Civil Society or Manipulated Democracy?

by D.J. Webb

Libertarians have traditionally stressed the need for freedom, rather than democracy. There is a good reason for this: democracy is a way of selecting legislators, but contains no guarantee that legislators will not seek to become ever more intrusive in the lives of citizens. Furthermore, democracy, if interpreted as indicating widespread popular support for the political élite, may be used to justify state interventionism. A democracy can be a manipulated democracy and not a free society. Consequently, freedom and democracy are not equivalents, and are not necessarily even mutually supporting concepts.

Freedom from overbearing state control can coexist with a non-democratic polity. One good example is Hong Kong under British rule. Very low levels of taxation and state regulation were combined with freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association and a common-law judicial system. The fact that the people of Hong Kong did not choose their political élite did not matter that much, given that that élite chose not to interfere with the right of residents to go about their business relatively unhindered. Consequently, it can be seen that the real aim of libertarianism is not the creation of a democratic state, but the reduction of the state to a size small enough for it not to impinge on the lives of citizens, no matter how its leading personnel be selected. This aim was well put in the US Constitution, which aimed, not for “democracy”, but to facilitate “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Britain today is a rather repugnant example of an unfree state that still has democratic elections. With the state spending around 50% of GDP; with the authorities (not just the police) being awarded many new powers to forcibly invade homes; with the authorities now seizing children left, right and centre on flimsy pretexts; and with political campaigns against the “wrong thoughts” on race, sex and sexuality now conducted in every workplace, it can be seen that the electoral mechanism is no guarantee of social freedom. It might have been so were the population determined to elect only those who stood for freedom, but the deliberate policy of encouraging welfarism has helped to bring round millions to the state’s way of seeing things.

Civil society and democracy

I say these things, not in an attempt to decry popular sovereignty and democracy, for in the recent past (say, before the Second World War), Britain managed to combine democracy with limited government. Just as democracy is no guarantee, in itself, of freedom, an undemocratic polity is, of course, a threat to freedom too. Hong Kong was rather unusual in the scope of the freedoms an undemocratic state structure permitted to local residents; many other undemocratic states (China, North Korea, etc) have sought to control the lives of their people in a much more detailed and abusive way.

So the interesting question is what sort of political culture needs to exist to enable a free and democratic order to flourish. Given the right cultural background, democracy could allow the population to defend its rights and freedoms. Part of that required cultural background is English common law, or at the very least, something largely equivalent to it, with its assumptions of limited government. Without English common law, Hong Kong would no doubt have been a very different place. Continental European jurisdictions do not have the Common Law and tend towards technocracy, but have still generally provided for sufficient social freedoms to allow a considerable degree of democracy to develop. Clearly we are dealing with a continuum of realities here, with few societies today living up to the small state ideals of English common law.

It is in this regard that many apparently democratic non-Western states come in for criticism from Western observers. Countries such as Russia and most other post-Communist East European states have an electoral mechanism, but, it is argued, they are not liberal polities. Many other examples can be found in the developing world: countries like Egypt have for decades had presidential elections, and following political change there they may even develop fuller democratic structures, but there is little evidence at present that those countries will become liberal polities.

One conclusion that has been reached by Western sociologists is that these countries do not have civil society. Civil society is a poorly defined term, which seems to refer to a public sphere in society, beyond the parameters of the state at one end and the family on the other. You could look on it as a buffer zone, and where the buffer zone did not exist, there would only be the state and families, or, in the context of increasing state intervention in the family and policies that appear to encourage dysfunctional family formation (divorce, welfarism, etc), just the state and individuals.

The civil society concept is therefore analogous to the “little platoons”, spoken of by the eighteenth-century conservative, Edmund Burke, who wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind. The interest of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.

The subdivisions, the little platoons, have been interpreted as referring to some degree of social organisation outside the purview of the state. Voluntary organisations, churches, societies—such things make a society a society, and create wider social interests that are not identical to those of the state or lone individuals. It is argued that many countries do not possess a genuine equivalent of this third realm (as opposed to the realm of the state and the realm of individuals), producing polities, that while democratic, in that elections take place, are easily manipulated by a camarilla of the politically well-connected.

In Russia, for example, Putin’s circle appears, at least to Western observers, to dominate the entire state. Business leaders who fall foul of Putin find their economic interests under attack, or their businesses expropriated. Television channels support the ruling élite during election campaigns. The largest political party exists mainly as a vehicle for Putin’s aspirations. Journalists subsist in a narrower space than is the case in the West. Even the Orthodox Church has re-emerged from its Soviet-era suppression as an arm of the Putin state. While tax rates are relatively low in Russia—we must bear in mind that Western reports on Russia are informed by considerable vitriol and Russia has been a successful country in the post-Soviet era—basic freedoms, including the freedom from expropriation of private property, remain subject to state actions.

The problem here, of course, is that democracy, or at least a truly liberal democratic polity, is not just an electoral mechanism, which is the least important aspect of the whole. Democracy developed in countries like England with a considerable non-state society. Churches, charities, and credit unions represented some of the little platoons that existed in society. Political parties had grass-roots memberships, with rallies, demonstrations, youth wings, and weekends away for activists. A wider cultural life had been established in all communities in England, with brass bands, athletic clubs, people raising money for various causes and various infrastructural improvements. A large section of the population were “joiners”, people who had joined in associations unconnected with the state and spent their money and free time on them.

The decline of civil society

The problem with the decline in social commitments today is that free associations of the citizenry create a public sphere not dominated by the state, one that can enunciate social interests and hold government to account. Individuals who oppose “gay marriage” are powerless; the Roman Catholic Church has a wider voice that cannot be so easily dismissed, even if it eventually loses the political argument. Political parties with strong grass-roots chapters are held to account by their members; political parties that get state funding have finally “liberated” themselves from any connection to real people. Districts with strong neighbourhood watch committees are much safer than those without, which can only plead for the state to occasionally take violent crime seriously. Self-organisation of the citizenry rounds out the culture required for a genuine democratic polity to exist.

