The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes

The great divide in early modern philosophy is still that which fundamentally divides politics today: what is man in the state of nature, when without state or society? To the romantic imagination it was the noble savage roaming the virgin plains of America without sin or care, but this opposed all experience and Biblical principle. The attraction of the ‘noble savage’ idea is obvious – if only we could cast off all the constraints and expectations of society and be free, then we might find a prelapsarian idyll. The realist and the theologian (which are by no means exclusive terms) will look with pity at the naïvety, while wishing in the dark hours of the soul that they could find the idyll themselves.

The ills of the world, the evils committed and the relentless need to labour without relief for little reward until death have been the realities of life forever, so it is a very attractive idea that all this is the result of oppressive powers and the dead hand of previous generations’ ideas. If that so then there must once have been that wild idyll and it is possible to reach it once again.

The Biblical picture has Adam and Eve living in a garden where all is provided for them until they eat of the fruit of knowledge, after which all is toil and a struggle with inborn sin. This fruit of knowledge is the moment when they became human. The brief prelapsarian age cannot be regained unless we cease to be human.

Hobbes in Leviathan burst the noble savage idea. The natives of America were not sinless dwellers in an idyll, and for man, the state of nature is such that:

they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man . . . Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall.

In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

This observation naturally upsets all those who believe in the perfectibility of mankind as it overturns the fundamental idea on which such a project must be built, but every experience of human nature proves Hobbes right.

Hobbes did turn to the ‘noble savages’ of America (whom the English settlers in America knew far better than the romantic philosophes of Paris):

For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common Power to feare; by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government, use to degenerate into, in a civill Warre.

The idea of the noble savage and the inherent goodness of natural man is too attractive to have been lost though. It is strongly held by some today.

Anthony Burgess, in the commentary section of his book 1985, characterises the division of ideas as ‘Pelagian’ and ‘Augustinian’ after the two theologies which battled in the twilight of the Roman Empire; Pelagius claiming that men are good but corrupted by society and Augustine of Hippo asserting that all are born in sin and must seek salvation. He acknowledged the attraction of the Pelagian idea, but who could ever believe in the basic goodness of man after the Holocaust?

The same divide – Augustinian v Pelagian or noble savage v Caliban – echoes in the division of conservative and radical, and specifically socialism. The attraction of the Pelagian idea is what keeps the latter discredited, disproven philosophy alive: the idea that all ills are caused by state and social structures which could be dismantled. Conservatives in contrast see the seething evil lurking in the pit of man’s soul and recognise that only a strong, established society and the apparatus of state can prevent it from bursting out. The two seem irreconcilable.

Burgess wrote in an age when idealists wanted to remake man and honestly believed they could do better than the Creator, and he satirised this more famously in A Clockwork Orange. Other writers have done the same – H G Wells wanted to believe in the scientific perfectibility of man, which he planned out in In The days of The Comet and The Shape of Things to Come, but his own works knew the uselessness of the idea, from The War in the Air, which reaches a Hobbesian conclusion, The Island of Doctor Moreau where a scientist literally tries to make men, and best known of all the bifurcation of the human race in The Time Machine – Wells though sympathised with the useless Eloi who are merely farmed cattle for the Morlocks, a far better representation of humanity. His Pelagian view was comprehensively refuted by a better writer, and his old tutor’s son, Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, where ironically the Savage is noble, as having been brought up not in a state on nature but in a strong, tribal society.

In every age we see proof that natural man is Caliban and in every age are many who convince themselves and others that the prelapsarian idyll can be achieved, and so society and political philosophy can never reach a consensus.


Housing: courting injustice – 1

One thing is consistent through every change of government:  the rules about renting homes will be messed about, to harm both tenants and landlords

Housing rules are currently within the tender mercies of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose declared task is to make things better for tenants. Studies showing that every intervention has been a failure and usually counter-productive do not appear to have informed a change in direction. Obvious problems have produced reactions, but rarely wise ones.

Two initiatives are current.  Both were initiated under James Brokenshire, and since he has been unceremoniously booted out of his seat it is possible that his successor, Robert Jenrick, will change direction but until we hear that he has brought authoritative common sense to bear, we must assume that the political capital invested in the two principal ideas proposed will keep them alive.

  • Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies
  • A new Housing Court

As background assured shorthold tenancy were introduced during Margaret Thatcher’s time gradually to replace Labour’s Rent Acts. An ‘AST’ is a fixed term tenancy which, if not brought to an end by two months’ notice, will continue indefinitely until the landlord serves a notice (known in the jargon as a “Section 20 Notice’).  The new proposal is to abolish Section 20 notices, so a landlord could not get his property back unless he can prove, in court, one of a number of listed grounds for possession.  It is unlikely that these grounds will include ‘The rent is too low: I want to improve it and let it to richer tenants’.

