…I was asleep in my garden, when I was awoken by what in my dreams seemed to be the ringing of a telephone; but which was in fact the song of a bird. How fortunate I am to live in a place where the reality is better than the dream!
” This is an election, and any politician knows that the laws of economics are suspended for the duration of the campaign”
John Rentoul writing in “The Independent” [ U.K.] about the Conservative proposal to cap energy prices in Britain.
I gather that the people near Chatres are saying that in this presidential election they are being asked to choose between cholera and a plague! How right they are! Consider, on the one hand, a fundamentalist liberal who will find it difficult to govern because he will lack support in the National Assembly; but who will ( unquestionably !) do the bidding of those in Brussels who have so shamelessly supported him.
And on the other side, Marion Le Pen. She has done a good deal to decontaminate her party from her father’s legacy. But she has not moved far enough. There is undeniably a certain darkness about her. She is also utterly ignorant of economics. Her doubts about the European project as currently constituted may well be justified, but her protectionist instincts are not. She is right too in thinking that the Islamic presence in France is a challenge, but it clearly calls for a much more considered approach than the one she offers.
The trouble, of course, is that the character said to be representing the combination of traditional values and market based economics which this web site defends, was quite unelectable. He and his Welsh wife turned out to be a pair of rascals with their hands in the till, and their children little better. Consequently he was knocked out in the first round of the election and has since vanished…perhaps to reappear in court later!
Donald Trump’s election shows that in politics anything is now possible. But Mrs May’s destruction of UKIP in the British local elections that there are limits to the appeal of extremism if a more sensible conservative alternative is available. And it has been the absence of such a alternative which has led to the election of Mr. Macron in France. The fact that Mr. Trump was ( just ) elected in The United States does not mean that French conservatives – however they style themselves- can in future avoid the need of finding an honourable candidate who can do justice to their cause. As patriots they have a deep responsibility to ensure that the French people are never again presented with a choice between cholera and a plague!
For those interested in the details of the forthcoming British election there can be no better source of information than that provided by Anthony Wells at YouGov- which we have added to our British links. The YouGov site carries details of all recent polls not just those conducted by YouGov, as well as excellent onward links to a variety of British political sites. Strongly recommended!
FREEDOM AND COMMUNITY: A CONSERVATIVE PERSPECTIVE
BY PHILIP VANDER ELST
Living as we do in the age of the Internet and 24/7 radio and television, our lives and perspectives are now dominated as never before by the daily news cycle and the insistent pressures of the immediate present. The resulting shortening of our time horizons, combined with digital information overload, tends to blot out the past, and by doing so, reduces our ability to learn its lessons and benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before us. One particularly damaging consequence of this is that our western societies have lost sight of the necessary moral, philosophical, and cultural foundations of political and civil liberty. Too few amongst our ‘educated’ classes have read and absorbed the great classics of the old western liberal and conservative tradition – a pardonable oversight perhaps, given the overproduction of modern academic books and publications, and the consequent lack of time available to university and college students to read anything else in the course of their studies. But however it has come about, this cultural blind spot has both paved the way for and been reinforced by ‘political correctness’. Instead of allowing what C.S. Lewis called “the clean air of the centuries” to blow through their minds via the reading of ancient texts, all too many people have become imprisoned in a kind of intellectual provincialism of the present, unable to question or challenge modern ideas and assumptions, because they cannot compare them with those of previous ages and cultures. As a small contribution to countering this phenomenon, I am therefore resurrecting, for 21st century readers, a slightly amended article I wrote in October 1995 about the relationship between freedom and community, and what we can learn about both these important subjects, and their interconnectedness, from the writings of the great classical liberal and conservative thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries. As I think many readers may agree, its subject matter is arguably more relevant today than it was at the time it was originally written.
Tory MP, John Redwood’s recent suggestion that young single mothers should be encouraged to seek financial support from their families or consider having their babies adopted before becoming eligible for State aid, has predictably aroused a storm of controversy, but his concern for the moral and social fabric of society is symptomatic of an increasingly significant trend in British politics. The traditional post-war preoccupation with economic issues, while still very much alive, is increasingly making room for a growing political debate about moral and social values, as journalists, academics and politicians respond to public anxieties about rising crime, family fragmentation and the general coarsening of art, entertainment and city life in Britain.
A similar trend is also visible in other industrialized countries, notably the United States, and suggests that most of our technologically advanced western societies are in the throes of a very serious cultural crisis, the response to which will determine whether or not we succeed in preserving our liberties and a civilized social order in the coming century.
Although this cultural crisis has a number of different though interrelated causes, two stand out with particular clarity: the weakening and destruction of communal values outside the State; and equally important, the subversion and erosion of the virtues, values and traditions upon which freedom depends. Both these causes feed each other and have their roots in ideological changes that have been gathering force in Britain and elsewhere since the second half of the 19th century, producing a mental and moral climate which would hor
rify the great proponents and architects of Western liberty were they alive today to observe it.
