My disquiet at liberty without obligation to others

by D.J. Webb

I have made it clear that I view a common culture as vital to any sort of functioning society that can maintain a separate existence to the state. A real society has a specific religious heritage that influences culture and moral values and provides the basis for a society where people know how they should behave—know what sort of behaviour is culturally and anthropologically sanctioned in their community—and thus how to forge sexual and other relationships with other people and bring up children.

I don’t say the religious heritage has to be the scientific truth or the historical truth. Rather, its relevance to society consists in its acceptance over centuries as the foundation of (and, in itself, the expression of) social values. England is a Christian society, and and Christian values have been found over centuries to be a decent and worthy context for the upbringing of children. Without that heritage, the bonds or the bands of society are loosened; people forget how to behave within the family and towards children (as well as to neighbours); and the resultant social chaos is used to justify the intrusion of the state.

One could imagine a society that had lost all worthwhile social values but where the state did not intervene—not a rational or decent society, but merely a grubby and chaotic mélange of humanity, characterised by crime, delinquency, and the preying of the strong on the weak. The Edlington case, the attempted murder of a 9-year-old boy and of his 11-year-old brother by two brothers aged 10 and 12, took place around 30 miles from my home. It summed up for me the post-Christian—actually, post-cultural—nature of the society in which we live, where there are no longer any norms of behaviour.

This sort of thing has grown out of the “permissive society” of the 1970s. What was then viewed as freedom—or even libertarianism—is now more clearly seen as the tossing aside of all obligations to one another. If you are unhappy in marriage, get a divorce! Constant domestic arguments are, after all, bad for the children (or so the argument goes that is constantly advanced by those who appear not to really give a damn about the impact of divorce on the children). Are you sick of having to care for your children and be there every night? Just drop them off at the children’s home then! Tell the social workers you can’t cope! Or hire a babysitter and go clubbing until four in the morning, and leave your six-month old baby in the care of a stranger.

Should you bother getting your children christened? Or taking them to church every week? Is there even a Sunday school in the local area they could attend? Everything now comes down to the line of least resistance—justified by the braying sense of superiority of someone who can only regurgitate BBC propaganda on the absurdity of Christianity and morals. Only losers believe in God and bring their children up in the church. The whole thing is nonsense anyway.

These values possibly make more sense or are less harmful when implemented by the professional middle classes. When imported wholesale by housing estates full of people without gainful employment, the effect on society is disastrous. What seems like freedom—sexual and moral freedom—to the middle classes is merely social decay and brutishness when put into effect by the working classes.

It is becoming clearer to me by the day that a society with no cultural bonds and no anthropological expectations or social obligations placed on its members cannot be a free society. Sure, people do do what they want. But the expectation of rights without duties prevents people from leading good lives. We all want our own rights, and reject the burden of obligations towards others, who, in turn, reject a sense of duty towards us as conflicting with the rights they are asserting for themselves.

Freedom in the libertarian sense conceptualises freedom from state control—not freedom from all social or cultural bonds or obligations. Such obligations are at the heart of the Common Law, which ought to operate without state involvement, in so far as we are dealing with a population that recognises the need for mutual consideration and respect. To claim the Common Law could be the basis of a free society, without state intervention, in a society that lacks the concept of mutual consideration and duty towards others is simply to make a meaningless statement.

In the final analysis, freedom is based on bonds of social obligation, bonds that ought to be strong enough not to require state intervention and strong enough to withstand bureaucratic demands to intervene. I don’t see the relevance of libertarianism to a society that has lost its common culture and agreed morality. Consequently, the confusion of libertarianism—support for a free society—with individualism needs to be challenged. Individualism is not the basis of English Common Law, and can only be relevant to a hermit. When individualism is adopted as the moral code of a society, it turns a nation into a group of individuals with no cultural connections with one another, and thus greater direct bonds with the state, which then performs the role of “parent”.

What we should be seeking is not individualism, but rather a free civil society that is not directed by the state. This can only come about where people are not individuals as such, but largely members of families functioning in line with clear social norms. The unit of society is therefore, not individuals, but families, and freedom is only imaginable on that basis. “Permissiveness” reflects the latitude given to individual behaviour within an overarching structure of state control, which libertarians ought to be seeking to avoid.

