Freedom and community: a Conservative perspective

Aside

 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 RedwoodMPrecent 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)J.SMill – 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

For all these reasons, it is unfortunate that one prominent American libertarian thinker, Ayn Rand (1905-1982),AynRand 2

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 HimmelfarbHemmelfarbOn 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)

Revolutionary socialism and sexual politics

 

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, Tammy bruceThe 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,The-Global-Sexual-Revolution-Gender-Ideology 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 )

 

Edmund_Burke_by_James_NorthcoteTwo 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.”Trotsky quote 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.

A critical error?

From Hansard, May 7th 1888. 

Mr. P.J. O’ BRIEN ( Tipperary North ) asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland [ A.J. Balfour ] , Whether he has yet received the Report in answer to the full enquiry which he promised into the circumstances of the case of the Cranna Orphanage in County Tipperary; whether it is accordance with the facts as reported at the coroner’s inquest on the body of the boy Madden; whether the remaining children in that Institution are still on the dietary [ regime?], the nature of which was then disclosed; and whether he will take steps to have this and similar Institutions visited at intervals by authorized Government Inspectors, so as to afford some protection to the orphan children therein confined, and to prevent the recurrence of such inhuman treatment as has been proved in the case of the Cranna orphans?    

THE CHIEF SECRETARY ( MR. A. J. BALFOUR )MORRIS(1889)_p333_THE_RIGHT_HON__A_J__BALFOUR_M_P (Manchester, E.) The local Constabulary authorities [ the police ] have furnished a copy of the verdict at the inquest on the body of the boy Madden, from which it appears that he died from weakness or syncope; but neither the jury nor the Coroner appears to have attached blame to any individual. The jury, however, in their verdict pointed out certain defects which, in their opinion, existed in the Institution as regards clothing, dietary, and attendance [ of a doctor?]. A letter has been received from the Bishop of Killaloe stating what steps have been taken to carry out the recommendations put forward by the Coroner’s Jury in order to remedy the existing defects.

MR. P.J. BRIEN The right hon. Gentlman did not answer the last part of the question. I understand that the Bishop of Killaloe very rarely visits the Institution.

MR A. J. BALFOUR I do not think a Government Inspector would be at all an improvement.

NOTE: Among the causes of Syncope mentioned by Wikepedia are, fasting, too few fluids, emotional distress and lack of sleep.  

When I mentioned the substance of this post to a friend ( a recently retired teacher ) he at once came up with the right diagnosis: “NEGLECT”

Christianity and freedom: a personal view

By Philip Vander Elst.

For decades, many observers of the contemporary cultural scene have been rightly concerned about the growing evidence that materially advanced Western societies are experiencing a process of moral breakdown and social fragmentation resulting in high levels of crime, anti-social behaviour, and cultural decay. At the same time, our generation is confronted, as never before, by a bewildering proliferation of alternative cultures and lifestyles – from Islamic fundamentalism and Eastern Religion, to New Age paganism, secular humanism, ‘gay liberation,’ and most recently, ‘transgenderism’.budha two All this raises an all-important question: What is the proper moral and cultural foundation of a free and civilised society? What framework of values justifies and sustains liberty, and helps to ensure that it benefits the individual and the community?

The answer of secular liberal humanism, the dominant ideology of 21st century Western intellectuals, is a simple one. Since there is no (allegedly) convincing evidence that God exists, and the human race follows a wide variety of different religions and belief systems, it is obvious that there are no moral and cultural absolutes – no demonstrably objective truths outside the narrow realms of mathematics, formal logic and the natural sciences. It therefore follows that the only proper attitude to adopt is one of neutrality and tolerance. All creeds, cultures and moral codes are equal and should be treated as such. None should be regarded as being superior to the others, and the law should not discriminate between them. In particular, children should be educated as far as possible in a ‘value-free’ environment, so that their ‘freedom of choice’ as adults is not compromised by early ‘indoctrination’. By contrast, belief in God and moral absolutes is typically regarded as bigoted and ‘authoritarian’, and therefore a threat to tolerance and freedom – a conviction reinforced by the erroneous belief that religious faith in general, and Christianity in particular, has always been an obstacle to the advancement of liberty and science.

This dominant secular humanist outlook explains the hostility aroused by the ‘Religious Right’ in the United States, especially within the ‘liberal’ media, and helps to account for the general spread of political correctness within Western educational and cultural institutions. As a result, there is everywhere a frantic anxiety to flatter and appease – in the name of equality – every conceivable minority, except, of course, Christians and Conservatives.

 

The inconsistency and incoherence of secular humanist ‘liberalism’

The glaring contrast between its commitment to ‘tolerance’ and its censorious attitude towards those who challenge its precepts, however, reveals the internal incoherence and inconsistency of humanistic ‘liberalism’. Even when its belief in choice and toleration is sincere, it is inconsistent with its other assumption that all values are relative, because if nothing is objectively right or wrong, tolerance becomes an arbitrary prejudice rather than a moral virtue, and its rejection by others cannot be logically condemned – a point to which I will return.

