The Right Mind Essay 2 – Michael Way [Students for Liberty]

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

I am a Libertarian.

First, dear reader, I will surprise you. You and I have more in common than that which separates us. I am not the radical ideologue many would wish me to be. My opinions are considered, developed, and ultimately deeply held. I say we are not that unalike, as I presume that reading his eponymous magazine you are a child of Burke. I am too.

Since sixteen years of age, the past seven years of my life, I have been a member of the British Conservative and Unionist party. I embraced the charisma of David Cameron, and through my secondary school education became an avid reader of Burke and eventually Benjamin Disraeli. Through Disraeli’s writings, both political and fictional, I evolved my first political conversion. I became a One Nation Conservative.

Indeed, for most of my political life, I was a One Nation Conservative. I believed in the enterprise of the middle class and their ability to generate wealth, and I believed that we as successes had a duty to at the very least mitigate the suffering of those who were losing the game of life. I believed in a minor, state provided safety net. I am sure that many of you still do.

All this changed when I attended Ulster University at Coleraine. There, surrounded by a dark sea of Left-wing demagogues, I managed fortuitously to meet one of the very few fellow capitalists on campus. I met a PhD student named Mark Kyle, who specialised in the writings of the once very popular Herbert Spencer.

There, in his office on the third floor of the now demolished South Building, we spent many precious hours of life discussing the finer details of politics, and where we as individuals differed in our viewpoints. In the sinking sun of a late November evening, when I was proselytising the duty of the middle to look after the working, Mark posed me a question which changed my life forever. The question he asked was “What exactly is your fair share of what someone else has worked for?” (A question I would later learn was the genius of Thomas Sowell).

I was quite frankly, in the most literal meaning of the word, speechless. I have always prided myself in my ability to talk. In fact, I have often been able to turn my own ignorance on a topic into several minutes of linguistic gymnastics, successfully selling airy trifles of little substance to my audiences as principled points. I could not. I stumbled. I told him that a flat tax could work, say 20%. He asked, “Why 20?”

We ran out of time. I went home and in one of my first dark nights of the soul I found myself in a philosophical waking nightmare. I could not sleep. I realised that Mark’s main point was that any level of taxation I advocated was, in essence, a point of arbitration. Why 20? Why not 19, or 21? Or 80? I decided in that moment to read Herbert Spencer. Mark gave me a very old edition of The Man Versus The State and I began to read.

I found in his works the wonderful dictation that ‘all socialism involves slavery.’ I realised he did not mean slavery in the literal sense of chains and canes. He meant it the way Sowell, and by extension Mark, had. By forcing people to work for the betterment of others, we make them slaves. It was that day when I became a Libertarian, not necessarily because I had all the answers (many of which I am still searching for), but rather because I believed it to be inherently more moral than my Conservatism.

I still advocate helping those less fortunate or successful, not through coercion, but as Spencer’s great friend Andrew Carnegie established in his article ‘Wealth,’ through philanthropy and charity, through voluntary action. That is the only moral form of social welfare.

Burke’s Right Minds

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run byThe Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute. This essay has been written by Paddy Manning.

I am a Conservatarian

Being gay made me a libertarian, being a child of the 20th Century made me a conservative. I came of age, gay, in an Ireland that that criminalised sexual contact between men. Dirty, disgusting sodomy was not just a criminal offence, to ‘importune’ a man for such activity was as criminal. The state believed it had the right and the power to make me moral, to make me straight. Every fibre of my being screamed otherwise, that as a human I had the right to be who I was, to choose for myself.

The State’s attempt to terrorise me into chastity or heterosexuality  had the effect of making me doubt that the state had any rights over me. If it was wrong of the state to decide whom I slept with then was it not wrong for the state to decide whom I paid, whom I lived beside, what I ate, drank, injected, said or thought? Why could the state’s possession of force justify its rule over my life?

I struggled with these notions in the absence of ideas or philosophy. I had left school at 16 and Ireland was (is still) not a place where ideas are easy to come by. Involvement in party politics did not help. Party politics is not about ideas but about process. A political party does not care about the relationship between the citizen and the state but how the citizen can be persuaded to vote for the party by promises to manipulate the state. The better I got at process, at canvassing and training canvassers, at helping candidates present themselves, the worse I got at thinking.

