In Defence of English Civilisation, by Sean Gabb
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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.

Note: The text of this speech is to be exclusively published elsewhere, and I have taken it down for the moment. I will put it back up next week. 

9 responses to “In Defence of English Civilisation, by Sean Gabb

  1. The problem is any that with any hierarchical power structure the scumbag sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists gravitate to the top.
    A “reset” will only work for a while until the bastards take over again in a couple of generations or so.
    It’s a sad fact that most people are collectivists at heart who actually want to be slaves and that is what must be continually resisted if we are to have a free society.

  2. Just because we might eventually need to press it again, is no argument against pressing the reset button now. A nice metaphor, by the way.

  3. We don’t need a re-set. This just takes us back which is impossible. We need a fast-forward’.Can I suggest a written constitution be at the heart of the new order. A constitution which makes clear the limits of state power might help prevent a sliding back to old ways, and help stabilise the new.

    • Patricia – Agreed. We shall need a written constitution and a new bill of rights. Richard North is doing a lot of work on this at the moment, and his conclusions are worth taking as a basis for discussion. But no settlement is forever. Even if we settle current problems, new ones will emerge in the future.

  4. Sean Gabb’s position here is oddly similar to that of Mitt Romney in the United States.

    Defunding the BBC is a good idea – just as defending PBS and NPR in the United States is a good idea. But neither move will save much money. And as for it meaning a major ideological shift – well in the United States ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN are just as bad as Public television, and in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ITV, C4 and even Sky News (which utterly different from Fox News in the United States) are just about as bad as the BBC (I have not seen the news on C5 so I can not comment upon it).

    Romney-Ryan at least say they will save money in relation to Welfare State “entitlement” spending (although they are a little vague on how exactly they will do this), sadly Sean Gabb does not even claim that he will tackle the Welfare State.

    And, of course, it is the Welfare State that is both bankrupting the United Kingdom financially and underming the very “English Civilisation” (i.e. civil society – the institution of the family and so on) that the speech was supposed to be about.

    It is not true that Sean Gabb neglects economic policy entirely – as he says he will get rid of limited liability.

    Taken litterally this would be incredibly derstructive of “English” or any other civilisation – as it would de facto ban churches, trusts, clubs, societies and every other limited liablity entity. However, Sean’s words most be taken in context – and it clear that from the context that he means only major commerial companies (enterprises in business to provide profits to shareholders – to pensioners and so on).

    I am glad that the Red Herring of the 19th century limited liability Acts are not mentioned, as it is not the exact terms of limited liabilty that is the issue – it is the principle itself. It is an ancient principle (for examples of it – see above) and is voluntary.

    People do not to trade with a limited liability enterprise if they do not wish to do so. For example if one wishes to buy insurance one can pay a higher price (if one does not wish to trade with an insurance company) and go to Lloyds “names” (who traditionally lost their shirts if business went bad – i.e. not just the money they had put into a “tradeing pot”, which is basically what commercial company is, but all their resources – their homes and so on). And one can go to corner shop (several exist within a short walk of where I live) if one is happy to pay higher prices than at the local supermarket (in return for not having to line up at the check outs and so on). Why the poor should be made to pay higher prices, and have a reduced variety of goods to choose from, Sean does not explain.

    However, the whole matter reminds me of the Libertarian Alliance conference I attended (I think the year was 2006) where a South African economist attempted to explain the above matters to Sean Gabb. Sadly Sean did not understand then – and will not understand now.

    Still what would be the overall effect of driving limited liability enterprises out of Britain? Well there would be great economic damage – but a factor I have already mentioned perhaps makes this less important than it might be. This factor is the Welfare State.

    There is nothing in the speeh about fighting the growth of the cradle-to-grave Welfare State (a social, not “just” economic, problem – for we are talking about the underming of civil society of “English civilisation”) or the ideology of “social justice” (“fair shares” – the ideology both of the hunter-gather pack, but also of every totalitarian movement – not just orthodox socialism, but also Fascism, National Socialism, and Islamism),

    “But the British people want…..”

