Author Archives: Dr Sean Gabb

Sean back from Slovakia


I could write an epic poem about the thousand mile drive from Slovakia to Deal. I might fill Bk II with an enumeration of the post we found jamming the front door. But I will not bother. I will write up a brief account of this year’s doings in Slovakia when I’ve recovered from the drive and dealt with all the other matters in my life.

National Sovereignty or EU Membership: Which is the Least Bad Option? (2014), by Sean Gabb


http://www.libertarian.co.uk/multimedia/2014-08-12-iness-gabb.mp3

National Sovereignty or EU Membership: 
Which is the Least Bad Option?
A Lecture given in Bratislava on the 12th August 2014
to the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS)
by Sean Gabb

INESS Introduction

The Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS) held its annual Sean Gabb Lecture on August 12, 2014 in Bratislava. Dr. Gabb is Director of the Libertarian Alliance and one of the leading advocates of individual liberty in Europe and also a renowned writer and author of several bestsellers, focusing on historical fiction (under a pen name Richard Blake).

The lecture was titled: National Sovereignty or EU Membership: Which is the Least Bad Option? Dr. Gabb introduced an inspiring alternative to the usual euroscepticism of British free-market advocates. They consider EU as a socialist, or at least a corporatist, project. They have focused on its liking for increased levels of tax and regulation, and its commitment to environmentalist untruths about global warming. There is, however, an argument against this hostility. The European Union is not, in itself, a liberal project. But libertarians have tended to assume that, free from rule by the European Union, the Member States would become more liberal. This may, in many cases, be an unrealistic assumption. According to Dr. Gabb, the threat to individual freedom coming from the local interest groups is often higher than the threat coming from Brussels.

The Lecture

It is a point of orthodoxy among British advocates of the free market that Britain should leave the European Union. This is an orthodoxy that, between 1999 and 2001, I did much to impose on the Conservative Party. It is, however, an orthodoxy that I no longer fully accept. I do accept that the freedom and prosperity I want for my country are incompatible with membership of the European Union. What I do not necessarily accept is that we should walk away at the earliest opportunity. There may, in the next few years, be a referendum on British membership of the European Union. If it happens, I am not sure how I shall vote in this. But, if it were to happen tomorrow, I know that I would vote against leaving. Continue reading

Greening Out Interviews Sean Gabb


Listen to the interview.

Dr Sean Gabb is a writer and broadcaster and academic. He is the author of twenty books, which include ten novels and three volumes of poetry. He has been commercially translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Slovak, Hungarian and Chinese.

He joined the Libertarian Alliance in 1979. He became its Director in 2006, shortly before the death of its founder Chris Tame.

We talk about Libertarianism in the UK, conservatism, the NHS, UKIP, mass immigration, gay marriage, Scottish independence, Marxism and much more.

Cliff Richard: A Brief Comment


According to the BBC, Cliff Richard’s home has been searched in connection with claims of a sexual assault committed in 1985 against a male who was, at the time, under the age of sixteen. They entered his property while he was away, and he appears only to have heard about the search via the media.

I comment as follows: Continue reading

Announcement re L. Neil Smith


Note: Now Cathy has formally announced this, I will say how worried I have been by the decline of Neil’s health. For about five years, it’s been one thing after another. I hope that he will make a good recovery and be able to go home to his loved ones.

I will add that Neil has been one of the most significant libertarians of the past forty years. Of course, we need our economists and philosophers. But we also need our poets – that is, we need those who can inspire as well as explain. In more than thirty novels, Neil has reached out to the world at large, spreading the good news of what our lives could be like without the State and its attendant institutions of control. So far as libertarianism has a presence in popular culture, it is in large part thanks to Neil.

My own debt is more personal. I owe much to Neil’s advice and moral support. It isn’t from jealousy or rivalry that writers tend not to comment on each other. We are all trying to make a living, or just wrapped up in our own work, and paying attention to someone else is a diversion from this. Even so, Neil has always been astonishingly generous with his time.

In brief, my very best wishes to Neil and to all his loved ones. They are in my thoughts.

Oh, and, if anyone wants to go beyond thoughts, you can send some money to Neil and his family.

Sean

Cathy Smith Writes:

To our friends who have patiently refrained from asking, Neil suffered a stroke on June 28. He is currently in an excellent acute rehabilitation program at a facility in Northern Colorado and is making good progress. I’m happy to share information. If you want updates, please let me know by email and I’ll reply. Giovanni and I are working on making the house (built in 1949) accessible for Neil’s eventual return.

Neil, Cathy, & Giovanni
cathylz@netzero.com

In Praise of Byzantium


Baltic Review logo

In Praise of Byzantium – Why should we remember Byzantium?
by Richard Blake
(The Baltic Review, 9th August 2014)

Based in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), it lasted until 1453. At times, it was the richest and most powerful state in the known world. Today, it is almost forgotten. Its main presence in the English language is as a word meaning complex bureaucracy. What is it so forgotten? Why should it be remembered?

Let’s take the first question. Looking at our own family history, we tend to pay more attention to our grandparents than our cousins. Whatever they did, we have a duty to think well of our grandparents. We often forget our cousins. So far as they are rivals, we may come to despise or hate them. So it has been with Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire. The Barbarians who crossed the Rhine and North Sea in the fifth century are our parents. They founded a new civilisation from which ours is, in terms of blood and culture, the development. Their history is our history. The Greeks and Romans are our grandparents. In the strict sense, our parents were interlopers who dispossessed them. But the classical and Christian influence has been so pervasive that we even look at our early history through their eyes. The Jews also we shoehorn into the family tree. For all they still may find it embarrassing, they gave us the Christian Faith. We have no choice but to know about them down to the burning of the Temple in 70AD. The Egyptians have little to do with us. But we study them because their arts impose on our senses, and because they have been safely irrelevant for a very long time.

