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

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.

See also

Books

Gorchfygu’r Wyddfa

No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.

(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)

There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.

It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?

The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.

I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.

There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.

I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.

That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.

Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.

See also

Mourning – a mystery

I have found it hard to write about mourning and grief. Even Hobbes barely mentions it, perhaps because it was too painful, which in my own circumstance I understand. The late national mourning is sincere but of a different quality from genuine, gnawing, personal grief.

Grief and mourning are connected but distinct. Grief is internal, a stabbing at the heart – mourning is best described as a public act. It is an outward expression of grief, or of what should, socially, be required as grief. Perhaps it helps in the grieving process by letting out a pent-up tension within. Perhaps instead it makes the grief worse by serving as a reminder of things put out of mind, and because of the expectation that it will come to an end, when the grief never will.

The only reference to mourning in Leviathan is in an examination of the distortions used to justify the unscriptural Romanist doctrine of Purgatory: that the act of mourning is directed at a soul not placed yet in Heaven or Hell, which is a nonsense: “And thus with hard straining, hee has wrested those places to the proofe of a Purgatory”

whereas it is manifest, that the ceremonies of Mourning, and Fasting, when they are used for the death of men, whose life was not profitable to the Mourners, they are used for honours sake to their persons; and when tis done for the death of them by whose life the Mourners had benefit, it proceeds from their particular dammage: And so David honoured Saul, and Abner, with his Fasting; and in the death of his owne child, recomforted himselfe, by receiving his ordinary food.

No more does he say. As his life drew to a close, Hobbes wrote a Latin poem, later translated, telling the story of his own life. It is not a jewel of poetry, but shows the writer’s own priorities. At no point does he mention the death of his mother or of his father. Nowhere does he pity himself for having never married and produced progeny, so intense was his work. This does not mean that he did not grief or that he did not mourn. When his mother died we do not know – she is mentioned only in relation to giving birth at the shock of the approach of the Armada. There are things one does not write of, which are too painful. In those things there may be no outward morning, but grief, real grief there is indeed.

Why we mourn is individual. Every society has its rituals. They began as ways to rationalise grief and alleviate it perhaps in celebration of the achievements of the departed. In each culture they grow though to mocking versions of the original, into elaborate ceremonies of obligation that increase the pressure on the family, and impliedly condemn those who do not follow the prescribed form. Just as you want t crawl into a corner and hide from the world, you are dragged into what is effectively a tortuous party. Several cultures have the concept of professional mourners, which is a horrid mockery.

Perhaps the current restriction on funerals, to thirty people, is actually a blessing, as it tears away the social obligation to gather a hundred strangers with a hundred personal animosities together for a shadow-play, when you want to go and weep alone.

Character imbues the endeavour

Behind every successful enterprise is the character of its founder, without which it can only fade into mediocrity. History is but the biography of great men, Carlyle assures us: we prefer now to see systems and processes, but he was right: that initial spark of genius puts life into words and forms it into success or failure. The departure of that founder may often be its end.

Rome required Augustus. There could have been no Napoleonic Empire without Napoleon. As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.

A successful institution cannot be created just by one who knows that something must be done, but who knows what must be done, and how. It is not enough to determine objectives and pay hired men to pursue them: they do not have the vision nor motivation. Real objectives cannot be rendered in words but must be lived. It was the genius of the late Duke of Edinburgh that he could see the destination and the route, he could find those who shared his vision and he made them enthusiastic. He also made sure they got on with it. He was a consummate naval officer.

He did not see ideas in a one-dimensional nor black-and-white manner. His enthusiasm for science and engineering saw no contradiction in his love of nature and drive for conservation. The two do not conflict and have come to complement each other. Nature conservation is very much of our time, but before the Duke of Edinburgh took a hand it barely registered beyond the confines of the National Trust and faintly embarrassing feelings of nostalgia – but while the National Trust were content to buy to preserve and leave otherwise alone, the charities established by Prince Philip took on active research, education, engagement of local bodies, and creating a ‘conservation community’. That cannot be done without vision and a clear objective, and these cannot be achieved without the mind to direct them. The Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Wildfowl Trust (‘We formed it over dinner – duck I think it was.’); these are the product of a focussed mind.

The most popular legacy is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, which was quickly established all over the Commonwealth, and it above all bears the stamp of the Prince’s character and drive. It breeds drive, independence and resilience: I cannot imagine any committee coming up with it. Those of us who have been through it up to Gold, carry its legacy with us, which is a piece of the character of the Scheme’s founder. It has gone beyond the Commonwealth too and had imitators. (The Duke of Bragança, the man who should be King of Portugal, formed his own scheme in his homeland, but follows the template and the drive laid down by the Duke of Edinburgh.)

The challenge for a founder is to keep the foundation going beyond his time.  It is not easy.  The state built by Cromwell could be built only by Oliver, and when he died, his son Richard was unable to hold it even for a year, as Hobbes recounts:

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

….The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

Systems are attractive, but systems are dead hands: it needs men and women of vision. Systems without new growth are restraints against the very creativity which was required for the foundation they bind. The founder must therefore not just create a system but create successors who have the life of the idea within them. Robert Baden-Powell achieved it, with a good deal of the cult of personality to follow him – each troop runs as if B-P were looking over their shoulder even today.

I think of the sudden enthusiasm for free schools, which had great success, when there was for each a directing mind. As long as that mind has remained to guide and to chide, they continue to thrive. Some were established by parents wanting a better school for their children, but they have seen their sons and daughters grow up, leave the school, and they themselves need no longer be involved: those schools can flourish only if the enthusiasm is renewed with each upcoming generation.

Now, to be fair, vision is not enough for continuance: Jordan Peterson observed that two characters are needed: it takes a liberal, creative mind to create a new endeavour, and a diligent, conservative mind to run it. The great men are those who can be both.

Some foundations of our age have fallen into dotage by following good but dead rules, the fire having gone out. Many have been captured by political activists lusting after their funds and the prestige of their name, but with no care for the original drive.

For those foundations created by the Duke of Edinburgh there is hope, because much of his drive was in creating in his successors the same vision. The Award Scheme has alumni ready to take on the world, knowing what the scheme is for. The conservation charities found a new dynamic, beyond mere preservation. He has gone, but his spirit imbues them all. Long may it last.

Going back to Carlyle, he explained his theme at greater length than an line:

Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these

The imperial system of Augustus went into decline the moment he breathed his last. Napoleon’s too as he boarded the Bellerophon to exile. Their achievements were “the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men” and nothing without them. We may hope for better from the foundations left to us where the spirit of the founder still fills them.

See also