In Fine Gael I was an outsider in a party which worships the power of the state like a eunuch fetishizing sex. I had my own reasons for doubting Fine Gael’s sacred cows. Memories of my arrest, under the Victorian 1867 Offences Against The Persons Act, late at night, by a burly Garda, in a sting operation, left me with a horror of moral police, an insight into the corruption of the Stasi mentality and a profound doubt as to the effectiveness of law as a tool to govern personal lives.

I was a libertarian without knowing the word but I had a problem with my nascent beliefs. The 20th century is the story of break down, of the rise of appalling totalitarian states that in which everything good, decent, protective that civil society had created collapsed and was immolated. Millions suffered and died in gruesome misery.

I read Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago,’ Levi’s ‘The Drowned and the Saved,’ ‘If This is a Man’ and ‘The Periodic Table.’ Those were history, but in Northern Ireland men broke the legs of a young father and strapped him in a v

an with a bomb telling him they would kill his children if he didn’t run that suicide mission. Man was unaccountably, polymorphously evil, and I had no answer as to whether we could be free and not fall prey to our darkest urges. How were we to be protected from the savages, from our own savagery?

I was lucky to meet a man whose irritating certainty in the correctness of his conservative and free market convictions aroused my contrarian instinct to argue with him. I couldn’t win an argument with Michael Dwyer and never have, but he became my best friend and opened a world of ideas and thinkers, including Edmund Burke. Burke laid a basis for conservative thought that sees society, civilisation, as an inheritance from the dead to be passed to the yet unborn, drawn from his horror at the French Revolution.

If Michael helped shape my beliefs so too did the Great Irish Crash direct both of our thinking. For me the personal disaster and failure were harrowing and ruinous. I needed to understand how so many got it so wrong. Capitalism had failed to die despite the constant, confident predictions of the Marxists and the mainstream Keynesians seemed to be the problem but there were economists who had a coherent explanation for credit bubbles and cyclical economic crashes.

Mises, Hayak, Rothbard and other Au

strian Economists had written cogent explanations of the virtues of the free market and the effect of low interest rates and economic bubbles long before the Great Irish Crash. Better again their views on the state either tended towards, or were fully fledged libertarian and many of the living writers were concerned with integrating their free-market economics with their Catholicism, a faith I had returned to after a 25 year wander in the atheism wilderness.

When David Cameron made his Conservatives for Same Sex Marriage speech in 2012 I had become concerned at the lack of debate for a change that was being forcefully pushed internationally. No good idea requires silencing, censorship and name calling to succeed and changes to something as fundamental, evolved and central as marriage required real debate. By the time proposal became an issue here I was opposed to the idea.

The only way I was going to be allowed take part in the national debate was if I talked of my own life, using identity politics to fight identity politicking. The experience of the Marriage Referendum, the thuggery, bullying, death threats and attempts to silence opposition convinced me that if social conservatism was to matter it would have to be stubborn, unapologetic and unashamed of its positions.

As a conservative I believe we need evolved institutions and cultures to form human society and mediate between us and the worst of ourselves, as a libertarian I believe those institutions and cultures should be voluntary. If I have no right to use force to bend others to my will, then neither have others the right to use force on me for their ends. I am utterly optimistic that free we can create mutual prosperity but profoundly pessimistic that a changed or designed society will be better than our imperfect present.

I am a conservative libertarian, a conservatarian.

On the blasphemy referendum

Last week we, the electorate, were asked to delete a single word from the constitution on the grounds that it is dangerous, that it gives reason to imprison and kill dissenters in Islamic countries and that the deletion will, in some manner, make us modern.

That was as much as we’ve had in debate for the proposal to delete “blasphemous” from the material covered by article 40.6.1of the constitution and not only is this not a debate, it is the exact opposite, it is the negation, the avoidance, the hiding-in-terror from anything that might resemble debate.