In reality, careful philosophical reasoning and close study of the historical record do not support the assumptions of secular humanism, even if one ignores its internal contradictions. They show, on the contrary, that the growth of liberty, the advancement of science, and the general progress of society, have been intimately linked with the development of Judaism and Christianity. Just as belief in a Divine Creator stimulated scientific discovery because it implied that Nature was orderly and therefore open to systematic investigation, so, in a similar way, the belief that we are all God’s children, made in His image, paved the way for the eventual abolition of slavery and the recognition that all human beings have a right ‘to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.

lordacton2

Acton, briefly MP for Cavan!

Sceptical readers who doubt these claims but are willing to investigate them in detail, should consult three outstanding books among the many which could be recommended. They are (1) Essays In The History of Liberty (Liberty Fund Books), by the great 19th century liberal and Catholic historian, Lord Acton; (2) Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730 – 1805 (Liberty Fund Books), and finally, (3) The Theme is Freedom: religion, politics and the American tradition (Regnery, USA), a wide-ranging and penetrating analysis of the religious foundations of Western liberty (complete with an exhaustive bibliography) by the late American Conservative writer and scholar, M. Stanton Evans.

 For the benefit of those with little time or leisure to read these books, the historical case for linking the growth of freedom with the development of Judaism and Christianity begins with the observation that the world of classical pagan antiquity was almost entirely hostile to the idea of liberty. With the rare exception of some Stoic philosophers, it had no conception of human rights, let alone respected them in practice. Not only was despotism practically universal, with political power concentrated in the hands of absolute monarchs, but slavery was an omnipresent institution whose raison d’être was not even questioned in the Athens of Pericles.EMEA-athens

World of pagan antiquity almost entirely hostile to the idea of liberty

The common view of pagan antiquity, expressed most clearly by Aristotle, was that slavery was justified because “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right…” In addition to regarding more than half the human race as little more than animals, whose lives and persons belonged to their owners, the world of classical antiquity had no real concept of limited government but believed, instead, that the individual only existed to serve the State – whether that political community was a single city or an empire. Hence, for instance, the failure of Athenian democracy to recognise or respect the rights of dissidents and minorities, demonstrated most famously in the trial, condemnation and death of Socrates. Indeed, this example underlines the point at issue with particular clarity, since it shows that despite the existence of freedom of thought and speech – the glory of ancient Athens – and the ability of Athenian citizens to participate as equals in the political process, there was no sense that individuals were ends in themselves or possessed any right to life, liberty or property which could be regarded as imposing moral limits on the power of the State. The idea that rulers were subject to a Higher Law and ought to exercise power and authority in the interests of the governed, was propagated by some of the Stoics, but their ‘still small voice’ had no countervailing impact on the customs, mores and institutions of the ancient world.

Western civilisation only really began to accommodate and assimilate the ideal of liberty and equality before the law, as a result of the gradually unfolding impact of the Biblical view of God and Man. Thus whereas pagan religion regarded Humanity as the passive victim of essentially amoral natural and supernatural forces which could only be appeased and controlled by elaborate rituals and sacrifices designed to win the favour of the ‘gods’, the Bible presented a radically different picture. According to the Biblical conception, there is only one God, and He is the eternal, self-existent Creator of the Universe. As such, He is the source of all life and consciousness, and the Father of all mankind. In addition, says the Bible, God is the Voice that speaks to our conscience and therefore the source of that Moral Law we find written on our hearts. This difference in theological perspective, compared with paganism, had dramatically contrasting consequences for politics and society. Of these consequences, two deserve special attention.

The first was the change that gradually took place in people’s attitude to the State and towards authority in general. Whereas paganism was saturated with the worship of power and the pursuit of pleasure and success as ends in themselves, encouraging the fusion and concentration of temporal and spiritual power in the hands of the ruler, Biblical Christianity emphasised the superiority of God’s Law over all kings, princes and human authorities, and insisted that the possession of power and responsibility at any level was a sacred trust which should not be abused out of pride or vanity, or for personal gain. Secondly, Biblical Christianity’s emphasis on the universal Fatherhood of God powerfully reinforced the ideal – shared by some Stoic philosophers – of the brotherhood of Man, while the notion that every human being is made in God’s image, introduced the idea that every individual is precious and has God-given rights which may not be violated by the State. Christianity’s additional stress on the weakness and sinfulness of human nature, and its affirmation that Christ died for the redemption of all men and women, also suggested extra reasons for limiting and preventing the abuse of power, and loving one’s neighbour.

Although the underlying logic of Biblical Christianity has been libertarian in its political and social implications, its pivotal role in the centuries long struggle against torture, slavery, tyranny and inhumanity, has often been obscured not only by the slow pace of historic change, but also by the human failings of Christian statesmen, theologians, and denominations. In particular, Christians have added their own terrible contribution to the sum of human cruelty whenever they have fallen prey to the temptation to use the power of the State to coerce the consciences of individuals, instead of imitating the example of Jesus and the Early Church by loving their enemies and combating error and heresy with the spiritual weapons of prayer, argument and evangelism. But despite these failings, and their responsibility for Christendom’s ugly record of persecution and intolerance during the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era, no impartial historian can deny the Biblical and Christian roots of freedom and liberal democracy.