This reference to the thinkers of the past who have been instrumental in advancing the cause of freedom – men, for instance, like Adam Smith (1723-1790), Tocqueville (1805-1859) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) – introduces the central theme of this article: that most of our troubles stem from the fact that we have retrogressed in our understanding of human nature and society, because over a long period, our intellectual leaders and opinion-formers have ignored or forgotten some of the most important truths propounded by these famous exponents of the Conservative and classical liberal traditions.
The first neglected insight we must strive to recover is that since society is not identical with the State, the preservation or restoration of the ideal of community should not be seen as a recipe for increasing the powers and functions of government – the great historic error of the Left. By the same token, looking at the reverse side of that coin, the supporters of capitalism and the market economy should free themselves from the illusion that the pursuit of rational self-interest provides a sufficient motive for human action and an adequate ethic for a free society.
To acknowledge that we have duties and responsibilities towards our neighbour beyond simply looking after our families, doing our jobs, and respecting other people’s rights and property, is not a threat to personal freedom but simply a recognition that helping others in the right way adds to the sum of human dignity, happiness and achievement, by giving individuals opportunities they might not otherwise have to develop their talents, widen their horizons, and live life to the full. To celebrate what Adam Smith called “benevolence” is therefore not to condemn or belittle enlightened self-interest, but to recognize, as he did, that a good and healthy society cannot live by the commercial ethic alone. Conservative philosophers like Edmund Burke (1729-1797) have additionally reminded us that not only are we members of society rather than an island unto ourselves, but society itself is an organic compact between past, present and future generations which we ought to honour and cherish. Just as we benefit by inheriting the wisdom, achievements and advances of our ancestors, so we ought to be good stewards of this accumulated moral, social and intellectual capital, adding to it in our lifetime for the benefit of posterity as well as for ourselves.
Ayn Rand’s view
whose philosophical novels have exerted a huge influence on American and British libertarians, should have made the serious mistake of identifying altruism with collectivism. Whilst her eloquent celebration of personal independence and creativity in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged provides a much-needed corrective to the collectivist notion that the individual exists only for the sake of the community, her depiction of altruism as the morality of self-sacrifice, and therefore incompatible with the idea that individuals are ends in themselves, is simply false. As the Christian concept that we should ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ makes clear, there is no conflict between the recognition that we have a duty to help the innocent victims of misfortune and, at the same time, have a legitimate right to the fruits of our labour which justly limits the claims others can make upon us. In both cases, respect for the individual is the value that should govern our outlook. By promulgating an oversimplified and unbalanced philosophy of freedom, Ayn Rand’s writings ironically reinforce the erroneous socialist assumption that charity and capitalism don’t mix, and therefore only the State can ensure the relief of poverty, disease and ignorance. Her influence has also helped to persuade many libertarians of the equally mistaken proposition that all taxation is theft, a view based on the questionable idea that private property rights are absolute whereas in reality there is a trade-off between these rights and other moral obligations and considerations.
Mazzini and John Stuart Mill’s more balanced conception of liberty
The writings of 19th century classical liberals like John Stuart Mill, by contrast, express a more generous and balanced conception of liberty, and reveal a more profound understanding of human life and society which is extremely relevant to any potential resolution of our current cultural crisis. It is, for instance, particularly interesting that the great 19th century prophet of Italian liberalism and nationalism, Joseph Mazzini (1805-1872), combines in his great book, The Duties of Man, a stern critique of selfish individualism, support for workers’ co-operatives, and eloquent advocacy of the Brotherhood of Man, with fierce opposition to socialism. His perceptive condemnation of the destructive totalitarian tendencies of collectivism provides the clearest possible demonstration of the falsity and shallowness of those ideologies on both the Left and the Right that see an inherent conflict between individualism and community. The example of Mazzini shows, on the contrary, that a desire to combat greed, snobbery, exploitation and materialism in no way implies any belief in the inherent desirability of enlarging the sphere of the State.
This truth is vividly conveyed in John Stuart Mill’s illuminating Principles of Political Economy, which was first published in 1848 and remained the bible of English economics for most of the Victorian period. In this wide-ranging and very readable book, as well as in some of his other works, Mill examines the whole question of what is the legitimate province of government and what ought to be left to individual and private initiative, and develops a coherent philosophical position which is both critical of the extreme laissez-faire position that the role of the State should be limited to the protection of persons and property against force and fraud, and at the same time constructs a formidable case against extending the powers and functions of government in ways which threaten freedom and undermine personal responsibility and human dignity.
Just as he defends the role of trade unions but insists that membership of them should be voluntary and their activities non-coercive, so Mill displays the same balanced approach in his attempts to determine the proper conditions and limits of State action. Having argued that State intervention is morally justified if it provides opportunities for personal growth and social advancement which would not otherwise come into being, he subjects this argument to four extremely important qualifications which are as relevant today as they were when he first enunciated them.
