Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Christian libertarian response to Bruce Ashford

Bruce Ashford, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently published an article entitled “The (Religious) Problem with Libertarianism”. It was brought to my attention by Tom Woods, who responded to it in a podcast a couple of days ago.

Mr. Ashford is a respected theologian and the co-author of a recently published book entitled “One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope forAmerican Politics.” From what I have read, his theological views are pretty similar to my own, and his political thought has, like mine, been strongly influenced by the thought of Abraham Kuyper.

Hence, when I discovered that he had written an article about libertarianism, I was interested to read what he had to say, and decided to write a response. My response differs in approach from that of Tom Woods. Tom Woods is far more knowledgeable than I am about libertarianism, history, and economics, and that shows in what he has to say. My response is based on the fact that I am coming from pretty much the same theological position as Bruce Ashford.

I have reprinted his article in full.  My response is in blue.

The (Religious) Problem with Libertarianism

In the last twenty years, American life has seen the rise of libertarianism as a force to be reckoned with in American politics, especially within the Republican Party. Libertarianism is a view that places an extraordinary emphasis on liberty—as it defines liberty—and orders society in a particular manner in order to achieve that liberty.

The first sentence is fairly uncontroversial. The second has two rather peculiar phrases: 1) “places an extraordinary emphasis on liberty” and 2) “as it defines liberty”. The latter is designed to suggest that libertarianism’s definition of liberty is flawed. The former - part of Ashford’s definition of libertarianism - is odd in that he could simply have said “Libertarianism is a view that regards liberty as so important that society should be ordered in such a way as to achieve liberty.” Why did he describe the emphasis as “extraordinary”?

Libertarianism’s View of Liberty

Libertarianism elevates liberty to pre-eminent status in politics and public life. Those who hold this view tend to consider state power as a necessary evil, and one that should be confined to the functions of protecting people against harm.

I would have ended the first sentence after the word ‘politics’. What does he mean by “public life”? As for the second sentence, many libertarians consider state power to be unnecessary.

In The Concise Conservative Encyclopedia, Karl Hess defines libertarianism thus:

Libertarianism is the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit; that all social actions should be voluntary; and respect for every other man’s similar and equal ownership of life and, by extension, property and fruits of that life, is the ethical basis of a humane and open society. In this view, the only function of law or government is to provide the sort of self-defense against violence that an individual, if he were powerful enough, would provide for himself.

Indeed, libertarians argue that government power is justified only to protect certain negative rights of its citizens, rights such as private property, privacy, and personal security. Such a limitation of government’s powers, they argue, enables society to achieve liberty and justice for all. In fact, justice is simply the outcome in which free agents voluntarily act within their rights to create the life they want—to the extent that they are able to do so. Many libertarians also argue that this view of government and liberty is the only one that ensures citizens to live meaningfully.

That all seems fairly uncontroversial.

The rhetoric and values underpinning libertarianism should sound familiar. With the extreme emphasis on liberty, one could be forgiven for confusing it with its estranged cousin, liberalism. Both ideologies place paramount value on personal liberty. Both see the government’s role primarily as one of protecting that liberty. But liberals and libertarians part ways quite early on in the discussion, because they define liberty so differently.

No quarrel with that, except that I find the word “extreme” in the second sentence rather strange.

American liberals, in their emphasis on liberty, focus on the way traditional social norms restrict a person’s freedoms. Thus they elevate their preferred values (most prominently, sexual freedom) and seek to enact laws that give pride of place to those values. Libertarians, on the other hand, focus primarily on the way that the state restricts a person’s freedoms. Consistent libertarians will articulate that they care little about elevating their pet values; they simply wish for the state to be as small and unobtrusive as possible.

The comments about libertarianism strike me as quite fair.

Libertarianism as False Religion

From one perspective, libertarianism may be seen as the foil to socialism. Socialism takes a good and virtuous goal (equality) and stretches it too far by making it the standard for all of social life. Libertarianism is guilty of the same stretching, but instead of equality, the idol of choice is liberty. The fruit of these ideologies may look different, but the root problem remains the same—making a good aspect of God’s creation into a functional god.

I have two comments on this.

