Hobbes and Liberty

The Libertie, whereof there is so frequent, and honourable mention, in the Histories, and Philosophy of the Antient Greeks, and Romans, and in the writings, and discourse of those that from them have received all their learning in the Politiques, is not the Libertie of Particular men; but the Libertie of the Common-wealth: which is the same with that, which every man then should have, if there were no Civil Laws, nor Common-wealth at all. And the effects of it also be the same.

For as amongst masterlesse men, there is perpetuall war, of every man against his neighbour; no inheritance, to transmit to the Son, nor to expect from the Father; no propriety of Goods, or Lands; no security; but a full and absolute Libertie in every Particular man: So in States, and Common-wealths not dependent on one another, every Common-wealth, (not every man) has an absolute Libertie, to doe what it shall judge (that is to say, what that Man, or Assemblie that representeth it, shall judge) most conducing to their benefit. But withall, they live in the condition of a perpetuall war, and upon the confines of battel, with their frontiers armed, and canons planted against their neighbours round about.

The Athenians, and Romanes, were free; that is, free Common-wealths: not that any particular men had the Libertie to resist their own Representative; but that their Representative had the Libertie to resist, or invade other people. There is written on the Turrets of the city of Luca in great characters at this day, the word LIBERTAS; yet no man can thence inferre, that a particular man has more Libertie, or Immunitie from the service of the Commonwealth there, than in Constantinople. Whether a Common-wealth be Monarchicall, or Popular, the Freedome is still the same.

But it is an easy thing, for men to be deceived, by the specious name of Libertie; and for want of Judgement to distinguish, mistake that for their Private Inheritance, and Birth right, which is the right of the Publique only. And when the same errour is confirmed by the authority of men in reputation for their writings in this subject, it is no wonder if it produce sedition, and change of Government.

In these westerne parts of the world, we are made to receive our opinions concerning the Institution, and Rights of Common-wealths, from Aristotle, Cicero, and other men, Greeks and Romanes, that living under Popular States, derived those Rights, not from the Principles of Nature, but transcribed them into their books, out of the Practice of their own Common-wealths, which were Popular; as the Grammarians describe the Rules of Language, out of the Practise of the time; or the Rules of Poetry, out of the Poems of Homer and Virgil. And because the Athenians were taught, (to keep them from desire of changing their Government,) that they were Freemen, and all that lived under Monarchy were slaves; therefore Aristotle puts it down in his Politiques,(lib.6.cap.2) “In democracy, Liberty is to be supposed: for ’tis commonly held, that no man is Free in any other Government.” And as Aristotle; so Cicero, and other Writers have grounded their Civill doctrine, on the opinions of the Romans, who were taught to hate Monarchy, at first, by them that having deposed their Soveraign, shared amongst them the Soveraignty of Rome; and afterwards by their Successors.

And by reading of these Greek, and Latine Authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit (under a false shew of Liberty,) of favouring tumults, and of licentious controlling the actions of their Soveraigns; and again of controlling those controllers, with the effusion of so much blood; as I think I may truly say, there was never any thing so deerly bought, as these Western parts have bought the learning of the Greek and Latine tongues.

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Sign the Australia deal

There is a free trade deal with Australia to be had: sign it. No text is available, but the Australian government has published its terms, and they are exactly what the British side would be looking for too. It’s a bonzer deal, mate.

One thing I was told repeatedly when canvassing for Leave in the referendum: when we are out of the EU, we must apologise deeply to the Australians. What was done in 1972 was unforgivable, freezing them out of their main export market as we turned to Europe. Now it is overdue the time to return to normality, which is free trade between Britain and the Old Commonwealth. Australia and New Zealand were settled, established and made equal, independent realms on the basis that we were all one and equal and trading between ourselves: betraying those basic understandings unilaterally, insulting the tie of kinship, for a flawed engagement with Europe, was a scandal that hurt badly in Australia and New Zealand and has never stopped hurting.