Landlord groups have pointed out that these proposals will eliminate the possibility of short-term or interim lets, remove he opportunity for flats to be improved for anything short of a major rebuilding, and will result in numerous properties being removed from the market causing a housing shortage and higher rents overall due to supply and demand.  It also means that landlords who remain in the market will have to command higher rents in order to cushion themselves against the court costs of removing a troublesome tenant, and for the loss of capital value. One might add that tenants will stop worrying about their behaviour: they will really have to trash the place or stop paying rent before the landlord can do anything about them, and even then he has to be a landlord with the spare cash to go to court – and without rent coming in, he may not.

If a tenant refuses to move out, having received a Section 20 Notice, the court procedure should be quick: there is no defence, so the order is made, and after six months with no rent paid the bailiff (yet more cost) may throw them out.  If grounds have to be proven, then that requires a full court hearing, evidence, adjournments, a suspended order while the court gives the tenant a last chance, a new hearing when he defaults again, more evidence, and then and only then can a bailiff be engaged; and if it has got that far the tenant will not go quietly and may be enraged to trash the flat as he goes.

The result is high rents, impoverished landlords and an ever-declining quality of housing stock. Yet the proposal is championed as being for the protection of tenants. Tell that to the next tenant who moves into the trashed flat his landlord cannot afford to repair, paying through the nose to cushion the landlord’s loss and the future risks, and with no alternative because there are few flats left on the market.

The proposals did not come from the Ministry; they came from Shelter, once an honourable charity but which can now join the ranks of the fake charities, funded from our pockets to pump socialist ideas into government.  Their care for the homeless is not doubted, but the ideas they propose to help are the equivalent of helping a drowning man by pushing him deeper into the sea.

Shelter has a strong influence because it can play upon its worthiness of intent, and because it does supply advice for tenants genuinely needing help with the law. Well, I am pleased with the plumber when he does a good job, but I do not then let him and his wet hands play with the electrics too.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king:  another grip that a lobbying group like this can have is that no one else is as familiar with the Byzantine laws governing housing, and so by ensuring the continued complexity of the law, the lobbyists stay in control.

This though, and the second proposal, the Housing Court, must be the subject of a separate article.

Fifty years on, and the frontier is open

Fifty years ago, on 20 July 1969, an achievement now almost unimaginable greeted mankind: the first man to step upon the Moon. The complexity, the lack of room for error, and the precision of calculation which enabled it, are astounding, as are the courage and the confidence of the men who made it happen.

Ours is a timid age which is taught to despise risk or novelty or achievement for achievement’s sake. Those first steps by Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the surface of the Moon are of another age alien to our, and which though it was fifty years ago were far in advance of our everyday society.

However engineers have since those days advanced their art far beyond what was available in the 1960s, and although nothing as breathtaking has been done since the last Apollo mission left the Moon, rockets to orbit are now commonplace and there are new entrepreneurs making new ways into space which may one day surpass the achievements of those Americans in 1969.

There has never since been a rocket anything like the size of the Saturn V which Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon, and the Apollo astronauts who followed them, because there has been no need for one: space launches are mainly to low-Earth orbit, with small satellites sent to the higher geo-stationary orbit. The launches to Mars and beyond have been by light probes, requiring less lift and not needing to support the life of a crew. However, ultimately it is a matter of scaling up, and when Elon Musk put a Tesla car in a Falcon Heavy rocket to send it around the Sun, he set a new standard, and practically declared war on the old, limited way of thinking. The new space race is not just for government agencies.

The major government and multi-government agencies have done well – the European Space Agency in spite of the lumbering bureaucracy has actually achieved great things, by leaving the engineers to get on with it. Monopolies though cannot achieve anything beyond what they plan for, and the disruptors have stopped biting at their ankles and started beating them.

Britain has always had an honourable place in space developments, but Britain could do nothing during the space race – the land was so incompetently governed and impoverished by it all that only one satellite was ever successfully launched in a solely British project. Those days are past though. A British project, Skylon, may revolutionise satellite launches and lead the way to further advances. A new spaceport is being built in Sutherland with capability for rocket and spaceplane launches in the specification.