First of all, I find the comparison between libertarianism and socialism curious. As a Christian, I see a lot in the Bible that speaks positively of freedom - and in particular, freedom for believers to serve God without the interference of the state, (including freedom of speech for prophets, apostles and evangelists). There is also a strong current running through the Bible suggesting that rulers should not use their power to kill people or take their property. Liberty is a biblical virtue. However, I see nothing at all in the Bible that suggests that economic equality is a virtuous goal. The rich are warned about the dangers of wealth, and encouraged to be generous, but that is very different from saying that economic equality is a worthy goal.

Secondly, I cannot see how a political movement making the pursuit of liberty its main goal is idolatrous, any more than it is idolatrous for a school to make educational excellence its main goal, or for a business to make profit its main goal, or a football team to make winning games its main goal.

Libertarianism is right to emphasize the importance of liberty and its connection with a non-intrusive government. As Christians, one of the reasons we appreciate liberty is that it allows us to worship and act according to our religious convictions. Abraham Kuyper expresses this well when he writes, “Can it be denied that the centralizing State grows more and more into a gigantic monster over against which every citizen is finally powerless?” The more expansive government becomes, the more liberties are taken from individuals.

I completely agree.

And yet, as John Bolt has shown, libertarianism manifests itself as a false religion in the instances when it deifies freedom, giving it a sort of autonomy that God alone should have. Ideological libertarianism seeks to free us from nearly every conceivable restriction. The error of liberalism creeps in here, though in a different guise. Libertarianism, like liberalism, rests on the faulty foundation of the human autonomous will. It is a manifestation of our first parents’ tragic sin, a way of saying, “What I want must reign supreme.”

Bolt is, no doubt correct that in the instances in which libertarianism deifies freedom, it has made itself a false religion. But how many instances are there of that? And what exactly is this 'ideological' libertarianism that seeks to free us from nearly every conceivable restriction? Political libertarianism does not seek to free us from every conceivable restriction. It does not say or imply that “what I want must reign supreme.” It simply says (broadly speaking) that the state should not injure people, or seize their property, or restrict their freedom of speech or their freedom of association.”

In the place of this sort of autonomous freedom, we as Christians should seek a different type of liberty. True freedom, according to Scripture, does not entail removing every possible restriction, but removing those restrictions that violate our nature as beings made in God’s image. For example, it is perfectly good for Americans to achieve a legislative and judicial consensus that taking the life of unborn babies is wrong (a position that cannot be justified, according to some libertarians). Our personal freedoms conflict more often than we realize, and the government must arbitrate those conflicts to prevent anarchy.

I’m happy with the first two sentences. The third sentence finishes with a rather odd parenthetic comment, but other than that, it's fine. The fourth sentence, however, puzzles me. Do our personal freedoms really conflict more often than we realize? What does he have in mind? I suspect that in reality, our personal freedoms rarely conflict except when one person uses their freedom to defraud, steal from, or injure other people. And in those instances, most libertarians wouldn’t have a major problem with government arbitrating.

Libertarianism is also right to make a connection between liberty and justice. They rightly emphasize that modern nation-states should foster an environment in which people are free to acquire property, sell property, have privacy, and be protected from violence that would undermine those rights and freedoms. However, most libertarians seek to restrict government’s role so dramatically that it would prevent the government from achieving other good and legitimate ends.

I, of course, agree with the first two sentences. When it comes to the third sentence, I suspect that in the real world, government may often claim that it will achieve good and legitimate ends, and that it has indeed done so. But that the truth is that its promises are usually hollow, and the good things that it boasts of having achieved would generally have happened without its intervention.

One such legitimate end is a modest levelling of the social playing field. Libertarians define justice in terms of “just acquisition of wealth.” As they see it, if a person has acquired property, possessions, and financial resources in a way that is legal and moral, justice has been achieved. In other words, true justice depends upon autonomous agents being able to keep all the fruits of their labors. However, the Christian notion of justice does not exist without a Christian notion of compassion for the poor, which sometimes means extending aid to those who cannot care for themselves. After all, when it comes to wealth, we are always liable to exaggerate our role in acquiring it, and to ignore those who assisted us in getting there. Not a one of us can truly pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

