Sean Gabb, speaking to the Manchester Liberty League on the 2nd December 2011.

Points made:

In early 19th century England, radical liberals - who may be regarded as libertarians on account of their views - were often in sharp opposition to conservatives. As such, always allowing for the overall lack of meaning to the term, these people were on the "left."

By the end of the 19th century, people holding the same views had often closely associated themselves with the conservatives.

The reason was that the growth of municipal socialism and the increasing volume of collectivist legislation - usually brought in by Liberals. The Liberty and Propery Defence League was set up by conservatives and classical liberals to resist this growth of statism; and our libertarian ancestors became identified, and identified themselves, as on the "right."

This identification was completed by the state socialist revolution in Russia. Between 1920 and 1990, politics became a tug of war. You could choose your ideological views. Once this was chosen, however, you gave up all control over which end of the rope you would be pulling. You also gave up any choice of allies.

This has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tug of war is over. We are free at last to have a good look at our allies; and big business is not particularly libertarian. Actually existing capitalism is largely the economic wing of an exploitative ruling class. It benefits from limited liability laws, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that favour large scale business.

Now that we no longer risk becoming useful idiots for the Communist Party, we should be reaching out to ordinary working people and explaining how big business and big government stand in their way.

So far as left and right have any real meaning, libertarians should align themselves on the left as well as on the right.

http://www.libertarian.co.uk/multimedia/2012-08-09-iness-sig.mp3.mp3

On Thursday, the 9th August 2012, Sean Gabb spoke in Bratislava to the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS) on the subject of "Libertarianism: Left or Right?"

He made the following points:

1. That libertarianism is a child of the Enlightenment, and is a champion of rationalism and humanity. As such, it was inevitably opposed to large elements of the European Old Order. This can be seen in the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Frederic Bastiat, and in the speeches and writings of Cobden and Bright.

2. That, during the 1880s, libertarians in England became increasingly more alarmed by the progress of state socialism in its various forms that they entered into an alliance with the landed aristocracy, which was itself worried about the tendencies of the age. The most obvious sign of this alliance was the Liberty and Property Defence League.

3. That the decline of the landed interest after 1914, and the global challenge of Soviet socialism required libertarians to go into a new alliance with corporate big business.

4. That this need has evaporated since 1989, and libertarians are free to choose their friends in ways that were not possible before.

5. That, while the English landed aristocracy was perhaps the most liberal ruling class in history, and that compromise with it was natural and even desirable for libertarians, corporate big business is little more than the commercial arm of an utterly malign ruling class that legitimises itself by cultural leftism and maintains its global hegemony via the military-industrial complex.

6. That libertarians are perhaps mistaken when they worship actually existing capitalism as if it were a variety of a genuinely free market, and when they implicitly regard the poor as enemies and dismiss the complaints of the poor as hostility to free markets.

7. That libertarians should focus more on showing how the established order of things hurts the poor - by using the tax and regulatory structures to raise the minimum scale of output and stop the poor from starting micro-businesses that would free them from the oppresion of bad employers and the welfare authorities.

Much else is covered, including intellectual property and whether Britain and Slovakia should leave the European Union.

For technical reasons, this is an audio file only. 

http://www.libertarian.co.uk/multimedia/2012-10-20-qrtb-sig.mp3

On the 20th October 2012, the Traditional Britain Group- a traditional conservative organisation - in conjunction with The Quarterly Review- an historic Tory journal - hosted an all day conference at the East India Club in central London titled, “Another Country - is there a future for Tradition?”

The format involved a number of 30 to 40 minute talks, followed by questions and discussion. Speakers Included: Derek Turner, Lord Sudely, Richard Spencer, Andrew Fear, Pete Myers, Stephen Bush, Peter King, and Theodore Dalrymple.

Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, spoke last. The title of his speech was "In Defence of English Civilisation." Here is a summary of his speech. The speech was not written in advance, and was given without notes, and this summary is, in some respects, an amplification on and a clarification of what was said. It also incorporates into the main speech points that were raised in the questions and answers session. This text, however, can be checked against the recording, and can be seen to give a fair account of what was said.

The recording was made with a Samsung Galaxy S2 mobile telephone, and the quality is acceptable, though not outstanding.

A version of this article was published by TakiMag in October 2012.


We know that England is under attack, and from its own ruling class. Before we can speak of defence, we need to understand the reasons for the attack.

This is not an attack on tradition in itself, but the unfolding of an alternative tradition.

Part of what defines a nation is the relationship between its ruling class and the people at large. Our historic self-perception as English is based on the relationship between rulers and ruled that existed before 1914, and, though to a fading degree, for a couple of generations thereafter.

The English people in 1914 were capable of fully democratic self-government. They had the necessary cultural and genetic cohesiveness for a democratic system not to descend into chaos or majoritarian tyranny.

Democracy, however, was not necessary, as the oligarchy of hereditary landlords who ruled England had absolutely identified itself with the nation. Every interest group had its place within the nation, and there was a place for all.

After 1914, the old ruling class was destroyed - the heavy casualties of both world wars, high taxes on static wealth, demands for a fraudulent kind fo democracy, and so forth. The old ruling class went down before all this, because it never tried to evade the duties that came with national identification.

The new ruling class is a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers, media people and associated business interests, that draws income and status from an enlarged and activist state. It does not own the means of production, but is content merely to control them. Its general desire is to avoid the entanglements that destroyed the old ruling class. It wishes to avoid more than token identification with the English people at large.

The present - and so far the most successful - scheme of liberation is to make power opaque and unaccountable by shifting it upwards to various multinational treaty organisations - eg, The EU, WTO, NATO, etc - and to Balkanise England into groupings more suspicious of each other than willing to combine against the ruling class.

State-sponsored mass immigration has been the most obvious evidence of this desire. Filling the country with people of different colours and with different ways, who do not like each other, and do not like and are not liked by the natives, is ideal Balkanisation. But one of the purposes of political correctness is also to divide the native population – women against men, homosexuals against Christians, and so forth.

The final desire is for the mass of ordinary people to be dispossessed and impoverished, and unable to challenge structures of exploitation that channel fantastic wealth to a free-floating class of masters.

If we want to avoid this, we must destroy the ruling class now. Its weakness is its reliance on the State as source or enabler of its income. Conservatives, therefore, must seize control of the State and disestablish the ruling class.

If we want to win the battle for this country, we need to take advice from the Marxists. These are people whose ends were evil where not impossible. But they were experts in the means to their ends. They knew more than we have ever thought about the seizure and retention of power. If, therefore, we ever achieve a government of conservatives, and seek to bring about the irreversible transfer of power to ordinary people, we should take to heart what Marx said in 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution….”

The meaning of this is that we should not try to work with the ruling class. We should not try to jolly it along. We should not try fighting it on narrow fronts. We must regard it as the enemy, and we must smash it.

On the first day of our government of conservatives, we should close down the BBC. We should take it off air. We should disclaim its copyrights. We should throw all its staff into the street, and cancel their pensions. We should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of our enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. We must shut it down - and shut it down at once.

We should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, or whatever it is now called, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection - I mean much of the public sector - these should be shut down.

If at the end of your first month in power, we have not shut down half of the State, we are failing. If we have shut down half the State, we have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.

Let me emphasise that the purpose of these cuts would not be to save money for the taxpayers or lift an immense weight of bureaucracy from their backs - though they would do this. The purpose is to destroy the ruling class before it can destroy us. We must tear up the web of power and personal connections that make these people effective as an opposition to radical change. If we do this, we shall face no more clamour than if we moved slowly and half-heartedly.

