Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 195
17th June 2010

Reflections on the 2010 Conference of the
Property and Freedom Society
by Sean Gabb

I have never bothered asking what persuaded Hans-Hermann Hoppe to invite me to the first conference of the Property and Freedom Society in 2006. I received his invitation in about the February of 2006. It looked interesting – not least because it was to be held in Bodrum, which is the modern Turkish name for Halicarnassus, the birthplace of Herodotus and otherwise famous for its Greek theatre and the remains of the great Mausoleum. However, Chris Tame was dying in hospital, and I decided that my place was at his side.

“Oh no, it isn’t,” Chris answered from his bed. He sat up and stabbed at the print-out of the invitation. “I’ll be dead long before May. Whatever the case, you’d be mad to turn this one down.” He took me through the names listed in the invitation, pointing out their eminence within the conservative and libertarian movements. Finally, he reminded me of the key importance of Professor Hoppe within both movements, and his importance in his own right as an economist and philosopher. It was my duty to attend, Chris announced. If he were not confined to his death bed, he would go with me.

And so – Chris now dead, just as he had predicted – I set out in the May of 2006 for Bodrum. I wrote a longish account at the time of this first conference of the Property and Freedom Society, and see no reason to say more about it now. But Chris was right. It was a significant event in my life. Until then, I had long admired from a distance, but never met, men like Professor Hoppe and Paul Gottfried and Stephan Kinsella. Now, in the luxurious surroundings of the Hotel Karia Princess, and in the perfect weather of the Eastern Mediterranean, I could sit down to dinner with them and get to know them. I was invited back the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Last week, I went again, and can report that this fifth conference was every bit as interesting and productive as all the others.

PFS 2010 - Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Welcoming Remarks. The PFS - After Five Years
from Sean Gabb on Vimeo.

Because I made video recordings of all the public proceedings, I do not need to give a close account of all the speeches. They will, in the next week, all be uploaded to the usual place for anyone to see. But it is worth discussing professor Hoppe’s opening speech, The Property and Freedom Society: Reflections After Five Years – now published by the Libertarian Alliance as Personal Perspectives, No.25. In this, he explains why he set up the Property and Freedom Society and what he hopes it to achieve. He begins with a critique of the mainstream libertarian and conservatives institutes. It is, for example, now 63 years since the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, and it is hard to see what good this has achieved. F.A. Hayek cannot be wholly blamed for its failure, since he was never wholly in charge. But it was, from the start, a place where limited statists were able to mingle with avowed advocates and beneficiaries of fiat law and paper money. And any scheme for limiting either of these is impossible in principle and has failed in practice. The tendency of fiat law is to become ever more arbitrary and burdensome. The tendency of paper money is semi-permanent inflation. Both are means for the ruling class to tighten its control on society. The State cannot be limited. At best, those directing it can be persuaded to pick and choose among various schemes for making their control easier or less immediately destructive.

The very success of organisations like the Mont Pelerin Society to engage with governments is a sign of their failure. In the past, ruling classes were able to neutralise the far more potent threat to their control posed by religion. They have used much the same methods to deal with the limited state movements. As with the churches, they have been bribed and flattered into moderating their critique of the State, and even co-opted as some kind of intellectual fig leaf.

Professor Hoppe saw this clearly in the 1990s, when he attended three meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society. These were filled with politicians and central bankers and general clients of the ruling class. There was no discussion allowed of the American State’s military aggressions, or of its monetary corruptions, or of the multicultural discourse that is the main current legitimation ideology of the State. His own attacks on democracy and support for constitutional monarchy were considered scandalous and “confrontational”, and he has not bothered going back.

His experience of the John Randolph Club was slightly more positive. This was largely a Murray Rothbard front organisation, where conservatives and libertarians were able to come together and discuss their equal, of sometimes different, objections to unlimited state power. It was also a place where members of each movement could learn from the other. Libertarians, for example, could overcome the indifference to the cultural and historical underpinnings of liberty that often proceeds from their emphasis on economics. In turn, the conservatives could learn some true economics.

Ultimately, though, the John Randolph Club fell apart because of the failure of many of its conservative members to radicalise. They were never able to put aside their fantasy of somehow capturing the institutions of an extended state and using these to impose a conservative authoritarianism. And they would not reconsider their support of stupid economic policies like protectionism and soft money.

It was on account of his disappointment with even the least useless of the other policy institutes he had known that Professor Hoppe decided to set up the Property and Freedom Society. Its purpose was not to engage with the ruling class or its various clients, but to have nothing whatever to do with them. It would exclude politicians and economic illiterates. It would reject the State and all its works. It would instead seek to foster a counter-culture that was opposed both to the State and to the legitimising ideologies of the State that many libertarians have not been able to recognise for what they are. The Property and Freedom Society would provide a space within which representatives from a range of traditions would be able to discuss the principles of a free market natural order, and to see the State more clearly than is normally possible as nothing more than a gang of bandits surrounded by various applause societies and useful idiots.

The Property and Freedom Society was conceived as a kind of salon – a place where intellectuals from various traditions could come together as friends, and share and harden their own opposition to the State and its legitimising ideologies. Presided over by him and by his wife Gülcin Imre, the Salon Hoppe would surely have it impact on the movement, and on the world at large.

This was the essence of Professor Hoppe’s opening speech. And his movement has been a success in the way that he intended. Its public proceedings are the speeches, and I am glad that I have been able to help make these available by making video recordings of them and putting them on the Internet. I regret that my recordings of the first two conferences were incomplete. I also regret that my fuller recordings of the next two were marred by technical incompetence. Some of these have adequate sound, but many are hard to follow, either because I relied on the internal microphone of my video camera, or because I was ignorant of how to place an external microphone. This year, I am happy to say, I was more successful. All the speeches have adequate sound, and many have good sound. A problem I have not been able to overcome is that, outside of England – in both Turkey and Slovakia – recording on mains power with an external microphone is inseparable from a feedback hum. The morning sessions I was able to record on battery only, with partial recharges during the coffee breaks. Afternoon sessions required mains power. I can filter out much of the feedback hum, but cannot wholly eliminate it. Whatever the case, the speeches all have clear sound, and I shall eventually buy additional batteries or a better video camera.


PFS 2010 - Mustafa Akyol, Are Islam and Capitalism Compatible? from Sean Gabb on Vimeo.

But, as said, because they have all been recorded, I do not need to describe the speeches. If I have to acknowledge any star of the conference, I suppose it would be Mustafa Akyol, on Islam and Capitalism. He is a Turkish journalist who is completely fluent in English, and is a libertarian, and, it seems, is a fairly devout Moslem. His speech is an informed response to the frequent claim in the West that Islam is a religion only for men with frightening beards and wild eyes and a taste for suicide bombings. It is not. If is, of course, The Other – the historic enemy of Christendom, that subdued three quarters of what had been the Roman Empire, and came close more than once to taking the last quarter. No one who is not of that Faith can take a sentimental view of Islam. At the same time, Islam produced a great and often admirable civilisation that had room for much intellectual freedom and for extended commerce. If the accidents of immigration have made Islam in Europe a religion for displaced peasants with lavish funding from Saudi puritans, that does not make Islam in the wider sense other than a religion compatible with as high a degree of enlightenment as Christianity. Islam is compatible with a free market order. The development of a market system in Turkey has been associated with a recovery of Islam in the public sphere, and this must be recognised by anyone who wants to see through the fog of propaganda that has been raised to lead us into another world war.

I liked Paul Gottfried on Herbert Marcuse, and on Marxism in general. I liked Olivier Richard on the economics of inflation. And I liked everything else. To single anyone out other than Professor Hoppe and Mr Akyol would be – as I keep saying – superfluous, bearing in mind that everything is on-line, and unfair to the other speakers.

Naturally, this does not prevent me from mentioning my own speech. I was asked to speak about the Second World War and why it should have been avoided. I did this rather well. Mrs Gabb, who came into the conference room to watch me, was not impressed. She said it all sounded too much like an advertisement for the novels of Richard Blake. But I have watched my speech twice now on video, and I still think it was rather good. I dislike reading from a text. Even without one, my voice tends to dullness, and my general delivery is wooden. Since I can speak fluently enough without, I like to avoid having either a text or notes in front of me. At the same time, I do like – other commitments allowing – to produce a text in advance. This lets me lay down the structure of what I want to say. It also removes any suspicion that I have just turned up without any preparation to deliver a speech that is only clear by accident.


PFS 2010 - Sean Gabb on the Second World War from Sean Gabb on Vimeo.

Because both text and video are available, I will not go again over the main part of what I said. What I do think worth mentioning is the point that came into my head for the last five minutes of the speech. This is the lack of any sustained cultural production within the conservative and libertarian movements. We have always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We are not wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. But we have not so far excelled in cultural production, and have mostly not considered this of comparable importance to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, we have been mistaken.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they had no written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience. Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

I do not wish to disparage novelists like Ayn Rand, who was a libertarian of sorts. At the same time, what I have in mind is not long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions. I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I have read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I do not think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes it – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

I would never claim that Richard Blake is in the same league as Patrick O’Brian. But he is significant so far as he is a libertarian novelist who has managed to find a mainstream publisher. His latest novel, Blood of Alexandria, is still more explicitly libertarian than his others, and he deserves all the encouragement that our movement can provide. Indeed, someone else who deserves our encouragement is Jan Lester, one of the most significant figures in the Libertarian Alliance and in the Libertarian Alliance – yes, this is not one of my typing mistakes! The Libertarian Alliance has just published his play, The Naked Politician, as Philosophical Notes, No.82. This needs a performance. Anyone who can help with this is doing the cause of right, truth and justice as great a service as by funding the distribution of the more abstract works of our movement.

But this really is enough of the public proceedings of the conference. Professor Hoppe spoke of a salon, and this works at least as well through private conversations as through formal speeches. And one of the few rules of the Property and Freedom Society is that there are to be no limits on what anyone cares to discuss over lunch or dinner. Sadly, these were private conversations, and I might find my own conversations in Bodrum far less open and interesting in future if people thought their words were about to be transcribed and published to the world. One part of a long conversation, though I can reveal. I was at dinner with some Turks who explained their bitter humiliation at being kept out of the European Union. They listened patiently to my explanation that they were lucky to have avoided that horrid embrace. Their reply was that it was a matter of national pride. They could put up with being excluded from a club made up of great nations like France and Germany and England. They could accept the inclusion of the Greeks – a matter of historical connection with Europe. But to be passed over in favour of disreputable mafia states like Romania and Bulgaria was too much to be tolerated. If I wanted to understand Turkey’s rising disillusionment with the West, and its recent closeness with the Arab countries of the Middle East, I needed look no further than its rejection by the European Union.

But this is all I think I can say. If you want to know more about them, you will have to go to Bodrum yourself next year!

I should say something now about the location of the Property and Freedom Society conferences. The Hotel Karia Princess is a luxury hotel in one of the quieter parts of Bodrum. It is about a ten minute walk from the harbour and shops of the city, and just a flight of steps away from a discreetly-placed supermarket that is most useful for those things that are not provided by the hotel. With its swimming pool and large garden and its gymnasium and Turkish bath – the hotel is a world in itself, and many guests – some go every year for a month – and conference attendees hardly ever go outside it.

Even if it were not owned and run by libertarians, I would recommend the Hotel Karia Princess for the excellence of its location and the quality of its service. But it is owned and run by libertarians, and I suggest that any libertarian or conservative who is planning a Turkish holiday should consider booking a room here. It has all that anyone could desire for a memorable holiday. My only criticism is the perhaps excessive fondness displayed by the staff during my stay for the Overture to Eine Nacht in Venedig by Johann Strauss, and for the Waltz based on themes from Emmerich Kálmán’s Gräfin Mariza. These were a welcome change from the “elevator music” played in the public areas of other hotels. And there was no coverage at all of the dreadful World Cup. Even so, I might recommend a more balanced repertory of the light classics.

Since all the hyperlinks will be stripped from this article when it is posted out, here are the full details of the hotel:

Hotel Karia Princess
Eskiçeşme Mahallesi,
Myndos Caddesi No:8
48400 Bodrum
Tel. :+90.252.3168971
Fax : +90.252.3168979

Speaking of Turkey in general, I do most highly recommend the country to the more discriminating traveller. As with Islam, I do not take a sentimental view of the Turks. Historically, they have been implacable advocates of every cause to which they attached themselves. This being said, they have never been other than a brave and honourable race. They are justly proud of their country. To anyone who does not attack Islam or the memory of Kemal Ataturk, and who refrains from going about stark naked in public, they are as straight and welcoming as could possibly be desired. Since I regard Ataturk as a great man – if somewhat flawed – and have no desire to shock the religious sensibilities of others, and am far too modest to expose my flesh to the world, I am not inconvenienced by these limitations.

I cannot speak for those parts of the country remote from the sea. But the parts of Turkey I have seen strike me as entirely safe. The reputation of Turkish drivers is undeserved. On three of my visits with Mrs Gabb, I have hired a car and driven for several thousand miles. I have never once seen an accident, and the other cars are far less battered than in Greece. The main problem on the mountain roads is finding the right points for overtaking the lorries that rumble uphill at about 20mph. On one occasion,, we ran into a giant storm on the mountain roads between Aydin and Mugla. For half an hour, it was like driving in a car wash, and the road was an inch deep in water. But everyone else on the road slowed to a steady crawl and stayed safely in lane.