I don’t know what Ashford means by “a modest levelling of the social playing field”. I also am interested in the implication that an immodest levelling of the social playing field may not be legitimate, and wonder just how modest a levelling is legitimate. Where in the Bible does he get the impression that it is legitimate for government to level the social playing field - at least modestly? As for the third sentence, I would quibble. It should read “if a person has acquired property, possessions, and financial resources in a way that is legal and moral, no injustice has been committed.” This is quite different from justice having been achieved. Similarly the fourth sentence is strange. I, and I suspect most libertarians, would prefer “True justice does not permit people to have the legitimately acquired fruits of their labours seized from them.” And yes, compassion for the poor is part of justice, and it does mean extending aid to those who cannot care for themselves, but what has that got to do with the government? I am sure that the apostles would have thought that it was completely bizarre to think that it was Caesar’s job to take the money of ordinary people so that he could give it to the poor. The teaching of the Bible is that helping the poor is something that people should do voluntarily. And yes, it is undoubtedly true that most people do exaggerate their role in acquiring their wealth. As a Christian I believe that everything I have has been given to me by God. But I don’t see what this has to do with the role of government.

One final criticism of libertarianism concerns its belief that the free market will somehow always act as a benevolent force. Most libertarians believe that if the government would simply get out of the way, the free market economy would naturally fix society’s problems. This is naïve, both historically and theologically. Historically, all that is needed is a quick glance at those moments in our nation’s past when innovation outstripped regulation, such as the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. When the free market has no checks or balances, the strong tend to prey on the weak.

At this point, I would want to say that no, I do not believe that the free market will somehow always act as a benevolent force, and I suspect that there are very few libertarians that believe that if the government would simply get out of the way, the free market economy would naturally fix all society’s problems. However, I do think that on balance, the free market does tend to work for the good of society, and I think that there is plenty of empirical evidence which shows that the free market is good for the poorest people in society. And one could argue that the truly free market provides checks and balances as effectively as most alternatives.

And so I might also be tempted to write “One final criticism of non-libertarians concerns their belief that government will somehow always act as a benevolent force. Most non-libertarians believe that if the government would simply act, it could fix society’s problems. This is naïve, both historically and theologically. Historically, what is needed is a detailed study of our nation’s past when innovation outstripped regulation to show how much the poor actually benefited.”

Theologically, it is naïve to assume that individuals acting out of self-interest will naturally create a society in which freedom increases. Sinful greed and envy, which in practice play a major role in the free market, cannot lead to sinless utopia. In other words, the free market, for all of its benefits, is a medium of exchange for fallen humanity. It excels other economic systems and often minimizes the harm that our sin would otherwise cause. But as long as human beings are the ones doing the exchanging, the free market will be to some extent twisted and corrupted. As J. Budziszewski writes, “In the marketplace our desires are aroused so insidiously and scratched so efficiently that we spend our lives and fortunes just finding new places where we might itch.”

OK - so the free market will not lead to a sinless utopia. Who claimed that it would? Theologically, it is naive to assume that state intervention will do better.

Conclusion

Ideological libertarianism latches on to the real value of individual freedom. And as our government increases in scope and strength, appealing to a less intrusive government will continue to find growing support. But liberty is not God, and we tread on shaky ground when we treat it as such. Liberty can only be true liberty when it is not our reigning god. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth [about me], and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 ESV). We need not only freedom from restrictions, but freedom for a life ordered toward Christ.

I cannot find anything that I disagree with in Ashford’s conclusion.


But my own conclusion is that it is difficult to see that anything that he has said in this theological reflection on libertarianism actually shows any significant problems with libertarianism, religious or otherwise. I think that it is good and necessary for theologians to subject ideologies, including political ideologies, to scrutiny. Every ideology requires scrutiny, and I appreciate the fact that Mr Ashford has written this article about libertarianism. But as a Christian who is politically libertarian, I am not convinced that any of the shots he has fired are on-target. 

Postscript

Mr Ashford's article on libertarianism is one of a series of seven, beginning with "The (Religious) Problem with American Politics"  and ending with "A (Religious) Alternative for American Politics".  In between, he surveys the (religious) problems with liberalism, socialism, libertarianism, conservitivism and progressivism and nationalism.  