    Perhaps they do, after all the Greek people do, as do the Spanish, the Portugese and the…… Perhaps the British people are no different.

    However, what “the British people want” is not relevant to what they can have – the universe is objective (it can not be remade by the whims of “the people” – for example the savage Social Justice mobs of Egypt scream for cheaper bread, but no matter how many people they kill and how much they burn, this unlimited cheap bread is not going to appear). And Britain (like the United States and many other places) is going de facto bankrupt.

    So perhaps the economic demage of a jihad against limited liablity companies does not matter – as, if the structure of the Welfare State is left as it is, there will (within a few years) be no real economy for such a jihad to damage. And the big losers in this economic collapse will be the very people that Social Justice ideology is supposed to help – the poor (especially the very poor, and the sick, and the old).

  5. @Paul Marks, yes the welfare-warfare state is the problem very much so. The limited liability companies are part of the problem. You’re defending the current order. The current order is the problem, it needs to be hacked down root and branch. Too big to fail, psychopaths running businesses and getting away with it… it all has to stop. It would be trivial to argue that driving the financial vampires out of Britain will cause great harm to the economy but that’s the kind of creative destruction we desperately need if liberty is happen.

    This isn’t going to be solved without a revolution, hopefully it’s a bloodless one.

  6. Johney I am not defending the current order – the current order is government spending of about 50% of GDP, which is totally unsustainable.

    So defending the current order would be pointless – as it going to collapse. Nothing to do wih “revolution” – simple mathematics.

    I certainly do not support “too big to fail” – indeed I warned about the credit money bubble (the increase in the money supply – the “cheap money”, “low interest rate policy”) repeatedly. So did other people – but I do not remember Sean Gabb being one of them. See the works of writers such as Thomas Woods, or the practical warnings of investors such as Peter S. or Jim Rogers.

    This has got nothing to do with “limited liability” – Sean just does not understand economics. That is fine – I do not understand Latin, Greek and German. But Sean insists on writing about economics – which is not fine (it would like me endlessly writing about Latin, Greek and German – without being able to read a page of text).

    The “warfare” state – military spending is tiny compared to Welfate State (“Social Justice”, “fair shares”) spending. One could take every soldier home from Afghanistan tomorrow (by the way I would support such a move) and it would make no fundemental economic difference (but it might save their lives – which is why it is worth doing it).

    Let say that Sean wanted to be serious……

    That he wanted to write an article argueing that direct nationalisation (the old state socialism) is no longer the main threat to civil society (which Sean, rather oddly, calls “English civilisation”). F. A. Hayek did exactly this – back in 1960 in his bookl “The Constitution of Liberty”.

    Hayek argued that old style socialism was declining and that the rise (the uncontrolled “cradle to grave” expansion) of the Welfare State would turn it from being a safety net (if it ever was that) to being a cancer that would choke civil society to death.

    Now Hayek’s argument may have been premature – after all there were plenty of nationalisations (indeed outright socialist revolutions) in the 1960s and 1970s and even 1980s (indeed there has been one in Venezula only in the last few years). But Hayek’s “Constitution of Liberty” basic point may have been valid. In the long term the Welfare State (Social Justice) may be the real threat to the to both the economic and the cultural existance of the West.

    This is what I find so irritating about Sean’s work – his articles always start off well. A attack on Marxism (good) both for its crimes and for its economic impossiblity, then we are told that old style Marxism is not the only threat (good) indeed that the main threat to civil society is now…..

    But then we do not get an attack upon “social justice” – not from Hayek style make-government-relief-of-poverty-more-controlled-roll-it-back-in-the-following-ways…… way, nor in a more fundemental libertarian way either (for it must be remembered that Hayek was a limited state man, not a miminal state man – I doubt that he would have had much of a problem with something like the Scots Poor Law of 1845).

