Hobbes and the Libertarian – 2

The American Constitution is lauded for entrenching liberty, but there is little everyday freedom in the cities of that land. The South African Constitution is at pains to demand personal liberty and equality, but its people live in fear.

America’s prosperity is a factor of their personal freedom as much as it is of the space available to the Americans, and the legendary American work ethic which grows from that personal freedom. There is genuine freedom promised and enjoyed that is greater even than Britons enjoy in may fields, but it remains the case that while I can walk in complete safety, day or night, through any neighbourhood, there are many places in the cities where Americans dare not step from their cars. This displays the libertarian paradox.

In contrast, an example of a truly free society might be the Falkland Islands: crime free, such that no one locks their doors, each islander living without fear from their neighbour or their government. On the other hand, it is a physically constrained society where opportunities are limited, and that is a limit on freedom.

What then is a truly libertarian society?

Hobbes observed that liberty is not to be defined by theory:

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.

This is to say that under any state, the existence of sovereignty abnegates entirely the natural freedom of the individual to exactly the same degree, whether in a free city of his time like Lucca (or like the Anglosphere nations in our own), or in a vicious tyranny like the Ottoman Empire (or any number of dictatorships in our day). One could say that in London one is just as much under the complete command of the laws as in Peking: it is just that in practice the laws are mostly mild and benevolent in Britain.

Actual personal liberty is not a factor just of the relationship with the state, or Common-wealth in Hobbesian terms, but of fact and sensation. Complete legal liberty is enjoyed where there is no Common-wealth, but then we are prey to every passing stranger, “and the life of man of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”.

This consideration ensures that the United States of America, for all the promises of their constitution, cannot be a libertarian land. In America merely walking the the downtown areas of the main cities in daylight is fatal: the first-hand stories I have been told by Britons who did not appreciate this would make your hair stand on end. In reaction, policing in America is brutal and occasionally deadly; not as much as the media or activists portray, but breath-taking from an outside view. Outside the cities if crime is low, the Americans may enjoy the liberty their national myth promises.

Undoubtedly the proliferation of guns in America is a major factor. If Commonwealth countries forbid guns, which is an anti-libertarian move, that ban may produce a net increase in liberty.

A theoretical problem for a nominally free but lawless society is Hobbes’s observation on when a sovereign ceases to be worthy of obedience. This comes from what we might call a libertarian understanding of sovereignty, namely that ‘the end of Obedience is Protection’. He asserts:

The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord.

If the state makes itself weak, in the name of freedom, it ceases to do its fundamental duty, namely to protect its subjects. In that case not only can it reduce actual freedom, but it absolves its subjects from any duty of obedience.

A truly libertarian state therefore must retain complete sovereignty, just as much as that of China or any other tyranny, but be distinguished from a tyrant by its actions in using that mighty power for protecting personal freedom, which is the purpose of its having that power.

See also

Books

Getting back to competence

The government system has been failing badly for over a year. The excuse is COVID-19. More human factors should take the blame. Recent years should that the system can become competent and efficient, and we must claw that back.

The idea of bureaucracy as universally bumbling petty clerks, tickboxes, computer-says-no and all that has some truth behind it, but looking back at pre-lockdown days, it was quite efficient in many respects, thanks to the systems. Systems can be inflexible and infuriating, but they do carry the majority of business through, and when computerised systems do the donkey-work it allows the brains of the human element to do their job. I never realised how efficient it could be until it stopped being.

The lockdown came. Staff were sent home. The carefully prepared systems stopped working. The COVID excuse could excuse any failure. Once there is an unarguable excuse, failure is inevitable.

Nevertheless, there has been an astounding success in this same time: the vaccination programme. It shows that systems can work when there are dedicated minds and dedicated hands behind it. That sort of efficiency can be brought to the rest of government as we coming out of lockdown.

For now, systems that were once efficient are in collapse. Sometimes it might have been bad planning: talk to any solicitor for more than a few minutes and you will be told about the fall of the Land Registry’s. This was the most efficient of government bodies, certifying land ownership for a fee unchanged for many years, as costs decreased with efficient systems, processing applications almost by return. Then the lockdown hit and staff were sent home. Perhaps managers assumed that sales and leases would stop in lockdown, but in fact after the initial shock the market barely slowed. Without the staff on hand to handle the continuing workflow, registrations they would once have processed by return are taking several months, and those that would have been a week now get an estimated completion time of over a year. This must hit the liquidity of the property market.

Similar tales can be told of passport applications, driving licence applications and other: applications are piled up for months awaiting someone to look at them. Dedicated staff are frustrated, while others are comforted that they COVID gives them a cast-iron excuse, and if those few staff slow down and stop, the rest have no workflow to deal with.

A danger in the phrase ‘the new normal’ is that we will not get back to where we were. Staff will continue to work from home, or work in inverted commas; the target times for processing things will be set by today’s appalling standards; driving licence applications will still be piled high for four months before being processed; passport applications will either hang around until the holidays are over, or to catch up they may be processed too quickly to check for the frauds. The telephones will not be answered, because it has been so restful not to deal with calls, and emails lie unseen.

The vaccination programme shows that the civil service can work hard and well, bulldozing barriers to what is needed. There, COVID-19 was not an excuse but a driving force.

In the commercial world there is no “new normal”: we work to achieve results. The civil service must have no new normal either, unless the new normality is the efficiency shown by the vaccine drive.

