Kirk on Mises

[ Mises ] leaves the attentive reader [ of “Human Action” ] quite convinced that a system of free enterprise is the most productive and most liberal economic arrangement conceivable. And yet the fact remains that most of the world has rejected these beneficent formulas, and  that where they still prevail their merit is the subject of debate. Why? “Man has only one tool to fight error: reason.” Professor von Mises says. But apparently reason has not sufficed. Can it be that the classical assumption concerning the reasonableness of humanity is inadequate for a man who presumes to analyze human action? Can it be that humanity needs something more than reason- love?”

Russel Kirk, “A Program for Conservatives” ( Chicago, 1954 ) p.145 

Mises on Keynes

“A retailer or innkeeper can easily fall prey to the illusion that all that is needed to make him and his colleagues more prosperous is more spending on the part of the public. In his eyes the main thing is to impel people to spend more. But it is amazing that this belief could be presented to the world as a new social philosophy. Lord Keynes and his disciples make the lack of the propensity to consume responsible for what they deem unsatisfactory economic conditions. What is needed, in their eyes, to make men more prosperous is not an increase in production, but an increase in spending. In order to make it possible for people to spend more, an “expansionist” policy is recommended.

This policy is as old as it is bad.”

Ludwig Von Mises, “Human Action” Scholars edition, p. 429

Best avoided

Thomas Hoerber, “Hayek vs. Keynes, a Battle of Ideas” ( Reaktion Books, London 2017) E. 20

This book claims to be a contribution to the history of economic thought ( p. 7  ) but since the author is apparently unaware that differing understandings of the nature of the trade/ business cycle was central to the debate between Keynes and Hayek, it is, in my view, a less than completely successful exercise.

Philip Shenon on the JFK assassination.

Philip Shenon,  ” A Cruel and Shocking Act, the secret history of the Kennedy Assassination.” ( New York, 2013 )

Dealey Plaza, where Occam’s razor is needed most

Far too many books have been written about the assassination of JFK . Indeed I gather that in total no less than twenty eight different gunmen have been identified in Dealey Plaza by various authors. If this was just another bonkers conspiracy book it would be best to ignore it.

In fact though it is interesting for two reasons. First, Shenon, who has also written about the Commission that looked into 9/11, has obviously made a profound and detailed study of the Warren Commission’s internal workings. The Commission, headed by Chief Justice  Earl Warren, has always known to have been a bit of a shambles which relied far too much on the information provided by the FBI. What I had not known though before I browsed through Shenon’s account, is how disgraceful the it was in other ways. Apparently one of its senior staffers even  tried to seduce Marina Oswald- then an attractive widow! And there were also more serious lapses.

While the Warren Commission certainly reached the right conclusion about the events in Dallas- namely that Oswald was not part of a wide conspiracy. Nevertheless Shenon may be on firm ground when he suggests that not enough was done to investigate some important leads which suggested that Oswald had been influenced by left wingers who he had met when he paid a brief visit Mexico City some weeks before he opened fire.

The Warren Commission took the view that Oswald’s trip to Mexico had been essentially inconsequential- nothing much had happened there except that Oswald had failed to get the visas he had wanted which would have enabled him to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. We will never now know the facts, but Shenon provides fairly convincing evidence that Oswald may have had a brief affair with the junior Cuban diplomat who handled his visa application, that she introduced him to a group of anti American students; and that he may have convinced himself that he would be welcomed back into this group if he proved himself worthy of their attention. Shenon implies that it was to do this, and perhaps to win himself a lover, that he killed President Kennedy when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself a six weeks later.

All this is, of course, far, far, too vague to rank as history or anything like it. The woman concerned denies that she had a fling with Oswald, and the story of Oswald presence at a “Twist party” where he is alleged to have been seen in the company of Mexican/ Cuban leftists could well just be the creation of someone’s imagination. But then again, some such course of events does explain Oswald’s actions after the assassination. Were was Oswald headed when he fled from the Book Depository building?Was he- like rocket man- on a suicide mission? Or did he have a plan? Was he headed to back to Mexico and the “friends” he had met there? Shenon describes how the suggestion that he was trying to get to Mexico was nearly included in the Warren Commission’s report, but was  excluded from the final version.

