Paleoism and the Traditional Britain Group

Paleoism and the Traditional Britain Group
by Keir Martland

In January 1990, Lew Rockwell wrote in the magazine ‘Liberty’ on ‘The Case for Paleolibertarianism’[1]. In this manifesto, he argued that while libertarians are often correct in their criticisms of conservatives, conservatives are often right in their criticisms of libertarians. He cites people like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, with the latter claiming that libertarians were drifting so far from conservatism that they were coming to view the “coercions of the family, church, local community and school” as almost as corrosive of liberty as that of the state.

In this paleolibertarian manifesto, Rockwell states that if libertarianism is to make any real progress, then it must do away with its “defective cultural framework”, stating that Western civilisation is worthy of praise and that social or ‘natural’ authority – like the authority of the family, the church, the local community and the school – is essential to a free society. Libertarianism’s cultural framework had become a blend of moral relativism, egalitarianism, modernism and libertinism with the modal libertarian often conflating legality with morality. In addition to the error of assuming that because X must be legal, X must also be moral, the modal libertarian had conflated freedom from aggression with freedom from social authority, tradition, and bourgeois morality.

With the rise in popularity of the Republican politician Patrick Buchannan, Rockwell sought to both put the neolibertarians right and to forge an alliance with the paleoconservative movement. The paleoconservatives were those conservatives in America who questioned the welfare-warfare state (with the Cold War over, many no longer saw the need for such a bloated state department) and saw their intellectual roots in the Old Right, a broad church of intellectuals, journalists, politicians and others who opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Old Right included libertarians such as HL Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, and Frank Chodorov and so unsurprisingly, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell and the ‘paleolibertarians’ saw their chance to reach out to a brand new group.

While the paleoconservatives distinguished themselves from the big-government conservatives, the paleolibertarians distinguished themselves from what Rothbard called ‘big-government libertarians’.[2] For instance, Rothbard warned libertarians against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the neoconservatives and neolibertarians enthusiastically supported. Why would Rothbard, Mr Libertarian, not support a free trade agreement? He “opposed Nafta because it was a phony free-trade measure, and because it piled numerous new government restrictions upon trade, including socialistic labor and environmental controls.” In addition to this, he criticised Republicans who self-labelled themselves ‘libertarians’ only to further increase the size of the state. One such example was that of Governor William Weld, who was seen as a potential ‘libertarian’ presidential candidate for his “fiscal conservatism” and commitment to “gay rights”. On Weld’s “fiscal conservatism”, Rothbard commented “William Weld’s gesture in cutting his first year’s budget by less than 2 percent has been more than made up by his raising the budget in the last two years by 17 percent.” The typical neolibertarian was more than happy to support people like this, who claim to be ‘libertarians’ and then give evidence to the contrary. The neolibertarian was also content with the Nafta, presumably out of ignorance or stupidity.

Yet another unifying feature of both paleoconservatives with paleolibertarians and neoconservatives with neolibertarians lies within the cultural sphere. As Lew Rockwell pointed out in his Case for Paleolibertarianism, the modal libertarian or ‘neolibertarian’ was clueless on culture. This might suggest that there is a ‘libertarian position’ on culture, which there isn’t. Even so, while Rothbard made it clear that “libertarianism is logically consistent with almost any attitude toward culture, society, religion, or moral principle”, he argued that “psychologically, sociologically, and in practice, it simply doesn’t work that way.” Even though libertarian political philosophy does not prohibit the promotion of moral relativism, the paleolibertarians recognised the need for “bourgeois morality”. The anarcho-capitalist philosopher and economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe expressed this eloquently:

“This Establishment Libertarianism was not only theoretically in error, with its commitment to the impossible goal of limited government (and centralized government at that): it was also sociologically flawed, with its anti-bourgeois—indeed, adolescent—so-called ‘cosmopolitan’ cultural message: of multiculturalism and egalitarianism, of ‘respect no authority’, of ‘live-and-let-live’, of hedonism and libertinism.”[3]

As the paleolibertarian John Kersey has said, the neoconservatives too “have created a yawning chasm where their cultural values should be” and yet there is no vacuum as “the chasm has been very ably filled by the Left”.[4] And so there we have it; the two main unifying features of neoconservatism and neolibertarianism are a lazy attitude to opposing state aggression in the political sphere and an even lazier ‘anything goes’ attitude in the cultural sphere. Conversely, this must mean that both paleoconservatism and paleolibertarianism are united behind an opposition to statism and an at best sceptical treatment of the modern cancers of feminism, moral relativism, and egalitarianism.