The beaches within easy reach of Bodrum are mostly either crowded or dirty. The beach at Bitez is both. We spent an hour there, struck by the omnipresent smell of dog mess and the stains on the cushions provided by the local restaurant. Unless you are a lower class Englishman or an elderly German of limited means, my advice is to avoid the place. There is an excellent beach resort outside Fethiye, a few hours south of Bodrum. We arrived rather late in the day, and so had less benefit of the place than we might have liked. Otherwise, boats can be hired for about £200 a day. These will take you to places inaccessible by road, where you can swim in the warm, sparkling sea.

So far as sightseeing is concerned, I am less fond of Ephesus than I ought to be. Though grand, it is normally filled with tourists. We went there in 2007. I enjoyed sitting in the theatre where St Paul preached, and the public toilets have a sociological interest. But it rained hard while we were there, and our most memorable experience was trying not to fall down on the wet marble pavements.

But I do recommend Aphrodisias, about four hours through the mountains from Bodrum, and hardly ever visited. In ancient times, this was the provincial capital of Caria, and its sudden destruction by an earthquake in the 7th century – plus the quality of the marble used for its construction – has left ruins of great freshness and magnificence. The reconstructed gateway to the Temple of Aphrodite is particularly impressive, as is the partially reconstructed Temple of the Emperors. There is also an immense stadium on the outskirts of the city, part of which, I regret to say, was partitioned off in later antiquity for gladiatorial combats.

On all my visits to the ruined cities of what used to be Asia Minor, I have been struck by the great wealth of the region. Judging the wealth of past ages by modern standards is a worthless activity. But I do not think Western Europe had anything until fairly recently to compare with the civic life of the Asiatic Provinces of the Roman Empire. I will not boast about my knowledge of the ancient languages. I have much trouble with reading inscriptions. The ancients never separated words, and used many abbreviations that I am not learned enough to understand. But I was struck by the fact that almost every carved block in Aphrodisias is covered in writing – dedications, funerary inscriptions, public memorials: this was a civilisation based on the written word, and those who carved their words into stone did so in the assurance that their civilisation would last to the end of time. It is both interesting and melancholy to walk streets that once swarmed with people, and to wonder how London or Paris might appear to the travellers of some remote future in which our own civilisation has also passed away.

Because, yet again, we arrived rather late in the day, we had to hurry about the city. We missed the public baths and the theatre. However, we did find time to look in the museum. This is well worth seeing. Perhaps its most interesting exhibit is a statue of a Governor set up in about the year 500. I had never before seen a public statue from so late a time in antiquity, and, though much influenced by the stiffness of Christian art, this shows a strong survival of the classical tradition. For this alone, the trip was worth the drive.

We have been twice to Pamukkale, anciently known as Hierapolis. Both times, we arrived late and without any hope of seeing the whole of what was once a large city – a large city surrounded by one of the biggest cemeteries in the world. Mrs Gabb, on both occasions, was much taken with the limestone deposits that have given the whole site the appearance of a snow field. I was more interested in the bizarre paganism of the city. This was a centre for the worship of Cybele, whose priests would castrate themselves in a religious frenzy. They were notable for their visits to the Plutonium, which is a fissure in the rocks through which poisonous gas escapes. Though more visited than Aphrodisias, This is also far less crowded than Ephesus, and repays a visit.

One day, we shall pay visits to Miletus and to Laodicea. It would also be interesting to find some Turkish towns that have not been stripped of their old charm by modern development.

I could say much more. I could go into detail about the immense hospitality shown by Professor Hoppe and by his wife Gülcin Imre. I could mention the meals, the visit to the fishing village, the boat trip, and all the rest. However, this has already been a long article, and Stephan Kinsella has already written at length about these things. And so, I commend Turkey and the Hotel Karia Princess. And I commend Hans-Hermann Hoppe and the Property and Freedom Society. Long may their salon continue to shine from Bodrum!

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

Issue Number 9
21st February 1998

Film Review by Sean Gabb
Starship Troopers
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Tristar Pictures, 1997, 129 minutes

I have two qualifications for reviewing this film. First, I broadly agree with the political, economic and social views of Robert A. Heinlein, on whose novel of the same title the film is based. Second, I have never read that novel. This gives me an advantage over those who have. Screen adaptations of a favourite book nearly always disappoint. Last Christmas, for example, I watched a BBC adaptation of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. I was horrified by the removal of the legal complexities that drive the plot smoothly forward through 500 closely printed pages, and their replacement by something about child abuse. This kept me from appreciating what others tell me was an exciting television play. Not having read Starship Troopers, I am better able to judge the film on its own merits.

This being said, I will organise my thoughts on the film under two headings: the political shape of the Federation; the credibility of the Bug War.

First, I was surprised by the libertarianism that Mr Verhoeven allowed to remain in his portrayal of the Federation. He is some kind of leftist with a settled dislike of what may broadly be called the American Way. Certainly, he is on record as having said his film was based on a "fascist novel". The British reviewers have generally followed this line, sprinkling their articles with phrases like "fascist utopianism", "totalitarian nightmare" "aryan shocktroops", and so forth. I have never trusted film reviewers since they nearly put me off watching Star Wars when I was 17. But this time, I can only doubt if they have actually bothered to watch the film.

Though the word has been so overused as to have lost any precise meaning, the essence of fascism is hostility to individual rights. The collective, and its embodiment in the State, is everything: the individual is nothing more than an expendable element of the collective. This cannot be seen as the guiding ideology of the Federation in the 22nd century.

Too much is made of the fact, revealed early in the film, that voting has been turned from an automatic right into a privilege that must be earned by military service; and that the Government is a sort of military council. There is nothing inherently fascist about this. Both England and America enjoyed their greatest freedom under limited franchises; and both have been, or are being, ruined by systems that give almost absolute power to whoever can lie most convincingly to the masses. Salvation lies in hoping that economic growth can reproduce the middle class majorities that existed before democracy, or in a direct limitation of democracy itself.

And we are told this even as the restricted franchise is explained. It comes from the lecture that Mr—later Lieutenant - Rasczak (Michael Ironside) gives to Johnny's class. The social scientists brought humanity to the brink of disaster, he says. Only the Veterans' Revolution saved us. They took over and limited the franchise to those who could be trusted to use it in the public interest. Since then, there had been generations of political stability and social and economic progress.

There is nothing in the film to contradict the old liberal belief that having the vote is far less important than having the right to live as we please. The Federation is built around respect for this right. From what we see of Buenos Aires, the Federation is America writ large. Everyone speaks English with an American accent. The teenagers enjoy the hedonistic lifestyle that emerged in America during the 1950s. They go to dances. They make love. They study as they please, free to do badly in their examinations. In short, they live as free people do nowadays.

So do the adults. Look at the family of Johnny Rico (Casper van Dien), the film's hero. His parents are wealthy. They seem to have managed this without being connected to the military. Indeed, they are openly contemptuous of a military life, and are not afraid to say so. When Johnny comes home after joining up, they do every thing to persuade him to back out. His father even threatens to go public with disinheriting him.

Again, looking at the news bulletins that punctuate the film, there is evidence of limited constitutional government. There are peace activists who oppose the war against the Bugs, claiming that we should all live and let live. We are supposed to laugh at the Mormon colonists who disobey the Government's advice and build their Joseph Smith City in the neutral zone, and get eaten by the Bugs. No attempt had been made to stop them from emigrating. Like all free people, they had been left alone to direct their own actions and to suffer the consequences.

Nor is there any evidence of the racial and sexual supremacy that, while not inherent to it, has been central to our historic experience of fascism. Non-whites are present at every level in society and the military. Women are integrated into the military. Half way through the film, we even have a Melanesian woman appointed to the supreme command after a white man has failed in the job.

Then let us look more closely at the military itself. We are also supposed to laugh at the official recruiting advertisements, and to see these as "fascistic". But they are not. Under real fascism, there is no need for official inducements to join up. Young people are recruited by force. Here, they need to be persuaded. The general message of personal responsibility is rammed home in the scene where Johnny asks Mr Rasczak if he should join up. He is told that this is a matter purely for him to decide.

Nor is there any effort to recruit under false pretences. The news bulletins are occasionally censored—as, for example, when we are not allowed to see a Bug rip a cow to pieces. But we do see humans have their arms and legs torn off in the reports of the failed attack on Klendathu, the Bugs' home planet. This admission of military failure would be unthinkable under a fascist government. In the Second World War, we were allowed to see the newsreels of the disasters at Dunkirk and Tobruk—though with a soothing commentary. The German people never saw the full horrors suffered by their forces at Stalingrad; and many smaller defeats were never admitted at all, in case they called the leadership's abilities in question.

Again, when Johnny joins up, he signs at a desk manned by a veteran who has had been horribly wounded in action. We are given another opportunity to laugh as the veteran announces that service "made me the man that I am today" and he pushes back his chair to show the stumps of his legs. But this is entirely consistent with the those of a libertarian society. Recruits are encouraged to join up—but only on giving their fully informed consent.

Not only this, but once signed up, recruits can walk out just as they please. Only this makes sense of the scene in which Johnny's father tries to get him to change his mind: even in Old England, once you had taken the Queen's Shilling, there was no going back. And it entirely undercuts the pacifistic message we are supposed to take from the brutality of Johnny's training and the punishments handed out for breaches of discipline. See what happens when Johnny lets one of the trainees in his unit take his helmet off during a manoeuvre with live ammunition, and gets his head blown off. Several trainees resign immediately. Johnny is almost thrown out. He is only allowed to remain in the military if he takes his punishment. In this context, his flogging must be seen not as an act of military sadism, but as a free acceptance of responsibility.

Moreover, having taken his punishment, Johnny decides that he is not good enough for military service, and signs his discharge papers. The war then starts, and his parents are killed int he bombing of Buenos Aires, and he wants to rejoin. He can only do this because his immediate superiors connive at a breach of law in tearing up his discharge papers before they are filed.

And it is worth recalling that, harsh and dangerous as it is, military service is accepted partly in exchange for the vote. This is perhaps the most decisive argument against the fascistic nature of the political system. In a real fascist state, the vote is so worthless—because elections are always rigged—that it can be safely given to everyone. The vote is only useful to the authorities because it can be used as an endorsement of their rule. No one would lift a finger, let alone risk life and limb, for a right so absolutely empty. In the Federation, the vote means something: it means the right to take part in the government of a free people. And that is why it is seen as worth all the risks involved in earning it —risks that are deliberately brought to the attention of those thinking of taking them.

I can understand the intellectual idleness of the reviewers. What I find astonishing is Mr Verhoeven's belief that he has filmed a "fascist novel". Probably, Heinlein was far more explicit in his portrayal of a libertarian society. But enough remains of this in the film to put it almost in the same class of libertarian cinema as The Fountainhead, or High Noon, or Star Wars. Mr Verhoeven is a great director—anyone can realise this who has seen films like Robocop and Total Recall. But his greatness is surely most fully revealed in Starship Troopers, where he has unknowingly created a powerful and dignified vision of a future that contradicts his own leftist views.

Turning to the Bug War, I was less happy. As shown in the film, the Federation strategy makes no sense. The war begins with the destruction of Buenos Aires. The Bugs achieve this by hurling an asteroid across the galaxy. I cannot believe that a civilisation able to build interstellar spaceships could fail to see this coming months in advance, and fail to do anything about it. Nor can I believe that, after one failed attack on the Bugs, in which Federation ships have been blasted out of low orbit over Klendathu, the same positioning of forces could be risked in the next attack.

Nor do I find the use of ground forces at all convincing. The soldiers are sent into combat against a numerically superior enemy with horribly inadequate weapons. They have small atom bombs, and these are occasionally used to good effect. But otherwise, they only have standard calibre machine guns that are plainly inadequate against the Bugs. Hundreds of rounds of fire from more than one weapon are needed to kill just one Bug. The sort of guns used in Star Wars—indeed, even the guns now used by the American and British military—would make far greater sense. They would cut the death toll from hundreds of thousands to perhaps a few hundred.

And that is on the assumption that ground forces need to be committed at all. In one scene, we are shown a very effective aerial attack on the Bugs. Why was this not continued to the point where only a few Bugs remained? Then ground forces might have been committed for a mopping up and the capture of the Brain Bug—and could have acted under the same umbrella of air supremacy as Allied forces may be about to enjoy in the Persian Gulf.

The answer is that a more sensible strategy would bring the war to an easy conclusion, and this would rob the film of much of its excitement. And the set piece battles are exciting—they remind me of the best Second World War films, and even in places of the Spartan defence at Thermopylae. But the excitement is always undermined by the knowledge that the actions make no military sense.

Moving to generalities, I was impressed by the portrayal of sexual equality—which is what we can expect in a libertarian society. But I was not convinced by way in which the sexes are integrated in the military. The shower scene, where we see male and female recruits naked together, is conceivable—but only, I think, on the assumption that the recruits do not regard each other as sexual beings. But this is not the case in Starship Troopers. Johnny does get into a sexual relationship with a member of his unit while on active service. I may be wrong, but this must be bad for discipline.

As an aside, I notice that his lover (Dina Meyer) is able to go through weeks of active service against the Bugs with an undamaged perm; and when she eventually gets into bed with Johnny, her armpits are smoothly shaven. Is this, I wonder, more evidence of the goodies on offer in a free society? Or is it just Hollywood?

I enjoyed Starship Troopers. I may even watch it again. And I will certainly get round this year to reading some Heinlein.