Interestingly, the Harvard academic, Robert D. Putnam, in his Bowling Alone, found that “civil engagement” in the US was highly dependent on an area’s ethnic diversity. Where people are unlikely to share any cultural allegiances, including a home language, with their neighbours, it is highly unlikely that any civil-society institutions will function in that area. The state’s policy of fostering multi-culturalism could therefore be seen to cynically promote the disaggregation of the population, dissolving a people into a mere population, leaving the relationship between the state and the individual the key social bond.

Clearly, ethnic homogeneity is not the sole ingredient in civil solidarity, as, otherwise, countries like Egypt and Russia would be seen to have a higher degree of civil solidarity than Britain and America today. Whether people can trust their neighbours and can trust strangers not related to them is a deeper cultural question; in many countries, only close relatives would be truly trusted, partly explaining in-marriage in Arab countries. Social capital—bonds of trust between unrelated citizens—has traditionally been strong in the Anglo-Saxon countries, and we might surmise this has something to do with our common-law traditions, as well as being reinforced by our traditional ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

Declining ethnic homogeneity is clearly not the only reason why social organisation is in decline. Faltering belief in religion and state policies to encourage innovative lifestyles have undermined churches. Political parties have become dominated by identikit individuals, espousing very similar policies and depending on large donors, rather than grass-roots campaigners. Charities are now largely dependent on state funding. David Cameron’s espousal of the “Big Society” also amounts to an attempt to impose state-run bodies where proper, independently organised civil-society organs might once have held sway.

The result has been to accentuate the feeling of individuation in society. Most people don’t belong to anything, and many do not really have families to back them up either. The state is all they have. Consequently, state intervention is the only way they have of resolving their problems. An increasingly paramilitary police, the ubiquitous nature of closed-circuit cameras, and steps to allow the government to monitor private communications reflect the way in which all social problems require an interventionist state response. Most desperate individuals would appreciate greater state spending—and a more muscular response to crime and other disorderly phenomena.

State-run quangos and NGOs

We need to ask ourselves how different is the situation we are in to that in Russia. We only have the bare bones of civil society nowadays, and controls on free speech and the freedom of association restrict any attempt by the citizenry to organise in ways not favoured by the political élite. Associations opposed to immigration would, for example, fall foul of legal requirements that such organisations admit members from all ethnic communities.

A public sphere does exist in the UK, although recent attempts to clamp down on free comment on social-media sites, such as Twitter, indicate that the state is reluctant to allow social media to become a forum for uncontrolled social organisation. Most of the prominent media are controlled by or linked to the state. The BBC, for example, is funded by a hypothecated tax (the “licence fee”), and is given a strong remit to attempt to control and manipulate public opinion in the UK in favour of the European Union, multi-culturalism, immigration and state spending more generally. Many newspapers, most notoriously The Guardian, depend on what is effectively a government subsidy in the form of public-sector appointment advertisements. Nearly all charitable and campaigning bodies are registered with the Charities Commission, and required to adhere closely to government propaganda. Most of these charitable bodies are dependent on state funding in some form. Scientific researchers, if they wish to gain any funding for their research at all, need to focus on areas of interest to the political élite, including so-called “global warming”; researchers who do not go along with the prescribed line will simply sink without trace. The wider phenomenon of “managerialism” means that there is little perceptible difference between the public and private sectors nowadays: even managers in the private sector spout political ideologies, often as a result of saturation coverage of such issues in the media and education systems.

It’s astonishing that most of what might, at first glance, appear to be civil-society organs, are arms of the state. And these arms of the state play a key role in policing the political arena. Where any politician makes any comment remotely straying “off-message”, the hue and cry is raised. But who raises the hue and cry? There is no grass-roots hue and cry in modern Britain. For example, where a Conservative MP criticised the Olympic opening ceremony, the BBC and newspapers, as if on cue, condemned him: opinions that might have a wider purchase on society were simply ruled “unacceptable”. But this is not an instance of “civil society” holding politicians to account; it is the political élite policing members of the political élite.

Similarly, where an MP recently claimed that the rape charges against Julian Assange were dubious—he is accused of failing to obtain a restatement of consent to sexual activity from a woman sleeping in bed with him, which, whatever it is, is quite different from a violent rapist jumping out of a bush to force a stranger to have sex with him—“charities” such as Rape Crisis popped up to restate the established line on rape. Apparently it is unacceptable to view “date rape” as less serious than other forms of rape, and it is also unacceptable to believe that rape is a largely sexual thing; campaigners insist it is mainly done to demonstrate male power over women and launch vitriolic attacks on anyone in the public eye who expresses an alternative view. But such a state-funded “charity” is nothing other than an arm of the state. Similarly, professional campaigners on race and homosexuality are employed, partly using public money, to generate “outcries” whenever views are expressed that contradict their agenda.

We don’t have real civil society nowadays. Most of these bodies are exercising political power by lobbying politicians, but doing so using state funding. No one elected or appointed the charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or other supposedly voluntary bodies that now seem more politically influential than political parties themselves. We have reached the state where genuine democracy is being frustrated by the fake nature of the civil-society organs that police it. And as the media and political élites tend to cross over into each other, even non-state-funded newspapers promote state ideologies, making it difficult to see how the current views of the political élite can ever be dislodged.

Combating fraudulent “civil society”

It is clear that libertarians need to oppose the quango nature of all charities and media organs today. Interestingly, the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, saw civil society as the key component of the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, allowing it to survive revolutionary turmoil in the early twentieth century. Yet we have reached the unhappy point where the lack of independently organised civil society is the key support of the managerial élite, reflecting the decline of the real private-sector bourgeoisie, and the rise of the public-private managerial class.

I would advocate the following steps to take on the quangos and the fraudulent civil-society bodies in the UK today:

  • Abolition of the television licence fee and the closing down of the BBC. Any outstanding pensions and wages should be cancelled without notice.