We are not allowed a debate in Ireland on any topic where the government notices the sinister bony hand of the Catholic Church reaching down from the past or the Palace to thwart the great project of the People’s Secular Revolution. The Government Commissars have, of course, the support of journalists and publishers in the great work. After the Abortion Referendum it was Irish journalists (journalists!) who called for the future suppression of dissent, of civic opposition to the Governments agenda. The Matt Coopers and Una Mulallies don’t want debate, they want progress, movement towards the utopia. Debate delays the revolution.

Some revolution. There has never been a prosecution or arrest under this constitution for blasphemy. Ever. The last prosecution in Ireland was in 1855, 163 years ago. Different laws. A different state. Yet the word is so dangerous that we must rush a referendum to remove its toxic influence from a constitution that now explicitly permits the Oireachtas to legislate for the killing of a class of humans.

This referendum is cosmetic, a puerile nonsense thought up by a group of immature cabinet ministers attempting a permanent revolution of distraction. Look, look, lovely referendum scourging bad Church, no don’t look at the housing crisis or the health service or just how useless every single cabinet minister is at their brief. We are given a permanent Revolution of Distraction because those in government have no idea how to solve complex, multi-faceted problems. Ministers are mining the 1937 Constitution for referendumable phrases as good news stories.

We should be wary of politicians bearing Reform banners particularly those who profess incomprehension that the laws or practices they wish to reform exist. Debate on reform issues should be rabbinical, if the reformer cannot state the reason for the law we should not let them enter the fray to have it removed.  Chesterton put it beautifully in his catch on reformers. “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

Blasphemy is an old-fashioned crime, like heresy, an attempt by the state to prevent rifts, dissents and fractures on issues so deep that those breaks could endanger the state itself and to protect all the citizens from the danger of a God angered by human outrage. That is no longer the God in which the agents of the state don’t believe. Those of us who still believe do not necessarily do so in a God so small he needs protection from human utterances. Wisely the Catholic hierarchy have made a statement to this point, refusing the temptation to give Varadkar boogeymen to fight.

There are conservative Christians, (Conservative Christians believe in God, Minister…) for whom the removal of blasphemy from the constitution is the evidence that the government wishes to remove God from the constitution, law and the public sphere and who are battling the referendum to preserve what they see as a last protection but they are very wrong on both counts.

The government doesn’t want to remove God, it wants to replace him. For Varadkar’s cabinet the Christian Christ is dead, he is being replaced with a figment of Josepha Madigan’s and Catherine Zappone’s tortured imaginations, and with the very state itself. Christ is merely to be the son of the state, endorsing the government in its compassion. With the horsemen banished compassion is the sales point of choice. As to protection, Piss Christ* is a work of art, Piss Mohammed a death warrant but the constitution and the 2009 legislation don’t matter to either.

Blasphemy should be removed from the constitution but not this way, not this now. Article 40.6.1 gives the government the basis for sweeping powers over all media and speech, power that no government, especially this group of infantile chancers, should have. Free speech should be robustly enshrined in the constitution, to prevent nonsensical attacks on it masquerading as protection for the vulnerable. There is a grave danger that this government will advance Hate Speech Legislation, secular blasphemy, with far more likelihood of prosecutions than one 163 years ago.  Peter Casey would have been arrested and prosecuted under such a law and his words will be used to advance the case for the bill. With no opposition in the Dáil this will pass at high speed. On its passing we can expect the members of the Dáil will rise and give themselves a standing ovation, as has become their habit.

We don’t need a blasphemy referendum, we need an American style First Amendment, unequivocally defending our right to offend God and man should we in any way chose. That the ECHR has, in the case of an Austrian lecturer, judged that describing Mohammed as a paedophile does not come under the ambit of free speech for the purposes of the European Convention of Human rights makes such constitutional protection a matter of urgency.

This referendum was a wasted opportunity to defend free speech, but it still gave voters a chance to send the Government back to do just that.

*Reference is to a 1987 award winning work by artist Andres Serrano in which a small crucifix was immersed in the artists urine and photographed. Serrano is, of course, a Catholic.