To quote Lord Acton’s summary of the progress made during the Middle Ages: “Representative government, which was unknown to the ancients, was almost universal. The methods of election were crude; but the principle that no tax was lawful that was not granted by the class that paid – that is, that taxation was inseparable from representation – was recognised, not as the privilege of certain countries, but as the right of all…Slavery was almost everywhere extinct and absolute power was deemed more intolerable and more criminal than slavery. The right of insurrection was not only admitted but defined as a duty sanctioned by religion…”

 In the subsequent centuries, the Protestant emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with God and his right to read and interpret Scripture for himself, coupled with the New Testament view of the Church as the ‘priesthood of all believers’, encouraged the gradual growth of freedom of conscience, as well as the advance of democracy in Church and State. old bibleMost important of all, the Christian notion that human beings are made in the image of God and therefore endowed with the gifts of reason and free will, produced a powerful theological argument in favour of freedom of thought, worship and speech: namely, that if God Himself gives us the freedom to choose whether to accept or reject Him, neither the Church nor the State has the right to interfere with that freedom. This is a particularly vital insight given the fact that both the pursuit of truth, and the cultivation of virtue, require that individuals be free to compare and discuss ideas and choose between good and evil.

The link between Christianity and liberty is perhaps most clearly discernible when one examines the political consequences in the twentieth century of the anti-Christian atheism of philosophers like Marx and Nietzsche, and their subsequent disciples: Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler (For a full analysis of this issue, see: Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom, chapter 3).

The link between atheism, nihilism, and totalitarianism

Denying the existence of God, these prophets and architects of totalitarianism explicitly rejected the idea that there is an objective and eternally valid Moral Law. They asserted instead that human beings must create their own values, and that the supreme manifestation of human freedom and significance lay in the ruthless conquest and uncontrolled exercise of power, since human autonomy could only be affirmed and demonstrated by the forceful exercise of the naked will, untrammelled by the external restraint of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. The result? The Nazi and Communist holocausts and the increasingly murderous record of the State in the twentieth century, so graphically documented in Professor R.J. Rummell’s landmark study, Death by Government, Death by govermentTransaction Publishers, USA, 1996).

Despite the historical evidence, many deny the philosophical connection between atheism, nihilism and totalitarianism, on the grounds that the value of human life provides an objective foundation for morality without invoking the idea of God. What these critics fail to understand, however, is that it is impossible to justify our conviction that human life is valuable unless we treat it as a self-evident moral axiom reflecting an eternal (and therefore Divine) Reality outside ourselves. Otherwise it is nothing more than an emotional prejudice on a par with our liking for strawberries.

For all these reasons, those who cherish liberty and wish it to survive in the 21st century, ought to resist the continuing erosion of the Judeo-Christian ethic and the spread of secular humanism.

Philip Vander Elst (copyright)

The European Union’s threat to democracy and liberty

By Philip Vander Elst.elst

 “The basic question is whether Britain should remain an independent country or become a province in a United States of ‘Europe’. No criticism is levelled at those who genuinely advocate the latter course; at least it is an honest recognition of the total implication of belonging to the Common Market. But every form of criticism should be made of those who avoid the issue, who wilfully conceal it with honeyed words, or who simply don’t bother to study the reality.”

These accurate and prophetic words were written as long ago as 1974, by Neil Marten MP, one of the first and greatest Tory opponents of British involvement in the European project, in his pamphlet, The Common Market: No Middle Way, published in London by the Common Market Safeguards Campaign. In the ensuing four decades, the British political and media establishment has, with rare exceptions, continued to “avoid the issue” and “wilfully conceal it with honeyed words.”

The anti-democratic and illiberal origins of the European project

To understand the anti-democratic origins and illiberal character of the European project, one needs to appreciate the traumatic psychological impact of the First and Second World Wars on the thinking of a significant section of the European elite. Horrified by the scale of the destruction they witnessed between 1914 and 1945, and by the rise of Fascism and Nazism in the interwar period, the pioneers of European integration drew two erroneous lessons from these events. The first was that ‘nationalism’ was an inherently evil force, which could not be contained and defeated unless the nations of Europe could be induced to sacrifice their national sovereignty in the interests of peace. The second was that democracy could not be relied upon to build a better future, since millions of Germans and Italians had voted for Hitler and Mussolini, and millions of other Europeans had supported authoritarian nationalist movements in other parts of Europe, including Spain, Hungary, Romania, and even France. For these reasons, they concluded, the creation of a new European State was not only a necessary objective of civilized statesmanship; it was also a goal which, in its initial stages, would have to be approached by stealth, so as not to upset the national sensitivities of the unenlightened majority.