On the whole, I like his approach.  I think that the first and last articles are very good.  The others are more a mixed bag, but contain a lot of good comments.  In my opinion, the one on libertarianism is, by a considerable margin, the weakest.  Since I write as a libertarian, it will not come as a surprise to Mr Ashford that I should say so.  Indeed, in his opening article, he writes 
“The great problem with a project like this, of course, is that we always have a keen eye to see the idolatry operative in other ideologies. Conservatives spot the idolatry of socialism quickly, and vice versa. But as Christians, we must have the humility to recognize that we all are “prone to wander,” that our view of politics may be much more idolatrous than we have yet to realize. May God grant us the courage to discern and oppose idolatry wherever it is found, beginning in our own hearts, our own churches, and our own preferred political parties and ideologies.”
So, obviously, it will be said "You say that because you are a libertarian".  

Well, all I can say is that I think that what I have said in my response will stand up to examination.  As a cynical character in C.S. Lewis' book The Pilgrim's Regress says: "What is the response to an argument turning on the belief that two and two makes four?  The answer is 'You say that because you are a mathematician."  Just because I happen to be a libertarian does not mean that I am wrong in my assessment.

My final comment is that I think that part of the problem is that Bruce Ashford, like a lot of observers, doesn't really understand libertarianism as fully as he might.  Libertarianism revolves around not just the importance of freedom, but also around the non-aggression principle and the rejection of force and violence - a point that Tom Woods makes very effectively in his response to Ashford, which is why Woods' response is a necessary supplement to mine.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Of God and the politicians

Yesterday, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debated the matter of whether it was prepared to accept ministers in same-sex relationships.   According to the Scotsman ,  it "voted to affirm its 'current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality', which stops gay people becoming ministers.  However, under a compromise hammered out during the debate, liberal congregations will be able to opt out of that and appoint gay clergy if they wish."  (The official wording of what the General Assembly agreed is here.)

What happened is interesting, but so is the way it happened.  Initially, the Assembly was presented with two options, set out in a report prepared by a Theological Commission.  One of these options would have had the Church holding to the traditional view, that homosexual activity was, per se, immoral; the other option (described as 'revisionist') would have had the church moving to accept the view that there was nothing wrong with homosexual activity.  The Assembly was given the opportunity to vote on whether it wanted one of these options, or the compromise proposal that was eventually agreed.  According to the Scotsman, 163 people voted for the traditional position, 270 voted for the 'revisionist' position, and 191 voted for the compromise.  Using the mechanism of the alternative vote, the traditional position was eliminated and the Assembly voted again and chose the compromise proposal over the 'revisionist' proposal by 340 votes to 282.

But, perhaps more interesting than what happened, or the way it happened, has been the reaction.  The decision has been described as "theologically incoherent" by Kelvin Holdsworth of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and as "confused and inconsistent" by David Robertson of the Free Church of Scotland.  It seems to me that they are both quite correct.

The official reaction, from the Church of Scotland, is, of course, rather different.   The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lorna Hood said: “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the Church.”    John Chalmers, the Church of Scotland's principal clerk, said:  "This has been one way or another, a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church."   Curious that they both used the same words, isn't it?

What strikes me is that Lorna Hood and John Chalmers sound much like party managers.  The Church of Scotland is, in many ways, like the Conservative Party.  Both have seen sharp declines in membership in recent years, both are much divided over certain issues, both are seeing members defecting to other organisations.   And the Church of Scotland seems to be acting increasingly like a political party.  The all important thing is to maintain unity and keep people who disagree sharply together within one institution - for the good of the institution.

The point is that the church is not supposed to behave like a political party.  It is supposed to be focused on listening to God.  The report of the Theological Commission asked the church to listen to God.  Some of its members (the 'revisionists') suggested that God was a loving God who wanted the church to accept that loving same-sex relationships were good things.  Others of its members (the traditionalists) suggested that God was a God who had spoken and made clear in his word that same-sex relationships were sinful and should not be treated as acceptable in the church.  Whatever their disagreements, the 'revisionists' and the traditionalists on the Theological Commission both agreed that the focus should be on God.