See also

Books

The abilities that are required of him that will deliberate of business of state

IN deliberatives there are to be considered the subject wherein, and the ends whereto, the orator exhorteth, or from which he dehorteth.

The subject is always something in our own power, the knowledge whereof belongs not to rhetoric, but for the most part to the politics; and may be referred in a manner to these five heads.

1. Of levying of money

To which point he that will speak as he ought to do, ought to know beforehand the revenue of the state, how much it is, and wherein it consisteth, and also how great are the necessary charges and expenses of the same. This knowledge is gotten partly by a man’s own experience, partly by relations and accounts in writing.

2. Of peace and war

Concerning which the counsellor or deliberator ought to know the strength of the commonwealth, how much it both now is, and hereafter may be, and wherein that power consisteth. Which knowledge is gotten, partly by experience and relations at home, and partly by the sight of wars and of their events abroad.

3. Of the safeguard of the country.

Wherein he only is able to give counsel, that knows the forms, and number, and places of the garrisons.

4. Of provision

Wherein to speak well, it is necessary for a man to know what is sufficient to maintain the state, which commodities they have at home growing, what they must fetch in through need, and what they may carry out through abundance.

5. Of making laws.

To which is necessary so  much political or civil philosophy, as to know what are the several kinds of governments, and by what means, either from without or from within, each of those kinds is preserved or destroyed. And this knowledge is gotten, partly by observing the several governments in times past by history, and partly by observing the government of the times present in several nations, by travel.

So that to him that will speak in a council of state, there is necessary this; history, sight of wars, travel, knowledge of the revenue, expenses, forces, havens, garrisons, wares, and provisions in the state he lives in, and what is needful for that state either to export or import.

See also

Books

Justice And Injustice What

And in this law of Nature, consisteth the Fountain and Originall of JUSTICE. For where no Covenant hath preceded, there hath no Right been transferred, and every man has right to every thing; and consequently, no action can be Unjust. But when a Covenant is made, then to break it is Unjust: And the definition of INJUSTICE, is no other than The Not Performance Of Covenant. And whatsoever is not Unjust, is Just.

Justice And Propriety Begin With The Constitution of Common-wealth But because Covenants of mutuall trust, where there is a feare of not performance on either part, (as hath been said in the former Chapter,) are invalid; though the Originall of Justice be the making of Covenants; yet Injustice actually there can be none, till the cause of such feare be taken away; which while men are in the naturall condition of Warre, cannot be done.

Therefore before the names of Just, and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power, to compell men equally to the performance of their Covenants, by the terrour of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their Covenant; and to make good that Propriety, which by mutuall Contract men acquire, in recompence of the universall Right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a Common-wealth.

And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of Justice in the Schooles: For they say, that “Justice is the constant Will of giving to every man his own.” And therefore where there is no Own, that is, no Propriety, there is no Injustice; and where there is no coerceive Power erected, that is, where there is no Common-wealth, there is no Propriety; all men having Right to all things: Therefore where there is no Common-wealth, there nothing is Unjust. So that the nature of Justice, consisteth in keeping of valid Covenants: but the Validity of Covenants begins not but with the Constitution of a Civill Power, sufficient to compell men to keep them: And then it is also that Propriety begins.

See also

Books

What did You do in the Culture War?

It has to come to this: action or defeat. Act, and wisely. First realise that this is not a two-sided fight: the new-left and alt-right are both the enemy to the values of good sense and freedom; the ideals of the English-speaking world.

What to though: what can be done by someone with no influence nor any real desire to be shunned at social gatherings, when they are finally allowed?

For one thing, ask yourself why you think you would be shunned for acting as you must or expressing opinions which are actually those of the great majority of people. What actual power do the new-left have over you or polite society?  They have none but the power your fear gives them. The first enemies to defeat are your own lack of confidence and your fear of shadows.

The left-wing, the woke mob, whatever you call the general tendency, do not have a monopoly of spoken opinion. Even if they have the numbers, they cannot dominate because modern media does not work like that. Looking at America, it has in this generation few journalists worthy of the name, but a variety of online media which has broken the dull conformity. The mainstream channels can pump out lazy platitudes and woke nonsense all they like, but Ben Shapiro on his own can have just as much reach alone in a studio. That is how opinion balances in the open market: one young man can beat ten thousand hardened journalists.

Then again, Ben Shapiro is a genius. Were he not there, we would be in trouble. He has the reach with others do not have, and he can do more. Recently his company even launched a film studio, specifically to break the dominance of the woke-bound big players.

Jordan Peterson is another, calling out nonsense on both sides: who would imagine that a university lecture series on clinical psychology would be getting million+ hits on YouTube? It works because he speaks plainly and truthfully. A lecture series full of mendacious left-wing platitudes would fall flat.

A hundred years ago there were Marxists feeling frustrated that whatever they did, the Establishment institutions were in other hands and they would make no progress in breaking and remaking society until they could achieve a Long March through the Institutions. Well, now they have achieved that and are in command of the heights. Now it needs a Long March of common sense to drive them off.

Most of us are not capable of doing such great works as those like Ben Shapiro, but there must be things to do – the left-wing do not stop just because they are incapable.

First then, I will look at where those with power get that power, and how they pretend to power they do not have. There will be articles to follow. That is my target. What is yours?

See also