Cynical commentators (though we do need cynics), portray Australia as a minor player, an exporter of mutton, wool and beef, but that is a generation out of date. There are indeed more sheep in Australia than people in the British Isles, and it is important sector, but the main game in town these days is mining: Australia is the world’s largest producer of iron and bauxite, and around the top of copper, coal and much else besides.. Cheap iron, steel, copper and aluminium are vital for industry. that is only in one sector: Australia is a wonderland for industry and agriculture.

It is in agriculture that the objections have been raised. Farmers’ representatives are screaming about being unable to compete with the vast economies of scale that Australia has in sheep and cattle. One could combat the worry by pointing to the distances involved that even in our crowded islands we have more than half the number of sheep that whole continent has, and our flocks are closer. However mathematics aside, we must never forget Adam Smith. It is almost two and a half centuries since The Wealth of Nations, and it is still hard to convince people of the truth and logic of its observations. Customs duties are imposed at the demand of local producers who fear competition, and in Smith’s day too these were mainly farmers. However every example he analysed over centuries showed that customs duties do significant harm to those who demanded them. By Adam Smith’s principles, farmers should be welcoming free trade. Even apart from competition on wool, all the equipment around the farm, from heavy machinery down to stock fences, needs steel and aluminium: without free trade these are more expensive. All that ore and bauxite coming out of the ground will, if duties are lifted, reduce the cost of farming and boost profit.

We could look at it another, more philosophical way too:

Imagine Britain is running out of land (as we are) and there appears out of the sea a new, practically empty country ideal for flocks and herds. The land is annexed and farmers are encouraged to cross to this new part of Britain and establish vast farms which our islands’ limited bounds could not fit until the new land appeared. We cheer the pioneers and encourage others to join them, not just farming but providing all the support, infrastructure industry and exchange needed so that the pastoral enterprise can thrive to its best. Then we may find that our mines are exhausted, but his miraculous new land has untapped resources, so we send miners there too. Would farmers in the old islands complain? Well maybe, but only with as much conviction as a hill farmer in Cumberland might grumble that those on the Cotswolds have it too easy: the new land was established to thrive and it has done. Now do we disown it and impose high taxes on those we encouraged to move to the new land? That would be shocking. This really though is the story of the settlement and growth of Australia.

Tony Abbott has observed that while Britain and Australia are juridically separate, we are not foreign to each other. That is at the nub of it. We are one nation, juridically separated, but of the same essential understandings and aiming for the same things. Our twin government can do deals for mutual benefit without trying to put one over on the other – a very different dynamic indeed from the negotiations with the European Union last year.

There is a deal to be done, and both governments have the same aims and criteria. Sign it.

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To follow knowledge like a sinking star

When I first heard of ‘Odyssean Education’ I immediately thought of Tennyson: “It little profits that an idle king…”, but realisation of why I, of strict scientific upbringing, should turn at once to great literature, that brings the essence of the Odyssean ideal, and it has little to do with Odysseus as he was, or at least as Homer portrays him.

Tennyson’s Odysseus is restless in his craving for self-education:

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The name though is from Murray Gell-Man, in his “The Quark and the Jaguar”, suggesting the combination of education in the sciences, social sciences and the arts, which come from very differ approaches and priorities. He looked at the ancient dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian – those who follow an analytical, evidence-based approach to matters, and those guided by emotion and instinct; but Gell-Man (a scientist to his boots), adds a third – ‘Odyssean’ which combines them and connects ideas through an overall approach.

….. strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I question whether there is a genuine dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. If there is, it need not be inherent and unchanging but cultivated by life experience and the individual’s career discipline. The latter is very important amongst professionals as it defines the norms by which one interacts with strangers, perhaps as an architect or an accountant or a lawyer or journalist or as an administrator, for example, forcing one to analyse the world through the requirements of the job and the common understandings of the profession. It should be no wonder that lawyers lose their imagination or journalists become cynical of everyone’s motives, or actors believe the world can be transformed by a simple rewrite. Perhaps the complexity of interpersonal and commercial relations forces each person to simplify that which they take in by squeezing all experience and reaction into an overgeneralised worldview. It is a way to stay sane, and a way to become narrow.