Interview with Professor Patrick Deneen

Earlier this week we sat down with Professor Patrick Deneen, of Notre Dame University, to discuss his new book ‘Liberalism Has Failed’. Professor Deneen, who lectured at both Georgetown University and Princeton University before moving to take the David A. Potenziani Memorial Chair of Constitutional Studies at Notre Dame University, talks at length about his conception of liberalism, what alternatives to liberalism are actually possible, what it means for a human to be free, suicide and existential despair, and how he imagines the future of the West will be.

The interview can be heard, in full, at the link below.


Before the new team takes over I want to thank all those who have helped with this site, and more generally with the Institute over the years.  The project would, of course, not have been possible without the help of The Atlas Network, for whose support I am most grateful.

I must thank DAVE JORDAN of CADA MEDIA who designed this site, and who has maintained it so well. I also want to thank PADDY MANNING for creating its predecessor, and for all the good work he did on it.

                              I also want to thank our professional advisers. We are greatly in the debt of PETER SMITHWICK of WALTER SMITHWICK AND CO, solicitors of Kilkenny for the legal work that he did for the Institute in the 1980 s. More recently MAEVE T BREEN of M.T DONOGHUE AND CO, of Gorey, Co. Wexford has given us the benefit of her legal knowledge and shrewdness.  I must also pay a tribute of gratitude to our accountants KEIRAN RYAN of Dublin, GERALD JEPHSON of Waterford, and CHARLES MORIARTY of Arklow for keeping us on the right side of the law, and for much other generosity and good advice.

                             I must also, of course, thank all those who have written for this site. I am afraid that I can’t thank all of them either here or in person, but in this connection I do want to mention my brother ROBERT C. B. MILLER for his articles on the site and for coming  up with the idea of the institute in the first place. I must also express my gratitude to PHILIP VANDER ELST for his notable contributions to what we have been doing. In closing I must also mention the important part JOHN WYSE JACKSON, of ZOZIMUS BOOKSHOP in Gorey has played in helping to prepare articles for publication. I am most grateful to him.


Richard Miller.

August 2018…and beyond.

As always I will be taking August off. After a magnificent trip to Skye last year I will be going to Mull, exactly sixty years after my last visit. I will not, however, be coming back in the usual way, as Michael Dwyer and Gary Kavanagh will be taking over The Edmund Burke Institute. They have exciting plans which include a new web site, and an outreach to students….the opinion formers of the future. I wish my successors all possible success with the venture they are embarking on.

                                   I have enjoyed my time with the Institute, and I have loved running this site, which I have reason to think has had some effect. However the speed of social and technological change means that those of us educated in the 1970 s are not as well placed as we were to influence events. It is time for me to step aside. I will be leaving the board, and taking some time off. We have not yet decided exactly what my role in the future of the Institute will be, I doubt, though, that I will remain silent for long.


Please be safe!

The fine weather is coming to a close. After a record breaking heatwave/ drought there are now clouds in the sky. Last night there were three welcome showers. But just as the rain has arrived, so everyone is heading to their holiday destinations. Holidays bring with them not just the chance to get away and to relax, but also dangers. Every summer brings a terrible litany of wholly avoidable disasters both on the roads and in the water. Please drive, swim, and boat safely.

Robert Wyse Jackson on “Life in the Church of Ireland: 1600-1800” ( 2 )

Life in the Church of Ireland: 1600-1800 by Robert Wyse Jackson (Whitegate, Co. Clare: Ballinakella Press, 2018) pp. 239.  price €17.50.

Life in the Church of Ireland gives a vivid insight into the lives of its clergy during the tumultuous two centuries from 1600 to 1800.  It shows us the concerns of the more responsible clergy while not at all glossing over the presence in the church of more worldly men.  It neither excuses the faults nor boasts of the gifts of the Church.  Its tone is more that of Swift’s Tale of a Tub in acknowledging that there is much to be said on both sides but that in spite of its faults, the Church of Ireland is redeemed by the diligence and fidelity of many clergymen working often in almost impossible conditions.  It acknowledges men who were the glories of the Church of Ireland, Swift (of course) Jeremy Taylor, Archbishop King, Berkeley, Philip Skelton, and others but its real strength are the vicars, curates, and even parish clerks.  It includes vignettes of Non-conformist clergy with whom the Church of Ireland had an ambivalent relationship, close in politics but distant in religion.  Little reference is made to the lives of Catholic clergy with whom the Church of Ireland had an equally ambivalent relationship, closer in doctrine, perhaps, but hostile in politics.

