Monday, 6 August 2007

Hattersley views Liberty through a glass darkly.

It is amazing that Socialists still think they have a bead on things, that their worldview has any credibility left. Roy Hattersley has spoken about liberty.

Others have commented about what Roy has said, but I wish to see what he says in the Guardian.

The Liberal Democrats - understandably preferring to recall established achievements rather than speculate about dubious future prospects - are holding a contest to decide who, in popular estimation, is the most important Liberal in British history. Asquith (rightly) and Campbell Bannerman (wrongly) have not been included on the shortlist. The final choice is among Gladstone, Mill, Lloyd George and Keynes. And I am told that John Stuart Mill is the favourite to win. That should surprise nobody. He is, like the party itself, comfortingly worthy but out-of-date.

As are you and your Labour Party, don't forget.

Mill's libertarian philosophy is based on two precepts that - despite having written an admirable essay on women's rights - he always expressed with the use of male pronouns.
Why is that an issue? "Man" and "he" is legitimate shorthand for "he/she". You are just trying to sow the unjustified seeds of antipathy. Stop it.

The first principle asserts that "all errors which (a man) is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good". Only cranks believe that now. If it were a generally held view, we would not prohibit the use of recreational drugs or require passengers in the back seats of motor cars to wear safety belts.

Well, I am a crank by your reckoning, then. Your examples are pretty bad if you are trying to talk to a truly Liberal audience. Or maybe you are just talking to the faux Liberals and wish to bury Mill?

I was a member of the cabinet that first discussed the desirability of making back-seat safety belts compulsory. Millite ministers initially objected. They were reconciled to the "infraction of liberty" by the argument that a passenger flying through the windscreen might injure the pedestrian whose life had initially been saved by the emergency stop.
Now can we see those stats on pedestrians who have been injured by a flying back seat passenger? I am sure front seat passengers have been hit aplenty, but then again the front seat passenger and especially the driver are in a pretty good position to either correct that situation or absent themselves from the vehicle.

And Mill's second precept makes a distinction between "the part of a person's life which concerns only himself and that which concerns others". In short, we are free to damage ourselves but are not at liberty to behave in a way that harms other people.

The distinction was easier to make in Victorian Britain than it is today - though even in 1859, when On Liberty was written, subscribers to the cult of the individual grossly underestimated how much one human is dependent on another. Put aside for a moment all consideration of complicated questions about what pressures - economic, social and psychological - induce men and women to encompass their own destruction. They were rarely asked in Mill's time. Just accept the incontrovertible fact that today, almost everything we do for good or ill has an effect on the rest of society. Progress has made us members one of another.

Welfarism most certainly has. People are allocated housing and healthcare and as such are not permitted to absent themselves and chose another provider. It is not progress but creeping Communism that has done this.

Our interdependence has increased with every economic and scientific advance and it now embraces matters both general and specific, from conduct that is likely to destroy the whole planet, to the sickness caused to publicans by tobacco smoke drifting across the bar. Some of those detriments would be dismissed by Mill as "contingent injuries...which society can afford to bear". That is because he did not know that greenhouse gases existed or that tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. The philosophy for our time ought to concern a consensus about civilised conduct, not extol irresponsible individualism.

The 'conduct likely to destroy the planet' is presently coming from places like Iran. NO PROOF of AGW exists. The real threat of Global Warming comes from the imbeciles who are busy faffing about with taxes, restrictions and inadequate alternatives when the first thing should be to mitigate the potential effects and create a robust economy to afford it all (hint: we do not have one). If Mr Hattersley were TRULY in favour of his point about tobacco smoke, he should ban it outdoors first. I object to the desperate puffer at the bus stop far more than at a bar. It is my choice to go into a bar, but I have no option but to be in proximity of the bus stop. But then again to try and ban it outdoors would expose the entire notion for what it is - authoritarian codswallop.

Oh, and that word 'consensus' pops up. It is not about consensus, but reason and logic. Since when has philosophy been about 'consensus', Roy? You are confusing it with disingenuous politicking.

And it ought to be based on a definition of liberty that is far more meaningful to the majority of mankind than Mill's notion that freedom is no more than the absence of restraint. The right to do something that circumstances prevent us from doing is not a right worth having.

But we are not talking rights, but freedoms, and not circumstances but legislation borne from irrational thinking. It is not circumstance that prevents people to ride without a seatbelt, but legislation alone unless the other passengers exert their superior rights within reason to force them to buckle up, or their other right to absent themselves. The pedestrian on the street is in truth not at risk from the flying passenger. With smoking the option is always there to leave the bar or not work there. You cannot arrange things to say "because of X we have introduced your freedom Y is of no use, so why are you bothered by Y?". That is like saying "we have decided you no longer have freedom of speech, so why are you bothered about being prevented from exercising it?".

Liberty, we have learned since Mill's day, is the practical ability to enjoy the choices of a free society, not the theoretical chance to take advantage of opportunities which we cannot afford. Mill's philosophy was great for the 19th-century middle classes. He would have rejected outright a more positive view of liberty since it required the freedoms of the few to be constrained in order to protect the freedoms of the many.

Well, Roy, you should know about the "theoretical chance to take advantage of opportunities which we cannot afford" - it is called the Welfare State and Socialism.

On the other hand, William Ewart Gladstone came to accept that necessity. His first administration merely promoted the idea of merit - important enough in its time. The purchase of military commissions was prohibited.

What on earth makes you think this is against what Mill has said?

The civil service was recruited by examination rather than interview.

As above.

The universities were opened to dissenters.
And again. What is with you Roy? This is just disingenuous hogwash to paint the picture that Liberals and Libertarians are somehow conservative and so 'against' the pretence that Socialists want to delude themselves with that they are somehow the guardians of true liberal thought.

The Education Act pressed forward with the idea that the state has responsibilities towards the welfare, as well as the physical protection, of its citizens.
IIRC The Education Act was more about stopping child labour. In terms of education, it was about demanding that the individual attend school. Hardly a 'responsibility towards the welfare of citizens', more an authoritarian diktat.

But, most important of all, his two Irish Land Acts accepted that sometimes the privileged (in this case the landlords) must have their rights restricted so that the poor (in this case the tenant farmers) can live in comfort. If Liberal Democrats are as radical as (in some parts of the country) they claim to be, there is no doubt he will come top of their poll.

How about restricting the rights of the local councils so that freeborn Englishmen and Women can live in their own homes in comfort, Roy? Oh no, the State is not about limiting power over people per se, but drawing it in towards itself. The State has not wanted to abolish the power of the Elite and Establishment - it only covets it.

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