One obvious sign of success will be when depensioned enemies like Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson are seen serving on the cheese counter in Sainsbury.

Turning, however, to formally private business, much of this currently supports the ruling class project, and is little more than the economic wing of the ruling class. We should respond to this by removing privileges like limited liability, and forcing all business to internalise their transaction costs. Big business must be ruthlessly stripped of its privileges and made to sink or swim in fully liberated markets.

Following from this, however, we should leave large areas of the welfare state alone. It is regrettable, but most people in this country do like the idea of healthcare free at the point of use, and of free education, and of pensions and unemployment benefit. These must go in the long term. But they must be retained in the short term to maintain electoral support. Their cost and methods of provision should be examined. But cutting welfare provision would be politically unwise in the early days of our revolution.

This is a long speech, and I have not touched on the constitutional arrangements of a restored England. But I must tell you that these will often need to be different from those we have lost, and that organisations like Traditional Britain still celebrate. We shall need to create new structures of power, and new safeguards against abuse of that power. The new order of things will restore the spirit of the old, but cannot be a simple recreation.

Now, one final warning. What I recommend is a revolution – perhaps a counter-revolution, but still a radical break with the present order of things. The problem with all such recommendations is that the extent of present evils is greatly magnified, and the risks of change are minimised. It may be, however, that there is some hidden wisdom in the present order of things that we have overlooked. Or it may be that what we have is the least of available evils. I do not think this is the case. But I feel obliged to mention it. Conservatives, after all, should not wish to copy the mistakes of the French revolutionaries.

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

Issue Number 130
16th February 2005

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

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

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

The speakers were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 181
16th February 2009

Text of a Speech to Conservative Future,
Given in The Old Star Public House, Westminster,
Monday the 16th February 2009
by Sean Gabb

I want to begin by praising your courage in having me here tonight to speak to you. I am the Director of an organisation that tried hard during the 1980s to take over the youth movement of the Conservative Party. The Libertarian Alliance provided a home and other support for Marc-Henri Glendenning, David Hoile and Douglas Smith, among others, when it looked as if libertarians might do the same to the Conservative Party as the Trotskyites nearly did to the Labour Party. Sadly, our efforts failed. Since then, the Conservative Party has become more watchful of people like us. It has also, I must say, made itself progressively less worth trying to take over.

I did say that I would come here and be rude to you. But that would be a poor thanks for your hospitality. Besides, while your party leadership has consistently ignored my advice during the past twelve years - and has, in consequence, been out of office during this time - there is no point in dwelling on what might have been. We are where we are, and I think it would be useful for me very briefly to outline my advice to a future Conservative Government.

Now, this is not advice to the Government that looks set to be formed within the next year or so my David Cameron. I may be wrong. It is possible that Mr Cameron is a much cleverer and more Machiavellian man that I have ever thought him, and that he plans to make radical changes once in office. But I do not think he is. I think what little he is promising to do is the very most that he will do. In any event, he is doing nothing to acquire the mandate without which radical change would lack legitimacy. And so this is advice that I offer to some future government of conservatives, rather than to any prospective Conservative Government. It may even be a government formed by the people in this room.

My first piece of advice is to understand the nature of your enemy. If you come into government, you will be in at least the same position as Ramsay MacDonald, when he formed the first Labour Government in the 1920s. He faced an Establishment that was broadly conservative. The administration, the media, the universities, big business - all were hostile to what it was believed he wanted to do. The first Labour Governments were in office, but not fully in power, as they were not accepted by the people with whom and through whom they had to rule the country. To a lesser degree, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson faced the same constraints. A future Conservative Government will find much the same.

Over the past few generations, a new Establishment or ruling class has emerged in this country. It is a loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, media people and associated business interests. These are people who derive income and status from an enlarged and activist state. They have been turning this country into a soft-totalitarian police state. They are not always friendly to a Labour Government. But their natural political home is the Labour Party. They will accept a Conservative Government on sufferance - but only so long as it works within a system that robs ordinary people of their wealth and their freedom. They will never consent to what should be the Conservative strategy of bringing about an irreversible transfer of power from the State back into the hands or ordinary people.

A Cameron Government, as I have said, seems willing to try coexistence with the Establishment. The Thatcher Government set out to fight and defeat an earlier and less confident version of the Establishment - but only on those fronts where its policies were most resisted. It won numerous battles, but, we can now see, it lost the war. For example, I well remember the battle over abolition of the Greater London Council. This appeared at the time a success. But I am not aware of one bureaucrat who lost his job at the GLC who was not at once re-employed by one of the London Boroughs or by some other agency of the State. And we know that Ken Livingstone was eventually restored to power in London.

If you want to win the battle for this country, you need to take advice from the Marxists. These are people whose ends were evil where not impossible. But they were experts in the means to their ends. They knew more than we have ever thought about the seizure and retention of power. I therefore say this to you. If you ever do come to power, and if you want to bring about the irreversible transfer of power to ordinary people, you should take to heart what Marx said in 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution….”

The meaning of this is that you should not try to work with the Establishment. You should not try to jolly it along. You should not try fighting it on narrow fronts. You must regard it as the enemy, and you must smash it.

On the first day of your government, you should close down the BBC. You should take it off air. You should disclaim its copyrights. You should throw all its staff into the street. You should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of your enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. You must shut it down - and shut it down at once. You should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection - I mean much of the public sector - these should be shut down. If at the end of your first month in power, you have not shut down half of the State, you are failing. If you have shut down half the State, you have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.

Let me emphasise that the purpose of these cuts would not be to save money for the taxpayers or lift an immense weight of bureaucracy from their backs - though they would do this. The purpose is to destroy the Establishment before it can destroy you. You must tear up the web of power and personal connections that make these people effective as an opposition to radical change. If you do this, you will face no more clamour than if you moved slowly and half-heartedly. Again, I remember to campaign against the Thatcher "cuts". There were no cuts, except in the rate of growth of state spending. You would never have thought this from the the torrent of protests that rolled in from the Establishment and its clients. And so my advice is to go ahead and make real cuts - and be prepared to set the police on anyone who dares riot against you.

I fail to see how you would face any electoral problems with this approach. Most Conservative voters would welcome tax cuts and a return to freedom. As for those who lost their jobs, they do not, nor ever will, vote Conservative.

Following from this, however, I advise you to leave large areas of the welfare state alone. It is regrettable, but most people in this country do like the idea of healthcare free at the point of use, and of free education, and of pensions and unemployment benefit. These must go in the long term. But they must be retained in the short term to maintain electoral support. Their cost and methods of provision should be examined. But cutting welfare provision would be politically unwise in the early days of our revolution.

I have already spoken longer than I intended. But one more point is worth making. This is that we need to look again at our constitutional arrangements. The British Constitution has always been a fancy dress ball at which ordinary people were not really welcome, but which served to protect the life, liberty and property of ordinary people. Some parts of this fancy dress ball continue, but they no longer serve their old purpose. They are a fig leaf for an increasingly grim administrative despotism. I was, until recently, a committed monarchist. I now have to admit that the Queen has spent the past half century breaking her Coronation Oath at every opportunity. The only documents she has ever seemed reluctant to sign are personal cheques. Conservatives need to remember that our tradition extends not only through Edmund Burke to the Cavaliers, but also through Tom Paine to Oliver Cromwell. We live in an age where it is necessary to be radical to be conservative.

But I have now spoken quite long enough, and I am sure you have much to say in response. I therefore thank you again for your indulgence in having invited me and the politeness with which you have heard me.