Yesterday, at the General Assembly, the politicians came to the fore.  A political compromise was worked out that said "Yes, God doesn't approve of this - but that doesn't really matter.  We'll allow it anyway."   The politicians won the day.  And politically, it was brilliant.  One felt that Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Milliband could have learned a thing or two from the sheer political brilliance of the decision.   This was in the league of Mr. Blair - the true master of the art.   Of course, Tony Blair didn't do God.  The politicians of the Church of Scotland do.  But one gets the impression that yesterday, God was largely left out of the decision.




  

Thursday, 16 May 2013

More new criminal offences . . .

In September 2008, it was reported that some 3,600 new criminal offences had been created under Labour.  At the time, the Independent noted that "Critics blamed the frenzy of law-making on "posturing" by an administration keen to win easy headlines and addicted to pushing complicated legislation through Parliament."

Five years later, the desire to create new criminal offences seems to continue unabated.  (Well, perhaps slightly abated.)   According the Telegraph (behind a sort of paywall), "The Prime Minister said he will urgently look at “extending criminal offences” to cover market manipulation in the energy sector, after BP and Shell were raided by European authorities on suspicion of rigging oil prices."  And by extend criminal offences, the Telegraph is referring to a new criminal offence that the government created after the Libor controversy.  "Following that scandal the Government created new laws which made it an offence to manipulate the benchmark mortgage interest rate."

And now we have the astonishing spectacle of an esteemed blogger of apparently libertarian outlook suggesting that we might consider new laws making some marriages between cousins illegal.

Oh dear.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Liberalism, classical and modern.

It is always nice to see a theologian who has some understanding of politics, and in particular, a concern for freedom.

I recently came across this sentence in an article by Dr. Carl Trueman on the distinction between classical liberalism and modern liberalism: "Their approach was, after all, not that of classical liberalism, where one respects the right of another to be wrong; this is that of modern liberalism, where one is free only to conform to the dominant ideology."

The full article is here, and is worth reading.

The fact that Dr. Trueman, who appears to approve of classical liberalism, is a professor at the institution founded by J. Gresham Machen, a notable Christian libertarian of the early 20th century, is an interesting coincidence.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Multiculturalists for UKIP

The last few days have seen stories in the press about UKIP local council candidates who have controversial views.  In particular, a few candidates hold views described as "extremist", "racist", and "antisemitic".  The leader of the party, Nigel Farage, apparently dislikes their views, and has disassociated himself from such candidates, and the party has suspended them.

There is, apparently, evidence that another political party has been going out of its way to discover UKIP candidates who have "extremist" opinions, who who have been associated with "extremist" organisations.  The reason for this is that they believe that decent voters who do not like the views of the the BNP, the EDL, and such bodies, will see UKIP as being a somehow unsavoury party, and, as a consequence, be less likely to vote for it.

(By the way, am I the only person who thinks that if this is true, it is not very clever?  Every time a candidate with dubious opinions is discovered, UKIP suspends him or her, thereby showing that UKIP are not a "racist party".  However the party which has been working on finding dirt on UKIP in order to paint UKIP as unsavoury comes over as being a rather, well, er, "nasty party.")


What is a bear to do?  More specifically, what is a bear from Darkest Peru, who arrived in England as a stowaway - and who has no time for the BNP and the EDL - to do?

In particular, what is this immigrant bear, who loves freedom and liberty, and is basically in favour of immigration and multiculturalism, to do?

In practice, it seems to me that people of libertarian outlook in British politics are found in three of the major parties - the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP.  (If there are any in the Labour Party, the Greens, or the BNP, I have not noticed them.)  This is not to say that the Conservatives, the LibDems or UKIP are actually libertarian parties - but they do have libertarians in their midst.  When it comes to voting, most libertarians who vote for a major party will probably vote for one of these parties.  Which one?  In my opinion, UKIP is the best of a bad lot the bunch, because, it seems to me, UKIP is more committed to freedom of speech and freedom of association than the others.

What then of UKIP's generally anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism tone - not to mention the rather "extreme" people in their ranks?  Do I really want to be associated with racists?  Do they not put me off voting UKIP?

On the contrary, they don't worry me at all, for the following reasons.

1. As the stories appeared, UKIP has made it clear that it rejected the candidates with "extremist" backgrounds.  While UKIP may contain people with views that I, as a Christian, do not like, UKIP does not like those views either.