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

Issue Number 34
14th August 1999

24 Fairly Crowded Hours
by Sean Gabb


I feel that I ought to produce another Free Life Commentary, but the weather makes me lazy. Here instead is an entry from my Diary. I have removed a few references to private matters, but otherwise have changed nothing.

Sean Gabb
14th August 1999

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 53
24th July 2001

Review Article by Sean Gabb
The History of England
from the Accession of James II
Thomas Babington Macaulay
(First published 1848-60)
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1906, 3 volumes

I discovered Macaulay quite by chance in March 1979. My English teacher was absent one day, and I found myself in his classroom with nothing better to do than browse through a pile of old textbooks that had sat on a shelf as long as I could remember. One of them was called The Art of Précis , and contained passages of about 500 words from all the usual English writers. The book fell open at an extract from Macaulay's 1847 speech on education. He was describing the illiteracy of the labouring classes. I know now that he was mistaken in his facts, having taken these from an enquiry that would be considered biassed and untruthful even by New Labour standards. But at the time, I was less interested in the accuracy of his claims than in the artistry with which he made them. There was a contrast in his prose between the superficial elegance of expression and a forward drive in the underlying rhythm that I had never seen before and that I could only compare to the music of Beethoven. From just those two paragraphs, I realised that I had discovered a great writer.

Within a few days, I had acquired his Critical and Historical Essays , and I read them as I had never read anything before. I was minded of Keats on first looking into Chapman's Homer: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 

When some new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

I moved on to his History of England and all his other writings, and read them with the same besotted admiration. I read and reread him over the next ten years. I went through two editions of his Essays, the first having come apart from the continual thumbing of pages. Macaulay did not make me either a libertarian or a conservative—I was both before I found him. But he did help make me a peculiar kind of libertarian and conservative, owing nothing to Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard, and owing nothing to the 20th century writers who generally pass as great conservatives. He fixed me in my opinions as a Whig of the early 19th century, placing I think an indelible stamp on nearly all my judgements of history and politics and literature.

He also did more than anyone else to shape my style of writing. Gibbon and Hume and several others had some influence, but none so much as Macaulay. Even without conscious imitation, someone so admired and so often reread—and especially by someone so young as I then was—would have had a determining influence over me. But for several years, I consciously tried as hard to write like Macaulay as Procopius did to write like Thucydides. I used expressions that only he used. I avoided words and expressions that he might not have approved. At university, I plagued my tutors with endless references to his works and imitations of his style. I think the effort failed. But so far as my writing now is clear and balanced, and ideas follow each other in logical order, this is part of my debt to Macaulay.

I lost sight of him during most of the 1990s. Sometimes, I was out of the country and had no access to my books. More often, I was busy and had little time for old favourites. Early in 1999, however, I took down his Essays and turned to the review of Sir James Mackintosh. I cannot describe the shock of disappointment. It was like meeting one's first love again after 20 years of adult life. Was it this plain face that had once set me trembling, this dull, matter of fact voice that used to sound so musical? I suddenly found that the sneering contempt of John Stuart Mill and Matthew Arnold had much truth in it. Macaulay, I decided, was trite in his judgements and in his style both vulgar and affected. I no longer found his dogmatic optimism a mere blemish, but a serious fault. It distorted his view of history; and as he was one of the Ministers who carried the first wave of reforms in the 1830s, it led him into helping set off a constitutional decay that I found culminating in the age of John Major and Tony Blair. No longer my hero in literature, he came to seem almost a villain in politics.

Of course, age brings maturity, and it should have been no surprise that my tastes had moved on. My likes and dislikes in art and music had changed. Writers like Rider Haggard and the Baroness Orczy, whom I had admired as a child, had lost their charm, just as composers like Mahler and J.S. Bach were now appreciated where they had once seemed dull or noisy. What was wrong if I now felt differently about Macaulay? The answer lay in the intensity of the old regard. In rejecting him, I was rejecting a part of myself. If his style was vulgar and affected, what about mine? I put him away, and for the next two years avoided that area of my bookshelves.

Then, last Sunday, I took down his History of England. At first, he was just as disappointing as last year. Did I really once think a writer great who could refer to "Latian porches" when he meant Roman architecture? Did I really once admire that booming, antithetical style and those silly exagerrations? For an example of this latter, take these words that I read yesterday morning and so can find without too much looking:

Such were the designs of James after his perverse bigotry had drawn on him a punishment which had appalled the whole world. (Chapter VII—vol.1, p.689)

"The whole world"? Does he mean that William's landing at Torbay was a matter eagerly discussed in the summer palace at Peking, or that pilgrims on their way to Mecca argued over the merits of the Toleration Act as opposed to the Declaration of Indulgence? Does he believe that events in England were much noticed even in western Europe outside the foreign ministries and a few religious houses? This is a rhetorical exaggeration copied from Cicero, and in Cicero I cannot think it other than a fault. But the ancients at least had the excuse of not knowing how big and diverse the world was. Macaulay in 1848 was a man who had spent three years in India and who had directed a war with China. He should have known better than to refer to local facts as a matter for the "whole world". If this were a single case, it would be absurd to complain. But the words I quote above are only one instance of what repeated on average once every five pages I now find very provoking.

Or for bad rhetoric, take this on Charles II:

He wished merely to be a King such as Lewis the fifteenth of France afterwards was; a King who could draw without limit on the treasury for the gratification of his private tastes, who could hire with wealth and honours persons capable of assisting him to kill the time, and who, even when the state was brought by maladministration to the depths of humiliation and to the brink of ruin, could still exclude unwelcome truth from the purlieus of his own seraglio, and refuse to see and hear whatever might disturb his luxurious repose. (Chapter II—vol.1, p.136)

After I had broken up and recomposed this sentence into plainer English, I nearly put the book away again. Happily, though, I kept reading; and I now find that this was the low point of my new relationship with Macaulay. The loved one had scratched and burped and let out an idiot laugh—but then had somehow resumed in part the broken sway. I do not think I shall ever again regard Macaulay as I did when I was twenty, and this gives me pain. But he is, for all his faults, a great writer, and his History of England does place him very high among both ancient and modern historians.

Looking behind his lapses of style, there is much solid artistry that I do not find in many other English writers. The first two chapters, for example, are like an approaching military band—faint at the beginning, but growing insensibly louder. The history of England before 1685 is clearly narrated, but only briefly and in its essentials for the earliest centuries. The Norman period receives more attention than the Anglo-Saxon, the Plantagenets and Reformation still more. The reign of Elizabeth is almost a narrative, though not so much as the reign of James I—though this still is brief as the epitomes of longer works that survive from ancient times. The Restoration is described in some detail, and the reign of Charles II is treated with a detail that lets the main characters stand out as individuals. At no time in this approach from the distance is there any perception of raised volume. It is an effect that any writer would be proud to achieve, and I cannot imagine how Macaulay must have laboured over it. His purpose is to explain as briefly but fully as possible why the events of the 1680s are important; and he succeeds perfectly.

We then come to Chapter III, the description of England in 1685. I know that other historians have spent the past 150 years attacking Macaulay's judgements. But I do not think his overall picture can be faulted; and it is astonishing how he compresses into a hundred pages an account that other historians would with less effect have made into an entire book.

And now, with Chapter IV, his themes and characters introduced, we come to the main part of the history. This is a masterpiece of narrative. Given reasonable application, anyone can write a narrative of sorts. It needs only a gathering of information and its arrangement into a sequence of events. But to make that sequence flow as if naturally requires skills of the sort that perhaps only a dozen historians in the past 2,500 years have possessed.

And what a narrative it is. It is the most stirring account of one of the most stirring events in English history. It opens with the cause of liberty at its lowest ebb before the 20th century. For 80 years, the Stuart Kings had been trying to introduce into England an absolute government on the European model. The first two Kings of that house had been unsuccessful. The first had been wise enough not to push himself against the settled opinion of more than half the nation. The second had lacked wisdom, and had lost his throne and his head in the reaction that followed his attempt on the old Constitution. But the third, while formally accepting the Restoration Settlement, had been far more effective. A secret Catholic and out of sympathy with English ways, Charles II had been both skilful and lucky. He had survived the blaze of paranoia that followed discovery of the Popish Plot, and rallying the old Cavalier Party that had stood by his father and everyone else who feared another collapse into civil war, had stood forward at last to stamp out its embers. He was assisted by a burst of economic growth that had now made the revenues granted him for life large enough to manage without having to call a Parliament to secure new taxes. At the same time, he was building an efficient state machine and army independent of the landed interests with which he was expected to share power. Though an idler with less force of intellect than his grandfather and less force of character than his father, he died with the Stuart dream on the verge of realisation. Another 20 years of his openly Catholic brother and any children his brother might have by his Catholic wife, and the parliamentary Constitution of England might be expected to wither away as the Estates General had in France.

The first meeting of Parliament in the new reign shows the correlation of forces. The Whig opposition is utterly broken, its leaders dead or in exile or silenced by fear and long discredit. The Tories are in the ascendant. Even without the remodelling of the boroughs, they would have had a majority. As it is, James faces a Parliament not much different from one in which he could have named all the members. Without a division, it votes him for life the largest supply ever granted in England. Such opposition as emerges over the next few weeks is tiny and forced to hide itself under a thick covering of loyalty. It is made still weaker by Monmouth's rebellion—an attempt mad in its conception and doomed by its feeble and divided leadership. Macaulay's account of the Battle of Sedgemoor is masterly in its economy and fullness. We can see the rabble of farm workers officered by amateurs as it stumbles forward in the mist—crossing one ditch that was expected, and then another that was expected, and then falling into another that no one had expected, and then crashing into the middle of a professional army superior in numbers and in its arrangement. The bravery of these amateurs is nothing, their desperation only sufficient to delay the inevitable slaughter.

Macaulay carries us effortlessly through the capture of Monmouth and his futile abasement in London before his uncle James, and then through the terrible vengeance unleashed on the western counties as Jeffreys conducts the last judicial massacre seen in England. The rebellion is over, and what opposition remains in Parliament is nullified by bringing the session to an end.

But then, just as all seems hopeless, England's luck begins to change. So long as his victims are only Whigs and dissenters, James has the Tories solidly on his side. But now he has the power, he reveals a policy that none of the High Church Tories had anticipated in all the years they were crying up the doctrine of boundless obedience to the Lord's Anointed. He does not want to share power with the Anglican Establishment and its supporters. He wants to displace it and rule as the Catholic King of an increasingly Catholic country—a country in which civil liberty and the rights of all Protestants will be as viciously flouted as in the contemporary France of Louis XIV.

It soon emerges that the fastest way to favour with James is conversion. Protestants are dismissed and replaced with Catholics. The Roman Church is unlawfully tolerated and then encouraged. The English Church is oppressed by an unlawful and arbitrary commission of the Executive. There is the beginning of an effort to remodel the universities and place Catholics in charge of education and scholarship. In England, the Army is enlarged and disciplined contrary to law, and increasingly recruited from Catholics. In Ireland, the administration is increasingly handed over to Catholics —this meaning a dismantling of the English ascendency there that outrages all Protestants of whatever degree, and even disturbs English Catholics.

Within four years, by forcing the pace of change and failing to conceal its ends, James has alienated all but a small number of Catholics—and perhaps a minority of these—and die-hard Tories and those who owe all their advancement directly to him. But he is not yet strong enough to proceed in the face of every interest group. He still needs a Parliament to regularise his new Constitution—to disestablish the Church of England, and to remove those guarantees of due process that hold him from destroying his opponents under colour of law as he is already doing in Scotland. So he tries to recruit the Protestant Dissenters to his side. After years of hating them for their heresy and their rejection of his title—after years of cruelly persecuting them in Scotland—he suddenly starts speaking the language of advanced religious toleration and courts them to join his attack on the Anglican Establishment. Will they take the offered alliance that will release their ministers from prison and let them worship in public? Or will they and the Anglicans decide after a century of mutual hatred that a Protestant is a Protestant, and that there is less dividing the stained glass of a cathedral from the wooden floors of a meeting house than divides either from the elevated host of a Catholic mass?

And now the Anglicans grit their teeth and promise a full and legal toleration to the Dissenters, and imply a toleration of the Catholics. This the more intelligent Dissenters and Catholics accept, and James finds the whole nation united against him. Undeterred, he presses on. He issues a Declaration of Indulgence, granting an illegal toleration to all Christian sects. When this fails to divide the opposition, he orders it to be read in all the Anglican churches: let the Anglican clergy read it and endorse his policy, or let them explain to the Dissenters why they will not. Now he blunders into the biggest public relations disaster of his reign. A delegation of churchmen led by the Archbishop of Canterbury petitions him not to force the reading on them. He has them arrested and charged with publishing a seditious libel, and has them tried in Westminster Hall. Macaulay's description of the trial and the unanimous support the Bishops receive is a masterpiece of dramatic narrative.