[A combination of silence and faint applause]

Comment 1: You accuse the Conservatives of having ignored you for twelve years. From what you have just said, it is a good thing you were ignored. Under David Cameron's leadership, we have a Conservative Party that is now positively desired by the people. Your advice is and would have been a recipe for permanent opposition.

Response: I disagree. There is no positive desire for a Conservative Government. If there were, the polls would be showing a consistent fifty point lead or something. What we have is a Labour Government that is so dreadful that I have trouble thinking what could be worse.

[In a private conversation before my speech, I said that the Labour Party had turned out to be about as bad in government as the Green Party or the British National Party or Sinn Fein.]

There are two ways of doing politics. One is to listen to focus groups and opinion polls, and offer the people what they claim to want. The other is to stand up and tell them what they ought to want, and to keep arguing until the people agree that they want it, or until it is shown not to be worth wanting. I think I know what sort of politicians will run the next Conservative Government. What sort of politicians do you want to be?

Comment 2 [from an Irishman]: What you are saying means that the country would be without protection against obvious evils. With no child protection services, children would be abused and murdered. Without planning controls, the countryside would soon be covered with concrete. Without planning controls, cities like Manchester would be far less attractive places.

I will also say, as an Irishman, that I am offended by your reference to Oliver Cromwell, who was a murderer and tyrant. You cannot approve of this man.

Response: You have been taken in by the Establishment's propaganda. This is to insist that we live with vast structures of oppression, or that we must accept the evils they are alleged to curb. I say that that these structures do not curb any evils, but instead create evils of their own. We have, for example, seventy thousand social workers in this country. They appear to have done a consistently rotten job at protecting the few children who need protecting. instead, they are taking children away from grandparents to give to strangers, and are setting the police onto dissenting ministers who allow their children to climb onto the roof. None of this should be surprising. The Children Act and other laws have created a bureaucratic sausage machine that must somehow be filled. I say let it be destroyed along with all else that is evil in our system of government.

[What I might have said, but was too polite to say: As for Oliver Cromwell, he was one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived. It is partly thanks to him that we have just had around three centuries of freedom and political stability. When you refer to his actions in Ireland, you are repeating Fenian propaganda. What he did in Ireland has been exaggerated by the enemies of England, and in any event was in keeping with the customs of war universally admitted in his own time. If you want to throw an offended fit every time an Englishman in London praises an English hero to other Englishmen, you should consider moving to Dublin where all the letter boxes have been painted a reassuring green, and your own national sensitivities never need be offended again.]

Comment 3: All you speak about is winning and the destruction of enemies. Yet you are willing to consider keeping the welfare state. You are nothing but an unprincipled trouble maker. Thank God the Conservative Party no longer has any place for people like you.

Response: If we were facing the sort of Labour Government we had under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, you would be right. However, we have an Establishment that has already given us the beginnings of a totalitarian police state. Today, for example, the authorities will start collecting details of every telephone call, text and e-mail sent in this country. Children are about to have their details stuffed into a giant database that will enable them to be monitored by the authorities until they are adults - and probably through their entire lives. We live in a country where privacy is being abolished. Speech is increasingly unfree. The police are out of control. Everything is getting rapidly worse, and it is easy to see the end state that is desired, of total control.

If a government of radical conservatives ever does take power, it will have one attempt at saving this country. That means radical and focussed actions from day one. Anything less than this, and it will fail. I am suggesting a revolution - but this is really a counter-revolution against what has already been proceeding for at least one generation. If we are to beat the heirs of Marx, we must learn from Marx himself.

Comment 4: You are wasting our time with all this radical preaching. People do not want to hear about how they are oppressed by the Establishment, and how this must be destroyed. What they want to hear is that taxes are too high, that the money is being wasted, and that there are ways to protect essential public services with lower taxes. That is why the Taxpayers' Alliance has been so much more prominent than the Libertarian Alliance. We must have nothing to do with the ranting lunatics of the Libertarian Alliance.

Response: You may have a desire for electoral success that I do not share. But I am the better politician. All debate is perceived as taking place on a spectrum that has a centre and two extremes. If the Libertarian Alliance did not exist, the relevant spectrum would simply reconfigure itself with the Taxpayers' Alliance at one extreme, and the centre would be still less attractive than it now is. Since most people consciously take centrist positions, it is in your interest - regardless of whether I am right - to say what I do. It makes you and your friends moderate in relation to me.

[At this point, some unfortunate woman began screeching that I was a fascist, and the debate came to an end.]

[I normally like to comment on these events once I have described them. I think, however, the above stands by itself.]

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 183
28th May 2009

What is the Ruling Class?
By Sean Gabb
A Paper Given on Sunday the 24th May 2009
to the Fourth Annual Conference
of the Property and Freedom Society
in the Hotel Karia Princess in Bodrum, Turkey

PFS09 Sean Gabb "What is the Ruling Class?" from Sean Gabb on Vimeo.

In giving this paper, I make no pretence to originality of thought. Everything I am saying today has been said already – usually better, and always in greater detail – by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, by Roderick Long, by Kevin Carson, by Christian Michel, and by many others. If I can contribute anything to the libertarian analysis of class, it is brevity alone. 

Libertarians often define a ruling class as that group of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, businessmen, therapists, educators and media people who derive income and position from the State. By definition, so far as such people operate as members of a ruling class, they are parasitic on the efforts of ordinary people. Their position comes from forcing others to act as they would not freely choose, or by excluding them from activities they might freely choose. Their income is based on forced transfers of wealth.

The size and activities of a ruling class will be determined by the physical resources it can extract from the people, by the amount of force it can use against them, and by the nature and acceptance of the ideology that legitimises its existence. None of these determinants by itself will be decisive, but each is a necessary factor. Change any one, and the working of the other two will be limited or wholly checked.

Of these determinants, the ideological are the most open to control and change. In the short term, resources are fixed in quantity. At any time, the amount of force available will be limited. What will always interest ruling classes, therefore, is the nature and acceptance of its legitimising ideology. This will vary according to circumstances that are not fully within the control of any ruling class. It may involve averting the Divine Wrath, or promoting acceptance of the True Faith, or protecting the nation from external or external enemies, or raising the condition of the poor, or making us healthier, or saving the planet from us. The claims of the ideology may, in other times and places, seem unfounded or insane. What they generally have in common is the need for an active state directed by the right sort of people.

Since the function of these ideologies is to justify theft or murder or both, they need to be promoted by endless repetition – which is a valid form of argument if truth is less important than winning – and by at least the discouragement of dissent. Efficient promotion will produce a discourse – this being the acceptance of a language and of habits of thought in which dissent cannot be expressed without also conceding its immorality. Efficient promotion will also produce a state of almost universal false consciousness – in which ordinary people are brought to accept ideological claims as true that are opposed to their own interests as these might be reasonably considered.

Now, to speak of ruling classes, and in these terms, will often produce a strongly hostile reaction from libertarians and from conservatives. In the first place, it sounds like Marxism. Indeed, in summarising my own beliefs about a ruling class, I have deliberately borrowed terms from the Marxist theory of class – “discourse”, “false consciousness”, “class consciousness”. This is sure to disturb many – and perhaps many in this room. For at least three generations, our movement was at ideological war with Marxism. We did all we could to refute its claims and to spread the truth about its consequences wherever it was tried. To use its language to express broadly similar concepts will appear to be making concessions that amount to intellectual surrender.

