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.

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Books

Ethiopia, burning paradise

Do not forget Ethiopia. It is not the land of eternal suffering as popular imagination would have it, or it need not be. It is an ancient culture in a land of wonders, ruined by past wars but which was striding towards prosperity, until a new civil war began.

I wrote before about the vital work being carried out to heal Tigray after the Communists ravaged its land and turned fields into desert. Tigray was beginning to regain its old status as a leading province of the nation, but it is Tigray which war has struck.

The news is infrequent. It is not that nothing is happening, but that reporters are not interested in far countries that seem doomed to suffer every misfortune, and so are their audiences for the most part. We cannot write Ethiopia’s story for it though. It is not just a cliché, a charity case, a one-line thumbnail of a country. It is a large and complex nation that had cities and mighty monarchs when Britons lived in dark, Bronze Age huts.

The war is a cruel one. Atrocities have been commonplace, massacres, rapes, crop-burning and village-burning. It scarcely bears thinking about and no wonder we turn away. This is not a moral reflection on either side, as any ill-disciplined army commits atrocities (just whisper ‘Badajoz’ before you leap to judgment): it is a reflection of the immorality of war in general, and of civil war in particular.

Hobbes asserted that the sovereign power must be one, or the state will fall into discord and war and that is exactly what happened here: two authorities contending over who should be master. Civil discord commonly breaks out over who governs and how, but:

the estate of Man can never be without some incommodity or other; and that the greatest, that in any forme of Government can possibly happen to the people in generall, is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a Civill Warre; or that dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge

The Tigrayans have been at the heart of Ethiopia’s being every since there was a united Ethiopian state, and many times in its history they were the dominant, ruling sub-nation. When Communist rule tottered, it was Tigrayans, in Eritrea and the wider Tigrayan regions, who rose and drove them from the capital, so one might detect in the rebellion a sense of wanting to gain that which their arms won, and which people of their name enjoyed centuries before.

However, rebellion and war are cruel and the suffering far exceeds any imagined gain. The weeping mothers were despoiled by soldier, not by one side or the other, but soldiers, whatever their uniform.

Ethiopia deserves peace. Let us hope there are prayers enough to bring it.

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Forgetting Tank Man

The year of the liberation of millions in Europe, 1989, was also the year millions were freshly enslaved in China. Tiananmen Square in Peking saw protests mirroring those which were opening up half a world away, but in China they were crushed, cruelly. The echo of the shots is still heard today.

Yesterday Bing’s search engine ‘lost ‘ Tank Man, the iconic image. The reason for that happening we can guess at an they will not easily admit it. It affects us today. Tank Man is an enduring symbol of something about China of which we need to keep reminding ourselves.

Thousands were slaughtered in the city. China began like Europe that year, reaching to breathe free, but as Europe stumbled into the light, China fell into deeper darkness. To some that tells that the Chinese people are radically different, unsuited to freedom. Those with a better appreciation of Chinese culture recognise the stereotype but know it to be untrue.

The end was cruel, but the events which led there disprove a common idea about Chinese people: they are not automata; they can yearn to breathe free like any others. In 1989, Chinese men stood in the street demanding freedom exactly as others did in Central Europe. Tanks rolled in to crush them, and that tells you about their government, but to learn something of the people, watch the man who stood in front of them, with some faith that the men inside were men like himself, with a heart for freedom that could overcome the orders of a tyrant. Would that they had resisted as he did, as the soldiers in Eastern Europe resisted the same demands.

There is no doubt that China is a world apart, with an ancient culture that need not look to the West for lessons. Men are men though, and when Hobbes observed the motivations and actions of men in creating society and a common-wealth, he could write with equal justice of the Chinese as of the Britons.

So then we come to the disappearance of Tank Man. It is an image which is a threat to the Chinese Communist Party: it shows that bowed submission is not inevitable, that a Chinese man can stand up against authority. As such it is suppressed in Mainland China. In a democratic country, images however harmful to the standing of the government are freely circulated, and so accepted it this that it seems ridiculous that I even have to write that down.