And there is more. As the trial proceeds, James's wife is delivered of a son, and the scene shifts to Holland, where his eldest daughter by his first, and Protestant, marriage is married to William, the Dutch head of state. So far, the Tories have held from active opposition, convinced that James will not live forever, and that he will be followed on the throne by a good Protestant who will end this counter-Reformation. But, with a male heir who will himself be brought up a Catholic, it no longer matters whether James will live another five years or thirty years: the policy will continue. William cares nothing for England. But he leads the resistance in Europe to the hegemonic ambitions of Louis XIV. Despite his brilliant diplomacy and his competent military skills, he is gradually losing this contest. Let England be transformed from an eventual ally into an enemy, and he will certainly lose. He actively helped James with information and military support against Monmouth, and has refused any dealings with the Whig refugees in Holland. Now, he is invited by representatives of the newly united English opposition to intervene in England. He gathers his material forces, and by diplomacy as skilful as any seen in Europe assembles a coalition in support that includes the King of Spain, the Austrian Emperor and even the Pope - all more terrified of France than worried about heresy—and lands with a small army at Torbay. As it passes down the Channel, Macaulay describes the fleet as follows:

[It] spread to within a league of Dover on the north and of Calais on the south. The men of war on the extreme right and left saluted both fortresses at once. The troops appeared under arms on the decks. The flourish of trumpets, the clash of cymbals, and the rolling of drums were distinctly heard at once on the English and French shores. An innumerable company of gazers blackened the white coast of Kent. Another mighty multitude covered the coast of Picardy. Rapin de Thoyras, who, driven by persecution from his country, had taken service in the Dutch army and accompanied the Prince to England, described the spectacle, many years later, as the most magnificent and affecting that was ever seen by human eyes. (Chapter IX—vol.2, p.74)

Once he has landed, William avoids all the mistakes that led Monmouth to disaster. He brings over the important men in every locality he passes through. He stops his march on London in Hungerford and invites James to a conference. But in London or in Hungerford, he seems already to have won. As the days pass, all the leading politicians in England—even James' youngest daughter, Anne—come over to his side. At last James is left alone in Whitehall. He might still be able to snatch some kind of victory. He might march on Hungerford at the head of his remaining forces, and draw William into a battle that, whatever the local outcome, would leave James as King of England. But he loses his nerve. He gathers up his wife and son, cancels the writs for the Parliament he has been persuaded to call, and slips away to exile in France.

The end of Chapter X, following the coronation of William and Mary as Joint Monarchs, is one long burst of the most brilliant oratory. This was a Glorious Revolution, Macaulay, explains. It saved England for a liberty that existed nowhere else in the world, from where it could at last be spread through the world. It was the foundation on which every later victory for liberalism was grounded. It was the origin of the Great Reform Act, freedom of the press, of the abolition of the slave trade, of the civil equality of the Catholics and Dissenters, of all the wealth and power and goodness of Victorian England. As I read that peroration again, all the doubts that had crowded thick about me in the earlier chapters slid away. I know Gibbon and Hume intimately well. I have read Tacitus and much of Livy in the original Latin. I have read Thucydides in the best translations. I am not aware of anything in these historians able to match for splendour and force. Macaulay is not the running ostrich to which he once compared John Dryden. And if he is not quite an eagle, he is certainly one of those winged dinosaurs who got aloft and stayed there. Granting all his faults of taste and exaggeration, he does rank among the greatest historians.

I grant, this renewed admiration may owe something to parallels between the situation of England then and now. It may be that the broken and scattered opposition to the Stuarts reminds me of our own Eurosceptics—the Monmouth rebellion an extreme summary of how the Conservative Party has been behaving these past four years. Perhaps the new attack on England will raise up an unexpectedly wide and united opposition. Perhaps we shall have another William to come and "heal the nation's grievance". Perhaps. More fastidious historians, I know, despise Macaulay for making history into a justification of his political career. It can be argued against that he saw his politics as validation of his history. Whatever the case, he was read in his own day in the light of contemporary politics; and if he can be read equally well today in that light, I see no reason to deny the added force.

But who else will read him? His reputation is gone. According to Lord Moran, Winston Churchill paid a visit in 1954 to the Longman publishing company, which had published Macaulay from the beginning. Speaking to the family member then in charge of the firm, he asked how much Macaulay was now being sold. "Macaulay" he learnt, "was not read now; there was no demand for his books." His reputation, come the middle of this century, was dead. It had gone into decline after the Great War; and by now, he had become just another of those writers who are granted classic status on condition that no one shall be expected to read them.

Overwhelmingly, the few references to him that I have read in books and magazines published since the last War have been negative. By 1979, a savage attack on him in The New Statesman could go completely unremarked in the "Letters" page. And he could be plagiarised without any chance of discovery.

Why this eclipse? It was not his style, I think. Though lush by the standards that have prevailed since the 1900s, Victorian prose as a whole has never lost its appeal. Carlyle, Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Newman, and many other writers, have remained in print throughout the past 90 years, and have been studied and appreciated in the universities. Moreover, all that can be said against Macaulay's style can often be said against theirs with magnified force. Carlyle, in particular, frequently verges on the unreadable—perhaps a German who learnt English in Glasgow could write like that, but not anyone else.

Most likely, it was his liberalism that caused the eclipse. This also has been eclipsed. There has been a modest revival since about 1975. But to the average reader of the past few generations, it seems fair to say that a Victorian liberal has made scarcely more sense than a Jacobite.

John Stuart Mill is the great exception. But then On Liberty is a philosophical text that cannot be ignored even by those who hate it. Equally, his Principles of Political Economy are a classical work in a discipline that has itself very largely remained an island of liberalism in the collectivist sea of our age.

Macaulay, however, was not a great economist. Nor was he ever thought much of a philosopher—though his attacks on the Benthamite radicals is very good philosophy in the empiricist tradition. And without the academic support that attaches to these, he has gone the way of the other Victorian liberals. He is one with James Mill and Lecky and Spencer and Samuel Smiles and Morley, and all the others whose names are mentioned in the histories of the age, but whose works are almost never opened by the ordinary reader.

Were I more religious than I am, I might observe that the falling open of that book in 1979 was more than a happy accident. As it is, I will conclude with the hope that I have encouraged someone by this review to go out and find Macaulay. He is in most good second hand bookshops. Even early and potentially valuable editions can be had for just a few Pounds. If he can work on another anything like the magic he worked on me, I shall not have written in vain.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 55
4th September 2001

Oxford Latin Course
Maurice Balme and James Morwood
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, 175pp, £11.00 (pbk)
(ISBN 0 19 9122261)
Reviewed by Sean Gabb

I am bored with politics at the moment. Therefore, while the New World Order never rests in its attempt to rob us of our freedom and nationality, I propose to give the whole thing a rest. I will instead review this Latin course that Oxford University Press has for reasons quite unknown to me just sent through the post.

At the beginning of the 21st century, I suppose it is necessary to explain why Latin is still a language that anyone but a rather specialised scholar should think worth learning. It is arguably now both dead and useless. A thousand years ago, it was the only educated language of Europe. When even the most polished vernacular languages were still semi-barbarous and wholly local dialects, Latin was the natural mode of expression for religion and philosophy, for law and administration. Five hundred years ago, with the rediscovery of classical antiquity, it was the means of entry into a more enlightened world of secular reason. Three hundred years ago, it was still the universal language of debate on religion, philosophy and the natural sciences, with Locke and Newton publishing at least some of their more important works in Latin. Today, it is of no practical importance.

English is the new universal language. It has a literature that in range and power is probably inferior only to Greek. Its scientific literature is superior to any that has ever so far existed. For hundreds of millions who will never visit England, English is now the language that enables escape into a world of light and science. Latin has vacated that position. Indeed, where once translations from Latin once required the coining of new words in the modern languages, any translation into Latin now requires the coining of so many new words that the result would be utterly foreign to Cicero. What is the Latin for electric light? For compact disc? For laser printer? For windscreen wiper? Who would even wish to know? As said, for anyone who wants directly to understand the history and culture of Europe before about 1700, Latin remains essential. For anyone else, however, it is at best an affectation and at worst a use of time that would be better spent on learning how to build and maintain personal computers. To this argument, I can raise three answers.

The first is that the Romans produced a literature that is intrinsically beautiful. It is also beautiful in a special way. For while both Classical Greek and English in all its stages are naturally beautiful languages, and are easily fitted to the creation of a great literature, Latin was until quite late in its development a rough and unexpressive language. The literature that the Romans developed purely by themselves was most emphatically not beautiful. Their earliest law code, the Twelve Tables, and the scraps of poetry that have come down to us show a serious turn of mind that explains much of their future greatness, but have nothing else to recommend them. However, from about the fourth century before Christ, they came into close contact with the Greeks, and had the good sense to recognise—to an extent unmatched by any other Mediterranean people—a higher civilisation. The Jews took over Greek logic, and used the Greek language as a means of communication. Individuals from other nations dropped their own ways and made themselves so far as they could into Greeks. But the Romans alone decided to keep their national manners while reshaping them to Greek standards. Of course, they did not take over every Greek standard. They retained, or acquired, a taste in public entertainments that revolted many Greeks—and that vanished from their Empire only when Greek civilisation, reinforced by the Christian faith, was able to triumph in the fifth century.

Nor did they ever show much enthusiasm for Greek philosophy. They appreciated the Stoic school, as it gave a rational underpinning to their own sense of duty; and it had a large influence on the development and humanisation of their law. But they never shared the Greek passion for abstract reason. One of their earliest encounters with Platonism was when Carneades, the great sceptic, visited Rome on an embassy in the third century before Christ. He fell into a sewer and broke his leg, and had to stay longer than he expected. To amuse himself while recovering, he gave a series of lectures. In one of these, he demonstrated, with what seemed irrefutable logic, that there was a natural law governing the universe and all human relationships. A day later, he gave another lecture, demonstrating, on what seemed equally strong grounds, that there was no natural law. The Romans were so shocked by this apparent disregard for the truth, that they banished all the philosophers from Rome. They let them back, but never themselves excelled in philosophy. It was only in the later middle ages, with writers like Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas, that Latin acquired the vocabulary for a competent philosophical discourse.

What the Romans did uncritically take from Greek civilisation, though, was its literature. It is one of the strangest facts in history that a people so practical in their ways could have fallen so absolutely in love with the sound of words. Yet they did. "Graecia capta ferum uictorem cepit " said Horace— "Greece, though conquered, led its fierce conquerors in chains". For all they affected to despise the softness of the Greeks and the lack of team spirit that had led so easily to their fall, the Romans wanted their own place in the sun of Greek civilisation. Much of this project involved giving themselves a literature that reproduced Greek styles of composition in their own language. This was a much harder task than it sounds. For while Greek and Latin are grammatically similar—so similar that learning one language today is a good introduction to the other—there were at first what must have seemed insuperable difficulties to writing Greek poetry in Latin. The first of these difficulties is the different sound of the languages. Latin has always had a stress accent like English. That is, its natural poetry is made up of patterns of syllables spoken with varying degrees of force. Take these lines from Dryden:

Of these the false Achitophel was first,
A name to all succeeding ages cursed.
In friendship false, implacable in hate,
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state....

The metre is rhymed iambic pentameter. Each line consists of five groups—or feet—of two syllables with a stress on each second syllable. So far as I can tell, that is how early Latin poetry was written. For example, take this line translated from Homer by Livius Andronicus around 250BC:

Virum mihi Camena, insece uersutum
(Tell me, o Muse, about the cunning man (this being Ulysses)) 

It is also how much Latin poetry was often written after the fall of the Western Empire—for example, these lines from the Carmina Burana, which are in stressed trochaic senarius, the third foot hypermetric and followed by a strong hiatus: 

Meum est propositam in taberna mori,
Ut sint vina proxima morientis ori.
Tunc cantabunt laetius angelorum chori:
'Sit Deus propius huic potatori'

(I want to die in a tavern
With wines near my dying mouth.
Then choirs of angels will happily sing:
'Let God be closer to this drunk')

In Classical Greek, however, there was no stress accent. There was instead a tonic accent, which was heard by a trilling of the voice. This evolved during the middle ages the stress accent of modern Greek. But while it gave a musicality to Greek poetry that we can no longer appreciate, it had no discernable effect on the metre, which was based on patterns of long and short syllables. The most famous of these metres is the dactylic hexameter, which consists of six feet that can be either dactyls (-) or spondees (--). This was the metre used by Homer and by every other epic poet, and it was considered the natural metre for any serious poem. It is true that Latin has the same distinction between long and short syllables, but this seems not to have been heard as obviously as stressed and unstressed syllables. Therefore, it was necessary for the Romans to try their best to hear length rather than stress in the poetry they composed. The result was lines like: 

Cum tantum sciat esse basiorum
(When he knows how many kisses there are—Catullus) 

This is a Phalaecean hendecasyllable, scanning --|-uu|-u|-u|--. It is spoken, however, as -`|-`-|`-|`-|`-, which must have presented difficulties to any reader or listener who had not received a careful education. (1) Often, Roman poets would make some concessions to their listeners by allowing stress and quantity to coincide. I am not learned enough to discuss all of these, but the most obvious is at the end of hexameter lines, where the last two feet generally are made to sound as they are scanned—f for example: "morte quievit", or "fictor Ulixes", where the scansion |-uu|--(u) sounds like `-|`-. This, however, solved only one problem. There was also the second to be overcome.