With a good deal of common ground between both factions, the paleoconservative-paleolibertarian alliance was forged. It centred around the John Randolph Club, founded by Thomas Fleming (a paleoconservative) and Murray Rothbard (a paleolibertarian). As Hans-Hermann Hoppe recalls, “the JRC was a decidedly bourgeois, anti-egalitarian and discriminating society, but at the same time a society far more open and tolerant intellectually [than the Mont
Pelerin Society founded by F.A. Hayek] without any taboo-subjects.”[5]

Paul Gottfried, a member of the John Randolph Club from the conservative faction of the ‘paleo-alliance’, recalls that at one meeting in the early 1990s, Murray Rothbard delivered what he now calls a “legendary” speech:

“With the inspiration of the death of the Soviet Union before us, we now know that it can be done. With Pat Buchanan as our leader, we shall break the clock of social democracy. We shall break the clock of the Great Society. We shall break the clock of the welfare state. We shall break the clock of the New Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom and perpetual war. We shall repeal the twentieth century.”[6]

However, it was not to be – perhaps it really was too good to be true. Now that I have briefly explained both the reason for the term ‘paleolibertarian’ and its meaning in the eyes of the original paleolibertarians themselves, I will now come to the decline of the paleo-alliance in its birth country.

In 2002, Lew Rockwell wrote on his website an article entitled ‘What I Learned From Paleoism’. Already, the title of the article suggests a sort of finality as if paleoism has happened and is no longer happening. While he still says that “the paleocons helped draw us to thinkers that left-libertarians had tossed out like Robert Nisbet, John Taylor, John Randolph” and that “they reminded us that the love of liberty isn’t just an abstract political theory but a real history and tradition rooted in America” and even further concedes that “we paleolibertarians had our failings…when it came to history and culture, they [the paleoconservatives] could run circles around us”, the blame is laid with the paleoconservatives, for the most part for their “erroneous views on economics”.[7] Hans-Hermann Hoppe came to this conclusion and put it rather more bluntly: “This, then, was the ultimate reason for the breakup of the libertarian-conservative alliance accomplished with the John Randolph Club: that while the libertarians were willing to learn their cultural lesson the conservatives did not want to learn their economics.”

A comprehension of Austrian school insights into economics would have easily prevented Pat Buchanan from devoting so much of his energy to his economic nationalism. As Rockwell said, “Pat began to wield enormous influence on the right. This took one main form: turning people who should have known better against free markets, capitalism, and free trade. He went from being a candidate libertarians might support to becoming the anti-libertarian.” Naturally, this meant that he lost the support of Austrolibertarians such as Rothbard, Rockwell and Hoppe. It also taught Rockwell to “Never trust a politician to represent, much less speak for, an intellectual movement.” From the paleoconservative side of the alliance, Paul Gottfried concludes that “The weaknesses of the paleo side eventually came to show: excruciatingly limited funding, exclusion from the national media, vilification as “racists” and “anti-Semites,” and finally, strife within their own ranks. In retrospect, this was all predictable, although for me it was hard to grasp how totally the fall came when it did.”

Now, then, from the above one would assume that the neo versus paleo distinction is only applicable to the United States. I think not. This distinction – between big government libertarians/conservatives and radical libertarians/conservatives and between egalitarian libertarians/conservatives and anti-egalitarian realist libertarians/conservatives – definitely, definitely, definitely does apply in this country. In the neo corner, you have the Conservative Party and its various affiliate think-tanks and research groups, both unapologetic apologists for varying degrees of statism and egalitarianism, and in the paleo corner you have the Libertarian Alliance and the Traditional Britain Group, both committed to a defence of truth, life and property, and civilisation itself.