2. Racism is treated by progressives as the worst of political sins.   It isn't.  It is just one mistaken belief among many.  It just happens to be the one that in the last 60 or 70 years, the west has had a particular fear of.  UKIP has racists in its midst?  So what.  Other parties contain plenty of people who believe that it is OK for the state to use its power to take money from some people in order to give it to others.

3. In a time when freedom of speech is not valued as much as it should be, the fact that UKIP contains plenty of people who hold politically incorrect views (views which I disagree with) means that they have a vested interest in supporting freedom of speech.

I must confess that even if UKIP were not suspending these people, but simply tolerating them as an eccentric minority, I wouldn't be too worried.  Lack of respect for freedom of speech and freedom of association is a much more serious problem in British politics than racism.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

If you really want a small state . . .

From Ed West in the Telegraph:

"Libertarians think they can get a Victorian-sized state without Victorian attitudes, but they’re deluded. If you really want a small state that doesn’t tell you what to do and gobble up half your income then start going to church, get involved in voluntary activities, tell the vicar or priest to stop droning on about the cuts and climate change and tell him to start shouting about sin and fornication. Repress yourself, you’ll find it’s good for your wallet."

So, if you are serious about libertarianism, you'll start going to church.  


Or continue to do so.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The great god democracy

Robert Colville, in the Telegraph, has written a piece entitled "The Omnishambles is damaging democracy."   In it, he refers to the Hansard Society's annual Audit of Political Engagement, which shows that "public interest in - and faith in - politics has essentially collapsed.  And he comments that "the impression seeps relentlessly through that politics, politicians and even democracy itself just aren't worth caring about."

The striking phrase is "democracy itself".  Mr Colville's choice of phrasing seems to be saying that it is more important that we care about democracy than that we care about politics.

But surely the important thing is not so much the fact that we method by which we choose our government (i.e. democracy) as the quality of our government, and the actions of our rulers.  One of my favorite comments on the subject is "Democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to have for dinner."  A government chosen by majority vote is not necessarily going to do what is good - and their track record shows that democracies often treat minorities badly.

And yet, for all that, democracy is widely treated as sacred - as something that cannot be questioned.   As a Christian, I find it interesting that while the Bible has quite a lot to say about rulers and about the business of government, it never says anything that suggests that democracy might be a good idea.  (And this is not simply because it would be anachronistic to do so - the New Testament was written in Greek, and most of it took place in a Greek speaking environment, several hundred years after the development of Athenian democracy.  At least some of the writers of the New Testament must have been familiar with the concept of democracy.)

Christian thinkers have attempted to justify democracy.  Probably the best known such justification camne from the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

I personally think that Niebuhr is correct.  If there were not some sort of human capacity for justice, majorities would not respect the rights of minorities.  But much more importantly, the fact that people - and, specifically, rulers - have a tendency to be unjust, means that it is very useful to have a means of getting rid of unjust rulers without bloodshed.

And that is the great thing about democracy.  It is not that it enables the people to choose their own rulers - it is that it enables the people to remove their rulers from power.  

It is does not do this perfectly, for quite often it simply replaces one government which serves a particular sectional interest with another government which serves the same sectional interest.   In modern democracies, the vast majority of the political class, no matter what their party allegiance, often share the same values, outlook, and policies.

It is also true that, in theory, a system could be devised which would enable oppressive governments to be removed from power bloodlessly without having democracy.  But I do not know of any such system ever having been implemented successfully.

in short, Winston Churchill was probably about right when he said "democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

The point is that democracy tends to serve freedom.  And it is important that it is not the other way around.  Freedom must be the master, democracy must be the servant.  Hence I would have preferred it if Mr Colville had written "the impression seeps relentlessly through that politics, politicians, democracy and even freedom itself just aren't worth caring about."  For that is what concerns me.
"


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ten years ago today

It is ten years since Ron Paul's prediction speech of 24th April, 2012.

It makes interesting listening today.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Teheran Embassy, Ron Paul, & Blowback

Here is a selective timeline of events regarding the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran.

15th May, 2007. At the South Carolina debate between Republican candidates for the US Presidency, Dr. Ron Paul introduces Mr. Rudy Giuliani to the concept of 'blowback', and relates it, among other things, to the invasion of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979:
"I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem."