His first rule is that the State should never organize or undertake any activity that can be provided or organized more effectively by private groups or individuals. Secondly, even if the State can provide a particular service more efficiently than the private sector, it may still be preferable that it should refrain from doing so if the provision of that service or the discharge of that function by non-governmental bodies offers individuals the possibility of training their characters and stretching their abilities in a manner which enables them to handle greater responsibilities. Thirdly, he argued, public provision for those in need should be so organized and directed as to encourage its recipients to become self-reliant and independent rather than a permanent drain on the taxpayer. Finally, Mill insisted, even if the case for government intervention is an overwhelming one, the State should never be allowed to monopolize the provision of that particular service. Every effort should instead be made to allow the maximum possible room for private initiative and experimentation, not only in order to stimulate all those personal qualities and attributes essential to human enterprise and progress, but also in order to prevent a dangerous accumulation of power in the hands of government officials. As Mill put it most eloquently in his famous essay On Liberty (1859), no country can remain free otherwise than in name if government controls all the roads, railways, banks, large companies, universities, and other significant social institutions – even if it still remains a democracy.
Mill’s analysis vindicated by the history of the 20th century
The history of the 20th century, including the global experience of socialism and the growth of State welfare in the western democracies, has fully confirmed the truth and wisdom of Mill’s analysis. As Dr David Green has shown in his book, Reinventing Civil Society, first published by the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1992, the growth of publicly funded and government controlled health care, education, and social insurance in Britain, has produced a degree of monopoly and levels of taxation which have largely (though not entirely) crowded out private provision, self-help and philanthropy in these vitally important areas, halting in the process the hopeful advances in these fields which so strikingly characterized Victorian England. We are thus confronted by the irony that the socialist attempt to strengthen communal values by increasing the power of the State, has undermined civil society, encouraged the formation of a perpetual underclass dependent on State handouts, and helped to produce a materialistic culture in which people have more incentives to acquire personal computers and go on foreign holidays than to play an active part in the education of their children or the care of their ailing relatives.
The destructive impact of collectivism, however, is not, as I indicated earlier, the only reason for the sad condition of our present day culture and society. The rejection of traditional values and the abandonment of high standards of personal behaviour have played an equally significant part in corroding our social fabric. And here again we can learn valuable lessons by rediscovering the ideals that not only inspired and motivated eminent classical liberal philosophers and statesmen like John Stuart Mill and Joseph Mazzini, but also inspired and influenced the attitudes and conduct of millions of ordinary men and women during the Victorian era.
In that regard, two excellent books by American historian and sociologist, Gertrude Himmelfarb – On Looking into the Abyss (1994) and The De-Moralization of Society (1995) – contain a great deal of relevant and useful material on this subject, documenting, on the one hand, the virtues and achievements of the Victorians, and on the other, contrasting them with the values which currently prevail in our coarse and morally dysfunctional society. Interested readers should therefore consult them for a more exhaustive discussion than is possible in this article. What I would emphasize here is that many of our present difficulties arise from the fact that contemporary western culture has largely abandoned the ideal of duty and service because it rejects the notion that there is an objective and eternal Moral Law, or standard of Right and Wrong, by which we ought to live and set our goals. This means that a culture that once valued liberty and independence as necessary conditions for the pursuit of goodness, beauty and truth, has been replaced by a culture that increasingly denies or derides these concepts, and regards freedom simply as a license for sensual gratification and the promotion of self at the expense of other people and higher ends. The result of this development is not only the barbarization of society and the transformation of market economies into stressful jungles in which all too often the greedy and ruthless get to the top, but also the eventual discrediting and destruction of the ideal of liberty itself. After all, why should anyone value freedom and strive to preserve it, if it fulfils no objectively useful or transcendent purpose?
Finally and perhaps worst of all, the erosive impact of growing selfishness and immorality on families and communities reinforces collectivism by encouraging people to look instead to the State as the primary instrument of social cohesion and stability, despite the moral frailty of politicians and officials and the obvious dangers of concentrating too much power in their hands.
The lesson from history we therefore most need to recall is that moral relativism and cultural anarchy paves the way for tyranny. That was true of ancient Rome, pre-revolutionary Russia, and the Weimar Republic. It will be true of us too if we do not heed this lesson in time.
Philip Vander Elst (copyright, 2017)
The sympathies of The Edmund Burke Institute about the British general election are not difficult to fathom! But we are an educational charity with tax exempt status and for these reasons we cannot become too closely involved in an election in another country. However we are not absolutely prevented from commenting, and we may do so especially if Irish affairs become prominent in the campaign.
We have just added both the Brexit Central web site and A.C.Grayling’s site to our links. The former because it is a well informed “Leave” site. The latter because it seems only fair to give our guests the opportunity to see what a highly intelligent but extreme “Remainer” has to say- especially as we have criticized some of Professor Grayling’s remarks here.