  • Closure of all quangos, including those campaigning on race, sex and sexuality, but including all others too. Government functions, which ought to be few in number, should be performed by accountable government departments, not semi-detached organisations.

  • The criminalisation of political campaigning, including campaigning for state funding, by charitable bodies. All charities should be dependent for every single penny they raise on donations by the public.

  • The most politicised quangos should see all their assets expropriated.

  • Local governments should be forbidden to donate to campaigning or charitable bodies.

  • Salaries for all publicly funded positions should be capped at twice the national average wage, with the average in any public body capped at the national average, with no expenses or pension contributions allowable. It is essential that public sinecures not be seen as career paths for the ambitious, who ought to be in the private sector.

  • The entire compensation game should be severely restricted: race, sex and sexuality should never give rise to compensation claims, thus taking the incentive out of politically motivated “hustling” or victim-mongering.

  • Media organisations should be held accountable for their jaundiced output. Television stations and newspapers that insist on producing twisted output encouraging the victim culture, grievances over bogus instances of “discrimination” and the like are not behaving in a fashion that has arisen organically in a free society, but are rather the product of the statist system. I would close down newspapers that encourage the continuation of the culture war.

  • Sociology departments and university courses that appear to be promoting the culture war using public money should be closed down and the academics involved financially destroyed.

There would no doubt be many libertarians who would look askance at proposals to close down media organs. But we need to see that the managerial culture, which has seen a close collusion between the political, media and educational élites, has allowed for a considerable crossover between the public and private sectors. Newspapers that have repeatedly and ad nauseam discussed the Stephen Lawrence case have deliberately suppressed news of the much more numerous cases of black-on-white hate crimes. They clearly have an agenda, and that agenda is to encourage the development of a society where views on race, sex and sexuality are monitored and punished by the authorities. In my view, there would be a considerable argument for the closing down of all media organisations, with new media companies starting up on a new basis.

In a nutshell, I do not see that any of what passes for civil society in the UK is the product of the free association of the citizenry, and this means that any government determined to re-establish a free Britain would need to act quickly against, not just the state itself, but against charities, campaign groups, and the media and education systems too. When charities, newspapers and universities re-establish themselves in a libertarian Britain, they would do so without state funding, and hopefully without statist ideologies too. Only then can we set about building a liberal polity in this country.

37 responses to “Civil Society or Manipulated Democracy?

  1. Very interesting article and would agree with most of what you say,particularly about so-called charities. Having worked for a charity for well over a decade I experienced first hand the gradual state take-over through bids for funding.Sounded great;the service could be expanded, more people could be helped. But along with the money came the insistence that new ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ should be implemented. We were buried in paperwork proving we were complying with legislation re-equality, diversity and anything else they could think up. Endless training courses-all at government expense of course- telling us how we need to throw off our old ways;racist;sexist; misogynist. Whether you could do the job was ancillary to whether you were a ‘correct’ person who could actively promote the new age thinking. All this in order to give a service, which had been successful in it’s aims for nearly a hundred years, without any help from the E.H.R.C. E.U. bods.

    Civil society, which you quite rightly point out acts as a buffer between the individual and the state, was civilisation from the bottom up. Now it’s being torn apart as we are urged to celebrate difference by marginalising any one/thing that is different.

    Not sure about the closing down approach. All that’s needed is for those with alternative views to be left alone to promote them. Competition with the ruling ideology is already giving cause for concern to those pulling the strings-else why so much legislation,and the moves now under way to go after the internet.

  2. A good article to your usual high standard, DJ.

    However, as part of my usual schtick I will say that in my view, libertarians may be getting the cart and the horse the wrong way around. Rather than a previously “independent” civil society having been subsumed by the State, I think history tells us that the civil society organisations subsumed the State. And that this is not some recent phenomenon.

    The modern institutional structure of our society- including the not-so-little platoons- are a product of the Victorian era and thereafter, and most of these organisations were set up with the deliberate motivation of “reforming”, that is changing British society. It was natural therefore for them to seek to capture the State. And they have. The reason that we have a big government now is that these nominally “civil” organisations have relentlessly campaigned for one for a century and a half. Whether motivated by religious faith, or Marxism, or just unabashed busybodying, they have seen the Parliament as a tool for imposing their will on the nation, and have used every means possible to subvert it to their will (and extract taxpayers money from it, also).

    What can be done at this late stage, I don’t know. The major problem is that most of our fellow countrymen believe the idea that these charities and campaign groups are a Good Thing. So we have to change that perception. Which for obvious reasons (not least their media hegemony) is going to be extremely difficult.

  3. Excellent article.
    I think if there was one catch-all law that might reverse this situation, it would be to put a cap on government spending as a percentage of GDP, thus choking off the billions the state has at its disposal to suck everything into its orbit.
    The fact is that there’s no part of the “private sector” that’s not part of the state apparatus, at least indirectly. If a company doesn’t have government contracts, it’s probably doing business with some company that has, or at least it’s never more than two degrees of separation from the state’s embrace.

  4. Putnam was deeply upset by his findings – as obvious as it may be that there is going to be more “community spirit” in (say) a New Hampshire township than there is going to be in the city of Chicago (where “community spirit is more likely to mean criminal gangs, or paid Marxist “community organizers”).

    He delayed publication of his findings for years – and only published them with a stern pep talk about how everyone should get on better and reach out to people different from themselves.

    I believe that most (not all) of the establisment are like Putnam – i.e. they are not cynically trying to use multi….. as a weapon to destroy civil society, the undermining of civil society is not what they really want (but it happens).

    Ian on Victorian reformers…..

    They varried – some were intereted in capturing the state, but some were STRONGLY OPPOSED to statism.

    And there was a lot that NEEDED reform.

    The inner cities of Victorian Britain were very nasty places.

    Saying there should be no reform is not a sensible position – the question is whether there should be reform by VOLUNTARY efforts, or by state action.