ThornicroftTo quote just one of these pioneers of European integration, Peter (later Lord) Thorneycroft, a British Conservative politician who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late 1950s and Conservative Party Chairman in 1975: “…it is as well to state this bluntly at the outset – no government dependent upon a democratic vote could possibly agree in advance to the sacrifices any adequate plan [for European Union] must involve. The people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences…” (Quote from his pamphlet, Design for Europe, May/June 1947).

The long and tortuous process by which this goal of European unification by stealth has been pursued, including a lengthy analysis of its historical and intellectual origins, and its chief protagonists, is described in compelling and scholarly detail by Christopher Booker and Richard North, in their widely acclaimed book, The Great Deception, (Continuum, 2005). great deceptionThey show how the supra-nationalist project of the European Union’s founding fathers has advanced by a gradual and indirect process of economic integration. The most important initial stage was the 1957 Treaty of Rome, establishing a protectionist European customs union (the European Economic Community, or EEC) consisting of West Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Today, 56 years and 5 European treaties later, the European Union has ballooned into a supranational Leviathan comprising 28 countries and 24 official languages. (See: europa.eu, the official EU website).

The cost so far of in terms of loss of sovereignty

Whether they like it or not, Britons and other European nationals already live in an emergent European State with a common flag, passport, citizenship, anthem, supreme court, executive, parliament, bureaucracy, central bank, and currency (the euro), used by 19 of the member countries, excluding Britain. The foundations have been laid for a future European Army and police force, and the European Union now has its own official diplomatic corps. As a result of all these changes and the development of common European policies in nearly every conceivable field, Britain, for example, has lost control of her agriculture, her fishing grounds, her external trade, decisions about Value Added Tax, aspects of employment law, immigration, and internal trading standards – including weights and measures. Most recently, under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which extended ‘Qualified Majority Voting’ [abolishing national vetoes] into 63 new policy areas, the EU has been given new powers over external border controls and internal security, as well as a role in standardizing civil and criminal laws and procedures. It has, in addition, been allowed to appoint its own EU foreign minister, who will conduct the Union’s common foreign and security policy.

In 1992, the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, declared: “The European Union Treaty [referring to the 1991 Maastricht Treaty]…within a few years will lead to the creation of what the founding fathers of modern Bundesarchiv_B_145_Bild-F074398-0021_Kohl_(cropped)Europe dreamed of after the war, the United States of Europe.” (Quoted in Treaty of Maastricht, Civitas, London, November 2005). Readers can judge for themselves how close the rolling bandwagon of European supranationalism has come to reaching this final destination.

A loss of democratic control previously enjoyed by national electorates over the laws and regulations governing their daily lives, has been an inevitable consequence of the centralizing supranationalist process of European unification. For instance, despite being one of the biggest EU member states, Britain’s decision-making power within EU institutions like the Council of the European Union (representing national governments) and the European Parliament, is extremely limited. British representatives only control around 8% of the total votes. As the European Union expands to include more countries, this loss of democratic accountability through the dilution of national representation at European level, only increases, a problem troubling other European nationals as well as many British observers.

To quote the words of Germany’s former President Herzog, written in January 2007: “It is true that we are experiencing an ever greater, inappropriate centralization of powers away from the Member States and towards the EU. The German Ministry of Justice has compared the legal acts adopted by the Federal Republic of Germany between 1998 and 2004 with those adopted by the European Union in the same period. Results: 84% come from Brussels, with only 16% coming originally from Berlin…” (Article on the 2004 EU Constitution, jointly written with Luder Gerken, Welt Am Sonntag, 14 January 2007).

Whilst popular disenchantment with the process of European integration has increased markedly in recent years, most of all in Britain, the latter’s subordination of national institutions to supranational ones has evoked less opposition than might otherwise have been expected, due to its largely hidden nature. As Mark Leonard, of the Centre for European Reform, explained in 2005: “Europe’s power is easy to miss. Like an ‘invisible hand’ it operates through the shell of traditional political structures. The British House of Commons, British law courts and British civil servants are still here, but they have become agents of the European Union, implementing European law. This is no accident. By creating common standards that are implemented through national institutions, Europe can take over countries without necessarily becoming a target for hostility.” (Booker & North, Op. cit, p. 1).

Resistance to the growing power of the European Union is not only undermined by its partially hidden character, but also by a deep-seated conviction, particularly strong in Germany, that the cause of peace is worth almost any sacrifice of national sovereignty, however initially unwelcome. The visitor centre in the European Parliament building in Brussels, for instance, prominently displays the following quote by Philip Kerr (later, Lord Lothian), a former British civil servant and one of the leading advocates of both European unification and world government during the 1930s (see Booker & North, Op. cit, pp. 24 – 26): “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our time and of the steady march of humanity back to tragic disaster and barbarism…The only final remedy for this supreme and catastrophic evil of our time is a federal union of the peoples..”