For the Christian the death of an unbelieving friend can hardly fail to be troubling. What are we to make of the language that the Church has always used about the necessity of belief as a precondition for salvation?
Here goes from the Athanasian creed for anyone who has forgotten it:
“Whosoever will be saved; before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly…This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”
The creed quoted in not is everyday use, but this is strong and worrying stuff. How are we to understand it? I think that the clue is to be found in the beliefs of the early church about the Resurrection. According to W.J. Sparrow Simpson ( 1959-1952 ), in his time a leading Anglican authority on the subject, there are two strands of teaching on the subject in the New Testament., one “lays all the stress on the solidity and tangibility of the Lord’s Risen Body…the other lays all the stress on the…ethereality and unearthliness of the spiritual body, and may be said to concentrate itself on the phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.””
At the very core of Christianity is the belief in human freedom. If men and women are not free to make moral and intellectual choices then the whole project collapses. Belief cannot be coerced; which is of course why the Inquisition got it so hopelessly wrong. But coercion comes in many forms. Why, it is sometimes asked, did not Christ show himself publicly in the Temple after his resurrection ? Surely this would have established the truth of his claims beyond all doubt?
Well yes, but then- if one thinks it through- Christianity would then have become some species of totalitarianism. Christians would have become not the children of God but his slaves. It was exactly the temptation to create such a system that Christ- we are told- rejected at the very start of his ministry.
And the early Christians seemed to have sensed that their belief in the Resurrection was not just a factual statement but, as Sparrow Simpson put it elsewhere (p. 445), “a venture in faith”. In a neglected passage in The Acts of the Apostles St.Peter briefly summarizes Christ’s ministry …“we can bear witness to all that he did in the Jewish country-side,” and then continues “He was put to death…but God raised him to life on the third day, and allowed him to appear, NOT TO THE WHOLE PEOPLE, [ emphasis supplied] but to witnesses whom God had chosen in advance- to us, who ate a drank with him after he rose from the dead.”( Acts:X, 39-41 NEB)
In one sentence we seem to see here both the strands that Sparrow Simpson referred to. There is on the one hand emphasis on the physical-the aspect of the gospel accurately reflected, in the creeds of the church. But this does not seem to be the whole story. There seems to be something else going on here too. Perhaps the anonymous eighteenth century deist who lampooned Christianity as “not” being “founded on argument” was on to something despite his subversive intentions.
It seems that there is in Christianity another more puzzling and ambivalent reality beyond the reach of the apologetic writers who flocked to refute the deist in question. We need to ask why St Peter draw attention to the fact that not everyone was given immediate access to the reality of the Resurrection? The point seems to be that in some complicated way that the evidence for faith is to some extent only granted to those who already believe. After all the apostles themselves failed to recognise the risen Christ on several occasions, and yet still knew themselves able to confirm that what they experienced was no illusion.
In the same way then that in the Christian faith, justice is modified by mercy, so the Christian demand for faith must be balanced by the nature of the evidence in question. The cumulative case for the Resurrection may be strong, and I for one think that it is, but it is not coercive. We are all on a pilgrimage. But we have not all reached the exit for Damascus. For some of us, even the very best of us, faith can come slowly; perhaps so slowly that it cannot come to fruition even in the course of a single life. Here the great Eastern religions turn to reincarnation for comfort. But this intellectual manoeuvre finds no support in the Christian scheme. Perhaps though we could say, without doing too much damage to the creeds, that the subtle nature of the evidence for the Resurrection -on which, of course the truth of Christianity depends-allows us to suggest that those who cannot believe in this life, will nevertheless be granted further opportunities to believe in the good news of Easter in ways that we (and they) cannot now imagine.
Note: “Christianity not founded on Argument,” which was published in1742, is usually attributed to Henry Dodwell junior. But while this is likely it is not certain. The pamphlet gave rise to a huge controversial literature- see below.
A.C. Grayling is an important figure in British intellectual life. He is a highly rated philosopher and has become a media figure who comments on all kinds of issues, mostly through progressive outlets. When the late Christopher Hitchens died it was seriously suggested that Professor Grayling should now be accounted the new fourth horseman of militant atheism in the English speaking world, alongside Richard Dawkins and the rest.
Among the debates into which he has entered has been that about Brexit. Like Richard Dawkins, Grayling is a strong advocate of Britain’s membership of the European Union. He has addressed this issue on several occasions recently on his own web site. His thinking on the subject can usefully be broken down into two halves, which are linked together by his underlying conviction that despite the result of the referendum that Britain should nevertheless remain a member of the E.U.
Grayling essentially claims that in the referendum campaign the Leave campaigners behaved dishonestly, that those who voted for Leave were only just over a third of the electorate, and that anyway the majority for Leave was too small to justify so radical and damaging a change in Britain’s constitutional arrangements. These views are clearly controversial, but he is certainly not alone in holding them, and any discussion of them would have to be very extended. They might be worth tackling in some future contribution about the whole Brexit debate.