Before we go too far though, we can look at developments in the Commonwealth: India is many years ahead, and the opportunities and expertise in Canada and Australia are astounding. Elon Musk of course is South African. A Commonwealth co-operation begs to be tried.

When Harold Wilson appeared on television in 1969 to congratulate the Americans for their success in landing men on the Moon, he was leading a hopeless, impoverished country further into poverty and hopelessness, and he knew that Britain could not even dream of matching the achievement. That is no longer the case. When the first man, or woman, sets foot on Mars, it is possible that he will be one born and bred under a British heaven and sent their by his fellows, or by the best from around the Commonwealth. The shadow of the last fifty years should not convince us that another nation is inevitably the leader but inspire us to our own achievements and even to surpass that which was done n those days.



Military coup in Westminster

The Civil War of King and Parliament is much in vogue today. It is not appreciated how at every stage the rebels in Parliament were staring at failure and how remarkable was their eventual, bloody success.  A parliament is a poor method of decision-making and at many points it should have failed.  Even the original Remonstrance of 1642 complaining, quite justly, of the corruption of the King’s ministers passed only by dishonesty and circumstance – so those far more radical resolutions made war on the King are all the more remarkable.

The recent BBC4 series Charles I: Downfall of a King, portrayed very well the tumble towards Civil War, but the events which followed were not inevitable.

In 1648, the war was over and the King was captive on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire, and commissioners were sent to negotiate with him.  Here was the danger for the radicals: there had possibly never been a majority in the Commons for the war, and certainly none in the Lords, and whatever the King proposed might achieve a vote in favour. The Commons would never have voted to try and to execute the King. The war was begun by and fought in the name of the House of Commons, but by the end, Parliament was powerless: the real power lay in the New Model Army, who were too steeped in blood to see all they fought for handed away.

The most learned commentator at the time the war raged was Thomas Hobbes himself in his classic work Behemoth:

But Cromwell marched on to Edinburgh, and there, by the help of the faction which was contrary to Hamilton’s, he made sure not to be hindered in his designs; the first whereof was to take away the King’s life by the hand of the Parliament.

Whilst these things passed in the north, the Parliament, Cromwell being away, came to itself, and recalling their vote of non-addresses, sent to the King new propositions, somewhat, but not much, easier than formerly. And upon the King’s answer to them, they sent commissioners to treat with him at Newport in the Isle of Wight; where they so long dodged with him about trifles, that Cromwell was come to London before they had done, to the King’s destruction. For the army was now wholly at the devotion of Cromwell, who set the adjutators on work again to make a remonstrance to the House of Commons, wherein they require:

1. That the King be brought to justice;

2. That the Prince and the Duke of York be summoned to appear at a day appointed, and proceeded with, according as they should give satisfaction;

3. That the Parliament settle the peace and future government, and set a reasonable period to their own sitting, and make certain future Parliaments annual or biennial;

4. That a competent number of the King’s chief instruments be executed.

And this to be done both by the House of Commons and by a general agreement of the people testified by their subscriptions. Nor did they stay for an answer, but presently set a guard of soldiers at the Parliament-house door, and other soldiers in Westminster Hall, suffering none to go into the House but such as would serve their turns. All others were frighted away, or made prisoners, and some upon divers quarrels suspended; above ninety of them, because they had refused to vote against the Scots; and others, because they had voted against the vote of non-addresses; and the rest were a House for Cromwell.

The fanatics also in the city being countenanced by the army, pack a new common-council, whereof any forty was to be above the mayor; and their first work was to frame a petition for justice against the King, which Tichborne, the mayor, involving the city in the regicide, delivered to the Parliament.

At the same time, with the like violence, they took the King from Newport in the Isle of Wight, to Hurst Castle, till things were ready for his trial.

Hobbes does not name Captain Pride, attributing to Oliver Cromwell the authorship of this military coup, but it was Pride who entered the Commons and expelled from Parliament those who would not serve the Army’s intentions, hence the name “Pride’s Purge”.

The rump of members we call “the Rump Parliament”.  Hobbes continues to describe the Rump’s next actions:

The ordinance being drawn up was brought into the House, where after three several readings it was voted, “that the Lords and Commons of England, assembled in Parliament, do declare, that by the fundamental laws of the realm, it is treason in the King of England to levy war against the Parliament.” And this vote was sent up to the Lords; and they denying their consent, the Commons in anger made another vote; “That all members of committees should proceed and act in any ordinance, whether the Lords concurred or no; and that the people, under God, are the original of all just power; and that the House of Commons have the supreme power of the nation; and that whatsoever the House of Commons enacteth, is law.”