The myth about national sovereignty being the cause of war

There is, however, no basis either in history or logic for the belief that national sovereignty is “the root cause” of war and “barbarism”. Religious and ideological divisions, and the dynastic ambitions and family quarrels of emperors and kings, caused plenty of wars in Europe (and elsewhere) long before the advent of the modern nation state. If any one factor can be singled out as the primary cause of war and barbarism down the ages, it has not been national sovereignty, but tyrannical government and the lust for power of rulers and elites, as all the great classical liberals – notably Herbert Spencer, recognized. This has been even truer in the 20th century, the age of totalitarian socialism in all its variants – Communist, Nazi and Fascist. Anyone who doubts this, should not only read R. J. Rummel’s seminal studies, Death by Government and Power Kills (Transaction Publishers, 1996 & 1997), but also The Coming of the Third Reich, (Penguin Books, 2004), by Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.evans 3rd reich Evans’ book is particularly relevant because it shows that Imperial Germany’s authoritarian, anti-Semitic, and aggressively militaristic political culture was the biggest single cause of the First World War as well as the soil in which the seeds of Nazism were planted long before Hitler came to power in 1933.

Since illiberal political cultures are the real enemies of peace and freedom, rather than national sovereignty, the cause of progress is not advanced by the movement towards supranationalism either at the European or the global level. A Europe of independent self-governing nation states, respecting human rights and engaged in free trade and mutual co-operation on an intergovernmental basis, decentralizes power and offers many opportunities for the free movement of goods, people and ideas. As such, it represents the enduring internationalist vision of the great classical liberals of the 19th century, like Cobden, Bright and Bastiat. The supranationalist alternative of a single European State, by contrast, threatens both liberty and democracy because it creates a new and wholly unnecessary concentration of power which cannot be subject to effective democratic control within a multinational entity comprising 28 different electorates divided by 24 different languages and cultures. As American experience has shown, even the most carefully constructed federal system, buttressed by an originally homogeneous and libertarian political culture, has failed to prevent the growth and abuse of power by the Federal Government in the USA. How likely is it, then, that the European Union will avoid a much worse fate given the authoritarian and collectivist political traditions, and unfortunate history, of so many of its member countries?

The relevance of this question is underlined by what happened after May and June 2005, when the French and Dutch electorates rejected the newly negotiated 2004 European Constitution in their national referendums. The angry and contemptuous response of EU leaders was to re-present the rejected Constitution, minus some cosmetic changes, as the 2008 Lisbon Treaty, and then ram it through their national parliaments without any further referendums. As Czech President Vaclav Klaus noted with disquiet in his speech to the European Parliament on 5 December 2008: “I thought…that we live in a democracy, but it is post-democracy, really, which rules the EU.”

Today, in 2015, post-democracy still “rules the EU” because the continuing process of European unification has created centralized supranational institutions offering increased power and more lucrative careers to the ruling political class. Consequently, as long as it remains in its present form, pursuing its founding goal of “an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe” (Treaty of Rome), the EU will continue to act as a powerful and dangerous magnet, pulling into its orbit, and attracting to its cause, thousands of ambitious politicians, academics, civil servants, and journalists, as well as a host of charities and NGOs whose independence has been compromised by their receipt of EU funding (see: Christopher Snowdon, Euro Puppets, The European Commission’s remaking of civil society, IEA , February 2013).

The liberal internationalist alternative to European unification

These dangers explain why many of us in Britain want to free ourselves from the supranationalist spider’s web of the European Union, and by doing so, contribute to the wider defence of democracy and liberty in Europe. To do this we must rediscover that great old tradition of liberal internationalism mentioned above. We must turn our faces outwards towards what Churchill famously called “the open seas”, conscious of the fact that Britain is a major global trading nation and nuclear power, a ‘Permanent Member’ of the UN Security Council, a key member of NATO, and a significant player in 96 separate international organisations.

We British Euro-sceptics are not afraid of our future outside the European Union. Indeed we should positively embrace it, because in rejecting the supranationalist goal of a European State, we would be defending the pluralism and diversity which has been the true glory of European civilization. As Wilhelm Ropke, one of Germany’s greatest liberal economists put it in the 1950s:humane economy “In antiquity Strabo spoke of the ‘many shapes’ of Europe; Montesquieu would speak of Europe as a ‘nation des nations’; Decentrism is of the essence of the spirit of Europe. To try to organise Europe centrally…and to weld it into a bloc, would be nothing less than a betrayal of Europe and the European patrimony.” (Wilhelm Ropke, A Humane Economy, Henry Regnery, 1st English edition, USA, 1960).

 

 

Philip Vander Elst is a British freelance writer and lecturer whose many publications include Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (IEA, 2008) and Vindicated by history: Statism’s 19th century critics (Cobden Centre, 2012, & Edmund Burke Institute, Dublin, 2015). This article is an expanded and amended version of one that first appeared in the March 2014 issue of the American libertarian magazine, Future of Freedom.

