A Case for the Landed Aristocracy (2014), by Sean Gabb

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Sean Gabb,
A Case for the English Landed Aristocracy,
Speech to the (Other) Libertarian Alliance,
London, Monday 10th February 2014

To understand the rubbish heap that England has become, it is useful to look at the circumstances that prompted the emergence of the modern State in Europe.

Around the end of the thirteenth century, the world entered one of its cooling phases. In a world of limited technology, this lowered the Malthusian ceiling – by which I mean the limit to which population was always tending, and beyond which it could not for any long time rise. Populations that could just about feed themselves during the warm period were now too large.

In the middle of the fourteenth century, this pressure was suddenly relieved by the Black Death, which seems to have killed about a third of the English population, and probably about a third of the human race as a whole. The result was a collapse of population somewhat below the Malthusian ceiling. In turn, this led – in England and Western Europe, at least – to an age of plenty for ordinary people.

However, continued cooling and a recovery of population led, by the beginning of the sixteenth century, to renewed contact with the Malthusian ceiling. So far as we can tell from the English statistics – which are the most complete and generally accurate – ordinary living standards fell rapidly throughout that century. With mild variations, they continued to fall until the last third of the eighteenth century. While the ceiling tended to rise during this period, the corresponding tendency to higher average living standards was offset by rising population. Living standards began to recover strongly only after the middle of the nineteenth century, when renewed warming, joined by the Industrial Revolution, lifted the ceiling out of sight. Even so, living standards in England did not recover their fifteenth century levels till about the 1880s. It was later elsewhere in Western Europe.

I think these natural forces go far to explaining the sudden emergence of religious mania and political unrest in Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Reformation and Wars of Religion can be explained partly in terms of an unfolding intellectual change. Ideas are an autonomous force. At the same time, the force of the explosion we date from 1517 has its origin in perturbations of the Sun, or whatever other natural cause drives changes in the climate.

One of the responses of the governing classes to the spreading wave of instability was to centralise and greatly to strengthen power. Most notably in France, but in Western Europe generally, kings were exalted far above their mediaeval status. Because they were unreliable members of the new order, nobilities were brought under control, and power was shared with humble officials, who might collectively grow powerful, but who individually could be made or broken as kings found convenient. The various divine right theories of this age were the legitimising ideology of the new order.

In France, the King withdrew to Versailles. The leading nobles were required to live with him, thereby breaking their connection with the land from which they were allowed to continue drawing their wealth. Much government was given to a class of office holders, who multiplied their functions and arrested much tendency to economic improvement in ways that I do not need to describe.

I turn now to England. In some degree, there was a growth of absolutism here during the sixteenth century. The Tudor Kings ended the civil wars, and made themselves supreme and unchallenged. Because England was an island with only one land border – and Scotland was easily managed – there was no need for a standing army; and standing armies, and the consequent arms race between states with land borders, were a secondary cause of the growth of absolutism. Even so, the Tudor Monarchy ruled England through a strong administration centred on London.

This growth was arrested and reversed in 1641, by the abolition of nearly every body of state unknown to the Common Law. The Privy Council remained, but its subordinate institutions – Star Chamber, for example, and the Council of the North – were swept away. The immediate result was civil war, followed by a republic run by religious maniacs. But this soon collapsed, and the Monarchy was restored in 1660.

However, the Restoration was of the Monarchy in name only. It is best seen as an aristocratic coup. The Restoration Parliament finished the work of 1641, by abolishing the feudal tenures, by which the Monarchy had kept control over the nobility. The landed aristocracy gained something like absolute title over their estates, untouchable by the King. The network of rights and obligations that tied them to those who worked the land was simplified to a relationship of landlord and tenant.

From the 1660s, we can see the emergence of an aristocratic ruling class checked only at the margins by the Crown. Before then, Members of Parliament were often humble men from their localities, who needed to look to their localities for expenses and even salaries. Very soon, the Commons was flooded with the younger sons of peers and aristocratic nominees. Andrew Marvell was one of the last Members of Parliament who needed to draw a salary. The commons became an aristocratic club. This process was hastened by the decay of many boroughs and the growth of the more or less unrepresentative system that was ended only after 1832.

There was one attempt at reaction by the Crown. Charles II and James II presided over the growth of a new official class. Samuel Pepys is the most famous representative of this class. But there is also Leolyn Jenkins, the son of a Welsh farm labourer, who was educated in the Roman Law – not the Common Law – and who led the parliamentary resistance to the Exclusion Bills by which the aristocracy in effect tried to seize control over who could be King of England.