This is the lack of naturally short syllables in Latin. The Greeks appear to have developed their metres for their own language, and so they are perfectly adapted to its peculiarities. (2) When the Romans took over these metres, they had to strain their language to breaking point to write in them. This explains the convoluted order of words in their poetry. Take this from Virgil:

Infandum Regina iubes renouare dolorem
(You command me, o Queen, to recall the unspeakable sadness)

Translated literally, this reads: "The unspeakable o Queen you command to recall sadness". Now, Latin is a heavily inflected language, and it does not require the fixed order of words needed to make sense in English. The words quoted above make sense because their relationship is shown in the terminations—because "infandum" and "dolorem" are both words in the accusative case, we can know that the adjective qualifies the noun. But while Greek also is inflected, its poetry is not on the whole so convoluted. Take this couplet written by Simonides on the Spartan dead at Thermopylae:

  • Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
         κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.
  • (Go, stranger, tell the Spartans
    That, obedient to their will, here dead we lie) (3)

    These lines follow an unforced order of words. So it is with most other Greek poetry. Any complexity here is in the grammar, of which Greek has far more than English or even Latin. In order to fit Latin words into Greek metrical patterns, the Romans had largely to abandon simplicity of arrangement. They also had to introduce a regular elision into their poetry which I do not think they carried into prose. This allowed words to go into a line of poetry that would not otherwise have fitted. Take this from Virgil:

    Di quibus imperium est animarum umbraeque silentes
    (O gods to whom are both the empire of souls and silent ghosts) 

    This becomes an hexameter by eliding the words to:

    Di quibus imperium'st animar' umbraeque silentes 

    What I have said for poetry applies broadly the same to prose. That also had to be tamed so it could stand comparison with Greek. It is not surprising that it took the Romans about three hundred years to force their language into the shape they desired. It took ages of experimenting to discover when and when not to make accent coincide with quantity, and what ordering of words could be made to sound poetic, and what elisions were acceptable and what ugly. They also had to coin thousands of new words—either taken directly from Greek or developed from their own language. But in the end, they got what they wanted. In the two centuries around the birth of Christ, there was a flowering of literary genius at Rome. Catullus finally adapted the lyric metres of Greek poetry to Latin, and his works can still burn their way off the printed page two thousand years later. Virgil completed the adaption of Latin and the hexameter to each other to create rhythmical sonorities quite different from anything in Greek, but which have shaped the western mind perhaps more profoundly than any other literature. For Tennyson, he was

    Wielder of the stateliest measure
    Ever moulded by the lips of man.

    And there are many other writers of both prose and poetry whose genius is beyond translation and can only be appreciated in the original. The Greeks, with their usual—and often justified—vanity, never appreciated Roman literature. They seldom learned Latin, except for purely utilitarian purposes—as when they took up the study of law. In one of his letters, written in the second century after Christ, the younger Pliny boasts that some Greeks had told him they were learning Latin so they could read his poetry. If they were not joking, he must have done them a considerable service—especially since he was not much of a poet. In the eighth century, when the Western Empire had fallen, and the eastern provinces that remained had reverted to Greek for their language of law and administration, an Emperor in Constantinople could assert without challenge that Latin was a language of the barbarians. Even in the fifteenth century, the Byzantine scholars who took asylum in Italy after the fall of their empire to the Turks continued to swap contemptuous epigrams about Cicero and Virgil. But they were wrong. The Romans had created a great literature.

    As said, is was not a natural growth. Its beauty is like that of a garden planted on sand, and made to bloom only with endless attention and training. It was never understood outside the educated classes. It must have sounded to an ordinary Roman like the poetry of Milton does to an uneducated English reader. On this point, I recall a story told I think about Augustine of Hippo. He was preaching one day to his congregation in the simple Latin of the people, when a friend came suddenly into the church. Immediately, Augustine switched into the classical language, and lost his audience in the resulting stream of oratio obliqua. But, while unnatural, it is a beautiful literature; and far more than their conquests and the buildings they constructed throughout their empire, it shows the strength of the Roman will. They wanted a classical literature, and by sheer hard work over many generations, they got one. The achievement of the English writers of the 16th and 17th centuries is nothing by comparison. They started with a language that was already beautiful, and the French and Italian models they imitated were in languages not so radically different. It would be a shame if this singular achievement were now to perish simply because hardly anyone can take the trouble to learn how to understand and appreciate it.

    So much for the intrinsic beauty of Roman literature. I turn now to the second argument in favour of learning Latin. This is the nature of how it survived. It is often believed that the Roman Empire—or at least its western provinces—collapsed under the twin assaults of barbarism and Christianity. The cities were pillaged, the libraries burnt, and Europe settled into a thousand years of darkness, until some Italians dug out the remaining manuscripts that had lain unregarded in various monasteries, and civilisation could begin again. This is an entirely false picture of what happened.

    Books in the ancient world were all copied by hand. Until about the fourth century after Christ, they were copied onto sheets of papyrus which were then glued into scrolls about 20 feet long. Obviously, copying by hand was a slow and difficult business. Worse, papyrus was both expensive and delicate compared with paper. It is said that, even in Egypt, one sheet of papyrus, about 10 by 15 inches in size, would have cost about £50 in our purchasing power. Outside the dry climate of Egypt, a book might last a hundred years at most before it fell to pieces and had to be replaced. These facts meant that, with few exceptions, books never existed in large editions; and even the works of the best writers were often in danger of perishing. If a writer went seriously out of fashion, his works would certainly perish. In the late fourth century, for example, the Emperor Julian exulted in one of his letters that the works of the sceptical and Epicurean philosophers had already disappeared. So far as there were enough of these in Latin versions for Augustine to read a generation later, he was exaggerating. But their cool rationalism was against the spirit of the age, and they were mostly not preserved. None of the 300 books that Epicurus wrote has come down to us. The best account of his philosophy is contained in the Latin poem written by Lucretius. For the sceptics, we have only those philosophical works of Cicero that survived for their style and a dry summary made by an Athenian doctor called Sextus Empiricus.

    From the fourth century, there was a general switch from the papyrus roll to the parchment book. Since parchment lasts almost forever, even in damp climates, this might have prevented any further losses due to time. However, parchment was still more expensive than papyrus, and the ancient world was entering its terminal crisis. Heavy taxation, to pay for wars against both the increased weight of the northern barbarians and a revived Persian Empire, sucked wealth out of the cities where books were copied and maintained. At the same time, the malnutrition that taxes seem to have caused in the countryside led to a gradual decline of population that was hastened from time to time by epidemic diseases that also swept through the cities. This is perhaps why the western provinces—always less populous and wealthy than the eastern—fell so easily to the barbarians: they did not so much break in by force of numbers as find themselves pulled into a demographic vacuum. And it may explain why so much ancient literature was lost. There was neither the money nor the personnel to keep up the libraries.

    The really great disaster seems to have come in the sixth century. Until then, the big libraries in Rome, both public and private, had probably avoided the effects of declining wealth and population seen elsewhere in the west. Though under barbarian rule since 476, life in Rome went on much as it had before—King Theodoric keeping up the old administrative machinery and even keeping the monuments in good repair. In the 540s, however, the Emperor Justinian reached out from Constantinople to regain Italy for the Empire. Though he succeeded, it was only after years of devastation. Naples and other cities were taken and destroyed. Rome itself was taken and retaken in five different sieges. At one time, the whole civilian population was invited to leave the city so it could be defended more easily. The Senatorial aristocracy that had survived the fall of the Western Empire with its wealth and status intact, was largely massacred: and those aristocrats who survived crept back to their shattered, silent palaces with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

    Added to war were the effects of the great plague of the 540s. We are reasonably sure that this killed a million people in Constantinople alone. It may have killed 60 per cent of the Mediterranean population. This tremendous mortality would have had different effects across society. Shortages of slaves and peasants and unskilled labourers could be handled by a change in relative prices and a selective abandonment of previously habited areas. Losses within the educated classes could not be so easily handled. It was now, I think, that Greek domination in Syria and Egypt came to an end after a thousand years, and the vacant administrative and educational positions in the cities were filled up with semites entering from the countryside, who in the next century would welcome first the Persians and then the Arabs. In the west, Latin ceased to be a living language. The texts surviving from after the plague are either in a radically degraded Latin half way to Italian and the other Romance languages, or in the untroubled purity of a dead language. It was now also that the bulk of Roman literature disappeared.

    Imagine a future in which much of our classical music has been lost. There is most of J.S. Bach and Haydn, and a lot of later Mozart—though The Marriage of Figaro is known only from a fragmentary piano arrangement and the brief quotation in Don Giovanni. All of Beethoven is lost except the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, and most of Schubert. All of Brahms has survived except the piano music and songs, though less of Wagner and almost nothing of Mahler. There is nothing of Italian opera, except The Barber of Seville and Aida. At the same time, the complete works of secondary composers, like Chopin and Mendelssohn, exist in multiple copies. Worst of all, the whole of Schoenberg and the second Austrian school has survived, together with the signed manuscripts of Harrison Birtwhistle. To say the least, this would leave the music lovers of that future age inconsolable at their loss. It would also give an unbalanced view of our musical heritage.

    That is something like the position we are in with regard to the literature of the ancient world. We have lost at least nine tenths of what would have been known to an educated man of the fourth century; and because the west suffered worse than the east, we have lost a greater proportion of Roman than of Greek literature. Speaking only of Latin, two thirds of Livy have perished, and at least half of Tacitus. Perhaps all we have of Catullus is a brief selection made almost at random. Even substantial works by Cicero are missing. We know there was a second flowering of Roman literature in the second century after Christ. We hardly know even the names of the writers we have lost from the period.

    What has survived, though, did not survive entirely by accident. As soon as peace returned in Rome, and the worst of the plague had run its course, the priests and monks began sifting though the rubble of the old libraries. Those books that had escaped intact were gathered up and taken into new libraries, safe inside the religious buildings. We still have some of these—for example, a fine manuscript of Virgil from the fifth century. Others were water-stained or charred. These also were gathered up and taken into safety. That is perhaps how the fragments of Tacitus came down to us. Many others may have been still written on papyrus rolls; and in the open air of Italy, they would have been as fragile as wet toilet paper. These had to be copied onto parchment before they entirely disintegrated. There would not have been the resources to rescue everything. We must imagine the painful choices that then had to be made. Some would have been gathered up and saved for the world. Perhaps many more would have been left among the rubbish.

    On the whole, the Church did a good job. Though countless beauties perished, it is hard to say that we are entirely deprived. There is perhaps no Roman author of the first rank whose works have not survived in some degree. We may despair over these fragments, but enough has survived to let us appreciate what we have lost. Nor was this all. Once the first act of rescue was over, there had to be an endless copying and recopying to ensure continued survival. This again was the work of the Church. With few exceptions, our earliest manuscripts date from the eighth and ninth centuries, and from places far away from Rome. The work of transmission may largely have begun in Rome, but it was continued, from generation to generation, all over western Europe—in Germany, in the north of England, even on the west coast of Ireland. Wherever the Church established its sway, there were monasteries and schools and libraries, and a continual round of copying what had been rescued from the shipwreck of classical antiquity. It was now that the modern style of writing was developed. The ancients wrote in what we know as block capitals, and had no spaces between words, and had no punctuation. Reading could never be fast, and the end of a sentence was known only by its grammar and sometimes by prose rhythm—another subject of which I am mostly ignorant.

    The Church was not a passive, let alone an ignorant, transmitter of this heritage. It saved that heritage, and kept it saved, and even improved on it in the technical sense of reproduction, until the printers of the fifteenth century could place it as far beyond loss as any human work can be. Therefore, when we take down a Roman author from the shelf and open him, we are not looking at the same kind of sterile, unassociated text that is what we have had since the invention of printing—where only the compositor and proofreader stand between us and the author. Every word of Virgil and Cicero that we have has passed to us through a multitude of copyists. Some of these, no doubt, were fat monks whose only excitement was the arrival of a few pilgrims back from Rome or the Holy Land. Many others were less fortunate. Racked by cold and illness, in permanent fear of Viking raids, believing—and not without reason—that the end of the world was at hand, the copyists carried on their slow, steady work of transmission.

    Then came the work of the great scholars—of Scaliger and Bentley and Housman, among others—who identified and rid the classics of the mistakes and accretions that had inevitably crept in during a thousand years of manuscript transmission. And then there is the meaning that these works have had for centuries of readers, and the influence they have had in shaping the minds of those who shaped our own minds. The literature of classical antiquity was produced by men very different from ourselves. Their morals and religious views and even basic assumptions about the world were different from our own. But we saved that literature, and it belongs to us.

    I now come to the third reason for studying Latin—and I appreciate that those readers who have stayed with me through this long and often technical review will be expecting some political message. A knowledge of Latin allows direct access to the minds of some of the greatest men who ever lived—men who are describing and commenting on and trying to hold off the death of the world's first attempt at a liberal civilisation. The Roman Empire did not grow because the Roman people wanted it. Most of them wanted to live in peace and look after their own affairs. They were willing to fight in the army in defence of their own country, but had no settled taste for extended conquest. Rome grew partly because it was sucked into the power vacuum that followed the destruction of Carthage and the decline of the Hellenistic kingdoms. But it also grew because the Roman aristocracy acquired a taste for wealth that could only be satisfied by plundering the whole ancient world.

    We can see this clearly expressed in the fourth decade of Livy's History of Rome. By 200 BC, the Carthaginian invaders had been cleared out of Italy, and there was no danger to Rome. The people wanted peace. The aristocracy, however, wanted another war—this time with the King of Macedon. There was a long debate in the public assembly, and the Consul Publius Sulpicius Galba finally got approval for the war with a speech that will sound familiar to any modern Briton or American. Macedon was an expansive power, he explained. It had been allied with Carthage, even though it had taken little part in that war. Its present activities in Greece were surely a prelude to an invasion of Italy. Better go to war now, he concluded, than later, when Macedon would dominate the whole of Greece and be able to gain allies in the east to become overwhelmingly powerful. "Uti rogas"—"as you command"—the people cried, and Rome plunged into a round of foreign wars and conquest that would only end with Roman garrisons on the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates; and that would deprive the Roman people of their real birthright and put in its place the illusion of a world empire governed in their name.