An unexpected strength of the book is the look into the lives of people in very modest circumstances, and even downright poverty, for not all of the clergy were fox hunting members of the landed class.  Many clergy were very hard up indeed.  They were, however, well educated which led them to leave records, although not very many, of the lives they shared with others in similar financial circumstances, scratching a living on tiny holdings, doing many menial jobs in their spare time to make a crust.  To them we owe a glimpse of the struggles of the bulk of people in such circumstances, advantaged in many respects in relation to their Catholic neighbours but living lives few or none of us would envy today.

Like a pointillist painter, Wyse Jackson he paints vivid pictures of the lives of those impoverished clergy in remote parishes balanced by the occasional glimpse into the lives of the better off, to leave an impression of a church in which there were many devoted to establishing communities of order, charity and industry in the work of the Lord in the face of congregations “whose only religion is a hereditary fear of Roman Catholicism”.

One is left with an impression that the Act of Union, in cementing the union with Britain, helped to free the Church of Ireland from a fear for the political union, and allowed it focus more on its spiritual mission, just as Disestablishment helped to free it from its ties with the established political order, so that it could become in truth, the Church of Ireland, rather than, as it had been seen for much of the earlier period, the Church of England in Ireland.

Stephen Lalor, Dr Lalor is an authority on the work of the deist/ freethinker Mathew Tindal ( 1657-1733 ) , see his book Mathew Tindal, Freethinker, an eighteenth- century assault on religion”  ( Continuum, London and New York, 2006 )

Should we keep politics out of religion?


Three recent news headlines have caught my eye.

1] The crazy story about the Irish woman politician- a minister no less,-who turned up at mass one Sunday recently to find that no priest was available, and consequently used the episode as an occasion to demand the ordination of women.

2] A yarn from India, about a judge who had opened up a temple to women which only men had been allowed to enter previously.

3] And finally, the report from Australia that the prime minister had called on Pope Francis to sack a certain bishop who had been involved in a serious scandal.

The details of each of these incidents are hardly important. But what’s going on? Haven’t we all been told that religion and politics were supposed to be separate?  Isn’t this wall of separation a key component in what it means to live in a modern society? Wasn’t it all supposed to be so much easier if we didn’t allow religion to get mixed up in politics? Isn’t secularism a precondition of good government? But yet clearly we have here examples of politicians and judges getting involved in the practice of religion.

Is this an outrage? Shouldn’t politicians be kept out of religion? This was certainly my first thought. But on reflection I don’t think so. I suspect that we’ve all been misled by the enlightenment. Despite what the philosophers of the eighteenth century thought men and women are not simply reasoning machines which inhabit a body, but profoundly complicated entities in which spirit and matter are melded. Mind cannot be divorced from body, nor body from mind. They are inextricably entwined – which is why the Church has always talked about the Resurrection of the Body, and not simply survival.

Ultimately this is why we haven’t a monkeys chance of getting religion out of politics. Christians and other religious people will always want to talk about and act in the world in which they live. The names of Samuel Wilberforce and Martin Luther King come to mind- but there are plenty of others. And atheists will often find themselves talking about religion- even when they decry its influence.

So while only a very few would now wish to introduce established Churches where they do not exist, the attempt to maintain politics as a religion free zone in our culture is doomed. So too is trying to keep politics out of religion. Human beings do religion. And they also do politics. Keeping the two separate is like trying to separate the gin from the tonic. And this means, on the one hand, that liberals and atheists are going to have to get over the fact that religion will always influence politics. But on the other hand religious purists are going to have to live with the reality that politicians will always want to exercise some influence over religion. The paradox is then that in that part of life most susceptible to dogma we will have to learn to be most pragmatic- and that could be good for us all! R.M.