I would argue that, at a minimum, this means that relationships should be worked at where there are children, and should not be seen as dissoluble by the state. It may be that failing to maintain non-reproductive relationships has fewer social consequences. However, even then, while not prying into behaviour behind closed doors, we should seek to ensure that public behaviour reflects the need for decorum and the primacy of the family arrangement in social organisation. The Christian church should be required to adhere to the New Testament’s teachings; should have a central position on the school curriculum; and public respect for the Established Church should be cultivated as a matter of public policy.

A certain amount of hypocrisy is healthy. If you suspect your vicar is having a relationship with the verger, simply do not ask. If he adheres to the teachings of the Church when addressing the faithful from the pulpit, there is nothing to gain from “outing” his private behaviour. If you have “fallen out of love” with your spouse, stay together for the sake of the children, and do whatever you need to do to keep up appearances. If prostitutes are thought to frequent a sauna, let them be–far better that they ply their trade there than on the streets. And if their customers go home to their wives at the end of the day, society continues to function well. Given that religion is not really “divinely revealed”, these things are harmless, and only become harmful once the lives of children begin to be turned upside down by divorce.

There is indeed a certain irony in the fact that a free society is only possible where social limits on behaviour are keenly felt without state imposition. Libertarians should not claim that freedom means owing nothing to anyone else and showing no concern for the interests of others. It is quite the reverse: only by bearing in mind the need for social bonds can we eliminate the need for the state to start laying down the law.

30 thoughts on “My disquiet at liberty without obligation to others

  1. If people do not control themselves – the state (or private criminals) will control them.

    A point well understood by Edmund Burke and others.

    Without state support not living up to moral obligations has obvious negative consequences – death (the wages of sin are death – self inflicted death, the death of the drunk chocking on his own vomit in the gutter).

    With state support things are more drawn out, and it becomes a vast population of dependents, but eventually (it may take several generations) it ends in death – mass death.

    As for a common culture – it is often pointed out that some nations, such as Switzerland, gave several languages and religious. But there are basic common cultural traditions and principles that do unify Switzerland – at least up to very recently.

    This used to be true in the United States also – there were Protestant Americans and Catholic Americans and Jewish Americans and (yes) atheist Americans, but they were all Americans they had certain basic cultural principles in common.

    Even as late as the 1950s the famous sociologist Talcott Parsons called the United States a “functional society” – and he was right (at least outside the segregated South), although ironically he supported the very policies that have made it radically dysfunctional.

    The idea of trying to replace the basic features of civil society with the state in all the basic areas of life (education, healthcare, old age provision, income support…..) is very old – but only recently had it gained a real stranglehold on the West with the majority (not the minority) of people dependent on the state. Also state institutions should to support the society that supported them – at least they tried to. For example state schools stressed what was good about the society they were in (and which paid for them) – from the 1960s onwards the government (not just in the United States, in most Western countries) started to actively ATTACK, undermine, the very society that paid for it. For example state schools started to actively try and subvert the children, and in the media such things as the BBC (or FCC rules changes in the United States) led to an electronic media bent on the destruction of the society around it.

    The state was always dependent on civil society – but only in recent times (at least in most of the Western world) has the parasite become fanatically determined to destroy the host.

    And this includes the United Kingdom – the ruling establishment has, for decades, followed polices that must undermine and destroy the civil society of this island. The very culture that supports the state that is trying to destroy it.

  2. Britain is as Christian as a skeleton used to be human.

    “Christian values” are now indistinguishable from “liberal values” and liberal values are antithetical to the institution of marriage, which is the glue of society.

    Since neither Christianity as it is now nor liberal values are fit for maintaining morality, society is breaking down.

    But fear not, the moral vacuum that is Christianity/Liberalism will be filled by another ideology more fit for purpose.

  3. The only obligation we have to others is to compensate them for harm done, or a burden caused.

    1. By earning an income, and buying capital we enhance the well being of the community. In so far as work is a burden, we are compensated for our efforts. Paying the full market price for the efforts of others is thus an obligation.

    2. If we cause a negative externality to others, i.e pollution, or cause an accident or crime, we have an obligation to pay compensation.

    3. As Land is a non-reproducible factor of production, exclusive occupation and use of productive Land is a burden on the rest of the community. Paying the full market price for this externality is thus an obligation.