In the second place, many libertarians deny that the concept of a ruling class has any meaning in our own world. In 1605, for example, Guy Fawks and his fellow conspirators tried to blow up Parliament while it was being opened by the King. If they had succeeded, they would have killed the King and the whole of the senior aristocracy and the leaders of the Established Church and – give or take a few nominees – the leading men of every shire and town in England. At one stroke, they would have killed around seven hundred men, and this would have snuffed out the whole of the English ruling class.

And this was a ruling class. Its members were largely there by virtue of birth. They were often related to each other. They shared a common education. They dressed differently and spoke differently from those over whom they ruled. Generally, they were cleaner. They were committed to the Protestant faith and to the land settlement of Henry VIII. Their class consciousness was expressed in countless ways, and was reflected in their language. They spoke of “persons of quality” or “persons of gentle birth” or of “gentlemen”.

In England or America today, whatever I call the ruling class is far larger and has far less apparent unity. I have defined it as a group of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, businessmen, therapists, educators and media and business people. Perhaps I should just call these a gathering of groups, united only in their competition for power and income via the State, and each with a different legitimising ideology. Perhaps they are best compared not to the undoubted ruling class of Jacobean England, but to the members of a French bus queue. The common defining characteristic of these latter is that they all want to get on the bus. But it plainly serves no analytical or propagandistic purpose to define them on these grounds as a class.

Then there is the problem of collective action. Members of a supposed ruling class, for example – just as of a cartel – have personal interests as well as group interests. The former will often be more pressing than the latter; and the tendency over time will be for the rich and powerful to preach class solidarity while undermining it in their behaviour.

I will deal with the second of these objections in a moment. The first is easily answered. There is nothing specifically Marxist about the analysis of class and of class conflict. The Wealth of Nations is largely an exercise in class analysis. In France, J.B. Say was the father of a whole school of classical liberal class theory that was developed by, among others, Charles Compte, Charles Dunoyer and Augustin Thierry. In England, Cobden and Bright conceived their struggles against the corn laws and against war in terms of a class struggle. Marxian class theory, when it emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century, was one theory among many, and not at all the most prominent or most widely accepted.

This being said, Marxian class theory has, since then, received by far the most attention, and has been most fully developed. It is natural for many of us to feel uncomfortable about accepting any parts of this theory. But, if understandable, this is to be regretted. Marxism is false as a theory of human behaviour. But it has been developed by men of sometimes considerable talent and insight. To reject the incidental truths found by these men is rather like denouncing motorways because the first person to build them was Hitler. Astrology and alchemy were false sciences. Their claims about prediction and transformation were long ago falsified. Even so, the real sciences of astronomy and chemistry owe many incidental debts that no chemist or astronomer is ashamed to admit.

It should be the same with libertarians and conservatives in their view of Marxian class theory. Marx himself, together with Marxists like Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser and even Michel Foucoult, have much to tell us, and I am not ashamed to use Marxist terminology when I think it suits the needs of a libertarian class theory.

The main difference between Marxist and libertarian theories of class is in where each side locates the source of class power. For the Marxists, class power derives from ownership of the means of production. Standing in the tradition of Rousseau, Marx and his followers believe that mankind lived at first in a state of primitive communism, in which the means of production were held in common. This ended with the rise of a class that was able to take the means of production into its own possession. This class then set up the State as an executive committee to assist in its domination of everyone else. Since then, there have been successive revolutions as changes in the means of production have raised other classes to wealth, and these classes have then consolidated their own leading position by taking over the State.

According to this theory, therefore, the source of class power lies in wealth, and political power follows from wealth. This explains the Marxist belief that a communist revolution, by abolishing class domination, will rid the State of its oppressive nature. The State may then be dispensed from the liberal requirements of limitation and due process, and can be safely used as an instrument for ending such class power as remained. It will then, of itself, wither away.

This theory is manifestly false. Even without the thirty or fifty million corpses piled up by Marxist tyrannies in the twentieth century, it shows a terrible ignorance of human nature. Whether we dismiss the Marxists, in their main theory, as idiots or as villains depends on who is being discussed. But this is not to deny the incidental truths uncovered by Marx and his followers.

And these can be fitted into a libertarian class theory that locates the source of ruling class power in the State. For us, the State is not something created by the already powerful. It is, instead, something captured by those who want to become powerful – and who cannot become powerful by any other means. Without a state, there can be no exploitation. Without a state, the only transactions would be exchanges of value between free individuals from which all parties benefit according to their own conceptions of their interests. It is the State that can steal and kill. It is the State that raises up or calls into being groups that hope to benefit from the use of these powers, and that then constitute a ruling class. Abolish the State – or severely limit its size and power – and class domination will fall to the ground. The groups that comprise the ruling class will either die like tapeworms in a dead rat, or will be forced to offer their services on terms attractive to willing buyers.

I will now deal with the second libertarian objection to the concept of a ruling class. I accept that there is a problem of collective action. But this does not make an absolute refutation. For some purposes, group solidarity may be weaker than the pursuit of individual interests – but not always. Anyone who doubts this has only to look at the large number of young men in every generation who allow themselves – or volunteer – to be put into uniform and sent out to die for their country. Cartels are generally accepted to be conspiracies against the public interest. Class solidarity – so long as based on a legitimising ideology that is as firmly accepted by rulers as by ruled – can generally underpin collective action for many purposes and over long periods. Indeed, one of the sure signs that a ruling class has lost its will to rule is when significant numbers of those within it make fun of their legitimising ideology, or merely cease in private to believe in its truth. It is then that class solidarity becomes a sham, and the rulers begin to act like members of a cartel.

I also accept that ruling classes are, in our societies, much larger and more diverse than in the past. But accepting its size and diversity does not refute the claim that there is a ruling class. It is not necessary for the various groups I have mentioned to agree with each other in all respects. There is no reason for the ruling class to be monolithic. The medical establishment and tax gathering bureaucrats do not agree about state policy on smoking. Big business may disagree with the education establishment about what and how children are taught. Just a few years ago in England, the Government and the state-owned BBC fell out very bitterly over the Iraq War. During such disputes, different groups within the ruling class may even turn for physical or moral support to groups far outside the ruling class. They may even, from time to time, recast themselves – by accepting newly attractive groups, or expelling groups that no longer contribute to the class as a whole, or that endanger the continued existence of the class as a whole.

Even so, there is a general solidarity of interest that holds an effective ruling class together. No matter how they argue over the details of what the State is to do, its constituent groups will extend each other a mutual recognition of legitimacy. They agree that the State is a force for good, and that they are the right people to direct it. Their disputes will not be carried to the point where they knowingly undermine their overall legitimacy as a class – or the legitimacy of any of the constituent groups. Roderick Long has likened modern ruling classes to Church and State in old Europe. For the better part of a millennium, these institutions fought – and often bitterly – over which should be the predominant force in their societies. They hardly ever lost sight of the fact that they had a common interest in keeping the rest of the population subject to authority.

Sot it is now. Anyone who has ever taken money from big business will surely have noticed how his paymasters have been willing to use weakened forms of libertarian ideology to make specific points – but have never shown interest in promoting libertarianism as a full agenda of attack. In all cases, libertarian defenders are brought in to argue for concessions from the taxing and regulatory groups of the ruling class. They are never permitted to argue against the general legitimacy of taxes or regulations. That would risk undermining the system from which all groups –even if they might lose out in the short term – derive income and position in the long term.