It is a most pointed reminder because it happened in 1989, and in that same year communist parties collapsed across Eastern Europe, and in Algeria and Mongolia, the latter on China’s very borders. The Chinese Communist Party may no longer be communist, but it is a fascist tyranny feeling its fragility. There may be genuine belief that China cannot survive without the firm hand keeping it from the murderous turmoil which has regularly engulfed the Middle Kingdom in all past ages. It must be suppressed.

Bing called the disappearance a human error. I doubt that. It would take deliberate programming to exclude that term from a search engine algorithm. Neither though do I think that it was a conscious decision by the company. Any large technology company has a wide range of employees of all backgrounds, and it is no stretch to imagine that among them could be one or more who is an agent, paid or voluntary, of the Peking government, and who would inveigle himself into a position where he could control content. There is precedent for it: ‘social justice warriors’ working in publishing or in Internet companies ensure they are in a position to control output.

The challenge for the West is that this interference crosses borders: the Bing obliteration of Tank Man was effected not in a dictatorship but in America. That power invading our countries is a threat we have not faced in peacetime before.

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America loses its Virgin Islands

The United States Virgin Islands are to be sold, after 104 years, to pay for the Biden COVID relief package. Joe Biden conceded that it was a wrench but they were offered hard cash, and that is hard to come by these days.

A spokesman for the State Department acknowledged the sale, saying that no one had wanted to keep the islands – they were a drain on the US Treasury for no return and there are plenty of better beach resorts along the Gulf Coast anyhow.

The Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark in 1917 to prevent the Germans getting hold of them during the Great War, amid fears that the Kaiser would erect giant sausage factories within reach of the American mainland and assault American nostrils with the smell of industrial cabbage pickling vats. The Americans only intended to hold the islands until the war was over and they could be flogged back to the British Empire, but they got forgotten during a drinking bout at Versailles.

In the meantime, the neighbouring British Virgin Islands have become one of the most successful territories in the world, while the American islands have withered. Various attempts to dump them have failed: at the last vote, most of the electorate stayed on the beach collecting welfare cheques.

The State Department were unable to say who had bought the islands: they thought it was the British government, which is what they wanted, but thinking back on that ‘phone call they were not sure any more. The man on the ‘phone was talking gibberish so they assumed it was Boris Johnson, but it might have been some other man called Boris. It could have been one of the corporations over in the BVI, but that’s fine.

Joe Biden said of the deal “This is an opportunity for America to go forward in its main goals, to get rid of past mistakes, and, well anyway, I, erm..”

The US Treasury expressed concern that the price has been paid in US dollars, as those will be practically worthless in a couple of years when the COVID relief package has fed through and hyper-inflation cuts the price of a dollar to a cent.

Putin: we’re coming for you

You will not escape our scrutiny. we have our eyes on Russia no less than does the Skibbereen Eagle itself. Your cold brutality opposes every British value, which are the only values any decent man or woman should have. the dignity of every individual, the rule of law making freedom an everyday instinct and reality. We will not leave you a free pass nor let your practices become the way we oppose the destruction of society.

Western society is being destroyed: we see how it is going and from whom, just as you do, and we oppose it just as you do, but you are not us and we will not swap a woke tyranny for a Putin one.

Its a powerful world stage for you: I do not know if you influenced last year’s election in America, but your patsy got into the White House anyway; there has not been a weaker more submissive, pointless president since Medvedev. You may want to use this situation to impose yourself more strongly upon the world, but you have to get through us first.

Look us in the eye, Vladimir Vladimirovich. What do you have? You may have a large (or largely drunken) army, you may have agents and useful idiots everywhere, absolute control over a country 5,000 miles long, some of it even inhabited, guns, bombs and novichok – but we have keyboards, and we’re not afraid to use them.

We are British, something you can never be, so be jealous, and afraid.

Here on this site we are united: we have you, Putin, in our sights and will pursue you relentlessly. (Unless you’ve got a job going that pays well – preferably working from home – will learn basic Russian if required – all reasonable offers considered.)

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