But James II overplayed his hand, and was deposed and exiled in 1688. Thereafter, the aristocracy did control appointment to the Crown, and was able to monopolise every institution of state – allowing those that failed to serve its interest to atrophy.

During the eighteenth century, the internal administration in England became largely a matter of obedience to the Common Law. History was written backwards, so that it became a narrative of struggle to maintain or to restore a set of ancient liberties that were usually over-stressed, or even mythical. I suspect that any educated man brought forward from 1500 to 1750 would have failed to recognise his own England in the standard histories. The tension between competing institutions and legal systems that shaped his life had been reduced to a set of struggles over a Common Law that was only one element in what he considered the legitimate order of things.

I repeat that ideas are an autonomous force. The whiggish ideologies that dominated the century were strongly believed by the ruling class, and were beneficial to the people as a whole. Opposition to Walpole’s excise, and the Theatres Bill cannot be simply explained as the play of sectional interests, or the work of politicians hungry for office. The Third Duke of Sunderland, Lords Hervey and Chesterfield, the Rockingham Whigs – these were men of strong liberal opinions. No ideology becomes hegemonic unless it is also believed. There was an almost paranoid suspicion of government within the ruling class, and a corresponding exaltation of the liberties of the people. But English liberty was also a collateral benefit of the aristocratic coups of 1660 and 1688. Self-help and a high degree of personal freedom were allowed to flourish ultimately because the enlightened self-interest of those who ruled England maintained a strong bias against any growth of an administrative state – the sort of state that would be able to challenge aristocratic dominance. People were left alone – often in vicious pursuits – because any regulation would have endangered the settlements of 1660-88.

Our understanding of English history in the nineteenth century is shaped by the beliefs of the contending parties in that century. The liberals and early socialists demanded an enlarged franchise and administrative reform, because they claimed this would give ordinary people a controlling voice in government. The conservatives claimed that extending the franchise would lead to the election of demagogues and levellers by a stupid electorate.

This does not explain what happened. Liberal democracy was a legitimising ideology for the establishment of a new ruling class – a ruling class of officials and associated commercial interests that drew power and status from an enlarged state. The British State was not enlarged for the welfare of ordinary people. The alleged welfare of ordinary people was merely an excuse for the enlargement of the British State. The real beneficiaries were the sort of people who thought highly of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

If this analysis is correct, men like John Stuart Mill and even Richard Cobden were at best useful idiots for the bad side in a struggle over which group of special interests should rule England. The real heroes for libertarians were men like Lord Eldon and Colonel Sibthorp, who resisted all change, or men like Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, who, after the battle for “reform” was lost, found ways to moderate and, in the short term, to neutralise the movement of power from one group to another. Or the greatest hero of all was Lord Elcho, who kept the Liberty and Property League going until he was nearly a hundred, and who fought a bitter rearguard action for an aristocratic ascendency that was intimately connected with the rights to life, liberty and property of ordinary people.

This is not to romanticise the aristocratic ascendency. Eighteenth century England was a brutal place filled with injustice – the game laws, the press gang, a chaotic civil and criminal law, pervasive corruption. All the same, utopia has never been on offer. In passing, I will address myself to left-libertarians like Kevin Carson and Keith Preston. Their critique of the corporate elites and the plutocracy that are hurrying us into tyranny is fundamentally correct. But they are wrong to denounce the aristocratic ascendency that preceded the system under which we now live. It would have been nice for England to emerge into the modern world as a land of masterless men – of yeomen farmers and independent craftsmen and tradesmen. But this was never on offer. By the time the eighteenth century radicals found their voice, the only alternatives on offer were aristocratic ascendency and middle class bureaucracy. Old Lord Fartleigh had his faults. He hated the Papists, and thought nothing of hanging poachers. But he would never have thought it his business to tell us how to put our rubbish out, or whether we could smoke in the local pub.

Let it not be forgotten that the demolition of aristocratic rule was largely completed by the Liberal Government elected in 1906. This was the Government that also got us into the Great War, and kept us in it to the bitter end. The kind of people who formed it had already given us most of the moral regulation that we think of as Victorian – regulation that was always cried up as “progressive,” and that was usually resisted in the Lords. Since then, these people have taken up one legitimising ideology after another – national efficiency, the welfare of the working classes, multiculturalism, environmentalism, supranational government. The common thread in all these ideologies has been their usefulness as a figleaf behind which ordinary people could be taxed and regulated and conscripted, and generally made to dance as their rulers desired. Perhaps the main reason why Classical Marxism never became important in England was that, just when it was very big in the world at large, Keynesian demand management emerged as a more suitable legitimising ideology for the ruling class we now had.