    That was debate – and to hold (although I am NOT saying that Ian B. holds this) that “the cities are fine – leave them exactly as they are” was not a valid position to anyone who had actually seen the terrible areas of Victorian cities.

    Still – the basic point of the article…..

    Of course democracy and liberty are not the same thing – it is absurdly stupid to imply that are the same thing (it is something that one might find in a speech by George Walker Bush).

    Democracy is NOT automatically hostile to freedom (those New Hampshire townships are very democratic places as well as historically very free places – ditto the Swiss Cantons that were very democratic).

    However, democracy can be used to undermine freedom.

    That goes back to Pericles (who gets such a good press – without justification) who used democracy to promise the poor the wealth of other cities (thus turning the allies of Athens into first slaves of Athens – then into ENEMIES of Athens) and the wealth of rich people in the city of Athens itself.

    This was very good politics – it got Pericles a lot of votes. But it tore Athens apart – turning allies into enemies, and citizen against citizen.

    This was not the INTENTION of Pericles – but it was the result of his use (or abuse) of democracy).

    In the English tradition one can see much the same thing.

    Who is the name most associated with the defence of democracy (especially REPRESENTATIVE demoracy)?

    Thomas (“Tom”) Paine.

    Tom Paine argued for representative democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and in Europe (indeed he wanted to see democracy everywhere).

    At first sight he might be seen to have “Common Sense” on his side – after all why should someone rule just because they have interited the position of King, or a lot of land so they can buy a seat in Parliament for themselves or a friend?

    Someone may be born rich (or born King – for some Kings are actually not very rich, take a look at the house George the third actually lived in) but also born stupid.

    Would it not be better for people to ELECT their government?

    People going back to Buchanan in 16th century Scotland had argued close to this.

    HOWEVER, Tom Paine does not stop there.

    In “The RIghts of Man” Part II he comes out with all sorts of benefits that the new democratic government is going to give people – education, old age support…. (you name it – the new democratic government will give you the free stuff).

    Well how is all this free stuff going to be paid for?

    First Tom Paine pretended (perhaps even to himself) that getting rid of the King and so on would provide the money.

    But the sums never really added up (see above – George III did not really live high on the hog, and even if he had a King and his hangers-on are only a few people, the population is made up of MILLIONS of people – the Bastiat point, a society can tolerate a few parasities at the top, but it can not survice MOST OF THE POPULATION being turned into parasites)..

    So Tom Paine started to thrash about – with wild plans for land taxation (up to 100%) and on and on.

    Thus democracy was poisoned at the start – not by the idea of the system itself, but by what its most famous supporters (such as Tom Paine) wanted to use democracy to do.

    Of course democracy does not always mean Tom Paine style bankruptcy – 19th Century American Democrats (such as Martin Van Buren and David Crockett) were about as far from Tom Paine’s conception of the SIZE AND SCOPE of government as it is possible to be.

    But in the modern age “democracy” has come to mean an orgy of government spending and regulations – Tom Paine on steriods.

    This is not “just” not compatible with liberty – it is not compatible with civil society. It will lead to bankruptcy – to economic and social breakdown.

    Democracy must get back to the sort of thing that (for example) President Grover Cleveland would understand as good policy – not what Tom Paine (or his modern followers) would consider good policy.

    If democracy continues to be associated with unlimited government – then it is doomed.

  5. Is it an important distinction whether the grantocracy subsumed the state first before simulating “civil society” or on whether the grantocracy is the state’s intervention into “civil society” to subsume it? Actually I think chronologically Ian is correct, but where does that leave us in theory?

  6. Yes, Liam, you’re right. The chronology is not what interests me. Clearly, state intervention has responded to call for the state to intervene – part of the problem is the way these groups legitimize state power.

  7. I think it is important, because it drives one’s reactive strategy.

    As a quick example, if we talk of cutting off the flow of money from the State to the “Grantocracy”; then if it is the Grantocracy causing the flow of money, that isn’t a practical option. That is, the Grantocracy *suck* from a State which cannot say no (because they ideologically drive it). This is the exact reverse of the way many libertarians seem (to me) to see things, in their paradigm the State is the driving force and has used its money to “subvert” charities and other civil organisations.

    It’s like asking whether the State goes looking for business cartels to award privilege to, or whether those business cartels go looking for the State and pressure the State into awarding them privileges. I do think this matters.

    DJ, you propose-

    The criminalisation of political campaigning, including campaigning for state funding, by charitable bodies. All charities should be dependent for every single penny they raise on donations by the public.

    If the charities are in the driving seat (and always have been) then they simply won’t let that happen.

  8. The incoming government here in Ireland promised to abolish 300 quangos an assuming office. Nearly 2 years on and except for a couple of amalgamations nothing has happened.SNAFU

  9. Ian you are probably right about civil society organisations capturing the state. Up to a point anyway.Does civil society i.e. the hoi poloi of eductaed and informed townspeople still exist? Civil Society organisations that don’t take government money and the parachuted “experts” that come with it are squeezed out of the picture. On the other hand the official groups politically campaign but only within a limited remit. Ad hoc groups like Shell to Sea feel the full force of an oppressive state’s gauntlet on their neck.Officially approved charities like Amnesty or Rape Crisis know the rule, campaign for 1)more survailence (sorry demographic study) of individuals behavior,2)increasing the list of offences leading to custodial sentence or enforced hospitalization,3) more grant money to be spent hiring experts.
    then we have the choreographed chat shows on radio and tv supposed to give us a cross section of public opinion. (The occasional “nutter” gets in there who doesn’t know the script).

  10. Liam, did the Irish government say why they have not abolished the 200 quangos? I think they’re called semi-state bodies in Ireland. We have the same thing here – numerous successive governments promise “a bonfire of the quangos”, and it never happens – because that would halt the gravy train. I noticed the former deputy Irish leader Mary Coughlan was very insistent that civil servants not lose their bonuses, as they were, according to her, part of their base salary (see . I’m glad many of the FF lot were kicked out, even though the new lot are not much better.