All this passed nemine contradicente.

Pride’s Purge, the army’s exclusion by force of members of Parliament to hand power to those favoured by the army, is the only military coup in English history. This is coup is celebrated by fashionable commentators of our day. Heaven help us all, as they have actual power, through their own, silent coup.

“They had, in their anger against the Lords, formerly declared the supreme power of the nation to be in the House of Commons; and now, on February the 5th, they vote the House of Lords to be useless and dangerous. And thus the kingdom is turned into a democracy, or rather an oligarchy; for presently they made an act, that none of those members, who were secluded for opposing the vote of non-addresses, should ever be re-admitted. And these were commonly called the secluded members; and the rest were by some styled a Parliament, and by others the Rump.

I think you need not now have a catalogue, either of the vices, or of the crimes, or of the follies of the greatest part of them that composed the Long Parliament; than which greater cannot be in the world.”


Murmuring the judges – 2

The system of appointing and keeping judges is often under scrutiny. A few little pushes and a constitutional outrage can be committed in the dark.

In a previous article I looked at the condition of the judiciary and concluded that actually the quality of British judges, in all three of the jurisdictions, is very good, possibly the best in the world, and generally neutral in political controversies.  That makes the system a target for activists.

It would be worse if judges were forced to be political, as they are in the United States. British judges do not get to overturn primary legislation they dislike, and delegated legislation can be struck down only on narrow grounds. They are more vulnerable when decisions turn on social attitudes, and in a multicultural and acultural society in the midst of a culture war, there is no cultural norm and no equilibrium.

David Gauke, Lord Chancellor at the time of writing, gave a speech on 3 July 2019 in which he observed the pressures on judges:

“Those grappling with complex problems are not viewed as public servants but as engaged in a conspiracy to seek to frustrate the will of the public. They are ‘enemies of the people’.”

– and that:

“Our judiciary has a reputation for intellectual rigour, careful consideration of the arguments, and a serious-minded determination to each decision based on what is right and not necessarily what is superficially popular. I am not sure that all politicians have the same reputation.”

The easy target in the speech was ‘populism’, but there is more pressure from social justice warriors. A judge stepping out of line in a judgment or an intervention may be attacked more ruthlessly then being called an enemy of the people.  A judge may make the rather obvious point that a young woman who gets recklessly drunk in a low dive wearing provocative clothes is putting herself at unnecessary risk, but those judges who have said that have reaped a whirlwind of complaints. Had they suggested ‘she deserves it’ that would be despicable but just to suggest that people take more care of their own safety should not be criticised.

This post could be filled with pages of examples of magistrates and officials removed for expressing the slightest dissent from the progressivist line, but that would serve little purpose: the process of Twitterstorm, written complaint and disciplinary action is well known. The main point is whether social justice warriors can enforce their will, and to what extent.

High Court judges have a constitutional protection: they can only be removed after a joint address from both Houses of Parliament.  That ensures that they are politically independent.  Over the course of the three centuries since that rule was enacted, only one judge has been removed by this procedure, for criminal abuse of his position. Circuit judges are less well protected, but there cannot be removed at a whim. For those in the lowest positions, and lay magistrates, a word may remove them.

Watch for voices claiming the current system is old-fashioned or, worse still. ‘obsolete’. It will not be the populists who do that, but the ‘unpopulists’; those with a woke agenda.  They will be working in the dark, in committees and all the little offices that that have been infiltrated on the Long March.

We should all worry about making it easier to sack judges, as that they would be removed for petty reasons.  The argument in learned reports will talk of taking action where a judge has committed a crime or corruption, or become a Weinstein, for that is the way to prise the lid off.

The lid off, it would open the way to politically motivated sackings and we would have an ochlocracy.  The Daily Mail headline about “Enemies of the People” was mild and brief compared with pressure from within the establishment; and the new establishment, not the democratic overlay.  Political storms are easy to begin without thought: when the ‘Birmingham Six’ had their convictions overturned, one MP tried to start the process to sack the judge who had gaoled them, but could go no further as constitutional procedure is robust against emotional lashing-out, but when there is a disciplinary procedure, ,that will be another matter: every so often there is a Twitter storm demanding sackings for public officials alleged to have said something unfortunate (whether they did or not – Roger Scruton’s treatment is still raw). When once even High Court and Supreme Court judges are vulnerable, there is no stopping it.

We would end up with fearful, bland, useless judges, taken from the ranks of those meek and willing to be led by the changing fashions of discourse, not those willing and able to command, which is what a judge must do.