The best that can be said is that Shenon’s book raises some interesting possibilities. However it should not be despised like so many of the other idiotic publications about the assassination. At the very least Shenon does at least ask the right questions, questions that have been ignored too often both by those with a conspiracy to sell and those who have tried to debunk them. The deep point that he makes is, I think, that in respect of the assassination, and other matters too, we should be thinking not so much about plots, but about contexts. Future historians will have to make use of Shenon’s book, and not just for what it tells us about the Warren Commission, interesting though that is.

NOTE: “The Daily Mail” should be ashamed of itself for giving publicity to an absurd theory that identifies Jackie Kennedy as one of the assassins. Even by the standards of planet tabloid….. 


The news from Zimbabwe.

Since we have previously commented here about events in Zimbabwe it seems only right to say something about the coup, or rather the attempted “correction”, that has just taken place in Harare.

1] The situation is complicated and fast moving. There is no certainty about either what has happened or about what will happen. That said, the following thoughts suggest themselves

2] There is no doubt that Bob had it coming. In his first years in power he showed that he had the capacity to govern Zimbabwe well. He could have turned Zimbabwe into a beacon of prosperity and hope in central Africa. And he was some of the way to doing this, as was widely admitted by quite conservative whites in South Africa when I was there for about six months in 1989. There was real hope in the air. Bob’s failure was then one pure corruption. He has brought needless misery on the people of Zimbabwe. His fall will be fully deserved.

3] However, coups are a bad business. There have been far too many of them in Africa since the sixties. They may save a country from a tyrant as in this case, but they always set a bad example. Apart from all the other obvious moral,political, and legal considerations investors do not like seeing tanks on the streets.

4] The auguries for the future of Zimbabwe may be better than they were before recent events, but they are still not good. Well informed observers are expressing doubts about the motives and characters of those who are trying to depose Mugabe. Their record is unimpressive, and our jubilation about their efforts should, consequently, be muted.

5]  The best hope now is for a rapid return to legality, and for free and fair elections to take place. But here the matter becomes unusually complicated. Bob has unexpectedly “won” elections in the past. He is the wiliest old fox in the business, and as of this moment it doesn’t look as if he wants to go quietly.

6] The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough. In the long run the only way in which Zimbabwe can release its huge economic potential is through the rule of law, democratic institutions, and private enterprise. All other proposals will end in further disaster and humiliation. The misrule of Robert Mugabe will not have been completely wasted if it teaches this lesson.


Ciao, ciao, choo choo!

By Michael Dwyer

In the nineteen eighties Sean Barret, professor of transport economics in Trinity and old friend of the EBI suggested that the multimillion pound state subvention to CIE be discontinued and the money used instead to buy everyone in the Republic a car.

He spoke of course half in jest and whole in earnest. What was a good idea thirty years ago seems like a better idea today. Then we had bad surfaces, narrow carriageways and no motorways. The train to Dublin took about the same for me as the car and less than the snail paced bus.

Today the train journey has not shortened by a minute but the road journey has halved in time. The combination of motorway, express routes and bus lanes mean I can be in the city centre in seventy five minutes travelling in a very comfortable coach with Wi-Fi naturally.

We all love a train. It is a wonderful way to go from A to B. It can be relaxing. The scenery on the Dublin Rosslare route I cannot recommend highly enough. Hell you can even have a little drink. It’s just not a very efficient way.

This is a Victorian technology and it is time for it to go the way of the child sweep and the gentleman cricketer. Ireland has never been well adapted to rail. The Island is too small and the population is too dispersed to create truly economic intercity routes. The commuter routes around the larger population centres, may, perhaps, be viable but that should be looked at with real transparent costings. As for the rest, well today with our expensive road network, they represent cost without even the redeeming feature of social utility. We could always turn them into a transisland bicycle network. That’s nineteenth century tech. that seems to be going strong without costing the taxpayer a dime.

Irish leaves at their best. These though are in Co. Kilkenny. The colours in the autumn of 2016 were particularly fine, this years less good, although above average.