I therefore commend the English landed aristocracy. If I am now, in middle age, an increasingly radical libertarian, it is only because I have realised that the system raised up by that class can no more be restored than the class itself can be made supreme again.

21 responses to “A Case for the Landed Aristocracy (2014), by Sean Gabb

  1. A typo just after the “Lord Elcho” bit Sean.
    Very interesting but thought devoted to how to get us out from under would be more practical.

  2. Generally a good article by Dr Gabb.

    It is fashionable today to be horrified by such statements as that by John Jay (first Chief Justice of the American Supreme Court) that “those who own the land should rule it” – but it was mainstream view for someone from the British “Old” Whig tradition (which is what John Jay was – as opposed to what are sometimes called the “New” Whigs who were influenced by the democratic language coming out of the French Revolution).

    In the 18th century Whigs and Tory alike would have been outraged by the idea that the King owned all the land (even the effort of the Crown to gain control of land of doubtful title from the Duke of Portland outraged many Tory people as well as Whigs). To Whig and Tory alike “free hold” was simply the Common Law way of saying “own” – and they would have called out (sword or pistol) anyone who tried to enforce a different view. The freeholders – be they aristocrats, untitled gentry (whether Whig or Tory squires) or Yeomen (the 40 shilling freeholders who dominated the county seats of the House of Commons – although not the borough seats of the House of Commons) should be the people with the biggest say – and this was also true in America. Indeed had the Americans been offered only a few seats in the House of Commons (say two for each colony – on the county seat model, plus a few borough seats for a larger cities) there would have been no “American Revolution”.

    Someone like John Jay did not care if you were black or white (he supported free blacks of property having the vote in New York State – indeed it was Governor Jay who ended slavery in New York State) or even if you were male or female (land owning women had the vote in next door New Jersey – which is forgotten today). What mattered to such Old Whigs was whether you owned property – whether you had a long term stake in the country or whether you were part of the urban mob, who could be exploited with tax funded bribes of free food (or whatever) as Pericles had manipulated the mob of Athens and the Populari had manipulated the mob of Rome to destroy the Res Publica.

    It was fine for some boroughs to exist where everyone who could “bang a pot” on their own fire had a vote (for example Preston in Lancashire – and some other seats), but for a majority of seats in the House of Commons to be like that would have seriously alarmed the Old Whigs.

    To the Old Whigs there were indeed two great evils to be avoided – the tyranny of absolute monarchy of such nations as France and Spain (and Protestant absolute monarchies such as Prussia also – where the nobility had allowed the Parliament to be abolished in return from exception taxation – squalid behaviour which horrified the Old Whigs). NOT what James II had done (taxes and regulations were very limited in 1688) but what he might do if absolutism was established – a nightmare such as that of France under Louis XIV and Colbert;

    The other evil to the old Whigs was, of course, the rule of the mob (“democracy”) – or rather those who would manipulate the mob (by offering them tax funded bribes) – it being understood then that members of mass electorate (where one vote makes little difference – as there are so many voters) do not tend to think deeply about policy and have little concern with the long term.

    To prevent both evils the Old Whigs (and many Tory people also) favoured a “balanced constitution” where the King, House of Lords and House of Commons (a House of Commons where most seats would be under the control of people with a least a little landed property) would act as checks and balances upon each other – this was the system that George Washington. James Madison, John Adams. Ben Franklin and so on tried to recreate in the United States – although adapted to local circumstances.(Jefferson was in France at the time of the writing of the Constitution).

    Some declare Britain an “oligarchy” or a “confederation of country houses” in the 18th century – but that is to go too far. That would be more true of the SCOTTISH Parliament abolished in 1707. There a narrow oligarchy really did control the Parliament – so few people controlled the Scottish Parliament that they could be bribed into even abolishing their own institution (although some really did that getting rid of their Parliament and accepting English taxation would be good for Scotland). The Houses of Commons was never really like that – there were always enough independent seats (such as the county seats elected by the 40 shilling freeholders) to making bribing the House of Commons impractical.