‘How can a libertarian be a reactionary, a conservative, or a traditionalist?’ This is the question which the modal libertarian cannot bring himself to answer. The simplest answer is that England has a very long history of libertarianism and to defend that tradition is to defend libertarianism itself. In defence of the term ‘reactionary’ for libertarians, I would like to say that there is a sense in which no true libertarian is a radical. What we want established in Britain is not something fundamentally radical, but instead something which is natural. We want to return, rather, to a pre-state society, a society where all relations were voluntary and not exploitative, all authority was natural and not artificial, and where all power was economic and not political. This natural order has existed in our past and it only could exist in those times when the “coercions” of the family, church, community, etc. were at their strongest.

And so, the reactionary libertarians and radical conservatives, the paleos of both kinds, have broadly the same aims. Furthermore, the paleolibertarians need the paleoconservatives and the paleoconservatives need the paleolibertarians. A conservative society cannot exist under an oppressive state just as much as a libertarian society cannot exist in a cultural and moral vacuum.

It would seem, then, that a new paleo-alliance may be emerging, but this time it can be one which will have the ability to learn from the mistakes of the past. Not only this, but this English paleo-alliance could be exactly that: an English one. Yes, the Old Right and the original paleolibertarians had the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but the English paleolibertarians have, among many others, John Locke, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Jeremy Bentham, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Lord Acton, Roger Scruton, Theodore Dalrymple, Sean Gabb, and John Kersey. All true-born Englishmen, committed to a defence of private property and traditionalism, should attend the Traditional Britain Group’s day of seminars in March[8].

16 responses to “Paleoism and the Traditional Britain Group

  1. There is indeed a difference between liberty and “liberation” – indeed what “liberation” seeks to free us from (the moral principles of civil society) is exactly what liberty rests upon. The “liberators” seek to destroy the foundations of liberty.

    Rousseau (drawing from the Abbe de Mably and others) assumed that private employment was a form of slavery and he was just wrong. And Rousseau argued that if everyone was part of the collective then collectivism was freedom (this is how he reconciled his desire for “freedom” with his belief that Thomas Hobbes was right that government must be unlimited – that there must be a centre of total power) and this if-we-are-part-of-the-collective-collectivism-is-freedom is not only wrong it is insane. However, its insanity did not stop everyone from extreme factions in the French Revolution to the governments of Argentina and so on today following collectivist policies in the name of freedom by saying “we are the people”.

    The “small platoons” (as Edmund Burke called them) of family, clubs, societies, churches (and so on) depend on moral obligations (the left would call them moral “chains”) – and the Jacobins (and so many movements since them) have tried to destroy them – tired to create a society of “atomistic individuals” (a concept of the “left” not of traditionalists) whose only moral links are those of the COLLECTIVE (whether the collective is called “the state” or not is not relevant – COMMUNAL “anarchism” is just as collectivist as Marxism, Fascism or National Socialism).

    Yet John Stuart Mill (often held up as the very model of a 19th century liberal) demanded that people be not allowed to “parade” their disapproval of immoral conduct – he does not mention (in “On Liberty”) exactly what conduct he has in mind. but it was the habit of certain people of turning their backs on him (refusing to speak to him and so on) due to their belief that Mr Mill was engaged in an affair with another man’s wife.

    However. such “shunning” is exactly the non violent (private property respecting) sanction of civil society – what makes civil society different from the state. What Mr Mill is doing (by demanding that “parading disapproval” be not allowed) is really demanding the end of civil society. Mr Mill may not have known he was doing that – but the “Free Love” Fabians and Bloomsbury types of half a century later (and the hippies of a century later) certainly did know. If one is not allowed to “shun” (to “parade disapproval”) of those who (in the words of Herbert Marcuse) “turn on, tune in and drop out” then civil society (traditional society) has no sanction.

    And what are we to make of the distinction (also made in Mill’s “On Liberty” between state regulations covering what people may buy and regulations about what people may sell?

    For a man who wrote on formal logic (as Mill did) to make such an illogical (indeed absurd) distinction is troubling – and it seems to part of his view that free trade (whilst true in economic terms) was not part of the MORAL principle of liberty (because it was just business) and this is just wrong – flat wrong.

