Absolute Soveraignty

As I have heard some say, that Justice is but a word, without substance; and that whatsoever a man can by force, or art, acquire to himselfe, (not onely in the condition of warre, but also in a Common-wealth,) is his own, which I have already shewed to be false: So there be also that maintain, that there are no grounds, nor Principles of Reason, to sustain those essentiall Rights, which make Soveraignty absolute. For if there were, they would have been found out in some place, or other; whereas we see, there has not hitherto been any Common-wealth, where those Rights have been acknowledged, or challenged.

Wherein they argue as ill, as if the Savage people of America, should deny there were any grounds, or Principles of Reason, so to build a house, as to last as long as the materials, because they never yet saw any so well built.

Time, and Industry, produce every day new knowledge. And as the art of well building, is derived from Principles of Reason, observed by industrious men, that had long studied the nature of materials, and the divers effects of figure, and proportion, long after mankind began (though poorly) to build: So, long time after men have begun to constitute Common-wealths, imperfect, and apt to relapse into disorder, there may, Principles of Reason be found out, by industrious meditation, to make use of them, or be neglected by them, or not, concerneth my particular interest, at this day, very little.

But supposing that these of mine are not such Principles of Reason; yet I am sure they are Principles from Authority of Scripture; as I shall make it appear, when I shall come to speak of the Kingdome of God, (administred by Moses,) over the Jewes, his peculiar people by Covenant.

 Objection From The Incapacity Of The Vulgar

But they say again, that though the Principles be right, yet Common people are not of capacity enough to be made to understand them. I should be glad, that the Rich, and Potent Subjects of a Kingdome, or those that are accounted the most Learned, were no lesse incapable than they.

But all men know, that the obstructions to this kind of doctrine, proceed not so much from the difficulty of the matter, as from the interest of them that are to learn.

Potent men, digest hardly any thing that setteth up a Power to bridle their affections; and Learned men, any thing that discovereth their errours, and thereby lesseneth their Authority: whereas the Common-peoples minds, unlesse they be tainted with dependance on the Potent, or scribbled over with the opinions of their Doctors, are like clean paper, fit to receive whatsoever by Publique Authority shall be imprinted in them.

See also

Books

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

Dissolution through private judgment

Private Judgement Of Good and Evill

In the second place, I observe the Diseases of a Common-wealth, that proceed from the poyson of seditious doctrines; whereof one is, “That every private man is Judge of Good and Evill actions.” This is true in the condition of meer Nature, where there are no Civill Lawes; and also under Civill Government, in such cases as are not determined by the Law. But otherwise, it is manifest, that the measure of Good and Evill actions, is the Civill Law; and the Judge the Legislator, who is alwayes Representative of the Common-wealth.

From this false doctrine, men are disposed to debate with themselves, and dispute the commands of the Common-wealth; and afterwards to obey, or disobey them, as in their private judgements they shall think fit. Whereby the Common-wealth is distracted and Weakened.

 Erroneous Conscience

Another doctrine repugnant to Civill Society, is, that “Whatsoever a man does against his Conscience, is Sinne;” and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of Good and Evill.

For a mans Conscience, and his Judgement is the same thing; and as the Judgement, so also the Conscience may be erroneous. Therefore, though he that is subject to no Civill Law, sinneth in all he does against his Conscience, because he has no other rule to follow but his own reason; yet it is not so with him that lives in a Common-wealth; because the Law is the publique Conscience, by which he hath already undertaken to be guided. Otherwise in such diversity, as there is of private Consciences, which are but private opinions, the Common-wealth must needs be distracted, and no man dare to obey the Soveraign Power, farther than it shall seem good in his own eyes.

 Pretence Of Inspiration

It hath been also commonly taught, “That Faith and Sanctity, are not to be attained by Study and Reason, but by supernaturall Inspiration, or Infusion,” which granted, I see not why any man should render a reason of his Faith; or why every Christian should not be also a Prophet; or why any man should take the Law of his Country, rather than his own Inspiration, for the rule of his action.

And thus wee fall again into the fault of taking upon us to Judge of Good and Evill; or to make Judges of it, such private men as pretend to be supernaturally Inspired, to the Dissolution of all Civill Government. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by those accidents, which guide us into the presence of them that speak to us; which accidents are all contrived by God Almighty; and yet are not supernaturall, but onely, for the great number of them that concurre to every effect, unobservable. Faith, and Sanctity, are indeed not very frequent; but yet they are not Miracles, but brought to passe by education, discipline, correction, and other naturall wayes, by which God worketh them in his elect, as such time as he thinketh fit.

And these three opinions, pernicious to Peace and Government, have in this part of the world, proceeded chiefly from the tongues, and pens of unlearned Divines; who joyning the words of Holy Scripture together, otherwise than is agreeable to reason, do what they can, to make men think, that Sanctity and Naturall Reason, cannot stand together.

See also

Books