    • “benjiiiiii, you were doing so well until point 3. Creating wealth by homesteading land, especially if it is marginal land, may be more of a benefit to the community than in any way conceivalbe as a burden (what about land reclaimed from the sea). Points 1. and 2. I’m fully in agreement with.

      The bottom line is: your responsibility is to not be a burden to others and to support your family. Helping your neighbours comes second and if you have the resources to spare.

      • Sorry, I should have been clearer. Occupying marginal land, by definition is not a burden, as it is rent free. However, no one has a right to exclusive occupation of land. Which, by definition is all that is not produced, so no one made it (thus it cannot ever be private property). So, reclaimed land is capital, but the location it occupies is still Land.

        If we are all equal share landlords, then only the capitalist who is willing to pay the most rent, gets exclusive rights. Which is how it should be. Finders keepers is no moral basis for property rights, and it’s the justification for countless wars and bloodshed.

        Remember, land only has value based upon denying others access to the primary source of life and wealth. Pure monopoly/ransom. If you allow that to become capitalised, it’s bad news economically and socially.

        • “Remember, land only has value based upon denying others access to the primary source of life and wealth. Pure monopoly/ransom. If you allow that to become capitalised, it’s bad news economically and socially.”
          This is purely argument by your imagined results. You’re also confusing the issue by talking about “Land” – a concept you dreamed up – and actual real things in the material world. If I improve marginal land so it becomes productive then I haven’t burdened the community or robbed anyone of anything, I’ve helped out the community. If I reclaim land from the sea I’ve made something that didn’t exist before.
          Apparently Putin is less of a commie than the people who comment here:

          • I hadn’t noticed that this thread had been taken over to discuss something entirely different. As far as the land value tax supported by J S Mill (and me) is concerned, it is a tax on the unimproved value of land. Just the land location – the raw site location. A one-acre plot of improved land adjacent to a one-acre plot of unimproved land would attract the same land value tax. This is about land as a pre-existing natural resource. Another example is the broadband spectrum – it is justifiable to licence this and to reap a public income stream from it, as the “broadband” is just a natural resource too, and owing access to it confers monopolistic advantages similar to occupying prime land location sites.

            Actually, this is all a smokescreen. The land issue is largely about residential property – which has nothing to do with irrigating previously unproductive land. Land values reflect public investment: along the Crossrail project land values are rising, capitalising public spending paid for by people who own no land into the land values of freeholders. Pate will tell us “this is the result of their investment”. But owning a property is not an investment. Even freeholders who allow their homes to fall into disrepair benefit from the uplift in land values as a result of public spending. Pate’s real argument is that taxation should be switched the labour and capital in order to boost the unearned gains to freeholders. I think it would be advisable for someone to upload an article to discuss this separately. I want this thread to be about “my disquiet at liberty without obligation to others” and so cannot comment further on the hijacking of this comment thread.

            • @djweb2010

              So, we’ve advanced from straw men to putting words into my mouth.

              * Taxation is theft, plain and simple. I don’t agree to it on any grounds.
              * There is no shortage of the colour green (spread spectrum technology dates back to the war).
              * Opportunity cost. If it wasn’t for your precious roads (which as far back as Roman times were actually built primary for military purposes, see also the Autobahn and Interstate Highway systems) we maybe would have those flying cars everyone talked about when I was a kid.
              * Public works reduce land value as well as raise it – and has nobody heard of compulsory purchase?
              * The discussion between me and @benjiiiiiii is directly germane to the original piece.

              Fundamentally I would argue that all you are arguing is sophistry to justify the collective ganging up on the individual. You don’t believe in free and voluntary exchange as the basis for human conduct… carry on breaking people’s legs and giving them crutches then patting yourself on the back for being so helpful and humanitarian.

              “Who will build my roads, my precious roads…”

  4. I have two problems here. The first is that I am an atheist. I’m not saying that other people should not believe in God, but I don’t. That isn’t for some other reason. I don’t dislike Christians. I just don’t think there is any plausible possibility that God can even exist, let alone that it can be likely or certain. So for me, if the argument is that a society must have some shared value system, it’s not much use saying it has to be Christianity, because (from my perspective) it simply isn’t reality. It would surely be silly to argue that people should be Christians even if they don’t think God actually exists. So there, for somebody like me, I’m stumped. Need another way forward.

