own speech. I do have a strong prejudice against reading from a prepared text. The ancients never did this – and whatever they did in the arts is a model for all eternity. There used to be rules in the House of Commons against even notes. And the soporific effect of a read speech entirely cancels the effect of the best preparation. On the other hand, I had only eight minutes for my speech, and I wanted to ensure that I made every point I had in mind. So I wrote a speech last Friday, and spent the next few days thinking about the balance and spoken emphases of the sentences. I did think to have the text in front of me as I spoke. Fortunately, I was unable to find this in my bag, and so had to speak from memory and momentary inspiration.

I shall never be a really good public speaker. My voice is too flat, and I never think to smile at an audience. But I can be effective. I spoke clearly and grammatically last night, and I said everything I wanted much as I had wanted. I may even have made the best speech. Here it is:

The central question of this debate, ladies and gentlemen, is what is wrong with British conservatism?  My answer – and I speak for many other people, both in this room and beyond – Is hardly anything at all. From Europe to tax to immigration, conservatives are beginning to set the agenda of public debate. Forget the largely mythical threat of Islamic terrorism: it is against conservatives that laws like the Civil Contingencies Act have been made. Whole stretches of popular culture – the comedian Jimmy Carr, for example, or BBC satirical programmes like Monkey Dust and Little Britain – are objectively conservative. There is now in this country a conservative movement – and I include libertarians in this movement – more passionate and more agreed in substance on what needs to be done than I can recall. All that is wrong with British conservatism is that it lacks a conservative party. The Conservative Party has been out of office now for almost eight years; and even against a Government that, for corruption and incompetence and petty tyranny and high treason and utter discredit, is unprecedented in our history, it is unlikely to win the next election – or perhaps the one after that.

The problem with the Conservative Party and its associated media is that as long as I have been alive, its function has been less to advance conservative interests than to neutralise conservative opinion. This country is ruled by the left. The left dominates the administration and the media and education. Its aim is to construct a new order in which – whatever its proposed merits—we shall have been stripped of our historic liberties and our national identity. The left continues to rule by ruthlessly destroying anyone who challenges it. Even so, it must rule a nation that, so long as it remains a nation, is strongly conservative. The solution is a Conservative Party and a Conservative media that many of us increasingly call the Quisling Right.

A Quisling Rightist is someone who calls himself a Conservative. When standing for office, he implies promises without making them. If pressed, he will make promises that he has no intention of keeping. If elected, he will make firm declarations of principle and argue over inessentials. His conservative politics are purely symbolic. Where essentials are concerned, he will do nothing to challenge the continued domination of the left. In return for this, he will be invited to the best parties, and allowed endless time in the media. When he leaves politics, he will become the Warden of an Oxford college or the Chancellor of one of the new universities. He will be allowed income and status. He will earn this by systematically betraying those who trusted him to stand up for all that they held most dear this side of the grave.

There was a time when conservatives were not able properly to discuss what, on a candid review of the past half century, is hardly worth contesting. Conservatives generally came together only within the institutional structures of the Conservative Party – a rigid, centralised organisation, as able to suppress internal dissidence as the old Communist Party. But the Internet has now brought thousands of us together in places far beyond Party control. And if we argue there over many things, we agree on many others. And what we are coming to agree most firmly is that there is no point in working for a victory at the next election of the Conservative Party.

What would happen, we ask, if, by some miracle, the Conservative were to form the next government? Our answer is that they would do nothing substantial. At the end of five years, there would have been much political excitement and much appearance that something was being done. But there would, at the end, have been still fewer of our historic liberties and still less of our national identity. The project of the left would have moved forward as if Labour had never left off ice.

Why then vote Conservative? For myself – and for most of my friends – if I must be destroyed, let me be speared in the front by someone who looks me in the eye and calls himself my enemy. Far better this than be garrotted from behind by a supposed friend.

Until recently, this line of thinking could often be checked by the approach of an election. The Conservatives are dreadful, we would say. They have broken all their promises so far. But Labour is dreadful too, and these Conservatives might this time do something half decent. But this check no longer applies. The present generation of the Quisling Right is so ineffective that it cannot even tell a straight lie. It will not win the next election. This being so, we in the conservative movement might as well vote for a party that says what we believe. That party will not win either, but at least our votes will be counted and recognised as a clear statement of opinion. What party will this be? It might be UKIP. It might be Veritas. It might be some other party yet to be formed. It will not be the Conservative Party.

Let me end where I began. The conservative movement in this country is in enviably good health. All we need to take power and dismantle the project of the left is a conservative party that is at heart conservative. All that holds us back is that we are stuck with the Quisling Right. 

I could have elaborated on these points. But I made them well enough.

Afterwards to dinner with Dr Tame, David Carr, Bruce Nichol and Paul Staines. We agreed that there was a comfort in despair. Now that the Conservatives have made it clear that they have no intention of rolling back the New Labour revolution, and now that they have ensured they cannot win the next election – as opposed to watching Labour lose it – we felt content to watch the downward course of events, while continuing to prepare for some eventual reaction. 

As said, I will in due course publish a sound file of the proceedings, and will also get copies of the various photographs taken.