Two further points, in the first place Mr. Dwyer really does speak Italian!  Secondly, I publish his piece with some reluctance. As the proud user of free travel card, I love being wafted through the enchantments of the Irish countryside. The journey from Arklow to Dublin is particularly beautiful at this time of the year because of the finely coloured foliage alongside which the train travels, ! I love too the taste of the Danish pastry and the fine coffee which is available on the train- for which, though, I do have to pay. Mostly though I love the lordly sense that someone else is paying for my indulgence- so perhaps Mr. Dwyer is making a moral point too!   




A forgotten gem.

“There is something curiously moving and impressive about the mediaeval schoolmen. From their cloistered retreats to which learning had been driven by the tumults of the Dark Ages, they emerge into the sunlight bustle of town and university, exuberant with vitality, filled with enormous and zestful intellectual appetite.”

Dorothy L. Sayers

I first came across the name of Canon D J B Hawkins when reading Antony Flew’s “ God and Philosophy” and formed the view from Flew’s treatment of his work that he was a philosopher  who had little to offer except an archaic Thomism. Gradually however I kept finding his book “A Sketch of Mediaeval Philosophy” ( London, 1946 )  listed in such places as the bibliography to Father Copleston’s  “Aquinas” ( where curiously the date of its publication is wrongly given ),  so I asked John Wyse Jackson of the Zozimus Bookshop ( among our links ) to find me a copy- which turns out to have been a wise decision. The book is a delight

Indeed I would go further.  It’s a classic. Canon Hawkins  turns out to have been a Catholic priest who ministered at Godalming in Surrey for many years. He never held any academic position, but wrote several works of philosophy from a position moderate Thomism before his death in 1964  His “Sketch of Mediaeval Philosophy” was, however by far his most widely read book, and his only venture into the history of ideas. Perhaps because it was a one off it expresses the full fruits of engagement with his subject. Too often works of scholarship  are almost by implication the result of self-conscious research undertaken  for the very purpose of writing the book in question. These have then a certain artificial feel about them. As a result one often gets the impression that the author knows about his subject ( or at least what his sources have told him about his subject ),  but that he does not truly KNOW his subject, in that he or she has not fully made the subject their own. This is precisely the sense that one DOES NOT get from Hawkins’ book.  Hawkins was obviously an enthusiast for his subject. Indeed, as I read,  I couldn’t help suspecting  that he can hardly have had time for anything else. I sensed indeed that his enthusiasm was such that his parishioners may have felt neglected. His final chapter includes a revealing cameo  in which he pictures himself turning over the pages of the more obscure late scholastics in the hope of finding yet more to read- for he must read everything else!

Hawkins though, was no mere antiquarian. He thought like a philosopher; that is to say he obviously kept turning over in his mind the issues raised by his reading.  For him there were as many questions as certainties in philosophy. And he relished this same tendency in the thinkers that he wrote about. For Hawkins the story begins with the tragic late Roman Boethius whose “Consolations of Philosophy” exerted an extraordinary influence in the Middle Ages,  and was indeed translated into English by  Chaucer among others.  Boethius was a late  Roman senator in the employment of a barbarian king. But he lost a court intrigue, and as a result was first imprisoned and then executed. It was while he was imprisoned, but probably before he knew what his ultimate fate would be, that he wrote his famous book. More recent scholars have wondered why it was that, if Boethius was really a Christian, that he should have taken so little comfort from his faith, as his book implies. The reason though is not far to seek. His book is about “The Consolations of Philosophy”, and not The Consolations of Faith. Boethius, in effect, does what it says on the tin.

A minor point, you may perhaps think. But this would not be a sound judgement. Boethius was an extremely influential figure who linked the ancient and mediaeval worlds. Consequently the distinction which he made between the realm of faith and reason was to become far more important than he can ever have imagined. This meant that there could be an active debate between the various different schools of philosophy within the context of the Christian faith. By our standards the church was authoritarian. But it was not totalitarian.

Hawkins grants quite freely that towards the end of the Middle Ages  there were thinkers who under the influence nominalism had abandoned Christianity and who merely pretended to believe for obvious pragmatic reasons  But these he insists were very much in a minority. For the vast bulk of thinkers during the middle ages Christianity was at the core of everything that they did. But their thinking was not restricted simply to reiterating the contents of their faith. Rather they wished to understand what they believed, and they used all the tools available to them to do so.  And in order to do this they explored widely and thought freely within the context of their Catholic faith. It was this openness to debate that lay behind the whole flowering of Christian thought in the Middle Ages.