  11. Average private sector wage in Ireland 19 euro. Average public sector wage 29 euro.

    I wonder what that statistic tells us.

    dj, really engaging article. I live in Ireland and the public sector, quangos and all, are too entrenched at this stage. Each successive government has its’ hands tied by prior arrangements and can’t do anything, naturally. Oh how they would love to cut down on jobs for the boys, if only they had the power.

    I’ll look into the details on quangos and get back to you.

  12. Civil Society is the web of VOLUNTARY interactions between human beings (families, clubs, societies, churches…..).

    If a group is funded by the state (i.e. by taxation) it is BY DEFINITION no longer part of civil society.

    This is why when someone like Mr Cameron says “we must strengthen civil society – we should increase support to charities and….” it makes my head feel like it is about to explode.

    As when Mr C and co talk about “social justice” (i.e. fair-shares-for-all, the doctrine that all income and wealth is rightly owned by the collective and should be “distributed” according to some political rule) – the BEST that can be said is that they do not know what they talking about.

    After all if Mr Cameron did know what the doctrine “social justice” means, and really was in favour of this docrtrine, he would hand over his income and wealth (and so would his wife’s family) for “redistribution”.

    Just as if Mr Cameron was really in favour of “the independent sector” of “civil society” he would end government subsidy (i.e. government DESTRUCTION) of X,Y, Z.

    “But Paul Mr C. must know what these words mean – he has a First Class Degree in PPE from Oxford”.

    No offence meant to people who went to Oxford and studied PPE – but any knowledge they have these matters is very unlikely to have come from the formal teaching there (on from the books they were told to read).

    Modern Political Philosoophy academics mostly talk in a weird way (that obscures rather than enlightens), and modern Political Philosophy books are almost unreadable – and when one does make the great effort that is required to read them, there is the grim understanding that it is was WASTED effort (that there was nothing worth reading in those hundreds of pages, written in absurd jargon, that one has just faught through).

  13. I should have said “most” modern Political Philosophy books (of course there are going to be exceptions).


    Partly Irish politics is tribal – and not just in the North.

    In the Republic also there is a tribal element.

    Do people really pick FF or FG on the basis of their policy on quangos? Or even on economic policy in general?

    Or do they (in the main) support FF or FG on the basis of which side their grandparents (or great grandparents) faught on in the Irish Civil War?

    The Civil War between the Free State people and the IRA – a war that is not really mentioned to Americans (or to Britiish people) because it confuses them (and some aspects of it are very confusing).

    Anyway there is also the question of UNION CONTACTS – far more important than quangos.

    It you tryu and cut governement worker pay and benefits the unions (quite understandably) will take you to court – for breaking contracts.

    The problem is that the politicians who signed those contracts were NOT PROMISING THEIR OWN MONEY.

    Liam would point out that there can be a similar problem with CORPORATIONS.

    When a corporate manager signs a contract with a union he is not promising HIS OWN MONEY – he is promising company money (shareholder money)..

    That is one reason that the pay and benefit contracts in Detroit between the Auto companies and the UAW were so insane (totally impossible pay and benefit promises) as the managers who signed them were not promising THEIR OWN MONEY – if the company could not pay (in some future year) it iwas no skin of those managers noses (they would, likely, be long gone by then). However, union power would never have got to this point had it not been for PRO UNION STATUTES AND REGULATIONS passed by governments (both at State and Federal level).

    The politicians who passed these regulations did not have to pay for the wages and benefits out of their pocket – Ford and General Motors would pay (till they COULD NOT pay – then the whole idea breaks down).

    Ireland like so many American States is the union contract bind for govenrment workers.

    Pay and benefits are very hard to cut – because of contracts. Contracts signed by people (politicians) who were not promising THEIR OWN MONEY.

    But no discusssion of Ireland should be held without mentioning the BANKS – Anglo Irish and the others.

    The BAILOUTS have cost Ireland a fortune (proportionatly far more than in Britain).

    The politicians who agreed to those bailouts (to basically a blank cheque) have betrayed Ireland – betrayed the Irish people.

    They have done far worse than any union contract – look at the numbers.

    They have sucked Ireland into a “Black Hole” of debt from which not even light can escape.

    My head says there is no way to punish those politicians and offcials.

    However, my heart says they should be locked up in a dark hole (as dark as the Black Hole of debt they put Ireland in) and left there – for the rest of their natural lives.

    Given food and water (and cleaned – and given medical attention) so that they do not see the light again (even in death) for DECADES.

    Perhaps then politicians and administrators would be more careful with the money of other people.

  14. If a group is funded by the state (i.e. by taxation) it is BY DEFINITION no longer part of civil society.

    This sort of illustrates why I’m always banging on about paradigms and subjectivism, and so on. When it gets to abstracts like “government” or “civil society”, people do have quite different conceptualisations of what these things are, even among libertarians, let alone across the total spectrum of people. In this case, another common conceptualisation is that government isn’t different from “civil society” but sits at the top of it. That certainly seems to be the interpretation that most third sector wallahs seem to have and, as I often argue, always have had.

    You see, I think this idea of “charity” as we know it is rather a uniquely recent Western phenomenon, which has little to do with charity as it was historically; a bequest in a will for “coatf for ye old folke of ye Parrifh” by the local noble, kind of thing. Charity as we know it, I argue, was one of the institutions that arose during Victorian times and was, from the get-go, all about remodelling society, or “campaigning for social change” as they’d call it now. Nobody wanted to just hand out soup to the poor. They wanted to change the world, and the large, institutional charity was the mechanism developed to do it.