    The higher classes benefited immensely from the next few centuries of aggression. They acquired power and riches beyond their dreams. They dispossessed the Roman people of their land, farming it with imported slaves, and corrupted the constitution, and tyrannised over their conquered subjects. Anyone who got in their way—the Gracchus brothers, for example—was ruthlessly stamped on.

    This is the background to Cicero's great prosecution speeches In Verrem . In the 70s BC, Gaius Verres was made Governor of Sicily. He plundered and misgoverned his province on a massive scale. He behaved perhaps no worse than others of his kind. It was accepted that the surest way to get rich was to squeeze money from the provinces. What made Verres different was that some of his surviving victims went to Rome and appealed for justice. Their case was taken up by Cicero, then a young man recently arrived in Rome from a provincial town in Italy. Verres had many powerful friends in Rome, and he expected that they would stand by him in a pure formality of a trial. At worst, he thought he could bribe an acquittal from the jury appointed to try him. Instead, Cicero got the case into court and unleashed a flood of words that have never been equalled in their damning force. His first speech alone was enough to destroy Verres—he was abandoned by his friends and even by his defence lawyer, and went into exile to escape punishment. The second speech was never delivered, but was published, and it made Cicero into the foremost advocate of his day. In its force of language, and its piling of atrocities one on the other, it still shocks. It contributed to a new Roman view of empire. No longer an agglomeration of territories to be pillaged by those lucky enough to be set over them, the Empire was to become one—at least in theory, if not always in practice—of universal justice. The Greeks, said Virgil in the next generation, might excel in the arts and sciences; but the Roman mission was

    Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos
    (To raise up the humble and restrain the proud)

    For the rest of his life, Cicero gave himself to trying to save the dying constitution of Rome. In the words of one of his biographers—I forget which—he passed his life "holding off the future behind a palisade of words". He failed. He was murdered in old age—the most eminent victim of the purges that finished off the Republic. But his surviving works stand among the classics of the western conservative and liberal tradition.

    The Republic collapsed in a generation of civil wars, and was succeeded by the rule of one man. Augustus was a great man, and he knew how to disguise his power behind the forms of a republic. He ended many abuses, and restored the prosperity of the ancient world. In his lifetime, he was worshipped in the eastern provinces as a god. After his death, he was declared a god throughout the whole Empire. His reign and those of his immediate successors were described a century later by Tacitus. Like Suetonius, writing around the same time, he exposed the vices of the Caesars to the inspection and contempt of all succeeding ages. But his analysis goes deeper than a narration of what Tiberius did on Capri, or how Claudius was tricked into disinheriting his own son in favour of a second Caligula. He shows how the Romans of the first century found themselves living under an absolute despotism because that was all they were fitted for. A free constitution is more than a set of rules for election and the division of power. It is something that rises out of the customs and habits of mind of a people. Let the people be corrupted, so they no longer believe as their ancestors did, and what once seemed the most solid restraints on power will become but a "covenant without swords that bindeth not".

    Between Cicero and Tacitus, Rome went through the same constitutional death as we are beginning to suffer in the English-speaking world. We benefit from a study of these writers because we can see the whole process of decay from start to finish. What they described we can see as if looking out of an aeroplane window over a whole country; while what we are now living through we see as a traveller might who is walking over unfamiliar hills and valleys, unable to know for sure what is coming next. We benefit also because, unlike most of our own writers, these had no illusions about what was happening to their civilisation.

    And so, I commend this book to my readers. Learning Latin, I must confess, is not an easy business. The Oxford Latin Course makes the first steps in it as attractive as it can be made, only introducing as much grammar as is essential to understanding basic Latin. After about 150 pages of careful study, a reader should be able to understand the following:

    Cicero epistolas dictat scribae suo Tironi. Subito aliquis ianuam pulsat. Incurrit servus. "Domine" inquit, "nuntium valde bonum tibi fero. Terentia filiolum peperit et mater et infans valent." Cicero "re vera" inquit, "nuntium bonum mihi portas. Tiro, servos iube equos parare. Debemus ad Terentiam festinare." (p.142)

    (Cicero is dictating letters to Tiro, his secretary. Suddenly, someone knocks on the door. A slave runs in. "Master," he says, "I bring you very good news. Terentia [your daughter] has given birth to a daughter, and mother and child are doing well." "Indeed," says Cicero, "you bring me good news. Tiro, order the slaves to get horses ready. We must hurry to Terentia.")

    Sadly, this is not enough for actually reading Cicero. Though grammatical, the Latin is simple, far closer to modern French or Spanish than to the language of the great Roman authors. There are no participles or gerunds or subjunctives—no attempt at oratio obliqua or periodic sentence structure. Much more effort will be needed before Cicero can be understood. Still more effort will be needed before it is possible to write grammatical Latin. Remember, it is largely an artificial language, and was beyond the understanding of most Romans. Equally to be remembered, though, it is worth learning. I will make one final point. The study of Latin is becoming more popular in the independent sector. Some people claim that it improves learning ability. Perhaps it does—though some very stupid people have also been very good Latinists. My own belief is that rich parents are beginning to see the classical languages again as a means of differentiating their class from the masses. Early in the last century, the wealthy classes began to differentiate themselves by their patronage of the modern movement in the arts. Because the works of Schoenberg and Picasso were beyond common understanding, they were thought to serve the same social purpose as the classical languages had—without all the sweat that learning Greek or Latin had involved. But the modern movement is now revealed as a big artistic fraud, or—perhaps worse—has been taken up by the masses.

    And so there is a return to the classical languages. I think I have already explained to the best of my ability why at least Latin is worth learning in terms of its intellectual reward. But we may also be on the verge of a time when its study will again lead to positions of considerable emolument.


    1. Though he makes stress and quantity coincide, we can see something of the effect this must have had by looking at these hendecasyllables written by Tennyson:

    O you chorus of indolent reviewers,
    Irresponsible, indolent reviewers,
    Look, I come to the test a tiny poem,
    All composed in a metre of Catullus. 

    During the 1980s, I turned my own hand to writing poetry in the classical metres. All of this was very bad, and I have destroyed it. But a few lines remain in my head. Take these from a parodic elegy I wrote in 1987:

    O mourn for Liberace, who, born to the ivory keyboard,
          Now to the grave is borne, though to reside in heaven.

    The lines form an elegiac couplet, scanning --|-uu|-uvu|-uu|-uu|--

    Read according to the stressed accent of English, they sound



    As with Latin verse, there is a discord between spoken accent and quantity in the first half of the hexameter, and increasing concord in the second half. According to spoken accent, for example, the first three syllables of the word group "for Liberace" is an amphibrach (-), but are a dactyl (-) according to quantity. In the pentameter, there is a general concord, though the final syllable is light and unstressed, which gives a falling effect. Though the great Roman poets did it far better, I do produce the same kind of sound as can be heard in a Latin elegiac couplet.

    For those who are interested, I tried here to apply the classical rules of quantity to English—at least as pronounced by the middle classes in southern England. A long syllable is one that contains a long vowel, or that ends with two consonants, even if the second consonant starts the next syllable. Thus, the "is" in "is borne" is short by nature, but long by position. All other syllables are short. Since quantity is harder to determine in English than in Latin, and since our grammar does not allow the same oddities of word order, I eventually gave up the effort of writing in quantitative metres, and took to rhymed iambic tetramter. Needless to say, I am a bad poet, and am unlikely to inflict any more of my poetry on a world that has already suffered a million words of my prose.

    2. As an aside, I read somewhere that these words were found on a wall inside an Egyptian tomb:

    Santi kapupi wayya jaja minti lalakali

    and are explained by the writer as a curse in a language of "the barbarians beyond the sea." These might be words from the unknown language of the Minoans, and they might scan as a dactylic hexameter. If so, the Greeks took more than just the Minoan alphabet for the earliest stage of their civilisation. But this is purely conjecture, and it is undeniable that they developed the more complex metres by themselves.

    3. This is echoed by A.E. Housman in one of his Last Poems:

    Here dead we lie because we did not choose
       To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
    Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
       But young men think it is, and we were young. 

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

    Issue Number 110
    25th August 2003

    "Nej till Euron"
    Fighting the Evil Empire in Another Province
    by Sean Gabb

    Adlon Hotel, Stockholm, Monday 25th August 2003

    With Mrs Gabb, I am in Sweden for two reasons. The first is to address the summer conference of one of the main libertarian movements in Scandinavia. The second is to help strengthen the no campaign in the closing stages of the Swedish referendum on the Euro. It was my intention to write a long account of the things seen and done during this past week, together with observations on the Swedish people and their architecture and language. But I am presently short of time, and the glare of the television lights has dimmed all else but the events they illuminated. I will write at more length when back in England. For the moment, though, I will concentrate on the second reason for my visit.

    Late last year, the Swedish Prime Minister—some vain creature whose name escapes me, but who likes to get himself photographed in company with Tony Blair—decided to try pushing his country into the Euro. He announced a referendum, and doubtless imagined that a year of campaigning would so wear out everyone else that he would have his way in the end. Sadly for him, though most of the parties and media and most of the Swedish establishment in general were in favour of giving up the Crown, the Swedish people have so far shown unwilling. With three weeks to go before the vote, the opinion polls continue to report strong opposition. The yes campaign seems to have more money and a better co-ordination of effort than the diverse coalition of movements against joining. But truth and greater commitment have so far been decisive.

    Not surprisingly, the campaigners for a yes vote have descended from vague generalities—peace in Europe, more investment and jobs in Sweden, and so forth—to specific falsehoods. The claim at present is that Sweden cannot escape the Euro, since just about every country in Europe either is a member already or is about to become one. Even Britain, they insist, will join within the next few years. This being so, Sweden has no choice.

    It was with these claims in mind that one of the more vigorous groups campaigning against the Euro—Medborgare Mot EMU, which is Citizens Against Economic and Monetary Union—decided to bring over some British Eurosceptics to explain that Britain was in fact very unlikely ever to join. This group is led by Margit Gennser, a former Conservative Member of Parliament in Sweden, and has Erik Lakomaa as its Campaigns Director. Together, they chose to invite me, Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, and Bernard Connolly, former civil servant with the European Commission and author of The Rotten Heart of Europe. We made our presentations this morning at the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, before an audience of bankers and politicians and virtually all the main Swedish media.

    We began at 10:00 am. After a brief introduction by Professor Kurt Wickman, who was chairing the meeting, Madsen Pirie went first. What I like most about listening to Madsen is that beneath the entertaining surface of what he says is a logical structure of argument that lets whatever he says be reconstructed from memory days or even months after the event. I first noticed this at a conference in 1988, when I was able to sit down two days after he had introduced us to the concepts of an internal market and diversity of funding in the National Health Service—dull stuff now, but exciting when explained by one of the people who had just helped think of it—and write three pages without a single note. Today was no exception. Madsen began thus:

    I was first in Sweden 35 years ago. While I was here, you changed from driving on the left of the road to driving on the right. I well remember the endless confusion during the weekend of the change—the traffic jams, the young men and women with their yellow jackets and flags, and the general excitement of the change.

    In retrospect, all Sweden got was to put itself at a disadvantage in a car market that still includes, Britain, Japan, India, and various other important places. I am here again during what may be a process of change, and I can tell you this with pretty near certainty—whatever you may decide in the next few weeks, British driving will continue to be on the left and its politics on the right.

    He now moved to explaining the "five tests" set by Gordon Brown—that is, the political device for ruling out British membership of the Euro until it could be shown not to be bad for the economy. This had not been shown. He dwelt on the considerable differences between the British and European financial economies. For example, 70 per cent of British families owned their homes. 80 per cent of mortgages were advanced under variable rate agreements—that is, payments rose and fell with changes in the lending rate set by the bank of England. This was often very unlike the rest of Europe, where people either rented or bought on fixed rate mortgages. In Europe, a change of interest rates could take 18 months to have an effect on consumer spending. In Britain, the change was almost immediate. This made the activities of whoever is in charge of monetary policy far more important in Britain that elsewhere.

    Again, he said, the British economy was far more open and flexible than those on the Continent. Even after six years of Gordon Brown, Britain remained by European standards a country of low taxes and light regulation. This had allowed the country to attract up to 40 per cent of all direct inward investment to the European Union as a whole. "In terms of geography" he said, "Britain is just off the coast of Europe. In economic terms, it is somewhere in the mid-Atlantic—half way between Europe and America." Nothing that might seriously damage these facts could be considered.

    From this, Madsen passed to the political consequences of joining the Euro—how it would increase the regulatory pressures from Brussels. He concluded:

    At the moment, let me assure you, there is an 80 per cent probability that Britain will not join the Euro. If you vote no to the Euro next month, that probability will rise to 100 per cent. Voting no will not leave you isolated in Europe.

    Madsen spoke for about 15 minutes, which was just right for the audience. I saw two campaigners for the Euro looking concerned as they discussed his speech. Next, I spoke. For those who are interested, a recording of my speech will soon be somewhere on the Internet. For those who cannot wait, or do not care to endure my loud, flat voice, what I said went roughly as follows:

    Dr Pirie has explained very convincingly the reasons why, on both micro and macroeconomic grounds, Britain will not join the Euro. I will now explain why, on political grounds, this will not happen.

    You can never under-estimate the vanity and stupidity of politicians—look, for example, at your own Prime Minister. However, what politicians usually want above all is a quiet life. It is perfectly obvious that trying to get Britain into the Euro will give no one in government anything but trouble.