At this juncture I want to focus attention on what seems to be Professor Grayling’s distinctive and “specific” contribution to the debate, if only because if shows just how far some Remain intellectuals are prepared to go to justify their last-ditch opposition to Brexit . The gist of Professor Grayling’s reasoning is that the referendum held in June 2015 was really only a glorified opinion poll; that did not provide the government with any mandate to trigger Brexit by invoking article fifty of the Lisbon Treaty. On the face of it there are many obvious objections to this view. For example if the referendum was really only advisory why did David Cameron resign when he lost it? And why did he hire
Jim Messina ( President Obama’s big data expert ) if it was really open to him to ignore the result if the wrong side won? Above all if the referendum was really just a consultation which provided no mandate why did rich men on both sides spend huge sums trying to influence the result? Would they really have wasted their money on a consultative exercise of the kind envisaged by Professor Grayling?
These considerations though do not seem to have occurred to Professor Grayling who has developed his own rather different chain of reasoning. Perhaps we had better explore it. Professor Grayling has summarised his case in this way: “Recall,” he says, “that the referendum was specifically intended to be advisory and consultative only. Briefing paper 07212 issued to members of both Houses of Parliament on June 3rd 2015 in advance of the debate on the Referendum Bill says in section 5 that the referendum is non-binding, advisory, consultative; and section 6 points out that if there were to be any suggestion otherwise, there would need to be a supermajority requirement. In the House of Commons in the debate on the E.U. referendum Bill the Minister for Europe, Mr. David Lidington, told the House that “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” ( Hansard for 16 June 2015 )
Professor Grayling then goes on to employ some very choice language in which the word “thieves” appears to describe the way in which “the Brexit cabal have treated the outcome as binding and mandating, in defiance of the explicit nature of the Referendum Act itself.”
There are then two parts to Professor Grayling’s argument, the first derived from the briefing paper prepared by the House of Commons Library, and the second from the statement made by Mr David Lidington, who was, of course, the minister responsible for introducing the legislation which authorised the referendum.
The passage in the briefing paper which Professor Grayling refers to (p.25) reads as follows:
“It [ the Bill ] does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor to set a time limit by which a vote to leave the E.U. would be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as a pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion WHICH INFLUENCES THE GOVERNMENT IN ITS POLICY DECISIONS.” [ The words in capital letters- which I have supplied- appear in the original but not in Professor Grayling’s version.]
Since Professor Grayling quotation was strangely truncated it is no surprise that he did not find it necessary to ask- as I think we must- how a government could properly be said to have been influenced by the result of a referendum if it did not abide by it ? Professor Grayling would surely have been outraged had the Remain triumphed in the referendum, and if then the prime minister had announced that he was leaving the E.U!
Next we come the remarks made by Mr.David Lidington when he introduced the legislation in question. Professor Grayling quotes Mr. Lidington as saying that: “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” So far as it goes this is an accurate quotation. But, once again, Professor Grayling has not read far enough. The words which immediately follow the end of his quotation from Mr. Lidington are as follows: “…as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year.” Is Professor Grayling really asserting that the UK government could have overturned the result of September 2014 referendum in Scotland? I so, I can only observe that in so doing he would have embarked on a voyage across the dark ocean from which there can be no return.
Even this does not exhaust the difficulties of Professor Grayling’s interpretation of Mr. Lidington’s remarks. Towards the end of his contribution to the debate Mr. Lidington noted- in words that seem to have eluded Professor Grayling’s observation-that “the referendum is taking place as a result of clear manifesto commitment to negotiate the terms of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union and to put them to the people in a referendum.”
In other words Mr. Lidington was stressing that the government was morally bound by the pledge contained in the manifesto on which it had been elected to power, only a month earlier. And what was this commitment? The Conservative manifesto for the May 2015 could not have been clearer (p.72) . It was as follows: “Only the Conservatives can and will deliver an in-out referendum.” “We will legislate in the first session of the new Parliament [ i.e. the one in which Mr. Lidington was speaking ] for an in-out referendum to be held on Britain’s membership of the E.U. before the end of 2017. We will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in the E.U. And then we will ask the British people whether they want to stay in on that basis, or leave. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
This pledge, I am afraid, make a terrible hash of Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the referendum provided no mandate for Brexit. No one reading the Conservative manifesto would have thought this. I was not privy to the drafting which must have preceded the publication of the manifesto, but it is at least possible that the slightly unwieldy term “in-out referendum” was designed precisely to exclude the sort of reasoning that our philosopher has engaged in.
Professor Grayling owes his readers an apology- otherwise he might start giving his profession, a bad name.
Despite my efforts this post is complicated enough so I’m relegating three points to this appendix.