    It is not a matter of saying that economics is value free (which it is – as a science as a body-of-knowledge), “On Liberty” is NOT an economics book, it is a book on the moral principle of liberty. By saying that moral shunning “parading disapproval” should not be allowed, and that business matters (such as selling – rather than buying) were not really a moral matter – Mr Mill has driven a coach and horses through civil society and the traditional understanding of liberty. This is where the use of the “harm principle” (as opposed to the non aggression principle of common law) has led – after all “harm” is a vague principle (an open door to government regulations against business enterprises – to “protect the consumer”, “protect the worker”, “prevent unfair competition” or whatever).

    The rioting looters of the 1960s (and the rioting looters of today) were different (very different) people from Mr Mill – but their use of the word “freedom” to mean that they could do what they liked (without traditional people being allowed to avoid them – the right to NOT associate not being allowed) and that “freedom” did not rest on respect for property rights, was not invented in the 1960s. It goes back a very long way indeed.

    Should an employer be allowed to dismiss someone because he does not like the way they dress (or their conduct) or is this a “violation of the freedom” of the employee?

    Is a looting riot the undermining of liberty or an expression of liberty?

    In the end there is no way of dodging taking a position on property – large scale property in the means of production, distribution and exchange.

    Was (for example) Mr Wedgewood (of Wedgwood China) a great eample and defender of human liberty – or was he a bad person who “violated liberty” by outcompeting small scale producers and reducing them to his employees?

    Mr Burke would take the positive view of Wedgewood and Mr Rousseau the negative one – and a libertarian must be on one side or the other.

    Is “Occupy” an evil force out to undermine what is left of liberty by smashing, burning, looting, raping and so on. Or is “Occupy” a noble force of liberation – whose actions are the purist expression of freedom (as, for example, H.G. Wells in his story “The Coming of the Comet” would have understood it, the deliberate destruction of civil soceitydown to the buildings, hence the “year of tents” and so on – and the building of a new society of liberation of COLLECTIVIST, Rousseau style, “freedom”)?

    One can not be on both sides – one must choose.

    Either liberty or liberation – for they are opposed concepts.

    That is why it is important to listen to what a crowd of people are saying.

    Not to just the words “freedom” and so on (everyone uses such words) but what ELSE they are saying.

    That is why, for example, it was obvious that the “Arab Spring” was a bad thing (from the point of view of the defenders of what was left of civil society) – not because of the cries of “freedom” and so on, but because of what else was said (from the start).

    For example, the cries for cheaper or actually free bread.

    As the Roman Republic found when freedom comes to mean free bread (or other material benefits) what is left of liberty (in the old sense) is dying.

  2. This natural order has existed in our past and it only could exist in those times when the “coercions” of the family, church, community, etc. were at their strongest.

    Unfortunately, this is a fundamental error which many fall into; the belief that liberty does not work, and thus they seek a libertarianism in which one set of coercions (the State) are replaced by, or returned to, another set of coercions by other institutions.

    You only have to look at Islam, in which there is little coercion by the State, and the coercions are implemented by the family, church, community etc, to see the flaw in this reasoning. It is based on precisely the same view of humanity as any other authoritarians have; that people are not capable of running their own lives; that the market- whether economic or social- does not work, and that individualism is a Bad Thing. It is the view that human social society can only exist if there is an imposed hegemonic ruleset. It is just a disagreement about who does the imposing of it.

    Islamic Sharia, Orthodox Judaists, our own historical Puritans, and numerous examples from more distant cultures, have existed on this model. Many have a small State. Indeed, arguably under historical Islam there was no State at all; the “family, church and community” all being rolled into one and also exercising the functions that a separate “State” exercises in the West. On that basis, Islam is Liberty personified in this philosophy.

    But none of these are free societies, and that, at least to me, is what matters. If a man is hitting me with a stick for breaking The Rules, I don’t care if he’s a freelance vigilante working on behalf of the community, or the local religious council authorised him, or he has a piece of paper with HM Government Ministry Of Morals on it, in practise it is all the same, and we realise that “The State” is any sort of governance with a stick you can’t get away from.

    But still, this strange idea that one can only be free if one is not actually free comes up again and again, and from people who have presumably thought enough about liberty to know better. Bit dispiriting, really.