    As in Sweden, there must be a referendum before Britain can join the Euro. The first difficulty with this will be the question. This will inevitably cause an argument. No matter how fair the questions seems to one side, the other will claim bias. Probably, the matter will end up in court, and there is no certainty of what the Judges will rule. The politicians may well find themselves going into a referendum with a question not of their choosing.

    Then there is the matter of funding. The State will give money to both sides, but this will be greatly supplemented by wealthy activists. The result will be a disadvantage for one side. This might also end in court.

    Though the Government might win all cases brought against it, the mere fact of being taken to court would make many of the electors suspect they were being tricked—and this would incline them to vote against joining even if they could think of no other reason.

    Then there is the matter of public opinion. For years now, there has been an overwhelming majority against joining the Euro. No campaign is likely to change this. Most likely, the Government would lose. In theory, it could stay in office having lost a referendum. But the moral damage would be immense, and it might destroy the Government.

    Even assuming a victory, there would be trouble. In the first place, the opponents of entry would not just go away. They would make loud accusations of cheating. Many would turn out to even louder street demonstrations. Some might even start campaigns of civil resistance. In the second, whatever government took us into the Euro would be made to accept the full blame for the next recession. At present, we all know there will be a recession, but no one seems much inclined to blame Gordon Brown. After all, the Conservatives won elections in 1983 and 1992 as the country was bottoming out in very deep recessions. They lost an election in 1997 about half way through one of the most spectacular booms in British history. Since Margaret Thatcher retaught us our economics, we have learnt to regard politics and economics as largely separate matters. In the Euro, we would blame the politicians for any recession. They took us in, we would insist. The Euro caused the recession, we would assert. We would crucify them.

    So what is in it for the Government? The answer is nothing. Tony Blair might look for some reward in Europe—the Presidency, perhaps—but what about Gordon Brown and Jack Straw and David Blunkett, and all the others who would expect to stay behind and live with any resulting mess?

    One should never say never. But assuming some understanding of their self-interest, the various members of the British Government have no reason to lift a finger to get the country into the Euro. It will not happen.

    Now, I was warned before giving this speech that—to quote John Cleese—I should not mention the War. I do not think I have. But if I have, I do not think you noticed.

    I put in this rather odd final point because some other British Eurosceptics had recently visited and had given credibility to the yes campaign by insisting that the European Union was exactly the same as the Europe intended by the German National Socialists. It seems that most Swedes know the scripts of Fawlty Towers by heart, and we decided to throw in the reference so we could head off the usual boring questions about paranoid xenophobia and whatever. It got a big laugh and a round of applause.

    Next came Bernard Connolly. He spoke at much greater length - nearly an hour—and concentrated on the details of which he was a master and Madsen and I were not. He spelt out the corruption and incompetence at the heart of European decision making, giving examples of how economic decisions are made for political ends, and how these are made to work no matter at what cost to productive and allocative efficiency. It was a speech worth hearing, but was too long and involved for me to retain the full threads.

    Then there was questioning from the floor, but this produced nothing new and is not something I feel any duty to report.

    I will not report the comments I received. But I know I did a good job. I looked smart in my suit. I spoke clearly and fluently. I conformed closely to the Madsen Pirie school of public speaking - "stand up, speak up, shut up". I also handled a long interview for the television rather well. I had been willing to bet money that no one in the Swedish media would have bothered to find our who I was. But the researchers had been set to work, and I faced a polite grilling about the Candidlist, about the Libertarian Alliance, and about my reasons for not wanting laws against drinking and driving. I answered all questions honestly and dully—that is, I killed any story that might have been under construction. My experience is that straight answers are always the best. This was no exception.

    The efforts today of the three British visitors—and mine were less than a third of the whole—have tended to help the no campaign in Sweden. We have not in ourselves made a great difference. But we have helped to knock down the claims that Britain is about the join the Euro, and that Sweden ought to hurry to avoid being left out.

    I would normally be dubious about getting involved in the internal politics of another country. But referenda on the Euro are a different matter. The European Union is a threat to all the peoples of Europe. In the face of this common threat, we help ourselves by helping each other. I am sure the Swedish politicians do not intend to take no for an answer in this referendum. As in Denmark and the Irish Republic, their intention, if they lose, is simply to keep holding new referenda until they get the answer they want. However, this may not work. The Euro is an economic disaster. All the promises made in its favour have come to nothing. If the Swedes vote against joining, the British will not even be asked. If Britain stays out, the whole project may begin to unravel.

    The Europhiles often call people like me "narrow little nationalists". We are encouraged to visit other member states of the Europe Union, and to get involved in issues of common importance. We are told to learn that our fellow citizens of the European Union are people just like ourselves, with similar problems and similar hopes. Well, I have taken that advice—and I hope its results will not be pleasing.

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

    Issue Number 112
    19th September 2003

    An Afternoon with Tony Martin
    by Sean Gabb

    Since time immemorial, on the third Thursday in September, Thame in Oxfordshire has hosted what is now the largest agricultural fair in the country. From all over England people come to buy and sell things and to see one another. There are tractor displays, and cows, and horses, and stalls selling clothing and food and drink, and vast car parks for the thousands of people who attend.

    I was there yesterday at the invitation of the BBC. Bill Heine, a populist libertarian from America, has a show with Radio Oxford, and is in the habit of getting me on air every week or so for five minutes at a time. Yesterday, he wanted me not on the end of a telephone, but in person. Without offering the usual fee that I charge for leaving home, he wanted me to drive for a round trip of 300 miles to spend an hour live on air discussing rural crime and the right to self defence. For that distance and that time, regardless of fees, I would normally have refused. However, this was different. One of the other guests was to be Tony Martin.

    He is the farmer who shot two thieves in August 1999, killing one and wounding the other. He was put on trial for murder and convicted. On appeal, his conviction was changed to manslaughter, and he was eventually released on Friday the 8th August this year, having spent more than three years in prison. He could have been released last year, but the authorities argued at the parole hearings that his lack of repentance made him a continuing danger to any thieves who might try to break into his home. He is presently facing a tort action for damages from the thief he neglected to kill—the man is claiming for loss of earnings and for reduced sexual function. His legal fees are being charged to the tax payers.

    This is a case that has at times filled me and many other people with incandescent rage. It is the perfect summary of all that is wrong with modern England. Now, I was invited to meet the man at the centre of the case. Let alone driving—I might have walked the entire circuit of the M25 to be with him. So off I went.

    The radio show was by design an anarchic affair. Bill Heine took us off the stage that had been set up for the broadcast, and had us mingle with the large crowd that stood around. He darted here and there with his microphone, every so often taking calls from the listeners. His guests were Tony Martin, I, and a Bill Bradshaw, who used to be the Vice Chairman of the Thames Valley Police Authority. I think he had been given a peerage by Tony Blair—which is, of course, to be regarded as null and void; and so I will call him Mr Bradshaw. He sprayed us with the usual junk statistics—burglary is unusual and diminishing; we are likely on average to be attacked in our homes once every 285 years; and so on and so forth. Al I can say in his favour is that he showed courage in turning up to a debate in which he could not possibly get the sympathy of his audience. I have done that, and it can be unnerving—even when you believe what you are saying; and I cannot believe he was entirely persuaded by the truth of some of his claims.

    I do not intend to fill this article with an account of my own doings. In any event, I am to be sent a recording of the broadcast, and I will make this available on my website for anyone who wants to listen. However, I do need to explain how I came to be seen as a minor hero at the fair, and how I was able to speak so freely with people. I made my own introductory statement roughly as follows:

    There is in any society an implied contract between state and citizen. We give up part of our right to self defence—only part, I emphasise—and all our right to act as judge in our own causes. We resign these matters to the state and obey its laws. In exchange, it maintains order more efficiently and more justly than we could ourselves. In modern England, the state has not broken this contract. If it had simply given up on maintaining order, that would be bad enough—but we could then at least shift for ourselves. No, the state in this country has varied the terms of the contract. It will not protect us, but it will not let us protect ourselves. If we ignore this command, we can expect to be punished at least as severely as the criminals who attack us. That is what the Tony Martin case is all about. This is not just a matter for the country. The towns have it just as bad, if not worse. If you are a victim of crime anywhere in this country, you are in it alone and undefended. Call for the Police, call for a home delivery pizza—see which arrives first.

    Mr Bradshaw insisted I was talking nonsense—that the response times for burglary was excellent; and that the law on self defence was "plain" and had not changed in "hundreds of years". I poured scorn on this:

    The modern law says we may use "proportionate force" to defend ourselves. What does this mean in practice? It means this: You wake at 3:00am. Someone is moving about downstairs. You must go down and ask—"Excuse me, but have you come to tie me and my wife up and torture us slowly to death? Or are you here just to lift some cash and the car keys? If the former, I will consider what force to use that will be proportional. If the latter, I will retire upstairs and wait for the police. What nonsense! Anyone who is unlawfully in your home should be regarded as taking his life into his hands. If you kill him, that is his tough luck.

    That got a big round of applause, and—as said—made me a hero for the day in Thame.

    After the broadcast, I fell into conversation with Mr Martin. I was no sure what to expect. His coverage in the media has been almost wildly hostile. The usual picture of him shown is of a man with staring eyes and a morose look about his mouth and lower face. He is described as a "loner" with incoherent and nasty opinions about the world. This can all be discounted as the smears of a controlled media. The man I met yesterday—and I have photographs which I will publish to show it—was a cheerful, rather stolid farmer, though with an unusual fluency of speech. Far from avoiding company, he went into the crowd and mingled as if he had been doing outside broadcasts all his career. At least once, he carried on a three way conversation with someone in the crowd and with a telephone caller.

    What most impressed me most, however, was his modesty. I come across many people who have been plucked from obscurity to face some public injustice inflicted by the authorities. Quite often, they come to regard themselves as people of immense importance, and take on airs and graces that sit ill on them. Now, Mr Martin has suffered more injustice than anyone I have ever met. He was treated as a common criminal and spent years in prison for doing what in any sensible country would be regarded as a public service. One of his dogs died while he was inside. His remaining dog—a black Rottweiler called Otto—had not at first recognised him after a three years absence. He is a continuing victim of persecution because of that law suit, and may lose still more before it has ended. To suffer all this would send many people mad. Mr Martin, though, behaved throughout yesterday's appearance with quiet good humour. People came up to him in a continual stream, to shake his hand and give him their thanks and best wishes. He smiled. He gave as well as accepted sympathy. He had a kind word for everyone. I may have been a minor hero, but he was the main attraction. And it did not turn his head. I have met half mad loners. This was not one of them. I thought of John Hampden. By an odd coincidence, I later read that he had gone to school in Thame. So did John Wilkes.

    We spoke for about an hour. Again, it was a chaotic affair, interrupted by other people and an interview he did with a rival broadcaster. We shook hands and said goodbye three times before we did part. We spoke about the shootings at his farm in 1999. He said that, after so much discussion of what happened and what he was supposed to have thought, he could no longer recall what had really happened. He said he was angry about his treatment by the Police. In particular, they had made much of the fact that he was fully clothed when the thieves broke into his home. They used that as evidence of intent to use violence. "If I was sleeping in my clothes" he asked, "what business was that of anyone? Surely what I do at home is my business alone. Ask any farmer if, after a hard day's work, he always bothers to get changed for bed.".

    I asked if he was worried about further attacks. He showed me his mobile telephone. It had a red button on the top. "If I press this" he said, "a police helicopter will be overhead in five minutes. These people do not want still more bad publicity. But"—he smiled—"I don't know what good a police helicopter can do me after five minutes. A lot can be done in that time". Of course, he no longer has a shotgun licence. He reminded me of the motorcycling injury from his younger days that left him with a propensity to deep vein thrombosis. Had those thieves in 1999 taken him by surprise, they would have tied him up. That might have finished him there and then. Next time, without effective means of self defence, he might not be so lucky.

    His opinions can be described as old-fashioned Tory. I can understand why these are so shocking to the media and political classes. But I heard nothing yesterday that any reasonable person could have found objectionable. "Democracy is dead in this country" he told me emphatically. "It was good while it lasted, but it's now gone. The Government doesn't care about ordinary people. The Police treat us with contempt. The way things are going, there will one day be a revolution in this country. Then, we shall need a benign dictatorship. I don't mean this present lot will have more power. I mean a benign dictatorship that will give ordinary people back their rights." Nothing eccentric there, I think, regardless of whether I agree with it. We exchanged addresses and parted—he back to his farming, I to look around the fair. Bill Heine had passed on to a debate about tractors that drive very slowly down country lanes. The debate was heated, but did not touch me.

    Over by the Countryside Alliance stall, I fell into conversation with an old woman. She was 87, and had lost her husband and both brothers in the War. One of her sons was settled in America with his family. But another had a farm in Oxfordshire. He had been threatened repeatedly by intruders. He had lost crops and machinery to them. The Police had told him they were unable to help, but had warned him not to "take the law into his own hands". She was safe in her own home. She had good neighbours who kept an eye on her. But she looked about her with quiet despair. "I have been coming to this fair and to others like it all my life" she said. "I used to think it would go on forever—always changing with the times, but continuing generation after generation. It will see me out, I suppose. But I don't believe it will go on much after that. You should think yourself lucky you have seen it while you can. There will be nothing for your children. They will have neither country nor freedom. Sometimes nowadays, I almost regret I survived the bombing."