Just in from Washington D.C.

feb16We continue the painfully tedious process of preparing to move — so far just by sifting through decades of accumulated domestic and professional detritus, throwing out the useless and saving the rest for further sorting. But there are lighter moments.
Today, we excavated a small chest of three drawers. We discussed where it had come from and where it had been. Our best guess is that it may have come from my paternal grandmother and last saw use in the windowless downstairs bedroom in our xxx house, whence we removed, as you will remember, in 19tt. In the top drawer was a silver chest containing some items that had belonged to my mother’s oldest sister. The bottom drawer was empty.
feb16bThe middle drawer was stuck, but J. removed the top drawer and by that revealed a small zip bag. It contained some disposable razors, a miscellaneous collection of American, British, and Irish coins.– and a pocket watch, chain, and fob that I remember gracing your person.  I am claiming the coins as forfeit. Everything else, including the bag, is unfit for further use — except the pocket watch.
We will keep it for you, against the day when you come to claim it (below) and can again emulate Rhett Butler (above). If we had found it in time, it could have been returned in your Christmas box!

Politicians putting all our hard work at risk by their rash promises to voters

By Eamon Delaney.

Hardly has the party season ended, but our politicians are back with their rash and populist promises in the run-in to next year’s election.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has promised to raise the State pension to up to €24 per week over next few years if re-elected. There is no clarification as to how this will be paid for. It is unnecessary, uncalled for and recklessly generous – pitched to attract the votes of the elderly.joan-burton-labour-leadership-bid-lab-752x501 As it is, the State will struggle to pay for the existing pension system, given the huge demands expected in the future.

But who cares about that – that’s the future! Instead, Ms Burton’s stunt is an all-out pitch for votes when the Labour Party is in the doldrums and possibly about to be kicked out – and for which someone else will pay the bill down the road. This is, alas, the usual pattern of Irish pro-cyclical politics, boom to bust, and ‘spend the taxpayers’ cash now, if you have it.’

Labour’s proposal is also not a targeted increase. It is once again an increased benefit for all, regardless of means. We are apparently wedded to ‘universality’ in Ireland, such as with children’s allowances and, now, health services, and to the idea that State benefits should go to the wealthy too, rather than specifically to the needy. No wonder the Labour Party is seen as such a middle class party. After all, their free third-level education benefited no one more than their own well-heeled supporters.

But Fianna Fáil is no different. Indeed, far from criticising Ms Burton’s proposed €24 hike, Michael McGrath of FFmichael-mcgrath-3-390x285 said it didn’t go far enough and wouldn’t ‘cover the cost’ of cuts already imposed. It’s the same old Fianna Fáil, alas, when it comes to public spending and currying favour with the electorate, regardless of the cost to the State – and our future. This week the party rolled out its new plan for an enhanced welfare system which will bring up everybody’s basic benefits in a way that, in many cases, will make it pointless for them to start working.

Everybody, from rich to poor, is promised a minimum welfare/income by FF in excess of the current basic welfare rate of €188 per week. This basic ‘minimum income’ is being described as a ‘protection against poverty’ in a future era where few will be guaranteed work.

Granted, any income earned above this minimum payment will be taxed at a single new rate – probably at about 25pc. However, is it really the State’s business to ensure people have decent incomes and even actually pay them a monetary top-up if they don’t make enough in employment? Surely the purpose of the State is to create the conditions for employment, enterprise and, hopefully, prosperity.

However, having created the conditions that has made working attractive again – and only because the EU Troika was at their back – the Government, and FF (which began the Troika reforms) now wants to do the very opposite. Labour wants to increase dole payments by a whopping €30 per week, even though Ireland’s extensive and often generous welfare system has long been seen as a deterrent to work (welfare traps etc). And Fine Gael, which seems to have lost all its financial discipline and now resembles the Bertie-era giveaways of the mid-2000s, wants to make a similar expensive, anti-work measure.

According to Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics agency project, Ireland has the highest expenditure rate on unemployment in the EU. We spend twice the European average on unemployment costs. But hey, let’s spend more when there’s an election coming, seems to be the politicians attitude.

It seems the Government, and all the main political parties, are all about courting popularity, and it doesn’t matter what it costs. Just look at the recent Budget, with its immediate pay restoration for public servants, and increase in Child Benefit and other allowances, and a top-up in the Christmas bonus. It was just one goodie after another as the Government’s fiscal discipline slackened in sight of a Spring election. The minimum wage was also hiked, despite protests from small businesses and entrepreneurs, who are actually creating jobs but who are ignored by most of our political culture.

This is all very depressing but it’s also surprising. Having taken flak for making all those cuts and necessary reforms, why would the Government now endanger such hard-won gains to curry favour with a seemingly content electorate, especially since most of these concessions will be long forgotten by the time of the election? Why not try to be respected rather than liked, and do what the UK Government did, running on a programme of clear and frank austerity and still getting itself resoundingly re-elected?

Instead, the FG and Labour Government is putting the interests of their parties ahead of those of the country at a time when we are still borrowing heavily and running a big budget deficit. And FF would do exactly the same.

eamon1

Eamon Delaney is a writer and broadcaster based in North Dublin.