21st November, 2011. "Britain imposes new financial sanctions on Iran, ordering all UK financial institutions to stop doing business with their Iranian counterparts and with the central bank of Iran." (Daily Telegraph)

28th November, 2011. Dr. Paul issues a remarkably timely warning against the folly of sanctions - and in particular, sanctions against Iran.



29th November, 2011. "Iranians storm the British embassy compound in Tehran and burn documents looted from offices, during a rally to protest against sanctions imposed by Britain, Iranian news agencies report. Britain says it is outraged by the incursion into the embassy grounds." (Daily Telegraph)


It looks to me like Dr. Paul might have a point.

(And yes, this blog remains in hibernation. I keep on meaning to post stuff, but somehow or other, never quite get around to it. Perhaps I'll get one or two more published this year. But I'm not promising. For some reason, I'm really struggling with this blogging business.)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Some thoughts on the LibDems election results

Most of the results are in for the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the English Councils. The results are, to put it mildly, disappointing for the Liberal Democrats.

I wish to make three observations.

1) The LibDems did much worse in Scotland than in Wales. The figures for the elections to the devolved assemblies since 1999 are as follows:

While the LibDem vote in Wales was down about 30% on 2007, in Scotland it was down over 50%. There are probably various reasons for this difference, but I have a hunch as to what the main one was. While the SNP had a very good election in Scotland, Plaid Cymru had a poor one in Wales. In other words, disaffected LibDem voters in Wales looked at the alternatives, and while some did go to other parties, principally Labour, none of the alternatives looked particularly attractive, so the LibDem vote held up reasonably well. In Scotland, by contrast, the SNP looked very attractive, and so disaffected LibDem voters deserted to the SNP in droves, but few, it seems, went to Labour. The SNP have managed to make themselves very attractive across Scotland in a way that Plaid Cymru have never succeeded in doing in Wales.

2. The basic electoral problem the LibDems have is that they are part of a coalition government, and the unhappy electoral consequences of this seem to have come as a bit of a shock to many LibDems.

The Telegraph had a headline that read "Local election results: Lib Dems doing worse than 1980s." Actually, the 1980s were fairly reasonable times for the LibDems and their predecessors in the SDP / Liberal Alliance. Even if they didn't do particularly well in local government elections, in the general elections of 1983 and 1987, they did better than they have done in any elections since, and better than the Liberals did in the four elections of the 1970s. The Telegraph headline, in other words, is misleading in that it gives the impression that the 1980s were bad times for the LibDems.

The truth is, as those with long memories may recall, that the most awful time for the Liberal Party's electoral fortunes in the past 40 years was the Lib-Lab pact between March 1977 and March 1978. In a succession of by-elections, the party had dreadful results, and these were universally attributed to the fact that the Liberal Party was involved in an association with the Labour government, and was punished for its association with that government. The benefits of ending the pact were shown when the Liberals won a spectacular victory in the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in March 1979.

One hesitates to say that history is repeating itself, but what is happening to the LibDems at the moment is remarkably similar to the events of 1977-78. There is another similarity. Those were years of economic austerity - the government had been forced to go to the IMF for a loan in 1976.

The LibDems should not be at all surprised at the collapse in their share of the vote in the last 12 months. They should have seen it coming.

(I might add that the evidence suggests that for the LibDems to be part of coalition administrations in local councils or devolved assemblies in Cardiff or Edinburgh does not seem to have the same negative electoral consequences.)

3. I find Nick Clegg's blaming memories of the horror of the 1980s for the poor performance of the LibDems rather strange. He has been quoted as saying ''For many families in those parts of the country especially, there are also some very strong memories of what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s and somehow a fear that that is what we are returning to.''

This sounds like nonsense to me. I don't think it has anything to do with memories of what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s. It strikes me as much more likely that many LibDem voters just couldn't stand the thought of supporting a Tory prime minister, and many of those who were able to accept that, just couldn't cope with the concept of cuts in government spending.

But even more basically, I remember what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s. After the fairly tough opening years, it was actually better than life under Labour in the late 1970s. Is Mr. Clegg (who was born in 1967) really too young to appreciate that?