While the revival of Thomism from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards was a development of great importance  (the full significance of which we may not yet have seen fully ), it has had the disadvantage of  making it appear that the Middle Ages were philosophically  less divided, less rich and less interesting than was really the case. Aquinas was certainly the flag ship of the fleet. But he was not alone. Hawkins was an unapologetic Thomist. For him the writings of Thomas were a triumphant synthesis of Christian and Aristotelian thought, with an enduring relevance. But this did not prevent him from being able to present the other thinkers of the period in a vivid way. Indeed they come bouncing out of his pages like characters in a play.

There are , it is true, moments when the pace slackens and one begins to feel that one is reading a telephone directory of minor figures. But these lapses are few. Hawkins has the knack of being able to catch the spirit of the people he writes about. He captures the tragedy of Boethius, the oddity of Duns Scotus,  the over-confidence of Anselm ( he thinks that the ontological argument was a bridge too far )- , the romance- and the seriousness-of Abelard, and , of course, the massive solidity of Aquinas.

For me though the central message Hawkins’ was that the greatest achievement of the mediaeval theological class was its right understanding of the importance of politics. This is of especial importance today, when on the one hand our voters fail to vote in record numbers, and yet on the other there seem to be innumerable fanatics on both left and right who can’t seem to think of anything else but politics. Mediaeval man knew much better than this. Politics was important. But it was not all-important. Man’s true home was elsewhere. Then the role of politics then was circumscribed by the metaphysical and moral order within which humanity was located. In other words, just as Boethius attributed a sphere to philosophy and sphere to faith, so too the mediaeval consensus attributed a sphere to the church and a sphere to the state.

Although historians of ideas tend to think that the mediaeval dispute about universals was of the greater interest, the tussle over the respective rights of the church and the empire probably had more enduring institutional significance than the metaphysical argument. Few people in the Middle Ages would have taken an extreme view of the case. It was all a matter proportion, and of, as we would say today, where the line should be drawn. Put differently, the crucial point was that there were two legitimate spheres, the boundaries between which were the subject of discussion and of course compromise. This in turn had deep implications both for the Middle Ages themselves, and for their legacy to us. It is, for example, the existence of differing spheres in our culture today that makes it so difficult for followers of Islam to integrate successfully into our culture. Above all it explains both the origins of our freedoms and our need to defend them from those who would remove any spiritual considerations from our political order. No wonder Hawkins quotes Lord Acton as saying that Aquinas was the first Whig- ( unlike Dr. Johnson who said that  that honour belonged to the devil!)

While Hawkins is most immediately relevant when he is hinting at the political implications of the views he is describing, he is, to my mind, most disturbing when he describes the way in which the wisdom of the Middle Ages was first abandoned, and then simply forgotten. It is true that late scholasticism had become tired. Perhaps under the influence of the Black Death the confidence detected by Dorothy Sayers was replaced by what V.H.H. Green called ” a kind of wintry pessimism.” Moreover scholasticism became far too closely associated with the Ptolemaic view of the universe  which turned out to be wrong. Likewise its focus on metaphysics was in conflict with the greater emphasis on human nature- which was such a pronounced feature of both Reformation and Renaissance. Nevertheless the deep wisdom of the middle ages was not refuted. It was allowed, even encouraged, to die of neglect.  The enthusiasts for the new learning and the Reformers  each had their own strong motives for ignoring what had gone immediately before them. And neither showed any hesitation about the ethics or the wisdom of making fun of what they did not want to understand and had not much studied. Instead they imposed what amounted to a Philosophical Correctness on the culture of the West. Nor was the Enlightenment any better or more broad minded . So let us not then make a similar mistake: for as Hawkins concludes, “there is much more than the satisfaction of historical curiosity in making the acquaintance of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus and, above all, Thomas Aquinas.”

NOTES: Also to hand, acquired for me by John Wyse Jackson, is  S. J Curtis “A Short History of Western Philosophy in the Middle Ages” ( London, 1950 ), and it is from the Dorothy Sayers’ preface to this from which I have drawn the quotation which heads this piece.