    What of the radical “liberals” – those people who (starting in the 1790s, indeed before, – but mostly in the 19th century) worked to create a “democracy” (one of the two great fears of the Old Whigs – the other being Royal absolutism).

    Well one should mention people such as Major Cartwright and others who were very respectful of traditional liberties but believed that these liberties would be better protected if far more people had the vote and there were no seats in the House of Commons that were just the property of big landed families – that government would be better restrained this way (why this would be so Major Cartwright never really explained – but he was certainly sincere). Well such people carried on in the 19th century (for example the people around the Leeds Mercury newspaper – and the “voluntarist” tradition), and they can be compared to the “Barnburner” Democrats of New York State (Martin Van Buren and so on). and to people such as Congressman David Crockett (not “Davy” please) – respectful of traditional liberties and passionate about limiting government (people who the Old Whigs would have been surprised by – but would have admired once they understood them).

    However, there were other “liberals”…….

    These people were the “Bowood Circle” supported by Lord Shelbourne (the former Prime Minister and rival of Lord Rockingham – of the “Rockingham Whigs” Edmund Burke being a supporter of the Marquis of Rockingham). Edmund Burke held Lord S. and his circle (Jeremy Bentham, James Mill and so on) in intense suspicion – holding them to be followers of Sir William Petty and his mathematical view of political economy, and of Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon – foes of traditional liberties, natural law (as opposed to “law” just being the will of the state guided by “experts”) and (at least in the mind of Burke) enemies of the Christian religion. To Burke the Bowood Circle (and those like them) were not in the spirit of the of 1688 or the American Revolution – they were in the spirit of the FRENCH Revolution – who used words such as “freedom” and “liberty” to cover an unlimited government (as long as this unlimited government was under the control of “enlightened” intellectuals such as themselves). To an Old Whig such as Edmund Burke these people (the Bowood Circle and those who followed them) were one part Rousseau (in their dishonest use words such as “freedom” and “liberty”) and one part Frederick the Great of Prussia (in their worship of an “enlightened” state).

    The Bowood Circle of Jeremy Bentham and so on (which involved into the “Westminster Review” crowd of James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill) were opposed to the “landed interest” and also (UNLIKE Major Cartwright and so on) were full of contempt for traditional liberties indeed from the very concept of natural law itself. Instead supporting a professional civil service with 13 departments of state covering aspect of life – for the greatest good of the greatest number.

    They, rightly. believed that the landed interest stood in the way of their dreams of unlimited power, and so sought to destroy the landed interest – claiming that that land owners got “too much” money (J.S. Mill later extended this to factory owners – inventing a “distribution” problem which is still being talked about to this day). They also supported universal suffrage – in spite of (in private) having quite a lot of contempt for the opinions and judgement of ordinary people.

    There is no paradox – they supported democracy because they (unlike Major Cartwright and so on) believed that ordinary people could be manipulated – and that democracy would be a front for rule of an intellectual elite (just as the Old Whigs had feared)

    This strand of liberalism (not other strands of liberalism) evolved into Fabian socialism – the Fabians taking the ideas of Bentham (the 13 Departments of state and so on), Sir William Petty (the mathematical planning) and Francis Bacon (“The New Atlantis”) to their logical conclusions.

  3. “X was never on offer” is just a different way of saying “transitions between formulations of the ruling class are much easier to accomplish than is destruction of the class system itself.”

    While that’s true, it doesn’t really constitute a critique of X.

    Everything is always “on offer” — to those who are willing and able to take it.

    • Thomas – What you are saying is the equivalent of telling the Latvians in 1939 that national independence was on offer, when the 99 per cent probability was a choice between Hitler and Stalin. The real choice faced by every Victorian man of ideas was between continued aristocratic rule and rule by new class experts. Every ideology was taken up or dropped just so far as it legitimised rule by some particular class. Without commenting on his actual opinions, I find it interesting that Georgism was allowed to fizzle out once its use as a tool to beat the landowners was at an end. Certainly, the radicals forgot about laissez-faire and non-intervention once it was they who would have felt required to leave alone.

      Aristocratic rule, on the other hand, really was bound up with notions of limited government.

      • Sean,

        If a ruling class wants to impose itself on us and is capable of doing so, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that its doing so represents a “choice” on our part.

        We can make our own “choices” — and then fight, win or lose, for them.

        The very idea of “what’s on offer” is one of two things: Ruling class propaganda, or oppressed class abdication of responsibility.