This may be the common defining characteristic of a modern ruling class – a belief in the State and in the right and fitness of the groups I have described to direct it, and to gain income and status from their positions within the State. And, as in the past, class consciousness is reinforced by more than commonality of interest. I grant that, in America and to a lesser but similar extent in England, individual position is no longer rigidly fixed by birth, and it is common for people, wherever they start in life, to rise or sink according to their abilities. Nevertheless, we can still see families and networks of families that, in generation after generation, turn out individuals who occupy positions within the ruling class. Remember names like Toynbee and Gore and Kennedy and Cecil.

Otherwise, members of the British and American ruling classes share a common outlook on the world that is gained by attending the same schools and universities, and that is maintained by small but significant movements from one group to another that comprise the ruling class. In England, for example, it is common for politicians to begin or to end their careers in the more privileged big business corporations or in other agencies that look for their existence to the State. And it is fairly common for people from these groups to be recruited into senior political or administrative positions. There may be cultural differences between these groups. But these are not so great as to endanger close cooperation between them in the common project of exploiting ordinary people.

I agree that this is not an entirely satisfactory account of the ruling class. If I were a Marxist, it would be much easier. A member of the ruling class is someone who owns the means of production. I cannot supply an equally clear common defining characteristic. I cannot even put too much emphasis on the parasitic nature of a ruling class. The groups comprising a modern ruling class are parasites so far as they act as a ruling class. But they will often act both as members of a ruling class and as members of the productive class.

Companies like Wallmart and Tesco, for example, are privileged organisations. They benefit from incorporation laws that let them exist in the first place, from transport subsidies that externalise their diseconomies of scale, from taxes and regulations that disproportionately harm their smaller competitors, and in many other ways. At the same time, they provide cheaper and better food than their customers might once have thought possible. The media may be a producer or and conduit for propaganda. At the same time, it provides entertainment that people appear to enjoy. The medical establishment wants to coerce us into giving up probably harmful things like tobacco and probably beneficial things like vitamin pills, and procures laws that limit patient choice. At the same time, it does appear to be encouraging rapid medical progress in at least some areas.

Western ruling classes are not like the Soviet Nomenklatura. Many of the groups within these ruling classes have double functions inside and outside reasonably functioning market systems. Their activities are illegitimate only so far as they take place outside the market.

And so, while I do believe that the concept of a ruling class has meaning in our societies, I cannot dispute that it has problems. Nevertheless, in spite of all reservations, I do believe that the concept of a ruling class is not wholly useless, and I do suggest that those of us who have so far paid it little attention might do well to give it some thought.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 187
20th October 2009

The Conservative Challenge
By Sean Gabb
(Text of a Speech Given to a Conservative Association
On Friday the 16th October 2009)

Introduction

On Friday the 16th October 2009, I spoke to a Conservative Association in the South East of England. Though I did not video the event, and though –  on account of the heated and not always good natured debate the followed my speech – I was asked not to identify the particular Association to which I spoke, I think what I said is worth recording. Therefore, I will write down my words as best I can recall them. I have suppressed all the questions, but carried some of the answers into the main text. Otherwise, I will try to keep the flavour of the original.

The Speech

Because of transport difficulties that prevented many people in this room from arriving on time, I am beginning my speech an hour later than expected. I am honoured by the Chairman’s apology for the delay. However, the series of conversations and arguments with which those of us who were here entertained ourselves while waiting have given me the idea for a speech that is still on my stated theme, but that I think will be more interesting than the one I had in mind. Now, this theme – “The Conservative Challenge” – has been routinely given to speakers at Conservative gatherings since at least the 1880s. The question that must always be answered is how we can remain the free citizens of an independent country in ages that have been progressively hostile both to individual freedom and to national independence. I did have a plan loosely worked out in my head. What I will do instead, though, is take some of our bar room discussions and summarise or expand on them as seems appropriate. I will do this by giving short statements of what was said to me, and then by giving my responses.

1. This has been a bad Government

I disagree. Oh, if you want a government that defends the country and provides common services while keeping so far as possible out of your way, the Labour Government elected in 1997 has been a disappointment. This does not mean, however, that the Blair and Brown Governments have been a failure in their own terms. They have, on the contrary, been very successful.

The purpose of the Government that took power in 1997 was to bring about a revolutionary transformation of this country – a transformation from which there could be no return to what had been before. The English Constitution has never been set down in a written document, and there has never been any statement of fundamental rights and liberties that was protected from change by ordinary legislation. Instead, these rights and liberties were protected by a set of customs and institutions that, being legitimised by antiquity, served the same purpose as formal entrenchment. It can be hard, in every specific case, to justify trial by jury, or the rule against double jeopardy, or the idea that imprisonment should be for a specified time and no longer, or the right to speak freely on matters in the public domain. There are principled arguments that satisfy in the absence of strong passions. But, strong passions being granted, the best argument has always so far been that these things have always been in England, and that to change them would be to break the threads that tie us to the past.

It would be childish to argue that the Ancient Constitution was in good health until 1997, when it was suddenly overturned. Unless there is an catastrophic foreign invasion, constitutions are not destroyed in this way. Ours had been sapped long before 1997. To say when the tipping point was reached, and by what means, would take me far beyond my stated theme. However, what remained of the Constitution has, since 1997, been dismissed as a set of “outmoded” relics, and large parts of it have been swept away. Those that remain have been transformed beyond recognition.

Let me give myself as an example. My first degree was in History. Much of this was taken up with a study of late antiquity and the early middle ages. But some of it was given to English history between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Of course, the Constitution changed within these periods, and had changed much since then. But I could take up the debates of the Cavalier Parliament, or a pamphlet written during the American War, or a case published in the State Trials, and find myself within a conversation of the English people. I was not in the same position as a French undergraduate, who, for anything published before 1791, would find himself in a world of institutions, and territorial names, and weights and measures, and monetary units, and general assumptions, as alien as those of a foreign country.

This has now changed. Anyone who, this month, has started a degree in History or Law or Politics will find himself in the same position as that French undergraduate. We have new legislative bodies all over the country, and new principles of administration, and new courts with new procedures and languages, and new lines of authority terminating in bodies outside the country. The work is not yet complete. But already, the conversation of the English people has been made largely incomprehensible to those born since I was an undergraduate.

Whether the changes can be justified as improvements – or whether they could have been made with more regard for economy and consistency – is beside the point. The main purpose of change has been to seal off the past. That past has been delegitimized in order to strip rights and liberties of the associations that used to protect them. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves in a country with a Potemkin democracy, where speech and publication are censored, where the police are feared, where we are continuously spied on as we go about our business, where we can be imprisoned without trial or charge for a month, and generally where we find ourselves having to deal every day with administrative bodies given powers that others who have not yet had felt them still cannot believe possible.

On any normal assumptions, the country has been governed very badly since 1997. On the assumptions of the Government, things have gone very well indeed.

2. This country is ruled by people who have been corrupted by bad ideas.

Again, I disagree. For centuries now, England has been governed by people rather like ourselves. Sometimes, they have governed well, sometimes badly. But we have never had to doubt their fundamental good faith. This has changed. The people who now rule this country have not been led astray by bad ideas. Rather, they are bad people who choose ideologies to justify their behaviour.

There are ideologies of the left – mutualism, for example, or Georgism, or syndicalism – that may often be silly or impracticable, but that are perfectly consistent with the dignity and independence of ordinary people. These are not ideologies, however, of which those who rule us have ever taken the smallest notice. These people began as state socialists. When this became electorally embarrassing, they switched to politically correct multiculturalism. Now this too is becoming an embarrassment, they are moving towards totalitarian environmentalism. Whether in local or in national government, their proclaimed ideologies have never prevented them from working smoothly with multinational big business, or with unaccountable multinational governing bodies.