    I’ve long had this impression that Libertarians tend to be too unquestioning of these civil institutions because they give us a sort of answer to an opponent’s question: “If you get rid of the State, what will happen to the people it looks after?” and we haven’t really, in truth, got an answer to that, so we say, “oh, charities will do it, um, civil society… little platoons…” Then by narrowly definining libertarianism as simply anti-state-ism, we can say that everything is fine if the State doesn’t do it, and everything is awful if the State does do it. But besides all else, I’m not at all convinced that most of these big Charities would bother existing if the prize of power were snatched from them, because I suspect that the actual “charitable” work they do is really seen by them as just a kind of loss-leader for their real interest, which is, y’know, “campaigning for social change”. And even if that were not the case, William Boothe’s old “give him a sandwich, wrapped in scripture” aphorism scares the willies out of me. If someone is so poor that they need a charity sandwich, the price tag of submitting to some form of indoctrination- be it religious or Marxist or what have you- seems to me an awfully high price.

    I guess what I’m getting at here is that people are self interested. As such, very few really want to hand out sandwiches, unless they can wrap them in scripture- whether the scripture in question comes from the Bible or from Gramsci’s Prison Diaries.

    So for me, the promise of Libertarianism needs to be a society largely free of the need for charity, either from the State or from “civil” institutions. If we can’t offer that, maybe we don’t have much to offer.

  15. “I’m not at all convinced that most of these big Charities would bother existing if the prize of power were snatched from them, because I suspect that the actual “charitable” work they do is really seen by them as just a kind of loss-leader for their real interest, which is, y’know, “campaigning for social change”. ”

    Ian, you’ve got it in one!
    Yes, the state as such doesn’t grasp the whole problem – which is why I prefer to talk about the managerial elite, a groups straddling the public and private sectors. Also known as the New Class.

    • Ian that is why objective definitions are so important.

      If there is no outrage when people change the defintions of words to suit themselves then…. well “when words lose their meaning, people lose their liberty”.

      The subjective theory of economic value does not mean that all things are subjective – indeed it is itself an OBJECTIVE theory (it is a truth statement).

      If someone says “my group is part of the indepenent sector” when their group is mostly funded by the government (i.e. by tax money) then they must be clearly told ……

      “No your group is not part of the independent sector, you lying piece of shit”.

      As for people in the past.

      As I have already said – some were in favour of state intervention and some (“voluntarists”) were passionatly against it.


      Yes charity managers who got their jobs by answering adverts in the Guardian do tend to be the sort of people you describe.

      That is why such people do harm – a lot more harm that the (very small) percentage of the govenrment budget that is spent on them would suggest.

      Not much money is spent on these “charities” and other such – but they then use this money to campaign for………

      It is like planting Dragon’s teeth.

      Government will come along (for example to Americna cities in the Great Soceity 1960s) and fund “community ……” it does not cost much money.

      But they these Community…… will cause endless trouble, both campaiging for ever more government welfare (and so on). And hitting PRIVATE companies.

      For example, invading home loan offices and refusing to leave till the bank (or other such) gives out loans to a lot of inner city deadbeats. As well as passing laws (such as the Community Reinvestment Act and the Community Reinvestment Act II) that make it de facto illegal to “Red Line” (or otherwise refuse to lend money to people who will not pay it back).

      And they when (of couse) the home loans can not be repaid – the same “activists” will complain about “preditory lending” (i.e. the lending they DEMANDED in the first place).

  16. Paul, words don’t lose their meaning by recognising their subjective nature. But we must recognise that they are approximations to concepts, and we can use them to communicate when two persons have similar conceptualisations that they can express using a particular word. The more diverse our conceptualisations, the less well language serves for communication. Many words are strongly consensual, such as simple nouns like “ball” or “fish”. When we get to complex abstract concepts, the divergence in conceptualisations can become so profound that communication is severely disrupted, which is really the root of much political argument. The people are literally speaking different languages!

  17. There was a book about the independent sector published in 1965 – I think the title was “Reclaim The American Dream”,

    One of the depressing things the author mentions is his chance meeting with a lawyer he knew in a car park.

    The lawyer was selling stuff for a charity.

    The author asked him why he was not using his time better by doing the LEGAL WORK of the charity (pro bono – as a better use of his time than standing the rain in a car park) – the lawyer is confused (he simply had not thought of that).

    He is then asked who is doing the legal work of the charity and if they are doing it very well – more confusion, as the lawyer simply does not know.

    Everything (all the POWER) has been handed over to professional PAID charity managers.

    People think that by signing a cheque (or selling flags in a car park) they have done all they need to do.

    They have not got a clue what is really on with the charities – as they do not set foot in their offices.

    This is not “community action” this is the community (i.e. people) handing over power to a bunch of professional “charity managers” whose aims may be very different from what the charitable people ASSUME their aims are.

    Barack Obama, Bill Ayers and the other Comrades used to joke about this in Chicago.

    Stupid rich (and not so rich) Republicans spending their money creating charities – which come under the contrl of the Comrades.

    Who then use the money partly to fund their own lifestyles (houses in the Hyde Park area of Chicago do not come cheap – even if Tony R. gives you a special deal).

    And partly to fund POLITICAL activities – in education, and everything else.

    I am very much on the other side politically, but I must admit I agree with Ayers, Obama and the others.

    It is a joke and those charitable Republicans (rich and poor) are pathetic.

    It is pathetic to hand over your money (quite voluntarily) without carefully checking how it is used.

    Sorry but “it is for the poor” or “it is for education” is not enough.

    Demand specifics – or (better) go down the office and RUN THE FREAKING CHARITY YOURSELF.

    It people put in the TIME there would be need for these paid “charity managers” and “Board Members”.

    By they way…..

    It hits the Churches also.

    For example, in the Roman Catholic church they used to say that you could tell when an Religious Order (or nuns or whatever) had been taken over by the left.

    You could tell because the order in question would….

    “Lose interest in the emptying of bed pans, and develop a great interest in political speeches instead”.

  18. You have got a point Ian – people do speak “different languages” (hence my point about many modern political philosphers, and their books, above).