    I tried to assure her that even this Government could not last much longer, and that the forces of reaction were swelling in both numbers and conviction. But her own conviction had been too much for me. Perhaps this is the approaching end. All nations die eventually. Why should ours be different? If the present collapse can be dated to the appointment of Tony Blair as Prime Minister, it was not without advance warning. It was preceded by a long corrosion of values and of the institutes that embodied them. Mr Blair's Government did not take power by any coup. It was elected and re-elected by regular process. We retain a freedom of speech and constitutional safeguards that would be formidable in any nation still inclined to make use of them. Nothing has been done to us yet that we could not have stopped had we only the will as a nation to resist. For doing hardly worse, Charles I was put to death by a revolutionary tribunal. His son James II was run out of the country for doing far less overall. We live in a country where the majority are inclined to grumble, but are more interested in voting people out of the Big Brother house than in getting rid of the cast of traitors and buffoons who run our lives. My words of assurance were hollow, and we both knew it.

    Still, I did see one of the last English heroes yesterday, and I did see a little fragment of the old England. My thanks to bill Heine —and, oddly enough, even to the BBC that made it possible.

    Free Life Commentary,
    an independent journal of comment
    published on the Internet
    Issue Number 146
    4th May 2006

    The Daily Mail, Forgery, and the Corruption of Debate
    by Sean Gabb

    Various matters arise from my last issue of Free Life Commentary. The most important I have no time to discuss at the moment. This is the request, made by several readers, that I should explain why is is right to tolerate those with whom we disagree beyond the mere avoidance of coercion. I will give an answer when I have more time. for the moment, I will deal with matters of secondary, though still considerable, importance.

    The first is that, while several hundred of my readers did take up my invitation to write to The Dover Express, not one letter by anyone whose name I know was published the following week or the one after that. There was one letter that did not make complete sense, and that looked as if written by someone trying to conceal his approval of the British National Party. So much, I suppose, for the idea of an open media.

    The second is a confession of error. In my article, I said that Dover District Council was run by the Labour Party, and that this helped to explain why a local newspaper should be acting as an organ of Labour propaganda. This is not so. One of my readers, who lives, I discover, just a mile down the road, assures me that the Council is run by the Conservatives. What this does to the force of my article I leave to my readers. I will say, however, that if some  of the facts on which it depends are, on this occasion, are wrong, my argument remains correct—that the formally private media in this country are in fact vital to the manufacture of consent to the tyranny of our new ruling class. But some of my facts, I must confess, were wrong.

    Now, this brings me to the principal theme of my present article, which is the need to base opposition to that ruling class wholly on the truth. Yesterday, I found a copy on my railway train—I never buy newspapers unless I am in them—of The Daily Mail from the 2nd May 2006 On page 54, allegedly written by Joan Leggett of Bognor Regis, is this letter: 

    ON MARCH 4, 1899, the editorial of the Daily Messenger included this comment: 'With no more than months left until the beginning of the new century, the focus of our concerns must be the signs we see around us of a deterioration in the national character.

    'There is a degeneration of a once moral people, careering down in a headlong descent to barbarism. This not only alarms decent men and women, but emphasises the ever greater divide between the haves and have-nots, with the feckless poor being encouraged by anarchists and the continual threat of violence in our once safe land.

    'Everywhere we see evidence of an underclass, creatures whose lives are dominated by crime, loutishness and sexual licence. Brutes made more brutish by their daily diet of cheap, popular entertainment, alcohol and drugs. Lives lived in gaudy imitation of the less edifying aspects of the U.S.A.

    'These individuals, many of them homeless, some openly unmarried but still with children, others begging on the streets, complain of lack of opportunity and unemployment, but we all know there are jobs to be had, and places to stay, for any who choose or can be bothered to look for them. It isn't only the unsightly presence of these lowlifes which make our streets unsafe for decent people. There is now the increasingly unavoidable menace of motor cars congesting our roads and choking out children.

    'What, we ask, are the police doing to protect us from all of this? They are more concerned with harassing honest citizens over petty rule-keeping than the real criminals, leaving them to carry on with their nefarious activities.

    'This is Great Britain, our country, the centre of an Empire of which we could once be proud. Let us act before it is too late.' This was from over 100 years ago, and nothing much has changed.

    During the last two years of his life, Chris Tame persuaded me to a fuller appreciation of The Daily Mail. Leaving aside the petty-minded authoritarianism of many who write for it, this is the only newspaper that has made any principled attack on the doings of the Blair Government. It has consistently opposed the shredding of the Constitution since 1997 and the wars of aggression fought since then. It has revealed and opposed the hypocrisy of our masters, who talk softly of human rights and diversity while setting up a politically correct police state. In exchange for this, putting up with Melanie Phillips and all that whining about women who get pregnant at the age of 63 or whatever is a price worth paying.

    The publication of forged evidence, though, is another matter. I have no idea if there is a Joan Leggett in Bognor, and, there being one, I should never dream of imputing to her any wish to deceive. Even so, what she claims to be an extract from an 1899 editorial is an obvious forgery.

    Take the mention of The Daily Messenger. There was no national newspaper in England of that title. There may have been local newspapers, but the lack of any locational adjective is suspicious. It indicates a fabricated title. The 4th March 1899 was a Saturday—but, even choosing dates at random, a forger has a six in seven chance of avoiding a Sunday.

    Take next the reference to "the new century". There has always been some popular confusion over the change from one century to another. But the Victorian media were reasonably united in their insistence that the 20th century should begin on the 1st January 1901. Nor was this just chronological pedantry. Because there was no year zero, and because the transition from one century to another marks a further progress from the Birth to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, any believer of reasonable devoutness and education will insist that the transition should be marked at the proper time. This is then a mistake unlikely to have been made in a newspaper editorial before the late 20th century.

    Take next the language. Look at the reference to "haves and have-nots", or to an "underclass", or to "loutishness", or to "sexual licence", or to "unemployment". The first and third of these would not have been used in the stately prose of a newspaper editorial. the fourth would have been replaced by something less open in its description of the sexual act. the second is a word that may have existed before Charles Murray brought it into common use in the 1980s, but is unlikely to have been used with exactly the same meaning. The last word might have been used—the first reference to it in The Oxford English Dictionary is from 1888. Even so, the word "unemployment" retained something of a technical feel at least until the social conflicts that preceded the Great War and possibly until the 1920s. As for the use of "isn't", contracted negatives are barely tolerated now in formal prose. They would not have been tolerated in a newspaper editorial of 1899. Nor would verbless sentences like "Lives lived in gaudy imitation of the less edifying aspects of the U.S.A.". This is a corruption introduced, I think, by American journalists, and taken up in this country by politicians during the late 1980s. And  I am not aware that anyone in England would in 1899 have called America "the U.S.A."

    Finally, take the substance of the letter. Complaints about the degrading nature of American popular culture only became common on the eve of the Great War. Until the end of the 19th century, American culture at all levels tended to follow trends established in England or in Europe. There was much concern at the time about the effect of alcohol on the working classes. But there was almost no concern about the use of other recreational substances. And, returning to issues of language, these were not called "drugs" without some adjective to describe their effects. I am not sure if motor cars were yet known by that name. I do know, however, that there were not enough of them until a good decade later to be perceived as more than a curiosity. There was no suspicion that they could, in any numbers, threaten harm to the lungs of children. And, once again returning to language, whether or not there might have been enough motor cars in 1899 to fill the roads, I cannot believe that the word "congestion" had yet been extended to describe the problem.

    Given time and access to a dictionary, I could do the same for this alleged letter as Lorenzo Valla did for the Donation of Constantine. But there is no need. It is a forgery that needs little unmasking. In general, its tone is that of someone with limited historical understanding and few writing skills who has set out to fabricate past evidence to support present opinions. It dwells on issues that were not then regarded as problems. It ignores others that were. Anyone with the slightest feel for the English language and English social history must know at once that nothing like this could have been produced before perhaps 1999. Because of references to transition from one century to another that would have no relevance before our own millennium, I think it reasonable to say that it was fabricated then.

    But let us leave aside the matter of whether Joan Leggett exists or whether she knew when this quotation was produced. If she does exist, she probably pulled it unawares from the Internet. What, I ask, was the Letters Editor of The Daily Mail thinking when he accepted this for publication. We can forgive any degree of ignorance in those who write letters to newspapers. We cannot forgive such ignorance in those paid to edit them. I feel still more outraged by this trash than even by plagiarism by my students from the Internet.

    Regardless of politeness, however, the use of fabricated evidence is a dangerous tactic in debate. Unless done skilfully, it is too easily detected. Look at the evidence produced by the Blair Government in support of the Iraq War. This was discovered as lies within a few hours. More importantly, look at the poor scholarship and consequent low reputation of the American conservative movement. There is a forged quotation from a certain "Adolphe" Hitler about the benefits of gun control. There are forged quotations from Cicero and I think Benjamin Franklin about the the corrosive effects of inflation. Michel Foucault might have got away with the use of fabricated source material, or of no source material at all, for his various statements. But he seems to have had a theory of knowledge that relieved him from any need to tell the truth. We are supposed to be rather better than that.

    If we in the libertarian and conservative movement are ever to defeat the enemies of our civilisation, it will be because we have won the battle of ideas - because reflecting people will have decided the balance of truth to be on our side. We cannot even begin to win that battle if we countenance fabrications of evidence.

    This is, I begin to feel, an extended diversion from the fact that I have not been as careful as I should have been about checking my facts. So I will end here. Even so, the Letters Editor of The Daily Mail should at least consider resigning in disgrace.

    Free Life Commentary,
    an independent journal of comment
    published on the Internet
    Issue Number 151
    8th August 2006

    My Novel: A Brief Puff
    by Sean Gabb

    Who will buy my pretty novel,
       Available on-line
    From Hampden Press and Amazon
       For eight pounds ninety nine?

    Every copy of my novel
       I will, believe me, sign
    And send to any who remit
       Just eight pounds ninety nine.

    Will you buy my pretty novel,
       And be no philistine?
    Oh, say that you will not deny
       Me eight pounds ninety nine!

    Free Life Commentary,
    A Personal View from
    The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
    Issue Number 161
    25th June 2007

    Madsen Pirie: Novelist
    Review Article
    by Sean Gabb

    Children of the Night
    Madsen Pirie
    Arctic Fox Books, London, 2007, 162pp, £8.95 (hbk)
    ISBN 978 0 9555844-0-4

    Dark Visitor
    Madsen Pirie
    Arctic Fox Books, London, 2007, 139pp, £8.95 (hbk)
    ISBN 978 0 9555844-1-1

    While Madsen Pirie is most certainly the father of these books, I feel in a sense that I am one of their uncles. Last year, I wrote an article on self-publication, in which I explained how writers could nowadays do without the traditional medium of a publisher to get their work before the public. Dr Pirie took my advice to heart, improving on it in several places, and has now published not one but two novels.

    Unlike my own novels, these may be given to children. Both are short. Both are clear and simple. Both are wholesome. Both, moreover, contain a strongly libertarian message. Of course, I do recommend them.

    Of the two novels, I prefer the first, Children of the Night. And so I will confine my review to this.

    Children of the Night is set several thousand years into the future. Our own civilisation has passed away. Correction: our own civilisation has destroyed itself in some dreadful war involving the use of antimatter weapons. All that remains is a civilisation like that of the early middle ages, in which power is divided between the Church of Rome and a feudalistic empire that includes Europe and North America. Some technical knowledge has survived. There are, for example, flying machines. But all knowledge of technology is limited by the ruling class. This relies on a race of dwarves for the machinery it needs to fight its generally losing war of attrition with the Barbarians. It keeps the mass of people in darkness, allowing them nothing more in the way of technology than existed in Europe before about 1300.

    The hero, Mark, is a 13 year old boy who works as the lowest grade of servant in Gloucester Cathedral. He was brought here after the Barbarians had killed his family in South America. His job is to help keep the place clean. He is a special boy, as he has telepathic powers that allow him to communicate with a pet rat. But he has nothing to look forward to in life beyond endless menial work and endless humiliation.

    His life changes abruptly when Brother Gregor, one of the few monks to show him any kindness, is murdered. Everyone believes he is the latest victim of the Children of the Night—a secret society that is said to practise every class of abomination in its revolt against Church and State. Almost immediately after, Geneva Torvil arrives in the Cathedral. She is a young pilot who has been instructed to bring the great Baron Vassendreyl to a meeting with the Lord Bishop of Gloucester. Mark rescues her from a murder attempt, and they become friends.

    Thus begins an adventure that will take Mark and Geneva to the far northern edge of civilisation to help thwart a conspiracy that threatens not only Church and State, but everything that is decent. They are joined by Calvin, a clever dwarf, and by Mark's telepathic rat, Quicksilver. They learn about the rotten foundations on which their world rests. And they learn the true nature of the Children of the Night.

    This is a book for children, and so all digressions and passages of description are ruthlessly edited. Nothing is allowed to come between the reader and a very fast-moving plot. Even so, this world of the future is clearly drawn. And there are brief but significant reflections on the horror of slavery and of taxes and tithes, and on the ennobling nature of trade.

    Indeed, just because these are novels for children does not mean that they have nothing to offer adults. All the best literature for children works for children of every age, and these are no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both. And I recommend both to anyone who needs to buy presents for children, or who is simply looking for a good read on holiday this summer.

    The novels can be ordered from Amazon. 

    NB—Sean Gabb's new book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back,  can be downloaded free from You can help by contributing to publishing and distribution costs