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  4. Moral duties are NOT coercion Ian.

    This is the central mistake that “liberation” fans (even respectable ones such as J.S. Mill) make.

    Indeed it is the effort to forbid the expression of moral duties (the expression of disapproval of those who fail in them) that is coercive.

    For example, it is NOT coercive to turn one’s back on Mr Mill for his behaviour with Mrs Taylor (to “parade disapproval”) and it IS coercive to try and forbid this.

    The “freedom ” that Herbert Marcuse demanded (the “right” to being given a degree without study, the “right” to a job without bothering to work whilst at the job, and so on) is not freedom at all.

    “Liberation” is NOT liberty.

    As I said – libertarians have to choose.

    Either one is on the side of (for example) the Chicago Teacher Union in demanding ever more money from the taxpayers in return for teaching children leftist propaganda – or one is against them.

    Either one is on the side of the Red Flag (and Black Flag) waving “Occupy” types as the smash the windows of business enterprises – or one is on the side of private property.

    The first (the teacher unions, the “Occupy” thugs and so on) are the side of “liberation”, – the latter (the taxpayers, the property owners and so on) are the side of liberty.

    What happens when the lights go off and the police do not come when they are called?

    Do people turn on each other – seeing to loot, rape and burn?

    Or do they NOT?

    This depends on the cultural ideas (beliefs) that they have.

    In a society where most people (not everyone – but most people) have conservative moral and cultural ideas (respecting the property of others) freedom works.

    In a society where people have been “liberated” from morality (turned into savage beasts – like “Occupy” or Mr Manson’s “Family”) then when the lights go out – things turn very nasty indeed.

    The “freedom” of the Jacobins (the “freedom” of Rousseau) is not liberty – it is liberation.

    The “freedom” to rob, burn, rape and murder.

  5. Paul,

    As a libertarian, Mr Mill’s behaviour with Mrs Taylor is none of my business. Their arrangements were their concern and nobody else’s. “Parading disapproval” inevitably becomes coercive; as such the personal ethical code of the Libertarian must be to live and let live; otherwise so-called libertarianism degenerates into a pantomime of simplistic anti-statism.

    I often use this example: I am an atheist. That means I do not agree with Christianity in some way; I may even think Christians are foolish, or bad for society or something like that. Suppose I am a shopkeeper with a shop near the Church. If I then say, “well I won’t serve Christians in my shop”, i have a libertarian right to do that. Nobody should coerce me to interact with Christians.

    But, I would also be being a total twunt. This sort of “moral disapproval” becomes a form of coercion. It is my right to do so, but I do not believe that it is liberal to do so. Now one shop does not matter, but suppose all the shops do this; Christians are now facing a difficult positition, and quite rapidly our society becomes one of illiberalism and coercion and, a rather unpleasant place to be.

    So, I believe that as a libertarian, if some Christian has not harmed me, or violated the life, liberty and property of others, if they simply go about their business in a legal manner, I do not have a moral right (as a libertarian) to start poncing about with my “Moral disapproval” in some nasty campaign to ruin their practising of their private faith. Even if I have a libertarian right to do so.

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  9. Ian B, if you truly believe that you don’t have the moral right to express disapproval of behaviour you consider immoral then you are abdicating the basic freedom necessary to create and maintain a functioning civilisation.

    Civilisations need standards, these can either be imposed by the State or else created by voluntary agreement and maintained by non coercive moral pressure. If someone behaves in a vile fashion they will risk being shunned.

    You are advocating an abandonment of an concept of the voluntary norms and decency which maintain a functioning society, with an abdication of moral reasoning.

  10. Then there is no use in liberty, and no rational argument in favour of it, and we are wasting our time.

  11. Ian you have missed the point.

    It was Mr Mill (NOT his critics) who was for coercion.

    No was arguing for him (or Mrs Taylor) to wear a scarlet letter or anything like that – it was HIM (Mr Mill) was wanted people not ALLOWED to “parade their disapproval”.

    For liberty to be useful and for their to be rational arguments in favour of liberty – we must first understand WHAT LIBERTY IS (and what is not). And how liberty and “liberation” are very different things – indeed INCOMPATIBLE things.