        • I suppose the difference between us here is one of temperament. You seem to spend your life howling for the moon. I prefer to make the best of things.

          • Actually, I prefer to make the best of things, too.

            I just don’t pretend that choosing between whatever alternatives the ruling class, or aspirants to said position, might happen to “offer” me, is “the best of things.”

            If I’m “offered” the “choice” of vanilla or pistachio ice cream, I feel free to choose chocolate instead — or to forgo ice cream altogether and go for steak instead. And 99% of the time, I have what I want … or at least as close to that as I can get.

            The 1% of the time that the person who “offered” me vanilla or pistachio clubs me over the head, ties me to a chair and forces vanilla and/or pistachio down my throat, I don’t pretend that the “offers” and “choices” were real in the first place.

  4. That’s a very interesting and astute analysis. Sean is a very accomplished and far-seeing historian. He always manages to articulate in precise and clear ways what a lot of us are thinking but can’t find the words for.

    But the strategic question remains: what are we going to do?

  5. David – the politics of the Radicals will fail (eventually) because their economics is wrong.

    James Mil took the ideas of David Ricardo on land and interpreted them in a way that was hostile to large scale private landowners (although Thomas Paine had played the same game before Ricardo had written anything) – but Frank Fetter (the other man from Peru Indiana – the famous one being Cole Porter) showed that this sort of Ricardian view of land (taken to its extreme by Henry George) is false. Just flat false.

    J.S. Mill (the son of James Mill – and also a follower of Jeremy Bentham, although in a modified form) tried to argue that there is a “distribution” problem in economics (not just land owners getting “too much” but factory owners getting “too much” also) – but this is just wrong (as Ludwig Von Mises, amongst others, showed).

    There is no “distribution problem” – the free market does not need to be “corrected” , and it does terrible harm to try and “correct” it. Whether by worker coops or by Fabian style state socialism (although the latter “solution” for a non-existent problem is vastly worse than the former “solution”)..

    As for the Benthamite idea of 13 (or whatever number) of departments of state covering every aspect of life – with utter contempt shown for traditional liberties and the very idea of Natural Law (this hostile to traditional liberties statist view going back to Sir William Petty and Francis Bacon and perhaps all the way to Thomas Cromwell), the absurdity of the “rational man in Whitehall” becomes more obvious every day (with the latest example being the utter failure of the “Environment Agency” which usurped the powers of local landowners).

    The present system (where the government takes about half of all economic output) will collapse into bankruptcy – de facto bankruptcy if not legal bankruptcy.

    Then comes the long hard job of rebuilding civil society – on solid foundations.

    As for trying to keep such things a “freedom of speech” having undermined the foundations of liberty (both philosophically by denying natural law – and economically by attacking large scale private property in land and industry as somehow “unfair”) this is fluff – it just will not work.

    It is like trying to keep the upper floor of a house – having destroyed the foundations and ground floor.

    Want to restore such things as freedom of speech and freedom of association (and non association)?

    Then do not do as Mill did (in “On Liberty”) and claim their is a fundamental distinction between these things and economic questions – on the contrary (as Rothbard said) “human rights are property rights”.

    Restore the philosophical foundations – respect for natural law founded in the understanding of humans as reasoning beings (agents – i.e. possessors of agency – free will) capable of choosing between good and evil. As the great tradition from Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, Ralph Cudworth, Thomas Reid (and the rest of the Common Sense school) and on into the 20th century with Harold Prichard. Sir William David Ross (and. yes, our friend Antony Flew) understood what a human BEING is.

    And restore the economic foundations of traditional liberties – i.e. respect for property (including large scale landed and commercial property).

  6. What did dissenting theologians such as Dr Price and Anglican ones such as Dean Tucker of Gloucester (the great economist) have in common in the 18th century?

    A respect for the nature of mankind (of humanity) – of a human BEING as a reasoning “I”, with an ability to choose between good and evil (these being real things – not “cheer and boo words”). A being with fundamental rights understood from natural law. As seen in such things as the British Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights which is based upon it. Those Progressives, such as Woodrow Wilson, who argue that such things were meant as tracts for the times (not statements of fundamental principles – derived from the UNIVERAL nature of the human mind – of the “I”) argue falsely. Falsely in both history and in philosophy (as well as in political economy).

    There is no contradiction between this and natural science – as James McCosh (of Princeton) showed in his acceptance of biological evolution in the 19th century.