The Apollonian and the Dionysian are types in Greek tragedy, according to Nietzsche’s analysis of that subject. The Apollonian represents order and logic; his lines are prose monologue and dialogue. The Dionysian represents the chaotic, unbound by respectability or logic; his lines are in verse. The Apollonian suffers and the Dionysian celebrates, perhaps over the same things. The drama is in the interplay between these two. That is all very well in the pretty formulaic world of Greek tragedy, and even works a sort of straight man / funny man routine in Aristophanes, but we face the real world, not the Greek amphitheatre.

Even so, many of us wear masks, like those on the Greek stage. In professional life, the mask is expected: I spend much of my time when dealing with other people trying to get them to drop the mask. (If only they knew how tightly held and deceptive my own is.) Eventually the mask becomes part of you.

The split of personality is genuine, even off-stage. It has been much studied by psychologists, and might even have a hereditary element (something examined in an earlier article here). Like calls to like, and if the civil service, for example, attracts the Apollonian, or conservative, type, then it will recruit only from that type, set tests for entry which can only be passed by that type, and become more and more entrenched in a monoculture.

In education, both types and the many in the middle may thrive and forge their own disciplines. The deeper the education though, the more it will press to one side or the other and produce graduates unable to function otherwise. The boring science student or the louche arts student are not just stereotypes but the necessary outcome of their disciplines.

Those needed for any enterprise truly to thrive are those who fill both sides of the stage: the Odysseans. The Gell-Mann approach, recently championed by Dominic Cummings, seeks to break the dichotomy, to teach pupils to use both sides of the clay of humanity. Systems fail when there is no discipline, and systems fail when there is no imagination: success requires both, but our ideas of education and profession exclude this.

The ideal education should cultivate imagination, originality, bound-breaking, and logic, discipline and respect for order. Personality will choose how far in either direction the individual will wander, but he or she should have an understanding of all sides. If it is impossible to cultivate everyone in this way, it is still necessary that some have that rounded education, ready to follow knowledge like a sinking star. ‘I cannot rest from travel: I will drink life to the lees’. Those who have seen and known; ‘cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments’, are required in many disciplines. One with such a rounded education must can do better than those who clutch the reins in our day.

It is not to create a knot, an elite caste of Odysseans. They could be infuriating and worse then the rest. It is instead a remodelling of education for all, from which some will benefit more, and we in turn may benefit from their work.

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Spinning doctors

Lord Salisbury comes to mind:

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.

The partial opening-up this morning is celebrated in all quarters, except by a handful of high-up doctors and of non-teaching teachers. There are voices still piping up, demanding a halt to the liberating progress to end the lockdown. The practical end of the epidemic is a tribute to the medical profession, but it also means an end to their unaccustomed power.

Never before have doctors been able to command instant attention, and never before have a well-placed set of medics been able to control every movement, our rising up, our going forth and our laying us down again, of the whole population. Now ‘doctor’s orders’ sounds sinister. Telling an individual to have more sleep, take more exercise and avoid chocolate is about the best a doctor can hope for in normal days, and then with little hope of his obedience. Now though in the right place a word from a doctor may command a whole nation, and command policemen to seize those who do not obey doctor’s orders. It must be glorious.

Also, in a publicity hungry culture, doctors alone have to be silent about their good work (unless one can convince a local newspaper that he is worthy to be a pillar of society and a column in the Gazette). Now, a single doctor with a scientific version of ‘The End of the World is Nigh’ can command a rapt audience.

It is just a handful. Most doctors have been working silently, making the nation better, which is what they do well (if their receptionist lets anyone in to be cured), receiving the due thanks of those they heal. It is the handful though who make the noise and steer the ship of state off course.

All that is coming to an end. We will be well again, and doctors must subside to the normal, hidden layer (where most have resided diligently throughout). They must also go back to work. Their Cerberus-like receptionists too will have to buckle down and let patients through the door at last. They will hate it.

We can be cynical about the hold-out doctors, still saying it is unsafe, hazardous, murderous to return to normal. Lord Salisbury had their measure. They are to be ignored.

That perhaps our greatest of Conservative Prime Ministers has an appropriate quote tells us that things have not changed, deep down, from his day. I may have to theme more posts on his aphorisms.