    Perhaps I should simply say that I will not give money to people who do not “speak my language” and I will not sit by while others are FORCED to do so.

    But the enemy even redefine the concept of “force”.

    Talking about “repressive tolerance” and “corporate coecion” and on and on.

    At that point perhaps it is best to just to shoot the enemy in the head (double tap of course) – after all if it is “not coercive” for them to do that to us (they are just “liberating” an area), it is “not coercive” for us to do that to them.

    If it is O.K. for them to use force on us (i.e. clubs and bullets – what I would consder “force” although they say it is “not coercive” it is “true freedom” or whatever) then it is O.K. for us to use force in our defence.

    Then the “different languages” problem is solved.

    As if we lose we are dead (but no problem there – as they intend to exterminate “reactionaries” anyway) so their “different language” will not bother us.

    And if they lose they are dead – so, again, there is no “different language” problem.

    Alternatively we could agree that words have objective meaning and actually try and COMMUNICATE with people.

    But as you say – that is not likely.

    So force it is then.

    Lenin.Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot (and on and on) AND Mussolini and Hitler (for let not the propaganda obscure the issue that both Mussolini and Hitler were “social justice” people into EXPANDING statism) – all on their side.


    Really nasty people on our side also.

    Such as Suharto in Indonesia – who reacted to a violent Communist coup attempt, by (quite truthfully) telling the peasants that the Commuinists intended to collectivise the land (as they were doing in China at the time).

    Suharto did that knowing that the peasants woudl react to this news by cutting HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Communists into small pieces. Litterally hacking them to death.

    Indeed he was counting on the peasants doing just that – and used his army to back the peasants basically wipe out the largest Communist Party outside the East Block.

    Yes this was savage – but it did save millions (indeed tens of millions) of lives. The lives the Communists would have taken had they remained alive and taken power (which they would have).

    Young Barack was in Indonesia shortly after these events – and a (wildly distorted) account of them is given in his book “Dreams From My Father”.

    Even if that book was written (in part) by Bill Ayers – revengeing the deaths of his Comrades in spirit in Indonesia seems to be important to him. And it is not just in Indonesia.

    Many of the Latin American regimes had no real ideology (such as the gang of criminals who ran Argentina in blood soaked murder and chaos – for years) or had a collectivist ideology.

    But that is NOT true of all the Latin American regimes.

    It is impossible to “explain away” someone like Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

    He was not a perfect free market man (what ruler is?) – but clearly “on our side” and he was also clearly a MURDERER.

    The Cong do not have a monopoly on murder – people on our side also murder people. And it is no good pretending they are not on our side because we do not like their methods.

    “The President is about to deliver a speech – come to the foorball stadium” the Cong came (and they were Cong from all over Latin America – not just Chile) only to be greated not by their (“democratically elected” President) making a speech – but by Pinochet’s soldiers with 50 cal machine guns. Actually the Cong in Chile had plenty of firearms of heir own (the Hollywood films leave that out) – but they were caught by surprise, and by treachery. There can be no moral defence of such tactics – other than that this how the Cong themselves have always acted, whenever they have had the chance.

    Perhaps Barack Obama fears that this will one day happen in the United States. With he and his allies (the university crowd, the teacher unions, the “mainstream” media and on and on) taken out and shot, or hacked to death.

    And, of course, if COMMUNICATION is impossible (if words have no objective meaning) then physical action is unavoidable.

    Sooner or later (most like sooner – indeed quite soon indeed), one side or the other will have have to physically wipe out the other side.

    The “different languages” problem will make it unavoidable.

    Words may indeed by subjective – but the combat knife and the bullet are very objective indeed.

    And if COMMUNICATION is impossible – then it comes down to physical means.

    P.S. The Black Flaggers (the anarcho-communalists Kevin Carson and co) are on the same side as the Red Flaggers (the Comrades).

    Combat will show this – far more clearly than words can.

    Of course “the passions” love all this.

    What man does not thrill at the thought of the blood of his enemies flowing into the gutter?

    But (contrary to David Hume) it is the job of REASON (of the moral sense) to NOT be the “slave of the passions” – but to CONTROL them.

    Unless, of course, there really is no other way. And it really is kill-or-be-killed.

  19. DJ-

    Ian, you’ve got it in one!
    Yes, the state as such doesn’t grasp the whole problem – which is why I prefer to talk about the managerial elite, a groups straddling the public and private sectors. Also known as the New Class.

    Every now and again I try to come up with some terminology that will better describe the situation but doesn’t sound too much like Post-Marxist mithering, but end up with terms like “hegemonic class” or “coercive hegemony” which unfortunately do sound like Post-Marxist mithering.

    I personally think that a lot of Libertarians aren’t really getting to grips with the current state of affairs, largely due to the desire to rigidly divide the world into “State” and “Not-State”. It’s a conceptualisation thing. The current situation in the modern Western world is just too nebulous for that. The “new moralism” comprised of concepts like racism, homophobia, imperialism, sexism etc etc etc is carried by a diverse range of social formations and forces. Much of Libertarian thought developed in a situation which was rather clearer; opposing Communism, or Fascism, the recognisable and clearly defined brutal tyrannies of the 20th century. But we’re not up against Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini. We’re up against Jemima Wynde-Turbyne, a creature that drifts from Quango to pressure group to large corporation the media to bureaucrat to charity worker, carrying and imposing her ideology with her as she drifts about. There really isn’t a defined State/Not-State boundary any more and that is a outcome that authoritarians have been working towards for a long time. All the “sectors” I mentioned above, and thus the concepts are melding together into a sort of big spodge, held together by this “New Class”.

  20. “I personally think that a lot of Libertarians aren’t really getting to grips with the current state of affairs, largely due to the desire to rigidly divide the world into “State” and “Not-State”.”

    That may or may not be so – but you couldn’t say this about the LA blog, as the way the New Class is both public and private sector has been exhaustively discussed on this blog – look at any of my blog posts for examples.