It is reasonable to assume that, with these people, ideas are nothing more than a series of justifications for building a social and economic and political order within which they and theirs can have great wealth and unchallengeable power.

They tell us they want to end “child poverty” and “build a more equal society”. In fact, they have employed an army of social workers to terrorise every working class family in the country – an army of social workers backed by closed and secretive courts, and that may even be selecting children for legal kidnap and sale to barren middle class couples. They have pauperised millions with policies that keep them from achieving any reasonable independence and subject them to the bullying of credentialed bureaucracies.

They tell us they want a more “inclusive” and “diverse” society. They have certainly welcomed the mass immigration that they enabled the moment they came into office. It has been useful for impoverishing the working classes – in their attitudes and behaviour once perhaps the most conservative people in the country. It has also provided much evidence for their claim that the old England into which we were born has passed away, and that we need a new constitutional settlement – a settlement much in need of censorship and endless meddling in private choices. Even so, they make sure to live in white enclaves and to send their children to private schools where class photographs look much as they did in 1960.

They tell us they want to save the planet from “climate change”. If they have made Phillips and Siemens rich from their light bulb ban, they still fly everywhere and drive everywhere, and light up their own houses and offices like Christmas trees.

These are bad people. They must be regarded as such in everything they do. And we must hope that they will one day be punished as such.

3. The country is misgoverned.

Let me go back to my first point. There is no doubt that everything done by these people has involved huge cost for little of the promised benefit. We have computer systems that do not work. We have new bureaucracies that do not achieve their stated purpose. The National Health Service, for example, has had its budget doubled or trebled in the past twelve years. Yet the waiting lists are as long as ever, and the hospitals are dirtier than ever. Medical incompetence and even corruption and oppression are now everyday stories in the newspapers.

Again, however, these are failures only on the assumption that money has been laid out for the purpose of improving services. It has not. The real purpose of washing a tidal wave of our money over the public services has been partly to raise up an army of clients more likely to vote Labour than anything else, and partly to give these clients powers that tell everyone else who are the masters now. On this assumption, the money has not been wasted at all. It has indeed been an “investment in the future”.

What is to be done?

I often speak about an electoral coup in which a genuinely conservative government came to power and set about undoing the revolution. This involves shutting down most of the public sector. I am not saying that poor people would no longer receive their benefits or medical attention free at the point of use. These are not in themselves expensive. They may have undesirable consequences in terms of smothering personal responsibility and voluntary initiative. But these are problems to be addressed over a long period during which no settled expectation need be denied. What I do say is that the bureaucratic machine that bleeds us white in taxes and grinds us into obedient uniformity should be smashed to pieces that cannot easily be put back together. It should be smashed because we cannot afford it. It should be smashed because it oppresses us. It should be smashed because it is an agent of national destruction.

I once wrote a book about why this should be done and how to do it. Sadly, it will not be done in the foreseeable future. We shall probably have a Conservative Government within the next nine months. But this will not be a government of conservatives. If we want a preview of the Cameron Government, we need only look at what Boris Johnson has achieved during the past year as Mayor of London. He has not closed down one of the bureaucracies set up by Ken Livingstone and his Trotskyite friends. The race equality enforcers are still collecting their salaries. The war on the private motorist continues. Rather than cut the number of New and Old Labour apparatchiks, he is currently putting up taxes. David Cameron will be no better. He may be forced to make some changes and to slow the speed of the transformation. The transformation will continue nevertheless.

We need to speculate on the purpose and nature of counter-revolution. It is useful to know what ought to be our long term purpose. It inspires us to action in an otherwise bleak present. But we need also to know what present actions are to be inspired. My advice is that we need, in all our thoughts and in whatever of our behaviour is prudent, to withhold our sanction.

Any system of oppression that does not rely on immediate and overwhelming – and usually foreign – violence requires the sanction of its victims. We cannot all have guns put to our heads all day and every day. We therefore need to believe, in some degree, that what is done to us is legitimate. We must believe this if we are to obey. We must believe it if those who oppress us are to keep their good opinion of themselves. I suggest that we should withhold that sanction. I do not say that, without our sanction, the illegitimate power that now constrains our lives will fall immediately to the ground. I do suggest, however, that it will be insensibly undermined, and that it may therefore collapse suddenly in the event of some unexpected shock. This is how Communism died in Eastern Europe. It may be how the New Labour Revolution will die here.

The Police

One of the myths, endlessly repeated through what is called “Middle England”, is that the Police are among the victims of Labour rule – that they have been forced to act in ways that they find abhorrent or absurd. But this is only a myth. The Police are no friends to respectable people in any class or race. When I was a small boy, I was reduced to tears by what seemed a gigantic policeman in a tall helmet. One glare of his bearded face, and I was straight off the municipal flower bed where I had thrown my ball. He spoke to my grandmother before moving to other business, and that was the end of my transgression.

His sort retired decades ago. They have been replaced by undersized, shaven headed thugs – frequently with criminal records – who take delight in harassing the respectable. If you are robbed or beaten in the street, they will be nowhere in sight. If you approach them to complain, they will record the crime and send you on your way. If, on the other hand, you try defending yourself or your loved ones, they will prosecute you. They will do nothing about drugged, aggressive beggars, but they will jump on you if they see you smoking under a bus shelter. These people have been given powers that move them closer to the East German Stasi than to the uniformed civilians many of us can still remember. They can arrest you for dropping a toffee wrapper in the street. Once arrested, you may be charged, but you will more likely be released after being fingerprinted and having DNA samples taken and stored. We do not know what other body or government will be given your DNA. We do not know what future oppressions it may enable. Regardless of any littering charge, you will have been punished already.

We should not regard the Police in any sense as our friends. They are not. This does not mean that we should have no dealings with them. There are times – insurance claims, for example, where things must be reported. There are times when the Police are needed, and when they may give some limited assistance. Even so, we should on no account behave to them as if they were uniformed civilians. They are an armed, increasingly out of control pro-Labour militia.

The Law

We were all of us born in a country where the phrase “The Law is the Law: it must always be obeyed” did not seem absurd. Yes, it may not have been quite as we were told. By and large, however, it was a law made by our representatives and with our loose consent – or it was made by Judges rationalising honestly from assumptions grounded in common sense notions of justice. It is that no longer. For all its blemishes, the old laws of England were there to stop us from knocking into each other too hard as we went about our business. Its function was reactive. The function of law nowadays is transformational. It is there to change the ways in which we think and live. So far as this is the case, the law has been delegitimised.

And this is how we are to regard uses of the law. At the moment, The UK Independence Party is being edged towards bankruptcy over some matter of a political donation. It seems not to have complied with the requirements of a law made in the year 2000 that effectively nationalises all political parties – and that may one day be used to control what policies they advocate and how they oppose measures with which they disagree. Again, there are complaints about how the BBC has invited the Leader of the British National Party to appear on Question Time. It is said that the BNP is currently an illegal organisation because of its internal rules. The alleged illegality is based on a novel interpretation of a 1976 law, as amended in 2000, that is itself illegitimate.

There was a time when it was enough for us to be told that someone had broken the law for us to think ill of that person. But times are altered. When the laws themselves are corrupt, they lose moral force. It is no longer enough for us to be told that someone is a law breaker. Whatever we may think of these parties for what they advocate, they are to be seen not as law breakers but victims of political oppression. To think ill of them purely for their disregard of the law is rather like calling Alexander Solzhenitsyn a jailbird on account of his time in the Gulag.