In none of these parties, is there anyone saying that we cannot afford this extra spending and it shouldn’t be done. That is the really depressing part. It is exactly the sort of election policies which got us into trouble so many times before, in the late 1970s, the 1980s and then most notoriously in the later years of the Celtic Tiger.

This article was originally published in “The Irish Independent.”

The Question of Suicide

The question of suicide

By Laurence Ticehurst

I will not easily, indeed, if ever forget the occasion some years ago when I returned from Dublin to find my neighbourhood in uproar because a young man had ended his own life. Until that day- or rather until the difficult days which followed- I had shared the liberal assumptions about suicide: that it was a tragedy, that those who chose to end their lives in that way deserved to have their choice respected. And in the next few days and perhaps even weeks we are likely to hear a good deal more of such language, since we are approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath.U1889231 But when I saw the damage and pain that that the suicide of the young man who lived beside me caused, I began to think that this liberal talk was only half the story.

Of course intolerance is not an attractive emotion. Nor does it lead to well considered political choices. No rational person would wish to reintroduce the crime of assisted suicide. Here above all is case where the police, the courts, and the prison have no place. But we need we acquiesce in what we must tolerate? ( Whatever else is true or not about Plath’s death, she abandoned two small children.)

Political and economic liberalism must be distinguished from libertinism. The former is a doctrine about importance of limiting ( although perhaps not absolutely excluding ) the role of the state in moral matters. The latter is the belief that private morality is at best an irrelevance, and at worst a barrier which stands between people and their true liberation as individuals. Liberalism makes room for tradition and sometimes for departures from it. Libertinism condemns it.
In the case of suicide tradition plainly has the best of the argument. Suicide is not just an individual matter. It is not a crime with only one victim. The victims of every suicide are multiple. Take another case which came my way recently. That of a young working on a masters in The United States who threw himself under the Washington MetroWashington DC Metro for some trivial reason connected with his academic endeavours. A victimless “crime” you say? I’m not so sure. What of the train driver? What of the emergency services? What of his parents? What of the rest of his family? What of his girl friend? What of her family? And what of the innumerable others- some utterly unknown to him- who have been touched by his foolishness- all because as he put it “he didn’t fit in?” He has condemned all whose life he has touched to live with the trauma he has caused for the rest of their lives.

No! I find myself thinking. Should we not be more aware of the harm that suicide does? Should we perhaps be a rather less tolerant of those who commit suicide? Should we not condemn suicide more vigorously? Should we not perhaps be more aware of the way in which tolerance for suicide, can degenerate into collaboration with it?

But in thinking thus we at once come face to face yet another difficulty. It is exactly the sort of intolerance that I am advocating for suicide, which has in other cases, to led decent people to take their own lives. How can we condemn the act of suicide without denigrating the person who commits it? The question of suicide turns out to be exactly that- a question. In the midst of our tears we have thinking to do.the-thinker

“It’s a Little Inconvenient”: Memories of a Bulawayo Book Club By Althea Farren

“It’s a Little Inconvenient”: Memories of a Bulawayo Book Club

By Althea Farren

mugabe

When Robert Mugabe took over Rhodesia in 1980, we feared the worst. After all, we – as white Rhodesians had been fighting a guerrilla war against Mugabe’s ZANU forces and the ZAPU forces of Joshua Nkomo for years. At first, we were pleasantly surprised. Mugabe appeared to be responsible and statesmanlike. He urged all of us – whites and blacks – to work together for a united Zimbabwe.
Three years later between 1983 and 1987, Mugabe massacred over 20,000 of Nkomo’s Matabele people, and then forced Nkomo to sign a Unity Accord in 1987, thus neutralising the threat he posed. After this, all opposition was effectively eliminated.
In the year 2000, a referendum was scheduled on a proposed new constitution. When passed, it would give Mugabe even greater power and a longer term in office. (Twenty years weren’t enough.)
A new party, The Movement for Democratic Change, emerging from the trade unions, opposed Mugabe. The whites were firmly behind the MDC – this included white farmers, who had contributed financially to the new party. The farmers were politically influential, as they employed large numbers of rural people, for whom they provided free education and medical care. Farm workers were a crucial element of the rural vote.
In February 2000, the people went to the polls and voted “No” to the proposed constitution. Mugabe was furious. It was the first time he had lost a vote. Within weeks, he had mobilised a horde of drunk, drug-crazed thugs – the so- called “war vets” – to attack, brutalise, beat, rape and kill defenceless rural black people, many of whom were farm workers. The whites had stolen the land, he said, and it was time to take it back, and return it to its rightful owners. (This is not what happened. The farms forcibly taken from the whites were not redistributed to landless black people. They were occupied by his relatives and cronies, (who knew nothing at all about farming) but who were a crucial component of Mugabe’s patronage system.
We, whites had been politically passive for years. What could we do? We were vastly outnumbered – 1% in a population of 12 million. Our attitude changed when Mugabe declared us to be “enemies of the state”. We wanted to get rid of this despot. Many of us became politically active, more patriotic and more alert to the horror that was being inflicted on our black countrymen.imagesCA81Y66W
Each election since the referendum has been rigged. Before each one, Mugabe and his party carry out a campaign of intimidation. Afterwards, another more systematic and sinister operation takes place: this one designed to punish those individuals and communities who voted against Mugabe and ZANU PF. (It is, in fact, a military operation.) Since they voted “the wrong way”, they are tortured, raped and murdered. Their homes and all their possessions are burnt, stolen or destroyed. The tendons on the legs of their cattle and goats are cut. Even the animals are tortured for their association with the MDC.
I had belonged to a ladies’ book club for many years. We enjoyed getting together once a month to review and discuss the books we’d read. We were also a support group: there for Margaret when her hearing began to deteriorate and when her daughter lost a baby; there for Colleen when she was burgled for the third time, there when Joan and Stella were thrown into jail for their political activism. On Diana’s birthday, we gave her a gallon of petrol – it was much more useful than flowers or a bottle of wine.
Very soon, our money lost its value. We found ourselves spending millions of dollars on basic commodities like food and toilet paper. We had to queue for hours and sometimes days to withdraw our cash from the bank. When our banks ran dry, we had to buy cash from the supermarkets to pay our workers’ wages.
Flanking Mugabe are others, equally corrupt, rich beyond your wildest dreams and mine. They are all jockeying for power. And they are all above the law – there is no justice in Zimbabwe.