1] For those who want to get a feel for the referendum campaign the best book I’ve seen so far is Tim Shipman’s “All Out War, the full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s political class” ( London, 2016 ) During the campaign Shipman was the political editor of The Sunday Times which supported Remain. Perhaps his greatest coup is to publish the text of the speech which David Cameron would have given had Remain won the referendum ( p. 619-622) Also writing from the Remain perspective is Ian Dunn’s “ Brexit, what the hell happens now?” ( London, 2016). For one, ( but by no means the only) Leave “take” on the Referendum, see Arron Banks, “The Bad Boys of Brexit, Tales of Mischief, Mayhem, and Guerrilla warfare in the E.U. Referendum Campaign” ( London, 2016). One of the most notable facts about the Leave campaign, insufficiently emphasised by Professor Grayling were the deep divisions within it. It was no tightly knit cabal.
NOTE: I have just seen an apparently well researched article on The Observer web site ( which was published on7/5/ 17 ) by Carol Cadwalladr entitled “The great British robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” in which she says, among other things, that two leave campaigns were in fact more closely linked than I realised when I wrote the above paragraph. Her article is an important contribution to our understanding of the referendum campaign. But whether the circumstances were really as scandalous as she implies is, of course, another matter. Nor should we forget the nine million pounds of tax payers money that the government spend on Remain propaganda before the purdah period began.
2] In the course of his discussion of the House of Common’s Library paper about the referendum, Professor Grayling refers to the section (p. 26-27) which deals with the super majority thresholds that are sometimes required in referenda about constitutional matters. The paper points out that “discussion of the need for some form of threshold usually arises in the context of ensuing the legitimacy and acceptance of the outcome of a referendum.” But since the paper does not suggest that such “super-majority” or turn out thresholds are necessary conditions for a valid constitutional referendum, I fail to see the relevance of the passage in question to Professor Grayling’s argument, more especially since no such requirement was included in the 1975 referendum which copperbottomed Britain’s membership of the E.U. in the first place. In this business sauce for the goose really must surely be sauce for the gander! Nor, it should be remembered, did the absence of such thresholds prevent the setting up of the Welsh Assembly, the proposal for which only passed by a very small majority. It might, I suppose have been better had some such threshold been built into the legislation, but this would have undermined the democratic credentials of the whole exercise. Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the result of the referendum should be put aside because it lacked such thresholds therefore lacks credibility. Indeed I am prompted to ask if he would really have been arguing in this way if Remain had won?
3] While in this instance I disagree with Professor Grayling I do not think that his discussion of thresholds is altogether misplaced. What would have happened had the majority either way been very small? As Professor Grayling points out this was a possibility which was raised during the campaign by Nigel Farage- who was expecting a narrow win for Remain.
Just how credible would the result ( in either direction ) have been had there only been ( say ) eight hundred votes in it after several recounts? It seems to me that this is an issue which should be addressed by British legislators the next time that they vote to hold a referendum. Similarly there should probably be an amendment to the Irish Constitution which addresses this hitherto neglected issue. ( There is also the related issue which showed up in our second divorce referendum of extreme weather conditions suppressing turnout in one part of the country…)
By Philip Vander Elst.
‘Social liberalism’ has become the universally accepted label applied to all those in the western democracies who support the Left’s political and cultural agenda of ‘sexual revolution’. The very use of such terms as ‘gay liberation’ ‘transgender rights’ ‘pro-choice’ and ‘sexual equality’, implies, like the word ‘liberalism’, that this increasingly victorious cultural agenda represents a genuine movement of human emancipation. But is this really true? Does the overthrow of traditional Judeo-Christian morality and the advance of moral relativism and sexual permissiveness represent an extension of personal liberty or a threat to its long-term survival? Growing evidence suggests the latter is the case, including four powerful and exhaustively documented books described below.
The first two books, by American feminist and lesbian writer, Tammy Bruce, are revealingly entitled, The Death of Right and Wrong (2004) and The New Thought Police (2003). They show how the rise of left-wing McCarthyism, with its politically correct speech and thought codes, is eroding religious freedom and the civil rights of all those, especially Christians, who dissent from the current ‘liberal’ orthodoxy about sex and the family. The third American book, The Homosexual Agenda (2003), by Alan Sears and Craig Osten, tells the same story in equally compelling detail. In particular, it exposes, with abundant chapter and verse, the extent to which militant homosexual activists are determined to use the coercive power of the State to change public attitudes and enforce compliance with their practical demands. Finally, the fourth book on this list, The Global Sexual Revolution: destruction of freedom in the name of freedom (2015), is the work of a brave German female sociologist, Gabriele Kuby, and is a comprehensive and damning analysis of both the philosophical and historical roots (reaching back to the French Revolution), and the practical consequences, of the Left’s morally and socially destructive cultural agenda.
Those seeking a full and comprehensive understanding of this subject should obviously read these four books, but they may also be interested in reading a paper of mine, first published in 1981, examining the ideological connections between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ as expressed more than a generation ago in the writings of various British Marxist and gay activist groups and publications. If they do so, and view its contents against the background of current events and the information provided in the above-mentioned books, they will see the degree to which my 1981 paper (see below) has proved to be prophetic in its analysis of the destructive impact of the gay/socialist alliance on the rights and liberties of the heterosexual majority.