The Law is no longer the Law. It is a set of politicised commands made for our destruction as a free people. It no longer deserves our automatic respect. Yes, the laws that protect life and property are still to be respected. But it is now rational to inspect every law thrown at us to see which do bind in conscience and which do not. I know that this is a dangerous principle to announce. There are many people for whom the law is a unified thing: say that one part has no binding force, and all parts are weakened. But this is not our fault. We have not made the law disreputable. We are simply facing a state of affairs that has been called into being by others.

The Constitution

I have already mentioned the remodelling of the Constitution. As a people, we have long amused foreigners with our respect for titles and old forms of government. I once chaired a meeting addressed by a Member of the House of Lords. This was before the Internet, and I spent nearly an hour in a library clarifying that he should be introduced as – let me change the name – John, Lord Smith of Wilmington, rather than Lord John Smith or Lord Wilmington. This was all good fun. It also had a serious point. I was helping maintain one of those innumerable and seemingly absurd customs that among were the outer defences of our rights and liberties. Our Ancient Constitution may have struck outsiders as a gigantic fancy dress ball. But it covered a serious and very important fact. This was an imperfect acceptance of Colonel Rainsborough’s claim that “the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”.

But, again, times are altered. The more gorgeous events of the fancy dress ball have been retained. But the underlying substance – the protection of rights and liberties – has been stripped out. This being so, all obligation of deference has lapsed. I will not defer to the man whose name has been changed by a sheet of parchment sealed with wax to Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty. Nor will I call Peter Mandelson other than “Mr Mandelson. Nor, unless I am in his court, and he is likely to take more against me than he naturally would, will I address the former Communist Stephen Sedley as “My Lord”. Nor will I acknowledge his Knighthood out of court. I am not yet sure if it is appropriate to stop recognising hereditary honours, or those granted before 1997. But I certainly regard all honours granted since 1997 as void. They have the same legitimacy as those conferred by Cromwell during the Interregnum. No – Cromwell was a great man who did honour to this country and who deserves his statue outside Parliament. Recent honours have the same status as those conferred by James II after he ran away to France. They are to be seen as a badge of ridicule and disgrace on those who have accepted them.

Now, this may seem a pedantic and self-indulgent point. But it is not. These people should not be allowed to wrap themselves in any remnant of the associations that once bound us to the past. And they evidently enjoy playing at nobility. I once did a radio debate with a police chief who had been recommended for a Peerage by Tony Blair. He was annoyed by my substantive arguments. He was reduced to spluttering rage when I addressed him as plain “Mister” and sneered that his title was a sham. Bearing in mind that it is not illegal to drop their titles, and how it upsets them, I think it worth doing on every convenient occasion.

And it is part of what I would see as a more general approach. Conservatives often denounce what is being done to us as a “breach of the Constitution”. It is really no such thing, because the Ancient Constitution has been abolished. As said, the fancy dress ball continues in something like full swing. But “the poorest he that is in England” has been stuffed. We do have a constitution in the sense that every organised community has one. Ours says that whoever can frogmarch a majority of placemen through the lobbies of the House of Commons can do whatever he pleases. I did hope, earlier in the present decade, that the Judges would intervene to limit parliamentary sovereignty. The Labour response, however, was to pack the bench with their own people. Therefore, since it has been destroyed, or has been suspended, we are in no position to claim that the Constitution has been breached. The obvious result is that we should not regard ourselves as morally bound to recognise any of the authority that is claimed and exercised over us.

And if our people ever get into power through the electoral coup that I mentioned earlier, I see no reason for recognising any purely “constitutional” limits to the nature and speed of our counter-revolution. For example, regardless of the withdrawal mechanism in the Lisbon Treaty, I would be for just repealing the European Communities Act 1972 as amended. That would be complete and immediate withdrawal. If any Judges tried to block this, I would have them removed. I might also be for passing an Act voiding every previous law made since the first session of the 1997 Parliament. Otherwise, I would prefer to declare a state of Emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and then repeal hundreds of laws by decree. A slow revolution can take place when those at the top have the numbers and staying power to take it slowly. When there has been a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary seizure of power, change must be swift and determined if it is to be a success.

There must be a return to constitutional norms – and the extraordinary measures that may enable this return must not be allowed to set any precedents of their own. Nor – let me emphasise – do I hope that our reaction will involve violence. But if conservatives are to bring about a reaction, so that we can again be a free people in an independent nation, we have little positive to learn from Burke’s Reflections. There comes a point beyond which a constitution cannot be rescued. I think we have reached that point. There can be no patching up this time, as happened at the Restoration in 1660, or after the Revolution of 1688. By all means, we should not innovate just for the sake of neatness. But we shall need to innovate. We shall need to create new safeguards for our rights and liberties that take into account the country in which we live.

The Monarchy

This means, I increasingly believe, a republican constitution. There is nothing wrong with the principle of hereditary monarchy. I suspect that the division of authority and power that took place between 1660 and 1714 contributed much to the freedom and stability of England during our classical period. The problem is not the institution of monarchy, but the person of the Monarch.

When she came to the throne, Elizabeth had what seems to have been almost the universal regard of the people. She has spent the past 57 years betraying the people. Whatever the constitutional lawyers may claim, there is a contract between Monarch and people. We pretend to treat whoever wears the Crown as the Lord’s Anointed. The wearer of the Crown agrees in turn to act as a defence of last resort against tyrannical politicians. That is the truth behind the phrases of the coronation oath. The Queen could, without bringing on a crisis, have blocked the law in the early 1960s that removed juries from most civil trials. She could have blocked the subsequent changes that abolished the unanimity rule and the right of peremptory challenge. She should have risked a crisis, and refused her assent to the European Communities Bill, or demanded a fair referendum first. She could have harried the politicians of the past two generations, reminding them of the forms and substance of the Ancient Constitution. She had the moral and legal authority to do this. Had she spoken to us like adults, she would have had popular support. She did nothing. I believe she bullied Margaret Thatcher into handing Rhodesia over to a communist mass-murderer, and made repeated noises about South African sanctions. And that was it.

Whatever her failings in the past, she had every legal right to demand a referendum over the Lisbon Treaty. This had been promised by every party at the 2005 general election. When the promise was withdrawn, she would have had public opinion and much of the media behind her in refusing to give assent to the Treaty’s Enabling Act. Again, she did nothing.

We are continually told about the Queen’s sense of duty. All I see is much scurrying about the country to open leisure centres – and otherwise a total disregard of her essential duties. If the Constitution was in decay before she was even born, she has spent her reign watching all that was left of it slip between her fingers.

It may be argued that she is now very old and will not remain much longer on the throne. The problem is that her son will be worse. She has been lazier than she has been stupid. He is simply stupid. So far as he insists on using his powers, it will be to drive forward the destruction of England. His own eldest son might easily be an improvement – but he could be decades away from the Crown. We are in no position to wait on what is in any event uncertain. The Queen has broken the contract between her and us. Her son will do nothing to repair the breach. We live in an age where hereditary monarchy must be strictly hereditary or nothing at all, and so we cannot waste our time with new Exclusion Bills or Acts of Settlement. If, therefore, we are ever in a position to bring about a counter-revolution, we shall need to find a head of state who can be trusted to do the job of looking after our new constitution.

Closing thoughts

I could go further on this theme. I know that many conservatives – and a few Conservatives – have lost faith in democracy. Undoubtedly, representative democracy has thrown up a political class that is separate from the people, and that is increasingly hostile to the rights and liberties of the people. But I cannot think of a lasting new settlement based on Caesaristic dictatorship or a limitation of the franchise. My own suggestion would be to select most positions in the executive by sortition – to choose rulers, that is, by a lottery – as in ancient Athens, and to settle all legislative matters by local or national referendum. Most judicial business that had any bearing on the Constitution could be put before juries of several hundred people, chosen by the same random process as criminal juries now are.