Al-Farren-Book-Cover

A few years after we’d left to come here to Ireland, diamonds were discovered in the remote Marange district. If proceeds from these diamonds were channelled into the treasury, as they should be, the problems of the country could be solved very quickly. The lives of the poor, the sick and the hungry could be transformed. Instead, Zimbabwe’s “blood diamonds” are making the obscenely rich and powerful even more obscenely rich and powerful. Diamond revenue is also being utilised to pay for and strengthen the armed forces – who have been given diamond mining rights – and who are crucial to Mugabe’s strategy for retaining power.
Our book club operated as a tiny microcosm against this complex and confusing backdrop. Life was often hilarious, though, as you’ll see from many of the incidents I describe in the book. “Bizarre” is the adjective we would have used most frequently.
An article we came across last month illustrates one of these ironies.
Evicted Farmers Supplying the Bulk of Imported Maize
The bulk of imported maize being supplied to hungry Zimbabweans is coming from former white commercial farmers evicted during the chaotic land invasions in 2000.
Many dispossessed commercial farmers from Zimbabwe went to Zambia, where they bought new farms.
Since then, Zimbabwe, which used to be southern Africa’s bread basket, has been buying most of its maize from Zambia. (We used to export to Zambia before the year 2000!)
Because the Zambian bags have the white farmers’ names on them, they are destroyed and the grain is repackaged in Zimbabwean bags and then sold as Zimbabwean produce.
Zimbabwe is the strangest mix of the Beautiful, the Brutal and the Bizarre. This is what I hope I’ve illustrated in “It’s a Little Inconvenient”.

Althea Farren

Well we never did hear

Well we never did hear..

Laurence Ticehurst

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salisbury cathedral

The Edmund Burke Institute is an Irish organisation. But like
Burke himself we are not above taking cognisance of events of across
the water. And a curious circumstance came to our attention recently.
The sister of one of our directors booked herself into a private
hospital- which had better be nameless- in the South West of England –
to have hip replacement operation. When she emerged full of pain
killers and warfarin ( to thin the blood not end her agony!) she found
herself being cared for by a “district nurse” employed by The National
Health Service. This kind and competent lady blandly announced that she
too had private insurance and had been treated by the same hospital as
her patient.

This seems to us to be rather a rum do! One’s first thought
should certainly be for the National Health nurse concerned. As someone
said: “If you had seen what she had seen you too would have private
medical insurance!” But there does seem to be a little matter of
consistency here. No one is accusing the nurse concerned of acting in
any way improperly. So she was undoubtedly doing the best she could for
herself and for her family. She may also have believed that by paying
for her own private care she was actually helping the National Health
Service by relieving it of the responsibility for her treatment.
Nevertheless it would be interesting to know how widespread this
practice is? As frankly it is difficult to suppress the thought that
those who are employed by The National Health Service should also be
treated by it.

National Health Service

The matter can be further elucidated a custom in the private
sector. Those employed by stockbrokers are obliged to have their
savings managed by the firm for which they work. This is to align their
interests with those of the firm’s clients. Should there not be a
similar rule in the National Health Service? Should not the interests
of all those who work in The National Health Service be aligned fully
with those that they serve? Is there- perhaps- a case for stopping
those who work in The National Health Service- and similar
organisations elsewhere-from using private medical care? Otherwise it
will be difficult to avoid posing the question: If the National Health
Service is not good enough for those who work in it, just who is it
good enough for?

Laurence Ticehurst