    Indeed even the “fundamentalists” (i.e. those people who wrote the early 1900s essays on the “fundamentals” – against the socialist “Social Gospel”) included many natural scientists (including some evolutionary biologists) – although one would not know this by the Hollywood version of history.

    As for atheists……..

    As the Scholastics were fond of saying…….

    “Natural law is the law of God – but if God did not exist, natural law would be exactly the same”.

    What is founded on the nature of humans in the physical universe remains true whether God exists or not – and that is as true of ethics as it is of political economy.

    The physical universe is real – it is not just the creation of our minds

    However, the mind is also real – it is not an “illusion” and a thought DOES mean a thinker.

    And both truth and error and right and wrong (good and evil) are also real – they are not just the “boo and cheer words” of the Logical Positivists or the “what is expedient” of William James and the Pragmatists.

  7. When the local (normally gentry rather than “aristocratic”) Justice of the Peace (the “maid of all work”) in the 1700s or early 1800s needed to combat a criminal he did not call upon the police (there were none – bar, perhaps, the local parish watchman employed by the Church Vestry) he called on the local people to help him. Nor was the J.P. paid – indeed even Members of Parliament were not paid (not till 1911).

    As for the towns and cities – they were hardly “governed” at all, there were the “Closed Corporations” (basically dining clubs – whose most important event was the annual dinner, a bit like the Mayor in Tolkien’s Shire) and they were not paid either (indeed one paid for being a member). This was true right up to 1835 (the Municipal Reform Act) – and (in the Square Mile of the City of London) was true right up to the mid 1980s – when the Orwellian named “deregulation” of “Big Bang” took away the power of the old clubs and private companies – and handed power to the STATE (and those its endless regulations favoured).

    It should be stressed that before “Big Bang” there was no law that said one had to (for example) use the London Stock Exchange, other Stock Exchanges existed (such as the Liverpool Exchange – also a privately owned company before the mid 1980s) or one could trade “off exchange”.

    For most householders in the 1700s the main tax was the Poor Law Rate – but this only got out of control with the Speenhamland system of 1796 (wage subsides – spreading out to most of England and Wales, abolished in 1834).

    As for Scotland – most of Scotland had no compulsory Poor Rate till 1845. And the idea that Scotland had a state education system is a bit of a myth.

    True each local Church (Kirk) of the Church of Scotland had a school (under statutes going back a long way) but no was forced to go to such a school – it was NOT a Prussian style state education system.

    That sort of thing did not come to Scotland till 1872 – and England and Wales got it as much the same time (first by “Education Boards” after 1870 – then under County Councils after 1902).


    The Royal Irish Police riding round (with rifles on their backs), massive government projects (it is bitterly amusing that the left denounce 19th century Ireland as an example of laissez faire – it was nothing of the kind) – roads to nowhere, bridges to nothing (and on and on). And (in most counties) wretched peasant plots – rather than proper sized farms.

    A sort of cross between the” Modern” big government World (even in the 1700s Edmund Burke pointed out that taxes IN PROPORTION TO THE ECONOMY were much higher in Ireland than in England) and the Third World.

    Poor Law? National Schools?

    Yes 19th century Ireland had lots of that – all a total failure.

  8. This is why I tend to argue that the problem is older than many, particularly of a conservative bent, care to think. The impositions of New Labour or the current government are (as always) new and odious extensions of the State over private life, but they are merely further encroachment and entrenchment of principles and systems developed in the 19th century (in particular).

    One further example is the 19th century development of mass treatment of mental illness, which enabled forced institutionalisation of large numbers of people and has led to a rich vein of “asylum horror” by horror writers. Grand asylums sprung up all over the country, and rapidly filled up.

    I said recently over at Tim Worstall’s on a thread that one defining difference in attitude between libertarians and authoritarians is their assumption about competence. Libertarianism is based on an assumption that people are generally competent; authoritarianism that they are generally incompetent. This does not mean that a libertarian refuses to believe that nobody lacks personal competence- they may be an infant, they may be genuinely insane (malfunctioning brain), they may be senile; or of course unconscious for medical reasons. But an libertarian is reluctant to declare somebody incompetent. The authoritarian philosophies that arose in the 19th century and we in the Anglosphere call “progressive” (or Left, or Socialist, etc) are the opposite; they gaily and casually will declare a person incompetent and thus deprive them of their liberty on that basis. As part of that trend, we are close it seems to having the entire population declared to be suffering from some competence-negating “disorder” or other; an authoritarian therapeutic paradigm that again dates back to the first “Progressive” Era and before.