But, you will agree that this takes me far, far beyond my stated theme. It would make what has been a long speech longer still. I will close by observing that if you want to be a conservative in an England broken by revolution, you need to look beyond a rearguard defence of forms from which all substance was long since drained.. The conservative tradition may have been dominated since the 1970s by Edmund Burke. But it does also contain the radicals of the seventeenth century. And – yes – it also has a place even for Tom Paine. If you want to preserve this nation, you must be prepared for a radical jettisoning of what is no longer merely old, but also dead. The conservative challenge is to look beneath the plumage and save the dying bird.

Should We Blame Democracy?
by Sean Gabb
(A Speech Given in May 2004 to the University of York Conservative Association)

Because I make a point of never buying newspapers, and because the railway company that I use only seems to clean its carriages when passengers complain about the mess in them, I often catch up on news stories a week after first publication. So it is with the subject of this speech. I have just seen a copy of Tuesday’s Independent. According to one of its headlines, the Prime Minister wants to let people vote at the age of 16, rather than at 18 as for the last 35 years.

I suppose this will start a debate in the usual media places - are people so young able to comprehend the issues on which they are called to decide? and so on and so forth. It is an important debate in the sense that Mr Blair would not be for enfranchising the very young unless he thought they might vote for him - and, so far as he may be right, here are grounds for opposing him. But it hardly seems to matter in general who gets to vote. Voting has so little effect on how the country is governed nowadays that we might as well enfranchise babies in the cot - or, for that matter, household pets and the dead.

I could move now to a reflection on the wickedness of Tony Blair, and how he has destroyed our system of government. But while he has been the worst peacetime Prime Minister of the past hundred years, his time in office has seen no radical departures from what was laid down by those before him. The problem we face is less what one man has done to our system of government than the system itself.

In theory, we live under a system of representative government. We elect Members of Parliament. These, together with an open and diverse media, keep watch over the executive, making sure that it respects our ancient liberties and generally follows our wishes with regard to the administration of the country. Such seems roughly to have been the practice before the Great War, and perhaps for several decades thereafter. It is not, however, the practice now. Instead, the main parties have been colonised by corrupt mediocrities. They compete for office and shout different slogans, but they are fully agreed that no regard for liberty or the present national interest - or any but our most rioutously expressed wishes -  should restrain their doing what they find personally convenient. They are assisted in their work by a mass media that may be concentrated into the hands of just a dozen men, and that are used to demonise opposition from outside the main parties. When the media fail to police dissent, the ruling party calls in the security services.

The result is that supposedly open elections have produced parliamentary majorities to abolish the death penalty for murder, to allow two great waves of mass-immigration that have transformed and are transforming the country, to hand over legislative powers to the European Union, and most recently to take us into a war at no time actively supported by more than a tiny minority.

Perhaps we are about to see one of those periodic convulsions that, while not quite a revolution, do bring changes in the policy of government. Perhaps on matters of both foreign and domestic policy, this government has gone too far, and perhaps it will be replaced by another that feels obliged to carry some of the reforms that it advocated in opposition. Or perhaps there will be some change of office holders within the present government, and then changes in policy. But, while not a revolution, this will not be a regular part of our constitution. If changes are made, it will not be because our representative institutions are still in working order. It will be closer in its nature to those riots in Ottoman Constantinople that could be appeased by showing the head of an unpopular Vizier. We may be able to force our rulers not to outrage our dearest prejudices. We cannot force them to represent us in any meaningful sense.

Why? Why is representative government dead in this country as a living system? Over coffee with a friend this morning, I blamed democracy. After all, one of the reasons why the Victorian constitution worked so well was because the electorate was both small and fairly well-educated. Because it was small, the votes of individuals weighed heavier for members of Parliament than they do in our age of giant constituencies. Because electors were educated, they knew what they wanted and how best to get what they wanted. Electorates now are both large and on average stupid. Votes go not to individuals on the basis of issues or character - nor even to parties on the basis of known principle - but to parties on the basis of class or ethnic identity. If votes do shift from one party to another, it is most often because of some trivial association of moods. 

So far as I can tell, the Victorian Constitution was representative. Its representative nature rested on various bases - a small and pretty well-educated electorate, a political class that had some regard for the national interest over the long term, a media that was diverse and open to outsiders, and a philosophy of government that stressed the limits of what could and ought to be achieved by political means. It is always easy to look on past times, noting the excellencies and overlooking defects that might have given those who lived then a less favourable view. But there does seem to have been a close bond between representatives and electors, and a general holding to account. Macaulay, for example, lost one seat because he upset his constituents, and was greatly embarrassed on another occasion by the publication of a letter he had written to a constituent he barely knew.

Though some more than others, these bases have been seriously eroded. The electorate is huge and its average standards of intelligence and education are inadequate for any reasonable scrutiny. The media, both public and private, are concentrated into the hands of perhaps a dozen men. Our philosophy of government may be summarised in the proposition that all good begins with a law and a grant of the taxpayer’s money. These erosions have enabled the rise of a class of professional politicians who are in politics either for the sex and money alone, or through commitment to some semi-totalitarian ideology. Because they dominate both parties, because they monopolise the selection of candidates, because they have the support of the media - even if not in every detail of policy - their hold on power has not so far been shaken.

And the cause of this, I repeat, is the formally democratic nature of our institutions. I do not know if it is more the size or the quality of the electorate, but it is the universal franchise that is largely to blame. It did seem a good idea to liberals in the past to trust the working classes with the vote. But the more intelligent workers then took their tone from a middle class that believed in the possibility and value of education. Nowadays, generations of social mobility have removed most people of intelligence from the lowest classes, so that differences of merit now correspond much more than in the past to differences of social position. At the same time, hardly anyone receives an education worth the having, or much notices its absence.

I wish I could say what ought to be done. But I cannot. It is easier to blame diagnose our ills than to prescribe for them. It is one matter to say that too many people have the vote. It is another to suggest an acceptable and workable principle by which voting may be confined to a few.

We can suggest a property franchise - so that only freeholders or long leaseholders could vote. This did once make sense, but makes little now. Such a franchise now would leave some of the most frivolous and dangerous electors untouched, and would deprive us of much common sense. But the real objection is that everyone at present would think it unjust. No matter how attractive it may seem, a principle is worthless if enough find it disagreeable. The same objection applies to a franchise based on payment of taxes or on education - assuming, this is, there were much worth the name.

One possibility is a franchise based on military service - of the sort described by Robert Heinlein in Starship Troopers. This would confine the vote to those most willing to give their lives for the community, and yet intelligent enough not to have given them. But the institutions of a science fiction utopia are no more to be recommended for the present than the institutions of the Greeks and Romans. If such a franchise were to be brought in today, we can be sure it would soon be corrupted from its original shape - perhaps, for example, would be supplemented or replaced for the children of the higher classes by a few years of teaching African paupers how to read the instructions on condom packets.

We are, I often think, in the same position of the French in the 1780s. They knew their constitution was in need of radical change, but could not agree what changes were needed, and doubted if any made could be generally accepted. By the opening of the new century, though, agreement had been reached, and on solutions far more radical than would once have seemed possible. From 2020, people may look back on Mr Blair’s latest constitutional “reform” with all the settled contempt it deserves. What they look back though I increasingly fear.