The brief quote from V.H.H. Green comes from his “Renaissance and Reformation ” ( London, 1970 ) p.18  For the final paragraph I have raided Joseph Rickaby S.J. ” Scholasticism” ( London, 1908 ). Of the relationship between scholasticism and science he writes  “No one who has not read much of the Scholastic authors can conceive how far the Ptolemaic astronomy entered into their psychology, their metaphysics, and even their theology.” But he insists that “Certainly Scholasticism does not stand of fall with the Ptolemaic conception…One may remain a good Scholastic and abolish all that.” p. 66.

For an up to date account of Aquinas see Edward Feser, “Aquinas, a Beginner’s Guide” ( London, 2009 ) which contains a very full bibliography of the more recent literature. No one though even vaguely interested in the thought of the middle ages should ignore the work of  Etienne Gilson. I started with his “God and Philosophy” ( Yale, Mass. 1941 ) although it also deals with more recent thought.

Storm Ophelia

“I’ll blow and I’ll blow, and I’ll blow your house down”- said the wolf to the three little pigs in the fairy tale. And two of the pigs did indeed have their residences demolished, but they were the ones who had built with unsuitable materials. The piglet who had built with brick suffered no such disaster. Those who constructed the old rectory which I am lucky  enough to live in, built largely with stone although they did adorn some of the openings in the stable block with brick. But they did build strongly, so while the wind did indeed blow powerfully I lost only one slate- although there was one moment when I thought that the sash window behind which I write might be blown in.

Others though were less fortunate than I. There were the three lamented fatalities across the country- one of a nurse hurrying about her duties- and while my immediate neighbours suffered little damage, I did certainly see an ESB repair crew heading westwards, followed, I thought, by an ambulance, and later by a motorized cauldron of ready mixed concrete driving in the same direction; all of which suggested, that serious damage was done here too, even at so great a distance from the centre of the storm. Windy Monday will go down in Irish history.

                       In general I obeyed the governments instructions to stay inside. But I did go out twice. The wind was wild. But not the wildest I can remember. One of the most extraordinary memories of my childhood is that of being caught up in the hurricane Debbie which hit the West of Ireland in September 1961. The slates flashing like razor blades  as they poured off the roofs of Clifden ( Co Galway ), the terrified faces of the men, themselves barely able to stand, who desperately urged us not to drive past a sea weed factory as they were frightened that its roof was about to be blown off into our path, and perhaps above all the utter devastation of Eyre Square in Galway itself a few days later, are all, even now, imprinted on my mind.

                                                  The difference though between September 1961 and October 2017 was that while the weather may have been similar, there were far fewer casualties earlier this week than there had been in 1961 when eleven people died ( the fears of the men at the sea weed factory were all too justified). And why was this? Because, Monday’s storm was well heralded by the forecasters unlike that of 1961, because of the warnings given by the government, and because of the greatly improved infrastructure, communications, and social media that we now enjoy. And none of this would have been possible without the economic growth that as taken place in the last fifty odd years. We have acted like the wise piglet and built of brick not straw, but do we understand any more than he, how and why we have done so?  

NOTE. I see to my great regret that two farmers, one in Cork, and another in Wicklow have been killed while repairing damage done by last week’s two storms. But even so, the combined total of deaths caused by Ophelia and Brian is less than half that caused by Debbie in 1961.



Politically incorrect truths about the Third World

By Philip Vander Elst.


At a time when left-wing ‘anti-racist’ activists are seeking to remove statues of Cecil Rhodes and other historical figures associated with what they deem to be the shameful colonial past of western democracies like Britain, there is a need to set the record straight and challenge the ignorance and double standards fuelling this movement. To that end I reproduce below a slightly expanded version of a speech I made in a debate at the Oxford Union- pictured below- during the autumn term of 2009, opposing the motion that “This House would make reparations for colonialism.”  Open-minded readers willing to study the controversial issues I raised in my speech in more detail should get hold of the books I mentioned. And to that list should be added Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey’s seminal book, Africa Betrayed, an excoriating and copiously documented indictment of post-colonial African tyrannies. P.V E.