Revolutionary Socialism and Sexual Politics ( July 1981 )
Two centuries ago Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.” Lenin (1870-1924), on the other hand, declared in 1920: “We do not believe in an eternal morality, and we expose the falseness of all the fables about morality.” The opposition between these viewpoints reflects the fact that while Burke wanted to defend the traditional social order; Lenin’s mission was to overthrow it. This suggests that there is an intimate link between revolutionary politics and attempts to overturn, or deny, traditional moral values. What then is the nature of this connection?
The freedom and stability of our society are primarily sustained by two institutions: private property and the family. Private property guarantees personal independence and decentralizes power, while the family provides children with the secure and loving environment their development requires. The health and happiness of the family rests in turn upon the institution of marriage, which is based on the mutual loyalty, commitment and understanding of adult men and women. Without these qualities and the codes and institutions which nurture them, society fragments and breeds disharmony, resentment, and alienation. For that very reason revolutionaries are moral nihilists. They detest normality, contentment and stability. They wish to destroy the present social order and build a new one upon its ruins, and that cannot be done unless the restraints imposed by morality, property and the family are swept away.
However, the apostles of revolution also have positive as well as negative reasosn for their repudiation of these institutions.
Marxists oppose the family, for example, because it represents a focus of loyalty outside the collective and gives individuals an emotional and material base from which to resist communal pressures and demands. They dislike the way it encourages individualism and the accumulation and transmission of private property. The advocates of ‘sexual revolution’ or ‘sexual politics’, on the other hand, reach the same ideological position from the opposite end. They oppose private property because it strengthens the traditional family, and in doing so, reinforces the traditional belief that marital faithfulness and heterosexuality must be defended, and homosexuality and promiscuity condemned, or at least criticized.
Although revolutionary socialists and sexual revolutionaries are not entirely overlapping groups in Britain, many of their activists are revolutionaries in both senses and share a common desire to overthrow ‘capitalism’ and ‘sexism’. They are by the same token united in the ‘struggle for socialism’, though they may differ in their interpretation of what precisely constitutes ‘socialism’. Their pro-abortion militancy is also significant as an expression of their common hostility to the rights of unborn children and the responsibilities of motherhood. This again reflects their dislike of the family and their rejection of traditional morality.
The evidence from their own writings and publications
The identity of interest between political and sexual revolutionaries is stressed in many far left and radical publications, as the following examples demonstrate. In the 10th issue of Gay Left (June 1980), a homosexual socialist journal that has just completed five years of publication, there is a “collective statement” on the relationship between “democracy, socialism and sexual politics”. After remarking that: “The Women’s movement and the Gay movement have politicized and radicalized sections of the population untouched by traditional socialist organizations”, the collective statement adds: “Feminist and Gay politics provide a subversive challenge to conventional ideologies and aspirations, and socialism cannot grow without such challenges.” In another article in the same issue (“Workplace politics: Gay politics”), Nigel Young writes: “I feel that only by piecing together our gayness and our socialism and combining it with collective action can we defend and advance the gains of the gay and women’s movements.”
This theme is underlined in an even more explicit and uncompromising way by Don Milligan, in his pamphlet, The Politics of Homosexuality, first published by Pluto Press in 1973 and reprinted in August 1978 by the Edinburgh Gay Activists Alliance. As he puts it: “The movement for women’s liberation and gay liberation are important because they make us aware of the ways in which we are drenched in myths and prejudices that support the way things are – enabling capitalism to continue.” “Homosexual liberation is not possible under capitalism”, he continues [erroneously, as it has proved!] though “it is not guaranteed under socialism.” Since “Socialism is not simply about economics” and “workers’ control of industry…would create only the possibility of gay liberation”, “gay liberation groups must also aim to spread our ideas throughout the labour and socialist movement.” This, Milligan appears to have achieved according to the review of his pamphlet in Gay News (No.148), by Jeffrey Weeks: “…the SWP [Socialist Workers Party], along with most of the other far left groupings, now have advanced positions on gay liberation to which this pamphlet’s arguments probably contributed.”
The link between feminist and revolutionary politics is emphasized by the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), in a pamphlet published in 1979, on Abortion, Liberation and Revolution. It argues: “Transformation of society can only be achieved through a united onslaught on the power and privileges of capitalist society. All the movements of the oppressed, women, racial minorities, youth, must join with the organized working class.” In particular, “…all those fighting to change society will have to participate in the struggle against women’s role in the family.” This is necessary because: “If women had complete freedom – the freedom not to reproduce or the freedom to reproduce with any man they desire – then there would be no way in which the male of the ruling class could be sure that his property would be passed to his children.” The IMG pamphlet further alleges that restrictions on abortion represent an attempt “to force women out of the labour market and back into the home”, consequently it demands that there should be “no governmental restrictions on abortion, contraception and sterilization, for all women – including minors.”