  12. If you asking me (Paul Marks) whether I would have turned my back on Mr Mill – no I would not.

    Not even because of his habit of saying things that simply were not true.

    Such as “the theory of value is settled” everyone agreed with it (when he know perfectly well that many economists opposed the Labour Theory of Value doctrine of David RIcardo and James Mill – the father of J.S. Mill).

    Also that “everyone agrees” with local government doing X, Y,Z things when (again) John Stuart Mill know well that any people did NOT agree.

    J.S. Mill was a utilitarian – he believed that a statement was moral if that statement (in his judgement) served the greatest good of the greatest number.

    The idea of personal honour (of telling the truth – FOR ITS OWN SAKE) was alien to him.

    This may well feed into his (J, Bentham style) “harm” principle – rather than the nonaggression principle of Common Law.

    Mr Mill was indeed a (generally) respectable man – but those who came after him were not.

    What happened to “advanced” 19th century thought?

    How did Classical Liberals turn (over a generation or so) into Fabian Socialists and Bloomsbury degenerates? Supporters of “liberation” and ENEMIES of liberty.

    The seeds of the transformation were there at the start -in the main thinkers of early 19th century liberalism.

    It was just left to others to work out the logical conclusions of these seeds.

    Even in the time of J. Bentham (and Edwin Chadwick) the utilitarians were in favour of 13 departments covering most aspects of life.

    A generation later the Fabians (Wells, Shaw, Mr and Mrs Webb) defined “freedom” as the collective control of EVERYTHING (Rousseau on steroids) – and openly stated that they were prepared to murder tens of millions of people to achieve this goal. After all it was for the “greater good” (the greatest good of the greatest number).

    But they said it with a little smile (like the one Kim Philby and the others used) to imply they were joking – they were NOT joking.


    The Bloomsbury Set (J.M. Keynes and the other “imoralists” as they called themselves – see Hunter Lewes “Where Keynes Went Wrong”) were busy laughing at “old fashioned” personal honour (such as not lying and cheating).

    “Friendship” (in a very special sense – for members of their little group) was the only thing that mattered – for they were “the wise” who should “liberate” everyone else (whether they wanted to be liberated or not) and control everyone – for-their-own-good.

    Of course there were warnings……

    For example, Kipling’s poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”.

    But the “smart set” (the “liberal” elite) were not listening.

    They are still not listening – see the Economist magazine today.

    On everything from lending out more money than you actually have (credit bubble banking) to the threats posed to Western Civilisation (for example by Islam) the “smart set” the “advanced liberals” are still not listening.

    They just laugh at the “old fashioned” warnings.

    I repeat – even in the early 19th century the signs were there, and not just from J.S. Mill.

    Take the great rival of J.S. Mill in Liberal philosophical circles – Sir William Hamilton.

    For example, Hamilton DEFINED a “university” as an institution set up by “the state” (he used the term “state” as a positive term – being influenced by German philosophy and the Prussian example), Historically most universities had been set up by the Church (and in his own day that was still true in the United States – with different churches setting up different universities, with nothing to do with the state) – but Hamilton does not see that.

    He also demanded that Edinburgh University (which was indeed founded by a King – but had been independent for centuries) be “reformed” by the state – because it was awarding Chairs to the “wrong” people (i.e. not him and his friends).

    Edinburgh University was not funded by the taxpayers – what business was it of the state?

    So what if “Blackwoods” magazine style Tories (such as Sir Walter Scott) were in fashion there – not “Edinburgh Review” style liberals? Still better (far better)the Edinburgh Review than the “Westminster Review” (James Mills publication) which was utterly bigoted and intolerant in its “liberalism” (all power to an elected assembly, elected by a mass electorate, being the only acceptable form of government – every class and institution, from the Church to local land owning squires, not in this box, being vermin to be wiped out……).

    Do you see now why some (NOT all) early 19th century Liberals were in favour of the “harm” principle NOT the non aggression principle.

    And how the next generation too this much further……..