“This House would make reparations for colonialism”


Thirty-six years ago, Mr President, I stood at this despatch box to oppose the motion “That the power of the State has increased, is increasing and should increase still further.” As a classical liberal who remains distrustful of government, I am the last person to take a rosy and uncritical view of Western colonialism. All too often it has been associated with the worst abuses of State power. But it is a disservice to historical truth, Mr President, to dismiss the entire colonial era as an unrelieved tale of imperial greed, racism and exploitation – with no compensating achievements or benefits.


If this House wishes to consider a more balanced view of the Western colonial era and its impact on the Third World, I invite it to study the writings of the late Professor P.T. Bauer, one of the great development economists of the 20th century according to contemporary Asian scholars like Deepak Lal, Parth Shah, and Razeen Sally. I also urge you all to read the works of African-American economist, Thomas Sowell, particularly his two books, The Economics and Politics of Race, and, more recently, Conquests and Cultures: An International History.


If you do this, you will find that whilst both Bauer and Sowell are often extremely critical of the colonial authorities, they emphasise two basic historical facts: (1) the material backwardness and barbarism of much of the pre-colonial Third World, and (2) the role of the Western colonial powers – especially the British – in establishing peace and order, and with it, the material and organisational infrastructure of modern economies and societies – roads, railways, ports, factories, schools, hospitals and universities. Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr President, offers the clearest illustration of all this.


According to Sowell, the development of pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was gravely handicapped by the lack of navigable rivers and natural harbours, the ravages of the tsetse fly (whose parasites are fatal to draft animals), and numerous tropical diseases which debilitated and decimated Africans. As a result, almost no pre-colonial African community south of the Sahara managed to harness draft animals to pull ploughs and wagons. “The pre-colonial technology of the region,” writes Sowell, “was incapable of using wind or water power for milling grain. Tribal warfare, military raids, slavery and serfdom were widespread throughout the area.” [i]

Western colonialism, by contrast, brought progress. To quote Bauer, who spent many years living and working in Asia and Africa: “the basic ingredients of modern social and economic life, including public security and health, wheeled transport, modern forms of money and scientific agriculture, were brought to sub-Saharan Africa by Westerners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were introduced by the colonial administrations, or by foreign private organisations or persons, under the comparative security of colonial rule and usually in the face of formidable obstacles…The coercion and the hardships, though far from negligible, seem slight when we think of both pre-colonial and post-colonial Africa…The number of Africans who lived longer, more securely, in materially better conditions and in peaceful contact with their fellow men was much greater, probably by several orders of magnitude, than the numbers who were harmed.” [ii]

Colonialism brought the rule of law and economic progress

African-American economist, Thomas Sowell, reaches a similar conclusion to Bauer. Whilst acknowledging that not all parts of the colonised world were primitive, and that the coming of Western civilisation did not always represent progress in all aspects of life, Sowell concludes: “By and large European colonialism brought to the Third World what Roman imperialism had brought to Britain: (1) a reduction or cessation of internal fighting that had plagued these regions for centuries, holding back economic and social progress, (2) a unified system of law as a framework for stable expectations and the security and individual planning that law makes possible, (3) features of a more advanced system of technology and organisation, and (4) contact with a wider world, enabling creative potential to emerge from the restrictions of insularity.” [iii]

My opposition to this motion, Mr President, is not simply due to a belief that it is based on a distorted and one-sided evaluation of Western colonialism. It is also fuelled by the conviction that the demand for Western reparations is morally compromised by double standards, as well as being backward-looking and unfair to contemporary Western taxpayers.

The case for Western reparations involves double standards, Mr President, because it overlooks the fact that nearly all ethnic groups, tribes and nations have engaged, at one time or another, in wars of conquest, land seizures, slavery and genocide. If Western taxpayers are expected to pay for the sins of previous generations of Western colonialists, for which they were not responsible, should modern day Zulus and Apaches pick up the bill for the tribal wars and massacres perpetrated by their ancestors in southern Africa and North America? Should the present-day inhabitants of Mongolia and the Arabian Peninsula offer financial compensation for the wars of conquest waged by Genghis Kahn and Arab-Islamic rulers in Asia and the Mediterranean?