    Instead we get a lot of stuff about “corporations” instead.

    And we do not even get a demand that Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax be abolished – which would, over time, mean that more and more shares were in the hands of individuals (rather than pension funds and the like). Instead we get an attack on the idea of limited liability itself.

    First we get the historical distortion that it (the concept of limited liability – not some specific state statute) was created by the state. This is similar to Sir William Hamilton’s (J.S. Mill’s old rival in Liberal circles) early 19th century claim that all universities were the creation of “the state” which not only ignored most American universities of his time, but also ignored the oldest European universities which were, of course, the creation of the Church (long before the state even existed – other than as various warlords).

    When I first read Hamilton’s claim I was just baffled by it – but it is possible that it was the result of getting into a “German” mindset. I am told that German writers (going back into the 1700s and even 1600s) use what we translate as “the state” to mean “society” or even “God” – certainly in translation (which is the only way I can read these writers) writers such as Hegal use the word “state” in an incredibly weird way.

    Of course the concept of limited liability is ancient (as it he idea of putting money in a “trading pot” with only this money, not the shirt on one’s back, being at risk if the trading venture fails – nothing unlibertarian in that as long as one’s customers and so on are told in advance and make the choice to trade on this basis) and is well worked out (for example) in canon law (even some Popes were lawyers – for example Innocent IV, who not only defended Roman law against [yes against] the idea that only Christians could own property, but developed Roman law – he believed he had to, as many of the great works on Roman law were lost, so one had to work from first principles).

    It is true that in late Roman law every association had to be approved by the state and was governed by state regulation – but the Church (and others) rejected the idea that the perversions of the late Empire were binding, and that one could not seek for legal principles (the natural law which one could seek for using the natural reason that God had given to all humans – Christian or not)

    Still the economic point…..

    Getting rid of the concept of limited liabilty (even if one only means for profit making companies – not for charities, clubs, churches and so on) would not produce some sort of economic gain.

    On the contrary it would mean higher prices and reduced quality (and variety) of goods. After all one can avoid trading with a limited liability enterprise right now.

    If one wants insurance but does not want to deal with an insurance company one can go (if one is prepared to pay higher prices and have less choice) to Lloyds “Names”. And if one does not want to shop in a supermarket one can (again if one wants to accept higher prices and less choice of goods) go to a family owned corner shop (several exist within walking distance of where I am writing this – although they are not owned by “English” families, not that should matter to anyone).

    It is quite correct that Hayek warns of the habit of “looking inward” (being obsessed with internal matters – not with the customers) that can hit the employees of a large enterprise (as part of its diseconomies of scale – for diseconomies of scale exist as well as economies of scale, no one knows in advance how big is “too big” only the profit and loss system, the “discovery procedure of the market” as K. puts it, can show this). But that is nothing much to do with “limited liablity” – as big privately owned enterprise will have the same problem to deal with.

    However, for the sake of arguement, let us (wrongly) that getting rid of the principle of limited liability (not this or that government statute – but the principle itself) would not cause major economic harm.

    It is still missing-the-point – the evil of “Social Justice” would still do its work in destroying society.

    After all most people before the First World War did not work for limited liability enterprises – they worked for indivdually or family owned enterprises. Would Kevin Carson (and so on) like this world any better? Of course not – their writings make it clear that the attack on “limited liability” is just a ruse. The real doctrine is “Social Justice” – i.e. the hatred of rich people, because they are richpeople (naught to do with “limited liability”).

    That is the “revolution” they seek Johnney. The Revolution of the savage Egyption mobs and the international “Occupy” movement (whom the late Andrew Breitbart expossed with his recordings of their own words – showing their hatred of anyone who had more money than themselves, especially of “the Jews”. How do I know that Kevin and co support these groups (the mobs of Egypt, the international “Occupy” movement and sso on)? I know because they are kind enough to say so – agan and again.