    When Mr Sydney Webb (with his wife) went around the beautiful cathedral in France and said (in all seriousness) “this building will make excellent municipal offices” the spirit of James Mill and the Westminster Review (a couple of generations before) would have been nodding.

    The Radical “liberal” agreeing with the socialist totalitarian.

    If this is “liberalism” I think we would agree where one can stick “liberalism”.

  13. In Edmund Burke’s day the only “local government” in England and Wales was, in the villages and small towns, the unpaid Justice of the Peace (normally a local landowner) always in a hurry to get the court business done – so he could go hunting.

    Even the Poor Law was under control – till the terrible mistake of subsidising wages was made (in a village in Berkshire – but the practice spread) in the 1790s.

    There was also the Vicar or Rector – often selected by a local landowning family (you have met him a couple of paragraphs above – he is also the unpaid magistrate and he is off hunting with his friend the Rector, who made sure the Church service stopped in time – after all if the Church roof needs repairing the local landowner is going to have to pay for it, so why should he not choose the Rector?). There were Dissenting Chapels for those who wanted a different style of service (a more “serious” one – although the Rector might actually be quite knowledgeable about theology, if one insisted on talking to him about it).

    In the larger cities there were the “Town Corporations” – basically dining clubs (they did not tend to do much else) who appointed new members of the club (sorry the “Town Corporation”) as old ones died.

    Those who wanted a better water supply (or whatever) were quite free to create one (with their own money) – the Town Corporation would certainly not stop them (why should they take the time off from drinking port?). Indeed, far from stopping you, the Town Corporation would celebrate the good thing you had done for the city (with your own money) and might even invite you to join their club (although that would be going a bit far…..)

    How does one react to all this?

    Does this one see this as traditional English liberty?

    Or does one see it all as an abomination? Something to be utterly destroyed – wiped out, and replaced by “professional educated officials” and “properly elected politicians”?

    The “advanced liberals” (the followers of J. Bentham – such as the “Bowood Circle” and the later “Westminister Review” crowd – such as James Mill and J.S. Mill and Edwin Chadwick) take the latter view.

    Which is why I neither like them or trust them.

    And why it was quite natural for the next generation influenced by them to be socialists.

  14. To be fair to the Radicals – they pointed out there were hidden sanctions in the old society.

    For example if the local landowner was NOT appointed as the local J.P. (because he was held to be a man of “bad character” – and this did happen) he would be humiliated – so humiliated that he would be quite likely to “have an accident cleaning his shotgun”,

    Then everyone would go to the funeral and do the English thing of saying nice things about him – having never had a good word to say about the drunk (or whatever) whilst he was alive.

    And of the local Rector (out collecting butterflies – the “scientific parson” being quite common) came upon someone flogging their children (or wasting their money – whilst their wife and children starved) there might well be some veiled reference to it next Sunday (not veiled at all if it was the Dissenting Minister who had seen it).

    Even a veiled references in the sermon would be enough – your neighbours would not want anything to do with you again.

    And people refusing to speak to you (or even look at you) can be hard to bare (to put them matter mildly).

    But the question remains.

    Is the alternative that the Radicals built – where the state is “all in all” (civil society have been reduced to a nullity) better than the old society.

    Or is it worse?

  15. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, it sounds to me as if you’re saying one may not properly act in support of one’s own values if that would occasion some sort of discomfort to some guy who’s proposing to mince them with a cleaver.

    Even when this “discomfort” is at the soft end of the continuum — say, denying Mr. Obama the thrill of knowing I must serve him in my shop, even though I think he belongs on the lowest rung of hell.

    What, then, when the discomfort is at the hard end? — For instance some guy is standing over my bed with his knife dangerously near my throat, but migosh, if I haul out the trusty Glock from under my pillow to dissuade him, well, that would be coercion! And it might hurt his feelings besides.

    If it’s all right with you, and Paul too I guess, I will continue to refuse to pretend that communists and other low-lifes are just as worthy as everybody else. If all I can do is shun them or refuse to serve them tea and buns, then that’s what I’ll do. And furthermore, I will encourage others to do likewise, though I won’t necessarily condemn them if they don’t follow my example.

    Either you stand up for what you believe in or your don’t. But there are a lot of details in there with which the Devil can make sport….