Anti-Western double standards absurd in relation to slavery

Anti-Western double standards about the past, Mr President, are particularly absurd when it comes to the subject of slavery. As Asian-American scholar, Dinesh D’Souza, points out in his massively documented 700 page critique of politically correct multiculturalism, The End of Racism: “…slavery was widespread in Africa from antiquity” and also existed among the native Indian tribes of North America, many of whom also owned black slaves. “The three powerful medieval kingdoms of Ghana, Songhai and Mali all relied on slave labour. Nor were these slaves exclusively black Africans…The Ashanti of West Africa customarily enslaved all foreigners.”  African complicity in the slave trade, states Dinesh D’Souza, was “epitomised in the proposition advanced to Europeans by an African chief in the early nineteenth century: ‘We want three things: powder, ball and brandy; and we have three things to sell: men, women and children.” [iv]

Perhaps the most poignant comment on African participation in the slave trade, Mr President, are these words of Zora Neale Hurston, the great black feminist writer of the Harlem Renaissance, in the early part of the 20th century: “The white people held my people in slavery here in America. They had bought us, it is true, and exploited us. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw was: my people had sold me…My own people had exterminated whole nations and torn families apart for a profit before the strangers got their chance at a cut.” [v]

What, by contrast, it is important to note about the West, Mr President, is that principled opposition to the historically universal institution of slavery primarily emerged from within Western culture. Starting with the Quakers and the Methodists, and continuing with the great anti-slavery campaign of William Wilberforce and his Evangelical friends, a vast humanitarian movement came into existence in the 18th and 19th centuries, which not only stamped out slavery in most places, but established the foundations of that very concern for human rights and national self-determination to which everyone pays at least lip-service today. To quote Thomas Sowell’s tribute to what he describes as Britain’s leading role in the destruction of the international slave trade, and then of slavery itself: “The magnitude of this achievement is hard to appreciate without first recognising that slavery was a worldwide institution, entrenched on every inhabited continent, subjugating people of every colour, language, and religion, and going back thousands of years.” [vi]

Arab slave trade depopulated whole regions of the Congo

And before we leave the subject of the slave trade, it should be noted that it was particularly destructive in Central Africa. There its cruelties and massacres, mainly the work of Arab slavers and their Muslim African allies, and exposed to international opinion by Dr Livingstone and other eyewitnesses, depopulated whole regions of the Congo. [vii]

It is therefore appropriate, given the constant and one-sided attacks on the Belgian colonial record, to recognise that it was in fact the Belgians who liberated the Congo from the genocidal ravages of this Arab-dominated slave traffic. Indeed, the very same independent investigative judicial commission whose 1905 report rightly condemned the serious abuses of the early years of Belgian colonisation, credited the early colonial administration with having put an end to tribal warfare, cannibalism and the slave trade.[viii]

Patrice Lumumba’s little known tribute to the Belgians

Even Patrice Lumumba, who became the Congo’s first black Prime Minister when Independence was granted in 1960, paid this tribute to the Belgian suppression of the slave trade in his 1958 book, Congo, My Country: “When we pass the graves of those heroes who gave their lives for our safety, and thanks to whom we can now utter the words ‘independence – autonomy,’ let us be silent for a few moments and bow our heads respectfully in their memory…Other countries-which were more powerful than Belgium – remained indifferent to our fate and left us to perish. Belgium, moved by a very sincere and humanitarian idealism, came to our help, and with the assistance of doughty native fighters, was able to rout the enemy, to eradicate disease, to teach us and to eliminate certain barbarous practices from our customs, thus restoring our human dignity and turning us into free, happy, vigorous civilised men.” [ix]

The problem with this motion, Mr President, is not only that it is based upon double standards and an unbalanced historical perspective. Its exaggeration of the evils of colonialism also evades the glaringly obvious fact that so much of what has gone wrong in the Third World since the 1960s has been due, not to Western exploitation, but to the aggrandizement and abuse of State power by corrupt and frequently incompetent post-colonial ruling elites. This has been true of countries like Algeria, Burma, and others in Asia and the Middle East. Above all it has been true of Africa.