    One example would be Helen Alexander, former chief executive of the Economist Group – who is now head of the CBI. At the BBC relates how she opposes compulsory quotas for females in boardrooms, but this is just her pretense at a free-market approach, because she is quoted there on how companies should have their own targets for females at boardroom level, to avoid missing out on half the talent, supposedly.

    People like this, working in the private sector, are still pursuing the egalitarian ideologies. Companies should hire whoever is good for the job, with no targets or quotas.

    Ian, nearly every post of mine on this site has discussed exhaustively the public and private sector nature of the managerial elite – although you seem to have just discovered the concept.

  21. DJ, that wasn’t meant as a criticism of you. It was an observation of the libertarian movement in general. I’m not trying to have an argument with you. I’m agreeing with you!

    I apologise if a poor choice of words gave some other impression.

  22. OK, thank you. You’re right, anyhow – business leaders normally speak in amazingly PC terms, often, if possible, more so than politicians (who occasionally have to pretend to take into account the views of their voters). The CBI is a terrible example.

    I wonder if the CBI will apologise for seeking to take the UK into the euro? I sometimes think business leaders at at the even more crass end of the managerial elite.

  23. Well, I think that “business leaders” in general, with a very few meritous exceptions (the Ryanair bloke springs solitarily to mind) do see themselves as just another part of this managerialist class and have long since lost any concept of a private sector distinct from the State. This is another problem that will occur in an attempt to achieve (or return to) a libertarian polity; they simply would not know how to operate in one. My own experience of the corporate world (as a very lowly cog) is I think usual; it is infested with whatever we call this; PC or NewThink or whatever.

    An interesting example a while back was the large supermarkets (Sainsburys springs to mind) asking the government to fix alcohol prices to help them do their civic duty of not selling cheap lager to chavs. The “corporate responsibility” woman who turned up on the news bemoaning their need to compete was a classic example of the New Class we’re discussing. One would surmise that her understanding of free market capitalism was around the same level as that of my cat.

    • Ian – of course when businessmen do stand up (more or less) for decent principles they get a lot of shit thrown at them.

      Endless tax audits from the government (and investigations from every other agency to see if any enterprise they own has broken any of the hundreds of thousands of, sometimes contradictory, regulations) and other threats and trouble.

      And “from below” (bottom up – top down – inside out) the paid mob also come after them.

      For example, the New York “Occupy” thugs walked right accross town – walking past the homes of George Soros (and co) without shouting anything.

      Then they came to the home of the Koch brothers (which is nowhere near Wall Street) and all Hell broke loose – if the police had been trapped underground it would have been like “Bane” and his Comrades from the latest Batman film (“The Dark Knight Rises”).

      The Koch brothers are not big bankers or Wall Street traders – they are oil, steel and coal men (about as old style as business gets).

      So why are they targeted by the “Occupyers” (and by the government) and not arch Wall Street manipulators like George Soros?

      The answer is obvious.

  24. The CBI is (like the Federation of British Industry before World War II – yes the FBI) is a vile organisation.

    Always seeking a middle way and a deal with whoever is in power – a principle free zone.

    By the way Ian B.

    That bit about wrap the food in a passge of scripture – YES that is sick.

    It reminds me of some of the soup kitchens that some Churches set up during the fammine in Ireland.

    Some of the Protestant churches are ALLEDGED to have asked “are you a Protestant or a Catholic” before handing out food – or engaging in theological outreach stuff (debate) with people who were very sick (illness, not starvation as such, was the big killer).

    Religious people (and non religious people) have a perfect right to behave like this – it is their food.

    But I also have a perfect right to DESPISE THEM for acting like that.

    The old question needs asking,

    Mr Booth (or whoever) would Jesus act as you propose to act?

    When someone is fit and well – and CHOOSES to come back (even though they are O.K. now) then you can talk to them about theology (or whatever).

    But not when they are hungry, cold and ill.

  25. And we have seen nothing much yet – if Comrade Barack is reelected the world changes.

    And not in a good way.

  26. “Reclaiming the American Dream” by Richard C. Cornuelle


  27. I read this today:

    “US Gay Marriage Campaigners target Tory MPs”

    This is exactly what I meant about fake civil society – lobbyists seem to have no grass roots behind them nowadays.

  28. There are two contrasting ways of doing things – the civil soceity way or the political way.

    The civil soceity way for there to be “Gay Marriage” would be for ther to be a private ceremony and then a man would introduce another man as his “wife” (or whatever other word they choose to use).

    It would be then up to other people (individuals and organisations – such as clubs, churches, companies ans so on) whether or not to “recognise” this “marriage”.

    The political way has the state (the government) decide what a “marriage” is – and forcing (making) everyone else “recognise” the union.

    To me it does not really matter (fundemetally) about whether democracy is “manipulated” (partly because I think they always are – and always have been), because I think that poltics (government) is a terrible way of making such judgements.

    I do not think that a democratic vote on the price of bread (whether or not it was a “manipulated” vote) is a good way of deciding the price of bread.

    And I do not think that government is a good way of deciding whether people should “recognise a marriage” – I think that people (and private associations) should make that choice for themselves.

    “You are just saying that because of the Gay angle” – no I am not.

    For example, I would have been opposed to the Births, Marrigages and Deaths (Registration) Act of 1836.

    Indeed I would have been opposed to the Census of 1801.

    Walter Bagehot sneered at the “old women” who said the state had no right to demand to know who lived in your house.

    But I am on the side of the “old woman” – and against Walter Bagehot.

  29. society not soceity – and on and on.

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  34. I have to say, I do believe in helping people less fourtunate in life, particularly were resources are available, but have now come to the conclusion that over the years I done more than my fair share for charity, in many forms, I think charities are becomming like institutions, with fat cat payed staff, there is some evdidence the gravy train culture has started to creep in, if only one could get all the resources where they are intended, it seems the cow is milked many times on the journey to it’s destination.