Like the other far left groups, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) is also aware of the need for co-operation between political and sexual revolutionaries. In the 5th edition of the Party’s programme, The British Road to Socialism, it is emphasized that “capitalism not only exploits people at work, it impinges on every aspect of their lives…Hence the broad democratic alliance needs to be not only an expression of class forces, but of other important forces in society which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production.” That is why it insists that “the fight for women’s liberation is an integral part of the struggle for socialism, and needs to be taken up by the whole labour movement.” In that cause it advocates: “Women’s control over their own bodies, with freely available abortion.” In addition to proclaiming its support for “the overcoming of sexism”, the CPGB welcomes “the development of the gay movement, which aims to end prejudice and discrimination against homosexual men and women.”
The explicitly subversive nature of ‘sexual politics’ is most clearly revealed in the hatred expressed for traditional values and the family, especially on the homosexual left. Don Milligan denounces the family as the origin of sexual repression: “The family denies the sexuality of children, represses that of adolescents and reduces fidelity to an expression of property rights.” Parents are attacked because they “ ‘bring up’ their children in their own image” and so “fulfill a basic function for capitalist society – that of soaking each new generation in the values of bourgeois society and male supremacy.” Milligan further complains that “If homosexuality were fully accepted, many more people would have gay relationships.” To that end he concludes his pamphlet with eight demands, three of which call for: “An end to exclusively heterosexual sex education in schools. Abolition of all restrictions which prevent gay people from caring for their own children or adopting children. Abolition of all laws relating to the age of consent for boys and girls.”
Campaign group demands legitimization of sex with children
This last appalling demand finds an echo in Gay Left, in which there is an advertisement on behalf of the Campaign Against Public Morals (CAPM), established after the arrest, in July 1979, of several members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organization devoted to the legitimization of sex between adults and children. Not only does this advertisement demand “that the laws against PIE be dropped.” It also goes on to deplore the way in which the trial of PIE members “could be used to cut back the ideological space in which ‘dangerous’ subjects like child sexuality could be discussed, as well as the havoc that it will produce in the lives of self-professed paedophiles and of other perceivedly ‘deviant’ adults.”
The rejection of traditional ideas about heterosexuality, marriage and the family is also explicit in a pamphlet by the Coventry Women’s Education Group, a self-proclaimed body of “socialist feminists.” Entitled, Please Yourself: Sex for Girls, the aim of the booklet “is to provide a feminist approach to sex, for girls of about 13+.” Its object, moreover, is not simply to provide information about pregnancy, contraception and abortion, “But most importantly it is about female sexual pleasure and how to obtain it.” In short, the pursuit of sexual pleasure is urged as an end in itself that overrides all other considerations. This is implied in some casual statements regarding lesbianism and abortion: “sexual relationships may be with boys or with other girls. If you have a sexual relationship with another girl, it will usually be based on mutual masturbation.” This clearly suggests that indulgence in either a heterosexual or lesbian relationship is merely a matter of personal taste, even when minors are involved. The authors take a similarly cavalier attitude to the ethics of abortion: “Abortion carried out in the early weeks is simple and safe. It does not stop you from getting pregnant again when you want to.” Even the possibility that abortion raises a moral dilemma is ignored. Convenience and the pursuit of pleasure is all that counts. It is hardly surprising, in the light of these remarks, that this pamphlet shows no special regard for marriage: “Some people may be happier to live as a married couple but people shouldn’t feel that they have to in order to be happy.”
The relationship between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ is finally most instructive in what it teaches us about the link between totalitarianism and permissive morality, or more accurately, amorality.
Permissive philosophies say or imply that people can do what they like with sex. Totalitarian ones say or imply that people can do what they like with power. Both are therefore different sides of the same coin in that both are rooted in a rejection of the notion that some things are objectively right and others are objectively wrong. This follows from the fact that if there is no such thing as an eternal or universal Moral Law, the abuse of power by a dictator is as much beyond criticism as the sale of child pornography. In other words, if there are no moral rules governing human behaviour, there is no evil or perversion in which men and women cannot indulge with a clear conscience. All things then become permissible to those who claim the right to remake the world according to their desires. There is thus a logical connection between totalitarianism and permissiveness, whether or not sexual and political revolutionaries overlap in any particular case.
Lenin’s ruthless embrace of moral relativism and totalitarianism
It was no accident that Lenin despised the idea of everlasting morality and at the same time formulated, in 1920, one of the most ruthless definitions of revolutionary government that has ever been written: “The scientific concept, dictatorship,” he declared, “ means neither more nor less than unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything, not restricted by any laws or any absolute rules. Nothing else but that.”
Could there be any clearer proof that the defence of traditional values is tied up with the defence of the free society?
Note: Mr Vander Elst is to be identified as the author of both parts of this contribution.