To quote Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey: “ One word, power, explains Africa is in the grip of a never-ending cycle of wanton chaos, horrific carnage, senseless civil wars and collapsing economies; the struggle for power, its monopolisation by one individual or group, and the subsequent refusal to relinquish or share it.” [x]

At least 13 million Africans killed by own their leaders since 1960

That, Mr President, is why, as George Ayittey, points out, more than 13 million Africans have been killed by their own leaders since 1960.[xi] That is why of the 180 African heads of state who held power between 1960 and 1998, only 20 relinquished it or retired voluntarily.[xii] That, too, is why according to the African Union’s own estimates, Africa loses $148 billion a year – a quarter of its entire GDP – to corruption. [xiii]

Some years ago the distinguished Guinean novelist, Camara Laye, lamented that all too many African leaders: “…do not serve Africa. They make Africa serve themselves. They are far from being builders, organisers, city administrators, but are rather jailers who deal with the men, women and children of our people as if they were cattle.” [xiv]

As you ponder these words and reflect on the way dictators like Robert Mugabe use anti-colonialist rhetoric as an excuse for their crimes against their own people, ask yourselves whether giving credence to the demand for western reparations would really help the poor and the oppressed of the Third World.

Mr President, I beg to oppose!

Philip Vander Elst (copyright, 2017)


[i] Thomas Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race, (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1983), p.26.
[ii] P.T. Bauer, Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion, (London: Methuen, 1981), pp.167 & 172.
[iii] Thomas Sowell, op cit, p.226.
[iv] Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism, (New York: The Free Press, 1995), pp. 73 & 74.
[v] Dinesh D’Souza, op cit, p.74.
[vi] Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures: an international history, (New York, Basic Books, 1998), p.91.
[vii] For more information on this subject, see: (1) Belgian explorer and naturalist, Jean-Pierre Hallet’s semi-autobiographical history of the Congo, Congo Kitabu, (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1967), pp.62-68, & pp.414-416. (2) George Martelli, Leopold to Lumumba: a history of the Belgian Congo 1877-1960, (London: Chapman & Hall, 1962), pp.126 & 175. (3) Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures, p.110, (4) Dinesh D’Souza, op cit, p.74.
[viii] George Martelli, op cit, pp.172-175.
[ix] Patrice Lumumba, Congo, My Country (translated from the original French by Graham Heath), New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962.
[x] George Ayittey, ‘The African Power Equation’, The Washington Times, 20 April 1998.
[xi] George Ayittey, ‘Dr Ayittey offers a quick response to the questions addressed to him by Sadiq Manzan’, (, 2006.
[xii] George Ayittey, ‘The African Power Equation’, Ibid.
[xiii] Source: John O’Shea, letter published in the Sunday Telegraph (London), 18 March 2007.
[xiv] Quoted by Stephen Glover in the Daily Telegraph (London), 25 June 1982.

The pro-abortion demo. in Dublin

Quite by accident I was caught up in the pro- abortion demonstration that took place in Dublin last Saturday. I was heading North on O’ Connell Street, as they were heading South.

Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS, who provided this caption, /Clodagh Kilcoyne

And they is the crucial word here. The demonstration was well attended, surprisingly so. But that freely confessed the turn out was not of the near apocalyptic dimensions implied by photographs on  both the RTE and BBC web sites. It is also worth noting that it was a balmy autumn day which was perfect for a march. Had the day been wet I do not doubt that the whole exercise would have been much less impressive. The organisers are to be congratulated then both on their skill and on their good luck!

Probably of greater interest than the size of the march was its composition. The photographs did not lie when they suggested that those who took part were predominantly young and to a great extent female. Whether we like it or not the issue abortion divides both the generations and the sexes. Yet more troubling it was also clear ( or at least it seemed to be clear from where I was standing ) that a large proportion of the crowd had been marshalled into existence by, and were seemingly quite happy to march beneath the banners of, extreme left wing organisations. As the churches have declined, and because our established political parties have eschewed ideas, so economic illiteracy has flourished among the young. This must be a matter of grave concern to all those who love Ireland, and who wish for the prosperity of her people! What is to be done?

The EDMUND BURKE INSTITUTE cannot, of course, become involved either in the broader issue of abortion, or in the specific debate about constitutional prohibition of abortion which will soon be under discussion here. This is for two reasons. In the first place it is prevented by our legal arrangements; and secondly because the various directors of the in institute have differing views about the question, although it is no secret that some  advocate the “Right to life” in their private capacities.