    The second problem I have is that one can equally well argue (and I have done) that Christianity is an invasive religion from another part of the world that has dubious validity to the peoples of Europe. The fact that it was hegemonic for a number of centuries- which varies quite considerably, Scandinavia held out until the 12th century (I think, off the top of my head) and Lithuania held out as late as the 1380s, well done plucky Lithuania- doesn’t make it native. Some think that Islam will take over Europe this century (I don’t but some do) and if it did, you’d get Mosques everywhere and a thousand years from now, people talking about our great tradition of Islam. But it would still be a foreign thing that was imposed on us.

    So, if we’re going to have to have a shared value system, Christianity just isn’t much use as a contender for me. I don’t believe it’s true, and I really don’t think that a version of the tribal value system of a faraway, very different people- the Jews- really makes much sense for us in Europe.

    I might be persuaded to worship a tree, so long as I’m allowed to do so with the full understanding that it’s total nonsense and just an excuse to drink too much, though.

    • You might just as easily say that the Aryan language we speak – Germanic with French, Latin and Greek overlays – is an invasion from outside Europe. Does this mean we should try to find out what language was spoken by the men who built Stonehenge and adopt it? Or should we all learn Basque? I don’t think so. Doubtless, it has been adapted to suit our own innate predispositions. But Christianity is part of what makes us what we are.

      • It’s a poor analogy in some respects, but running with it, if the imported language were not fit to our needs there would be an argument for abandoning it. That would not necessarily mean returning to Pre-Indo-European, but it would mean recognising that the language we’re lumbered with is not fit for purpose. I think a case can be made that in general, the parts of Christianity that are suited to us are native anyway and did not need therefore to be imported, while the parts imported were not much use and in many cases rather negative in application- as with, for instance, the Levantine moral system I’m interested in.

        For instance, if we consider monogamy as a general rule- this did not come from the Levant. The ancient Jews were endogamous polygamists, and the general Christian preference for monogamy is the incorporation of European custom, so we had that anyway and did not require Christianity to bring us it.

        • Monogamy is probably a better system in regard to the generational transmission of property rights. I’d guess this is more important in what could be called “The North West Of The Old World, East Of The Sea”, where small groups of isolated (and not necessarily closely related) people are trying to hack livings out of vast sinister forests in a region where there’s no climate – only weather. And in which biomes of course the labour of females would be as valuable as that of the males – (see “sexual dimorphism” later.)

          The goat-herders of Ian’s analogy wouldn’t have had it so hard, what with goats gambolling over rocks more or less everywhere (and sheep which are almost as adaptable and catchable even by boys, and cheap to run and slaughter, unlike pigs and cows) and olive trees bursting out of the woodwork along with vines everywhere. All you’d have to do as the alpha-males of one clan is occasionally do a raid and nick the neighbouring clan’s males’ women and animals, because they looked funnily at you when you didn’t exactly praise their God to the rooftops (mud/stone hut tops? The women being smallish, and food being fairly obtainable without fuss, you could keep several of them at once, they only needing to sit about weaving things, grinding grains and sitting about having all your babies for you.

          In general, Middle-Eastern and South-West-Asian human females are (and were hisorically) visibly rather smaller that their corresponding males (unlike statistical samples of European skeletons we have so far dug up). An evolutionary biologist studying animals would suggest that higher levels of sexual dimorphism tend towards greater incidence of polygamy. See, for examples:- chimpanzees, walruses, lions, and so on. Who has ever seen a big tall Lebanese woman for instance – except that curious lawyer who’s just married George Clooney?

          Perhaps more later.

  5. While I’m at it I may as well wheel out my usual point (which is now turning into a bit of a cliché that I parrot, like one of those talking Action Mans where you pull the string out of his back and he says, “Move out men,” or whatever) that the moral value system beloved of conservatives and progressives alike- primarily focussed on values of restraint, particularly of a sexual nature- is a very alien thing indeed. It developed among desert pastoralists in the Levant (the Lord’s my shepherd, etc) because they lived in a goat herding culture, in which large related clans tend flocks, and thus need to keep strict sexual controls in place to hold the clan together and it doesn’t have, and never did have, much application or utility to Europeans.