    I wonder if soon the entire population will reside in isolated, majestic, imperious asylums, brooded over by their gigantic water-tower and chimney combined. Or perhaps we might just accept that the entire nation has become one.

  9. Ian – in the United States the first system of state lunatic hospitals were created by the man who also created (functioning) system of compulsory State education. H. Mann of Massachusetts – you would say he was an example of secularised Calvinism (for his ancestors has been Calvinists) and I would say he was an example of Prussian influence (for that is where he got his philosophical and practical ideas from), and perhaps we a both right.

    There is something deeply weird about the radical “liberal” project of the early 19th century – well at least the Westminster Review. Philosophical Radical part it of it.

    And it is not just J. Bentham and the Mills – it is others as well.

    For example, one of them (his name escapes me) spent a fortune of his own money on ensuring that copies of the works of Thomas Hobbes were in every library in the land.

    Think about that – not the works of Ralph Cudworth (who had been so well known in the 1700s but was becoming forgotten in the 1800s) – but the works of Thomas Hobbes.

    A movement that is supposed to be about “freedom”. “liberty” – pushing the works of a philosophical determinist and political absolutist.

    Instead of supporting the idea of moral freedom (of the ability to choose between good and evil) and constitutional limits on government, they pushed someone (Hobbes) who cut at the very roots (tried to undermine the basic foundations) of these principles.

    Such a movement could only (over time) evolve into socialism (of various sorts) – and, of course, it did. Although some of these Liberal Party people stopped part way in their evolutionary process (perhaps out of self interest) and became statist “New Liberals” rather than full socialists – basically Nick Clegg types.

    Eventually the Westminster Review ended up publishing essays by people such as E. Marx (yes the daughter of Karl) on the wonders of “women under socialism”.

    The correct answer to such a person would have been as followers…..

    “The life of women under socialism will be the same as men under socialism, you will indeed have equality, You will all be slaves under the lash”.

    The Old Whigs would have been astonished by none of this – it is exactly what they would have expected.

  10. If any history does survive, and not all Hard Disks are erased by the GFNs in their hour of triumph (and it is statistically improbable that they will get them all) then at least we, who tried to survive the GFNs and their final assault, also tried to carry on some sort of life, even though we lost.

    It’s not a good position for us to be in.

  11. You have a hard task Thomas.

    As you know the Mr Hobbes could see no difference between a free human and free water once a dam has been blown up. To him the only “freedom” unobstructed action – the idea of freedom being the capacity of moral choice he regarded as absurd. No wonder he thought freedom was a bad thing (in the same way that blowing up dams and letting the water come out in a wall of death is a bad thing) and supported political absolutism.

    Still none of can choose our ancestors.

    My grandfather on my father’s side was a coward (he was shot a cat on guard duty – panic) and deeply nasty (at least Thomas Hobbes was personally kindly) and my great grandfather (full blooded Jew – a wrestler by trade) flung someone in the river Thames for pulling his beard (attempted murder as his first action coming off the boat into England – attempted murder if one considers the state of the Thomas in the late 19th century).

    As for the Irish side of my family – Catholic Irish who specialised in fighting other Catholic Irish for the Crown (I suspect nasty words would be used about them in the Republic, although there were a lot more Catholic Unionists than modern history books would suggest).


    One item of hope is that the various powers do not seem to get on.

    Mr Obama. Mr Putin and so on are all evil (and I do not use the word “evil” lightly). But they do not seem to be in League – although, in my paranoid moments, I still think they might be (their mutual hatred being an act).

    However, when I have got my paranoia under control it does seem to be clear that the rulers of the great powers hate each other.

    This mutual hatred between the powers is a good thing – a very good thing.

    What would utterly destroy freedom is for “international cooperation” to work – a true “international community” to be born

    That would be a Hobbesian Leviathan on a world scale. No “exit”.

  12. “Your comment is awaiting moderation” – I have never had that before here.

  13. Julie near Chicago

    Paul — I think Sean mentioned at some point that WordPress is acting up. I think it’s been doing so on some of the other sites it supposedly “supports,” also.

    Every time they do a new release they screw things up. Same like Yahoo. And, I think, many others. :( :)

  14. Julie – the magic spells of computers are beyond my understanding.