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Why list astrology as a science?

Something about Leviathan that may strike a first-time reader, is that it takes a long time to get to the meat of “the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill” as Hobbes first had to rewrite the whole of western philosophy, without which there would be no firm basis on which to build the rest.  Within it, he provides a table of the arms of science, and within it appears ‘Astrology’. This is jarring as that ‘science’ is a nonsense , so why include it?

Hobbes knew that astrology is a nonsense, In Leviathan it is mentioned just twice: in the list of sciences and in a description of heathen superstitions practised by the Romans (‘and esteemed a part of judiciary’), along ‘Necromancy, Conjuring, and Witchcraft; and is but juggling and confederate knavery’. Its appearance in a table of the sciences has a sound basis though. It is not the only fraud to appear in the list either.

Hobbes classifies science according to consequences looked for. Thus “Consequences from the Motion, and Quantity of the great parts of the World, as the Earth and Stars” are “Cosmography”, of which come Astronomy and Geography; while “Consequences from the Motion of Speciall kinds, and Figures of Body” can be subdivided to include “Mechaniques, Doctrine of Weight” from which come the Science of Engineers, Architecture, Navigation.

Next we come to “Consequences from the Qualities of Bodies Transient” and “Consequences from the Qualities of Bodies Permanent”, the latter divided into “Consequences from the Qualities of the Starres” (which is today the cutting edge of astronomy), and within this a subdivision “Consequences from the Influence of the Starres” is Astrology.

Hobbes knew as well as we do that there are no consequences from the influence of stars. However it was a genuine field of study. Many apparently intelligent men spent their lives in this study. Therefore it has a place in the list. These days ‘critical race theory’ and ‘intersectionalism’ (unknown in the Stuart Era, and destined to be unknown after our day) are listed amongst the sciences, as they should be, though they are just as fallacious as astrology.

(I am aware that Dara Ó Briain performs a long comedy sketch on the theme ‘astrology is worse than racism’. He is right in terms of science, but it was a comedy sketch, and astrology has not caused wars, mass-slaughter, slavery and the mistreatment of whole populations the way racism has and the way intersectionalism can, or to be more accurate it has not done so in Europe since Roman times nor in India since the Raj.)

There have been, counter-intuitively, scientific advances made from the study of astrology. The centuries spent in study proved no consequences at all from the alleged influences of the stars, with two consequent effects: the study proved that the idea is nonsense such that field was closed down for all but idle entertainment, and all the data collected over the ages supplied the science of astronomy, and from that came Newton’s Laws of Gravitation.

Kepler (whose work was known to Hobbes) dabbled in it, but apparently just to make a living to enable him to carry on his serious work. To the extent that he did believe there was anything to it, it was a failure in his discernment or an unwillingness to discard an area of study, and evidence of how late this idea lasted in respected circles. This does not detract from Kepler’s genuine achievements, which Hobbes considers in De Corpore, but in noting his dabbling we learn the lesson that no scientist or philosopher however great should be taken as infallible.

It is recognised that the fruitless work of alchemists created the science of chemistry, on which our modern world is wholly dependent. Study of an error is still study, and the student may by endeavouring prove a great truth, if he is honest enough to accept that experiment is not to prove a pet theory but to test it, and perhaps to disprove it. It may reveal more, that was unexpected.

‘Knock-knock – Wh-neutrino-o’s there?’ A study of the apparently faster-than-light neutrinos made for improvements in measurement, and a reaffirmation of Einsteinian theory. The study of ‘race science’ sought to prove a Darwinian scale of evolution between races, but in fact proved the opposite, which was a valuable outcome of scientific research.

All this considered, in our day we could not list astrology as a branch of science because it is not studied, the study is complete and wound up and no one serious believes there are ‘Consequences from the Influence of the Starres’. It is right the that in his time Hobbes listed astrology as a science because it was an actual field of serious study (while ensuring his contempt for it is clear), and it is right that we do not so list it today. Likewise it is right today to list intersectionalism and Marist analysis as sciences, and to study and test them to the proof of their nullity: in a later age they will come off that list, condemned with Kepler’s last folly.

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