    In general- and this is making a bold claim I daresay- I think the things we call liberalism, whether political, social, economic or sexual- most generally reflect ancient European native values, and their opposition (collectivist, authoritarian, prudish etc) are a reflection of the Levantine values imported via the alien religion of Christianity. The “social limits on behaviour” that everyone obsesses about are the ones that came up from the goat herders who hung around the Eastern Med, with their big clans and social systems based on clan endogamy; hence the burka (a portable purdah) is their symbol and the puritanism that infests the West is the burka writ small. And it’s time we were rid of it all, frankly.

    On this day when it is being reported that the Sun has been bullied into ending Page 3, it is more important than ever (in my, and probably my alone, opinion) to emphasise that the genius of Western Civilisation is its capacity for the toleration and indeed celebration of Tits Out For The Lads. This isn’t 2000 years ago, we’re not squatting in a tent in the Sinai, and it’s time we moved on.

  6. Religion has almost nothing to do with belief in God. It is, in the final analysis, a cultural tradition. I think I’ve mentioned before how Roger Scruton in England: An Elegy discussed how Anglicanism has always had an agnostic feel to it.

  7. I’d say Britain is more of a post Christian country nowadays and don’t see any problem with this.

    I can see why everyone stresses the importance of the cultural heritage of Britain but it is so good ,then it is irrelevant that is it tradition. There is no reason why we can’t just champion these Judeo-Christian values in a modern secular philosophy of some sorts.

    • The problem with being post-Christian is – as I indicated in the article – that it is a state-dominated society. Social workers rush in precisely because the family is in decay. Actually, if you’re interested in child protection, the best solution by far is to promote the traditional family. And the reason why these values won’t be championed in a secular philosophy is – of course – because Christianity has been junked precisely in order to get rid of these values.

      • Well it is mainly due to the welfare state. The mass subsides of single mothers. Lifestyles that should be costly aren’t because the taxpayer picks up the bill. If it wasn’t covered by the taxpayer I’m sure the numbers of children born to single mothers and the number of abortions would decrease.

        Unfortunately ,welfare cannot be cut because so many people are dependent on it and anyone who suggests it is seen as a monster.

        • Unfortunately, it is untrue to say that unmarried motherhood is mainly due to the welfare state. The welfare is part of a mix of policies that have produced state control. But this part of the welfare state would not have taken off to the same extent without propaganda against traditional lifestyles.

  8. Mr Webb here seems to be utterly unrealistic on culture, religion and society.

    What could a common culture be? It is often news to people that tea comes from China, ditto paper; and where other artefacts come from hardly matters to the extent that it usually remains unknown to most people. They do not know where things come from and they often do not care. Mere culture means nothing to them. However, things they will fight and die for might happen to be cultural. The nation is the prime example.

    The idea of culture is vague and nebulous. The nation is clear.

    Politics and religion has always bored the people. The idea that both those cultural phenomena are vital to society is a very inept and unrealistic idea. Only a small few in any generation truly care about those two cultural things. Many are indifferent to the nation but even more people are utterly indifferent to the religion that they were supposedly brought up in.

    Any state has tradition and also sheer apathy on its side. Most people simply suppose the state does some good. Ditto the church. It never has been something that is actively endorsed by the masses. It is supported by what John Locke called tacit “support” or supported by chance.
    Mr Webb seems not to think or reflect on his ideas very seriously. I see no social merit in the state or in the church. The church might be harmless enough but it is by no means vital to society. Mr Webb has the delusion that society can be national, or a whole of some sort but it is bound to be polycentric and there is no macro-level as the politicians tend to assume that there is. Even in the late USSR, society is intrinsically polycentric, held together by family and friends, as Mr Webb suggests but also by the division of labour, or the cash nexus, as the jackass Carlyle though might be typical at the roots but, in fact, will not usually be the case in most primary groups but only used amongst strangers extending around the world.

    Generally, the Beatles were right to sing “Can’t buy me love” and a lot of things come freely, as love usually does, even if it involves lots of worry, anxiety and various costs later on. Maybe the adage “the best things in life are free” is quite true in every single life.