Byzantium is different. Though part of the family tree, it is outside the direct line of succession. In our civilisation, the average educated person studies the Greeks till they were conquered by the Romans, and the Romans till the last Western Emperor was deposed in 476AD. After that, we switch to the Germanic kingdoms, with increasing emphasis on the particular kingdom that evolved into our own nation. The continuing Empire, ruled from Constantinople, has no place in this scheme. Educated people know it existed. It must be taken into account in histories of the Crusades. But the record of so many dynasties is passed over in a blur. Its cultural and theological concerns have no place in our thought. We may thank it for preserving and handing on virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature that survives. But its history is not our history. It seems, in itself, to tell us nothing about ourselves.

Indeed, where not overlooked, the Byzantines have been actively disliked. Our ancestors feared the Eastern Empire. They resented its contempt for their barbarism and poverty, and its ruthless meddling in their affairs. They hated it for its heretical and semi-heretical views about the Liturgy or the Nature of Christ. They were pleased enough to rip the Empire apart in 1204, and lifted barely a finger to save it from the Turks in 1453. After a spasm of interest in the seventeenth century, the balance of scholarly opinion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to despise it for its conservatism and superstition, and for its alleged falling away from the Classical ideals – and for its ultimate failure to survive. If scholarly opinion since then has become less negative, this has not had any wider cultural effect.

Now to the second question: Why should we remember Byzantium? Well, everyone admires the Greeks and the Roman Empires. But, once your eyes adjust, and you look below the glittering surface, you see that it wasn’t a time any reasonable person would choose to be alive. The Greeks were a collection of ethnocentric tribes who fought and killed each other till they nearly died out. The Roman Empire was held together by a vampire bureaucracy directed more often than in any European state since then by idiots or lunatics. Life was jolly enough for the privileged two or three per cent. But everything they had was got from the enslavement or fiscal exploitation of everyone else.

Yet, while the Roman State grew steadily worse until the collapse of its Western half, the Eastern half that remained went into reverse. The more Byzantine the Eastern Roman Empire became, the less awful it was for ordinary people. This is why it lasted another thousand years. The consensus of educated opinion used to be that it survived by accident. Even without looking at the evidence, this doesn’t seem likely. In fact, during the seventh century, the Empire faced three challenges. First, there was the combined assault of the Persians from the east and the Avars and Slavs from the north. Though the Balkans and much of the East were temporarily lost, the Persians were annihilated. Then a few years after the victory celebrations in Jerusalem, Islam burst into the world. Syria and Egypt were overrun at once. North Africa followed. But the Home Provinces – these being roughly the territory of modern Turkey – held firm. The Arabs could sometimes invade, and occasionally devastate. They couldn’t conquer.

One of the few certain lessons that History teaches is that, when it goes on the warpath, you don’t face down Islam by accident. More often than not, you don’t face it down at all. In the 630s, the Arabs took what remained of the Persian Empire in a single campaign. Despite immensely long chains of supply and command, they took Spain within a dozen years. Yet, repeatedly and with their entire force, they beat against the Home Provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Each time, they were thrown back with catastrophic losses. The Byzantines never lost overall control of the sea. Eventually, they hit back, retaking large parts of Syria. More than once, the Caliphs were forced to pay tribute. You don’t manage this by accident.

The Byzantine historians themselves are disappointingly vague about the seventh and eight centuries. Our only evidence for what happened comes from the description of established facts in the tenth century. As early as the seventh century, though, the Byzantine State pulled off the miracle of reforming itself internally while fighting a war of survival on every frontier. Large parts of the bureaucracy were scrapped. Taxes were cut. The silver coinage was stabilised. Above all, the great senatorial estates of the Later Roman Empire were broken up. Land was given to the peasants in return for military service. In the West, the Goths and Franks and Lombards had moved among populations of disarmed tax-slaves. Not surprisingly, no one raised a hand against them. Time and again, the Arabs smashed against a wall of armed freeholders. A few generations after losing Syria and Egypt, the Byzantine Empire was the richest and most powerful state in the known world.

This is an inspiring story – as inspiring as the resistance put up by the Greek city states a thousand years before to Darius and Xerxes. If the Turks, who destroyed it in 1453, can admire the Byzantine Empire, and even feel proud of it, why shouldn’t the rest of humanity admire it?

Continue reading

A Poem for the 4th August


File:Sargent, John Singer (RA) - Gassed - Google Art Project.jpg
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They died for the aggrandisement of an Empire that our worthless ruling class eventually lost in hock to the Americans, and for the profits of armaments makers that have long since gone bust or been sold to foreigners.

Southey wrote a better poem on war:

It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
Which he beside the rivulet
In playing there had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And, with a natural sigh,
“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he,
“Who fell in the great victory.

“I find them in the garden,
For there’s many here about;
And often when I go to plough,
The ploughshare turns them out!
For many thousand men,” said he,
“Were slain in that great victory.”

“Now tell us what ’twas all about,”
Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
“Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for.”

“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,
“Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for,
I could not well make out;
But everybody said,” quoth he,
“That ’twas a famous victory.

“My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

“With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

“They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won,
And our good Prince Eugene.”
“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!”
Said little Wilhelmine.
“Nay… nay… my little girl,” quoth he,
“It was a famous victory.

“And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win.”
“But what good came of it at last?”
Quoth little Peterkin.
“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,
“But ’twas a famous victory.”