    And what has this got to do with Sean Gabb?

    Sean Gabb promotes people like Kevin Carson (and has done for at least six years) and parrots some of their “arguments” (against “corporations” and so on). My personal belief is that Sean is not really a sincere and dedicated enemy of civil society – what is really at work is Sean’s desire to cause mischief, basic “naughtyness” (for want of a better word).

    Why should I care?

    Because it diverts attention from the real matter that is at stake – whether or not civil society (the nonaggression principle) will survive at all, let alone be restored.

    This issue goes back long before Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty”. In the last section of his work “Socialism”, Ludwig Von Mises examines “interventionism” – the plans for wild , ever growing, govenrment spending schemes (Welfare States) and endless regulations (regulations using the excuse that compaines were not “really” private property – as they were “public”, the “creation of the state” blah, blah, blah, a bit like the perverted ideas of the state at the time of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire).

    This section of Mises’ book “Socialism” has a title – it is called “Destructionism”. Because it is about destruction – the spending and the regulations (at the proposed level of interventionism) cause destruction – the make the various problems (the problems they are supposed to solve) worse and worse.

    We live in a time when the wild ideas of the most demented interventionists of the 1920s have been made real – they are (for example) sitting their in the labour codes of Greece, Italy, France and Spain (and are creeping into virtually everywhere else) – labour codes that make a functioning labour market impossible. Thus dooming these countries to mass unemployment.

    They are there is the “think of a number and then times it by a thousand” government spending on the Welfare State (and, again, the “warfare state” is as nothing compared to this – in most Western countries).

    And what does the Libertarian Alliance do? Does it struggle against these things? Does it lead the fight against Social Justice (which is at the core of all totalitarian movements – not just orthodox socialism, but Fascism, National Socialism, Black Flag “anarchism”, and Islamism also, and “environmental justice”, the doctrine of the “Dark Greens” or “fundies” is also Social Justice)?

    No Sean Gabb does not lead the charge against Social Justice – instead he tries to lead (mislead) people down the blind ally of bashing “corporations”. It is just naughtyness – I do not believe that Sean has any deeply evil intentions. However, not having evil intentens does not mean that one’s actions can not have evil results.

    The Libertarian Alliance could have been a force for good. A modest one perhaps – but still a force for good. Instead it got led into nonsense – everything from the Labour Theory of Value, to bashing “corporations”, to pretending that people can economically make steel in their backyards (even Stalin did not believe that – although Mao, with his head full of poetry and literature, did) because of claims that economies of scale do not “really” exist, or that without government roads there would be no chain stores, or……. (on and on).

    None of these ideas are from Sean Gabb, they are from Kevin Carson and co) – but Sean Gabb promoted them. I believe he promoted them simply because he knew they made other people angry (his idea is the same as that of a school boy who puts some pins on the seat of the school master – or puts a bucket of water above the door so that the next boy who comes in……)

    But these are serious times – and my tolerance for such antics has never been great.

  7. @Paul Marks, it isn’t simply about spending levels (although defence and policing is an enormous amount of money) the welfare-warfare state is the justification for government, bribing people with their own money (and wasting, or stealing, most of it via bureaucracy) and threatening them with imagined enemies. You can’t separate the two factors.

    Corporations are another problem, they are pathological in so many senses. Limited liability is problematic because we can see what it has lead to.

    As for making steel in your backyard… we are in a post-industrial phase or hadn’t you noticed? Has the information revolution and the possibility of small-scale manufacturing passed us by? The point is we need to recognise where the previous and current systems have got us and start again from proper premises. It must never happen again.

    Hey ho, Western Civ has got to go! We’ve got to replace it with something that actually works to promote liberty instead of destroying it!!

  8. Johnny I have said what I wanted to say – indeed at greater length than I should have (I could have been less long winded).

    However, I have read what you have said. And I agree with some (some) of it.