    The family is cultural, but how informative is that general fact? It is also biological, and biology is less superficial than crass culture. Culture is an idea worthy of contempt, as it is so vague and hazy.

    The church and the state, maybe, cannot do what Mr Webb imagines they do actually do. Certainly, the crass law, common or otherwise, never could. If ever a bit of culture needs to be put in its place, it is the law; the institution of totalitarian politics, whenever created by crass politics. Nearly all statutory law needs to be repealed.

    Some law, maybe, will be retained in an anarcho-liberal society but most of it will be repealed, such as statutory law intended to govern, and repealing such law will extend social liberty. Only reactive, or defensive law, can be liberal.

    There never can be a real macro society, as Mr Webb imagines. Nor can there be a British economy as a whole, as Keynes imagined. This whole is unrealistic, as unrealistic as Keynesian macro-economics. The level of economy is the individual unit who Mr Webb tends to dislike as well as to deny. Mr Webb, in common with all persons, thinks as he will die, alone. If you hear the bell ring then it rings for another person. Only an individual can act, think, or behave. Groups are made up of individual units. The family is simply not a unit.

    A common culture is equally null set; or intrinsically utopian. It is not an option. Mr Webb is deluded in thinking we need it. We do not have it today, nor did others before us ever have it. Nor will it ever exist.

    The nation exists, as does the church, but, maybe, not as Mr Webb imagines it does.

    There is no Christian morality. What we find people crediting Christianity for is the universal basic morals that have more to do with liberalism than with crass Christianity. It arises from common sense and abstract logic that Plato called Forms or Ideas and Karl Popper called World Three [W3 and that the Christian creed largely opposes. The fictional tramp, Jesus, is clearly against the family, for example. I see no merit whatsoever in that tramp. He may not be evil but he is not a good man either, but then, like his dad, who clearly was evil as a character in his flooding of the world and other evil deeds, he never did exist. The pristine Christian creed was only for the supposed end days where the end was nigh, not for any ongoing society. “Let the dead bury the dead”. The creed rejects all society.

    In any case, basic morals are way older than2000 years, as is the family, polycentric society and the like.

    Was England ever Christian? I tend to think not. Chaucer’s writings seem to say that even Pilgrims were anything but Christian.

    How that absurd creed is supposed to aid child rearing is not clear. It seems to be of no aid whatsoever. Mr Webb seems to be merely thoughtless. He seems to have a grunge against rude nature. Why any creed, or any other superficial artificial culture whatsoever would be needed for the mere animal function of family bondage? The idea that it ever would be simply seems to be unrealistic.

    Mr Webb reports child murder some 30 miles from his home. Why should he imagine that the church or state might prevent such things? He does not say. He puts it down to the permissive society that he says is of the 1970s; rather than of the 1960s, as is commonly said to be the case.
    Women have always been free to walk out of unhappy homes, as have men been too, and there is not likely ever to have been a time, a decade, say, when a few of each did not do that somewhere around the world. But most families do not break up.

    I agree with Mr Webb that marriage is best for children and it is best to remain married till they are all over, say, about 20 years old.

    I would not think it good for children to ever waste any time at church. I would have children dodge school too. College at over 18, though, is not so bad.

    Why would a free society ever have mass unemployment? Or why would a free society ever have any council estates or anti-social housing that turn out Chavs [i.e. Council house and violence]?
    Mr Webb holds that rights clash with obligations, in that we want rights but shun obligations, but he does not seem to say what he means for he cites no particular rights or obligations that he might have in mind. As things are, we all accept many of both, usually without reflection. For example, we pass others freely on the street and they pass us, unless there is special civil strife in our society, so that is one ordinary example of both. But Mr Webb remains nebulous as to what he means. This reader has no idea of how rights and obligations clash, in Mr Webb’s opinion. Freedom does require responsibility but statism tends to breed many people that hate being judged, blamed or held responsible for anything. On radio 4’s Democracy day on 20 January 2015, many students said they were disenfranchised, as they had not bothered to register to vote [voting is an anti-liberal evil, as it is gratuitous coercion towards others, even if mild; or more like a slap than a punch] and when told by some MPs that they ought to have actively registered, they replied that, once again, the victims were being blamed!

    The welfare state does foster that sort of silly attitude. Is that the sort of thing that is meant by rights without obligations? Mr Webb is not clear. Anyway, democracy is typical of anti-liberal politics. Churchill might have been right that democracy is better than all the rival forms of politics, but it remains politics all the same and consistent liberalism is anti-politics, so an anarchist on politics is rather like an atheist on religion; and I am both.

    Mr Webb seems not to think clearly on either the church or the state. He imagines both as basically good. I think politics is an unnecessary evil and that religion is a worthless waste of time.
    Totalitarians feel life is intrinsically political, of course. Most student politics is, unwittingly, like that.
    Yes, liberty is liberty mainly from government or from the state but what social bonds or obligations need liberal respect? Mr Webb writes as if he wants to keep that a secret.

    He says the common law ought to operate without the state. I can agree to that, but liberal law needs to be reactive rather than a governing principle.

    The idea of meaningless is intrinsically absurd or stupid. Fools, like A.J. Ayer, say, in their books, that this or that is meaningless, religion for example, yet such authors refute what they say by reproducing examples that they could not refer to if the examples truly lacked meaning.
    Liberalism is just social liberty that is where we all do respect the liberty of all. Law is only needed to defend this liberty when criminals abuse others. No government is needed.

    But society is never based on morals, explicit agreement or a common culture apart from trade [that is cultural]. In the mass urban society, we live with strangers who we pass in the street, usually without speaking, and whom we can see the way they are dressed, but even there we normally do not notice it much in passing, and apart from that, we have no clue as to what culture they may patronise. Mr Webb seems to want to gainsay all this. He overestimates crass culture.
    Pristine liberalism is certainly individualism though it is also a social philosophy, or creed. A challenge to individualism will be Tory ipso facto. But liberalism welcomes criticism. Indeed, enlightenment liberalism has no enemies, as it claims to be in the interests of one and all; so it tends to suppose that only the ignorant would oppose it.

    As saidabove, Mr Webb overrates the crass law. Hayek is similarly stupid on the rule of law. The backward law is useful in reaction to crime, but when we are fully civilised then it will be defunct. That might be centuries off today, but at no time should any law rule over us but only be allowed to serve if ever crime arises. Liberals tolerate the free market, as it serves the people. It rejects attempts to govern or rule by the state. It is indeed individualism.

    Liberalism is the top moral meme/idea in society today, and it has been for about 300 years now, but few people ever vie it with its rivals, so few outside the LA are fully consistent liberals. Would complete liberalism end the nation as well as the state? I tend to think not, but some feel it would; maybe Mr Webb is one of them. He suggests the paradox that liberalism, or extreme individualism, leads to a totalitarian state as a artificial parent, but that idea needs a lot of exposition if it is to be intelligible. Michael Polanyi repeated that paradox, but he never seemed to explain it in any of his books. He, too, thought Christianity made a massive contribution to society, but in fact the real contribution seems to be next to non-existent.

    That we are individuals, as such, is a matter of biology. Backward cretins from the1860s on, like T.H. Green, should have ceased to call themselves liberals, for they clearly loved the anti-social state that they seemed to have lacked the wit to understand as anti-social.

    Social norms in society arise from social interaction rather than guide us or rule over us. Norms arise from social interaction rather than prior to such interaction. Mr Webb seems to lack the wit to realise that. Sociologists might study them but most others will hardly notice them at all.
    It is not true that the unit of society is the family but it is true that the family is very important. John Locke saw that we were social animals and it is the family and then, after about the age of five, our peer group [see No Two Alike (2006) Judith Rich Harris] is what socialises us all; but we only ever think as we die, quite alone.

    So the family is important but it is not the unit of society, as Mr Webb rather foolishly says. We do not always know our siblings, or indeed do we often know our parents, nor our parents often know us, not usually anywhere near as well as we know our peers or our friends, anyway. Individuals always were the unit that lives and thinks in any society, despite the PC dogmas against this fact from psychology, sociology and anthropology, the pretended positive unnatural or anti-social sciences; that are truly normative creeds that worship PC and that seek to boost the state that is the sole source of all PC privilege.

    It is not clear why Mr Webb rejects Toryism or thinks himself a liberal rather than an anti-liberal; not that I regret that he does. Indeed, he is welcome to call himself a liberal, even if he does wish to reject individualism. But I do think he needs to re-think things over but only as it looks incoherent to me, not because he is not wanted. Indeed, I hope he truly does become a liberal later. Meanwhile his criticism is most welcome.

    A free society requires no public policy.

    The very stupid idea of hypocrisy is only at home with the other absurdities of the Christian creed. It tends to corrupt society, as that backward creed usually does, by suggesting that “two wrongs can make a right”. At best, this meme distracts justice by switching to a similar case instead of pressing on with the case in hand. But I am pleased to see that Mr Webb has tolerance of the oldest profession, and other things that Christianity calls sin.

    Liberalism has never claimed to show no concern for the interests of others, as it has always held each person should be free. What other rights Mr Webb has in mind he does not say; but his idea that the state steps in when needed seems to be a complete misunderstanding of the state.

  9. There is a book in this discussion, a whole shelf full of books. But I would like to emphasize a point that seems to get lost rather easily. I’ll begin with an analogy, imperfect as it is and as all analogies are.

    Capital, whether in the form of tools and machinery or structures, is consumed in the process of production and must be maintained, repaired and replaced. Even land has be maintained to continue to be useful for most purposes. Neglect of maintenance won’t be apparent immediately; but, if continued long enough, the consequences are disastrous.

    There is a sort of cultural, one might say civilizational, capital that has similar characteristics. If it is to continue to function to provide a structure in which people can live and work, produce and trade, in relative safety and confidence. it must be maintained

    But, this sort of capital being immaterial, some of that maintenance occurs at a distance. For example, it is not terribly important that five or ten, or even twenty percent of the people give up on religion, they still exist and function in a religious mileu. They may not send their children to Sunday School, but that peer group from which their children absorb culture will still be dominated by children whose moral instruction was not neglected.

    In this way, it may take generations for cultural rot to become apparent. Also, this makes it clear that statistics on things like religious belief, denominational affiliation or church attendance are leading indicators; when declining, they predict the social breakdown that will come later – dishonesty, violence, dissolution of the family.

    And, it helps explain how the rot spreads unevenly. Striking first at culturally marginalized communities, at communities made dependent on government, at children indoctrinated by government schools.

    The rot we see today is the product of a long decline which traces to numerous roots – universalism, evolutionism, progressive education, psychoanalysis, etc.

    My reference to evolution is not accidental but illustrative. Charles Darwin was a third generation evolutionist in his public, professional life; yet, he was a very conventional, mid-Victorian, middle class man in his personal, family life. Despite the facts of Darwin’s personal life, Daniel Dennett has rightly called Darwinism “a universal solvent, capable of cutting right to the heart of everything in sight. The question is: what does it leave behind?” Dennett thinks this is a good thing that leaves a cleaner foundation on which to build; I think he is wrong.

  10. I doubt if Dennett, you or Mr Webb can explain a useful contribution from Christianity, Mr Holland.

    Roll back the state and the family will revive but it is not even dead with he welfare state encouraging irresponsibility.

  11. Traditional Christian teaching is anti-youth,anti-fun,anti-freedom,anti-love. Our obligations to our fellow men were summed up by Howard Roark in court-to respect their rights and to take no part in a slave society.

    • Unfortunately, Mark Taha, your statement is completely untrue – and appears to be a quote from the BBC. Our obligations to others include obligations to our children – why do “libertarians” constantly dance around this topic with fay allusions to the non-aggression principle. Divorce is aggression towards one’s own children and towards one’s immediate neighbourhood in terms of the impact that is seen from family breakdown from child poverty, lack of discipline, deliquency, the strong statistical link between step families and physical and sexual abuse, and the demands for state support from the remnants of the family unit.

    • Yes – but it is an opinion that reflects the influence of opinion-formers. It is very rare for people to be able to form their own views.

  12. I think DJ is missing the point. Morality, values, obligations etc. are, arguably, evolved concepts. Respect, gratitude and trust is learned when you have to exchange value with another person or group of people (or appeal to their charity when you have no value to exchange). But when you go to a centralised authority to get resources stolen from other people; values break down and social decay sets in (this is also true of business who rig the game by buying favour from a statesman). This is what we are experiencing today, and the end game is a return to pre-civilised norms.

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